Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Category Archives: Non-writers just don’t understand

Hey, writer friends, ever had this sweet, sweet moment…



Backstory: Sent Hooligans to my agent a week ago. Yesterday officially switched back to a manuscript I’m working on collaboratively with a friend (tentatively called Rafa & Rose), which has been set to the side for five months.


My brain woke me up at about 4:30 am this morning with ideas for something I’ve been playing around with since I was twelve. And by “playing around with,” I mean it’s one of the generally plotless 200,000+ word monstrosities that were my first attempts at writing a novel.


No, I did not write that much at twelve, I swear. That came much later. Anyway, years and many, many, many writing lessons later… I got ideas for some new takes on the characters and actual plot last winter, then played around with writing a few scenes to see what happened. Last night I rented just a terrible horror movie that I had to stop watching because it was just…so…bad. Watched several episodes of Intervention to research the effects of meth addiction for Rafa & Rose. Then got a bit bored, so I opened up the scenes I’d written in like January.

4:30 a.m. Brainsplosion of ideas for plot. Like really good ideas, even a potential title. And now I’m torn. What do I work on? What I’ll probably do is work on both simultaneously. When it comes to writing, I tend to follow my brain, mostly because I don’t want to lose that passion. Unless I absolutely have to finish editing something to meet a deadline, of course.

Writer friends, what do you do when inspiration for a new WIP lightning-bolts you? Do you force yourself to finish the current WIP or follow your brain?

Non-writers just don’t understand: Missing imaginary people


missing characters

So I just spent the past five months majorly re-writing my manuscript, per the amazingly comprehensive feedback from my awesome agent. I re-wrote the entire first 2/3s of it. After it’s been re-written so many times already. I’ve lost count of how many different chapter ones I’ve had.

It was grueling, but I cannot find the appropriate words to express how proud I am of the outcome…which is kind of bad, seeing as I’m a writer. I think (hope!) it’s finally there. Anyway, I sent my agent the shiny, vastly-improved new manuscript four days ago!


And now I’ll be waiting awhile for feedback. I feel like there’s this gaping hole in my life. Like, what do I do with myself now that I’m not brainstorming, writing, enhancing setting, re-reading, and editing Hooligans? Oh, and slashing word count. And…I miss my characters. Already. I love them all for different reasons.


I’ve spent so, so much time with these characters over the past two years. To really capture them, I’ve had to live inside their heads. Experience their past, present, and futures through their eyes. Imagine their reactions to things as massive as losing a parent to as mundane as hearing certain songs. Not going to lie, it’s made worse by the fact that one of the MCs is my most favorite character I’ve ever written of all time. And for this particular story, I don’t think a sequel’s appropriate.

Missing imaginary people…sounds a bit strange. Not normal. But really it’s because our writerly brains operate on a different plane of existence, right?

*sigh* Guess I’ll get to work on all the critiquing I’ve fallen behind on. Oh, and that other MS I’ve got going.

Writer friends, do you find yourself missing your characters when you set a manuscript aside?

Sitting on my hands while two manuscripts are off limits


jAYnA6y…is hard for me. I’m kind of a writing addict. LOL. My agent is re-reading and preparing feedback on Hooligans. For Rafa and Rose, my collaborator and I are re-plotting the entire thing, based on suggestions from my fabulous agent. We picked a new inciting incident for both characters, which changed the external problem for each MC and the whole story line. We also cut a subplot which is leading to major chapter restructuring and cutting. So I’ve lost track of how many hours we’ve spent skyping and brainstorming to work through this. Probably at least twenty, but likely way more–time well spent though! We’re still not done, but we’re getting close. I can’t start re-working anything until we get through the whole novel, but I know it will be 100X better for it. Plus we’re working on setting up interviews with police officers and possibly lawyers to ensure we get the legal stuff created by the inciting incident right. So I can’t work on that.

What to do, what to do? I’m playing around with another WIP, so maybe I’ll go back to that. What can I say? I’m kind of a writing addict.

iron-man-waitingI’ll also continue reading Elements of Fiction: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings, by Nancy Kress. My agent recommended it and another plotting book. Follow me on twitter if you want to see my sporadic tweets of interesting quotes from it. I’ve got a lot of YA books waiting to be read on my Kindle. Though I could also enjoy the perks of American cable and Redbox.

Anyway, time to sit on my hands 😛

How do you occupy yourself when you can’t work on your WIP? Any YA books to recommend?

Digging my WIP out of the plot hole (AKA lack of plot)


ha5di…I think… (see previous post about WIP existential crisis). I’m sure my plot will keep evolving as I undertake this re-write, but–fingers crossed–I BELIEVE I’ve at least got a solid idea for my inciting incident.

Backstory: I always like to make things hard for myself by choosing to do things like write first person, dual POVs that involve a character from a different cultural background from my own. So this means lots of research (that’s a whole different topic of conversation) and also that each character needs an inciting incident. I also write contemporary YA without an obvious antagonist, like a dragon to slay or something. My MCs have to do battle against themselves and their parents and poverty and school, all in the context of legal proceedings they have no control over but threatens almost everything in their lives.

oh my my mySo plotting this novel is no small task (for my brain, at least)….

I felt strongly that, in this WIP, the characters’ inciting incidents needed to be at least loosely connected without putting the characters and their families at odds. While majorly disrupting each characters’ lives and setting the mirroring plots in motion. The plot then should just follow: and then..and then…with each successive plot point making life harder than the last and the MCs making wrong choices in response to plot points that threaten to put their life dreams out of reach. All driven and fueled by each character’s fears, weaknesses, and core needs, while keeping in mind where I want my characters to end up as human beings. They are like real people in my brain.

Yep, I also spent many hours brainstorming around my characters’ internal workings and character arcs, which helped substantially with plotting. I have an idea of who my characters are when I start writing, but they evolve and grow more complex as I go; I don’t truly know who they are until long after the first draft, but all this got me tons closer.

**So I said “I” in those last paragraphs when I really meant “we.” I’m writing this novel collaboratively, so I’m blessed with another great brain who’s just as invested in our story as I am. So we spent hours and hours on Skype and messaging as well. Have I mentioned that I love her?**

attack hugI can just feel that we’re almost there. Our novel will be loads better because we took all this time to delve deep into our characters and their lives, and thought hard about what risks exist in their worlds and used all this to create an inciting incident that leads to the story problems that drive the plot. The feedback the incited our examination of the inciting incident, I can’t even….

hallelujahHey writers, have you a time when someone saved the day for your WIP?

Overcoming the Inevitable WIP Existential Crisis


58769011It happens to all of us, I’m sure. You’re cruising along on the WIP, feeling like you’re totally rocking it…until you either tell someone about it or let them read part of it. And they point out a major problem–like huge. And it causes you to call your entire life into question.

NoooOkay, not that extreme, but it completely challenges everything you’ve already written. The thoughts that race through your mind…it’s all crap…I’m going to have to completely re-write it…I have no plot…where’s my inciting incident…my characters are shallow and mundane. Take your pick.

I’ve had existential crises with every novel I’ve written, all the way back to that 200,000+word monstrosity that is my plotless first attempt at writing. Every time, I’ve worked through it and A) my novel has emerged 50 times better, and B) I’ve emerged as a better writer. After I get over that initial panic anyway 😛

During this specific crisis, I realized, thanks to the feedback of others, that A) I have no real concrete inciting incident, and B) I don’t really have a concrete plot stemming from inciting incident that spans the entire novel. My strength as a writer lies in creating characters. One of my weaknesses is plotting; it takes a very strategic, conscientious effort for me.

So I went to my favorite coffee shop in Singapore, enjoyed a blue orange mocha, and spent the afternoon going back to basics.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nI reviewed my notes and resources on plotting and then did some freewrite brainstorming around plot for the WIP. For me, the physical act of writing it down on paper changes the way my brain flows. Below you’ll find the handmade outcomes of my afternoon.

Fundamental questions I must consider about the story as a whole:

photo 1A fun little plotting template I conglomerated from a number of sources:


So here’s what I need to do: nail down the inciting incident then continually ask myself and then? And then? This will lead to a cause/effect series of events compounding from one another, with characters making choices that lead them to the crisis, the point of no return, and then to the climax. Whew. Okay. I can do this! This particular existential crisis is on the path to resolution, but I know there’s more to come 😛

Have you ever had a WIP existential crisis? Any plotting tricks that works for you?