Monday, December 24, 2012

Go Teen Writers is Closed This Week

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City at Christmas
In honor of Christmas, Go Teen Writers will be closed until January 2nd. See you back here in 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winners from the 100 for 100 writing challenge

by Stephanie Morrill

Well, yesterday and this morning have involved way more math than I signed up for when I pursued writing, but here are the results of all the number crunching:

Here's the list of amazing writers who completed the 100 for 100 challenge:

Abby Miller
Abigail Hassett
Aidyl Ewoh
Aimee Rose
Alana Carter
Alyson Dow
Alyson Schroll
Amanda Fischer
Anant Hariharan
Angela Marie
Anna Schaeffer
Ashreena Mohammed
Bethany B.
Bruno Silva
Caitlin Hensley
Caroline Niesen
Deborah Rocheleau
Ellyn Gibbs
Emma King
Erynn Besse
Francesca M.
George Arkley
Imogen Elvis
Jenna Blake Morris
Jillian Kenyon
July A. Emmance
Jyllenna Wilke
Kara Suderman
Katelyn M. Shear
Kelsey Gulick
Kimberly Rae
Kristin Roman
Krysta Sorenson
Langston Jenkins
Laurie J. Curtis
Leorah Brinkerhoff
Lydia DeGisi
Lydia Grace Hart
Maddie Morrow
Mariah DeGisi
Marisa Sorenson
Marissa Suddreth
Meghan Gorecki
Melissa Weber
Micheila Thiele
Mindy Butler
Mohammed Zaid
Moriah N.
Natalie M.
Nicole Godard
Ophelia - Marie
P. Rose Williams
Rachel Casto
Rachel Crew
Rachel Kasperson
Rachel Wilson
Rachelle Rea
Rana Aboujaoude
Rebekah Hart
Reecha Patel
RJ Gould
Robin Johnson
Roseanna White
S.J. Bouquet
Sarah Robinson
Sharron H.
Sierra B.
Sunny Smith
Tiffanie B
Tonya LaCourse
Victoria Tucker

(If you think your name is supposed to be on this list, please email me and I'll look into it.) 

And, just for kicks, I looked up who wrote the most in each of the age categories. Virtual high-fives go to:

For ages 13, 14, and 15: Katelyn M. Shear

For ages 16, 17, and 18: Imogen Elvis
(Imogen also wrote the most words of all the writers - way to go Imogen!)

For ages 19, 20, and 21: Angela Marie

For the Old Fogies (22+): Sharron H.

The age group who had the most members complete the challenge: 13, 14, and 15 year olds with 37.

The age group who had the most words per person: Old Fogies with the average amount per person at 62,427 words.

(Average for 13/14/15 was 27,336. For 16/17/18 it was 49,795 per person, and for 19, 20, and 21 it was 24,586)

And now for the prizes!

The 5,000 word critique for 13s, 14s, 15s for having the most amount of competitors goes to: Jalyn

The 5,000 word critique for the Old Fogies for writing the most per person: Tonya LaCourse

The What's Your Story? necklace from Susie Finkbeiner of Inspired Novelties goes to: Alana Carter

And the 10,000 word critique giveaway for all writers who completed the challenge goes to: Jyllenna Wilke

Congratulations! I'm so proud of everyone who stuck with the challenge until the very end AND everyone who gave it a try but bowed out. Participating in something like this shows you respect your dream of writing, and we hope to have many returning and new writers join us for the next 100 for 100 challenge.

Patience please!

I'm still crunching numbers for the 100 for 100 challenge. Prizes and word counts will be announced later today!

Here's something cute to look at while you wait:

Connor - 2 1/2

McKenna - 5

Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 Things I learned about Writing this Year

by Stephanie Morrill

You may have noticed that I'm not Rachel Coker.

I know I said yesterday that Rachel was going to be posting today, but we had to do a little bit of schedule shuffling around here ... so you have me instead. She'll be back on in a couple weeks - yay!

I think it's important at the end of the year to not only considering what we want to accomplish in the next year, like we talked about yesterday, but also to remember all the great stuff you learned this year that you'll be taking with you.

Here are a few things I learned about writing this year:

The importance of "the man" in a story: I realized back in January that a common thread in several popular YA series was that the main character was up against a government authority of some kind.

How to incorporate love languages into my stories: Many thanks to Jill for introducing this concept to me!

The importance of and diversity among kick-butt heroines: A Go Teen Writers' reader asked me a question about this, and it was something I hadn't yet spent much time thinking about.

Why I've always struggled so with middles and how to fix it: While I'll probably always think middles are the hardest part of writing a book, I feel much better equipped for facing them.

And that ultimately I'm not in control of the commercial success or failure of my novels. All I can do is my best with my part of the process - write the best story I can, market it to the best of my abilities, and turn loose the rest. My husband has been awesome about repeating this to me when I'm stressing out. Sorry, honey, I'll probably have to learn this one again in 2013...

What about you? I would love to hear what you learned in 2012!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Go Teen Writers' Schedule of Events

by Stephanie Morrill

For those participating in the 100 for 100 writing challenge, today is your LAST day! Isn't that so exciting? When you're done writing for the day, make sure you log your words on the spreadsheet so I can get everything tallied. (If you don't have the link for the spreadsheet, please email me.)

If you started the 100 for 100 challenge, but didn't make it to the end ... no sweat. Neither did I, actually. I fell apart during the last couple weeks. But I know along the way, there were days when the only reason I bothered with writing was the 100 for 100 challenge, so there was still some success involved. I hope the same is true for you as well.

