Friday, September 30, 2011

Writer's Conferences and Getting an Agent Part One

Last week when I was at the ACFW conference, one of the agents shared that they received about 10,000 "cold queries" last year (meaning query letters from writers they'd previous had zero contact with). And of the 10,000, zero became their client.

This isn't to say that query letters (where you type up a blurb about your project, a blurb about yourself, and send it to agents in hopes they'll ask to read a writing sample) are a waste of time. I have several friends who found their agents by writing a killer query letter. But with most whom I talk to, the connection happened through a writer's conference. (Quick throwback to Wednesday's post: I originally typed, "But with most whom I talk to, it happened through a writer's conference. See? Even years later, I'm constantly fixing that mistake.)

Today we're going to talk about what these agent and editor appointments look like, and on Monday we'll talk about how to prepare for them.

I'm not an expert on all writer's conferences, but at the ones I've been to, I've always had a chance to interact with agents and editors in two ways. At meals and in one-on-one appointments. 

Both can be intimidating for different reasons. At a meal, there's likely 10 people listening to pitch your project. And sometimes you're yelling it across the table. And later you might discover you have spinach wedged in one of your teeth. 

In a one-on-one appointment, you have the luxury of having their full attention for a scheduled fifteen minutes. But, um, you also have to deal with the pressure involved in having their full attention for fifteen minutes.

Sometimes your meetings are ideal. You manage to hide your shaking hands under the table, you recite your elevator pitch with enthusiasm, and the agent (or editor) is warm and receptive. He or she asks good follow-up questions and you have good follow-up answers. Maybe time even allows for you to ask a question or two about their agency or publishing house. At the end, the agent (or editor) asks you to email them a book proposal when you get home. You shake their hand in a very professional manner and somehow hold off on doing a celebratory jig until you're out of sight.

Other times your meetings are neutral. The agent or editor might smile and nod, but you don't sense much enthusiasm. Or maybe they say they like your project, but they see some places it would need rewrites if there's going to be a chance of the two of you working together in the future. (That's a really common one.) You leave your appointment with the feeling of, "Well ... that could have gone better, but it could have gone worse too..." 

And sometimes they go bad. Your appointment gets scheduled for the very last slot of the day. It's 4:45, and they've seen a different writer every 15 minutes since 9:00 that morning. You're nervous and you fumble with your pitch. You're about 2 minutes into what's supposed to be a 30 second elevator pitch when they interrupt and say they're not interested. You still have 13 minutes left in your allotted time, so maybe you ask a few questions about their agency or you compliment an author they represent. Now you have 11 minutes left. They're looking at you, waiting, and you tell them it was nice to meet them, thanks so much for the time, and then you try not to run from the room.

Sometimes the elements that make up a bad appointments (or the neutral) are not in your control. You can't help the schedule or the agent's mood or that the person who pitched before you practically had fireworks going off when they shared their manuscript. On Monday, we'll talk about the things that are in your control. Like how you present yourself, your enthusiasm, and your politeness, just to name a couple.

I'm curious, what's the scariest thing to you about finding the right agent? Or what kind of questions do you have about the process that I can cover?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's such a little word

But it's a real problem:


I see "it" all the time in manuscripts, including my own, but I never realized how big of an "it" problem I had until I started working with my publishing house to edit The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt manuscripts and my editors were marking out "it" an embarrassing amount of times.

Now, "it" is often a necessary word. There's one rule about using it that I find particularly funky, which is:

It's = contraction for it is.
Its = Gets used like "Their conversation turns to its usual minutiae"
But if you're using "its" in a possessive way, there's no apostrophe. 

So while I know it looks right to say, "The coffee sloshes inside the confines of it's cup." That's not right. You write it, "The coffee sloshes inside the confines of its cup."

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about why it gives us such trouble. "It" is not specific. In one sentence "it" refers to a dog, in the next, the sunrise. Whenever you can, use a specific word.

Let's look at an example that I pulled out of a work in progress:

She turns it over in her hands. “You read it, I suppose.”
“I did. I shouldn’t have when I realized it wasn’t for me, but I did.”
It doesn’t matter.” She tucks it into her bag and sets her shoulders.

5 uses of the word "it." You can likely tell the girls are talking about a note - especially within context - but I'm really making my life harder on my reader. I'll leave it in the dialogue, but the others I'll try to get rid of. Maybe, "She turns the note over in her hands" and "She tucks the square of paper into her bag and sets her shoulders."

