Monday, August 27, 2012

We're on vacation this week!

by Stephanie Morrill

While it's not technically the last week of summer, it certainly feels like it. After this week, pools will close for the season, school will resume (if it hasn't already), and we'll pack away our white clothing. (Does anyone under the age of 60 still observe that fashion rule?)

Anyway. In an effort to savor the final week of summer and log some good writing time, Go Teen Writers will be closed this week. Our next post will be Tuesday, September 4th, when we'll announce the finalists from the 500 word contest.

See you then!

Friday, August 24, 2012

What Goes On at a Writer's Conference?

Me and Susie May Warren 
By Jill Williamson

Last week I got to go to my absolute favorite writer's conference. Now, I love all writer's conferences. I just can't help it. But this one... it's special. Here's why:

1. It's mine. I go every year. I've made friends with the other people who go every year. We support each other and grow in our writing careers together. And when one of us succeeds, it's like having a huge family throw a party for you. Pretty sweet.

2. I sold all my books there. I sold the Blood of Kings trilogy to Jeff Gerke there. I sold Replication to Zondervan there. I met my agent there. Good things have happened at this conference. And not just to me!

The girls I stayed up to 1:30 with
3. It's small and intimate compared to some of the HUGE conferences out there. It gets about 300 people. That means that I meet people and I keep seeing them throughout the week. I actually make friends with these people. I even make friends with the staff! And it's more of a relaxed conference, so I can stay up late and talk, talk, talk with people. My teen writer friend promised that when I get too old to stay up to 1:30 am every night of the conference, she'd gather everyone to come to my room so I wouldn't have to take my walker out when it's dark. Isn't that nice of her? Party in Jill's room someday when I'm old! Whoo!

Okay, so Jill has fun and makes friends. Big deal. What else goes on?

-There is a keynote speaker who will speak every night. This is usually a veteran author, editor, or agent who is an inspiration to everyone.
-There are dozens of workshops to choose from taught by a variety of editors, agents, authors, and sometimes marketing people too.
-There are often morning sessions that you go to each day that go deeper on a particular topic.
One morning, I had much bacon
-There are mentor authors there to read your manuscript and give you feedback or answer whatever questions you might have.
-There are agents and editors there to pitch your story to.
-There is a freebie table with samples of magazines and other periodicals in case you want to write for them.
-There are many free books given away.
-If you loved a class or missed one, you can order CDs and listen to it later
-There is a bookstore with tons of great stuff, and they usually have an autograph night in case you want to get something signed.
-There is worship and prayer (at the Christian conferences)
-There are award ceremonies
-There is good food and lots of it!

My knight in shining armor
Sadly this year, on the way home (it's a 5.5 hour drive for me), I broke down! Some of you know I spend three hours in Idanha, Oregon where Bigfoot lives. Well, I admit that I was a little freaked out when I first broke down and had no cell service. But I knew it would work out okay. And guess what? It did! A guy named Ken shows up in his mobile auto garage that looked like a renovated ambulance (can you say story idea?). He puts in a new alternator on the side of the road! Turns out he's a reader, so he also goes home with my fantasy trilogy. Pretty sweet twist on what some might have considered a disaster.

So... I urge you all to find a writer's conference near you, save up, and give it a try. Maybe sign up for one day, if it's a week-long conference. But there is nothing like getting several hundred writers together. How about you? Ever go to a conference?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Writing Advice That Completely Changes Things

Once a month on Go Teen Writers, we're lucky enough to have a group of authors take the time to answer a writing question. This month's question is:

What writing technique made a big difference between you being published and not published?

At my first writers conference, Ken Petersen (then an editor at Tyndale, now the big-wig at Waterbrook), sat down with me and said two words that changed my writing for the better:  Tension Management.  He then pointed to a spot in my manuscript where the bad guy shot the hero.  "Your chapter needs to end here," he said.  Not where I had ended it - several paragraphs later when the tension was low again.  Keep them reading, he said.  And I got it -- my goal was to manage the story's tension to keep the reader turning pages.  To do that, I needed to end chapters with something so compelling that the reader can't wait to keep reading.  Because of Ken, my number one goal for all my writing became (and continues to be): Don't Bore the Reader!

I think the best writing technique I've learned is SHOW, DON'T TELL. Learning to write cinematically solves a host of different writing issues in itself. For instance, when I write as though the scene is playing out before me, it helps me write actively, rather than passively. Showing instead of telling keeps the pacing moving quickly. It also helps me write strong characters because instead of telling the reader, "He was furious" I SHOW the reader how his nostrils flared and his fists clenched and his face turned red. Showing is like painting with words. It creates a vivid image in the reader's imagination––or more importantly, in the imagination of the editor I want to buy my story!

It wasn't just one, but several. When I first started writing, I knew next to nothing about crafting a book, but the things I learned that made the most difference in my writing are showing vs telling, using dialogue beats rather than tags, and using lots of action and just a little narration.

Write in scenes! Once you’ve got your scenes drafted, make sure each one of them moves the story forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.

Concentrating on story. All other techniques fade in and fade out, but a good plot keeps you published and makes your work classic.

My biggest problem was proper use of points of view. I did some serious head-hopping within scenes. My publisher/editor had to take me to school on that one, to give the poor readers a break. Now I limit myself to three or fourth POVs in a story, and focus more on the lead character. I've also experimented with first person in some of my unpublished projects.

Learning good story structure. The book that made the most difference in my writing was Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which explains classic story structure. Once I understood structure, I could see where my story didn’t work and why, how to make it work, how to pace, and how to challenge my characters. I also learned to use goals and secrets and fears to amp up the tension.

For me, the writing technique that made all the difference was learning to use the omniscient narrative.

In a market where "Show Don't Tell" has become the battle cry, classic omniscient narrative style has fallen into disfavor. It's all about strict-third person or first person narratives . . . even first person present tense is considered preferable! Thus, when I first began to study creative writing, I followed the "show don't tell" law to the letter, restricting my work to a strict third-person. And I learned a tremendous amount while doing so!

But then I started to notice something: All my favorite authors used the omniscient narrative.

I don't mean just the classics like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, or any of the Victorians with their long rambling narratives. Nor do I even mean the renowned C.S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, who more recently put the omniscient narrative to brilliant use in their modern-classics. As much as I love all of these writers, I can see why (unless you're Susanna Clarke and write genius work like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) that style would not fly with today's readers.

But my favorites, my very favorite current YA novelists, all wrote using the omniscient narrative as well! Megan Whalen Turner, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Sir Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaimain . . . brilliant storytellers all, who have created  some of my most-loved literary characters. They were getting into multiple viewpoints within scenes . . . they were describing things that the viewpoint character could not have actually seen . . . they were addressing their reader . . . they were "telling" as much as they were "showing" . . . and they were doing it so well!

So I took a step back from the strict third-person narratives I had been pursuing and began experimenting with the omniscient. It took a lot of work to learn a whole new writing style, very different from anything I was seeing promoted among CBA authors of that time. And even now, I get flack from various folks in the market who believe that my narrative voice is "wrong" and "outdated." I have even had a reviewer call my work a "publishing travesty" simply because of the narrative voice I chose to write in!

But my editors at Bethany House Publishers were thrilled to have something fresh and different come across their desks. Working with them, I have continued to hone a stronger and more vibrant omniscient narrative voice, and I really love it! It's just the right tone for my Fairy Tale adventure novels, and I would never go back to strict third-person.

That being said, the omniscient narrative is not the right style for every story out there. I recommend young writers to try it, however. See how your work-in-progress sounds with a little extra narrative heft, with a little "telling" here and there. See what happens if you write multiple points of view all in the same scene. It can be terrible! But it also can be truly beautiful.

What about YOU? What have you learned about writing that's made a big difference in how you do things?

Related Posts:
June's 1 question Interview: Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Progressive Checklist for Writers Part III

by Stephanie Morrill

Here you can find part one of the progressive checklist, and here you can find part two. And this time I decided to actually include the links - not just pretend I did.

So. You've learned at least the basics of story structure. You've written a first draft (and maybe a handful of false starts as well.) You've even edited your draft, and now you're sitting there wondering what to do now.

Step Four: Get Social

If you haven't already found a critique group or writing organization to belong to, now would be a good time to invest the $50 membership fee or whatever it is for your organization of choice. You can join one earlier, if you like, and there are certainly some benefits to doing so. Like getting feedback from professionals before writing 5 completely unsellable manuscripts. Or understanding POV rules before you've become so used to head-hopping.

There are also, in my opinion, some disadvantages to doing it too early. Like:
  • You get too educated for your own good, to borrow something Erica Vetsch once told me back in our pre-published days. She was having issues with a historical manuscript, and said to me, "I'm starting to think I've gotten too educated for my own good, that I just need to spend some time writing." As valuable as all those classes are that you take at conferences, you can certainly learn more than your skill level merits.
  • Too many voices are let in. I met my friend Susie a couple years ago when she had never written much more than a chapter or two. (This almost sounds like one of those fake stories you read in self-help books, but this is true.) Susie had a passion for her partial manuscript, which she took to conference. She had interest from an editor - yay! But someone else wasn't sure that publishing house was a good fit. And someone else thought she was locking herself in by tailoring the manuscript to them. And another person thought her book sounded better fit for a historical. And so forth. These were all well-meaning people who saw Susie's sweetness, saw she was a promising writer, and wanted to help her. But all the advice was confusing, and it was tough for her to discern the right path for her. (I almost typed "the write path for her" but thought that might be too cutesy. You're welcome on sparing you my corniness.)

When to join a group or seek out writing friends depends on the writer. But if you've written a full manuscript and you're interested in querying agents and such, a writers conference or organization is a great investment of resources.

It's important - no matter where you are in your writing journey - to remember where critique groups, writing organizations, agents, marketing, publishing houses go. Let's go back to the blocks. Here's a very unscientific, incomplete look at what builds you up as a writer:

Sometimes I've made the mistake of trying to add my critique group or marketing abilities to that stack. But where they really belong is as support beams.

Let's all use our great imaginations and pretend those support beams are actually doing something. Thank you!
As valuable as the right writing friends and organizations (and all the other "support beams" I could have taken the time to draw) are, make sure you keep in mind that they don't make you a writer - writing makes you a writer.

Step Five: Do it Again

So you've finished your book? Great! Time to write another one. 

In this case, practice doesn't make perfect, but it does make you a much better writer. Especially if every time you finish a manuscript, you take the time to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, you will rapidly improve your skills. 

After reading through the progressive checklists, what do you think your next steps as a writer might be?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When You Lose Your Story!

By Jill Williamson

This was not what I'd planned to write about this morning...

I'm having a hard few weeks, that's for certain. Ever been there? Of course you have! We all have.

I know better than to save my documents. And I've lost them before. But I guess I've gotten too cozy with the auto-recovery feature in MS Word. Yesterday I worked so hard on my rewrite. I put in a good ten hours on two tough chapters and had written a lovely page toward a third chapter when Word decided to restart. I panicked, of course. I thought, "Oh no! My cute little new scene for that new chapter. I bet it's gone!"

More than that was gone, my friends. My whole day was gone.


So what do you do? I admit, I cried. I was devastated. I made my poor husband get out of bed and come and pay attention to my loss. This story had been killing me as it was, and I'd been so proud of the work I did yesterday. So, I tried to find a method to recover it. I Googled every-which-way, looking for some secret miracle that would allow me to copy and paste the magical missing text.

Alas, I have not been successful.

So, like Jo March after Amy burned her beloved manuscript, I will start again. And as I work through the scene a second time, my memory will sprout little bits of don't forgets. "Jill! This is where you mentioned that sculpture!" And, "Don't forget the part when he talked to that guy!"

Well, here's hoping that a good night's sleep has given my brain the fuel to enact one major do over.

If you've lost something you worked very hard on, I feel your pain. How about it, writers? Ever lost some beloved pages to the belly of the ravenous computer?

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Progressive Checklist for Writers Part II

by Stephanie Morrill

(Psst - if you missed Part I, you can find it here.)

First of all, a quick reminder that the 500 word writing contest is open for one more week. Get details on getting thyself entered here.

Also, now that I no longer smell like campfire, I've rounded up the judges for this contest. Yay!

They are:

Shellie Neumeier, creator of the NextGen conference, author of Driven (among other books) and an all-around cool lady.

Erica Vetsch, New York Times bestselling author, Carol Award Finalist, and my first ever writing friend.

We needed super special judges for this contest, and I was thrilled by their enthusiastic "Yes!" when I asked them to consider it.

