Friday, August 29, 2014

Authors Wear Many Hats---and my gift to you!

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

Authors wear many hats.

Too many.

I mean, it's fun sometimes, learning to do all the different things I need to do to help my books have the best chance of success. Other times, it's not so much fun at all.

Traditionally published authors wear quite a few hats, but if you self-publish, you wear so many more. In the past few weeks, I wore the following hats:

typesetter for print books
ebook designer
information technician
graphic designer
web designer
virtual assistant
personal assistant

I think that's all of them. The I.T. hat was the most difficult for me.

Why was I messing around with computers to such a degree, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. I was trying to create an ebook sampler to give away at Comic Con next weekend. This required me to first learn how to create an ebook using Scrivener. This I needed to do anyway to release the Storyworld First ebook, which I've done. (Yay!) So I created my ebook sampler, no problem. (That's a bit of an over-exaggeration. It took me a full week to learn to create an ebook in Scrivener, but now that I know how, it's a lot faster.)

The problem came when I tried to upload my ebooks to my website so that people could download them. My Wordpress site would not accept the files. They were too big. And also, there was something vague about Wordpress not supporting .mobi and .epub file formats. Maybe it was both. Who knows?

After a few hours of frustrated Googling, a tip from John Otte panned out. I used Filezilla to upload the large files to my server. Then I added the links to the download page. Done! Right?


Um . . . nope.

When John tried to download them, a password box popped up wanting my login information. I certainly wasn't going to post that online!

So I had to call my hosting provider for help, and they saved the day.

But then it turned out that they actually didn't, and I had to call again.


But the second guy was a superhero genius and saved the day for real.

To celebrate, I wanted to give you all access to the ebook sampler and ask your help. If you want it, please download it and share your experience in the comments. Just a simple, "It worked" or "I can't download it" will help me. I know this method of posting the sampler on my website isn't perfect, but if there are consistent problems, I'd like to fix them before Comic Con. Thanks so much for your help!

Here is a little bit about the sampler:

The 5-6-7 eBook Sampler is the ultimate introduction to the writings of Jill Williamson. Five chapters each from six books and a seventh complete short story. 
Includes excerpts from: By Darkness Hid, Captives, The New Recruit, Replication, Go Teen Writers, and Storyworld First. Plus a complete short story called The Senet Box. If you like fantasy, dystopian, mystery, adventure, science fiction, and books on writing, check out this sampler. 

Click here to download your copy. Enjoy!

What hats beside "author" have you worn this week?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Louis L'Amour on Writing

by Jill Williamson

There have been so many days lately that I've found it difficult to write. It's the end of summer. So much is going on. The kids are home. I'm trying to plan for two book releases---one book I created myself. Comic Con is coming, along with ACFW, where I'm doing critiques this year. More, more, more! And when I sit down to write . . . blah.

But I make myself sit there. I have a book to write, so I absolutely must sit there. I have no choice. And I've found that the more I make myself write---while those first few paragraphs are painful and might take me an hour---eventually, the words start flowing. Faster and faster. But I have to struggle through those first few paragraphs first.

If writing is hard for you lately, don't give up. Keep on writing. At some point, the words will flow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What is a Logline and How Do You Write One?

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

Last week we talked about how to come up with a high concept for your novel.

A high concept pitch is not the same as a logline. A high concept is an intriguing idea that can be stated in a few words and is easily understood by all. A logline is a one- two-sentence description of a story that tells us what it is.

Here are the ingredients I use to create a logline:

1. Inciting incident
2. Character + adjective
3. The hero's (primal) story goal
4. What's at stake

The sentence might look something like this:

When ____1____ happens to ____2____ he must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.

Or this:

A(n) ____2____ does/experiences ____1____ and must ____3____ before ____4____ happens.

If you're not writing a high concept, you should still try to craft a logline that meets the high concept elements of being universal, unique, and having a hero dealing with a BIG problem. Also, the logline doesn't always include the inciding incident. As long as you have a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE, you're in good shape.

For example:

An outcast teen (2) finds therapy writing her enemies into her story (3), but when her novel is published (1), she must face the consequences of using her pen as her sword (3). The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill.

Let’s try it with one of my ideas. And let me just say, it's not easy to get a 180k epic fantasy idea down to once sentence. I totally understand how difficult this is.

I started off with: When the ocean swallows their homeland(1), the survivors of two enemy kingdoms(2) take to the ocean to look for new land(3), but their common plight isn’t enough to stop the war between them(4).

I’ve got the #2 WHO (survivors), the #3 GOAL (finding new land), and the #4 OBSTACLE (they’re at war).

But it’s not great, either. Why?

-33 words is way too long. I like to shoot for 25.
-My WHO is no good. I need a single main character for the logline, even if the book has multiple POVs.
-I used the word “ocean” twice.
-It’s wordy and can be condensed.

So… I’ll try again.

When his homeland is destroyed, a prince(2) leads a fleet of ships in search of new land(3), but an enemy gives chase, bent on war(4).

