Thursday, March 31, 2011

Winning Entries

Yay, I'm so excited to finally get to post the winning entries. I always ask for the writers' permission, so that's why it sometimes takes a day or two to get them up. Apparently, some of you have lives outside of Go Teen Writers. The nerve.

By Jordan Newhouse

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn't have answered the phone.

"David!" His wife's voice sparkled like the ocean surrounding him. "I have spectacular news! I want to tell you face-to-face, so please bring the boat in early." Her pitch swelled, implying a question.

"Beth, I don't think..." the words drifted away. He stood up with the vague hope that assuming the posture of a strong sea captain would help him take command of the situation, but the unsteady roll of the deck only echoed the uneasiness that had tormented him for days.

"I won't be coming home tonight." His voice was as cold and bitter as seawater.

The Judge(s) said: Very nicely done! You set the scene through the dialogue and careful word choice (brilliant!) and provided a good hook at the end./This is extremely well written. It left me wanting to know more. Nice job.

By Emily West

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn’t have answered the phone. He looked devastated as I knew it confirmed his worst fear.

“What did Sarah say?” I asked.

I knew what the answer was before the call. She had been his only girlfriend since freshman year, and I was Sarah’s best friend.

As we sat in the car with the windows rolled down, the breeze blew through his hair, and I watched a tear slide out of his eye.

Telling Sarah’s dad she was getting a pacifier before an engagement ring was going to go over well especially since he was our preacher.

The Judge(s) said: This is well written, and I like the twist you took on this topic./WOW. GREAT. Love it!!

By Katy McCurdy

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn't have answered the phone. There was something hauntingly familiar in the anonymous greeting that sent foreboding chills down Jason’s spine. “What a pleasure to talk to you after all these years, Jason.” The voice dripped with sarcasm.

An anchor of dread settled in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed—hard. “Who is this?”

“Don’t you know?” The voice chuckled softly, tickling Jason’s ear. “You used to call me your worst nightmare.”

Nightmare. The word triggered vivid, brutal memories he’d nearly forgotten after twenty years. The familiar palate of fear settled in his mouth as his vision blurred. “Dad? You’re supposed to be dead.”

The Judge(s) said: This is very well written, packed with suspense, and the author delivered a nice twist at the end.

By Sammie Weiss

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn’t have answered the phone.

“Hello, James,” the voice said. Controlled. Hard. Cruel.

James couldn’t speak. His mouth was dry; his head spinning. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He had done everything he was supposed to. This was supposed to be over.

“James? I have my next request.”

James swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to speak. “What now? I did everything you wanted.” He flinched at the sudden assault of memories. Dirt. White powder. Cold triggers. And blood. Everywhere, blood.

“Oh, not everything, dear boy. There is one more thing.”

“What?” James asked, his voice tight.

“Bring me…your sister.”

The Judge(s) said: This author’s well written piece pulled me in from the beginning. Great job./ Super job with your one-word adjectives. Fresh, strong writing voice too./ Wow. Great stuff. Good dialogue and tension. Well done!

By Courtney Calvert

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn't have answered the phone. The voice alone made him feel the sharp pain of the whip slicing through his back, the cold rain soaking him to the bone.

He never answered calls without a name, but he was tired of being on lock down. He had needed to hear another human voice, even if he had no idea who that person was. But to him, this voice wasn't human. As lightning flashed through the small slit in the concrete wall behind him, Alex waited for the thunder. When the thunder clapped, he thought, "How appropriate," while saying into the phone, "Hello Dad."

The Judge(s) said: I cared about Alex immediately. Great job of hooking your reader. I felt in lock down myself. I love it when I’m drawn in like that. I also loved some of your strong word choices—small slit in the concrete.

Those are some wonderful entries. Congratulations, everyone!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How long should my first draft take?

Last week, I talked about having a "super power" for your character. I then found this article written by Rachel Hauck on the matter, so I thought I'd pass that along.

Also, I've updated the pages of the web site. At the top, you'll now find a tab called The Judges. This is a list of all the judges we've had so far for the writing prompt contest. Unless I missed one or two, but I'm pretty sure I got them all.

The other thing I added is a tab called Resources for Writers. It's pretty much what you'd think. I have many, many more to add, but thought I would at least get it started. If you have suggestions for additions, please shoot me an email.

And (yes, I promise we will talk about first drafts here in a minute) yesterday I posted a list of all the finalists for the most recent prompt. Tomorrow I'll be posting some of their entries.

162 words later, let's get on with the intended topic of the day. Writing your first draft.

In On Writing, Stephen King says, "I believe the first draft of a book - even a long one - should take no more than three months, the length of a season. Any longer and - for me, at least - the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel."

Now ... nobody panic, okay?

While I agree with Mr. King, and while my first drafts currently only take me about 8 weeks to write, this wasn't always the case. Me, Just Different took, like, forever. So did the first drafts I wrote before it. Because I was learning. And it's okay if you are too. I'm guessing it took Stephen King longer than 3 months to write Carrie.

I'm sure this isn't true for every writer, but my experience was that my first novel - particularly that first draft of my first novel - was the hardest one I ever wrote. And I credit my husband with teaching me a principle that changed how I write.

We were driving through a rough part of Orlando, on our way home from a friends' house, and I was telling him that I'd gotten stuck in my manuscript. He asked what the problem was, and I said something like, "There's just so many things that need to be fixed. I keep getting stuck trying to fix everything, and I'm not making any forward progress."

Ben then started talking to me about the law of diminishing returns, an economics principle. The law of diminishing returns states in all productive processes, adding more of one factor while keeping the others the same will at some point decrease the total production. So, for example, say you're putting together a puzzle. Having one or two people join and help you can help the process go faster. But if you add, say, 20 people, it might actually take a lot longer to put it together. Or if you're growing a garden. Some fertilizer is helpful and will yield more crops. But too much fertilizer will decrease what you produce.

Or say you're writing a first draft, like I was. I was investing a ton of time in my first draft, but it was getting me nowhere. Because you know what would often happen to me? I'd rework some scene in chapter 4 over and over again .... only to decide around chapter 12 that the plot line didn't work and could be cut. Which meant I'd wasted all that time perfecting something that ultimately got scrapped.

It didn't make sense to invest 6 months trying to write a really good first draft, then spending another month doing content edits, and another two weeks polishing. It made much more sense to invest only 3 months in a bare bones style of first draft, then take a month or two on edits, and then another week or so to polish.

Is this the "right" way to do things? For me - yes. Using that method, my first drafts are usually done in about 8-12 weeks. They usually grow by about 5 to 10,000 words in the editing process, but I'm now writing entire novels in the amount of time it used to take me to write a decent first draft. So for me, it works much better to write without editing.

Something I started doing with my last first draft, however, was using asterisks to mark a sentence I didn't like, but just didn't know how to change. So instead of sitting there for 10 minutes thinking, "What's a fresh way to say 'butterflies filled my stomach'?" I just type, "Butterflies filled my stomach*" That asterisk tells me, "I don't like this-but I can fix it later." Using the asterisk helped appease my inner editor. I hope it works for you too.

Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Results from "When he heard the voice" prompt

Received votes for first place
Emily West
Katy McCurdy
Jordan Newhouse

Received votes for second place
Sammie Weiss (two votes)
Courtney Calvert

Received votes for third place
Jordan Newhouse
Rebecca Pennefather
Rebekah Hart

Honorable Mentions
Monica Burke
Rayna Huffman
Emii Krivan
Ariana Root
Sarah Faulkner
Sierra Bennett
Sammie Weiss (also placed)
Rebecca Pennefather (also placed)
Jordan Newhouse (also placed)
Emily West (also placed)
Teddy Chan (double honorable mention)
Moriah Newhouse
Kait Culbertson
Rye Mason

As you can see from that monstrous list, the judges had a very hard time deciding. All of them made comments to me about what great writers you guys are and how each time they judge, it seems to get harder to make choices.

I've emailed winners, but I'm still working on sending out feedback. Thank you for being patient!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Prompt: I never thought I'd come back.

This round's writing prompt is:

I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am.

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 either by clicking here or e-mailing me directly at: Stephanie(at) (No attachments, please!) Make sure to include your full name and e-mail address. Send me your prompt by Monday, April 4th 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.

This contest is for those ages 25 and under. One entry per person, please. For a longer explanation, prize information, and a list of answered questions, click here.

This round's judges are:

Christa Allan
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.

Roseanna White
Roseanna M. White, author of two Biblical love stories and LOVE FINDS YOU IN ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND (December 2011) 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 teh Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Roll up your sleeves, it's time for the first draft

I'm so thankful for everyone who chimed in with questions yesterday when I posted about an upcoming school visit of mine. Career Day is in two weeks, so if you think of new questions between now and then, please shoot me an email or leave a comment or something.

So. Where are we in our writing process? (I had to click the "Write Now" tab to remember.)

We've been in the pausing place. We wrote our first three chapters, then paused to create character charts, write a synopsis, create a scene breakdown spreadsheet, and do some research. (We also added to our scene breakdown spreadsheet and our character chart, but those don't count as steps. Just as an example that there's always learning to do!)

And now, there's no more avoiding it - the first draft must be written.

Maybe you are the fortunate writer who loves writing the first draft. Who loves creating something from nothing. Good for you. While you happily scribble your way to "The End," I'll be sitting over here grumbling and muttering and finding all kinds of excuses to leave my office. Did anyone feed the dog yet? I could really use a snack. I wonder if the mail is here yet...

Of the whole process, the first draft gives me the most trouble. Sometimes, when the words are flowing, when scenes are coming together the way I hoped, I enjoy it. Other times I just wish the words were already on the page, and I could move on to editing.

I'm not sure how many posts I'll write about the first draft process because ... well, there's only so much advice one can give. And for me and other writers like me, getting the first draft down mostly takes grit. It takes putting aside how I feel, and just ... writing.

After I've been "on pause," I re-read my first three chapters. I allow myself some light editing. I'm not yet being fussy about word choices and flow of dialogue, but I often add a character or weave in a plot line. Doing this helps me get back into my character's world, my character's voice.

I'm in the first draft stage at the moment with my manuscript. I started chapter four about a week and a half ago. I do think having the scene breakdown spreadsheet has helped me thus far. I'm not following it exactly, but it's definitely helped with the, "Uh ... so, now what?" feeling I used to get.

Next week, we'll talk more about writing your first draft - to edit or not to edit as you write? There'll also be a new writing prompt on Monday, I'll be posting contest results hopefully on Tuesday, and I'm hoping to work in an interview with J.L. Orchard, an editor for Cinch Magazine.

Have a great weekend, guys!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Please help me!

In a couple weeks, I'm speaking at career day at a middle school here in Kansas City.

It's actually my old middle school, though they apparently didn't know that when they requested me. They just knew that I'm a local author who doesn't charge a speaking fee. I warned them last year that there's a reason I don't charge a speaking fee, but apparently I did well enough that they want me back this year. Or there's a shortage of local authors willing to don dressy clothes and brave the nasty traffic to be there by 8am.

Ack, I'm babbling. This is how nervous I am.

My question for you guys is, if an author was coming to speak to you, what kind of stuff would you like her to talk about. What kind of questions would you want answered that you might be too nervous to ask?

Thank you in advance for your help!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More on Character Charts

I'm sneezing and rubbing my eyes as I write this post. Darn allergies.

First, don't forget to check out yesterday's post from award-winning author Trish Perry. She talks about her writing process, and is giving away a copy of one of her latest releases. Very exciting stuff.

Second, I spotted this writing contest on Twitter yesterday and thought it might be of interest to some of you.

Third, I received 40 entries to last round's writing prompt. Awesome! I'm thrilled to see so many of you entering every round. Persistence pays off in this biz. Winners will be posted next week, probably Tuesday. Just depends on when judges are able to get back to me.

On with business.

So last week, I told you guys I've added to my Character Chart. I took a class by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck, who run the wonderful web site My Book Therapy. They had me ask my main character (and a couple other key characters) some really wonderful questions.

What's one word my character would use to define his/herself?
What are two reasons why?
What's a lie they believe?
What is their greatest fear?
What is their life's happiest moment?
What is their noble cause?
What is their heroic quality?
What is their super power?

Some of these don't require much explanation. I assume you can figure out the greatest fear and the happiest moment for yourself. But let's look at a couple of the others. I hope doing so will do for you what it did for me, create a deeper understanding of my main character and create some extra conflict and complications.

Picking a one-word descriptor can stress me out, but it doesn't have to be as complicated as I try to make it. Remember, these exercises are for you. This descriptor is a word your character is picking out. It didn't click with me until I started thinking about it in terms of real people I know. Like my friend Roseanna would likely pick, "Optimist" as her one-word descriptor. Or my friend Kelli might say she's a "planner." My character, Gabrielle, would say she's a tag-along, or an outcast.

Where you might see some new plot lines develop is when you ask that character why they call themselves that. So I would say to Gabrielle, "Why do you call yourself an outcast?" And she would answer, "Because my friends don't want me around anymore. They only put up with me because Rachel insists on keeping me around. And because my parents are too focused on my brother to pay attention to me."

One of my absolute favorite things to figure out about my character is what lie they believe about who they are. Like Gabrielle believes she's nothing special, that she's a girl destined to be hidden in the shadows for her entire life.

The noble cause is something the believe in and fight for. Like in Jenny B. Jones's latest release, Save the Date, her main character's noble cause is that she runs a group home for girls who are too old to be put in the foster system. This drives Lucy to do lots of risky things and make some questionable choices. But because she has the noble cause, this wonderful goal, the reader understands.

It's also good to pinpoint a heroic quality in your character. To find something they do exceptionally well, something that sets them apart from everybody else. In the book of mine that I was talking about, Gabrielle's heroic quality is that she's a high school girl getting a book published. That's not something everybody has the determination, the talent, to do. In the Skylar books, Skylar's heroic quality is her complete confidence in her appearance. She never asks her friends if she looks good, she knows she does. She doesn't ask if she can get away with wearing such-and-such, she knows she can.

A heroic quality is different than the super power. I've now taken this character class twice, and for whatever reason, I don't remember the super power thing at all from the first time. The super power is something that should only be mentioned a handful of times, that shouldn't be overdone. And while it can be a traditional type of super power - a character who runs really fast, who reads minds - it can also be something not as obvious. Like in Julie Klassen's The Apothecary's Daughter, her character remembers everything. Or the example given in the class was Cinderella. That she sings and has joy despite being mistreated.

I hope these are as helpful to you as they were to me. On Friday, we dive back into our first drafts!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trish Perry is here with a giveaway!

I'm so excited to welcome Trish Perry onto the blog today! Trish is not only a wonderful writer, she's a sweet woman and a breeze to work with.

Today, Trish is giving us a glimpse of her writing process. She's also offering one lucky commenter the choice between her latest releases. To get yourself entered to win either Unforgettable or Tea for Two, leave a comment for Trish either asking her a question or noting something you found interest about her process. (Contest closes Tuesday, March 29th. US Residents only.)

In her own words, here's Trish's writing process:

1. Daydream about my characters over several days until I have a good idea of who they are, at which point I make note of their main points: looks (I search for pictures of people—usually celebrities—who look similar to how I picture my characters), personality type (both strengths and weaknesses), family background, etc. I use a program on my computer that allows me to store pictures and details so I always have them to refer back to. That way I don’t forget details as the story progresses, like eye color, family makeup, and so forth.

2. Determine how my hero and heroine will cross paths. I usually try to have some

conflict in that, even if it’s just funny conflict. Since I write romance, they at least notice each other early on, even if they don’t interact right away.

3. Plan out five plot turns (the fifth of which will be the climax) that will impact my lead character significantly in her personal journey during the book. These plot turns will happen close to the beginning and then at about the 25%, 50%, and 75% points in the story. And then, of course, the climax occurs close to the story’s end.

4. Figure out (in one sitting or often as I go along) how my lead character will go from each of those plot turns to the next. Each step of the way will usually result in a separate chapter. I often just plan out the first several chapters—by writing a sentence or two about what will happen—and then get to writing. Otherwise you could spend all your time planning and never get around to writing!

5. This is enough to get me through my first draft. I tend to do a lot of editing as I go along, and I always stray from my original outline a bit, depending on where the characters take me.

Trish Perry is an award-winning novelist who's written Unforgettable (2011, Summerside Press) and Tea for Two (2011), The Perfect Blend (2010), Sunset Beach (2009--winner, 2010 Greater Detroit RWA Award), Beach Dreams (2008), Too Good to Be True (2007), and The Guy I'm Not Dating (2006), all for Harvest House Publishers. She collaborated with several renowned authors on the devotionals Delight Yourself in the Lord, Even on Bad Hair Days (Spring 2011) and God's Grace is Sufficient--But Decaf is NOT (Fall 2011) for Summerside Press. She wrote a monthly column, "Real Life is Stranger," for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and was editor of Ink and the Spirit, the newsletter of Washington D.C.'s Capital Christian Writers organization for seven years. Before her novels, Perry published numerous short stories, essays, devotionals, and poetry in Christian and general market media.

Perry holds a B.A. in Psychology, was a 1980s stockbroker, and held positions at the Securities and Exchange Commission and in several Washington law firms. She serves on the Board of Directors of CCW and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. She invites you to visit her at

Monday, March 21, 2011

Setting the Stage and Questions to Ask

As a writer, it's important to stay flexible. To try incorporating new techniques and tools.

With that in mind, I've already made adjustments to both my Character Chart and my Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet, which I posted about barely two weeks ago. Crazy, right?

I blame my friend Sally Bradley.

Sally and I met for a "Write Out" last Thursday night. Which, yes, as we sat in Starbucks with our laptops open, talking about villains and POVs, I was totally reminded me of that bit from Family Guy:

I was working on my SBS for my foodie WIP, and Sally said something about a book that had a similar method where you write down sensory details and bits of dialogue you have in mind. The idea is that you set the stage in your mind, but she said she grew tired of it.

So previously I told you I just had two columns in my SBS, but I now have 5:

What Happens

But instead of filling everything out for every scene right now, I've filled out "What Happens" and then if I've had thoughts about dialogue or stuff, I've written that down. The other things, the When, Where, and Senses, I'm doing as I write. I'm a bare bones writer in that first draft, so I'm interested to see if making an effort to set the stage in my mind ("This takes place a week later, at Gott's Roadhouse, where the grass is a lush green and the air smells of gourmet burgers, etc.") will make a difference.

Like Sally, I think I could get burned out on this method if I forced myself to fill out all those details right now. I'll let you know how I feel about this in another month when I should be halfish done with the first draft.

Then on Saturday, I saw Sally at a monthly writer's meeting (there were laptops this time, but no Starbucks) and we did a workshop by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck on adding depth to characters. I walked away with new questions for my main and secondary characters and new columns for my spreadsheet. These are questions I'll probably only ask a handful of characters:

What's one word my character would use to define his/herself?
What are two reasons why?
What's a lie they believe?
What is their greatest fear?
What is their life's happiest moment?
What is their noble cause?
What is their heroic quality?
What is their "super hero" quality?

Wednesday we'll talk more about those questions and how they weave themselves into the plot. After that meeting, I came home and added about 6 more plot points to my SBS.

Hope you all had a great weekend. Make sure you get your prompt entries into me by 11:59pm tonight!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some final thoughts on research

So we talked about researching your setting and your characters. But what about all those other details that crop up? Particularly for historical writers, where you're dealing with language and fashions and politics from an unfamiliar time.

Since I don't write historicals, I asked my best friend, and multi-published historical author Roseanna White to share her research process. She said:

When the story and setting are both firm in my mind, I head
to the library. I get books out on any topics I think might be relevant,
occasionally ordering those books I can't find online. I start a file with
images and descriptions of things like fashion and architecture, or other
facts I think might be woven seamlessly into the story. At this stage I'll
also try to find documentaries (YouTube is a great place to look!) on my
subject to give me more visuals to go by. While I'm sifting through all
this material, I'll begin writing the rest of the manuscript. A search
engine stays up on my computer any time I'm writing, so that I can find
answers to quick questions as I go.

My favorite method of research, though, is not to find reference
books--it's to find books written during the time I'm writing about.
Nothing anchors a setting in my mind like seeing the world through the eyes
of those who lived it. I love to find a primary text or two to use when I'm
writing a historical. I'll read these as I'm writing to guarantee that I'm
thoroughly in my setting.

Research can feel like a never-ending process, and to an extent it is--but
like any other part of the writing process, it's a matter of finding a
workable method, knowing where to start . . . and knowing where to stop.

Some authors admit to being research junkies. In a class I took from Angela Hunt, she said she allows herself one week for research, otherwise she has problems cutting herself off and writing.

Other authors are like me, groaning and dragging their feet when they have to do research. I'll do it, of course, but I'd rather be writing. I know this about myself, so I do my best to pick topics I know I'll enjoy researching.

Like the foodie book I'm working on. I like food. I wish I had more time for cooking. The idea was born out of cooking dinner with my daughter so, really, it's just an excuse to order in a bunch of cookbooks from the library. It's research that's fun for me, and that'll show up on the page. So, if you have zero interest in cars and think people who like cars are kinda stupid, I don't recommend having cars be a big part of your story. Don't torture yourself. Or your reader, who will likely pick up on your emotions.

The final tip I can offer you is that of giraffes.

When I'm writing, I often find little things that need to be researched. Things that I know won't affect the overall plot, like a song title or the name of a rival high school. Instead of stopping to research every tidbit, I do this:


Or, So long as we defeat NAME OF RIVAL H.S. GIRAFFE, I don't care.

When I'm done with my first draft, I can do a search for "Giraffe" and make a list of all the details I need to figure out.

Why giraffes? My brother-in-law gave me a giraffe about 6 years ago with a tag on it that said "Hemingway." I keep it in my office, along with my other giraffes, Bronte, Austen, and Dickens.

(Hemingway is the one on the left.)

I have yet to use the word "giraffe" in a manuscript, so it works well for me. When I write that book about an African safari, however...

Next week will be proceeding with our first drafts and hearing from the fabulous Trish Perry. Don't forget to get your writing prompts into me by the end of Monday!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Results from "I knew she knew" prompt

This last prompt received a record number of entries - 37! When I first had the idea for this contest, I thought maybe there'd be like 10-15 when we got started. That we might get close to 40 entries by the end of the year. Amazing.

Like always, you made the judges' job tough! Here's the list of those who placed, along with an honorable mention. Again, there's no points for honorable mention, but it's cool all the same.

Received votes for first place:
Rachelle Rea
Monica Burke

Received votes for second place:
Sierra Bennett
Teddy Chan

Received votes for third place:
Monica Burke
Jennifer Grimes

Honorable mention:
Ariana Root

This round's writing prompt went live on Monday (click here to check it out). And, as always, here's a sampling of last round's winners:

By Monica Burke

When she stormed into my bedroom, eyes ablaze, I knew she knew.
“You killed him.” Without even looking, I knew she was in tears.
I calmly set aside my paperwork, careful not to mix up any of the files on my desk. There were at least three important cases I had yet to file, and there was no use in falling behind.
“Alright, so I killed him.” I put the cap on my pen and place it into the cup next to the computer. “Questions?”
“Just one.” She pressed something against the side of my head and I heard a click. “Any last words?”

The comments: The surprising anger at the end was an interesting twist to the calmness of the narrator./Wow. You got it all…setting, intro to characters, mood (a bit sassy, I might add—nice!), hook, and big stakes. Superb.

By Rachelle Rea

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

“How could you?” she shrieked.

My tongue refused to roll out a response.

That afternoon, I had been offered a book contract. And all because of one little writing contest. But it was my sister who wanted to be the author in the family, not me. Though there was something tantalizing about that contract.

I watched Jessica’s face turn purple with rage, a captivating contrast to her bright orange sweater. Then, in one flash, the fire in her eyes extinguished itself. She sighed.

And her calmness scared me much more than her fury.
The comment: I liked the narrator's awareness of what was happening outside of her...that distance that allowed her to notice the purple face as a "captivating" contrast to the orange sweater.

By Sierra Bennett:
When she stormed into my bedroom, eyes ablaze, I knew she knew.

"Where is it Ess?" she demanded.
"Mother!He didn't mean to burn the cart.It was an accident.
Alessandro wouldn't do such a thing on purpose."
"I've had it Esmeralda.He has to go"
"At least let me talk to Father" I begged.
"He's busy.There's an Ambassador here.
We are thinking about a marriage between our countries.Wouldn't that be lovely?"
"I don't want to marry some tedious Prince.I want to keep Alessandro!" I cry desperately.
"That dragon has been nothing, but trouble.Gone by tomorrow Ess, hear me?"
No, I hear runaway.
The comment: You just have to like someone unwilling to give up a dragon.

By Teddy Chan:
When she stormed into my bedroom, eyes ablaze, I knew she knew.

Without mercy, her hand slammed against my face, knocking me into my bed.
"I told you to never talk to them!" she screamed, her jaw trembling with every word. I forced back tears and covered throbbing cheek. I could hear her heels clack as she paced across my floor.
"Why did you do it?” she asked. "Look at me !" she exploded.
I did.
"Jamie, those people," she pointed across the street, "can’t be trusted. They are a threat to this family - to you. We can’t let them jeopardize our plans. Not now.”
The comment: Awesome job! The hook is clear, conflict strong, emotion engaging and characters introduced through their actions. Love hearing the sound of Mom’s shoes and feeling the slam across the face/knock into the bed. Not to mention the mention of the home across the street. Well done.

By Jennifer Grimes:

When she stormed into my bedroom, eyes ablaze, I knew she knew. My heart pounded against my ribs as I waited for her to say something. She held my gaze, but refused to speak. Her coal-black eyes narrowed at me in anger, disgust, and even hatred. What do you have to say for yourself? I could imagine her saying, yet she remained silent. I felt the onset of hyperventilation. I had to do something. Moving from the comfort of my bed spread, I stood nearly toe-to-toe in front of her. “So?” I whispered, my mouth suddenly dry.

“You,” she spat, her eyes even fiercer than before, “are a murderer!”

The comment: Great job developing an enticing hook and using strong verbs to create mood.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Researching your characters

Last week when we talked about research, we focused on researching the setting, but of course many things in a book need to be researched. Like how your character's process the world around them.

You might find yourself needing to research a facet of your character's situation. In a manuscript of mine, my main character lost her husband the day before their one year anniversary. I haven't personally dealt with a loss of this magnitude, so if it's possible, I'll talk to people who have. And I'll talk to a friend of mine who's a life coach to gather ideas about how she might direct my main character. Plus there are lots of books about getting over a loss like that. I could check those out. While everything might not apply, or while some of the advice might be bad, it's still advice your character might receive.

Another good way to research how your character might feel about something is to look at your life through their eyes. This exercise came to me one day while I was working on So Over It. I was at the grocery store with my daughter, who was about 8 months old at the time. She was wearing a Kansas City Royals shirt and the cashier said, "Your daddy must be a fan." This is true and therefore didn't bother me ... but that would be a painful comment for one of my characters, a teen mother who has nothing to do with her baby's father, to hear.

Or, for the manuscript about the woman who unexpectedly loses her husband, I'll sometimes look around our house and think, "What if I lost my husband right now? What kind of things would be left undone? What of his belongings would be sitting out, anticipating his return?" (These kinds of morbid thoughts sometimes keep me up at night and frustrate my husband, but they strengthen the emotions I put on the page.)

Sometimes you're just looking to build your knowledge base. The character in my WIP has grown up in a foodie household. Her dad has started several successful restaurants, and her mom is a food critic/columnist. And while my character doesn't talk about braising, julienning, and the benefits of pasture-raised beef in any of the scenes, these are things she's grown up hearing about. So right now, I'm reading food books. A lot of food books. And a lot of food blogs. And we'll be trying lots of new dishes in my house.

Next we'll talk about researching all that "other stuff."

If you have other ideas for researching your character's inner-workings, please share!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Quick update and don't forget!

Hey, you fabulous writers who entered last round's prompt. I normally have results out to y'all by now, but we're waiting just a bit longer. I should know later today who the winners are, and then I'll start sending out e-mails as soon as I can. I know it's tough to be patient. Just think of this as training for when you send a requested full manuscript to a publishing house and then wait 7 long months. Sadly, that's a true story.

Moving on. Don't forget this is the last day to get entered to win Liz Johnson's book Code of Justice. She shared her writing process with us and has been fabulous about answering writing questions, so check that out.

Digging back into my first draft over here. Hope you're getting to write today as well!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing Prompt: When he heard the voice...

This round's writing prompt is:

When he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he knew he shouldn't have answered the phone.

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 either by clicking here or e-mailing me directly at: Stephanie(at) (No attachments, please!) Make sure to include your full name and e-mail address. Send me your prompt by Monday, March 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.

This contest is for those ages 25 and under. One entry per person, please. For a longer explanation, prize information, and a list of answered questions, click here.

This round's judges are:

Julie Garmon is a Southern author who’s not afraid to write real-life dirt, always with a nugget of redemption tucked in the corner. She’s been a regular contributor to Daily Guideposts since 2003, and writes on assignment for Guideposts magazine. She’s published with Sweet 16, PLUS, Angels on Earth, Homelife, Today’s Christian, Today’s Christian Woman,,, and Julie won a coveted spot to the Guideposts’ writers contest in 2004, and was chosen to attend subsequent Guideposts’ workshops based on winning entries. She blogs weekly along with her mother for Guideposts at Woman-to-Woman here and for Girls, God, Goodlife here

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.

Deborah Anderson

Deborah Anderson is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist. She has written for Focus on the Family, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and published in numerous other publications. Deborah is also a monthly columnist for Christian Fiction Online Magazine. Married 29 years, Deborah and her husband enjoy country living in the Midwest. She also spends her time rescuing cats, reading novels, and taking nature walks. She is working on her first novel.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Researching your setting

It's at this point in my process - the character chart/synopsis/Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet part - that I discover things I'll need to research.

With my current WIP, I'll need to research my setting (Healdsburg, California), the restaurant business, the food TV show business, and cooking in general. I know how to cook, and I really enjoy it (that's what this idea was born out of) but I know my hours in the kitchen and my Food Network obsession don't give me the knowledge base I need for this novel. This WIP will require more research of me than any of my previous manuscripts. Because of that, I'm far from an expert, but I do have some tips, and I welcome you to share your own in the comment section.

Today we're going to focus on researching your setting. It's ideal if it's a place you've been or a place you can visit. But this isn't always possible. Especially for you historical writers, since you can't exactly transport yourself back to Philadelphia 1782, or whenever.

If you write contemporaries, the good news is we have Google Earth at our disposal. I adore Google Earth. The book I just finished editing took place in Visalia, California. A place I've lived, but not since I was 8. The high school there is very different than the high school I attended in Kansas City. Like, there's a creek running through campus, and a piece of the campus is on the other side of the street. While the map I found on the school's website was nice, Google Earth gave me a better "feel" for the school.

But Google Earth couldn't tell me everything. Like, what kind of flooring is in the classrooms. Or whether or not they have warning bells before classes. Are these details that matter? I think they do. I don't want a Redwood High student reading my book and being like, "Obviously she's never been here. We don't have linoleum in our classes." While they might still enjoy my book, while they might still respect me as a writer and understand that I'm a human being and therefore have limitations, those little things can distract them from story world. I want to minimize that as much as possible.

Due to the glories of Facebook, I was able to get in touch with one of my best friends from Visalia, who had gone to Redwood High School. Leah's been wonderful about answering all my questions, and has even volunteered to proof my manuscript. But even if you don't have someone you know whom you can talk to, there are lots of "Leah's" in the world. Lots of people who are happy to help you answer questions. On my writer's loops, there are many posts with subject lines like, "Anyone live in Seattle?" I bet if you put the word out there on Facebook or Twitter that you're looking for someone to answer a few questions about Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida, someone will be able to help. Or know someone who can.

But as valuable as locals are, so are non-locals. My Skylar books are set in Kansas City, which is where I grew up. In some ways that made writing easy. But because I've lived here so long, there were things I didn't think to explain that don't make sense to a non-Kansas-Citian. Like, why one of my characters was driving herself to school at age 15. We have a funky law here that 15-year-olds can have a "restricted" driver's license. They can drive themselves to school and work. I've lived here since I was 10, so that law doesn't seem weird to me anymore, but my editor sure noticed it.

For you historical writers, you'll be doing a lot of reading. I've never written historicals, but I have friends who are passionate about them, like Erica Vetsch. She's multi-published and has written a post on some research tips for historical writers, which you can check out here.

I also asked my friend, Roseanna White, who writes historicals. She sent me this response, saying a lot of her setting research happens before she's written a word:

As the story idea is developing, I sit down and do basic, up-front research--the
stuff I need to know before I can write a single word. This is when I
identify the year, history that's relevant, where exactly I'll put my
characters, the raw data about what life is like there (what they'd eat,
climate, what they'd wear, what their houses look like). Once I've got
those basic details nailed down, I'll write the first three chapters and
thorough plot synopsis, which will show me what other questions will need
to be answered.

We'll talk more about research next week. Hope these tips help you guys out! Enjoy your weekend, and check back here on Monday for a new writing prompt!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Creating a Scene Breakdown

So if you liked the character chart thing, my guess is the Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet will rock your writing world too.

I think I mentioned this last week, but the Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet (hereafter referred to as the SBS because I don't want to keep typing that) is new to me as well. As in, I'm making my first one right now.

I made my SBS in an Excel spreadsheet. So far mine has two columns:

What happens
Chapter #

Of course, I only ever use one POV character. If you're working on a project with multiple POVs, you might benefit from having a column for that as well.

Here's what I typed in my "What happens" column: Madeline is eating with Brandi and Macy. They talk about what she can do to be taken more seriously. Jasper is there. Macy is surprised, but Madeline wonders if he followed them.

All you want is the essence of the scene.

Here are some benefits I see from making an SBS:

1. Helps identify plot problems. The synopsis can do that too, but of course this is much more detailed.

2. Can maximize writing time. It means less time sitting in front of your computer and thinking, "Okay ... so .... what should happen next...?" You can look at the chart.

3. It's a flexible way to plot. You decide 2/3 of the way through that a scene or two needs to be added? You can insert them super easy. Or if you have new thoughts about the ending, you can create an alternate ending in another column and get a feel for which you like better.

4. Gives you a clear goal when writing a scene. Nothing drags down a story more than scenes that go nowhere. Every scene should have a point, should be doing something. This is a great tool to help you accomplish that.

5. Makes room for life to get in the way. Two years ago, I was really in a writing groove. I'd written about 75% of my book and knew it would just be another week or two before I was typing, "The End." Then I came down with an evil head cold. There was even a trip to the ER via ambulance involved. I laid on the couch for a week and did nothing but read all 4 Twilight books.

Needless to say, I lost my groove. When I finally got back to my story, I was fuzzy on what was supposed to be happening next in the story, and my character suddenly talked a lot more like Bella Swan. Wound up taking me another month to finish my book. So aggravating.

While my breaks from my stories aren't always so dramatic, I often have to take a break at least once during the writing process. My publisher needs edits on a contracted book, or there's a death in the family. Having something like a scene chart can help bring me back to story world.

That's all for today! As always, if you have writing questions, shoot me an e-mail.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Liz Johnson's Writing Process and a Giveaway!

I'm loving having all these authors on here to talk about their writing process! I think it's so important for writers to be able to learn from each other.

Today our guest is Liz Johnson. After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations, Liz Johnson set out to work in the Christian publishing industry, which was her lifelong dream. In 2006 she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream-being an author. Along the way to having her novel published, she wrote articles for several magazines and worked as a freelance editorial consultant.

Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she enjoys exploring her new home, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings.

Liz is the author of Code of Justice, and has graciously agreed to giveaway a copy to one lucky commenter. To be entered, you must be a Go Teen Writer follower. You may either ask Liz a question or remark on something you find interesting about her process. (US Residents only.)

Enough of me talking. Onto Liz:

Pantser. SOTPer. Wild child.

There are lots of names for someone who writes a book without an outline in place first, but the generally agreed upon term is seat of the pants writer. And I used to be one. When I first started writing, I just dove into the story, not worrying about where I’d end up or how I’d get there. And I wasted a lot of time and energy fixing bad plots because I didn’t plan ahead.

As I’ve written more books, my process has changed in big ways. Here’s a sneak peek into the way my books come together.

Inciting idea: Every one of my books has an inciting idea that starts small and blossoms into an entire book. The ideas can come from a trip I’ve taken, a lesson that God is teaching me, or even an article I’ve read. Usually it takes the form of a “What if?”

For example, I recently wrote a novel based on the special bond between sisters. I began to wonder, what if two sisters shared a really close relationship that was severed.

Developing the idea and characters: Next I build around that question, giving the characters names and histories, exploring their fears and goals. In our example I discovered Heather, a tough FBI agent, who was the only survivor of a helicopter crash that stole her sister’s life. Heather’s quest for justice and struggle with vengeance became the heart of the book. I also knew she needed a sidekick, Jeremy, who turned into her love interest.

Picturing my characters: Once the characters are in place, I have to give them faces to picture them in my mind. So I begin a search on Google Images to find actors or well-known faces that match what I have in mind. For Heather I picked out Hilarie Burton from One Tree Hill. Jeremy went through several matches until I landed on Michael Trucco from Battlestar Gallactica, the perfect fit.

Plotting the key events: Next I write a summary of the key events. This usually ends up being a five to seven page outline highlighting the important events that lead to the characters achieving their goals … or not.

Actually writing: This is the hardest part for me—sitting in front of my computer and actually writing the whole story based on that summary. It’s months of being disciplined enough to have my seat in a chair and get the story down. All the way through. I hardly edit anything during this time.

Editing: First, I read through my story and fix those glaring problems before sending it off to friends to get their feedback. Then I read through it again, keeping those suggestions in mind. And I keep doing that until it’s time to submit it to either my agent or editor.

It’s not always easy … in fact, it can be downright painful to write a book. But it’s definitely worth it to hold that finished manuscript in your hand. So keep at it!