Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jill Williamson is here with a giveaway!

Jill Williamson is awesome, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Her debut novel, By Darkness Hid, won a Christy, and the second in the series, To Darkness Fled, has been nominated for this year's Christy award.

Today she's here to talk about her writing process. She's also offering a copy of either books 1, 2, or 3 in the Blood of Kings Trilogy. To get yourself entered, leave a comment for Jill either asking her a question or remarking upon something about her writing process that you found interesting. (US Residents only, please. Closes Monday, May 16th at 11:59 pm Central time )

1. I’m a writer who is a cross between an outliner and a seat-of-the-pants writer. When I’m looking to think up a new story, I like to spend some time brainstorming and outlining so that I have a bit of a direction as to where the story will go. I start by coming up with a premise. I do that one of two ways. I either combine two completely unrelated things, or I come up with a “What if?” statement.

For example:
Boarding school & wizards (Harry Potter)
Love & vampires (Twilight)
A criminal mastermind & fairies (Artemis Fowl)
Outer space & hitchhiking (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)


What if twenty four teens had to fight to the death on national television?
(Hunger Games)

What if a rich Manhattan teenage girl had to relocate to a
farm in Oklahoma?
(So Not Happening)

What if a teenage boy was recruited to become an MI6 agent?
(Alex Rider)

What if a boy found out he was a demigod?
(Percy Jackson)

What if a ditsy blonde got into Harvard Law School?
(Legally Blonde)

What if a boy was raised by wild animals?
(The Jungle Book)

2. If I’m writing a speculative story (fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, steampunk), I like to draw a map. Maps help me see the land, think about where my different characters are from, and often inspire scenes. They also help me think through my storyworld, magic, and other fantastical story elements.

3. The next thing I do is to think through a basic plot. I learned this from Randy Ingermanson’s Fiction 101 course. I write one sentence for each of the following.

1. Who my main character is and how the story opens. Introduction.
2. The disaster at the end of act one.
3. The disaster at the end of act two.
4. The disaster at the end of act three.
5. How the story is resolved.

It might look like this:

1. Slave boy, Achan, gets the chance to train as a squire, even though it’s against the law.
2. Achan starts hearing voices in his head and thinks he is going nuts.
3. Poroo attack the prince’s procession and Achan is struck down in a battle.
4. Sir Gavin takes Achan before the Council of Seven and reveals a shocking secret.
5. Achan, Sir Gavin, and Vrell flee into Darkness to get away from the evil prince..

4. Then I take the plot one step further and brainstorm a list of major scenes. You can see my example of this on my blog. And if you think you might like to try it, I have a blank sheet I made for this process. Click here to download the form and try it yourself.

5. Once I have done all this, I’m ready to start writing. I always try to write the first draft as quickly as possible, in a month, if I can. Then I spend the next few months rewriting.

Learn more about Jill and her books at her web site: http://www.jillwilliamson.com/


  1. My sister introduced me to the Blood of Kings books after I told her I was depressed about coming to the end (once again) of Kathy Tyres Firebird series. I was immediately swept up in the story and ended up reading the second one in two days flat. Thank you for some of the most phenomenal books I've had the pleasure of reading. I actually have a few questions for you. 1)What is the hardest part of writing for you? 2)What is the most enjoyable? 3)Are you coming out with any more books in the near future?

  2. Did you just think of the idea or did you have the idea for the books for a long time before you chose to write about that subject?

    Alyson :)

  3. How much of your novel is written in the first draft compared to the final product?

  4. What an informative post! I am bookmarking this so I can explore your site and that cool scene-charter later...thanks!

    My question is: How do you determine exactly what comprises Act One and Act Two? I want my manuscript to have enough conflict in it and yet not too much it. Any tips for achieving a balance?




  5. I love how you do the "What if" thing! That's so awesome! I've Hunger Games, Alex Rider, and Percy Jackson before!

    My question: In your books, did you prefer writing from Vrell or Achan's point of view?

    ♥Book blogger

    P.S. I love the idea of a giveaway! It would be so cool to own one of your books!

  6. Oh, my gosh! My son loves Jill's books. We have 1 & 2, but we don't have 3 yet. :-)

    I love your combination of unrelated things and "what if" statements as an idea to help focus brainstorming.

  7. First off Jill, I just have to say how much I loved your "Blood of Kings" series! I forced my brother to read them, and he is eternally thankful that I did!
    I was wondering, how do you write good action scenes? Are there any secrets?
    Also I was wondering, was it hard for you to injure Achan so many times over the course of the book series? I was so worried about him and how he was going to survive the next injury!
    I was interested in the way you plot the scenes.
    I'm going to try that chart.

    Thanks Stephanie, for hosting one of my favorite authors. I really like the winners page! And thanks for following me!