If you missed out on the last 100 for 100 challenge, or if you want another go at it, we will begin another one on February 1st. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about with all this 100 for 100 nonsense, here's a link to the writing challenge 200+ of us took in September.)

Other events that may interest you this year are:

January 2nd: The first writing contest of the year opens up for those 21 and under.
February 1st: As I just mentioned, the second 100 for 100 Challenge kicks off.
March 1st: Go Teen Writers: How to turn your first draft into a published book will be released. Jill Williamson and I had a blast co-authoring this. This book is our answer to that very big question we often get asked - "How do I get published?"
Also in March: We will have a very fun contest involving pictures of your writing spaces. More details on that to come.
June 17th: Jill and I are both teaching at the One Year Adventure Novel workshop here in Kansas City. Well, Jill will be teaching. I have no official responsibilities yet, so I might fake like a student and sit in the classes. It'll be epic, as Mr. S says.

And that's as far out as we've planned. Sounds like a pretty fun next six months, though, right?

Tomorrow, the young, lovely, and talented Rachel Coker will be here. Friday I'll be announcing prizes from the 100 for 100 challenge, and then we'll be off for the week of Christmas.

We recently talked about writing goals in the last Go Teen Writers newsletter. Does anyone have any writing goals for 2013 they want to share?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

4 Benefits to Writing Prompts

by Shellie Neuemeier

Married for over 20 years, Shellie and her husband have four wonderful kiddos and two goofy greyhounds.  Shellie writes because it keeps her away from her husband’s power tools and because every now and then, she doesn’t have the choice, it just takes over.  Her best inspiration comes from God and the occasional walk along a country road with her greyhounds. Shellie is the founder of NextGen Writers, a free on-line writers conference for teens, and the author of several books, including Driven. Her latest release is Grudges Not Included, which you can learn more about here.

Hey Go Teen Writers! **Waves**

I’m really excited to talk to you all about writing prompts for a couple reasons. First because sometimes we just need to know why we do the things we do. Are you responding to Stephanie’s writing prompt contests because you love writing? You’re competitive and are dying to get that top spot? Because you’ve made great friends and connections through the challenges and can’t give that up? Or is there another reason? And second, we’re going to take a moment and give back to Stephanie for all the hard work she’s done for us.

First, why do we bother with writing prompts? Or rather, why should we? Let’s take a step back from writing and look at biology for a second. While the brain is considered an organ and not a muscle, mental exercises have been shown to enhance the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that improves with learning and controls logical thinking, anticipates events, considers decisions, and regulates social control) similar to the way physical exercise benefits a muscle. With that in mind, let’s look at ways those mental chin-ups can improve your writing…

Pulls you out of your box

Prompts widen your writing horizons by exposing you to new topics. As writer’s we’re always encouraged to find our niche, write what we know, brand our genre; but prompts give us the freedom to write outside our preferred genre. They expose writers, even seasoned ones, to worlds and subject matters we otherwise ignore.

Smashes writer’s block

Because prompts provide new landscapes for our writing brains to play with, they rip through writer’s block like a runner through the finish line. They provide new focus and new questions which we can bring to our other writings. If we save them, prompt writing can become our go-to scrap file. You know. That place where we keep our favorite descriptions, our pet phrases. Why those prompts may even inspire an entire storyline. It worked for me. Grudges Not Included, my recent Christmas release, started with a prompt from a new friend. The prompt: every year in Boerne, TX, a nostalgic Christmas event takes place—The Dickens Event. What happens when The Dickens Event gives life to classic Dicken’s tales? The results: old world Christmas meets modern-day Texas. Cake Boss meets David Copperfield.

Creates new focus

As prompts permit us to write through unfamiliar territory, it refines our preferences and style. Think of it this way, if we didn’t try new foods, we’d never know we hate Brussel sprouts, but love peppermint-stick ice cream (ok, my discovery…you may love sprouts and hate ice cream…it could happen). Our food preferences narrow. Similarly, our writing style sharpens. Remember that Texan Christmas novella? An odd story for a non-baker from Ohio to write, but I’ve since learned I enjoy writing comical characters and have expanded my writing to include romance (but only a little :)).

Frees your writing

Writing prompts encourage free writing without self-edits. Sometimes that inner editor squashes the best ideas, metaphors, plot twists, and creativity. Regular free writing teaches us how to bind the inner editor, if for only a moment, and it permits our imaginations to fly. The resulting creativity is the very thing agents and editors are looking for in fresh manuscripts.

Perfects your craft

Best of all, frequent writing through prompts polishes our writing skills. They provide literary practice for us to hone our grammatical rule usage, to enhance our descriptive writing, and to wrestle with imagery. So whether you submit your writing prompt answers because you’re competitive or because you itch to receive first place accolades, you and your writing will benefit from participating in Go Teen Writers’ prompt challenges.

But it takes so much work from the judges to the organizing to creating the prompts themselves. Let’s give back to Stephanie. Call it our Christmas gift to her. Let’s make up next year’s writing prompts for her. In the form or comments section below, submit your most creative writer’s prompt (keep it to 25 words or less). Who knows, maybe you’ll see your prompt in the next Go Teen Writer’s challenge.

Stephanie here - While I feel like you all give me a gift just by being return visitors to Go Teen Writers, I love the idea of hearing your suggestions for future Go Teen Writers challenges. If you're like me and you're a bit shy, you can utilize the form below and it'll be just between you and me. If you're blessed with boldness (how I envy you!) you can leave your suggestion in the comments section.

