Tuesday, January 31, 2012

5 Things I Wish I Knew as a Teen Writer

Today I have the privilege (drat! I never spell that word right the first time!) of guest blogging on Gina Conroy's Writer ... Interrupted.

I spoke about 5 Things I wish I knew as a teen writer. Also, I shared a picture of me in a very dorky hat. So, go for the wisdom or go to poke fun at my hat - you can't lose.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Writing Contest: Alex has somewhere to be

Good morning, guys!

The new writing contest opens today. Here are the details:

There is no prompt this round. I repeat - no prompt. Instead I'm giving you a set up. The set up is: A character named Alex who is trying to go somewhere.

Word limit: 100 words. Think of these words as the opening of a novel. Your goal is to draw the judges into your story and make them wish they could keep reading.

Your entries are due on Wednesday, February 8th by 11:59pm Kansas City time. You may email it to me by clicking here or at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com. Include your first/last name, and no attachments please!

I always send confirmation emails, so if it's been 48 hours and you haven't heard from me, feel free to check back.

The contest is for those age 21 and under. One entry per person please.

For more details and a sample winning entry, click here.

Your wonderful judges this round are Erica Vetsch and Sarah Holman. If you plan on entering this round, feel free to leave a comment below telling these lovely ladies thank you.

Erica Vetsch

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

Sarah Holman
Sarah is the author of The Destiny of One and The Destiny of a Few. She is a homeschool graduate and lives in central Texas. When not pursuing her passion of writing, she can be found taking long walks, reading, sewing or spending time with her family. You can find out more about her at her blog www.destinyofone.blogspot.com

Friday, January 27, 2012

A checklist for editing your dialogue

The lovely Emily Rachelle asked me if I could please compile a checklist for editing dialogue. I thought that sounded like a great idea, so I did. If the following list seems helpful to you, here is the link for downloading and printing it out.

__ Are you trusting your dialogue and using action beats, or are you trying to make up for weak dialogue with lots of, “she retorted” and “he exclaimed” and she “expostulated”?

__ Are your characters strategic about what they say next, or are they just blurting things out? Did they enter this conversation with a plan?

__ When your characters receive tough news or bad breaks, are they processing the situation and experiencing grief in a realistic way?

__ Have you fallen into a “Q&A” pattern anywhere? Where one character is doing nothing but asking questions and the other character is doing nothing but answering them.

__ Do your characters use different words for the same thing, or are their phrasings too similar? (Grocery store can also be the market, purses can also be handbags)

__ Are you letting character/story information come out naturally, or are you trying to explain too much with your dialogue? (“Gee, Bob, I’m so glad it’s our anniversary today and that we’ve been married for 7 years and have 2 beautiful children!”)

__ Does every character behave and interact as though they believe they are the main character?

__ Are you using contractions?

__ Is your dialogue age-appropriate? Or are your toddlers elegant and your grannies saying words like “peeps.” (*Shudder.* Don’t know why, but I hate that phrase.)

__ Do you have too many “group” conversations? (Conversations with 4 or more.)

__ Is “small talk” bogging down your story? (Hi, how are you? Good, how are you? Good. Nice day we’re having. Sure is. And so on.)

__ Do you have a good balance of internal thoughts and dialogue? Does the reader get a sense of not only what the point-of-view character is saying, but why they are saying it and what they feel about the conversation in general?

__ Have you considered conversations from the perspective of all the characters involved, not just the point-of-view character?

Anyone notice something that should be on the list? Leave a comment below, and I'll get it added.

Have a great weekend! Be back here on Monday for the new 100-word writing contest!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winning Entries from "By the time he arrived..."

Here are the winners from the first writing prompt contest of the year:

First Place
Gillian Adams
Jenna Blake Morris

Second Place
Rebecca Pennefather
Jyllenna Wilke

Third Place
Jordan Newhouse
Georgina Caballero

Honorable Mentions
Abigail Hartman
Richard Barrett II
Madison Cherie

One of the changes that's been made this year is that there are points for honorable mentions. First place gets 3 points, second place 2 points, third place 1 point, and honorable mentions .5 points. I keep track of everyone's points throughout the year so we can do all kinds of fun giveaways at the end of the year. So you certainly don't have to enter every time, but you can end up with some cool stuff if you're consistent about it.

For your reading pleasure, here are some of the winning entries. (Posted with permission.)

By Gillian Adams (1st)

By the time Dirk arrived, he knew he was too late.
The keening wail of mourners assailed his ears.  His horse danced a nervous jig, hooves clattering on cobblestone.
He should turn back.
Tugging his hood down, he pressed on, fingers straying to the rapier at his side.  The spiked palace gate loomed ahead, soldiers on either side, crossed halberds barring the way.
Dirk flicked his hood aside.  “Let me pass.”  The soldiers shifted nervously, but did not move.
“Brother.”  A man stepped from the shadows.  “We’ve been expecting you.”
Dirk’s rapier leapt in his hand.  “Roderick.”
“Father’s dead.  But you’ll see him.  Soon.”  Roderick motioned the soldiers forward.  “Arrest him.”

The judge says: Well done! Nice peppering of sensory information with the setting’s description. There’s just enough intrigue to keep my attention, but not confuse me. It’s easy to read and fun to imagine what would happen next. Excellent!

By Jenna Blake Morris (1st)

By the time I arrived, I knew it was too late.
    Of course, when you're being frog-marched around by brainwashed goonies, you don't call the shots.
    But Cord was already dead on the table. My head started spinning.
    "Reese!" Faust said warmly, like we were old friends and he wasn't going to kill me. Then he launched into this spiel about his master plan. When he pulled out his evil-genius homemade charts, I quit paying attention, finally let myself look at Cord. And regretted it. If he weren't so still, he'd seem...alive.
    "Reese?" Faust said.
    I hesitated.
    Then Cord opened an eye, winked at me.  Alive.
    The plan was back on.

The judge says: The style is so energetic and full of life. Even though this wouldn’t be my normal genre, I’m completely engaged. Love it.

By Jyllenna Wilke (2nd)

By the time I arrived, I knew it was too late to calm my mother. Only the arms of two men kept her from attacking everyone in the hospital room. I slowly approached her, all the while watching her writhe and twist her ghostly body.
“The dementia will only continue to worsen until...” The nurse swallowed hard and looked away.
“They’re coming back to finish killing me!” My mom’s eyes bulged out and she gave another violent effort to get free.  
“Mama, no one is going to hurt—ˮ I felt the vomit start to climb into my throat as I stared at the bloody gash stretched across her neck.

The judge says: Original take on the prompt. Caught my interest. I really feel like I’m in the scene.

