Monday, March 31, 2014

How To Make Your Writing Process Your Own

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.

Last week we started talking about building a writing process. (Why I've Decided to Stop Setting Writing Goals, How to Build a Strong Writing Process) These set up a way for us to evaluate where we are as writers, what our habits are, what's working for us, and what we need to change.

Once you've done that, how do you go about finding your own system? Here's what's worked for me:

1. Build your knowledge

When I went to a writers conference at age twenty-two, I had been serious about writing for about six years. I had written several complete novels and dozens of partials. I wasn't completely ignorant —I knew what genre I wrote, that I needed a literary agent, and I had queried a few times—but I still had loads to learn about how to write a book.

At the conference, I took a class from veteran novelist Angela Hunt. I was blown away to learn that she had, like, a system for writing a novel. I didn't even know you could do that. My system was to have an idea and work on that book until I burned out and started another one.

Then I found out this crazy thing—all career novelists had learned what worked for them ... and they did those things every time they wrote a book. While this likely seems obvious to you savvy Go Teen Writers, it was revolutionary to me.

I've developed what some might call an obsession with learning how writers write their books. I'm always looking for a way to improve what I do and write more efficiently. That's why I'm addicted to craft books, why I listen almost exclusively to writing classes on my iPod, and why I subscribe to way more writing blogs than I have time to read. While there's no need to be that extreme (seriously, I should probably diversify my interests a bit) I encourage you to be open to the knowledge of writers who have gone before you about what works for them.

2. Anticipate trial and error

After you've gathered all those great ideas, there's only one way to find out if this is something that will work for you.

Try it.

This means you'll find lots of things that don't work for you, but there's really no other way to find out what does.

Going back to my class with Angela Hunt. At the time she had been writing novels for twenty or twenty-five years. She had a system—but part of that system was trying something new with each novel she wrote. That made a big impression on me at the time, and the longer I'm in this business, the more impressed I am by Angela's attitude. Because there are a lot of writers who, after a while, seem to just be going through the motions. I love that Angela had built into her system a way to stay fresh.

Sometimes I've tried things that just flat-out don't work for me. Character interviews are a no-go. Character journals, however, spur my imagination. Plot and chapter-by-chapter spreadsheets bore me, but I've grown rather fond of hand writing lists of how I think the story will play out. I've yet to write a book exactly the same way as I did the last, and I've decided that's not just okay, but maybe even a good thing.

3. Accept that time, patience, and hard work are key parts of the process

Time, patience, and hard work—groan, right? I wish it were different. I would absolutely love to be the best writer I'm going to be NOW rather than fifty years from now. And if I could achieve that by just doing my favorite parts of writing, that would be great.

I had already published three books before I learned a few key pieces of my writing process. And I'm planning my books in a way now that would have my life SO much easier if I had known how to do it at the beginning. But that's just part of the journey—allowing what I learn to take root in me. And roots don't happen in a snap.

And even thought I love writing and how it's turned into my career, writing well is hard work. It's impossible to crank out a good novel in a week. A first draft? Sure. Difficult, but doable. But not a great book. To write a great book—and to learn how to write a great book—takes time, patience, and hard work. Finding a system that works for you, however, will go a long way in making it pay off.

Can you think of a part of the writing process - where you write, how you write, when you write - that you've recently tried and found it worked for you?

Friday, March 28, 2014

What Stories Changed Your Life?

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.

There is power in stories. Tremendous power. Whenever I start to forget that, I just think of King David and his court prophet Nathan. King David decided he wanted Bathsheba, as if he didn't have enough wives already. So, in a series of bad choices, he got her. But that included having her husband killed. His choices in this matter remind me of a mob hit. He might as well have told his people to, "Take care of it."

But who was going to call out the king? Um, no one? It's not like people didn't know what he'd done. I'm sure the wives were all talking about it. "Did you see David's new wife?" "Mmm hmm." But no one was brave enough to confront the warrior king who, as a teenager, killed a giant, cut off his head, and paraded through town with that head on a pole.

Yeah, I probably wouldn't have said anything either.

But in a brilliant move, Nathan the prophet gives it a go. And he doesn't say, "Hey, King. What was that with the stealing of the wife and the killing and things?" Instead, he tells the king a story. Now, I'm sure many people told King David stories. There wasn't any TV back then, so entertainment was either storytelling or singing. David probably settled back for an diverting narrative. And Nathan must have been good because David didn't see it coming. He listened to the story of a rich man who killed a poor man's only sheep and served it to his guests for dinner. And when the story angers David and he flies into an outrage and demands to know the name of this horrible person, Nathan says, "You are the man!" (And that wasn't a compliment. It was an accusation.)

Boom. Instant humility. And, yes, another king might have had Nathan killed for that little move. But not David. He knew he'd messed up. We always know. But sometimes we just keep covering our mistakes and hoping that no one notices. And before you know it, we're buried deep.

David was buried deep. And he knew it. And he listened to Nathan and made it right, as best he could.

King George and the Duckie is my favorite
re-telling of David and Bathsheba

Stories have the ability to change lives. Many stories have changed my life. Here are some. I'm putting on my vulnerability hat here, so no judging.

The Nancy Drew series. These books, which were an obsession of my mother in her childhood, became my obsession as a child. In my home with no electricity or running water, I escaped into these books. I loved Nancy and Bess and George. They were my friends. They kept me company for years. And we solved many cases together.

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. This book made the spiritual world real for me. Before I read it, I believed it was real. But after reading this book, I could picture it. And, yes, it's fiction. We don't know this is the way things are. But, man. It sure does make sense. After reading this book I looked at the world in a different way.

