Friday, April 29, 2011

When should you show your writing to others?

Real quick, before I launch into today's subject, I'd like to point out that there's now a monthly(ish) Go Teen Writers newsletter. It'll give you a sneak peek of what's coming up on here, acquaint you with a young writer in our community, highlight various resources, and so forth. Click here to get signed up.

On with when you should share the novel you're writing with other people. This is something I have a definite opinion on. You may disagree with me. That's okay.

First, I will share a story that will hopefully help you understand why I always, always, always write my first draft with my door closed.

My junior year of high school, I began work on what would become my first novel. I was taking a creative writing class at the time, so it became well known around my school that I was doing this. (I attended an all-girls school, and there were only 85 or so in our graduating class. It was a small community.)

Friends asked if they could read what I'd done so far on my novel. I was thrilled to show them - eager to hear how much they loved it - and so I handed out the first chapter. It received rave reviews, and was getting passed around to all sorts of people. I was flying high.

When my best friend read it, she didn't have much to say. But so many others were talking about it, that I didn't really notice. Plus, she and I had some other issues going on that were straining our friendship. I attributed her response (or lack there of) to those.

Within that same week I was assigned to write a 10-page screenplay. I did, and was instantly hungry for the encouragement from my friends. (It's addictive. Oh, so addictive...)

I remember this part so clearly that I can practically feel the itch of my school sweater.

It was right before English class - the first class of the day. I pulled my play from my backpack and handed it to my best friend. "Hey, my rough draft of this is due today," I said. "Would you mind looking it over for me and telling me what you think?"

"Okay," she said and took it from me.

About thirty seconds later, she groaned. She turned in her seat and slapped my pages onto my desk. "I can't do this. I'm so not in the mood for your romantic crap right now."

I could write pages of how this made me feel, but I won't bore you with them. You're a writer. You can probably guess. I did, however, bore her with a long detailed note about how deeply she'd hurt me.

Her response was pretty callous. She was sorry my feelings had been hurt, but not sorry she'd said it. If I wanted to be a writer, I was going to have to get used to it. And, really, she didn't think I should be a writer. I was better at writing English essays, she thought, and should consider being an English teacher instead.

As I've said, we had other issues going on - issues that I think played a role in her response to me - but those words forever changed me.

Those words are the reason I write with my door closed.

Those words are also, I think, one of the reasons I got published so young. More on that next week.

No one sees my first drafts. No one sees my second drafts. I don't open that door until my third draft, and even then I merely crack it. I send it to my writing partner, author Roseanna White. (She, on the other hand, sends me chapters as she writes. Everyone is different.)

That first draft belongs to me. The story is still just mine, and frankly, I don't really want anyone else involved. This makes me sound like a 3-year-old, but I'll figure it out for myself, thank you. No help wanted.

With the actual writing that is. There have been times that I've been rather stuck on a plot line, or where I've been frustrated over a character. In those situations, I have no reservations about shooting Roseanna an email and saying something like, "Hey, can you brainstorm with me about such-and-such." Or, "I'm thinking about doing this, but I know it's kinda risky. What do you think?" That's completely different then sending over big chunks of my first draft and asking for approval. It's different than requiring it.

Another reason I write this way - door closed - is because it was reinforced by Stephen King in On Writing, which I read within a year of the whole "romantic crap" fight. He has lots of wonderful stuff to say about why. The one that rings most true for me is this:

...if no one says to you, "Oh Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing ... being wonderful for instance, instead of telling the (expletive) story."

I tend to need and crave approval. And the way I've found to keep it under control in the writing process is to simply turn off the opportunity for it when I'm in the creating frame of mind. What about you? Do you show your work to family and friends? Do you welcome their ideas during the creating process, or no?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Winning Entries from, "When I opened the door..."

For your reading pleasure, below is a list of some of the winning entries from last round's prompt. Many thanks to those who are willing to share.

Still lots of time to get your entry in for this round. It's due next Monday. Click here for details.

Tomorrow I'll be sharing thoughts about showing your writing to others, so if that's something you've wrestled with, be sure to check back. Then on Monday, thanks to a question from a lovely follower of Go Teen Writers, we'll talk about writing groups/friends/critique partners and some suggestions for success with those relationships. As a girl who's been badly burned in that area, who had my writing referred to as "crap" by someone I trusted, I have some definite opinions.

By Faye Rhys

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. There he stood in all his wicked glory, Prince Allisane.

He looked exactly as I remembered him, his long golden hair tied back with a velvet ribbon, and his thunderstorm eyes boring into me with a dead coldness.

Allisane sat rigidly in my father’s high-backed chair; his white-knuckled fingers gripped the armrests, as if trying to gain control on his emotions. His face was livid. I’d seen that face more times than I cared to count, more times than I should have as his betrothed.

I hadn’t wanted to marry him, so I’d run.

After six months, he’d found me.
The judges said: Wow! Some great writing. Love the hook of the last sentence that would have me turning the page./I want to keep reading and find out what happens next. Vivid details. Good job!/Nice. The ‘thunderstorm eyes’ is a very expressive phrase, and also very original. The characters and their personalities are nicely developed, which can be difficult to do in so short a sample of the story, and the descriptions and word choices are beautifully done and evocative. I’m already hooked into the characters’ plights and would love to read on, to see what happens.

By Imogen Elvis

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. My first thought was that I must have opened the wrong door. Why else would I be facing a centaur with a huge sword?

I closed the door. Yes, it was definitely my door. Maybe I’d imagined it. I swung the door open again. No, the centaur was still there. Well, this made a change from the dwarves and fairies that normally followed me around. Not that anyone believed they were real. Except me.

“That’s a big sword,” I said. “Can I hold it?”

“Why was I given this one?” the centaur sighed. He grabbed my arm. “Let’s go.”