    Please enter me

    crazi.swans at gmail dot com

  8. I have to start by saying, I've read or watched all of the books you mentioned (Except Legally Blond), though Artemis Fowl is my favorite. I love that you write in three acts. I right each chapter in three parts and so far my book is split into three parts, which I always call my three acts.
    I also like your plotting sheet.
    I've wanted to read your books for a long time, but my library doesn't have them, so I'm really excited at the chance to read maybe one of them.
    Here are my questions: What is you favorite and least favorite part of writing? And what are some of your favorite books?
    Also, I'm working on my first fantasy novel, and the part I'm having the hardest time with is the concept of magic. How do you create magic that has cheeks and balances? I feel like everything I try is steeling an idea from someone else. So, yeah, how do you write magic that isn't too easy or to hard to use?

    Thanks so much for posting! =)



  9. Hey Jill, I just finished reading "From Darkness Won" and I liked alot!
    Where did you get the idea for all the creatures in your books (Cham bears, that sea monster that I can't spell, and those bat things)?
    I really liked the monsters!

    Please enter me

    Leo Oygard

    cryptictiger at rocketmail dot com

  10. I really liked the way you described doing the "What if?" scenarios and I can tell that the way you tied those scenarios in with the fantasy would make it a lot easier to come up with a plot line. I also liked the different disasters you have happen at the end of each act...it would definitely make the story seem more interesting! Thank you for posting this! Please enter me.

    -Rebekah Dooley
    rebekahdooley at sbcglobal dot net

  11. It's interesting how you actually try to THINK of story ideas, 'cause most authors just wait for ideas to come. I like that technique. How many stories have you started and then not finished?

    Please enter me for book 1 of your series! I'd love to read it.

  12. I can tell Jill is very fond of lists! lol! Great interview!

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

  13. Rebekah,

    You are welcome! I'm glad you liked the books. :-)

    1. The hardest part of writing for me is finding the time to do it!

    2. The most enjoyable part of writing for me is editing--going in and making the story tight, adding twists, making everything smooth, tweaking dialogue and characters.

    3. Yes! My next book, which will be called Replication, will release from Zonderkidz in January 2012. It's a story about a girl who discovers a farm where they grow people!

  14. Alyson,
    I came up with the idea when I saw a tree that was half burned down and half leafy green. I was inspired to write a story about a world that was half cursed in darkness.

  15. Rachel,
    Hmmm. Well, I'd say that I keep about 75% of my first draft, story-wise, though I do go in and tweak just about every sentence. But I add and cut scenes inthe rewrite too.

  16. Rachelle,

    I'm a big fan of conflict. There is way more conflict in my books that what I would list in the three acts. I think that pacing is something you can look at in the rewrite stage. I tend to get a feeling if something is working or not. But I also have a critique group that helps me see those things.

    As far as which conflict is Act 1, 2, or 3, it's a matter of math to me, sort of. I say, I want my book to be 300 pages. That means I want the act two conflict about page 150. So I want act one to end about page 75, and I want act three to climax around page 225. I don't stick to that formula. But it's usually enough to get me writing.

    Hope that answered your question!

  17. Book Blogger,
    I like writing Achan best. I like writing boys. I don't know why. I've never written a book without a male POV character. Maybe it's to help understand my husband better. LOL

  18. Thanks, Shannon! I'm so glad your boys like the books!

  19. Faye,

    Thank you! I'm so glad you like the books and that you forced your bro to read them. Mwa ha ha!

    Action scenes... The conflict between the characters is more important that what action is happening, I think. So make sure that your characters are clashing, motivation-wise.

    For example, the readers instantly want Achan to beat Harnu and Riga in book one because Achan was sticking up for a little boy, because Harnu started it, and because Harnu and Riga are meanies. That helps rile up the reader so that the action just kind of rolls downhill, know what I mean?

    Then you want to make sure the action doesn't go on too long. I really tried to pare down my fight scenes. Fighting usually happens pretty quickly. And if it isn't, it might be time for a narrative transition sentence to skip to the climax of the battle.

    Ummmm... yeah. Poor Achan. I did beat him up a bit, huh? But that type of an era would be pretty brutal. So I was trying to be realistic. My dad told me he wasn't reading book two if Achan got hurt once more. So I told him, "Yeah... guess you don't want to read that one then." So you weren't the only one to feel for Achan.

    Thanks, Faye!

  20. Sarah,
    Favorite part of writing: editing the first draft.
    Least favorite part: writing the first draft.

    Favorite books: Too many to name. I like everything from Narnia to Jenny B. Jones to Jane Austen to John Grisham to Peretti to Francine Rivers!

    On magic: Sit around and brainstorm how your magic works. Make sure to brainstorm some limitations, whether that be where the energy to do the magic comes from, age that characters are capable of such magic, tools or substances needed to wield said magic, things like that. You can be inspired by an idea, but you don't want to copy it. So brainstorm a way of doing magic that's different from the books you've read. You can do it!

    Hope that helps!

  21. I really like your writing process, it makes quite a bit of sense to me.

    My question is: How do you develop your characters?


