Friday, July 20, 2018

Do you have a consistent writing process for completing a book? How has it evolved? (With S.D. Grimm!)

This is the last day we have S. D. Grimm with us. I've so enjoyed her answers. I do hope you'll all add her books to your TBR lists. She is a talented author. Once again, her website is: But you can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

And now for our final question with S. D.:

Do you have a consistent writing process for completing a book? How has it evolved?

Sarah: Thank you SO MUCH for having me here this week! It was really fun! And thanks for stopping by, everyone. Write on.

Yes to today's question. [My process has] evolved dramatically. lol. I used to be more of a pantser: Well, I know how it ends, what would they do now? Is it boring? What catastrophe can I toss in there? Now, I am much more focused on the emotional satisfaction of a book along with those plot elements. So, I plan now. I meet my characters, get to know them and the main story plot point. Then I make an outline of the 8 major plot points and 8 major character arc points. From there, I make an outline of 40 major points, because that's approximately 80k words. And THEN I get to create a playlist of about 74 minutes (because my car plays CDs and I can burn one for the car) that follows the major points in the story. Then I figuratively crack my knuckles and get to writing. Once that's done, I revise twice, send to my beta readers, then revise once more and proofread. Then I send it to my agent.

Stephanie: I do. A very brief summary of my process looks like this:

Brainstorm idea with critique partner
Write backcover copy style of blurb
Research, if necessary.
Write first few chapters
Write 2-3 page synopsis
More research
Write first draft
Take six weeks off
Macro edits, followed by micro edits
Send to critique partners
Eat all the ice cream

I used to pride myself on being a discovery writer, but over the years I’ve found value in planning more ahead of time.

Shan: For the most part. Though I still consider myself a rookie, so I’m ever-evolving.


Brainstorm an idea by listing possible scenes

Discovery write my way through these scenes

If I like where the idea is going, commit to it
Write a working synopsis that will act as my outline
Discovery write my way through the first draft
Step away for a bit
Macro edit, micro edit
Final read through
Send it to beta readers
Try not to second-guess everything while I wait for feedback

Jill: My process is always evolving, but right now it looks like this:

First I come up with an idea or choose which idea I'm going to work on. Then I write a logline and a back cover copy paragraph. Then I start brainstorming. I create some characters. I create a storyworld, complete with a map, names of countries, cities, and important landmarks. I create countries with names for rulers, styles of government, and history of conflict within their borders and with other countries. I go back to my characters and decide who lives where and what their lives are like. I come up with interesting backstory for the main characters and fill out my character charts. 

Then I move into plotting. I fill out one of my plot charts, coming up with three-act structure story elements and a few important in-between scenes. I write all these scenes on index cards and lay them out of the floor. I brainstorm until I've filled in all the blanks. If I need to write a synopsis, I do that here.

Then I start writing the first draft, one card at a time. By chapter five or so, I will be able to tell if things are working or if I need more brainstorming. In the latter case, I'll lay out my cards again and set about fixing the problem areas. Or if I need to know more about a character or a country, I'll spend time fleshing that out more. Sometimes I'll ask writing friends for feedback on my magic system or plot or whatever has me stuck. Eventually I go back and work my way through the first draft until I reach the end. 

When I'm done, I'll take a break from that story and work on something else for a while. If I'm confident with the first draft, I might have some writing friends read it, but I usually wait until after a rewrite to show anyone. 

When I'm ready to rewrite, I scroll through the manuscript and make a list of all the notes I've left myself in the comments. Then I'll add anything else that comes to mind. (And often I already have a list that I started while writing the first draft.) Then I'll scroll through the story and fix everything on that list that is a big picture problem. Like, chapter three isn't working at all. Come up with a new scene. Or maybe I need to change the location of a fight scene. Once I've done all the big stuff and I know that the story is all there, I scroll through and leave myself instructions in the comments about the little things on my list. For example, if I want to remember to remind my readers that Spencer is six foot four, I'll leave a comment at the start of every chapter that says, "Spencer is tall." So when I'm going back in to line edit, if there is a scene where I can naturally remind my reader that he's tall, I'll try and work that in, at least once in a chapter or where it is natural. Like Spencer going inside a short door and needing to duck or getting into a tiny car and having his head touch the ceiling.

Once I have all my notes and reminders in there, then I start at chapter one and read my way through, doing a line edit and rewriting until I'm happy with the flow of the sentences. Here I'll also add description and change said tags to action tags, rewrite dialogue for character voice, things like that.

Once I'm done with my rewrite, I'll go back through and edit for my weasel word list. This is really tedious, but I think it helps tighten the story. I'll also look at first and lasts of chapters and paragraphs to see if I can write better hooks and also to cut and trim. The very last thing I do is spell check, then remove any lingering comments, which are usually reminders for the next book in the series or a place where I could pull out a good discussion question to put at the end.

