Writing Lessons from Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

I read this book because I was curious after seeing the movie trailer on TV in January and February. This post has light spoilers.

  1. Know how to accurately represent your character’s voice. The main character is a teenage boy, but he doesn’t speak like one. He sounds like a 16-30 year old woman.
  2. Don’t stereotype your setting. Even as someone who’s never been to the South, I cringed at some of the stereotypical representations of people who live there. (Do people in the South really wear Gone with the Wind-esque dresses to prom?)
  3. Edit!!! Thirty pages into this nearly six hundred page book, I realized everything I’d read so far could be cut out. That thought struck me again and again as I waded through this book.
  4. Move at a snappy pace. There were long passages were absolutely nothing happened. In a book with a threat hanging over the story, I expected a faster pace and more action.
  5. Keep out irrelevant information. I didn’t need to read passages in Gaelic, Latin, and what was supposed to be old English(?) as the characters read them–especially since the response to that was almost always, “This doesn’t help at all.” I found myself skipping those sections more often than naught. It would have been enough if the characters had simply commented on the more relevant sections.
  6. Show us the main characters falling in love. The YA market is sadly overrun with paranormal romances where the leads fall in love because it’s destiny or for no discernible reason whatsoever. In addition to being frustrating, it also gives readers unrealistic ideas of love.
  7. Don’t interrupt the tension of the climax. The big event of the story is on the brink of happening and…there’s a surprise birthday party?
  8. If you use parallels, symbolism, etc, make sure they work. I thought this novel was trying to parallel the American Civil War to something because it was brought up over and over and there was a reenactment on the same day of the climax. I was kind of lost as to what the Civil War really had to do with anything.
  9. Black and white doesn’t fly anymore. The idea of Dark Casters and Light Casters really bothered me, especially since they don’t have a choice. I know it’s the curse, but I find it hard to accept that someone’s true nature can just be erased and he or she can become fully “evil.” Since the Dark and Light was first mentioned, I kept waiting for the idea to be subverted, but it never was.

Pre-Production and Writing

As a Communication major, I have a bit of a background in filmmaking. Over and over again, we were told to spend a lot of time in pre-production because that would make production and post-production easier and more seamless.

In film, pre-production refers to all the preparation: scripting, storyboarding, planning the shots, etc. Production is the actual act of shooting the film. Post-production is editing.

It’s a little different in writing, of course. Pre-production: discovery writing, plotting, world building. Production: writing. Post-production: writing and editing.

There are essentially two types of writers. George R. R. Martin (author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series) calls them “gardeners” and “architects.” The gardeners just plant ideas here and there to see what blossoms. The architects blueprint everything.

Yet, even though gardeners and architects work in two different ways, I believe pre-production is important for both.

Up until recently, I was never particularly satisfied with the books I wrote. I would plot them out and write off of that (although there were moments when my characters led me off course) but there was still something missing.

When I started listening to StoryWonk Sunday I realized what it was: I’ve been neglecting the discovery writing. Discovery writing is basically the writing equivalent of pre-production. I always kind of shied away because I’m not a fan of those long character worksheets that ask questions like: What is your character’s yearly income?

I’ve recently started to see that there are other ways to go about it. Instead of filling out a character worksheet, I free write in first person for all the main, major, and secondary characters. I still learn their life stories, likes, dislikes, family history, habits, speech patterns.

tl;dr: The pre-production stage is incredibly important for writers! Properly preparing means that production and post-production will be much easier! Whether you’re a gardener or an architect, with a little experimentation (and maybe some help from Google to see how others do it), you can figure out the pre-production methods that work best for you.