The judge said: Very interesting beginning! I like the characterization and voice—we already have a feel for the protagonist’s personality. I want to read more.

By Katy McCurdy

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. The apartment was in shambles. Every movable object had been tossed across the tiny living space. Glass shards were everywhere and a knife had ripped open my brand-new La-Z-Boy.
But that’s not what made my heart stop.
The bloody body of my private detective lay draped across the couch, red dying the white leather.
My scream echoed off the walls of the apartment. Horror clawed up my stomach and burned my chest as I read the three words written in blood across the wall behind the corpse—Looking for us?
My ex and his cronies had found me.
The judge said: Very nice. Suspenseful, tightly written, nicely detailed, with a killer twist last sentence. The descriptions and word choices are vivid and brilliant; the horror of it all is nicely done; and the situation is wonderfully set up. It certainly makes me want to read on.

By Sarah Luckadoo

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. My pulse quickened along with my pace as I entered the room before me. I don’t know why I was so nervous. After all, I had signed the papers myself. When they had asked me, I was the one that said yes; I was the one that had wanted to see her. Before I realized it, the gaping expanse of the room that had once stood before me was now reduced to nothing. As I lifted my head, my gaze slowly fell onto the most beautiful face I had ever seen… the face of my daughter. It didn’t matter then, what I had said before. All I knew was that I could not let them take her from me.

The judge said: Excellent pace, good writing, and great sensory details.

By Sammie Weiss

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw.
The Director was here.
“What’s going on?”
My father looked at me with tears-filled eyes. In that moment, I knew. I held his gaze until the Director cleared his throat. I tore my eyes from my father, knowing I would never see him again.
“Lillian, you have been chosen for the Program,” the Director stated. “We must depart. Goodbye, Mr. Rochester.”
He pulled me out the door. I glanced back, searching for my father, but he was lost in the darkness.
I was shoved into the car; a rag pressed to my face. My vision slowly faded to black.
The judge said: Very nice and tight, with a nice sense of tension. Great last sentence. Good word choice throughout, good dialog that quickly and sharply delineates the characters and situation. Definitely makes me want to read more.

By Ellyn Gibbs
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. Had my wish for excitement come true? Did the real, sword-slashing, crazy-riding Zorro himself stand before me?
Dressed in black; check. A black scarf over his nose and mouth; check. It was confirmed. I stood face to face with my childhood hero.
“Hello,” I squeaked, looking around for his sword.
“Hi,” he said through the black cloth, “I’m here to sweep your chimney. The appointment was at…” he peered past me into the house. “Is your mother at home?”
I pointed to the kitchen and then slunk back to the TV. Somehow, though, I didn’t feel like watching Zorro anymore.

The judge said: Funny! This is really nicely done. The narrator’s voice and personality come through, crystal clear, and the situation is nicely turned on its head from what we’re led to believe it will be. The writing is tight and clever, and word choices are lively, and the entire excerpt is great fun to read.

By Nicki Taylor
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw.

It's not that I wasn't used to my older sister Petra being on the computer - she was always on there doing something. But that something usually wasn't hacking into military databases.

Petra spun around. I stared at her.

"So you're the one who's been stealing stuff out of Dad's office," was all I could say. "Won't he be so mad when he finds out."

Petra grabbed my arm and dragged me into the room. I heard a click and something pressed against the side of my head. I hadn't known Petra owned a gun.

"Did you have any last words before this goes off?"

The judge said: Sharp, tight, on target writing, with a killer last sentence. The scene is set up quickly and neatly, with lots of potential for what’s to come. The characters are distinct and well drawn, even though the introduction is so short, and their voices are nicely done. It definitely leaves me wanting to read more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Arrive late, then leave early

Last Wednesday, we talked about arriving fashionably late in our scenes. (Click here if you missed that post.)

I said Creating scenes full of tension = Creating a page-turner of a book. One of the ways you can keep the tension high is to arrive late and leave early. Today we're going to talk about that leaving early thing.

Let's say our characters, Joel and Susie, have been married for 6 blissful months, and are having their first big fight. He drops the bomb on her that he's just gambled away what meager savings they had. In real life when people have a fight, it may drag on for hours. And if you're fighting with someone in your house, you then have the yucky tension of having to coexist with them the remainder of day/week/month.

But when we write fight scenes, they're rapid fire, saying what the characters need to communicate to each other (and the reader). And then we're going to leave as soon as we possibly can.

Here's how this might look:

Susie stared at Joel as he paced around their shoebox of an apartment. With his ragged hair and wild eyes, he hardly resembled the man she'd pledged herself to just six months ago.

"There's something else, isn't there?" Susie said. Joel only paced like this when he was wrestling with something.

He glanced at her. "No."

But she knew better. "Out with it, Joel. I know you've got something else to tell me."

"You think you're so smart, don't you?" He sneered. "You've got this whole world figured out, huh, Suz?"

Her teeth ground together. "I'm smart enough to know when you're not being honest with me."

"Fine. You wanna know what's going on? You wanna know why I haven't been sleeping? Because it's gone, Susie. It's all gone."

Susie's stomach twisted into an aching knot. "What's gone, Joel?"

He leveled his gaze on her and said it oh-so-quietly. "The money."

"No." She pressed her eyes shut, willing this to be some kind of strange, sick joke. "It can't be."

He handed her the receipt from the ATM that declared their account balance to be $2.30. "It's all gone."

Were that a real scene in a real book, I would probably have Joel withhold his information a bit longer, but that's definitely where I would end the scene. Because that is the critical information we were working our way toward. That was the goal we likely would have defined when we first started writing this scene. We would have thought, "Okay, in this scene, Susie is going to find out that her worst fear has come true - their money is gone."