What about you, writers? 

Do you have a consistent writing process? How has it evolved?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters and why? (With S.D. Grimm!)

We're back with S.D. Grimm. Before we get to today’s question, I want to tell you about about her Children of the Blood Moon series. Scarlet Moon is the first book in that series. I own this book (it's gorgerous!), and it's been hovering right near the top of my TRB pile for a while now. Life keeps interrupting all my reading plans, but I'm really looking forward to reading this one. Here is a description.

Evil is slipping through the cracks of its prison, and all Soleden trembles in its wake. Yet some would harness that evil to their own ends, and first among them is Idla, the sorceress queen bent on distorting the world. 

Only one can stand in her way: Jayden. Upon realizing her mark as the prophesied Deliverer, Jayden conceals herself from her enemies and her Feravolk countrymen. But after the harm the Feravolk caused to her family, she s loath to rescue the not-so-innocent. 

Hiding her mark was never easy, but now that Jayden knows both Queen Idla and the Feravolk are after her, hiding her gift of the Blood Moon will be impossible.

Doesn't that sound amazing? I really need to finish my book club book so I can read this one!

Okay, so let's get to today's question:

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters and why?

Sarah: Okay, setting my own characters aside: Quinn Runningbrook (Defiance trilogy by CJ Redwine) is my all-time favorite fictional character! Close second favs would be Newt Scamander, Captain America, Kenshin Himura, and Keith (Voltron Legendary Defender). Every single one of these characters was willing to see the light beside darkness in someone else and help them try to embrace the light instead. Every. Single. One of these characters was willing to sacrifice themselves for someone they love. Every. Single. One of them shows love by protecting. *shivers* That's my love language. :)

Stephanie: Wow, I am impressed that Sarah was able to pull a theme out of her character choices! Hermione Granger is a big one for me. Veronica Mars. Lizzy Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, of course.  Neville Longbottom has a wonderfully fascinating character arc over the entire Harry Potter series. I really liked Sean in Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. Martyr from Jill's Replication has a delightful voice and fascinating backstory. There are also some characters who I find very interesting, even though they are not a "favorite character" in the traditional sense. The Joker from The Dark Knight comes to mind. I like what the writers did with him, and how Heath Ledger portrayed him.

Shan: I could make this difficult for myself and chew on every character I've ever read, but a few are just easy peasy pics: Like Steph, I'm a huge Hermione Granger fan. Also, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Wendy Darling, Sherlock Holmes, The Count of Monte Cristo. Jean ValJean from Les Miserables. Juliet Ashton from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And because you're all catching me in the midst of my detective story obsession, I have to mention Detective Cassie Maddox from Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad stories. There are so many others, but what I love about the characters I've mentioned is that they each have very little in common. There's no rhyme or reason when a character grabs hold of me, just like there's often no way to pinpoint which real life humans I'll hit it off with. Something in the stiffness of their spine, maybe, in their unique brands of bravery. Bravery comes in all shapes and sizes and I love seeing it on the page.

Jill: Oh my. So many great characters out there. Hmm, let's see ... Emma from Jane Auseten's Emma. I love how determined, yet misguided she is at the start and how much she grows. I adore Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables and Rachel Lynde. Jo March from Little Women. Hadassah from Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series. Kelsier from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Alcatraz from Brandon's Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I love Percy Jackson and his cyclops half brother Tyson. Jean ValJean from Les Miserables, so much yes.

Oh! I love, love Beatrice and Benedick both from Much Ado About Nothing. Their dialogue is spectacular.

And while I do like Hermione's character, I loved Ron and his brothers Fred and George more, I think. And Mr. Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Moaning Myrtle, Nearly Headless Nick, Professor Umbridge, Professor Snape, Gilderoy Lockhart, Professor Lupin ... Gah! Too many great characters in that series.

I like Tink Igby from Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga. I love the Grinch. I love FitzChivalry Farseer from several of Robin Hobb's trilogies. I do like Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, but I honestly get a far bigger kick out of the side characters in that book, like Mr. Bennett, Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Lady Catherine DeBourgh. They're nuts, and it's so desperately perfect.

I love Samwise Gamgee. So. Much. *hugs Sam* And I kind of like Gollum too.

It's funny, "they" say that it's often the side characters that make a book great. The hero sometimes isn't the most interesting character because he or she has to be the "every man" character the reader can relate to. Which is why, I think, we end up liking so many side characters more than the heroes. Maybe not. It's just a theory.

What about you, writers? 

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters?

