Wednesday, December 19, 2012

RTW: How I Name Characters

Wow, I haven't done a YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday in forever...  (although, on my current side of the world, it is already Thursday...)

This week's question is How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

There are a few ways that character names come to me.

1. They are just magically there when I think up a character, and the fits absolutely perfectly and I love it and can't imagine any other name.

2. I can't think up a character name right away, so I think up a placeholder name. Eventually, I can't think of the character by anything but the placeholder name, so the placeholder name is then no longer a placeholder, but the character's actual name.

3. I can't for the life of me think of a good name, and I spend hours and hours on end scouring and other useless baby names sites where all of the names are really weird or unpronouncable. After that, I spend days asking family and friends for names that they like and they answer oh so helpfully with names of other family members. Or my name. At that point I usually go back to #2. (So, no, I wouldn't name a character after someone I knew. Mostly because I'm sure they would forever think oh, so that's what she thinks of me? Is that supposed to be what I'm like? etc).

So! That's my very inefficient way of thinking up character names. How do you think up character names? Maybe you could give me some tips...

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to Make It Feel Like It's Canada Outside When It's Not

For me, winter usually means 6 months of cold and snow and wearing long pants. I am used to white Christmases, toboganning on Christmas break, layering, frozen eyelashes, bundling up, being able to see your breath, and walking through snowdrifts.

Winter in Canada
Well. I am currently living in the Philippines (if you didn't know that already go here to get the scoop). It is 30 degrees Celsius pretty much every day, and stinking humid all the time. I've worn jeans once since I got here (and came to the conclusion that that was a mistake), and I almost never wear sweaters or socks.

Yet I've figured out a few ways that I can still have little tastes of Canadian winter, even though I'm in a tropical country. And if you follow the suggestions below, you can experience some Canadian winter too. Just... be prepared to use your imagination. ;)

Winter in the Philippines
1. Go running in the 30 degree heat and humidity. Once you've started to sweat a bit, just imagine that you've been tobogganing for a few hours and have worked up a sweat climbing up the toboggan hill so many times, and now you're at the point when your three layers and snowsuit feels kind of stifling. You're just going to have to use your imagination on the frozen nose and fingertips, though.

2. Go inside your apartment. Shut and cover every door and window so you can't see outside. Turn on all the Christmas lights, and crank up the air conditioning (or "aircon" as it's called here). Make some hot chocolate, and then cuddle up with a good book. Try to ignore the fact that you are wearing shorts and a tank top.

3. Stick your head in the freezer. Ignore the smell of frozen meats, and just bask in the numbness in your nose and the frost on your eyelashes.

4. Get some white paper. Cut out some circles from the paper. Then fold the circles in half, and then half again. Cut shapes all the way around the outside. Unfold, and you have snowflakes! It's even more like snow if you count all the tiny little white scraps all over the floor from the shapes you cut out.

5. Get some marshmallows somehow. Stick three together with a toothpick. Decorate with raisins. You made a snowman!

Yeah... not really comparable to a real Canadian winter, but you've just got to make do with what you have I guess. :) What's winter like for you where you are? 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The NaNo Mindset or, How to Get Things Done

Hello!! I know, I know, it's been a while. Over a month, actually... whoops. But I figure it's OK that I've been MIA here on my blog, because most people go missing in action during November anyway because of that NaNoWriMo beast.

I didn't do NaNo, although a couple of days before November I was determined to, because I watched this video:

...and I realized that all those excuses Kristina Horner shoots down in that video? Well, those were my excuses.

However, it was a day before November 1 and I barely had an inkling of an idea. As well, I'd decided to make a goal of running 60 miles in November. With the schedule I have, plus running every day, I knew I wouldn't be able to crank out 50,000 words. So I just scaled it back to 30,000 words.

And guess what? I did it! I actually ran 60 miles, and wrote 30,000 words in November. After November ended, I couldn't help but ask myself, how did that happen? How did I manage to write 30,000 words while being as busy I was, especially when I have gotten way less writing done in other months that are way less busy? How does that even work?

What was different?

Then I realized that I had put myself in this mindset. Here are the steps for my personal NaNo mindset:
The NaNo Mindset:
Step 1: First of all, I was absolutely, completely determined to make both of my goals. I wasn't wishy-washy about it, like I sometimes am with goals. It wasn't "well, I'll try to write 30,000 words, but if I don't, that's okay too." Nope. It was "I am GOING to run 60 miles, and I am GOING to write 30,000 words."