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. I grew up in a poor family. I'm a hard worker. So I had a difficult time with homelessness. I just couldn't wrap my brain around how someone gets to that place. In my head I think, "Dude, get a job, negotiate. My dad did. He worked for free rent. He hitchhiked to get groceries. He once pawned his beloved guitar to feed his family. It wasn't easy, but he did it." And then I read John Grisham's The Street Lawyer and I was humbled. People tend to make assumptions based on their own experiences. And my experiences were narrow indeed. I didn't understand how someone could become homeless, so I arrogantly jumped to the conclusion that they were lazy. And maybe some homeless are. But Grisham's book told a different story. It showed how people can get stuck. And the realization that I had been very wrong to make such assumptions not only changed the way I thought about homeless people, it changed the way I thought. Making assumptions wasn't a wise way to live, and I didn't want to make the same mistake again. Well done, Mr. Grisham.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis. In this final installment of Narnia, the people are sorted. Some get to come into the new Narnia. And some do not---some beloved people do not. The phrase, "It is far bigger inside than it was outside" is said of this new Narnia. (Makes me think of a Tardis.) This was a beautiful and eerie look at heaven. Like many, I had always understood that heaven would be all clouds and golden streets. But the Bible says that there will be a new earth. And The Last Battle showed me that new earth. And it showed me that only those who choose it will enter. Heavy stuff. And very well done.

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green by Melody Green. This is a true story. Melody Green tells her husband's life story as best she can. Keith Green was a famous musician in the 1970s. And this book changed me. The way Keith lived each day changed me. But what I remember most from this book was how Keith gave up control. He trusted his life and what he held precious to his creator. It never occurred to me to live with such trust before. And as a new mom at the time, this was exactly the story I needed since I was a little bit overprotective of my new child. Just a tiny bit. Okay, so I was a total momma bear and petrified that he was going to be injured in just about every conceivable way.

Love this picture of Keith and Melody.

Tilly by Frank Peretti. This story. Wow. Frank has an incredible imagination. It continually floors me. It had never occurred to me that unborn children might go to heaven. And once I read Tilly, I can't imagine it any other way. This story is absolutely beautiful.

Harry Potter series. I think that, perhaps, the mysteries in these books reminded me of Nancy Drew. But how did the Harry Potter books change me? They opened my mind to the idea of creating an immaculate storyworld complete with flying paper airplanes at the Ministry of Magic and howlers from an angry parent. Having been obsessed with Nancy Drew as a child, I had never considered contemporary fantasy as a genre. The possibilities fascinated me (and still do).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. After reading this book, I was in awe. I had never before read a book that so captured a character's voice. And I had also never read a book that told an issues-based story in such a clever way. This book has helped thousands of teen girls. And it makes me teary-eyed as I think of the power of Melinda's story helping all those hurting girls. This book set a standard for me as an author.

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore. I loved these books. But it was a simple image that changed me. The image of how angels see human fear as black tar, weighing us down, keeping us from our potential. That will stick with me forever, Shannon. So powerful.

These stories have become part of my life story. But you have your own. What are some stories that changed you? Share one of them in the comments. And remember, your pen (or your fingers at a keyboard) has tremendous power to change lives. Don't ever forget it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Build a Strong Writing Process

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.

If you didn't catch Monday's post, I talked about the idea of pursuing a process rather than writing goals. Which led us to the question of how to go about creating a writing process.

It's important, I think, to recognize that your writing process is unique to you and to your time of life. It'll change as you enter new phases (college versus high school, kids versus no kids). There are also seasons within those seasons. I always have kidsbut part of the year they're in school and part of the year they're at home with me. That impacts how I get stories written. You might be in school nine months out of the year, but for three of those months you play competitive volleyball. That'll make a difference.

So the point of this discussion is to help you determine what works best for you right now. I love Theodore Roosevelt's advice, "Do you what you can, with what you have, right where you are."

Could you be a more productive writer if you didn't have to be bothered with Geometry and if you had your own office? Probably, yes. But if that's not where you are right now, then it doesn't do us any good to dwell on the ideal. Instead, let's figure out where you are and how to build a good process.

Evaluate where you are in regards to:

Writing time: When do you write? Where do you write? How often do you write? When you write, how long do you do it for? Do you turn off distractions to focus on writing or do you frequently take breaks for a quick email or Pinterest browse?

Organization: When you have a book idea, what do you do with it? If you read a thought-provoking article on writing, do you have a place to store it? What do you do with notes that you make about your current manuscripts?

Getting the story down on paper: How much time do you spend writing, and how much time do you spend talking about writing? Do you write fast first drafts or do you edit as you go? How much planning do you do beforehand? How do you develop your characters? Are you able to write full books or not yet?

Growing as a writer: Do you take steps to grow as a writer? Do you read craft books or download classes? Do you have blogs you read? Do you have a critique group or partner? Do you read in the genre that you write?

Evaluate what's working and what's not:

I don't know who first said, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten," (my brief internet research credits it to Einstein, Mark Twain, and several others) but it certainly applies to writing books.

As you consider the way you currently do things, ask yourself if it's working for you. And I don't mean that as, "Are you a bestselling novelist?" or even, "Are you writing publishable books?"

By "is it working for you?" I mean, does what you do now consistently lead to improvement in your writing? Maybe progress is slower than you'd like, but is it there? Are you doing the best you can with what you have right where you are?

If not, what can be changed?

Here's three examples from my past of ways I've had to consciously change my way of doing things:

  • When Jill and I were working on Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book,between the book and the blog, I was spending way more time talking about writing than actually writing. As soon as we finished that project, I knew I needed to re-calibrate how I spent my time. It was surprisingly difficult to get back into the discipline.
  • Years ago, I realized I was in a bad habit of writing half a book, going back and revising the first part, and then getting frustrated and putting the story aside. I decided I need to try writing bad first drafts, and that's worked really well for me ever since.
  • I used to get so excited about story ideas that I just plunged right in and wrote until I ran out of steam. I later figured out that spending a little time plotting before I wrote helped me to stay excited about a story for longer. I still hit stretches in the first draft where writing feels incredibly hard, but I'm able to power through much better. 

Just because a method for writing a book feels comfortable or natural to you doesn't mean it's the best way for you to go about it. My natural bend as a writer was as a pantser, but as I moved further in my writing career, I saw how it benefited me to plot. On the other side, some people hide behind planning and storyworld building as a way to procrastinate from writing.

Have you learned anything from evaluating where you are? Do you have ideas for things you want to adjust?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I've Decided to Stop Setting Writing Goals

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.

For years now, I've had a love/hate relationship with goals.

