Monday, June 30, 2014

How do you organize your story ideas?

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.

And, we're back!

Hope everyone had a great last two weeks. I know some of you got to meet Jill in Kansas City (so jealous!) while I was off trekking around the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park with these cuties:

On the boat across Jenny Lake 
McKenna and Connor, loving life...

Though somehow I managed to put in an appearance at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer camp as well...

"Me" signing a book for a teen writer. With Jill standing quite close.

Wherever I actually was, it's nice to be back home.

Several writers in the last month have emailed to ask me about how to keep track of story ideas.

Until recently, I never had a good system for organizing my story ideas. I think better with paper and pen, so typically I would scratch a few notes on a scrap of paper. I might type up a few things or I might just stick it on my corkboard, but I didn't have a system for hanging onto or fleshing out story ideas.

In the last few weeks, I've worked hard to change that. I went through the writing folders on my computer and found that I had stuck my ideas everywhere. Sometimes I had created an entire folder for a story idea that was nothing more than a sentence. A few ideas were inside a document labeled "Blips of ideas." Some were in documents within the folder of their genre. It was a big mess, and here's how I went about organizing myself:

Step One: Create ONE place to capture your "blips" of ideas.

I'm talking about those random writer ideas that pop into your head. Where you're like, "What would happen if I tried to combine Pride and Prejudice with Zombies?" 

They're not full-on book ideas. Maybe it's just at title or a social issue. Or one of those, "What if this happened?" thoughts. 

Even though I think better on paper, I want to keep track of my ideas on my computer since that's where I do my writing. So I created a Word doc entitled "Story Ideas" and keep it in my writing folder.

The first page is titled "Blips of ideas."

Step Two: Create a place where you can flesh out an idea.

Once a story idea is more than just a few sentences floating around in my head, I'll give it its own page within my story ideas document:

Where it says "Story idea #1" I'll put whatever I need to jog my memory about the idea. I use the "heading" feature in Word so that I can get that nifty navigation bar on the left side of the screen. Jill taught me how to do that because she's kinda the greatest.

As you can see from the image, I give myself a place to note any possible titles, to work on a hook sentence (i.e. When such-and-such happens to my main character, they must do this in order to achieve that.), and to write out back cover copy. Sometimes my ideas even come to me as back cover copy, so that might be where I start.

Or sometimes all I have are general thoughts about the story, like the theme or a character name or something the character could discover near the climax of the story. Any thought I have, I write them down.

Step Three: Create a system for organizing works in progress (commonly known as WIPs).

When does a story move out of the idea document and into its own document? When I've started writing the book. I usually don't start writing a story until I have an idea of the first line and how I want the opening scene to play out.

Once I start writing the story, the book gets its own folder. I have a "Writing" folder on my hard drive and then stories get filed either under "Young adult" or "Adult." Breaking them out by genre just makes my brain happy for some reason, but you should do whatever makes your brain happy. There are probably as many different organizational systems of manuscripts as there are writers. I asked a few of my friends just to see how they do it:
Jill WilliamsonI keep all mine on a flash drive and back it up on my computer. The flash drive has a folder for writing, and inside that is a folder for each series idea, inside that, each book. I also have a shelf of manila folders labeled with each series title in which I keep all my ideas/maps/character pics, etc. I don't have a folder and a computer file for every idea. The computer files are only for the ideas that I've started to write. But I have paper folders for all the ideas I've started plus dozens of ideas I haven't started writing. I just like to have a place to put things when ideas do pop into my head.
Shannon DittemoreI have a folder on my computer desktop called WIPs. Inside that folder are word docs. Some are stories I've set aside for the time being and others are just scribbled out ideas. Whenever I have a story I want to work on later, I try to open a word doc and get the ideas down. If I don't, I will absolutely forget them. I get story ideas most often during worship services and I'll scratch them out on a bulletin as soon as I can, but if I don't retype them on my computer when I get home, they're gone.
Melanie DickersonI open a new folder for each new book. In that folder I put all the files pertaining to that book, like character names, deleted scenes, early drafts, synopsis, proposal, etc.