There's a balance with this of course. Like in these lines:

...I say, tipping my head back to enjoy the last drop of Coke. It’s a sympathy can. Ella and Katelyn bought it for me as a consolation to losing Dave. 

It would be cumbersome to replace the "its" in here.

...I say, tipping my head back to enjoy the last drop of Coke. The Coke is a sympathy can. Ella and Katelyn bought the Coke for me as a consolation to losing Dave.

Makes me giggle, which isn't the response I'm trying evoke from my reader.

One last thing is you should get in the habit of double checking sentences that start with "It," especially if it's the beginning of a paragraph. 

Like if you're starting off a paragraph (or a scene or a chapter) with "It was cold and rainy, and I didn't feel like doing anything." You can pull your reader into the scene better if you replace "it." What was cold and rainy? The morning? The afternoon? The first day of school? The day her parents told her they were getting divorced? "The afternoon was cold and rainy" at least tells the reader something.

Evaluating your use of "it" in your manuscripts is a great way to tighten up your writing and add description. I can think of lots of cheesy closing lines involving the word "it" but I'm going to suppress my dorkiness and refrain.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pictures from the ACFW Conference

I returned home from ACFW feeling completely zonked. A combination of little sleep, tons of information, and a tremendous amount of socializing. (Especially for me, since I tend to be waaaaay quiet.) I met my agent in person for the first time.

Sandra and Me.

Not only is she wicked smart and business savvy, she's also beautiful and warm and has a heart for serving others. I loved the time I was able to spend with her and her other clients.

It's so funny that I talked about Julie Klassen's The Apothecary's Daughter last Thursday, because I had the privilege of meeting Julie over the weekend. Here's proof:

Me and Julie. 

My camera somehow got put on some weird setting before this picture was taken, but that's okay. Still proof. She was so generous with her time and indulged all my geeky questions about POV choices in The Apothecary's Daughter.

I also was able to hang out with some of your favorite authors.

That's Jill Williamson on the left and Heather Burch on the right (whom you haven't read yet, but I just know her debut, Halflings is going to blow up this February). Both Jill and Heather are very warm and high-energy. It was wonderful to be able to hang out with them in person.

And this is Jenny B. Jones, who probably gets as tired of being called cute as I do of being asked, "Are you a teenager?" But she is cute. And sweet.

As is Shellie Neumeier, whom I had the good fortune of running into in the bookstore at 11:00 at night.

I was also able to hang out with Betsy St. Amant, who's as gorgeous and sweet in person as she is on-line.

Me and Betsy.

Sarah Sundin taught a class that I hear was wonderful, and even though I wasn't able to make it, she still let me take a picture with her.

Me and Sarah.

One of the highlights of the weekend was when Erica Vetsch, my first writing friend (and current judge for the Go Teen Writers prompt!) learned that her book, Log Cabin Christmas, hit the New York Times Bestseller list! It was so exciting, and I completely understand why she wouldn't deign to take a picture with me, a lowly YA author. Here's where I would have put it had she bestowed me the honor:

Actually, we took one together, but we must have taken it on her camera, which apparently found it's way home with Mary Conneally.

And it was a joy to hang out with my best friend, Roseanna White. Although it was pretty tough to walk anywhere without getting stopped by someone who wanted to talk to her about her wonderful books/reviews/publishing house, we did manage to sneak away for some lattes at Starbucks where we talked about important things like potty training.

Just thinking about the weekend makes me feel worn out all over again. I'm going to spend some time pouring through my notes and try to wrap my brain around everything I learned and how to pass it on to you guys.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Prompt Contest: If I'd learned anything...

We're mixing things up a bit this round. Traditionally with the writing prompt contests on Go Teen Writers, I supply you with the first sentence, and you write the next 100 words. It was suggested to me that one time we try it where the prompt sentence was instead the last sentence in your entry.

One of the reasons I really like this suggestion is it's going to exercise different creative muscles. Previously judges might have said to you something like, "Nice hook!" or "Work on your hook." This time the hook sentence has been written for you, and you'll be working on starting off with a bang, with drawing your reader in from that first sentence.

Here's the sentence your entry must conclude with: The chances of this ending well, I realized, were not good.

