Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing exercise: Use your friends

When I do school visits, I'm always asked, "Do you use your friends and family when you're creating your characters?"


While I'm very careful to never use something my friend has shared in confidence, the people I love (and, yes, the people I'm not so fond of) definitely make their way into my writing. Especially in the early stages, when I'm still trying to figure out my characters.

I'll think of people I'm surrounded by now, or people I've known, and I'll jot down one-word (or sometimes a phrase) that comes to mind when I think of them:

Rachel: Bold

Erin: The world revolves around me.

Meghan: Confident

Lauren: Chameleon (someone who changes depending on who they're with)

Josie: Desperate to belong

Rose: Optimist

Michael: Chip on his shoulder

(With the exception of Rachel, the names have been changed because I don't want to receive nasty emails from "Erin" "Lauren" "Josie" and so forth.)

After I've made a decent sized list (ten or fifteen or however many I'm in the mood for), I'll ask something like, "What actions make me describe Rachel as bold?" Usually I wind up with a list kinda like this:
  • Moving to a foreign country even though she couldn't speak the language.
  • How she always jumps in and plays with kids, even when she doesn't know them.
  • Battled to catch the bouquet at my wedding
Then I'll look at my list and ask the question that really matters in the exercise - how do I apply this? Maybe my main character is a little reserved and could use a bold best friend to help draw her out. I'll think about Rachel a bit, think about my story and my characters, and brainstorm some possibilities:
  • Best friend is always coming up with big plans for her future - like moving to South America despite only knowing English.
  • Best friend loves kids and drives to a sketchy part of town to help tutor them.
The longer I brainstorm, the farther removed this character will become from my bold friend, Rachel.

Who is also quite funny. If memory serves correctly, nearby there was a middle-aged man sunbathing in his G-string (talk about bold!) so we had plenty to laugh about. Ah, Daytona...

So if all your characters are behaving the same as each other, don't be afraid to look at the people around you, examine what makes them different, and apply it to your story.

Let's throw some one-word descriptors out there. If you had to describe your best friend using one word (or a phrase, if you must) what would you say?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Winning Entries from, "She knew he'd come back someday..."

Quick reminder - this is the last day to get yourself entered to win The Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden. Click here to read about her fascinating road to publication.

Here are the winners from last round's writing prompt:

First Place
Ellyn Gibbs
Abbie Mauno
Esther Wong

Second Place
Alyssa Liljequist
Morgan Sutton
Faye Rhys

Third Place
Kait Culbertson
Rebecca Pennefather
Savannah Daniels

Honorable Mentions
Ellyn Gibbs (also placed first)
Alyssa Liljequest (received 2 votes for HM and placed second)
Savannah Daniels (also placed third)
Morgan Sutton (also placed second)
Rebecca Pennefather (also placed third)
Joshua Hildebrandt
Jelena Lomeli
Rayna Huffman
Jenna Blake Morris

Wow. That tells me that there were a LOT of good entries. Congratulations everybody! Below, for your reading pleasure, you'll find a sampling of the winning entries:

Ellyn Gibbs, First Place

She knew he'd come back someday, but he couldn't have picked a worse moment.
"Uncle Vinny!"
Beside her, Lance was trembling, his hand as sweaty as a fish in her grip. She let it go.
Uncle Vinny's face looked like something that had been pickled and then forgotten, and his breath stank like vinegar. "What is that creature?"
Carlin shuffled her feet in her flip flops. Beside her, Lance was making quiet, strangling noises, as if he was about to faint. "That, Uncle, Sir?"
"Yes." Uncle Vinny's wet mouth curled into a sour smile. "That."
"It's a - a boy, I guess," said Carlin.
The judge says: This absolutely pulled me in from the get-go. The descriptions are fabulous. I feel awkward right along with Carlin and Lance, and I really want to know what happens next. Great hook, great descriptions, great characters. And that last line made me laugh out loud.

Abbie Mauno, first place

She knew he'd come back someday, but he couldn't have picked a worse moment.
"Ainsleigh." His voice shook as he spoke, and so did his hands. His shoulders that I remembered so rock-solid were drooping.
"Dad," I began cautiously, "why are you here?"
I mean, why? Why would my dad, whom I hadn't seen since I was 10, just show up without notice when I was 19?
Had he come to make amends? I could see Mom refusing, even going into depression again...
"I just wanted to see my daughter again." He smiled weakly. "Is that a problem?"
"No, not really. Except, well.." I glanced at an outfit in the corner.
"I'm getting married today."

The judge says: Your dialog is right on target. You drew me in with your real-sounding conversation. I cared about your characters.

Esther Wong, first place

She knew he'd come back someday, but he couldn't have picked a worse moment.
“Dad,” the words fell from Cori’s lips, “What’re you doing here? The wedding’s tomorrow and—” she paused. He already knew. And she knew why he was here. Because she was his one shot at killing the rebel’s greatest leader. Her fiancée. His enemy. Cori stared at him, the king, who’d killed millions. And now, wanted her to kill the man she loved.
“Why are you here? You know I’d never—”she began, but was interrupted with the deadly words she’d always wanted him to say. The words, she knew, would eventually reign her under his control.
“I love you.”

The judge says: Nice ending. Good job!

Alyssa Liljequist, second place

She knew he'd come back someday, but he couldn't have picked a worse moment. In less than 24 hours, Margaret had planned to be in church watching her eldest daughter, Katie, get married. But she knew all too well that plans could change. Now the important task was keeping Charlie from finding out that he had a daughter.
"Hey, Maggie." There it was. That buttery voice that used to make her melt. Used to make her lose all reason.
She glared at him. "I don’t want to have anything to do with you."
"I’ve changed. I’m no longer the irresponsible teenager that left you standing at the altar."
Margaret wished she could believe him.

The judge says: This was a very cool twist on the “left standing at the altar” idea. I’m intrigued. I feel like there’s a whole lot of backstory here, and I’d love to keep reading to find out what that is. Also, it’s just really clean writing.

Morgan Sutton, second place

She knew he’d come back
But he couldn’t have picked,
A worse
Her old life was gone,
Vanished in the wind.
He was a mere memory
Of violence and drugs.
He cursed at everything,
Destroyed all.
Her suicide attempts
Were now only a dream
Where she tried to break free
And live in Heaven.
Oh how those shiny blades had tempted her,
The look of blood was addicting.
He beat her constantly,
Tortured her mom,
And raped her sister.
Then one day he left,
Bringing only the dog.
But now he was back.
Back to ruin
Her life

The judge says: Oh, my, oh, my. Great way of breaking the rules and making it work. Love how you set this up and you snagged my heart, too!

