Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill here. Go Teen Writers is taking  a break for Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you doing NaNo, our thoughts are with you. Keep at it! You can do it.

And for those who aren't doing NaNo, we hope you get some fun family time, a nice dinner, and maybe some writing time too.

See you back here on Monday!

Monday, November 23, 2015

How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test

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 (Birch House Press). 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.


It feels like I've been gone a very long time, but that's probably because I've spent a lot more time awake these last 6 weeks than I typically do, thanks to this guy:

(If you're thinking, "Hey, lady, spare me the baby pictures and just talk about writing already," feel free to scroll to where it says, "How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test.")

Eli in a rare moment of being awake and not having his brother and sister crawling all over him.

Eli is doing great, and we're having an awesome time with him. He's not one of those magical "slept through the night at 4 weeks old" or "happy and content all the time" kind of babies, but we think he's pretty special.

Eli awarded his first smile to Connor, but fortunately I was there too and had my phone handy!
It hasn't been a particularly restful maternity leave. The Royals being in the postseason and winning the World Series led to lots of late nights and craziness under my roof. Including my husband and I dragging Eli to his first game when he was 6 days old.

Also, Pioneer Woman was in town, and I refused to miss that, even if Eli was only 3 weeks old. The event was sold out and insane and wonderful.

Mom, Pioneer Woman (if you squint, you can see her signing books behind us) and me

I also had lots of phone calls/texts/emails with my agent over some VERY EXCITING NEWS that I want to talk about SO BADLY, but I'm telling myself that I'm a professional and need to be patient for official documents to be processed. I did, however, allow myself to celebrate with my favorite ice cream. And a baby who didn't think he should have to sleep just because it was bed time.

Okay, I got all the Eli talk out of my system. On to writing!

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

When I last blogged, I talked about creating an "all is lost" moment for your story. As a quick refresher, sometime close to the end of your book, it's smart to have a moment when things look impossibly bad and your main character gives up on ever getting through this thing. A few of the examples I used were Frozen where Anna learns Hans's true motives or Charlie Brown Christmas where Charlie brings in his tree and everyone laughs at him.

This moment is almost always followed by another character stepping in to help. I've always called this the the cavalry moment (though it was pointed out to me by several that I actually called it the Calvary moment in several older postswhoops!) because it's a moment when someone swoops in and rescues your character from their emotional pit. In Frozen, Olaf steps in and teaches Anna what true love is, and in Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus gives his famous speech about the true meaning of Christmas.

Could you have your character rescue themselves from their All Is Lost moment? While your main character certainly needs inner strength for us to have followed them this far, if your character can get themselves out of the All Is Lost moment without help, I would question if you've made the moment strong enough.

The cavalry moment often leads to your character forming a plan. Depending on the type of story you're telling, this part of the plot might take multiple chapters or it might be just a scene or two. Boiled down, it looks like this:

Because of what I learned, I will now...
Followed by:
Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

Let's break those down and look at them individually:

Because of what I learned, I will now...

One of the reasons I find it impossibly hard to write out of order is that moments build on other moments. It's hard for me to logically think about my character's current emotions if I haven't let myself experience their emotions in the previous scene. If you don't build the emotions logically, the end of your book will lack oomph. (To use the technical term—ha!)

Your character should have learned something in the rescue from the All is Lost moment and from it, they should form their course of action.

Let's look at our examples once again. In Frozen, Olaf has made Anna see that Kristoff truly loves her. Even though Anna needs to stay warm, she forms a radical plan to leave the safety of the room and go into the snow storm to find Kristoff so she can hopefully kiss him before freezing to death.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie has learned the true meaning of Christmas from Linus and makes a bold move. He takes his shrimpy little tree and leaves the auditorium. He intends to decorating it and show everyone that even though his tree doesn't fit "the modern holiday spirit," it still has value.

Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

This moment could also be described as the set up for your character's final test.

We want Anna and Kristoff to live happily ever after. We want Charlie to march off with his little tree and feel content with a quieter kind of Christmas. But if the stories ended like that, it would feel a bit thin, wouldn't it?

We need to see the main character tested one last time, and the Oh, Snap! moment is the set-up for that opportunity.

