Dead Boy Is Out Now!

Dead Boy, my debut middle grade novel, is available now.

Praise for Dead Boy:

"Gale takes readers on a dark and surprisingly funny journey.... A great recommendation to middle grade fans of dark humor." –School Library Journal

"A stinky, creepy tale for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider." –Kirkus Reviews

Get a copy at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

Defeating Writer's Block

Sometimes the words flow, scenes practically write themselves, and everything is fine in the world. Other times, crafting a single sentence seems like an impossible feat. When this happens, I always wonder whether this is it. The end. I'll never write anything worthwhile again.

I can't give into writer's block, though, because doing so would mean abandoning my dreams and quitting something that gives me true fulfillment. I have to find a way to defeat writer's block. The best way depends on the underlying problem.

So here are some common problems and the solutions that work for me.

Problem: The manuscript isn't working. If there's an issue with my project, my writing grinds to a halt and my passion fades.

Solution: When this happens, I need to accept that there's a problem and focus on fixing it. Instead of tryingunsuccessfullyto plow ahead, I need to stop and reassess the manuscript. This generally involves reading what I've already written, adjusting the plot and/or characters, and cutting the parts that don't work. It can feel like a step backward, especially if I'm losing a lot of words, but it's the only way to move forward and to produce a finished manuscript I can be proud of.

Problem: I'm thinking about another project. This usually becomes a problem when I'm waiting for feedback on a finished manuscript. When I try to write something new, I find myself obsessing over the coming responsewhat it's going to be and when I'm going to get it. I may also worry that as soon as I get really into a new project, I'll have to stop to do revisions on the other manuscript.

Solution: Write something other than a novel. I'm at my happiest when I'm working on a project, so I don't want to take a long break, but sometimes starting a new novel just isn't a good idea. Instead, I should focus on something elseblog posts, short stories, picture books, etc. These things aren't easier to write, but they are different, which can be refreshing. They're also shorter, which is perfect when I don't want to invest in a big project.

Problem: I'm feeling down. When I'm having problems in life, it can be difficult to muster the energy and motivation needed to write.

Solution: Commit to a short writing session. If I tell myself that I only have to write for ten minutes, it doesn't seem so daunting. When the ten minutes are up, I may decide to stop, but more often, I'll have gotten into the project and I'll want to keep going. A good writing session always makes me feel like I've accomplished something. It boosts my mood, making it easier to write again later.

What triggers writer's block for you? What helps you defeat writer's block?

Real Location Or Fake Location?

When you’re deciding on the setting for your novel, should you pick a real location or a fake one?

I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to this question, but there are certainly pros and cons to both sides.

Some people like using real place because they like writing what they know. They enjoy placing the story in the town where they grew up. They know readers who have been there will get a kick out of it, too, and that could boost local sales. Maybe there’s a city that fits the story perfectly. Maybe the story was created with a real place in mind.

Personally, I prefer to use fake locations. This gives me the freedom to create a world that suits my story. If I want a river flowing through town, boom, I have a river. If I need a cliff, I have a cliff. It means I don’t have to worry about getting facts wrong and annoying the people who live there. It means I can say negative things without angering people.

If you’re using a real location, it's smart to pick a place where you’ve lived, or at least visited. If you need to place your story in a place you’ve never visited, and you can’t go there as research, try to get someone who has lived there to beta read for you.

If you’re making up a location, you’ll need to develop it thoroughly. What is the climate? The population? The wildlife? The crime rate? It’s like creating a character. You need to know a lot, far more than your readers ever will.  

Keeping Track of Time in Your Novel

While binge watching a television show—the only way to watch a television show—I noticed that the moon was full every single time it was shown. It was a minor thing, but it annoyed me. When one episode provided a date to go with the full moon, I did a quick Internet search and confirmed that the full moon was in fact not accurate.

I didn’t stop watching the show, but I was momentarily pulled out of the story. And while this may say more about me than it does about the show itself, I’m sure I’m not the only one to get hung up on details like this.

So how can you, as a writer, avoid making similar mistakes?

First, keep a calendar for your novel. I rarely include dates when I write, but I almost always have specific dates in mind. I may not mention them, but I pay attention to things like holidays, days of the week, and yes, sometimes even moon phases. This way, the few time references that make it into the book are consistent. In other words, I don’t say it’s Monday and then two days later say it’s Monday again. I don’t make it snow in summer. I don’t say the moon is full every time I describe it.

Second, keep track of other schedules as needed. For example, if I’m writing something set in a school, I keep track of the school’s start and end times and the characters’ class schedules. Depending on your story, you might need to note things like public transportation schedules or time zone differences.

Finally, if you have multiple point-of-view characters, make sure you keep track of both their individual timelines and how their timelines relate to each other.

You don’t need a fancy program to do this. You can find calendars online for present, past, and future years. Print them if you want, or just refer to them as you write. You can also use day planners for your characters' schedules, but honestly, I generally find that a couple of charts added to my other manuscript notes does the trick. The key is to know more about your manuscript’s timeline than the readers do. 

Writing Tips: Getting to Know Your Character

A lot of character development exercises consist of a list of questions. What's your character's favorite food? What's your character's favorite type of music? What's your character's greatest fear? And so on.

These questions are great, and every author should think about the answers. Just don't stop there. Knowing the character's preferences will make it easy to describe the character and their daily life, but writing consistent reactions and motivations is more difficult. To do this, you need to ask yourself the right questions.

What do your characters value? Are your characters religious? Why or why not? Do your characters think lying is sometimes justified? What about breaking the law? Do your characters value intelligence, kindness, or loyalty the most?

What do your characters want? Are your characters just trying to get through the school year without being humiliated? Are they seeking true love? Fame? Riches? A really good sandwich?

How would your characters react to various events? For example, what would your characters do if they witnessed someone shoplift? Saw a ghost? Got fired from a job or expelled from school?

How would your characters characters describe themselves? People don't always have accurate views of themselves. For example, do your characters think they're smarter than they actually are?

The Five Stages of Revising Your Manuscript

The Kubler-Ross model was created to describe the emotions we go through when faced with death and loss, but after struggling to edit my manuscript, I realized it could fit the revision process pretty well, too.

Denial: I don’t really need to change this. It’s fine. Every story has plot holes. So what if mine does, too? It’s fine. Really. No one will even notice.

Anger: It’s not fair! There are successful books that have bigger issues than this, but the reviewers will never let me get away with it. And how dare anyone suggest I change a word of my perfect manuscript? It's not my fault if some people don't understand it. Did they even read it carefully?

Bargaining: What if I just make this other change instead? That’ll be good enough, right?

Depression: I’m never going to be able to fix this. I should just give up. On this manuscript. On writing. On everything. I’ll never be a successful author.  

Acceptance: It’ll take some work, but I can fix this. 

Writing Tips: The First Page

I love writing openings. For me, it’s the best part of the novel, when everything’s fresh and exciting, when nothing’s gotten bogged down with complications.

Every once in a while, though, I struggle to come up with the right beginning. And I know I’m not alone.

When trying to craft the perfect first page, here are the things I keep in mind:

  • Avoid overused or boring beginnings. Having your character wake up might seem like a natural start, but it’s usually not very interesting. Of course, there are exceptions, and if your character wakes up under intriguing circumstances, this could work.
  • Avoid fake starts. Take starting with a dream as an example. A lot of new writers try this, and a lot of experienced writers caution against it. A dream might seem like an easy way to make things exciting right away, but readers are trying to figure out what your character’s world is like. A dream at the very beginning is just going to confuse things. And if readers find the dream interesting, they might be disappointed when it ends and the real story begins. Other fake beginnings—such as starting with a story within a story or during a role playing game—are just as problematic.
  • Avoid pointless action. We all want our opening pages to burst with excitement, but that excitement has to be meaningful. Starting with a battle when we don’t know who’s fighting or why isn’t necessarily going to hold our attention.
  • Introduce your characters. The first pages need to get readers invested in the main characters. Show readers who your characters are, and make sure those characters are interesting.
  • Include tension. The tension doesn’t have to be a fight to the death, but there should be some sort of mystery or problem. Hopefully, this problem will help develop the character or foreshadow the plot. Ideally, it will do both.
  • Develop the tone of your book. Is the story supposed to be funny? Romantic? Adventurous? Try to convey this in the first pages.