Kait Culbertson, third place

He knew she’d come back someday, but she couldn’t have picked a worse moment. Mark turned away from the lock he was picking and met the eyes of Irene. The moon’s glow splashed across her flaming curls and reminded him of the flames that had licked the walls of that building...the building she was supposed to have been in. The investigators had never found her body, but Mark had hoped...
“Hey, handsome. Didn’t expect to see me again, did ya?”
“Hello Irene” Mark replied coolly. “What’re you doing here?”
Her wry smile said it all.
This was his moment. There was no way she was going to burst in and steal his glory.

The judge says: This person did a great job of putting the characters in an unexpected setting from the very beginning. That was enough to catch my attention. Also, the twists were engaging. Not only do I want to know why Irene is supposed to be dead, I want to know why Mark had hoped she was. There’s a lot of great tension here!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Are writers conferences worth it?

Typically there would be a writing prompt today, but I can't make the scheduling work. I studied my calendar and tried and tried and studied my calendar some more, before admitting I just can't do it. I'll be away from home for 13 days in September. I love doing the contests, but they require a lot of email, a lot of copying and pasting, and a lot of focus. With being away from my computer so much, there just won't be time for another until later in September.

One of the reasons I'll be gone this month is to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. This will be my third ACFW conference, and I'm very excited. Not only am I eager for writing classes, connecting with editors, and visiting with my agent, I'll also get to breathe the same air as writers I adore, like Susan May Warren and Jenny B. Jones.

Writers conferences are expensive, especially the great ones like ACFW's. On top of the registration fee - ACFW's ranges from $515 to $715 depending on membership and registration date - you often have to fly to conferences or drive a decent distance. You stay in a hotel, typically. Also, while most your meals are covered by your registration fee, a couple usually are not. And there are enticing extras offered sometimes, like paid critiques from published writers or bonus classes. It adds up. Very quickly.

I can only speak in my "I" voice here, but I say yes - conferences are worth it.

I've been to 5 and all have been beneficial in their own way. I won't bore you guys with details from every conference I've attended, I'll just highlight what made them worth my time and money:

Feedback from people who were not my parents or husband

I, of course, value and appreciate the opinions of these three people, but none of them are editors or agents or published writers. By going to conferences and taking classes and having my work critiqued, I was able to learn valuable things like don't write passively, cut adverbs, make your MC sympathetic, minimize dialogue tags. These are things non-writers don't know to tell you.

One-on-one time with literary agents and editors

Every conference I've been to has afforded me this opportunity. I never had much luck with query letters, but I've had a lot of luck with appointments. (At one conference I was hugely pregnant with my daughter. I think that helped. No one wanted to tell me no and make me cry.) Almost every invitation I've received to submit a manuscript to an agent or editor has been born out of a conference appointment. It's where I met my first agent, in fact.

Writing friends

Not only do you get to rub elbows with authors you admire (poor Susan May Warren - I practically tackled her after one of her classes because I couldn't wait to tell her how much I loved Finding Stefanie) but you meet other writers who are at the same level as you. When I met Erica Vetsch at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, we were both new to writing. When I met Roseanna White (pictured above) at my first ACFW conference, we were both on the verge of finding agent representation. (And both on the verge of giving birth.) These friendships have been so valuable. I had wanted writing friends for a long time, but I hadn't realized how much I was missing out by not having them.

And sometimes - as a bonus - you get to meet people before they become superstars. Like Sarah Sundin:


When I went to my first couple conferences, I had no idea how much I didn't know. I thought I was on the brink of publication loooong before I really was. Many of my technique classes were eye-opening, and I wouldn't be published today had I not taken them.

A lot of people ask me about self publishing, and if I think it's a good decision. It can be, but it's also a tremendous investment. I often find myself wishing - especially when it's clear that I'm talking to a writer who hasn't done much research on the matter - that they would instead invest the money in a writers conference.

Just something to think about. And, if you happen to be going to ACFW (since I know a few of you are members) I would love to hang out, so email me and let me know.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Working with Agents and Editors

Realities of Being Published: Lesson One
"Yes, it's your name on the cover. No, it's not just your book."

I'm not sure how many installments will eventually be in this series, but I often have moments or business decisions crop up that leave me thinking When I dreamed about being a novelist, I didn't imagine this.

I'm willing to bet all of you are smarter about being published than I was at your age. Because, well, if you know anything about being published and you're 19 or younger, you know more than I did. In high school, here is what I thought my life as a published writer would look like:

  • I would have a story idea.
  • I would write this story.
  • I would send it to my editor.
  • She would love it. (My future editor was always a woman. Not sure why.)
  • My publishing house would send me a check. (Or maybe I would stop by and pick it up, since I, of course, lived in New York City.)
  • I would have another story idea.
  • I would write this story.
  • And so forth.

In a word - no. Yes, all these steps do take place. No, it's not quite that simple.

Because sometimes you have an idea, and your editor will say something like, "Hmm. I don't know about that. You know what I'd really like to see? Is a story about such-and-such."

Or sometimes - my agent and I were recently laughing about this - you pitch something to a house and they respond with enthusiasm. "That's great!" they may say. "I love it. But what do you think about moving it to US soil? And could you make the main character a Latin American? Oh, and instead of setting it in contemporary times, what do you think about the 1800s?"

And because you like your job and you think your editor (and agent) are smart, valuable people, you say, "Yes, I can do that."

This isn't always the case, of course. The Skylar books were 100% my ideas and my editors didn't touch the plot, setting, theme, any of it. But other manuscripts I've worked on since then have been a collaboration of my ideas, my agents ideas, and my editors ideas. Being a working writer requires flexibility and an ability to set aside your ego for the sake of the story.

Writers who imagine they're the only ones who understand what will sell or what people like to read do themselves a real disservice. Agents and editors read tons and tons and tons (and tons) of manuscripts. Their opinions are valuable. They should be listened to.

Like any area in life, you have to pick your battles and be willing to compromise.

I can think of no cute segue into the list of the Top 21 from the last writing prompt contest. So. I'll forgo a segue and just say, here is the list of those who made the Top 21. Yes, there are normally just 20. This time there are 21. Sometimes an extra one simply must be allowed in. Or so my judges tell me. And the judges are wise and gracious - I just nod in agreement.

Enough rambling.

