Friday, February 28, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Agent

Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

All celebrities have agents or managers. Models, athletes, musicians—they all have people who help them negotiate work deals and advise them on what to do next. I do that very thing, except I do it for authors. I’m a Literary Agent.

Because I have such a unique job, many people wonder what it’s like. They assume I spend my days reading or having dinner with bestselling authors. They assume I’m on the phone constantly, telling publishers to “show me the money” and that I probably don’t have a soul due to all of the finessing that I have to do to get my authors the best possible deals.

Fact is, the truth is much less flashy…and for the record, I still have my soul.

My day tends to look like this…

MORNING: Check and respond to email. This means responding to query letters, responding to author or editor questions, etc.

AFTERNOON: This has more variety, but it’s still all in front of a computer. On any given day I will probably accomplish two or three of the following:
-          Send projects: this is the act of approaching editors with book ideas that are ready to go. It’s all done through email, and it can take awhile, as I have to develop my list of editors, write the query, and then send a tailored form of that query to each editor.
-          Make phone calls: this usually includes any author phone calls, potential client phone calls, phone calls to others who work in my agency, and every once in awhile a phone call with a publisher.
-          Do any necessary writing: I contribute to blogs and magazines. I also go through book proposals and make adjustments before getting them ready to send, and sometimes I do some line editing.
-          Handle crisis: Most crisis hit in the afternoon, for whatever reason. A crisis can be as simple as an author telling me that they aren’t going to be able to meet their publisher deadline or it can be as complex as a publishing house closing and an author’s book is caught up in the middle.
-          Keep up on email: Usually my afternoon emails are more proactive instead of reactive. So, I’m following up with editors and authors and just checking in on the state of things overall. Other times, I’m going after celebrities or people I think could write a great book.
-          Complete conference details: The past two years, I attended lots and lots of conferences. This meant I had to get my travel plans in order, submit any necessary materials to each of those conferences, and then create my PowerPoints for my presentations.
-          Read and respond to contracts: When we get an offer from a publisher for a book, then it takes priority. I must read and negotiate the contract, explain it to the author, and continue to work through the process until we have something that I am confident the author should sign.
-          Complete miscellaneous projects that either grow the agency or will make my job easier. For example, I may upload some backlisted titles to Amazon OR I may create a spreadsheet of release dates.

EVENING: Keep keeping up on email.

NIGHT: Read submissions. Yeah, this gets put on the back burner, sadly. And most nights I’m only able to get through a few pages before falling asleep. So if you ever wonder what takes agents so long to get around to reading your manuscript, this is probably the reason.

This probably makes it look like a 24/7 job, and it kind of is. Most agents I know work Saturdays and at the very least check their email and read on Sundays. We also keep an eye on things in the evenings in case anything comes up that is an emergency OR is easy to respond to. It helps prevent our mornings from being too difficult.

Jill here. Amanda wrote a book about marketing, and to thank her for writing a guest post, we're giving away a paperback copy! It's for USA only entrants, please, but the ebook is a great price, so you should check it out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ten Awesome Swords From Fiction

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.

Why are swords so cool? What is it about them? Why do so many fictional swords have replicas you can buy and hang on your wall? Why do characters never (or rarely) name their guns or staffs or clubs or bows? Yet most swords get names---cool names too. Here are my ten favorite swords from literature.

10. Zorro's rapier
Zorro was created by author Johnston McCulley. But even if you’ve never read one of McCulley’s books, you can probably picture Zorro in your mind. He’s the masked desperado, dressed all in black, who defends the people from bad guys. He wields a (nameless) rapier—and no one is faster with it. And he's also handy with a whip. He especially enjoys humiliating his foes.

Why it’s cool: Because Zorro uses his rapier to leave his mark: Z.

9. Heron Mark Sword
A heron mark swords is a rare type of sword from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. These swords were considered unbreakable and wielded by blademasters. Rand al’Thor, the main character in book one The End of the World, was given one of these swords by his father before he set off on his quest. Little did he know how valuable and rare a sword it was.

Why it’s cool: Because as Rand traveled, the heron hilt continued to draw attention, yet he didn’t know why. This was a fun way to plant seeds for a history his father never told him about (where and how daddy got the sword), and it also, eventually, opened up a conversation for Rand to learn about such blades. Good use of a prop in storytelling.

8. Dyrnwyn
In Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three, when Taran and Princess Eilonwy escape the Spiral Castle, they pass through the burial chamber of High King Rhitta. By the time they get out, the castle has collapsed and Eilonwy is carrying a black sword, which she took from the dead king. She refused to let Taran draw the blade as the sword is dangerous to those it deems unworthy of its power or who are not yet ready for it. It is not only an enchanted sword, but the most powerful weapon in Prydain.

Why it’s cool: Because it scalds those who are unworthy and because it can kill cauldron born.

7. Sting
Bilbo Baggins found this blade in a troll hoard along with many other elf-made weapons. This was actually a man’s dagger, but it was just the right size for a hobbit sword. It has the magically ability to detect the nearness of orcs or goblins, glowing blue when they were nearby. Bilbo used it well and named it Sting after the giant spiders of Mirkwood called it such. Bilbo eventually gave Sting to Frodo, who eventually gave it to Sam.

Why it’s cool: 1. Because it glows blue when orcs or goblins are nearby. 2. Because it’s really a dagger but Bilbo is small, so it’s a sword for him, which is good continued characterization. 3. Because Gollum was afraid of it.