Of course not all stories that I start become books. And that might be for any number of reasons. Like:
  • I love the idea, but it doesn't fit my genre so I can't prioritize writing it at the moment.
  • I'm contracted for something else. (That's my favorite reason to not be able to work on a book!)
  • I like the idea, but I know there are a few plot holes in it. I'm giving myself time to figure those out.
  • I lost my passion for it around chapter two, and it may not come back.
  • The idea is way harder than I thought it would be, so I'm giving myself some time.
So that's how I keep track of my story ideas and keep them (somewhat) organized. What do you do?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Go Teen Writers is On Vacation

Jill and I are taking some time to recharge our bloggy batteries over the next couple weeks. We'll be back on Monday, June 30th! Here's a bit of inspiration to fuel you in the meantime:

Friday, June 13, 2014

What is New Adult Fiction?

Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. She serves as an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info about Dina and her books visit her at

Did you know there were trends in fiction? We understand trends in clothing, hairstyles, and makeup. But there are trends in books as well. For example, a few years back everything in Young Adult fiction was paranormal and dystopian. Now the market is flooded with those books, and publishers are looking for the next hot trend.

Publishing is a business, and it’s a publisher’s job to find out who is reading books and what they want to read. Unfortunately for me, my first few books missed the market and ended up with smaller publishers. One of the main problems was that I was writing with an audience of 18-30 year old women in mind, and I found out that was not a target audience for most publishers at that time.

Instead, I was encouraged to write romance novels with an intended audience of middle-aged women. Great! I had little to say to these ladies. I wanted to share important life lessons with younger women. And I’m willing to bet that most of you teen writers have no intention of writing for middle-aged people either.

I finally settled on YA fiction. Last year I wrote a Young Adult medieval novel and landed my first big contract for the Valiant Hearts Series, which will release with Bethany House Publishers starting in 2015. And guess what? When I asked my publisher what ages he wanted me to gear the books towards he said, “Young Adult crossing over to New Adult. Teens to mid-twenties.”

Hold up!!! I just mentioned that a few years ago there was no market for late teens and early twenties in fiction. What is this “New Adult fiction”? I first started hearing about New Adult fiction around the same time I started working on this series in 2013. Suddenly at conferences the latest buzz words were “New Adult.” Agents and editors were looking for this new, hot category, and everyone was trying to figure out what it was.

As you’ve probably guessed, since the term “Young Adult” had already been taken, meaning teenagers, this new term was coined to explain books aimed at 18-30 year olds. Actual young adults. The women I wanted to write books for. Why the sudden interest? For years people claimed this age group didn’t read. That they were too busy going to college and starting their careers and their families. But books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent proved this theory wrong.

Beyond those “cross-over” type Young Adult books, a number of novels aimed specifically at the 18-30 crowd hit it big in 2012, which explains why in 2013, everyone suddenly started looking for these books. Because there was not previously a market for them, many New Adult books were originally self or indie published. Here is how Wikipedia defines this new category. “New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choice.” The setting is often college in these books that look at what it means to be new to adulthood. They focus on a time that falls between adolescence and bona fide adulthood.

According to a website called New Adult Alley, “New adult works like any other category of fiction. You can have New Adult horror stories in which zombies take over a college campus during finals week, or even New Adult science fiction or fantasy set off in faraway lands. The category can be combined with all genres and sub-genres for every type of reader to enjoy!” While contemporary titles currently dominate this developing category, it seems that any book with a protagonist in the 18-26 (some say as old as 29) range that deals with self-discovery and what it means to become an adult could qualify.

Let me clarify, I am not encouraging the Go Teen Writers crowd to read just any New Adult fiction. One of the big differences between these books and Young Adult is that they don’t hold to the same conservative standards that most Young Adult books do concerning issues such as language, drugs, and sexuality. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand, I am excited that this category is opening new opportunities for both authors and readers. In my chosen inspirational market, New Adult has to do with finding your true self, your true beliefs, and your true calling, probably while discovering love along the way. It often involves a transition from mirroring your parents’ religion to true faith. And it is typically grittier than fiction geared toward middle-aged housewives. This category gives me the opportunity to write to that audience I dreamed of. It gives actual young adults more books aimed toward their age and interests.

Learn more about this book by clicking here
If you’d like to check out some clean New Adult fiction, I think my novel Dance from Deep Within is a good example, and my Dance of the Dandelion, although set in the medieval period, was written with this age group in mind. Other authors to look for would include Ann Lee Miller, Staci Stallings, and Suzanne D. Williams. Also check out The Good Girl by Christy Barritt, It’s Not About Me by Michelle Sutton, There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones, and the 86 Bloomberg Place Series by Melody Carlson.