In no particular order, the Top 21 are:

Faye Rhys
Micah Eaton
Joshua Hildebrandt
Jelena Lomeli
Clare Kolenda
Alyssa Liljequist
Mirriam Neal
Rebekah Hart
Rachelle Rea
Savannah Daniels
Ellyn Gibbs
Alyson Chroll
Morgan Sutton
Rebecca Pennefather
Rayna Huffman
Abbie Mauno
Jordan Newhouse
Esther Wong
Kait Culbertson
Katy McCurdy
Jenna Blake Morris

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Elizabeth Camden got published and a giveaway

I'm so excited to feature Elizabeth Camden today! Ms. Camden's debut novel, Lady of Bolton Hill released just a few months ago. I'm always thrilled to read a debut because I know what kind of work goes into accomplishing that feat. Not just the process of acquiring a publishing house, but all the rewrites and frustration and determination that go into that first good manuscript a writer produces.

Bethany House was gracious enough to send me a copy to review, and I believe in sharing excellent books with other people. When I was trying to figure out an occasion for giving away Lady of Bolton Hill, I wondered if Ms. Camden would have time to come on Go Teen Writers and talk about what most helped her cross over from writer to novelist. Fortunately, she did.

To get entered to win a (very gently used) copy of Elizabeth Camden's Lady of Bolton Hill please leave a comment either asking Ms. Camden a question or verifying that, yes, that's a gorgeous book cover. Don't forget your email address, because it's tough to hunt you down without one. This contest closes Thursday, September 1st and is unfortunately only open to US residents.

Here's Elizabeth:

Thanks for asking me aboard!

I thought I’d talk about a trick that helped me land my first publishing contract.

For my first novel, I picked a storyline I imagine most teenagers have a lot of experience with. Have you ever noticed how young people can form an intense friendship based on something like a shared love of music or books? I wrote a story about two teenagers living in modern-day Houston who shared a passionate interest in the rare genre of Victorian science fiction. Daniel and Clara meet in a used bookstore and become inseparable. They fall in love and plan a life together. The problem is that he is rich and on the road to a magnificent career in Houston, while she is dirt poor and fighting for a college scholarship that will take her to London. She gets it, goes to London, and their grand, passionate love affair fizzles. Years later, Clara returns to Houston and sparks fly again. The remainder of the book is how these two people struggle to recapture the love they once had.

So that was my first, unpublished novel. I loved it. I thought it was a masterpiece, but no one else thought so! I did my best to sell that manuscript, but had no offers.

Then I got smart. I looked at the market and the genre I was targeting for publication, and realized that historical novels were smoking hot, while there wasn’t a lot of interest in contemporary romances.

Could I turn that story into a historical?

My original characters were passionate fans of Victorian science fiction, and their quirky interest in history made it easy for me to re-write them as characters in Victorian Baltimore. In this new version, Daniel and Clara meet in a music shop because they are both passionate fans of the composer Frederic Chopin. Since college wasn’t an option for women in this era, I decided to have my characters undergo a role-reversal. I made Daniel a dirt poor steel worker struggling to get into college, while Clara was the daughter of wealth and privilege.

I had to make lots of changes to the plot in order to make it work in the Victorian era, but the heart of the story was the same. In both versions Daniel and Clara were fiercely intelligent people. They had huge dreams and reached out for them with both hands. I love a good turbulent story with love, betrayal, heartbreak, all punctuated with periods of soaring joy and utter delight. Although the setting and the details changed, the heart and soul of the manuscript was the same.

What a difference that change made! I had a ton of interest in the re-written historical version of my story, and sold it to a very good publisher.

What did I learn from all this?

Be true to the story you want to tell, but be mindful of the market, too!

Be willing to play around with your setting. What if you took your contemporary story and plopped it into the Roaring Twenties? Or took your New York City girls and plopped them into a small town in Iowa? This is a great way to inject a little freshness into your plot, especially if you have run into a brick wall and don’t know what to do next.

Don’t give up! Writing takes a lot of work. If you like what you are doing, keep learning and investigating alternate strategies until you find something that works. It took me almost a year to re-work my contemporary romance into a historical romance. It was a gamble, but I believed in the characters and it paid off.

Here is my final piece of advice to an aspiring writer. Be a reader! Read widely and deeply. Good stuff and bad. Read Shakespeare. Comic books. Keep your eyes and you mind open, and it is amazing the wisdom you will glean along the way.

Thanks to Stephanie for inviting me aboard. I love to write about good genre fiction, especially the romance genre. I blog at where I ramble on about the romance genre (in novels, movies, real life, etc.) Since I am a librarian, I also post lots of pictures of mouth-watering libraries. I hope you’ll swing by for a peek!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What are publishers looking for?

A writer asked me, "What are publishers looking for?" Which is an excellent question. And kind of a weird one for me to answer since I've never been on that side of the business, but I'll pass on what little I know.

First off, many frustrated writers who have seen rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter fall into the trap of thinking "Editors and agents enjoy saying 'no.'" But I've heard many agents and editors say just the opposite, that every time they pull out a submission, they're hoping to fall in love with it. When I first heard that, during a season of rejection, I didn't quite believe them.

Then, after I was published, I started judging the occasional contest, the type where writers can submit their first chapter and a synopsis. It's always a mixed bag of entries that feel like "real books" and entries that feel like they were written by someone who still has a lot to learn. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm happy to read and provide feedback for those who are new to writing. But one time I read about 7 entries in a row that did very little for me, that I wasn't even sure should be classified as "YA fiction." They needed a lot of work, and I tried to provide constructive feedback, but it started to wear me out. And every time I opened a new entry, I would think, "Please be good. Please be something I want to read."

Agents and editors read, read, read. Much of it is likely mediocre, especially for agents. So I think the first thing they're looking for is a manuscript they want to read. They want to get lost in your characters, your story world, your plot. But secondly they need it to be something that fits their publishing house. Your medieval fantasy may be in excellent condition. The editor may love it. But if the editor's publishing house only publishes romances, it's not worth his/her time.

Say the editor loves your book and it fits the publishing house, now the focus turns toward you. Here's where that "platform" word is going to come into play. Publishing is a business, and publishing houses want to make money. One of the ways they do that is by publishing writers who are in a position to sell book. That's what they mean when they ask about your platform.

If you're involved in public speaking, that's part of your platform. If you run a successful blog, that's part of your platform. If you're the head chair of the Planet Definition Committee and your book book takes place on Saturn, that's part of your platform. (If, however, you're the head chair of the Planet Definition Committee and you write prairie romances set in the 1900s, then that does not count toward your platform.)

However, no platform does not = no contract. I am living proof of that since when Revell bought The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, I had nothing to recommend me. No website. No blog. No articles published. No writing contests won. I wasn't even on Facebook. It was such a shock that my agent, during the THEY MADE AN OFFER!!!! call, kept saying, "I just can't believe this happened so fast! You have no platform! Of course it's an excellent book, and I loved it, but still! You have no platform!"