Once we achieve our goal, we get out of there. Do we need another couple paragraphs? Not if we've achieved our goal. We don't need to see Susie figuring out how to deal with her anger. We don't need to see Joel down on his knees apologizing. By cutting it off here, we're leaving our reader with a question that propels them into the next scene. What happens now?

Last week when we talked about arriving fashionably late, one technique we talked about is establishing a scene, then saying, "Two weeks ago..." and doing a quick catch-up scene. The above example is something that lends itself well to this.

Let's say we end our scene there, and then move on to something completely different. Susie is now at her niece's first birthday party:

He handed her the receipt from the ATM that declared their account balance to be $2.30. "It's all gone."


"Who wants cake?"

Susie marveled at her sister as she passed out cake to the group of eager children.

And so forth. I might talk for a page or two about the birthday party. Then I could do something like this:

Susie spotted Paul looping his arm around Molly's waist and felt envy stab at her. Her sister's husband would never gamble away $1500. Paul was too smart for that. Not like somebody else she knew.

It had been three days since Joel dropped the bomb on her. He'd apologized, of course, but...

And then you can explain what happened after they fought before returning to the new scene, the birthday party.

Where you end and begin scenes isn't a science, but a feel. Sometimes you might get it right in the first draft. Other times it'll take a draft or two, plus maybe an outside opinion, to get it right. But that effort is completely worth it. Getting those scenes right, those "trees", are the way we perfect our forest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Winners list from "When I opened the door"

Below is a list of the winners from last round's prompt, "When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw." Many thanks to Jenny B. Jones, Melanie Dickerson, and Rosemarie DiCristo for judging!

This round's prompt went live yesterday. Click here for details.

Received votes for first
Faye Rhys
Katy McCurdy
Imogen Elvis

Received votes for second
Faye Rhys (also received a vote for first)
Nicki Taylor
Ellyn Gibbs

Received votes for third
Rebecca Pennefather
Sarah Luckadoo
Sammie Weiss

Honorable Mentions
Faye Rhys (also placed first and second)
Ellyn Gibbs (received TWO votes for HM, and also placed second)
Sammie Weiss (also placed third)
Jordan Newhouse (received TWO votes for HM)
Alyssa Liljequist
Coral Dalzel
Savanna Ford

Congratulations, everyone! I didn't get emails out to the winners until late last night, so hopefully by Thursday I'll have some samples up for you guys.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing Prompt: It had been 4 years...

This round's writing prompt is:

It had been 4 years, but still the memory lingered.

And here's something new. Occasionally, just for kicks, I'm going to toss in an extra guideline. This round the extra guideline is no violence. No glocks, no brass knuckles, no cat fights. And so forth. As much as I love the thrill of a gun being pulled (or on Veronica Mars, I was especially fond of the tazer), let's stretch our creativity this time by thinking outside the violent box.

Other than the no violence policy this round, everything is the same. Think of the prompt as the first sentence of a story, then write the next 100 words as you see fit. Entries are due Monday, May 2nd at 11:59pm Kansas City time. (Also known as central time.) You may email them to me by clicking here or at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters(dot)com. No attachments, please.

Last Friday, I posted some tips about writing prompts. If you haven't checked that out yet, I'd consider doing so. For other FAQs and prize information click here. One entry per person, please, and must be 25 and under to enter.

A quick word about how judging works. One judge will select the top 20 entries. From those 20, the other judges will select their three favorites.

And our lovely judges this round are:

Christa Allan

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa is a writer of not your usual Christian Fiction. She weaves stories of unscripted grace and redemption with threads of hope, humor, and heart.
Walking on Broken Glass is her debut novel. Her next novel, Edge of Grace will be released by Abingdon Press in August of 2011. Her essays have been published in The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort,Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul.
Christa is the mother of five adult children, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where they and their three cats enjoy their time playing golf, dreaming about retirement and dodging hurricanes.

Betsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers . Betsy is multi-published through Steeple Hill and has been published inChristian Communicator magazine andPraise Reports: Inspiring Real Life Stories of How God Answers Prayer. One of her short stories appears in a Tyndale compilation book, and she is also multi-published through The Wild Rose Press. She has a BA in Christian Communications and regularly freelances for her local newspaper. Betsy is a fireman’s wife, a mommy to a busy toddler, a chocolate-loving author and an avid reader who enjoys sharing the wonders of God’s grace through her stories. Look for her recently contracted YA novel in January 2012!
Georgiana Daniels is the wife of a super-generous husband, and the mother of a teen and two tots. After graduating with a degree in public relations, she spent several years in the business world, but now has the privilege of staying home and working on the stories she loves. Table for One is her first book. When not writing, she spends her time burning up miles on the treadmill, blogging, and participating in ACFW and RWA.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some tips for crafting a dynamic entry

On Monday, I'll post the 9th writing prompt. By now, I've noticed some trends in what's working and what's not. Here are 7 tips for crafting a dynamic prompt:

Uniqueness counts
We're averaging about 40 entries each round. If 20 of them involve a gun, 10 of them involve an eating disorder, 5 of them involve running late for school, 4 of them the Amish, and 1 bungee jumping ... which one instantly stands out to the judges? Bungee jumping, right?

When you're reading 40ish entries back-to-back like that, a unique topic can overcome a lot.

Don't answer all the questions ... but don't leave too many either
Some of you have received feedback about the judges being confused about your entry. If one of the judges is confused but the other isn't, then maybe that's something you chalk up to a matter of taste. If both are confused, then it's definitely a point to consider.

Remember, this is supposed to be the opening paragraph of a novel. You're drawing the reader in to story world. Here's an example of questions being raised:

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.

A couple key questions that arise from these 72 words are - What happened last night? Why does the main character feel it's a mistake to become Eli's girlfriend?

But also notice what you don't have to question - the setting (we're at a gas station) and what's happening in the scene (they just kissed). Help your judges out. Give them enough context to know where we are and what your characters are doing.

Easy on the plot
Some of you are trying to cram way too much into your 100 words. In the above example, Skylar woke up that morning in the back of Eli's Land Rover after being drugged at a party. He's now taking her home. But do you need to know all that right away? Nope. That would be way too much too soon. The focus in that opening paragraph is the kiss and how Skylar feels about it - like it's a bad idea, but she owes Eli an doesn't know what else to do. Try picking a focus for your 100 words and don't worry about cramming in the plot.

Write tight
Cut whatever you can. Try not to use any dialogue tags (said, replied, etc.) Instead, use beats. (Jamie speared her broccoli. "This dinner sucks, Mom.") Contractions are your friends. Not only do they sound more natural, you can save a word by using didn't over did not. And easy on the adverbs. Instead of saying Jamie walked quickly, tell us Jamie rushed.

Use your words
While there's no extra points for using 100 words on the dot, I definitely recommend using at least 85 of your words. You're putting yourself at a disadvantage if you use under that.

Watch your grammar
I've asked that the judges not be too harsh on grammar. They've been wonderful about that. But misspellings or misuses of words are distracting. We all have typos slip through now and then, but with just 100 words ... it should be clean. Run spell check, and watch yourself for the most common misuses (you're/your, to/too, its/it's, they're/there/their).

Hook 'em
Not every entry should end with, "And then he pulled out a gun," but every entry should end with a hook of some sorts. By which I mean something that makes the judges think, "I want to know what happens next." Something intriguing. Something that raises a question.

And there's one more thing I want to mention. After Go Teen Writers hits 150 followers, the following writing prompt will be whatever you want AND you can use 150 words instead of 100. So, that means you can submit the first 150 words of your novel and receive feedback from published authors. If you're not already a GTW follower, show some love and click that "follow" button over there to the left. And spread the word to your friends, because I can't wait to see what kind of stuff you guys are working on.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Top 20 finalists from "When I opened the door"

Below is a list of the names of those who advanced on to the second round from April 11th's writing prompt:

Nicki Taylor
Faye Rhys
Alyssa Liljequist
Rebecca Pennefather
Ellyn Gibbs
Coral no-last-name-provided (and apparently I didn't ask...? Not sure where my brain has been, you guys. Coral, if you wouldn't mind emailing me your last name, that'd be great.)
Bridgitte Ivey
Imogen Elvis
Rachel Crew
Avery Wall
Rebecca Hubbard
Sarah Luckadoo
Sammie Weiss
Jordan Newhouse
Moriah Newhouse
Katy McCurdy
Savanna Ford
Rachelle Rea
Courtney Calvert
Rye Mason

Congratulations, you guys! Your entries are now being considered by the other judges. If you entered and your name isn't on that list, you'll be receiving your feedback by tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I'd planned to talk more about scenes. Instead we're going to talk about the writing prompt contests and a few tips for finaling. (My spell check appears to hate that word. Sigh.) The judges have made a few aside comments to me about what stuck out to them about particular entries, or what did and didn't work, so I'm going to blog about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arriving fashionably late

Big time thanks to everyone who entered last round's writing prompt. 39 entries - awesome! Tomorrow I'll post a list of the 20 who advanced, and then I'll email out feedback. The next writing prompt will go live on Monday, April 25th.

On Monday we talked about how all scenes should advance the story in some way. It should help deepen our understanding of the characters, push the plot along, and build suspense and conflict. Creating scenes full of tension = Creating a page-turner of a book.

One of the ways you can keep the tension high is to arrive late and leave early. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire, likens it to a party:

Did you ever arrive early for a party? It's awkward, isn't it? The music isn't yet playing. Your host and hostess make hurried conversation with you while they set out the chips and dip. You offer to help, but there's nothing you can do. You feel dumb for getting there too soon.

That's how I feel when I read the opening pages of many manuscripts. Pieces of the story are being assembled, but nothing has happened just yet, and often the guest of honor, the protagonist, hasn't arrived. In fact, no one I like has shown up yet. Later on the story will be in full swing, but for now I wonder why I bothered to accept this invitation.

The first time I read these words, they were so groundbreaking to me that I called my husband at work to share with him. "Isn't that just fabulous?" I said, practically breathless from the excitement of finding such wisdom. My husband is an engineer and couldn't relate at all, but he was very sweet about the whole thing.

Mr. Maass is talking specifically about openings of stories, but this same thing applies to individual scenes. Don't force your reader to be there for the set-up and tear-down of the scene. The reader gets to be the bride or groom, okay? They get to enter the church after everyone has gathered, and they get to jet out early while others stay behind to sweep up the rice.

This is something that takes practice. And rewrites. I can't tell you how many times I've started a scene, then been like, "Ack, too much set-up! I need to fast-forward 10 minutes."

Here are a couple of examples of ways to start the scene mid-swing:

"You're leaving for Madison's already?" Mom asked as I entered the kitchen.

We're not hanging around in Skylar's room while she debates which outfit to wear, if she should take the time to paint her nails, etc.

I didn't get a chance to ask Abbie about Chris until we'd eaten lunch, cake had been served, and everyone else was occupied by Curtis and his gifts.

This sentence tells us something good is coming - Skylar's convo with Abbie - but here's what happened in the time we just skipped over.

"Sixth grade," Jodi said into her custard.
"Sixth grade?" I said. "How did I not know this?"

This builds the question of what happened in sixth grade and draws the reader into the conversation, yet doesn't force us to endure the girls ordering their custard, settling onto the grass, bemoaning how Sheridan's doesn't have more benches. And so on.

My first opportunity to be civil to Jodi arrived Wednesday night.

