Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Question for you - To eread or not to eread?

For Christmas, I received a Kindle from my husband. I've become quite attached.

As in, last week, I woke my husband up in the middle of the night because I was yelling, "Get my Kindle!" (In my dream, my 10 month old was about to spill a glass of water on my Kindle. I was saving the baby from falling off the bed, and I needed my husband to save the Kindle. So my priorities aren't totally out of whack.)

And last Wednesday morning when the tornado sirens were going off, I grabbed my kids, a phone, and my Kindle before heading to the basement.

I still love the smell and feel and convenience of books. And I love going to book stores and signings and all that. But I also enjoy the ereading experience much more than I thought I would. Like when I finished Catching Fire last week, it was amazing to get on the Kindle store and download Mockingjay within minutes.

There's no doubt the boom in ereaders is changing how people select, buy, and read books. Last month, for the first time, ebooks out-sold print books. Amazing.

My question for you today is do you have an ereader or do you have plans to get one? Most the people in my life who have them are older, so I'm curious about you young'ins. Or however that would be punctuated.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Writing Conclusions - The final battle


Today is the last day to get your 150 words turned in to me! They must land in my inbox by 11:59pm central time this evening. If you've sent me an entry but haven't received a confirmation, please send me an email now. Don't wait for Tuesday, because they'll be with the first round judge by then and it will likely be too late.

There appears to be a little confusion over this round, so let me clarify a couple things before we get on to talking about the final battle:

  • Don't send me your first chapter, just 150 words.
  • It doesn't need to be a whole scene packed into 150 words. It's just like our regular writing prompts; it's the opening of a story.
  • The judges know the deal - that these are the first 150 words of a novel. That's what they're expecting to read. They want to be drawn in to your story world, they want a peek at your main character, and they want a question or two lingering in their mind. Pull a few of your favorite books off the shelf, read the first 150 words. That's what you're shooting for.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about with all this writing prompt jibber-jabber, click here to see contest details. If you have questions, leave a comment below.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's move on to the final battle.

We're making a check list of sorts and we wrap up our first drafts. So far we've made sure:


And now it's time for the final battle.

The final battle is basically what it sounds like. It's where your character gets to try out their newfound knowledge from the epiphany moment - I'm not a total screw-up, money isn't that important, war can be fought with honor. Whatever it is they've learned - whatever it is they needed this journey for - you're now going to test them on it.

Don't forget their instincts

When your character is in the final battle, be careful to not make it too easy on them.

Let's say your main character is an I-can-do-it-myself kind of guy. He is a rock. He is an island. But during the epiphany moment, something has happened to show him people are designed to work as a community, that it's dangerous to be so isolated.

During his final test, he should feel some sort of temptation to head off on his own, take care of #1, the way he always has. But then he'll remember what he just learned, and he'll push himself to ignore his instincts and work as a team toward the solution.

They come through ... but not without a loss or two

You're so close to the end, it's tempting to make the final battle kinda easy. Be thinking about what you can take away. Your main character should triumph in the battle, for sure, but they really shouldn't get everything they want. In a manuscript of mine, the MC chooses to keep her principles about purity, even though it means losing the guy she's fallen in love with.

I love the ending of 8 Mile, where Eminem wins the competition (the "rap-off" for lack of a better name) ... and then accepts responsibility and heads back to his minimum wage job instead of partying and celebrating.

The final battle is key to showing that your characters journey was worth it, that they're a better person because of everything they just went through ... but they shouldn't escape that final battle unscathed.

Can you think of other final battle scenes in books or movies where the character "wins" but also loses?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Conclusions - Here comes the cavalry!

This might be my veriest mostest favoritest part of the first draft process. Well, other than writing the beginning. Oh, and typing "the end" is pretty sweet too. But this is definitely in the top 5.

On Wednesday we launched into the conclusion of our first draft, and we talked about the "black moment." The moment when your main character (MC) is brought to their knees. When it seems all hope is lost. Now that they've wallowed there for a bit (and in my experience, only trial and error and a good critique partner can help determine how long the black moment should last) it's time to send in the cavalry.

By which I mean one of your wonderful secondary characters is going to say or do something that shakes your MC out of their funk. They will show your MC why the lie they believe about themselves isn't true. Or they'll provide some sort of tool to help your MC climb out of the metaphorical pit.

And that's when it'll click for your character, and you'll get that wonderfully satisfying epiphany moment. "Aha! I'm not a total failure because I can do such-and-such well!" Or, "Oh, I thought this was true, but it turns out I misunderstood, and it's not true after all."

Just like the black moment is critical to your satisfying conclusion, so is your cavalry/epiphany moment. This is what the reader has come for, to watch your MC change.

Couple of thoughts about packing a punch with your cavalry moment:

Pick an unlikely character
While there's nothing wrong with using one of your more prominent characters for the cavalry moment, examine your other options. Could it be someone on the fringe who provides a rescue? Or maybe someone who doesn't even like your main character very much?

Take the time to convince your main character
It really shouldn't be as simple as one character saying, "That's what you thought? You're wrong. That's not true." And your MC being like, "Oh, okay. Well, I feel much better now." The truth brought in the cavalry moment should take a bit to soak in. Think of it like watering a garden. You don't turn the faucet on full blast, because all that does is erode the soil. Instead you use a gentle spray so the water can slowly soak down to the roots.

Leave your character shaking, at least slightly
While the cavalry should breathe new confidence into your main character, it shouldn't leave them feeling 100% better. That won't come until the final battle, which we're going to talk about on Monday.

Speaking of Monday, don't forget to get your writing prompts in by May 30th!

Anyone have fun plans for the holiday weekend? My husband and I will celebrate 7 years of marriage on Sunday. Then on Monday he and my dad will fix some wood rot on our house. Romantic, right?


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winning entries from the "Garage Sale" prompt

For your reading pleasure, here are some of the winning entries from last round:

By Alyssa Liljequist:

When I saw what they'd brought home from the garage sale, a mixture of excitement and horror rose within me. I snatched the worn leather diary out of their hands. Flipping through it with trembling fingers, I felt sick. Important pages were missing.
"What’s the matter, Rhonda?" Dad asked.
Mom raised an eyebrow. "Aren’t you happy we found it?"
I swallowed hard. "Yeah. Thanks."
They didn’t know. This wasn’t a typical teenage diary. Between the truly meaningless ramblings were secret blueprints and plans.They were in code, of course. But they wouldn’t stay encoded for long now that our enemies had them.
Oh, the president was going to kill me.
The judge says: Ooh, awesome! I love the intrigue, I love the mixture of typical teen and secret-agent, and I love the uncertainty of what might happen next. The writing is strong and solid, and the hook is simply excellent.

By Katy McCurdy
When I saw what they'd brought home from the garage sale, I visibly stumbled. Not just a little misstep, but a head-long stagger where, fortunately for me, I landed on the couch. Pain traveled up my hip when it hit the armrests, but I barely felt it. I was focused on what was clutched in my three-year-olds fist.

Stephen paused, confused. “Sweetheart?”

I felt like an idiot standing there with my mouth gaping, but I couldn’t speak

After the night of the murder, I never expected to see it again. But there it was, in her hands—my mother’s locket.

I felt numb.

My next-door neighbor was my mother’s murderer.
The judge says: Fabulous! So much conflict, questions raised and just enough of them answered, excellent writing . . . this falls into the “I would read more gladly!” category.

By Rayna Huffman:

When I saw what they’d brought home from the garage sale, my heart stopped….then started again, but the second time…it shattered. As he stepped from the car, a tear trickled into my mouth, salty. “Where was he, Mom?”

“3435 Oak Avenue…but his mind ain’t what it’s s’posed to be.”

“That’s okay, it’s just been so long, we looked so hard, I--how’d he get there?”

Mom wiped her eyes, “He’s been homeless, Tisha, he was just there.”

He walked toward me slowly. “That you, Tish?”

I wrapped my arms around him tightly, “Yeah, it’s me, Daddy.” When I looked at him, I saw something I’d never seen before. My daddy was crying.

The judge says: Whoa! There’s a lot to tell here, isn’t there? I can see this story being full of drama.

I love seeing all the creativity you guys have. It's fascinating all the different directions a single sentence can take. I'm really excited to read all the entires for the 150 word free write. Click here to get details on that, and be back here tomorrow while we continue our talk about satisfying conclusions!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keys to a satisfying conclusion

First off, "Rachel" you won your choice of Jill Williamson's books, but there's no email address for you. Can you please send me an email?

We are almost done talking through the ins and outs of the first draft, and then we'll move on to editing. I'm super excited, because I like the first draft process, but I looooove editing.

Quick recap of the last couple weeks. We've talked about how long a book should be, making dialogue natural, finding your writing voice, and beating off those first draft blues, which tend to strike in the last half of the book.

So today we're going to talk about how to write a satisfying conclusion. In short - it's all about the black moment.

The black moment is when all hope is lost. It's when your main character's greatest fear has happened, the lie they believe about themselves has never seemed truer, and they can't see their way out of this mess.



In Pride & Prejudice, it's when Lydia has run away with Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth feels in her heart that Mr. Darcy is lost to her forever.


In Me, Just Different it's when Skylar's mom has left, her dad has given up hope of her returning, Connor went back on a promise, Abbie has run away, and now she's discovered her boyfriend is cheating on her.





In It's a Wonderful Life, it when George Bailey realizes he's "worth more dead than alive" and stands at the bridge contemplating suicide.







I know it can be hard to let your character suffer, but without the black moment, your conclusion will feel flat. Because if you haven't brought your character to their knees, if you haven't shown them how bad it can be, then they'll lack appreciation of everything working out okay in the end. And so will your reader.

So look at your manuscript and ask, what is my character most afraid of? What would it hurt most to lose? Then make it happen.

A book isn't a book without conflict, but lots of writers struggle with the black moment. They love their main character and don't want to torture them. What about you? Do you have a tough time "tormenting" your beloved main character?


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Winners from the "Garage sale" prompt


Here's the list of winners from last round's prompt:

First Place
Alyssa Liljequist (Received 2 votes)
Katy McCurdy

Second Place
Rayna Huffman (Received 2 votes)
Kait Culbertson

Third Place
Katy McCurdy (Also placed first)
Kait Culbertson (Also placed second)
Rebecca Pennefather

Honorable Mentions (No points for HMs, but it's still cool!)
Katy McCurdy (also placed first and third)
Sarah Faulkner (received two votes)
Beth Marie
Rachel Crew
Ellyn Gibbs
Bridgitte Ivey
Jazmine Ortiz
Georgina Caballero

Congratulations, everyone! I'll post some of the winning entries on Thursday.

This round's writing prompt is a 150-word free write, so there's no prompt sentence. The idea is you can submit the first 150 words of your novel and receive feedback. If you're not writing a novel, no worries. Just make sure your entry sounds like the start of a story. Click here for details.

Have a great Tuesday!






Monday, May 23, 2011

150 word free write!

Over the weekend, Go Teen Writers hit 150 followers. Woo-woo!

So this round, instead of our usual writing prompt and 100 words, we're celebrating with a 150 word free write. The idea behind it is that you can submit the first 150 words of your novel and receive feedback from published authors. If you're not writing a novel, no biggie! You can still play. Just keep in mind when you're submitting your 150 words, they should read like the beginning of a story.

Email me your entry by Monday, May 30th at 11:59pm Kansas City time. (Also known as central time.) You can email me at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com or by clicking here. No attachments please!

You must be 25 or under to participate, and just one entry per person, please. For more rules and a list of FAQs, click here.

Our judge's this round are:


A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa is a writer of not your usual Christian Fiction. She weaves stories of unscripted grace and redemption with threads of hope, humor, and heart.

Walking on Broken Glass is her debut novel. Her next novel, Edge of Grace will be released by Abingdon Press in August of 2011. Her essays have been published in The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort,Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul.

Christa is the mother of five adult children, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where they and their three cats enjoy their time playing golf, dreaming about retirement and dodging hurricanes.



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



Julie Garmon is a Southern author who's not afraid to write real-life dirt, always with a nugget of redemption tucked in the corner. 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, www.sober24.com, www.crosswalk.com, and www.urbanministries.com. Julie won a coveted spot to the Guideposts' writers contest in 2004, and was chosen to attend subsequent Guideposts' workshops based on winning entries. She blogs weekly along with her mother for Guideposts at Woman-to-Woman here and for Girls, God, and the Good Life here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The first draft blues

These hit me with practically every first draft I write.

Always. Always, always, always, around 50 to 75% of the way through the first draft, panic hits. I'll suddenly remember a storyline I intended that never got put in. Or I'll discover something isn't working the way I thought it would.

I'll lean back from my computer screen, bite my lower lip as I consider the rambling scene I've been typing, and think some version of, "This isn't what I thought it would be." And as I think through all the other story elements and character traits I intended back when I started the first chapter, I'm suddenly overwhelmed by everything that hasn't happened yet and everything that needs to happen before I type THE END.

This is where I am now in my manuscript. I'm 60% done, and I'm spending more time staring at the words of my WIP (work in progress) than I am adding words. Where is this thing with Brandi going? I'm asking myself. That came out of nowhere. Should it stay? Should I cut it? I thought there was going to be more food show stuff, but instead we've spent the last 10k dealing with a weird love triangle that I never even intended. And where are her parents? There's supposed to be more of her parents...

I'm telling myself this is normal - the sudden recognition that my first draft isn't everything I had hoped - but it's still scary. It brings on the voices.

When the overwhelming first draft blues settle in, here are some suggestions for things to do:

Skim your first draft
Sometimes my blues happen because I'm feeling disconnected from the story. This is most common when I'm not getting to write daily (which I'm not) or when life has forced me to take a break from writing (which it did, a couple weeks back).

So skim your first draft. Not to edit (unless you see a typo begging to be fixed or the write phrase pops into your head), just to refresh your memory. To reacquaint yourself. I started rereading my WIP on Tuesday night and discovered I had three characters named Jack in this book. That's two too many. You might notice nuggets of story that could be developed more or a character who's just perfect for that twist you have planned right before the climax. Jot down notes as you go.

Review your story notes
If you made a scene breakdown spreadsheet, congratulations, you can take a look at your original plans for your plot. I made one for my WIP, but veered away from it about 10,000 words ago. Still, reviewing it sparked my memory for what my characters have been through and what I originally planned.

Clarify the black moment, your character's biggest fear, and the lie they believe
I think this is what I need to do now, is go back to the core elements of my story and focus on moving toward those. Main characters should always have a lie in their head (I'm not good enough, or my parents will never approve of me, etc.) Also, your characters should have a biggest fear. Like losing respect of those they work with, or not being able to protect their family.

We haven't talked much about black moments on here (*Pausing entry to jot a note to myself*) but boiled down, the black moment comes in the last 1/4 of your book (typically right before the climax) and it's where your character has lost all hope. Often, it's where their biggest fear comes true and/or where the lie they believe about themselves has never seemed truer. The "black moment" makes the ending so much more satisfying, so much more convincing.

Take a break from writing to read a craft book, listen to a class, or get together with a writing buddy
Because the first draft is the most challenging part of the process for me, sometimes I benefit from a week away to recharge my batteries. To pamper my inner artist. I often read a favorite craft book or try a new one. I just picked up Save the Cat which is actually intended for screenwriters, but I hear it will "revolutionize" the way I write. We shall see.

I have quite a few MP3s from conferences, so listening to one of those can help. So can getting together with a writing friend to brainstorm. By the time I've done one of those, I'm usually itching to get back to story world.

The important thing to keep in mind is that it's not at all unusual to feel like your story is careening out of control. Remember how we talked about writing first drafts is like crafting each individual tree of a forest, as opposed to editing, which is more like evaluating the forest as a whole? When you're as "zoomed in" as writing the first draft requires, sometimes all you need to do is "zoom out" for a bit - read through the manuscript, think about your character's journey - to regain your bearings.

If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them! Be back here on Monday for a new writing prompt!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Top 20 finalists from "Garage Sale"

In no particular order, here's the list of everyone who made the top 20:

Gretchen Stough
Beth Marie
Rachel Crew
Nicki Taylor
Tonya LaCourse
Alyssa Liljequist
Rayna Huffman
Ellyn Gibbs
Bridgitte Ivey
Rebecca Pennefather
Sarah Luckadoo
Katy McCurdy
Abbie Mauno
Sarah Faulkner
Kait Culbertson
Jordan Newhouse
Sammie Weiss
Jazmine Ortiz
Georgina Caballe
Emily West

Congratulations, everyone!

We had 42 entries this last time. Wow. If you entered and your name isn't on the above list, you'll be receiving your feedback very soon. The next writing prompt will go live next Monday morning.

Tomorrow I'm going to be blogging about getting overwhelmed in the first draft. A subject which is near and dear to my heart ... since that's currently where I am in my manuscript. This happens to me with every novel I write - wait, what am I writing about again? This story isn't shaping up the way I thought it would... - but it never ceases to be frightening.

Enjoy your Thursday, everyone!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Writer's Voice


A writer sent me an email asking me to talk about voice. I instantly groaned. Because I knew we should talk about it, but I also knew it was going to be an impossible thing to teach.

Whenever I've read an interview with an agent or editor, and they're asked "What are you looking for in a writer?" the first thing they usually say is, "A great voice."

Your writing voice is your unique way of phrasing things. When you say something and your friend says, "Oh, that's so you," or, "I knew that's what you were going to say," they're talking about your voice.

Are you familiar with the band Cake? (Click here if you're not, and you can listen to some music off their web site.) Nobody sounds like Cake ... except Cake. And Cake sounds like Cake all the time. Whether they're doing an original like Never There or covering I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.

In the music business they call it a "sound." In writing we call it voice. And even though it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world to write in your voice, it's not. It takes confidence and honesty and practice. And a lot of times you don't even know that you're "there" until someone - a writing friend, your agent - says, "You have a great voice."

I wish there were a recipe for voice, but there's not. Instead, I'll tell you what helped me, and hopefully it'll do something for you:

My door stayed closed for 3 years

When we talked about writing your first draft with your door open or closed (click here for the post) I mentioned that I believe I got published so young in part because my friend scared me off from sharing my work. After that happened, I wrote for years (three, if my fuzzy brain can be trusted) without showing anyone anything. I was determined to not be hurt again. (Which was dumb. Getting hurt is just part of a writer's life.)

While in some ways it slowed my progress to not have anyone critiquing me, I honestly feel it helped more than it hurt. Because I was free to write without concern of what people thought. By the time I entered into my first critique group, I was (unknowingly) only a few months away from acquiring my agent. I had found my voice, and I was secure enough to not let anyone mess with it.

I studied writers I love

One of the ways I found my voice was to read lots of good books by writers I love. I don't know how to explain why this helps, but I'll try anyway. When we fall in love with a book, it's because the author has touched something inside of us. Sometimes they articulate things that we didn't even know we felt.

I felt that way when I first discovered Sarah Dessen. Reading This Lullaby unlocked something inside of me. When I went back to writing after having read that book, the first few pages were pure imitation. But then, a chapter or two in, a phrase popped out that was all mine, that sounded like me. Slowly, I was no longer imitating.

Reading great writers helps our voice evolve. Yes, I've had the experience of getting so captured by a book that my voice momentarily suffered. This happened a couple years ago when I was too sick to write and wound up reading all four books of the Twilight saga in one week. I came back to my manuscript and had a major identity crisis. At first my voice was a little bent, but it self-corrected pretty quickly.

I wrote. A lot.

You're not going to find your voice by taking a class or reading a blog post. I've yet to hear a writer say, "I had no voice, and then I read Find Your Voice in a Week by Sue Smith, and presto!" You will find your voice by writing. Particularly, I think, by writing the stories you want to write, not just ones you think will sell.

Those are the three things that helped me most. What about you? Do you feel like you have a voice? Do you have any other tips?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Question for you - What's your book about?

Normally I'm on here answering writing questions, but today I have one for you guys.

What's your book about? I'd love to know what you're working on now, what you were working on, or what you'll be working on next.

I'm especially interested in what genre you guys write. Your responses will not only be fun to read, they'll be useful as I plan future posts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How do you turn off the internal editor?

Happy Monday everyone!

In case you weren't aware, Blogger was having some issues last Thursday and Friday. That's why the post sharing the winner's from last round disappeared (which has now been corrected) and why there was no fresh post on Friday.

Just a reminder, This round's writing prompt is due tonight by 11:59 pm, and it's your last day to get registered to win one of Jill Williamson's amazing books.

A writer emailed me and said, "I can't seem to get myself to write in ANY kind of journal without ripping out the pages. It's like I have an editor screaming in my head."

Yep. You're normal.

I think this is especially hard if you're pushing yourself to learn more about the craft of writing. Then suddenly you sit to write and all you can hear are those darn rules. No, I can't use that sentence - it's passive. And I used an adverb. Plus, it's telling instead of showing. And it's pretty cliché, isn't it? I have to think of something fresher. I have to think of something fresher right now ... but I can't. This story's stupid, anyway. I'm not good enough to get published. I'm never going to be as good as Lisa Samson. I'm sure she never writes a passive sentence full of adverbs and clichés that's telling rather than showing.

And so on.

The voices can get pretty nasty, can't they? Especially if you've recently received a rejection letter or a tough critique from a writing partner. Or if you've read the best book ever, like The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson.

Oh, boy, you should hear some of the things that go on in my head when I sit down to write:

That reviewer was right - my plots are all predictable. I don't have a single fresh idea.

Why am I pushing myself so hard to write this? Nobody's going to want to buy this book. I'm wasting my time. I should be folding laundry so my husband doesn't have to come home to a big mess.

It's unfair to my kids to have a mom who spends so much time writing. Maybe I should quit.

Here's the thing about the voices - they're not going anywhere. That writer who's books you adore? They have the voices too. Being published doesn't make them go away, so you're going to have to figure out how to take charge of them. Here are some things that have worked for me:

"I can fix it."

I have accepted that my first drafts are going to suck. So I just don't worry about it. Nobody sees them, so it's fine. I worry about getting the story down, and when a sentence comes out passive and/or full of clichés and/or riddled with adverbs, I adjust it if I can, or I move on. Because I know I can fix it in the second draft. The important thing at that moment is just to get the words down on the page, to make an attempt.

It's okay if my first draft is full of junk like this:

“I’ve often seen you eating the GIRAFFE,” Hannah says, pointing to the item on the menu. “It’s excellent.”

“Yes, the GIRAFFE is excellent,” I say like some kind of mindless parrot.

(If the "giraffe" is throwing you off, click here.)

Yesterday I wrote this gem:

He’s too good with his words. I’ll never be able to just sneak it out of him. He’s too much of a sneak, and there’s no out-sneaking him.

Those are three clunky sentences communicating ONE idea. It's not worth worrying about in the first draft, because I can fix it. But there's no fixing a blank page.

Appreciate the voices ... within reason

While they're not fun - and while they often say things that have no merit whatsoever - I've reached a place where I'm appreciative of the voices.

Now, I'm not crazy. (Though this entire blog post is about the voices in my head, so maybe that's debatable.) I'm not like, "Woo-hoo, the voices! I'm so glad they're here today! I hope they hang around the whole time I'm writing. I don't want to write a single word without being mentally flogged!"

But the voices push me to be better. How much worse of a writer would I be if the voices were saying things like, "Wow, that's pure gold! Another amazing sentence! Flawless!"

We should always be growing as writers, and if my voices are constantly telling me how predictable my plot is, that leads me to ask, "How can I fix it?"

Don't keep them cooped up in your head

When I'm having an extra "voicey" day, I email Roseanna White. She's a writer, so she gets it. She's honest, so she'll tell me if the voice is telling even a shade of the truth. And she's my best friend, so I know she has my best interest at heart.

Getting the voices out of your head limits their power. About once a week I either have a conversation with my husband or Roseanna where I'm saying some form of, "I hit 40,000 words in my manuscript today ... but the story's spinning out of control, and I feel like no one is ever going to read it." Just chatting with one of them helps tremendously.

It's kinda like when you're watching a movie and two characters aren't communicating some vital piece of information. And you think to yourself, "If one of them would just say how they're feeling, the other one would be able to show them why it's wrong." It's the same thing with the voices. Take away their power - tell a friend.

What about you? Do you hear voices? Any advice for your fellow writer on how to deal with her internal editor?



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Calling all teen bloggers

Jill Williamson is our guest this week on Go Teen Writers. Check out the interview about her writing process and get yourself entered to win one of her award winning books by clicking here.

Also, if you're a teen blogger and a fan of free books (and who isn't, really?), Jill sent me some information on an upcoming Novel Teen blog tour:



Here is the scoop. Myself and some of the other Novel Teen authors are putting together a Novel Teen Blog Tour, and we are looking for interested bloggers.

What is a blog tour? A blog tour is a specific date where a group of bloggers all write a post about a specific book or the book's author in an effort to help spread the word about that title. For now, Novel Teen will only be doing about five-ten books a year, so this isn't something that will happen too often. Less than once a month for sure.

What's in it for you? Free paperback copies of whatever novels we tour.

What kinds of novels will you tour? We will tour novels written by Novel Teen bloggers. You can find a list of our bloggers on the About Us page of the www.NovelTeen.com website. For now, we plan to tour novels by Melanie Dickerson, Heather Burch, Nicole O'Dell, and Jill Williamson. But should any of our other Novel Teen contributors release a new novel, we will tour their books as well.

How does it work? If you are interested, you would follow the link at the bottom of the page and join the Team Novel Teen Yahoo group. You will receive a welcome email. Then you will not hear from us until we are ready for the first blog tour.

At that time, we will send an email inviting you to join that particular blog tour. We will share information about the book, the author, and the date chosen for the tour. If you are interested, you will reply with your mailing address. If you are not interested in that book, you do not reply.
If you were interested, the book will be mailed to you. You will read it, write a review, and post the review on the specified date. We would also appreciate your posting your review on one or more of the following: Amazon.com, B&N.com, ChristianBook.com, GoodReads.com, or Shelfari.com.

And that's it!

If you are interested, join Team Novel Teen's Yahoo group here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TeamNovelTeen/

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Winning Entries from, "It had been four years."

Congratulations to the winner's from last round's writing prompt, "It had been four years, but still the memory lingered."

First Place Winners
Jordan Newhouse
Faye Rhys
Sammie Weiss

Second Place Winners
Jordan Newhouse (also placed first)
Sarah Faulkner
Katy McCurdy

Third Place Winners
Jordan Newhouse (also placed first and second)
Alyson Schroll
Georgina Caballero

Honorable Mentions
Rayna Huffman
Sarah Luckadoo


By Jordan Newhouse

It had been 4 years, and still the memory lingered. Tracing my daughter's perfect features with my fingertips the first time I held her. Imagining the beautiful woman she would become.

She is growing more beautiful, I thought as I watched her laugh and dance in the grass.

All I could muster was a weak smile when she skipped to me. As she slid my scarf off to stroke and kiss my bald head, I savored the sweet scent of the flowers woven into her hair. Tears filled my eyes.

Please, God, is 4 more years too much to ask?


The judge's comments: As a mom, this entry really touched my heart. This is a great example of “showing.” The author didn’t have to say that the mom is sick, it’s shown beautifully though the action. Also, the author incorporates our senses with the “scent of flowers woven into her hair.” The emotions, the pleading with God, is so natural and immediately gains reader sympathy. Having a heroine that readers care about is important, and this entry demonstrates this nicely.

By Faye Rhys

It had been 4 years, but still the memory lingered. Whiskey couldn’t drown the memory of her. It didn’t work that way. I’d tried.

I had been young and innocent then, not knowing a wrapper so pretty could hold a heart so cruel. For a half-penny promise I would have done anything for her.
I’d indulged her; anything she wanted. Cheating poor innocents, and taking their life savings. I’d tried and failed to wash away my sins with whiskey, tried and failed to wash her away too.

But here she was again, standing on my doorstep, shining like an angel, asking for one last favor. One last favor…
The judge's comments: Strong voice in the vein of film noir. I could hear Humphrey Bogart saying this at the beginning of a black and white movie!

By Sammie Weiss

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

I remembered every day with him. His bright eyes, resplendent in the sunshine. His voice, inflicted with the tiniest hint of an accent. And his old guitar, the strings thinned from use.

I took a breath, gathering myself, then pushed the door open. Everything was exactly as he’d left it. His guitar leaned against the faded blue walls. I picked it up and gently began to pick at the strings.

The music began to pour out of me. I didn’t stop until there was nothing left. I looked up to find him standing there, smiling with those shining eyes.

The judge's comments: I love the beautiful simplicity of this entry. The writing is clean and tight, and this is what first stood out to me, even before the characterization. It’s as if the main character has no hope of seeing this person again, and expresses the longing through music—the same medium as the person who left. Then he’s there. Immediately we want to know where he’s been? Did he know how much he was missed? It’s a good hook to keep a reader’s attention. Well done!

By Katy McCurdy

It had been 4 years, but still the memory lingered. Ever present. Closing my eyes, I see it again. I’m standing on the porch facing two policemen and trying to comprehend their words.

Tiffany Beth Stewart had disappeared.

Tears burned my eyes and dampened my lashes. I was only 16 then—what could I do? Helpless, I waited for the police to find her. They failed. She’d vanished without a trace.

But I refuse to believe she’s dead. I’m taking matters into my own hands now. I have a stronger drive that will help me uncover the truth—I am her daughter.

The judge's comments: I liked that the writer withheld the information about being the daughter until the end; I didn't expect that.

By Sarah Faulkner

It had been four years, but still the memory lingered. Most people only have to wait nine months for the birth of
their siblings. The wait for my little brother lasted five years. The first picture I saw of my brother was a 4x6 color
picture, not an ultra-sound.

Most people's trip to the maternity ward is a thirty minute drive, but mine was a thirteen hour flight. I remember when
we landed in Beijing. I remember going to the orphanage the next day.

The first time I saw my brother, he wasn't a pink baby, he was a seven year old boy, and my parents were the ones crying.
The judge's comments: This entry was very unique and heartfelt. I loved the way the writer used contradictions to enhance his/her point and show the differences in the everyday vs. the not-so-typical.

By Georgina Caballero

It had been four years, but still the memory lingered. “God gives and takes away, but the sea only takes.” Her father’s words echoed in the roar of the waves and the lonely cry of the gull. He’d been broken by his wife’s death. Sometimes Aeslinn wondered if the sea had a soul of its own and the storm had risen up to drown him in his sorrow, leaving only empty regrets. She wished he hadn’t left so early that morning so she could’ve seen him one last time. Even more, she wished she’d been brave enough to tell him the truth- tell him that her mother was still alive.

The judge's comments: Wow, great ending hook! Very strong writing, almost literary in style. I love the sea angle and the descriptions. Great job. I also love the line about the sea only takes…powerful stuff.

Congratulations, once again, to the winner's. To see this round's writing prompt, click here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Making dialogue natural

First, I want to quickly draw your attention to the tab up top that says 2011 Contest Winners. Those are bios, pictures, and web site links for the wonderful writers who have placed this year in the writing prompt contests. If your name is on there and you'd like me to add the extra stuff, shoot me an email.

A writer emailed me to ask, "How do you make conversations flow naturally? I didn't used to have a problem with this, but lately I feel like the conversations that my characters are having in my story are too jumpy and don't lead logically from one subject to the next."

This is a great question, though one I'm a little nervous about answering. Because I find dialogue is a "feel" kind of thing. So I can't give you any kind of formula for great dialogue, but I can toss out a few things that might help:

Don't make conversations all about your main character
When I look back at my early manuscripts, it's clear that in my head, my MC was the only one who had a life going on. Conversations fixated on my MC, her problems, her needs, and so forth. Not cool.

Here's a challenge for you - give everyone a problem. That keeps you from having to write stuff like, "What nice weather we're having." "Yes, we sure are." Or "Hi, how are you?" "Fine, how are you?" "Good. How's Trudy doing?" "She's doing great. Thanks for asking."

Yawn.

If everyone has a problem, dialogue instantly becomes more interesting. "What nice weather we're having." "All this sun is killing my garden." Or "Hi, how are you?" "I just hit a bunny with my car. How do you think I am?" Or "How's Trudy doing?" "Ugh. Don't get me started."

Instant improvement.

Don't try to make it read like real life.

Of course it needs to have a real life feel to it ... but we have lots of boring conversations in real life. Especially when we're forced into rooms with our extended family. Don't make your reader sit through Aunt Trudy's 20 minute monologue on her dog's agility training. The only person who's interested in that is Aunt Trudy.

They say fiction is life with all the boring parts taken out. This is true of your dialogue too. Don't make us sit through all the pleasantries ... unless it's one of those awkward moments when two people are seeing each other for the first time after a breakup or something.

Don't let your boys talk like girls. And vice versa.

In one of my early manuscripts, one of my guys kept using the word "fabulous." Everything was fabulous - weather, clothes, classes. No straight guy says fabulous that often. I don't think my husband has ever used that word. Make a list of words this particular character might say instead when they're describing something. Think about where their family is from, how educated they are, how educated their parents are, and so forth.

Think about the motivations of each character and what's going on inside.

The writer who emailed me this question suggested she might not know her characters well enough. This is possible. For me, when my dialogue is flat, it's because I haven't considered the thoughts and feelings of the other characters.

When I was writing Out with the In Crowd, I hit a major wall during an important conversation. Skylar's mom was informing Skylar and her sister that she was moving very far away and they could either choose to stay or come with her. Every word I typed was droopy and tired. I knew I wasn't doing the scene justice. Why isn't this working? I thought. Why can't I come up with any kind of twist or surprise?

Well, the problem was I was only viewing the scene through Skylar's eyes. And we'd spent the first half of the book watching her wrestle through feelings for her mom. So, no, she didn't bring any surprises to the table We'd spent, like, 30,000 words on her.

But when I took the time to digest what had happened to her sister during the course of the story, and what she might be feeling in all this, the conversation suddenly pounced to life. Skylar didn't have any surprises for me, but Abbie sure did.

Don't let everyone say what they feel
There's a time and place for tell-all scenes, but for the most part, your character's shouldn't be saying everything on their mind.

For example. In this scene, Marin is at the restaurant where her new boyfriend, Vince, works. She's convinced she just saw him flirting with a table of girls:

In the short hallway containing the bathroom doors, someone catches my wrist. I’m not surprised when I turn to find Vince giving me a puzzled look. “Hey, where you going?”

I point at the bathroom. “Disneyland.”

“Right.” He cocks his head. “What’s the deal? Katelyn and Ella bugging you?”

“No.” I try to yank free, but he holds on tighter.

He looks to his hand, capturing me, and then looks back up. “Are you mad at me?”

“No. I just have to go to the bathroom.”

And then the choice is yours. Does your character believe the lie, or no? Vince is the type to push, so he does:

“That’s not the face of someone who has to go to the bathroom. That’s the same expression you had when you ate here with your dad and came careening back here.”

“You saw that?”

“Are you kidding? You nearly knocked me over.”

“I didn’t know that was you.” His grip on my wrist softens, but I don’t pull away. “You were flirting with those girls.”

“What girls?”

“Those girls sitting by my table. The busty college girls.”

Vince bites his lower lip but can’t hide his smile. “Busty?”

“We should just end this.” I can’t believe those words just popped out of my mouth, but there they are.

Does Marin really feel like ending their relationship? No. If Marin were being 100% honest she would say, "I know I'm overreacting, and I'm sorry, but I have big trust issues. My dad walked out on us, my last relationship was a miserable failure, and you're so good looking it makes me insecure."

All good things for Marin to eventually realize ... but not good things for her to voice. Especially not yet. Make sure your characters aren't being too honest.

So those are the tips popping into my mind right now. Do you have any to share?



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jill Williamson is here with a giveaway!








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




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




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

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

OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It might look like this:

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2011

Writing Prompt: Garage Sale




This week's writing prompt is:

When I saw what they'd brought home from the garage sale,

I debated making this one a full sentence for a long time (I couldn't believe my eyes, I knew we were in trouble, etc.) but opted to leave it open ended. Same deal - treat the prompt like it's the opening of a novel, and send me the next 100 words by Monday, May 16th 2011 11:59pm Kansas City time. Also known as central time. If you're looking for some tips on what the judges are looking for, here's a blog post about creating a dynamic prompt. And here's a link to samples of previous winners. And here's a link to details about prompt contests. Click away, my friends.

I'm really hoping by the next contest we'll be up to 150 followers and can do our 150-word free write, so if you haven't clicked that "follow" button, feel free to show some love.

As always, you must be 25 or under to participate, and just one entry per person por favor.

These are the judges for this round:


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.






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.









Susan Hollaway
Susan Hollaway lives in Kansas with her husband, teenage daughter, and two dogs. She's a Christian, wife, homeschooling mom, and writer. She writes contemporary romances, and recently had a short story published with Woman's World magazine. Her favorite impromptu get-away or mini-vacation is to escape into a book -- living vicariously through the lives of the characters she either reads or writes about. She rarely meets a carbohydrate that she doesn't like.