Thanks, Shellie, for such a wonderful post! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Writer's Life in the Waiting Room

by Stephanie Morrill

In general, I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss. I loved his books as a kid, and I love reading them to my kids as well. Until recently, though, I had never read Oh, the Places You'll Go! It wasn't on my bookshelf until I graduated high school, and then I never bothered with reading it until my daughter pulled it off the shelf one day.

It's a fun book, and I totally enjoyed it as the character wandered through the magical places, the places with unnamed roads, and so forth. It was all great until we arrived at, "a most useless place. The Waiting Place."
...for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come...
On it goes for a few lines of the various things people in The Waiting Place are waiting for, snow, Friday night, etc. And then:
Everyone is just waiting.
NO! That's not for you! Somehow you'll escape all that waiting and staying. You'll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
As I read the rest of the book, I was completely distracted by how I totally disagreed with that. Life involves lots of inescapable waiting on its own, but the writing life? For writers, our Boom Bands days are few and far between.

We're constantly waiting. Like when a story isn't working like we know it should, and we set it aside and wait until we figure out the answer. Or when we send in a contest entry, we wait to hear back from the judges. We send our stories to critique partners, then we wait to hear what they think of them. And we send out queries to agents and editors, then wait and wait and wait to hear back.

When you're published, you wait for it to be your turn with your editor. You wait for content edits and line edits and sales numbers. You wait for the pub board to decide if you're worth investing in again. You wait for big name authors to respond to the hopeful emails you sent about endorsing your books.

Since Dr. Seuss' was an artist and writer, and since The Cat In the Hat was rejected a ridiculous amount of times, I'm guessing he understood that waiting was a part of life.

But there's a difference between waiting and just waiting, isn't there?

You know how when you go to the dentist and you know you'll be forced to sit in the waiting room for a bit of time? You take a book with you, right? As a writer, you can make a similar choice. And the earlier you learn to do it, the better off you'll be because writers get put in that waiting room a lot.

Here's a list of things you can do while you wait:

  • Brainstorm another book.
  • Write another book.
  • Read a book on writing (like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass)
  • Write a few articles and work to get them published.
  • Enter a writing contest.
  • Try a different form of story, like a screenplay or a novel in verse.
  • Read several books in your genre that are successful. Study them and make a list of why you think they work so well.
  • Try coming up with a story that fits a different genre than what you normally write.
  • Design your book cover
  • Browse the bookstore and pay attention to what catches your eye, especially for authors you've never heard of. What titles make you curious enough to glance at the back cover copy? What back cover copy intrigues you enough to make you open the book? Which first lines hook you into the story?
  • Take the time to send a handwritten letter to your favorite author. Don't ask for anything, just tell them what you about their books.
Are you waiting for anything writing-related right now? What are some other ideas we can add to this list?

p.s. If you're waiting for me to respond to your email, I apologize! I'm crazy behind at the moment due to revisions, the Go Teen Writers writing contest and challenge wrapping up, and celebrating my daughter's 5th birthday last Friday. But I'm working hard to catch up, and I really appreciate your patience.

McKenna at her party enjoying her new Rapunzel doll 

Friday, December 14, 2012

A whole lotta winners

by Stephanie Morrill

It hit me this week as our last contest wrapped up that this is also the end of our 2012 contests, and it's time to giveaway some stuff!

I'm really excited to share the list of everyone who placed in a 2012 Go Teen Writers contest:

1. Gillian Adams
2. Laurie J. Curtis
3. Madison Hines, Lindsey Bradford
4. Kayla Anne CP, Lydia Hart
5. Jessica Staricka, Rachelle Rea
6. Alison Schneider, Jenna Blake Morris, Rebekah Hart, Deborah Rocheleau
7. S.J. Bouquet, Allison Young, Clare Kolenda, MacKenzie Pauline, Leorah Brinkerhoff, Ellen Coatney
8. Katelyn Marie Whitley, Julie Potrykus
9. Rebecca Pennefather, Jyllenna Wilke, Rachel Crew, Samuel LaRue, Jordan Newhouse, Karina Vieyra, Rayna Huffman, Elyssa Blow, Bethany Baldwin
10. Georgina Caballero, Faye Oygard, Alyssa Liljequist, Abigail Hartman, Richard Barrett II, Paulina Czarnecki, Sarah O., Jessica Zelli, Katie Scheidhauer, Skye Hoffert, Margaret Paquette, Nicole Godard, Anna Schaeffer, Britt M., Allison Perdue
11. Madison Cherie, Kaitlyn Evensen, JT Valun, P. R. Golden, Emii Krivan, Abigail Hassett, Sian Marshall, Taylor Copeland, Eliza Salinas, Julie-Anne Hepfner, Caitlin Hensely, Danielle C., Jill H.

As our first prize winner, Gillian Adams has won a year-long mentorship. She'll get a full manuscript critique, we can talk about story ideas, the business, some next steps for her, etc. 

For our second prize winner, Laurie J. Curtis, and our third place winners, Madison Hines and Lindsey Bradford have won a critique of the first three chapters and a 2 to 3 page synopsis, also known as a book proposal.

Not only have our judges been amazing enough to give of their time throughout the year, they also have donated some wonderful prizes for me to give away to those who placed in 2012. The prizes and winners are as follows:
Winner: Madison Cherie 

A "What's Your Story?" necklace from Susie Finkbeiner, owner of Inspired Novelties (colors may vary.)
Winners: Lydia Hart, Rebekah Hart (yes they're sisters - weird!)

