Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weaving in an extra plot line

Before I launch into my spiel for the day, I have to say BEBS, I'M SO SORRY I LEFT YOU OFF THE LIST of people who helped out with writing the book. Please, please, please send me an e-mail with your name and e-mail address so I can make sure you get credit for helping. So, so sorry.

Okay, moving on:

I love organizing.

I love making plans and lists and charts and systems and all those wonderful things.

Which is why it's a little odd to me that I've never been much of a "plotter" in my writing. I'm a planner in real life, and a "pantser" in writing. (A pantser is something writers say when they're referring to someone who writes "by the seat of their pants" rather than from a constructed plot.)

I've blogged before that I'm trending toward being a "plantser." I'm sure I'll be perfecting my system for writing for the rest of my life, and hopefully I will not always be making one of these:

This is a bunch of notecards taped to posters in my office.

The purple cards are the plot for my "completed" manuscript. And I say "completed" because those green cards are the scenes that need to be added because I've added a plot line. (This isn't critical info but I thought some might be curious - some of the note cards have pink flags. It's because I had a hard time quickly describing what was going on in that specific scene, and I thought that was probably a bad sign, that the character motives were murky. Some early on have green flags because I'd already woven the new plot into those scenes. And there's a yellow sticky note at the end reminding me of an alternate ending idea.)

The problem with "pantsing" it the way I did with this book is that you can write 55k, type The End, and realize you're really not done at all. That there's something wrong with the book, that it's missing something. Which is what happened here. Of course, had I plotted it out ahead of time, there's no guarantee I would have had the inspiration for the new plot quite yet, but I might have had better tools for discerning what was missing.

My friend Erica Vetsch does some awesome story boards. (As seen here.) Like me, she also started out as a pantser and has since converted. We're starting the Write Now program on Monday, January 3rd, 2011, and Erica's going to give us a little lesson in story boarding. I'm stoked.

By the way, my messy plot boards were making me crazy in my pretty new office, so I redid them. Yes, I'm weird. But they look so much better:

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's Thanksgiving, and I'm lazy. And hungry.

So instead of my normal ramblings, I'm handing you guys this little gem: A link to an NPR article featuring three books with exceptional voices.

Voice is one of those things we talk about writers needing, but that there's no real good way for teaching. That I've found, anyway.

The best advice I have is to read books with excellent voice and take notes. The three featured books should help with this.

Off to enjoy potatoes and bread and turkey and so many other yummy delights...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is it possible to have too many directions for a novel?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "I have so many ideas and directions for just one story, I don't know which way to go so I just procrastinate! Do you think it's possible to have too many directions for a novel- like the story is just to BIG for a beginner? For a first timer, do you think it's wise to have one main character and one strong plot line?"

I can only share what my experience has been in this. I've had story ideas along the way that I'm simply not skilled enough to write. Ideas that were too big for the tools I possessed. That's okay. You do the best you can, get down all your thoughts, and save it for another time.

A couple years ago, I read a dreadful book by a well-known author. My friend Debbie referred to it as a "bush book." A good book will be built like a tree - the trunk is the main plot line, and everything else connects back to it. The book we read was more like a bush. I wasn't even sure what the main plot line really was. The author got hung up on details I so didn't care about. Like the public school system. And ethics in journalism. And apparently many others that I never got to because I closed the book in disgust.

You should always just have one main character. Even in books that feel more like ensemble casts - like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - I would still argue that there's only one main character per book. Other characters should certainly be very important to the story (if they're not, dump 'em), but pick one to be your main character.

And they should have one overall problem they're trying to solve. Like John is trying to save the Queen from the terrorist threat. Or Mary is trying to find sanity amidst living with her elderly in-laws. Whatever.

But there should also be other things going on. You know what's a good example of this? Dora the Explorer. Seriously, watch an episode. (You only need one.) Dora is always trying to get to one specific location. That's her goal. Other stuff is going on in the show (How will we cross the chocolate river? Swiper, no swiping!) but everything goes back to the main problem, which is Dora needs to get to wherever.

This example falls apart when we start talking about characters having an inner problem to solve, but that's okay.