In Frozen, Anna is trying to find Kristoff and is unable to. But when the storm suddenly stops, she spots him. Hoorayvictory is in sight! But then the Oh, Snap moment happens. She sees Elsa on the ground and Hans raising his sword. Anna is thisclose to kissing Kristoff and saving herself from freezing to death, but she realizes there isn't time to save herself and her sister.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie finds Snoopy's doghouse has won first prize in the Lights and Display contest. But he reminds himself of the true meaning of Christmas and vows that he isn't going to let silly things like this ruin his holiday. He takes an ornament off of Snoopy's doghouse and hangs it on the tree. It immediately buckles under the weight. "Oh!" Charlie groans. "Everything I touch gets ruined."

Often, Oh, Snap is the moment I leave out in my first draft, and it isn't until my second draft that I figure out why my ending isn't working well. So if you feel like the end of your story lacks something and you can't put your finger on it, this is a good thing to check for.

Do you have a moment like this toward the end of your book? If so, we'd love to hear it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

A little inspiration from Walt Disney

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Hello from Disneyland, everyone! I thought it would be incredibly cool to plop down at a table on Main Street, whip out my laptop, and actually blog from the storytelling capital of the world, but alas! Disneyland does not provide WiFi!

It does, however, provide endless moments of inspiration. 

So, from the bed in my hotel room, I give you this quote by Walt Disney.

"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

Such a fabulous quote, right? And one that holds a rather special place in Disney's current fireworks show. I heard the words for, perhaps, the millionth time tonight and it dawned on me that they carry more meaning than I had initially given them credit for. 

Clearly, the Disney folks can and will continue to add on to their theme parks. They're not short on imagination and they have perfected the practice of bringing in top notch thinkers whose sole purpose is to IMAGINE. 

But the past few days have taught me to think a little deeper about Walt Disney's words. 

My daughter, Jazlyn, is seven and she's been to Disneyland several times. As you can imagine, it's quite the experience for her. All princesses and fairies, fireworks and parades. And we've lucked out because she really likes rides as well. Even the big ones. Even the ones that scare her. 

Except . . .

This year, I'm not entirely sure what's happened. Some form of common sense must have kicked in and she realizes, now, that she's not immortal. And that awareness has made her a little skittish. Rides that she's ridden oodles of time have suddenly become terrifying. Teary-eyed terrifying.  

When she started weeping--seriously weeping--at the idea of climbing onto Grizzly River Run, we got to work concocting an origin story. That's right. An origin story. Jazlyn and I talked our way through the fictional scenario that led to our NEED to climb into a gigantic inner tube and float down some moderately frightening rapids. It went a little something like this:

The gigantic wooden bear at the front of the ride looks nice and friendly, right? HOWEVER, if you do not keep him full of salmon, he turns exceptionally vicious. Mickey Mouse asked Jaz and me to see that the bear got fed. BUT! While we were heading off to snag a few fish, a group of BAD GUYS stole our fishing rods and flung them into the river. We were left with absolutely NO CHOICE but to go in after them. I mean, if we couldn't find our rods, we couldn't feed the bear. And if we couldn't feed the bear, he just might eat all of Disneyland. And we could not let that happen.

Silly, yes? But it worked. Jaz climbed onto the ride and then, it became a thing. We brainstormed our fictional origin stories for The Tower of Terror and Splash Mountain and California Screamin' and, even though she wasn't afraid of it, we have a great little backstory concocted for Thunder Mountain Railroad as well. She was having so much fun making up stories, the fear got shoved aside and she was able to enjoy the ride with the rest of the family.

Disneyland is, in huge part, full of experiences that take you inside the imaginations of others. But, as storytellers, we're fooling ourselves if we think our readers can entirely divest themselves of all their baggage when they dive into our tales. We can make them forget for a while, sure, but the best stories, I think, acknowledge that readers bring their own lives to the page. 

Every reader has a history, adventures that have brought him or her to our fiction. And that means magic happens every single time a reader opens the cover of a book. 

Because none of our origin stories are the same. We each bring our own imagination, our own fears, our own hang-ups and hardships to the things we read. The story will not, cannot, touch every reader identically. Our experiences our unique. 

So, while Jazlyn and I may ride Grizzly River Run so that we can find our fishing poles, feed the bear, and save Disneyland, YOU undoubtedly will experience those rapids in an entirely different way. 

And that's not just the magic of Walt Disney. That's the magic inherent in every imagination.

Jazlyn's imagination, her childhood fears and the stories that helped her overcome them, became a part of Disneyland this week. And I think Walt would be proud. I think he knew something every storyteller would do well to remember.

Stories help us conquer our fears. It's never "just a book." If it's a good one, if it's doing its job, it's much, much more.

Tell me, how has fiction helped you conquer your fears? If you're not sure it has, think on it some. I bet stories have moved you more than you know.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Nadine Brandes learned to write her alphabet with a fountain pen. In Kindergarten. Cool, huh? Maybe that's what started her love for writing. She started journaling at age nine and thus began her habit of communicating via pen and paper more than spoken words. She never decided to become a writer. Her brain simply classified it as a necessity to life.

Nadine is a stay-at-home author and writes stories about authentic faith, bold living, and worlds soaked in imagination. She lives in Idaho with her husband and works as a freelance editor. When she's not writing, editing, or taste-testing a new chai, she is out pursuing adventures. A Time to Die was her first novel, A Time to Speak, her second. Visit Nadine at

It’s easy to get in a writing rut.

I’m not talking about voice or plot or writer’s block, or getting stuck in flat characters. I’m talking about how you write your manuscript. I’m guessing that 99% of us write it on our computers. We type our stories. Why? Because it’s faster, because it’s harder to misplace a computer than it is to lose a notebook, and because … word counts, duh! That beautiful little word count button is our best friend (or sometimes worst enemy … like during NaNo.) ;-)

But have you ever thought about the different formats in which we could write a book? And how that might change how we write it? I’ve given this a lot of thought and, coming January 1st, I’ll be writing my next book … by hand.

I know. I’m crazy. But let me explain.

Writing by hand causes me to:
·         Write slower and really think through a scene. Every sentence is more intentional.
·         Sit in a different posture. Instead of looking straight at the story on my computer screen, I’m looking down at the paper. Even that change in posture can affect the way you think. Just think about where you direct your gaze during the every-day. When I’m thinking hard, I look up. When I’m brainstorming, I’ll look sideways. Etc. The very posture of your body can stimulate a different way of thinking.
·         Experience writing in a new way. We all find the stories of Josephine March poring over her stacks of paper in Little Women or Beatrix Potter from the movie Miss Potter or Anne writing her first book for Gilbert in Anne of Avonlea (movie) ROMANTIC. (Don’t deny it. And, if you don’t know any of these stories, go watch ALL THOSE MOVIES RIGHT NOW. This blog post will wait for you. ;) ) Why do we find it so romantic or nostalgic or appealing? Write a book by hand and see for yourself.

Complaint: But…but…hand cramps!
Answer: Take breaks! Or use a fountain pen. ;-)

Complaint: But…but…word counts!
Answer: Count up the number of words on about 3 pages, then add and divide by 3 to get an average. Voila, you can now get a good estimate of your word count. Besides, you’ll be typing up the completed draft on the computer at some point anyway.

What prompted me to go insane and commit to writing a book by hand? I started studying “the greats.” You know – the old people who wrote old books and got fantasy and sci fi onto the shelves (I’m talking C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.) I loved exploring their writing habits and I started to wonder what we might have lost when computers came into the picture.

Then this thought struck me: I hate reading books on my computer screen. It feels impersonal. I use my Kindle only when I have to. So, if I don’t like reading books in an electronic format, why would I want to write one in an electronic format? It’s a huge difference. The same difference between holding a paperback versus holding a Nook in your hands.

We all have a preference. Why is that? I mean, the story’s the same, but the way we perceive the story is different. How can we capture and explore that beauty in our writing? It’s an adventure – one that’s sitting there and waiting for anyone who wants to write.

Let’s step forward and journey together. J

I’ve started a list of all the different ways I want to write a book. And I will be committing to this:

1. By hand – I’ll be doing this with a fountain pen since that’s what I learned to write with.

2. On a typewriter (my husband bought me one from 1936 – isn’t he the best?! – but you can probably borrow one or maybe even rent one from somewhere, or even find a cheapy in an old antique or thrift store.)

