The Importance of Plot
I'm back! It's been quite a while since my last blog post- I've been awfully busy promoting Stone Ridge, writing my next novel, and most importantly, teaching. Sorry for the delay.
So, I just finished a YA book called The Opposite of Music, by Janet Ruth Young. It tells the story of Billy, a teenager in Boston, whose father has been diagnosed with depression. It's a profound and important premise and it sheds light on a serious, but often overlooked disease. The book is eloquently written, with a strong first person narrative voice, but there's one minor issue I couldn't get past- plot.
Now, I am not someone who has to read a "shoot 'em up", "vampirey", mythological thriller to be entertained. On the contrary, I teach my English and creative writing students to value the development of character first and foremost. After all, we are all humans and literature's primary function, in my opinion, is to shed light on the human condition. With that being said, stories are also a pivotal aspect of that human condition. We all "want" things and it's the pursuit of those wants that drives us. It's also those pursuits that create interesting and riveting storytelling.
Writers have to find this difficult balance between telling stories and finding the intricacies of the human will. Luckily, in many cases, they go hand in hand. It's up to us as story tellers to blend them in a way that will resonate with readers. Of course, if you're Harper Lee, the whole plot thing might be optional :), but unfortunately, we aren't all Harper Lees. For most of us, an engaging story needs to accompany rich and vibrant characters.
Right now, I'm off to find that balance in my new book, Finding the Music. No vampires or sword fights in this one either, but hopefully a story worth following, along with characters that strive for what they want. Because isn't that why we turn the page?
World Blog Tour!!
I am so happy to be a part of the world blog tour this week. A special thanks goes out to the wonderful author, Carolyn Boehlke, who has linked me to this. You can find out more about her work at carolynkboehlke.weebly.com.
The idea behind this post is to offer some basic information about my work and my writing process. I will try to address some of the common questions I am asked, but please feel free to ask additional questions or make comments if you wish. I am also going to hold a little contest: The third person to comment on this blog will receive a signed copy of Stone Ridge, which will be released this September. Once that person is determined, I will contact him/her and we can go from there. Should be fun!
I will start with a little background. Having three YA novels published has been a dream come true. Since I was a teenager I have hoped to become a published novelist. I remember walking around my part-time job at a garden store, story ideas swimming through my head. I remember reading Stephen King books, wishing I could become that kind of storyteller. When If I Know It's Coming was published in 2012, it was the culmination of many years of hard work and faith. That being said, I'm still not where I want to be in my writing career. I have so many other ideas and aspirations to fulfill and I can't wait to pursue them. Who knows where they might lead, but to me, the creative process is rewarding in so many ways.
Speaking of my creative process. When I do readings and signings for my books, the most popular question (as it is for many authors) is: "What is your writing process like?" Well, that's a tough one. I have two small children, a full-time high school teaching job (which I love) and I coach Varsity tennis (which I also love). Needless to say, I'm not waking up each day and spending eight hours writing in a consistent routine. The bottom line is that my process changes with each book and with the time I spend on a project. Generally though, characters come first. When I am planning a novel, I create 3-5 main characters. I determine their "wants" and their "needs". I explore their backstories thoroughly. Much of the time these backstories don't even end up in the novels. It's important for a writer to understand every aspect of a character, even if the reader doesn't. Once those main characters have been molded, I start writing scenes. In some cases, like in Stone Ridge, for instance, I have a pretty good idea where the story is headed, where the climax and ending might be. Stone Ridge is a sequel though, which leant itself to that more easily. When I wrote If I Know It's Coming, the characters were clear, but the plot was not. It took lots of revision and trial and error to find the right adventure for which Tim Hansen was to partake. The end results for both books were equally satisfying to me, but they were reached in very different ways. The bottom line is that there is no "right answer" to how to construct a novel. It's about the end result and authors have myriad ways to reach that end game.
I also get asked a lot about my current projects. "What am I working on now?" Well, the last couple of years have been consumed by Zach Sutton and his family curse in The Ridge and Stone Ridge. As much as I have loved getting to know Zach and his predicament, it's time for something new. I am an avid music fan. I grew up in a very musical family, I play the drums, and I surround myself with music whenever I can. I have always wanted to write a book that centers around music in some way. A couple of years ago, I attended a Tedeschi/Trucks Band concert (Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are married). At that show I saw a young boy (he must have been 12 or so) with his grandfather selling merchandise. It turns out that that boy was Susan and Derek's son. All I could think at the time was, "What a fascinating life for a teenager. To travel the road with his "rock star" parents." At that moment I knew I would write my next novel about a teenager traveling on tour with his "rock star" parents. At this time, I am in very early preparations- just getting to know the main characters and their stories. I expect this book to take a bit longer to write than the past two, but I would like to take my time and create the best story possible.