6. Ôwr- 
Since this is my top ten, I’m including a sword from my Blood of Kings trilogy. Ôwr, also known as the Kingsword, was a gift to King Willham from Câan, the son-god warrior, after his rebirth. It was forged from white steel, which does not exist in Er’Rets. Ôwr is the only weapon made from the metal. It cannot be broken. Esek owned Ôwr for a time, using it to cut the slashes on Achan’s cheeks, yet Achan took it back after he cut of Esek’s arm in a duel.

Why it’s cool: Because it’s made from the metal of another world and gleams like a star. And because of what it represents: he who wields it is—or will be—king.

5. Sword of Gryffindor
The Sword of Godric Gryffindor, who was one of the founders of Hogwarts, can only be wielded by a true Gryffindor. Fawkes brings it to Harry in the sorting hat in Harry Potter in Chamber of Secrets, and Harry pulls it out, kills the basilisk, and destroys the journal. The sword was made by goblins, who take it back from Harry later on in the series.

Why it’s cool: Because J.K. Rowling is a master plotter. She plants the sword early on, and uses it, not only when Harry kills the basilisk and destroys the journal, but to prove to Harry that he belongs in Gryffindor House. And she continues to use the weapon in clever ways through the rest of the series, including the existence of a replica sword.

4. Anaklusmos a.k.a. Riptide
Anaklusmos has a long and tragic history, having been used by many Greek gods and demigods. It is made of celestial bronze, which is only effective on mythological beings, and does not harm mortals. It can take the shape of useless objects like Zoë’s hair clip and Percy’s inkpen. In English, Anaklusmos means Riptide. The sword draws its power from the ocean.

Why it’s cool: Because it’s a shapeshifting sword, that’s why! And the limitation of not being able to harm humans is an interesting twist.

3. Narsil/Anduril
King Elendil used Narsil in the battle against Sauron. The king was killed, however, and Narsil shattered. His son Isildur picked up the hilt and used what was left of the weapon to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger, defeating him. The shards of Narsil became an heirloom until the sword was reforged for Aragorn, recognizing him as Isildur’s heir and the rightful king of Gondor. Aragorn renamed the sword Anduril, which means “The Flame of the West.” It’s also called “The sword that was broken.”

Why it’s cool: Because even broken, it defeated Sauron. And because it was reforged and given to Aragorn to use to return as King of Gondor. So cool.

2. Inigo Montoya’s Rapier
In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya’s father Domingo was a great sword maker. Nobleman Count Rugen, a man with six fingers on his right hand, asked Domingo to forge a sword just for him. When the sword was completed, Count Rugen refused to pay, so Domingo refused to sell him the sword. Count Rugen killed Domingo, and when Domingo’s eleven-year-old son challenged Rugen to a duel, Rugen defeated the boy and scarred his face. Devastated, Inigo made it his life goal to avenge his father.

Why it’s cool: Because of the backstory. Everything Inigo is and strives for comes from this sword and its history.

1. Excalibur
When Arthur said, “I have no sword,” Merlin led him to a lake. An arm rose out of the water, holding a sword. And then the Lady of the Lake appeared, standing on the water. Arthur asked her for the sword, and she gave it to him on the condition that he would owe her a gift that she would claim later. Merlin told him that the scabbard was worth ten of the sword, and as long as it was buckled around his waist, he would lose no blood, no matter how grievously he was wounded.

Why it’s cool: Because it’s legendary, first of all. But also because of its auto-healing scabbard. Plus, it came from that creepy lake, so that’s cool too.

Which sword did I miss that's one of your favorites from fiction? What’s cool about it that adds to the story it’s from?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why does the romance matter?

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I've always been a sucker for a good love story. I'm not sure it would even be possible for me to write a book without one. And fortunately romance is a genre that always sells well. While nuances of the genre boom at different times (Amish romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense etc.) romance as a whole pretty much always sells.

But what is it that makes the romance storyline matter to the reader?

Why did we cheer for Matthew and Mary on Downton Abbey? Why are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy so timeless? What is it about Flynn and Rapunzel that we love so much?

I think fictional couples are made great by the same thing that real-life couples are: They are better together than they are apart. As an individual, they are a whole, complete person. But that other person empowers them to be even better. And as a result, life is improved for all around them.

While the story of Gatsby and Daisy from The Great Gatsby has some romantic moments, as a couple they're a drain on their community. Same with Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. They're not healthy people as individuals, and their romance isn't healthy either. Fascinating to read about, maybe, but not something you want to model in your own life.

In contrast, Elizabeth Bennett is her own unique person in the opening of Pride and Prejudice. We like her. We want what's best for her. Mr. Darcy is also his own unique person in the beginning of the book. The reader understands that the two of them could go on as they are and still have a happy life. But as the story progresses, we see how Elizabeth brings out the best in Mr. Darcy and how Mr. Darcy (eventually) brings out the best in Elizabeth. They are made more fully themselves by being together. 

Darcy and Elizabeth early in the story

I've been listening to the audio recording of a class by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler. In the class, Michael Hauge said something about romance stories that really struck me. He talked about how all characters have a way that they perceive themselves, an armor of identity that they wear. But inside, they also have an "essence." Who they are when everything else is stripped away. Michael shared that in a love story, the hero and heroine are in conflict with each other's armor or identity. They're not able to be at peace with each other until they can each live in their essence.

I instantly saw the truth in that statement, and the value in applying it to the romance threads in my story. When falling in love is part of the character's growth, that's when the romance matters most.

What "armor" does your main character wear? How do they hope others perceive them?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Journey with Gillian: Rewriting Insanity—Problem Solving that Impossible Scene

Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles Dragons and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything related to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published sometime in 2014. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

I’ve heard it described this way: understanding comes through learning from your past mistakes, wisdom through learning from the mistakes of others so you need not repeat them, and insanity through making the same mistake multiple times and expecting a different result.

