Saturday, November 22, 2014

November Word War: Day 2

Stephanie here! Today is day 2 of our NaNoWriMo inspired word war. You don't have to be doing NaNoWriMo to participate, though! You can join in the fun regardless of what you're writing, how old you are, or where you live. We want this to be a fun day full of community and words!

If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday and will end Sunday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTWwordwar or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can approve you pronto.)

Can't wait to see your progress!

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Word War: Day 1

Stephanie here! Many of you requested that we host a word war during NaNoWriMo, and here it is! If you're participating in the NaNo craziness, we're hoping this weekend helps catapult you into a strong finish. If you're not participating in NaNo, we hope it's still a fun time for you of community and lots and lots of words!

If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war begins today and will end Sunday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTWwordwar or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can approve you pronto.)

Looking forward to a fun day!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Share Your Favorite Character Quote

It's getting close to the end of the year, which for published writers, means inventory. At the end of each year I must count the copies of the books in my house to report on my taxes.

Last week, I spent several hours cleaning my book area. I am down to 50 copies of Replication in hardcover! (I once had 500 copies, so this is a big deal for me.) This is the original book that you see pictured below.

I want to get rid of these!!!

Why, you ask?

Because my publisher sent me author copies of the paperback version with the new cover, but I don't want to take them to conferences to sell until all the hardcover books are gone.

So I'm going to give these away to the first 50 people who order them through my Square store. They are free, but it costs me $3 to ship them. So you'll still have to pay $3 to get the book. But $3 is a great price for an autographed (personalized) hardcover (now limited) edition of a book.

Anyone need some Christmas presents?

No more than one copy per order/person/address and I can't mail them internationally for $3 shipping. So if you live internationally and want one, we'll have to figure out what the international shipping cost is. If you're interested, click here to see the free copy of Replication in my bookstore.

Today's quote comes from one of my characters.

I remember writing that line and smiling, fighting back a chuckle at Martyr and how he'd come alive. Today I want to ask you all to share in the comments a quote from your work in progress that you are particularly proud of and/or a favorite quote from a published novel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Writing Process: Short and Sweet

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This past year I heard dozens of speakers talk about writing fiction. I loved every minute of it. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my favorite bit of advice I picked up this year, which was studying the firsts and lasts during the editing process. But I also heard two writers explain their writing process in such a clear and succinct way that I really wanted to share it with you.

Because it's my writing process too. And it makes things very simple.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant write novels together. They also blog about self-publishing, if you'd like to check them out. They taught a webinar about how they use Scrivener to write books together. It was pretty interesting. One writes the outlines and character descriptions, the other writes the book. Seems like a very well-oiled machine. And here's how they explained their writing process:

1) Write it.
2) Write what you mean.
3) Write it well.

Don't you just love that? So simple, and yet it says so much.

1) Write it.
This is the first draft stage. When you sit down to start a new book, like those of you currently doing NaNoWriMo, the goal should be to write that first draft as quickly as you can. Give yourself permission to be messy. Don't worry if things don't make sense. Don't worry about great opening lines. Don't even worry about telling vs. showing. Just write it. Do the thing. From start to finish. Get her done! Because you can, and will, fix it later.

2) Write what you mean.
This is the macro edit stage. Once you've completed that first draft, you know so much more about your story. You know where the holes are. You know what needs to be fixed. You know if you have too many characters or not enough. So go back through that book and write what you meant to say. Add description. Get all your facts in order. Put the right characters in the right place. Make sure the characters are saying things they'd actually say. Add those missing plot threads. Add scenes that need to be added. Delete scenes that were unnecessary. Get your character quirks and eye colors right.

Stephanie wrote a post on the editing process here that is quite helpful. The point is, take the time you need to mold this messy first draft into something that at least makes sense to read.

3) Write it well.
And now you're ready for the micro edits. You're going through your book this time to write it well. Tweak your prose for flow, for character voice, for rhythm. Weed out weak verbs and repetitions. Search for your own personal author quirks and make changes. Search for weasel words and those tricky words that often get misspelled like through, though, and thought. Put contractions into your dialogue if you're the type to forget them. Study your firsts and lasts and white space. Read the book out loud and edit for how it sounds.

Stephanie wrote a great post on the micro edit here. This stage takes as long as it takes--or sometimes as long as you have before the book is due. But this is where your editing skills shine, where you add the finishing touches on your masterpiece. It's a beautiful thing.