I arrived late at the sports complex because I left the house wearing outfit number seven and hairstyle number four. When I finally spotted our church team (Connor had neglected to tell me which field they'd be playing on), I found Jodi seated in the bleachers with Amy Ross and Cameron and Curtis.

This is a technique I'm fond of and that I think works well. There's a hook that tells us what's about to happen - Skylar's about to see Jodi - and then we back it up just enough to get a bit of context - she changed her clothes a lot, she had to wander all over the stupid baseball complex to find the game she wanted - before plowing back into the situation at hand, which is seeing Jodi.

This can also be done in a bigger way. Sarah Dessen utilizes this a lot where a scene starts us
several days later, goes on for a couple paragraphs, and then backs us up for a scene. Like in This Lullaby, Ms. Dessen finishes up a chapter with the main character, Remy, breaking up with her boyfriend, Dexter. In the next scene, Remy and Dexter are at an event together. The reader is brought right into the action ("Come on, who wants to KaBoom?" I looked at Lissa...) but then a page or two later, when Remy has spotted Dexter, she says, It wasn't the first time I'd seen him, of course. The morning after we broke up, in fact, I'd been standing in line at Jump Java...

We then read a couple pages about what happened at Jump Java, and then Dessen brings us back to what's going on now. That had been two weeks ago, and since then we'd talked several times...

I think this technique should only be utilized a couple times a book, but it can be a very effective way to fast forward your reader in time and maintain the tension in your scene.

That's all for today. Tomorrow keep an eye on Go Teen Writers for a list of the top 20 entries from last prompt, and on Friday we'll talk about "leaving early." Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Writing in Scenes

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about the first draft being about "the trees," versus the forest, which is what you deal with in the second draft.

Forests are made up of different types and sizes of trees. Some are small. And some are.... Well, not.

And just like forests are made up of all different sizes and shapes of trees, so your manuscript will be made up of all different types of scenes. Some scenes will be 500 words. Some will 2,500. There's no reason to make them uniform in size, there's only a need to make them right. To make them the right scene for that place in the manuscript.

So how do you do that?

For starters, the way you designate scenes in manuscripts is with a # sign. No need to get fancy with what you use for scene breaks. Your publisher is just going to replace it with their art (In the Skylar Hoyt series, Revell used a hibiscus for the scene breaks, which made me super happy) so make it easy on them and use the # sign.

So it'll look like this:

This will all be here when I get back, I remind myself. The house, my friends, my date with Evan. It’s just six weeks of helping out, and then I come back to my real life.
As I select skirts and tops from my closet, Mom follows me around the room, reading from a typed list she apparently made last night of things to tell me.

We talked not long ago about transitioning time in manuscripts. One of the ways you designate a time change or a change in what character is talking (POV) is with a scene change.

Every scene should have a goal, a point. I read lots of manuscripts from beginning writers where scenes wander all over the place or where a scene appears to have been tossed in because they felt like it had been too long since we'd heard from this particular character. This is sloppy, lazy writing.

If you're a seat of the pants writer, it's fine if you start writing a scene not being 100% sure about where it's going. But make sure whatever you wind up writing advances the plot or opens up a deeper understanding in your main character. Every scene should have forward motion.

As I write scenes - especially if I get stuck - I ask myself a couple questions. Why are my characters here? What have they come to achieve? What will they have learned by the end of this scene?

Asking these questions is what helps me stir up conflict. If I know what my main character has entered the scene for, then I can devise ways to keep her from getting it. I can put characters in her path who want the opposite thing from the scene, who are going to get in her way.

We'll continue this discussion on Wednesday.

Now, don't forget to turn in your prompts to me by 11:59 tonight. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, click here for details. Also, tomorrow is Shellie Neumeier's last day with us, so click here to read up on Shellie's process for writing a novel and get entered to win a copy of her debut novel Driven.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Keeping a Calendar

Something I keep handy while writing my first draft - something I can't believe I've forgotten to mention - is a blank calendar. This is something I decided to do after my editor pointed out some serious continuity issues with Me, Just Different. And it's so easy to keep a blank calendar that I continue to be embarrassed about how long I wrote without one.

The one I have is completely blank so I can fill it out as desired. I like having it on paper (as opposed to on the computer) because I like pinning it on my bulletin board. This is the template I use. You can also create custom calendars here at, or here. Here's a picture of mine all filled out:

As you can see, I'm pretty basic about the info I include. The calendar is just for you, so there's no need to get fancy with it.

Since I write contemporary fiction, the year I choose doesn't really matter. I never specify what year it is because I don't want to "date" my story. I usually just use whatever year we're really in. The only time that gets tricky is when Valentine's Day or some other holiday falls on a weekend when it would be better for me if it were a weekday.

I'd love to hear how you guys keep track of dates when writing. Especially if you're a historical writer, where you're balancing real-life events as well as story events.

Next week we're going to be talking about scenes - writing scenes, what makes a good scene, etc. We're also going to talk (either next week or the week after) about the different genres and manuscript lengths. As always, if you have a question or topic you'd like to see covered, shoot me an email.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Winning Entries from "I never thought I'd come back..."

Ugh, I'm so annoyed with myself. Yesterday I posted Rebecca Pennefather's name under "Second" when really she was one of our first place winners. Big time apologies, Rebecca! All fixed now.

Here are a few of the winning entries:

By Rye Mason

I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am. White lights burn the top of my head where my hair has been rolled into curls tighter than I thought humanly possible. The pressure makes my face tingle. I twist my knuckles and run my tongue over my lips, pulling away shreds of lipstick that taste like crayon, folding them under my tongue and trying to concentrate on the acidic taste instead of the camera bearing down on me. Breathe. Please breathe.

I hear the click and whirr of the camera before the faceless row of an audience that assumes me guilty.

“I did not kill my brother,” I say.

The judge's comments: Wow. You got it all…setting, intro to characters, mood, hook, and big stakes. Superb.You’ve done a wonderful job lacing imagery, strong verbs, and conflict into your story.

By Alyssa Liljequist

I never thought I’d come back, yet here I am. Blossoms quiver on tree branches. The spring air tastes sweet. I want to spit it out.
This is where I lost him. Right here on this street corner. They came. The men. The car. The guns. They came.
That day he had been grinning, tugging my curls. I gazed into his soft brown eyes. I laced my fingers through his.
They took him.
Tires squealing. Strange voices barking orders. Hands grabbing, throwing him into a car.
I couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t even think. Not until it was over.
Besides, if they could kidnap a spy, what could I do?

The judge's comments: Excellent! Very vividly written—the use of short, punchy sentences perfectly conveys the mood, and it leaves with a bevy of questions. This is a hook that would leave me desperate to flip to the next page.

By Jordan Newhouse

I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am. My brother Aaron stands with me before Ramses, who was also once my brother. Their piercing stares challenge each other to realize their true positions - the one a slave to Egypt, the other a slave to power.

"Great Pharaoh, the God of our fathers demands that you release Israel from bondage."

"And why should I believe that your God has spoken this?"

I drop my stick and even before it touches the ground it begins to writhe and turn into a snake. Ramses remains unmoved.

"Quite impressive, Moses. So you ran away to the desert to become a magician?"

The judges' comments: Awesome job! The hook is clear, conflict strong, and the characters are introduced through their actions. Overall, you do a great job writing a strong opener. / Love it! A familiar story, but the closing dialogue gives it a wonderful flavor, perfectly showing how little such a thing would impress a man surrounded by magicians. I also love the “slave to” line.

By Monica Burke

I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am.
Ed wastes no time. He slaps me across the face as hard as he can before asking in a low voice, “Where have you been?”
My cheek stings where his hand made contact with my skin. “I-I was at school...”
Suddenly, I find myself lying on the ground, my head throbbing. The world around me slowly turns to black and the lines that define my surroundings begin to fade. Ed is reduced to an indistinct shadow, dark and foreboding, looming over me.
“No more lies, Abby. Where were you?”
If I only knew.
The judge's comments: Strong ending...made me want to know more.

By Katie Scheidhauer

I never thought I’d come back, yet here I am. No other reason I could have come back. Leilani. Aloalo. Her simple songs were kahaulani, slipping down to earth. Her music, forever beautiful. Even when paralyzed from the waist down at fifteen, my best friend never lost faith, always hoped. She loved me even when I, Lani left her and Moloka'i for silly dreams. I always admired her for being someone that I knew I could never be. Leilani had never forgotten me. Now she was gone, leaving me with only bittersweet memories and music. She had truly learned hakumele--to weave a song, a song of hope and redemption.

The judge's comments: Beautiful. You do a fabulous job of weaving a bittersweet picture, full of Hawaiian breezes and regrets. It’s a quiet hook, but a good one. I’d keep reading just to enjoy the setting and see where this awakening takes the character.

By Courtney Calvert

I never thought I'd come back here, yet here I am. Guilt consumes my body like the fire burning the apartments in front of me, my old home. Innocent people were killed because of someone I should and could have stopped. He's gone too far now. All his other crimes were innocent with no deaths and I didn't mind being his partner in crime. We needed some way to survive in New York City. But now, as firefighters try to fight the growing blaze, I vow to stop him at all costs. I'm coming after you, John. You're no longer safe as my brother.

The judge's comments: Great job developing an enticing hook and using strong verbs to create mood. You’ve created some interesting conflict with a unique twist.

By Avery Wall

I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am.
I had hoped that it wouldn’t happen, that I wouldn’t become one of the monsters that my parents told me stories about so long ago before they were murdered. I remember seeing their fangs, long and sharp and dripping of their blood. They spared me, but I didn’t understand why and still don’t, but maybe I’ll get my answer even though it’s not how I want it. I wished had been quicker, stronger, smarter, but that’s what every predator says before they’re killed by something better, faster, stronger.
“I hope you make it,” a man whispered into my ear before I blacked out from the pain.
The judge's comments: Menacing tone actually caused me to squirm!

Again, congratulations to the winners! Don't forget to check out this round's prompt and get your 100 words into me by Monday night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who Placed and Having a Writing Place and Time

Received Votes for First Place
Alyssa Liljequist
Rye Mason
Rebecca Pennefather

Received Votes for Second Place
Jordan Newhouse (Received two votes)
Monica Burke

Received Votes for Third Place
Courtney Calvert
Katie Scheidhauer
Avery Wall

Honorable Mentions
Sammie Weiss
Justin Jones
Monica Burke (also placed second)

Congratulations to everyone! Tomorrow I'll try to have some of the winning entries posted.

Before I forget, if your name is Anna and you entered to win Trish Perry's book ... you won, but I don't have an email address for you. Please email me!

Today we're talking about the importance of having a designated time and place to do your writing.

I'm a schedule girl. So in an ideal world, I would have a set writing time and place. I would write every morning from 9 to 1 or so in my office. The afternoon would be for blogging, marketing, running errands, or whatever.

But with small kids underfoot, I'm at the "take what I can get" stage of my life, and if you're in school or working, so are you, right?

As a kid, this was my "office":

In case you can't tell, it's a lap desk. Those top two compartments hold pens, and the desk part opens up too. It holds a decent amount of paper, and back when I did my writing in notebooks and on loose leaf, it was ideal. I also had one of those expandable file thingies that held all my different stories, but I must have thrown it out a while ago because it's not in my closet.

In high school, this was frequently my office:

Although my hair looks too good for this to have been taken during high school... Might have been a year or two after I graduated. Anyway. This is a picture of me on vacation. Don't I look like a blast to travel with?

We're at my Nana and Papa's house in California. I did some of my best writing at that table because the coffee was always fresh, the refrigerator was stocked with candy bars, and there were very few distractions.

But once I grew serious about writing, I definitely needed a place of my own.

In On Writing, Stephen King says:

I wrote my first two published novels, Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife's portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child's desk on my thighs ... The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I've already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

While I can write anywhere - at my kitchen counter, on an airplane, outside while my kiddos play - ultimately I write faster and better here:

I also highly recommend designated writing hours. Some of you talk about getting up early to write, which is awesome. Some of you are night people, so do it then. It's figuring out what works best for you. And it doesn't mean that you can't or won't write at other times of the day, just that these are the hours you've specifically carved out so your writing doesn't get shuffled into the background of everyday life.

I have to quote something else from Stephen King about writing hours, because I just can't resist, and there's no way I can say it better:

Don't wait for the muse ... Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.

Let me know - do you have a designated writing time and place? Do you feel the need or desire for a closed door, or are you more of a write-amidst-the-chaos kind of person? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shellie Neumeier's Writing Process and a Giveaway

Okay, it feels like it's been forever since I did any talking on here. Tomorrow we'll be back to continue our very loose conversation about first drafts. We'll talk about the benefits of having a designated writing time and place. Other upcoming topics are writing in scenes, how long manuscripts should be, and when you should consider letting others read what you've written.

But today author Shellie Neumeier is giving us a peek at her writing process. Shellie has been a judge a couple times here on Go Teen Writers, which has helped me get the hang of typing her last name. Lots of vowels in there, which always seems to trip up my fingers. Shellie's debut novel, Driven, released earlier this year and she's got a new one in the pipe line - The Wishing Ring.

Shellie is very generously offering a copy of Driven to some lovely commenter. To get yourself entered, leave a comment either asking Shellie a question or remarking upon something you found interesting about her process. (US Residents only)

Enough of me gabbing. Here's how Shellie writes a novel:

Stories germinate best when I’m tired or lying around in that half-wake/half-sleep state. When they grow into full characters with missions and problems, then I begin to take note. Here’s what I do to get their tales from my sleepy brain onto paper. . .

1. Interview the characters (I like to use The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden). We discuss their likes, dislikes, quirks, family relationships and how that’s impacted their outlook on life. What types of people they get along with best and who they just can’t stand. What they dream of becoming when they grow up and what drives them to get there. When we’re done, notes from our interview are scattered on pages of OneNote so I can pull together a style sheet (a page containing each characters traits, setting information, and any other quirks that are special to one’s work-in-progress).

2. With each character outlined, I determine the main character’s known goal (what do they think they need to accomplish or overcome) and their real goal (what they’ll actually accomplish or overcome). I use a worksheet that walks through the four acts of a good story to help me plot the rest of the tale.

3. Each scene is sketched by identifying three points:

a. A want or need of the mc

b. The obstacles that prevent the mc from getting what they want

c. And the decision or action the mc takes to get around/through the obstacle. This decision should lead into the next need. (I picked this up from Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver).

4. By now, I should have a pretty strong outline, so the fun can begin. It’s time to write the story. It’s always messy at first, but I’m okay with that. Edits and polishing come later.

5. Once the first draft is complete, the story receives its first round of edits looking for weak verbs, too many adjectives/adverbs, sloppy grammar, wimpy characters, and slow beginnings among many other things. I like to work the mess out of my beginnings. They’re my favorite part.

6. Then it’s off to my critique partners for another round of edits. And then another. And another. And another.

But that’s just me. Happy writing!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Writing Prompt: When I opened the door...

When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw.

That's your writing prompt for this round. Same ol' drill - 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 18th at 11:59 pm Kansas City time.

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.

AN UPDATE TO HOW PROMPT CONTESTS ARE JUDGED. All the judges on here are published writers who are taking time out of their hectic schedules to read your entries. They do it because they want to encourage the next generation of writers. I recruited all of them before the first contest ever took place, so I really wasn't sure how many submissions to expect. Because we're receiving way more entries that I predicted, the process is evolving. There will now be two stages in the judging process. One judge will pick what they feel are the top 20 entries. The other judges will pick their first, second, and third choices from those. By making this change, we'll be able to keep the high caliber of judges here on Go Teen Writers, and it makes it easier for me to keep recruiting quality judges. If you have questions about the change, please shoot me an email.

This round's judges are:

Jenny writes Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she's not writing, she's living it up as a high school teacher in Arkansas. Since she has very little free time, she believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as watching E!, going to the movies and inhaling large buckets of popcorn, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. She is the author of Just Between You and Me, and the Charmed Life and Katie Parker series for young adults.

Melanie Dickerson is an award-winning author who earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She has taught in Georgia, Tennessee, Germany and the Eastern European country of Ukraine. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she now spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama.

Rosemarie DiCristo
Rosemarie DiCristo writes fiction for children and teens and is currently working on a girls' mystery novel. She's had short stories and recipes published in magazines like Pockets, Encounter, Shine Brightly, and Brio.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Worldbuilding with Fred Warren

I'm getting ready to jet off to Career Day - armed with the list of suggested questions you guys were so wonderful to provide. I'm nervous (which I tend to be when heading into any situation where people will be focused on me) but feel pretty confident in my material.

We've been talking about first drafts on here, and as I was mulling over how to address
description, my friend Fred Warren popped into mind. Fred, author of The Muse, writes science fiction and fantasy, and I don't think anybody bears the burden of "how much do I describe...?" the way science fiction and fantasy writers do. They have a term for it - worldbuilding - and I hoped Fred wouldn't mind writing up some thoughts on it for us. Because he's a nice guy, he agreed.