That worries me.

You see, I’ve been writing the same scene for a week now, and I’m already on the fourth rewrite. It followed pretty much the same pattern each time. I’d sit down determined to pound out the next scene and I’d get three … four … five pages into it, and then read back through it all, and throw up my hands in disgust. Failed again.

Wise authors will tell you to turn off your inner editor until you get through the first draft. I’ve tried it before, and for me, it works up to a certain point, but after that if I’m not content with what I’ve written, there’s no earthly way I can move forward with the story.

So I go back. And rewrite. And get stuck writing the same scene three or four times in a row.


Sounds like it. I’m about to start typing my fourth draft of this scene, and I think I’ve finally figured out what I was doing wrong the past three times. So, if you feel like you’re going insane because you can’t figure out what’s going wrong with your scene, stick around, you might learn something from my mistakes. Wisdom, right?

1. If you can’t picture it, you can bet your last dollar your readers won’t be able to either.

After my second re-write of the scene, I realized that I couldn’t really picture the scene as I read through what I’d written. It’s a tough scene to write—a massive battle—but while there was a lot going on, there wasn’t much broad description so readers would be able to picture it in their heads.

Not only that but I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what it should look like.

Red flag.

If you can’t picture the scene as you write it, you won’t get the necessary visual points onto the page, and your readers will be lost.

2. Make sure you start in the right place

It wasn’t until I finished the third rewrite, that I realized I’d started my scene about four or five paragraphs sooner than I should have. Too much description. Too much backstory. Not enough action.

Red flag.

If you feel like you can’t get your story off the ground, chances are you started the scene too soon. Erase, cut and paste, and start it closer to the action.

3. Don’t get trapped inside your character’s head.

I write in third person POV. It’s just my favorite, the one that comes most naturally when I sit down to write. And it’s important to be in deep POV where everything you describe and show is filtered through the character’s eyes and thoughts.

But it’s a balance. You don’t want to get trapped there.

I realized on my third re-write, that I was stuck so deep inside my character’s head the story was getting bogged down by my character’s thoughts/perceptions/emotions … with very little action … in the middle of a battle.

Yawn … Boring.

Red flag.

If you notice that your story feels like it’s dragging, your character’s inner reflections might just be stealing the show. Cut it short and jump into the action.

4. Make sure you’re in the head of the right character.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Nope, not really. To determine the correct POV character for a scene, you want to pick the character who is most affected by the events that are happening. And it’s not always the first character that pops into your head.

I got done with my third rewrite of the first four pages of the scene and sighed in relief! It was working. I’d done it. So I closed my lap top for the night and went to bed.

I do a lot of my story brainstorming in those first fifteen minutes when I’m lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Somehow, the things I’ve been puzzling over in the back of my brain all day long just work themselves out … and then I fall asleep and hope I remember them the next morning. J

But that night, it struck me like a bolt from Thor’s hammer …

I’d written the scene from the wrong POV character.

The scene felt wrong because my character was observing things happening in the prelude to the battle, rather than having them happen directly to her.

Red flag.

If your character is observing for long periods of time instead of acting, you might be in the wrong POV.

Random side note: You do want to be careful when you add a POV character. In my genre, epic fantasy, it’s easier to get away with having multiple POV characters than in others, because it’s almost expected. People are used to it, and a lot of times, you need it to tell the full story. But you should never add a POV character just for the sake of adding one.

So, I hope you can glean wisdom from my mistakes … and I can learn through them and gain understanding … And I sure hope the fourth rewrite of this scene finally works. If not, I can always plead insanity, right?

Are you stuck with an impossible scene right now? What are some steps you take to figure out the problem?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How To Come Up With A Cool Title

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 don't like coming up with titles. It's not my gift. But a great title can make a huge difference in the success of your book. Here are some strong titles from my bookshelf:

To Kill a Mockingbird
A Wrinkle in Time
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Help
Redeeming Love
Ella Enchanted
Legally Blonde
A Walk to Remember
The Silence of Murder
The Book Thief
The Hunger Games
Miss Congeniality
The Secret Garden
The Maze Runner
Ender's Game

I could go on and on.

All these titles say something about the story behind the cover. Many also hint at the genre. The Silence of Murder, for example, is about a girl whose brother is accused of murder, but he is unable to communicate what happened that night, which makes the title deeper. And with the word "murder" in the title, it's pretty clear that it's a mystery or suspense novel. The title To Kill a Mockingbird comes from a discussion in the story itself when Atticus likens Tom's murder to the senseless slaughter of innocent birds. In Mistborn, Vin is a mistborn, so that title not only sounds like a fantasy story, it is a description of Vin's abilities.

I've been brainstorming my next epic fantasy for a while now. I've been calling it Land's End. I thought that title was perfect since it matches the story, though I did wonder if it was a problem that Lands' End was already a clothing catalog.

My agent said yes. It was not good. Whenever I said the title, all she could think about was contemporary women's clothing.


So I set about brainstorming a new title. Here's what I did.

First, I thought over some of the themes, the magic, the character's roles in the book, etc. and brainstormed a list of words. Ex: prince, Kingsguard, land, end, root, omatta, destruction, nature, betrayal, blind, kidnapping, etc.