While at the time that felt like a "woo-woo" for me, I still had to build a platform because I still needed to sell books; I was ridiculously naive to think otherwise. So while you may groan and grumble about stupid publishing houses and their stupid obsessions with platforms and how you don't want to do any of that stupid marketing stuff, to be a successful novelist, you're going to need a platform.

So, as far as I can tell, what editors want when considering a new author is:

A book they love
A book that fits their publishing house and its needs
An author who has a way to sell books (aka, a platform)

Questions? Comments? Rantings?

Check back here tomorrow when the lovely Elizabeth Camden will be talking to us about how she got her first novel, The Lady of Bolton Hill, published. Other than writing a wonderful book, that is.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Character Charts and Journals

Oh man, I'm having a good time editing.

Early in the year, I blogged about making character charts. (Twice, actually, because I added to mine.)

Now that I'd edited the big stuff in my manuscript, it was time for me to review my character chart. But it's enormous, so I decided to print it out and put my bulletin board to use. I know my Nana thought it was super weird when she saw "4ft x 6ft roll of cork" on my Christmas list, but check out this beauty:

That is my monstrous character chart. Which, as you can maybe tell, still has a decent amount of blanks in it.

Which is when I decided I needed to write character journals. I picked 5 characters - the guy who becomes my MCs boyfriend, my MCs best friend, and then 3 antagonists. I asked each of them "what is one word that describes you?" Some of the answers kind of surprised me (which, yes, I know is weird. I wouldn't say that to non-writers.) Like one of my antagonists described himself as being a self-made man. Well, no wonder he's ticked having to work for my MC, who's received everything she has because of her parents.

Character journals are a wonderful way to explore the heads of your secondary characters. Sometimes the answers to my questions pop out so fast they surprise me. Other times, I'll write a sentence like, "I'd always been interested in cooking, but my interest really piqued when-" and then I sit there and mull this over for a bit, wondering what story lies behind his interest in cooking.

The process of character journals helps me think through things I might not otherwise. Sometimes new plot twists arise, but more often my plots are clarified. Like I already knew my antagonist didn't like working for MC, but I hadn't taken the time to think through what his story was and why the two of them were clashing so much.

I never know what to do with my character journals when I'm through. For now, I've just tacked them up on my board, above the character chart, in case I need to reference them later:

Don't forget today's the due date for your writing prompts. On Wednesday we're going to talk some more about publishing and what publishers are looking for. Any other publishing questions you want me to get on the schedule?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Organizing a Synopsis

First of all, don't forget that Sarah Holman is our guest this week. She's giving away a copy of her latest, The Destiny of One, so make sure you get yourself entered to win.

A writer asked, what is the best way to organize a synopsis? And I'm so glad they did because, as many of you know, synopses make my heart go pitter patter. I adore writing them.

A common new-synopsis-writer mistake is to write your synopsis in perfect chronological order. It worked in your novel for building tension, why shouldn't it work in a synopsis?

To be honest, I don't know. But it doesn't. It's jumbled and confusing and turns into a dry resuscitation of facts. Here's what I've found works best for me:

My first paragraph or two is often backstory/set-up as to why my MC happens to be in her current predicament. Here's what that might look like:

Sixteen-year-old Marin Young has always believed sex should be saved for marriage. It’s a principle her parents raised her with—but of course they also said marriage was forever. This summer, her father moved out and now lives with his former high school sweetheart. Who’s due in December with Marin’s half-sister. Now it’s just Marin and her mom rattling around the large house. It’s been three months since Dad left, but Mom still hasn’t said a bad word about him. Marin’s worried that before too long, Mom will run out of surfaces to clean and she’ll crash.

The second person to disappoint Marin over the summer is her boyfriend, Dave. With him being a fellow youth group member, Marin assumed Dave was like her and believed in abstaining from sex. She’s had other boyfriends, non-Christians who claimed they didn’t mind waiting but then pressured her later on. It turns out Dave isn’t much different and has little interest in self-control. Good-bye to him.

That's not where my novel opens, it opens on the first day of school, but in a synopsis you need to start with your premise.

Then I move into the major plot lines, each of which usually gets it's own paragraph. We'll keep using Marin as an example. The major plot lines in that story involve her two best friends, her hunky new boyfriend, and her mom's new boyfriend. After sitting here and studying my synopsis for a bit, I've noticed a pattern with my paragraphs. I explain what happens up until the big turning point/climax/moment of question for that particular plot, and then I move on. See below for an example. (I've "bolded" the turning point/question)

Ella, who’s never been too interested in boys, starts up with a guy from another high school. While Marin and Katelyn are initially thrilled for Ella, they soon grow concerned as they see her priorities slipping. Ella’s slacking off in two activities she’s always been steadfast about—school and creative writing. Will Ella soon become flexible about her morals as well? Even though Ella assures Marin she’s in no danger, that she’s in control of her actions, Marin remains nervous.

Meanwhile (brief interruption - this word is your best friend in a synopsis) Marin has her own boy issues. After her disaster of a relationship with Dave, she intends to take time off from dating. She plans to focus on the newspaper and fill her résumé with activities impressive to the University of Missouri and their elite journalism program. But the new guy at school, Vince, changes things. Not only is he the best looking guy Marin’s seen on this side of television, Vince’s parents also split over the summer. He understands Marin’s heartbreak like no one else. So, okay, he’s not a Christian. But even though he doesn’t believe in saving sex for marriage, he totally supports Marin’s commitment to waiting. Isn’t that enough?

Marin isn’t the only one who finds herself in an unexpected relationship—Marin’s mom has met a guy...

See what I mean? I explain up until the big "What's going to happen?" moment, then shift to another plotline.

Next I usually have a section that - for lack of better terms - explains why the climax happens. Sometimes this is a couple sentences, other times it's a paragraph. Like "Marin finds these, which leads her to talk to Vince about this, which causes him to break up with her, which makes her do this climactic thing."

And finally, I arrive at the Final Battle Scene. Sometimes this part is neat and tidy. Like if you're writing a romance, it's where the hero and heroine realize they're perfect for each other and defeat the final obstacle standing in their way. If you write mysteries, it's where your MC figures out who dunnit.

On the other hand, if you're writing a book like the one I've been describing, that "final battle" can be a toughie to capture. (Sometimes it can even be hard to determine!) But it gets it's own paragraph, typically.