“All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players...”

- William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Begin at the Beginning. Every story happens somewhere. That “somewhere” is the stage on which your characters move about and have their adventures, and worldbuilding is the process of creating it. Where you start depends on the sort of story you’re writing. For a story set in the here and now, the job is pretty straightforward. If your story takes place in New York City, for example, you may only need to acquaint the reader with the particular neighborhood your characters live in. You’ll need to describe some landmarks to help them get oriented, and provide some cultural flavor. Beyond that, it won’t be too hard to paint a picture in your readers’ minds of a big, modern American city. Most of the work has already been done by their own experiences.

Question Yourself. If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy story, it can get a little more complicated. You’ll have to make some very basic decisions about what sort of world you’re working with. You can start out with a list of questions. Imagine it’s your first visit to this planet—what are some basic things you’d want to know about it? Is it similar to Earth? If not, what’s different? What are its gravity, atmosphere, and climate? How about the geography? Is it mountainous, or flat? Dominated by oceans or land? Full of life or sparsely populated? What kinds of creatures live there? What creature dominates? Is it intelligent? If it’s intelligent, does it have simple or advanced technology? Does it live in large communities or small groups? Are the communities organized into broader kingdoms or nations, and what are the relationships among them? If it’s a fantasy world, is there magic?

As you answer these questions, you’ll begin to develop a picture in your mind’s eye of what your world is like. The broader questions will lead you to more specific questions, and may begin to impose limits on the characteristics of your world’s inhabitants. For example, on a high-gravity world, creatures will likely be big-boned, muscular, and short. Tall, willowy creatures won’t be able to handle the gravity, and flying may not be possible, either. Dwelling places will likely be built close to the ground or burrowed into it. Likewise, plants will probably be broad and stumpy, growing close to the surface.

Be Consistent. All worlds, no matter how alien or fantastic, have rules. The questioning process establishes the general boundaries, and those limits will become less fuzzy as you go along. Everything that happens in your story should make sense within the rules you’ve established for your world. Let’s say you’ve created a fantasy world where magic works, but only females can use magic. You can’t just randomly have a male character casting spells, at least without providing a reasonable explanation for why he’s an exception to the rule. Depending on the scope of your story, and how much of your world your characters will move around in, you may need to sketch out some maps to keep the lay of the land straight in your mind. It wouldn’t do to have mountain ranges and rivers changing position at different spots in your story.

Ready, Set...Wait a minute! Once your world is fully imagined, you’re ready to turn your characters loose on it and get your story moving, right? Not so fast—you have a solid picture of your world now, but you can’t assume your readers know anything about it. You have to help them see what you see. You have to find a way to immerse readers in this world without overwhelming them or your story. Worldbuilding is fun, and it can be easy to get so wrapped up in the intricate details of creating a new world that your story gets lost in pages and pages of details about plants and animals and architecture and the bizarre effects of your planet’s crazy orbit. Sure, you want your readers to love this world as much as you do, and there’s a lot of information to share—but what’s the best way to do that?

Leave Room for the Reader’s Imagination. Remember, worldbuilding is like creating a theater stage, and the complexity of your backgrounds and props will depend on the story you’re telling. You may want to provide only a simple outline of the environment, and let the readers fill in the rest. The human imagination is pretty powerful and can do a lot of work for you.

If you’ve seen a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, you know what I mean. Using only a few props, the play creates a complete image of the town in the audience’s imagination. This can be especially effective in short stories, where there’s not a lot of time to set the stage. In a novel, you have room to be more lavish in your descriptions, and sometimes key characteristics of your world can be pivotal to the story. In novels like Dune, or movies like Avatar, the planet itself is so important to the story, it actually becomes a character.

Avoid the “Data Dump.” Writers often get anxious about introducing the reader to their world, so they’ll pour all that carefully crafted information into a few paragraphs at the beginning of the story and then, having gotten that bit of administrative business out of the way, proceed to tell their tale. The problem is, they lost their reader’s interest halfway through the Professor’s lecture on “Obscure Flora and Fauna of Planet Xangesa.” The worldbuilding is there to support your tale, not steal the spotlight. It’s better to seed little details throughout the story. Show your world through your characters’ eyes. Describe the color of the sky, the feel of the wind, the sound of a bird’s call in the distance, the smell of the vegetation, the taste of an exotic spice. Engage all five senses. Bring out important facts in conversations among your characters, as they would naturally arise. If you’ve developed some maps in the course of your worldbuilding, you may be able to pretty them up and include them as a supplement. It’s not a substitute for describing the geography, but it can reduce the level of detail you have to provide.

Writing by the Book. For a large, complicated world, it can be useful to organize your worldbuilding ideas into a notebook you can reference as you write. If you’re writing a short story, it may be enough to walk through the questioning process until you form a clear mental picture of your environment, and then write from that. Sometimes it will work backwards for me—I’ll get the image first, then have to sort out why things look the way they do, which can become a story all by itself. Some writers can carry half a dozen alien worlds around in their head without taking any notes. Other writers will fill dozens of notebooks with a comprehensive encyclopedia of knowledge about a single island. Depending on your personal creative process and mental “wiring,” any of these approaches can get you to the same destination.

Go Forth and Build! I’ve only scratched the surface of things to consider as you construct and portray worlds from your imagination. Go back to some of your favorite books and focus on how the authors build and describe their worlds. Take some of those ideas and apply them to your own writing. Some of them will help, but others probably won’t fit your style. There’s no one “right” way to build a world. Bottom-line, have fun with it, and do what works best for you.

Fred Warren writes science fiction and fantasy. His short stories have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines, including Kaleidotrope, Every Day Fiction, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Allegory. His first novel, The Muse, debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, and was a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Fred works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, where he lives with his wife and three children. You can find him online at