So, write the book, go back and write what you actually meant, then re-write it well.

And if you haven't downloaded the Self-Editing Checklist from the Go Teen Writers book, click here to get it for free.

When people ask you about your writing process, what do you say?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Character Crafting Games for NaNoWriMo: "Sherlock Holmes" Your Characters


IMG_4396 (4) - CopyGillian Bronte Adams is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. Orphan’s Song, the first book in her fantasy trilogy is now available. Hang out with Gillian on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page where she loves chatting about all things related to fantasy, books, villains, and adventures.

Creating characters is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Figuring out how they are unique and what makes them them gets me super excited.

With NaNoWriMo upon us—the month of mad scribbling, insane plot lines, and characters conceived through an overdose of caffeine—I thought it would be fun to explore a couple different character crafting games.

Today’s game involves everyone’s favorite sleuth…

Game #1: Sherlock Holmes Your Characters

Sherlock Holmes - NaNo Game

Anyone else a fan of BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Don’t you just love how he can run into a random person on the street and figure out their entire life story from just a few miniscule details? Like when he surmises that John’s sister is an alcoholic from the scratches around the phone’s power connector. (Elementary, my dear Watson.)

The little details are a great way of showing your character’s personality/history rather than simply telling it in the narrative or dialogue. But a lot of times, we get caught up trying to move the story along and revert to describing the same thing we’re used to seeing all the time—hair, eyes, clothes, face, etc.—without trying to go any deeper.

When you boil down and hyper-scrutinize the unique aspects of your character’s personality, you might just surprise yourself with what you come up with!

For example, if Sherlock Holmes walked through my door, some of the first things he might notice are the burned-out porch lights that I haven’t yet gotten around to replacing, the nicks on the doorknob where I fumble to get the key in at night when it’s pitch black because I still have to replace the porch lights, the stack of books and papers scattered across the living room floor, the myriad objects that have taken root on the kitchen table, and the pile of (clean) dishes sitting in the drying rack.

From all of this, he might surmise that I am a busy and slightly preoccupied person of the creative variety who lives and eats alone, and who spends more time reading and writing than attending to housework or simple things like going to the store to purchase new light-bulbs.

Thankfully, it is highly unlikely that Sherlock Holmes would be walking through my door any time soon—can you imagine what a nightmare that would be? But setting his powers of observation and reasoning to work on our characters is a great way to get to know them better!

Let’s try it…

If Sherlock Holmes were to sit down for a cup of brew with Amos McElhenny from my fantasy novel Orphan’s Song, he might instantly catalogue the following details:
  • Salt-battered boots
  • Heavy overcoat covered in dust and mud stains
  • Clothes well-worn but not tattered
  • Scarred hands
  • Wild hair
  • When challenged, Amos takes a step forward—unconsciously assuming a fighter’s stance
From which he might surmise that Amos McElhenny is of Waveryder descent and originally from a small town on the coast—a place he still visits on occasion, as evidenced by the state of his boots. He is a traveling man and has been on the road for several years without being able to put much coin aside. But the life of a peddler is not the only life he’s known. The scars on his hands speak to the life of a warrior or soldier, while his wild hair is indicative of his rebellious and free thinking nature.

See what I mean?

It’s fun!

Your turn!

Write a scene where your character meets Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of the conversation, see just what juicy tidbits Sherlock can discover from your character’s setting, garb, appearance, and manner of speech.

Don’t have time to write a scene that won’t actually make it into your novel? (Unless your novel is set in London … on Baker Street ... in which case you’re golden!) Simply dig out your deer-stalker (you do have one, right?) and study your character through the windows of your mind palace, logging what you see and practicing your observational skills.

Once you look beyond the superficial, you’ll be amazed what little details you can discover—and how those little details can give such wonderful insight into who your character is and how you can best utilize them in the story.

What are some things Sherlock Holmes would notice about your character? And what does that tell you about who your character is? Share in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Questions to Ask When Editing Scenes

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Every writer is different, so maybe it helps some people when they hear the advice that, "Every scene should have a beginning, middle, and end." That just confuses my poor, simple brain. Maybe it's the pantser in me, I don't know. For whatever reason, I work better with lists.

Scenes come in all shapes and sizes. In a first draft, I write my scenes by feel. I go into it knowing what my goal is, and I frequently know what my character's goal is, but I usually don't know more than that. I don't pay attention to how long the scene is, I just write until it feels done, and I try to find something snappy, poignant, or "I must turn the page to find out what happens next" to end on, but sometimes I don't even do that in a first draft.