When I was able to write full-time (before I had kids or a house, and when my husband worked forty hours a week plus was getting his masters degree) I loved goals. Because rare was the day that I couldn't meet them. Even with taking an afternoon nap, my days were predictable and I had control over my time.

That's not the case anymore.

I no longer live in a takes-one-hour-to-clean apartment, and the rhythms of my day are built around school drop-off/pick-up, naps, and my husband's work schedule. Connor keeps us on our toes with his epilepsy, and McKenna is at the age where she has her own activities plus friends who stop by to ask if she can play.

While you may not have kids, many of you are in similar situations. School might dominate your time. There's play practice and band and sports. Homework. Youth group. Your siblings and their activities. Other people need to use the family computer or you share a room or both.

I don't know about you, but I've grown weary of time management articles that assume I am the reason that I struggle to get things done. That if I watched a little less TV, spent a little less time on Facebook, prioritized a bit better, I could be living a well-organized, satisfying life. Because the truth is, I feel like I do the best I can with managing my time. Sure, I may occasionally wind up on Pinterest for fifteen minutes when I meant to only be there for five, but by and large I do a good job. And my life is still chaotic and messy.

I realized several years ago that I had grown to hate writing goals. I wasn't even making them anymore because all they did was give me one more way to fail. And who needs that?

Then this winter, in the midst of all the hospital stays, when I was a knot of worry over my son, over how little of me McKenna was getting, and how much I missed the routine of writing, my husband sent me an article. And when I read Forget Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead by James Clear, it felt like what I had been searching for ever since McKenna was born.

If you've struggled with goals (or even if you haven't) I encourage you to read it because makes a very convincing argument for why we shouldn't get hung up on goals. Instead, he suggests, we should focus our attention on building good systems (processes that help us make progress). There's nothing wrong, for example, with saying "My goal is to write a book this year," but my focus should be on the system for getting it done.

One example from his life that he talked about really struck me. He talked about a time when he was working out and felt a twinge in his leg. Not an injury, just fatigue at the end of a hard workout. He says:
For a minute or two, I thought about doing my final set. Then, I reminded myself that I plan to do this for the rest of my life and decided to call it a day.
In a situation like the one above, a goal-based mentality will tell you to finish the workout and reach your goal. After all, if you set a goal and you don't reach it, then you feel like a failure.
But with a systems-based mentality, I had no trouble moving on. Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it's about sticking to the process and not missing workouts.
Of course, I know that if I never miss a workout, then I will lift bigger weights in the long-run. And that's why systems are more valuable than goals. Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.
How many times, I thought when I read that, have I spent a day angry with myself because I worked for an hour but didn't get 1,000 words written? Days that I hit a block around 700 or that I was distracted by a personal issue and just couldn't make the storyworld magic happen?

I plan to write for the rest of my life. And if I do the best I can to write for an hour everyday, that'll add up. Some days it might be just 300 words, and another day 1,300. But if I trust my process and plug away daily, I too will (metaphorically) "lift bigger weights in the long-run."

But what is a good writing process? How do you know if yours will yield results? I'll be covering that in my next few posts.

Do goals work for you? Why or why not? Do you have an idea of what your process is or no? (There are no wrong answers here! It's just a discussion.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Beginners Guide of How To Pitch

By Sarah Blinco

Sarah Blinco is editor of (, and creator of Media Bootcamp ( which is a digital training tool designed to get you on the fast-track to your dream career. She's worked in publishing and radio and is always happy to answer questions - you'll find her at or Tweet @sarahblinco

Have you ever had a great idea and wanted to pitch it to a publication, blog or media outlet but not known where to start? This topic is also related to coming up with daily (or weekly when you're super busy) blog posts. While older students/communications employees learn varying tactics on this in university/college or even in the workforce, here’s a breakdown for the enthusiastic amongst you who want a simple strategy for coming up with either things to blog about each day or one step further, story options to pitch to media.

Here’s our daily routine in a nutshell – 4 steps

1. Grab the newspaper, current magazine or your favorite daily digital media streams, and scan through over breakfast.

2. Circle/cut out any news or feature stories that catch your attention and that you consider you’d like to ponder some more.

3. Once you’re done tearing out clippings (or saving), place them in front of you and brainstorm (mind-mapping on paper or using a relevant app will help with this exercise) – think about alternative angles (or spin) on a story that’s related to what you’ve captured from your daily scan. A great example out of Australia recently was presented on a television news show called The Project. It was Australia Day and Aussies are notorious for being ‘big drinkers’. Instead of being mundane and running a common story on the dangers of binge drinking or an interview with an expert who would tell us how bad drinking is, The Project team came up with a different angle – they interviewed Australians who don’t drink, and asked them to share what it’s like to be part of a circle of friends who were consistently drinking and who often continued to offer their non-drinking mates alcoholic beverages. They asked the interviewees about why they decided not to drink, and how difficult it is to be a non-drinker in a society that loves alcohol. This is a perfect example of taking a timely topic/event (i.e. lots of Australians drinking lots and lots of beer on Australia Day) and placing a unique spin on it, and consequently coming up with an interesting media story.

Things to look out for when scanning media, particularly daily media sources, include stories that feature newly released statistics that you could angle an idea around (e.g. “Divorce rate hits 77%”), and stories on topics you have a special interest, understanding or even training in (so you can offer an ‘expert’ angle). Also note stories on personalities that may seem like just ‘today’s news’, but that could potentially be pitched with a varying angle to a longer lead magazine (e.g. weekly, monthly). For example, Justin Bieber’s recent drunken rampages could be extended to a timely pitch on, “What’s making today’s youth crazy?” or, “How to avoid a boyfriend like Bieber” (no offence, Bieber fans!) – so many options, and of course it depends on who (what type of media) you are planning to pitch a story idea to.

4. I’ll admit, it’s often hard to identify brilliant story and pitch ideas on your own, so make a habit of catching up with friends, take your clippings along (or have the stories stored in your head), and have a chat about your ideas. You’ll be AMAZED at what brilliant ideas come out of a chat and a laugh with your friends, who will help you come up with timely and unique angles that will make your blog posts shine and turn your media pitches into commissions (regardless of your age).