  22. Leo,

    I was set on not using traditional beasts and beings like elves, orcs, dragons, etc. in my story. I came up with the idea of a cham bear when I was designing all my banners and flags (Follow this link to see them. http://jillwilliamson.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/shields.jpg). I researched medieval coats of arms and found that in most the pictures of bears or lions, there was a stream of fire coming out of their mouth. I suspect this was to show the amimals as being fierce. But I thought--oooh, why not? So I put in a fire-breathing bear.

    I put in the tanniyn (sea serpent, pronounced tan-neen) because I wanted one. I thought it would be fun for Achan to swim around it in the Veil. And tanniyn is Hebrew for sea serpent, so it was easy to name.

    The bat things, the gowzals--I originally had what I called a gowzal on Jaelport's banner. Another picture I found while designing my shields. In book two, I needed some way for my bad guys to wield their dark magic, since they were not getting their power from God. So I had them use the gowzals, which I said were weak-minded and a cross between bats and ravens.

    These things tend to happen as I go--as I need them to make the scene/story stronger. I only mentioned a gowzal once in book one, when Khai made that sound that scared Vrell's horse. And the tanniyn was never mentioned until book three.

    Thanks for the question!

  23. Ellyn,

    I have about 15-20 idea folders on my shelf. I have actual Word files on 12 of them. There might only be a paragraph or a chapter on some of them, and there are a few that have been written and rewritten several times but can't find the right publisher.

    Thanks for the question!

  24. Meredith,
    Yeah... without lists, I'd forget way too many things. :-)

  25. Miss Allie,

    Characters are sometimes hard for me in the beginning. I have a character chart that I use to brianstorm traits. But what helps me most is to think about each character's home life. What is their relationship with their parents like? What kind of people are their parents. Those answers greatly shape a person. I also like to think about my character's Love Language (from Gary Chapman's book). Knowing these also helps me know how my characters might behave toward one another.


  26. Thanks so much for the tips!
    They were very helpful!
    Thanks Mrs. Williamson!

  27. Dear Mrs. Williamson,

    I have a couple of questions...

    How do you write a whole first draft in a single month?? I can't write something that fast... =/ I think if I tried hard enough and wrote in it every day it'd probably take me a few months to write my first draft.

    My second question...

    Where do you get your inspiration from?
    I find myself getting inspired by just about anything haha. =D And I love how you are a mix of outlining and seat-of-pants writer haha, I'm like that too. =) I outline... and then I just add things as I see fit lol.


  28. Did you set out to write a trilogy? How do you keep characters consistent over a series of books?

  29. Thank you for the answers!

    Leo :)

  30. Ohh, I'd love a chance at winning a Jill Williamson book! I read the first book and am now itching to continue reading about Vrell and Achan!

    My question for Jill (and I hope this hasn't already been asked. I haven't read the other commenters questions) -- Did either Achan or Vrell's personalities mirror your own at all? :-)

    Thanks for the chance to win!

    ~ Katy

  31. Jazmine,

    I know I never could have written my first book in a month. It took me three years to do it. But by then I had learned enough tools and put in enough keyboard training time that I could write much faster. I tried National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.com) and had so much fun and was surprise how much I was capable of doing in a month, that I started writing everything that way. But everyone is different. That process works for me, but it might not work for you. For now, just keep on writing a little each day, if you can, until you finish that first book. By then you hould know what process works best for you.

    And I do get ideas everywhere. And I use my combine two unrelated things or the what if question to stir those ideas around and see if they'll work or not.

    Thanks for the questions. I hope that helped. :-)


  32. Alyssa,

    I had it in my head that the story would be a trilogy, so I told Jeff (my publisher) that and he held me to it. But then I had to come up with ideas to keep the thing going!

    I did a lot of referencing to keep my characters straight. I use the "Find" function in Microsoft Word all the time. I'll painstakingly go through the book again and again doing a search for each character's name and making sure that I portrayed their looks, mannerisms, dialogue, and actions true to who they are. On books two and three, I used book one often to go back and see how I described a character or so see the way they spoke.

    Thanks for the question! :-)


  33. Katy,

    Not Achan. But Vrell mirrors me a little. I tend to worry a lot... though I try not to.


  34. Thanks so much, Jill, for coming by and answering questions! It was fascinating to learn more about your process.

    The winner of Jill's book is RACHEL (comment #3), but there's no email address. Can you shoot me an email, Rachel? Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters(dot)com.

  35. Thank you for your help Jill! =) The answers you gave me did help a little. I try to write as much as I can but its difficult with school... and procrasination. haha. ;) Procrasination being on the schoolwork part of it lol.

    Thanks again for your help. =) I'm sure if I did sit down and write for an hour or so I'd be able to crack out a few chapters... maybe, depending on how well my creative juices are flowing that day.

  36. Once more I have to say that the "Act One, Act Two..." bit was really helpful to me. I'm writing the sequal to my first novel now and knew exactly what I wanted to happen in the beginning and the end...so when I started to outline, the middle sagged. Pinpointing five simple sentences to describe each stage of the plot was immensely helpful! Thank you!