Friday, August 30, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the Civilization

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.

Hobbits, trollocs, clerics, gars, dragons, Kingons, Fremen, myrdral, Wookies, Time Lords, kinsmen, vampires, Borg, tribbles, Uruk-hai, squibs, Chandrian, Terminators, Nazgul, crowls, werewolves, The Visitors, muggles, bloodvoicers, elves, Vulcans, Tines, Extractors, mistwraiths, Reavers, and Weeping Angels.

These are beings, creatures, or types of people that someone created, someone who was once like you, learning to tell stories, learning to write. And these authors invented these incredible characters that have become real in our minds and hearts--and sometimes nightmares.

You have the ability to create such coolness for your readers. Isn't that sweet?

Civilization encompasses species, magic, racial/ethnic groups, cultures, way of life, religions, language, occupations, and technology. I'm going to break this topic up over a few posts since it's so vast. So today we're talking about species or types of beings and creatures.

When you create a type of people or being, it can be a lot of work. I like to start with something generic, like: Gitals are human, but they use telepathy instead of speaking; kilns are dog-like creatures that walk on two legs and can speak to humans; swigs are slug-like creatures that stick to people like leeches and suck the water from your body.

But those simple definitions aren't enough. If I want to make these beings realistic to my readers, I need to put in the time to get to know these beings. I need to study them. The trick is, I need to invent the material I'm looking to study. Kind of fun, huh?

Sometimes your simple definition will be enough physical description, but not always. Maybe female swigs are brown and male swigs are black. Maybe kilns have opposable thumbs but also have retractable claws. And perhaps one can't tell a gital from a mute because they don't look any differently at all from humans. Think about Time Lords for a moment and the way their biology allows them to regenerate when they're mortally wounded. That's an awesome physical trait.

The ninth Doctor regenerates into the tenth.

I mentioned that the gital speak with telepathy, but I could take that further. Just like with regular speech, there are dialects of speech patterns or social classes. So it might be fun to explore what that might mean for telepathy. Perhaps our dog-like kilns have canine instincts, a pack mentality, an alpha male. Maybe they have a heightened sense of smell. Or maybe we should forget comparing them to dogs at all. Most authors do the easy idea. And that's not always wrong. But it might be more unique to spin this in a different way. We could give those canine attributes to our slug-like swigs. Let them have the pack mentality and heightened sense of smell. Then we could give the dog-like kilns different instincts. Maybe they're nomadic and they travel for mating like penguins or salmon or something like that.

In the movie Minority Report, there are three mutated human precogs, who have the psychic ability to predict crimes for the PreCrime division of the police department. So people are apprehended based on that foreknowledge. Precogs also have a hive mind. Pretty creepy cool, huh?

Precogs from Minority Report

Not every being or creature needs magical abilities, but for those that do, think it WAY through. I'm going to do a post on magic next week and throw lots of types of magic at you. But think about how these magical abilities flow and contrast with the being's physical or mental abilities. And there should be different levels of skill involved too. In the Lord of the Rings, Galadriel had an extraordinary ability to peer into the minds of others, see their intentions, read their thoughts, and speak to them. Yet very few other elves had this ability.

Galadriel pours water into her mirror

Every people and creature should have characteristics that set some apart from others. Different groups that share distinctive physical attributes, cultures, religions, languages, and/or ways of life. Think about the how your beings might have naturally divided themselves due to an ability or a physical feature like the Sneetches with or without stars on their bellies. Or maybe there is a history that set apart different peoples. They could me a majority or a minority. Magical ability or lack thereof. In the Star Trek episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, the crew of the Enterprise encounter Lokai and Bele, two men with faces that are half white and half black, only the colors appear reversed from each other, a fact which seems inconsequential to the crew, but is an irreconcilable racial hatred between the two alien men. Make sure to give conflicts to your racial and ethnic groups.

Lokai and Bele from Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Think about the way of life for every being and creature in your story. What do they eat? Where do they live? Do they live in separate family groups or in some other manner? Are they educated in schools, in an apprentice/master style, or is that not applicable? Do they care about arts, manners, morality, upholding any laws? Are they poor or wealthy? What about gender roles? In both the book and movie Starship Troopers, everyone, male or female, had the right to enter the Federal Service and assume full citizenship.

What do your characters believe and why? Do they worship based on observation? The sun gives light therefore they worship it? How about cataclysmic events like earthquakes, eclipses, meteorites, or volcanoes? An ancient book? Writings on the wall of a cave? If there is magic in your world or beings that have magical abilities, it could be that regular folk think they're gods. In the film Avatar, the Na'vi worship a goddess called Eywa. The trick to making religion work in your books is to have more than one type or sect of religion and make them clash with each other.

Neytiri played by Zoe Saldana in the movie Avatar
There are two areas of language: creating a foreign language and slang. I'm not going to talk too much about either of these since I wrote detailed posts on both already. You can create your own languages for your different peoples, but be careful that they aren't confusing and don't take over your story. Click here to read my post on how to create your own language. Another part of language for any type of people is the slang and special sayings they use. Click here to read my post on creating swearing and slang for your storyworld.