Is the New Adult fiction craze here to stay or just a flash in the pan? That’s hard to answer at this point. But at least publishers now know that people from this age group read. I’m looking forward to what develops next in this exciting new category.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Word Choice

I've been judging contests lately. And one thing I've noticed (and this is something I likely do in my own writing as well *slaps wrist*) is that authors tend to exaggerate because it sounds cool. And this is not hyperbole I'm talking about. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Blood gushed from the wound. 
If you've ever seen something gush, I bet this isn't what you really meant. Blood doesn't tend to gush. If it did, your character would bleed out in a minute because the average human has about a gallon-and-a-half of blood in his body. Fill a milk jug and time how long it takes you to pour it out.

Pain wracked every nerve.
Did it really? Where was this wound that wracked every nerve? It might have felt like it did. But until you experience childbirth, you likely don't understand true, body-encompassing pain. So if you plan to have your character experience greater pain later on in your story, maybe down play this one.

His heart hammered in his chest.
I'm not saying it didn't, but often a character's heart will hammer in his chest ten times in one book. Can you find a way to show fear differently?

Tears poured down her face.
Hmm... Pull our your gallon of water again and pour yourself a glass. Now be honest. Is that really what the tears did?

I know, I know, I'm being picky with these examples. But that's why I like this quote so much. We are authors, and words matter. Every single one.

Have you been guilty of over-exaggerating in your fiction? If so, as you edit, look for those places and take care to choose a different word, one that will communicate exactly what you need it to.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *

This is the last time I'll blog until after the GTW vacation. I will miss you. I hope you all have a lovely two weeks. I hope to see some of you at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop in Kansas. I'll be the one in Converse.

For Captives:
Nook ● Kindle ● CBD ● iTunes

For Outcasts:
Nook ● Kindle ● CBD ● iTunes

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Increase Your Word Count By Writing With Your Cell Phone

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 was never much of a cell phone user. My husband had one, but I didn't need one for myself. Until I started traveling a lot, and my husband felt I should have one in case of emergencies. So I got the freebie phone, which was a phone that masqueraded as a smart phone. But it was not smart. At all.

That didn't matter. I didn't need a smart phone for emergencies. But as time went on and the Square credit card reader came out that could enable me to accept credit cards at events, I began to want a smart phone. So when my contract ended last month and Verizon offered a free iPhone with a new contract, I got one.

My new phone looks like this, but with a Tardis background.

You might ask: "What does this have to do with writing?"

Well, I quickly discovered that my new toy had some nifty features. I can email myself, write notes and email those notes to myself, and I can use the microphone to dictate emails or notes, which I can also email to myself. And I can copy and paste from those emails right into my Word document. This enables me to write in places I've never written before.

I conducted an experiment last weekend with my new phone. I had a trip to Idaho for a homeschool conference, and I wanted to see how many words I could write while away from home. Here is a log of my efforts:

The night before I left, I wrote 331 words of a dance scene with the notepad on my phone while sitting in the living room with my kids, who were watching a Disney channel sitcom that I did not want to watch.

When I awoke at five o'clock the next morning and couldn't go back to sleep, I typed 209 words of a kidnapping scene into the notepad.

I wrote 841 in the car on a long drive to Idaho using the microphone dictation feature into a note.

I typed 395 words into a note the next morning while sitting around waiting to leave for the conference.

I dictated 200 words on the drive home.

And I typed 357 words into the notepad last night while Brad watched The Bourne Identity... again, and I half watched.

So that's a total of 2333 words that I wouldn't have written without my new smart phone. It's not a ton of words, but I liked how it added up.

Stephanie has done several 100 for 100 challenges. Typing 100 words into a cell phone isn't that difficult. And if you can dictate the words, it goes even faster than typing, though it does take a few minutes to clean everything up once you've pasted into Word. I love whipping out a couple hundred words when the scene plays through my head. One negative, even with my phone synced with my car so that I can use the overhead speaker, the dictation feature doesn't always work and I didn't like having to look at the phone while I was driving. (Not a safe thing to do.) Still, using my phone to write has already become a new part of my writing life. I love being able to do this. It's so convenient.

Have you ever used your cell phone to write? Are there any other non-traditional methods you've used to up your word count? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Robert McKee on Characters

I read this several years ago in Robert McKee's classic Story and I've thought about it often. I had never thought of characters that way, but I find I agree. Because when a character resonates with me, it's not just because they seem real. It's often because I recognize something I value in them. 