It's when I'm editing that I start asking questions like these:

How does this scene impact the plot? If I cut it, would it matter?

I've found this is the best place to start. Otherwise I might spend a lot of time editing a scene and then deciding I don't need it at all.

Can I make this scene work harder for me?

I like to ask this question next because sometimes in my first drafts a scene only accomplishes one thing when it could easily take care of two or three if I just use my brain a bit. 

I'm going to use a scene from my novella Throwing Stones as an example. I like using my own stuff because I don't mind critiquing it, I know the thought process I went through (rather than presuming what another writer must have been thinking), and this particular book of mine is a free download on my website so it's easy and cheap for you if you want to see the whole thing.

When I considered the second scene of my first chapter, I needed it to communicate several things to the reader that are important to the story:
  • Abbie works hard to be a good student, but her life is very hectic.
  • It introduces her older sister, Skylar, and tells us she's getting married in 2 weeks.
  • Abbie feels jealous of the life her sister is living.
  • Skylar encourages Abbie to wear something nicer to dinner. Abbie thinks she's being bossy, but in the next chapter we'll learn that Skylar was trying to help out her little sister.
Even though the scene is short (472 words) I'm able to accomplish a lot. Which is critical to the success of a 16,000 word novella.

Am I telling it from the right point of view (POV)?

This is a moot point in most of my stories (all my published books have only one point of view character) but it's a very important question if you have multiple point of view characters. The guideline for deciding this is asking who has the most at stake in this scene? Or another way to phrase that is, who has the most to gain or lose?

Sometimes this question is very simple to answer but not always. Another issue you might face is that sometimes a character is suffering too much to be a good point of view character. Say your book has two point of view characters. They're both at a funeral for character A's mother and character B is here to support her. While Character A clearly has more at stake here, you might find she's too ensconced with grief to make for an effective POV character and that character B will give the reader a clearer picture.

Did I arrive late?

Just like the age-old writing advice of, "Start your story in the middle of the action," your scenes should each start that way as well. Something should already be happening.

This is how the second scene of Throwing Stones starts:

“Abbie!” From the bottom of the stairs, my sister somehow manages to groan and yell my name at the same time. “We’re gonna be late!” 
I flip my textbook page. “I’m coming!”
“You said that five minutes ago.” Skylar does nothing to hide the irritation in her voice.
She sounds so much like mom, I feel like a kid again.
I slide a foot into my flip-flop as I skim several more sentences. “This time I really am!”

In my early writing days, I might have chosen to start it like this:

After I fed Owen a snack, I put on the T.V. for him so I could study for the next day's test. I had been studying for several hours when I heard my sister come in the front door. In about fifteen minutes, I bet she would be harping at me to get ready for dinner with the Ross family. Sure enough, it wasn't long before she yelled, "Abbie!" up the stairs.

Do you see how much more effective and intriguing it is to start with the action of Abbie's sister yelling for her? While example number two certainly gives us more information and answers more questions right away, it isn't as interesting to read.

Do I help provide context for my readers? (Who, what, when, where, and why)

Once you've found the right action for starting your scene, you need to give your reader context as quick as you can. That means answering the who, what, when, where, and why of your scene. Who is there? What is happening? When is this taking place? Where are we? And why are we here?

Here are the next few lines of that scene in Throwing Stones:
I slide a foot into my flip-flop as I skim several more sentences. “This time I really am!”
From downstairs, I hear the muffled voices of Skylar and Owen. Then Owen yells, “Mommy? Where are my light-up shoes?”
“Don’t you want your nice shoes?” Skylar says. “To go with your nice shirt?”
“No. I want my light-up ones.” The duh is implied at the end of his sentence.
“Hey, Owen, let’s wear your nice shoes tonight, okay?” I call as I uncap a highlighter. “It’s a special night for Aunt Skylar.”
As are many nights.
Owen thunders up the stairs to his room, retrieves his black loafers, and runs back downstairs. And during this, I manage to read another two paragraphs.
“Oh, pal, you look so handsome,” Skylar says in the soft-hearted voice she only uses with Owen. Louder she adds, “And I bet your mother looks beautiful.”
I groan, mark my spot in the book, and clomp downstairs.
Let's see how I did with providing context in the first 200 words of my scene:

Who is there?: Abbie, Skylar, and Owen
What is happening?: Abbie is trying to study, Skylar is trying to get to dinner on time, and Owen is enduring a wardrobe change.
When is this taking place?: The last scene was Abbie picking Owen up from school. Here Abbie refers to wearing his nice shoes "tonight" so the reader can piece together that this is after school but before an evening event.  
Where are we?: A house. It doesn't state that Abbie is in her room, but she's studying upstairs and Owen goes past her in the hallway to his room at one point, so most readers would probably (correctly) assume she's in her room.
Why are we here?: Abbie is upstairs trying to get some peace and quiet to study. Skylar is downstairs trying to get everyone out the door. Owen goes back and forth.

