Friday, September 30, 2016

The Monster of Doubt

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.

I have these moments. They come hard and fast, drops of sunlight peppering my face as I sprint beneath a canopy of leaves.

There and then gone.

In these rare moments, I FEEL like a writer. Like a published author. Like someone who has the enviable job of writing stories for a living. They’re wonderful, these moments. They bring with them a simple, pure, always fleeting feeling of confidence.

I can do this. I can write another story. I can BE this person.

I work hard to respect these moments. To honor them by sitting down in my office chair and dumping words onto a page. Because the truth of the matter is, these inspirited moments are fragile. They dissolve at the very hint of negativity, at the first wind of frustration, at the stink of words like trending and bestseller. It takes very little to scare my muse away. And without that confidence, without the itch of inspiration compelling me to write, it can be a fight to keep my head in the game.

I’m not alone in this, I know that. This isn’t even a problem unique to writers, but the truth is, these battles are fought in a place where you are of little help to me and I am of little help to you. Bloody battles are fought daily between my ears. In the noisy, crowded, aching place where my thoughts churn and churn with little relief. And when I’m losing, my very own mind flips those once sunny moments inside out and uses them against me.

We writers spend so much (too much?) time here. In our own heads. We dissect everything we read, everything we watch, everything we hear. We try to fashion it and shape it and invert it into something usable. Into something we can write about. We pass a man yammering to himself on the sidewalk and, within minutes, we’ve concocted an entire backstory and plot. We know how we’d write this man.

Or we don’t. And that kills us.

We sulk away and claim writers block. We doubt we ever had THAT THING. That spark, that gift, that mojo.

We doubt. We doubt. We doubt.

We’re afraid to fail. So we stop writing. But that only angers the beast inside us and we’re reminded that just because we may not write in practice, we cannot simply walk away from the lens we view this world through. Whether you sit and write or not, your brain will not let you be. And so you have a choice: to write through the doubt or to let it gnaw on your gut as you wait for another passing moment of enthusiasm.

Should you take breaks? Yes, absolutely. Weeks? Sometimes. Months? Maybe. But should you ever let doubt be the reason you walk away? I think, no. Doubt is a monster we should never, ever feed.
I don’t know that there is one answer to the problem of self-doubt. But I think there are things that can help.

1. Redefine success. This word doesn’t have to mean what you’ve always assumed it meant. Redefine it. What is success to you? To me success is mattering, making a difference to someone. That’s success. I’m a Christian so I want to honor Christ. Success. I want to be of value to my publisher. That’s real, that’s success. Your definition of success might not match mine, but you should take a moment to figure out what it is. And be willing to adjust your definition as you grow.

2. Write through the doubt. It’s hard to swallow sometimes, but the only way to chase away the I CAN’Ts is to prove that YOU CAN. So prove it to yourself.

3. Write fearlessly. Being afraid to fail is very real, but if you let it hold you back, fear wins. Want some truth? We’re all afraid. Doing it anyway is what makes us fearless.

4. Look for inspiration. Those of us who write as a career have to learn something early on. Inspiration will not pay the bills. That said, perhaps you’re missing daily inspiration by assuming it will look as it always has. Try this, go outside. Be with people. Scrounge through bookstores and libraries. Go on grown-up field trips. Investigate the world around you. Inspiration may sporadically attack us, but if we go out looking it’ll have to try awfully hard to hide.
And finally,

5. Inspire someone else. Be the wind in someone else’s sails for a while. Put your pride, your competitive nature, your angst, fear, and doubt aside and lift someone up. Give them a sunshine moment. Not because you’re fishing for inspiration from their lips, but because we all need a little encouragement from time to time. And because others need to know just how valuable their contributions to the world are. Tell them.

These are just a few of the things that help me when I’m lost in the darkness of my own mind.

What have I missed? What advice would you give? 

Today, let’s choose action in the face of paralyzing doubt.

YOU CAN do this. You absolutely can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Borrowing Languages and Cultures for Your Book


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Have you entered the contest yet? 

Today is the LAST DAY to enter the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest. We will accept entries through midnight Pacific Time.

Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.





Borrowing Languages and Cultures for Your Book

I am often asked for tips on how to come up with unique cultures for fantasy novels. A couple years ago, we had a fabulous guest post called Creating the Culture of Your Story. While I found that post fascinating, that's not the process I used in my Blood of Kings trilogy. I cheated, really. I looked to cultures and languages that exist or once existed on earth and I borrowed from them.

