Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing Prompt: I knew she knew

This round's writing prompt is:

When she stormed into my bedroom, eyes ablaze, I knew she knew.

Think of this as the opening line of a novel. Your job is to write the next 100 words as if they're the opening paragraph. It's not a short story, it's the next 100 words. And the prompt sentence never counts toward your word count.

After you've written your 100 words, please e-mail them to me at: Stephanie(at)StephanieMorrillBooks(dot)com. (No attachments, please!) Make sure to include your full name and e-mail address. Send me your prompt by Monday, March 7th at 11:59 pm Kansas City time.

And I always send confirmations when I receive your entry.If you don't receive one within 24 hours or so, please check back with me.

For a longer explanation, prize information, and a list of answered questions, click here.

This round's judges are:

Christa's debut novel, WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS, released in February 2010 from Abingdon Press. She's also contributed to Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul, Chicken Soup for the Recovering and Divorced Soul, The Ultimate Teacher, and Cup of Comfort for Special Needs. She writes a monthly column for two ezines: Afictionado, the ezine for American Christian Fiction Writers, and for Exemplify.

Married for over 20 years, Shellie and her husband have four wonderful kiddos and two goofy greyhounds. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, she went on to acquire an early childhood education certificate. Shellie also served in youth, children’s, special needs and family ministries for over twenty-two years.

Now she enjoys teaching her teens how to drive and chauffeuring her preteens across the Wisconsin countryside. And once in a while, she loves to read big people books (you know the kind without pictures).

Shellie writes because it keeps her away from her husband’s power tools and because every now and then, she doesn’t have the choice, it just takes over. Her best inspiration comes from God and the occasional walk along a country road with her greyhounds.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What about chapter two?

None of my writing books talk about chapter two. Maybe there's a reason for it, and this is an irrelevant post, but I had a few thoughts I'd like to share about what I feel has worked for me. Is it a rule? No. Do I always do this? No. But generally, I feel this system works.

Once you've written your exciting first chapter and given your reader an idea of who your main character is, what his/her world is like ... where do you go then?

If you're writing in multiple POVs, it often works well for chapter two to introduce another POV character. In romances, particularly, I see it done where chapter one is from the heroine's POV and chapter two from the hero's. Again, not a rule, but many romance writers feel this works best. My manuscripts are - with one exception - in first person, so thus far this has been a non-issue for me.

But what I find works for a second chapter - regardless of third person, first person, omniscient - is to throw the reader into another aspect of the story. By which I mean if the first chapter was about your main character (MC) saving someone's life at the hospital where she works as a nurse, consider having the second chapter take place at karaoke night where she's trying to get discovered. Or if your MC is surrounded with friends in the first chapter, have them hanging out with their family in the second. Or with enemies.

Rather than carrying on the scene you set up in chapter one, give the reader something new to look at. (I know you're not supposed to end a sentence with "at" but "at which to look" sounds weird to me. Maybe that's because I live in Kansas, and I've grown used to people ending sentences with "at." Anyway.) Of course your character can still be reeling from chapter one. She or he should carry those emotions they felt into chapter two, but dropping us into another facet of the story can be very engaging.

Hope you guys have a great weekend. Check back here on Monday for a new writing prompt!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Leave 'em wanting more

Yesterday, Vanetta Chapman was nice enough to share her writing process with us. Make sure don't miss the chance to learn from her and to win her best selling novel, A Simple Amish Christmas.

We've talked about how to open our book and what makes a good first chapter. Now let's talk about how we should end chapters.

First of all, I often get asked how long chapters should be. There's really no rule. Just depends on what your book needs for pacing and such. My chapters tend to be between 1,500 and 2,000 words. I don't try for that length, it's just how they come out.

Should chapters have titles? Again, no rules. Mine don't, but many books do. Twilight does, to name a crazy successful example. I actually adore how Stephenie Meyer used minimalist titles ("Complications" "Theory" "Impatience") until we got to Jacob's POV and then titles are things
like, "Waiting for the damn fight to start already" and "Why didn't I just walk away? Oh right, because I'm an idiot." I love how she showed character voice in something like chapter titles.

And Jacob rules, but I digress.

So while length and to-title/not-to-title is totally your call, one thing I think all writers should strive for is the right last line.

The type of line that makes the reader hesitate to close the book.

The type of line that makes the reader think, "Just five more minutes, and then I'll go do something else..."

The type of line that compels the reader into the next chapter.