Do I leave early and give my reader a reason to come back?

As soon as I've accomplished my objective with a scene, I want to get out of there. Even if it's not the end of a chapter, but just the end of a scene, I always try to end with something snappy, reflective, poignant, or question-provoking. Here's the close of this scene from Throwing Stones:
Skylar glances at Owen and bites her lower lip. “Which I appreciate. I just would suggest that you go upstairs and put on, like, that orange silk dress or something.”
Gosh, she’s bossy. I can’t wait for her to get married and get out of my hair.
“I’m not. Changing. My clothes.” I take Owen’s hand and stalk out the front door.
The next scene opens with the three of them in the car driving to dinner, so I could have made the choice to keep it all as one big scene. I liked ending here because it's more interesting to me than details like Abbie grabbing her purse and Owen getting his booster seat to ride in Skylar's car, etc. We end with a clear shot of Abbie's attitude and mood going into the evening, and it sets up the next scene nicely.

Any questions about scenes that I can answer? And don't forget your contest entry needs to be turned in on Wednesday!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Writing a book is hard: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I came across a quote this week that I thought was worth chatting about. I've sort of lived this advice for a while and it's a great time for me to give you my thoughts on it.

So, here it is. Rick Riordan in all his glory:

I absolutely agree with this quote, except that I do have one, teeny, tiny disclaimer and that's this: 

Every writer goes through seasons in their career. Even teen writers. And I think it would be a shame to overlook the benefit of not being contracted. That's right. There's a HUGE benefit to not having to write what you promised a publishing house you'd write. The benefit is that you can WRITE WHATEVER YOU WANT. 

We all go through phases where we need to start a million projects and one-by-one toss them aside. It's part of the growing process. If that's where you are, don't feel bad about it. Learn as you scribble furiously.

THAT SAID, Riordan's advice up there cannot be discounted. I've stumbled into this place with every book I've written and I can only now, after finishing my most recent manuscript, say with any certainty that it was perseverance that got me to the end. Not talent, not brilliance, not a magical bean. Perseverance. Period.

My detective story took me twice as long to write as any of my other books and I was tempted to throw in the towel on several occasions. I'm so glad I didn't. So very glad I stuck with it to the end. Even if it never gets published, it's the story I wanted to tell and I'm proud that the story exists as one of my accomplishments.

The upside of sticking with it is that you really will finish a book. And that's something most people never do. If the writing is hard right now, if you'd rather start something new, do yourself a favor and try these things first:

1. Reread what you've written. My guess is that in those early pages--the pages you were excited about--you've given yourself hints. You've unintentionally told yourself where to go next. FOR EXAMPLE, when I was trying to develop a bad guy for Broken Wings (minor spoiler alert!), I remembered that a very creepy man simply disappeared during the climax of Angel Eyes. It was enough of a start to get me going again.

2. Delete a character. This one is a bit heartbreaking, but it can jump start your writing. What happens to your tale if that old lady with the best advice ever never appears? What does that do to your story?

3. Rewrite chapters from a different point of view. But that's so much work! I know, I do. But it will get you writing again. And you may find you like your storyworld better through the eyes of a different character.

4. Cut scenes that are bothering you. Just do it. Cut and paste them into another document in case you change your mind, but get rid of them. It's like getting a long overdo haircut. You'll feel cleaner and healthier for taking the plunge.

5. Plot out your next three scenes. This is hard for a pantser, but because it's so different from what you normally do, it could give you the boost you need to keep going. 

AND THE TRICK IS TO KEEP GOING! Editing is the fun part, but we've got to get our book written first. Get it on the page. Fix it later. That other story that's been begging for your attention? It'll be fun at first too, but I PROMISE, it will get hard. They all do.

Tell me, what do you do when you hit the sagging middle of your book? 
What keeps you writing?