Winner: Rachelle Rea

Winner: Alison Schneider

Winner: Sian Marshall

A 5 page critique from Christa Banister
Winner: Kayla Anne CP

Winner: Jessica Zelli

Winners: Jessica Staricka, Julie Potrykus, Karina Vieyra, Elyssa Blow, Britt M.

Winner: Allison Perdue

A 3,000 word critique also from Betsy St. Amant
Winner: Rebecca Pennefather

A WhiteFire Publishing ebook of choice from editor Roseanna M. White
Winner: Eliza Salinas

Winner: MacKenzie Pauline

A "blurb" critique from Roseanna M. White, up to 300 words
Winner: Katelyn Marie Whitley

Congratulations to all the winners!

Our first contest of 2013 will kick off on January 2nd, so be sure to check it out!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Time to Give

by Jill Williamson

In case you haven't noticed, it's almost Christmas! I love Christmas. I wanted a Christmas wedding. I wanted to carry a bouquet of poinsettias, I wanted a Christmas tree where people could put the wedding gifts, I wanted hooded cloaks for me and my bridesmaids to wear, and I wanted to leave the reception in a one horse open sleigh.

Alas, I got married in June. :-( But if I could travel back in time, I'd tell myself to do it anyway. Nothing better than Christmas in June, right?

Today, I wanted to talk about giving. Writers have a unique opportunity. Whenever a person opens one of our books, it's like we've been invited into their home to speak to them. How cool is that? It's better than cool. It's precious. And humbling. Like Spiderman learns: "With great power comes great responsibility." We are charged with doing our jobs well, and respecting the power we are given. And it's a gift that publishers and readers give to us too. I'm thankful for that.

It'd been almost four years since my first book came out, and I'm still in awe of the opportunity I have to speak to readers through my books. But there are many other ways that authors can give to readers. Here are some that I do on a regular basis:

-Answer readers' emails
-Blog about writing
-Teach about writing in schools or at conferences
-Donate books for all kinds of reasons
-Donate critiques for all kinds of reasons
-Thank people in my books

I recently learned that some dear friends of mine were trying to adopt a girl from Eastern Europe. Adoption is expensive, and until they raise over $40,000, little Sydney can't come home. Just learning about their desire to adopt and the fact that they've been unable to have children of their own put tears in my eyes. I wanted to help. But I don't have much money right now. Plus it's Christmastime, and we wrecked our van hitting a cow. (We live in Free Range territory.)

Sydneysoon to beHaydon

But I am a writer. I am creative. And I came up with a way to try and raise money to bring Sydney to her new family. I self-published an enovella. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo will keep their cut, but 100% of my proceeds from this book will go toward Sydney's adoption.

Many things had to fall into place for this to happen, and many have given to Sydney's cause already. Jeff Gerke gave me permission to do this project when Marcher Lord Press holds the rights to my storyworld. In doing so, he also gave up his right to make money off the story. Kirk DouPonce donated a cover, and teens from his church volunteered to model. Rebecca LuElla Miller, the freelance editor I hired, gave me a big discount on editing. As did Kerry Nietz on ebook design. My agent, Amanda Luedeke, waived her right to her 15%. And Chris Kolmorgen had an hour-long, (midnight for me, 2:00 a.m. for him) brainstorming session with me, helping with some last-minute content editing, though that might not have been a sacrifice of sleep on Chris's part, as he is an insomniac, anyway. ;-)

The result is my first self-published project. It released this week. To celebrate that, Jeff allowed me to put book one on sale. So, for the month of December, The New Recruit is $2.99 on ebook. And Chokepoint: Mini-Mission 1.5 is also $2.99.

I'm so excited to be able to experiment as a writer and try new things. And nothing is more exciting to me that discovering a new way of giving back. So, please help spread the word about this project. Tell your friends and family, who like to read. And if they don't like to read, they can still donate to Sydney's fund. My friends have a very long way to go.

And now, I'm proud to introduce Chokepoint: Mini-Mission 1.5.

Ever since I returned from Moscow, life is a full court press. Mission League field agents are everywhere. All the time. Watching. Waiting for me to fulfill a sixty-year-old prophecy. When some baddies try to guy-nap me, the field agents threaten to move me and Grandma Alice to some random hick town, to give us new fake identities until the prophecy is fulfilled.

Not going to happen.

I've got one chance to stay in Pilot Point. I have to prove to the agents that I can stay safe. Have to make this work. For basketball. For Kip. For Beth.

So, bring it, baddies. It’s game on.


To recap, The New Recruit, book 1, is $2.99 for the month of December, and Chokepoint, always $2.99, is now on sale and all the proceeds go to Sydney's adoption.

Click here to view The New Recruit: Mission 1, Moscow on Amazon Kindle
Click here to view The New Recruit: Mission 1, Moscow on B&N Nook
Click here to view The New Recruit: Mission 1, Moscow on Kobo

Click here to view Chokepoint: Mini-Mission 1.5 on Amazon Kindle
Click here to view Chokepoint: Mini-Mission 1.5 on B&N Nook
Click here to view Chokepoint: Mini-Mission 1.5 on Kobo

And click here to visit Kevin and Wendy's blog Haydon Family Growing's On to learn more about their adoption adventure.

This is my last post before the Christmas Go Teen Writers break, so Merry Christmas to you all. Have a lovely time. Read lots. Write lots. And eat lots of fudge.


PS. What gift do you most look forward to giving as a writer? Or, if you give as a writer already, how do you do it? Please share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winning Entries from the "Why did we come here?" contest

Congratulations to those who placed in last round's contest!