Monday, July 16, 2018

If you could go back in time and give your new writer self some advice, what would it be? (With S.D. Grimm!)

We are kicking off our third week in July. I can't believe the summer is half over already! This week we have special guest author S. D. Grimm with us. I'm super excited to hear what writing advice she has to share. Here is a little more about her:

S.D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction, which is to be expected from someone who has been sorted into Gryffindor, is part of the fire nation, and identifies as rebel scum. Her patronus is a red Voltron lion, her spirit animal is Toothless, and her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her novels at

I had the honor of reading S. D.'s newest release, Phoenix Fire, for an endorsement, and I loved it! Check out what this story is about: 

After spending her life in foster care, Ava has finally found home. But all it takes is a chance encounter with hot nerd Wyatt Wilcox for it to unravel.
Now, things are starting to change. First, the flashes of memories slowly creeping in. Memories of other lives, lives that Wyatt is somehow in. Then, the healing. Any cut? Gone.
But when Cade and Nick show up, claiming to be her brothers, things get even weirder. They tell her she’s a Phoenix, sent to protect the world from monsters—monsters she never knew existed. It’s a little hard to accept. Especially when they tell her she has to end the life of a Phoenix turned rogue, or Cade will die.

With Wyatt’s increasingly suspicious behavior, Ava’s determined to figure out what he’s hiding. Unless she can discover Wyatt’s secret in time and complete her Phoenix training, she’ll lose the life, love, and family she never thought she could have.

Welcome, S. D.! Our first panel question of the week is:

If you could go back in time and share one practical tip and one piece of inspiration with yourself as a new writer, what would they be? 

Sarah: Have you read that gorgeous quote by Erin Hansen: "What if I fall?" "Oh, my darling, what if you fly?" It gets me every time. It sends shivers though my spine because, yes, this is scary. And hard. But the dreamer part of me embraces the possibility of flying, like I'm sure it does you. ;) So don't let fear win. Jump.

Stephanie: My practical tip would be: “Start using action and emotion beats instead of dialogue tags.” My writing became much smoother when it wasn’t so weighed down by the dialogue tags.
My inspirational tip would be the quote from Michael Crichton that, “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” I always had unfair expectations of what my first drafts should look like, and I know it would have helped me immensely as a new writer to know that edits are a natural part of telling a great story.

Shan: Oooo. I think my practical tip would be, “Don’t worry about being an author right now. Worry about being a writer.” We have a tendency to focus on career goals early on and while that may work for some people, it can distract from the process of actually writing your first novel. Write first. World domination later.

My bit of inspiration would be “Settle in for the long haul.” It’s a painful bit of advice, but it’s more true than anything else I’ve ever heard about writing. For most of us, becoming an author does not happen overnight. It’s not like you finish your first manuscript and someone hands you a diploma and a six figure salary. It’s painstakingly hard work and your schedule is not the only one you’ll have to navigate. There are a lot of professionals involved in the process of a traditionally published author. It is most definitely a long haul.

Jill: Practical tip: “Jill, stop worrying about scene structure. That’s not how your brain works, and that’s okay. Just enjoy writing the story and see how it turns out. That will serve you much better.”

Because I was obsessed with trying to make my scenes fit into Dwight Swain's scenes and sequels, and while it worked sometimes, sometimes it didn't. And I spent years agonizing about what I was doing wrong.

Inspirational quote: Steph stole mine! LOL! Seriously, though. That Michael Crichton quote is my absolute favorite writing quote ever, and I needed to hear it so badly when I was starting out. But Steph didn’t put the whole thing, so I think I can use it again: “Books aren't writtenthey're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.” I needed to hear that about the seventh rewrite. I needed to know that was normal. And I needed to know that my book wasn’t going to be perfect the first time. When I learned to give myself permission to write a messy first draft as I floundered to find that story, I was finally able to create without stress.

What about you, writers? 

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Do you outline your books, discovery write, or are you a hybrid? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Today is our last day with author Jonathan Friesen for summer panels, but you can sign up for his newsletter or email him on his website and also keep in touch with him through his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Before he leaves, we have one more question for Jonathan:

Talk to us about outlining. Do you outline your books or discovery write them? Are you a hybrid?

Jonathan: I usually write a half-page narrative plan. It’s not much, but hey, it both gives me direction and leaves room for me to get lost along the way, something I consider to be essential when writing a good story. The narrative is short enough that I only get to include the most important aspects of the tale, which helps keep me focused. Now, I don’t get too excited about this brief summary. What gets me going is my other pre-writing exercise. Somebody gave me this idea, so maybe this won't be new to anyone: I ask every main character to write a letter to every other main character. These letters are long, pages long. This is where I discover the unique voice of each character, and the feelings they hold toward other characters in the story. Nobody will ever criticize you for writing a simple story. But you can’t get away with writing stories in which all the voices sound the same. These letters help me create real, unique characters. That’s when I get excited.

