Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ask An Editor: 5 Ways to Make Your Editor LOVE You

by Roseanna White, editor for WhiteFire Publishing

5 Ways to Be...

I admit it--I was a teacher's pet. It wasn't that I tried to be--I didn't suck up to the teachers or bring them apples. I just did what I was supposed to do. And then some. I tried hard, I was smart, and I wasn't afraid of my teachers. But I did wanted to please them. So when they asked me for something...well, I did it.

I've found that that's a pretty valuable life lesson when it comes to a job or career too. And as both an author and editor, I've come up with a pretty good list of ways to be sure you're not a pain in your publisher's posterior but are, instead, a favorite.

#1 ~ Give 'em What They Ask For

This sounds pretty simple, I know. But when your agent, editor, marketing team, or publisher asks you for something, get it to them. These are your class assignments. Your homework. The things that build the foundation of your grade. In the publishing world, they can take many forms. A few things you'll be asked for at some point are:
  • a manuscript (duh, right? LOL)
  • a strong proposal
  • a synopsis
  • a blurb
  • a market analysis
  • a cover questionnaire
  • a list of endorsers (published authors willing to read your book and offer a few sentences of praise for the cover)
  • a list of influencers (people willing to read it, blog about it, review it, talk about it)
  • articles/blog posts
  • summaries of other books
Some of these you'll already have prepared by the time you query agents or editors. But even when you think all that work is done, don't be surprised if they ask for a new version. For example, sometimes you'll have written your synopsis before you've completed your book. Your editor will write the back cover copy for you book based on your synopsis and a blurb you sent in earlier (probably), so he or she will want the newest possible version of a summary before they start this.

#2 ~ Be Prompt!

Publishing is a big...long....waiting game. You wait on critiques. You wait to hear back on queries. You wait for agents to read your proposal...and then your full manuscript. You wait to get their edits. You wait for them to submit to editors. You wait for the whole process to be repeated with them. You wait on contracts, you wait for more edits...and more edits. You wait for covers, for the release day, for sales number and royalty check.

You wait. And wait. And wait.

But you, as the author, have to hurry up so you can wait. When you get a request, get the agent or editor the material as quickly as you can, so that you're still fresh in their mind. When it's time for edits, take as long as you need, but pace yourself so that you finish up on time. Better yet, turn things in just a little early. Even a week before deadline shows that you're on top of things.

And this doesn't just go for the big things! When they ask for you little things (blurbs, synopses, cover questionnaires) they often give you a week or a month to do it. Work on it right away, get it back within a few days, and you'll make your agent or editor so happy! Because that then is something they can mark off their list and pass on to the next person. And we all love marking things off our lists. =)

#3 ~ Pay Attention

Often times, when you sign on with an agent or publisher, it's for multiple books. Or at the very least, there is some repetition within a single project. Pay attention to house rules and preferences and take notes, if you have to, on how they like things. Every capitalization and heading that you get right is one they don't have to change. And by valuing your editor or agent's time, you show them that you're a professional, and that you respect what they do. Some quick ways to do this:
  • ask for and use a template for proposals (mostly for agents) to ensure that you're not leaving out anything vital
  • ask for and review a style guide from your publisher
  • make note of house rules on capitalization and punctuation and search your MS for these issues
  • make note of how they arrange the "bonus" material in books--acknowledgments, dedication, author's note, discussion questions etc.--and include them in your MS in the right order when you turn it in
  • ask questions! Whenever you're not sure how they do something, ask. Editors are happy to answer your questions, especially since it means you then hand in a prepared document.

#4 ~ Anticipate What They Need

I know, I know--how can you anticipate what an editor might need before you've ever done this?? It's not always possible. A lot of times, you just have to wait and see and learn the ropes. But sometimes you can surprise them with exactly what they need. =)

This is doable when you have something scheduled. A phone call or appointed time for marketing talks or edits, or a meeting when an editor will be presenting your next project. When you know it's coming, you can be prepared. Even if they don't say you have to have a document prepared with answers to their questions or your ideas for something, get one ready anyway, and send it to them a few days before the scheduled meeting. That will give the team time to look it over and be prepared with other ideas of their own.

#5 ~ Get Creative, Baby!

I cannot over-emphasize how invaluable ideas are. Fresh ones, new ones, funny ones, long-shot ones...they're all priceless! For editors and agents, there's a lot of routine. A lot of in-the-box. A lot of "this is the way we do it."

Shake things up.

Did you get a no on one proposal idea but they said they liked your writing? Toss more ideas at them. Once you have a contract, start coming up with creative, innovative ways to promote your book, and ask them for their take. It's always good to have permission for things, but generally a publisher is happy to grant that for whatever you want to do--more, they're just impressed that you're working outside that boring ol' box! Be active, be out-there, be creative.

Some ideas that I have presented to my team as an author:
  • a custom-made, one-of-a-kind doll modeled after my heroine to give away
  • a themed, online project purely for fun (scavenger hunt, etc.)
  • a freebie promotional novella to release between my books
  • non-fiction articles that tie in with my novel's subject to submit to magazines
  • guest appearances on high-profile blogs and websites
Some ideas I've seen as an editor that worked out well:
  • live-action trailer
  • radio interviews
  • sending PDF review copies to journalists, film-makers, etc.
  • custom headers for social media
  • short-story giveaways
Now, will all these ideas always work? No. But by presenting them, you're proving to your publishing team exactly what a good teacher's pet proves to the teacher--that you're not afraid to work hard, and that you're willing to go above and beyond. That can never, ever be underestimated!

Do you have other ideas for or questions about ways to endear yourself to your agency or publishing team? Or other questions for an editor? I welcome your comments! Or you can email me at roseanna [at] roseannawhite [dot] com.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How Much of Your Story Should You Plot?

by Stephanie Morrill

I used to be a pantser, which is a writer who doesn't plot, who just writes "by the seat of their pants." I had tried a time or two to plot out my stories, but after a few chapters of writing, I would come up with something I liked way better and chuck the outline I had worked so hard on.

From this, I determined I wasn't an outliner and should give it up altogether. Which worked fine for a few years, but then I got published, had deadlines, and was being driven crazy by massive rewrites. I thought there has to be a better way for me to do this.

The answer crept up on me when I was putting together a book proposal for an incomplete novel. After you're published, you have the privilege (and the curse, sometimes) of being able to sell projects you haven't written yet. Editors typically want to see a few chapters and a synopsis. I wrote my chapters, filled my synopsis with a bunch of things I thought could likely happen to my character, and sent it off to my agent.

While I waited, I decided to write the book. About halfway through, I was hit with a severe head cold that knocked me out for a week. During that week, I read the entire Twilight saga, and by the time I came back to my characters I had no clue what was going on. What had I intended to happen, anyway? And where were all the hunky wolves?

I stared at the blinking cursor for a day or two before remembering, "Oh yeah! I wrote that synopsis a month ago!" Once I read over my ideas, I put the synopsis away and wrote the rest of my book.

If a little outlining was good, I decided a ton of outlining would be even better. On my next big project, I tried all kinds of charting and outlining. Which failed miserably because I was so stinking bored. I just wanted to be writing.

So I've finally grown comfortable with what I apparently am - a Plantser. I'm part plotter, part pantser. A little brainstorming and plotting can make a big difference for me and my story, but too much makes me feel a bit claustrophobic and the story suffers.

Here's the system I've settled on for now:

1. When I get an idea for a first line and opening scene, I write the first chapter or two. At this point, I've usually had the story idea for a month or so and have been brainstorming.

2. After I write a couple chapters, I find I have a much clearer idea of who my main character is and who the important people in her life are. Unless I'm writing a sequel, where I already know the characters and story world, this is a really important step for me. I'm always surprised by issues or characters who crop up in the story opening, so it's almost pointless for me to plot much before I've written the first couple chapters.

3. After my chapters, I've begun using Susan Meissner's 30 Episode Planner, which I learned about at the ACFW conference that I went to in September. (I can't find a link to it online, so I'm trying to get in contact with Susan to find out if she has a printable to share with you guys. Stay tuned.) Susan talked about how she once wrote a novel in thirty days and determined that it was because she gave her character thirty things to do. Her list is similar to Blake Snyder's beat sheet, only more in-tune to novelists. Jill Williamson was in that Susan Meissner class with me and she now uses a combo of the two. (Update: I've talked to Susan, and she's given me permission to have you guys email her requesting the 30 Episode Plot Planner. You'll find the information down in the comments section.)

Okay, this is actually me and Jill at the class AFTER Susan Meissner's. You can tell because in this one we're taking pictures in the middle of it and at Susan's we were taking frantic notes.

4. If I need to write a synopsis for the proposal, I do it, and then I get back to the story. If I don't need a synopsis, then I skip this. As much as I enjoy writing synopses, I don't write them for kicks.

5. When I'm writing, I mostly ignore the list I made. If I focus too much on the list, the flow of my story feels off (it starts to feel more like a checklist of events) and I get that claustrophobic feeling again. It's the pantser in me. If I have a feel for where the next scene needs to go, or if a story twist pops out at me, I go with it. And then when I hit one of those, "Okay ... now what?" kind of moments, I glance at my list.

Again, this is what I do for now. I love trying out new techniques, so we'll see what I'm using in a year.

What about you? Are you a straight pantser - no road map, just a wild adventure? A strict plotter with charts and index cards? If you're like me and in the middle, which way do you lean?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Teens and the American Library Association

by Jill Williamson

I had the privilege to attend the American Library Association's Midwinter event in Seattle this past weekend. This is a major conference for all kinds of librarians to come and learn about books. It's also the annual location of the Youth Media Awards, where such awards as the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz, among others, are announced.

Me at my signing.
My publisher set up a book signing for me to give away ARCs (advance reader copies) of my new book Captives. I found the booth a half hour early, curious to see what the exhibit hall was like. My publisher was located in the HarperCollins booth, where I snagged an ARC of The Elite by Kiera Cass (Sweet!). My publisher had set up a display of my books with posters and buttons, but I was too busy looking at all the free books they had on display, filling my own bag! People kept asking about my book, and since I was there, I started the signing early. So I signed books for almost an hour an a half--until we ran out of books, actually. It was super fun, and it just happened to be YALSA teen blogger day.

How cool was that?

I got to give my book to tons of teen bloggers and had a blast chatting with them. I wish I'd thought to bring Go Teen Writers flyers too, but I did ask the teens if they wrote, and the ones who did, I wrote the GTW info on the flyer I gave them, so hopefully some of them will find their way here eventually.

The giveaway loot!
In case you weren't aware of YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), it's the division of the American Library Association that deals with teen books. And after learning more about them this weekend, I'm thinking of becoming a member. You might want to, also. Here is a link to their website for more information.

I walked away with one ARC copy of my book. Sadly, this ARC is not the final version of the book that will be published in March. I changed a lot about the technology of my world in my final edit. But--that's the version that we gave away, so I'm going to give away this ARC (plus a poster, button, and bookmark) to one GTW blog reader. To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below telling me the title of the last book you checked out from a library. For more info about the story, check out the book page on

Margaret is the winner! Margaret, please email me your name and mailing address to so I can mail out your prize.

Monday, January 28, 2013

4 Steps to Showing Character Development

by Stephanie Morrill

We all know that our main character's need to change over the course of a story. Otherwise, what was the point of it all? But a lovely writer in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group asked about how to show that the character has developed without it feeling like a clunky aside.

While there's no one way to do this, I have a progressive checklist you might find helpful:

Let them fail the first time

Once you've figured out how your character needs to grow, show them failing at it early on. Say you have a character with oppressive parents and she wants to do something to strike out on her own. In the first chapters of the book, I would have her attempt this and fail. Maybe she goes into the conversation planning to be mature, but gets angrier and angrier until she knocks over her mom's shelf of cookbooks in a fit of frustration.

Allude to times of practice

Throughout the book, you'll want to build in times for your character to practice this new trait or skill they want/need to learn. For a trait like bravery or independence like we were just talking about, you might put your character in a situation where she's learning to speak her mind in a clear, productive way. Like student government or debate class. Something that doesn't directly relate to the conflict with her parents, but that will help prepare her for a future battle with them.

For a skill, the example that comes to mind immediately is Harry Potter. We don't have to be with him when he practices every single spell or charm because we know he has classes everyday. The reader automatically gets that Harry and his friends are growing as wizards.

Have another character point out the changes taking place

If handled wrong, this can be completely cheesy, but it doesn't have to be. Again, in one of the Harry Potter books, he's confused why girls are suddenly paying attention to him, and Hermione points out that he's grown about 5 inches over the summer. It's a much more natural thing for Hermione to say than it is for Harry to think.

Give them another chance to win their battle

They failed the first time, and now you need to present them with another chance. So for our character who needs freedom from her parents, winning might look like a conversation in which she communicates effectively with her parents and gets what she wants ... without flying into a rage.

Or in the movie The King's Speech, we open with Bertie failing miserably at a speech, and he's given a chance to redeem himself at the end.

Can you think of other examples where this is done well in a book or movie? (Try not to spoil anything!) Have you build in tests for your characters?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Commonly Misspelled Words in Fiction

by Jill Williamson

Ever been reading a book and found an error? I have. Even in my own books. I’ve also heard people rant in person and online, “How could authors not edit their books?”

As a published author, I’d like to point out that such a statement is an unfair assumption.

A reader should not blame the author for all errors in a book. There’s a whole team that is involved in making a book, and errors can happen anywhere in the publishing process. There have been times when I found errors in my book that I knew happened when I asked them to fix something during the final proofing stage and a typo happened there.

And there have also been typos that were my fault and everyone missed.

Did you know that if you find errors in a book, you can email them to the publisher? Publishers have a file for such notes, and if a book goes into a second printing, the publisher can correct the errors. So you never know, your email just might get the book fixed the next time around.

Some authors hate to get emails about errors. They feel like it’s very rude. I don’t mind. Because I know that these things happen, and I want to get them fixed. But if you email and author and they never write back or respond with some snark in their tone, have mercy. You’ll never know the journey they traveled for that book; it could have been a stressful one that they don’t care to relive.

All that to say, for authors, it’s your name on the front of that book, and you need to do the best job you can perfecting your manuscript. So I want to talk about misspelled words today.

Biggest rule?
Spell check. With instant spell check, I forget to do an overall one sometimes. Bad move. When you are done with the book, and right before you turn it in, SPELL CHECK! Don’t forget.

Second biggest rule?
Do not rely on spell check alone. You have to read the thing again and again. Enlist friends to read it. This should be done at the very end. Don’t ask people to read for spelling and grammar before you do a rewrite. Don’t abuse these precious volunteers. And once you find someone who catches things better than anyone, hang on to them, even if you have to pay them. He is a priceless contact.

The following is a list of words that are commonly misspelled, most of which spell check will not catch for you. Check these out:

Jill’s Top Three Pet Peeve Misspellings
A lot- I’ve seen writers spell this as “a lot”, but it is two words: a lot. There is no exception.

All right- Many people spell this as one word: alright. And while most dictionaries list it as a legitimate word, most publishers don’t. “Alright” is considered a slang spelling. I recommend using the two word spelling, unless you’re in dialogue.

Lightning- Seems simple enough, but I’ve seen it spelled with an “e” many times. But the word “lightening” means two things: 1. To become lighter in weight or brightness, or, 2. The decent of the uterus into the pelvic cavity, just before a woman gives birth. Try not to make this spelling error.

Usage errors
Most of us know the differences between these words, but we’re typing so fast, and we neglect to do a good proofing and mistakes are made. Watch for these as you proofread. They can be sneaky.


Publisher’s preference
Every publisher has their own style guidelines. When I signed my contract with Zondervan/HarperCollins, they sent me a manual and a style guide to use for reference. Here are some words that publishers will make the final call on. And for you that means, pick one way and stick with it for these words and you’ll be fine. If the publisher wants to change it later, they will.

Backward(s) and other words that end in “ward(s).” For example: toward, forward, afterward. I’ve heard that the European spelling uses an “s” and the US spelling does not. If you are trying to get published in the US, drop the “s” from all of these “ward” words.

OK vs. okay vs. ok- Most publishers prefer the spelling “okay,” so I suggest you stick with that one. But if you get a contract and your editor changes it, it’s no big deal.

Grey vs. gray- This is another US/European difference. “Gray” is the popular US spelling, so if you’re writing for the US, use “gray.” Jeff Gerke likes “grey,” and he and my Zondervan editor had a discussion in my edits about it. Jeff said that he knows “grey” is European, but he prefers it for Marcher Lord Press, which Jacque said Zondervan uses “gray.”

Blonde vs. blond- There’s a lot of changes here. Blond(e) used to be a masculine/feminine word.  Ex: The blond guy, the blonde woman. That’s changed. Now, “blond” is the word for the color of hair, no matter the sex of the character. And “blonde” is only used as a noun for a blond woman. Tricky, I know. Despite this, my Zondervan editor said that they still abide by the masculine/feminine rules in their style book, and she changed my spellings. So there you go. Clear as chocolate milk.

T-shirt- I’ve seen this word spelled all kinds of ways, but the correct spelling is with a capital T and a hyphen.

Watch out for these other tricky words
accept/ except
all ready/already
all together/altogether
any more/anymore
a while/awhile

In dialogue
If you’re doing it to create character, you may ignore spelling and grammar rules within dialogue. But do it carefully and specifically to each character. I’m going to blog about this in a few weeks and give specific examples. Dialogue is one of the best places to characterize.

Yes, this is a tedious process, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Sure, mistakes happen, but you’ll start to instinctively know some of those tricky spellings. You’ll also learn which misspellings you tend to make over and over, and you’ll be able to make a list of them and check them every time.

Which words get you every time?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tracking the Elements of Your Story

by Jessica Staricka

A couple weeks ago, Jill Williamson had a great post on circularity! I mentioned in the comments the idea of making one big list of all the pieces of a story, and then trying to bring about finality to each item. Next thing I knew, I was booked for a guest post! It's so awesome to be here!

When I take a look at one of my half-finished novels, I usually see sludge.

I've got the main plot, the main character's emotional journey, that one theme, this one reoccurring personality trait, that object, those parallels between conversations, this mysterious backstory, the foreshadowing for this and that and this other thing...

The overwhelming confusion is often just as bad after a first draft as during it. It's tough to look at thousands of words and piles of notes and still feel that my novel is disjointed, awkward, and the opposite of well-rounded. But maybe I'm not the only one with this issue. I find that I left too many elements of the story unidentified and unresolved. So my advice is, to keep it all straight in your head, make a list. That's what I do, and it's done wonders for my sanity.

The best way I can define “elements” in fiction would be... everything that makes up your book. Recurring themes, subplots, character traits, or even objects and people you consider a part of your story are all elements. They're pieces of the puzzle. And, sorry to be cheesy, but every piece, no matter how small, ought to come close to fitting. And before you can finish the puzzle, you've got to find all the pieces, right?

I've got a page in my notebook titled, “Elements of Anomaly,” where I list the pieces of my current novel. To give you some examples, the first thing on my list is, “Milo [my main character] can't handle emotions.” That's a major plot, and the root of my main character's personal journey. But another, smaller item on the list reads, “Milo's lanyard, full of keys.” It's an object that comes into play at both the beginning and the end of the book. Adding it to my “elements” list makes sure I remember to write in the necessary foreshadowing.

A list like this really turns out useful when looking for unresolved themes. To make a story feel well-rounded and full, I try to bring about a resolution to all the elements. That's circularity. I usually go through my list and state how or when each element is resolved. Though it depends on how small the element is, a resolution doesn't necessarily mean an ending to a subplot, or a change in a character. It can simply mean one final mention near the end of the book, to bring a clean close to the idea. It happens pretty often when I go through my list: I'll look at one of those tiny subplots and realize I left it dangling. For example, since my character Christina smiles throughout my story (a somewhat significant trait, since my main character does the opposite,) I realized that I ought to give it one last acknowledgment near the end of the story. It gives all those earlier images of her constant smile some significance, and it brings the idea to a close.

Most often of all though, I use the “elements” list when I'm staring at that half-finished draft, trying to untangle my mess of plot lines and searching for that one thing (or rather, today's thing) that just isn't working in the story. It doesn't seem like such a sludgy mess when I can find my elements and define what exactly I'm trying to do, here. Then I can turn to a single comprehensive list and see the pieces of my novel on a sheet of paper, pieces that I can always change, combine, add, or remove if I need to. And my own idea of the story becomes much clearer in my head because of it. Hopefully, making a list like this can do the same for you!

Click here to get a template and make your own story elements list.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Take the Challenge - 100 words for 100 Days

by Stephanie Morrill

Many of you have been asking when you can start signing up for the 100 for 100 challenge, and today's the day! For those of you who are new to Go Teen Writers, we did this challenge last September, and it was quite popular.

Here's how it works.

1. You pick a project you want to make progress on. It could be the novel you're already working on, it could be nonfiction, it could be a new book you want to start, whatever you want.

2. You pledge to write 100 words everyday for the next 100 days beginning February 1st.

3. You write the words and occasionally you log on to a spreadsheet to type in your word amount.

That's it.

This challenge works so well because 100 words take very little time to write. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. And yet if you participate in the 100 for 100 challenge, you'll have at least 10,000 words written by May 11th. Pretty great, right?

Here are the writing challenge guidelines:

The challenge will begin Friday, February 1st. That means you have between now and next Friday, February 1st to decide if you want in. No exceptions - if you don't sign up by the end of Friday the 1st, you can't participate.

The idea is for it to be a gradual trickle of words, not a geyser of them, so you must write 100 words every day for it to count. You can't write 10k on March 4th and call it good.

There is 1 "grace day" per week, meaning if you miss 1 day a week, that's okay, but you still must have 700 words completed by the end of the week. (Of course, this is done on the honor system. If you have 700+ words logged for the week, you won't be getting emails from me asking how many days you spent writing those.)

There is also one "grace week" per contest because life happens. So if during finals week you only write 500 words (or no words) you're still eligible for completing the challenge.

The words should all be for one book, not spread out over a variety of stories. The exception is if you finish a book.

Writers of all ages are welcome to join us. Last time we had lots of fun competing between the age groups and seeing who had the most participants versus who wrote the most words. (Here are the results from last time, if you're curious.)

Here are some questions you might have:

Can I write more than 100 words per day?

Absolutely. You can write 4,000 words on Monday and 103 words on Tuesday and 2,000 words on Wednesday, etc. It just has to be at least 100 words for 100 days.

When the challenge is over, do I send you my story?

No. All I need to know is how many words you wrote.

Are there prizes?

Everyone who completes the challenge is entered to win a 10,000 word critique. A few of us have books releasing in the next couple months, so I imagine we'll have some other items to give away as well...

What happens if I sign up, but then decide I don't want to do it anymore?

You let me know, and I take you off the list. 

Last time we had about 250 writers sign up, and 80+ completed. Here's what a few of them had to say about the experience:

I love the 100-4-100 Challenge. It's easy and fun, and barely any stress. It helped me reach the beginning of the end for my novel. I will always try to participate in the 100-4-100. - Katelyn

For a long time I’d been trying to write something every day, and the 100/100 challenge got me in the habit of doing that. Even during NaNoWriMo, when I was writing a completely different WIP, it was easy to keep up with 100/100, because lets face it, one hundred words aren’t a lot!
Even now, over a month after the first 100/100 challenge ‘ended’ I haven’t stopped, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Seriously, y’all, it’s a great idea!  - Aidyl

The 100-4-100 challenge was great for me. Sometimes I have the problem of not writing, sometimes for several days at a time. But the 100 challenge, for lack of a better word, forced me to write. And nothing would have been better for me. I wrote enough words to grow near completion of my novel, and even now, I make myself write something every day, even if it's just a few words. And it's all thanks to the 100-4-100 challenge. I'm ready for round two! - Bethany

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Choosing Names for Your Characters

by Jill Williamson

Since I talked about pronouncing names last Friday, it got me thinking about how to choose good names. I'm pretty sure I've talked about this some before, so I thought I'd take it a bit deeper.

I find names in baby name books and websites, in old telephone books, on Facebook, on team rosters, from maps.

I've  also combined two names to make something new. Emily and Grace become Emilace. Donald and Christopher make Donopher. Kind of fun.

Or I've made up one on my own, or tweaked one I sort of liked. For example, I came up with the name Dasia from somewhere, and I kind of like it. But what if I messed around with it a bit?

Dasia ... Dasiel ... Dasielle ... Rasielle ... Raselle

I think I like Raselle better.

And what about surnames or last names? I've used some of my tricks from above to find last names (internet, phone book, Facebook, rosters), but if we're talking fantasy novel, I suggest a little more creativity.

You need to think about this world you're creating. What Earth date does it parallel? And how were names chosen then? Look back in time a bit.

Old Testament-style
People named their children whatever words they felt at the child’s birth. Abraham named his son Isaac, which means “laughing one.” And when Rachel was in difficult labor, she named her boy Benoni, meaning “son of my sorrow.” Yet after her death, Jacob renamed him Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” Ben means “son of” in Hebrew. Bat means “daughter of” in Hebrew. You can use that in your fantasy novel. I did with the "mi" meaning "son of" in Jax mi Katt.

Find more examples from different countries in this brief history of surnames. It's really short.

Back then, names were also nouns, adjectives, or verbs, alone or combined, or even phrases. In Gaelic, Berach meant “sharp,” Ruadh meant “red,” Aisling meant “dream” or “vision,” and Fechín meant “little raven.”

Names were also dithematic, which means that they were formed of two parts, a prefix and suffix. For example: Alfred means “elf counsel” because “alf” means “elf” and “rad” or “red” means “counsel.” Check out this list on Wikipedia about German names. You can choose any two elements on the list and combine them to get a name. And then you’ll also get a meaning.  Look at the examples column in the center to see examples. Here are a few more I made up: Remwulf (PeaceWolf), Ernswint (HonorStrength), and Deganstan (WarriorStone).

Theonym, which comes from the Greek theos (god) and –onym (name), was a popular name construction in Norse times. Ex: Thorburn (Thor’s bear) and Thorleif (Thor’s descendant). If you have a god or gods in your novel, you could name characters after them.

After Christ’s death
As Christianity spread, trends developed to name children after martyrs (Stephen, Andrew, William, Dietrich, Agnes, Lucy, Cecilia) saints (Patrick, Therese, Francis, Clare, Christopher), or historic people of the Bible (Mary, James, Peter, Ruth, Naomi, Simon, and Benjamin). Are there martyrs, saints, or famous kings or warriors in your novel? Why not name a character after one?

Historically, bynames were literal descriptions of a person. This could involve one’s father’s name, for example, William had a son and named him Edward. So Edward's full name could have been: Edward William, Edward William’s, or Edward William’s son. See how that works? You could do that in your fantasy novel.

Bynames could also involve the place a person was born or an occupation. For example, our Edward might be called Edward William’s until he’s a man, then he moves away from Harenton, the town he grew up in, and becomes an apprentice at a smithy. The people in his new town call him Edward of Harenton. And once he completes his training and becomes a master blacksmith, he might be called Edward the Smith. You could TOTALLY do that in your story.

Some other popular names that came from occupations: Abbott, Archer, Baker, Brewer, Carpenter, Farmer, Farrier, Potter, Weaver, Taylor, Thatcher, Smith, Swain (a swine herder), Weaver. There is a big, long, cool list here.

And perhaps Edward’s father William still lives in the same house he grew up in, a house in a glen in the middle of a forest, so he is called William Forestglen. Some modern surnames that developed in such a way are: Atwater (at the water), Beckham (home by the brook), and Hill (hill).

Bynames might also be names of status or nicknames. Here are some examples to inspire you:
Marcus the Giant
Charles the Baron
Edward the Wifeless (Poor Ed!)
Mary Burned the Barn (Forever forced to live with the memory of her greatest blunder.)
Richard has Twelve Sons (I think someone is bragging.)
Bart Full of Ale (Oh, dear.)
Sarah Sings All Day (I hope her voice is good.)
Daniel Cut Purse (Hmm ... Wonder why he cuts purses …)
Frank Waste Penny (That's a shame.)

And you can do other fun stuff in fantasy novels. You can create your own tricks or titles, like I did in allowing the guardians of orphaned children the give them an animal surname. Or like the Star Wars title of Darth or Jedi.

How to know if it’s the right name
Keep it simple- I know, it’s hard. But look at this list of famous characters from fantasy and science fiction literature, film, games, and television. I can pronounce them all.

Agent Smith, Albus Dumbeldore, Aslan, Bilbo Baggins, Blade, Buck Rogers, Buffy, C-3PO, Captian James T. Kirk, Chewbacca, Data, The Doctor, Ellen Ripley, Emmet Brown, Gandalf, Han Solo, Harry Potter, John Carter, King Arthur, Leonard H. McCoy/Bones, Link, Logan 5, Luke Skywalker, Malcolm Reynolds, Merlin, Morpheus, Neo/Mr. Anderson, Q, R2-D2, Randall Flagg, Spock, Starbuck, Terminator, and Yoda.

Pretty sweet, huh?

Say it out loud- Is it at all awkward?

Ask others to read it out loud- Did they stumble over it? Did they pronounce it right?

Did you avoid adding unnecessary apostrophes (Sh’mal) and diacritics (Nüélmăr)?

Google the name to see if it is already in a famous novel. If it is but it’s a different genre, you might get away with it.

Google the name to see if there might be any hidden meanings in foreign language translations or famous people you don’t want associated with your character.

Is the meaning too obvious to the reader? When you see the name Darth Sideous, it doesn't even sound nice, right? And what about Draco? If my name was dragon, I’d likely have a rep without trying. And Bella Swan has the opposite problem. It sounds too lovely, too perfect. I object to these names, Your Honor! Leading the reader. *wink*

Does the name fit your character’s age, personality, and physical description? If not, are you doing that on purpose for irony? Because naming an ugly, cruel man Christophe Darcy and a little girl Gertrude might seem off to your reader.

Consider the meaning. It can be fun to give your character a name with a meaning that adds depth to the story. I did this with Hebrew, but any baby name book and many websites will give you the meaning of a name.

Check your full character list. Do you have too many names that start with the same letter? How about names that rhyme or that have the same amount of syllables?

And if you’re totally stuck, try using a name generator. Here’s one I found for creating names for mad scientists. But you can Google anything, for example: fantasy name generator, historical name generator, fairy name generator. You’ll likely find it all online.

Here are some of my favorite links for finding names:
Unique Surnames
Fantasy Name Generator
Native American Names
Unique Baby Names
Generic English Place Names
Germanic Names
List of Titanic Passengers
Behind the first names, with meanings of names
Former names of islands
Finland map
Behind the surnames
Most popular surnames
List of Occupational Surnames
Medieval Surnames
Jewish surnames

Do you have any secrets for coming up with great names? How about clever tricks for surnames or titles for character's in your story?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winners from the Great First Lines Contest

by Stephanie Morrill

For your reading pleasure today, I have the winning entries from the Great First lines contest. There were so many amazing first lines. You all made life very difficult on our judges. Judge Laura L. Smith wanted me to pass this along to you guys:
I was incredibly impressed with these opening lines and had an extremely difficult time narrowing it down to just five winners. You are all creative and talented and understand the concept of grabbing your readers from the get go. All of your powerful openers have inspired me to go back and rework the opening lines of my own upcoming books. I did go through all of the sentences three times. The winners had one liners that resonated with me, had sentences I kept going back to. There were plenty of great sentences that may have resonated with someone else. To all of you - keep writing!

By Anna Schaeffer, 1st and Honorable Mention:

The day I moved into a Florida retirement community at the age of sixteen was the day I decided God most definitely has a sense of humor.

By Lily Jenness, 1st:
Awaiting your execution is nerve-wracking, no matter how many times you do it.

By Allison E., 2nd and 4th:

My father spent his time digging for artifacts - the buried treasure of ancient civilizations - and I spent my time digging for worms.

By Allison Young, 2nd:
People haven't always worn masks.

By Jane B., 3rd:
So there I was, standing in the courtyard at midnight, pointing a gun at my best friend.

By Sky W. 3rd and 4th

Nobody goes to Chipotle hoping to save the world

By Jane B. 5th

I secretly watched as my lies were passed around the library like candy.

By Ely Gyrate, 5th
The night the Tiller house erupted, Thane was supposed to be in his room, grounded

By Anna Schaeffer, Honorable Mention:

If God had given Moses an eleventh commandment, it would have been: Thou shalt not give Kristen Fincher a driver’s license.

By Deborah Rocheleau, Honorable Mention:

If it weren't for my mother's death, I wouldn't have been named after an Edgar Allan Poe poem.

By Kaitlyn Johson, Honorable Mention

People have wanted me dead even before I was born.

By Alexandra M, Honorable Mention

My aunt Lina never understood why I always freaked out when we went out to art museums.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Free YA Books Anyone?

by Stephanie Morrill

I've been really excited to show you guys something, but it just hadn't been quite time for the big unveiling.

This is my May release, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. She's a teen writer just like you guys, and look at that mischief in her eyes - you just know she's up to no good, don't you? Here's a little bit about the story:

Don't just get even - write a novel
When ousted by her lifelong friends, teen writer Ellie Sweet takes to story writing as self-therapy. She casts herself as Lady Gabrielle, a favorite in the medieval Italian court, her ex-friends as her catty rivals, and makes a pesky rake of the boy who thinks he’s too good for her in real life. But when Ellie achieves the impossible and her “coping mechanism” becomes a published novel, she faces the consequences of using her pen as her sword.

This book was super fun to write, and it's an extra fun release because I'm helping launch a new line of YA books with several other amazing writers: Laura Smith, Laura Kurk (both of whom you might recognize from being on Go Teen Writers), Jennifer Murgia, and Rajdeep Paulus.

Laura Smith is putting together a "Street Team" for us where you get free books in exchange for helping us promote the new line. And who doesn't like free books? If you want to check out details and get signed up, head on over to Laura Smith's blog.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Names You Can't Pronounce

by Jill Williamson

A few days ago, Leah K. posted on the Facebook group that she'd discovered that people were mispronouncing her character's name. The name was Rene, pronounced "reen" not "ren-ay." But many people thought is was "ren-ay" because of the French pronunciation.

Since Leah is writing a screenplay, it wasn't as big of deal. She could add the pronunciation right onto the script and everything would be fine.

But for novels, it's not that simple.

When I first started writing my Blood of Kings fantasy story, I needed some character names. The mere idea seemed terribly overwhelming. How did authors come up with such cool names, anyway?

And then it hit me. J.K. Rowling had used Latin for many of her names and spells in the Harry Potter books. Maybe I could do the same. So, I looked on my bookshelf. I had a French-English dictionary and a Hebrew-Greek concordance. Well, so much of the English language is similar to French, but Hebrew ... it sounded almost Klingon.

So I thought, "Hebrew is is."

My plan was to simply look up a word that described each character and use the Hebrew word instead. This quickly backfired with lame-sounding names. So I kept looking up similar words until I found translations I liked. I repeated this process until the fear grew that I might be overdoing the Hebrew. The I came up with some other ways to name different characters, hoping the different types of names might sound regional.

But here's the thing: I wasn't careful enough. I get emails and meet readers who ask, "How do you pronounce Achan?" And they almost always have been pronouncing it wrong! Many people say, "Ah-chan" instead of "Ay-kan." *sigh*

My bad, though. Totally my bad.

When I first realized that this was happening, I was distraught. People were saying my hero's name wrong! What was I going to do?


I figured it was too late. Sure, I always set readers straight when I met then, but the book was published. This time it didn't occur to me to copy J.K. Rowling. I mean, no one knew how to pronounce Hermione until the fourth book when J.K. explained it, likely because she kept meeting readers who asked her, "How do you say that name!"

Another example. While on staff at a writer's conference, several published authors were doing a reading. I had to choose a section from my new book and read it aloud to the audience. I hate this. I'm not afraid, I just never know what to read and how long to read and I get myself all worked up about it.

Well, To Darkness Fled was my new release at the time, so I read the scene where Achan and Vrell are in Mirrorstone, about to have dinner with Lord Eli and Lady Jaira, and they bloodvoice to each other through the meal, Vrell teasing Achan that Lady Jaira wants to marry him now that she knows he's ... well, who he is. I thought their banter would be fun.

But wouldn't you know it, I stumbled over the name Jaira, Hamartano, and, of course, Katiolikan too. I couldn't even pronounce my own names! They'd seemed fine in my head when I picked them, but out loud? I should have practiced or something ...

All this to say, if you have names that are difficult to pronounce, here are some tips:

1. Consider choosing another name or respelling it.
I know this isn't what you want to do, but you'll get used to the new name or new spelling. In my Blood of Kings, Lord Nathak was originally named Lord Ratsak. I liked it because it sounded like he was a rat. But my critique group talked me out of it, saying that it sounded like something crude involving rats. (Sorry if that painted a disturbing mental picture...) So I changed Lord Ratsak to Lord Piel. I grew to like this much better. Until one of my critique partners said that Piel and Porril were too close and she was getting confused. I could have left it, but I understood what she was saying and decided to change it one more time and settled on Lord Nathak.

But I called him Lord Piel for years.

2. Don't think it won't matter. 
It does. It messes with reader experience when they don't know for certain if they're hearing the right name in their head. It creates distance.

3. Make the pronunciation part of the story.
I could have had Riga and Harnu mock Achan with a rhyme. Something like, "Look! Here comes Achan of dung. Get it, Harnu? "A can" of dung? Ha ha ha ha!"

Or I could have had a place early on where the pronunciation was taught. Maybe Chora could have read Achan's name from a scroll and read it wrong and Achan could have corrected him, teaching Chora and the reader--early on in the story--how to pronounce the name.

Or I could have had a different POV character meet Achan and think about how it's pronounced.

4. Add a pronunciation guide.
This is a last resort, and I don't recommend it. But if you must, make it a very short one. Because if an editor likes your premise and takes a look at your story and the first thing he sees is a pronunciation guide, chances are, he'll be turned off. It's just one of those cliché fantasy things.

All that to say, choose carefully. And if you do choose a name with an odd spelling, be clever in how it's presented. Don't assume your reader will figure it out. He probably won't!

How about you? Do you have a character name that's difficult to read? What is it? Did you do something to help the reader know how it's pronounced? If not, what could you try?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Borrow from Real Life

by Rachel Coker

Rachel is a sixteen-year-old home school student and award-winning author who resides in Virginia with her parents and two sisters. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven through a simple fiction writing assignment in school. She signed with Zondervan in 2010 for her first YA fiction novel, Interrupted, released in March 2012; her second novel, Chasing Jupiter, released in December 2012. You can visit her at her blog,

Hey, ya'll! So sorry I ditched you last month. Well, I didn't so much as ditch you as I did totally forget about you, if we're telling the truth here. As in, my brain apparently turns to putty five days before Christmas and the launch of my second book and I completely forget all prior commitments in my utter exhaustion/excitement. Sorry! Won't happen again!

My brain is back from vacation and ready to pop out some vital writing information.... SO, you may have heard by now that my new YA novel, Chasing Jupiter, is available now!!! Yipee!!! Happy dance!!! (IMAGINARY happy dance as I am so clumsy in real life that if I actually tried this I might fall down or break something.....)


In the whirlwind of interviews and guests blog posts I've been doing to promote my book, the question keeps getting thrown around, "Where did you get the inspiration for this story?" I actually thoroughly answered that question in a video blog you can watch here, but a lot of readers definitely seemed surprised to find out that I based so many of my characters on real people who I know in real life. Which raises the question.... How much of real life can you borrow for your stories and how much do you need to leave alone?

I'll explain... Let's say you know a woman who goes to your church who would be absolutely perfect as a comical character in your book. She's more than pleasantly plump, she wears bright orange lipstick, and she sings in an operatic voice loud enough to shatter windows three blocks down. And--get this--her name is Lakeesha. Two e's and everything. You're just dying to write her into a book. She would make everyone laugh and would brighten up so many scenes. And goodness gracious, think about what laughter just her name would induce. It's pure genius. Your readers will love it.

But hold on a minute. There's something you may have forgotten. Will Lakeesha love it? Don't kid yourself into thinking "Oh, she'll never find out" or "It'll give her a good laugh". Even if you change her name or hair color, there's still a pretty good chance that she'll find out you were writing about her. And guess what? Lakeesha probably won't find it very funny. In fact, she might be pretty hurt or angry. And then I can pretty much guarantee how you'll feel. Horrible.

It might sound like I'm being kind of dramatic, but I'm really not. And while I'm sure that all of you are smart enough not to write someone into a book without changing their name, hair color, or weight, there are things that we as authors miss sometimes. People who are known for certain expressions, sayings, or physical characteristics are pretty quick to recognize themselves in a character. And if you didn't have their permission to copy those traits into a character, they have every right to be mad at you. However, there is a level of grace that I think authors can abide in.

As writers, people naturally assume that we'll be copying from real life. And, in fact, I'll do this all the time. If I love someone's birthmark, gap-toothed smile, chewed-up nails, or squeaky way of saying "Yep!"--I might put that in a book. Or if someone shares with me a cute or sweet story from their own past, I might incorporate that into a scene or plot twist. I might even go as far as writing a book based on someone I met or heard about, as was the case with Chasing Jupiter!

But, every writer has to have limits. They can be a good thing, and can keep you from offending someone. So, before you copy something about a friend or family member into a book, keep these things in mind:
  • Try to stay away from using the names of people you know in real life, unless they're for an insignificant character or you've already mentioned it that person. Nothing's weirder than reading a book where someone with your name turns out to be a total brat or, worse, dies--especially if you know the author. Awkward.
  • It's okay to copy a character trait or quirk of someone you know, but if you do that then make sure everything else about that character is completely different from their real-life counterpart. Your character's mother might have the same heart-shaped mole as your Aunt Sallie, but their personalities have to be entirely different!
  • If you hear a story from a friend or family member that you just have to turn into a story, then don't be afraid to talk to them about it. Sit them down and explain as humbly and sweetly as possible, "Look, I'm just so touched by the story you just told about how your grandfather carried around your grandmother's lock of hair in his coat pocket all across France during World War Two. I'd really love to write a story based on their romance and include that aspect of their relationship. I understand if you don't want your personal life to be turned into a novel, but would you ever consider talking to me more about that possibility?" If you're honest and undemanding, your friends and family will be more comfortable sharing their lives with you.
So enjoy life! Soak up the details from it and use them to saturate your stories with color and humor. But just remember to always be sensitive of others. As writers, we walk a fine line between fiction and reality. And we should never make others uncomfortable because of that fact!

P.S. Please, please, please order a copy of my new book, "Chasing Jupiter"! Or, better yet, check out my blog for a giveaway of BOTH my books (signed, of course), ending tomorrow! And be sure to like me on Facebook, if you haven't yet!

Also, I would love to connect with you on Twitter! I'm doing a live Q&A chat on Twitter today (the 17th) from 2-3pm eastern time, and I'd love to see you there. You can follow me @RachelCoker3.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Finalists from the Great First Lines Contest

Here's the list of those who made the top 40-something. (The original plan was 41, but it was an impossible task for our judges to narrow it down so we let a few extra slip through.)

This list is in alpha order. Some names are listed twice because some writers had multiple sentences  final:

Alexandra M.
Allison E
Allison Young
Alyson Schroll
Amanda Fischer
Anna Schaeffer
Anna Schaeffer
Bailey B.
Britt M
Cait D
Caroline Niesen
Cassia S
Cecelia Grove
Deborah Rocheleau
Elizabeth Ryan
Ely Gyrate
Ely Gyrate
Jane B.
Jane B.
Jazmin Frank
Jessica Staricka
Jessica Staricka
Jill H.
Kaitlyn Johnson
Katie Troyer
Kristian Beverly
Leah E Good
Leanna L.
Lily Jenness
Lindsey Bradford
Lydia H. D.
Lydia H. D.
Madeline H
Margaret Paquette
Maya V.
Meaghan Ward
Monica B.
Nay G.
Nik Theorin
Rachelle Rea
Rachelle Rea
Rebecca P
Riley D.
Sarah Faulkner
Sarah J.
Sky W.

The judges are still determining the winners. That announcement should come on Monday the 21st!

Meanwhile, I'll be working on emailing everyone's feedback. Thanks so much for your patience!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Rule of Three

by Jill Williamson

The rule of three pretty much means that three is an awesome number. Three feels natural and complete. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

And if Schoolhouse Rock wasn't awesome enough, do any of these sound familiar?

Goldilocks and the Three Bears
The Three Musketeers
Three Blind Mice
The Three Stooges
The Three Little Pigs
Three Amigos!
Three's Company
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Three Little Kittens that Lost Their Mittens
The Three Caballeros

And ...
There are three feet in a yard
Things come in 3D!
Three wise men
Three-ring circus
The three-act structure
The third time's the charm.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic.
There are three primary colors and three secondary colors
Three-legged races. So fun.
Three french hens
We Three Kings
There were three Bronte sisters
Rock, paper, scissors
Three witches in Macbeth
The three-piece suit
Ready ... aim ... fire!
"Three shall be the number of the counting, and the number of the counting shall be three!"
Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich
A long shot in basketball is worth three points
Lights, camera, action!
Triangles are the strongest shape
On the count of three ...
On your mark ... get set ... go!
Scrooge is visited by three ghosts.
"A cord of three strands is not easily broken." -Ecclesiastes 4:12
And, of course, the trilogy

So, now that I've proved to you just have awesome the number three is, let me say something a bit more useful. This is one of the most simplest storytelling devices known to man. Three is the minimum number to create a pattern. It's also the most popular pattern for telling jokes and stories. The first two items build tension, and the third item releases the tension and often incorporates a clever twist. You may see how this is familiar when you think of things like The Three Little Pigs. If the first pig and second pigs were smart enough, it wouldn't be much of a story, right? It's often the third pig or brother or attempt that gets it right. It takes three tries to beat the clock.

Threes are so ingrained in our culture, people expect them. So maybe if you notice you've got too many threes in your story, cut some out and save them for the most important things. One of my writing quirks is using the triplet. For example: I stood up, walked to the door, and opened it. I do this so much, I have to go back in my rewriting and change many of them so that I don't it.

I just like them so much!

The point is, when things come in threes, they are funnier, more effective, and super-satisfying to the reader. Now, they can be considered a stereotype too, so be careful to make your threes unique. But using a three is a great way to make your writing stick with your reader. So if you have something important or significant to say, consider working it into a three.

Take a look at your manuscript. Do you have any threes? Too many threes? And, did I forget any famous threes in my list?

Monday, January 14, 2013

7 Ways to Grow Your Characters' Relationships

by Stephanie Morrill

A writer emailed me to ask about how to grow a relationship between two characters over the course of a book. This is an excellent question, and a big challenge whether you're talking about a romantic relationship or a friendship.

I had to do this with a romantic relationship in the first Skylar Hoyt book, Me, Just Different, where my main character, Skylar. met a new guy, Connor, who would eventually become her boyfriend. And a great example of growing a friendship can be found in the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Harry meets his future best friend, Ron.

Here are some techniques you can use for your own characters:

Create a reason for them to spend regular time together.

In Harry Potter, Harry meets Ron at the train station, and they spend a long time in each other's company right away. Once he gets to school, he then is in the same classes, house, and bedroom as Ron. These guys are together all the time, even when they don't like.

In Me, Just Different, Skylar and Connor have a couple classes together, but they're also manipulated into carpooling twice a day.

When you've done this, you can easily

Allude to time spent together

We don't need to be with Ron and Harry every time they walk to class together to know that they do it a lot. This means that when the author says something about two weeks going by, the reader's brain makes the automatic jump to, "These characters have been together a lot during that passage of time."

Entwine Their Lives

In Me, Just Different Skylar's life becomes entwined with Connor's even when she resists. Even if she decides to avoid Connor, she can't change that their moms are friends, Connor's dating her best friend, and his brother has a crush on her sister.

Give them a Common Enemy

Even two characters who don't get along can bond quickly over a common enemy. In the first Harry Potter book, Harry and Ron bond over a mutual dislike for Draco Malfoy and a general dislike of all Slytherins.

Put them in a Stressful Situation

This is what J.K. Rowling uses to seal the friendship between the boys and Hermione. They're rather annoyed with Hermione until about halfway through the book when the three of them fight for their lives against a troll. After that, they're all friends.

Other stressful situations could be a death, a secret they must protect (in Me, Just Different Skylar and Connor are protecting Abbie's pregnancy), or even something as simple as a hard class both characters need to pass.

Getting a Glimpse into the Other Person's World

In the first season of Gilmore Girls, when Rory is at a new high school, a girl in her class, Paris, seems like the devil in a pleated skirt ... until we see her mom being horribly critical in a public setting. Suddenly Paris makes much more sense to us and to Rory. A friendship begins to grow between the girls.

In Me, Just Different Connor's heart softens for Skylar once he gets to know her family and sees how differently she's been raised than him.

And in the Harry Potter books, nothing hurts my heart more than when Ron is ashamed of how poor his family is, and it hurts Harry's heart too.

Surprising Commonalities

This is when two characters who thought they had absolutely nothing in common, maybe who even work against each other most of the time, find common ground. This is done so effectively in later Harry Potter books when Harry sees glimpses of his character and childhood in Voldemort and Snape.

Do you have characters in your manuscript who need to grow closer? Is there something on this list that will help, or do you have another technique you can add to our list?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Punctuation 101: Dashes and Ellipses

by Jill Williamson

Welcome to yet another installment of Punctuation 101, the posts that are all about punctuation. I'm your host, Jill Williamson. And today, we're talking about dashes and ellipses. What's the difference, you ask? Well, let's find out.

There are two kinds of dashes that are used most often in writing:
the em dash —
and the en dash – 

These are both different from a hyphen -

*Please note, my instructions for creating the dashes is for word processing programs like Microsoft Word. It doesn't work online. If you're online, you either use one hyphen or two.

The em dash

To create the em dash, type a word, then type two hyphens, then type the next word, then type a space. Do not put any spaces until you are done with the sequence. What you type will look like this: word--word(space)

When you hit that last space bar, the two dashes will convert to an em dash. It's pretty cool. If you can't figure out how to make that super long em dash show up, it's acceptable to use two hyphens in place of the em dash--like that.

1. Use an em dash to set off parenthetical material that you want to emphasize.
Ex: Everything that went wrong—from the C- on our history project to Tom breaking up with her—Shelly blamed on me.
Ex: Can you believe that Susie Walker—a cheerleader and a freshman—won homecoming queen?

2. Use an em dash to set off appositives that contain commas.
Ex: When you apply the make-up—foundation, mascara, eye shadow, and lipstick—be sure to follow the guidelines.

3. Use an em dash to signify a break it thought.
Ex: “I can’t believe Mr. Thomas ate all the—did you just say that Kate had the baby?”

4. Use an em dash to signify an interruption.
Ex: “I don’t know why it happened. Maybe it’s because—”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses. I’m sick of them!”

The en dash
To create the en dash, type a word, type a space, then type one hyphen, then type the next word, then type a space. What you type will look like this: word(space)-word(space)

When you hit that last space bar, the dash will convert to an en dash. This is also pretty cool. NOTE: You'll have to go back and take out the first space once the dash is converted. It's proper format that no space appear before or after the dash. If you read Harry Potter, you'll see spaces with her dashes. Keep in mind that J. K. Rowling is a British author and the punctuation and grammar rules are different there. I am teaching the rules for the United States. If you are looking to get published in the United States, follow these rules.

1. Use an en dash to connect inclusive numbers such as: page numbers, dates, or Bible references. Here the en dash means "up to and including" or "through."
Ex: Please read in your text pages 86–92.
Ex: I went to college from 1993–1997.
Ex: I read John 3:16–17 and it changed my life.

Singular: ellipsis [ih-lip-sis]
Plural: ellipses [ih-lip-seez]

To create an ellipsis, type three periods in a row and hit enter. Most programs will automatically format it into an ellipsis. If your program won't, you can simply type three periods in a row: ... Or you can type three periods with a space in between each: . . . As long as you are consistent, the editors will not care. When the time comes, they can easily replace all your ellipses with the Find/Replace function to whatever standard their publishing house requires.

There should be a space before and after each ellipsis.
Correct ex: "Can you . . . believe it?"
Incorrect ex: "Can you. . .believe it?"

If the ellipsis is at the beginning or end of a sentence that uses quotes, do not put a space between the ellipsis and the quotes.
Ex: "But how will I . . ."
Ex: ". . . because I said so."

Ellipses are used to show thought or dialogue faltering or trailing off. If your character is confused, insecure, uncertain, falling asleep, or passing out, an ellipsis is the tool you want to convey this.

Ex: “Where . . . I had it right . . . then medallion . . . I must have dropped it!”
Ex: “I want to go there . . . first thing . . . in the morning.”
Ex: “Okay. I’ll tell you who shot me. It was . . .” Kit’s body went limp in John’s arms.

Some publishers use four-dot ellipsis when they fall at the end of a paragraph. Some don't. You will not be rejected for doing this one way or the other. Whatever you decide, be consistent. I never use the four-dot ellipsis. I feel as though an ellipses shows that my character's thought is trailing off. And extra period to tell the reader that the end of the paragraph is there seems redundant to me. But my publisher added some into my latest manuscript edits. They're the publisher, and they're allowed to do things a certain . . . .

Dashes and ellipses ever confuse you? Any other questions about these little fellows?