Second, I picked what I liked from the above list (which was root) and played around on and, looking for titles with the word "root" in them. I also looked up quotes about roots. This gave me some new possibilities for titles. Ex: Root of Arman, Roots, Deep Roots, Omatta, Omatta Root, The Deep Roots of the Omatta Tree, Deep as Omatta Roots, Rooted, Root of the Problem, Digging Deep, Root of Magic, Root of Lies, Root of Evil, Root of Destruction, etc.

For some reason, I kept saying Evenroot. I liked the sound of it. I thought it was the name of the little dragonfly in The Rescuers, so I looked it up. Turns out his name is Evinrude. So I was thinking, sweet! I can use Evenroot. Though I still didn't know why I wanted to. I did think that omatta (the magical root in my story) was a little too weird of a name for a title. But maybe I could change the name of my root. Then I had a revelation. In my Blood of Kings series, the Evenwall is what separates light from darkness. So I started searching my binders and piles of notes to find out where on earth I came up with Evenwall. I couldn't. I have no idea. But I did find Aven in the Hebrew dictionary. It means to exert oneself in vain; to come to naught; nothingness; trouble, vanity, wickedness; and in a deeper sense characterizes the way of life for those who are without God.

Well, I thought that worked mighty well for my magical root. Way back whenever, I must have, somehow, gotten Evenwall from aven. And since these books are loosely related, I figured that Evenroot worked just fine.

So for now, I'm calling my new book Evenroot. It might not be the actual title, but it's a far better title than Land's End. (Even though I still like that one. Silly mail order catalog, anyway...)

Whether or not you have a gift for coming up with a catchy title, it's important to do your best. Here are some tips you can use in coming up with a title of your own.

1. Brainstorm words that encompass the theme, plot, situation, tone, characters, magic, etc. in your book.
2. Are there any words in your list that could work as a single-word title?
3. Play around with word combinations from your list to see if you can find something you like. Can you find a play on words? Offer a sense of what the story is about? Use rhetoric in some way?
4. Look for important phrases in your story. Sometimes you can take a title right from words in your book like "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
5. Look up quotes, or movie or book titles with your words. Can you put a twist on a famous quote or title?
6. Once you've narrowed it down to some favorites, make sure to check that there aren't any famous stories that already use that title. I liked Roots, but there was a famous novel by Alex Haley and, later, miniseries based on the novel with that title. Yes, Roots was a different genre. It's historical fiction about slavery. But it's still so very famous, I didn't think it worked to have the same title for my fantasy novel.
7. Test your titles by asking friends, family, or critique partners for their opinion. Remember, though, it's your title, so you have final say. Also remember that if you're seeking traditional publishing, the publisher will have final say. And many times it's a blessing to have their professional help.

Do you have trouble coming up with titles? If not, what tricks do you use to come up with them?

Monday, February 17, 2014

How To Cope When You're Stuck In Your First Draft

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

As I've discussed on here, I'm a plantser when it comes to figuring out my novels. I typically:

  • Write a blurb similar to backcover copy. (Sometimes my ideas now come to me in the form of backcover copy. It's quite handy.)
  • Spend some time letting the idea simmer. I'll carry around a pad of Post-Its and a Sharpie and jot down thoughts about the story. Sometimes I post them on my board just to get idea of how the story is fitting together.
  • When I have my idea for the first line and opening scene, I write the first couple chapters of the book. Once I've spent time in the storyworld, I have a clearer idea of what of my original ideas will work and what won't. Like in the book I'm working on now (which is a 1920's mystery, kind of a Veronica Mars meets Great Gatsby feel) I thought my main character's brother killed the girl. But after I wrote those chapters, I just didn't get a murderer vibe from him, and I had to reevaluate.
  • After those first few chapters, I'm ready to figure out the rest of the book. Usually that involves a couple things:
    • Making a list of what I think will happen and trying to figure out my major plot turns.
    • Writing a 2-3 page synopsis. (Sometimes I have to write half of the synopsis, then work on the list, and then come back to the synopsis. Not sure why.)
    • An emergency phone call to a writer friend. Last Monday, Roseanna White helped me hammer out my 1920's book. I'm also in a group with several other YA writers, and they will frequently help me as well.
  • Now I'm ready to write.
And once I've switched my brain from brainstorming mode to writing-the-first-draft mode, I usually get in a good groove with the story. I'm not thinking about my synopsis or my Post-it notes, I'm just writing. If I'm getting consistent writing time, then I typically hit that magical place where I know my characters so well that it feels as though the story is writing itself. Ideas for plot twists come along and surprise me, and yet they feel just right for the book. Everything is unfolding so rapidly that it seems like - for the first time - I'll be able to just write, write, write myself all the way to the bittersweet ending.

Without fail, however, I hit a block somewhere around 60 to 70% of the way through the book. It's typically the place where I'm trying to wrap up the middle part of the story and nudge my characters toward the climax.

That's when all those great plot twists and backstory ideas that came out of nowhere when I was in my writing groove start to mess with me. While I like them better than what I came up with during my original brainstorming, it also means that my plans for the last quarter of the book don't work so great anymore. What to do?

1. Don't panic.

But I always forget this until I email Roseanna all panicky and she's like, "Hey, you do this every time and we always get it worked out. Don't panic."

As you gear up for the climax scene in your book, it's super common to feel like you've got so many loose threads, you'll never be able to tie them up well. Try to tell yourself that it's normal to feel this way, and that you're almost through it.

2. Don't revise - it's not time yet.

It's certainly close to the time, and that's what makes it all the more tempting. 

As a young writer, I flitted from idea to idea and barely ever wrote more than an opening chapter or two. Then I decided to buckle down and write a whole book. When I hit this block in the first draft, I panicked and started to re-read everything I had written. I wanted to be sure I was remembering everything in the story correctly, but it only made me panic more because I saw all the gaping holes that needed to be fixed.