Stephanie here: Sarah will be popping in a time or two today, so if you have questions or other thoughts to share with her, please leave a comment below. Thanks, Sarah, for being with us today!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Tips for Editing and Cutting Scenes from Your Story

Rajdeep Paulus studied English Literature at Northwestern University and lives in New York with her husband and four princesses. Visit her website or  connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.

Be Brave. And Let it Go.

Most writers smile when asked if they like words. Ummm, of course! That’s why we write. We love the way words come together to express so much in so little space. The way one verb sums up a character’s exact motion. Or the way one line of dialogue says it all. And leaves the reader wanting more.

And we’re a little like super glue, aren’t we? We get attached to our words. Well, today, I’m here to challenge you and me both with the words from my editor who helped me polish, remake, redesign, redo, and rewrite Seeing Through Stones. Not once, not twice, but somewhere between four and five times. I say “between” cuz I’m all about that in between life. Ask Talia. She gets me. :)
But honestly, not until the fourth round, when I drafted an entirely new sequel to Swimming Through Clouds, did I get an email from the brilliant Beth Jusino that read something like, “Just want you to know that THIS is the RIGHT story and a great journey for your characters. More soon.”

Well, when “more” came, let’s just say, there was still much work to be done. So here are my top five tips when Editing your books and working to find the best story you’re capable of telling. So put on your armor, lay down your pen, pick up your sword, and let’s get to cutting. To make room for the scenes and moments that can’t breathe. Yet.

1.   Cut out any scene that repeats itself, especially when it comes to back story and flash backs. This was a really tough one, because I had about four really sad and sappy childhood stories for my character Jesse, but Beth said, you really only need one. The moment you introduce another one, you actually make the first one dim, and in the end you lose the power-packed element of surprise that came with the first scene. Of course I do what all pack-rat writers do so that I don’t have to stop and have a funeral. I copy and paste the scene into my “deleted pages” vault. Who knows? Maybe in the next book, I’ll need some inspiration for a scene and it might be waiting for me in that file. Probably not. But you never know. Makes you feel better that you didn’t totally erase those oh so precious words. ;)

2.   Cut out any characters that sound like the same person. Or play the same role in the book. For example, if you have two friends of the main character that are equally there for her, they tend to compete for the readers’ attention and sympathy and they also start to sound alike. Then the reader gets confused by who did what and who said what to who. And if you’re like me, you start to mix up their names. For the record, changing one character’s hair color is not enough to change it up and distinguish him or her. Think long and hard what the role of each character is in your book. Roles could include conflict, humor, empathy, mother-figure, bff, jealousy, reflection, crush and so much more. And cameos need to serve a purpose too else rethink whether they are just clogging up and slowing down the story. One of my writer friends writes a ton of characters into her story, but she does this cool bio thing for each of the personalities she creates, really digging deep into their tastes, quirks, and even catch phrases. I’ve heard of other writers who journal in first person for each of their characters to “get to know” them. Lots of cool ideas out there to narrow down the cast of your book. Funerals can continue to be delayed. Cut. Open Deleted Pages File. Paste. Move on.

3.   Cut out any repeated highly emotional responses. Whether that’s a character who is constantly jumping for joy or a heroine who cries every time she sees a puppy. It just gets old. And diminishes the power behind the anticipation of an emotionally charged scene. I’ll give you an example. There was a very sad scene that I worked on when I was getting to the closing scenes of Seeing Through Stones. I had no idea, until Beth humorously pointed out to me, that I had Talia cry. Then cry again. Then more crying. And then crying her eyes out. By the time the scene finished, Talia had spent pages and pages weeping. Poor girl had be dehydrated and readers don’t want to have the emotional ride stolen from them. Funny thing is, after reworking the scene, my husband was reading that chapter and noted, “You know, that scene was incredibly sad. But...Talia never cries. I would have thought that at some point, she’d be sobbing.” Ha. I had over-edited! So back went in a moment and a half of tears. Yep. Still learning.

4.   Cut out the kiss. Kiss. And Kiss again scenes. I really mean it on this one. How often can you make the kissing scene amazing? If you write one into your story. And be careful not to drop it in so soon that there’s nothing left to build up to. I know that a lot of writers are moving toward NA and college-aged characters. I am just a strong proponent of romantic scenes and moments that don’t steal the thunder from each other. Less is more. Really it is. Leave a little room for the imagination and keep the romance age-appropriate, being mindful of your audience.

5.   Finally, cut out the overuse of metaphors and poetic language. This one was probably the hardest for me, because I love a mean metaphor that encapsulates a character’s experience in a unique picture frame that no one has ever thought of before. But one per scene is enough. Overdo it, and it’s the same law of overkill that keeps rising. Less is more and more should we swept out the door. In the end, readers want a story. One that moves forward and takes the reader on a ride into a make-believe world. Muddy the road with too many “like a” and “as a” similes and a reader will forget what she was doing. And where you were trying to take her.

So I ask again, are you ready to do the hard work of writing? Because the easy part is pouring out thousands of word and scenes. Okay, that’s not easy, but it’s easier. The challenge comes when it’s time to edit. And rewrite. And delete. (I mean move to the deleted scenes file :) ) And rewrite some more. What you’ll find, and I know this comes with practice, when you courageously cut out scenes, characters, emotions, kisses, and metaphors, your story will breathe. And you’ll be able to find the holes where fresh scenes need to fill in the gaps of your story.

Believe me, it’s scary. Each time I started over, I had to take several deep breaths, pray down my fears and doubts, and trust that I alone knew my characters the best. Making me the best person to find their best journeys.

Are you ready. Set. Go. And in the words of my A-Mazing editor, Beth, “Be brave. And let it go.” The theme song from Frozen has been all over my life this year. Still love it!

Tell me, what challenges have you faced while editing? Do you have a “deleted pages” file? Did you shed any tears when you had to cut something out of your story?

AND more FUN: Enter a Mega March Madness-Giveaway for lots of fun book swag and a chance to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card.

For fun, here’s the TRAILER to Seeing Through Stones. My first ever! Enjoy!

Happy Writing Teens! You are the reason that I write!

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to pace a "big reveal" in your novel.

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.