-25 words
-I like focusing on the prince. It makes the story feel more personal.
-And saying the enemy is chasing them adds a sense of urgency.
-All in all, it's a descent logline.

Going back to last week's high concept, is there an easier way to say this? What comparisons can I draw for a displaced kingdom? Searching for a new homeland? The threat of an ongoing war? Can I get these ideas into a single high concept?

Nope. I couldn't. I spent months on it and totally gave up. But my agent spoiled me when she came up with this:

Fantasy Battlestar Galactica at sea.

This is much better! It’s a “TV show in a new setting” high concept and it’s only five words long. When you read it, you have a pretty good guess about the kinds of things that will happen in the plot. And the fantasy setting and “at sea” aspect gives the “people searching for a home” concept” a unique twist.

Your turn! Let's focus on the logline today. Can you summarize your concept in a sentence of 25 words or less? Be sure to give a WHO, a GOAL, and an OBSTACLE or try one of my two fill-in-the-blank sentences. You might have to play with the words and rearrange a little. And that's okay.

Paring your idea down to a few words forces you to focus on what your story is about and keeps you on track as you write. Loglines are the way agents and editors sell your idea. And when you make it simple to remember, you make it simple for them to pitch. Give it a try. And then help someone else with their idea.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Winners Quit All The Time.

by Stephanie Morrill

I've quit a lot of things in my life. Soccer, dance, cheerleading. I quit a school play one time. (That one actually makes me cringe, because I'm pretty sure I didn't even tell my director.) I've quit watching TV shows that stopped being entertaining to me or reading books that were boring.

I quit a lot, andwith the exception of flaking out on that middle school playI do it so that my time can be focused on the best things. The things that only I can do.

That list is short. It includes being a good wife to my husband, a good mother to my kids, and, of course, writing.

So when my parents loaned me The Dip by Seth Godin, a book about quitting, this quote jumped out at me:

"Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time." Seth Godin, The Dip
As my kids start back to school, I find myself reassessing my schedule, and maybe now is a good time for you to do the same. What do I need to quit so that I can free myself up to excel at something else?

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Having No Talent Can Actually Be A Good Thing

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.

Some of you have heard me say this in interviews, but I decided when I was six that when I grew up, I wanted to write books. In first grade, we had writing time everyday. For fifteen minutes (or maybe more, I don't know) we got out our writing folders and wrote stories about whatever we wanted.

When we were done with a story, we took it down to this closet of a room at the school to have it "published." We picked our cover and the stickers or art work. We picked the color of the binding. And then we left our handwritten story there to be typed up for us. (This was 1990, so it's  not like there was an abundance of computers floating around Willow Glen Elementary.)

Several days later, our books would be returned to us to illustrate. Once we were done illustrating, we read our story to the class. And then the whole process started over.

My mother saved mine, and I'm so glad.

I keep the books in my office to remind myself that I wasn't talented. At all.

I wouldn't even say I was talented "for a first grader." There isn't a drop of brilliance in my prose that hints I would grow up to be an author. I'll prove it:

Yep. The first book I wrote is called "Stephanie." That's how creative of a child I was. And wow, that clashes with my orange office.

"Dedicated to my Mommy, Daddy, and my dog.
Once upon a time there was a little girl."

"Her name was Stephanie." (Which I indicated with these flowers...?)

"She had a little dog." (And apparently only one color of crayon.)

"The dog's name was Toby."

"The little dog said 'Arf, arf.'"

"Stephanie pet her dog."

I promise you that the nice woman who typed this up for me was not thinking, "Wow. I might be typing up a story for a girl who will sometime be a real author!"

No, I had no talent. But a lack of inherent talent can be overcome by enthusiasm and tenacity, and if you had been observing my enthusiastic and tenacious first grade self, then you might have guessed writing stories was in my future. Because I loved writing stories. I was one of the most enthusiastic students when it was story writing time. And I didn't just write at school, I wrote at home without being asked. (Mostly about horses and meeting Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.)

As I've grown up, I've noticed that people who rely more on their talent than they do hard work seem to fall into the trap of laziness and eventually slip into mediocrity. Being born without a shred of talent means I had to work hard to be any good at all.

So if you're not feeling very talented at the moment, don't worry about that. When Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all, was asked about why he's done so well, he said he "stayed in the pool longer." You could argue that he was also born with a healthy body and all that, but I love the answer he gave because it's something I can do too. I can't make myself more talented or poetic, but I can work hard and write longer.

What are your writing plans today?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Do you need help with your storyworld?

by Stephanie Morrill

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

I helped Jill proofread her newest release, Storyworld First: Creating a Unique Fantasy World for Your Novel, and it was so much fun.

I'm not a fantasy writer, but I was fascinated by the process for creating a whole world to tell a story in. If you're a fantasy writer, you need this book, and here's why:

1. Jill breaks down the process in such a clear way. She starts with an overview of the components of world building, and then she delves deeper into each one.