Start by picking a main character and their main problem, then go from there.

Have a question? E-mail me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I've been less than stellar about returning e-mails

Of course, as soon as I started ripping apart my office, unexpected stuff came up with the project I'm working on, and I received an unusual amount of e-mails from you guys. I'm so sorry that I haven't been as responsive as I normally am.

My office is finally back in working order, and I'm doing my best to clean out e-mail and maybe even tweet now and then. Seriously. My Twitter account practically has cobwebs.

So, just for fun, here's some before and after pictures of my office.

Now, there was nothing really wrong with my office beforehand. The previous owner had painted in a fine shade of blue, all necessary items fit, and most importantly, it came with one of these:

But now, thanks to my family who bought me "boring" birthday gifts like a gallon of paint, my office is a thing of beauty. It's my favorite room in the house now.

So. Original view from the door:

View from the door now:

The original "big wall":

The big wall now:

The original shelving system:

The infinitely better system, courtesy of my husband and in-laws:

Thus far all my time in here has been spent organizing and responding to e-mails that simply cannot be put off, so I don't know how productive I actually am in here. But I do know that I look darn impressive with shelves full of books behind me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Morning Pages

I came across the idea of morning pages in a craft book I read recently and love it. In principle anyway. I've yet to try it out. Nor have I figured out where it would fit into my schedule, but it just seems like something that would work.

The idea of morning pages comes from the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. If you're a blocked artists and/or were raised with discouraging parents, I can see how it would be very helpful. A lot of the book seemed like good, helpful advice, just not applicable to me.

Except morning pages.

Morning pages are precisely what they sound like. Pages that you write in the morning.

Everyday, you're supposed to write three pages of whatever. Whatever you're thinking about, fretting over. Questions you have, observations about your surroundings. The point isn't to write usable prose, the point is rather to cleanse. To purge those thoughts and concerns cluttering up your mind.

I don't know what's so magical about three pages, but that's what's recommended. Three pages in the morning, every morning. You can download more information off Julia Cameron's web site here.

I plan to give it a try ... in five years when my kids are both in school.

In the meantime, if you try it out, please let me know. And if you have writing questions, pass those along as well.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Write Now

Okay, it's decided. Starting in January, here on Go Teen Writers we'll spend 2011 walking through the book writing process. I'm super excited about that, guys. I've been putting together lesson plans (sorry about forcing you to read that phrase during your spare time. I nixed the word "curriculum.") Here's some of what you can expect us to talk about:

  • Organizing your thoughts
  • Making sure your idea is big enough
  • How to make characters sound different from each other
  • Creating an unusual setting
  • Plot Layers
  • Writing Resolutions

And many, many more that I've yet to plan. Sheesh. I may have to post more than twice a week.

Of course now that I've been working on lessons for that, I'm drawing a total blank about what to talk about in the meantime. Drat.

I guess something we can talk about is how we all want this to look. Like when we talk about brainstorming, do you guys want to be able to have the group help you grow your ideas? Because we can make that happen. Assuming the group wants to do it.

The other thing I'll say is this: If you want to write a book, now is the time. There's no reason to wait. You don't need to be wait to be older or wiser or have cooler life experiences. (Though you might need to have those things before you're publishable.) You don't need an office. You don't need to hunker down in the wilderness for 6 months. All you need to do to be a writer is write. Being published doesn't make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Write Your Book This Year

Or next year, I should say.

So here's the idea I had, guys, and you can tell me what you think.

For 2011, I was thinking about going through the whole story writing process. Like in January we'll start with gathering inspiration,then move onto brainstorming, then plotting, etc. And by the time we get to December, we'll have gone through the whole process of writing a book.

Does that sound like fun? Is there any particular part of the process you'd really like for me to hit?

In the meantime, I have an opportunity to pass along to you guys. I spoke to the editor of Starsongs magazine, and they are looking for submissions. The editor said, "We plan to have our next issue of Starsongs out early next month. I could use a couple of Christmas/winter themed stories, poems, or essays before we go to press. I am attaching a copy of our guidelines."

Here are their guidelines:

Starsongs Magazine is a publication of Written World Communications

You are the future, and Starsongs wants to hear your voice. Our intention is to inspire
and promote the creativity of youth. Starsongs is a general market magazine interested
in work by writers, artists, and photographers age 9-19. Please keep this age range
in mind and keep your work at a PG rating level. We are open to fiction or non-fiction
and “as told to” stories.

We are looking for short stories, essays, poetry, artwork, and photography that reflect
your view of your life experiences. Relationships to family, friends, role models,
thoughts about current events, situations that you as young people face today and how
you solve your dilemma are some suggested topics.

Starsongs is a small publication with limited space. Therefore, short stories are
restricted to 1500-2000 words, essays 250-500 words. Poetry should not exceed 24-
32 lines per poem. Text can be sent as an attachment or in the body of the email in the
way you would like to see the work formatted on the page. Photography/artwork should
be submitted as an attachment in jpeg format. All submissions must be original work.

We are also interested in an adult guest columnist in every issue to discuss writing in a friendly,
how to format for young people. If you like to mentor youth through writing, please contact me
at starsongs.mag@gmail.com with “ Starsongs Columnist” in the subject line.

Payment ranges between $5 – $25 per piece depending on length and type of

We retain the right to edit written submissions for grammar, brevity, and clarity of
language. We will send you the suggested changes prior to publication.

Please allow 6-8 weeks for notification. All submissions accepted by email.

These guidelines are subject to change and are current as of November 04, 2010.

Submissions should be addressed to Patti Shene at starsongs.mag@gmail.com.

Thank you for your interest in our publication.

Patti Shene
Executive Editor
Starsongs Magazine

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another tip for dialogue

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Tuesday so far! As fun as it's been to partner with you guys on my latest project, I'm excited to get back to talking about the craft of writing. And I always love talking about dialogue.

In a class I took from bestselling author Rachel Hauck, she said "the story happens between the quotes." Use your dialogue as a tool to share your story.

A tip for improving your dialogue is to not let your characters respond to everything said to them. Back and forth dialogue - where everything is addressed directly - is really boring to read.

"How are you today?"
"Good. How are you?"
"Good. What do you think of my haircut?"
"I like it. Did Carol cut it?"
"Yes. She does a nice job."
"Yes she does."

Yawn, right?

Here's a couple techniques for combating snoozy dialogue:

1. Use silence

I love when a character is silent and gets completely misunderstood. As in the example below:

“You seemed really excited about moving,” I say. “Since we got here, though, you kinda act like you’re dreading it.”

Mom sighs yet again. “Have you ever wanted something so badly, yet also, somehow equally, not wanted it?”

Palmer’s handsome face fills my mind, first the sparkle of his gray eyes, the mischievous curl of his mouth. And then I think of a few days ago in his car, of the weak guy—April’s boyfriend—who sat beside me.

“Well, someday I’m sure you’ll experience it,” Mom says to my silence.

2. Answer a question with a question

This can be done a variety of ways. The example below is the "change of subject" variety:

“You okay?” Palmer’s studying me. “Usually my Ms. Purdon impression kills.”

“Sorry. I’m distracted, I guess.”

“By my charm?” He winks.

I turn away, unwilling to flirt back. Before Rachel, it might have been different. “Do you know why Chase did what he did?”

He blinks at me, appearing thrown off by the subject change. “What?”

Rather than changing the subject, you can also just turn the tables. So instead of the above, it would read:

"By my charm?" He winks.

"You really think you're that irresistible?"

Gabby's still not answering the question, and now she's put Palmer in the hot seat.

Give these a try and see if they don't add complexity to your scenes. Dialogue often works best when people aren't saying what they really mean. Though the scenes where people are finally saying exactly what they mean work great too. More on that another time.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank you!

Thank you SO much to everybody who has contributed so far in the "Write Gabby's Book" discussion. I've been having so much fun. I've got all the help I need for now, but there will be more chances to contribute in the future, so stay tuned!

If your name is on the list below, please send me an e-mail with your full name and e-mail address. That way I can get you on the list of people deserving acknowledgement when this book gets published. If you don't have plans of moving anytime soon, you can include your mailing address as well so I can send you a copy of the book when it releases. Growing up, my family was constantly on the move, so I'll make sure to confirm with y'all before I pop those books in the mail. (And this book hasn't been contracted yet, so I have no idea when that'll be. I'll keep you posted.)

Eliese C.
Erin Kong (I've got your info, but didn't want to leave you out!)
Cina M. (Got your info too, girl.)

Then we have one anonymous comments that need claiming:
"I can't think of anything but a random idea for the first line:
Aghh she's done it now, blown it big time...
(continue on maybe a friend or little sister did something) or maybe something along those lines.
I hope that all makes sense.

I think a mystery could be good as long as it's realistic."

So send me e-mails, guys. Want to make sure I give you credit for all your help! If your name isn't on the list and you contributed in some way, send me an e-mail and we'll sort it out.

Back to business as usual tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Want to help me write a book? Day 3

Alright, time to nail this sucker down so I can turn it in to my editor and we can get rolling on other details. I've had the best time brainstorming with you guys! And there will be plenty more opportunities as we go through the process of writing this book.

Based on all the comments and discussion, it seems like the medieval idea combined with a supernatural gift was the most popular. (Or it was at least the most discussed.) Here's what we're thinking for plot of the book Gabby's writing:

A fairy tale set in medieval times. Lady Gabrielle is of noble blood and on her way to being the princess when Rafe Grayson walks into her life. While devilishly handsome, Gabrielle is smart enough to realize he's not the right type of guy for her, and she ignores his advances. (I'm thinking Gabrielle's supernatural gift of Truth can come into play here.) Meanwhile, three other ladies (or should that be Ladies, if they're also noble?) have a plot to remove Gabrielle from the favor of the prince so they have a shot at the crown.

And then, if you guys like it, we could go for a star-crossed kind of thing. Like Gabrielle eventually realizes she's in love with Rafe, but is claimed by the prince and can do nothing about it. Which opens this book up to series possibilities, which would be helpful. Gabby can then get contracted for a book series.

What do you guys think of this? Are there changes you'd like to see? Or is there something we discussed that you don't see in here that you think should be?

Here's what we need now:
  • Name for our prince
  • A country. Those proposed thus far are Britain, Italy, Spain, and Germany
  • Title ideas
  • First line of the story ideas

Of titles that have been mentioned for this idea, I think Kaitlyn's on the right track with Invisibly Yours. But please contribute other titles as well!

And of first lines, Mary had one that fits well. Especially in the cut-throat world of nobility. She said: That saying, "Friends are like flowers" makes me laugh. My friends are like dandelions. Pretty weeds that take over and can't be easily exterminated." But, like titles, we're still in brainstorming mode. Because I don't know if people actually had lawns back then. Hmm. But I like the sentiment.

Let me know your ideas!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Want to help me write a book? Day 2

For those who missed yesterday's post, I've solicited everybody's help in coming up with the concept for the book my main character is writing. For details, read yesterday's post here .

I just finished making a really dorky Excel spreadsheet with all our ideas, and here's what we've got so far:

In regards to names for Gabby's fella, the name Rafe came up most consistently, so let's go wtih that. And Rafe needs a last name as well. Those suggested were: Gray, Greyson, or Geary. (Some comments have been e-mailed to me rather than posted on the board, which is totally fine for you shy types.)

For a plot, we had a variety of ideas, but they fall under two umbrellas:

1. A speculative fiction/fantasy/supernatural kind of thing:

  • Gabrielle has some sort of supernatural gift, which is a nice idea because Gabby in real life is pretty ordinary. If you have thoughts on what her gift could be, please post them!
  • Gabrielle is an angel detective and she helps people solve their problems. (Without them knowing they're receiving divine intervention, maybe?) And she ends up bonding with Rafe (angel or human? That was kind of up in the air) when they team up to fight some kind of battle.
  • A comic book like story where the world is very black and white, good triumphs evil every time, and there's lots of action. Gabrielle's sidekick would be Raquel, and they swoop in to safe Rafe, who'd forget all about Raquel and fall for Gabrielle. (Sounds like a smart guy.) This suggestion came with the full package. The suggested title was: As it should be. The suggested final line was: "and all was returned as it should be," and the opening line was, "A familiar twinge prickled at my hand and made my fingers restless. It was go time." Very fun stuff.

2. A quieter kind of story, possibly combined with a fairytale element.

  • Gabby's book is written in diary form (think Princess Diaries, maybe?) She's changed the names of all her frenemies/family members/etc. but Gabrielle-the-heroine is going through many of the same circumstances as Gabby-the-person. Or, in that same vein, she's writing the life she wishes were hers and realizes in her writing that popularity isn't worth the price.
  • Gabrielle is the chosen heiress to some fabulous kingdom. Rafe is her champion (which I like, because in her real life, the guy's too hardheaded to claim her in public), and three witches are trying to usurp her kingdom.
  • For a historical novel, Gabby's writing what happens in her life, but in a different time period. I like this idea combined with a couple of others we've had. Maybe set it in medieval times, and Gabby could be writing her own personal fairy tale. She could either be the Princess, like was suggested up above, or she could be a peasant girl with a thing for the prince, and Rafe is her best friend with a massive crush on her. And then at the end she would learn she's of noble blood.

Alright, hopefully I didn't miss anybody's suggestions. If I did, please let me know, because it was completely unintentional.

We're still brainstorming, so if you have plot ideas separate from what's posted above, please feel free to share them! If you want to vote for one of the ideas, or if you have a thought for how to tweak or expand something, share that as well!

Once we nail down our plot, we'll talk title and first line.

I'm having a blast, guys! Makes me want to build a bigger office and move you all in here!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Want to help me write a book?

Or I should say, Want to help my character write a book?

So here's the deal. I'm writing a book about a high school girl trying to get a novel published, and I really need your help.

Let me preface all the nitty-gritty details by saying YOU WILL GET CREDIT FOR YOUR IDEAS. Should this book get published (no, let's think positively - when the book is published), your full name will appear in the acknowledgements, stating what you contributed. ("Thank you to Suzanna Dunn, Eliese Callahan, and Janette Herbers for coming up with the title of Gabby's book..." etc.) You'll also receive a free copy of the book, and if it becomes a series, you'll receive free copies of those as well. Yes, even you my lovely Aussie and Kiwi readers.

Here's some information about the project, and then I'll follow it up with the questions I'm trying to get answered.

A summary of the book:

Gabby Hoskins feels like she's leading a double life.

At school she's Gabby-the-girl-on-the-sidelines. Yes, she hangs out with the popular students, but it's only because they grew up together. She never gets included in their plans, and the guy she likes only has eyes for her best friend.

But after school, when she's sitting at her computer working on her novel, she's Gabrielle-the-heroine. Writing started as an outlet for all those thoughts and feelings buzzing around her head. The ones nobody wanted to hear about, but somehow needed to be expressed. So she took the idiotic things her friends Rachel, April, and Brooke said and put them in the mouths of Raquel, January, and River.

The only person who knows about Gabby's novel is her on-line friend Bronte, who Gabby met through a writing web site. Bronte is encouraging Gabby to try to find a literary agent, but Gabby isn't so sure. Writing is her one safe haven - what will happen when she allows others in?

What I need help with from you guys:

Um, Gabby's entire book.

But we can start the discussion with these three things:

  1. The title
  2. The premise
  3. A fabulous opening line

Some parameters:

  • It can be any genre (mystery, speculative, historical) but it also has to be a YA book. I think a mystery would be really fun, but I stink at writing mysteries, so I'll have to really rely on you guys if that's what we choose.
  • The main character is a girl named Gabrielle, and she has a group of antagonists in Raquel, January, and River.
  • Gabrielle's got a fella. His name is open to discussion. As are all the other characters and their names.

Okay, that's all I can think of at the moment.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you have something you want to share anonymously, you can do that, but make sure you shoot me an e-mail as well so that I have your full name and can give you credit if your suggestion gets used.

One last thing. This is a project I'm in the process of pitching, which means I need those three things (the title, premise, and first line) now-ish so I can get stuff to my editor. But this will also be an on-going project with many more opportunities to contribute.

Thanks in advance, guys! I'm excited!