Finally, I write a concluding paragraph telling how things are different and what my MC learned. Like:

When Marin sees Vince moving on with another girl in their class, she can’t deny the pangs of regret over not being with him. She briefly fantasizes about abandoning her principles, about living “here and now” and not worrying about what the future will bring. But around her she sees the lives of those who did compromise—her father who’s emotionally torn about the arrival of his girlfriend’s baby, Ella whose romance has gotten complicated, and Katelyn who has discovered long-distance love isn’t as romantic as it looks in the movies. With all them in mind, Marin sees how her sadness over losing Vince is nothing compared to how she’d regret abandoning what she believes.

Including this shows agents/editors that you understand your main character needs to have gone through a transformation and that you have applied that to your story.

Any questions? About synopses or other concerns near and dear to your heart?

Have a fabulous weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Winning Entries from, "They say I'm innocent..."

What makes an entry stand out in the writing prompt contests? One of the judges, the very talented Fred Warren, told me this about his selections:

These opening paragraphs needed to hook me in, and for me, that's a two-part process:

1. Get my attention with a vivid image, a powerful shot of emotion, or something surprising.

2. Give me a reason to keep reading. Convince me I'm about to embark on a journey to remember.

Something to keep in mind when you enter this round's contest!

Here's the list of winners:

First Place
Katy McCurdy
Micah Eaton
Alyssa Liljequist

Second Place
Katy McCurdy (yep, again)
Bethany Forster
Esther Wong

Third Place
Katy McCurdy (that's right - she placed first, second, and third)
Micah Eaton (also placed first)
Imogen Elvis

Honorable Mentions
Esther Wong (also placed second)
Mirriam Neal
Emma King
Adria Olson
Holly Ogg
Jenna Blake Morris

Congratulations, everyone!

Below, for your reading pleasure, are the winning entries:

Katy McCurdy, placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
They say I'm innocent, but I know better. I’m guilty. Tainted.
Huddled in the corner of my room, lights off, shades drawn, that night eats at my soul. Like an ancient army besieging a crumbling castle, shame and guilt tear me apart inside. A shudder runs down my spine as the memories return, vivid, relentless.

The cold asphalt against my skin. His weight grinding rocks and sticks into my bare back. His rough hands. The overwhelming disgrace…
Sobs shake my chest. Why’d I trust him? Why’d no one warn me against playing with fire? It seemed so harmless then.
Too late, I learned my lesson. Fire burns. Bad.

The judges say: Unique, excellent descriptions, nice style, evocative/This is very powerful, painful, and beautiful. The details are terrific: the narrator’s feeling tainted; the huddling; the night “eats at my soul;” the ancient army and crumbling castle; the vivid relentless memories; the cold asphalt and bare back; it’s all so vivid and harsh and horrible and dark and lovely./Big emotional impact here, and nicely written.

Micah Eaton, placed 1st and 3rd

They say I'm innocent, but I know better.
When Iago, our chief, announces the verdict, I feel a scream welling up within me -
"No, I swear, I stole ten pence!"
Silence. Disbelieving silence.
Iago leans toward me. "Then how did you lose them?"
"I dropped them.”
It’s the best excuse I can come up with - I've never been one for imagination. But I can’t tell the truth.
Some terrible fate awaits me.
Because Iago's Den of Thieves has no use for a failure like me, who comes back empty and innocent on the first day on the job.

The judges say: I liked the way you turned the trigger on its head, giving me a
situation where innocence wasn't a good thing. The premise is amusing
and could go any number of different directions. I'm already wondering
how our hero is going to get himself out of this fix./Nice twist on the word ‘innocent’ in the last sentence, with the narrator coming back “empty and innocent” on the first jay on the job. Nice setting of scene and character, too, in so short an amount of words.

Alyssa Liljequist, placed 1st

They say I’m innocent, but I know better. Once my parents are asleep, I get to work, hacking my way into people’s computers. Oh, I’m not one of those sick people that puts spyware in unsuspecting families’ computers because they have nothing better to do. And I’m not one of those idiots that hacks into Wendy’s drive thru audio system to play bad music and shout insults. I do it for a noble cause. National security. The CIA doesn’t know my real age. They don’t care as long as they get valuable information.
There’s just one problem.
The people I hacked information from? They’re trying to kill me.
The judge says: Great last line! The whole excerpt is nice, with a terrific look at the narrator’s personality and dilemma. The story is short and sweet, with no wasted words, and a good dose of wry humor (particularly in the listing of all the ways the narrator doesn’t hack, and the narrator’s oh-so-casual mention of the ‘one problem’). This is fast and funny and really well done and definitely leaves me interested in reading more.

Bethany Forster, placed 2nd

They say I’m innocent, but I know better. So does Drezian, the one-eyed cat. That was the reason I was climbing Lord Benedict’s wall by moonlight—the reason I fell headfirst into his black courtyard.
Pain cracked through my side. I tried to pull myself to my knees, but glimpsed my arm and left my breakfast near Lord Benedict’s yellow rose bush.
“Who’s there?”
Suddenly I was blinded by the light of a swinging lantern. Towering above me, stood Lord Benedict’s son. My stomach flopped in something that wasn’t quite fear. Then I saw who was beside him, the one-eyed-cat.
The judge says: Leaps quickly into the action, putting the hero in a spot that's
both dangerous and embarrassing--I'm wondering what he's guilty of,
and I've just gotta know what's up with that one-eyed cat.

Esther Wong, placed 2nd

They say I’m innocent, but I know better.
I can still see him, when I close my eyes. I can still see that pleading look in his eyes-- that fear--as the waves swept him out to sea.
They say I couldn’t have saved him. That it’s not my fault. He was too far to reach. They say many things. But I know differently.
I didn’t want to save him. And I could’ve. It wouldn’t have been hard either.
I was his last hope. Just as he was once mine.
Only he did what I didn’t. He saved me, while I failed him.
And he was my brother.
The judge says: Great rhythm, poetic feel

Imogen Elvis, placed 3rd

They say I’m innocent. But I know better. They always say I’m innocent. But that’s Ma and Da for you. Their beautiful blond, well mannered daughter could never have been involved with the gang wars. No Mr Policemen, you have the wrong girl here. Ha, the police believe them too. That’s what being a millionaire does for you.
Well, Ma and Da are totally wrong. See I led the gang wars. I’m still leading them. The police think we’re finished. Stamped out. But we haven’t given up. We won’t give up the fight. Not until they give us what we want: we want our stolen siblings back.

The judge says: The ending hook really caught my attention, intriguing, nice voice

Question for you - What genre do you write?

Due to feedback I received when I posted about Go Teen Writers and what you would like it to be, I'm going to round up some authors to talk about genre specific issues. Before I do that, I need to know what genres you guys write and/or are interested in.

