Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Closed for an admin day!

Stephanie here. The Go Teen Writers contest that closed on Monday received an amazing 130 entries! Due to the amount of emailing and evaluating this requires, the blog is closed today.

One quick plug -  if you purchased The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet in the month of July (or if you buy it today, I guess) make sure you submit your receipt to Playlist Fiction for a chance to win a very cool beach bag full of all kinds of goodies. There are a few other non-purchase-required ways to enter as well, and you can view those on the Playlist Fiction site.)

See you back here tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Try-Fail Cycles: the "Yes, but" or "No, and" Method to Creating Plot Twists

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Conflict is important in a story. It's what keeps the reader turning the pages. Some writers struggle with conflict, especially knowing how to escalate it or how to end the conflict with a plot twist.

Some of you may have heard me talking about the fabulous Writing Excuses podcast. If you have never listened to them, I suggest you check it out. They are spec fiction authors, but lots of what they talk about applies to all genres. The archives are pure gold. Seriously. Here is a link to their site:

A while back, I heard one of the podcasters, Mary Robinette Kowal, talk about the rule of "Yes, but" or "No, and." I thought it was very clever. And since I used this rule the other day, I felt like I should share it with all of you, rather than keep Mary's brilliance all to myself.

First, I'd like to plug Mary's book Shades of Milk and Honey. It's a Jane Austenesque fantasy novel. A very fun and quick read. I just bought the second book in the series, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Mary takes her characters next.

Now back to "Yes, but" or "No, and." This little trick is also known as "Try-Fail Cycles." Here's how it works. You write your scene. Things are building up to some sort of a climax. Then you'll need to transition to the next scene. You can use "Yes, but" or "No, and" to brainstorm what will happen that takes your character into the next scene, and it should be something that ups the conflict/makes things worse. Here are some examples:

-Your character goes on a date with the girl of his dreams. Will it go well?

Yes, but he then learns that she is moving to a new town, or

No, and she tells all her friends how he tripped on his shoelaces and knocked over their table.

-Your character has been kidnapped. He tries to escape. Will he succeed?

Yes, but he gets lost in the city, unfamiliar with his surroundings, or

No, and he is moved into a solitary jail cell.

-Your character apologizes to the girl he likes for something he did wrong. Will she forgive him?

Yes, but then he goes out and kisses someone else and gets caught, or

No, and she tells her big brother what happened and he beats up your character.

-Your character breaks into someone's house with the intent of downloading secret files from a computer to his flash drive. Does he succeed at breaking in?

Yes, but the files aren't on the computer, or

No, and the person who lives there comes home and catches him in the act.

-Your character sneaks into a country club in hopes of hanging out with the girl he likes. Does he succeed?

Yes, but his brother catches him and insists he sneak him in too or he'll tell their parents, or

No, and his best friend starts dating the girl.

The idea of this exercise is to escalate the problem in one way or another. Your character tries something new, and continually succeeds or fails, escalating his story problem until he reaches the end. Give it a try and see how it works for you. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Stretch Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Don't forget - today's the last day to get your entries turned in for the "I've never been the type" contest. When the contest is over, it'll be a few days before the finalists are listed, and then another few days or week until the winners are announced. And I do my best to get results email to everyone as quick as I can.

A writer emailed me to say, "Sometimes my stories feel like they have kind of a similar... theme? plot? I'm not sure how to explain it but I don't know if it's just me or it really is kind of repetitive. What would you do if that happened to you?"

Well, this has happened to me. Late in my teens, I realized that all my main characters in all my stories were basically me, with some improvements. Me but funnier, me with better hair, me but smarter. The results were stories that read flat, that lacked oomph.

When I realized that I'd basically been writing the same character over and over, I decided to try being intentionally different with my main character. The result was the creation of Skylar Hoyt in what became my debut novel, Me, Just Different. (Ha, irony!)

View the book on Amazon
I wasn't so worried about making Skylar look different than me (though, obviously, she does.) My biggest concern was making Skylar different in her core. I wanted her reactions to problems, her view of the world, and her values to all be completely different from mine.

The result, even from the first draft was a book that had a BIGGER feel to it. A, "This is going to be the book that gets me published" kind of feel. (Even still it needed massive rewrites and a couple of book surgeries before it was publishable. But there was a quality in this manuscript that made me willing to do that, when I hadn't been willing before.)

I thought it was going to be hard to write from the perspective of someone so different from me, but instead the writing felt fun, liberating, and exciting. My experience with writing Skylar in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series has encouraged me to continue pushing myself out of my writing comfort zone.

If you're wanting to brainstorm beyond your typical characters, plots, settings, or themes, I would make two columns. On the left, I would make a list of what you typically do. My list would have looked like this:

My main characters are always:

And then I would make a list of opposite traits, just to see what it sparks. This was tricky with Skylar, because of course a loud, outgoing, dumb, slow-witted, confident, mean person would not make for a good main character. But that list of opposites did help me come up with ideas. Skylar isn't dumb, but she's not a fan of school and is a solid C student. She's confident, but only in how she looks. Her insecurities lie in who she is in her heart. And Skylar's mistrust of others often makes her seem cold or unfriendly.

What about plots? All writers have plot devices they tend to fall back on. Consider making a list of yours, then add to it as you discover them.

 In The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, I originally had Ellie having these weird visions at times, but then decided that was way too close to the dreams Skylar has throughout Out with the In Crowd. So dreams/visions are apparently a pet plot device of mine.

Jill Williamson shared in a post a few weeks ago about how a reader pointed out to her that she always has a girl sweep in and save her male main characters from their troubles.

Just knowing about your pet plot devices will help you avoid recreating them in every manuscript you write.

Now, themes are a bit trickier because we write about what's close to our heart. Honestly, I think if you work hard to create different characters, put them in different places, and have different things happen to them, the theme will take care of itself. But I'm in the camp of writers who doesn't plan out her themes, who figures them out as she writes the first draft.

Here are a few other thoughts I have on how to expand what you write:

Seek out new life experiences.
Experience stories in all genres. Watch movies and read books you wouldn't naturally choose.
Try writing a story in a different genre, even just a short story.

Have you ever purposefully written something different? How did it go?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy: A Book Review & Giveaway

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Today I decided to try something different. A book review of a writing book. And then I'm going to give it away! The book? Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy. Here's what I thought of it.

Review by Jill Williamson

This book starts with an overview for age groups and genres, which is a nice way to start the topic of writing for kids. Next it talks about the market, finding time to write, setting up your space, etc. Some of this seems obvious, but maybe it wouldn't be to a beginning writer.

In the section that talks about where to get ideas and how to start writing, there are some fun assignments. Throughout the book there are also interviews with industry professionals, which I found intriguing. The book basically takes you from idea to negotiating a contract. There is also information for both traditional and self-publishing, with a whole section at the end dedicated to the topic of self-publishing.

This is not a book you want to blow through in a few days. It’s thick, it’s meaty, and it has answers for everything related to writing for kids, fiction and nonfiction. I’d recommend reading a chapter a week to absorb the content or just using it as a reference for what you want to know when you want to know it.

Want to win this book? Enter on the Rafflecopter form below! USA entries only, please, guys. Sorry. I reviewed this one, so I have to mail it myself.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Two Events That Will Make August Awesome

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

With August a week away, my mind has turned toward questions like, "What have I accomplished in July? What do I want to do better?"

Something I stumbled upon in July was the concept of 30 Day Challenges. I found the article on a marketing resource I particularly like, but that article was inspired by a TED talk given by Matt Cutts of Google. The video is only a few minutes and really worthwhile, but basically he talks about how he's learned to try new things and add new behaviors to his life by giving himself 30 day challenges. He gives NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) as an example of a challenge he's undertaken, but he's done a lot of different things.

I love the simplicity of this idea, and I've been thinking about it more as August approaches. For many of us, August is a month of transition. In a few weeks, I'll start walking my daughter up to her kindergarten class every morning. Routines will be changing, and it can be easy for writing to get shuffled out of the way.

We've put a few things in place this month to help you keep writing from being something you intend to do to something you actually do during the school year. First up is:

The Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat

This will be done over an email loop so we'll exclude as few people as possible If you have an email address and you're 11 or older, you'll be welcome to join us for a weekend of community, word wars, encouragement, weirdness, and plain ol' fun.

After the retreat, the loop will remain open, and it'll be a way for you to communicate with each other during the Go Teen Writers 100 for 100 Writing Challenge (Take three!)

Thanks to the suggestion from the lovely Sarah Faulkner, we've purposefully coordinated the challenge and adjusted the rules so that those who are wanting to participate in both the 100 for 100 and National Novel Writing Month will be able to do so.

I haven't set up the email loop yet, but when I do, I'll provide directions on how to sign up.

I'm still trying to figure out what my 30 Day Challenge for August will be. Do you have ideas for 30 Day challenges for yourself?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pros and Cons of Plotting and Pantsing

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I received an email from a writer asking, "From various writing blogs I have read, some writers say to flesh out every single character, do all the possible research you can, and outline your novel(s) in detail before you start seriously writing. Other writers say to develop characters and plots and to research as you go. What are the benefits to these two methods? Is it all a matter of the writer's choice, or does one actually produce more favorable results?"

I have an addiction to reading books and blogs about writing. I'm fascinated by the process and the variations among writers and their approaches. And the question of "to plot or not plot?" is one of those classic writer debates that will go on forever. So let's talk about the benefits of these two approaches:

Method #1: Plotting

Writers vary in their intensities of plotting. Some are like those who the writer described in her question, where they figure out every detail they can before opening up that blank Word document. Others might allow themselves a week or so to do their historical research or to draw/explore their fantasy story world, but then they make themselves write, knowing they'll work out the other details as they go. 

Pros for Plotting
  • Planning out the story ahead of time generally turns out a cleaner first draft. This means your rewrites tend to be less extensive. You've already figured out where your characters are going, so you can better steer them there.
  • All the fun charts and color coding and Post-it possibilities. Okay, at least to me, this is a huge plus. Plotters get the coolest writing tools.
  • Less time sitting and staring at a blinking cursor. Since you've spent time outlining your story, you shouldn't be spending so much time going, " what?" You can use your writing time more productively.
  • For a series, this will save you headaches. One of the funnest parts of the Harry Potter series is how tiny things in early books become significant later in the series. J. K. Rowling is a genius when it comes to planting items early. Plotting your stories makes this easier.
  • Stronger characters (at least at first). Taking time before you start your story to figure out who your characters are means they're much more likely to sound different than each other from the get-go.
Cons for Plotting

  • The time investment. Some of these methods I see for planning your novel would take you weeks or months. I get itchy to write after a day or two. Possible solution: I once heard novelist Angela Hunt say that when she writes historicals, she allows herself one week to do all her research about the time period. (She's a full-time novelist, so bear in mind that she means a week of full-time work days.) She says otherwise she would get lost in her research. This can apply to fantasy writers too who love world building and will spend months doing it without writing a word. (Yep, I'm looking at you, Jill Williamson...) If this is you, try allowing yourself a set amount of time, and then get to work on your first draft.
  • It's a time investment ... that you might pitch three chapters in. This is something that has happened to yours truly. See, I'm a rather organized person. I'm not crazy organized, just a very healthy, sensible amount of organized. (In my own mind, anyway. My husband may have a different story.) I frequently want to organize the heck out of my story. I want the color coded charts and the graphs and the spreadsheets. So I do them. And I feel proud of myself. And then three chapters in to writing the thing, I have a light bulb moment that means chucking my entire outline. Possible solution: For whatever reason, I need to spend a little time in a story world before I can do much of an outline. So outlining works better for me if I've already written a couple chapters.
  • The story can read "flat." Stories, especially first drafts, that are written from an outline can sometimes have the feel of being scenes checked off a list. Scene A - check. Scene B - check. While the writer didn't spend as much time staring at their manuscript going, "Okay, what should happen next?" their book often lacks the fluidity of a story that wasn't plotted. This causes:
  • Gaps. Something about the outlining process, I've noticed, leaves gaps in the narrative. Instead of a plot arc or character arc, it feels more like dashed lines, and you're jumping from one to the next.
Method #2: Pantsing

Pantsing is the often used slang used for writers who write "by the seat of their pants" rather than with an outline.

Pros for Pantsing:

  • Freedom to write! Your time isn't clogged up with all those scene cards and character spreadsheets. Instead you're in the story, living the dream. Bliss.
  • You're on the journey for the first time, same as your characters. And this draws out fresh, real emotions. For a lot of pantsing writers, their biggest fear about the outline is losing the sense of discovery and wonder when writing the first draft.
  • No one saw your plot twist coming - not even you! Who knew the villain was going to knock on the main character's door with a gun? Not the reader, and not even the author when he wrote it the first time. Or I've received a lot of comments on how well the love triangle is done in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, how it doesn't feel contrived or arranged. I think that's because it wasn't. When I was thinking about Ellie's story, Chase didn't even factor in. And then he just wouldn't go away. And then I wasn't sure I wanted him to go away. Would the Ellie-Chase-Palmer element of the book be as good if I had planned it? I don't think so.
Cons for Pantsing:

  • THE REWRITES. The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series was completely pantsed, and I learned that I do NOT like being a pantser on a short deadline. Wow, is that stressful. It was fine when I had years to write the first book, but not so much when I only had months for books two and three. First drafts for pantsers tend to be full of bunny trails, foreshadowing that goes no where, and characters who randomly appear in chapter 30 but who act like they've been there all along.
  • Did I mention the REWRITES?
  • When writing a series, you might miss out on cool opportunities because you didn't plan ahead. For a published author, anyway. You can't plan that cool hint in book one, because you didn't think of it until you were working on book three. 

Secret Method # 3: Plantsing
The best of both worlds?

I'm a pantser by default, but I desperately wanted to be a planner. Especially after the crazy year of trying to get my pantsed, contracted books turned in on time. And this is when I "discovered" secret option number three. A blend of plotting and pantsing. Pantsing for that artist in me who didn't like to be boxed in, but plotting for the writer who didn't like how much she had to cut/rewrite/rearrange in her second drafts.

So I started trying out plotting techniques and seeing what worked and what didn't. I've learned making a spreadsheet ahead of time makes me cranky, though I fill one out as I write just to keep all the character facts straight. I've learned I enjoy writing a book synopsis when I haven't written the book yet, so I do that after writing a few chapters. And last time I tried plotting out a few key scenes in the book, and it made a big difference in rewrites, so I'll probably continue to do that.

What about you? Plotter? Pantser? If you're a "plantser" like me, do you lean more towards plotting or pantsing?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What is a One Sheet and How Do You Make One?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

A one sheet is a one-page advertisement for you and your book. Authors take them to writers conferences to give to editors and agents. While most editors and agents won't take a full manuscript or even sanple chapters these days, they might take a one-sheet that intrigues them. Think of it as a business card for your novel. If an agent or editor keeps yours, that's pretty cool.

What goes on a one sheet? They're simple. You need the book title, your name, a one-sentence hook, your back cover blurb, a short bio, and, if you'd like, an image.

Easy peasy.

Some people are more creative than others. But it's the information on the one-sheet that interests editors and agents, not your Photoshopping or drawing ability. So, if you're aren't super creative in that department, don't worry.

Since I'm a vistual learner, I figured examples are better than any instuctions I could type. So check these out. These are all one sheets for books that sold. You should be able to click on them to see a bigger image. If not, I put the image URL underneath each one sheet.

My original title for Replication was Jason Farms. I intended for it to be a trilogy. I got an offer for just the first book, and as far as I know, the publisher has no plans to continue the series. For more information on Replication, click here:

This trilogy was written by my friend Nicole O'Dell. It's a fabulous group of books. I've read them all. Each follows the story of a different girl who gets into trouble and moves to Diamond Estates for help. And doesn't Nicole design amazing one sheets? For more information on this series, click here:

Ah, The New Recruit. My first book. See that funny little cover in the bottom left-hand corner? I made that in case I needed to self publish the book. [Rolls eyes] Thankfully, I waited. I like my final cover so much better. And the story ended up being much better too. For more information, click here:

(One sheet url:

Running Lean was written by my friend Diana Sharples. It's one of the best stories I've ever read. I encourage you all to go pre-order it on or B& right now! Blink YA Books is publishing it in August. It's an AMAZING book! For more information, click here:

Have you made a one sheet? Feel free to ask questions about them or post a link to your own in the comments.

Monday, July 22, 2013

New Writing Contest: I've never been the type...

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Wow. It's been way too long since I wrote a new contest announcement!

The writing prompt for this contest is:

I've never been the type of girl to say 
I've never been the type of guy to say

This is a 150 word contest, and the prompt sentence must be first line of your entry. You can't add or subtract words from the prompt sentence.

Think of your entry as being the opening 150 words of a story. You're not trying to tell an entire story in 150 words, you're trying to do the same thing that the opening paragraph of a novel would do.

Your entry is due Monday, July 29th, 2013 by 11:59 pm central time and must be submitted using the Google form below.

This contest is for writers ages 21 and under, and each writer is allowed only one entry.

The judges will be using this form to evaluate entries. All writers who enter will receive feedback.

The judge's this round are:

Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Roseanna M. White

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dream Killers by Lorie Langdon

Lorie Langdon has wanted to write her own novels since she was a wee girl reading every Judy Blume book she could get her hands on. So a few years ago, she left her thriving corporate career to satisfy the voices in her head. Now as a full-time author and stay-at-home mom, she spends her summers editing poolside while dodging automatic water-gun fire, and the rest of the year tucked into her cozy office, Havanese puppy by her side, working to translate her effusive imagination into the written word.

Her debut novel, DOON, Brigadoon reimagined, is co-written w/Carey Corp. Book one will be released 8/20/13 from the new YA imprint BLINK (a division of Zondervan/HarperCollins)

The Dream Killers
We all know them, those people who think it’s their purpose on earth to direct the lives of others—to suck the life out of our “impractical” dreams with logic and statistics. They have the best intentions. But they can’t seem to stop themselves from painting the worst case scenario. And if we aren’t careful, their doomsday predictions will cause us to veer off the path we know in our hearts we are meant to take.  

To understand my Dream Killer experience, let’s take a quick peek into the past…

Story telling is in my blood. Even as a little girl, the dramas I created for Barbie, Skipper and Ken would take days to act out—and usually involve the evil Donny and Marie twins, a mischievous Holly Hobby and a gaggle of Smurf secondary characters.

But it wasn’t until I discovered reading fiction that my obsessive affair with words began. I would spend hours upon hours in my room with Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, L. Frank Baum, or Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still remember the intense excitement of discovering a new book at the local library and running all the way home so I could devour it like a pint of triple chocolate ice cream.

So it was no surprise to anyone that, like my hero Lois Lane, I chose journalism as my major in college. It wasn’t fiction, but at that time writing my own novels hadn’t even entered my mind. I imagined myself as an investigative reporter, chasing the facts that would make a good story, great!

At the beginning of my junior year, I was well on my way to my dream job, when a “well-intentioned” professor sat me down and gave me the talk. You know the one: “You’ll never make any money writing for a newspaper. It’s pure grunt work, writing stories about old women who take in stray cats. It’s a waste of your talent.” “The hours are horrible – don’t you want to have a family some day?” And then the clincher: “What you really need to do is broadcast journalism. With your looks, you could get a job at a big network!”

Ah hello, introvert here. Just reading aloud in front of the class made me hyperventilate. Sure, I wanted adventure, but behind the scenes. Not in front of a camera where hundreds of thousands of people could scrutinize my every move! But I also didn’t want to write uninteresting stories for no money and work crazy hours. So, I went to my guidance counselor and changed my major to the uber-practical Sociology with an emphasis in Human Resources.

Since I’ve been pursuing writing as a career, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “That’s nice that you write books, but the chances of anything you write being in a bookstore is astronomically low.” Or something similar.

Wrong, sir WRONG!
If you have a dream, no matter how impractical or unrealistic, you do everything within your power to pursue it. You work towards that goal every single day until you accomplish it. I’m not saying it will be easy or there won’t be times you want to give up, (or throw your computer through a window. Just sayin’) but don’t you dare listen to the Dream Killers out there who want you to fit their mold of success!
And yes, my debut novel, DOON, will be hitting *bookstore shelves everywhere* August 20th of this year. :-D

Take that, you Dream Killers!

Today we're giving away an advance reader copy of Doon! Enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months. But the Scottish countryside holds other plans. Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt---and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for... or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

5 Ways to Make a Series Work

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t homeschooling her kids or writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.

Stephanie has blogged on here before about how sometimes an idea demands a series, and other times one book is all it takes. Sometimes series are trendy and sometimes editors chant "stand alone!" at us, but if you decide on a series, you still have some figuring to do. So with the debut of my first-ever published sequel but days away (squeeeeeeee!), I thought that today I'd doff my editor hat that I usually wear in my Go Teen Writers posts and don my writer cap to chat with you guys about series.

First, let's touch briefly on the different kinds of series:

A. The Continuity Series
These are all about the same character(s), each with a complete story arc, but subsequent books picking up more or less where previous ones left off. Some fine examples of continuity series are: The Hunger Games Trilogy, The Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt, Blood of Kings...and pretty much every other YA series I could think of. ;-)

B. The Stand-Alone Series
In a stand-alone series, there will be common threads and characters through the books, but each title will have a new hero/heroine and a completely new plot line. The idea is to be able to read them out of order...but there may be spoilers in book 2 for book 1 (like knowing what characters ended up with whom or whether they solved the mystery), so it's still best to read them in order. Examples: Daughters of Boston, The Chronicles of Narnia's later books, The Wrinkle in Time books, Culper Ring Series (yes, plugging myself. Aren't I clever? LOL)

C. The Single Titles Series
This one is a little trickier. A lot of publishers are now doing series or lines by multiple authors that all have a single common thread. For example, Abingdon's Quilts of Love line, where quilting is all that each books will share with any other book in the line. They have something in common, but the books are completely independent. Sometimes one author does these too, like Denise Hunter's Nantucket series...or my upcoming Let Me Count the Ways. In these books, there may be a common setting or theme, but there's absolutely no reference to previous books in subsequent ones.

So let's say you've decided to write a series, and you know what type it will be. When I first started writing, my ideas almost always came to me in trilogies...though more often than not I'd move on to a whole different idea after one book rather than getting past chapter 8 of a sequel. And the more experience I gained, the more I had to ask myself why.

I think writing a series can be difficult for a couple reasons. Aside from the writer getting bored with an idea or character (so been there!), there's a delicate balance to strike. You have to bring readers up-to-speed in book 2 or 3, since it could have been months or years since they read the previous one(s), but not bore them with facts they already know. You have to weave in backstory from previous books without making it scream "Backstory!" (which we all know is a no-no in the beginning of a book). You have to have common themes so they're all tied together, without being redundant.

Though I have 25 manuscripts finished right now, I'd only ever written one full series of 3 (still unpublished) before I signed a contract with Harvest House for the Culper Ring Series. I was confident I could do it, but there were challenges I hadn't anticipated. Having just turned in the final one though, and with Whispers from the Shadows hitting shelves so soon, I now have a list of things that work and things that don't.

Common Themes

Though my series is generational, what pulls each book together is the Culper Ring, a band of tight-knit family and friends who began spying for General Washington in the Revolution (true history!) and (fictitiously) continue guiding the nation in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. So obviously, themes of liberty run through each one. Every series, no matter what type it is, does this, because it would be pretty shocking if book 1 was all about facing your fears on a skateboarding half-pipe, and then number 2 was about falling in love over old letters found in attic. Common themes are what make a series feel whole. But they need to each be unique. So some ways to do that:

Ask a New Question

In Ring of Secrets, the question that my characters always came back to was this: What would you sacrifice to serve your cause?

In Whispers from the Shadows, my characters face a new question: How do you know who to trust?

Book 3, Circle of Spies, asks: Are you free?

Face New Problems

We also have to be careful each book is covering new ground in terms of action. Katniss couldn't just win the Games in all 3 Hunger Games books, right? Her opponents changed with each one, getting bigger and more serious as the series went on, and the action went from one arena to another to the real world.

In my series, though each set in a war, the characters face very different problems, sometimes fighting behind the scenes, and sometimes on the front lines.

Approach the Plot from New Directions

Fresh plot isn't enough though. We also need to be careful not to overuse the same plot devices. Some I found myself trying to repeat (keeping in mind these are historical romances):

  • Love triangles
  • Love at first sight
  • Falling in love with the enemy
  • Heroine/Hero distrusting each other
  • Secrets between main characters
  • Mistaken/hidden identity
Don't just tell a new story, tell it in a new way.

Common Threads

One thing I really loved doing in the Culper Ring Series though was pulling threads from book 1 all the way through the series. I had a few tangible things that traveled through the generations with my characters: a book of prayers; a pearl necklace; sign language. These were three things that were so important to the Ring of Secrets that I decided to keep them going. But it's tricky! Because it's not enough to keep them there--I also have to keep them relevant. How do we do that?

My best advice is to use nothing in vain--if it's there, give it a real purpose. Let's take my sign language thread as an example. In book 1, Winter knows a precursor to American Sign Language because her grandmother went deaf, so her father and his friend got some books on signs and used them to create a method to communicate. She and her guardian (father's friend) use it to communicate covertly in New York City. Hero sees it, asks to learn...and uses a sign at the end to help the heroine convince someone of who she is.

In book 2, my hero is the son of the characters from book 1, so he grew up knowing signs as well. We see him use them a few times throughout the book, and his parents use them when they don't want the heroine to understand what they're saying. She, however, asks to learn a few signs later that carry special meaning to the hero.

So, having it in two books, I had to use it in the third (law of threes, you know). But I had to find a new way to make it relevant. I pondered this for a while before I came to my forehead-slapping moment. Through the other two books, the signs were more a tool of espionage than why not make it fresh by returning to the roots? I brought in a deaf child whose parents want to be able to communicate with her. And my self-absorbed heroine had to face some demons to be able to help.

In Review

So to sum it all up, writing a series is a lot like writing any slew of books in that we need to be aware of our fall-backs as writers--and avoid them. We need to keep each story unique and fresh and make sure it's complete...but there are also some quirks unique to a series. You have to have thing that draw them together, you have to draw readers from one to another, which means making them invest in your world.

Questions about the nitty gritty or overall of writing a series? Ask away!

And also, because I'm celebrating the release of that second book in my first-ever-published series, every day in July I'm giving away a copy of book 1, Ring of Secrets, on my blog. Hop on over to for chances at that every day, as well as at one bonus prize each week! And if you haven't already, I would so appreciate it if you'd download Fairchild's Lady, Culper Ring Series 1.5--a FREE novella. It's available from Amazon, CBD, B&N, iTunes, and GooglePlay.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How do I make sure I'm being original in my writing?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

A writer emailed me and asked, "How do I stay an original author? I found that I have to stop reading books, or I'll end up copying the author one way or another in my own writing. Please help!"

If you're a young or new writer, you're (likely) still hunting down your voice. Borrowing from what you've read is part of that journey.

Like when I read This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen about 10 years ago, I discovered two techniques that were totally new to me. One is Sarah's tendency to start a scene, then flash back for a couple paragraphs to something that happened in between this scene and the last, and then come back to the current scene. The other was how she uses em-dashes to separate an action beat in the middle of dialogue. (“Do you have any idea”—the voice is husky and warm in my ear—“how obvious that is?”)

These are techniques that I've grafted into my own writing style, and that's an okay thing to do. But what about story ideas?

One thing I would say is that it's okay if your story has elements of other stories, and might even help you when you're trying to sell it. Which is why book ideas get pitched as things like, "It's Indiana Jones meets Pride and Prejudice!" or "It's Harry Potter but with Amish!"

Something has to spark a story idea - and if it's the movie you just watched or the book you just read, that's okay. Your job becomes making it yours. A premise can sound similar to another book, yet be so completely different in execution, you never think to compare the two. (Jill Williamson's The New Recruit is a good example of this - I had never even considered the similarities to Harry Potter until she pointed them out to me!)

If you're worried you're copying too much of another idea, I would make a list. I would list in very specific terms what you're concerned about copying. 

Not just "the plot." Are you worried that your characters have to fight to the death like in The Hunger Games? That your vampires also sparkle in the sun? What is it? The more specific you are, the better chance you have of fixing the problem early on.

And then I would look at each thing one-by-one and brainstorm new solutions. Say your character is an orphaned boy left on a doorstep and you've decided you want to fix that cliche, so you set to work on your "instead" list. Here's what it might look like:

He's not orphaned - he was kidnapped as a baby and never realized it until now
His parents are actually in jail.
His parents work a lot, so his big sister practically raises him

And so on. Pretty soon, I bet you'll hit on something you like. And if you do this for each story element that you think is a bit too close to something else, at the end of the day, you'll probably be the only one who knows your book idea was inspired by The Devil Wears Prada

Awhile ago, I read the craft book Story by Robert McKee, which is intended for screenwriters but has a lot of great stuff for novelists as well. I adored his chapter on setting, and how a story's setting is the author's best weapon in the "war on cliche."

He said, "Knowledge of and insight into the world of your story is fundamental to the achievement of originality and excellence."

That really rang true to me. So while it may be that, while working on a first draft, you need to put aside reading books in the same genre, I wouldn't overlook the value of deeply understanding the story world, characters, and the conflict in your book when it comes to achieving originality.

Do any of you have advice to offer our writer friend on being original? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Integrating Your Storyworld

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

You’ve spend a lot of time planning out your storyworld. You may even have recently been cured of storyworld builders disease. Now you’re finally writing the book, but the pieces aren’t falling into place! How do you use all the cool stuff you’ve created? Where does it fit in your book without turning into an info dump? Do you need an index of terms? A prologue that explains the backstory? What do you do?

1. Don’t panic.
It’s great that you know so much about your storyworld. But don’t panic if you aren’t finding places to put everything when you’re writing your first draft. The first-draft stage isn’t the time to get everything right. So, get the thing written, even if it’s a mess. Keep in mind that your characters should experience the world as they experience the plot. So look for places to describe interesting scenery, plant life, or beasties, weapons, vehicles, or magic. Whenever possible, make it part of the action.

2. Story is key.
You may have created the coolest storyworld ever, but if you don’t have amazing characters and a gripping plot, no one will likely care. Focus on writing a strong story apart from the storyworld. If you have that, then add a great storyworld to it, and your story will rock.

Hopefully there are parts of your storyworld that will be a part of your plot. Look through your storyworld info and see what you’ve already worked into the first draft and what is missing. For the things that are missing, brainstorm ways that each aspect might tie in with characters, the overall plot, or subplots. Some things just might not fit. And that’s okay. You don’t have to use everything.

3. Most the magic happens in the rewrite.
Once you’ve written your first draft and have taken a good look at your characters and plot, now it’s time to look for places to integrate your storyworld. Pass through the book once, editing for dialogue and fit in any storyworld phrases, language, and slang. Pass through again and look for storyworld terms that you need to make consistent. For example, in my book Captives, people don’t “hail” taxis, they “wave” them. But I forget when I’m writing fast, so I catch those in my rewrites.

Edit for consistency in your magic, weather, or whatever cool things you have. If you’re trying to work in history, be choosy. It’s usually not necessary to give the reader everything. History can be delivered to the reader in creative ways. Have you tried any of these: One character can tell others a story. A character can find a book of history. Rituals can be performed in religion or for holiday that are based on historical events. Traditions can be based on history, whether it be types of foods, ways of naming children, promoting soldiers, or arranging furniture in a house. Superstitions come from history too. As do cautionary tales or things parents might warn their children about (Beware of glowing rocks in the bottom of a lake.)

4. Prologues are allowed.
If you feel like it is the best way to tell the story, go ahead and use a prologue, just beware of the cliché prologues that tell an ancient history or leave a baby on a doorstep. I’m not saying you can’t use those, just know that lots and lots of people have. So you need to make yours different.

5. Use an index if you have to.
Indexes might overwhelm your reader, especially if you put it in the front of the book. I’m a fan of indexes in the back, though that is a decision the publisher might make for you.

6. You don’t have to use it all.
Just because you thought of it, doesn’t mean it has to go in the book. Fight the urge to put it all in. It’s not necessary. Part of storyworld building is for you to get to know your world so you can get to know your characters so you can write a believable fantasy or science fiction story. Use what fits naturally and doesn’t feel forced. Leave the rest in your file for some other story.

Any questions? 

Monday, July 15, 2013

How long should a micro edit take?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Today is (I'm fairly sure) the last day for the sale of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. So if you're wanting it for your Kindle/Kindle app for $2.99, make sure to grab it before the sale expires.

I've been frantically working on edits for the second Ellie Sweet book, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, which hits digital bookshelves this November. It had been awhile since I had done a micro edit, and I had forgotten just how time consuming and mentally absorbing the process is.

After complaining to my husband that each page seemed to be taking a half hour to edit, I decided to time myself on a few full pages (not ones with chapter headers and such) which are usually about 500 words long. Here were my results: (Minutes/seconds)


But why was does it sometimes take thirty-seven minutes to edit 500 words? Because the micro edit is the time to question everything.

Is that the word I want to use? Did I research that fact? Should I move this scene to later? Why is this character here but not another character? This scene says it takes place Monday, but that can't be right for this and this reason. What's a non-cliche way to describe relief flooding a person?

And on it goes.

I thought you might be interested in seeing the before and after. These are two different sections that I reworked on Saturday. Since this is from the sequel to The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, I tried to pick bits that wouldn't give away anything too big:

First draft:

Mom holds my gaze until I turn and look at the TV, feigning interest in the man screaming at me about the outrages of publicly funded preschools.
On the drive home, as we pass Karen’s old house, Mom looks over her seat and asks, “Does Karen know Leo’s back in town?”
It’s not betraying my aunt to say yes, is it? Mom had sounded so worried over having to break the news to her. I nod.
“Has she seen him yet?”
I bite my lip. That might be conveying too much information.
“Never mind.” Mom faces forward again. “I don’t want to put you in a bad situation with your aunt.”
“Thank you,” I whisper.* (This asterisk means that when I wrote my first draft, I didn't want to use the word whispered, but I couldn't think of anything else, so I left it but made an asterisk to tell my future self - "hey, replace this later.)
Micro-edited draft:

Mom holds my gaze until I turn and look at the TV, as if I’m interested in the red-faced man hollering about the outrages of publicly-funded preschools.
On the drive home, as we pass Karen’s old house, Mom looks over her seat. “Does Karen know Leo’s back in town?”
Is it betraying my aunt to say yes? Mom sounded so worried about having to break the news to her…
I nod.
“Has she seen him yet?”
I bite my lip. That seems like more than I should divulge.
“Never mind.” Mom faces forward. “I don’t want to put you in a tough spot with your aunt.”
And then I cut that last sentence because I decided Ellie would probably just stay quiet. Here's another one:

First draft:
I draw in a deep breath. “I’m worried about you. All week, you’ve kept getting worse. I just…just wanted to call.”
This time, Palmer sighs. “You didn’t have to do that, Gabrielle. I told you, I’m a big boy, and I can handle this.”
“You seem like you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“I can handle a little sleep loss. It’s late, and you should be sleeping.”
“My Grandmom mentioned you at dinner tonight,” I say. “She said she missed having you bring her lunch, that you were always real friendly.”
Palmer snorts. “You’d never have known she thought that by the way she acted.”
“Grandmom always likes people better in hindsight. Even me. She always talks like I was some magical child, but I remember when I was a child feeling like I was the biggest pain in her butt.”
His chuckle is soft. “That’s hard to imagine. I bet you were a great kid. The quiet type who sat in the corner and read.”
“Something like that.”
And the micro-edited version:

I draw in a deep breath. “I’m worried about you. All week, you’ve kept getting worse. I just…wanted to call and see if I could help.”
“I told you—I’m a big boy. I can handle this.”
I wind a curly strand of hair around my finger. Unwind. “You look like you haven’t been sleeping well.”
“I can handle a little sleep loss. It’s late—you should be sleeping.”
“My Grandmom mentioned you at dinner tonight.” I brush back my bangs from where they tickle my forehead. “She said she misses you bringing her lunch. That you were always ‘a real friendly young man.’”
Palmer snorts. “You’d never know she thought that by the way she acted.”
“I’m convinced Grandmom likes people better in hindsight. Even me. She’ll talk like I was some magical child, but as a kid I always felt like I was the biggest pain in her butt.”
“That’s hard to imagine. I bet you were a great kid. The quiet type who sat in the corner and read.”
I smile in the dark of my room. “Yep, that was me.”
When I'm doing micro edits, I rarely leave a sentence untouched. And if I do, it's after I stared at it for a minute and thought through other options.

While this round of edits is tedious, it means that my next draft will be mostly polishing, tweaking, and smoothing. That read-through goes much quicker.

Any questions about micro-editing? Do you enjoy editing? What's your favorite/least favorite part?

And, since today is Connor's third birthday, and since I rarely pass up opportunities to show pictures of my kids, here's one I snapped of him at his baseball birthday party last Friday:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Creating Unique Voices with Dialogue

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

One of the best ways to characterize is through dialogue. The way people speak, the things they say---and think ... it shows the reader who the characters are. It shows what they care about and what they think of the world or their situation.

Here is an example of two characters from my book Captives. Notice how very different their dialogue is. It reflects how very different they are from each other.

       “Hi, Mason.” Jemma looked up from the flowers and smiled. “How are you today?”
       “Fine. Looking for Omar.” Unlike most people, when Jemma asked, “How are you?” she truly wanted to know. But if Mason had answered truthfully, Jemma would insist on more information. And Mason had no time for Jemma’s compassion today. “Have you seen him?”
       “Not since the harvest field this morning,” she said. “I hope you find him. Levi says your father might have made him a match.”
       “Yes, well, my father and Levi’s enthusiasm in this matter only enforces my skepticism.”
       “Mason.” After staring at the centerpiece for a moment, Jemma pulled a mule’s ear from her hand and threaded the flower into the arrangement. “You should be happy for Omar. Getting married would be wonderful for him.”
       “I’m not unhappy. I simply see no point in celebrating that which has not yet taken place.”
       Jemma practically sang her reply. “ ‘You can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.’ ”
       Mason frowned, pondering her words. “That’s not yours, is it?”
       “Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite Old books. And Anne is right. So go find Omar so you can celebrate.”
       Mason left without offering a reply and made his way back across the square to the stage. He suspected his brother would have many baffling encounters with his new bride. How women could find joy in the marriage of complete strangers, Mason would never understand.

In Captives, Jemma is a bubbly, happy person. A romantic, who refuses to be hopeless. She wears her heart on her sleeve. Mason is practical and busy. And blunt.

Here are some examples you might recognize:

"Farewell, Daughter of Eve," said he."Perhaps I may keep the handkerchief?"
(The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis)

"Easy, Ponyboy. They ain't gonna hurt you no more."
"I know," I said, but the ground began to blur and I felt hot tears running down my cheeks. I brushed them away impatiently. "I'm just a little spooked, that's all." I drew in a quivering breath and quit crying. You just don't cry in front of Darry. Not unless you're hurt like Johnny had been that day we found him in the vacant lot. Compared to Johnny I wasn't hurt at all.
(The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton)

"It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will."
(Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery)

"No one wants to upset me! That's a good one!" howled Myrtle. "My life was nothing but misery at this place and now people come along ruining my death!"
(Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling)

"Don't you 'what Mama' me, you little Saumensch!"
(The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

Mr. Neck: "We meet again."
Would he listen to "I need to go home and change," or "Did you see what that bozo did"? Not a chance. I keep my mouth shut.
Mr. Neck: "Where do you think you're going?"
It's easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it.
(Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson)

What are some of our favorite lines of dialogue from books? Post them in the comments.

Also, Stephanie is giving away a copy of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet on the blog of our friend, Roseanna M. White. If you're wanting to win a copy, hop on over there!