In Frozen, I love Olaf's optimism that a snowman can survive in summer and Anna's chutzpah to throw a snowball and a snow monster or leap off a cliff. In Pride and Prejudice I love Elizabeth's determination to wait for love and her strength to be counter-culture. In Heist Society I love Kat's fierce family loyalty. 

What value does your main character represent that you think will resonate with readers?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ensemble casts, stereotype flips, and more lessons from the silver screen

It was my birthday and I wanted to watch a "girl movie." Something that would involve no torture, no guns, and no moments where I had to plug my ears and sing to myself until the scary part passed. (Don't I sound fun to watch movies with?) I fired up Netflix hoping to be struck by something.

What To Expect When You're Expecting was the first chick movie I saw. It had actors and actresses I knew, and I thought I maybe sorta remembered chuckling at a preview, so that's what I picked.

All of what I've said so far could be summarized as this: I had low expectations going into the movie viewing experience. I was looking for simple, romantic, and a laugh or two. Nothing that involved too much thinking or that left my lying awake that night trying to figure out how the writers had pulled off certain elements.

I got most of what I wanted. I got simple, romantic, and a few laughs. But I still wound up laying awake in bed that night thinking about the movie. It was so much better than I thought it would be, and I wanted to know why. I finally decided on five things that made it not-your-run-of-the-mill chick flick.

The ensemble cast worked well.

If you're not familiar with the movie, here's the blurb from the studio:
Inspired by the perennial New York Times bestseller of the same name, WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING is a hilarious and heartfelt big screen comedy about five couples whose intertwined lives are turned upside down by the challenges of impending parenthood. Over the moon about starting a family, TV fitness guru Jules and dance show star Evan find that their high-octane celebrity lives don't stand a chance against the surprise demands of pregnancy. Baby-crazy author and advocate Wendy gets a taste of her own militant mommy advice when pregnancy hormones ravage her body; while Wendy's husband, Gary, struggles not to be outdone by his competitive alpha-Dad, who's expecting twins with his much younger trophy wife, Skyler. Photographer Holly is prepared to travel the globe to adopt a child, but her husband Alex isn't so sure, and tries to quiet his panic by attending a "dudes" support group, where new fathers get to tell it like it really is. And rival food truck chefs Rosie and Marco's surprise hook-up results in an unexpected quandary: what to do when your first child comes before your first date? A kaleidoscopic comedy as universal as it is unpredictable, WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING finds humor and uplift in all the unexpected trials and triumphs of welcoming a child into the world.
(Sidenote: This movie lives up to its PG-13 rating. You don't need to watch the movie to understand the points I make in this post, but if you're old enough to watch PG-13 movies, it's a good one to study the balance of the characters.)

You'll notice from the description that there's no main character. This is an ensemble cast, and it works very well. But why?

  • They were exploring a big topic. Expecting your first child is a big topic and you can explore it from lots of angles. Other stories by nature have a more narrow focus, A story about a boy who learns he's a wizard and goes away to wizarding school or a race car that gets lost in the boonies are not stories that are built with a need for an ensemble cast.
  • Each couple showed a different perspective. There are lots of different ways to find yourself expecting your first child. While two of the couples battled infertility, one found themselves surprisingly pregnant and another turned to adoption. Three of the couples are married, two are not. One of them has never even been on a date. Ensemble casts only work when the different threads show different perspectives. 
  • The story lines were independent but still wove together. The balance of this is very tricky. The writers used the topic of the story (expecting your first child) to be what united the stories rather than the characters relationships. Only two of the couples knew each other and for many of the others they only overlapped in the background of each other's shots. (By which I mean when Character A was buying food, he happened to be buying it from Character B, even though at that moment we were focused on Character A's story and not Character B's.) Several characters had a relationship to each other but we didn't realize it until the end. Even then, it was handled as a fun "Oh, look, they're cousins," kind of way and not a "Leading up to a big reveal."

Stereotypes were flipped

This is a movie that could have easily been filled with stereotypical characters. As soon as I think of couples who are expecting their first child, tons of stereotypes filled my head. The writers (and the actors as well) did a great job of making all these characters feel fresh and real, but I was particularly impressed with Skyler, the trophy wife character.

They cast Skyler as someone who looked like she could be even younger than her adult stepson. She's the walking Barbie doll you would expect, and if I were writing that character, my instinct would have been to make her snarky, air-headed, and flirtatious.