Depending on all the cool things you developed for your planet, you should have some interesting types of industry, right? Farming, mining, types of educators. What do your people do for a living? Are they paid or do they do it to survive? Is there money in your world or do people trade goods, use some sort of futuristic credits, or have they done away with money altogether like in Star Trek?

In my Blood of Kings books, since I had the magic of bloodvoicing, I created bloodvoice mediators. These were gifted men or women who sat in on trials to confirm whether or not a defendant or witness was speaking the truth. In the movie Equilibrium, clerics arrest sense offenders for breaking the law. I already mentioned those creepy precogs from Minority Report. How about the extractors from the movie Inception, who go in and steal people's dreams? What kinds of interesting jobs can you create from what you've already brainstormed for your planet or civilizations?

Leo and company looking to steal some secrets from your dreams in Inception

Decide on the level of technology for each type of people and creature in your book. They don't have to be the same and probably shouldn't be. The four most important things to consider with technology are vehicles, weapons, medicine, and communication. Make sure you take the time to think through each of these for each of your different peoples.

They key to taking all this cool stuff you've brainstormed and making it work in a novel is how it all interacts with each other. Look for points of conflict. How will your different beings and creatures interact with one another, with technology, with the magic? And when you give your characters story goals, how will those intersect with things in your setting?

In my Blood of Kings book, Achan learns that he has the ability to bloodvoice, but he doesn't know how to use it and his untrained voice is a continual beacon to the bad guys chasing him. Vrell is also learning to bloodvoice, but she is afraid of Achan's power and worried that he will find out who she really is. Plus they're traveling through pitch black Darkness, which makes everything more complicated.

In my book Captives, the rebels have to cut out SimTags from their hands to avoid detection from the government's grid, and they wear them in gloves when they want to be seen on the grid. Mason is a doctor and is helpful in that he can quickly remove SimTags from others. That makes Mason important to the rebellion in a special way.

I know this is a lot to think about. And I don't recommend doing it all in one day. In fact, the best way to do this is to start with that simple overview, then when you get stuck and realize that you don't know enough, take some time to brainstorm that part more. You only have to brainstorm the things you need. Don't waste days and weeks planning cool types of technology if it has no place in your plot. Be wise with your time. Be strategic. The goal is to brainstorm what's important to the story well enough so that your reader thinks you've done everything in the entire world and they become so immersed in your storyworld they don't want to leave. Ever.

What are some of your favorite fictional beings in science fiction or fantasy? Share in the comments.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How Bad Can A Bad First Draft Be?

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.

If you've been a reader of the Go Teen Writers blog for awhile, then you've possibly already seen this article. I wrote it back in the spring when Jill and I did our Go Teen Writers blog tour, but I've never posted it here. Since I mentioned bad first drafts in yesterday's post about that first slip of momentum, and since many of you said in the comments that don't edit as you write, that you just try to press on with the first draft I thought it might be helpful to post about what exactly should be involved in writing a bad first draft.

You've likely heard writers talk about writing "bad first drafts." This is something I first learned about in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, the idea that you can make more progress in writing by not worrying about every teensy-tiny detail and editing each scene until it's perfect, but instead by writing a bare bones first draft and then going back to revise.

Not all writers do this, but for those of us who write bad firsts, I think it begs the question of, "How bad can a useful first draft be?"

The bones of the story should be there on the page.

When you finish your first draft, the elements of the story should be there. Maybe a couple characters are flat, that plot twist isn't quite there yet, and the ending is rushed, but you should have something you can work with and shape. Like a lump of Play-Doh that you're trying to mold - the Play Doh has to be there before you can make it into anything. Maybe your character's black moment still needs to be darker but you should have what you need to shape it into a black moment.

If the story bones aren't there yet, then your first priority should be to write them. Because you don't want to spend a bunch of time tweaking descriptions of your main character's school if you haven't yet figured out how your story is going to end.

It should be a length you can work with.

Some writers are putter-inners and some are taker-outers. By which I mean some naturally write long and have to cut back their words and others write bare bones and have to go in and flesh out their stories. If you're writing in hopes of getting published, you'll need to pay attention to what word count you want to hit, and then figure out where your first draft needs to be.

I'm a putter-inner. So I know that if I want my book to be 90,000 words, I need a first draft around 77 to 80,000 words long. My friend Roseanna White is a taker-outer so for a first draft of 100,000 words, she knows she needs to reign herself in around 110,000 or so.

You should still like the story.

When I finish a first draft, I usually feel pretty drained. I've been pushing myself hard to finish, and I'm ready for a break. I try to take six weeks off after my first draft. When I come back to it, I need to still like it. I see lots of things that need fixing, but I should also see promise and feel excited about edits. If I don't, I'm in trouble.

This has only happened to me once where I finished a first draft, reread it six weeks later, and had a good long cry because the book was just so bad. I put the book away and I've never pulled it back out. During that six weeks off, I had the idea for Me, Just Different, and I saw a lot more promise in it than I did this other story. I decided not to torture myself with edits for this other book, to move on to Skylar and Connor, and I've never regretted it.

So what can be bad?