2. Jill has written award-winning fantasy and sci-fi books, so the girl knows what she's talking about.

3. Jill encourages writers to write their heart and write their story, but she also pushes writers to be unique and to work hard. The effect of this feels like being given a warm hug and then a pep talk.

4. Jill talks about her own mistakes. This is such a rare trait in a professional artist, and it makes it so much easier to learn from her.

5. Jill doesn't just talk about how to create unique beasts for your world, how to integrate your map into your plot, or how to develop interesting magic. She walks you through it with the same worksheets and helpful lists that she uses when working on her storyworlds.

Storyworld First is available in both paperback and ebook forms, and should totally be on your wish list, if not your buy-right-now-because-I-must-have-it list.

I'm giving away an e-copy of Storyworld First to one lucky person. This giveaway is open to residents of all countries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As a non-fantasy writer, I'm curious to hear from you fantasy writers. What part of worldbuilding is your favorite? With what do you struggle the most?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hemingway on the Difficulty of Writing

Enough said.

Who has been bleeding lately? Share in the comments and I'll attempt to coordinate triage. But I have no magical healing methods to offer. You will form thick scabs and deep scars. But they will give you and your writing depth and character and that's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What is a High Concept Pitch and How Do You Write One?

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

What is high concept?
In Hollywood (for the movies) and in New York (for publishing houses), concept is king. If you can come up with a high concept idea, you increase your chances of success.

What is a high concept? It's an idea that appeals to the masses. It's that book or movie that you hear about and think, "Yes! I want to watch that!" or "Why didn't I think of that?"

Here are some examples:
What if a boy found out he was a demigod?---The Lightning Thief
Fairy tale characters trapped in our world---Once Upon a Time
Revenge through literature---The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet
A lawyer who cannot tell a lie---Liar Liar
What if Peter Pan grew up?---Hook
Horror film in the ocean---Jaws
Dinosaur theme park---Jurassic Park
Fight to the death on national television---The Hunger Games
Love story between two terminal teens---The Fault in Our Stars
The story of those left behind after the rapture happens---Left Behind
A blonde goes to Harvard Law School---Legally Blonde
He’s having the day of his life, over and over again---Groundhog's Day
What if a girl and a vampire fell in love?---Twilight

One thing to keep in mind: once a high concept hits big, it's over. So if you're trying to pitch a vampire/human love story or a fight to the death dystopian novel right now, you won't get very far. Look for a twist that makes it original again. Or look for an entirely new idea. People always say, "There are no new ideas!" Yet brilliant books and movies continue to be made every year. So never give up. You could find the next big thing.

Why Try for a High Concept Idea?
1. It can open a lot of doors. As a new writer… and even as a multi-published writer… having a high concept increases the chances of publication. Anything that appeals to the masses and is easy for an agent or editor to communicate, can open a lot of doors.

2. It helps you find what the story is really about, which will help you stay on track as you write.

3. It helps you communicate your idea. Every new author has those times where they can’t explain their story in a sentence or two. But if the idea sounds so complicated that the listener can't understand, you will probably get rejected. When I first pitched The New Recruit at a conference in 2008, I had memorized my back cover copy. I met an agent and rambled out the paragraph, messed up twice, and she kindly asked me to start over. I don't recommend this strategy! Later at dinner, I sat beside another agent. I didn’t ask to pitch. (I was still recovering from the first attempt!) Finally, she asked me what my story was about. And I said: “It’s for teens. It’s kind of a Christian Agent Cody Banks.” She instantly perked up. Why? Because I locked onto the hint of high concept and made my story premise easy for her to categorize. I said nothing more about the book, and she asked for my first three chapters.

4. It makes marketing easier. Once your story is published, people will still communicate your story, and a high concept makes that simple. Word of mouth is the number one way books sell, so you want to make it easy for readers to tell others about your book.

"Great!" you say. "How do I write a high concept?"
Start with these three tips. A High Concept . . .
1. Is universal. A high concept must resonate with everyone. Either we know what the experience feels like, or it's an experience we've all thought about or could relate to.

2. Is unique or has a fresh twist on a familiar idea. Find something that hasn’t been done before. A good concept should be both unique and universal. If the idea is unique, but no one can relate to it, then it is not a high concept idea. It the idea is universal, but we have seen it again and again and again, it is not a high concept idea.

3. Involves a hero we can relate to who is dealing with a big problem. When you're thinking about the hero and his big problem, consider upping the stakes and adding a time limit. What will happen if your hero fails? Blake Snyder says these stakes must be primal. That means survival, love, life or death, protecting loved ones. The higher the stakes, the better. And if you can add a time limit, a ticking time bomb of sorts, that makes everything more intense.

4. Can be summed up in a few words that give a good picture of the entire story. Make your high concept as short and simple as possible. The goal is to to hook the listener so that he will say, “I’d read that” without any more explanation.