Below is a list of options, and you don't have to pick just one! Or if there's something not on the list below, feel free to suggest that too.

Middle Grade/Young Adult
Faith-Based fiction (like, Christian fiction)
Horror (not sure who I'd asked about that, but...)
General fiction
Literary fiction

If you would like a little more insight about genres, you can read part one and part two of Roseanna White's guest post about genres.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creating an Editing Notebook

While we've shifted our primary focus to getting published, we're still going to occasionally talk about the craft of writing for several reasons:

  • Not everyone hanging around here is ready to pursue publication, and I hate to bore them every day.
  • Even when you're querying agents, you can use your "waiting time" to be working on other projects.
But the biggest reason is - I like to talking about writing best of all, and I might go crazy if I don't allow myself to do so.

So, I'm in the "editing the big stuff" part of the writing process with my current WIP, Playing Kitchen. (Do we like that title? Any thoughts?) I knew my manuscript was in need of serious work. Not just the normal my-first-draft-sucks work, but some-characters-disappear-halfway-through-the-book type work. And some-plot-lines-never-get-resolved kind of stuff.

So when I sat down for my read through, I kept a notebook next to me. Here she is:

On the first page, I kept a list of what to research. There were two columns, one for general questions I need answered (a list of wine country publications, does E! pay for photos and how much?) but also a list of things I need to research on location (high school, grocery store, main strip) because in October I'll have the privilege of doing my first ever research trip. (Insert me squealing like I once did at New Kids on the Block concerts.)

Next, I started a list of plot lines in each chapter. Again, I needed 2 columns. One for the way the chapter is currently written, and one for plot lines I think need to be added. So my first column might read:

Chapter one:
Desire to be liked

And my other chapter one column would look like:

To add:
Memories of playing kitchen
Hint of strained relationship with Macy

But then I realized, to my great frustration, that I often foreshadowed things but then forgot to follow-through. Grr. So I took a Post-It note and started listing the plot lines I completely dropped. Like my poor guy who broke his arm halfway through the book, yet there's never another mention of it...

One more list I kept was of potential themes. There were four times that I was struck by a sentence in the manuscript. It seemed weightier than the others around it, like it might come to mean something later. Or like it was part of a greater theme.

Like in chapter two my main character, Madeline says to her friend, Jack, "Meddling in people's relationships can really mess things up." And he answers, "So can minding your own business when you should speak up."

When I read it, it seemed like that was an idea I'd intended to explore later. I made note of it, wondering how it could work into other plot lines, and how can I draw out times that Madeline is right and that Jack is right?

At the moment, glancing at my notebook reminds me how much work needs to be done. It's overwhelming. Yet making my lists gave me a glimpse of the big picture and makes me hopeful that this book can become everything I wanted it to be when the first lines popped into my head: I’ve never minded being in the bright lights. That’s the reason I’m here instead of Dad.

If you're up for sharing, what's the first line of your current manuscript?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Young Author Sarah Holman on Destiny

I love when I have the opportunity to feature a young writer. Today, Sarah Holman is our guest and she's very generously offering a free copy of her novel The Destiny of One to one lucky, US resident. To get entered to win you may either ask Sarah a question or tell us what inspires you to write.

The Destiny of a Writer

Destiny. It is such a powerful word that inspires those who hear it. I mean a destiny sounds unchangeable, unlike ideas, thoughts, or plans. At seventeen my plan was to become a nurse and do some writing on the side. What God had in mind, my destiny, was quite different.

What does God want me to do now is a question all of us face at one point or another in our lives. Most of us ask it many times in our middle to late teens as high school graduation looms before us. Even if we think we have it figured out, sometimes God has a way of changing our plans. This was the theme that became The Destiny of One. One girl searching for what God wanted her to do with her life and finding a destiny much bigger than she could ever have imagined.

My name is Sarah Holman. I started writing my first book when I was eleven years old and haven’t stopped writing since. I wanted to write adventurous books that were also encouraging to people’s faith. Although The Destiny of One was not the first manuscript I have written, it is the first one that truly was any good.

It was the first book that really came alive in my head. I truly had the feeling that I was watching the story unfold and trying to keep up. Maria and the rest of my characters seem so real to me that I imagine that, if they turned up on my doorstep tomorrow, I would not even be surprised.

The other thing that set apart The Destiny of One from my other book is how much God taught me through it. Especially as I wrote the first draft, God was teaching me so much about my own destiny. Maria was like a traveling companion through that tumultuous time in my life. I felt that her journey through the book to find her destiny in the book mirrored my own struggles.

I never did make it to nursing school. Instead of having a career and writing part time I am writer that works part time a local elected official’s office. A pretty big change in plans, isn’t it? Thankfully, God knew the plans he had for me the whole time. He planned my destiny before he created the world. You know what I find more amazing? He did this for each and every one of us, including you.

God has a destiny for you and your writing, so don’t be afraid. Take that leap of faith and start writing, and he will show you where to go from there.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing Prompt: She knew he'd come back.

This round's writing prompt is:

She knew he'd come back someday, but he couldn't have picked a worse moment.


He knew she'd come back someday, but she couldn't have picked a worse moment.

As always, the prompt sentence should be read as the opening line of a novel. Your job is to write the next 100 words like you're writing the opening paragraph. Which means your goal is draw me into the story, give me a taste of the world your'e creating. For some wonderful examples, you can click here.

Must be 25 or under to enter. One entry per person per round. Send your 100 words - along with your name and email address - to me by clicking here. Or you can email them to me at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters(dot)com. I always send confirmation emails, so if I don't verify receiving your entry within 48 hours, please check with me.

Have your entries in to me by Monday, August 22nd at 11:59pm, Kansas City time.

If you want even more details about Go Teen Writer's prompts, you can find them by clicking here.

Here are our wonderful judges this round:

Julie Garmon
Julie Garmon is a Southern author who’s not afraid to tackle sticky subjects. A nugget of redeeming hope hides buried in her writing. Her tagline is “Southern Stories of Grit and Grace.” She’s been a regular contributor to Daily Guideposts since 2003, and writes on assignment for Guideposts magazine. She’s published with Sweet 16, PLUS, Angels on Earth, Homelife, Today’s Christian, Today’s Christian Woman,,, and Julie won a coveted spot to the Guideposts’ writers contest in 2004, and was chosen to attend subsequent Guideposts’ workshops based on winning entries.