So what elements of a first draft are okay to be really, truly bad? Here's a list of what typically needs the most work in my edits:
  • My prose. I'm a dialogue girl, so my dialogue is normally decent but my prose needs a lot of smoothing. You might be the opposite.
  • The voice of my "other" characters. They usually all sound the same, like afterthoughts.
  • Drab action beats. My characters do a lot of smiling, sighing, and chuckling in first drafts. I have to clean all that up.
  • Lame twists or surprises. Sometimes I come up with something great in the first draft, but more often than not, I have to work for a more unique twist or surprise connection in the second draft.
  • A rushed pace. Again, I'm a putter-inner, so I typically have a manuscript that sounds very rushed. I have to slow things down and describe more in my second drafts.
The edits can feel overwhelming, especially if you're not a plotter, but many writers grow to love edits even more than they love writing the first draft.

What's your style? Do you write bad first drafts or do you edit as you go?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hiking the Canyon: The First Slip

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.

On Monday, I talked about how I used to think writing a novel was like climbing a mountain, but that more and more I think it's like hiking a canyon. That you start out on top, and that you go down before you come back up.

All writers are different, so your struggles along the hike might be different than mine. Hopefully, even if our struggles are different, some of my suggestions might help you too when you're in places of low momentum.

As I write the first couple chapters of my book, I'm usually flying high. I'm in love with the character, the idea feels fresh, the theme important, and I'm really proud of the foreshadowing I've written.

And then out of nowhere (not always, but often) around the close of the third or fourth chapter, I write in a plot twist that I hadn't planned. Initially I'm excited. But then I glance at those notes I made back in the brainstorming phase, and I have a, "Huh. What now?" moment. How does this new twist fit in? Is it better with it? What does it mean for the rest of the story?

What follows these questions is my first slip in momentum, my first few steps down.

Heading into the canyon
For awhile, I'll sit there at my desk and ponder what to do next. Previously in this place, I've done one of three things:

1. Give up the idea altogether
In my days as a teen writer, this is often when I abandoned a manuscript.

2. Go back and edit what I've already written.
There are wonderful writers out there who edit as they write (Roseanna M. White is one of them) but I always used it as an excuse to not move forward with the story. I would focus on perfecting the beginning and I often would never make it to the middle.

3. Press forward, one stilted word at a time.
This is something I did in the name of "writing bad first drafts." It was okay that I was meandering around with this next scene, because it was a first draft and they're supposed to be bad, right?

I've found that there's a better way for me to work through my first lull. Here are some things that have worked for me, or that I've seen work for other writers:
  • I write my synopsis. It used to be that I wrote my synopses after my novel was done and when I needed it to pitch to a publisher. I hated them. But when I write my synopsis after just a few chapters, I really enjoy the process.
  • I pull out one of my writing exercise books. The ones I use most often are Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass and Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. They have lots of exercises in them for brainstorming your plot and characters, but they often don't work for me in the brainstorming stage. For whatever reason, I need to write a few chapters in the story world to figure out my major players and plot lines before these exercises do me much good.
  • I don't do this, but if you're a visual person, now might be a good time to work on finding pictures of your characters or settings. 
  • I plan out the next couple chapters. Having too much of an outline can stifle me, but if I think through a few different paths for the next chapters, that can make a big difference in the rewrites phase.
  • If I have two options that I can't decide between, I might ask the opinion of a writing friend. What I don't do, however, is send my rough chapters to critique partners. For some of you, having others read your book along the way may not just work well for you, it may be part of your creative process. For me, I can't let too many voices in or I get paralyzed. The first draft is mine, and if I started sharing it with others, I find myself full of doubts. (Or too much confidence - neither is good!)
Is there anything that helps you get back into your story when you've had a momentary setback? If so, please share!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the World

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.

Oz, Wonderland, Narnia, the 100 Acre Wood, Middle Earth, Terabithia, Neverland, the United Federation of Planets, Hogwarts, Jurassic Park, Bedford Falls, Gotham City, and a galaxy far, far away.

These are storyworlds that someone invented, someone who was once like you, learning to tell stories, learning to write. And these authors invented fictional places that have become real in our minds and hearts.

You have the ability to create such a world for readers. Isn't that incredible?

I had the opportunity to teach and speak about storyworld building several times this summer. And I had so much fun doing it, I thought I'd do a series on the topic here. I'm mostly going to talk about mythical storyworlds, but you could apply these same principles in creating a fictional town on earth, like Bedford Falls or Gotham City. I'm going to be talking about this for the next three weeks, so hold on to your fezzes!

The first thing you need to do in storyworld building is decide what kind of story you're going to tell. An epic or high fantasy requires a different level of storyworld building compared to a swords and sorcery or heroic fantasy story. A middle grade science fiction story requires much less storyworld building compared to an adult science fiction one.

So what do you have? Long swords or blasters? Horses or land speeders? Both? And for what age?

Minas Tirith from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
If you're not sure what you're writing, read. Find the books that are similar to yours and note the genre they sold in. If you're not sure which genre you want your story to be, go with your strengths. I am no scientist. The amount of research I need to do to write a believable science fiction novel is tough for me. It doesn't come easily. And that makes it harder for me to tell a good story. So I'd rather write fantasy. But I confess that it took me writing ten books to figure that out. Sometimes you have to try different genres to know what you like best. And that's okay.