3. Outside (yes, even in winter.) – I want to write the entire story in the outdoors, surrounded by living sounds, scents, seasons…etc.

4. While traveling. Seriously – on a train, in a car, on a plane, on a boat. The whole book must be written in movement.

The world is your toolbox, writer. Just think of all the tools you haven’t tested yet—posture, location, writing tool (pen vs. pencil vs typewriter vs. wax tablet vs. quill.) Don’t you want to explore this world of writing?

I know I do.

So here’s my challenge to you: Try a different style of writing for a day. Or even for an hour. If you’re brave enough, commit to a different one each week and see which one fits you the best.

Then tell me about it. We’re adventurers at heart. Let’s be adventurers in action, too. Our stories (and readers) will thank us for it.

What do you think of this idea of exploring different writing styles? Insane? Awesome? Weird?

Jill here! What an intriguing idea, Nadine. I'm curious to hear how your writing goes. I've always brainstormed in notebooks, but I've never written a book that way.

To thank Nadine for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of either A Time to Die (Book one) OR A Time to Speak (Book two), whichever the winner chooses. I loved both of these books and am anxiously waiting for book three! Here's a little more about book one, and you can enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

How would you live if you knew the day you'd die? 

Parvin Blackwater believes she has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside. In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the government’s crooked justice system. 

But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall -- her people's death sentence. What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her clock is running out.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 16, 2015

​3 Tricks to Motivated Writing​ Sessions

Rachelle Rea plots her novels while driving around the little town she’s lived in all her life in her dream car, a pick-up truck. As a freelance editor, she enjoys mentoring fellow authors in the craft. A homeschool graduate and retired gymnast, she wrote the Sound of Silver the summer after her junior year of college.

Relentless rains caused flooding to sweep through my state, wreaking havoc. As if the water had a mind of its own, it worked to flood roads, causing closures across multiple counties. Some roads even washed away! And I couldn't help but wonder, if water could seem so determined, as if destruction were its very purpose, what would happen to my writing if I wrote with such resolve?

Below are three tricks that I've found infuse a little motivation into my writing time and elevate my word count!

#1 Time Your Writing Sessions

This year, I acquired my first smartphone. Want to know what one of my new favorite apps is? Wordly. (Wordly is not paying me to write this post, I promise.)

In the Wordly app, I press Start when I begin writing and Stop when I finish. Simple enough, right? At the end of my writing time, I can log that I wrote 500 words in 13 minutes! This often motivates me to put in another 13 minutes or so, just to be able to say I wrote 1,000 words. If you don't like Wordly, of course, a simple kitchen timer will do. Race yourself! Better yet, race a writer friend and challenge yourself to see who can write the most, the fastest, or the longest.

#2 Keep a Log

Alas, most of 2015 swept by before I started keeping accurate records of my writing time. Oh, I did get a lot of writing done! In fact, this year I released my debut novel--and its sequel. (The third book in the series is due to release in February.) So I know I wrote this year; after all, I have two books to prove it! I revised, edited, and proofread each of them multiple times. But I kinda wish I knew how much I had written on how many days, y'know? That kind of productivity log always motivates me.

Wordly keeps track of my writing sessions for me in a simple, clear format (warning: only one project can be logged in the free version, but you can export your log, delete the project, and begin a new one with each new book). Before this app, I tried Excel spreadsheets, but I detest Excel. Maybe you are an Excel genius and that's the perfect place to record your time/wordcount. I've also tried a simple Word document where I kept the date and wordcount in columns; that worked when I was writing the series that is making me a published author.

#3 Change It Up

As only writers know, writing can be lonely, hard work. Don't be afraid to grab a writer friend or several (perhaps someone you meet in the Go Teen Writers Community group) and make a game of your writing session. Or challenge yourself to write exactly 1,777 words in your Revolutionary War novel. Or promise yourself a Chick fil a Frosted Lemonade if you write every day two weeks in a row! (I highly recommend this option.)

Whatever works for you, here are multiple ways to motivate your writing times. If one trick feels like a pain, toss that idea--writing is painful enough sometimes when you're crying over a character dying or staring at a blinking cursor. And be sure to share in the comments below what helps motivate you while writing!