The first 100 words are yours to do with as you wish. (As a reminder, it doesn't have to be exactly 100 words, that's just the limit.) But your entry must conclude with the above sentence. (Which was insanely tough to come up with. I wanted to be as genre inclusive as possible, plus I wanted it to suggest that there was a big story left to be told. Hooks are tricky when you have no story!)

All other stuff is the same. You're writing this like it's the opening of a novel, which means your goal is to lure the reader into the storyworld. Successful prompts, I've noticed, give us a taste of who the main character is, where we are, and the immediate problem that needs solving.

You 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.

A couple of you have requested more time to work on your entries, so we'll give that a try this round too. Have your entries in to me by Wednesday, October 5th 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:

Erica Vetsch

Even though Erica Vetsch has set aside her career teaching history to high school students in order to homeschool her own children, her love of history hasn't faded. Erica's favorite books are historical novels and history books, and one of her greatest thrills is stumbling across some obscure historical factoid that makes her imagination leap. She’s continually amazed at how God has allowed her to use her passion for history, romance, and daydreaming to craft historical romances that entertain readers and glorify Him. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, Erica is the company bookkeeper for her family’s lumber business, a mother of two terrific teens, wife to a man who is her total opposite and yet her soul mate, and an avid museum patron.

Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White, author of two Biblical love stories and LOVE FINDS YOU IN ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND (December 2011) makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing.

Tiffany Rott

Tiffany Rott is enjoying her first winter “Down Under” in Christchurch, New Zealand.  She first discovered writing in a college scriptwriting class.  Since then she has written, performed and directed over 20 scripts.  From there she moved on to writing book reviews for her church’s newsletter.  Novel writing began during her first National Novel Writing Month.  So now her life if full of various writings and she is enjoying every minute of it.  When not writing, she loves ice skating and is working towards completing her first assessment soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Falling in love with books

In just a couple hours, I'll load up the car, pick up a couple writer buddies, and take off for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in St. Louis. I'll be reading all your lovely comments, but likely won't be able to respond to many due to how packed my conference schedule is.

A lovely writer in our community emailed me to ask, "I was wondering if you could have a post asking what authors everybody admires/books they are into. I am always looking to read new books by new authors, and would love to hear what people are reading."

Discovering new authors to love and follow is such a wonderful thing, isn't it? I remember the first time I read The Apothecary's Daughter by Julie Klassen and just kept thinking "I love this book. This is so good. Wow, what a great word to use! Oh, that was such a good scene. What's going to happen next?..."

What was the last book that made you feel that way?

See you all back here on Monday for a new writing prompt!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Learning from Bad Books

I'm experiencing some readers' remorse this morning. Which is kinda like buyer's remorse, only there is zero chance for return. Leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, doesn't it?

Last night I stayed up way later than I intended to in order to read. This is not unusual for me, but normally when I finish a book, I feel some sense of "Ah..." If it's a good book, there's always a longing for another chapter or two but an appreciation for how it all wrapped up. If it's a series, I'll sometimes rush to the computer to see how fast I can get my hands on the next one.

But last night none of those things happened. Instead I closed my book, looked at the clock, and growled in frustration. It was 45 minutes later than the target bedtime I'd set for myself, I'd been on the couch for 2 hours working to finish a book with an ending that didn't satisfy, and my time would have been better spent cleaning up my pit of a house. Or, frankly, just sitting there watching my husband edit photos would have been a better use. Then I wouldn't have ignored him so much of the evening. He was very gracious about the whole thing, but still.

I don't know how non-writers deal with their disappointment over wasting time on lousy books because my only comfort this morning is that I can learn from this.

I'm not in the business of bashing other authors - especially with a series that's so successful - so I won't divulge the name of the series. But these books did a couple things wrong in my not-nearly-as-financially-successful opinion.

Created a pattern that didn't sustain all 4 books

First of all, these books were written in a funky POV. Mostly omniscient, but sometimes kinda distant 3rd person. (If you've read The Gossip Girl series, they're like that.) Each book opened with a scene told by some omniscient narrator, and it was the last scene of the book. I'm usually not fond of cheater openings like that, but in the first two books I felt like it worked pretty well and built suspense. In the second two books, however, I didn't think it worked at all. Actually, when I read the opening of the third book, I thought to myself, "Oh, I do not think I'm going to like where the story goes..." Sure enough, I did not.