Once you know your genre, think about the planet (or planets) in your story. Consider astronomy and things like tides, orbits, habitable zones, suns, moons. In the movie Pitch Black, every twenty-two years, the planet experiences a month-long eclipse when all three suns go dark and the little beasties come out. Consider for your world, how long is a season? It's unlikely that the planet rotates and orbits the same as earth. How long are your days? Years?

Consider the geography of your planet. I've talked before about how I like to start new storyworlds by drawing a map. Whether or not you do draw a map, think about mountains, canyons, plains, and coastlines. When you think about water, remember that rivers flow downhill into bigger bodies of water (bigger rivers or lakes) and eventually into the ocean. How might these things influence your plot? In the Lord of the Rings, the fellowship parted ways when they reached the waterfall on the river Anduin. The water forced them to take another path, and it just so happened that they didn't go together. Study a map of Middle Earth. It has lots of interesting terrain like the Dead Marshes, the Gap of Rohan, Fanghorn Forest, and the mountains of Moria.

Did you know about different types of biomes such as aquatic, desert, forest, grasslands, and tundra? I stumbled onto biome types while reading encyclopedia entries when I was building my Blood of Kings storyworld. You can research what types of plants and animals grow in what types of climates. That can be helpful when brainstorming terrain. Check out this website for more information on biomes.

And while we're talking biomes, what are the temperatures like in your world? What's the weather like? Think about your astronomical factors and how they might affect the climate and weather. In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, the planet experiences seven years of summer and then winter comes, hence the commonly used phrase in the books, "Winter is coming."

What about animal life? Do you have any mythical creatures? Dragons? Unicorns? Something totally unique that you made up? I recently read the book Dune, and I was fascinated by the giant sandworms. Dune wasn't the only story to use giant worms, though the ones in the movie Tremors weren't quite as big. And you couldn't ride them. Let's face it. Riding a sandworm is pretty awesome stuff.

A "Graboid" from Tremors
What about natural resources? In Dune, the planet Arrakis didn't have much water, but it had a lot of "spice," which was an addictive substance that gives the consumer telepathic abilities. In The Empire Strikes Back, the planet Bespin is rich in tibanna gas, which is refined and used to make blasters and coolant for starships. These things affect the story in different ways. In Dune, the desert Fremen learn to recycle their body's water and the overuse of spice turns their eyes blue. In The Empire Strikes Back, Cloud City is rich because of the tibanna gas, which drew the interest of the empire to try and extort money, which was why Lando made the deal to give them Han Solo. The trick isn't merely coming up with all these cool things, but in deciding how they interact and come into conflict with other aspects of your storyworld. That's what makes it interesting.

Consider disease. Could something in your environment cause illnesses? A plant, animal, or something in the air? In Artemis Fowl: the Atlantis Complex, the Atlantis Complex is a psychological disease common in fairies who suffer from guilt. In the real world, Myxomatosis is a disease that affects rabbits and causes blindness and was used in the novel Watership Down. The superflu kills off most of earth's population in Stephen King's The Stand. And in my book Captives, the people in the Safe Lands all have the Thin Plague.

Think about the layout of your settlements. Originally, cities were formed as meeting places for trading goods with other people. Sometimes cities would form because of a specific location that received a lot of traffic like a bay. They might also form near natural resources like a coal mine. What kinds of cities does your world have and why? Consider some interesting cities like the planet Coruscant in Star Wars, where the entire planet is one big city; the Emerald City of Oz, which is green; Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, from the movie The Mummy, a fictional city in which Imhotep's priests were mummified alive; and Brandon Sanderson's Elantris, a city that was once magnificent and now in ruins since the Elantrians lost their powers.

Coruscant from Star Wars

Think about iconic architecture like in earth's own Seven Wonders of the Ancient Word or something as interesting as Stonehenge. What kinds of interesting things can you give your world whether that be great architecture of something else with significant meaning. In my Blood of Kings books, the Memorial Tree is talked about a great deal. It is the tree underneath which the king and queen were murdered, the place where the curse of darkness began.

Think of the lamppost in the Narnia books, the Doctor's Tardis, the castle Hogwarts in Harry Potter, the yellow brick road from Oz, the Daily Planet building from Superman with the giant globe on top, and the USS Enterprise---a building of sorts that travels through space. Or what about the Gates of Argonath or Pillars of Kings from the Lord of the Rings, which are the two gigantic statues of Isildur and AnĂ¡rion that stand on either side of the river Anduin. Pretty sweet, huh?

The Gates of Argonath from Lord of the Rings
So take some time to consider your storyworld thus far. Have you covered all these areas? Have you done lots of one but neglected another? Tell us what you're missing. And if you want, tell us one cool thing you have.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Why Writing a Book is Like Hiking a Canyon

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.

For the last two years, I've given a talk to parents of teen writers at the One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop. I wanted to call it, "How to Prepare to Feed Your Babies to the Wolves," but the director thought that title was somewhat inappropriate. (Imagine that!) Instead I've called it something boring like The Emotional Journey of an Aspiring Novelist.