But the writers made a unique choice. In a scene where the father and adult son (who's part of one of the other couples) argue, the son leaves their baby shower. Instead of Barbie Doll Mom being flippant or shrugging it off (it's not her son, after all) they flipped her stereotype. Instead, they have her react the way you would expect a regular mom to. She lectures her husband about being too hard on "their son" and says he needs to go after him and make peace.

Apply it to your book: Have an evil stepmother character? A brooding bad boy? A perfect cheerleader type? A dumb jock? What twist could you give them? Even if you keep them as an evil stepmother (after all, a trophy wife is a common character in stories) what's something they could do to surprise the audience?

Character's expectations were trampled on.

My favorite character was Wendy who owns a baby store and has been obsessed with pregnancy and being a mom for years. Then her dreams come true and after all this time of trying for a baby, she is finally pregnant. The writers did an awesome job of setting up the character's expectations of what pregnancy and motherhood would look like.

Then they went about systematically destroying everything she imagined. She has a miserable pregnancy full of all the gross stuff that often gets glossed over in Hollywood, and as the movie goes on you feel so sorry for her. When her surprising moment of victory comes, it's extra satisfying because of what a great job the writers did showing us her expectations before Wendy went through all her trials.

Apply it to your own book: What does your character think will happen over the course of the story? Not only do they think it will happen, they feel it's practically a guarantee. And how could you slowly break them down until they release that dream and take hold of something new and better?

Characters on the same "team" were not always on the same page.

While some of the couples in What to Expect When You're Expecting were in sync with the journey of starting a family, not all of them were. Again, this was a situation where the writers did a great job with the balance. It would have felt like conflict overload if all five couples were at war with each other, but it also would have felt very unrealistic if all five couples were powering forward in unison.

Apply it to your own book: What teams have you created in your book? Are there best friends or people on a quest together? How have you handled the conflict between them? Is there an issue that divides them or draws them closer together?

"Why do you do that?"

Jules, who's played by Cameron Diaz, is a celebrity fitness instructor and super controlling. As her pregnancy progresses, her micro-managing tendencies only grow stronger. To the point where even those in the audience are leaning away from the screen thinking, "Yikes. You're out of control."

After a bad fight with her boyfriend where Jules deals a few low blows, he storms out. After he leaves, she's doing something in the bathroom, looks at herself in the mirror, and says, "Why do you do that, Jules?"

What a great way to win back the interest and sympathy of the audience. Haven't we all said something that we regretted? Or lashed out at someone we love? Or acted in a way that had us thinking precisely the same thought? Why do I do that? It made the audience ache for her.

Apply it to your own book: Is there a scene where you could deepen sympathy for your character by having them "call themselves out" on their own bad behavior?

Stories of all kinds, whether it's television, movies, books, or others, can help us grow as a writer if we're paying attention. What was the last story you experienced that influenced your writer's brain?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Jill's ABC Reading Update

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 year I posted an ABC reading challenge, just for fun. I started out strong, then I started skipping around and letting the books I wanted to read take cuts. And I never went back to some of them. Click here to see my original list.

Now, last year I read dozens more books that were not on my ABC challenge list. It might be interesting for me to try and keep track of how many books I read in one year. But I didn't keep track of everything I read, only the ones on my list, since I had printed it out so I could cross off titles.

Here are my results.

From my list, I read:
Alanna by Tamora Pierce - This was okay.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Loved this one!
Cinder by Marissa Meyer - Enjoyed this one. Lots of fun.
Dune by Frank Herbert - This book was amazing, but I couldn't read it quickly.
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan - Again, an amazing book, but I had to take my time.
Feed by M. T. Anderson - Very interesting, but a little depressing.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale - Loved this one. Very cool. Disney should make this into a movie.
Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen - LOVED THIS! And then I got to meet him and brag about it.
The Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers - Floored by this novel. I can't believe it took me so long to read it.
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien - This one was okay.

I did not read:
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Intervention by Terri Blackstock
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis 
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Owlflight by Mercedes Lackey

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Quentin Durward Sir Walter Scott 
Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

What's next:
I decided I didn't like trying to force myself to read a book just because I needed a title with the letter Q. So for this next year, I've made a new list. Books I want to read and plan to read. And I will add books to the bottom of the list that I randomly read so that I can see how many books I read in a year.