I started thinking, "I don't need to finish the book yet because look at all these mistakes! I need to fix these before I even consider writing the ending."

But the best time to do revisions is after you've written the conclusion of your book. I know it makes your inner editor frantic because it does mine too. Tell her she needs to sit down and be quiet. It'll be her turn next.

3. Indulge yourself with another brainstorming session.

This can be hard because up until now I've been in a groove and blowing away word count goals for weeks. It's hard to go back to just thinking about the story and the characters. Here are some ideas for what you can do:
  • Spend some time doing a character journal for your antagonist, or for another character who wound up playing a bigger role than you anticipated.
  • Make a list of surprising things that could happen at the end of the book. A lot of them might be too far out there to be useful, but you also might strike gold.
  • Pull in your writing friends again. Tell them where you're stuck and see if they have any thoughts. This can be great because they'll throw out suggestions that are great, but would be a lot of work. I don't know about you, but my brain tends to search for ideas that are great but require minimal effort.
  • Put the shower principle to work. (Or whatever we call the fact that we always seem to get our best ideas when we're not actively trying.) Go for a walk or vacuum or sketch your characters. Don't try to force the words because you have a goal of a thousand words a day. Remind yourself that once you have this figured out, you'll get back into a groove.
4. Press on.

All you need, really, is the idea for the next scene. When you have that, write it! Even if you're still not 100% about how the rest of the book is going to play out. Pushing through the block by writing the next scene can get you there.

Have you noticed a place where you commonly struggle in the first draft? What do you do when that happens?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A free novella!

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Yesterday, I released a free novella on my website. This is a companion book to The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (though you can read it without having read the books) because I've had so many readers over the years ask me about Abbie's future.

By now Abbie Hoyt should be used to not fitting in. She hasn’t since she got pregnant at fifteen. But five years later, as her son begins kindergarten, Abbie wrestles anew with where she does—and doesn’t—belong. It’s not with her old high school friends, who are partying their way through college. Or with the other mothers at Owen’s school. They look at her like she carries some kind of disease. Abbie’s not even sure she fits into her sister’s life now that Skylar is getting married.

When wedding festivities throw Abbie back into the company of her ex-boyfriend, Chris Ross, the questions only get worse. Maybe Chris still loves her like she loves him, but what college-age guy wants to be saddled with a five-year-old? And how selfish would she be to ask that of him?

Abbie is used to the world throwing stones—she knows how to protect herself. But can she figure out how to open up and trust again before she throws away a chance at happiness…for good?

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Romance Formula

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.

Happy Valentine's Day!

In honor of this schmoopiest of holidays, I decided to give away a copy of my friend Melanie Dickerson's The Captive Maiden. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below. USA entries only this time, please, since I have this book in my house and will be mailing it. Sorry!

I also wanted to discuss the romance formula. Not that there's only one, but, well, this one in particular is a tried and true formula that has sold billions of romance novels and will likely sell billions more. Here it is:

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back.

That's all there is to it. Why do you think this works so well?

My theory?

1. It introduces two characters that the reader wants to see happily matched.
2. For whatever reason, it doesn't work out---which adds conflict to the story.
3. The guy has to fight to win his girl. And most girls want our guys to be a hero---a fighter---to be the type of guy who wouldn't give up, no matter how hard things get.

And that's it. It's simple. Maybe too simple. But it sells billions of copies of books.

Why do you think this formula is so very popular?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to Switch Points of View

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.

Last week I talked about writing multiple points of view, and there was some confusion on how to do that.

There is no perfect answer for how an author chooses to switch POVs. Everyone has their own way of writing, and that's a good thing. But I thought it might be helpful to show you the breakdown of a section of one of my books. To show you why I chose which POV for what scene and what it helped me accomplish.

So here is the list of scenes from chapter 21 of By Darkness Hid. Like I mentioned last week, the points of view in this book switch gradually. The book is divided into five parts. Part one, the first three chapters, are all Achan's POV. Part two, the second three chapters of the story, are Vrell's POV. In parts three and four, I alternate chapters: one Achan POV chapter, one Vrell, Achan, Vrell, etc. And in the last four chapters of part five, I alternated POV scene by scene as the tension ratcheted up to the final conclusion.

FYI, in my story, some of the characters have a telepathic magic that lets them speak to and hear the minds of others, and sometimes, look through their eyes. If you'd like to read the full chapter, I posted it here.

Chapter 21, scene one, Achan's POV
Achan (who is in jail) is ignoring Vrell after she read the letter Gren gave him. He's mad that Vrell was so nosy. That letter was private. Plus Achan is angry because he can't read, which is embarrassing to him. And it also makes him angry because it means that Vrell knows what Gren said and he doesn't. And if he wants to find out, he'll have to admit to Vrell that he can't read.

Noises rise outside his cell. A man attacks the guards. He comes inside the cell and hits Vrell. Achan tries to fight him, but the man knocks him down and puts something in Achan's mouth that makes him drowsy. Then the man carries Achan away. He notices a cavern. A boat. Then he passes out.

Why I chose Achan: First, I wanted the reader to know why Achan was so angry that Vrell read his letter from Gren. Then I wanted the reader to see how Achan's kidnapper/rescuer got out of the castle.

What it accomplished: Further helps to characterize Achan as we see his pride in regards to his not being able to read. I got Achan out of prison and finally away from Lord Nathak. (Yay!) And we get to see the underground caves, which Achan will return to later in the story.

Chapter 21, scene two, Achan's POV
Achan wakes in a small room. Two other men are there. He speaks with them, trying to find out what they want. They talk about bloodvoicing. Achan argues that bloodvoicing is not real, even though he knows better at this point.

Why I chose Achan: I wanted the reader to see where Achan was taken and meet his captors. And since he was drugged, I thought it would be fun to have him wake up briefly and try to get away (since that's Achan's character too).
What it accomplished: Achan figures out he can't get away. And he finds out that these two men can also bloodvoice. There is also a hint/moment of foreshadowing in this scene as to Achan's true identity.

Chapter 21, scene three, Vrell's POV
Vrell is locked in Achan's jail cell. She bangs on the door until one of the guards regains consciousness and lets her out. She runs up to Master Hadar's chambers to tell him what happened. Lord Nathak is there. He tries to force Vrell to tell him where Achan is. She says she doesn't know. Master Hadar asks her to try and see Achan's location in her mind. Vrell isn't certain she wants to help these men find Achan, but she agrees to try.

Why I chose Vrell: I needed to get Vrell and Achan back in the same place and wanted them to be with the good guys at the end of the book. So I needed to start setting that up. I also went back to Vrell's POV so the reader could see what happened to her.
What it accomplished: Vrell sees Lord Nathak's desperation over finding Achan. We also see him almost use bloodvoicing on Vrell, but that's a subtle thing and some readers might have missed it. (Lord Nathak is not supposed to be able to bloodvoice, which is a lie he put out to protect his crimes.) We see Vrell use her magic to seek out Achan.

Chapter 21, scene four, Achan's POV
Achan wakes up to Vrell's voice in his mind. She asks if he's safe. He tells her that he's tied up, but no one has hurt him. She says that Lord Nathak wants her to find his location. Achan panics and pushes Vrell out of his mind. He does not want to return to Lord Nathak. His captors ask what's wrong, and he tells them that Lord Nathak is looking for him. The two captors argue whether or not Achan should block Vrell or see what the kid knows. Achan decides to see what Vrell knows. When he makes the connection, the old man Hadar and Lord Nathak are arguing, yelling at Vrell to find Achan. They're hurting Vrell. And then Hadar speaks to him though Vrell's connection. He threatens to kill Vrell if Achan doesn't meet him tomorrow. The connection ends. Achan and his captors talk, then Sir Gavin arrives and tells them to untie Achan. Sir Gavin mentions his plan to take Achan to the Council of Seven. And Achan tells Sir Gavin about Hadar's threat against Vrell Sparrow. Sir Gavin agrees to help.

Why I chose Achan: I wanted Achan to be in charge of the negotiation with Macoun Hadar, so I felt this scene was better done in his POV. That way we could hear Vrell in the background, and I could give hints to her secret (that she is a girl and that she is Lady Averella Amal). But Achan wouldn't catch on. He only wants to help his friend. And then I wanted Sir Gavin to finally arrive and get Achan one scene closer to finding out the truth about who he is.
What it accomplished: We see Macoun abuse Vrell. He is a bad man. (As she feared, he is using her as a tool.) Achan sees that Vrell is a true friend to him---despite having read Gren's letter. Vrell is being tortured and is still trying to help Achan. So Achan decides he will rescue his friend. We discover that Sir Gavin is behind Achan's kidnapping/rescue from prison. It's now clear that these kidnappers work for Sir Gavin and are the good guys. And Sir Gavin hints and his plans for Achan. And it sets up that a rescue of Vrell is going to be attempted.

Like I said, if you'd like to read chapter 21 of By Darkness Hid, I posted it here.

I hope that was helpful. Everyone tells stories in his or her own way. And even I don't tell every story the exact same way that I told this one. But can you see why I switched back and forth? Any questions?

Monday, February 10, 2014

8 Tips for Creating Great Descriptions

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Your character walks into a room, and you want your audience to be able to see every detail just like it is in your head. Readers want that, right? You often hear people talk about how they love so-and-so's writing because they feel like they're "right there."

The temptation is to have your character walk into a scene and notice all those details. The gold drapes. The rotary phone. The overflowing wastebasket. The shag carpet. The pink couch with a dead body on it.

But while description is great, big chunks of it will drag down your story. Even if you aren't writing a fast-paced thriller, pausing to describe every new setting will wear on your reader.

So how does a writer provide enough details for a reader that they feel like they're there ... without it feeling like they've pressed the pause button on the story?

1. Factor in the POV character.

Who is this person? Are they male or female? What are their interests?

Different people notice different details. If a group walked into my living room, one might first notice all the books on the shelves, another the loads of pictures of my kids, and still another might first notice the nice TV and speakers.

Another fun way to describe is to think through the POV character's insecurities. Let's go back to the pictures of my kids. A couple who has suffered from infertility might first notice the pictures of McKenna and Connor, the toys inevitably strewn about the room, and the row of kids movies in our DVD collection. Whereas another couple with kids of their own might not pay attention to that at all because their house looks similar.

2. Start with one or two unique details or an overall impression.

When you walk into a room, you don't absorb all the details at once. Instead several details will usually pop out at you. The color of the walls, a grand piano, or carpet so white you're afraid to step on it.

Another technique you can use (either by itself or with your handful of unique details) is an overall impression. It's been about five years since I read Susan May Warren's Finding Stefanie but I still remember a character walking through the house she grew up in and describing it as "accidentally retro." Just with those two words, my imagination conjures up an oven that's avocado green and mixing bowls with orange flowers on them. Which brings me to my next suggestion:

3. Don't be so bossy.

Give your reader some freedom to imagine things the way they want to. Perhaps when Susan May Warren wrote that scene and described the house decor as accidentally retro, she was imagining goldenrod shag carpet and dulled brass fixtures. But does she really need to get so particular? Does the image in her head have to match mine exactly? No.

If you want to describe a field of wildflowers, your varieties of flowers doesn't (necessarily) need to match the reader's. Readers appreciate a good description, but they also enjoy the freedom to use their imagination. (Quick side story: My grandmother is 88 and has always been a big reader. She once told me, "I don't like it when they put the men on the cover of books. They're always much better looking in my mind.")

4. Don't waste time with a lot of details that don't matter.

If this is the only time the reader is going to be in this location, don't bore them with all the details of what it looks like. Same with other characters. We don't need four lines about what the secretary looks like if we never see her again after this scene. Now, if later in the story she comes into play, then those descriptive lines are helpful.

When you go into a lot of detail about something, it says to the reader, "This is so important, I'm taking the time to describe it to you." So make sure to only give detailed descriptions when it matters.

5. Use description to plant the vase.

Jill taught me this one, actually. Say later in the scene one character is going to pick up a vase and throw it. Then that vase needs to be mentioned when you describe the room. 

Or say later in the story your character will be thrown into a pit but will escape because she happens to have a length of rope in her purse. Then earlier that day, I suggest you have your character noticing how out of control her purse has gotten. Gum wrappers, matchbox cars, and even the rope she had used last week when the latch on her trunk had broken. Otherwise it feels too convenient and contrived to your reader.

6. Use the combination of action and specific nouns.

Don't just have your character just sit on a a couch. Instead have them sink into a leather armchair.

Don't let them just scale a fence. Have them hop over a white picket fence.

Or don't send them running through the neighbor's garden. Have them trample Mrs. Hemsworth's prize lilies. 

When you pair your action with description, you're able to describe a unique detail of the storyworld without pausing to do so.

7. Use opinions to make clothing and hair/eye descriptions matter.

In my early manuscripts, I always paused to describe a character. My main character would be at school and it would look like this:
Amy spotted Jenna and crossed the room to her. Jenna was wearing a brown turtleneck sweater and jeans. She had on clunky shoes and big earrings. Her red hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her green eyes sparkled as she saw Amy approaching.
And then two lines later, Amy and Jenna would be joined by Max.
Max smiled in that crooked way of his and his blue eyes crinkled in the corners. He was wearing a hoodie and cargo pants, and his dark hair was still wet from his morning shower. 
Yawn, right? And who can even remember any of it? Those are the kinds of details that readers forget always as soon as they read them. I guarantee that a paragraph later, the reader won't remember who has dark hair and whose is red.

Plus, these aren't the details that really matter, are they? Does it matter to the reader that Jenna has on a brown turtleneck? 

If you want the detail to matter, attach an opinion to it. "As always, Jenna's outfit was woefully out of style - a brown turtleneck and too-blue jeans. If only her mother would let her buy new clothes, Max might finally notice her." The description now matters, doesn't it? We've learned something about Jenna.

8. If this is your first draft, don't obsess about getting the balance of description perfect.

Like we've talked about on here before, writers tend to be either putter-inners or taker-outers when it comes to edits. I write such bare bones first drafts that my edits involve adding a lot of description. Other writers tend to have long paragraphs of description that they need to trim and disperse. Description is something that's easiest to get right in the edits.

For you fantasy writers, you might find this article of Jill's helpful on integrating your storyworld.

Do you struggle with description or does it come easily to you?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Do you use music when you write?

Today on Go Teen Writers, we welcome YA author Laura Jackson, who has generously donated TWO copies of her book for us to giveaway! Details at the end of Laura's lovely post.

Music. Listen to it.
by Laura Jackson

Laura Jackson loves books. Back in third grade, her cousins teased her because she was reading a very thick book about the battle of New Orleans. She doesn't remember anything about that battle now, but she remembers wondering why they didn't want to read it. 

After graduating with a BA in English and history (where she didn't learn anything about that battle of New Orleans), she taught 7th grade language arts for eight years. That's where she fell in love with YA books. Worth the Wait was released this month.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is credited as saying this:

Music is the universal language of mankind.

And it’s true. Music can often express thoughts and feelings the mind can’t.

So, how does it translate into writing?

Before I became a librarian, I taught 7th grade language arts. I could teach my students how to write grammatically correct sentences, paragraphs, and essays. But, part of the state testing graded them on “voice,” which I couldn’t teach. No matter how perfect a sentence or story can be, if there’s no feeling or voice, the words fall flat to the reader.

Then, my co-worker (Christina Thibodeaux…have to give credit where it’s due) came up with an idea. Jammin’ Journals. Every Friday, we listened to music with the words and pictures flashing on the projector screen.

We listened to everything from Hannah Montana (yeah, before she started singing as Miley Cyrus) to The Beatles and everything in between.  Some discovered new genres they enjoyed. Some groaned when we broke out the instrumental. But, all wrote in response to the music.

And I was amazed. Kids who struggled to write a paragraph were asking for more paper. Kids who wrote grammatically correct but boring papers started to develop that “it” factor that sets a great writer apart from a good one.  

It took time, but those kids developed their voice through practice and music. Because music sparks something in us that can’t really be explained. It pulls out emotions we didn’t even know were buried inside of us.

When I’m writing a break-up or heartache scene, I go to Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift.

When my character in Worth the Wait was figuring out that God’s plan is worth the wait, I was listening to “Keep Making Me” by Sidewalk Prophets on repeat. (Great song if you’ve never heard it.)

For the story I’m working on now, the character is angry at everyone, including herself, so Skillet’s been playing a lot. Another character plays the piano, so I’m exploring some piano pieces. The music sets the tone for the scene or helps me get into the mind of a character.  

So, next time you’re stuck in a scene or trying to figure out a character, crank up the tunes. Maybe take a drive or a walk while you listen. 

But don’t just listen to music you like. What music would your character like? What sounds would play if that scene were in a movie. Listen to that and see where the emotion takes you.

I’d love to hear what music you’re listening to while you work on your current story! Leave a comment below to get entered to win one of two copies of Worth the Wait.

Laura is giving away an ebook and a paperback of Worth the Wait. Due to the unfortunate realities of expensive international shipping, he paperback is for a U.S. resident only, but the ebook is open to a winner from any country.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do you listen to music when you write? Does your character have a theme song? Let us know for a chance to win a copy of Laura's book!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Are Multiple Points of View Right for You?

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 wrote several books before one of them was published. My first book, The New Recruit, had one point of view. The second book was Project Gemini, also one point of view. Then I wrote a middle grade story called Seagulls are Plain that was also one point of view.

After that, I experimented with a retelling of Anne of Green Gables, though it had four points of view. It was turning into a beast of a story, so I set it aside. Then I wrote Replication, my first story with two points of view. I must have liked two points of view, because after I finished Replication, I wrote By Darkness Hid. This book sold, and after that, I wrote To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won, both with two points of view, though book three did have a prologue from a third point of view to give readers a ticking time bomb.

When I finished those books, I wrote a proposal for the Safe Lands trilogy. I wanted to tell the story of three brothers, but if felt weird not to have a girl point of view, so I decided to do four. I plotted it out, wrote the first three chapters, a synopsis of book one, and a blurb for books two and three, and sent it off. Zondervan bought it. And then I had to write those books.

Um … That was hard!

I instantly knew I was in over my head. Not that I wasn’t capable of writing a book with four points of view. I had tried it with the Anne retelling and failed. But then I wrote four books each with two points of view, and my skill level was ready to tackle four. But since I’d sold this off a proposal, I had to write it fast. And I wasn’t ready to write four points of view fast.

But I survived. And I learned a lot.

Why choose more than one POV?

-You want to show the male and female perspectives in a romance.
-You want to tell two or more separate stories that will intertwine.
-You want to show what's going on in a different part of the storyworld.
-You want to show the killer's perspecitve or something mysterious.
-You want to give the reader more information than your hero has.
-You want to show deeper characterization and motivation of other characters.
-You want the reader to see the story from different angles.
-You want to have mini subplots for supporting characters.
-You want to broaden the scope of the story, make it bigger, more epic.

Tips to make it work:

-Know why you’re doing it. Have a purpose for each POV. In Captives, I wanted to show how three brothers could have completely different experiences in the Safe Lands. In Replication, I wanted to contrast Abby and Martyr’s worlds. Ask yourself if multiple points of view will help you tell the story you want to tell. Will it make the story stronger? Because if you’re doing it just because you think it will be fun, that’s not a good enough reason.

-Each POV needs to add something than no other POV can add. If the reader doesn’t care about that POV character, they could put down the book and walk away. If you’re going to add a POV, make sure that it’s necessary and gripping. If it doesn’t add to the story, it should be cut.

-Multiple points of view might make your book longer. At least they did for me since I each of my characters had their own mini story with its own story arc.

-Multiple points of view take more time to write. I was lost when I wrote my first draft of Captives. On the proposal, Levi had been my main character. But Mason took over. And Jemma’s point of view didn't work at all. In the rewrite, I got rid of Jemma and created Shaylinn, who had a purpose for her POV.

- Every time you switch points of view, you risk confusing your reader. If your reader loved the first point of view, then you switch and they don’t like the next voice, you’re in trouble! And even if you do it well, it creates distance between the reader and the story. I’ve heard of readers skipping entire chapters to read only the points of view they like. And then there are readers that prefer books about one character and won’t read books with multiple points of view because they find them too confusing or jarring when they switch heads.

-Don't switch POV characters too quickly. Scene by scene is a good way to do it. Or chapter by chapter. I had written By Darkness Hid every other chapter---Achan, Vrell, Achan, Vrell---but my editor, Jeff Gerke, urged me to stay with Achan for three chapters, then do Vrell for three, then go ahead and switch every other. This helped readers connect with Achan in the beginning before I left him for Vrell's POV.

-Be sure to go back to everyone at the right time. In Captives, I tried to alternate evenly between my four characters. Mason, Levi, Omar, Shaylinn; Mason, Levi, Omar, Shaylinn. But Mason was more of the main character in Captives, so sometimes he got two chapters in a row.

-Don’t recap. This was something I quickly caught on to writing Captives. Because I was showing four people arriving in the same place, I found those people describing and experiencing the same things. So I had to be careful to give a different purpose to each scene and delete as much repetition as possible.

-Give each POV character a unique voice. It’s more important than ever in a multiple POV book that your characters don’t all sound the same. Distinguish the voices, narrative, and actions of your characters. The reader should never be confused whose POV they’re reading. It should be obvious. And that’s a lot of work.

In conclusion . . . 

If you want to try a multiple POV book, go for it! But keep in mind that you should only choose multiple POVs because that’s the way the story needs to be told. If you've never tried it, I recommend writing a two POV book before you try a four POV book. Baby steps are good. Work your way up to that epic fantasy with twelve points of view. *grin*

What is the highest number of POVs you’ve written in one book? Why did you choose to write it that way? Any questions about multiple POVs?