Moving on with our progressive checklist. So you've figured out a few basic things about plotting, you know to give you main character a goal or an objective, and you've even written a story from beginning to end. Now what?

Step 3 - Edit your first draft

Now that you can write a book from start to finish, it's time to learn how to edit one. If you still believe in this manuscript, then invest the time in editing it before you move to another project. Notice I'm not asking if you like  the book, because I honestly I think most of us are pretty sick of a manuscript by the time we type THE END.

Editing is a completely different beast than writing. Which isn't a big surprise since writing and editing utilize different parts of the brain. Or so I've been told. I haven't, like, done my own research over here.

Or maybe, for whatever reason, you don't think this book is worth editing. I made that choice with a few of my early manuscripts. So if you're not going to edit it, then your goal will be to repeat step two (writing a full manuscript) until you finally churn out one that feels worthy.

If you've never edited a complete book before, it can be daunting. (Heck, if you have edited a complete book before, it can feel daunting.) I have three recommendations for you:
  • Give yourself space between writing your first draft and editing. Not just a couple days, but a couple weeks. Stephen King takes 6 weeks, and I've decided if it works for him, that's all the argument for it that I need.
  • When the time comes to edit, read your book in as few sittings as possible. Hopefully one, but more likely two or three. This is mostly to become familiar with your story again.
  • After your read-through, focus on big stuff that needs to be fixed. Like a plot line that went nowhere or a pointless character who should be deleted. When you've taken care of all that big stuff, then I encourage you to get really fussy with it. But often with my early manuscripts, I found so many big things that needed work, I would retire the manuscript before I got to the fussy stage.
Once you've written a complete manuscript and put it through some form of the editing process (whether you've done some serious rewrites or done a read through and decided it's not worth it) it's time to take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, and also to evaluate what worked for you and what didn't.

When I read through the manuscript for my second book, here were some of the things I listed:
  • I tried to write this book out of order - just write whatever scenes I felt like. That did not work for me. It was tough to keep track of my timeline, and my character arcs were much worse than the last book. Next time I'll write in order.
  • Ugh, I'm totally the main character of this book. Again! I can't keep writing books about my life.
  • My secondary characters are so "main character focused." I need to figure out how to give them problems of their own...
The list went on and on. So long that I decided to just scrap the project and move on with my life. (A move I've never regretted. That book is a long, boring mess.) Once you've made your list, you'll have a choice to make - do I believe in my book enough to fix everything on my list, or do I take what I learned from this experience and move on to a new project?

And before you dive into editing this manuscript or move on to your next project, take some time to study up on those weaknesses. Was your villain boring? Read up on how to craft better villains. Did your ending lack oomph? Study oomph-y endings.

We'll continue with the next step on Wednesday. Have a great day!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Punctuation 101: Dialogue Tags

by Jill Williamson

This may be review for some of you. But I'd like to go over this for those of you who have some confusion about when to use a comma or period or what when writing dialogue.

First of all, there are two types of dialogue tags: “said” tags and “action” tags.

Said Tags

A said tag assigns the dialogue to a speaker by using the word “said” or a variation of that word (asked, yelled, whispered, etc). A said tag is connected to the dialogue with a comma, unless the dialogue is a question or requires an exclamation point. When using a said tag, the pronoun must be lowercase unless you are using a proper name. Pay attention to the underlined parts of the examples below for proper punctuation.

Sample said tags:    

“I’m sorry,” the girl said.     

“I am the President of the United States,” Abraham said.   
“What do you want?” she asked.   
“What do you want?” Kate asked.    

“Leave me alone!” he screamed.    

“Leave me alone!” Mike screamed.     

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” Mindy said, “but I’m one of them.” (In this example, the said tag interrupted the dialogue, so a comma was used on the other side of the said tag since the sentence wasn't over yet. If you do this, make sure the interruption falls in a natural place for your character to pause. Read the dialogue out loud to see what sounds best.)       

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” Mindy said. “I’m one of them.” (Here the said tag came between two complete sentences.)       Mindy took a deep breath and said, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’m one of them.” (The “Mindy took a deep breath” part of the example is what's called an action tag. But if you combine action with a said tag, like I did in this example, you need to punctuate the sentence like you would for a said tag.)

Action Tags

An action tag is a complete sentence that identifies the speaker by what they are doing. Because we see a character’s action in the same paragraph as dialogue, we know they are the speaker. Since action tags are sentences, they are punctuated like sentences.

Sample action tags:     

Krista rolled her eyes and sighed. “What do you want, Paul?”   
“Get out!” Beth slammed the door in her mother’s face.    

“If you want to come, get in.” Kyle opened the car door. “Just don’t be mad at me if you get in trouble for missing curfew.”     

“If you want to come, get in,” Kyle opened the car door, “but don’t be mad at me if you get in trouble for missing curfew.” (This example used an action tag to interrupt the sentence.)

In special cases when an action interrupts dialogue in a quick way, you can use em dashes to set this off. Since the break belongs to the sentence, rather than the dialogue inside, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks.     

“Before we start”—the knight plunged one of the blades into the grassy soil—“we need to go over the basics.”

Any questions? And tricky sentences you're unsure how to punctuate?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Boys vs. Girls

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.

Okay, so this is not a new topic. In fact, I am a total copycat right now, because I only started thinking about this topic a few days ago while reading a thought-provoking entry on author Shannon Hale's blog. It's an age-old debate, and one that there really is no correct answer to. The big dilemma in question: Should authors write about boys or girls? Tricky, right?

I guess I can't really give a balanced answer here, because I've only ever written female protagonists, but this debate has really got me thinking. Why have I never created a male main character before? I'm not really sure. To help balance my thoughts on the issue, as well as answer any questions you may have on the strengths and weaknesses of males and females, I've decided to do the one thing I do best: Make a list.

Make two lists. One in defense of male protagonists, and one in defense of females. Then we can sum up everything we mentioned and come to our own conclusions! Ready? (Imagine me staring at you with blank Dora-the-Explorer eyes) Okay, then! Let's go!


There are a lot of strengths to creating a story from a boy's point of view. In many ways, you really can't go wrong. For starters, pre-teen and teenage guys are going to be one hundred times more likely to pick up and read a book about a boy than they are a girl. You can't find the statistics. It's really hard to market historical romances to teenage males. Virtually impossible. Really the only teenage guys that I know of who have read my book are ones that I know in real life and did it just to get on my good side. Which is great, but it's hardly a good percentage.

Truth be told, if you want to widen the market of your book, make it about a guy. In addition to guys wanting to read about guys, girls don't mind reading about guys either. This is something that's really interesting to me. As a teenage girl, I have absolutely no hesitation picking up a book about a teenage guy and reading it. If it looks good, and semi-interesting, I'll read it. Females don't have the same complexes that guys do about reading books based on the opposite gender. So books with male protagonists appeal to both males and females, which is a huge plus.

Also, you can be much less gushy and romantic if you're writing about a boy. I may not necessarily know from experience, but I don't get the impression that guys are as sentimental as girls. This is very, very appealing to people like me who feel uncomfortable writing romantic scenes. I'll take, "She was really cute and I kind of liked her," over "My heart absolutely melted over the weight of his gaze" any day. But that's just me.


Ah, but what about the lure of the ever-appealing female protagonist? I'm not going to lie. I love writing about girls. I love it so much that it would be really difficult to switch to male main characters. I might be able to, due to the reasons above, but I still think there are many unique strengths to writing about females.

For example, being a girl makes me relate to girls so much more. As much as I try, I will never fully understand how guys think/work. However I would consider myself a total expert on being a teenage girl. I know what it's like to deal with friends, jealousy, crushes, and siblings and I feel completely comfortable writing from the perspective of someone my age and gender. My guess would be that most of you are in the same boat. And writing about what you know always offers a huge advantage, and that should never be too quickly overlooked.

Girls also seem to be much more willing to express their emotions than boys do. This makes for more powerful and emotionally compelling scenes. While males definitely go through the same heartache and pain that females do, I think women are more vocal and dramatic, which definitely makes for a more addictive read. So some of the things we hate about girls in real life, makes books about them that much more interesting! Make sense?

Anyway, in the end, it's a tough call. My first two books were both based on teenage girls, but what do you think? Is it time to go with a male main character? Do you relate better to male or female protagonists? I really can't say yet, but it's definitely something I'll be struggling through on my own!

As always, you can visit me on my blog or like me on Facebook!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Progressive Checklist for Writers Part I

by Stephanie Morrill

When my husband got serious about running, I was surprised to learn that his training plan wasn't stuff like, "Do 5 miles on Wednesday" but rather a progressive checklist. When he accomplishes one thing - running a mile at a certain pace, or whatever - he checks it off and progresses to the next step.

As Ben shared this with me, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if one of those existed for writers?"

As a teen writer, I regularly panicked that I wasn't doing enough to grow as a writer, or that I was doing things wrong, or that I was stunted and didn't know it. I would have given anything for a smidge of guidance.

This is the image that's coming to my mind of how my growth as a writer looked:

I had lots of height - lots of accomplishment - but a lousy foundation. I could write a full length book ... but I knew nothing about story structure or character goals. When things worked, they worked by chance, not design. When things didn't work, I was pretty clueless about how to fix them.

Wouldn't it be better, I've thought, if instead I had built my skills like this?:

Yes, I really did grab my kids blocks and build these in my office.

Investing time in learning story structure, the art of character arcs, and yes, even grammar, can build that strong foundation for you. It won't make your stories perfect or make writing easy, but you'll be a stronger writer for it.

Today we'll talk about the first couple steps, and then I'll cover the rest next Monday.

Step 1: In the beginning...

You're at step one if:
  • You love writing and you want to do it, but you've never attempted anything outside of an assignment.
  • You have an idea for a story, but you're not sure where to begin.
  • You've written paragraphs or maybe even chapters from time to time, but nothing has really stuck.
  • You have a lot of fun writing, but you want it to be more than just something you mess around with.

Here's what you can work on:

  • Understanding story structure. It's easy to trick yourself into thinking story structure is something you just pick up on, that it's not something you should really worry about. While you likely have absorbed a decent amount of story structure just from reading and watching movies, there's value in understanding why those stories work and how you can do the same for yourself. Jill Williamson will be doing a post soon on the three act structure, or there are wonderful books out there like James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure.
  • Outline the basics of a story. Even if you're a person who prefers to write by the seat of your pants,  jot down a very basic outline. I used to be a seat-of-my-pants girl, but two manuscripts ago I decided I would borrow James Scott Bell's LOCK system. Just plotting out these basics made a huge difference in the strength of my story:
    • Lead Character - who is the main character of this story?
    • Objective - What are they trying to achieve in the story? Your character needs a compelling goal.
    • Confrontation - What kind of problems will arise that prevent the lead character from achieving his/her goal?
    • Knock Out Ending - How will the story end?
  • Try writing your book. If it's not working out the way you thought it would, or you run out of steam, or you get blocked, don't sweat it. There's no shame in setting it aside for a bit and working on something new.

What it's not yet time for: Worrying about making it publishable or worrying about what others will think of it. 

Step Two: Write a full manuscript. But don't pay attention to the word count.

Maybe that seems like it shouldn't be step two, but the more I reflect on my journey, the clearer I see that it really is.

Going back to my husband and his running. Ben ran in his first marathon last April. Leading up to his race, he'd gradually increased how much he ran. The first time he ran thirteen miles, he was exhausted. But during his next long run, when he ran fifteen, he felt great for the first thirteen. The last two were the hardest. After that his long run was eighteen miles. He felt great for fifteen, then struggled for the last few.

Writing a novel will never feel easy - same as running 15 miles will never feel like a jog around the block - but good training makes a difference. And until you write a full story, you won't get better at crafting full stories. Make sense?

What it's not yet time for: Paying attention to the word count. My first "novel" that I finished was actually around 30,000 words. It had an ending, but it wasn't much of one. In general it was a lousy book, but I had learned a lot. My next book was 62,000 words. Still horribly written, but I was getting better at developing my premises into big enough ideas.

On Monday we'll continue our progressive checklist. Want to help out? Leave a comment saying where YOU are in your writing journey!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Writing Scenes and Sequels

by Jill Williamson

In Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques of the SellingWriter, he teaches about scenes and sequels. Try not to get confused. Really, a scene is a scene. But Mr. Swain is clever in explaining how types of scenes should rotate. So he calls one type of scene a scene, and he calls the other type of scene a sequel.

According to Mr. Swain, a scene is made up of three things that should happen in this, logical order:

1. Goal- This is what your character wants at the start of the scene
2. Conflict- But something starts to thwart that goal
3. Disaster- Until something kills the goal altogether

And a sequel encompasses the:

1. Reaction- Your character responds (shock, fear, tears, disbelief) then realizes he can’t stay like that forever.
2. Dilemma- So your character looks at the options before him
3. Decision- And makes a choice about what to do next

And then you’re ready to go back to the top with another Goal and move through the process again and again.

Let’s see how this might play out in a popular book most everyone is familiar with.

Hunger Games

Goal: All are gathered in the town square for the reaping. Katniss just wants the reaping to be done for this year with her family and friends safe.
Conflict: Prim is now old enough to be included in the reaping, but surely Prim’s name won’t be drawn. Her name is only included once.
Disaster: But Prims name is drawn!

Reaction: Katniss is stunned
Dilemma: Until she sees Prim going forward!
Decision: Then Katniss runs up to the stage and volunteers to take Prim’s place.

Shall we do Another one?

How about Anne of Green Gables?

Goal: Anne is trying to listen to the teacher.
Conflict: But Gilbert is whispering to Anne, trying to get her attention despite her ignoring him.
Disaster: And then Gilbert calls her carrots.

Reaction: Anne jumps up, screams at Gilbert, and breaks her slate over his head.
Dilemma: Now Anne is in trouble for her outburst.
Decision: She will never speak to Gilbert Blithe again!

Now, I know this looks fun, but try not to get carried away and let this keep you from writing. When I first read Mr. Swain’s book, I tried to go through my entire manuscript and make sure I had perfect scenes and sequels one after another. It didn’t exactly work. But I did manage to make sure that every scene had a goal, every disaster had a reaction, and every dilemma had a decision.

This is a powerful structure for a reason. It follows to logic of human nature. Every scene needs a purpose. It needs these ingredients: goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, dilemma, and a decision. But they might not be so cut and dry. They may happen in several pages, or a few lines of dialogue. The point is for you to have a purpose for the scenes in your book and that each one does something to move the story forward.

So give this process a try and let me know how it works.

Monday, August 13, 2012

500 Word Free Write Contest!

by Stephanie Morrill

So while I was on vacation, snarfing roasted hot dogs and s'mores, we apparently did some growing!

500 (plus!) followers - unbelievable!

Totally calls for some celebrating with a new contest. This round's contest is:

A 500 word free write!

Your 500 words should read like the opening of a story. That means you have 500 words to hook this round's judges into your story world. It also means you have the opportunity to get feedback from published authors on the opening of your manuscript, which is a pretty awesome.

Your entries are due Monday, August 27th by 11:59pm Kansas City time.

Here is how to submit your entry (slightly different than other shorter contests):

Please save your entry in some sort of word processing program (i.e. Microsoft Word). Please attach your document to an email and send it to Stephanie(at) In the subject line of your email, please put: 500 Word Free Write.

I will send you an email confirming that I received your entry. If you haven't heard from me withing 48 hours, please feel free to check back.

If you have placed in a Go Teen Writers free write contest before, you may NOT resubmit the same entry you won with.

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

For more general details about Go Teen Writers contests and a sample winning entry, click here.

Judges still to be determined, since right now I'm working on important things like making my clothes not all smell like campfire. So stay tuned for the judges - but get writing!

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to Find Short Story Markets

by Jill Williamson

Thinking about writing a short story? Wonder where you can get it published?

I've only published about five or six short fiction stories, so I'm no expert. Many people write a short story, then go looking for someplace to sell it. But that's not the best way. You can try it. But you'll likely end up with a whole lot of rejections.

Every magazine is different. They publish different types of stories in different lengths that target different types of readers. So where one magazine will publish fantasy stories at 2000 words long that have to be medieval, another magazine might publish all genres of speculative fiction but want stories that are 1000 words in length. So the same story usually can't fit multiple publications. At least not "as is."

I recommend doing some research and finding a handful of magazines that you'd like to try writing for. Then submit again and again until you get in. You can find magazines in various places.

-Go to your local bookstore or grocery store and peruse the magazine shelves for magazines you'd like to write for. Buy a copy or two of each magazine.

-Go to your library and see what magazines they have on the shelf. Check out at least two issues of the ones you're interested in.

-You can also find sample copies of magazines on the freebie tables at writer's conferences. Grab a few.

-You can find magazine markets listed in books like the Writer's Market, Children's Writer's and Illustrators Market, or Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide. Once you find entries that look like they'll work for you, look up the magazines' websites and find their writer's guidelines. Request sample copies--purchase if necessary.

-Google "short story markets" and see what you find. There are a lot of online magazines out there right now--many of which pay. Be sure and have an adult look over the site before you submit to make sure the company is legit.

Samples in my magazine drawer
Once you have some sample copies, study them. Keep track of what types of stories each magazine publishes. Then go online and find the writer's guidelines. Some magazines even have lists of themes for the year and specifically look for stories that fit those themes, so if you ask for writer's guidelines, ask about themes, as well.

It's much easier to write for a magazine you've held, read, and studied. You'll know the types of stories the magazine is looking for because you'll have read them. 

Then you need to brainstorm stories for each magazine that will be a good fit. And sometimes you'll know that the story could work for several different magazines with some editing. Then, depending on the writer's guidelines, query about the story you want to write, or write the story and submit it with a cover letter. 

And don't give up! Stephen King was rejected over 100 times before he published his first short story. And it was years after that when he published his first novel. When I started, I decided to expect at least 50 rejections. That way, when my first rejection came, I was excited, thinking, "Only 49 more!" There was no guarantee that I'd be published before 50 rejections, but having that positive attitude helped me look at rejections as one step closer rather than a door slammed in my face.

Anyone ever submit a short story to a magazine? Anyone want to? Any questions?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Using the Five Senses in Your Writing

by guest author Morgan Busse

Morgan Busse loves wacky socks, a good cup of tea, and cargo pants (a mother can never have enough pockets   ) She is the author of the medieval fantasy novel, Daughter of Light. Learn more about Morgan at

Before I was a writer, I was an artist. The first thing my grandmother—an oil painter— taught me was to draw what I see. Easier said than done. As an artist, I needed to train myself to see everything, down to the tiniest detail. Lighting, colors, shadows. Where the ears are in proportion to the head? What angle do the shadows fall and how far? Which way does the fur around a cat’s face curve? What colors would I need to mix to create that shade of green? I learned to take apart what I saw with my eyes and reassemble it on paper.

When I became a writer, I expanded my senses. What do I hear, smell, taste, and touch? And how would I write that? I needed to become a student of my world (both the one I actually live in and the one I was writing) in order to flesh out my story.

Here are the exercises I used with my senses that eventually allowed me to capture the world in my story.

Sight: What do you see? Start taking a closer look at everything around you. Ever noticed dew on flower petals? What side of the eye a tear falls? What is the lighting? Dark? Bright? How much can you see when a full moon is out?

The last one I actually did. I have a scene where my characters are on a beach at night with a full moon. I lived on the Oregon coast at the time, so during a date night with my husband, I dragged him out on the beach where a full moon hung over the water and studied what the beach looked like. What could I see, what could I not see? Could I see colors with only the moon as light? The experience helped me write a more accurate scene (not to mention made for a romantic date night J).

Hearing: What do you hear? What does a campfire sound like? The wind? What night sounds do you hear in the country? In the city? What does an empty house sound like? The ocean? Take the time to close your eyes and really listen. Immerse yourself in the sounds around you. And then describe it.

Here is a helpful hint: you can use the Internet to find sound bites. This especially comes in handy when you can hear the sound in your head, but are having a hard time describing it.

For example, one of my characters heard a sound that reminded her of a bird that lived along the coast. But I wasn’t sure what descriptor to use: cry, shrill, etc… So I found a website that had all sorts of birdcalls on it and was divided by types of birds. I went to seashore birds and found the call I was looking for (it was a Sandpiper).

Touch: Go around your house and touch everything. Again, close your eyes so you can fully feel everything beneath your fingertips. What does a hot shower feel like after coming in from the rain? The warmth of an autumn sun streaming through the window? The way your tongue tingles after drinking something too hot? The flip side of a cool pillow on a hot summer night?

See how by describing these sensations, you start to feel them too, just by reading them? This is what you want for your reader, to be fully immersed in your story so that they can even feel it.

Taste: Hmm, love this one. And you can use it as an excuse to visit the Cheesecake Factory for research, right? Just kidding J.

Taste fits in nicely with the other senses. To use the cheesecake analogy, you first see the cheesecake. White, pure decadence with plump red strawberries on the top, with shiny glaze slightly oozing off the side. Smell the sweet, slightly dairy scent. Feel how smooth the cheesecake feels on your tongue. Now describe the taste. Sweet, with the tangy burst of strawberry.

How do other things taste? Not everything is sweet, or even edible. The earthy flavor of black tea, the acrid taste of Tylenol, the slightly metallic flavor of a medium rare steak. Take time today and study what each thing you eat (or drink) tastes like.

Smell: I read that smell is the greatest descriptor used the least. But smell can be your secret weapon as a writer. So take the time to use it and use it well.

Here are some things to think about: what does a forest smell like? In the spring? In the fall? What does your grandmother’s house smell like? A roast in the oven? Christmas time? An old high school gymnasium?

Unfortunately, you can’t look up smells on the Internet, so this is one you will need to go around and practice. Sniff your socks, the shower, your loved one’s hair. My husband loves the way my hair smells after I have been out in the sunshine. Also, candle stores like Yankee can be a great place to figure out smells (I visit candle shops all the time). Maybe even take some paper and write down how you would describe the different smells.

Smell can be the sense that ties all the other sense up and brings completion and fullness to a scene. So use it.

In conclusion, when you write, don’t just make a checklist of all your senses. We experience our world through all our senses at once. Do the same in your writing. Taste, smell, and touch can all go together. Sight and hearing and touch. Smell and sight. Use them together and create a 3-D world for your reader to experience.

So let me ask you, what sense do you find easiest to write? Which one to you find hardest to write? And which one do you want to go out and practice right now?

Thanks, Morgan, for writing for us today. Morgan's book, Daughter of Light, is a fantasy novel about a woman who sees visions when she touches another person. It's a great book. To learn more about it, check out the page!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Three Vital Keys for Writing a YA Novel

by Heather Burch, author of The Halflings series

Here are three of the most important things you need to write an awesome YA novel:

1. An unforgettable character
2. An impossible situation
3. A relentless threat

Why are these so important? They are the building blocks for great storytelling. Let’s break them down a little.

1. Unforgettable character.

Who are some of your all time favorite characters? Why? Let’s use Lord of the Rings as an example. Frodo. Unforgettable. Not because he’s short or has hairy feet. No, Frodo is unforgettable because he’s willing to dive into danger (terrified) but willing. Think of the scene where the fellowship is arguing about taking the ring to the Fires of Mount Doom. Here’s Frodo with all these great warriors and none are willing to do it. Yet he steps up and says, “I’ll take it. But I do not know the way.” I’ll take it shows Frodo’s amazing character. But I do not know the way, tells us how out of place he is in this quest. Hmm, this is a perfect intro to #2 (impossible situation.)

2. Impossible situation. 

Remember what Boromir says in that scene? He talks about reaching the Fires of Mount Doom. “The very air you breathe is toxic … Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly.”

I believe I’d call this an impossible situation. Can’t breathe the air. 10,000 men can’t make it. But we have Frodo and Sam (another unforgettable character) willing to go. Think of your story and an impossible situation for your character. Is there one? If not, how can you incorporate one? Sometimes, it’s the situation that makes your character memorable. Impossible situations keep readers turning pages. Don’t be afraid to go beyond what you think you can write your character out of. Amp the tension. You’ll be surprised at how creative your characters can be. They will give you all kinds of ideas about how to get out of that impossible situation. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back and rewrite. But what if it does work?

3. Relentless threat.

Who or what is the relentless threat in your book? It can be as grand as the evil Lord Sauron or as small as a hateful math tutor. Whichever, they need to supply an endless amount of strife for your main character. In Halflings, Nikki is being hunted by hell-hounds and demons. That threat never ends. Even though there are only three or four attacks in book one, the threat is always there, just off the page. Think of ways you can amp the threat to your character. Maybe it’s the college entrance exam … she’s terrified (adds tension) plus she has to babysit for her neighbor the night before the exam when the neighbor’s husband is in a terrible car accident. Five hours before the exam, your character is frazzled, fried, and exhausted. See how one thing can take the tension higher? What can you do to torture your character? Remember, it has to be believable. We have to relate. But I bet you can find endless ways to create more threat for your main character.

Happy writing!

Heather Burch grew up in Branson, Missouri, where she learned to love fiction. She then married into a family of published novelists and quickly learned writing was her heart’s desire. When she’s not working on her latest book, Heather can be found watching a sunset at a beach near her home in Southern Florida, along with her sons Jake and Isaac, and husband, John---who is her hero in every way.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writing a Short Story

By Jill Williamson
Some magazines pay for fiction stories, but writing a short story is harder than it looks. Short stories range from 800 to 2000 words in length, which is anywhere from four to ten double-spaced pages. This gives you very little room to create interesting characters, a fascinating plot, and tie it all up at the end. Here are some tricks that help.
Step One: A character with a problem 
Within the first one or two paragraphs, you need to convey to the reader who your main character is and present a problem or challenge that he is faced with. This becomes your plot. It can’t just be any problem, it needs to be an interesting one. This means giving your character some conflict. 
For example, a story about a boy that has to take a test is not an interesting problem. But if the boy needs to get an A on that test or else he will get kicked off the basketball team, then the reader will be interested because you have added conflict and there is something at stake for the character.
I like to use a worksheet to brainstorm short story ideas. (You can print out this worksheet by clicking here. Here are three story examples that follow my worksheet design: 
1. My character is: A basketball player
a. Problem or challenge is: He needs an A on his math test          
b. Creates conflict because: He'll be kicked off the team if he doesn't get an A
c. Therefore, my character’s goal is: To get an A on the test 
2. My character is: A girl with a pet lizard
a. Problem or challenge is: The lizard has outgrown his cage          
b. Creates conflict because: She doesn’t have money to buy a bigger cage          
c. Therefore, my character’s goal is: Find a way to earn money 

2. My character is: A boy who loves art 
a. Problem or challenge is: His new art friends want to go tagging          

b. Creates conflict because: Tagging is wrong but he wants to fit in          
c. Therefore, my character’s goal is: Not to get caught

Remember, all this should happen in the first few paragraphs of your story.

Step Two: A Struggle
Now that you know who your character is and what problem he or she is faced with, it’s time to escalate things. Why is this problem difficult for your character? How will he or she tackle it? Let’s go back to our examples.
Basketball boy:Our hero needs an A, and he has no friends who are good enough at math to tutor him. Maybe one of his friends wants to cheat, but our hero can’t risk getting caught. The only person he can think to ask for help is: his ex girlfriend or his older sister (who is mad at him for teasing her and her friends) or his friend (whom his ex girlfriend is dating) or a girl he likes (but is shy around). You get the picture. He needs to pick someone to ask for help that escalates the problem a bit for him. If his mom just so happens to be a math teacher and he asks her for help, that’s boring and not much of a story. Always escalate the conflict.
Lizard girl:Our girl needs to earn money to buy a new lizard cage. Maybe she could offer to babysit for a neighbor, mow grandma’s lawn, walk her teacher’s dog, deliver newspapers for her friend who can’t do the route that day. And what if each time she tries to earn money, she is faced with a need greater than her own. While babysitting, she sees that the single mother of three is struggling to get by and volunteers to babysit for free. Grandma is family and taking money for something she’s always done out of love feels wrong. Her teacher’s dog gets loose and almost gets hit by a car, so guilt keeps her from accepting money for this job. And her friend is saving up to help pay her little brother’s hospital bills so she donates her pay to the cause. Now she’s done tons of work and hasn’t earned a dime!
Tagger boy:Our hero is out with his tagging friends and they pile out of the car to tackle a new project. Torn between his two goals of making friends and not painting graffiti, he gets out of the car. One of his friends throws him a can of paint. They egg him on. They need to be fast. Hurry! He gives in and helps paint the wall.

Step Three: A conclusion as to how it will be solved or what is learned
Now that we have our characters in the heat of the moment, at the end of their ropes, stuck between a rock and a hard place (no more clich├ęs, Jill!), we need to bring them through it using their own wisdom. No fair bringing in a hero to solve the problem or save the day. That would be BORING! It’s important that your character solve the problem himself. So, let’s see what out characters will do next.

Basketball boy:
Our hero sucks it up and faces his fear by asking someone for help. He studies hard and…gets a B! Oh no! But his coach doesn't kick him off the team. He makes him sit out for a game until he can do an extra credit project to pull up his grade. Never let your character off easy, and sometimes it’s fun to throw in that last minute twist at the end.

Lizard girl: 
She mopes about these problems as she walks home from her friend’s house and passes a petting zoo that is looking for a part-time volunteer helper. Volunteer? She needs money! After inquiring inside, she discovers that the zoo has lots of animals, but no lizards. She decides to donate her lizard to the petting zoo and volunteer there also. This way she still gets to see her lizard, the lizard gets a bigger cage to live in, and a lot of other people get to enjoy him too. 

Tagger boy:
Midway between spray painting the wall, a woman runs out of the building wielding a broom. “How dare you paint my home!” she yells. Our hero and his buddies jump in the car and get away, but the guilt eats up our newbie tagger. Having friends isn’t worth getting in trouble and he feels bad about tagging that lady’s house. He works out his frustration on the canvas and paints a piece called, “Graffiti Hurts”, and enters it in the local art contest. His piece takes first prize and he realizes there are lots of ways to create art, and he prefers to do it the legal way.

Step Four: Editing
When you are writing your story, just write it. Don’t stress about making every little sentence and word perfect. Don’t worry about whether it is too long or too short. Just write.
When you're done, go back in and tighten it up. Editing is hard, but very necessary for writing a good short story. Each magazine has a specific length guideline. If you send them a story that is too long, they will reject you, no matter how good the story is. So pay attention to the writer’s guidelines.
Learn to cut needless “fluff” words and strip your story down to the bare essentials. There have been times when I’ve written a story for a magazine that accepts stories at 1200 words. Then the story is rejected, so I sit down and rework it for a magazine that accepts stories at 800 words. Cutting 400 words from a 1200 word story is really hard because that’s ¼ of the story! This takes practice. But I’ve sold several stories that way.
To recap:
1. You need a character with an interesting problem/challenge/goal
2. You need to escalate the conflict
3. Let the main character solve the problem or learn something from it
4. Cut out needless “fluff” words and edit the story to the proper length
Now get to work on that short story!
Here is a scan of one of my short stories that was published. Isn't the artwork cute? Click here to read it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ask an Editor: What will get your manuscript rejected?

by Roseanna M. White, acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing

Let's play a game--it's called Fix It or Nix It. The object of the game? To write a manuscript strong enough to get you to "I want to make you an offer!" avoiding, at all costs, those potholes that will get you rejected.

But it's a tricky game, I warn you now. After all, who among us hasn't looked at a problem in a manuscript and wondered if it's enough to get us rejected, or if an editor would deem it fixable? How in the world do you know the difference?

Writing is art, not science, so there are no firm answers here. But I thought it would be fun to examine what I've noticed from the editor's side of the table when it comes to a topic that always baffled me when my writing hat was on.

1. Typos

You've sent in a proposal to your dream editor. Then you get a late critique back or open it up again yourself. And what do you find? ACK! Typos! You used, gasp, "there" instead of "their." And were missing a "the" on page 6. Panicked, you're ready to email the editor begging for the chance to resubmit.

Well, what do you think the editor's going to say? For the amount of mistakes mentioned above, I say:

Typos slip by everyone. Typos are not problems. They're just . . . facts. In everything. Even the cleanest of manuscripts is going to arrive with a slew of typos, and that's fine. Don't worry about it. That really is what editors are for!

2. Grammatical Flaws

If typos are a thunderstorm, by grammatical flaws, I mean a tornado. These are the kinds of things you don't even know you're doing wrong. Not just putting comma-llamas in the wrong places, but writing in run-ons. Not knowing how to divide your paragraphs. Never getting quotation marks right. All things that an editor can change, right? Well, what say you?

This isn't just a typo, is it? It's a lot more serious. Which means a lot more work. For this, I vote:

Why? Because while I can go in and fix all this for you, I shouldn't have to. That will take weeks of my time, which means neglecting everything else. Um, no thanks. No handle on grammar means a painful read, and why would I want to put myself through that? I did it as a freelancer, when people were paying me per page. I'm not going to do it now when I have the leisure of only working with what I like.

3. Plot Issues

Your story begins in the wrong place. Or maybe it has a sagging middle. Could be you have a theme that's only mentioned once, at the end, but is the title of the book. Or perhaps your ending lacks umph. So . . . ?

This often comes down to opinion and preference, and I'll give some explanation below. But overall, I have chosen to:

Not always--and probably not if a manuscript has all the problems I list, LOL. But I pretty much always ask for a few changes. A moved scene so that it starts with action. A beefed-up ending. A girdle on that middle. ;-) These are things I can ask the author to do and trust them to deliver--which means I have to trust the author to make the fix, and if I can't, then I would give it a thumbs-down instead. This relies on the author otherwise knowing what they're doing, just being a bit blind to a certain problem. And it requires me loving the story enough to want to work with them on it.

4. Unoriginal or Overdone

You love a certain type of book. Maybe it's a quest. Maybe it's a returning-to-your-first-love. Maybe it's--well, you can fill in the blanks. And since there are only a handful of plots in the world, you obviously have to use those. So why in the world did a judge in that contest tell you it was unoriginal?

What do you guys think? Me, I'm going to:

While it's true that there's nothing new under the sun, there are always new ways to combine and use those age-old plots and devices. Most of all, there are new ways to present them with your writing. There are plenty of times when I read a familiar-sounding plot but am intrigued to read more, because they have an original hook. But there are times when a book has an unoriginal title paired with an overused plot and cliched characters, and nothing "new" to make me want to read what it feels like I've already read before. When one of these comes across my desk, I usually just share that I've read XYZ by Big Name Author that sounds almost identical and we don't want to try to compete with it. Which is true. What you can do as a writer is be very familiar with your genre so you can be sure not to echo any existing titles too closely. And then find a new twist or a quirky character to breathe fresh life into it.

5. Voice Schmoice

What's voice, anyway? And what does it have to do with anything? Obviously your work sounds like you--you wrote it! And obviously it's original, because there's never been another like you, right? Yet when your book comes across an editor's desk, they say it "lacks voice."

Voice is elusive, after all. So what do we do here? Well, sorry to say we:

Voice is elusive, but it's also that certain-something that sets a book apart. To me, if story is king, then voice is emperor. Plot issues I can fix--voice I cannot. Voice is you, how you write, how you take that story and make it your own. But if you sound like two thousand other writers I've read... [insert me shrugging.] There's no easy fix to this problem, hence while I'll pass. BUT--as your learn your craft and practice your skills, your voice is going to evolve. What sounds cliched right now could develop so much in the next year that then I'll be chomping at the bit to read more. So if you hear this, don't give up! Just write more. It's like singing--if you take a good, raw voice and teach the singer how to train and bridle it, they'll end up with something. The same goes for writers. You have raw talent--now turn it into skill.

And finally...

6. Shallow characterization

Your character doesn't quite go deep enough in a few places. His reactions are a bit stiff in this one place, but you're not sure how to fix it. Maybe your heroine is unlikeable. No sympathy is evoked on the part of the reader.

This is a big deal, right? Characters often drive a book after all. So what do you think? I tend to:

While it's a big problem to have shallow characterization, it's also a very fixable one if the story and writing are otherwise sound. In one of our books, we asked the author to start the story years after she originally did, and add in a yearning to help her village people improve their lot--which they resisted, but the good motive made the character seem likable. In another of our titles, it was a matter of looking a little deeper into her motives. And in yet another, just tweaking the hero's way of talking. Once you can pinpoint why a character isn't working, it's a very doable edit, and authors are usually really excited to dig into it once an editor has pointed out how.

So how did you do in the game? Or are you still not quite sure?

Here's the thing--it's hard for us to identify our own problems sometimes, and often not until someone points them out to us that we even realize we have them. Then we're not sure what to do about it. Do we try to fix them or give up? Do we submit anyway?

I've submitted stories with problems--everyone has. Some of them have gotten me rejected, and some of them were fixable. But like with any program for improvement, the first step is understanding where your problems with a manuscript lie and listening carefully to feedback from critique partners, contest judges, agents, and editors.

As an editor, if there are problems with a manuscript that are too big for me to tackle but I see promise shining through, I'll let you know what those problems are and invite you to resubmit at a later date once you've gotten a handle on them.

That's how we improve--by learning to identify our weaknesses and then fix them. And though it's still hard for me to always know what needs fixing in my own manuscript, editors are usually pretty quick at identifying what needs changed in other people's books. It's all just a matter of whether those problems scream