Jill: That's so interesting, Jonathan! I've never before heard of an author who had characters write letters to each other. I might have to try that sometime. 

I'm a hybrid author. I start out with a list of scenes for each major point in the three-act structure. Then I write those on index cards, lay them out of the floor, and once I decide how long the book is going to be, I brainstorm scenes to fit in all the holes. When I’ve got a pretty decent plan, I stack up the cards and discovery write one card every day until I have a rough draft finished. Sometimes I have to pause to rearrange the cards or add new cards, but this process usually gets me a descent rough draft to work from.  

Shan: I do not traditionally outline, but I do pen a working synopsis early on in the process and I work off of that. I adjust it as I go, and it acts as a guide when I need direction. Mostly I write by feel, but it’s good to have landmarks to shoot for. The more experienced I get, the less I am willing to waste time on things I definitely won’t use. So while I definitely discovery write my scenes, I’m more deliberate about them than I used to be.

Stephanie: I am a hybrid. I work best when I have a 2-3 page synopsis, and I start writing from that. Sometimes I outline an individual scene before I begin writing it. I have found that helps me to get the writing done faster.

What about you, writers? Do you outline your books, discovery write, or are you a hybrid?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why did you choose your genre and why do you like it? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Author Jonathan Friesen is joining us for panels this week. He writes the most interesting contemporary young adult novels. Today I'd like to tell you about his book, Both of Me.

It was supposed to be just another flight, another escape into a foreign place where she could forget her past, forget her attachments. Until Clara found herself seated next to an alluring boy named Elias Phinn—a boy who seems to know secrets she has barely been able to admit to herself for years.
When her carry-on bag is accidentally switched with Elias’s identical pack, Clara uses the luggage tag to track down her things. At that address she discovers there is not one Elias Phinn, but two: the odd, paranoid, artistic, and often angry Elias she met on the plane, who lives in an imaginary world of his own making called Salem; and the kind, sweet, and soon irresistible Elias who greets her at the door, and who has no recollection of ever meeting Clara at all. As she learns of Elias’s dissociative identity disorder, and finds herself quickly entangled in both of Elias’s lives, Clara makes a decision that could change all of them forever. She is going to find out what the Salem Elias knows about her past, and how, even if it means playing along with his otherworldly quest. And she is going to find a way to keep the gentle Elias she’s beginning to love from ever disappearing again.

Doesn't that sound intriguing? Click here to learn more about Both of Me on And now, for today's panel question:

What do you like about the genre you have chosen to write, and why did you choose to write that genre?

Jonathan: Why do I like writing realistic fiction for young adults? There’s a certain cluelessness to YA lit. Characters often do the impulsive thing, the confused thing. Not because they aren’t intelligent, but because at seventeen, life is now and the benefits from hindsight are years away. Pains feel permanent. At least it did for me. Truth is, I spend a lot of my life feeling impulsive and confused even now. I just do a lot of pretending, as if I know what I’m doing. When I write realistic YA, I can drop the pretending. I can write what I feel. My emotions don't always make long-term sense, but they don’t need to. They just need to be real, which is a word I always use for my readers. They strike me as very real, much more so than I am.

Stephanie: There are a lot of things I love about historical fiction. I love the opportunity to learn about a different time and place. I love the pretty covers. I love exploring how people have always been people, for better or worse. But I think my favorite thing is the opportunity to say things about our society and our time in a way that does not feel as openly critical and emotionally charged because you’re really saying it about a different time/place.

Shan: I love watching teens ball up their fist and punch fear in the face. Regardless of the subgenre, facing down your greatest fear is a huge staple within YA. It’s inspiring for all ages of people to read, and I think it’s indicative of a generation of writers who want to see teens rise up above hardship and obstacle. Each author has their own way of doing this and the shelves speak to the great variety of passions and purposes within the population, but encouraging bravery is high on my priority list. YA fits me well in that way.

Jill: I write fantasy because I’m a creator of kingdom, the Map Lady. I love to create new worlds. I like to draw these new places on paper and imagine what they look like and what it might be like to live there. I like to figure out how these places are similar and how they are different from where I live. When I started writing, I didn’t choose the fantasy genre, but ultimately most all of the ideas I came up with fit under the speculative fiction umbrella. As it turns out, deep in my bones, I’m infused with the best kind of imagination. The magical. The otherworldly. I can’t imagine ever giving it up.

What about you, writers? Why did you choose your genre and why do you like it?