5. Has a great title.

Ways to Come Up with Ideas
-Ask “What if…?” Asking the simple “what if” question can lead to a high concept idea.
What if your plane crashed on a deserted island and you were the only one left alive? (Cast Away).
What if a volcano erupted in the middle of Los Angeles? (Volcano)
What if there was a farm that grew people? (Replication)

-Opposites Attract. Take two character types who would normally never be together and put them together. You could do this with actors, like putting Benedict Cumberbatch in a movie with China Anne McClain. Try it with two character archetypes who don’t usually work together, like a bully and a teacher. Or meld two into one like a coward and a thief. You can do this with authors, books, or movies, as well. Or mix and match them. For example: Romeo and Juliet as written by Douglas Adams, The Doctor goes to Narnia, or Redeeming Love on a mission field. Or take the opposite of a stereotype like in Liar Liar: a lawyer who cannot tell a lie. Or in Hook: Peter Pan has finally grown up.

-Meld the Familiar with the Strange
Take a well-known concept and pair it with something weird. Think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Cowboys & Aliens. High concept movies are simply taking an original idea and putting a twist on it. And as I've said before, Stephen King comes up with ideas by combining two unrelated things. Murder and mayhem + prom=Carrie. A criminal mastermind + fairies=Artemis Fowl. Another way to do this is to add a high concept phrase to your idea or familiar story type. This is the whole Die Hard on a … plane! (Passenger 57) method, which is another way of melding the familiar with the strange. Take a story that the audience understands and tell it in a new way. Ex: The Hunt For Red October … in space! Gone with the Wind … with an alien. Saving Private Ryan … with wizards.

Which leads to… weirdness.

Are These Ideas Too Weird?
Yep. And that’s the point. You are brainstorming. Turn off that critical voice and write down whatever comes to you. The weirder, the better.

Test Your Idea
1. Is your idea universal? Have you found something that all people can relate to?
2. Does your idea have a unique twist? Have you taken something familiar and added something strange?
3. Is your protagonist likeable or relatable? Can we identify with him? Learn from him? Follow him? Root for him?
4. Are the stakes big enough? Are they primal?
5. Can you summarize your concept in a few short words?
6. Does your title capture the spirit of your story?

Do you have a high concept idea? Care to share it in the comments? If you don't have one, don’t give up. Keep brainstorming until something clicks and you think “I’d read that!”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There Are No Shortcuts To Any Place Worth Going

by Stephanie Morrill

I don't like waiting, and I'm guessing you don't either. Who does, really?

But as you likely know by now, you can't be a writer without waiting. And that's why I love this quote:

There are no shortcuts

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." - Beverly Sills, opera singer

You probably don't have to think very hard to come up with an example of this. I think of McKenna and Connor, of the nine months they spent growing inside me. Of the unreal pain I experienced bringing them into this world.

So. Worth. It.

I think of long hikes I've taken to gorgeous places. A long car ride when my kids were three and one so my kids could experience the ocean.

Becoming a published writerheck, just writing a first draft!is a long journey on which you can be tempted to take shortcuts. But once you get there, it's so worth it.

Write on, my friends!

Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Things I Did In My Teens That Helped Me Get Published

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.

At age 24literally as I was changing my six-month-old daughter's diaperI got The Call from my agent. It was a multi-book deal with a well-respected publisher. After the diaper change, I headed out to meet my husband and brother-in-law for lunch, but I could barely eat a bite. I just kept thinking, "I'm a published author! It's happening!"

And I know that the reason The Call came in my early twenties rather than my thirties or forties is because of choices I made in my teen years. Here are ten things I did in my teens that made a difference in my writing journey:

1. I wrote. A lot.

Maybe you think this is a no-brainer, but I'm not so sure it is. Because I meet a decent amount of writers who love to talk about writing, read about writing, and plan time for writing ... but who fail to, you know, actually write. 

I wrote a lot in high school. Most of the reading I did was for school, and I regret not branching out more, but I wrote regularly. Often when I shouldn't have been. Like during geometry class. (Though I can't remember the last time I used geometry in my real life, so maybe my B in that class was just fine.)

2. I pushed myself to write a complete book.

The first full book that I wrote was my junior year of high school. With the exception of some short stories I had written in middle school, it was the first book that I'd ever tried to end. It's a horrendous book, but I learned a lot.

3. I never said "if I get published."

I should have doubted. As a girl who lived in Kansas, knew no other writers, and who had never really achieved anything in writing (aside from the occasional "A" on an five-paragraph essay), I really should have doubted that I would get published.

But I didn't. I sometimes feared it would take a long time or that I might not get published in high school, but in my head it was always "when I get published." And I think that kept me inching toward my goal.

4. I went to a writers conference.

My mom was the one who found out about a writing conference happening in Kansas City. (This was in a time long ago before loads of blogs. I don't think Google was a verb yet.) The conference was hosted by a community college here in town, and it was mostly local-ish people with a few agents flown in from New York. I took the day off school, asked my dad to come with me, and didn't even do my normal lurking thing. I asked questions during classes. I shared when instructors asked for volunteers. I approached an editor after class to ask a submissions question.