Languages

I used Hebrew for my "ancient language." When my bad guys spoke in the ancient tongue to power their dark magic, I simply looked up each word and used the direct translations, knowing full well it was likely the wrong version of the word. And when my good guys spoke in the ancient language, I got a translator to make sure my Hebrew made sense. In the series, I had one of my great knights, Sir Gavin, accuse the bad guys of perverting the old language. That worked well for my story, especially since Hebrew is a rather obscure language these days. This process wouldn't have worked the same for a language like French, since many of the translations are familiar to English words.

You can use this process to borrow from other languages. There are thousands of languages to choose from, though some will be far more difficult to find anyone who could translate for you. Always be careful to know the translation of each word used to make sure that you haven't chosen something vulgar or offensive. Whether or not you have a translator depends, I think, on how obscure the language you choose might be. If you choose something common like Spanish, many of your readers might speak Spanish and they would know your language is a mess even if you didn't. A language like Hopi, however, is so rare these days, it would be safe to borrow from for inspiration. (I used variations of Hopi in my new book King's Blood for one of my native tribes.) You can also research dead languages, then find an old dictionary of them from the library and use that to help you. Here is a link to a list of dead languages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinct_language

Cultures

My "cultures" in By Darkness Hid started from lists of character names for each region. I’d been using Hebrew for so many and wanted some variety, so I came up with some tricks. Allowntown, for example, is an orchard town. So I wrote a list of types of apples: Gala, Pippin, Cortland, Concord, Crab, Ginger, Fuji, etc. When I needed a new character from Allowntown, I’d pick a name from the list. Each town had a theme. Carmine was a vineyard town, so I brainstormed a list of things having to do with wine: Rioja, Flint, Terra, Keuper, Pinot, Concord, Malbec, etc. For Berland I used Inupiat names. For Magos I used Gaelic names. For Cherem, I used names of stars. For Nesos, I used Hawaiian names. And those themes became a vague culture for each place. And really, my story didn't require deep cultures for every location. I just needed to create the illusion that each place had a deep culture.

I once read a fantasy novel in which the hero came to a desert land. There he met a people group with Middle Eastern-sounding names. They wore turbans and fought with cutlasses. I found it corny because the author had pretty much stolen several Middle Eastern stereotypes for his fantasy culture and it just wasn't unique enough to pass by my notice. It took me out of the story again and again. I caution you against doing that. Don't steal too many attribute from a single culture and call it something different in your book. The same is true of fantasy creatures. If it looks like a horse, acts like a horse, eats like a horse, sounds like a horse, call it a horse, not a gorse. Save your unique creature names for unique creatures and call a horse a horse. And with cultures, look for inspiration that works for your storyworld and the plot, then make it different and unique. 

For example, you might find the way China controls its population intriguing for a people group in your book. Great. Use that. But don't have too many other similarities to Chinese culture. Also, try and create a backstory for the population control that is different than China's reasoning. This will take that intriguing concept of population control and change it to fit your storyworld. Here is another example: You might take some dance culture from a Native American tribe, a religion from India, and the dress and climate from Finland and create a culture. Don't just do it randomly, though. Be intentional. Choose each attribute for a reason. If that area of your map is cold, ask yourself what cultures on earth are cold and what elements of those cultures fit well with your story and plot? It's the difference between stealing something and being inspired by it. Don't steal. Be inspired!

How do you create cultures for your books? Have you ever borrowed from real cultures? If so, how did you make your culture unique? Share in the comments.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should You Write What You Love To Read?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.


A few years ago, I was wholeheartedly pursuing publication of my contemporary YA novels, and it felt like running on a treadmill. I worked and worked and worked, but my energy never amounted to anything other than a pile of manuscripts that no one in the industry wanted to publish.

At a conference, when I received a particularly hard face-to-face rejection, and then another one just a few hours later, my agent suggested we step outside for a bit.

We went out to the deck by the pool. I didn't shed any tears, but I know I looked terrible. We talked for a few minutes about this dead end we had reached, and that some kind of change needed to be made.

After rehashing how my appointments had gone and grasping at some ideas of where else we could pitch, my agent leaned back in her seat and asked, "What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?"



I knew immediately she was looking for ideas of what other genres I might enjoy writing. Because not only is it advice new writers hear a lot—"you should write what you love to read"but it's also how a lot of writers get their start. Either they don't see books they want on the shelves, and they decide to write them for themselves, or they read books in a genre they love and decide that they want to do the same thing.

So, is it good advice to look at what you love to read, and consider writing the same type of books? Yes, but...


Don't limit your thinking to where a book is shelved:

I do think there's value in examining what sparks your interest as a reader and then applying it to your writing, but I don't think we need to limit ourselves when it comes to genre.

If you only read one kind of genre, then yes, that's probably the right fit for you. But what about someone hodgepodgy like me? I love Jane Austen. Sarah Dessen, The Scorpio Races, The Help, 11/22/63, the Harry Potter series, and the Heist Society novels.

What do you do then? While Harry Potter is high up there on my list of favorites, and while I haven't yet had a desire to write fantasy, there are still elements of those stories that I connect with as a reader and a writer. That's a valuable thing to take notice of.

Don't be afraid to try something different OR admit if it's not your thing:

For a while I tried writing novels for adults. I've read and enjoyed lots of novels for adults, and I happen to be an adult, so it seemed like this would be a natural fit. 

But I really struggled to come up with an idea. I would send several at a time to my agent and she would call me and say, "These all sound like young adult books." So I would try again.

I even tried writing the most promising one of my ideas, and I just got annoyed with my character. I wanted to tell her, "Hey, you are a grown woman, and you can take control of this situation but you're choosing not to. Just stop being stupid." 

This was clearly not a good fit.

You may love reading steampunk or epic fantasy or cozy mysteries, but those genres still may not float your writer's boat. There's no shame in trying several genres or in admitting that while you may love reading a certain type of book, writing them isn't your thing.

And don't expect to write it well just because you like reading them.

You have great taste in books, and you've read every YA regency mystery novel you can get your hands on. Now you want to write your own. 

This is where a lot of writers start. The struggle is that as a beginner, you are not yet able to create the kind of story that you're used to enjoying. It's kinda like when you grow up eating amazing food prepared by someone else, and then you try to cook for yourself for the first time. Just because you enjoy eating food doesn't make you a natural with preparing it, right?

Don't misunderstand meit's a huge advantage to have read a ton of books in the genre you're writing. Because I had read lots of mysteries before writing my first one, I was able to pinpoint what wasn't working. But it was rather disheartening to work so hard on a story, read it for the first time, and realize, "Nope. Still have lots of work to do."

If you're struggling with what kind of stories you want to write, I think it's a great idea to consider your favorite books. Maybe they're all different genres, but what kind of common elements can you find in them? What kind of style are they written in? Who are your favorite characters in those stories, and why do you like them? Do they have similar themes? How did you feel when you finished them for the first time? 

I think it would be super fun to see some of your lists! If you'd like, please share some of your favorite books and how the stories you write are similar.







Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Prompt (and a GIVEAWAY!)

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.

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH for participating in the Friday Prompt challenge. I read every single one and adored them. Seriously. You guys are so creative and talented. Please, please keep writing. 

I wanted to announce the winner who was randomly selected. Here's a screenshot of the entry. I've chosen to do it this way, because I don't know Rose's last name or her email address. I'll try to reach out through the Go Teen Writers FB page, but Rose, you're welcome to email me at admin@shannondittemore.com and we can discuss your book choice!

 
***

Hey friends! Friday is so bright and shiny. Makes me want to hug it all day long.

Today, we're keeping it simple. I've given you a haunting little prompt but there's a twist! For some extra motivation, I'll check the comments section on Monday and randomly select one writer as the winner!

"What does the winner get?" you ask.

How about a book of the winner's choosing from The Book Depository? That's right. Any book (under $15) is all yours if your prompt response is chosen. If you're under 18 years of age, I'll need one of your parents to approve the book choice of course.

Sound fun?! I think it does! Here's how it works. I'll start you off with a sentence or two and YOU give me a paragraph or so to follow it up. Be creative! Have fun! And check back Monday afternoon. I'll update this blog post with the winner's name and details.

Here's that prompt for ya:


Now go, write! And if you're still in the giveaway mood afterward, check out my Instagram. I've got a lovely fall giveaway running and it's easy peasy to enter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Makes Fantasy Epic?


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


First of all... The contest.


The Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest is open for submissions between now and Wednesday, September 28th OR until we receive 300 entries.

Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.





What Makes Epic Fantasy Epic?


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “epic” stems from the Greek “epos,” which meant a “word; a tale, story; promise; prophecy, proverb; poetry in heroic verse.” And from 1706, as a noun it referred to an epic poem or “a long narrative told on a grand scale of time and place, featuring a larger-than-life protagonist and heroic actions.”