Step 2: I prioritized. I wrote when I would've done other things, but since reaching my goal was important to me, I made the time to write.

Step 3: I took advantage of every possible time to write. I like Kristina Horner's suggestions in her pep talk video when she shoots down the "I don't have time" excuse. What about those times when you sleep in? Or go watch youtube videos? Or read your book? I actually had lots of time, but I just usually didn't use it for writing. If I had time, using that time to write was the first that came into my head.

So, I definitely think this mindset could work for anything, not just writing or NaNo. You just have to shape your thoughts into a certain mindset so you'll get things done. Convince yourself that not writing (or whatever else) isn't an option.

How was your NaNo, if you participated? How do you motivate yourself to write or get things done?

Friday, October 26, 2012

How Books Influenced Me To Do Things In Real Life

Books have influenced my life a lot. The other day when I saw Willow and Twig by Jean Little on a library shelf, I was reminded just how much.


When I was in probably grade four or five, my best friend and I both ended up reading Willow and Twig. We fell in love with the book and the characters. But we especially fell in love with the character of Red Mouse. Red Mouse was an imaginary friend that Willow had in her head and that she would talk to. It was basically a fictional version of her own thoughts.

Well, my friend and I liked this idea so much that we created our own imaginary friends stuck inside our heads. I think hers was a fish, and mine was a mouse named Rascal. I'm pretty sure I "talked" to him even in middle school sometimes.

I also ended up writing a picture book based on the character Red Mouse (one of the only two pieces of fanfiction I've ever written, incidentally - the other one was Bionicles fanfiction, which you can read here).

Then I was reminded of the Babysitters Club Books. My friend and I went crazy over these books. We tried to set up a BSC library, which was just a painted cardboard box that we were going to stuff all of the BSC books that we could get ahold of inside. We also tried to set up our own babysitter's club (unforunately at the conception of this idea, we were too young to babysit).

These things kind of just make me think of how strong of an influence books can have. I think they're a lot more powerful than we sometimes think they are.

What are some ways books have influenced you to do things in real life? Also, if you haven't read Willow and Twig yet, go do that! It is a beautiful book, and just looking at the cover brings back warm memories of reading it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Books I Want You To Love

Today one of my friends bugged me about blogging, and noted how I haven't  posted in a while. This is because basically the only blogging rule I have is Blog When I Have A Really Cool Idea I Can't Stop Thinking About. (Yeah, I think I need some new rules...)

So, I still don't have any shiny idea for a blog post, but since this is mainly a reading and writing blog, I'm just going to talk about the books I've been reading.

1. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
by Maryrose Wood

If you've ever seen Nanny McPhee, you will kind of get the gist of the style and storyline of this book. There's a group of unusual kids who need to be taught to behave, and a young person comes in and teaches them. The kids are unusual because until recently, they've been raised by wolves. The premise is great, but the actual story is quite a bit slower than you'd expect.

It wasn't a book that changed my life, but the style of it felt so classic (a la The Chronicles of Narnia almost) that I enjoyed it heartily. It felt like I was reading an old friend. Also, the main character and the wolf children's nanny, Penelope Lumley, was one of the most unique, fresh characters I've ever read. She was not a stereotype in any way, and that was AWESOME.

Anyway, this book was really enjoyable and in my opinion it would be a great book to read aloud to kids.

2. Savvy
by Ingrid Law

This book is technically MG, I think, but I don't think elementary or middle school kids could get the depth out of it that teens or adults could. This book was absolutely amazing. I was close to tears by the end. The premise of the book is that there is this family with these things called "savvies", which are basically just special powers - one of the boys has the power to control the weather in a way, another has power over electricity.

However, even though the story is based around these savvies, that isn't the focus of the story (if that makes any sense). It's not a story about special powers; it's a story about family and friendship and prejudices and judgementalism and standing up and believing in yourself and... now it sounds sappy but the way Ingrid Law writes it, it is BEAUTIFUL. Please go read it. Now!