A writer emailed me and asked, "I was wondering how to pace a "big secret" reveal. My main character has a secret about her family's past, but none of her friends know about it. She also tries to avoid thinking about it so only hints come up in her internal monologue. Sort of like in Throwing Stones where Abbie hints about the day at the mall but doesn't tell the whole story until later. Is there a general formula for getting a reader to have kind of the right idea without guessing too easily? And how long should you drop hints before letting the reader know?"

Likely we've all read a book where we've had one (or multiple) of these thoughts as we read:

Hmm. I wonder what the character meant by that.
Ooh, we're about to find out what really happened.
Whoa, I never saw that coming. How did I miss that? *Flips back through the book determined to catch the author in an error.*

On the flip side, we've also probably had these thoughts as we read:

There's yet another reference to a big secret.
Enough with all the hinting - just tell me!
That's it? All that build up for ... this?

I'm going to use my novella Throwing Stones as an example for a couple reasons, and it's not because I think I did a flawless job with my big reveal scene. I'm using it because:

  • The writer who emailed mentioned it
  • The book is available for free (so you can read it and see if you agree or disagree)
  • And since it's a novella, you can read it in about 45 minutes or an hour.

First of all, when a character has something big that will be revealed later, you should always hint at it.

You don't want the reader to get to your big reveal and be like, "Oh, I didn't at all realize this character was hiding something. This came out of nowhere." Because that means you've lost a lot of your potential for tension throughout the beginning of the story.

On the other side, though, you don't want the point of view character thinking about his "big secret" on every page or you'll just annoy us.

The writer who emailed me said something very promising in her email: "She also tries to avoid thinking about it so only hints come up in her internal monologue." This indicates to me that the writer has already achieved a decent balance.

Most big reveals are not happy things - they're things that have hurt the main character and damaged them and their future in some way. It's not something they want to dwell on. Which means the moment it pops into their head, they should be trying to push it out again.

How do you hint at it?

Try to determine when it would be at the forefront of the characters thoughts, and then try to dribble in information that makes the reader more curious about what happened.

In Throwing Stones, Abbie doesn't really have a big secret. Instead she has something that haunts her. When her son was three, the biological father and grandmother tried to take him away from Abbie. I decided that the event had enough of a hook to it that I should go ahead and give a one sentence summary for the reader.

This takes place on page four, and it's been several years since the event occurred:
I pat his back. “Tell your friends bye.”
He looks to his shoes. “Bye.”
“Look them in the eyes, Owen.”
I know it takes a lot of courage for him to raise his head and whisper, “Bye.”
Meeting new adults is the hardest for him. It’s been this way ever since that afternoon when two people he didn’t know—his father and his grandmother—ripped him from my arms.
Lacey crouches in front of him. “Bye, Owen. Maybe you could bring your mom to our playdate too, okay?”
Owen presses deeper against me. “Okay.” His fist has formed into a sucking thumb, but he keeps it at his side. Good boy.
Sometimes it works better to just leave it vague. For this book, however, it seemed like saying two people he didn't know—his father and his grandmother—tried to take him would be more intriguing than, "It's been this way ever since that afternoon at the mall."

With the next mention of what happened to Abbie, I chose to reveal a bit more. (This is on page 22 of a 59 page novella):
Owen returns to mounding my duvet into a road block, and I shovel food in my mouth as I study for my Comparative Lit test tomorrow. But Owen’s dialogue between his cars distracts me.
“No, I don’t want to go get ice cream,” Owen says as he holds his favorite green car.
He turns to the yellow car and speaks for it. “Yes, you have to go get ice cream.”
Now the green car. “I don’t want to.”
Then the yellow car, in a shriek of a voice, “Yes, you have to!”
The cars collide and Owen has the yellow car drag away the green. “No!” Owen yells on behalf of the green car. “Don’t take me! No!”
A shudder rips through me. The memory of Owen being pulled from my arms is so near, it’s like I’m there.
“Owen, honey.” I try to keep my voice level, but it shakes. “Why don’t you have your cars get along nicely with each other? What if they decide together to go have ice cream?”
Owen blinks at me. “But, Mama.” His voice is so earnest. “That wouldn’t be real.”
The reader is piecing the two hints together now and seeing how this event has impacted Owen's (and Abbie's) ability to trust.

To make the big reveal work, you have to push the character to a place where they relive the memory rather than brushing it away.

I did this in Throwing Stones by Abbie having a panicked moment where she can't find Owen at the park. He had run and hid because she was talking to a man who looked vaguely like his father:
“Owen Joshua.” I drop beside him and pull his wiry frame into my lap. “Didn’t you hear me calling for you? That was terrifying.”
Owen wipes his eyes and clings to me. “Sorry, Mom.”
I rub my hand in circles on his back, finding comfort in the physical. The individual bones of his spine, the shudder of his breath, his hair tickling my chin. “What are you crying for, O?”
“I just got scared, is all.” His words are blubbery against my neck.
I don’t have to ask what about. It’s been two years now, but the fear of that day has never dulled in my memory.
And it seems it hasn’t for Owen either.
From there, I go straight into what happened that day to traumatize poor Owen so. The intensity of what Abbie has just been throughand the guilt she had poured on herself when she spent thirty seconds thinking she had lost her sonmake it a good time to reveal what happened.

And then this is the big one in my opinion in making this all matter:

Your big reveal needs to be vital to the climax of the story.

You should entwine the big reveal so tightly with the climax that if you didn't do the big reveal, the climax would lose impact.

At the end of Throwing Stones, Abbie and Owen are forced into the company of Owen's father. And if the reader hadn't witness firsthand what happened between the three of them (plus his mother) then the scene would have fallen flat. Not only that, you might have thought Abbie was an overbearing mother who wasn't giving her son a chance to have a relationship with his dad.

I was really pleased with how it all came together, but honestly, very little of it was in the first draft:

Pulling together the big reveal happens in the edits.

I completely pantsed my novella. So when I dropped in that hint on page four about what had happened to Owen, it was on a total whim. I had no idea yet how it all went down. (Actually, I think in my original draft, I had it written as being Owen's grandparents, not his father. But then when I wrote the scene at the mall, I couldn't get Grandpa to make a move, so I had to change plans.)