Epics were a type of poetry that often dealt with action and grandeur of traditional or historical interest. Most focused on the deeds of a specific hero. Epic poetry was recited aloud, to entertain an audience with the exploits of the hero and the nation that hero represented. It’s not so much about the individual as it was about how the heroic traits of that individual reflected national pride.

Epic fantasy, therefore, is not simply about a hero and his quest. That type of a story often falls under the subgenre of heroic fantasy. Epic fantasy is about more than one person. It’s about a world, the people in it, and a conflict that is rising up to forever change that world.

One of the most famous epic fantasies is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That story is not just about Frodo’s quest. It goes much deeper than that and is quite complex. Here is a list of elements that I believe every epic fantasy should have.


10 Must Haves in Any Epic Fantasy

1. Incredible Worldbuilding
An intriguing world that’s different from our own. Worldbuilding is a huge part of epic fantasy. The world should feel so real that it is like a character. I wanted my Five Realms to be different from anything else I’d written, so I made it a desert land with a high elevation. All freshwater is underground and frequent earthquakes have created dangerous cracks and fissures throughout the land. I also spent a lot of time developing five different nations, a complicated history between them, and a magic that is a major source of strife.


2. A Map
Most epic fantasy stories have an incredible map in the front of the book that readers will continue to flip back to as they read. Here is my map of the Five Realms from The Kinsman Chronicles. I love drawing maps. And with this one, I really worked hard to try and make the map look old school by purposely drawing the proportions off for my cliffs and to include the most interesting elements of my world. I think if you click on it, you can zoom in.





3. Massive Scope
In epic fantasy, the storyworld is big and the story takes place all over that epic map. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. The story doesn’t take place in Hobbitton alone. The characters move all over Middle Earth. A massive scope also means a lot of pages and/or a lot of books to tell that massive story.


4. Massive Stakes
The story cannot be simple. And while it might involve a quest or revenge or a chase, the stakes have to be bigger than one person’s life. In epic fantasy, the world is at stake. Often this involves a great evil sweeping through the land or an invading kingdom. Epic fantasy usually involves some politics and some ruling characters be they kings, emperors, senators. The point is, the world as the characters know it is at stake. Their way of life is being threatened.


5. A Complex Plot and Subplots
There is a lot going on in an epic fantasy. I’m talking soap opera complexity here. Yes, there should be one major plot that is threatening the world, but that should also involve many characters and their individual storylines.


6. A Large Cast
To go with that complex plot, an epic fantasy needs a large cast of deep characters that the reader can root for. This often means many points of view, but not always. The point is, readers should grow to love many of the characters, as is often the case with the Lord of the Rings.


7. Magic
Oh yes. There should be magic in an epic fantasy novel. And if at all possible it should be intricately woven into the plot somehow. There have been epic fantasy novels without magic, but I can't think of one at the moment. If you can, share in the comments.


8. A Showdown
An epic fantasy usually ends with an epic battle or a major showdown between two or more characters. The entire book often leads to this clash of morals. And oftentimes, the hero doesn’t go it alone. One or more side characters come in to help in the main battle or a side battle.


9. The Feel of History
An epic fantasy should, in the same way epic poetry once did, feel like the telling of a major part of history for that storyworld. This is a story of history. Of when a threat came upon the world and a group of individuals fought back and defeated that threat. Someday a hundred years in the future from the time of the story, kids will be learning about these stories at school and there might even be a museum of sorts where people come to see the weapons of those great heroes who saved the land.


10. Breaks the Mold
Epic fantasy should attempt to break the mold in some way. For years Tolkien was the mold and everyone copied him. People still do. But part of writing epic fantasy is to try and do something different. Something no other author has tried. It’s a chance for an author to take a risk—just like the heroes he or she creates.

I tried to do that with The Kinsman Chronicles. I wanted to write a true epic fantasy in which a world was ending. It was a plot I felt hadn't been done before. A "Battlestar Galactica at Sea," if you will, and how those survivors moved on and eventually began again.

Have you ever read epic fantasy? If so, what are some of your favorites? Share in the comments.

Also, if you're building your own storyworld and need some inspiration, the Kindle version of my book Storyworld First is on a .99 sale until this Sunday night, September 25. If you haven't grabbed your copy yet, now is a great chance to save. Click here to see the book on Amazon.com.