3. True (...sort of)
by Katherine Hannigan

This book starts off with a quirky girl, Delly, getting into trouble all the time even though she doesn't really mean to. I wasn't sure about this book at the beginning, but in the end it is a beautiful book with numerous intertwined stories of brokenness that together make something heart-achingly wonderful. This is another book that almost made me cry. It is amazing how dealing with so much hurt can be written about so wonderfully in a book for children. Also, this quote, that Delly's brother RB says to her:

"She's my favourite friend," he said. "You're my favourite everything."


I really, really encourage you to check out these books, because they are absolutely lovely.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What MG Does That YA Really Needs to Get Better At

1. Friendships. MG's main focus is friendships - actual, genuine friendships.  Somehow, most YA friendships are stereotypical, have some sort of tie-in with some sort of popularity struggle, or end with a romance.

2. No romance. YA, no matter the genre, always seems to end up slipping into some sort romantic subplot which then becomes of the focus of the book (even if it's actually not the focus, the fans will make it so). MG is not about the romance, and I am very thankful.

3. Unique concept. A lot of YA I've read always seems to end up falling back into the old, easy stereotypes and the stuff about popularity. So many MGs have such interesting stories and concepts. I always find them quite a bit fresher than YA.

4. Covers. So many YA covers these days have the face of a girl, or you know what, how about you just look at these common YA covers. MG covers are AWESOME and creative and artistic. Look:

What do you think YA needs to get better at? Also, what are your favourite MG covers?? I want to know!!!!
*just a disclaimer: I'm sure all these things don't apply to all MG, but most, anyway.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Books That Creeped Me Out When I Was Young

I was a weird child (which you probably already know if you've read this post or this post), and today we're going to look at yet another weird part of my childhood behaviour...

So I've been working in a library recently and reorganizing the picture book shelves made me think of the books I read as a kid, in particular the books and fictional things that kind of creeped me out. If you didn't need yet another reason to think I'm weird, then just look at some of the things I was creeped out by:

1. The 19th story of Wayside school,  the one that doesn't exist

2. Heffalumps

3. Nova's Ark by David Kirk - For some reason, I thought the pictures in this book were fascinating but also kind of scary.

4. Time Flies by Eric Rohmann - In my opinion, that cover is still scary.

5. The wicked thought in The Red Racer by Audrey Wood - that big green monster struck fear in my young heart, I tell you.
I know these things aren't really that scary, but they genuinely did scare me when I was younger.  These fictional things and books actually made my insides twist and my heart speed up. (This is also why I don't read horrors or thrillers or anything, haha). Now, I kind of think it's cool how much of an emotional response these books got out of me, but it also brings up another point: every reader has different levels of what they can handle.

A lot of really intense books that you probably think are fluff would have terrified me if I would've read them even in middle school. I wasn't ready to read those kinds of books until now or a few years ago. But that's OK, because everyone is different and everyone reads differently and takes things in differently. Evidently I get taken in very easily by books and their fictional worlds, so they have, and have had throughout the years, a much stronger effect on me than other people.

Not every 13-year-old (or any age) is going to be able to handle all the same books that every other 13-year-old can handle. That's kind of why I think rating books is a weird idea. People need to "rate" books according to their own personal needs, and not make a general statement that everyone should follow.

What do you think? What books creeped you out when you were young?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Fear of Writing Diversity

My sister has Down Syndrome. She has a hilarious personality, gets grumpy when she watches too much TV, and says funny things like, "[Bro], I have some advice for your driver's test. Cut your hair." She's a big and special part of my life, and I always sort of had the intent to write either a book about her or a book about a character with Down Syndrome.

But I couldn't, because I was sure I would get it wrong.

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to represent her properly as a character in a book. My thought always went along the lines of "I am not someone with Down Syndrome, therefore I can never accurately portray someone with Down Syndrome in a book, therefore I will not write them."

And I didn't.

But then I realized a few things.

1. People with Down Syndrome are still people.
2. Everyone is different.
3. I am a person.

I know writing a character with Down Syndrome would require some amount of research just because of the way a life is affected by that, but what I realized in realizing these things is that I'm not writing "Person with Down Syndrome", I'm writing "Person".

And I can do that.

I became unstuck from the thought of "what if I can't get my sister exactly right?" because I realized that yeah, my sister has Down Syndrome but she isn't THE representation of everyone with Down Syndrome, just like I'm not THE representation of 18-year-old white Canadians with curly hair. 

My sister is not a representation; she's a person. And if I chose to write a character with Down Syndrome, that character isn't a representation either. They are a person who is different than others with Down Syndrome and that's OK because people are different from each other.

The #yalitchat on Twitter the other day was about diversity in YA. And I think part of the reason why there is so few books with POC (Person of Colour) MCs or anything other than Caucasian MCs is because of this weird fear writers have (including me) that they're going to get it wrong or they're going to misrepresent someone along the way.

We have this mindset of "I'm not that, so I can't write that."

But I think that we need to stop worrying about that because people aren't just lumped into one huge group of White Canadian Females with Curly Hair that all have the same personality and charateristics and likes and dislikes, or one huge group of People With Down Syndrome who are all clones of each other and we've got to get our character-clone exactly right.

Stop being so afraid, and just write people who are different, because every person is different.

Because really, that's exactly what diversity means.

What do you think? 
(Also check out this awesome post by @ravenamo on writing POCs!)
(Also just so you know I did eventually succesfully write a short story that featured a character with Down Syndrome. ;) )

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

3 Books I Want Everyone To Love

Just recently I read a post by the young writer John Hansen that talked about luck and bestseller lists and also illustrated the point that a lot of people feel that popularity equals quality when it comes to books. However this isn't necessarily true. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling paperback of all time and it's literally Twilight fanfiction (ugh). And from what I've heard, it's not very good.

A lot of books have hype surrounding them, and the hype just makes people want to read the books more, even if it's just to find out what the fuss is all about. I'm definitely guilty of checking out books because of the hype. But there are so many awesome, incredible, life-changing books that never make it onto any bestseller list.

Anyway, these are some of my favourite books that maybe don't have as much hype as say The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey. (By the way, I highly recommend you check out 50 Shades of Grey: The Musical, because it is awesome.)

Also, I'm talking about these books in the hope that you'll pick them up and fall in love with them as much as I have BUT everything's subjective, so even though I want everyone to love these books I know not everyone will and I'm OK with that.

1. JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA contemporary
Goodreads page
My review

I know, I know, I talk about Jellicoe Road pretty much every chance I get. But it's soooo gooood. I love it when books have multiple stories that are beautifully woven together with strong characters supporting the entire thing. If you haven't read this book yet, you should. You should also check out some of Marchetta's other books that I love, Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son. All of these books are really character-heavy so if you like falling in love with characters, go check those books out right now!!

2. KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads page

Megan Whalen Turner is a writing genius. Her writing and characters are so intelligent and clever, it blows my mind. Just when I think I know what's going to happen in one of her books, something happens I never, ever saw coming yet the unexpected twist still feels natural. Also, her books are excellently researched and perfectly subtle. I LOVE IT. I love all three books in The Queen's Thief series (The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia) but King of Attolia was the most amazing.

3. OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: YA contemp
Goodreads page

This book I just recently read and... it was amazing. It almost made me cry, and no one even died in it. It was just completely beautiful and true, and the writing was amazing. Schmidt did this thing where he used paintings of birds to kind of reveal truths in the MC, Doug's life and also just to the reader and it was SO COOL. And the layers to the characters... I have no words for the amazingness.

So what are you still doing here? Go check out those books. ;)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

News: Going to the Philippines!


About a month ago I briefly mentioned that I graduated, but that was all I really said on the topic. Of course the main question that seems to go hand-in-hand with graduation is the dreaded "What are you doing next year?" And, yeah, I've kind of failed to mention what I'm planning to do... that is, until now.

As far as I know you don't really care, but I'm excited so I shall tell you.

So in the US it seems like everyone after high school goes to college right away, and they go away for college. In Canada (or at least where I live), not absolutely everyone goes to university right away or if they do, then they stay in the city or province. (That was your Canadian culture fact of the day).

Anyway! So, I'm not going to university in September... instead I'm going to volunteer at a school in the Philippines from August (yeah, next month) until May of 2013. My aunt and uncle work there and have worked there for a long time and so I'll be living with them. I'm going to be a sort of teacher's assistant in the elementary school. And I'm leaving August 8th! Which is... really soon. I still kind of feel like it isn't real. I bet I'll be on the plane and it still won't feel like I'm going to a country that has a 13 hour time difference from where I live for 8 months.

This announcement is kind of funny, because while my moving to the Philippines affects me and my in real life friends and family, it doesn't affect you. I mean,  to you, I'll still be in the same place - on the internet.

That being said, I don't really know what will happen to my blog when I'm away. I'm assuming I'll be busy but I'm hoping I'll be able to get in at least a few posts about what I'm learning or what life is like there.

So, yeah!

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Personal Recipe For A Good Book

I read a LOT of books. I've always read lots of books, which is good because a) reading is awesome and b) it really helps your writing.

Since 2011 I've been keeping a book log where I keep track of the books I read and then write a short review, stating either why the book was awesome or why it sucked.

Through these mini-reviews I do, I've discovered a pattern of things that I like to see in books. And this is my list:

Warning: everything is subjective - this list is just what I, personally, like in books. Obviously, other people have different opinions.


I LOVE this cover.
I latch onto new, interesting concepts right away. If the main concept of the book is something like Unpopular Girl Strives For Popularity and Later Figures Out Popularity Is Not All It's Cracked Up to Be, then I won't be as interested because it has been done SO. MANY. TIMES. BEFORE.

I sometimes see writers online asking if they should follow the trends, and as a reader who likes unique ideas I want to say the answer is always, "No don't I want to see something new!"

An example of a book with a unique concept is IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma.


Characters are SOO important to me. Even if maybe the concept isn't as unique, then the characters have to be real and likable and fleshed out and different and not just types. They have to have other sides to them, and they have to be fun, and they have to be people. I also like when characters develop as people and also in their relationships with each other. An example of a very character-driven book I just read is Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.


If I know what's going to happen next, then that's boring. I don't want to know from the first chapter what the ending will be. I want to be curious about what happens next so I'll keep reading. Insurgent by Veronica Roth definitely did this for me, as did Outside In by Maria V. Snyder.


You know that "show don't tell" rule? Well, I come across "telling" in published books ALL THE TIME. I've realized that some people like telling. I, however, don't. Show me what's happening and bring me into the scene and the book. Don't just let your character talk to me about it.


It puts me off a book when nothing happens in the very first chapter (heck, even the very first sentence). Nope, it's just the MC blabbing on and on in their voice about things that are supposed to be interesting and make me like them, but I don't care just MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White does this excellently. An example of a book that starts with an MC/narrator monologue is Famous by Todd Strasser (just so you know what I mean - but I do know some people like this style of opening! It's just I don't).


Stupid characters annoy me a lot. I really don't like it when characters just can't seem to be able to think for themselves or have logical, intelligent thoughts. I found Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games to be pretty smart and definitely able to think and fend for herself. She also made decisions and had thoughts that actually made sense.


I am so done with popularity. There are WAY too many books about it in my opinion. And the moral is so predictable and obvious every time: popularity is not all it's cracked up to be. You'd think that adult writers would want to teach teens more important lessons than that, but NOPE.

However, this is also very subjective because I'm not a person to care a lot about popularity, and it's not something that was really prominent in my school. However for other teens I'm sure this is a huge thing in their lives so that IS what they need to read.

A book that depicts "popularity" what I think of as being realistically is The D.U.F.F. by Kody Keplinger (that book is AMAZING).


This is definitely just a personal preference; but my absolute favourite books are the ones that make me think the most. I love when books make me use my brain to figure things out, because it has the effect of drawing me deeper into the story. And I like thinking.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner all made me think. And these are all my favourite books. :)

So what do YOU like to see in books?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How To Journal (In Order To Be Helpful To Your Writer Self)

(Note: the theme for the pictures is "Experiences I Would Journal About". Also, "Here's Some Visuals to Help You Through the Word Slush").

Upon reading the title of this post, you might be thinking: "How to journal? Um, Alyssa, journaling isn't something you tell people how to do..."

Toboganning and beautiful Canada.
OK, yes, I realize journaling is a very personal and independent activity and you basically do what you want and actually I don't really even write journals (and now you're thinking and you think you're qualified to give me how-to advice??? what is this place???).

But... I've decided I'm just going to give you advice anyway.

First of all, I shall tell you about my journaling/diary history. If you've read this post, then you probably already know a bit about that particular topic. Basically what you can gain from my journaling history is that my journals were filled with stuff like hateful thoughts, a few boring sentences about my day, or things that are really stupid and don't make any sense.

"Tire d'erable" at the winter festival.
Maple syrup, basically.
Also, looking back through the entries of the diary I got when I was six, I get frustrated. Because, seriously? I wrote about THAT? ("That" usually being how much I hate/dislike a variety of cousins, friends, and general other people I knew).

So yeah, I stopped writing journals except for on trips pretty much because I hated how they showed me how much of a stupid young child I was.

But the other thing I want you to note about all those journals and journal entries is that they did not -and have not- helped me with my writing (aside from helping me with an entertaining blog post, o 'course).

So I'm kind of piggy backing off of this post. That post (the one I just linked to) talks about truth in fiction and how to inject ourselves into our writing in order for our writing to come out more real and true and, ultimately, more beautiful and relatable. This requires a very, VERY different kind of journaling than the kind of journaling I did from ages six through 14ish.

Mt. Rushmore on choir tour... of all days to be foggy.

  • Whenever you find yourself comparing how something feels in your life to how something is commonly presented in books/other fictitious media, write down what YOU are feeling.

  • Note what you notice. You are going to notice things in different ways than characters in books, but what YOU notice matters more, because you are real.

  • Don't just talk about the things you did in a day when journaling. You can talk about stuff you did, but also talk about how you felt, or thoughts you thought or opinions you realized you had while you did stuff.

  • Use detail when describing anything: what you notice, or what you did, or how you felt.

  • Remember that when you experience something yourself, and then write about it, THAT is when your writing will feel (and be) the most real and that realness will then help readers to connect to your work.
So, now I'm going to give you homework. Here's what you have to do:

Go out and do something, even if it's just something really simple. Go to the park, go for a bike ride, play with your cat, even eat cereal... anything, just do something. Pay attention to:
  • your thoughts
  • your feelings
  • what you're noticing
  • detail

Then, after you're done doing whatever you did and paying attention to whatever you paid attention to, write about your experience.

Hiking in the desert with my friends.

And THAT, my friends, is how you journal.


I really hate to ruin a rare awesome blog post ending like that ("awesome" because my usual endings are along the lines of "so... yeah"), but I really would like to get some feedback from you!

I want to know if you do end up doing the writing exercise and if so what came out of it. In fact it would be cool if you even did it as a post on your blog, and then you can post the link below and I'll check it out. :)

Also, I want to know what you think. There may be other things I haven't thought of while forming these opinions, and maybe you see a hole in my logic. Do you think this is a good way to journal that would be helpful to your writing? How do you journal?

I would also love if you could go here to check out that truth/reality in fiction post I talked about above, and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the opinions I present there. I really love discussion so please don't hesitate to comment, e-mail me (kazuntai101[at]gmail[dot]com) or even tweet me @AlyssaSherlock.

So... yeah. ;)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Truth in Fiction

I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which yes, is a good book. I think the thing that strikes me most about John Green's writing (other than the fact that he writes beautifully) is how achingly real what he writes feels.

OK, now is the part where I try and tell you what I'm talking about.

There are lots of books about death, and I've read a lot of books about death. After a while, they start to seem the same. The characters always go through the same motions, act the same way, deal with the same issues, and after a while I get sick of it, and it seems fake.

I don't know, maybe these people draw from their own experiences, but when I read these kinds of books it doesn't seem like they do. I think a lot of writers end up falling into the same old stereotypes and ways of presenting things because that's what they know, and that's what they've read all the time. I know I've done it. When I was in middle school, I started a bunch of stories centred around popularity and yup, there were those typical Mean Girls and Best Friend Group of Three that pop  up in YA ALL THE TIME. I wrote that stuff because that's what I read and that's what I knew.

But it wasn't real. Popularity in real life, at least I find (or at least in my school), is absolutely NOTHING like it is in books.

I think in order to avoid falling back into the regular stereotypical fluff, we have to draw from our own experiences, but in a way that you put all or almost all of yourself into what you write.

Sometimes when I do things like go to a funeral, or  spend time with my family, or even go bike riding, or anything in real life I'll be taking notes in my head of what I'm experiencing and what I feel like at that moment. I try to remember every detail. And I don't dramatize or anything, I just bring to focus what I'm thinking at those moments, what I'm experiencing. (These kinds of thoughts are also usually present in journals and diary entries). One thing I always find is that I'm noticing and experiencing things a lot different than characters in books usually do.

But what I'm experiencing is real, and the books are not. I know fiction books are just that: fiction. But that's not an excuse to not write things that aren't real and clear and truth.

Here I shall insert a John Green quote that I've used before:

Lies are attempts to hide the truth by willfully denying facts. Fiction, on the other hand, is an attempt to reveal the truth by ignoring facts.

Fiction is an attempt to reveal the truth.  If us as writers are trying to reveal the truth, then why are we so quick to fall back into the old stereotypes and clich├ęs and why are we as readers so willing to accept them?

I know pouring yourself into your writing is hard, REALLY hard. Walter Wellesley Smith got it right when he said, "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  Opening veins is painful and difficult but also, I think, necessary in a way in order to reveal the truth.

So, yeah, that's what I mean when I say that John Green's writing is "achingly real", and if you want to learn to write like that or you just want to read a good book, go read The Fault in Our Stars. Please.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Am Not A Walking Pictionary

So I'm going to talk about something kind of removed from what I usually talk about. According to all blogging advice websites, I am really bad at blogging. They say you're supposed to have a focused topic, and I do not. I mean, unless you count "writing, reading, and life" as a focused topic...

So, I'm going to take the most open-ended of those three: life. One of my favourite group game to play in life (wow that was a horrible transition...) is called Talking Pictionary. Oh, and if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not really a normal teenager. I mean, normal teenagers do not spend time with their friends playing awesome verbal word games. :D

Now, if you're bored with board games/group games, you can peruse my tumblr here instead, and come back for my next post, whenever that may be.

Anyway. Talking pictionary. You probably don't know what that is. When I looked it up on Google, the results were just articles or blog posts where people used improper expressions like "People say I'm a walking pictionary." (DICTIONARY, people, DICTIONARY).

Talking Pictionary is actually a game that I learned from my grandparents. It's an awesome group game and can also be a Theory-of-Knowledge, philosophy-esque game because it gives you insight into how people think. Also, funny quotes. I wanted to teach you how to play because a) it's an awesome game, b) WORDS. You guys like words, right? I mean, assuming most of you are reader/writer types, and c) not many people seem to know about it outside of my family and friends.

All you need to play is a timer and a pack of pictionary cards.


So you split up your group into two teams. Then each person on each team takes turns trying to get their teammates to guess the words on the card by describing them verbally. Hence, talking pictionary. Once the timer runs out, you count how many words you got your teammates to guess correctly and add it to your team's point total. Whatever team has the most points when you decide to stop playing wins. 

  • You cannot use actions. (Do not follow the example of my grandpa. Grandpa: What's this? *drops pen* Us: Grandpa!! You're not supposed to use actions!!!)
  • You cannot say any part of the word on the card. (Ex: If the word is snowblower, and you say "snow" or "blower", you don't get a point).
  • You cannot say "it rhymes with" or "it starts with the letter" because c'mon, that's just cheap.
  • Oh, and you can't just say it another language either.
  • If you get your teammates to guess all the words on a card and you still have time left, you can move on to another card. HOWEVER, if you messed up a word (saying "snow" when the word was "snowblower") then you can't continue onto a new card.


...from playing pictionary with my family members. :) People say funny things under pressure when they are trying to describe a word with limited vocabulary.

Grandpa, describing rain: "Melted frozen snow that's wet!"

Cousin: What do you get when you throw a pile of glue on the floor?
Answer (apparently...): A blob

Friend: "You know when you say I love you in sign language, he's a superhero and he does that."

Emily: Uh.. I think it's something you either spit or pee into.
Answer: Urn
Everyone else: NO!! Haha. :)

Grandpa: Peaches!
Uncle Harold: Apricots!
(and Uncle Harold got this right... they have strange minds)

So. I hope next time you're looking for a group game to play, you end up playing Talking Pictionary and I hope you are amused by what people come up with to describe things!

What's your favourite group game? Do you like learning about how people think?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Was One Strange Kid

My graduation is like, 5 days away, and in the spirit of grad I wanted to do some sort of "looking back" post. My plan was to scrounge up some old journal entry of mine and analyze how much I've changed. However, I don't really write a lot of journals. I basically write journals when I feel really emotional about something (which always seems to happen when I stay up too late reading emotionally intense books, so...), and when I'm on vacation. So... there goes that idea.

Also, it's really, really hard to summarize yourself in a couple of paragraphs. I wrote a letter to myself when I was 12 that I'm supposed to read when I'm 22, and I'm pretty sure the gist of it is "I'm 12 right now and these are my friends: [list of friends]". I have no idea what I would put in a single letter that could give future-me an accurate picture of present-me. Do I talk about my friends, what I like to do, my beliefs? What?

Anyway... while I don't have an old, comprehensive journal entry to analyze, I do have lots of old journals that I've written random things in over the years (very random things) and some of the things were so random I just couldn't help but laugh at how crazy of a kid I was. So I thought I'd share some of those things with you.

Oh, and just a note, whenever I'm quoting from one of my notebooks, I quote exactly - spelling mistakes and all. Just so you know that I actually CAN spell.


2001: 7 years old 

The above journal is from the first diary I had (and the last). The first entry here is talking about how much I dislike my cousin, because she said she couldn't read my writing. (You know what, 7-year-old Alyssa? I can't read your writing either). Then later in life I went back and crossed out "mean" and wrote "nice", but then even later I ended up going back and crossing out "nice" and re-writing "mean and nasty" in red pen.

If anyone's interested, I get a long just fine with my cousin now. ;)

2002: 8 years old!

This notebook was called a "Slam Book" and it had questions at the top of some of the pages that were like "Your best excuse for turning in your homework late is..." and so on. Some of the questions my eight-year-old self deemed to answer were:

The dumbest love note you ever received was from... noneone

The flirting technique that always works for you is... tikling my back

If you had to marry a teacher from your school you would choose... Mrs Turner or Ms Mackinnis

(Reading these questions makes me wonder how my mother thought this notebook was appropriate for an 8-year-old...)
Also, the page shown in the picture above is a list of my friends on the left and then "how they act" on the right side. I'm happy to say that I have now succesfully grown out of having rating systems for my friends... :D

probably around 2004, 8-10 years old:

So I found a song that I am sorry to say that I wrote. It goes like this:

Friends forever
we love and care for who they are
and who they will be
we're always together

Friends will save us from the pouring sadness
and the rock hard hearts
They'll lift spirits and dance in the sky

AUGGH it's so bad!!! "Pouring sadness"!?!? "Dance in the sky"!?!?! Obviously I was a master at imagery back then... haha. Thank goodness I had little to no aspirations to become a songwriter...

2004, probably 9 years old:

So my 9-year-old self decided to make up some jokes and write them down. They are... embarassing.

Lucy: Sniff, sniff.
Teacher: Have you caught a cold?
Lucy: No, it caught me.

Herbert: How do you add 2+2?
Corey: to what?
Herbret: each other
Corey: Swich places
(WHAT?? This is not only not funny but it makes NO SENSE)

Teacher: Amy, how do you spell zebra?
Amy: e-b-r-a
Teacher: Where's the z?
Amy: On vacation

What I want to know is, HOW did I think any of these jokes were even remotely funny??? Little Alyssa, I do not understand you.

2004: 10 years old

"Arielle, someone at camp, said she had a 'pretend friend' named Eddie. Why I'm metioning this is because I thought 'Why don't I have a pretend friend?' I made one up. I'll tell you about her."

I think it's really funny how my first reaction to finding out about someone else's imaginary friend is not a normal kid's reaction of "wow you are way too old for things like that" but "What? Why don't I have one?" Little Alyssa, you were one strange kid.

2005: 10/11 years old

Excerpt!: "When I read I get so scooped up into my book I hardly know where I am"

"Scooped up"???? I don't think that word means what you think it means, Little Alyssa.

2006: 11/12 years old

When I was in grade six, my family and I went on vacation to Waterton/Glacier National Park, traveling through the U.S. to get there. You know how whenever you visit some landmark, there's signs with information about the landmark around? Well, for some reason I thought it would make sense to COPY THE ENTIRE SIGN. And there are like, 4 pages of signs I copied on this trip. WHY, 12-year-old Alyssa, WHY???

Oh, and I also found a list of 62 questions in one of my notebooks, which I'm guessing I probably thought up to ask my dad when he said goodnight to me to make him stay longer. You can read the whole list of 62 here, if you want.

So, now you know what I was like as a kid, and you can see that I am still pretty weird, just in different ways. ;) (Although I like to think I have a better sense of humor now...)

What crazy things did you do as a kid? Oh, and if you want to hear more about me and my weird family you can follow me on twitter, @AlyssaSherlock. :)

Oh and here's a picture of me when I was six (the scrape on my nose is because I fell off my bike):

Have a great summer!


me & Little Alyssa


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