I hope this post was beneficial. Remember, if you comment, you might just win a free copy of Stone Ridge when it comes out. If you have further questions or just want to read more about me and my work, feel free to stop by www.nickhupton.com.
I am pleased to link the blog tour to the next author, Karlajean Becvar. She is the author of The Firestorm Chronicles, a wonderful series about time travel, friendship, and the history of the Hinckley, MN fire. Check her blog out next Monday at www.thefirestormchronicles.weebly.com.
And the Mountains Echoed
I know, this is crazy. Two blog posts in three days, but I just had to get this out while it was fresh in my mind. About ten minutes ago I finished Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed and my mind is spinning.
First of all, some history. I have read all three of Hosseini's books. I have even taught The Kite Runner numerous times to high school students and it is without question one of my favorite books. I was also blown away by A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini's most recent novel, I can confidently say, is his most ambitious work yet. The novel is a spectacular look at humanity and one of its most pressing questions: Where and how are we rooted? By family? By place? By love? The writing, as is always the case with Hosseini, is beautifully crafted with detail and metaphor that mimic the realities of life.
The only issue with the book is that throughout, Hosseini weaves in different time periods and focuses on the points of view of different characters- not an easy task and he does it wonderfully. But at times, the book loses its rhythm. Just as I was learning and engaging in a character, the point of view would switch. But again, the various stories are blended beautifully at the end and it is a testament to his writing that he was able to pull it off, even if it didn't always appeal to me as a reader.
Hosseini also does a masterful job of weaving in Afghan history and culture. With all the stereotypes and judgments of the middle east, this novel shows the western world that peace and love are global. We need to stop living in a vacuum and Hosseini can be one of our guides on this quest. He is not only writing about this, but he heads a non-profit foundation geared toward providing assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He is practicing what he "preaches" (or writes in this case).
If you cherish what it means to be human, what it means to live and struggle, then I highly recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns and all of Hosseini's works.
Movie vs. Book?
Sorry it's been so long since I have written a new blog, but here you go. The whole "movie vs. book" thing is not a new question, so I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence out there by addressing it once again. But this summer I had a new experience. I just finished reading The Shining. I have always been a huge Stephen King fan. All of his stories are masterfully crafted and really creepy, which I love. But for some reason, this one rubbed me the wrong way. About half way through the book, I realized why I wasn't totally on board. It was because I had seen the movie first, which by the way, I also love. Nine times out of ten, if someone is asked which is better, the book or the movie, the book gets the nod. In this case though, it isn't that simple.
Let's say I had read the book twenty years ago, before seeing the movie. In that case I may have considered the movie disappointing because it didn't live up to the original story. But since I saw the movie first, to me, that was "The Shining." I went years before reading the book, so the Jack Nicholson version was fully ingrained in my mind. Ironically enough, King's original story became the impostor to me. Sounds ridiculous, right? But there is something about the simplicity of that movie that creeps me out. The book was again, well-crafted and King once again, proved that he is a master storyteller, but in this case, the character development and back stories caused a hiccup in the rhythm of the story for me. In the movie, I wasn't as concerned as to why Torrance goes nuts- he just did! And that was freaky enough.
So, the bottom line is maybe the movie vs. book question isn't that simple. Maybe it has to do with which story grabs you first. Don't get me wrong, I believe firmly in the power of books and their imaginative possibilities, and more times than not, movies don't do them justice. King was furious with the first movie version of The Shining because it didn't hold true to his work. That may be so, but it holds true to its own eccentric, ghastly view of the Overlook Hotel, and to me that's equally as convincing.
Just a quick plug here for any writer who does not yet have a writing group. Over my short writing career the past few years, I have found that there is no more valuable asset to my work than an honest, intelligent voice to tell me, "Yeah, this is working," or "You know what, this sucks!" Writers need to have a thick skin in this business for sure, but once you get past the whole, "I can't take criticism crap," having another writer help you through the process is irreplaceable. For my past two books I have worked closely with another North Star Press writer, Karlajean Becvar. She is an expert editor and her advice has been monumental in my work. I was going through some of her comments and edits tonight and it makes me wonder how any writer could ever do this on their own. So, in a nutshell, suck it up, put your work out there (when it's in a good enough place) and find a group of voices you can trust.
The Fault in Our Stars
So, I know I'm not the only writer who has read a book, closed it up, and then said, "I can't write like that." It happens to me all the time and it sends a wave of mixed emotions flowing through my body. On one hand, I just read a wonderfully written book. That's always a great experience. But on the other hand, it is quite humbling to know that the bar for my writing could be set so much higher.