Achieving the right last line isn't something to be stressed about in your first draft, but there's no reason why you can't at least make an attempt with the understanding that you can edit later.

The right last line will be different for every chapter. Sometimes it'll be pensive:

"She methodically ate a burger she could no longer taste, and slowly convinced herself that she had told him the truth." - The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Or mysterious:

"This much he knew for certain: for every locked trunk, there was sure to be a key." -The River King by Alice Hoffman

Or a revelation:

"No, you don't understand. The man who killed that poor girl, left her there in the trees, it was the same man who killed Hope." - Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts

Or it'll say something about the storyline as a whole. Like:

"And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." - Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Or, the classic, a cliffhanger of sorts. Like, "And then the light's went out." Or, "Then Jenny heard a sound coming from the other room."

For a first chapter, I'm partial to a last line that says something about the journey your character is about to go on. Like the last line of the first chapter of So Over It is, "I didn't answer, not quite ready to admit that I'd abandoned my fantasies of ever being a good girl." That's a big part of Skylar's journey, and I wanted to establish that early on.

That's all for today. Hope you all have a fabulous Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vannetta Chapman's Writing Process and a Giveaway

Today, I'm thrilled to introduce you guys to Vannetta Chapman. All year long, I'm asking successful authors like Vannetta to share with us about their writing process. I found Vannetta's fascinating, and I think you guys will too.

Vannetta has offered to giveaway (to any US address) an autographed copy of A Simple Amish Christmas, which spent some time on the CBD bestseller list. To get yourself entered to win, you must be a Go Teen Writer follower, and you can either ask Vannetta a question or comment on something you found interesting about her process. Make sure you leave an e-mail address where I can reach you. (Closes Tuesday, March 1st at 11:59 Kansas City time.)

Enough jabbering from me. Onto Vannetta's wisdom:

My process for writing might sound a bit odd, so remember--WRITING IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE. The best thing you can do is write a lot, find what works for you, and don't be afraid to constantly change your process.

As I'm finishing my CURRENT work, I'm thinking about my NEXT work. You know, songs on the radio, things I read in the news, other books I read, dreams, different things spur our ideas. Whatever it is, I write it down. Ideas will slip away. I don't want to lose them. I keep notes in my writing journal.

By the time I'm ready to start, I've narrowed my ideas down to the one I like most. If there are several ideas I like, I'll go with the strongest for my beginning and work the others into the story line. Then I start writing. I plop my character into the middle of an uncomfortable, untenable situation.

I write every day. I have a deadline and I set a schedule for so many pages to complete a day. Even when I didn't have a deadline, I set goals for myself, even if it was only 3 pages a day. I don't edit pages the same day I write them.

The next day I look back over the pages I wrote the day before. This drops me back into the story. I might change a few words, adjust the scene a little, then I write 3 new pages. There's my schedule -- edit 3, write 3.

At some point, my characters become lost, wandering around, confused, dazed even. I LOVE this point. This is where I zoom ahead and write my ending. Imagine you walked out of the room during a movie, and you came back in and saw the ending--the PERFECT ending. Sometimes this will be one chapter. Other times it will be a quarter of the book.

Now I go back to where I stopped and I write TOWARD the ending. Crazy, right? But it's worked every time, because I know where I'm going now. I have a destination in mind.

Once I'm finished I usually take a break of a week or so. Then I start at the beginning and read through it -- checking for inconsistencies and errors.

Last step and maybe the hardest is handing my baby to my pre-readers. These are friends that I TRUST to tell me the truth. I don't want to hear "what a great story." I want to hear what was good and what was confusing. Sometimes these friends are writers, but not always. They are always people who love to read.

That's it! That's my process. Although I teach English composition at my local college, I don't formally outline my books. Isn't that funny? But creative writing is a bit different than academic writing. It doesn't mean you can be sloppy, but it does mean you can listen to your "muse." In fact, I'd say that's a critical part of the process. Good luck! I know you can find the process that works for you.


A Simple Amish Christmas, a CBD bestseller

Falling to Pieces--A Quilt Shop Murder, 2011

The Plain School at Pebble Creek, 2012

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sticking with your first book

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "When it comes to your first book, I'm not sure what kind of mindset to have. Do you take the approach that most first books aren't published, so it's a weak idea and it might suck, but at least I wrote it? Or hold out for something you are in love with and think is great?"

I think this is a great question. And a difficult one to answer.

The first thing I want to say is there's nothing wrong with not "being there" yet. Most writers I know have a perfectionist streak to them. We want to be our best, and we want to be our best now. Something I had to work to accept was that yes, I had some natural writing abilities, but this writing thing still involved work.

My husband is brilliant at math and science ... but he still needed his engineering classes in college. And even with four years of college under his belt, he really started learning how to be an engineer once he got a job and started engineering.

I say all that to make the point that training is a part of life and a part of writing. Is it possible your first book sucks and is destined to be hidden away in a filing cabinet? Yep. That's where mine is. But was it a waste? Absolutely not.

Every word you write matters, because with every word you grow. You develop.

There's that old saying, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Sometimes I don't agree. Sometimes all I can manage is a half-hearted attempt at dusting my house. But with writing, you'll reap much more if you sow your best. The writers who I see rapidly improve are the ones who throw themselves into writing their stories. Who study the craft, who work to improve. The problem with approaching your story like it probably sucks is it sets you up to write half-heartedly, and while you'll still improve as a writer and learn from the experience, it won't be as much as if you give it your all.

The other thing I want to say is that at some point during the process of every book I write, I'm convinced it sucks. And these are book ideas that I loved maybe just days before. Ideas I couldn't stop thinking about.

What I keep in the forefront of my mind is, "I can fix it." That's what the editing process is for. The steps we've talked about so far can help us detect big holes in our ideas before we get started, but there's still bound to be a few of those, "This idea is trash," kind of days. Remind yourself that you can fix it. Character too flat? Writing sounds weak and tired? Is your plot too predictable? All fixable.

Hopefully that helps.

This is the last day to get in your writing prompts so make sure those get to me by 11:59pm Kansas City time.

Have writing questions? E-mail me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What makes a good first paragraph?

Wednesday we talked about elements of a good first chapter, and we've talked on here before about what makes a good first line of a novel. Let's get more detailed and talk about your opening paragraph.

I can't stress enough how critical the opening paragraph is. It's important for a published book, of course, but it's especially important in a manuscript because the writing is everything. There's no cover, no fancy display, no endorsements. All you have is the text.

I can't speak for all agents and editors, but the ones I know aren't just sitting around dying to say no to every project that comes across their desk. They want to be swept off their feet by your words. They want to get carried away to story world. They want to fall in love with your project.

But they read a ridiculous amount of submissions, and they don't have time for a writer to meander his or her way to the story. (Nor do readers browsing at a bookstore.) That's why your first paragraph is critical. Because it might be all the time you get to hook your reader.

Here are a few elements of good opening paragraphs:

It's from the view of your main character

This is debatable, and there are great books out there that defy this, but I think it works best for your story to open from your main character's point of view (POV). That's the character you want us, your readers, attached to. Not your villain or your MC's best friend.

It raises questions in the reader's mind

You're not answering questions for your reader yet. You're making them curious about what's going on, about what will happen next.

Here's the opening paragraph from Me, Just Different:

I wanted to refuse Eli, but I couldn't after the night we'd had.

At the snap of the gas pump, he pulled back from the kiss and looked into my eyes, awaiting my reaction. If my giving in surprised him, it didn't show. He smiled, and instead of saying what I already knew - that getting together was a mistake - I forced myself to smile back. Just like that, I became Eli's girlfriend.

While it's nothing you'll study in your English class (or Communication Arts, whatever schools call it these days) there are some good questions raised in this paragraph. Like, why does she want to refuse Eli? What happened last night? Why would dating him be a mistake?

It establishes an attitude

Part of drawing your reader into the scene, into the story, is showing your narrator's feelings at this moment in time. In the example from Me, Just Different, Skylar doesn't sound very stable, does she? It sounds like something big just happened, and she's reeling from it. And that it's affecting her judgment.

It makes them want to read the next paragraph

If you do your job of creating questions in the readers' mind, this shouldn't be a problem.

This is the opening paragraph from So Over It:

My eyes, innocently grazing the new releases at Blockbuster, locked on Connor Ross.

I would've avoided him, especially since he stood there with Jodi, but we held eye contact too long to pretend we hadn't noticed each other.

We exchanged awkward smiles - what else could we do? - and moved closer.

The question that I'm hoping propels my reader forward is, "What do they say to each other?" You want to leave your reader asking some form of, "What happens next?"

Fortunately, first paragraphs are easy to study. Pull books off your shelves. Read the first paragraphs and see what works for you, what doesn't. Do they start with their main character or with someone else? Does it work, and why? What emotions and tones do you pick up on? What kind of questions does it make you ask? Do you feel compelled to read more?

And you know what you can also apply all this to is your writing prompt entries. Which need to be in by Monday. Click here to see this round's writing prompt.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What makes a good first chapter?

I remember the first time I fell in love with a book from page one. It was Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby.

I had discovered I wanted to be a Young Adult writer, so I went to Borders to see what was going on in YA fiction. They had quite a few by this Sarah Dessen chick, and I liked the covers. Her book descriptions sounded similar to mine, so I bought it and took it home.

I made myself lunch and sat in our kitchen's sunny eating nook. Then I opened This Lullaby and tumbled into Remy's world.

When I emerged hours later, I had that sensation of, "Wait ... where am I? What's going on? I had plans today, didn't I? Are they things I have to do, or can I move to a more comfortable chair and read the day away?"

(A side note, finishing This Lullaby led to an emotional breakdown during which I sobbed to my husband that I'd never get published because I would never be as good as Sarah Dessen. Why was I even trying? I'd never be able to write characters liked Remy and Dexter! Etc.)

We all want to create this sensation for our reader. (Not the emotional breakdown, but the lost-in-storyworld sensation.) To do this, we have to grab them from chapter one. From page one. Heck, from sentence one, if you can.

Here are some ways to draw in your reader:

Let us hear your character's voice right form the start.

The opening line of This Lullaby is "The name of the song is 'This Lullaby.' At this point, I've probably heard it, oh, about a million times. Approximately."

You can hear Remy's voice, can't you? You can tell she's jaded. Don't "ease us in" to who your character is. Show us right away.

Make it active

This is something I commonly see in manuscripts from beginning writers - the slow, painful build up. Opening on a typical day of the character's life. We travel with the character to school or her dead end job. We travel home with her. She nukes a burrito. She goes to bed. She wishes for a different life. And, frankly, we wish we were reading something else.

To pull us into your character's world, let us see him or her in action. In the opening scene of This Lullaby, Remy is meeting with her future step-father about wedding stuff because she's planning her mom's wedding. Her mom's fourth wedding.

I watched Social Network over the weekend. It opens with Mark getting dumped.

So Over It starts with Skylar running into her ex-boyfriend - who she still loves - at Blockbuster
with another girl.

Let your reader arrive fashionably late

The party should already be swinging when you open up your book.

By which I mean. This Lullaby doesn't open with Remy driving over to her future step-father's office. In Social Network, we drop into the scene in the middle of the conversation. We don't have to watch the main character go pick up his date. So Over It starts when Skylar spots Connor, not when she's at home with her sister and they decide to go get a movie.

I think the best example of this is Lost. I knew I was going to love that show when it opened on a close-up of Jack's face as he comes to after a plane crash. He has no idea where he is or what just happened, and we get to go for the surprising ride along with him. A more traditional place to start would have been on the plane, a couple minutes before the crash. I love what the writers chose instead.

So take a look at your opening and see if your character is doing something, or if you're starting your book too early.

As always, if you have writing questions, e-mail me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

January 31st Writing Prompt Results

Received votes for first place:
Rebekah Hart
Rebecca Pennefather
Rayna Huffman

Received votes for second:
Monica Burke
Mary Quinn
Emily West

Received votes for third:
Rebekah Hart
Sarah Zakowski
Charlotte Buzzard

As I updated the standings (look to the right sidebar) it occurred to me that I might not have explained how scoring works. Sigh. I'm new at this guys, and I appreciate your grace as I fumble my way through. It's pretty simple - a vote for first gets you three points, a vote for second gets you two, and a vote for third gets you one. I keep a running tally in an Excel document. So. That's the deal.

An update on the end-of-the-year prizes for those who finish in first, second, and third overall. Like at the end of the year. If those winners are interested, I'll do some mentoring services for you. First prize, I'm open to mentoring you for up to a year. I'll read some of your manuscripts, we can talk about the biz and story ideas you have, etc. Second and third prize, I'll do a line-edit of the first three chapters of a manuscript. I could also help you put together a query letter if you're wanting to query agents.

And I can't resist saying I feel super weird offering these services as prizes. Like, "Congratulations, you win me! Aren't you lucky?!" But this is a business where it's challenging to get straight talk out of anyone, particularly professionals. I'm offering it because I think it's the most valuable thing I can.

There'll also be other freebies involved (books, maybe some gift cards), but I'm still working all that out.

Now, onto the good stuff - some of the winners' entries from this last round:

By Rayna Huffman

As I stepped off the bus, I thought, If I removed myself from this earth, would anyone notice.
Something deep inside told me no one would care. A pang of sadness gripped my heart, and I cursed myself for showing the softness.
It wouldn’t do for an agent to turn warm.
The bus rolled off, belching fumes and exhaust. I tucked my hand into my pocket and clenched my only coins in my fist. Ahead of me, a mangled Welcome home! banner hung from a tree, a mocking reminder of what I would never have.
Nobody could love Mahlon Crabtree.

The judge's comments: This is great. We know who the narrator is, have an idea of internal conflict, yet are left with lots of questions. Very well written.

By Charlotte Buzzard

The moment I stepped off the bus, I thought, "He’s not here". The words wormed their way out of my mind and escaped my mouth as a soft, disappointed, "oh". I blinked away the tears, chiding myself for childishness. What use was weeping now? What use was disappointment? Yet, for one instance, I had truly believed he might be there. Scruffy hair and scruffy shirt, smiling his stupid smile, just being alive. “Dead…”- it’s such a final word, so blunt, so hard. It rolls across my tongue.
It tastes bitter.

The judge's comments: The way the author was able to tug at my emotions hooked me. In addition, the author’s voice is unique, showing much promise.

By Sarah Zakowski

The moment I stepped off the bus, I thought, these days were behind me, yet they weren’t. Following the swarm of fellow ‘students’, I head toward the long brick school. A group of girls wink and smile at me as I pass.

Maybe there’d be some perks to this, but who am I kidding. I’d been to Hell and I’m back. I was a boy with a noodle body and clown feet, but after just graduating the academy I have come out changed. Still baby faced, I was assigned to go undercover.

My assignment, find out who was killing students and teachers, but more importantly protect the mayor’s daughter.

The judge's comments: Interesting, and unexpected. I like where you went with this.

And I (Stephanie) love that noodle body/clown feet line.

By Mary Quinn

The moment I stepped off the bus, I thought, “Right or left?”

After two years of suffering I needed to start over. Without a note, I created my new world. I imagined his shock when he woke “partner” less, hung over and grumpy.
Probably shocking everyone in town, I defied my largest oppressor. With no family to inform, I had no reason to put it off any longer. I knew the 100 dollars in my pocket, and the bag of clothes on my back had to be enough to get me settled. I ditched my phone in the trashcan outside our apartment.
I was determined to start fresh.

The judge's comments: The author did a great job of establishing the storyline. The character’s goal, motivation, and conflict were clear.

Now that you've seen some great examples, put your skills to work, flex those creative muscles and enter for yourself!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Writing Prompt: Here's the thing...

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

This round, our writing prompt is extra special in that you have a choice between two:

Here's the thing about Valentine's Day. I always


Here's the thing about Valentine's Day. I never

Think of this as the opening line of a novel. Your job is to write the next 100 words as if they're the opening paragraph. It's not a short story, it's the next 100 words. And he prompt sentence never counts toward your word count.

After you've written your 100 words, please e-mail them to me at: Stephanie(at)StephanieMorrillBooks(dot)com. (No attachments, please!) Make sure to include your full name and e-mail address. Send me your prompt by Monday, February 21st at 11:59 pm Kansas City time.

And I always send confirmations when I receive your entry. If you don't receive one within 24 hours or so, please check back with me.

For a longer explanation and a list of answered questions, click here.

This round's judges are:

Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by as depicted in her first highly-acclaimed novel,Chasing Lilacs. Carla launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost's Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in Guideposts,Angels on Earth, Saddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.

In her life before writing, Carla enjoyed a career in nursing and raising her family. Now that their four sons are married and they’ve become empty-nesters, she and her husband relish the occasional weekend getaway and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren.

Carla enjoys a good cup of coffee, great books, and hearing from you, her readers. You’re invited to contact her and learn more about her writing at her website.

One day a few years ago, I turned to my husband and said, "I don't know if you know this, but I spend an awful lot of time in my own head." He patted my hand and gave me his this-is-not-news expression. I had just verbalized something my parents, teachers, friends, children, and spouse had known about me for years.

Though I have set aside my career teaching history to high school students in order to homeschool my own kids, my love of history hasn't faded. My favorite books are historical novels and history books, and one of my greatest thrills is stumbling across some obscure historical factoid that makes my imagination leap. I'm continually amazed at how God allows me to use my passion for history, romance, and daydreaming to craft historical romances to entertain readers and glorify Him.

Whenever I'm not following flights of fancy in my fictional world, I'm company bookkeeper for our family lumber business, mother of two terrific teens, wife to a man who is my total opposite and yet my soul-mate, and avid museum patron.

Diana Sharples is the former editor of an online speculative fiction magazine, Electric Wine, (no longer in publication) and currently moderates a critique group for Christian YA authors. She was a double-finalist in the 2009 ACFW Genesis competition, and won the 2010 MORWA Gateway award for her Contemporary YA novel, Running Lean. Diana lives in Georgia with her husband and daughter and a house full of rescued pets, and can often be found riding her motorcycle around the north Georgia mountains.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Enough talking, let's write!

We've spent some time now talking about brainstorming our ideas, our main character, our secondary characters, our antagonist, and our setting. (For a complete list of the posts in the writing process series, click here.)

Almost all of this (for me, anyway) falls in the "composting" stage of things. At this point in the story writing process, I likely haven't written a word. Other than my blurby thing that is, where I wrote a couple rough paragraphs about my idea. The rest of this - thinking through how my main character will change, how my secondary characters will challenge her, where this book should take place - has simply been buzzing around my head. Maybe I've jotted a note or two and stuck it to my cork board, but by now I'm itching to write.

What I've found works best for me is to write the first three chapters before I do any other plotting.

Why the first three? I could spin some theories about how this gives me time to establish the major players, test out some flaws, and get inspired for some fabulous plot line I've yet to come up with. It also (usually) works out that three chapters is enough time to show us where the main character currently is and catapult him or her into what will be the meat of the story.

I could say all that - and there's truth to it - but the biggest reason I write three chapters is it's what publishers ask for when trying to determine if they want to buy a manuscript from me. Three chapters works well for my purposes; you'll have to find what works best for yours.

But you're not me. Maybe you have to plot it all out before you write a single word. For me, it's been disaster every time I've attempted to plot a book from "Once upon a time" to "Happily ever after."

The first three chapters help solidify everything in my mind. I get a feel for my main character and her voice. I discover fears I didn't know she had. I experience how she interacts with the people around her. I find the need for additional characters, additional plot points, additional flaws.

So if you don't really feel ready to plot out your book yet, try writing a couple chapters and delving deeper into your character's world before determining everything that will happen.

Next Monday there'll be a new writing prompt (click here for more info on writing prompt contests) and then we'll dive into how to write a killer first chapter.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A little more on antagonists

After going through my out-of-control inbox, I discovered several of you had asked me questions about antagonists ... and I completely spaced answering them. I'm so sorry!

One writer e-mailed me and asked, "My protagonist and antagonist basically have the same line of compulsion and driving flaw, but they manifest it in completely different ways! Is that something that can work? Or something that has to be changed?"

Oh yes. Not only can that work, it can be wonderful. Particularly if your antagonist is someone who your main character feels they have nothing in common with. Someone who makes them crazy, or maybe who they even hate. And then - gasp! - to discover they actually have something in common??? This can create a fabulous turning point in the story.

Actually, a wonderful character-building exercise could be determining something your main character and your main antagonist have in common.

Another writer asked, "Do you think that it's important to single out a character who is the antagonist? Or is it ok for the antagonist to be an idea?"

There's probably some phenomenal work of literature that opposes me on this, but I think your antagonist needs to be a person rather than something abstract. Simply because an idea doesn't really do much. It doesn't sabotage your main character, spread rumors, or get that job that your main character totally deserved.

The antagonist role is certainly one that's shared. Heck, every character may oppose your main character at some point, and therefore be an antagonist of sorts. But I think it works best to have someone chosen as the main antagonist, as the one who's actively doing things to get in your characters way.

If you guys have writing questions you'd like answered, please send me an e-mail, and I'll hopefully be more on top of it than I was this last time. Shame on me.

One last thing I want to draw your attention to, and that's the "Write Now" tab at the top of your screen. I'm keeping a running list of the posts I'm doing for the writing process series. I thought that had potential to be a good resource for you guys. And also to help keep me on track!

Have a fabulous Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An opportunity that just arrived in my inbox...

Fellow author, Shellie Neumeier, sent this on to me. I know we've got readers of all kinds and beliefs on here, but for those who believe in Jesus, here's a chance to flex your skills:

Teen writers, we need you! Throughout the month of March, Shellie Neumeier's website will feature writers (from 13 to 18 y-o) sharing their life-changing stories. In 500 words or less, tell us how Jesus has affected the way you live. For awesome writing tips and helps check out Stephanie Morrill's site Go Teen Writers and Caleb Breakey's site. One entry shall receive one of Stephanie's books from the Skylar Hoyt series and another will receive a $50 gift certificate. Both will be featured all Easter Week. (Winners drawn at random to say 'thank you' for entering.) All entries must be received by February 28, 2011 in order to qualify.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A sick day

Today I'm taking a sick day. Although the truth is I feel better today than I have for a while, but there's no fresh post because I took several sick days last week and spent most my weekend on the couch blowing my nose. Which means many things didn't get done, including preparing a post for today.

So today I'll be preparing said post and responding to the 100+ e-mails in my inbox. If you entered the writing prompt contest but have yet to receive a confirmation from me, that's because of all my couch time this weekend. I'm hopping on that now. (UPDATE: As of 1:27 pm today, I've e-mailed everyone who sent me entries. If you've sent an entry, but haven't received a confirmation, please send me an e-mail!)

If you're still interested in entering the writing prompt contest, you have until 11:59 tonight to get me your entries.

Thanks everyone for being so patient with me during my 3 weeks of off-and-on sickness. This sinus infection appears to be on its way out the door...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Location, location, location

Now that we have some basic bones for our story worked out, and idea of who our main and secondary characters are let's talk about where our story takes place - the setting.

Sometimes a certain plot dictates a setting. Like if you're writing about a teen trying to make it in show business, you'll probably be setting your story in Los Angeles, New York City, or the international equivalents. If your story is about someone escaping big city life, then you're going to be finding yourself a small town.

A setting can be a sort of character itself. Gilmore Girls certainly would have lost something had it not been set in Stars Hollow. Or an extreme example of this is Lost.

On the flip side, a setting can be something that doesn't matter at all. 24 didn't need to take place in L.A.

Or maybe your setting is something that doesn't really exist. Like a giant peach or an elaborate chocolate factor. (Oh, I love Roald Dahl.) This is often the case in science fiction or fantasy.

Another possibility is a historical setting. Like Savannah, Georgia in 1822. Or New York City in the roaring 20s.

Whatever your setting is, it's important to know it and know it well. While the reader doesn't need pages and pages of description, they do need context. They need some sort of picture of where the action is taking place.

I love the way Donald Maass summarizes setting in his book Writing the Breakout Novel.

"...the world of the novel is composed of much more than description of landscape or rooms. It is milieu, period, fashion, ideas, human outlook, historical moment, spiritual mood and more. It is capturing not only place but people in an environment; not only history but humans changing in their era. Description is the least of it. Bringing people alive in a place and time that are alive is the essence of it."
(I had to look up the word 'milieu.' It means surrounds, particularly of a social nature.)

Something you might try as you consider if you've picked a good location for your story is think about what would change if you moved it. What if you moved it to a small town? Or to the East coast? Or to Hawaii?

More on setting next week. Don't forget to send me your writing prompts!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recent Writing Prompt Results

Okay, as promised, here are the winners from the January 17th writing prompt, "With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed."

Received votes for first place:
Courtney Calvert, who had two votes for first
Rachel Heffington

Received votes for second:
Emily West
Abbie Mauno
Joshua Hildebrand

Received votes for third:
Kait Culbertson
Moriah Newhouse
Emii Krivan

Congratulations, everyone!

As promised, here are some samples of the winning entries and the comments of the judges:

By Courtney Calvert
With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed. But Phillip Screwdriver had never been sent to the principal’s office because of his name before. Consequently, he was wary as he sat on the not so comfy chair in the principal’s stifling hot office. When Mr. Aldrich finally came in, Phillip’s hair was sticking to the back of his neck and he was convinced that he wouldn’t last the whole year in this Arizona heat. As he saw Mr. Aldrich raise the gun however, he realized he might not survive the next few minutes.

The comments:
This seems so simple, yet there’s so much going on. I love the last line – so unexpected after the ‘ordinariness’ of the rest of the paragraph. I also love how tight the writing is, and how beautifully vivid the descriptions of the heat/Phillip’s hair/the office are.

I chose this one as my favorite because it took a familiar scenario and turned it into something extraordinary. The character is in DANGER! What a great hook!

By Rachel Heffington
With a name like his, he could never go unnoticed.
Pride. A Pilgrim name for a kid born on Thanksgiving Day. People thought it was hilarious.
Mr. Pride Afall. He was grown now, and the years gave the name no dignity.
It was constantly before his eyes. Even on his license. He took to poking fun at his name before anyone else could, like a clown telling a joke before being asked. It was his way of coping with the humility.
“I know what you’re thinking: Pride goes before Afall, right?” He would laugh. If he kept it up long enough, he might grow to see the humor in it.

The comments:
What kept this from becoming just a clever use of a proverb was the attention to the characterization. Also demonstrated control by having an introduction, middle and close in 100 words!

By Emily West
Poor Banquo. With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed.
We decided to sit down at a table away from the band. He told me he had just moved to town, and ventured towards The Brew, which was my mom’s coffee house.
“So tell me about yourself,” I said sipping my coffee.
“Well, I named after some dude from MacBeth, my mom’s a drunk, and I have a dog named Jabber. Any questions?”
I had tons of questions and started to ask my next one as I looked into his gray, hazy eyes.

The comments:
I like the voice and dialog – how both the setting and the characters are quickly identified and made unique in a few short sentences. Lots of information is given, quickly with no wasted words. There’s a sense that this will be a very deep story about very deep characters.

By Abbie Mauno
With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed.

I had met the new kid across the street. He was seemed nice. But Tullula Does the Hula from Hawaii had no chance of surviving in our ninth grade class. When the teacher announced his name, the whole class erupted with laughter. As Tullala’s face grew red, he glanced at me, like he wanted some backup or something. I tried to work myself up to say something in his defense, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I looked away as Tullula took his seat in the back of the class.

The comments:
At first, this would appear simply comedic. The writer, though, surprises with the conflict within the narrator and, ultimately, his failure to stand up for someone.

By Kait Culbertson

With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed. And that was exactly what Paisley Calamina wanted.

“Sir, have you seen the front page of today’s Times?”

“No, I haven't. Thanks Charlotte.” Paisley said as he accepted the newspaper his secretary held out.

Striding quickly into the connecting room, he sat down at his desk before glancing at the headlines.

Independent Presidential Candidate, Paisley Calamina, Makes History Yet Again By Claiming Another Blue State For His Party.

A smile lit his face as he read. Everything was falling into place perfectly. No one would ever forget the name Paisley Calamina.

He would make sure of that.

The comments:
This entry reveals the author's understanding of motive and the promise of a story waiting to unfold.

By Moriah Newhouse
With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed. It was Archibald's sophomore year and his first day at Elkwood High. He knew he had a problem when his name was longer then his school. Breakfast, the school bus and finding his first class went by nice and fast, but then someone introduced herself to him.
"salutations! My name is Ninarika-Nicolle. I am so terribly fortunate, Nicolle is spelled with two L's."
"Mine is Archibald."
"That's it? Only one moniker? It's not even that long. Wait until Zuriel-Erasmus hears!"

The comments:
This one rocks. It’s funny! I really like how the author took a familiar idea (who hasn’t experienced anxiety walking into a new school for the first time?) but turns the conflict on its ear… the essence of comedy. Good stuff!

By Emii Krivan
With a name like his, there was no hope of going unnoticed.

I’d moved to Hollywood because my dad was directing a movie. Only, he’d failed to mention it was starring Zac Efron.

“What? Dad, no! I wanted to be the normal kid, for once in my life.”

I’d imagined myself walking the halls like any girl in her sophomore year, as they called it in the USA.

But I was sure of it. The moment word got out that my dad was directing this movie, there would be absolutely no hope.

That was, before I met Plan B.
The comments:
This is a nice set-up to the story; the girl’s personality, worries, and problem are quickly established, the writing is tight and to the point, and the voice is right on target. Also, the last line is wonderful.

Just a reminder, there's a new writing prompt out, so get those entries into me by the end of next Monday.

And when I'm not writing to you from a cold-medicine-induced-fog, we shall discuss setting.

Off to Zzzzzzz....

Couple quick announcements

Due to ice and snow in Kansas City, there'll be a slight delay in announcing winners from the January 17th prompt contest. Ice and snow = yucky roads, which means my babysitters can't come over, which means reduced work time. So. The judges have all returned their choices to me, and I've e-mailed our winners. Hopefully I'll be able to return feedback to everyone by the end of the day and get some of the winning entries posted.

In other news, I leaned on my friend Nicole once again, and she made a button for Go Teen Writers. Yay, Nicole! And then I remembered Roseanna White has made "grabbable" buttons in the past, and she told me how to do that. I love having talented friends.

So. In short - for those who'd expressed interest to me - there's a grabbable button on the right column. Ask and you shall receive.

Hope to be posting some entries later today, but if nothing else, I'll be back here tomorrow so we can talk about "location, location, location!" Also known as setting.