A lot of parents have approached me and said the talk really helped them understand their teen writer better. I thought it would be interesting to adapt my parent talk and have a similar conversation with you guys, though it's different in that I don't have to explain, "Hey, here's how this makes you feel."

I became serious about getting published my junior year of high school. I had been interesting in writing for years, and I had always planned on being a novelist when I grew up, but that was the year I started actually doing something more than writing a couple chapters here and there. It was when I decided to write an entire book.

At the time I imagined myself at the bottom of a big mountain. Publishing my book was at the top of the mountain, I was at the bottom, and I needed to work my way up. But I don't think that's the most accurate image. Because emotionally speaking, I don't think you start out at the bottom. I think you actually start out on top.

When I have a new story idea, I'm so excited I lay awake at night. I imagine what the cover will look like, and I obsess about the storyworld, characters, and plot twists. The book is far, far away from being completed, but in terms of my energy and emotions, I'm on top.

Now that I've learned the beginning is actually a "top of the mountain" moment, I've begun to capitalize on it. I used to just dive right into the project and trust the momentum to carry me through, but I've learned I can do a few things in the new idea, honeymoon time that will help me out during future lulls:
  • I tell only a few people. When I have new book ideas, I talk with my husband, Roseanna, and Jill about them first. I gauge their level of enthusiasm because by now I've figured out that counts for something. They help me identify problems before I talk to my agent.
  • I write back cover copy. I don't get super formal about it, but I do try to write something similar to what you might find on the back of a book. This forces me to do a couple things early on:
    • Helps me figure out the "hook" of this book, which is basically just determining what will make the potential reader say, "Yes, I'm going to read this one next." Your job with a hook is to create an itch that your reader wants to scratch.
    • Helps me get the back cover copy written so I'm not scrambling to do so right before publication.
    • Helps me brainstorm plot ideas, because as I'm writing my back cover copy, I'm thinking things like, "Well, everything I've written so far is story set up, but something has to happen to move my character from point A to point B..."
    • Later, these paragraphs will help remind me of the core of my story. This is especially useful when I'm halfway to three-quarters done with my first draft. It's nice to reread my draft of back cover copy and rediscover my original intentions for this book.
  • Every thought that pops into my head, I write it down. For every book I write, I also have a companion document called "notes." I create it during the brainstorming process as a place to gather all those random tidbits floating around in my head. Sometimes I write a paragraph about a possible plot twist. Sometimes I write just a snippet of dialogue. A lot of those notes make it into the book, but there are always a few items that don't. This is good because during edits if I need to beef up a plot line, or if my publisher says, "Can we do a sequel for this book?" I already have some material gathered.
  • I make a book love list. This is a new thing for me. It's something fun to do, and it's great for pulling out later when I'm in an inevitable rut. This is exactly what it sounds like - a list of things you love about your book. Your list will obviously be different than mine, but here's a handful of items from my love list for The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, which comes out in November:
    • A main character who wears glasses
    • Summertime
    • Finding love later in life
    • A dramatic grandmother
A warning about being up on the mountain: For many there's a temptation to stay here.

For a lot of writers, brainstorming the story is the best part. You get to be super creative, but you don't yet have to figure out how to transport those wonderful images in your head into the head of the reader. It can be extremely tempting to stay there, but eventually to get the book written. you have to go down into the canyon.

In June, my family went to Bryce Canyon National Park, which I had never heard of before, but is now one of my favorite places in the world. On our last full day there, we did a three mile hike with our children (who were five and two at the time) where we went down into the amphitheater and then hiked back out. I knew we had some potential obstacles - like hiking three miles with a five and two year old out in the desert - but there was stuff down there that I wanted to see close up.

I think there's a lesson in that for us as we start our stories. Writing takes energy and holds far more obstacles than just brainstorming, but if you sit out the writing, you don't get the up close view of all those cool story elements.

On Wednesday we'll talk more about the "hike" of writing the book!

What's your absolute favorite part of the writing process? The part where you have potential to get "stuck" because you love it so much?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stop and Start Lists and 100 for 100 Starts Today!

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.

My daughter started kindergarten a week ago. After five-and-a-half years of not really needing to be anywhere before 9:30am, it was a big adjustment to have to get four people dressed, fed, and out of the house everyday by 7:50.

Before her first day, I had been in the habit of working until 10 or 10:30 in the evening, having a popcorn/Daily Show date with my husband, and dozing off sometime around midnight. But with an alarm going off every morning at 6:30, this was impossible for me to sustain. I'm a girl who needs sleep, and I had to figure out what I was going to cut from my evening routine so that I could be a functioning human being during the day.

When we add something to our daily schedule, we almost always have to stop doing something else. I recently heard about the idea of creating Stop and Start lists. If you're trying to add a new habit or a new activity to your life, you can help yourself ahead of time by deciding what you're going to stop doing to make time and space for this new thing. If you're wanting to eat healthier, for example, you might put on your stop list that you are going to stop buying cookies and chips and start buying fruits and vegetables.

Today the 100 words for 100 days challenge starts. If you're not already in the habit of writing on a daily basis, you will probably have to stop or shorten another activity in your life to make time for this. Is there anything you've stopped doing (or shortened) to make space for writing?

There's still time to get signed up for the 100 words for 100 days challenge, but this is the last day to do so. You can find the form here.

I've sent out an email to all the participants I have on my list. Some of those emails have been returned to me, so if you haven't received an email with details about the writing challenge, email me now and let me know.

Also, if you want to be part of a community as you forge ahead in the 100 for 100 challenge, you can do so on the Go Teen Writers email loop:

Happy writing everyone!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Shaping Fantastic Creatures by Shannon Dittemore

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes Trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. Learn more about Shannon at

“I’ll read your manuscript,” she said, “but I should tell you, I’m not a fan of angel stories.”

Not exactly the words I wanted to hear from a prospective agent, especially on the eve of a call with my dream publisher, but I understood her point of view.

Here’s the thing, Holly didn’t pull me from the slush pile. Another agent did that, God bless him. And then he left the agency and all of a sudden the editorial team at Thomas Nelson wanted to talk to me about my manuscript. They wanted to talk to me about Angel Eyes and I hadn’t yet been assigned another agent.

So, Holly! Yes, Holly. She agreed to read my manuscript that night and sit on the call with me the next day, with the above caveat. She did not like angel stories.

“That’s okay,” I said, “I’m not a fan of angel stories either.”

Angel Eyes (book 1)
Silence actually buzzed through the phone line for a moment. “Oh,” she said. “Okay. Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow then.”

I won’t say that I convinced Holly to like angel stories, because I think she’ll tell you that’s not the case. But the thing is, Angel Eyes isn’t really about angels. And therein you’ll find my advice.

If you’re going to write about creatures that readers already have preconceived notions of, the story has to be bigger than the creature and his plight. It has to say something about the reader. About humanity.

“But I’m writing about vampires (or wolves, or fairies, or purple-bearded zombies),” one might argue.

But you’re not. You’re really not. The good stories, the memorable ones, talk to the reader about themselves. Their feelings. Their emotions. Their world. Truth has to resonate from your pages. The creatures you spotlight are weapons in your arsenal. You must use them wisely.

But how? How does one do that? Here are four things to keep in mind as you write.

1. Be unique. Your vampires don’t have to be just like everyone else’s vampires. Sure, readers expect to see a thread of similarity, but feel free to make adjustments based on your story needs or your own creativity. Now, don’t throw rocks at me, but think about Twilight for a sec. Stephenie Meyer took the idea that vampires suffer in the sunlight and turned it on its head. The sunlight remained a nemesis to Edward and company, but in an entirely different (albeit fancy) way. Meyer rewrote vampires. You have to do that. You have to make your creatures unique. Which leads me to my next point.

Broken Wings (Book 2)
2. Read in your genre. You already know from my little story up there that I’m not a huge fan of angel stories. But, why? Because I’ve read a bunch and found many (not all) of them hard to swallow. I’m a church brat who’s read what the Bible says about angels and (gasp!) actually believe that the Bible is an authority on such creatures. So many of the angel stories out there completely disregard Scripture, and that’s okay. Hear me, that is perfectly okay. We’re writing fiction and those authors have an entirely different set of eyes than I do. They were trying to accomplish something different than I wanted to accomplish. And I learned from their stories just how unique I needed my angels to be in order to reach the end I wanted to reach. The only way I would have ever learned that, was by reading books I did not want to emulate.

3. You need a hook. You just do. Imagine how many angel stories an agent (or a publisher) sees on any given day. You must hook them. In my books, the halo provided that. The halo allows Brielle to see the invisible. That’s unique. That’s different. It opens the door to so many possibilities. In Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa had the Godstone. The Lord of the Rings trilogy had the One Ring. But, it’s not always about enhanced objects. In Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid, she actually masters this by including more than one hook. The concept of characters bloodvoicing is introduced as well as a land separated by light and darkness. Both of these, when put to an industry professional or a reader, are intriguing. The trick is to take something unique to the world and the creatures you’ve sculpted and fashion it into a hook. Grab me. Make me want to understand it.

4. Consider the takeaway. Now, you can do this to a lesser extent while you’re drafting, but this is best done, I think, when you’re in the editing phase. When you’re drafting, just get your thoughts on the page. But when you’ve moved onto editing, force yourself to put down the pen, shove away from the computer, take a walk, and ask yourself this question: What do I want readers to take away from my story? Really think about it. If you don’t know, let it percolate for a while, but once you’ve answered that, ask your brilliant self this one: Are the attributes I’ve given my creatures helping or hurting in that regard? Be honest, and then ask yourself one more: What can I adjust, in my creatures’ nature or actions, to bolster the takeaway? And then sit back down and edit with those adjustments in mind.

For the record, Holly decided to take me on as a client. She read Angel Eyes that night, sat on the Thomas Nelson call with me the next day, and when I asked her what she thought of my manuscript, here’s what she said.

“It’s not really about angels, is it? It’s about the supernatural.”

I think you want readers saying the same thing about your books. It’s not really about the creatures. It’s about something else. And that something else will be the very thing that shapes your fantastic creatures and sets them apart from all the rest.