Did anything lasting come out of that conference? While I didn't form any crucial relationships, I did walk away feeling like this literary world wasn't so impenetrable as it seemed at first glance.

5. I took every English elective my school had.

I went to a small high school, which meant limited class options. But during my junior and senior years when my schedule opened up, I took all the English electives I couldShakespeare, Lit into Film, Creative Writing, and possibly one more that I've spaced. Any class that has you studying stories is a good thing.

6. I listened to people who knew more than me.

I really want to pull out a soap box and get my preach on, but I'm going to limit myself to one very long sentence: I cannot tell you how many times budding writers ask me questions about how to become an author or how to get an agent ... and then completely ignore what I say or just bemoan that it sounds really hard and they're probably better off self-publishing. (Side note: I'm not knocking self-publishing. I've self-published books, and I think it's wise move for many writers. I do, however, disagree with doing it out of fear.)

When I went to my writing conference, I listened and took extensive notes. I studied Bird by Bird in English class and read Stephen King's On Writing multiple times. When an author was at my high school for career day, I kinda sorta took over the Q&A time.

And it's never been easier than it is now to be in touch with published authors, agents, and editors. Stalk industry people on Twitter. Read blogs and comment. Learn from those who know more than you. And don't be ashamed that you're just starting out. That's where we all began.

7. I focused on the next step.

I really wanted to be a bestselling author. (I still would like that, actually.) But a person doesn't go from writing a book to being a bestselling author in a snap. What's the next step for you? Is it writing a full book? Is it editing a full book? Is it saving up money for a conference? Whatever your next step is, focus on it, not the others.

8. I learned from the (many) mistakes that I made.

And, oh boy, did I make mistakes. Like sending my complete manuscript instead of a query letter. Like writing query letters when I couldn't have even told you my genre. Like assuming that I was the only person writing young adult fiction. (I wish I were joking. Again, barely existed at this point in time...) 

You will make mistakes. Sometimes someone will tell you kindly. Sometimes someone will tell you not-kindly. Learn from them and they won't be wasted experiences.

9. I learned how to write for an audience.

Shortly after high school, I took up fan fiction. This is seriously one of the best things I ever did for myself as a writer, so don't let anyone tell you it's a waste of your time. I wrote Gilmore Girls fan fiction, and I learned so much about how to end scenes and how to wait until I had done my best before I clicked publish. I even learned how to deal with someone who accused me of stealing her idea. (Really. On a fan fiction site.) I don't write fan fiction any more, but it was excellent training.

10. I discovered the value of shutting my door.

Once upon a time, I used to share every chapter I wrote with my friends. Whether they wanted to read them or not, honestly. And when a friend deeply hurt my feelings with a thoughtless comment, I instantly stopped.

I stopped because I was afraid and hurt. It hurt to receive criticism. I showed people chapters because I wanted them to tell me how brilliant I was, not because I wanted honest feedback.

I kept my door shut for years. And you know what happened? My writing voice flourished. I learned how to write without need for instant gratification or without the voices of others in my head.

Number 10 may seem to contradict the value I expressed in number 9, but I think an important skill for a new writer is learning when to keep their writing door closed and when to open it up.

One other reason I was published fairly early is that I really wanted it and went after it. Not like when I wanted a horse or wanted to live in New York City. Those were passing interests, not passions. When I wanted to write for television, all it took was hitting the first big obstaclemove to Los Angeles—to make my dream fizzle. But that didn't happen with novels. I really wanted it, and I kept after it.

You're probably already doing a number of things on this list. Way to go! Which ones?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Writer's Block Advice from Stephen Bly

Stephen Bly (1944-2011) wrote over one hundred books. But before he became a writer, he wore many hats (including his cowboy one). Some of his roles were farmer, city councilman, pastor, mayor, antique collector, author, speaker, writing mentor, husband, and father. Writing wise, he was known for his westerns. 

I (Jill) had the privileged of hearing Stephen Bly speak at a writer's conference in Oregon years ago. During his keynote address, he gave ten tips for writers who are stuck. I wrote them down because they were equally brilliant and hysterical. 

According to Mr. Bly, when he asked himself, “What am I gonna do now?” he considered this list of ten things:

1. Shoot somebody. This will catch the reader by total surprise.
2. Introduce an obnoxious new character who will really tick off your protagonist.
3. Go to the quirk, to the flaw, of your main character. Ex: Bad temper, someone asks about the scar on his face, his trick knee gives out, etc.
4. Lose something important. Adrenaline flows when you lose something.
5. Embarrass your protagonist.
6. Have the protagonist kiss the wrong girl. This annoys the reader.
7. Put the protagonist in a hopeless situation. Ex: A bomb. A deadly diagnosis.
8. Have a crucial side character disappear.
9. Start a rumor about your main character.
10. Go to the attic. Uncover something mysterious. A locked box. A letter from Matt Damon. A gun that’s the property of the LAPD. 