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

Ashley Mays
Ashley Mays is the former Editorial Assistant for Brio and Brio & Beyond magazines and currently writes her own fiction for teens. She enjoys rock climbing, people watchin gin airports, and expanding her shoe collection. Ashley lives with her husband in Colorado. No, they don't ski. Learn more about Ashley on her website:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Top 20 finalists from, "They say I'm innocent..."

Sorry this is later than normal guys. Busy week here on Go Teen Writers!

There'll be a new prompt on Monday, you can still get entered to win Sarah Sundin's latest, and I posted about another writing contest on Wednesday for Wake Up Your Muse, so check that out if you haven't already.

Here's the list of those who made the top 20 from last round's prompt, in no particular order:

Katie Sabelko
Micah Eaton
Jelena Lomeli
Mirriam (no last name given. Hey, Mirriam, shoot me an email!)
Emii Krivan
Madison Taylor
Bethany Forster
Emma King
Esther Wong
Abbie Parker
Clare Kolenda
Alyssa Liljequist
Imogen Elvis
Adria Olson
Katy McCurdy
Sarah Faulkner
Holly Ogg
Rye Mason
Jenna Blake Morris
Katie Scheidhauer

Hope everyone is having a great Saturday!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing a bio

A week ago, I blogged about what you should have put together before you start querying agents. One of those is a bio. If writing your own bio freaks you out, you're not alone. When I first started writing them, they really intimidated me. It felt weird to talk about myself in third person, and I had a hard time gauging what was important and what wasn't. But bios are a valuable and necessary art form if you're hoping to get published, and once you get used to them, they're not so bad.

Let's start with a few pointers. Bios should be written in third person, especially if this is something you're putting in your book proposal. They should reflect who you are and why you are qualified for whatever it is your bio is being applied to. By which I mean, why you're qualified to write your blog or write your manuscript or be speaking on such-and-such.

This is where youth can be a drawback. Because - to put it frankly - you haven't really done much yet. My bio when I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in 2007 was "Stephanie Morrill lives in Orlando, Florida. She is a member of ACFW." Now, I could have written a better bio, had I received a few tips about it, but being a member of ACFW was about all I had to my name at that time. I couldn't even put a college degree on there.

Here are some options for what you can put in a bio as an unpublished writer:

  • What you write
  • Why you write it
  • Any awards you might have won for your writing or articles you may have had published.
  • Your blog
  • Any special education you have (college degree or whatever)
  • Something that qualifies you to write this book (if you're writing about missionaries in Africa and you were raised in Africa by missionaries, you should mention that.)
  • A few things you're passionate about, particularly if they're unusual
  • Any writing societies you're a member of

So what does that look like? Here's an example using a character of mine, who happens to be a high school girl trying to get her manuscript published:

Gabrielle Hoskins lives in Visalia, California though often fantasizes about being born in a different time and place. This is probably why she writes medieval romances for teens. She is a member of American Fiction Writers and blogs obsessively about her journey as a young novelist. She is passionate about indie rock, novels with strong heroines, and lattes with the perfect amount of foam.

Now, I spent about 7 minutes writing that so it's far from flawless, but it at least gives you an idea of what you can do with a bio when you don't have a ton of writing credentials to your name. I particularly want to point out that last sentence. I could say, "She likes music, reading, and coffee." But that doesn't tell you much about Gabrielle, because I bet you can name 50 people who like music, reading, and coffee. And the "novels with strong heroines" part also tells you a little something extra about what you can expect from one of Gabrielle's manuscripts.

Like all things writing related, if you want to get better at writing bios, it's a good idea to read lots of them. Clicking here will take to the page of judges for Go Teen Writers. You can scroll through those and see which ones grab you.

If you're feeling really brave, you can post your bio in the comments section and get a little feedback...

Have a great weekend everyone! If you haven't already, don't forget to check out award winning author Sarah Sundin's post from Tuesday and get entered to win Blue Skies Tomorrow.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Laura Kurk on self-publishing

I'm delighted to have Laura Kurk as our guest today on Go Teen Writers! When I sent out questions about self-publishing, Laura responded, and I'm so glad she did.

Laura Anderson Kurk is the author of Glass Girl and its upcoming sequel Perfect Glass. A member of ACFW and Cross Reference Writers, she lives in College Station, Texas with her husband and two children. For more information about her writing, visit or find her on Facebook (

Check out this beautiful cover:

LOVE it.

Enough of me. Here's Laura to talk to you about her experiences. If you have questions for her, feel free to leave them in the comments section, and I'm betting she'll be happy to answer them.

One Writer’s Viewpoint on Alternative Publishing

If you want to make a roomful of writers sweat, just drop words like Kindle Direct Publishing or Print-on-Demand presses. The growing pains in publishing are real and are tracking the shift in the music industry as it moved rapidly into indie music and highly-targeted niche releases.

Getting your prose read by others has never been more possible—there are blogs, e-magazines, self-publishing, subsidy presses, and traditional publishing. I’m proud of you for starting early, sticking with it, and looking for ways to gain confidence and loyal readers.
My first novel, a YA book called Glass Girl hit me like a ton of bricks. It came out of nowhere and begged to be written. Armed with a graduate degree in literature and a career’s worth of experience as a writer, I dug in and produced a 100,000-word book that came straight out of my heart. I believed in it. I loved it. But I didn’t know what to do with it. Wracked with insecurity and unsure about what I had, I made the best decision I’ve ever made and I found an amazing freelance book editor. (A good line edit can cost two cents a word.)

After my manuscript was polished, I still felt like I wanted to test the waters before diving into the world of queries/rejections/contracts. I was a newbie, plain and simple, and I needed to see if my story and style resonated with teen readers before I pursued agents and traditional houses. I liked the idea of Westbow Press because it was linked to Thomas Nelson so I researched the packages available through Westbow, chose the one they call the Bookstore Advantage ($2,500 at the time) and took the plunge. Cheaper options are available and perfectly viable. If you strip the services down to no-frills, subsidy presses can be very reasonable options for you while still giving you the backing of professionals who can walk you through the process.
The good news is that my sales have been brisk, my book signings have been well-attended, and I’ve garnered national press as a new face in Christian fiction. I’ve connected with my readers through Facebook and guest blogging and have a loyal group waiting for the sequel, which is written and ready. I feel like I got my writer-legs and now I’m ready to take things to the next level with confidence.

As teens early in your writing careers you might find tangible benefits in subsidy presses and self-publishing including:

You’re in control of your work and how it is presented;
You retain rights to your work;
Your work releases quickly and you can begin to form a loyal audience that looks forward to hearing from you often. This builds your confidence as a writer.

But bear in mind that you must be ready to market yourself. Many of us are naturally introverted and self-promotion feels awkward but without a publishing house behind you, you must be ready to put yourself out there. You also must work harder to make sure your writing is good, relevant and polished so that it has a chance to rise above the growing wave of self-published works. Do your research, know your audience, get the advice of editors, and then, if alternate publishing methods are right for you, go for it.

Thank you, Laura, for being here!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wake Up Your Muse

So I normally don't post twice in one day, but I wanted to let you guys know about this writing contest going on. The deadline is August 31st, so I didn't want to delay in passing the info along. Looks like a lot of fun!

Need a little something to jumpstart your writing? How about a fun summer writing challenge and a chance to win a Wake Up Your Muse coffee mug?

In celebration of her upcoming release of Wake Up Your Muse - 1001 Story Starters for Fiction Writers, due out in October 2011, Jan Christiansen is hosting a short story challenge.

Just hop on over to her site at, select one of five writing prompts from her book and enter to win.

You can also check out the Wake Up Your Muse writing prompt generator on the site.

Have fun and keep writing!

Clarifying your target audience and their felt needs

Gosh, you make one little comment about how sometimes you write blog posts when you don't feel like it and suddenly your inbox is flooded with emails of thanks. (Why am I writing in second person? That's weird. Shifting now...) Guys, on Monday when I said that thing about posting, I didn't in any way mean that I deserve gratitude for deigning to post regularly on Go Teen Writers. I get all the thanks I need just "seeing" you guys on here. Seriously, I love talking to you all. All I was trying to do was demonstrate why a professional writer shouldn't just write when the feeling hits and what it means to love your readers. I did not mean to set myself up as requiring/needing/deserving thanks. Again, anytime you read a post or leave a comment or click "follow" or enter a contest, that is thanks enough.

Yikes, moving on:

Last Friday, I made a list of everything you should do before you start querying agents. Today we're going to talk more in-depth about 2 of those things - your target audience, and the "felt need."

We'll start with target audience because it's the easiest. The agent/editor wants you to clarify who your books intended for. The target audience for the Skylar books is 'Girls ages 13-18." Have women in their 40s read and enjoyed them? Yes. Have men read and enjoyed them? I hear they have. But in this section you're talking about your primary audience.

Sometimes I see more elaborate target audiences. Like: "Women—will appeal to the traditional readership aged 30-50, but will also draw in those in their 20s." Or, "Women between ages 25 and 60 who enjoy clean romances."

Something you should not write is, "Everyone." That will only make the agent/editor write you off as an amateur because that kind of information isn't helpful to them. And, really, it isn't helpful for you either. If my primary audience were teenage boys, I would talk about very different things than if my primary audience were men and women in their 30s and 40s.

Moving on.

Felt needs. This might be similar to your theme ... or it might not. The question to ask yourself for this one is "what does my audience need that my book will satisfy?" For one of my manuscripts floating around on editors desks right now, the felt need is listed as: "Will encourage teenagers to go after dreams they have regardless of how impossible they seem." That's not the theme of my book, but it is a message in there. Here are some more examples of felt needs:

Will help women who have been victimized to realize they have a voice.

Will strengthen new mothers on their adventure, and minister to women who are unable to have children.

Another way you can think of the felt need is what do you hope someone in your target audience will say about their own lives when they finish your book? ("I feel a new sense of hope about my marriage" or "This makes me want to call my dad and tell him I love him.") That might help you target your felt need.

Again, this is something you might be doing primarily because an agent/editor asks for it, but it's also something that can help you as you write/edit your story.

Tomorrow the beautiful and talented Laura Kurk is going to be here talking about her experiences with self-publishing. Then on Friday will talk about author bios. Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sarah Sundin's Writing Process and a Giveaway


Okay, that's out of my system now, and I'll try to behave like the professional I am. Sarah and I are both members of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). When her first sale was announced on the email loop, I noticed it was with my publishing house, Revell. So I shot her a note saying something about congratulations and welcome to Revell. A very well spent 30
seconds because it means I'm now friends with an incredible author. Seriously, the whole time I was reading A Distant Melody (the first in the Wings of Glory series) I kept thinking, "This is so stinking good! And I know her!"

Anyway. Sarah's books are unbelievable. Today she's giving away Blue Skies in the Morning. If you don't win, you should still totally read it.

Today Sarah is sharing her writing process with us. To get yourself entered to win Blue Skies in the Morning, leave a comment either asking Sarah a question or answering hers, which is at the end of her post. (Contest closes Tuesday, August 16th. US Residents only.)

From Sarah:

One of the cool things about meeting other writers is seeing how different we are. Some can’t function without an outline. Some can’t function with an outline. Yet we all create novels!

I’m an outline-oriented writer. The thought of writing without a destination makes me hyperventilate. Yes, I also color-coordinate my family’s schedule and alphabetize my spice rack. So, I’m a nerd.

Before I start the rough draft, I go through a process of percolating, researching, character development, and outlining which can stretch for years while I’m writing and editing other projects.


An idea comes—from a movie, a “what if” question, a dream, historical research—wherever. Then it percolates in my head while I’m doing other stuff. Characters flesh out. Scene ideas float in. A story structure forms. At some point, everything gels and I know this is a Book. During this stage I take notes—dialogue, scene ideas, and character sketches. These go in a file folder. The percolation stage lasts several years for me.


Since I write historical romance set during World War II, research is vital. I do research from the percolation phase through my final edits, but the bulk of it comes pretty early. When my basic story idea is well percolated, I need to make sure it works historically. I take lots of research notes and reference everything carefully so I can find it when I need it. Don’t make that face—I told you I was a nerd. Research also brings out more story and character ideas, so I keep adding notes to my file.

Character Development

My novels tend to be character-driven rather than plot-driven, so this is one of my favorite phases. And yes, it involves charts. Because I like them. My master chart for the hero and heroine has questions about appearance, health, family, friends, education, career, romantic history, home, talents, religious history, goals, and secrets. Then I give them personality tests. I also scribble down important incidents in their pasts. It’s kind of like hanging out with a friend and getting to know them. Then when I start writing from this character’s point of view, it feels really natural.


You’d think this would be my favorite part, but it’s not. This is where I wrestle and squeeze and grumble at the computer monitor. And I make more charts as I stretch my story ideas onto a solid framework. I like the Hero’s Journey analysis described by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. Read it! Knowing good story structure helps me see where my plot works, where it stinks, and how to fix it. Last I make a chapter-by-chapter outline, and then finally, I get to write!

How about you? Do charts and lists give you a blissful sense of fulfillment? Or are you planning to come to my house and de-alphabetize my spice rack?