So, rather than 26 books with a title for each letter of the alphabet, here is my To Read list in no particular order, we'll see how I do this time.

Books I want to read and plan to read:
Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover
Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen
The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell
As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb
Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks
The Silver Hand by Stephen Lawhead
The Endless Knot by Stephen Lawhead
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
The Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson
The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Did you do the ABC Reading Challenge? If so, how did you do? And, either way, what's on your To Read list for the next year?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Harper Lee on Criticism

Artistic fields can be tough. We create from the depths of our soul, yet if we are to be successful, we must put our work out there to be judged. This quote from Harper Lee is excellent advice. As artists, a thick skin can shield us from some of the cruel comments that will, inevitably, come our way. But we would also be wise to keep our self-worth separate from our creation. Just because someone dislikes your book, that doesn't mean that person also dislikes you. While our creation is so much a part of us---in many ways like a child---any criticism feels personal. But we must remember that the criticism is about the work, not about who we are as human beings. This is something I (Jill) have to remind myself weekly, sometimes daily.

Do you struggle with criticism? If so, remember to keep your self-worth separate from your creation. It's not always easy, but it can help.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How to Show Transitions of Time in Your Novel

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.

Time passing. How do you show transitions of time in your novel? Months have passed, or years. Or maybe it's only been a few minutes. 

I recently read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and I noticed that she did an excellent job with transitions of time. Here are some examples from that book.

I lost track of time. Night and day passed through the windows of the coach. I spent most my time staring out at the landscape, searching for landmarks to give me some sense of the familiar.”

*               *               *               *               *               *

“The next few days passed in a blur of discomfort and exhaustion.”

*               *               *               *               *               *

Fall turned to winter, and cold winds stripped the branches in the palace gardens bare.”
And here are some examples from my novella Ambushed.

When we got to Tucson, I texted Coach Pasternack, and he told me to join him the next morning at 8:00 a.m. for a short meeting with Coach Miller. I didn’t like having to meet the head coach before I even got a tour, but it was a game day, so I had to make the best of it. 
Grandma and I stayed the night in a Super 8 Motel and got up bright and early for my meeting. Though I’d done this before, it was my first time visiting one of the schools that had shown interest in me, and I was really nervous.
We met Coach Pasternack outside the McHale Center. He was with Arizona guard Jordin Mayes, who had a chin beard that reminded me of C-Rok’s buddy Ant Trane.

*               *               *               *               *               *

Grace didn’t show at church on Sunday either, and Arianna said she was supposed to have been back by now.
She didn’t answer any of my texts or Facebook messages.
It was kind of freaking me out.
So I walked over to Ghetoside—a Pilot Point nickname for the Meadowside Apartments where Grace lived. Her place was on the ground floor and faced the street. The driveway in front was empty. The lights were off. I even knocked on the door, but no one was home.
I let it go for a few days, but when school started and Jaz said Grace hadn’t been in class, I started going by her place more often.
And one night, the lights were on, and an old Honda Civic was parked in the driveway.

*               *               *               *               *               *

January breezed by. The same schools were still talking to coach about me, except Berkley had offered early, which made no sense to me until Coach said he’d told them I wanted to study computers and work for the CIA. 

*               *               *               *               *               *

I woke up in a hospital bed wearing a blue paper gown, feeling groggy.

 Another thing you can do, is write something at the start of a new chapter. For example:

Chapter 2

Three years later

So how do you show time passing in your writing? Is this something you struggle with? If so, take note of these examples, but also watch for time passing in the novels you read. It always happens.

Also, my publisher has put the first two novels in my Safe Lands trilogy on an ebook sale for the next two weeks. If they've been on your To Read list, now might be a good time to snap them up. Here are the links:

For Captives:
Nook ● Kindle ● CBD ● iTunes

For Outcasts:
Nook ● Kindle ● CBD ● iTunes

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Be a First-Class You

The art of selling yourself to an agent or editor is a tricky one to figure out. They're looking for a fresh-feeling story ... but one that has a clear audience. That's why in marketing copy you so often see phrases like, "If you love The Hunger Games then you'll love this book too!"

These kinds of comparisons are fine and useful for marketing purposes. And they're helpful for readers too. But achieving a particular comparison should never be our goal. Striving to make your writing the next J.K. Rowling or the next Ally Carter or the next James Patterson will only water down those unique qualities of YOURS.

That's why I love this quote for today's Tuesday inspiration:

What's something unique about the story you're telling? How is it different than others you've read? What is it about this story that makes your heart quicken?