First Place:
Leorah Brinkerhoff
Ellen Coatney

Second Place:
Lindsey Bradford
Bethany Baldwin

Third Place:
Britt M.
Allison Perdue

Honorable Mentions:
Danielle C.
Lydia Grace Hart
Jill H.

By Leorah Brinkerhoff, First Place

 “Why did we come here?”
   Practically everyone asks that at least once in their life time.  And for those who haven't, well, they are just those few fortunate souls who were blessed with the gift of extreme optimism.  And cool parents.  Yes, cool parents definitively help the matter.  Because with cool parents, family bonding time is going to the movies, perhaps eating out.  Never with cool parents do you find yourself on national television, dressed as a hillbilly straight down to the billy-bob teeth, barn dancing.  It just doesn't happen. 

The judge's comments: This made me smile. Excellent job!I liked the authentic voice of this character and the surprise twist at the end.

By Ellen Coatney, First Place

“Why did we come here?” Christie whined, clutching her arms around her ribcage in a bony corset and rocking back and forth against the gritty wall of the motel basement.
I didn’t reply. Every answer felt empty.
Across the room, a little kid banged a plastic pony against the floor, chipping away at the cheap paint on the horse’s hooves. The part of me that was still nine years old itched to join him. It beat standing here pretending to be a man when no such thing existed anymore. We weren’t men, or women, or children. We were all just people playing chicken with death.

The judge's comments: There is such great description in just a few short paragraphs. It's very visual and cinematic and leaves me wondering what in the world is going to happen next, what's happened to the world as we know it. It has a smart dystopian feel to it that I love.

By Bethany Baldwin, Second Place

“Why did we come here?” Rosie’s voice slices through the darkness, making me wince.
 “Hush.” I turn to glare at her, but know that in all likelihood she can’t see my expression. “They might hear.” I gesture for her to follow me, and she hurries, tripping over an upraised root that reaches as if to trap an unknowing victim.
 At last she’s beside me. I jerk her down, pressing a finger over my lips as we stare through the bushes.
 “Matilda, what are we doing?”
 I don’t answer. I can hear the footsteps, crunching through the dead leaves outside the tall abandoned office building. Is it him? The John Dillinger?

The judge's comments: I like the hook at the end when I realize they’re spying on someone. Very fun. I enjoyed this.

By Lindsey Bradford, Second Place

 The nicotine whispers reassurances as effervescent as the smoke that rises from the glowing tip. Wasn’t your fault. You’ll be fine. Everything’s okay.
   I drop the spent cigarette to the ground and crush it with my boot. Old habits, I suppose.
   “Lucas Petton has committed crimes against the Crown. His punishment is execution by firing squad. God have mercy on your soul.”
   I look at the row of helmeted soldiers. My sister is one of them. Can’t tell which. I’m pained that our reunion is here, bayonets between us. Why did we come here? How did it get to this?
   I never wanted this, Anna.
   Forgive me.

The judge's comments: The beauty of clear, crisp writing shines through brilliantly here. This writer truly knows how to paint a picture and leave you wanting more with a true cliffhanger that I'd definitely sign up to read.

By Allison Perdue, Third Place

 “Why did we come here?” My voice trembles, more due to fear than the fact that it’s snowing both outside and through a hole in the roof. A dare to enter an old house. Why? A floorboard creaks as my foot moves. The room is covered in furniture with ripped and missing limbs. Books resting in a wooden bookshelf to my left have had their pages ripped out. But that is nothing compared to the blood stains on the table.
“We had a dare, June.” Ethan’s voice sounds as bitter as lemons taste and I wish I hadn’t come.
Nothing I do is good enough for him.

The judge's comments: There's a great sense of setting in the entry. The description is vivid but not too much. Plus, you can't help feeling a little scared for June, the mark of a character you care about as a reader.

By Britt M., Third Place

They said it'd be an adventure. They said it'd be exciting. They said it’d be for the best, and I would get used to it eventually. Like you’d ever get used to howler monkeys on the roof or iguanas on the porch.
They- my parents- like these kind of changes. The continental kind.
*Why did we come here? I don’t know. I bet they don’t know, either, but that’s a typical move for them.
My parents said you only live once. My friends say that, too, but when they do, I’m pretty sure they’re thinking more about skydiving and shopping sprees than moving to Costa Rica.

The judge's comments: Strong writing with a twist at the end that made me smile.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Does Backstory and Exposition Work?

by Jill Williamson

Backstory and exposition are tricky things to handle in fiction. You've all likely heard the cautions against both, but it's practically impossible to write a story without including some. Your characters' lives are complex, your plot is complex, and you want to convey that in your story. So how do you do it?

1. When it's relevant to the scene
Make sure that you save your bits of backstory and exposition for just the right moment. Don't put a flashback of the time your main character almost drowned when she's in math class. Save it for when she's near a body of water.

2. When the plot demands it
As to our girl who's afraid of water, better yet, you could save the backstory and use it at a point when the plot comes to a standstill without it. Our heroine must get the golden key from the island in the middle of the lake. The story can't move forward until the key is obtained. But, uh oh. It comes out that our girl is afraid of water.

3. When you've made them curious
As Jeff Gerke has said to me, "Don't answer questions that no one is asking." I've done this all too often. I've got a bit of really cool research that I'm dying to stick into my story, or I've created this powerful childhood trauma that I feel explains a lot of how my character came to be the way he is. But if the reader isn't curious about my character's childhood trauma, if it's irrelevant to the plot, and I need to keep it out of the story. The same is true for scientific facts. Make your reader want to know, or don't bother sharing.

If you've carefully planted questions in the reader's mind, he will be anxious to learn the answers to those questions. Perhaps you've shown your character get nervous around water, but you haven't said why. When another character asks her to go to the lake for a swim, she snaps at him. When they travel over a bridge, she hesitates, grips the railing, maybe even mentions that she doesn't like lakes or rivers. But you leave it at that, saving the reveal of her fear for the perfect moment.

1. As a big revelation
You've made your character curious and saved the information until the best possible moment, then reveal it in a dramatic way. But you can't reveal everything in this manner or your story would become cliché.

2. Dialogue
You can reveal information in dialogue, but it must be a natural conversation. If it sounds forced, it likely is.

3. Summary
You can summarize, but be careful to make sure that it's relevant to the plot or it can quickly become sneaky telling.

4. Flashback
You can take the reader back in time and show what happened. This also needs to be done very carefully. And use this rarely, too. A book filled with flashbacks can really annoy readers.

-Keep it short- Especially if you're summarizing or giving the reader a flashback. The shorter, the better.

-Shards of glass- Think of your backstory and exposition as a stained glass window. Throw it on the floor until it shatters, then stick those little shards of glass into the story where they fit best. Look for places where the reader might be curious, where the information is relevant, or the plot can't move forward without the information.

-The dumb puppet trick- This is what Jeff Gerke and others call it when you have some information that needs to come out, so you designate one character as the dumb puppet. In my book Captives, Mason goes to work in the Surrogacy Center. He has never seen such medical equipment and asks Ciddah many questions to learn what's what. The reader learns right along with him. Pay attention when you watch movies and TV shows. Hollywood uses the dumb puppet all the time.
Imagine that rug is a diving board!

-The Pope in the pool- This is a screenwriting trick from Blake Snyder. There was a point in a movie when some boring set-up information needed to get explained by the Pope. So rather than having the hero go to the Pope's office, he found the Pope in a swimming pool. So even though the boring, need-to-know information was coming out in dialogue, the reader was fascinated at the idea that the Pope might wear a swimsuit and swim. The oddness of the scene disguised the exposition. You can use this trick too.

-Make it realistic- Be really hard on yourself when asking if what you've written is realistic. Would people really say that?

-Make it a mystery- Whenever you can make information hard for your main character to get, you increase reader's curiosity. The bigger the mystery, the more the reader wants to know.

-Pretend the reader already knows- Whether you're writing a story that takes place in Canton, Georgia or a fantasy realm, resist the urge to include random facts about the place or your characters or magic. Write your book as if your reader already knows the facts. Then as you edit, you can insert critical details when necessary.

-Don't skip the cool stuff!- I did this in my enovella that I just finished. I had a scene where a character was injured in a life and death situation. I ended the chapter on a cliffhanger. Then at the start of the next chapter, I summarized, saying the character was fine. Bad move! I had high tension going, and the reader wanted that experience to go on. I'd built up something interesting, and I needed to follow through. Exposition to tie up this loose end was the wrong choice.

Do you have trouble with backstory and exposition? What tricks have you tried? Which ones would you like to try?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tips for writing a novella (and a giveaway!)

by Golden Keyes Parsons

Golden Keyes Parsons is a popular retreat and conference speaker and author of historical novels. Her book, “In The Shadow Of The Sun King,” (Thomas Nelson Publishing), first in a three-book series based on her family genealogy, released Fall 2008, and was named a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Book of the Year Debut Author category. Her second book, “Prisoner Of Versailles,” was released September 2009 and was named a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Daphne contest and was also a finalist for the Advanced Writers & Speakers Association Golden Scroll Novel of the Year. The concluding book in the series, “Where Hearts Are Free” released September 2010 and is a Women of Faith Book Club selection. Her fourth novel, “His Steadfast Love,” a Civil War novel set in Texas, released November 2011 and was a finalist in the RWA’s National Readers Choice Awards for 2012.

Her next book, “Trapped! The Adulterous Woman,” Book #1 in her series, “Hidden Faces, Portraits of Nameless Women In The Gospels,” (WhiteFire Publishing) was released in October 2012.

To make a long story short...

I love historical fiction. I fell in love with the genre when I was a teenager and read Thomas B. Costain’s The Black Rose and The Silver Chalice. Now I am an historical fiction author. The very mention of the genre conjures up thick volumes of long complicated stories, multiple characters living their lives over several years through convoluted sub-plots.

However, I also have always enjoyed short stories and novellas, and at the moment, I am writing an historical fiction series of novellas. This is a new venture for me. I am learning as I go, and I would love for you to join me on my journey.

So what exactly is a novella? The obvious answer is that it is a short novel. Clever, eh? It is longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. And there is more involved than simply shortening a novel. A typical historical novel in the Christian Market is around 100,000 words or about 350 pages, trade paperback. A novella will run about 20,000 – 25,000 words or about a fourth the size of a novel. Some say a novella can go up to 40,000 words, but to me that enters the realm of a novel.

A novella will usually center around one event. There’s not time to really develop sub-plots. However, in the two novellas I have written so far—Trapped! The Adulterous Woman and Alone, The Woman At The Well—although they did revolve primarily around one event, I did include a lot of back story. I’m going to try not to do that in Book #3, Broken The Woman Who Anointed Jesus’ Feet.

Fewer characters appear in a novella. There is simply not sufficient word count to introduce and fully develop a full cast of supporting characters. But there is time to nicely develop one’s central characters—easier than in a short story—and that must be done to have a satisfying story for the reader.

There will primarily be only one or two POVs. And many novellas are written in first person.
As a novella usually revolves around one event, it will be addressing one question, “Will boy get girl?” or “Will the guilty party be found?” or “Will the storm destroy the town?” etc. In Trapped! the question was: “Will Anna fall for the trap?” In Alone, the question is “Will Marah always be an outcast?” The story winds around that question tighter and tighter until the end.

The rules for good writing still apply to writing a novella. The characters must be relatable. The story arc has to be good. The author must maintain the tension and conflict. In fact, the tension needs to be at a faster pace, because of the short word count. Donald Maass says that every page needs to have tension and conflict on it, and when the story begins to lag, kill someone off. I’m not so sure that’s always possible, but you see how important tension and conflict are to the story.

I am enjoying writing these novellas and developing my skills in this area. After Book #4, Hopeless, The Woman With The Issue of Blood, the four novellas will be combined and printed as a compilation under the series title, Hidden Faces, Portraits of Nameless Women In The Gospels.

So then will it be a novel of women whose encounters with Jesus changed their lives or … oh, I don’t know what it will be called. But I do know it will be a good read!

Golden and WhiteFire Publishing are generously giving away an ebook of Trapped: The Adulterous Woman to one lucky person. We're using Rafflecopter for this giveaway. You can get entered by leaving a comment below, liking Golden and Whitefire on Facebook, or liking Go Teen Writers. This giveaway closes on Friday, December 14th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 7, 2012

Punctuation 101: The Semicolon

by Jill Williamson

It's time for another episode of Punctuation 101, where we talk about something that seems super boring but will really help you out as a writer more than you care to admit. Are you ready?

Today's lesson: The Semicolon

Easy peasy. You never capitalize the first word after a semicolon.

Where to use a semicolon
1. A semicolon is used to separate closely related independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Say what?

Basically, use a semicolon if you want to glue two complete sentences together that are similar.

Ex: "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ex: Ten finalists performed to be the next American Idol; only two finalists remain.

Ex: Mr. Sanchez is a successful chef; however, he won’t eat his own cooking.

Rules for this rule
An independent clause is a set of words that creates a complete sentence. If using a semicolon to join two clauses together and one or both aren't independent clauses (complete sentences), a semicolon is the wrong choice and you should use a comma instead.

You also can’t use a semi colon if you have a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) between the sentences. 

If you put a comma where a semicolon should be, you will have created a comma splice, which is an icky error. Be sure to look carefully at all your clauses. If they are complete sentences, you need a semicolon OR a comma paired with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or). If at least one of them is an incomplete sentence, use a comma.

2. A semicolon is also used between items in a series that contain internal punctuation.

That means, if you're listing things, and you use some commas along with one of the items, that messes up your list. In that case, you can use semicolons to separate your items and commas in each item where you need them.

Ex: I ate berries; toast; eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon; and a smoothie for breakfast.

Ex: Some fantasy novels that are big right now are Harry Potter, staring the boy wizard with a lightning bolt scar; Eragon, where a young boy becomes a dragon rider; and the timeless Chronicles of Narnia, in which a group of children enter a magical land through a wardrobe.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Any questions?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Top 20 from "Why did we come here?"

We received 116 entries to our last writing contest - wow! Congratulations to those in the top 20: (Listed in alpha order)

Allison Perdue
Bethany Baldwin
Britt M.
Danielle C.
Ellen Coatney
George Arkley
Gillian Adams
Hannah Mummert
Jessi Roberts
Jessica Staricka
Jill H.
Kendra E. Ardnek
Leorah Brinkerhoff
Lindsey Bradford
Lydia Grace Hart
Maya V.
Meghan Gorecki
Moriah N
Rachel Wilson
S.J. Bouquet

If your name is on that list, your entry is still with the judges as they determine first, second, and third places.

If your name isn't on that list, I'll be returning your feedback to you in the next couple days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A way to add depth and conflict to characters

by Stephanie Morrill

One way to add depth to your important characters is to determine their philosophies about life. And to maximize conflict, the life philosophies of various characters should contradict each other. (Though it can also be fun to have two characters who believe the same thing, but go about achieving it in conflicting ways.)

I tend to consider my main character's life philosophies quite a bit, but I don't always do a good job considering those of my other characters. In my book The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, which will be released in the spring of next year, I discovered that my main character's flaw conflicted with another character's life philosophy, and it helped me so much as I wrote the rest of the book.

The main character (Ellie Sweet, as you might assume) has a flaw of taking on the victim mentality. There are a lot of things about her life that she doesn't like, but she defaults to, "That's just how things are."

But Palmer, the boy she likes, believes he has full control over his life. And when I discovered that, it helped me nail down why Ellie is so attracted to him.

This is the scene that ties the two - Palmer's life philosophy and Ellie's flaw - together. They're working in the school's dark room developing pictures, and Palmer has just announced to Ellie (whom he calls Gabrielle) that he's sure he's going to get the lead in the school play:

I roll my eyes, even though he can’t see. “How can you say things like that? Like you know what will happen?”
“Because I’m a man who believes in making my own way.”
“You’re not a man, you’re sixteen.”
Palmer laughs as he clips his picture on the drying line. “You’re hard on a guy’s ego, you know that, sweetheart?”
The room is quiet as I move my picture down the line, a candid of Elliot and my mom in deep conversation. It’s too dark to tell, but I think the photo’s turning out all wrong. As if my bitterness over catching them in that moment, doing something Mom never takes time to do with me anymore, shades everything.
“What did you mean that you believe in making your own way?”
“Exactly what I said. I don’t believe in just sitting back and letting life happen. If I want something, I go get it. I make it work.”
I frown. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t control everything.”
“You can control more that you think.” Palmer stands behind me, boxing me into the corner. “Don’t you get tired of just reading about everything, Gabrielle?”
My blood pressure spikes. “I like reading.”
“But you shouldn’t make it an excuse for not living.”

When you've determined a character's life philosophy, you instantly open the story up for plot lines that show the philosophy as true and false. If Palmer feels he's in control of his own destiny, I'm going to look for ways to show him he can't control as much as he'd like. Yet Ellie needs to be accepting more responsibility for her life, so I'll find plot points that can push her toward taking charge. Make sense?

Make a list of the important characters in your story. What's a sentence or two that describes the way they approach life and choices? What truths do they believe about the universe? In the story, how can those truths seem sound and smart, and how can they seem foolish?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weeding Out Weak Scenes

by Jill Williamson

Every scene in your novel should have a purpose. This I've always known, but at a writers' conference this past summer, Nancy Kress taught us that there are three reasons for a scene:

1. To advance the plot
2. To deepen characters
3. To fill in backstory

She also said that, ideally, every scene should do the first two (advance the plot and deepen the characters), and that backstory should be filled in rarely. I'm planning to talk about backstory next week, but today, I want to talk about examining your scenes for purpose and making the hard choice of rewriting them or cutting them altogether.

I'm still learning this the hard way. I often have too many scenes that do nothing but characterize. That's my excuse for keeping them. But scenes that accomplish more than one objective are much stronger. If you can make all your scenes characterize AND advance the plot, you'll be on your way to writing a book that your reader can't put down.

Try to look at each scene like it's a mini story. It needs its own beginning, middle, and end. It needs a goal. The point of view character needs a goal with logical motivation. The scene needs conflict. In his book Save the Cat, Blake Snyder says that you need to know the conflict in each scene and how that changes the emotional tone for your hero.

For example, here is the breakdown of a scene I wrote this morning.

POV character: Shaylinn

Scene goal: Shaylinn must spy on an an old friend (Kendall) and find out if Kendall has the letters.

Motivation: The rebel leader is going to kill Kendall if he can't prove she's innocent, so Shaylinn volunteers for the job with the intention of warning Kendall that she's in danger.

Conflict: Shaylinn is going to confront Kendall about Chord's death and the missing letters. There is an accusation involved, and things could get ugly.

Scene Beginning: Shaylinn confronts Kendall about the letters and warns her about the rebel leader's desire to have her killed if he doesn't get the letters back.

Scene Middle: Kendall confesses that she has the letters, but she explains to Shaylinn that she kept them because Chord made her promise to deliver them only to whom they were addressed.

Scene End: The girls decide to read the letters to see if they can learn why the rebel leader wants them so badly, and they discover a horrible secret.

Emotional tone: Shaylinn started the scene worried (negative emotion) that Kendall would be mad at her when she found out what Shaylinn wanted. But when the scene ends, Shaylinn is relieved (positive emotion) to know that Kendall is still the person she thought she was. Making that emotional tone clear at the beginning and end of each scene keeps your reader hooked.

So, take a hard look at the scenes in your book. Do they have a goal with a clear character motivation? Do they have conflict? Do they have a beginning, middle, and end? And does the scene change the emotional tone of your main character from a + to a - OR a - to a +?

What do you think? Do you have some scenes that need rewritten or cut?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Story Twists and Ripples

by Stephanie Morrill

One of the best parts of both writing and reading a book are the unexpected twists. But I think twists are most effective when you balance them out with what I call ripple scenes.

These are scenes that show the effects the twist had on the characters. I'm going to use the movie Tangled for this post. I know some have issues with using movies instead of books, but I just hate to ruin twists from a book.

One of the early twists in Tangled happens when Rapunzel and Flynn have left the tower. Flynn is looking for an easy out of the quest, so he takes Rapunzel to a rough bar in hopes that she'll get so freaked out by all the ruffians and she'll beg to  be taken home.

But instead we get our twist. The ruffians recognize Flynn from his Wanted poster, one goes to get a palace guard, and others start fighting about who will turn him in for the reward money. Just when things are looking really bad for Flynn, Rapunzel steps in and saves the day. She shares about the dream of her heart, to go see the floating lights. The other rough guys then begin singing about their dreams, and now she's rallied everyone to help her out.

While Rapunzel's actions save them from the angry mob, this twist of Flynn being recognized and Rapunzel singing sends out several story ripples:

  • The palace guards are alerted, so now they're chasing after Flynn and Rapunzel.

  • Rapunzel's "mother" sees Rapunzel singing about being glad she left the tower. She realizes what she's up against, and that she'll need to change her tactics to get Rapunzel back.

You'll notice this twist isn't one that works in the main character's favor. It's one that strengthens the opposition.

Something else follows this twist that I think is a wonderful technique - a brief moment of recuperation. When Rapunzel and Flynn are in the secret tunnel escaping the palace guards, they have a quiet moment where Flynn is showing interest in Rapunzel and her story. We get a glimpse of the subtle change in his heart (he now cares, even slightly, about somebody besides himself) and that helps to anchor how the twist in the story has changed things for him.

Now let's make it yours! In your story, are you taking time to show how the twists effect the various characters? 

Don't forget, today is the last day to enter the 110 word writing challenge, so make sure you get your entries in soon.

Also, there are just 2 1/2 weeks of the 100 for 100 challenge, which is pretty exciting. Looks like lots of you are finishing strong!