Today I finished John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. It's a very popular book these days, at the top of just about every best seller list. I assumed it was good based on the reviews it had received, but I was quite frankly, skeptical. Rarely do books or movies live up to that kind of hype. However, I w Green's use of creative detail is extraordinary. The characters have truly unique voices, which convey virtually every possible emotion throughout the 200 page novel. So many times I asked myself while reading, "How did he think of that?" It's one thing to tell a good story, but an entirely different thing to convey the story with that kind of original detail and character. It absolutely lives up to the hype. And in a time of zombies, vampires, and wizards, it was very refreshing to read such a well-written book about real things. Not to say there isn't a place for the supernatural and fantasy (I am writing the sequel to a book that contains them both), but it is nice to know that there are real, true stories still being told in a profound way. Next up for me is Looking For Alaska. John Green has hooked me.
Writing a Sequel
So, I am currently writing the sequel to The Ridge. It has been a very different process than writing the first book. It is fun because I can expand on story lines I began in the first book, but I am also running into some problems. I never anticipated the consistency issues. I keep having to go back to The Ridge to check my facts about character ages, places, etc. Obviously, the facts have to be consistent from book to book. For instance, I just realized that one of the characters is six years younger than he is supposed to be. I guess I just found my first big revision project! Ha! If anyone out there has written a sequel and has some tips about how to keep those facts consistent, I would love to hear from you.
Gatsby and Point of View
So, I just finished reading The Great Gatsby for the third time. I am preparing to teach 11th grade English next fall and needed to brush up on this classic. It's a great book, obviously, but it definitely made me think about my own writing too. I admire this novel for its simplistic, but natural dialogue. The voice is clear and accurate. But I've always been curious about the point of view. As I have mentioned before on this blog, point of view is probably the most important decision a writer can make. Nick Carraway's point of view in Gatsby is interesting. For 90% of the book, it works, but I noticed that at the end, it bugged me. Nick is forced to make assumptions about what Gatsby was doing or saying when he wasn't even there. It makes me wonder if Fitzgerald all of sudden found himself in a tough spot, trying to relay Gatsby's (spoiler alert) final hours when the first person narrator wasn't even there. A tricky situation.
As I write the sequel to The Ridge, it definitely makes me consider my point of view. What issues am I going to run into later? As of now it is in
Finding The Time
Finding the Time
By: Nick Hupton
Whenever I do a book event of any kind, one of the questions I always have to answer is, “When do you find the time?” It’s a great question even though I am running out of creative ways to answer it. I am a high school English teacher. I coach the Varsity tennis team. I have two young kids, ages five and three. Suffice it to say, time is a luxury I don’t have. A lot of authors share this dilemma. So, my easiest answer to that question is usually, “Whenever there is a spare minute.”
Ideally, we authors would wake up in the morning, trot downstairs, have a little breakfast, read the paper, listen to the birds chirp, and then plop ourselves down at our desks to spend the next four to five hours writing to our heart’s content. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for most of us. I recently read Stephen King’s, On Writing (a must read for every writer, I should add). There is a lot of good advice for writers in that book. Very practical stuff. But one common motif that King continues to focus on is how important it is to write every day. He tries to write about ten pages a day at least. Of course, this is Stephen King we are talking about here. He gets paid millions of dollars to write, his kids are old enough that they aren’t constantly asking for more Goldfish. He has the luxury that so many authors do not: he can spend his days writing.
So the question is: How do we writers find the time to do what we love? When does the writing happen? Although I am clearly not living the life of Stephen King, I do agree with him. Writing every day is crucial. There is no way I could sit down during my kids’ nap times and pound out ten pages, but I do try to get something on paper. I am currently writing the sequel to The Ridge, and over the past couple of weeks (being a teacher does help me find some time in the summer) I have made a staunch effort to get some writing done every day. Even if it is just one scene. At least then the story will continue to move forward. I can stay in touch with my characters. I can stay consistent with my plot. Some days you may only be able to write one scene. Other days you may get five pages or even ten, like Stephen King. But however you do it, writing every day is a rule every serious author should follow.
It’s not a great answer to the question. Again, we all wish we had Stephen King’s time. The reality is that most of us don’t. So, we do what we can and we hope that what we turn out on the page is worthy of our readers.
Then we turn off the computer, or put down our pens, stand up, and follow the kids to the kitchen to get them more Goldfish.
The Ridge is out!
So, it's finally here. My new YA novel, The Ridge, is officially out. It's been quite a week for me. Busy teaching, coaching, parenting, and anxiously awaiting the release of this new book. I came home late one night from coaching and 3 boxes of books were waiting for me on my front porch. What a nice surprise! As most authors do, I opened the book right away and read through it, hoping not to see any typos or mistakes. And, luckily, I must say, it looks pretty good. If you would like a copy of the book, there are many options. You can order signed copies from my website, or you can come to one of the many events I have set up, or you can order from Amazon, Barnes