By Jordan Newhouse (3rd)

By the time he arrived, he knew he was too late. No doctors, no nurses, just his baby girl lying in a hospital bed. She was only 15 years old - too young for this.
He went over and took her hand.
"I'm sorry." Her desperate grip said more than her tremulous words. "I miss my baby."
He tried to think of comforting words, but his mouth was parched and his head throbbing. Watching her belly grow for months hurt bad, but he hadn't imagined the hurt he was feeling now.
"I didn't see her, but I heard her crying."
"You did the right thing."
"No, I want my baby back."

The judge says: What a unique way to use this prompt. It pulls on the emotions with a depth that makes the reader want to read on. Nice!

By Abigail Hartman (Honorable Mention)

"By the time I arrived, I knew I was too late."
The speaker, finished with his recitation, spread his hands palm-up before him.  The telling was over; now came the waiting, waiting in the cold, violent light that filled the place like water.
Then out of the glare leaned a silhouetted face.  "So the child lives."
No answer was needed.  The face rose and a body appeared starkly beneath it as the voice continued, "You were tardy.  Very well! let it live; it is, after all, only a girl-child.  But a child such as she..."  The figure turned, sending ripples through the light.  "You will have to be more careful, Puck."
The judge says: Great descriptions. Especially like “violent light that filled the place like water.” I want to keep reading.

By Richard Barrett II (Honorable Mention)

By the time he arrived, he knew he was too late.
He sat down and leaned on the table, his breathing low and short as he placed two fingers to his temple. “All right,” he said. He took a deep breathe to regain his composure.
His breathing slowly steadied as he reached for the tumbler, and sipped the lemonade.
“They’ve taken it,” he said, staring off into space.
“Sir…How…shall we proceed?” asked the sergeant.
He breathed methodically in thought. They could not have it.
“Well,” he said, his mind still running the possibilities. He turned his gaze toward the sergeant, his blue eyes flickering steadily. “We’re going to blow it. We’re going to blow the most destructive weapon—ever known to mankind.”
The judge says: Unique hook. Nice creativity with good suspense build-up. You can feel the stress, the tension. Nice job!

Congratulations, everyone!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An exercise for richer dialogue

One last dialogue exercise for you guys today. This is an exercise I found in James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing, though he credits Jack Bickham (Writing Novels That Sell) for creating it. It's possible I've mentioned it on here before because my bookmark was still on this page. But if I have, it was awhile ago, and I couldn't find the post.

In my head, I always call this "the PAC exercise." The idea is that in any interaction between people, we tend to pick a role and speak and act consistent with that role. These are the three choices:

Parent: They are the seat of authority, the one with the power. As James Scott Bell puts it, the parent, "lays down the law. What he says goes. End of issue."
Adult: This is the most "objective" role. The rational and even-tempered one who can see things as they are.
Child: This person is not rational in the way they think. They tend to be selfish and want what they want, when they want it.

So, a conversation between two "Adults" is not going to be as conflict-ridden as a conversation between a "Parent" and a "Child." Or between two "Children." Or two "Parents." Ever been around two people who like to (and are used to) being the ones in charge, who are used to having the final say? Tension can mount quickly!

When you're thinking about your characters (or filling out character charts if you do that), consider what role they tend to take on when interacting with others.

Of course, most people would say they're "adults" because we all assume our way of thinking and doing things makes the most sense. It's also possible for characters to toward different roles depending on who they're with. Like because I spend so much time being a real-life parent to my real-life children, sometimes when my husband gets home, I tend to be a "parent" in our conversations as well. And I'm completely ignorant of it until he points it out to me.

The great thing about this exercise is that it can help you deepen your characters because you learn more about their inner workings. If they tend to be a "child," then what situations can push them into more of a "parent" role? Of if they're pretty level-headed, what makes their "parent" or "child" come out?

You can have a lot of fun with this one!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jill Williamson is here with a giveaway!

I'm super excited to have Jill Williamson on the blog today! Jill and I had a chance to spend some QT with each other back in November when we locked ourselves in a stuffy conference room all day and took fast and furious notes about all kinds of things relating to the business of writing.

Here we are on the airport shuttle, a little delirious from the day.
Jill is a way fun person. If you someday choose to lock yourself in a stuffy conference room all day, I recommend you sit beside Jill.

And not only is Jill fun to hang out with, she's also a dang good writer. The powers-that-be for the Christy Awards agree with me, because they've given her two in the last two years. (Three years, maybe? Regardless - she's got a couple of 'em.)

Jill's latest book, Replication, just hit shelves and today's your lucky day because she's going to give away a copy to one lucky commenter on Go Teen Writers. (Due to the realities of international shipping prices, the giveaway is limited to US Residents. Conversation with Jill, however, is not.)

Jill, I love the concept for Replication. Can you tell us a bit about how you got the idea?

I was riding in a car through upstate New York with my sister. We were going to pick apples. We passed endless amounts of ranches, orchards, and farms. It got me thinking. What if there was a farm where they grew people? Clones. It could be called Jason Farms. And that’s where the idea for the story came from. I wanted to explore how the world might treat cloned humans. Would they have the same rights as the rest of us? And what would their existence say about a creator God?

Intriguing. I love how that happens sometimes. You're driving along, and then bam.

What's your writing environment like? Do you have an office? Are there inspiring quotes or pictures up on the walls? Do you have music playing?

I sometimes write on my laptop, but mostly I’m at the computer. It’s in what we call the “computer room” in our house, which is an open room between my bedroom and the kitchen. The computer sits on a 4’ X 6’ desk, which is covered with piles of my stuff. I have these To Do piles that I never usually get to doing. Anyway, I tend to have the current project’s folder in the pile nearest the computer, or sitting on top of the other pile, spread out all over the place. I also have a “come and meet the author” fancy sign I made for booksignings that I cover with pictures of my characters. That stands to my right so I can look my characters in the face.

There are some nice posters on the walls. I have a framed map of Middle Earth, and Brad has a sweet picture of several starship Enterprises and the new Tron poster. My writing files and shelves are in this room, holding file folders with all my other ideas.

I do NOT have music playing. I can’t concentrate with music playing. If I hear any music, my brain is overcome with wanting to sing and I can’t create. I know some writers love music while they write, but it’s never worked for me.

Me too! It has to be instrumental, or my brain is preoccupied with singing along.

What's a piece of advice that really took your writing to the next level? (For example, something really clicked for me when I realized my character needed to have a goal.)

For me, things really started to get easier when I stopped taking everything so seriously. I used to edit the life out of my writing, trying to get every writing rule perfect. But then I’d read books by multi-published authors who were breaking all the rules I was trying so hard to keep. It was SO confusing!

So I stopped. I decided to write the book, then edit it until I felt it was ready, then move on to the next book. Doing that boosted my confidence enough that I stopped freezing and fretting over whether I was good enough and  trusted that I knew what I was doing. For writers, it’s often really difficult to trust yourself, but we all have to get to that point if we are going to turn writing into a career.

What a great insight, Jill. Making a career out of any kind of art form can be tricky for that reason. It's so hard to know when it's ready.

If you could only pick one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Pride and Prejudice. The dialogue is so good, I could read it again and again and again and…

I know I'm not alone when I say this - that's a book I could reread every year. That's probably my desert island book as well.

Speaking of reading, one of the things I admire about you is you read a variety of genres. What's the best book you've read recently?

The Jerk Magnet! I read it last week. It’s Christian teen fiction by Melody Carlson, but truly, I loved it. And really, I suppose that the premise is a bit out there. Not every girl has the financial ability to get that kind of a makeover, but I just really loved what Melody did with the story. It was very well done.

Thanks, Jill for being with us!

To get entered to win a copy of Replication, you may either leave a question for Jill or tell us what genres you like to read best. Or are you like Jill, where you simply like good books regardless of where they're shelved?

Monday, January 23, 2012

More Tips for Improving Your Dialogue

Back in 2009, I had the privilege (I never spell that word right the first time - anyone else struggle with that one?) of attending one of Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel seminars. It was a-mazing. I sat next to Erica Vetsch and we both scribbled fast and furious all day long.

I have a couple of Mr. Maass's craft books, and a lot of the exercises we did that day were from his workbook, but there was something different about taking the class. Something about sitting in a room with 300 other writers, my head full of my manuscript, and Mr. Maass challenging the heck out of me from the stage. If I could take that class every time I started a new project, I totally would.

One of the things he did with us that day was having us find a conversation in our manuscript that we felt needed improvement. He then had us rewrite the same conversation using several different styles. First he said to us, "Rewrite the conversation using all insults. Start now. Go."

I just stared at my page. Insults? I was thinking. Chase wouldn't be insulting Gabby right now...

But even as I thought it, I realized that Chase did have a little anger bubbling inside him. As did Gabby. This is what I jotted down:

C: Why are you acting like this? Why do you insist on ignoring what's really going on?
G: Because - nothing is going on. This isn't going to happen, Chase. Not now. Not ever.
C: Why are you afraid of this? Because of where I live? Because of Frances and Marco?

After a few minutes of letting us write, Mr. Maass made another suggestion: Write the dialogue they'd like to be saying. His example was when you're at a restaurant and your food finally comes. The waitress says to you, "So sorry about the wait," and you say, "It's fine." But that's not what you want to say, is it? And that's likely not even what she wants to be saying.

The next time we rewrote the same conversation with a "Rat-a-tat" style. Short sentences, small words. Like:

C: What's with you?
G: Nothing.
C: You look weird.
G: Uh, thanks...
C: I meant strange.
G: That's not better.

The last exercise he had us do was to write the same conversation, but with just one person speaking, with the other not responding.

After the conference, when I tackled that conversation with Chase and Gabby, I ended up kinda combining the different styles, and I was really pleased with the results. The exercise pushed me deeper into my characters thoughts and emotions, and it also pushed me out of my same-ol', same-ol' dialogue routine.

Question for you guys: How often do you pull conversations from real life and put them in your manuscript? Do you have people in your life who provide you with more "gems" than others? (Whether they intend to or not!)

Friday, January 20, 2012

News Day and the Top 20

Super proud of two lovely ladies from the Go Teen Writers community. First:

Walks Alone by Sandi Rog is available digitally, or you can preorder a print copy. Jordan Newhouse made the dress that "Anna" wears on the cover! How cool is that??? You can find more pictures of the dress here on Jordan's blog.

Also, yesterday Rachel Coker began guest blogging on Go Teen Writers. I saw on her blog that Interrupted was reviewed by Publisher's Weekly which is a huge deal. Especially because their review was so positive. Way to go, Rachel! You can find more details on Rachel's blog.

And the following 20 people have big news. They finalled in the Go Teen Writers 100-word contest. (Listed in alpha order.)

Abigail Hartman
Alana Carter
Becki Badger
Clare Kolenda
Georgina Caballero
Gillian Adams
Jenna Blake Morris
Jessi Roberts
Jordan Newhouse
Jyllenna Wilke
Katie McCurdy
Kayla Anne CP
Laura Auchinleck
Madison Cherie
Mary-Jo Shaw
Micah Eaton
Rachelle Rea
Rebecca Pennefather
Rebekah Hart
Richard Barrett II

Congratulations, guys! There were 74 entries to this contest, which is by far the most we've ever had. Winners will be announced next week, and if your name isn't on that list, you'll be receiving your feedback sometime in the next couple days.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rachel Coker on How She Got Published at 15

Hi, everyone! Rachel Coker here. I’ll have to admit that when Stephanie first invited me to write as a guest-blogger for Go Teen Writers I was a little overwhelmed. But then, as I looked over past posts and read all of your comments encouraging each other and offering advice and support, I had a miraculous change of heart. This is exactly the type of community that I wish I’d been a part of when I first started out writing.

Every time I think about all the teens out there, all over the country and across the globe, who are as passionate about writing as I am, it gives me hope. Hope that the market will open up and be more willing to receive books by average teenage kids with amazing talent and passion.

If you had asked me six years ago what my life would have looked like at sixteen, I’m one hundred percent sure I would have had no clue. I thought my days would be filled with school and rushing around to get to my day job. I always figured I’d be scrimping and saving for college, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I never thought I’d be a writer. I never imagined I’d have a book published before I even finished eleventh grade. But God had different plans in store for my teenage years.

My life changed course in the summer of 2010. I hadn’t been writing fiction for very long—maybe two or three years at the most—but I’d just finished working on a book. A novel. At fourteen, I felt like it was something of an accomplishment. Of course, that was back when I thought I was all alone in the world as an aspiring author. I was self-conscious, unsure, insecure, and all the other things that normal fourteen year olds are when they evaluate their own abilities. I never spoke a word of my writing to anyone outside of my family. No one knew about my book, no one even knew that I wrote! It was something I kept to myself, nervous of the reactions I would get if people found out.

So how did my life turn upside down, in spite of my fears and reservations? Well, one afternoon, I decided to see if I could get published. Yeah, it was pretty much that unexciting. I asked my mom if I could send a query letter to a couple agents, and she said yes. So I Googled “Christian literary agents” and came up with a short list. Then, after a few prayers, I sent out emails to about a dozen agents. Long story short, one of them decided to work with me and my parents quickly realized that this was serious and they had to read this book I’d written.

By Christmas, my then fifteen-year-old self had a contract with Zondervan for my first YA novel, Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words.

That was a little over a year ago. And since then, my world hasn’t been the same. In the middle of all the marketing and interviews (including one on this very blog with Stephanie!), I realized something. The very best thing that has happened to me through all of this is that God has let me interact with so many teenagers from all over the country who share the same hopes as me. Teens who just want to write, and be heard. They have something to say, and their only desire is for God to give them a chance to say it. Just like me.

I don’t know how much I have to say about writing, or life, but I guess I’ll find out over the next few months! I’m just a sixteen-year-old girl who struggled her way through geometry and is still trying to pass her driver’s license test (it’ll happen soon, I tell you!), but I still like to believe that there are some teens out there interested in my story. Who will be encouraged to find out that unlikely things can happen, and that a teenager can publish a book. Who will find comfort in the knowledge that God can use our talents no matter how old we are.

Stephanie and I agreed that I would guest post on Go Teen Writers once a month. I’ll talk about writing and the publishing process, as well as offering any personal stories or advice that other teens can learn from. If you want to hear from me on a more regular basis, you can check out my personal blog. [Caution: I sometimes ooze sarcasm and talk about pie way too much]

I do accept all kinds of questions from readers and try to give answers pretty regularly. Also, if you want to know more about this elusive novel of mine, pre-order it here and get your copy by March! Thanks again for having me, and hopefully this will be the first of many posts here! -Rachel

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Melanie Dickerson is here with a giveaway!

I am beyond thrilled to have Melanie Dickerson with us today! Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of The National Reader’s Choice Award for Best First Book. Melanie earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama and is a former teacher and a missionary. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntsville, Alabama.

Melanie is giving away a copy of The Merchant's Daughter to one lucky Go Teen Writers' reader. Details for getting entered will be at the bottom of the post. Kinda like how supermarkets put milk all the way in the back...

Melanie, as a historical writer, what is it that draws you to the medieval time period?

I love the medieval time period, and I always have. I grew up reading about King Arthur and Ivanhoe and Robin Hood. Those stories are so thrilling and romantic to me. And that period is so colorful and fun and has such potential for plot twists and intrigues. That time period has always fired my imagination.

I cannot resist asking this. When you write romantic scenes between your characters, is it ever in the back of your mind that these people have never brushed their teeth?

Oh my gosh, Stephanie! That is a hilarious question! LOL Well, I do think about that sometimes, but not when I’m writing the romantic scenes! Actually, there were etiquette books that have been found from medieval times that explain how people should clean their teeth. They actually did have toothbrushes of sorts, tooth powder to use with the brushes, and certain types of wood were whittled down to use for teeth cleaning that were supposed to give you sweet breath if you chewed on them. I have found that a lot of what people think they know about medieval times is actually not true at all. It makes for fascinating study. For instance, bathing was a social activity, and medieval people probably bathed fairly often. They had Roman bath houses to bathe in, and even had more than one type of bath tub for use at home. So yeah, they weren’t as stinky and dirty as you think!

That's good to know! I'll read my next medieval book through a new (and cleaner!) lens. I loved The Merchant's Daughter. It was so fun, and I really love how the fairy tale aspect (Beauty and the Beast) is there ... but it doesn't take over the story. The story still feels original. I know you have a couple other fairytale-inspired stories in the works; what comes first for you - the original fairytale, or your storyline?

Hm, that’s a hard one, Stephanie! I start out with a fairy tale, usually, and then start thinking, What if? The story takes off from there and deviates quite a bit from the original fairy tale. I usually have to make myself come back, as I’m plotting, to the fairy tale to keep the story from deviating completely. And the characters and the story just evolve together. I don’t know how else to explain it. The characters and the story have to fit and complement each other. Ranulf was himself, and yet his character came out of the fact that he was “beastly.” I’m probably not explaining this very well! Honestly, it’s always hard for me to remember which aspects of a story I thought of first, and how it all came together and came into being. And by the time I’m halfway into writing my story, my characters and their story are so real to me, it’s more like I’m dictating their story as they tell it to me. I’m sure you know what I mean!

So ... what happens when you run out of Disney movies?
Well, I’m thinking about branching out for my next book and using a lesser known fairy tale. I’m not stuck on Disney ones!

I know you received at least one angry review from someone who felt like the Christian message didn't appear in The Healer's Apprentice until the end, that you surprised readers with it. No one could ever say that about The Merchant's Daughter! The Christian message is so strong (yet organic) in this book ... was that just because of different story/different needs, or did the reader feedback impact you?

No, the reader feedback did not impact this story at all, because this story was already written before The Healer’s Apprentice was even published! I am not hiding the fact that my stories are published by a Christian publisher, and they are Christian because I’m a Christian. I set out to write the most entertaining and meaningful, thought-provoking stories I possibly can, and the Christian message is there because it’s there.

Well put! What is something you did that you feel made the difference in your journey from unpubbed to pubbed? Writers conference? A particular piece of writing advice? Sitting on the airport shuttle with me in Denver?

Hard work and prayer. And riding in the airport shuttle with you, Stephanie, of course!!! (I WAS happy to meet you!) God is good. And I worked hard. There was no one thing that I did that made it happen. I tried for three years to get The Healer’s Apprentice published, and in those three years I wrote two more books, the first being The Merchant’s Daughter. If I had to say one thing, I’d say it was because I didn’t give up, I tried to listen to God’s direction, and I chose to believe it was going to happen, some time, some way.

"God is good. And I worked hard." Amen to that! When did you start writing? And if you stumbled upon some kind of time transport system and could send your newbie-writer self an email with 3 tips, what would they be?

First of all, I would tell my 19-yr-old self not to quit writing and reading fiction! I wanted to be a writer in high school, but having the fatalistic mindset that I had at the time, I decided if I couldn’t be a successful, published writer right away, I would give it up entirely. I didn’t start writing again for almost 15 years. And as for the tips, I think I found those pretty much right away when I started writing again, by some blessed-by-God chance. The most important things are ... Don’t give up. Persevere. Pray hard. And listen to God’s direction. God is faithful.

Isn't Melanie great? I just love her.

And you want to get yourself signed up to win The Merchant's Daughter because it's a wonderful read. To get entered to win, leave a comment either asking Melanie a question or answering what is your favorite part of the writing process? The first draft? (Shudder.) World building? Brainstorming?

(Due to the realities of international shipping fees, this giveaway is for US residents only, though all are welcome to converse with Melanie. This contest ends Monday, January 23rd.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tips for Improving Your Dialogue

A writer asked me about writing exercises you can do to improve your dialogue. Really, the best exercises for learning to write better dialogue are:
1. Write more stories.
2. Read more great books with great dialogue.
3. Watch more movies and TV shows with great dialogue.
A myth I often hear about dialogue is that it should sound like real life. No, it shouldn't. Great dialogue sounds like the way we wish we all talked. The way we would talk if we could edit real life. Expose yourself to great movies and great books, keep plugging away at your own manuscripts, and dialogue will start to work better.

But sometimes even after you become an agented, published, well-received author, there can be conversations in your book that just aren't working. They're flat, predictable, trite, whatever. I hit a wall like this while writing Out with the In Crowd.

I was on my first draft and Skylar, my main character, had just had a wonderful show down with her former best friend, Jodi. Because that plot line had really heated up, I knew it was time to hit her from another angle - to bring back the mother who had left back in chapter 3.

I got to my computer that morning, rubbed my hands together, and poised my fingers over the keyboard.

And then...


I mean, nothing good. It was all what you would expect - What are you doing here, Mom? I came back for Abbie. You want to go with her? Yada, yada, yada.

When I finished writing the conversation, I knew it was flat. That despite all the emotions that should  be going on in the family's conversation, they weren't there on the page.

I re-read my work, and then found one little blip of dialogue that intrigued me:

Abbie's chair grated across the tile as she stood. "Do you know what it's like to be plain and boring while your sister's some exotic beauty?"

It intrigued me because until then I had always been seeing Abbie through Skylar's eyes - the long copper hair, the cinnamon eyes. But I had never before thought about how Abbie felt about Skylar's unique beauty.

And if I haven't thought about that, what else have I not considered from Abbie's perspective?

I prefer to write in first person and from only one point of view character, but I rewrote the conversation from Abbie's point of view, just as an experiment. And then from the mom's. When I did that, I was able to tap into the other emotions going on in the scene. Previously all I'd been able to capture was Skylar's shock. But Abbie and their mom had been planning, manipulating, waiting. Much more interesting.

Then I took what I learned, and I rewrote the scene from Skylar's point of view. It worked much better that time, and I'm proud of the finished product. It would be madness to attempt this exercise for every conversation. But for those high-emotion, high-impact scenes, it's worth the effort.

If you own a copy of Out with the In Crowd and want to read the scene in its entirety, it starts on page 135. If you don't own a copy of Out with the In Crowd, but you would like to, leave a comment below, and I'll get you entered to win a copy. And be sure either check back for the winner or leave an email address so I can get a hold of you. (Due to the realities of international shipping fees, this giveaway is limited to US Residents only.)

Speaking of giveaways, Melanie Dickerson will be here tomorrow - yay! - giving away a copy of The Merchant's Daughter. 

Also, if you have anything you'd like included in this week's news day - finishing a first draft, getting an article published, committing to a writing schedule - send me an email at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com, and I'll get you on the schedule.

What book or movie or TV show do you think is an example of great dialogue?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Question for you: Are you sticking it to the man?

I had the kind of weekend where I felt like I was merely surviving. Just keeping my head above water, doing what absolutely had to get done before I fell into bed at night. For those of you who have entered the Go Teen Writers 100-word contest, this means I'm way behind on confirmation emails. Hopefully I'll be catching up throughout the day. Thank you for your patience on that.

Today I have a question for you - is "the man" in your manuscript?

It occurred to me that these four very popular YA titles have and a common element of battling "the man." (Is stick it to the man an American phrase? Just in case it is, "the man" refers to the head honcho. Usually it applies to the government, but it can also apply to powers on a corporate level. Like your boss would be considered "the man.")

In the Twilight saga, Bella must battle the Volturi - the monarchy within the vampire community.

In Matched, Cassia is resisting the overbearing government as it interferes with her grandfather's life, her mother's job, and even her love life.

In The River of Time Trilogy by Lisa T. Bergren, "the man" element is slightly different since Marcello, the hero of the novel, could technically be considered the man. But Gabi and Marcello consistently fight the opposing government.

And "the man" element is most prominent in The Hunger Games trilogy where Katniss is practically sent to her death in the beginning of the first book for the entertainment of the capital city. (I saw the movie trailer last time I was at the theater and I got all teary. Very excited for March!)

These are books that have made a splash, made an impression with readers. All have love triangles (though they're more prominently featured in the first two listed) and they all have an authority figure who the main character must battle. Readers like rooting for a character who can see beyond his/her problems and fight for something bigger. In your novel, is your main character fighting for something bigger than his or herself?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Building a Platform before You Have Anything to Say

You may be saying to yourself, "Hey, where is the promised post on dialogue exercises?"

It's still waiting to be written, and it's all my husband's fault. Okay, so that's not entirely fair, but him having surgery yesterday morning did eat up a lot more of my time that I anticipated. (That sentence just made me laugh out loud. Hello, Stephanie. Husband having surgery + 2 little kids will likely not leave much time for blogging. Not sure why I didn't see that coming.)

So, the short of it is that dialogue exercises will have to happen next week. But I do have time to do some copying and pasting!

Some of you might have seen this on Seekerville back in the fall. This is written by Gina Holmes, the award winning author of Crossing Oceans and the founder of Novel Rocket (which, oddly, was mentioned on here yesterday because they just opened their Launch Pad contest for unpublished writers.)

Many of you have asked me about if you should have a blog now when you're not published, or what kind of things you should be doing to market yourself. I will be perfectly frank with you and say this is something I wasn't at all smart about. But Gina Holmes was, and she has some great tips to share, which is why I asked her permission to repost her words on Go Teen Writers:

When you’re constantly receiving rejection letters from publishers or agents, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is publicizing a novel you can’t even seem to sell.

Before I continue, let me stop a moment and give this very loud and clear disclosure: nothing, nothing, NOTHING, matters more than writing a killer book. Spend 99 percent of your writing time perfecting your craft and fashioning a story that will change the lives of those who read it, or at least entertain the heck out of them.

But with the other one percent of your time, even if you’re just starting out, start building yourself a PR folder. You’ll thank yourself later.

My debut novel, Crossing Oceans, released May 2010 with Tyndale House Publishers. Though it was the first to earn a publishing contract, it was actually the fifth novel I’ve written. I started my marketing folder back on book two because I was sure it would be published. Although book two still collects dust, as does three and four, I’m lucky to have gotten that head start.

The thing with publicity is if you wait until your book is releasing or even about to release, you’re almost too late.

Once you sell your first novel, you often are under contract for a second, and possibly third. I was contracted for a second novel which was due the end of the month my first novel released.

I had more than a year to write this novel, so I didn’t stress. Until that deadline snuck up on me and I wasn't even close to being finished. What happened? Well, I had some personal things that set my writing back. I got married to an amazing man who distracts me just by walking by. Major life changes, no matter how good have a way of slowing the literary flow—for me at least.

After what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time, I finally turned my sample chapters in for approval… they weren’t approved. The story I'd planned and plotted was too different in tone from the first. I was asked, for my own career good, to hold off on this one and try something else. Both my agent and publisher were in agreement, and after a little consideration, so was I.

I found myself with just a few months to publicize my all important, debut novel, and write my all important sophomore novel.

I also had children, a day job and Novel Rocket to tend to. Guess what? I was certainly stressed, but not as stressed as I would have been had I not started preparing for that moment years in advance. I’d like to share some of what has helped me.

What can you do now to get ahead of the eight ball?

1. Buy your website URL and begin to build it. You can go very expensive and pay thousands for a professional site, or you could start small and do something like godaddy, where you build your own site. I took a third route and hired someone to make me a template and then set it up like a blog, so that I could tweak and update it easily.

2. Get professional headshots. I hired a friend whose work I admired but who is still considered an amateur. For fifty dollars and my husband agreeing to baby-sit for an afternoon, I got a few really great and professional looking pictures. Don’t let anyone convince you that a good headshot is a waste of money for a novelist. On Novel Journey we post lots of author photos, many of which look like candid shots that other people are cut out of. Remember how important perception is. I look at a substandard picture and I subconsciously think this author is no perfectionist, and am less likely to want to read their work. Spend the money and get a good promo picture of yourself.

3. Keep a file filled with the names of magazines you come across that fit your writing. For example, if you write Victorian era historicals, Victorian magazines might later be interested in an article written by you. Jot down the names of them and any other publications you come across that might be a fit. This will save you a lot of research time later on.

4. Keep a folder of book reviewers you’ve come across that seem to enjoy the type of stories you write. I send myself emails with the reviewer’s name, books they’ve reviewed and liked, their email address and, if I know them, how I know them. While it’s true that they might not still be reviewing when your book finally releases, it won’t hurt to try.

5. Start reading marketing/publicity books now and take notes. My personal favorite is the simply titled Publicize Your Book. If you can only afford one book on marketing/publicity, I highly recommend you make it that one.

6. Read The Tipping Point. It will explain some very important concepts on what makes things popular. It’s an easy and surprisingly entertaining read.

7. Read How to Make Friends and Influence People. The book has been around forever for good reason.

8. Keep a list of natural influencers. You’ll call upon these folks later for help in getting the word out about your book.

9. Help anyone you can. For one, it’s just the right thing to do, for two, what goes around comes around.

10. Start building your platform now. Write articles, create a blog with excellent and frequently updated content, volunteer to teach classes on what you’re an expert in, or for whatever committees in ACFW, or other writing organizations you belong. People are much more likely to be interested in your book if they feel like they know you and you’ve shown interest in them.

In conclusion, Crossing Oceans, my debut novel went on to hit CBA, ECPA and PW's bestseller's lists. Did my platform and diligent efforts pay off? I tried to do everything right—to write an excellent story, to build a platform, network, help others, and everything humanly possible to publicize my book.

Was that what made the difference?

That’s the kicker, maybe yes, maybe no. The thing with publicity is that no one really knows what works. All we can do is write the best book we’re capable of, not let any chance pass that will help get the word out about it, and say our prayers.

With my sophomore novel, Dry as Rain in stores now, I get to ride the up and downs with as much wonder as the first go around. It's still every bit a mystery as it always was, but I'm doing what I can once again to help my book's chances of finding readers. . . and not letting book three's deadline catch me off guard this time.

Gina Holmes is the author of the award-winning novel, Crossing Oceans and newly released Dry as Rain. She founded Novel Rocket (formerly Novel Journey) in 2005 where she continues to wreak havoc to this day. She and her sexy husband and fabulously good-looking and brilliant children make their home in Southern Virginia. You can learn more about this modest writer at
her web page www.ginaholmes.com or Novel Rocket.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Contest Announcement and News Day

I'm currently sitting in the lobby of a surgery center waiting for my husband's procedure to get underway. It's minor, routine surgery that will help him breathe through his nose better ... but it still means very sharp objects near his eyes and brain. Both of which I happen to like. So I'm a wee bit nervous...

Let's focus on happy stuff. Like:

Emily Rachelle: I finally worked through a very sticky, somewhat boring, and slightly info-dump scene in my WIP.  This particular scene put the whole project on hold for a couple of weeks.  It's not anywhere near good enough for the book, but of course, that's not the point of first drafts ;)  On another note, I then got to write one of my fave scenes in the same WIP! A very sweet reward for getting through the sticky parts, if you ask me.

Indeed! Congratulations on pushing through that tough part.

Don't forget your writing prompt entries are due next Wednesday. And if you missed it yesterday, Betsy St. Amant was here giving us a peek at her writing process and giving away a copy of her latest release, Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK. There's still time to get entered for that.

Also, I saw on Tuesday that Novel Rocket has opened their contest for unpublished writers. Novel Rocket (once Novel Journey) has been featured three times in Writers Digest's Top 101 Websites for writers and are a really great source for published and unpublished writers alike. There is an entry fee, $35, but every writer who enters receives a professional critique of their chapters so it's a good investment. If you're at the place where you're starting to wonder, "How does my writing compare to others who also want to be published?" a contest like this is a great place to start. You can find more details on their site.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Betsy St. Amant is here with a giveaway!

This is Betsy St. Amant:

She's not only gorgeous, she's sweet and thoughtful too. Betsy and I have "known of" each other for a few years now, but we've only become friends in the last year. Love that girl.

This is Betsy's latest release:

And she wants to give away a copy to one of you, so you should be doing this:

Addision Blakely: Confessions of a PK is about sixteen-year-old Addison Blakely, who has tirelessly played the role of PK—preacher’s kid—her entire life. But after Wes Keegan revs his motorcycle into town and into her heart, Addison begins to wonder how much of her faith is her own and how much has been handed to her. She isn’t so sure she wants to be the good girl anymore. Join Addison Blakely as she attempts to separate love from lust, facts from faith, and keep her head above water in her murky, fishbowl existence.

Betsy is in the throes of book promotions right now, but still managed the time for an interview here on Go Teen Writers. Thanks, Betsy!

What inspired you to write Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK?

The way this story came about still makes me chuckle at how God sometimes chooses to work. I started writing Addison's story as a secret novel, a vent book of sorts where I could write whatever I wanted, with no regards to rules, or content, or boundaries. Just writing for fun and outside of every box, for ME. When a publisher asked if I had anything YA, I brainstormed with a friend who suddenly said "YOUR SECRET BOOK!" And sure enough, it was perfect. We fleshed the story out further (I had only written a few chapters so far) and Addison was fully born. God can use even our frustrations for His glory!

Amen! What's your writing environment like? Do you have an office? Are there inspiring quotes or pictures up on the walls? Do you have music playing?

I do have an office at my home, but I rarely use my actual desk (which is this awesome giant thing my dad built forever ago!) I do have fun art on the walls and two giant bookshelves that still can't hold all my books, and I love it! However, usually when I'm writing, my daughter is on the desk computer playing games and I'm sitting on the floor with my laptop, lol. I do what I can...

*Groan.* Had a few writing sessions like that myself. Typing with one hand, feeding the baby with the other...

Can you give us a peek at your writing process? (Do you write a horrible first draft? Do you edit as you go? Do you make character charts?)

I only write one draft. (*Stephanie's eyes pop open with surprise.* How is this possible?!) I edit/perfect as I go, and go back and edit chaps as my critique partners return their suggestions to me. But it's literally only one draft. I'm so much of a perfectionist, I can't stand to leave stuff hanging. Every time I end a scene or chapter, it needs to be as close to turn-in-ready as I can make it. That's why I have never done NANO! ha.

Wow. I love how writers are all different. What's a piece of advice that really took your writing to the next level?

I learned something on the craft of Deep POV (point of view) at the ACFW conference this past September from Kristen Heitzmann, who is one of my all time favorite authors. Her advice on when to use pronouns in Deep POV really rocked my world. It's so much harder to do it her way but so worth it. Some authors overuse their character's name (in third person) and it jerks us out of first POV. Kristen only uses her third person character's name when in their POV once or twice a chapter. She has to get creative to not overuse "She" or "He" in that stead, and that's where the challenge lies. Amazing.

YES, that was an excellent class. I just listened to it last week based on your recommendation. I'm going to email the wise Kristen Heitzmann and see if she'll please-pretty-please let me post her rules on here. 

If you could only pick one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be? (And no fair choosing the Bible - let's assume you get to bring that one too.)

Oh this is tough! NO FAIR!! :)  Okay, tantrum over. Hmmm. Maybe Pride and Prejudice? I love the snarky Dad in that novel. It's such a classic.

I can never decide if I love him more or Emma's father, the hypochondriac. Pride and Prejudice might be my One Book too.

What's the best book you've read recently, the one you told everyone you know, "You have to read this book"?

Two, actually. I just finished Susie Warren's "Baby It's Cold Outside" which was great, and also, in a totally different vein, Jim Rubart's "Rooms". Both amazing reads in different ways, Jim's being more spiritually in-depth and soul rocking, Susie's more feel-good romance and cozy holiday read. I highly recommend both!

Thank you so much for coming by, Betsy!

If you would like to get entered to win Addison Blakely:  Confessions of a PK
 (and you know you would!) please leave a comment below either asking Betsy a question or answering this one: How did you come up with your most recent story idea? Did it just appear out of thin air? Was it a dream, a la Stephenie Meyer? Playing the "What if" game? (All are welcome to chat with Betsy, but this contest is only open to US residents due to the pesky realities of international shipping prices.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Your Characters Say and What They Don't

The first contest of 2012 went live yesterday, so if you haven't yet, make sure to check it out. I'm shocked by how many entries have already rolled in!

Today's going to wrap up our discussion on dialogue, unless you still have something you'd like me to cover. If you do, you can either shoot me an email or leave your question in the comments section.

What People Say versus What They Feel

A writer asked, "You said something about creating conflict through your dialogue by not having the characters say everything that they feel. ... But, I am having trouble in that area because in the first few chapters in my WIP my MC is pretty depressed. She's given up on trying to love, to hope, to feel, because she knows it'll hurt to much. How do I make that evident in my dialogue, without having her say too much and risk over explaining?"

The short answer is, you do that with your character's thoughts, not their dialogue.

In the last dialogue post, I used Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones as an example. Let's go back to that.

In the opening scene, Jenny uses Lucy's internal  thoughts to tell us how she's really doing:

She grabbed his hand as he leaned away. "Is it me?" Because wasn't it always her?

Oh, man. That's a character who's been hurt, isn't it?

In this one Matt is speaking to her and Lucy answers:

"It looks like a class reunion invitation. I thought you didn't graduate in Charleston."
Her childhood in South Carolina was the last thing she wanted to discuss tonight. Or ever. "Obviously it's a mistake on someone's part." Or a cruel joke.
There's a story lurking in those words, isn't there? Someone isn't being completely honest.

Sprinkling in those internal thoughts build complexity in your character. We don't always say exactly what we're feeling, right? When I'm having a rotten day, if someone says to me, "Hey, how's it going?" my immediate answer is, "Good, how are you?" Even if it's a friend, they'll likely have to dig a bit before I'm honest.

So even though it's important for "story stuff" to be happening in the dialogue, your character doesn't need to be saying to others, "I'm depressed and having a tough time opening myself up to love." Not only do they not need to say that, they shouldn't.

An additional note. If you're dealing with a character like this writer mentioned, one who's depressed, who's been hurt, who's given up on finding any kind of love in her life, you also need to give your character a place of strength. A fabulous example of this is Edge of Recall by Kristen Heitzmann. Her main character is an emotional wreck on the inside, but she's an extremely talented landscape architect and highly sought after in her field of work. Because we see her strength exhibited in her job, we know - even on a subconscious level - that this character will ultimately have the strength to overcome her emotional issues as well.

That wraps up my thoughts on dialogue. On Friday I'll be sharing some fun exercises for writing dialogue, which I'm really excited about!

Tomorrow the lovely and talented Betsy St. Amant will be here, and she'll be giving away a copy of her first YA novel, Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK.

Also, Thursday is news day, so if you have news you'd like to share - an article to be published, finishing a first draft, sending out query letters - we'd love to celebrate with you. Send your news to Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com with "News Day" in the subject line.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Writing Prompt: By the time I arrived...

As I type this, I'm so tired my eyes keep closing on me. Which, I think, is an excellent way to start off this year's contests... (Is the sarcasm coming through? I'm too tired to judge accurately.)

The prompt for this round is By the time I arrived, I knew I was too late. (Or, by the time she/he arrived, she/he knew she/he was too late. Pick your pronouns.)

Think of the prompt sentence as the first sentence of a novel. Your goal is to write the next 100 words in such a way that the reader is drawn in.

Your entries are due on Wednesday, January 18th by 11:59pm Kansas City time. You may email it to me by clicking here or at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com. Include your first/last name, and no attachments please!

And I always send confirmation emails, so if it's been 48 hours and you haven't heard from me, feel free to check back.

Word limit: 100 + prompt sentence (11, right? Again, sleepy eyes and brain...)

The contest is for those age 21 and under. One entry per person please.

For more details and a sample winning prompt, click here.

Your wonderful judges this round are Shellie Neumeier and Dina Sleiman. If you plan on entering this round, feel free to leave a comment below telling these lovely ladies thank you.

Can't wait to see what you guys come up with!

Shellie Neumeier
Shellie Neumeier holds a degree in Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a minor in Psychology, Sociology and Social Studies. A devoted mother of four, Shellie previously worked on staff with Northbrook Church as the King’s Kids ministry assistant (serving children in grades 2nd through 5th). Shellie’s YA novel, Driven (Risen Fiction) and A Summer in Oakville (Black Lyon Publising) are available online and at your local bookstores. Her middle grade chapter book The Wishing Ring will release February 2012. She is an active member of ACFW as well as a contributing author for various blogs. Shellie is located in southwestern Ohio.

Dina Sleiman
Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing, is now available at amazon and other online and ebook distributors. Dina is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to Write Good Dialogue Part Four

Goodness, I can't believe this is part FOUR of our dialogue series. What's funny is when I started writing the first dialogue post, I had no idea the topic was so big. As it grew to a crazy word length, I thought, "Okay, there'll have to be a part two because no one is going to read all this." Then there were so many wonderful questions, that I knew we'd need at least three posts.

But dialogue is critical to getting the story right. I don't know about you guys, but I've realized I never skim dialogue the way I do prose. In an exciting scene or an argument, my gaze is often leaps over the descriptions and actions but never, ever the dialogue.

And nothing will yank you out of a story like cliche, tired, or fake sounding dialogue.

Today we're going to cover a couple more of your questions, and then next Friday (assuming my scheduling abilities can be trusted) we'll talk about some writing exercises for your dialogue.

Pausing and Pacing

A writer asked, "I've noticed that some authors use ellipses in their dialogue, and others actually state something to the effect of, "She paused." Do you think it's better to use one method consistently (and risk overkill), or is it okay to mix them for variety? Also, with what frequency do you think I should do so?"

This is purely my opinion, and in no way a rule or The Correct Way to Write Pauses. I mix it up. Here are some examples of ways that I do this:

"Is Mom okay?"
Dad blinked a couple times. "Of course."


"What are you saying?"
"I just think that maybe .... maybe we shouldn't be together."


"Do you understand what this ... this..." Lydia waved her hands, as if she could grasp the correct word from the air. "This power play of yours has cost me?"


"The thing is..." How could I say this to him? He was gonna be crushed. "Your father and I are separating."


“Your mother’s and my goal”—Dad takes Mom’s hand in his own—“is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."

There are other ways to write a pause (including, but not limited to "She paused" or "She hesitated" or "A beat of silence passed" or "After a moment's pause.) but those are some of the ways I do it. Those last two examples are techniques I'm particularly fond of.

I like using a pause in dialogue to show what the POV character is thinking. And the em-dash is a technique I first discovered in Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby, which is one of the first YA novels I ever read. I remember actually copying down word for word, dash for dash, an example so I would know how to do it. The exact formatting depends on the publishing house. Revell, the publisher of the Skylar Hoyt books, formats it like above. I've also seen it:

"Your mother's and my goal—" Dad takes Mom's hand in his own—"is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."


"Your mother's and my goal—" Dad takes Mom's hand in his own "—is to get things back to normal life as soon as possible."

As for the frequency of pauses, this answer may seem far too simple but it's the best one I have to offer. In your head, if you "hear" your character pausing, let them pause. So long as you're giving them a reason to be hesitant, you'll be fine.

Another writer says: "I find it really hard to pace things like a breakup or something. How would you space that out in a dialogue scene... thing?"

I love the way the writer phrased that. Can't you just hear the hesitation in what to call it?

Breakups are hard to pace, but I love writing them. (And I'm naturally drawn to angry breakup songs. Meanwhile, I've been happily married for 7 1/2 years. Strange.)

The key, I think, to pacing a breakup scene (or any other scene that in real life would be dramatic and looooong) is to go back to the concept of "arrive late and leave early." You should be doing this for all your scenes, really, but it's especially vital for breakups/I love yous/so-and-so died and so forth.

This is from Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones (fabulous book, one of my faves of 2011):

The smells in the room-the food, her life decaying-made her want to throw up. "I could wait, you know. We could do the long distance thing."
"I'm sorry." He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. "For what it's worth, I believe you're the right girl-it's just not the right time."
Two minutes later Lucy stood in her living room and watched Matt drive away.

We didn't need those other two minutes, right? Jenny has given us everything we need to know about their breakup.

Figure out what it is your reader needs to know. Like in the above scene, which takes place in the prologue, we need to know that Lucy was willing to make it work, and that Matt was not. Once Jenny passed along that info, she got us the heck out of there and on with the story. If it's helpful, you can make a list of vital information that needs to be exchanged. Once you get it out of your character's mouths, you'll know it's time to draw the curtain on that scene.

Don't forget, contests resume next Monday, so make sure you check in next week to find out the writing prompt! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Contest Update and News Day

Lots of news to share with you today!

I'm so looking forward to Go Teen Writers' contests resuming! The first contest of the year will open Monday, January 9th. There are two changes to the contests this year that I'm going to mention today, and then full contest rules will be posted on Monday. After much discussion on the Go Teen Writers Facebook page, the contest age limit is now going to be 21. Also, last year each round had 3 judges and this year there will only be 2 judges per round.

On to news from our community! Soooo much to celebrate this week:

Betsy St. Amant, who frequently judges contests and contributes here on Go Teen Writers, has a new book out! Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK hit shelves January 1st. Congratulations, Betsy! Can't wait for my copy to arrive. Betsy will be giving away a copy of Addison Blakely next week on Go Teen Writers so stay tuned!

Becki Badger: I finished the first draft for my book "UNDERESTIMATED!"

We know how good it feels to type THE END - congratulations!

Rachelle ReaI typed The End to the WIP that was inspired by one of the GTW writing prompts and a character who simply would not let me go! Final word count is about 55K. That is a little on the small side for me, but I am in love with this story...plus, this was my first attempt at only one POV -- and that in first-person!

That's awesome, Rachelle. Risks like that can pay off big time!

Katie McCurdy: I have published a novelette on Kindle! The book, A Time to Love, is a historical fiction set in the years after the War Between the States.

Wow, Katie! Good for you. Sounds like a great read, and the price is great!

Jordan Newhouse teaches creative writing to a class of homeschoolers. Some of her students publish their work here: http://itsaboutstory.wordpress.com They would love to get comments from fellow young-writers!

What a need idea, Jordan! I bet you're an excellent teacher.

Madison Taylor:  I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday!! I am soooo excited! Time to edit. :)

That's the best part, Madison! Congratulations!

Ophelia Marie Flowers: Recently I published my first book with CreateSpace. It is called, Sixteen, So In Love With You , and it contains over seventy of my best poems, each matched with a Bible reference.

Wow, I'm so impressed that you have such a large collection of poetry at such a young age. What an accomplishment, Ophelia.

Alright, I think I've used up my daily quota of exclamation marks, so it's time to wrap this up. Happy Thursday, guys! (Had one more in me, apparently...)