How do you deal with writer's block?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Joss Whedon: Why He Writes

Many people say to write what you know. And that's good advice. But part of the wonder and joy of writing is to ask questions, to come to know different types of people, to understand different ways of thinking, and to explore humanity and see what you find. So in that, I can't write simply what I know, because, really, I know nothing. I'm a caveman (woman). And there is much to discover as I battle that blank page.

Why do you write?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: Using Dialect

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.

When writing characters and seeking to make each one a unique individual, take into account how each one speaks. This doesn't have to be something that is drastically different for every character. But it can be interesting to have one or two characters in your story that speak in a different dialect from everyone else. This could be a specific dialect for a place on earth, or a dialect you invent for your own mythical storyworld.

(Note: The following is pulled from a chapter on speech from my book Storyworld First, coming very soon.)

Dialect is the way a person speaks that is distinguished by his culture, social group, or the region in which he lives. His speech pattern is different from other varieties of the same language by vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar.

Authors change the way certain characters talk to set them apart from other characters. This is very important in historical genres, whether they be straight historical fiction or speculative varieties like historical fantasy or alternate history. Here are four examples of historical or regional dialect done well:

“. . . Don't let me hear no more of you, or you shall feel some more of me. D’ye hear?”
“I warn’t doing no harm,” Young Jerry protested, rubbing his cheek.
“Drop it then,” said Mr. Cruncher; “I won’t have none of your no harms. Get a top of that there seat, and look at the crowd.”
—From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, a novel drawn from historical events of the revolutionary period in France. Jerry Cruncher speaks with a common dialect, full of slang and satire.

“This is not to be borne! Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?”
“Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible.”
“It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in.”
“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it.”
—From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Most of Austen’s main characters are English gentry during Regency England.

“I'm — er — not supposed ter do magic, strictly speakin’. I was allowed ter do a bit ter follow yeh an’ get yer letters to yeh an’ stuff — one o’ the reasons I was so keen ter take on the job.”
“Why aren't you supposed to do magic?” asked Harry.
“Oh, well — I was at Hogwarts meself but I — er — got expelled, ter tell yeh the truth. In me third year. They snapped me wand in half an’ everything.”
—From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. Hagrid’s accent is a contemporary West-country English accent.

“Now, you vill come to verk for me here for eight months und zen you vill buy vone off my camelts, und I vill teach you to train zem and you vill get two vild vones und dat vill be dat. I haf just de animal for you. He hass only vone eye but, ha, dat does not matter—he is stronk and reliable enough for you, ya.”
—From Tracks by Robyn Davidson. The speaker, Kurt Posel, is a contemporary German Australian.

If you need to write a certain dialect, study it by reading works from that time period or by listening to people speak on YouTube or in movies and transcribing their words. 

If you are merely seeking to tweak a person's language, you might play with spelling, word choice, or syntax to create different dialects. Here are some that I’ve done or seen done in fiction:

•Stuttering by breaking up words with hyphens, and dragging out or repeating letters like Ts, Ps, Ss, or whichever letter(s) you choose to have your character stumble over. For example: P-pleassse p-passs the s-ssalt.
•Avoiding contractions to give a more formal tone to dialogue.
•Replacing the G from –ing endings with an apostrophe.
•Lisps shown by replacing all the Ss with a TH.
•The use of bad grammar like ain’t, gonna, and wanna.
•Word choice. I’m from Alaska, and we Alaskans refer to snow mobiles as “snow machines.” I’ve been mocked repeatedly for this. I also still refer to hair bands as “rubber bands” or “hair ties,” while teens call them “ponytails.” Word choice also differs between generations.
•Pronunciation. I always say the word elementary as “elemen-tair-ee,” whereas my husband says, “elemen-tree.”
•Foreign words. I have a Latina friend who, whenever she says a Spanish word, says that word in a thick accent. And she also uses some foreign words over the English ones, like when she refers to her brother as mi hermano.
•The syntax or word order when writing foreigners speaking English. Yoda also speaks with a rearranged word order.

When I worked on the Russian characters for my novel The New Recruit, I listened to many Russians speaking English, and I took notes, sometimes even transcribing their words so that I could see the word order they used. Here is an example of a Russian speaking English from The New Recruit:

“These three apartment are for you stay.” He motioned to the door behind him, then the ones on either side. “Boys will be taking first room, girls will be taking last. Between is kitchen, TV, and room for Stopplecamp family. When you are settled, come to kitchen. My wife is preparing dinner.”

The risk in writing dialects into your character’s voice is that some are so difficult to read that one must read them again and again to gain understanding. And that pulls readers out of the story.

We don’t want to do that to our readers. Fiction is about immersing them in our world. When we do that well, we get emails from readers who accuse us of keeping them up all night. And we want that. We want lots of it.

So take care and don’t overdo this. A little goes a long way. Don’t give a unique dialect to every character, but make sure that every word you allow your character to speak matches his or her voice. And also make sure you’re consistent with each character’s dialogue, because inconsistencies can also pull readers from your story.

Have you used dialect before? If so, what methods did you use to find the right words or syntax?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Emotional Jeopardy in Stories

by Stephanie Morrill

Today's dose of Tuesday inspiration is longer than normal, but I just couldn't resist. It comes from Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland, a book that talks a lot about why people read and what makes a book powerful. He says:

"When we read, we buy into a shared dream, a shared fiction, and by doing so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy. If the emotional jeopardy is too small, we get bored. If the emotional jeopardy is too great, we'll close the book. If the author abuses our trust ... we will no longer trust the author and we'll shun his fiction."
When he talks about "abusing trust" he means when authors do things like write an ending that's too ambiguous or if the story doesn't end in a way that rewards us.

As a reader, I've experienced the truth of this. I've read books that bore me because I just don't care enough. I've closed books because the content is completely different than was advertised. And I've sworn off authors because an ending irritatedor even angeredrather than satisfied.

I don't want us to engage in book bashing in the comments, but have you had a similar experience with books? How do you think you're doing on your own manuscript?

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Make the Not-So-Evil Villain Work For Your Story

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.

It was after school, and I was half-heartedly stretching for drill team practice when the girl beside me, Hannah, said, "Don't you think you're being mean to Jodi?"

I had never really talked to Hannah before, but she had recently become friends with my best friend, Jodi. And apparently my best friend had been sharing some less-than-flattering things about me.

A whole list of responses swirled around my mind, but could be summarized with, "You don't understand."

It's possible in the stories you write, the same words might just as easily come from your villain's mouth if you let them. Perhaps they feel that your main character has gotten the story wrong and that if only you would give them a moment to explain...

How to Make the Not-So-Evil Villain Work for Your Story

Who is the villain in your story? I'm not a fan of that label for a character because of the evil connotation it carries with it. I prefer to think of my villain as the antagonist. As a character who operates in a way that opposes my main character.

But can a not-so-evil villain really work in a story? Absolutely. Here are five ways to keep the tension strong even if your villain isn't plotting to take over the world:

1. The villain knows how to get to the main character.

What do I mean by "get to"? I mean that your villain should be able to access your main character in a way that makes him vulnerable. It can be either physically, as in the classic threat, "I know where you live." Or the villain can get to the main character by knowing a weak spot and how to push their proverbial buttons.

This is key because a villain is scariest when the reader knows they have the power to do something.

2. The villain has a clear goal.

Your villain should be just as focusedperhaps more focused—on their goal as your main character is on his. And, for maximum impact, they can't both win. Caroline Bingley and Elizabeth Bennett cannot both marry Mr. Darcy. Hans and Elsa cannot both rule Arendelle.

3. The villain has something in common with the main character.

Perhaps even a lot in common, like Harry Potter and Voldemort who share similar childhood stories.

4. The villain should be able to explain why they are right.

Going back to Hannah from drill team, even without her naming how I was being mean to Jodi, I knew exactly what situation she was talking about. And I could have easily told her why my actions were good choices, because I had spent plenty of time justifying to myself what I had done. In my head, it wasn't me who was acting villainous, but my best friend.

The same should be true for your villain. They've thought this through. They've rationalized. And in their thinking, if the main character would just do X, Y, and Z then everyone would be so much better off.

5. The villain shouldn't start out in the mud.

If you have a villain who isn't so evil, I think it's best if the reader gets to witness their progression. Maybe Susie McVillain is jealous and she lets a snide comment or two slip. And then maybe Susie allows something bad to happen to the main character, but she isn't really directly involved. Then maybe she's part of a group that's doing something bad to the main character, but she isn't in charge. And then...

See what I mean? Voldemort was once Tom, and your villain should have a starting place too.

What kind of villains do you have in your stories? Are they evil at their core or the type who are merely working against your main character or do you have both?

Friday, August 8, 2014

How to Edit As You Write Your First Draft

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


Many many moons ago, Stephanie asked me to guest post on Go Teen Writers to talk about something she knows nothing about: editing as you go, rather than doing it in drafts. You can view the original post here, but as it's been three years since I wrote that one, Stephanie thought we might be due for another dose of Those Who Can't Write in Drafts.

I'm not sure what the percentage is of people who write multiple drafts versus people who edit as they go, but I always felt like I was in the minority, doing it as I do it. That somehow I wasn't doing it right by not writing a rough first draft and then doing serious revising and editing. But over the years, I've come to understand that, as with most things in writing, there isn't right and wrong, just what works for each writer. 

For me, writing rough first drafts doesn't work. My brain is wired in a very linear way, and my stories evolve in a very linear fashion. The next scene always builds on what just came before it. I am constantly referencing earlier lines and phrases, weaving in those little threads, and that's what gives me the impetus to keep going. In Circle of Spies, for instance, in the first scene, there's an emphasis on color versus black and gray--something that comes up a lot in the book, and which even, coincidentally, worked its way into the cover.

I almost always reread what I wrote the day before when I sit down to start a new day--especially when I begin at 5:30 in the morning and need fifteen or twenty minutes to let my brain warm up before those creative juices will flow. This help me remember all those little pieces I want to keep working in, keeps it all fresh. That's crucial for me.

My writing process goes something like this:

I know when I sit down to write a book what the main plot points will be, but it takes me a few chapters to really get to know my characters and hit upon their voice. Once I do that, I inevitably go back and tweak those first chapters to reflect what I've arrived at by chapter four or five. It only takes a few minutes, usually, but it helps me to know that I'm square. And it gives me those phrases and details to keep weaving in.

As I write, I go with the groove of it until I hit a snag, and then I stop. I need to let the knot untangle--I know a lot of people leave their computers then, get up for a walk, do the dishes, feed the dog, whatever. I sometimes resort to that, but not always, especially if I'm just searching for the right way to say something. In those times, I switch my brain to second gear--editing gear.

According to the fantabulous Karen Ball (editor who discovered Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury--and now my agent), editing and writing use two completely different parts of the brain. I wasn't so sure at first, but I decided that makes a lot of sense when I view my gear-shifting. When I'm stuck in the creative process, I turn to editing. By rereading the pages or paragraphs I just wrote, the creative part gets to take a break. It gets to rest. And often that's all it takes for the right words to filter in.

When I reach bigger snags in the story, plot snags, I again take a break. I rarely try to force the words, unless I'm under a tight deadline. Instead, I'll go back and do a complete reread. For me, this involves editing. Fiddling. Perfecting phrases, catching inconsistencies. And almost always, it involves remembering where I was going with certain plot threads, which gives me the direction I need to keep writing.

Occasionally I realize as I write that changes will have to be made, but I don't want to lose the steam I've got going. In those cases, I make a note of what I want to do and save it for the end. Sometimes it's changing a character's name or adding in motivation, sometimes it's deleting a POV that ended up superfluous. 

After I finish a manuscript, I usually let it sit for a few days and just simmer. I debate my ending--I used to always rush my endings and would have to rewrite them a time or three. These days, I've gotten better at that, but there are still many times when I've forgotten an element or not quite drawn it together like I need to. The missing parts usually surface in a day or two, so I go back and plug those in.

At that point, I do a complete, quick reread. Again, this will involve catching errors and smoothing phrases. I've learned over the years to not be lazy when it comes to those niggles of uncertainty--if a phrase or sentence or paragraph feels a little weird, I used to just ignore it. But then critique partners or edits would always ding me for those, so I decided I should trust my instincts. I rework anything that doesn't feel right.

Especially when in costume at a creepy castle ruin
with suspicious birds flocking above your head.
You may also want to consider removing blindfolds...
After that, I take time off from the manuscript. Sometimes I'll be sending chunks to my critique partners as I write, but if not, then this is where I send it off for critique. Once I get that feedback from my awesome friends, I'll input all the changes I agree with, which sometimes involves more revisions and the occasional rewrite of certain parts. I also often must, at this stage, cut words. I tend toward long-winded, and my target word count often gets left in the dust--and my publishers can't always be lenient about that. So if I have to trim, I do it at this stage. Sometimes I can just cut a few scenes, but often it's a line-by-line, excruciating process.

Once that's done, I need to do one more final read-through before I turn it in. Usually this is just typo-catching, but when I'm reading more slowly, I tend to note smaller inconsistencies that I take care of. I might tweak early motivation again, or adjust how something in the second half jives with the first. Basically, I'm making sure it's as squeaky-clean as I can get it. Then I turn it in to my editor.

A Soft Breath of Windcoming November 2014 -
the one set in A.D. 58, not the one
with hollandaise sauce ;-)

I'll have done most of my research either before I begin or in the first few weeks of writing, so I don't have to stop to do major searching. There are always small questions to look up, most of which I'll check on as I'm writing so I can plug in the answers and keep steaming ahead. Occasionally I'll just insert a # and look it up later. In my last MS, I had a French chef blustering, "You interrupt me for coffee, when I am making #, the most temperamental sauce there is?" I knew there had to be a temperamental sauce, but I also knew I didn't have to stop then and there to find it, because it wasn't going to effect what came next. [And it's hollandaise, by the way. ;-)] Other times I really do have to stop and see whether scissors existed in A.D. 58, because it will effect how my physician character performs his tasks throughout the scene. So I'll stop then to look it up.

In general, I write a clean first draft, so I don't have to spend a ton of time on revisions. But I write a clean first draft because I pay a lot of attention to what I just wrote and go back for frequent rereads. For me, this is what works. It's what allows me to keep the creative juices flowing. I don't agonize over every phrase and scene--if I did, then a draft system would probably be necessary to get me over it. 

For some, like Stephanie, it's liberating to write a rough first draft, knowing you can fix it. For some, like me, you just can't keep writing until you feel pretty happy with what you've already put down. Both are great, so long as you figure out what allows you to get to The End...and so long as you know where and when you need to work. No matter which method you use, you're going to be putting out the same amount of effort--it's just a matter of whether you do it all at once or in stages. Don't ever think you have to do it like someone else does! 
photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc