Friday, December 23, 2011

8 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Novel

Tonight we will be attending our church's Christmas Eve (Eve) service, and that will officially kick off my holiday vacation. I intend to spend the next week logging time with my family, watching Christmas movies, and doing lots and lots of writing and reading.

So, today will be the last post until January 2nd, and I won't be spending much time on email and such either. You're still welcome to email me, of course, but it'll likely be 2012 before you get a response.

A writer emailed me to say, "I hear a story or read a book and all new book ideas pop into my mind. I never end up finishing a book because I start a new one as soon as I started the last! What should I do? How do I stay focus and interested in my old ideas?"

I think most writers deal with this to an extent. For me, it tends to be around the halfway point of my current work-in-progress (WIP). That's when the story starts to feel sluggish, when my plot lines are a bit out of control, and when tying everything together feels the most overwhelming. Then I'll find myself daydreaming about that great idea I had last week, which has even more potential than this current project, and I just know it could be my best book yet. Really, it would be irresponsible to not put aside my WIP in favor of the new project! (*Rolling my eyes.*)

If you're writing just for fun, then I say write whatever you feel like. If it's just for fun, why force yourself to write stuff you don't want to? It's a creative outlet, after all, and there's no reason to put pressure on yourself. Kinda like pleasure reading. If you're picking out a book to read for enjoyment, and you like funny, heartwarming books, why would you pick The Heart of Darkness when you could read the latest Jennifer Weiner novel?

But if you've been doing that for a while, and you're at a place where you want to take your writing to the next level, if you want to prove to yourself that you can write a full manuscript, then yes, the time has come to stay focused. Here are 8 ways to do that:

1. Make a clear goal

This is huge. Don't just say "I'm going to finish this manuscript before I start on any other stories." Make it concrete. Make it manageable. "I'm going to finish this manuscript by writing 1,000 words a day before I go to bed."

2. Share your goal

If you have a friend or family member who encourages your writing, tell them about your goal. Ask them if they would please follow up with you. It can be as simple as, "Did you write your thousand words last night?" or "What's going on in the story now?"

3. Write a synopsis or outline

Sometimes I have trouble moving forward in the story because I just feel stuck. I don't know what's going to happen next (or it's a scene I'm not looking forward to writing) and my mind starts to wander to those other book ideas I've had recently.

This is a great time for me to - if I haven't already - write a synopsis. It's just a 2ish page summary of what happens in the book. A lot of times when I do that, when I see how everything will come together, it renews my energy.

4. Brainstorm with a buddy

A lot of times I've already written my synopsis, or I'm genuinely stuck. What on earth would my character do next? Or maybe I have an idea, but it feels like a tired, unoriginal idea. When that happens, I pull in a writing friend. (Often it's Roseanna White - and today's the last day to get yourself entered to win her latest release, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland.) If you don't have a friend who would be good for brainstorming, think about joining the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. A couple times a week, it seems, there are young writers helping each other with their ideas.

5. Make a story board

I have a huge cork board in my office:

I use it for all kinds of things, but I really like being able to tack up character photos, maps of the area, articles, and various other items that remind me of my WIP.

6. Create a book cover

This isn't something I've tried, but I've heard other writers say they make book covers for their WIPs. It's something to remind them of their goal, and that the finished product is well worth the struggle. Katie McCurdy has one up on her blog for The Princess' Assasin.

I'm no artist, so I'm really not sure if this would work for me or not, but it could be a fun way to motivate yourself. (Or to encourage other writers you know - make them a book cover to express that you believe in them!)

7. Save your other ideas

Create a system for preserving all those random bits of genius that come your way. I keep an Ideas and Inspiration notebook.

8. Give yourself an "other project" writing allowance.

If you have an idea that absolutely will not let go, give yourself a time limit (1 day or 2 days) to write down everything you want for that other idea that's niggling at you. Write the first chapter, character descriptions, themes, whatever you want. Purge yourself of it, then put it away, and get back to work on your WIP.

Those are my thoughts on the matter, but what about you? How do you stay focused and motivated?

Have a great Christmas, guys! See you back here on January 2nd!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

News Day and Prizes Announced!

Our next news day will be Thursday, January 5th. If you have news to share - finishing a first draft, joining a critique group, placing in a contest - we'd love to celebrate with you! Email your news to me at Stephanie(at) and put "News Day" as the subject.

Today we're celebrating with:

Becki Badger: After a year and several hundred thousand words (okay, I might be exaggerating . . . slightly), I have the first (real) draft of the first book in the trilogy I have planned!  YAY!

Yay indeed! Way to stick with it.

Jessica Staricka: I'll be getting my first contributor's copy of a magazine in the mail, along with a check, in the next few days! My story was accepted for publication by Starsongs Magazine!

Yay, Jessica! Congratulations!

Katie McCurdy: A few months ago I found out that my WIP, The Princess' Assassin, won second place in the TARA writing contests Romantic Suspense category.

Yay, Katie! You can read more details about Katie's award at her blog.

Prizes Announced

Those who placed in the 2011 Go Teen Writers contests were automatically entered to win a prize from fab authors like Christa Allan, Melanie Dickerson, and Shellie Neumeier. The winners and their prizes are listed below. (If your name is listed and we haven't talked yet - send me an email!)

Contests will begin again in January - so stay tuned!

From Christy Award winning author Jill Williamson, a copy of her not-quite-released novel Replication: The Jason Experiment.

Martyr---otherwise known as Jason 3:3---is one of hundreds of clones kept in a remote facility called Jason Farms. Told that he has been created to save humanity, Martyr has just one wish before he is scheduled to 'expire' in less than a month. To see the sky. Abby Goyer may have just moved to Alaska, but she has a feeling something strange is going on at the farm where her father works. But even this smart, confident girl could never have imagined what lies beneath a simple barn. Or what would happen when a mysterious boy shows up at her door, asking about the stars. As the reality of the Jason Experiment comes to light, Martyr is caught between two futures---the one for which he was produced and the one Abby believes God created him to have. Time is running out, and Martyr must decide if a life with Abby is worth leaving everything he's ever known.

And the winner of Replication: The Jason Experiment is Kait Culbertson!

Jill Williamson also generously offered a 5 page critique. And the winner of that is Jenna Blake Morris!

The next prize is Melanie Dickerson's, The Merchant's Daughter which I just finished reading. Excellent book. 

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff—a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.

Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger.

Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

The winner of The Merchant's Daughter is Sarah Luckadoo!

(If you're not Sarah, but you'd still like to read The Merchant's Daughter the ebook is being offered for $1.99 for a limited time!)

The next prize is a copy of Driven by Shellie Neumeier. (A great read!)

Robyn can’t help but notice the handsome new guy at her school. She ignores, however, the arrival of another being at Brookfield Central High School—a demon assigned to destroy her…

Robyn loves her friends, enjoys her youth group, and looks forward to meeting cute Caleb Montague. But when a caustic news reporter challenges her school’s prayer team, Robyn must choose: defend their right to meet on campus and pray for whomever they wish or back down at the principal’s request.

Now she must learn what God wants her to do. And she had better learn fast, because there’s a supernatural enemy in town whose sole mission is to stop her—no matter the cost.

And the winner of Driven is Adria Olson!

Also from Shellie Neumeier is a 5 page critique. The winner is Sarah Zakowski!

The next prize is Love Finds You in New Orleans by Christa Allan - a total rockstar of a lady who judged a ton this year.

Raised by her grandparents in 19th-century New Orleans, Charlotte knows little about her long-lost parents. Now facing an arranged marriage to a suitor she dreads, she finds herself attracted to somebody else: a young Creole man named Gabriel Girod. Meanwhile, her grandparents harbor a family secret. Will the truth set everybody free—especially Charlotte?

And the winner of Love Finds You in New Orleans, Louisiana is Carilyn Everett!

The next prize is from Ashley Mays, who is giving away a 2 chapter critique. WOW. Ashley Mays is the former Editorial Assistant for Brio and Brio & Beyond magazines and currently writes her own fiction for teens.

The winner of the 2 chapter critique is Charlotte Buzzard!

The next prize is from Betsy St. Amant, who is giving away her brand, spankin' new release Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK.

Sixteen-year-old Addison Blakely has tirelessly played the role of PK—preacher’s kid—her entire life. But after Wes Keegan revs his motorcycle into town and into her heart, Addison begins to wonder how much of her faith is her own and how much has been handed to her. She isn’t so sure she wants to be the good girl anymore. Join Addison Blakely as she attempts to separate love from lust, facts from faith, and keep her head above water in her murky, fishbowl existence.

And the winner of Betsy St. Amant's Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK is Emma King!

Also from Betsy St. Amant is a 5 page critique. And the winner is Sammie Weiss!

The next prize is Around the World in 80 Dates by Christa Banister.

Sydney Alexander is a travel writer. She’s a very well dressed travel writer—hasn’t yet met a shoe or clearance sale she could pass up. She’s funny. She’s got a great relationship with her sis. She’s got a hilarious best friend, Rain, who happens to be a hippie. And, she’s got a wonderful relationship with God. So what’s missing?

A decent date. A date where she doesn’t have to pay because he’s “between jobs.” A date where she’s not fabulously fashionably ready to go only to learn “the band just got a last minute gig” and he has to cancel. A date she wants to kiss goodnight—not run screaming from the curb.

Bridget Jones may have had a few more public disasters (Sydney works in print not on the telly), and considerably more cigarettes (Sydney doesn’t smoke), but really, besides that, their lives really aren’t so different. She’s just a girl, looking for love, drowning in a sea of cute couples, determined to keep swimming.

The winner of Christa Banister's Around the World in 80 Dates is Kaitlyn Evensen!

The next prize is Idaho Brides from New York Times bestselling author Erica Vetsch.

Experience the Wild West through the eyes of the three McConnell brothers who long to overcome their troubled childhood as drunkard’s sons. Can Alec show that he’s worthy of the ranch boss’s daughter? Can Trace help a distraught woman trust again? Will Cal prove his innocence to a U. S. Marshal in disguise? Will they each find a woman with whom they can trust their tender hearts?

Justice is demanded from the McConnell brothers who are tainted by association with their abusive father. Can Alec show that he’s worthy of the boss’s daughter? Can Trace help a distraught woman trust again? Will Cal prove his innocence to a U. S. Marshal in disguise?

The winner of Erica Vetsch's Idaho Brides is Rye Mason!

And from me is a copy of the first book in the Skylar Hoyt series, Me, Just Different.

Skylar Hoyt is a girl who seems to have it all—she’s pretty, popular, and has a great-looking boyfriend. Her senior year should be the best one yet. But a horrible experience at a summer party has changed everything. Now she’s vowing to make better choices, including going back to church. But as Skylar tries to gain new perspective on life, the world as she knows it begins to fall apart.

Her parents are constantly fighting. Her younger sister has a big secret that Skylar is forced to keep. The guy she’s dating is annoyingly jealous. And the new guy down the street is just plain annoying. In the midst of the chaos, Skylar starts to wonder who her real friends are and, even more importantly, who she is.

The winner of Me, Just Different is Gillian Adams!

Congratulations to all the winners!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to Write Good Dialogue Part Two

In part one of How to Write Good Dialogue we talked about avoiding "Q&A" sessions, not letting your characters say everything they're thinking, and pacing yourself on releasing information. Many of you took the time to share your own dialogue struggles and asked some great questions. I'll get to them all - it's just going to take a couple posts!

Here are some more ways to write good dialogue:

Don't let it be all about your main character

Oh, boy, was I ever guilty of this as a new writer. And even now I lapse into this during my first drafts.

Any 30 Rock fans out there? My all time favorite exchange on that show is from last season where Liz (Tina Fey) and Jack (Alec Baldwin) accidentally get married. Liz - who is the main character - yells, "I'm sorry you got caught up in another one of Liz Lemon's adventures!" And Jack says, "My adventures. I am the protagonist!"

In the dandelion story, all the dialogue is Paige-focused. Even when two other characters are talking, they are talking about Paige. She's the protagonist - who else would they be talking about?

Themselves. That's the way it works in real life. Haven't we all had the experience where we walk away from a conversation and think, "I could tell you anything you want to know about them ... but I don't think they know a thing about me!" We're all guilty of being focused on our problems, our lives, our fears - make your characters guilty of it too!

Beware of the info dump

'DSCN0211' photo (c) 2009, Marion Doss - license:

One of my new writing pet peeves is an exchange that looks like this:

"Sally, how long have we known each other?"
"For 10 years."
"That's why I'm giving you this 10-carat diamond."

I've seen variations of this on TV, in books, movies. Makes me crazy! Because that's not the kind of thing we say to each other. I never turn to my husband with moony eyes and say, "Honey, how long have we been married?"

Not only is it information we both know, it's information we both know that we both know.

Now, I might say, "I can't believe we've been married for 7 years," or, "I can't believe you've put up with me for 7 years," but I've yet to say to him, "How long have we been married?"

I see this kind of info dumping a lot with dates. Like, "Since today is Wednesday, do you have that report for me?" Or like in this little gem from the dandelion story:

"My father ... is being transferred at the end of June."
"The end of June?!" he exploded.  "We're a week into June already!"

That sounds so forced to me. It's much more natural, I think, if Carter says, "That's, like, 3 weeks away!" (There are other things wrong, of course. Like that Carter "explodes." And I'm not even sure Paige should be including a time frame yet, but that falls more under "pacing" than it does "info dumping.")

Think about your characters and what their motivations are for saying what they're saying. And for-the-benefit-of-the-reader is not a good enough motivation.

Not everyone talks the same

One time I was having a conversation with my mom about a person who was angry, and my mother said, "She has a bee in her bonnet, that's for sure."

She has a what?

"Bee in her bonnet" is something I would never say. But to my mother - who watches old movies, reads historical fiction, and was raised by Oklahomans - it seemed like a very natural thing to say.

It's also important to pay attention to word choices. When I go grocery shopping, I'll say, "I went to the grocery store." When my best friend, Roseanna, goes grocery shopping, she says, "I did some marketing." Or if you're in you 30s or 40s, headphones are called headphones. If you're younger, headphones are earbuds.

Tonya from our wonderful Go Teen Writers community brought up that she struggles with her antagonist's dialogue. I do too. Because my main character and those who support her make sense to me, and those who oppose her do not. At least not early on when I'm writing.

This is where that "Why?" question becomes so important. It's not enough for someone to just be mean to your character or to serve as a blockade. You must ask Why? Like:

Why is Autumn being mean to Sabrina?
Because she's jealous that Patrick likes Sabrina instead.
If Autumn is angry with Sabrina ... then why is Autumn also made at Alden for the poor way he treated Sabrina?
Because deep down she loves Sabrina and knows she deserved to be treated better. Also because if Alden had treated Sabrina the way he should have, the two of them would be together and Patrick would be free.

The only way to achieve the feat of your characters sounding, behaving, and thinking differently than each other is to spend time mulling over who they all are, where they come from, and what is motivating them at this moment in time.

Early on in my first draft, I find that difficult. But by the time I've spent 70,000 words exploring these people, it starts to click. This snippet comes from a manuscript of mine, and it falls in the last 25ish pages:

“I didn’t mean to date Glen.” Mom says it so quietly at first I’m not sure I heard correctly. “I went to the market that day for very simple things—milk, arugula, and butter. And then Glen…”

Roseanna commented that my choices for "simple things" said a lot about my character., but I honestly hadn't thought much about it. By that time, I knew my character's mom well enough, and I had a recipe in my head that she made all the time, and it included arugula.

There's still a lot more to cover about dialogue, so stay tuned for part three!

Tomorrow is news day around here - if you have news you'd like to celebrate, please email it to me at Stephanie(at) with "News Day" in the subject line. Remember news can be anything from starting a new project to joining a critique group to winning a contest!

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Top 65 and Prizes to Be Announced!

The 265-word free write was the final contest of 2011, which means the following list is the final standings from this year:

1. Katy McCurdy
2. Jordan Newhouse
3. Rebecca Pennefather, Rebekah Hart
4. Courtney Calvert
5. Faye Rhys
6. Alyssa Liljequist, Ellyn Gibbs
7. Kait Culbertson
8. Jenna Blake Morris
9. Monica Burke, Sammie Weiss, Imogen Elvis, Rachelle Rea, Clare Kolenda, Micah Eaton
10. Emily West, Rayna Huffman, Tonya La Course, Lindsey Bradford
11 Kaitlyn Evensen, Heidi Vanderveen
12. Rye Mason, Abbie Mauno, Esther Wong, Rachel Crew, Jessica Staricka
13. Joshua Hildebrandt
14. Rachel Twombly, Emii Krivan, Rachel Heffington, Korie Mulholland, Joe Duncko, Jordan Graham, Carilyn Everett, Helga Oskarsdottir, Gillian Adams
15. Sarah Posey, Mary Quinn, Sierra Bennett, Talia DeAndrea, Teddy Chan, Nicki Taylor, Sarah Faulkner, Bethany Forster, Morgan Sutton, Whitney Stephens, Jessi Roberts, Emma King, Cosette Russell
16. Moriah Newhouse, Charlotte Buzzard, Sarah Zakowski, Jennifer Grimes, Avery Wall, Katie Scheidhauer, Sarah Luckadoo, Alyson Schroll, Georgina Caballero, Adria Olson, Savannah Daniels, Melanie G. Schroeder, Isla Patterson, Jessica Zelli, Nicole Goddard

Congratulations to everyone! Hundreds participated this year, and it was super fun reading all the entries and experiencing your creativity.

The 65 people listed above not only receive bragging rights (and who doesn't love those?) but they've all be automatically entered to win a variety of prizes - including critiques and free books from wonderful authors like Jill Williamson, Shellie, Neumeier, and Roseanna White.

Also, the first and second place winners (Katy and Jordan) will receive a full manuscript critique, and the third place winners (Rebecca and Rebekah) will receive a partial manuscript critique. Something I noticed about all four girls is they were consistent, creative, brave (attempted new styles/techniques), and had very clean, typo-free writing. That doesn't apply to just them, certainly, but it's something worth noting.

2012 will bring a whole new batch of writing opportunities and contests. Don't get left out! Make sure you're plugged in to Go Teen Writers (you can receive posts by email [I moved the sign up to the top right of the page for today], sign up for the newsletter, or join the Go Teen Writers Facebook group.)

Have a great day, everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Roseanna White is here with a giveaway!

I'm so excited to feature Roseanna White today. Partially because she's my best friend, but also because Roseanna does a ton of stuff for Go Teen Writers.

Quick housekeeping note, and then we'll get to the interview and giveaway with the lovely Mrs. White: I'm putting together a thank you email for all the judges from 2011. If you entered contests this year, would you please take the time to write a quick note that I could send to them all? You can express appreciation for them giving of their time, and I'm sure they would love to know anything you learned from the judges' comments. You can send your thank you notes to Stepahnie(at), and if you would put "Thank you to judges" in the subject line, that would help me tremendously.

On to Roseanna!

In case you aren't familiar with who Roseanna is, she's the author of two Biblical love stories and Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland. She makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing.

This is the lovely cover art for Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland and a brief description:

In 1784 peace has been declared, but war still rages in the heart of Lark Benton.

Never did Lark think she’d want to escape Emerson Fielding, the man she’s loved all her life. But when he betrays her, she flees to Annapolis, Maryland, the country’s capital. There Lark throws herself into a new circle of friends who force her to examine all she believes.

Emerson follows, determined to reclaim his betrothed. Surprised when she refuses to return with him, he realizes that in this new country he has come to call his own, duty is no longer enough. He must learn to open his heart and soul to something greater … before he loses all he should have been fighting to hold.

4 1/2 star Top Pick from RT Book Reviews!
“White writes an unpredictable love story that will keep the reader cheering for the characters.”

Roseanna, you are being kidnapped, but your kidnappers are somewhat kind and offer to let you bring three of your favorite books to help you pass the time. What do you bring?

Euclid’s Elements – that’ll keep me busy and my brain from turning to mush. (Didn’t expect me to name a geometry book, did you?! LOL). Laurie Alice Eakes’s A Necessary Deception, because I’m in the middle of it now, and it would just be awful not to know what happens. 
And . . . um . . . a blank (thick) journal/notebook. Because if Roseanna can’t write, Roseanna gets cranky. And we don’t want to be irritating the kidnappers, right? ;-)

If you had to pick one book to read for the rest of your life, which would you choose. (In addition to the Bible. Will let you bring along that one as well because I know otherwise that would be your answer.)

Oh, good grief. Life with only one book other than the Bible?? I’d sooner perish! ;-) Much as I love all my fiction, I can’t imagine spending a lifetime with a single novel. So I’d probably vote for a book that would help tend my soul (which would need some tending with only two books!!), so I’m going to go for My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

Wow. This is a real learning experience for me. So far you haven't named a single book I would have guessed for you.

Let's switch gears and talk about your current release. What makes Love Finds You In Annapolis, Maryland unique from other books in the genre?

The pure genius! Kidding, kidding. ;-) For one thing, the Colonial / Early Federal era is a growing but still small segment of historical fiction, which immediately sets it apart. And I also worked off a premise not often used—a hero and heroine who are betrothed at the beginning. Lark breaks the engagement when Emerson betrays her, and the story is largely about how one woos back a broken heart. Not too many out there like that. =)

I've read Love Finds You in Annapolois, Maryland, and I have to ask ... do you think powdered wigs will ever come back in style? And will you be attempting to forge the way?

I don't claim to be a fashionista ... but seriously?
I am literally laughing out loud at this one! When I first started doing research on the era, the whole idea of powdered wigs made me groan, roll my eyes, and wrinkle my nose. Did I really have to have my characters wearing them??

The answer was actually no—they’d gone out of style with the younger generation by then. =) But I just finished up a book set five years earlier, and my heroine in fact DOES wear powder and wigs, and I’ve come to appreciate the style . . . within the pages of a book or in a picture, LOL. I think I’ll just leave it safely there though, thanks.

Okay, good. Because I might have to rethink our friendship if you start showing up to awards dinners in a powdered wig. (Though it could be an effective marketing tool. I have $10 with your name on it if you don one for your book signing. $20 if you wear one to the ACFW gala dinner....)

Me and Roseanna at the ACFW awards gala. Wouldn't a powdered wig complete the outfit?
So, you're not a fan of powdered wigs. If you could pick any fashion time period to live in, when would you choose?

Oh, this question gets me in a whole other way! I sooooo love old-fashioned styles. Let me go grab my favorite resource: Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century – The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute (which I found used for $5! Go, me!). I think a good compromise of all my favorite elements can be found in the 1850s. Ornate dresses with big skirts, but the hoop didn’t enter until the middle of the decade. Floor-length, well fitted, a variety of colors and fabrics . . . yes, I would be quite happy to live in 1850s clothing. In all seasons but the summer. Unless we’re transporting an air conditioner back in time with me. ;-)

Name 3 writers, dead or alive, whom you would love to have a conversation with and why:

Francine Rivers is number one. I admire her so much for her books, her personal story, and her faithfulness in both. I’d love to have the chance to talk with her someday and get to know the woman behind some of my all-time favorite novels.

Next would be Cervantes (with an interpreter, please, as my Spanish is non-existent). His Don Quixote is the world’s first novel, which makes him my instant hero. =) I’d love to see what he thinks about the industry he helped pioneer, about how it’s grown and evolved, and if he had any idea that crazy story he penned hundreds of years ago would still be required reading today.

Hmm, I actually have had conversations with lots of authors I really admire or just plain adore, so it’s hard to pick a third that’s in dream-land . . . guess I’ll go with another writer of the past and name L. M. Montgomery, who may have shaped my life and my goals more than any other author. I read and loved the entire Anne of Green Gables series, but my absolute favorites are her Emily books, since Emily is a writer. =) I read those as a pre-teen then again in college, at which point I realized how much I’d tried to become Emily, LOL.

I have yet to read the Emily books. (And weren't we just discussing what you could get me for Christmas...?)

Roseanna, you and I have bonded over the fact that we worked to get published while in high school. What are 3 things you wish you could tell high-school-writer-you?

Roseanna as a high school writer
1.) Don’t assume that talent is enough. You need skill too. Which requires work. And lessons. And a lot more information than you had available in the days before blogs and online writing groups. Learn the rules and then follow them. For instance, let me explain POV and Show V. Tell . . . ;-)

2.) Don’t try to have anyone else’s career. This path you’re on is yours, no one else’s. Don’t think you have to be Francine Rivers or Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy or Stephenie Meyer (who you wouldn’t have heard of yet) or anyone else. The Lord has a special plan just for you. So stop comparing yourself to other writers and go where He leads you. 

3.) You’re doing great! In spite of all the mistakes you’ve made (and will keep making), you have a passion that doesn’t waver, and it’ll see you through. It’s that passion that’ll help you learn those first two lessons, and which will keep you on the path in spite of rejection after rejection. That passion will give you patience—which you’re gonna need, baby. Never give up—and never stop improving.

Roseanna has offered to give away a copy of Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland to one lucky US resident, which would be an excellent Christmas read for anyone! To get entered to win, share something you love about Christmas. It can be a tradition your family has that you cherish, the peppermint mochas at Starbucks, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or anything else that strikes your fancy!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another winning entry from the 265 word free write

I hate that I deprived you guys of reading one of the first place winners from the 265 word free write! I'm so thankful my error was pointed out because you would not want to miss this:

By Jessica Staricka, first place

For three days after the last night of our performances, Ivan Thall walked around school with my hand print burnt into his face. I had resisted the urge to lash out at him up until the very last curtain call; I wasn't going to throw away all the work we'd put into that play by sending the lead role into the hospital. Some folks noticed that evening that Ivan didn't stick around for the reception—I just smiled, savoring my revenge, and shook hands with each praising audience member.
 “Oh, your hand is warm!” said one woman, jerking back and then laughing nervously. “You must be overheating in that costume! Well, you did a good job, a good job...”
 Ryan Staves turned to me suspiciously. “You're hand is warm, huh? Just how warm?”
 “Warm enough to leave a mark,” I said through a big, forced grin.
 “So that's where Ivan went. I thought maybe he'd made a break for the woods.”
 “No. More like a break for the emergency room.”
 When Ivan showed up for school the next morning, it was between classes, and the halls were buzzing and busy. But everyone fell silent when he marched slowly and proudly down the hall.
 “Good performance last night, huh Ivan?” I said cheerfully, raising my voice above the whispers.
 He turned to glare at me with dull eyes. “Quiet, freshman.”
 I grinned at him and let the temperature of the hallway spiral downward for a moment before bringing it back up. “And a good morning to you, too.”

The judge says: I love the supernatural element and how you’ve woven it into a contemporary, relatable setting. I want to know more about the main character and why she is the way she is. Also, the conflict is great from the very beginning. Most readers can identify with the element of being angry with a classmate, but then you threw in the unexpected element of burning his face with her hand…it’s definitely enough to get my attention!

Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Write Good Dialogue Part One

The title of this post has me wigging a bit. The passive aggressive part of me (which is about 90% of me, to be honest) would much rather say something like, "Some thoughts on improving dialogue" or "here are some things I've learned about dialogue." But I'm trying to become more bold, so, no. This post is about how to write good dialogue.

I learned in a blogging class that I'm should be using more pictures on Go Teen Writers. I had no idea what kind of picture to use for this post, but I do like to follow instructions. This is my daughter. She turned 4 on Wednesday. Okay, now let's talk about dialogue.

One quick thing I'll say is that dialogue can be spelled either dialog or dialogue. The form "dialogue" is the old English spelling, and "dialog" is the American. Since I'm not a Brit, you might wonder why I write "dialogue." I don't know. My guess is that's the way my teacher's taught me, so it's the way it looks right to me. "Dialog" looks incomplete to me, even though my brain knows it's perfectly correct. Especially for an American.

Okay, I think I'm officially stalling.


How to write good dialogue.

It's been a while since I talked about the dandelion story, which is a book I attempted in high school that had many, many things wrong with it. Including lousy dialogue. Let's take a look at some examples and pinpoint what's so bad.

Avoid Q & A sessions

What do I mean by Q&A sessions? I mean exchanges like this:

"Thank-you," Paige said to him as they entered the hallway and her head cleared.
"I know you get claustrophobic," Kyle said. "It's so great to see you."
"It's great to see you too," she told him.
"Where did you move to?" Kyle asked.
"A place called Vernon. It's a suburb of St. Louis."
"Did you like it there?" Kyle asked her.

Um, what do you bet Paige answers him? And that Kyle asks her another question?

It's not like characters asking each other questions is some no-no. But the tennis-match-style conversation is just kinda ... blah.

Don't let them say everything they're thinking

One of the ways you create conflict in your story is to create conflict in your dialogue. And one of the ways you do that is to not let your character say everything they're thinking. This is a scene from the dandelion book where Paige is telling Carter - long time boyfriend - that she's moving.

"My family..."Paige trailed off.  She started over, "My being transferred at the end of June."
"The end of June?!" he exploded.  "We're a week into June already!"
"I know. Please don't yell."
"Where are you moving?!" Carter went right on yelling.
"St. Louis, please don't yell," Paige begged.
He yanked his hand away from her. "Don't touch me," he whispered harshly, turning away.
"Carter-don't do this.  Calm down."
"Stop it!  Stop it! Stop being so positive and cheerful.  Paige, we've barely spent a week apart these past 2 years.  Letters and phone conversations and e-mails aren't going to hold us over."
"We can visit each other," Paige suggested.
"Let's get real, Paige.  My family doesn't have the money for plane tickets and neither does yours," Carter said.

I have two points I want to make about this excerpt.

The first is that these two are being way too open with each other. My husband and I have been together since we were freshman in high school ... but when I come to him with news I know he isn't going to like, there's strategy involved. I'm not talking about manipulation or anything like that, I mean that I think through how this is going to effect him, what the positives are, when the best timing will be. And we're talking about someone who I've been with for half my life, and who I'm quite confident isn't going to leave me. Real life conversation involves strategy, and story world conversation does too.

Of course it can be a lot of fun to toss in a character who tends to say whatever pops into their brain, but how often do you say everything you're thinking? When you're put on hold for 10 minutes and someone finally comes back on the line and says, "I'm so sorry for the wait," what's your answer? I always say, "Don't worry about it," even though I've spent the last 9 1/2 minutes grumbling things like, "Don't worry - my time isn't important. I'm not spending precious kid-free minutes trying to sort out this stupid billing error that's your fault. Take your sweet time."

Pace Yourself

The other thing I noticed in the above excerpt is there's so much in so little  - and not in a good way. So, in a little more than 100 words she tells her boyfriend she's moving, and they're already trying to figure out how this is going to work out? (And in the manuscript, they're broken up about 50 words later - yikes!)

It goes way too fast. I can tell that I had information I wanted Paige to impart to Carter (I'm moving, I'll be in St. Louis, I want this to work out) and I worked all that in as quickly as I could. Probably so I could finish the scene before Geometry class ended.

You've probably heard of the 5 stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As your characters are moving through the story and experiencing set backs, conflict, and heartbreak, they should be going through these stages.

As I sit here thinking about Paige and Carter, about where they live, and how long they've been together, it's obvious to me that Carter absorbs Paige's news in a ridiculous amount of time. Same as if my husband came home from work today and said, "We're moving to Idaho Falls." My first thought would be something like, "Uh, no we're not."

Make sure you're giving your characters time to process what's going on.

Okay, there were so many issues with the dialogue in the dandelion story, I have to break this into two posts. More on this next week.

Have burning dialogue questions you'd like answered? Post them below. And, just for fun, which do think looks better - dialogue or dialog?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

News Day and Winning Entries

Happy Thursday, guys! Today's news day, which is always fun because I love getting a peek at where everyone is in their writing journey.

Becki Badger says: I completed a whole first draft in just THREE days!  Granted, it's only 20,000 words or so, but still!  :)  Now on to revisions!!!

Congratulations, Becki!

If you have news you'd like to share - getting an article published, starting your first novel, taking that brave step of joining a critique group - email me at Stephanie(at) and put NEWS DAY in the subject line.

And these people have news too. These are a few of the winning entries from the 265 word free write. Amazing stuff. Happy reading!

By Gillian Adams, First Place

They were coming.
Gundhrold peered into the moonless dark, wings ruffling in the chilling breeze.  Distant howls echoed to the beat of thundering hooves and clinking armor.  Distant, but drawing nearer.
Foul murderers.  His claws dug into the wet bark of the limb.  Dark sap bubbled out of the long scratches.  A fresh scent hovered around him, strange amidst the eerie screams born upon the wind.  He studied the russet sap staining his claws.  Like blood.  His claws would be covered in that crimson hue before the night was done.
Gundhrold clacked his beak impatiently.  He sought to pierce the heaviness of the woods with his gaze.  Where was she?
A twig snapped in the depths of the forest; a branch rustled.  He tensed, tilting forward and raising his wings for flight.  Soft footsteps on damp leaves, a shuddering breath, and then a whispered voice spoke from the shadows.  “Gundhrold?  Are you here?”
At last.  Dropping from the limb, Gundhrold spread his wings and glided to the forest floor.  He landed without a noise, catlike on the ground, before a woman closely hooded and cloaked.  “Lady Auna, you are late.”
The woman started, then breathed a sigh of relief.  “Oh, it’s you.”
“Did you expect another, Songkeeper?”
“Do not call me that,” Auna hissed.  “I have been followed.”  She pushed her hood back, revealing eyes sparked with urgency beneath a flood of dark hair.  “There is no time.  They are coming.”

The judge says: I love the creativity of this point-of-view, the danger and high stakes apparent from the get-go. Vivid writing and an intriguing plot!

By Helga Oskarsdottir, First Place

She stumbled on the hem of her dress as the guards pulled her along the dim hallway. The knight stormed ahead of them and slammed the great doors open.  “I found her, my lord.” The knight bowed and gestured as the guards pushed her into the room. She let her feet buckle beneath her and fell in a heap to the floor. She padded her skirts and sighed with relieve. The box was save. She squeezed her eyes until they were brimming with tears and looked up.   “Papa”. She saw disappointment cross over his face.   “Please excuse us, Knight Rowley,” the Lord of Silverwind said and crossed over to her. She scrambled to her feet and threw herself into his arms.   “Oh papa, they came out of nowhere and grabbed me. Thank the goddess for Knight Rowley.” She sobbed into his shirt. She heard the doors close behind her. Her father grabbed her shoulders and drew her away.   “You can cut the act, Elina,” he looked at her with his stern eyes, “I know you planned this.” She pouted and crossed her arms.   “I will not marry him.” The Lord of Silverwind slumped into the great chair and massaged the bridge of his nose.   “I know you are too young to understand the importance of this betrothal, my little silverwing, but could you try to be a little civil. Earl Drowley is not a bad man.”  “Oh yes he is,” Elina cut him off, “I saw him once beat his horse.”

By Katy McCurdy, Second Place

Wulf had always been vigilant, never caught unaware.Until now.He’d lingered at the village too long, growing lax with the routine of normal life. And now, in consequence of his carelessness, here he was.He glanced at the men riding on either side of him—they stared straight ahead. He flexed his arms, straining the leather straps that bound his wrists behind his back. They didn’t budge. A low, frustrated growl vibrated the back of his throat. Focus, Wulf. You were trained for this. Wait for the opportunity.A large castle appeared from behind a veil of trees. He hadn’t lived in Trinovia long, but knew the castle must belong to one of the dukes of the land. ‘Twas too grand for anyone else. But why would a duke want him, of all people? And why by force?The group of riders passed beneath the gate and halted in the courtyard. One of the men fisted a handful of his tunic and yanked him off his mount. Another prodded his back with the hilt of a dagger, urging him forward. They reached a door that led into a large, long corridor stretching both ways. They turned right. No one spoke. In fact, no words had been spoken since they captured him the day before. Wulf wasn’t the type to plead or ask questions, and the men hadn’t offered anything. Which suited him fine. Now that they had arrived, all would soon be explained. And he would take appropriate action.True, they’d taken his sword and bow. Removed all his daggers. But they’d missed one.
The judge says: Excellent writing and feel. I love the play of tension and silence, that sense of something to come, and the knowledge we’re left with, that Wulf has an ace—or a dagger, anyway—up his sleeve.

By Cosette Russell, Second Place

A drop of liquid fire, the sun sank to hide beyond the mountains just as the last angry glow faded from the ring of hot steel.  Evangeline watched the steam dance off the water's surface just long enough to cool the piece, then hung the tongs on their peg and inspected her work.  Marcello would have been proud of his daughter, she thought.   It wasn’t a difficult piece, not by far. The real challenge always reared its head when  the people came to her for weapons-- when the men were away, and the monsters took advantage of them.  Then was the time her skills were truly called upon, and then was the time she could never use them properly. Nothing could overcome her fear of the monsters.   They never appeared in daylight, and never sent spies ahead.  But they always, always came when the army left for battle.  Their cleverness and cowardice was the perfect scheme.   On a dusky evening such as this, it was only a matter of time.   Wrapping the bridle ring in a clean cloth, she peered out the window into the silent village.  The restless people had finished their business early today in anticipation of the night's terrors.   "Evangeline!" Andrew burst through the door.  "I've found a way!"    Her brother's comrades jostled each other behind him, all dressed in their newly earned battle armor.  The light of the forge only added to the dangerous excitement in his eyes.  "We're going out after them."   Evangeline froze.  "After the monsters?"

The judge says: This writing is beautiful! It flows nicely. The description is very good. I can imagine all the details with ease. I like the way it starts out in a calm sort of way, but finishes with a good deal of tension and unanswered questions. 

By Emma King, Third Place

She rushed down the vacant streets, dodging between buildings. Adrenaline always kicked in after dusk, giving her the speed she needed to get back to her alley. The wind howled behind her, screaming for blood. She pushed her legs harder, while consistently attempting to slow her heartbeat.      There it was, just around the corner. Home. Something blurred in the pursuing wind, and she could barely make out the forms of humans. These wind-spirits wanted her, but even the air they were riding was not quick enough to grasp their unfortunate target.      She dived into the alley, landing head-first into her hay bed. She stood quickly, her hair ruffled with pieces of hay sticking out at odd angles. She stuck her tongue out at the now-rampaging spirits, not caring for maturity. She was only five years old.      On a normal day, the wind spirits would get bored and leave her be. That night, however, they banged against her protective border. Something cracked, and her eyes widened.      The girl turned toward the back of the alley. How could she be so stupid? She chose an alley with no escape route! The back consisted of a ten-foot-tall brick wall, impossible to climb.      With one sharp inhalation of air, she began sprinting toward it. Her defensive border shattered behind, allowing the spirits into her home.      Every step brought her closer to death. The wall was approaching, doubling in size as she neared it. With only two feet to go, she hurled her body upward in a desperate effort to save herself.
The judge says: So intriguing, with wind spirits! I’m also a sucker for heroes/heroines who are children, but smarter and more capable than they should be. Well done with solid writing.

By Nicole Goddard, Third Place

Insects crawled beneath him at impressive speeds, zooming back and forth on swift legs. No, not insects, he absently reminded himself. Cars. People. He liked to think of each car as a little universe. From the outside, they were just metal boxes. But there were people inside, little lives and little worlds that zoomed below and they looked like insects. “What are you waiting for?” He started at the unexpected voice behind him and whirled around. A man stood before him, hands casually stuffed deep in his pockets, leaning against the door that led off the roof and down the stairwell, back into the building below.“What?” he demanded, uncomprehending. He could have sworn he had locked that door. He wasn’t supposed to be interrupted.“What are you waiting for?” the man repeated slowly. Sad grey eyes roved across the rooftop, taking in his place on the ledge, and then moving up towards the sky.“I’m not waiting for anything.” The man snorted.“We’re all waiting for something,” he said softly. “I’ve been waiting for today. Clearly you have as well. Probably for some time now.” He sighed and came to stand on the ledge.  “The name’s David, by the way. I feel like whenever one jumps off a roof with someone, one should definitely know the name of the person jumping off the roof with them.”

The judge says: The description used here to describe the cars and people is awesome! Not only does it resonate with me, it creates a sense of being an “outsider”, which is what you were going for, I think. I love the unexpectedness of the other person on the roof, and the calm way the person introduces himself. These opening sentences are just enough to pique my interest. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Make Your Reader Feel Like They Are There

Laura Smith is here today to talk to us about writing with all your senses! Laura is a fellow YA author whose books include Skinny, Hot and Angry which address eating disorders, dating and divorce, respectively. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and at her website

Utilizing Your Five Senses for Richer Writing

Imagine Christmas this year without the sharp taste of peppermint candy canes, the creamy, rich froth of hot cocoa, the fragrant scent of pine, the crisp chill of a December morning, the tingle of a snowflake tickling your tongue, a rainbow of twinkling Christmas lights, the warm glow of a cozy fire, the melodic notes of “The First Noel” or the tinkle of bells.

Just as we wouldn’t want to miss a single one of these morsels of holiday magic, we don’t want to deprive our characters, plots and readers of those sensations either.

I’m writing this blog from my favorite cozy coffee shop, with amazing atmosphere, but me telling you it’s “cozy” and “amazing” doesn’t do you much good unless I describe it to you using, you guessed it, my five senses. So, why don’t we find a seat and chat about this writing tool.

We could either sit at one of the tall stools along the ledge, looking out the front window, in the giant orange crushed velvet couch that looks like it came out of a Scooby Doo episode or in my favorite, one of the booths with cracked black, leather seats and glossy, polished wood tables. There. We used the first sense - sight – this one is the best utilized sense in writing. Probably, because it’s what we rely on the most to make decisions. We are drawn to the sweater that “looks cute” in a store window before we know if it’s comfortable, if it fits us or if we can afford it. We often choose the dessert on the dessert tray that “looks” yummiest, before we’ve ever tasted it. Using sight, is as simple as explaining what something looks like. Make sure to use a variety of descriptions -- height, texture, color, spatial references and analogies all work. The important thing to remember is that your description should be relevant. We described the seats we could sit in when we were looking for a place to sit, not the tattoo on the barista’s neck or the signs plastered along the windows. These details might be relevant to a different scene or chapter, but not here.

Close your eyes and listen. I hear the whirr of the espresso machine, the clang of ceramic cups, the buzz of multiple murmured conversations and Sufjan Stevens singing in a raspy, melodic voice along to his acoustic guitar over the sound system. Can you hear them? Can you imagine you’re here? That’s what you want your reader to be able to do -- to immerse themselves in your scene, to feel like they’re actually in your story. Whenever in doubt how to use sound in your writing, do what we just did. Close your eyes and imagine what you hear in your scene, than incorporate it into your text.

Yum! Sorry I couldn’t wait to take a sip of my coffee. Sadly, taste is the most underutilized of our senses in writing. With all of the delicious flavors out there, this is such a shame. I often have writers ask me, how can I use taste if my story doesn’t involve eating? My answer is – writing is a creative process. Be creative. Taste is not limited to the robust, caramel flavor of the Fair Trade Highlander Grogg in my mug. Gum can be cool and minty or sharp and cinnamony. I can walk past someone with a cigarette or a bus with exhaust and taste the foul, thick smoke lingering in the air. Kisses are delicious – kissing a baby on the forehead and tasting their sweet, powdery innocence or kissing your grandma and tasting the heavy, floral perfume, she’s been wearing since before time began.

Brrr. It gets chilly when someone comes in through those side doors and lets in a blast of December Ohio air. I’m shivering a little on this squishy, leather seat. To combat the chill, I wrap my hands around the welcome warmth coming from my smooth, ceramic mug as I cradle my coffee. Touch – There isn’t a scene you write that can’t contain some sort of feeling – and we’re not talking happy, sad or angry, I mean the way something feels if you touch it. Use texture, temperature, weather, clothing, furniture – anything your character’s body comes in contact with to convey this tactile sense.

In this coffee shop there is the obvious bold, rich aroma of coffee permeating the place. I love when I get home and unzip my laptop from its case, and the lingering scent of coffee drifts from the keyboard. But there is also the smell of Panini’s, slathered with butter, grilling behind the counter and the pungent odor of bleach, sharp against my sinuses, when I visit the bathroom. Other customers smell of cologne, patchouli, sweat, cigarette smoke or outdoors as they walk by my table or when I stand next to them in line. By adding the sense of smell, we add a rich layer to our descriptions. The sense of smell is tied to memory and experience.

I’m going to finish my coffee and savor the way my five senses are stimulated in this shop. Where are you writing today? Which of your senses is being particularly stirred, or which ones are you struggling to capture? I’d love to hear.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winners of the 265 Word Free Write

I'm so excited to announce the winners of the 265 word free write!

First Place
Jessica Staricka
Gillian Adams
Helga Oskarsdottir

Second Place
Katy McCurdy
Jordan Newhouse
Cosette Russell

Third Place
Emma King (double-finaled)
Nicole Goddard

Congratulations, guys! Pending approval from the authors, I'll be posting some of the winning entries on Thursday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jill Williamson's 10 Tips to Becoming a Better Writer

If you haven't already received your feedback from the free write contest, you should be receiving it sometime today. I'll be perfectly honest - it all depends on how well my kid naps this morning. I know you're anxious, so I'm doing my best to get your entries returned to you.

The winners of the 265 word free write will be announced tomorrow. I'm very excited!

Me and Jill in Chicago.
Some of you may have already seen this on Jill Williamson's Teenage Author site. She's sweet enough to let me share it over here. Jill Williamson is the author of the Blood of Kings series, a two time Christy award winner, and has a new book - Replication - coming out at the end of this month.

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Writer

Learning to become a great writer takes time. As teenagers, you are at the beginning of that time. Do not be discouraged! You can learn the tricks to becoming a better writer now and by the time you’re my age… well, let’s just say, “Move over Christopher Paolini, here you come!”

These tips are rules. Once you learn the rules, you, as a great and extremely talented crafter of the written word, will know when it is okay to break them. Truth? I still am not sure when to break them. Don’t tell anyone, okay? Yes, there are lots of rules to becoming a great writer, and you may tire of hearing them all over and over, but once you understand them, your writing will greatly improve and an editor or agent will notice the difference.

So here they are, drum roll please, my Ten Tips to Becoming a Better Writer…

Tip #1– Read, Read, Read

One of the easiest ways to learn great writing is to read great writing. Pick up books like the kind you want to write and read them. This will help you learn what works and know your competition.

Tip #2– Know Your Reader and Genre

When you are ready to begin writing, decide who you are writing for and what you are writing. Write a picture book for kids. Write a junior detective reader. Write a young adult fantasy. Write a young adult historical coming of age story. If you try to write all of these things in one book, it’s going to be very confusing and there will not be a market for it. If you are writing for fun, then, hey, do what you want. But—if you are writing to become a great writer, then start by following the rules. Once you are up there with Lois Lowry and J. K. Rowling, you can do what you want.

Tip #3– Point of View

Decide which person’s head you will be telling the story from. I suggest telling the story from a single persons head, or point of view, for your first novel. Head jumping can be a very tiresome thing, and usually makes me want to toss the book in the trash. What I mean by head jumping is this:

     Kate looked at Edward. He was a silly little boy. Why did he think he could get away with taking her things all the time. It was a real pain having him for a little brother. She wanted to ship him off to Australia media mail. That would teach him.

     If she wouldn’t always boss him, then he would behave more. He really only wanted Kate to play with him. The other kids in third grade didn’t have a big sister as cool as her, but she always yelled at him. It made him sad when she did, but at least she was paying some attention to him.

     Mr. Jones always took his son’s side. How could he not? Kate was going through some bizarre teenage girl phase that he didn’t understand. She constantly tortured the family, especially Edward. As a good father should, he stepped in, but Kate always took it as a personal attack.

See what I did? In the second paragraph I went to Edward’s point of view, then in the third I went to Daddy’s. That’s a no no because it confuses the reader. Yeah, it’s true that there are lots of published authors out there who do this, but I think it’s very confusing. If you want to use more than one point of view in your book, switch at chapter breaks or at least at scene changes.

Tip #4– Problem?

I’ve read books where I was in the third chapter before I knew what was happening. I’m not talking about a great suspense novel, I’m talking about rambling on and on without any sign of a plot. A story must have a plot. The easiest way to explain this is to give your main character a major problem to solve. Maybe they chose to get involved in the problem like Nancy Drew nosing around in a crime, or maybe it was thrust upon them like Harry Potter becoming a wizard, Eragon finding a dragon’s egg, or Anne Shirley being an orphan. Readers need to know in the first five pages, preferable the first page, what the character’s problem is. Then the reader can decide whether or not they want to read on. If you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a story. Sorry.

Tip #5– Show, Don’t Tell

Okay, this is the first time you will hear me say that. It took me at least a year of desperate searching to understand what that meant. You’ll hear it a thousands of times in your quest to becoming a great author, so commit it to memory now.

Honestly, at first, authors think they are being clever and poetically descriptive. What they are really doing is being lazy and littering their work with red flags that scream, “HELLO, I’M AN AMATEUR!” As an author, we want to SHOW our readers what is happening so they feel like they are actually one of the main character and they are getting excited, scared, cold, sick, or hungry along with your character because you write in a way that draws them in.

Why? Because today’s generation of readers were raised on television and movies. They want to be entertained and that has translated into book writing. If you want to be a great writer, you’ve got to get used to it.

Tip #6- Delete Adverbs

An adverb is a part of speech that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. For

example: “She was beautiful”; “He drove perfectly”;  “They played very well.” Adverbs are often formed by adding ‘ly’ to an adjective. Ex: Weakly, hungrily, or tirelessly.

Amateurs love to use lots of adverbs.

For example: She was beautiful. –This doesn’t really show us much. We as readers have no choice but to take your word for it. We may believe you once, but if your writing is filled with you telling the reader what to believe, we’ll get annoyed with you. We want to see her beauty.

Better example: She was small, with big brown eyes and lashes that seemed to blink in slow motion. Her hair fell in black waves over her shoulders and down her back.

Yak! FYI: I will never put “Good example,” because that would insinuate that I can write good     examples, but I hope that you see what I mean. Readers need specifics. Once you give them to us, we can see her and we believe she is beautiful without you ever having to tell us so.

Tip #7– Be Specific or CUT, CUT, CUT!

When you are writing your first draft, just write it. Zip on through and get the story in the computer. (Yes computer. The days of writing by hand are in the past.) As you go back through, look for those boring snoozer words that really mean nothing of interest. Good writing is in the details and specifics.

For Example: John climbed the tree and looked at the mountain.

Zzzzzzzzz. Snort. Drool. Zzzzzzzz. Oh! I’m sorry. Must have dozed off. Tee hee.

Better example: John shimmied up the swaying willow and gazed at the monstrous peak of Mt. McKinley.

Okay, so I replaced the boring, non specific words with concrete ones. Ones that help the reader see what you want them to. Instead of climbed, John shimmied. Instead of tree, I used swaying willow. That is very specific, and if you ever tried to climb one, you would know they sway. Instead of looked, I used gazed. It just seemed more right for the scene. Instead of mountain, monstrous peak of Mt. McKinley. Yep. Mt. McKinley is monstrous, the second tallest peak in North America, and that alone tells the reader (who knows his geography, anyway) where the story takes place.

This is true with any word. Be specific, but if you feel that being non specific is the right thing to do, go right ahead. Like I said, once you know and follow the rules, you can break them when you want to. Confused yet? Ha ha ha ha ha!

Tip #8– Get Rid of, or Make Simple, the Said Tag

This is another one of those places where and agent or editor will take one glance at your manuscript and scream, “AMATEUR!” The dreaded said tag. And even worse, the dreaded said tag with even more dreaded adverb attached.

For Example: “Get out!” Sharon screamed angrily.

Ick, ick, ick! Here’s why: “Get out!” Does that look like someone might whisper those words? Nope. So you don’t have to tell us that Sharon screamed. And angrily is even more redundant. You’ve only got so many words to write a good story. Wasting them on saying the same thing over and over is a bad move. Watch out for redundancies and lazy telling.

Better Example: “Get Out!” Sharon slammed the door.

This example uses an action tag. Not only does the action fit the words she has spoken, but it tells us that she spoke them without using the word ‘said’ at all. Whoo hoo! Have a party. ‘Said’ is one of the most abused and over used words in literature. That being said, it is far better to write, ‘“Get out!” Sharon said,’ than to write ‘“Get out!” Sharon said angrily,’ or ‘“Get out!” Sharon clamored.’ When in doubt, ‘said’ works best, but I know that you can do better using action tags.

Tip #9– Avoid Flashbacks

There is nothing more confusing that a flashback in the middle of nowhere except, two or more flashbacks spread throughout a novel. If you must tell a past event, get creative. Put it into dialogue or put little pieces here and there throughout the story. This is far more mysterious than blurting it out by going back in time for three pages, and let’s face it, I skip over it anyway. If you absolutely are itching to tell a character’s past, do it in a prologue, or sneak it in another way. If you refuse and must have a flashback, make it short. Please!

Tip #10– Write, Write, Write!

You would think this would be obvious and yet, I waste more time thinking about nothing, biting my fingernails, writing to do lists of what I’m going to write, and eating in front of the computer, than actually writing. Randy Ingermanson, a really smart writing guy, said it takes the average writer a million words typed to get published. That is the equivalent of ten novels. Currently, I’m closing in on 500,000. Sigh! So, you best get typing now and stop wasting your time reading this e-zine!

Bonus Tip #11– Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite!

What’s this? A bonus tip? How thoughtful of me! It is also said, by many wise writing guru people that the real magic, the real amazing gift of the writing craft comes in the rewrite. So write your story. Put it aside. Write something else. Then come back and rewrite that first one. Rewrite it until you feel real good about it. The problem is, some people (like me) never feel real good about it and we could go on picking the poor book to death until it is just a sad skeleton of a former healthy novel. That, however, is a different kind of problem altogether.