Monday, June 2, 2014

How do I know when I'm done editing?

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.

How many rewrites should you do on a manuscript? How many drafts does it take to finish a book?

How do you know when you'refinally!done with edits? You don't, really. It's a gut thing.

Helpful, right?

I wish it were more formulaic, but it really isn't. And when you're new to editing and you don't yet know what your writing process is, it's hard to know when to tell yourself you've done everything you can and that you did your best.

And the really tricky thing about being a flourishing new writer is that with how much and how quickly you're learning, by the time you finish one round of edits, you have so much more knowledge you can apply. As exciting as it is to see rapid improvement, it can also lead to a lot of frustration.

Here are a few suggestions that I hope are helpful:

Study editing processes and try them out.

The only way that editing gets easier and more enjoyable is when you figure out what system works for you. Some writers are at their best when they do drafts and drafts of their manuscript. For some, they write such complete outlines, their first draft has a more complete, polished feel. 

There are times when the only reason I can convince myself I'm done with editing is that I've followed my process and done my normal amount of drafts. For me that process involves a bare bones first draft, a majorly overhauled second draft, a smoothing-stuff-out third draft, and then a polish at the end. At that point I tell myself that I did the best I could do.

Get outside help.

There are very few people with whom I will talk about my book while I'm in the first draft process. As I brainstorm, I might ask for my husband's thoughts on a plot twist I'm considering. Or I might poll a handful of writer friends about a thing or two.

When I'm writing my first draft, however, that's time for me and my manuscript and nobody else. I don't post sentences of it online. I don't call up Jill and read her the scene I just finished and feel proud of. I would argue that receiving too much input when you're in the first draft stage is harmful to you as a writer, but that's just my opinion.

When I do like help is after I've done my major overhaul second draft and smoothing-stuff-out third draft. That's when I feel like I've done everything I can do with the story and that it's time to figure out where my blind spots are. I always have them and sometimes it's a hard rewrite, but this is the timing that I've found works best for me. 

If you don't have writing friends yet, don't panic. I didn't either until I was 22, and I have somehow still managed to make a living as a writer.

Let time be your critique partner.

I won't lieit's wonderful having experienced authors who are willing to read and provide feedback for my stories. Every writer should be lucky enough to have someone who can rip apart their character arc and tell you why it's not working. But before I had professional writer friends, I used a combination of frustration and time to critique for me. It went like this:

"This manuscript is terrible and beyond fixing! I'm done. I'm going to work on something else." Followed by me shutting down the file and moving the folder to my "retired manuscripts" folder.

One month later.

"This new idea could actually fit really well with that manuscript I retired a month ago. I wonder if it really was as bad as I thought it was." Then I would pull out the file, read it, realize yes it was terrible, but that I knew how to fix it now. Hooray!

While this isn't the most pleasant method of getting a book written, it did the trick. Poor Skylar Hoyt got retired so many times, that as I did the final rewrite, I was actually hoping the agent who'd requested it would reject me just so I could work on a new story. (She didn't, and the book became my debut, and I feel very grateful for it all.)

I know "give it time" isn't a very fun suggestion to hear, but sometimes that's really what is needed.

Here are some other editing questions you guys asked:

How long does it take for you to edit your first draft? 

For me? Months. Sometimes that first round of edits can take as long as the first draft did. Especially if I have a book release going on or a lot of life stuff. Like right now my kids are out of school for the summer. I'm lucky if I get to edit a page a day.

Also, if you get rejected by an agent or publisher, do you go back and start editing your draft all over again using the same process, or do you use a shortened process? Or do you just go on to querying other agents/submitting to other publishers without editing it more?

It depends on the feedback they give. I have rewritten a book based on advice I've received. Going back to when I was working on what became my debut novel, the feedback I was consistently getting was that Skylar wasn't a very sympathetic heroine. When I figured out how I wanted to change that, it required a rewrite of the whole book. 

But there have been times when I've ignored an editor's advice because it doesn't fit my book or target market or what I want to happen with the story. In that situation, I've just brushed it off and gone on with submitting elsewhere. (That's not always possible if it's an editor who has already bought the book or if it's YOUR agent, not just "an" agent. But if you're in the querying stage, then you have more flexibility.)

Hopefully this series has helped break down the very intimidating process of editing! In case you missed the earlier posts, here's a list of them: