Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 Reasons to Write a Fiction Book Proposal Before You Write Your Book

By Jill Williamson

Everyone is different. Not all writers like to get organized before they start to write. But after I published a few books and got an agent, I learned that authors with a few traditionally published books out there don't necessarily have to keep writing full novels to sell them. Once you've proven yourself, you can sell a fiction book off a proposal. I did this this past year with my upcoming book Captives.

But there are other reasons why it's smart to write a little book proposal before starting a new book. Here are ten reasons why:

1. You’ll know your story. 
Your three-act structure will be sound. You'll have brainstormed a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense. And writing a synopsis will have forced you to create the overall plot and ending.

2. You’ll know your characters 
Your main characters will already have solid goals, and you’ll know how your characters will change or grow through the story.

3. You’ll know your theme
Though this may change once you do write the book and your story gets a life of its own.

4. You’ll know your audience 

5. You’ll know your competition 
You’ll know which titles are similar to yours, how to make your book different, and how your book will stand out from your competition. This is very important in convincing a publisher why they should publish your book.

6. You can get it done quickly 
It takes much less time to write a book proposal than it takes to write the full novel. And, for the future when you have an agent, writing a proposal first will give your agent something to shop while you start writing, and it may even give an editor a chance to give you feedback up front.

But do keep in mind, if you're unpublished in fiction, you MUST finish the novel before selling it. Selling a novel from a proposal is a privileged you earn over time.

7. You’ll be ready to market 
You will have laid out some of your marketing plans, listed public relations and media contacts, and you'll also have the back cover blurb ready to tell people.

8. You’ll be ready to write
You'll already have one to three sample chapters written, so you'll have a head start on the book and will be ready to keep writing.

9. You may get paid before you write the book
For when you've published a few books and this book should sell from your proposal, most publishers pay half the advance when the contract is signed, so you might have some money coming to you before you even finish the story.

10. It is good practice
Writing fiction book proposals will help you learn to fine tune your ideas into high concept ones, put your ideas into a format that will help them sell, and will train you for working with an agent to sell books off proposals in the future.

Something to think about.

But what does a proposal look like? I got permission from my agent to post the book proposal I wrote for Captives that sold to Zonderkidz and will come out February 2013. I cut off my synopsis so I wouldn't give away the story. But a synopsis would tell the entire story, including the ending.

Click here to view the proposal for Captives.

What do you think? Every written a book proposal? Have any questions about the Captives proposal?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beating Writer Burn Out

by Stephanie Morrill

There are days and seasons when I approach my daily writing time with enthusiasm. When my fingers can't wait to get on the keys, the dialogue comes out zippy, and writing feels fun.

And then there are other days...

Days when everything I type feels tired, when my story seems unimaginative.

Or days that come right after I've pushed myself to finish a draft, but I just can't seem to get my head back in the story.

Or days that follow a big rejection, when I'm plagued by self-doubt.

Or when Life Stuff is happening, and writing feels meaningless or trivial in the wake of it.

Or, or, or.

Lots of things cause burn out or writer's fatigue. When you're not really blocked, but uninspired.

Here are some suggestions for kicking your fatigue and igniting your creativity:

Indulge your story-loving self

We love stories, don't we? So go enjoy one! Watch a movie, try a new TV show, or reread a favorite book.  And don't make it your goal to analyze and figure out why this character works or why this plot twist doesn't - just enjoy.

Music with lyrics

Pick a band whose music you enjoy and who has good lyrics. I would probably pull out Florence and the Machine or Muse. Listen to the words of a song and try to craft a story that fits it, just for fun!

Craft books ... but careful with this one!

Sometimes pulling out a beloved craft book, Bird by Bird or On Writing, can bring back my inspiration. But sometimes - I've noticed - I hide in writing-related activities. If I'm feeling lazy and therefore uninspired, I'll find all kinds of writerly things to do - talk about writing, read about writing, blog about writing. That's because those things are always fun and easy.

But like Stephen King so wisely says right before sharing everything he knows about how to write good fiction, "I'll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don't spend actually doing it."

Some writers, it seems to me, become craft book and conference junkies. They don't write a lot, but they know an awful lot about how to do it. You're never going to find a craft book that magically fixes the sagging middle of your manuscript. You're never going to find one that hands you a great idea you'll never grow bored with. Craft books are a tool in your toolbox, as is your critique group or the Go Teen Writers blog. Even with great tools, you still must do the hard work of building the story.

Get active

Get out in the world and enjoy it! Go for a nature walk. Pick some flowers. Make snow angels. Take a bike ride. Chase your little brother around the yard. It's good for your mental health, which is good for your story's health too!

Enjoy other arts

If there's another art form you enjoy - painting, dancing, music, sewing - take some time to do it. Maybe even try a new kind of art, like decorating cupcakes or snapping some photos. Or enjoy somebody else's art at a gallery or boutique. You're trying to refresh that dried up, creative piece of yourself, so get out there and try something new.

National Geographic

My husband subscribes to National Geographic. I don't read them cover to cover like he does, but the articles are always fabulous and the pictures breathtaking. It's a window into other cultures, to parts of the planet I'll probably never travel. Reading an issue, or even flipping through one, always expands my worldview.

Go somewhere else to write

As gorgeous as my office is, sometimes getting out of it is what I need. If you don't have a laptop, grab a notebook and head to a park, a coffeehouse, or even just a comfy chair in the living room. I don't know what the science is behind changing the routine, but it really can help push through a dry spell. 

Have another suggestion? Leave a comment below!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Clichés in Your Plot?

by Jill Williamson

On Tuesday we focused on cliché expressions. Today we're talking about cliché plots, scenes, and characters. Once upon a time (cliché phrase!) every cliché idea was new and original and so brilliant that it inspired people to copy it. (They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.) But over time, so many people have overused those same brilliant ideas that they're no longer brilliant, and now they make readers (or viewers) groan or roll their eyes.

As writers, we want to avoid having our readers groan and roll their eyes.

There are so many more story clichés than what I've listed below. But these are some that editors and agents mention at writing conferences and that I've seen over and over in books or manuscripts I've read. 

If your story falls into one of these categories, please don't worry! You can still write your story, even keep the scene, though that might not be your best bet. My point? You need to be aware of what is cliché and understand that an editor, agent, or reader will likely recognize that. Then you'll want to fix what's cliché and make it work in your story before you submit. Fair enough?

Here is a list of a few overdone clichés:

-The love triangle
-The line, "Don't you die on me!"
-A story about the chosen one
-A prophecy being fulfilled
-Prologues with an abandoned baby
-Portals to another world
-The sequel where the couple has split up and must be reunited.
-The magical item of great importance
-Prologue that happens many years before your story begins
-The best friend falls in love with the main character
-The fake death. We saw him die, but...he's alive! (I did this one...)
-Character goes to a magic school of some kind
-The minority sidekick OR comic relief
-The gay best friend.
-The evil other woman, ex-wife, parent, etc. (People aren't ever THAT evil.)
-A retired guy called back into service because he's the ONLY ONE who can get the job done.
-The bad guy is really the main character's parent
-The man who's planning to retire... you know he's going to die... and he does!
-The "we look alike, let's switch places" plot
-Big guys are dumb and oafish
-Just before the big battle someone says, "Are you ready?" And your hero says, "I was born ready."
-The evil, dark lord of whatever
-Main character is tutored by the old man (I did this too!)
-The rakish hero who falls for the virginal heroine. He's a heart-breaker, but now he's met the one woman who can tame his wild heart.
-The bad guy could have killed the good guy but he monologues instead, giving the hero time to get away. (*cough* James Bond)
-The couple that hates each other at the beginning but end up together by the end of the book.
-The plain girl who gets a makeover and all of a sudden she's gorgeous and all the guys love her.
-The dying man's line, "Tell my wife and kids I love them!"
-The orphan who turns out to be someone really important (And I also did this one! Oopsy.)

If you've got some of these in your book, what can you do?

First of all, Stephanie wrote about cliches last year and had some really good advice, so click here to check that out as a refresher.

And here are a few tips from me:

-Do the opposite of what you planned or do something unexpected. As I'm reading a book, I'm always guessing, "I bet this is going to happen." So try to make sure your readers can't second guess you. Give your hero two semi-normal, semi-flawed parents. Leave the bad guy dead! Maybe he had a son or second in command who will try and revenge him. The plain girl gets a makeover, people are still jerks, no one asks her to prom, but it makes her tough. Make the giant guy brilliant. Make the girl the main guy likes really nice so that your female lead can't hate her--they're friends!--and it hurts to be jealous of your friend!

Flip things on their head and see what you come up with.

-Avoid stereotypes. In real life, the guy you like might not like you. Ever. (Wah!) But life goes on. And beware of the damsel in distress or the manly, battle-trained female. Give us a real girl and let her do her best sometimes and scream sometimes too. Consider making your main character a minority. If the guy is about to retire, let your hero tell the guy to go home before he dies! I'll like your hero all the more for his wisdom. Maybe the rakish hero is a rake, and the girl tells him so and chooses the brainy guy. (Go, nerds!) And leave your orphan an orphan.

-Create your own creatures or weapons and phrases. Maybe, just maybe, forget dragons and elves and dwarves; swords, bows, and guns, etc. Create your own species. Create your own weapon. Have fun with it! But you can't have the crowl. The crowl is mine. Mwa ha ha!

I created chams (fire-breathing bears) and gowzals (rat-like birds) in my trilogy and they worked pretty good. But I used swords. A lot. *grin*

-Vary your characters' ages. I mean, it's pretty coincidental that same aged males and females are always going on epic journey's together, isn't it? Consider not having everyone in your story be the same age.

-Skip the prologue. Write it for yourself if you want to work out the history of your characters or storyworld, but don't put it in the book. Too many people have. Let the readers be surprised when they discover your ending without giving them that peek into the past or the birth or your characters.

The point isn't to become paranoid over every little thing. No one is going to call your medieval fantasy novel cliche because your characters use swords. These are all merely ideas to get you thinking. When you go back in to rewrite, work hard to make those cliches work for you. See what brilliant treasures you can come up with that are so amazing people will be copying you!

**Added later**

Sarah (from the comments) inspired me to add this good point that I missed. Every scene in your story should happen for a reason. Including clichés in your story because they seem like fun twists is the wrong idea. You want to make your choices based on who your characters are and the goals they have.

Be sure and read through the comments for more discussions on this topic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

5 Ways to be Better at Blogging

by Stephanie Morrill

Should all writers blog? Well, like they tell you in school, if a question contains a word like "always, never, all, or none," the answer is  likely, "No."

A writer emailed me requesting that I write a post on building a blog following. Which I took as a compliment, because it means I must look like I know what I'm doing...

I'm not convinced that I do, but I've been blogging for a few years now  - both successfully and unsuccessfully - so I'll share what I've learned.

The first blog I ever had was my author blog. I started it a couple months before Me, Just Different released, and the motivations were two-fold:

1. I wanted my publisher to see that I was doing something to promote my book.
2. I had been told that I should have one.

I was smart enough to know I needed to be consistent about posting, so I forced myself to blog 5 days a week every week. I was also smart enough to know that I needed a focus of some sorts ... but I could never come up with anything. So I talked about myself a lot - trips to Costco, diapers, etc. - and as a result, I had some extremely faithful readers: my mom, my husband, my mother-in-law, and my friends Roseanna and Kelli.

I knew that my blog was failing, but I didn't know what to do about it.

After about 8 months of struggling with my author blog, the idea for Go Teen Writers popped into my head. I decided to blog two days a week on Go Teen Writers and keep up my 5 days a week on my author blog. (A choice motivated more by pride than anything else.)

Go Teen Writers grew at a frustratingly slow pace. After about 6 months, it had 17 "followers" and Roseanna and Emii Krii were the only two who ever commented. After a year there were 40, and I was starting to recognize a few more names, like Rachelle, Tonya, and Jazmine.  I felt not only frustrated but drained. I was writing 7 blog posts every week, yet I couldn't seem to gain momentum.

If you blog simply for the joy of blogging then it's fine to blog about whatever you want, whenever you feel like it. But if you're wanting your blog to build your exposure, to grow your readership, here are some things I've learned in the last 4 years:

Blogs work when they serve others

Think about the blogs you read. Why did you start reading them? Why have you kept reading them? The two I'm most fond of are Pioneer Woman Cooks and the MacGregor Literary blog. (Which I read faithfully long before I became a client.)

I started reading Pioneer Woman because I love to cook and she has great recipes. So I went there to find great recipes.

I started reading MacGregor Literary's blog because Chip MacGregor shares good stuff about the publishing industry in an honest, funny way.

Those blogs served a need of mine ... and they've continued to serve with fresh, great content, which is why I keep going back. Consider what need your blog serves (or could serve) and why a stranger would start reading it.

You need a focus and a target audience

We've talked about this some as it relates to books, so I won't spend a ton of time here. It's easy to trick yourself into thinking the focus and target audience don't matter so much for a blog ... but they really do.

It's the reason why I don't talk to y'all about the new schedule I've whipped up for keeping my house clean. I'm very excited about the schedule, and I think it's really going to make a difference around our house ... but Go Teen Writers is a place for teen writer related topics. Wouldn't you have some serious, "Uh, what's going on...?" sensations if you showed up here tomorrow, and I had listed what days I scrub my toilets and how a cleaning schedule can improve your life as a stay at home parent?

Your focus and your target audience are a big part of your blog's uniqueness. While you could argue that I've cut a lot of potential readership by focusing on teen writers instead of writers in general, our focus is what makes the blog stand out.

Pick a schedule that's manageable

I said earlier that with my author blog, I felt like it had to be 5 days a week. With a 6 month old baby in the house and book deadlines to meet, that was rather aggressive. If I were doing it again, I probably would have started at 3 days a week. You want to pick something you can be consistent about ... but there is some kind of sweet spot with blogging so many times a week. Too many posts overwhelms readers and too few makes you forgettable. 

Give without expecting a return

You can't have an agenda of selling something - services, books, memberships, etc. - when you're blogging. It just doesn't work. You have to care more about your readers - much, much more - than you do about their dollars.

This is kind of a weird thing for me to try to explain, but I'll do my best. When I'm writing book proposals, Go Teen Writers is always in my marketing section. It gets counted as part of my platform. And I'm thankful for that, because it's nice to be able to put something in that section, as opposed to when I was first writing and my "platform" was based on the variety of writers organizations I pay to be a part of.

But even though Go Teen Writers gets listed in the marketing section, I don't approach the blog with, "How can I market myself here today? How can I make people want to buy my books?" It's nice, of course, when people like the blog and because of it buy my books, but that's not a motivation of mine when I'm creating content or interacting on the Facebook group. Does that make sense at all...?

If something isn't working - cut your losses and move on

When Go Teen Writers started to grow, I made the very difficult decision about ending my author blog. You would think it'd be an easy choice, seeing as Roseanna was basically the only one who left me comments, and coming up with posts 3 days a week was torture, but it was very hard on my pride to say, "This isn't working. And I'm going to admit that it's not working."

If you haven't already, install Google Analytics - it's free - and monitor your traffic. What posts do well? Which don't? I know well (too well) that the numbers can be depressing, but eventually I decided that it was better to know than to waste my energy pouring into something nobody read.

A great additional resource on blogging is from the MacGregor Literary blog. Awhile back, literary agent Amanda Luedeke posted about 7 Ways to Grow Your Blog's Readership and Blogging as a Fiction Author. I encourage you to read those as well for thoughts on how to title posts and format and all that other good stuff.

Anybody have questions I can attempt to answer? If you blog, what's something that's worked for you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Making Clichés Your Own

by Jill Williamson

From Dictionary.com:

[klee-shey, kli-]  Show IPA
1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,  or strong as an ox.
2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

You’re all likely familiar with clichés. They could be idioms, which are impossible phrases like, “It’s raining cats and dogs” “there’s a method to my madness” or things like “alabaster skin.” It’s just been used so much it makes the reader roll his eyes. Here is a short list. Ha ha.

We’re all in the same boat.
Break a leg, okay?
Why don’t you just cut to the chase?
The soldiers were dropping like flies.
She had everything but the kitchen sink in her purse.
I’ve got a gut feeling.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.
In your face, punk!
She’s a loose cannon.
You the new kid on the block around here?
Over my dead body!
Practice makes perfect.
I smell a rat.
The third time’s a charm.
Mom always turns a blind eye to her little brother.
I’m feeling under the weather.
He wined and dined me.
X marks the spot.
She’d give her right arm to get that.
I’m sick and tired of this!
He was a born and bred farm boy.
If she played her cards right, she’d win.
He was dead wrong.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
This was child’s play/like taking candy from a baby.
She had cherry red lips.
I was dog tired.
The book bored him to tears/bored him to death.
His face turned beet red.
He cried like a baby.
I was green with envy.
He ripped it to shreds.
His eyes danced/sparkled.
She had full lips.
It had coal black eyes.
Don’t tempt fate.
A cacophony of sound split the air.
This is new and improved me.
His eyes were as deep as the ocean.
She was higher than a kite.
The kid was as cute as a button.
It was as soft as a baby’s skin.
It was as hard as a rock.
She ran around, shrieking with joy.
He smelled like a dirty diaper/rotten eggs.
The dress was fire-engine red.

I could go on and on. And I’m guilty of having used a cliché here and there. That’s the problem! Some of these phrases are so common that I don’t even realize I use them until I catch them in rewrites or after the book is published. Ack!

Here is what I recommend. When you find a cliché in your story, make it your own. Tweak it a little or a lot, whatever works best for your character and storyworld.

For example:

He smelled like a dirty diaper/rotten eggs.  -->  He smelled like the outhouse after Uncle Dan used it.

We’re all in the same boat. --> We’re all in the same wagon.

It had coal black eyes. --> It had eyes that looked like someone had blacked them out with a Sharpie.

The voice of your character matters a great deal too.

She was higher than a kite. --> She was as high as a 747. (Dad’s voice.)

She was higher than a kite.  -->  She was as high as the balloon my sister lost today. (Teen’s voice.)

She was higher than a kite.  -->  She was as high as Mariah Carey’s vocal range. (Woman’s voice.)

Your assignment: rewrite this list! Then pick your five favorites and post them in the comments. If you don’t have time to do the whole list, pick five. But this will be good practice.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Symbolism and Themes

by Stephanie Morrill

In English class, whenever we had to write papers about symbolism and theme and such, I remember lots of grumbling about things like, "Did the author really intend the character's red dress to be the foreshadowing of her suicide, or are we making this harder than it needs to be?"

I think the answer is yes and yes. Sometimes a red dress is just a red dress. Other times authors leave clues for their readers.

A while back, I watched a "Behind the Making of" thingy on the movie The Sixth Sense, the one about the little boy, Cole, who sees dead people. The director, M. Night Shyamalan drew our attention to the color red, which they used very intentionally in the movie:

The color red is intentionally absent from most of the film, but is used prominently in a few isolated shots for "anything in the real world that has been tainted by the other world" and "to connote really explosively emotional moments and situations".
Examples include the door of the church where Cole seeks sanctuary; the color of the balloon, carpet, and Cole's sweater at the birthday party; the tent in which he first encounters Kyra; the volume numbers on Crowe's tape recorder; the doorknob on the locked basement door where Malcolm's office is located; The shirt that Anna wears at the restaurant; Kyra's mother's dress at the wake; and the shawl wrapped around the sleeping Anna when Malcolm realizes he is a ghost.

You may recall, there's never a moment in the movie where Cole is like, "Hey - whenever I see something red, something bad happens!" It would cheapen the effect. Symbolism works best when it's subtle, when it's there for the taking, but not pointed out with neon arrows.

There's nothing wrong with planning a symbol or two, like the intentional red in The Sixth Sense, but generally I think it works best when symbolism emerges organically. I don't mess much with it until after I've written my first draft, put it away for a few weeks, and have started my first read-through. If I notice that, say, twice in my manuscript my character tries to manipulate a social situation, and that both times she's wearing a dress she made, I'll consider drawing that out more. If it serves the story, of course.

Same with theme. I usually have one in mind when I'm writing the first draft, but almost always a different one pops out at me during the second draft. In one of my works-in-progress, the theme I had in mind during the first draft had to do with accepting help from others versus making it on your own. But in the second draft, I came across this:

“Whether or not Jasper's after her, I think we should stay out of it,” I rush to say. I know as soon as Mr. Parks finishes chewing class will begin, and I don’t want to bring this back up later. This whole conversation feels like a betrayal, somehow. “Meddling in people’s relationships has a way of messing things up for everybody.”
As Mr. Parks reaches for his water bottle, the clue that we’re about to begin, Jack says in a voice that sounds almost ominous, “So can minding your own business when you should speak up.”

When I wrote this, it was just the way the conversation came out. Madeline and Jack are on opposite sides of the debate, and that was simply his counterpoint to what she said. But when I did my read through, Madeline and Jack's opposite feelings leaped off the page. I started asking questions like: As the story unfolds, how would Madeline come to agree more with Jack, and how might Jack come to agree more with Madeline? As I work on edits, that's something I can draw out more in later scenes.

What about you? Do you intentionally put themes and symbols in your manuscripts, or do they happen on their own?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Great Opening Lines

by Jill Williamson

Opening lines are important, and I usually totally forget to make them rock in my books. And I still managed to get published several times. Go figure.

Still, a great opening line can instantly connect with the reader, it can set the scene, it can give voice and tone to your story, and it could be remembered and used in classrooms in schools and writer’s workshops all over the world for all time. So, it’s very worth it to take the extra time on your first line.

Here are some of my favorites. Can you guess the book without Googling the answer? If you don’t get that first one, I just don’t know what to say. Click here for the answers.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Camp Wahkah Wahkah wasn’t the worst experience I’ve ever had.”

“Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow’s nest, being the ship’s eyes.”

“Evil wears a mask, and I can finally see its face.” 

“The temperature of the room dropped fast.”

“Sometimes it seems like all I ever do is lie.”

“I used to be someone.”

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

“It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

Which opening line gripped you and why? And what’s one of your favorite openings in a book?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Dating" Your Character

by Rachel Coker

Rachel Coker is a homeschool student who lives in Virginia with her parents and two sisters. She has a passion for great books and has been surrounded by them all her life. When she is not writing or playing the piano, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Interrupted is her first novel.

I’m a homeschooler, and, if you know anything about the homeschool community, you know that we like to make jokes about ourselves all the time. We’re very hilarious people. Anyway, one of the jokes we homeschoolers make is about how utterly unsocialized and deprived we are. Usually these jokes are made whilst juggling multiple dates, commitments, and parties on the calendar. We’ll laugh at our overwhelmingly busy lives and say to each other, “Gosh, aren’t we so unsocialized?”

But it gets worse. Because not only am I an unsocialized homeschooler, I am also a complete weirdo who is best friends with fictional characters.

That’s right. I count among my closest companions people who aren’t real. But you know what? I’m a writer. That’s what writers do. We befriend and tell stories about people who only exist in our imaginations. But you know what else? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re a writer, too. Which means you are just as messed up as me!

But seriously, what I want to talk about today is how important it is to really know your characters. To feel like they are your best friends and to understand them that well. You see, stories are about people. Sure, they are also about events and actions and emotions but at the core of every story are the people who make it up. They are the ones you sympathize with, who you despise, who you cheer on and support. Bad character development can not only strain a story, it can unravel it.

If a story is a quilt, then the characters are surely the threads that make it up. When you look at it as a whole, you see events and a plot—the big picture or design. But when you push your nose up a little closer, tiny threads and pulls and seams come into focus. These are the traits and emotions and quirks that pull the story together. Every person and every character trait has a reason, a function. Every little detail is necessary to keep the piece together.

When I was first thinking about the plot for my book, Interrupted, Allie’s character was constantly running through my mind. It’s a funny thing, being a writer. I could visualize her in my head. I could hear the way her voice sounds. I knew her quirks and her faults. One thing I remember being really convinced of when I was filling out my character chart for Allie. Allie was going to have rough hands. Since she was looking after her mother, her hands were the ones subjected to burns and cuts and bruises. Her mother’s hands were white and smooth. Hers were rough and worn.

Even though this particular aspect wasn’t a huge part of the book, it was very crucial to my development of Allie’s character. Her story was a story of rough hands. It was about endurance and toughness and not letting anyone see her cry. She wasn’t a soft hands kind of person. Once I realized this, other parts of the story started clicking together in my mind. She would respond to certain situations like a calloused hand. She wore her toughness like a blister, hiding the soft skin underneath. Instantly, I knew exactly how her reactions to certain circumstances and plot twists would be.

While this kind of character development may be a little anal on my part, I do know that it is a huge part of being a writer. That’s why we writers must go to extremes to develop our characters. Now what I’m about to say is going to sound a little strange, but please, bear with me:

I want you to date your characters.

(Obviously, this is a messed-up analogy, especially if your main character is a girl, but please—bear with me) When two people are in love and want to be married, where is the first place they start? They get to know each other. They find out what the other’s likes and dislikes are. They want to know their partner’s little quirks. What makes them laugh or cry or blush. They date.

Wrong approach, by the way ;)
It’s the same thing with your characters. They’re not just something you draw out of a figment of your imagination. It’s more important than that. They behave in ways that you don’t, and do things you’d never dream about. Therefore it’s important for you to understand them.

This may sound really weird to those of you who have never written fiction before, or who view their characters as a flat, two-dimensional object. They’re just words typed out and written on a page, nothing but stark black letters against a white background, and can change pretty much however you want them to. If that’s how you think, then stop. If that’s how you really view your characters, then your story will never have the heart that you want it to.

"Date" your characters. Really get to know them. Think about habits you’ve already given them, and consider where those habits may lead. Characters are people, too. On the outside, they may seem like one thing. But once you push past the exterior and really take a look inside, you realize that they are a lot deeper than you may have thought. They have hopes and dreams and fears. Every little thing that they have gone through has shaped them into who they are today and prepared them for the trials they are facing right now. They have a story to tell, a story that you have to record. And even though you know you can’t do it justice, you have to write it anyway.

That is writing. It’s not sitting down with a piece of paper and pencil and determining to pen the next Narnia or Lord of the Rings. It’s discovering your characters. “Meeting new people”, so to speak. And pushing through, no matter how difficult it may seem, to uncover their story and telling it the best you can. And I can guarantee you that once you can do that, you will sit back and realize that you have just written a wonderful book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Does your manuscript need book surgery?

by Stephanie Morrill

"I don't like your main character. At all. I found her really annoying, actually. Sorry."

That's how the agent's rejection email for Me, Just Different read. And it wasn't too much of a surprise because my manuscript had just bombed a contest for the same reason - Skylar was unlikable. Not the type of character you wanted to spend a ton of time with.

For a few weeks, I indulged in inner protests that Skylar was supposed to be unlikable, that if the story was going to be about her reinventing herself, she had to start as someone who needed reinvention. But the evidence had piled up against me - three judges in ACFW's Genesis contest and a literary agent were all in agreement. She was a pain in the butt.

I shelved the manuscript, figuring I'd cut my losses and move on with other easier-to-like main characters.

But Skylar wouldn't quite let go of me. Despite her pain in the butt qualities (or maybe because of them) I missed her. I needed a way to drum up some sympathy for her. After some brainstorming, I decided Skylar needed a reason that she didn't want to be around boys and a reason to start dating her boyfriend. What I landed on was a near date rape, from which she was rescued by the guy who becomes her boyfriend.

I figured I'd open the story with that (or the morning after, to be more specific) and then I could proceed with the story as planned. It seems incredibly obvious to me now that an author can't casually toss in a main-character-barely-escaping-date-rape plot, but it wasn't obvious at the time.

I rewrote my opening scene, slapped it in the front of the manuscript ... and realized (or admitted to myself) that this wasn't as simple as adding a scene, that book surgery was required.

I've had to do book surgery a few times now, and here are somethings I've learned:

Every original scene must be examined

Book surgery means you are doing something major to your manuscript. Not just beefing up a plot line or fleshing out sensory details, but stuff that affects the story as a whole. To seamlessly weave in the new stuff, you'll have to look at every scene and reconsider it. Factoring in the new plot, would this still happen? Would the character still feel this way?

I've found the easiest way for me to do this is to write out all the current scenes in the book on one color of index card, and then the scenes that I know are going to be added on another. The result is something like this:

Purple was for current scenes and green was for additions. Also I flagged some of the purple scenes were I could tell major revisions would be needed. Not sure one that lone yellow one is. Alternate idea, maybe?
You could do the same thing in a spreadsheet, but I like the visual overview that the colored index cards give.
Examine the story calendar

For all my stories, I keep a calendar that looks like this:

The reason I do that is because my book surgery for Me, Just Different resulted in chapter three taking place in October and chapter four taking place in September. And it was my sweet editor at Revell who pointed it out to me.

So I learned that after the surgery is complete, double checking the calendar will save my editor some work.

Things you love will die

I have two big book surgeries under my belt now, and with both manuscripts I had to cut scenes and plot lines that I loved to make room for the new, better material. With the most recent one (something still unpublished) I was really struggling with the ending. In the original manuscript, the book ended with my main character moving to Kansas. In the revised version, the book also ended with my main character learning her book was going to be published. I was really struggling to make everything fit, when it dawned on me that I had warring endings. It made no sense to keep them both!

It was such a relief to discover why the book wasn't working, that I felt happy to ax my character being Kansas-bound. Though doing so also meant axing the 25,000 words I'd written of book two. Sigh.

But how do you know when book surgery is worth it or when you should scrap a project? There's no firm answer on this, sadly, but I think putting something away for a period of time is a decent test. I have a couple completed manuscripts that I put away when I realized they needed serious surgery. I've never felt much of a longing to pull them back out. Yet with Skylar, it had been in my "Retired Manuscripts" folder for about a month, but I was still thinking about her. I knew then that the extra work was worth it.

Other posts you might find helpful:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Are you ready for publication?

by teen writer Abigail Hartman

Abigail Hartman is a Christian, which she hopes colors everything else about her; she also just happens to be a sixteen-year-old writer of historical fiction and fantasy, a homeschool almost-graduate, and author of the historical novel The Soldier’s Cross.  On her blog, Scribbles and Ink Stains, she posts about writing, literature, and the odd cup of tea. 

If you asked every writer you ever met whether or not they want to be published, I would venture to say that the answer for the vast majority would be yes.  It isn't why we write, of course; we write because we're writers, because we love the art of story-crafting, because we can't not.  And there are some writers who are satisfied with that and don't mind the thought of never showing their work to another pair of eyes as long as they live.  For the most part, however, writers cherish the thought of publication, perhaps to earn a living, perhaps for the sake of presenting to the public stories into which they have poured so much of themselves.

This part of the creative process is natural, and, with the rise and increased success of the self-publishing process, perhaps easier than it has ever been before.  With programs like Amazon's CreateSpace, getting a novel out to readers is now little more than a click (or ten) away.  Young writers no longer have to wait for agents and editors to take notice; we can launch out into the world of published novels on our own.

The subject has been hashed out and beaten to a pulp in numerous articles in the past few years, so I'm not going to delve into the pros and cons of self-publishing.  My point is publication itself, and especially publication as it relates to teen writers.  Some of us have been writing for a good number of years, editing for a few less, and we're now either tinkering with or actively seeking publication - sweating over query letters, getting the scoop on advances, the whole shebang.  Our work is ready to face the world!

But are we?

Pessimistic, I know, but I'll say now that I am not one who believes teenagers are incapable of writing good novels, or of getting them published even if they could write them.  On the contrary, I believe that teens, especially well-read and dedicated teens, are as capable of producing fresh, well-written works as their seniors; the issue is not with teenagers' capabilities, but with the low expectations generally placed on them. Those ought not be allowed to handicap us.

And yet I believe the question still holds for every young writer thinking about publication, whether on their own or through traditional means: is it the right time?  Your story may be ready, but are you?  We should never rush blindly into things; the cost should always be counted in advance, so that we may then take the plow and move forward without looking back.  As you start to mull over publication, gathering facts about the process, remember to take these things into account:

1. Do I realize what this will entail?  As I've studied the details of publication, have I also gleaned information on what it requires of the author?  Or do I still treat it as a daydream?

2. Is this a good time to be putting this in motion?  Am I willing to sacrifice time and energy, not only to finding a publisher, but to marketing and all the finer points as well?

3. Am I emotionally ready for this?  Have I, or can I, learn to take bad reviews and negative feedback professionally?  (Work on that plastic smile!)

4. Is this what I want to do?  To be cliche, is my heart and soul in it?  If writing is merely a hobby, perhaps self-publishing is a better option; but seeking traditional publication demands dedication.

If these seem overwhelming...it's probably a good thing.  On some days they seem overwhelming to me, and I'm sure the same is true of many other authors.  But that last question is really the clincher, and if your answer is yes, then the others can be conquered through wisdom and perseverance.  After prayer and thought you may find that now is not the right time to take this step; but it's certainly better to discover that sooner than later, and if this is your vocation, then the step will come in due course.  So be ambitious, aim high, and apply wisdom as you do so.  That is a recipe for godly success.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When people think you're wasting your time

Yesterday my handsome little man, Connor, turned 2. Which means I have a totally legit excuse to post a picture of him, right?

Thank you all for indulging me! Onto writing stuff...

In the last couple weeks, I've had a decent number of emails from teen writers saying their parents think writing stories or pursuing a career in writing is a waste of time. I've also heard a few saying their parents have way too high of expectations for them, that they anticipate their budding writer to be published quickly and to be making 100k a year.

While I haven't struggled with unsupportive parents, I have battled others' expectations, criticisms, and doubts about my abilities to make it as a writer.

Most parents want what's best for their children. If your parents are discouraging you from writing, they could have a whole list of reasons why. Honestly, there are some days that if one of my kids told me they wanted to be a writer, I would burst into tears. 

If you haven't already, you might want to put some thought into why your parents might be discouraging you from pursuing writing. Have they struggled all their lives to make ends meet? Then it's possible their discouragement is more about wanting you to have a dependable paycheck. Do they read much fiction? If not, maybe they just don't understand your interest in made up worlds.

Figuring out the whys won't make the problems vanish, but it could really help you to better deal with their concerns.

For a lot of parents, money is a big (and rightful) concern about their son or daughter pursuing publicationThe sad reality is you're not going to make much as a writer, especially at first. Coming up with some ideas for a college degree that's more likely to get you a job after graduation might help your parents get on board with writing. 

Regardless of who your parents are, somewhere along the line, someone will think you should be doing something other than writing. Your no-nonsense Uncle who can't wrap his mind around steampunk, your grandmother who thinks you should just get the book spiral-bound at Kinko's and move on to a new hobby, and so on.

Respectfully dealing with people who dislike what you write, who think you should have finished your novel years ago, or who aren't busting out their pom-poms for you is a skill that smart writers master. The publishing world is a mystery to the casual reader and their uneducated expectations can be beyond frustrating.

This is why writing friends are invaluable, and why you should actively seek them out at places like writers conferences or in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group.

Ultimately your choice to pursue writing is just that - your choice. Guardians might choose to not pay for a creative writing degree or friends might balk at your dreams of publication. You might never find the magical words to convince them, but if you continue to be respectful to the naysayers in your life, yet steadfast in your writing pursuits, you may find they become cheerleaders before too long.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The NextGen Writers Conference is soon!

A brief weekend interruption to remind you guys that the NextGen Writer's Conference, a free, on-line conference for writers 19 and under, is quickly approaching. The conference runs August 2nd through August 3rd, and it's super helpful to our lovely hostess - Shellie Neumier - if you register sooner rather than later.

The deadline for the NextGen backcover copy contest is TOMORROW. So get your entries in pronto! You have 150 words to tell our judges - all published writers - about your story ... and doing a good job might mean an editor requesting your proposal. Just sayin'. You can find out more details about the backcover copy contest here. And you can get a peek at what the judges will be using for scoring here.

And if you're still on the fence about participating in the conference, check out this amazing line up of presenters and classes:

                    DAY ONE

Stephanie Morrill       Writing Middles 8/2, 8 am cst

Patti Shene                    Opening the Door to Publication  8/2,  10 am cst

Caleb Breakey              Beat Resistance & Write Like Crazy  8/2,    12 pm cst

Melanie Dickerson     Persevering to Publication: Encouragement for Every Writer  8/2,    2 pm cst

Roseanna White          Writing in Your Voice  8/2, 4 pm cst

Jill Williamson             How to Format a Novel (Podcast) 8/2, 6 pm cst

John Otte                       What Can Video Games Teach Us about Backstory?  8/2, 8pm cst

Nicole O’Dell                 Live Interview with Your Characters 8/2, 10 pm cst  live chat

                    DAY TWO

Lisa Lickel                      What Editors Want  8/3, 8 am cst

Kerry McQuisten         How to Mess up a Submission  8/3, 10 am cst
(Black Lyon Publishers)

Robert Liparulo          Making Fantasy Fiction Work for Everyone  8/3, 12 pm cst

Lisa T. Bergren            How to Write a Proposal   8/3, 2 pm cst

Rachel Coker              Writing Something You Love, That Others Will Buy.  8/3, 4 pm cst

Chris Miles                    Being a Teen at a Traditional Writer’s Conference  8/3, 6 pm cst

Laura Kurk                    A Wise Man Quietly Holds It Back: Creating Authentic Emotional Moments  8/3, 6pm cst

Shellie Neumeier        2012 Finale, Writing for the Next Generation 8/3,      10 pm cst   LIVE CHAT

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tricks of the Trade: Capitalizations in Titles

by Jill Williamson

The following rules on capitalizing titles come from The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the reference used by editors and copyeditors in the publishing industry. For titles of books, chapters, songs, and poems, the rules are:

Always capitalize:
1. The first and the last word in the title.
2. All nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
3. Subordinate conjunctions (as, if, when, so, because, that, although). Ex: She’s So Unusual
4. The first world following a colon or dash. Ex: Replication: The Jason Experiment

Always lowercase:
1. Articles (a, an, the) except when it’s the first or last word of the title
2. Coordinate conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor)
3. Prepositions (through, up, down, on, by, in, of, to, etc.)
4. The words “to” and “as” should always be lowercase unless they are the first or last word in the title, unless “as” is a subordinate conjunction (Ex: For As Long As We Both Shall Live), or unless “to” is used in a verb phrase (Ex: To Be or Not To Be).

This can be really tricky as many words fall into different categories, and I often have to refer to these rules again and go looking up the duty each word is performing or what a coordinate conjunctions or a subordinate conjunction is to remember. But these are the rules. There are more exceptions, too. But I won’t fry your brain further today.

Have a tricky title? Share it with us.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Pick the Right Setting

by Stephanie Morrill

In my early days of writing, I gave zero thought to setting. And it shows. Many of my early stories seem to take place with green screens behind my characters. At the time, I liked to think I wrote universal stories and that they would have more impact if I didn't give many details, if I just let the reader imagine the story unfolding in their place of residence.

I didn't yet understand that readers want to be transported.

I didn't yet understand that the setting of a story isn't just the time and place. If it were then if you asked me, "What's the setting of The Hunger Games?" it would be sufficient for me to say, "West Virginia, except they call it something different because it's set in an undetermined date in the future."

That's far from sufficient, isn't it?

That's because setting involves culture. Moods. Politics. Public opinion. Laws.

You should not be able to pick up your characters and your plot and easily move them to another location. If you can, you haven't taken full advantage of your setting.

For the fantasy or sci fi or historical writer, setting is often dictated by the story idea itself. If you want to write a book that takes place during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, already you've narrowed it down quite a bit - an east coast city in America in 1776.

But what about a contemporary writer? What if your books are set in the here and now? How do you pick a place?

The Skylar Hoyt books (my contemporary series) are set in Kansas City because that's where I went to high school. When I started them, I lived in Orlando, and I was out-of-my-mind homesick. But the Midwest setting dictated more than I had realized it would. Like I wanted Skylar to be uniquely beautiful. And uniquely beautiful in Kansas looks different than uniquely beautiful in other places. Which is how Skylar wound up Hawaiian.

Kudos to the art team at Revell for picking the perfect model for Skylar!
I set another (unpublished) contemporary series of mine in Visalia, California. The schools there have some serious struggles with gangs and drugs and such, and I wanted my main character - a shy goody-two shoes - to stick out.

It's also a small(er) town than others I considered, and since the main character locks herself into a secret relationship, I wanted the book to have a slightly small-town claustrophobic feel to it. 

Here's a check list of sorts that I've made for helping me think through the setting of contemporary ideas I'm composting : (Let's all bear in mind that so far my ideas all have teen girls for main characters.)

  • Would this story work better in a city, a small town, or in the country?
  • Where should this city be?
  • Should I make up a city or can I use one that exists?
  • How did my character come to live here? What do her parents do?
  • How does she feel about where she lives? What does she like/dislike?
  • Who's in charge of my character's world, or who does she perceive to be in charge? (I'm getting better at including "the man" in my manuscripts.)
  • What kind of laws exist? (I'm not talking about Click it or Ticket. I mean, is there a lunch table she can't sit at or a boy who's off limits. Those laws that aren't stated anywhere but everyone knows.)
  • What's are the socioeconomics of this place and where does she fall on the scale? (That's fancy for saying, "How wealthy is my character and how wealthy is everyone else?")
  • Does this place of a general moral code and does my character agree or disagree with it? 
Just asking/answering a few questions like that will prevent you from turning your setting into a mere time and place.

Have a question to add to the list? Leave it below!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How do you handle rejection as a writer?

by Stephanie Morrill (with some help!)

I am really excited to continue our 1 question interview series on Go Teen Writers! We debuted it in June with a question about the difficulties of the writing life and heard from some amazing authors. This month's question that we asked was:

How do you handle all the rejection involved in this business?

You have to develop a thick skin when you're a writer, or life is very, very challenging. If you can't survive critiques, you won't be able to get better. If you can't survive rejection from publishing houses, you're likely to quit before you ever really try every avenue to sell. And If you can't survive readers who don't like your work once it's out, you're likely to avoid writing another book. So keep your head on straight, eyes on your next goal, shake off the bad stuff, embrace the constructive criticism and MOVE FORWARD.

By remembering that the business is ultimately in control of my heavenly Father, who loves me and who promises to work out all things for my good. That is a simple answer. Living by is not easy. Don't confuse "simple" with "easy."

It took fourteen years for me to receive an acceptance letter. I had drawers full of rejection letters, and every time I received another one I told myself I was closer than ever to what I wanted. Very few people ever write without receiving rejection letters. What they do with those rejections is their choice. They can toss them away, or they can glean anything helpful from them and try hard to improve. 

A rejection is always difficult and disappointing. You have so much time invested in your book, as well as hopes and dreams. When I get a rejection, I sometimes shed a tear or two and mope around for a few days--eat some chocolate--but then I pick myself up and polish off the same synopsis and send it to another publisher.

I'm a Christian, and I fully believe that my career is in God's hands. That He has a time for each of my books to be published--and specific people He wants to reach with each story. If one book is rejected, I believe that it's not God's timing for that story. The main thing is, you can't let rejections get you down and make you quit writing. Rejections are a part of a writer's life. They make us want to work harder, be more creative, and to master the skill of writing better. When you get a rejection, you have a choice to wallow in your despair or to set it aside and move on. I say move on.

I'm not sure there is one way to handle it, but it's important that you have a coping mechanism in place because there will be rejection. They’re not rejecting you. You know that, right? They're rejecting something they don’t think they can sell. Take their feedback and chew on it, but don’t stew. Move on. Work on your craft, keep writing, and keep an eye open for someone who thinks they can sell what you do.

Rejections from publishing houses used to bother me, but not as much now. When a publisher sends my book back, it does not mean that my writing is bad, it just means that they do not have a place for that piece of work at that time.

Reviews can be a type of rejection, too. I usually listen to moderate reviews (3 or 4 stars) because sometimes they have good points, and I know I have things I need to work on.

Harsh critics used to upset me a whole lot, but I have found that really nasty reviews (1 stars or “I only gave this a one star because there is no zero star to choose) are one of three things. One issue can be the reviewer hates Christians. This does not bother me because they have a problem with God, not me. The second type of unfavorable review is from a wannabe writer who is frustrated because they have not been published, and so they pick on people who are. I understand that because I’ve been in that position. But scorching another’s work is not profitable to anyone. I go by the old adage if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. The third type are people who need to sound like they are authorities. Writing a negative comment in highfalutin language helps them build their own ego, but it is not really about my work.  

From R.J. Larson

With chocolate.

Seriously, rejections are part of the business because publishing IS a business. My husband and his sister are editors, so I know firsthand that editors each have specific tasks and timetables established by their particular publisher-employer. In addition, each publisher caters to specific audiences, and they publish predetermined numbers of books each year for those audiences. An editor might truly enjoy your paranormal steampunk romance, or your sci-fi take on Shakespeare, but if they've already filled those two categories in their schedules for the next three years, then they're forced to reject your manuscript. 

Your best defense, besides chocolate, is a thick skin. Rejections are part of every author's life, even after they're published. Resolve to learn from each rejection. Take advice from professionals. Polish your work. Study your craft, develop your unique voice, network with other writers, and be ready to shine when an opportunity appears.

Fortunately I haven't had to deal with much rejection. When I completed my manuscript for Commissioned -- which Marcher Lord Press acquired in 2009 and split into two novels, The Word Reclaimed and The Word Unleashed -- I sent it to several literary agents and publishers. I think the total was ten or so. All turned it down. The rejections were kind of a downer, but I did my best to leave things in God's hands and not dwell on disappointment.

Um . . . not well.

Okay, that's not entirely true! But I will say that the hurts and frustrations of the writing world are a lot harder to take than I ever imagined before taking the plunge. Every time a bad review falls under my eye (I try to avoid reading reviews as a rule, but curiosity killed the crazy-cat-lady, and I do ended up seeing them now and then), I am devastated. When a writer puts all that work and care into crafting a story, she wants to receive praise in return, or at the very least, a friendly pat on the head.

But is such a variety of readers in this world, no one book I write will please them all. It's impossible! I have had readers on one hand tell me that they hated what readers on the other hand have told me was their very favorite part of any one given story. Do I change who I am and how I write to please the first reader and, therefore, disappoint the second? Certainly not!

Ultimately, all I can do is keep in mind why I am in this business. I want to glorify God with my work; I want to be used by Him to bless and encourage others. I do this by telling the most entertaining story I can, filling it with the most real characters who spring straight from my heart. If those characters charm some but frustrate others, well . . . that's people for you, be they real or imagined!

When rejections come (as they always do in this field), my recommendation is to have a little cry, perhaps find a friendly soul to mourn with you over a cup of tea, grab a fluffy cat and give it a squeeze . . . then wipe your eyes and say a thankful prayer knowing that God has a better plan in mind. At first, it might be hard to say that prayer with sincerity. But given enough time, God's will becomes evident, and it is always better than my own.

What about you, Go Teen Writers readers? How do you handle negative feedback about your writing. Or if you haven't received much feedback yet, how do you think you will?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Swear or Not to Swear

By Jill Williamson

I’m not a fan of swearing in novels, even if it’s realistic. Why? First because it can be cliché. And second, because it’s unnecessary and it alienates a whole host of readers and publishers. A good writer can do so much better, in my opinion. And less is always more. So if you are going to use a curse word, save it for the perfect time when it will have the biggest impact. If you use them on every page, you’ll just turn people off.

That said, I still don’t use them. My preference. But my characters still curse every now and then. Fantasy is fabulous for this because you can create your own swear words or expressions, which helps make your storyworld more realistic. Here are some of mine from my medieval fantasy Blood of Kings trilogy.

For pretty much any swear word, my main character often yelled or muttered, “Pig snout!” No other characters used, “Pig snout!” That was strictly Achan’s catch phrase.

One of my knights who was from a desert land used the curse, “Fire and ash!” when he was angry.

Common phrase: “For goodness’ sake!” (or God or Christ) My phrase: “For Lightness’ sake!” (My land is half cursed in Darkness.) Or “For Cetheria’s hand!” (Cetheria is the goddess of protection.) And some of the knights used the phrase “Eben’s breath!” in the same way or as a general curse. (An Eben is an ugly giant.)

Common phrase: “I’ll be dam*ed.”  My phrase: “I’ll be stormed” or “I’ll be ransomed.” (In my storyworld “storming” is to be lost in a telepathic battle, and “ransomed” is to be saved by God.

For a “Thank goodness!” or “Thank God!” my female lead character used, “Joyful heart!” “Merciful heart!” or “Mercy!” Then men used "Thank Arman!" (Arman is the father god in my books.)

Some other phrases I used:

“I don’t give a pig’s eye about…”
“What in flames?”

In my current work in progress, a contemporary story, I have a teen guy who gets in trouble for swearing, so he’s trying to quit. Someone gives him the tip of making up his own swear words. So he starts using “Figs and jam!” and “Mother puss bucket!” Not sure if my publisher will let me get away with that or not… LOL (This just in: My husband tells me that I got "Mother puss bucket" from Ghostbusters. The subconscious is deep, my friends. Who knew?)

Here are some other curse words that you might recognize from books, TV, or movies. Can you guess the references? Click here for the answers.

sweet mother of Artemis
son of a hamster
smoke you
oh, my prophetic soul
mud blood
bit brain
shiitake mushrooms

And how about you? Ever make up your own oaths for your novels?

Monday, July 9, 2012

How do I make time to write?

by Stephanie Morrill

This is a question that's being discussed in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, and it's something that I have regularly asked myself for the last 12 years. In this busy life, how can I find time to write?

Don't trick yourself into waiting

It's easy to fall into a trap of thinking, "I'm too busy now ... but next week." Or next month. Or after you finish that class. Or once you're done with school.

The reality is that most of the time, life will be very full. There have been seasons of my life - like when my husband worked all day, we had no kids, and I wasn't working - when finding time to write was easy. But even as a person who makes a living as a novelist, I fight for every bit of writing time I get.

Establish concrete, manageable goals

Sure we all want to finish our book, but what's something you can do five or six days a week to make that happen? Is it 500 words a day? Or 2,000 words a week? An hour of editing? Define what it is you want to accomplish on a regular basis, and then...

Communicate your goals to the people you live with

Many of you share a bedroom and a computer with siblings, which means you'll need to get creative and think through what's reasonable to request. Can you get up an hour early - even 3 days a week - and write? If you share a room, maybe you can bargain (more on bargaining in a bit) for an hour of privacy in there everyday so you can bring the laptop in there and have some quiet, uninterrupted time.

Can you recruit your parents into helping you? Your parents may not fully understand or support your writing obsession (that's another topic for another day) but if they do, ask them for help. A couple weeks ago when I spoke at the One Year Adventure Novel conference, I told the parents one of the best things they could do to support their aspiring novelists was to guard their writing time.

If my daughter came to me in 10 years and said, "I'm trying to write a book; can I please have the computer from seven to eight every evening so I can accomplish my daily word goal?" I would work hard to make that happen for her. Now, if I discovered that she was spending more time on Facebook (or whatever will be distracting us all in 10 years) than she was with her characters, my devotion to giving her quiet writing time would fade. So if you're asking for writing time, make sure it actually IS writing time.

Learn to bargain

My husband is a runner. Which means he sometimes needs to find hours on the weekends that he can go run, like, 22 miles. So we bargain with each other. I help him carve out time to go run, and he helps me carve out time for writing. And everybody wins because we're both much happier people when we've had that time.

Is there someone - a sibling, a roommate- who you can bargain with? Is there a way to get what you both want?

Utilize those free 5 or 10 minutes

This is something I didn't get good at until I had babies and it became necessary to survival - I learned to write in little bursts. Free five minutes? Maybe I could do a paragraph. 10 minutes? That could be a whole page if I really buckled down.

It won't feel like you're making a ton of progress, but boy does it add up.

Don't wait for the computer

If you don't have access to your computer 24 hours a day, make use of your non-computer time with a notebook. When I'm playing outside with the kids, I'll often grab a scrap of paper and jot a rough draft of a blog post, backcover copy, or a scene. When I finally get to my computer, I can make better use of my allotted time.

Use a timer

Many days, my timer is critical to me getting things done. She's nothing fancy:

Just an old kitchen timer that was retired when the magnet broke off. If I'm having trouble focusing on my manuscript, I'll tell myself, "I'm going to write for a solid 25 minutes." Then I'll start the timer and go. It keeps me off email, and it often helps me bust through whatever wall I'd hit that keeping me from wanting to write.

When my 25 minutes are up, I'll sometimes give myself a couple minutes to get a drink or fire off a quick email, but then I start the timer again.

Maybe you struggle from TOO much time...

As frustrating as all that "life stuff" is that gets in the way of dedicated writing time, sometimes the structure school/work hours provide forces us to make use of our free time. Sometimes no structure and lots of free time means zero to little productivity. I sometimes observe this in the people around me who claim they want to write a book but don't have the time ... yet I see them playing Farmville in the middle of the afternoon. We all need to kick back, of course, but when we're chasing a big accomplishment like writing a book, we also need to force ourselves to shut down the distractions.

For several years, I didn't work or have kids and my husband was gone from 7:30 to 5:30 Monday-Friday AND getting a Master's degree. This left me with quite a bit of time on my own. We briefly discussed me getting a job but finally decided I would invest my time in writing. And I did. For 3 1/2 years, I treated writing books like a job, and that's why it IS my job now.

If you need help with budgeting your time, I loved this post from Michael Hyatt about creating an ideal week.

What are some ways you've found time to write?