To thank Shannon for visiting us and to support her, we're giving away a copy of Dark Halo! This book is the third and final book in the Angel Eyes trilogy. It's AMAZING! I think you'd all love this series.

Dark Halo (Book 3)
To enter, in the comments, answer this question: If your book has fantastic creatures in it, dig deep and tell us what your story is really about. Or, if you're not writing such a story, tell us which book with fantastical creatures really grabbed you. Tell us the book and the creature(s).

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Reinforce Your Character's Lie

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.

We've talked before on Go Teen Writers about the value of finding a lie for your character to believe. This is a technique both Jill and I use and love for developing rich conflict within our characters, especially our main characters.

But it's not enough to just assign a lie to your main character. You should have the lie crop up in the character's internal monologue a time or two, and it's even better when you can find another character to reinforce the lie your main character believes. 

I'm going to use Tangled as an example because many of us have seen it, and because the writers did such a great job with reinforcing the lie.

So our kick-butt heroine, Rapunzel, has pushed past her fears of the plague and men with pointy teeth. She's left her tower, battled away the guilt of betraying her "mother", and tamed a bar full of ruffians who want to skewer her guide.

The lie she believed in the beginning, that she wasn't strong enough to make it in the world outside her tower, is long gone. After overcoming several obstacles, Rapunzel now feels she can take care of whatever the world throws at her.

Cue the need for the lie to be reinforced.

When Flynn leaves camp for a few minutes, the villain, Mother Gothel, takes advantage of the opportunity to pounce on Rapunzel. Rapunzel refuses to go with her. After all, she just survived a near-drowning and had a "moment" with the very cute guy taking her to see the floating lanterns. She's not going anywhere.

Mother Gothel mocks her for being naive. "Look at you," she says. "You think that he's impressed?" Once again, Gothel sets herself up as the person who knows how the world works and Rapunzel as the one who doesn't. She tells Rapunzel what she knows but has conveniently forgotten - Flynn is in this to get the crown back.

Even though Rapunzel still refuses to leave with Mother Gothel, the lie that Rapunzel believed in the beginning of the story has been reinforced.

This scene does a beautiful job of setting up Rapunzel's doubts when Flynn disappears and Mother Gothel comes to her rescue. It's easy to understand why Rapunzel lapses into believing her mother must know best, and that she is just a gullible, naive girl, who can't last more than 24 hours in the world outside the tower.

Having the lie reinforced by another character will make your main character's victory so much more rewarding.

Writing exercise - make it your own!:
In your book, who does your main character trust? How can that person reinforce the main character's lie at a critical point in the story?

Also, Friday is the last day to sign up to be a part of the third 100 for 100 challenge. I'll be sending an email out to the participants later today, which will include instructions and guidelines and stuff. So far we've had almost 200 writers sign up for the challenge, and we would love for you to join us!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A couple days off

After a very fun, very blog-filled weekend, we're taking Monday and Tuesday to reintroduce ourselves to our children and get a little laundry done.

Thanks for such a great virtual retreat, everyone! We'll see you back here on Wednesday!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat - Sunday Late Night - Retreat Recap

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.

Well? How did it go? Did you guys enjoy the writing retreat?

I loved seeing the conversations you all started and how word wars cropped up on their own and how you critiqued and read each other's stories. And I loved seeing how excited you were to spend time with other writers. Tell us what you accomplished in the comments.

I leave you with this:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway

Remember that. Always be teachable. Because if you think you know everything, then you've gotten to the place where your pride is bigger than your talent. And you know what pride comes before, right? The fall. So be careful to stay humble. Help each other out. Continually read fiction and nonfiction. Continue to learn new things. And continue to write and rewrite story after story after story. You can do it!

P.S. Once all the giveaways have ended, Steph and I will contact the winners. Thanks for entering all our contests!

Go Teen Writers Writing Retreat: Sunday Dinner Giveaway!

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.

It's hard to believe we're in the final hours of our writing retreat! We have just one giveaway left.

Jill and I are giving away a paperback copy of Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book. (This giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.)

What's something you've learned recently about writing? Was it a brainstorming trick? A question to ask your character? A technique for working in backstory? Please share!

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Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat - Sunday Lunch 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.

It's time for lunch! After typing so many words yesterday, I left a few holes in my story. It happens. So now I need to go back in and fix a lot of things.

Is there a place in your story where you're stuck right now? If not, have you ever been stuck before? Share some ways you solved the problem and were able to write through that scene. And if you're stuck right now, brainstorm ten options of things that could happen. I bet you like one of them. But if you're still stuck after that, see if you can get some people on the loop or in the comments to help you brainstorm a way out.

If you're just now finding us, it's not too late to join the email loop.

Our giveaway for this post is the Science Fiction Prize Pack!

A paperback copy of Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson and a paperback of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. (Click on the titles to read more about each book on And ... guess what? This giveaway is open to international entries!)

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Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat: Sunday Breakfast Giveaway!

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.

