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!


  1. Cool post! How many times do you edit the draft before u send it off to the publisher?

  2. I LOVE this blog!! LOVE it! I'm a high school writing teacher, and I just linked to your blog from my class page. :-)

  3. Interesting ideas. I personally have trouble building my characters before I start the story. Any suggestions as to how I could get better at this?

  4. "Bookworm" and Miss Allie, Shellie will be by in a bit to answer your questions.

    Shannon, thank you so much. Your blog is so cool - what a creative idea! I'm eager to check out some of the other blogs you have listed there.

  5. Stephnie, thanks so much for posting other writers writing process! It's really fun to see how they do.

    Shellie, yours sounds like one I definitely want to try :)

  6. shellie, i love the way you iterview your characters! i believe i've read one of your "interviews" on your blog!

  7. Thank you! What do you like to read for fun?

  8. Thank you! What do you like to read for fun?
    What is some of your favorite places to travel to when writing?

    Katie Scheidhauer

  9. Hi there,

    Thanks for asking the great questions! Let's see if I can answer a few (and maybe force a few more to the top:D).

    Bookworm: It depends on the story. I revised Driven about three good times and ran it through edits twice before it made it to the publisher (BTW, my def of a revision is to rework or rewrite versus an edit which I think of as just reworking the grammar...those are my personal definitions:). The Wishing Ring started in a better place so I reworked that one once and edited twice. My current WIP is undergoing it's first major re-write. We'll see on that one:D.

    Miss Allie: Great questions. When my characters are a bit shadowy, I pick up my favorite character book--The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: 16 Master Archetypes by Sue Viders, Tami Cowden and Caro Lafever. It has the basics for great characters which are fun to build on and combine. I also like to eavesdrop on my kids as I'm driving them around town (don't tell them I said that:D). I may not use them, but the way they describe the other kids in their classes is so vivid. Love that. In other words, just listening to people as they describe someone helps me flesh a character out. Great questions!

  10. Shannon: Stephanie has a gift for sharing great writer's tips and encouraging the next gen of novelists. Yay for linking!!

    Tonya: TY. It doesn't work for everyone, but I hope it helps you:D.

    Hi Rayna:D: You did indeed. Robyn (the MC in Driven) stopped by for a random interview when the book came out. It's quirky, but such fun:D.

    Anonymous and Katie asked what I liked to read for fun. I love to read other YA stuff. Suspense is tons of fun, too. When I find a great book that combines the two, I'm so hooked. I find myself reading one author at a time. Have you ever done that? Found a great book and then went back to read all that author's stuff? I do that all the time. If you haven't read Stephanie's books...they're great. I'm working through Nicole O'dell's books and Jenny B. Jones'. But I find the more I write, the harder it is to make time to read. Gotta work on that:).

    Katie: I actually love to write in my own backyard. We live in the country, which I love. Turkeys, coyotes, foxes, and deer are everywhere. For me that's all I need. But that's me. Do you like to write when you travel?

  11. Shellie -

    If you don't mind my asking, do your books write themselves, or do you write your books? What kinds of things seed your ideas (to continue with your plant metaphor)? How do you avoid the ultimate pitfalls of creating (and falling in love with) Mary Sues/Gary Stus? How do you cure a bad case of the Writer's Block?

    Thanks so much,

  12. Hi Bridgitte,

    Great questions! The stories create themselves, but I write the books if that makes sense:). I see the story like a movie in my head, but in order to get it on a page in such a way that others could watch the mental movie with me, I have to plot it out carefully.

    The storylines come from all sorts of things like my children, Bible stories, what if questions...sometimes they come from a single song that invokes a mood and it grows from there. But when I get stuck my hubby once said pull the fire alarm. Literally:D. My poor characters are sent into choas at the hands of that blaring bell in the hall just to shake things up...see how they react. Sometimes the alarm stays in the story; sometimes it gets cut, but it always changes things just enough for me to get the story going again (usually because it changes the characters setting, the mood, adds unexpected dialog, and it gives me a chance to see how a character behaves in a stressful situation).

    As for those pesky writer's quirks (names or just pet words...mine are glances/gazes and names starting with R, weird how that happens), I conduct a search and destroy when I start my edits. I'll let you in on a secret...Robyn's name (Driven's MC) started off as Erin, but that didn't work with her bff, Emily. Yup, search and destroy.:D

  13. Great tips! Ideas often come to me when I am being lazy, or half asleep too, (though after I get an idea I can guarantee you that I am not asleep for long!)
    Shellie, what parts of your stories do you like best? What is the most fun to write?

    crazi.swans at gmail dot com

  14. Faye,

    I hear you! I get some of my best lines before the world rises:D. I love to write beginnings. Those first pages can be so dramatic and impactful. Love that. But the endings are the most fun to write (so cool to type that last period!).

  15. Shellie, how did you know which genre was for you?

  16. Hi Tonya,

    YA was my first choice, by nature. I think for me YA simply fits:D.

  17. I love how you said that you like to interview your characters. :)
    I haven't done that in a while but I got into that on a kid creative writing site, its loads of fun especially when you have sassy banters with your characters! lol

    Do you ever find yourself bored while your writing and suddenly the story starts to sound boring??
    Since I know you have to write more books for the publishing company you work with, how do you motivate yourself to get back into the story and keep cracking out great words to tell the story well??

    I've been having some trouble with that lately... =/


  18. Hi Jazmine,

    Boredom does kill a story. So do plot lines that start to all sound alike (with the exception of new names--one of my downfalls with series writing). When I find myself falling into a boring part or something that sounds like a piece I've already written, I put the manuscript down and read a book in a totally different genre or different historical period. Helps shake things up.

    From time to time I'll write short fiction for my website or just for fun. Gets those creative juices flowing again:D.

    Good luck everyone!

  19. Hi Mrs. Neumeier,

    Did you sign with an agent? If so, which agency?

    I think your book cover is cool! That alone makes me want to win a copy ;).


  20. Hi Shellie! :)
    This is all such interesting advice, I'm literally writing this all down on a notecard right now and tacking it up in my office. My question is: What advice do you have for showing elapsed time, like how the story moves along? I'm staying away from having each chapter as a brand new day, but want to show that the days changing over to dinner time, say, if I started out talking about breakfast, but show time is changing in just a few sentences. I hope that makes sense, I didn't really know how to put it! Thanks so much!
    Cheers, Lyra

  21. Hi Alyssa, Thanks I love the cover too. The model's eyes are so cool. I don't have an agent. I actually sent this manuscript to a clearing house to get some feedback. They posted it (with my permission:D) in a newsletter and it was picked up by Risen Fiction about a month later. It was a whirlwind for sure.

    I'm hoping that will change soon (the agent status:D).

  22. Hey Lyra (love your name...hmm, novel worthy:D),
    Great question. Sometimes the timeline flows naturally without needing a time stamp. At other times, I'll use one of those nifty *** or swirly things to create a break within a chapter. After the break, I set the reader firmly in the new time and setting (if that's the case) and go from there.

    As for chapter endings, I try to focus on making the reader want to move to the next chapter. I love it (and hate it) when I'm in a great book and I should really go to bed or make dinner or something, but I just can't pull out of the story. I'll promise myself that at the next chapter break... but if the chapter ends on a cliffhanger, I have to keep going. That's how I want my chapters to end. (That focus has kept me from using time as the determinant for a chapter break.)

    Hope that helps:D

  23. Mrs. Neumeier,

    The most interesting part, that I saw, about your writing process was the "interviewing the characters." I guess I had never thought of it in that exact light before and it could very possibly help to bring out some more details about that specific character.

    One question: How long have you been writing?

    Thank you so much!

  24. Shellie -

    Which do you prefer writing/reading: a long series about the same characters; a long series based more around the particular world; stand alone novels? I'm more a long series writer/reader myself (think my favorite's probably /The Witches of Eileanan/ Saga by Kate Forsyth).

    Thanks again!

  25. Hi Anon:D. I tend to be a bit quirky, so those character interviews are fun, weird...but so fun. I've written non-fiction, technical pieces for many years, but I'm new to fiction. Been at it for about a year.

    Hey Bridg,
    If it's an engaging series, I usually like to read the ones that follow the same characters. I get so invested in the who that I miss them if the characters change in subsequent stories. I haven't read Ms. Forsyth's work. I'll have to look into it.:D.

    Thanks again for the great questions guys!!

  26. Shellie,

    Last question:
    How do you increase your word count? Sometimes I have problems getting things to flow - I'll either have a bunch of good dialogue or a beautiful description. How do I fix it?

  27. Hi Bridg,
    Word count is one of those quirky things for me. I tend to be short on the word count so if the story lends itself to adding another POV, I'll put another character (usually the strongest supporting character) in charge for a bit. Weaving their perspective with the MC's can build texture as well as beef up the word count.

    As for flow, it depends on the purpose of the scene you're in. Sometimes good dialog is the best way to accomplish that scene's purpose, but if it gets to be too much, ask yourself in that moment, what do your characters feel, hear, smell, and taste? Can those sensory details add to the moment? Can your characters interact with their environment while they are talking?

    Not only do those details add richness to the scene, but they can reveal cool little traits to your characters to round them out a bit. Like do they have a penchant for righting crooked picture frames because they're obsessive? :D.

    If you have too much descriptive measures, ask yourself if it reads like a survey (one desk in the corner sat next to a potted plant which hid a basket of yarn...). If you're trending that way, see if you can have your characters interact with their environment (pick things up, move them around, shake them a bit...)

    For great examples, check out your favorite author's latest book. Read several excerpts where they blend detail with dialogue and tease apart the pieces. Do they talk about sensory information? Do the characters move about the room and interact with the setting? If so, how? Do the characters stand still and survey the room? What part do you like and don't like?

    Once you've done this a couple times, you might find a trend in your preferences. That trend might be your bent for writing stronger scenes (your voice, even).

    Hope that helps and good luck:D.

  28. Our winner is Miss Allie! Congratulations!