And the scene with Owen and his cars? Originally he was saying completely different stuff. It wasn't until the edits that I had the idea to have him reenacting what had happened, same as I hear my kids putting their stuffed animals in time out or telling them they need to, "Make good choices and fix their attitudes."

I had no intentions of Lance popping back up at the ending either. It was only when I reread the draft after having been away from it for a few months that I was like, "If I make the reader spend all this energy on what happened with Lance, I had better make it matter in the end!"

My point is simply that it didn't come together by magic, but by effort. By time. Those big reveals you loved in your favorite book? I'm almost positive that it was the same for those authors. So if you keep having to rework the one in your book, don't be distressed.

What book have you read that had a good big reveal? (Don't actually tell us what the big reveal is!)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Which Writers Would You Like To Be Friends With?

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.

Over the past few years, I have become a fan of Brandon Sanderson. This might not be news to you. I "may" have spoken of his work here and there. I "may" have raved about his Writing Excuses podcast. You "may" have heard me say he's a brilliant storyteller. In fact, my agent caught me going on about Brandon Sanderson at a writers conference once and she accused me of having an author crush.

I didn't know there were such things. But when she put it that way, I could not refute it.

And it's all in good fun. I do have a great respect for Brandon Sanderson's storytelling abilities. I own many of his books. And if I had the opportunity, I would buy him a cup of coffee (or cocoa if he preferred) and thank him for hours of entertainment.

If I were to make a list of writers that I so admire I wish we were pals, Brandon would be at the top of that list.

Also on the list would be:

J.K. Rowling
Rick Riordan
Scott Westerfeld
L. M. Montgomery
Frank Peretti (Met him! And bought him lunch! See picture on right.)
C. S. Lewis
J. R. R. Tolkien
Meg Cabot
Andrew Peterson
John Grisham
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Jane Austen
Travis Thrasher
Louis Sachar
and Lloyd Alexander

That all, I think. Though I probably forgot someone. This is a list of authors whose work I greatly admire. Whose writing styles lead me to believe they are likable individuals. Who I'd like to buy a cup of coffee or cocoa and thank them for hours of entertainment. (And, yes, I realize some of these authors are no longer living. So I'll just have to chat them up in heaven someday.)

How about you? Which writers would you like to be friends with?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Go Teen Writers 1,000 Word Contest is open for submissions - CONTEST CLOSED

As announced on Monday, the Go Teen Writers 1,000 word contest is open for submissions today! We're open between now and Monday, or until we get 200 entries.

Quick reminder of who can enter: Those who are 21 and under, un-agented, and not a contracted or traditionally published novelist. One entry per person.

Here's the form for entering. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure to give us the correct email address. And make sure your entry is 1,000 words or less because I hate having to disqualify people.

One final note: When Jill and I talked about how we could possibly make a 1,000 word contest work, we knew we had to put some kind of limitation on it. There are only two of us, and while the Go Teen Writers blog and community are very important, they're only a portion of our professional responsibilities. While it pains us that the limitations we've put on the contest (only accepting 200 entries and staying open to submissions only for a few days) will inevitably exclude some writers, we hope you can understand why we needed the restrictions in place.

As it is, Jill and I will be reading and providing feedback for 200,000 words free of charge, and that will take up a lot of time and energy. We're happy to give back in this way to a community that we're blessed to be a part of, but we still have to put boundaries in place to remain healthy. Thanks for your support in this!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

7 Final Steps Before You Turn In Your Book

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.

Over the past month, I've finished five books. (That sounds more impressive than it is.) I finished the rewrite of Rebels (The Safe Lands, book 3), I finished and published Ambushed: Mini-Mission 2.5 (available Friday), and I wrote and rewrote three books in the RoboTales series for readers in grades 3-7 (Tinker, Mardok and the Seven Exiles, and The Tiny Cyborg). So I found myself repeating my final steps again and again. And again. And I thought it might be interesting and helpful to share my final steps with you.

1. Read it one more time.
No matter how many times I've rewritten or read the book, I always read it again. And I usually put it on my Nook or Kindle and read it that way. If I have time, I'll read it out loud to my kids. You catch so many more mistakes reading the book aloud to an audience than you catch reading it silently to yourself.

2. Seek out weasel words.
If you've never heard of weasel words, these are simply words that take up space and that don't help you tell a good story. Also, you can sometimes delete them without even having to replace them. (For example, those highlighted words in the previous two sentences.)

Stephanie and I posted our list of weasel words for you to download and print. Click here to see it.

Included on my list are words that I often mis-type, but my mis-typing creates a real word, so spell check doesn't pick it up. Words like: that (I type "than"), think (I type "thing"), and through (I type "though").

For all of these words, I will, tediously, type each one into the "Find and Replace" function in MS Word to make sure I have them all correct.

3. Seek out contractions.
I naturally type out full words when I write dialogue. Not always. (I've been training myself.) But since I write fast first drafts, I don't always pay attention. So I like to "Find and Replace" certain whole words with contractions like: "it is" to "it's," "I am" to "I'm," "do not" to "don't," "that is" to "that's," etc. 

4. Shorten chapters.
One of my pet peeves is a chapter that ends with only a few lines on a page. Drives me nuts. Now, the truth is, that is not how it will look in the final book. My Word file will be reformatted and, hopefully, the layout person will not allow that to happen. But I've always tried to get rid of it on my end too, for a few reasons. 1. Like I said, it just annoys me. 2. It lowers my page count and I write long, so it makes my book look a little shorter. I can often cut 20 pages by shortening chapters! 3. It lowers my word count. I write long, so it makes my book look shorter. *grin*

To do this, I scroll through each chapter looking for paragraphs with short last lines. See the highlighted places below? I take paragraphs like these and reword and tighten them until those one-three -word lines go away, making the paragraphs one line shorter. 

5. Chapter headings check.
When I rewrite, sometimes things get rearranged or changed. So I always to a "Find" for the word "chapter." This allows me to click through and make sure all my chapter headings are correctly formatted and have the right number.

6. Formatting check.
I use the "Find and Replace" function in MS Word to delete tabs, double enters, multiple spaces, backwards quotes and apostrophes, highlighting, bold or underlining, line breaks, page breaks. I check my hyphens and dashes, and I check my ellipses. I also make sure any Track Changes are gone.

7. Spell check!
And the very last thing I do is a spell check. It's easy to forget this, especially with Word's nifty red underlining. But you MUST NOT FORGET THIS! Even if you write fantasy and it's tedious because 90 percent of the words spell check thinks are wrong are names or places you made up. It will go faster if you click "Add to dictionary" or "ignore all" on those words. But the spell check will always find something. It's worth it to take the time to do it.

Any questions? What are your final steps before you submit a book? Is there something I've missed? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Go Teen Writers: 1,000 Word Writing Contest!

Well, look at that...

We're celebrating this milestone in true Go Teen Writer fashion—with a 1,000 word contest!

Here's how it'll work:

1. Starting this Thursday (March 13th) we will  be open for submissions. That means, we are NOT open for submissions yet. We want you to have several days to get your entries ready so that no one is tempted to be all rushy-rushy and crank something out in the next five minutes.

We will be open for contest submissions Thursday, March 13th - Monday, March 17th OR until we receive 200 entries. 

Believe me, the choice to limit the contest like this has been a long discussion between me and Jill. But because we're the first round judges (see point three on how judging will work) and we're the ONLY first round judges, we knew we had to limit the contest in some capacity so we could still be (relatively) sane people at the end of March. Even with limiting the contest to 200 submissions, that's still 200,000 words for us to read. If you have an issue with the limitations and would like to discuss it with me, you may email me here.

2. When you submit your entry, it will be no more than 1,000 words. We highly recommend that it be the first 1,000 words of your story, but that decision is yours. We also highly recommend that you not conclude your entry in the middle of a sentence. It's very jarring as a judge. It's better to submit 972 words of complete sentences and thoughts than it is to leave us off in the middle of a sentence or explanation but use all 1,000 words. (If you're confused about word count, there'll be an explanation below.)

3. This contest will have three rounds of judging. Jill and I will work together to compile a list of finalists. We will give those entries to the very talented Shannon Dittemore (author of Angel Eyes series) and Laura Anderson Kurk (author of Glass Girl and Perfect Glass) who will select their absolute favorites. Their favorites will get sent on to Amanda Luedeke (Literary agent, MacGregor Literary) and she will pick the winner.

We feel so grateful to Shannon, Laura, and Amanda who are donating their time and talent to helping us make this contest happen.

Other questions you may have:

Where do I submit my entry?: You can't right now.

Can I email my 1,000 words to you right now?: No.

I don't see how to submit my entry. How do I do that?: You wait until Thursday the 13th.

(Okay, fine, questions you might ACTUALLY have):

Who is this contest for?: This contest is restricted to writers age 21 and younger, who are not traditionally published, and who do not have an agent.

How many times can I enter?: One entry per person.

Will I get feedback on my entry?: We will do our best to give each of you something helpful and concrete that you can apply to your writing. But Jill and I also have young kids and books of our own to write, so we won't be able to line edit or talk over specifics with everybody.

If I win, do you publish my entry on your website?: We would never publish your entry without asking your permission. When we publish winning entries, it's because the author has told us it's okay.

How do I find the word count?: Every time we do a contest, someone is thrown off by word count and sends me something grossly incorrect. The industry standard for word count is Microsoft Word. In my old Word, I think you had to go to "Tools" and then "Word count." The current version I have (2010, I think) keeps track of it down below:

See that place circled in red in the bottom left corner? There's your word count.
Or you can also go to the review menu and find it here:

Another option is using a site like

One final note: When Jill and I talked about how we could possibly make a 1,000 word contest work, we knew we had to put some kind of limitation on it. There are only two of us, and while the Go Teen Writers blog and community are very important, they're only a portion of our professional responsibilities. While it pains us that the limitations we've put on the contest (only accepting 200 entries and staying open to submissions only for a few days) will inevitably exclude some writers, we hope you can understand why we needed the restrictions in place.

As it is, Jill and I will be reading and providing feedback for 200,000 words free of charge, and that will take up a lot of time and energy. We're happy to give back in this way to a community that we're blessed to be a part of, but we still have to put boundaries in place to remain healthy.

Any other questions I can help answer? 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Can a teenager be taken seriously conducting interviews?

By J.L. Orchard 

Writer, actor, blogger, J.L. Orchard has written freelance articles for publications such as Canadian Horse Journal, Horse Canada and Horsepower Magazine since her teen years. She has interviewed actors, directors, Hall-of-Fame sport judges, and more, including a founding member of Cirque du Soleil. Orchard’s short stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and won numerous contests including the Athanatos J.R.R. Tolkien Award. Her goal is to be a fantasy novelist and she shares the woes, thrills and learning curves of that journey, as well as insightful interviews with seasoned professionals, on her blog 

This question can be answered in one word. Yes. But may I add, not without one valuable asset.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, interviewing skills are a valuable asset to the writer.

The best way to win fans amongst the experts in your audience, the police officers reading your crime novel, the equestrians reading your wild horse story, is to go the extra mile, interview the brains and get the facts straight. Experts can tell when you’re guessing.

But how is a teenager to be taken seriously if they ask for an interview? I began conducting interviews in my mid-teens. I’m in my twenties now, still zit-faced and could pass as fifteen. There’s no magic age where you’ll start to be taken seriously, so don’t delay doing interviews just because you’re young. There is one way to be respected as an interviewer and no one, whether they’re twelve or forty-five will be respected without it. Professionalism.

The person you’re interviewing was a teenager once. Likely, they remember how it felt to be new and inexperienced. Because you’re young, if you approach them with professionalism, they’re likely to be more impressed by your ambition and courage than if someone twice your age did the same thing. Being a teen counts in your favor.

But how do you go about requesting and conducting an interview professionally?

BE CLEAR - Ask them for an interview and tell them up front why you’d like to interview them. Say that you’re writing a book and, knowing how experienced they are in their field, you’d like to pick their brain to get your facts correct. Ask which way would be best to contact them, set a date when you will be in touch.

DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO – Those were District 9 actress Nathalie Boltt’s words from an interview I did with her. Those words are applicable to every aspect of life but particularly to interviewing. If say you’re going to email them the first week of April, email them the first week of April. Nobody wants to waste their time with someone that doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do.

ARRIVE BEFORE THEM – If you’re meeting at a coffee shop, don’t let them arrive and be puttering around waiting for you so the interview can start. Be there, have a table picked out, and wait. It’s better for you wait than to make your interviewee wait. If you’re doing an online or phone interview, be on time. Call at precisely the time the interview was set. Be sure you check if there are time zone differences.

DON’T ASK FOR AUTOGRAPHS – You are a professional, not a hanger-on. You’re there to do a job, not to get gloating rights and souvenirs. If they have copies of their book and you want to buy a copy and get it autographed, I’m sure they’d love that. But don’t, even discreetly, try to bribe a free copy out of them or get extra favors.

ASK HOW MUCH TIME THEY HAVE – Find out when they want to be done by, and don’t keep them later than that unless they initiate the conversation to continue. If they do though remind them of the time. They may not realize how late it is.

DON’T TALK ABOUT YOURSELF – The interview is not about you and how you wanted to be a fireman as a kid but saw this movie that made you afraid of fire, but your dead uncle was a fireman and firemen make you proud so you’re going to write a book about firemen… You are there to interview them, not the other way around. It’s fine to thank them for their work and say it’s touched you, but don’t give your life story. You are a professional, like them. If they’re interested about you, they’ll ask. The more time you talk about yourself, the fewer valuable things you’ll learn from the interview, and the more they’ll feel they’re wasting time. Their time is precious. Respect it.

BE COMPOSED – Don’t swear. Don’t remark on some dirt you dug up on their personal life. Dress professional. That means natural-looking makeup, clean and tidy looking clothes with no glaring logos or slogans, and no clothing that is overtly revealing. You may have a certain identity that you want to maintain but the most important identity for yourself at this time is the identity of a professional. It is possible to keep a certain style about yourself but if your style is really out there, tone it down. You want them to focus on the questions, not on what you’re wearing.

THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME – They’ve given you their time, likely for free. Show your gratitude and thank them as soon as the interview is finished. Go home and email them another thank you. Even if you asked for an interview and they declined, thank them for their time.

There could be some itching question you have right now. Someone out there has the answer, and the only way you’ll find it is to conduct an interview. There is no better teacher than experience, no better way to develop familiarity and comfort with conducting interviews than by doing them. If writing is going to be your career, polish your interviewing skills now and take a head start on those waiting to graduate college.

Believe it or not, the average professional will respect an ambitious and professional teenager more than their adult counterpart. They also forgive a young person’s mistakes more readily. Start now to work out your kinks and develop a comfort with what could one day be your norm.

Being a teen is to your advantage.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Does Your Character Have Six Things That Need Fixing?

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.

In screenwriting, the "set-up" of a movie usually happens in the first ten pages of a script. This is where the writer must hook the reader. The set-up should show who the main character is, what's at stake in this tale, and give the story goal. If you can, it's also important to introduce your main players during the set-up.  

This is also where the writer will show how the main character is flawed, so that these areas can be overcome by the end of the story. In Blake Snyder's awesome screenwriting book, Save the Cat, he shares a phrase he invented for these flaws that will be overcome. He calls them: Six Things That Need Fixing.

Does he mean six exactly? No. But this is a list of things that you will show your hero overcoming during the course of the story. In movies, these things are first shown in the set-up, then, through the movie, we see them again and again, often causing mayhem.

You can come up with a list of character flaws or problems in a number of ways. Take into account your character’s life in the past (backstory), present (story situation), and future (story goals/life goals). Take into account what’s at stake in the story—what is he risking? And take into account his attributes and behaviors (looks, friends, habits, quirks, hobbies, personality, and lifestyle).

Here are some examples from two movies I love. I tried to find Six Things That Need Fixing about each character and show you how those things were turned around by the end of the movie.

In the movie Miss Congeniality, Gracie Hart is just one of the guys. She is 1. nerdly, 2. socially awkward, 3. has no manners, 4. has no real friends, 5. is considered ugly by the men in her life, and 6. is a klutz.

In the movie we see hysterical and sad scenes that display these attributes. We see the guys at the precinct make fun on her. We see her eating alone at home. We see her snort when she laughs. We see that she can’t walk in high heels. We see her trip and drop things.

But as the movie goes on, we see her transform. This wasn’t her idea—at first. It was all for the case, which is really the only reason she’d submit to such ministrations. And this is brilliant storytelling because her desire to do her job forces her to do something she would never do: get all pretty and join a beauty pageant.

And so we see how beautiful she really is. We see her learn manners and grace. We see her make real friends, and we even see the men in her life start to take notice—turns out she’s female! Who knew?

In the movie Home Alone, young Kevin McAllister is the runt of the family. He is 1. too little, 2. helpless, 3. hates his family, 4. gullible, 5. annoying, 6. afraid of the furnace in the basement.

In the movie we see how his family treats him. We see his uncle tell him he’s too little to watch the scary movie. We see his brother call him names like trout sniffer and pretend to barf up the last piece of cheese pizza. We see his sister Linnie tell him that he’s completely helpless—what the French call les incompetents. We see him fall for his brother’s story about Old Man Marley killing people, we see him pester his mother, and we see his fear of the furnace.

But as the movie rolls, we see him face his fears. At first he thinks he got his wish, and he sets off to do all the things he wanted like eat junk for dinner, watch the scary movie, jump on his parents’ bed, use his dad's shaving lotion, and look through his brother’s private things.

But as time goes on, he transforms. We see him tell that furnace to “shut up.” We see him do laundry, go shopping, and cook meals. He learns that Old Man Marley is a nice guy, makes friends with him, and gives him advice. We see him missing his family and wishing them back. And he also protects his home from those dastardly burglars too.

You can use this same technique in your storytelling. Give your character Six Things That Need Fixing. Show us those things at the start of the story. Where is your character in his journey? Then show us how he starts to face those issues head on and become the hero he needs to be.

Does your protagonist have Six Things That Need Fixing? Name some.