If you develop a pattern like the one mentioned above, I really think it needs to work for all the books in the series. That happened in Breaking Dawn, the fourth in the Twilight saga too, where we were suddenly getting Jacob's POV too. I thought the effect was a little jarring, as with the series I'm talking about now. Of course, these are both authors who have sold many, many, many more books than me.

The Logan Syndrome

For 3 and 3/4 books of the series, two of the characters were completely in love and desperate to be together, even though it seemed impossible that they would ever be able to create a life with each other. And I'm talking desperate lengths. Like following-the-guy-to-Cuba-and-just-hoping-to-run-into-him kind of desperate. And then, in the last 1/4 or so of the fourth book, things unfold to where they really will be able to be together after all, and what do you think happens?

They choose to be apart.

This wasn't even a couple I particularly wanted together, and it still ticked me off. Because I just spent, like, 200,000 words listening to how devoted they were to each other, but at the end they chose separate lives. 

I don't believe everyone needs to be all matched up at the end of a romantic book for it to be a happy ending, but this goes back to what we talked about on Monday, about creating good internal conflict. It's good to force your characters into corners where they must make choices, but that only works well if you've made it clear that they are choosing between two things they love. The character loved the boy all through the books, and only in the last couple scenes was she like, "But I must travel and see the world!"

By the way, I call this The Logan Syndrome because of Gilmore Girls. Rory spent, like, 3 seasons completely invested in her relationship with Logan, only to turn him down in the end. I didn't particularly like Logan and would have been fine if they canned his character years previously, but I never bought into Rory telling him no. 

Oh, the loose ends...

As I was expressing all my frustration to my husband last night (and he was oh-so-patiently nodding along) I kept remembering things that never really got tied up. And not little things, but BIG things. Like, um, did she ever tell her family about the murder plot she discovered?!

A few unanswered questions are fine, or even a little mystery about how things actually went down, but your big stuff all needs to be wrapped up. If there's no sequel coming, of course.

Time for a little QT

This has become a tremendous pet peeve of mine in the last year or so - CHARACTERS WHO NEVER SPEND TIME TOGETHER. Which includes villains/antagonists who are lurking behind the shadows, who never directly oppose the narrator. Or sisters who are "close" but never talk to each other. Rivals who might be at the same function, but never seem to be in the same room. People who are falling in love, yet never say anything important.


And in this series, it wasn't just one or two people who never talked, it was seemingly everybody. Everybody was just hanging out in their rooms getting ready for a party where they saw each other across the room but never talked to each other. Again, when I was griping to my husband last night, I kept thinking, "Okay, after book one, that couple who was engaged never talked to each other again. That's so weird! Oh, and why didn't she ever let these two characters have a conversation? And what about that thing with her mom? And did her sister even know about such-and-such?"

Get your characters in the same room, give them same QT (quality time) together, and watch the sparks fly.

Okay. Deep, calming breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose....

I'm feeling somewhat cleansed of my semi-bad reading experience. Please check your manuscript for the above issues. I'm now off to scour mine for all these things.

We've talked about story pet peeves on here before, but I'm up for another round of it. Please share!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Starbright Annual Novel Writing Contest

I thought this might be of interest to some of you. This contest is for those ages 9-19. If you have questions, I don't have the answers, but Patti Shene does: Starsongs.mag(at)


Starsongs magazine, a publication of Written World Communications, is proud to announce our first annual Starbright novel writing contest. Our goal is to assist the budding young novelist whose work shines above the rest to realize the dream of publication.

The contest is divided into two categories, novel and novella, depending on the age of the contestant. Each entry will be accompanied by a non-judged summary of the manuscript not to exceed 1,000 words.

This is a fiction contest with entries open to genres such as sci-fi/fantasy, speculative fiction, horror, action/adventure, paranormal, YA, historical, romance, mystery/thriller, and inspirational. Genres that illustrate extreme violence, illicit drug use, graphic violence, torture scenarios or explicit sexual situations such as “slasher” stories or erotica are not acceptable. Children’s books (for example, picture books) are not appropriate for this contest as they would not meet the required word count. Starsongs and Written World Communications welcome entries from both the Christian and secular novelist.

Each entrant will receive a critique from three (3) separate judges. First through fifth place winners will move to a final judging round. Entrants who advance to the final round will be afforded the opportunity to revise their entry.

Contest participation does not guarantee that the entire manuscript will be read. In order to assure a complete reading of your work, it is your responsibility as the author to edit and polish your manuscript to the best it can be. This includes but is not limited to proper spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and organization of content.

1st place – Publication of manuscript by Written World Communications
2nd place - $100.00
3rd place - $50.00

Entrant must accompany entry with a fee of $20.00.

The deadline has been extended to October 31, 2011.

Email Patti Shene at  for contest rules: Starsongs.mag(at)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The conflict within characters

I had a wonderful vacation, but I'm so glad to be back home.

Taken with my cell phone and doesn't quite capture all her cuteness.
We started our vacation with my cousin's wedding, where our daughter was the flower girl. McKenna was a ridiculously good flower girl. Seriously, we should hire that girl out. Not only was she darling in her dress, but she really dedicated herself to her role. She's been practicing around here with ripped up Kleenex and her Easter basket, and she "studied" her flower girl book on the drive, so it was no surprise when she performed flawlessly. She stood still for the ceremony and didn't pick her nose or burst into tears, like I'd been needlessly worried about.

But being on the road for 9 days with a handful of a 1-year-old is no easy task. Especially when he's pretty sure that all the sand on the beach was put there for him to eat. And same with all the gravel and dirt in our campsite. We spent a lot of time fishing grit out of his mouth. And wiping off his pacifier, which he now throws when he's mad at us. Sigh.

Being around him, however, clarified something I've known about building conflict within characters, but something I wasn't sure how to illustrate.

The pacifier is a very important object to Connor.

A very close second is me. The guy is in a serious mommy phase.

Though you wouldn't know it by how long it took me to find a picture of the two of us together. Good grief.


Connor's love of the pacifier and me are most obvious when he's tired. And on vacation, the poor guy was tired a lot. One night - when it turned out that he wasn't just cranky from travel, he was also cutting 2 new teeth - I saw him do something that has changed how I view character-building.

It was late at night (for Connor) and I was trying to get ready for bed. When I came out of the bathroom, Connor ceased his fit throwing and came barreling for me. Then my husband called out, "Hey, Connor, I have your pacifier." Connor turned and saw my husband holding it and took a couple steps toward him. But then he seemed to remember that I was the other direction, and he turned and took a couple steps toward me.

It reminded me that we should be doing this with our main characters. (And why stop there? Why not build it in to another character in your cast too?) Your main character should love multiple things because that is one of the best ways to build internal conflict. Especially when achieving or acquiring one thing might mean (or does mean) losing the other.

Say your main character's parents hate the guy she's with; they think he's "beneath her" or something. It's easier if your main character doesn't like her parents or doesn't respect them. What would ratchet up that conflict would be if she loves her parents and feels like they've always provided her with wise counsel. What's a girl to do now? Build a life with the only guy she's ever loved, or ignore the questionable advice of her wise parents?

In our hotel that night, Connor eventually chose me and then I carried him to where his pacifier was, so he got us both. Maybe that works out for your character too. Maybe she gets everything she wanted in a way she never could have foreseen (Breaking Dawn  - whatever you may think of the Twilight saga - is a great example of this). Or maybe your character has to give up something permanently. You can still pull a satisfying ending out of that.

Does your character have something (or even better, a couple somethings) that he or she cherishes? What are they?

 Hope you all have a wonderful Monday! Next week we'll start up writing prompts again - can't wait!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tales of Rejection

I returned home from vacation yesterday, which means I now have one week until I load up the car and head to St. Louis for ACFW. I'm catching up on email as fast as I can, but it'll likely be a couple days, so if you're waiting for a response from me on something, please be patient!

In lieu of a traditional blog post today, I wanted to pass along this article to you. This is written by Kathryn Stockett, author of the insanely popular book The Help. It's about how many rejections she received - 60 - and her determination to get her book published. Click here to read and be inspired!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Editing As You Go

I have repeatedly said on this blog that I write fast, horrible first drafts and then spend lots of time editing. (I'm doing my first round of edits on my current manuscript, so at the moment I'm questioning the intelligence in my system, but that's my laziness talking.) Many of you have said to me that you have a hard time not editing as you go. Well, the same is true for my multi-published friend, Roseanna White, so I asked if she would pretty-please write a post about this since I cannot.

Roseanna White is the author of two Biblical love stories and LOVE FINDS YOU IN ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND (December 2011) and makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing.

And she's somehow fitting us into her schedule. Here's Roseanna:

As has been said many a time on Go Teen Writers, there are different types of writers, who handle editing in different types of ways. Many just get the words down in the first draft, then go back in the second draft and do all the weaving, all the fine-tuning, all the word-smithing.

Me, I can’t work that way. I can’t go to the next scene until the one I’m on feels solid. I reread what I’ve written the day before nearly every time I open my document. I tweak, I edit. Then I plunge into new writing.

When Stephanie asked me to share how this process works, my first reaction was, “Oh, fun! Of course!” Then, of course, as I sit down to write this I realize I have no method, or at least not one that’s easily taught. But for you guys, I’ll try. ;-)

In a class I recently took by my agent, the fabulous Karen Ball, she said something that stuck with me: that editing and writing use two totally different parts of the brain, and so have very little to do with one another. This struck me because, well, I blend the two. But as I gave it more thought, I realized that her observation actually helps me define my process.

When I sit down and begin a story, it usually takes me a chapter or two to get into my characters’ heads enough to get their voice. To decide what cadence the prose should take. To decide what images I’m going to be drawing on throughout the story over and again. These things usually crop up organically in the first few chapters, then I make an effort to keep them going in new, fresh ways throughout the book.

Once I’ve gotten my first three chapters written, I stop and go back through. By that time I’ve got a better idea of who these people are I’m writing about, and I can smooth out inconsistencies, remove some superfluous backstory, and otherwise do a check to make sure all my language is smooth and how I want it. I usually send out proposals at this point, so it’s crucial that the first three chapters shine. Once they do, I press onward.

In general, I write a clean first draft. There are obviously typos and mistakes, but I’m what I’d term a go-and-stop writer. I write, write, write, then stop. And here’s where my brain shifts gears. I go back, spot-check, make sure I haven’t slipped into redundant wording. I smooth phrases, sentences, delete what I don’t need, add where I do. While I’m doing that, the next part is simmering in that other section of my mind. Editing clears some of the cobwebs, and then I’m ready to jump back to writing.

I also have a decent memory for what I’ve already written, so little flags pop up in my mind when I write something that doesn’t agree (or agrees too much) with what I’ve already written. I can’t deal with flags in my brain, so whenever I reach a good stopping point, I’ll go back and check on them, resolve issues as necessary.

When I hit a roadblock (which always happens at some point, usually after a writing marathon), I go back to the beginning and read it all again. At that point I usually catch a few threads that went loose, or things that I reiterated too many times. This read-through usually involves a lot of jumping around as I add or delete. It’s when I check for consistency or insert some motivation. And usually after reading it (which only takes me a day or so), I’m ready to keep going.

Occasionally I’ll have something I know needs addressed but I save it until the end—like in my current manuscript, I know I need to add something else with a fellow named Percy, but I haven’t figured out what yet. When I do, though, it’ll be a simple matter of inserting a few lines into the right scene. I’ve also decided I’m going to have to change a character’s name, but I intend to do that all at once, at the end, as well.

Otherwise I’m still just rereading portions as I begin each day, smoothing, tweaking, editing. Then I write. Then I stop, edit. Write. Rinse and repeat.

When I hear folks talk about the draft process, and how many drafts they usually have of a book, I always think they’ve got it down. That they know what they’re doing, and that it ought to be the right way to do it. Yet that’s not how I work, and I seriously doubt it ever will be. I have a very hard time pushing on if I don’t like what I’ve got. Occasionally I can do it, and then just know that chapter four (it’s ALWAYS chapter four, LOL) needs work. Which it will get during my next break from writing. ;-) But in general, I need that go-and-stop to keep my brain functioning as it needs to, to have the time to mull while I polish.

The benefit of doing it this way is that I end up with chapters I don’t mind sending out more-or-less as I finish them. To my critique partners, my agent, and even an editor every now and again. I like to get feedback as I go, because then I can make small, manageable tweaks as changes are recommended. Alter a character that is hated (and shouldn’t be). Take care of things that bother my readers. Now, that way is obviously not for everybody, but for those of us who try the draft method and fail at it, don’t think you’re alone! The very thought of a serious rewrite makes me groan—but small, as-you-go revisions I find energizing.

By the time I finish a manuscript, I’ve done what I term “a draft and a half.” Portions have been rewritten (my ending usually two or three times, LOL). I’ve edited and polished. I do one final read-through (preferably after that time away that Stephanie has recommended before), then send it wherever it’s going. For me, this is what works best. Which editing method do you find yourself gravitating toward?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing Clean When Your Setting is Dirty

Erica Vetsch is back today - yay! 

One of the things I was intrigued by in A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas was that it was set in such a wild town, and it felt like it was, yet the book was still clean. I wanted Erica to weigh in on that. Even if you don't write for a Christian publishing house the way Erica does, you will still want to evaluate how much illicit behavior your reader will want to read.

Again, Erica has offered to give away a copy of her latest, A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas to one lucky commenter. To get entered, leave a comment on today's post (and yesterday's, to get entered twice!) either asking Erica a question or commenting on something you found interesting. Or about how awesome that camera is on the cover of her book. US Residents only. Closes at whatever date I specified yesterday. 

Here are Erica's thoughts to my question, how do you set a clean book in a less-than-reputable town?

It’s no secret that Dodge City was the “Wickedest City in the West” and a wide open cow town with plenty of vices available around the clock. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, cock fights, dog races, dance halls, and more. Pretty unsavory stuff, especially for Christian fiction. So what is a writer to do if she wants to be authentic, but she also doesn’t want to offend the reader?

Don’t ignore the truth. Your reader will be insulted if you pretend that Dodge City was Mayberry. A historical novel set in Dodge that didn’t at least mention a saloon or dance hall will ring as true as a cracked bell. (Stephanie speaking - I just have to say this sentence is so Erica. She has the most creative similes in her books.)

Don’t glorify the vice or go into gory details. Assume your reader gets it. Make sure to show the consequences of living amorally, but don’t go into great detail about individual actions. The reader will fill in the blanks based upon their own experiences and understanding. An example is profanity. Christian fiction typically refrains from the use of cuss words, but how can a writer be authentic when cowboy language was quite strong and often offensive? Be creative. Instead of writing out the cuss word, describe the character as ‘turning the air blue with his cussing’ or ‘she gasped at the ribald word he uttered.’ This allows the reader to fill in the blank however they feel is appropriate and you’ve avoided offending them by the use of a specific word. 

Do show your character in conflict over the temptations and vices around him. The reader will relate to this, since we all live in a fallen world and we know what it is like to face temptations and have to choose one way or another. Have your characters live with the results of their choice.

I hope this post (and yesterday's) have given you a few new tools for your writing toolbox. I’d love to hear other questions you might have. There’s nothing better than talking writing with other writers!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Erica Vetsch on Writing Historicals

Since many of you have expressed an interest in having guests talk about "genre specific" issues, I've begun querying various authors and asking them to share their expertise with us.

I've mentioned on here before that Erica Vetsch was my first writing friend. I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of her latest, A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas and it prompted a couple questions.

She'll be here today and tomorrow answering those. And, dear woman that she is, she's offered to giveaway a copy of Bride's Portrait. To get yourself entered to win, you may either ask Erica a question or tell us everything you know about 1870s wet-plate photography.

Just kidding.

Leave comments today and tomorrow to get yourself entered twice. U.S. Residents only. Contest closes September 20th. Blah, blah, blah. Here's Erica:

Thank you, Stephanie, for having me back here at Go Teen Writers. I love the community you’ve built, and I’m honored to get to talk to all the talented young writers here. 
I write historical romance for the Christian market, and my current release is A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas. I’ll be using this book as an example today, but the principles should hold true for any historical fiction.

How do you write historical fiction set in a real town? 

Writing about a real place is both a blessing and a burden. The blessing is: it’s real which lends authenticity to the story and there are lots of resources out there to gather information from. The burden is: it’s a real place where people live, and it’s important to get the details correct. So how do you find the info you need?

Start with the Internet. It’s amazing what you can find online to point you in the right direction. One caveat here: be sure to verify any information you find online with another credible source. A wise researcher confirms information with at least one outside source. 

Head to your local library. For Dodge City, I researched maps of the period, newspaper articles, and biographies of folks who lived in Dodge. I used several sources to give me a feel for the setting, and where sources disagreed (and they will) I went with the version that best fitted my plot.

If at all possible, visit the place you’re writing about. Take lots of pictures (if the museum allows it) and be sure to take photos of the museum signage so you can have all the details of an exhibit without having to stand there and write it all down. If you can’t visit, you can contact the local county historical society for answers to questions you might have.

At this point, I’m going to give you the golden rule of historical research. Research is like an iceberg. Only 10% of the awesome, cool, fascinating, amazing stuff you learn about your setting should make it into the novel. The other 90% needs to stay below the waterline. If you go into your research understanding this, it won’t be such a wrench when you realize you can’t put everything in the story without sounding like a history book. Remember, the story is about people, not the setting or time period. Less is more.

How do you capture a profession without it reading like info dumping?

In A Bride’s Portrait, my heroine, Addie, is a photographer. I’m not a photographer. I knew nothing about 1870’s wet-plate photography, so I researched it. I found books, websites, and videos on the history of photography. I researched things like chemicals, development processes, and the hazards of flash-powders. 

Then I followed the golden rule of research and pared down the iceberg of information to the 10% that pertained to the story. Instead of stopping the story for a step-by-step explanation on antique camera photography, I eased it in a little at a time, making it active instead of passive. Addie interacted with the cameras, chemicals, and props as part of her everyday life. Using this technique keeps the story about the characters instead of the profession, and keeps the plot moving without halting to explain what the characters are doing. 

Erica will be back tomorrow to talk about writing clean when your locale is dirty...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writing by Living

I get very frustrated when I'm not able to write. Sometimes life is too busy. Other times, like recently, I'll carve out time to write, but then just kinda sit there. Everything I write feels flat or unoriginal. The voices of self-doubt are pounding louder than usual.

Right now I'm suffering from some creative burnout. My initial reaction was to be angry. I would growl at myself that I just needed to suck it up and keep going. And if I know in my heart that I'm just being lazy, this is an okay thing to do. But I'm not being lazy. I'm tired. Run down. Weary. Creatively dry. Whatever you want to call it.

It is okay to not be writing - that's what I'm having to remind myself. It is okay to need a vacation. It is okay to need a break. The best thing to do, the fastest way to get my creative muscles back in shape, is to take the time off that I need.

I don't know where you are at the moment. Maybe you're in that glorious place where writing feels fun, where your thoughts are always wandering to your storyworld, where the words are coming so quickly, you can hardly get them down. Good for you! (I made myself put that exclamation point there. In reality - please forgive me - I'm jealous and saying that through gritted teeth.)

Maybe you're like me, in the desert, and you need some space from your work. Take it. If you're honestly burned out and not just being lazy, take the time away and don't come back until you feel the pull back to your story, the longing to be with your characters. (Unless you're under contract. If you like your job, I don't recommend telling your editor that you won't be making your deadline due to a creative drought.)

Or maybe you're in that frustrating place where life is too full for writing. Where you can squeak in a blog post or maybe 100 words a day, but you've got 3 AP classes this semester, you're in the fall play, and you just started dating this great guy (or girl) and that's taking up a lot of time...

In those busy times, I encourage you to think of being in a "story gathering" season. You're spending time living and that will only strengthen your writing. As an example, these people take up a lot of my time:

But they are also my life. Aside from all the other wonderful things they are to me, they, in many ways, are the words on my page. I know that's a little cheesy, but it's honest. Even though they are the people who demand the most from me (especially those two little ones) they are also the ones who color my world, who help make my characters and their situations matter to me.

In my early drafts of  Me, Just Different, 15-year-old Abbie Hoyt miscarried. During my third rewrite of that story, I was several months pregnant with McKenna. I could not make Abbie miscarry. It made me cry every stinking time I tried to write it that way. 

In So Over It, when Amy Ross is sharing about a baby she lost when she was 20 weeks along in her pregnancy, I was 20 weeks pregnant with Connor. I bawled my way through that scene (and the research for it!)

If you're like me, it's very easy to get frustrated when writing time isn't happening. But even if you're not putting your pen to paper every day, if you're out there living, you're doing something for your writing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quotable Wednesday

Starting today, my internet access will be a little spotty. I'll check in as often as possible.

I'm always coming across wonderful quotes on writing. I thought I would start sharing some with you all. If you have some you would like to contribute, either leave them in the comments section, or shoot me an email, and I'll get them scheduled!

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.  ~James Michener

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.  ~Arthur Polotnik

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster.  ~Isaac Asimov