Me, Just Different was one of those books that I kept having to write. I wrote a first draft in 2004, during my first summer as a wife. I then rewrote at least twice over the next three years. The third rewrite happened because a literary agent showed interest in the story. During that last round of rewrites, I was typing with one hand and holding my month-old daughter in the other.

Roseanna White and I had just become friends, and I remember telling her, "I almost hope this agent tells me know so I can stop working on this book. I'm so tired."

The agent said yes. Barely two months later my publisher said yes. And I suddenly had not just energy to continue working on Skylar's story, but I was excited to do so. I had fallen in love with her story all over again.

Since completing Me, Just Different (for the final time) I have written seven complete novels and one non-fiction book. I've learned that, for me, fatigue is inevitable. That with each project, I come to a place of, "I'm so done with this book," long before I get to be done with the book.

When I don't feel like writing, I've learned to set my desk timer for 25 minutes. I tell myself I just have to focus on writing for 25 minutes. That after 25 minutes, I can fiddle around on Pinterest for a bit. But usually after my timer goes off, I'm feeling excited about my scene, and I want to keep working.

What about you? Do you have tricks for motivating yourself when you don't feel like writing?

This morning's giveaway is a set of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. (Or, if you already have one of the books, I can just send you the ones you don't have.) This giveaway is available for U.S. residents only.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat - Saturday's Closing Thoughts on Settings

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.

Early in the summer, I read a book called Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland, which was very different than most writing books I've read, and I continue to ponder its contents. This is a quote from the book in regards to settings that I've been thinking about:

View the book on Amazon

The rule of thumb for Hollywood in big budget movies says, "Don't show me the same setting twice." . . . The reason is that you want to keep the story visually interesting by making sure that each scene shows the viewer something new.

I'll confess it - I'm guilty of my settings being an afterthought. But as writers, we're fortunate that we don't have to worry about the cost of constructing sets or flying in a crew. All it costs us is extra creativity!

As we wind down for the day, I'd love to chat about settings. Where does your book take place? How do you feel about the quote above? Do you think you're setting too many scenes in the same location?

And please share how writing went today! Did you make your goal?

Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat - Saturday Dinner 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.

I hope you're all still alive after all the word wars we've been having. I wanted to start a discussion about character growth.

Does your main character change by the end of your story? How does he (or she) grow? Does he learn something about himself, someone he knows, or the world he lives in?

Spencer sure has a lot of growing to do in The Mission League series. There will be seven books when I get it all done. I've got three books out so far, and those books are the giveaway for this post!

Enter to win the Spy Prize Pack!

A paperback copy of The New Recruit, Chokepoint, and Project Gemini by Jill Williamson. (Click on the titles to read more about each book on Also, these paperbacks are available for U.S. residents only due to the expense of international shipping, but we will work out an alternative for international winners.)

Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat: Saturday Lunch Giveaway!

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.

It's lunch time here at the Go Teen Writers virtual writing retreat, and that means it's time for us to gather around our imaginary table, chat about something writery, and give away a couple great books.

Who's your favorite literary couple? Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? Ron and Hermione? Martyr and Abby? Shout it out for a chance to win these lovely romantic books, Whispers from the Shadows by Roseanna M. White and Doon by Lorie Langdon! (This giveaway is open only to US residents. Many thanks to the team at Blink for donating Doon!)

Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat - Saturday Breakfast 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.

Good morning!

I feel good about this day! So good, I'm singing this song. I really wish I knew how to tap dance.

I know, it's early, but it's time to kick off day two of the Go Teen Writers Virtual Writing Retreat weekend! Whoo hoo! Yesterday was amazing, and today will be too. If you just found us, there are still two days left of the retreat in which we're posting questions and giveaways on the blog, but we've also created a Go Teen Writers email loop for further discussion. You can find it here:

This morning we're talking word wars. A word war happens when two or more writers decide to race. They choose when to start and how long they'll write for, then they go for it. And the author who types the most words at the end of the allotted time, wins. 

Have you ever participated in a word war? Do you find them helpful? Do you want to do a word war (or eight word wars) with me today? *grin* Let's do it!

Here's how it will work. Below is the word war schedule that I'll be hosting. I posted the times in Central Time, since that's the time zone for the retreat. I will post "Ready, set, go!" posts on the email loop, the GTW Facebook group, and in the comments of THIS POST. Then, wherever you're commenting, when each tour ends, you can report your word counts. Also, keep track of your entire Saturday word count and we'll see who gets in the most words today. 

I'm so excited! (Because I love doing this and because I'm behind on my current WIP!)

Please don't feel pressured to participate in these. And if you can only do one or two, that's cool too. And if you can't do them at all because of the times I chose, feel free to schedule your own word wars with others who might not be able to do these times. I'm especially thinking of you international writers.

I leave you with this quote from Stephen King:  “When asked, 'How do you write?' I invariably answer, 'One word at a time,' and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That's all. One stone at a time.”

So let's do this thing today! One word at a time. See you at 9:00 a.m. central.

Enter to win the Fantasy Prize Pack!

A paperback copy of By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson and a paperback copy of Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore. (Click on the titles to read more about each book on Also, these paperbacks are available for U.S. residents only due to the expense of international shipping, but we will work out an alternative for international winners.)