Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill here.

Go Teen Writers is taking a few days off to celebrate Thanksgiving. My family is driving over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house in Portland. We go there every year. We'll have Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and go Black Friday shopping with old friends. I'll also try to get a little work done but will probably fail.

For fun, here's a picture of my husband and me the first year we were married. We went to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in Manhattan thinking we'd get to be on TV. We didn't even get close enough to see the parade! But it was still a fun day, though very cold.




All of you 100 for 100 and NaNoWriMo participants, keep at it! You're almost there. Give it your all. Do your best. And enjoy the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving! We'll see you back here on Monday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Finalists from the Lot of Luck Contest

Congratulations to the finalists from the Go Teen Writers writing prompt contest!

Alexa M.
Ally Randolph
Ashley
Bethany Baldwin
Bethany Canaan
Brooke Bajgrowicz
Carissa Barrows
Catsi Eceer
Elizabeth Ryan
Emily Walker
Erin B.
GGK
Hadley Grace
Hannah C
Iris S.
J. Liessa
Jillian Haggard
Leanne Rachel
Linea Marshall
M. P. Reed
Megan S.
Miranda Kulig
Samantha W
Sarah Rose
Sofia Marie
Wild Horse 
Will Cloud

Your entries have been sent on to Shannon's creative writing class for final judging.

If your name isn't on the above list, I'll be sending you an email with your feedback as soon as I'm able. We've been in the hospital with my 4-year-old son for some testing, and my kids are out of school for Thanksgiving, so this might be a slower process than normal.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cut the Clutter From Your Sentences

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. 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.

Well, that was some amazing word warring over the weekend you guys! I loved seeing all the support and encouragement you gave to each other.

Those of you who are participating in NaNoWriMo may want to save this post for after November 30th, because now is certainly not the time to look through your manuscript for words you can cut.

As I read through the entries for last round's contest (the finalists will be announced tomorrow on the blog) I sometimes came across entries that were interesting scenarios with good pacing and smart dialogue, but they seemed a little ... something. After studying the writing for a bit, I realized that the problem was unnecessary words kept the story from shining like it could.



What kinds of words clutter up sentences?

  • Cliches
  • Unnecessary descriptions
  • Vague words
  • Passive words
  • Telling words
  • Quantifying words (little, very)

To help illustrate what I mean, I wrote a few sentences of a story to critique:
John gave the door a quick glance. It was deathly silent in the room, and he almost felt like maybe nothing was really chasing him. Suddenly the door opened, and John started to run for his life. His heart was pounding very fast in his chest as he stumbled clumsily down the yellow hallway.
Let's get out our mental red pens and go sentence by sentence.

John gave the door a quick glance.

I see sentences like this all the time (not just from beginning writers, but in my first drafts too) and it's a needlessly complicated way to say: John glanced at the door.

A glance by definition is quick, so we don't need the extra word to describe it, And he doesn't need to give the door anything, he just needs to do the thing. Same as John doesn't need to give the door a swift kick or a hard punch or a fresh new coat of paint. John can simply kick the door, punch the door, and paint the door.

Editing challenge: Run a search in your manuscript for the word "gave" (or "give" if that fits your book's tense) and see if you've over-complicated any actions.

It was deathly silent in the room,

Starting a sentence with "it" usually isn't the right choice. In my final drafts, I always seek out "it" in sentences and ask if I can replace the word with the intended noun. Doing so doesn't always make sense, but I like to check.

In this case, "it" refers to the room. So it's better to start with "The room was deathly silent"

But I don't like that passive voice, so I would drop our unnecessary adverb and change this to, "Silence filled the room." If you want to describe the silence, I'm sure you can do better than deathly. Maybe unsettling silence? Uncharacteristic silence? Hair-raising silence?

Revised sentence: Silence filled the room.

Editing challenge: Check your manuscript for "it" and "was." Can you replace it with a specific noun? (You can't always, but it's good to check!) Same with was. Unless it's continuous action (i.e. Jane was stirring the soup when I arrived) then you'll want to cut was and just have the character do the action.

and he almost felt like maybe nothing was really chasing him.

I see the phrase "almost felt" a ton. Even in my own drafts. I don't know why I do that. What's this almost business? Does the character feel it or no? But usually the word "felt" is a red flag that I'm telling my story instead of showing it. So I can scrap the phrase altogether and show this instead. 

How could you show this? Sometimes I do it by asking the question: Maybe nothing was really chasing him? Another option is to show what he's listening for: No footsteps echoed behind the door, nor did any chatter.

Let's focus now on that "maybe nothing was really chasing him" part. Do we lose anything if we revise this to, "Maybe nothing was chasing him"? We don't, right? I think we could also make a case for changing this to, "Maybe nothing chased him." It gets rid of the passive structure, which I like. But if you're suggesting continuous action, you could leave it.

Revised sentence: Maybe nothing was chasing him?

Editing challenge: Run a search for "felt" in your story and see if you're using it to tell your story rather than show it. Also run a search for "really" and "actually" which are often needless words.

Suddenly the door opened, and John started to run for his life.

If you see the word "suddenly" in your manuscript, it can almost always be cut. Writers fall back on it when they're trying to convey sudden action, but you usually don't need it. Instead of trying to have "suddenly" do the work of the sentence, I would focus on the word "opened" when trying to communicate the immediacy. The door could spring or fling open.

The phrase "John started to run" implies that John began something he didn't finish. So instead, John can just run.

"Run for his life" is a tired phrase that is being used to show that John is running with immediacy. Instead of pulling out a cliche, I say we pick a more interesting verb. John could dash away from the door, He could also spurt, rush, or dart.

Revised sentence: The door flung open, and John dashed away.

Editing challenge: Search your manuscript for the word suddenly. Is it a word you can cut? Run a search for "started to" or "began to" and see if they can be revised as well.

His heart was pounding very fast in his chest as he stumbled clumsily down the yellow hallway.

His heart was pounding very fast in his chest: The first thing you can do here is cross out "in his chest." By default, that's where hearts pound. And "was pounding very fast" is a complicated way to state that his heart raced. If you think a racing heart sounds a bit tired, his heart could also hammer or thunder or something more creative.

In an action scene, however, you want to be careful about the kind of phrase you pick. If you pick something so fresh that your reader gets distracted and pulled out of the story, that's bad for your pacing.

"Stumbled clumsily" can be simplified to stumbled. I would like to see someone stumble in a way that doesn't appear clumsy. 

Now for the yellow hallway. This isn't outright wrong, but I question that this is the right time to showcase the color of the hallway. Readers certainly like to "see" where action is taking place, but I think it's clunky during a getaway scene to throw in the color of the hall.

Here's our new sentences all together:
John glanced at the door. Silence filled the room. Maybe nothing was chasing him?
The door flung open, and John dashed away. His heart raced as he stumbled down the hallway.
While I think these could be improved upon, they've at least lost the cluttered feeling

If you would like to, pull a cluttered sentence from your manuscript, clean it up, and share it in the comments section!

**Quick note: For those who don't already know, my 4-year-old son, Connor, suffers from epilepsy. We enjoyed 6 months of seizure freedom, but in the last month his seizures have returned. I'll be gone all day and tomorrow for an overnight hospital stay. That means I probably won't be able to respond to as many comments as I normally do. Thank you for understanding!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

November Word War: Day 3

Stephanie here! Today is the last day of the Go Teen Writers word war. It's been so awesome to see everyone's progress!

Sundays are kick-back-and-relax days in the Morrill household, but I'm really looking forward to cheering you on from my cozy place on the couch.




If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began Friday and will end tonight. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships along the way.

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTWwordwar or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can approve you pronto.)

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November Word War: Day 2

Stephanie here! Today is day 2 of our NaNoWriMo inspired word war. You don't have to be doing NaNoWriMo to participate, though! You can join in the fun regardless of what you're writing, how old you are, or where you live. We want this to be a fun day full of community and words!




If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday and will end Sunday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTWwordwar or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can approve you pronto.)

Can't wait to see your progress!

Friday, November 21, 2014

November Word War: Day 1

Stephanie here! Many of you requested that we host a word war during NaNoWriMo, and here it is! If you're participating in the NaNo craziness, we're hoping this weekend helps catapult you into a strong finish. If you're not participating in NaNo, we hope it's still a fun time for you of community and lots and lots of words!




If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war begins today and will end Sunday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTWwordwar or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can approve you pronto.)

Looking forward to a fun day!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Share Your Favorite Character Quote

It's getting close to the end of the year, which for published writers, means inventory. At the end of each year I must count the copies of the books in my house to report on my taxes.

Last week, I spent several hours cleaning my book area. I am down to 50 copies of Replication in hardcover! (I once had 500 copies, so this is a big deal for me.) This is the original book that you see pictured below.

I want to get rid of these!!!

Why, you ask?

Because my publisher sent me author copies of the paperback version with the new cover, but I don't want to take them to conferences to sell until all the hardcover books are gone.

So I'm going to give these away to the first 50 people who order them through my Square store. They are free, but it costs me $3 to ship them. So you'll still have to pay $3 to get the book. But $3 is a great price for an autographed (personalized) hardcover (now limited) edition of a book.

Anyone need some Christmas presents?

No more than one copy per order/person/address and I can't mail them internationally for $3 shipping. So if you live internationally and want one, we'll have to figure out what the international shipping cost is. If you're interested, click here to see the free copy of Replication in my bookstore.

Today's quote comes from one of my characters.


I remember writing that line and smiling, fighting back a chuckle at Martyr and how he'd come alive. Today I want to ask you all to share in the comments a quote from your work in progress that you are particularly proud of and/or a favorite quote from a published novel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Writing Process: Short and Sweet

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

This past year I heard dozens of speakers talk about writing fiction. I loved every minute of it. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my favorite bit of advice I picked up this year, which was studying the firsts and lasts during the editing process. But I also heard two writers explain their writing process in such a clear and succinct way that I really wanted to share it with you.

Because it's my writing process too. And it makes things very simple.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant write novels together. They also blog about self-publishing, if you'd like to check them out. They taught a webinar about how they use Scrivener to write books together. It was pretty interesting. One writes the outlines and character descriptions, the other writes the book. Seems like a very well-oiled machine. And here's how they explained their writing process:

1) Write it.
2) Write what you mean.
3) Write it well.

Don't you just love that? So simple, and yet it says so much.


1) Write it.
This is the first draft stage. When you sit down to start a new book, like those of you currently doing NaNoWriMo, the goal should be to write that first draft as quickly as you can. Give yourself permission to be messy. Don't worry if things don't make sense. Don't worry about great opening lines. Don't even worry about telling vs. showing. Just write it. Do the thing. From start to finish. Get her done! Because you can, and will, fix it later.


2) Write what you mean.
This is the macro edit stage. Once you've completed that first draft, you know so much more about your story. You know where the holes are. You know what needs to be fixed. You know if you have too many characters or not enough. So go back through that book and write what you meant to say. Add description. Get all your facts in order. Put the right characters in the right place. Make sure the characters are saying things they'd actually say. Add those missing plot threads. Add scenes that need to be added. Delete scenes that were unnecessary. Get your character quirks and eye colors right.

Stephanie wrote a post on the editing process here that is quite helpful. The point is, take the time you need to mold this messy first draft into something that at least makes sense to read.


3) Write it well.
And now you're ready for the micro edits. You're going through your book this time to write it well. Tweak your prose for flow, for character voice, for rhythm. Weed out weak verbs and repetitions. Search for your own personal author quirks and make changes. Search for weasel words and those tricky words that often get misspelled like through, though, and thought. Put contractions into your dialogue if you're the type to forget them. Study your firsts and lasts and white space. Read the book out loud and edit for how it sounds.

Stephanie wrote a great post on the micro edit here. This stage takes as long as it takes--or sometimes as long as you have before the book is due. But this is where your editing skills shine, where you add the finishing touches on your masterpiece. It's a beautiful thing.

So, write the book, go back and write what you actually meant, then re-write it well.

And if you haven't downloaded the Self-Editing Checklist from the Go Teen Writers book, click here to get it for free.

When people ask you about your writing process, what do you say?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Character Crafting Games for NaNoWriMo: "Sherlock Holmes" Your Characters


IMG_4396 (4) - CopyGillian Bronte Adams is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. Orphan’s Song, the first book in her fantasy trilogy is now available. Hang out with Gillian on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page where she loves chatting about all things related to fantasy, books, villains, and adventures.

Creating characters is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Figuring out how they are unique and what makes them them gets me super excited.

With NaNoWriMo upon us—the month of mad scribbling, insane plot lines, and characters conceived through an overdose of caffeine—I thought it would be fun to explore a couple different character crafting games.

Today’s game involves everyone’s favorite sleuth…

Game #1: Sherlock Holmes Your Characters

Sherlock Holmes - NaNo Game

Anyone else a fan of BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Don’t you just love how he can run into a random person on the street and figure out their entire life story from just a few miniscule details? Like when he surmises that John’s sister is an alcoholic from the scratches around the phone’s power connector. (Elementary, my dear Watson.)

The little details are a great way of showing your character’s personality/history rather than simply telling it in the narrative or dialogue. But a lot of times, we get caught up trying to move the story along and revert to describing the same thing we’re used to seeing all the time—hair, eyes, clothes, face, etc.—without trying to go any deeper.

When you boil down and hyper-scrutinize the unique aspects of your character’s personality, you might just surprise yourself with what you come up with!

For example, if Sherlock Holmes walked through my door, some of the first things he might notice are the burned-out porch lights that I haven’t yet gotten around to replacing, the nicks on the doorknob where I fumble to get the key in at night when it’s pitch black because I still have to replace the porch lights, the stack of books and papers scattered across the living room floor, the myriad objects that have taken root on the kitchen table, and the pile of (clean) dishes sitting in the drying rack.

From all of this, he might surmise that I am a busy and slightly preoccupied person of the creative variety who lives and eats alone, and who spends more time reading and writing than attending to housework or simple things like going to the store to purchase new light-bulbs.

Thankfully, it is highly unlikely that Sherlock Holmes would be walking through my door any time soon—can you imagine what a nightmare that would be? But setting his powers of observation and reasoning to work on our characters is a great way to get to know them better!

Let’s try it…

If Sherlock Holmes were to sit down for a cup of brew with Amos McElhenny from my fantasy novel Orphan’s Song, he might instantly catalogue the following details:
  • Salt-battered boots
  • Heavy overcoat covered in dust and mud stains
  • Clothes well-worn but not tattered
  • Scarred hands
  • Wild hair
  • When challenged, Amos takes a step forward—unconsciously assuming a fighter’s stance
From which he might surmise that Amos McElhenny is of Waveryder descent and originally from a small town on the coast—a place he still visits on occasion, as evidenced by the state of his boots. He is a traveling man and has been on the road for several years without being able to put much coin aside. But the life of a peddler is not the only life he’s known. The scars on his hands speak to the life of a warrior or soldier, while his wild hair is indicative of his rebellious and free thinking nature.

See what I mean?

It’s fun!

Your turn!

Write a scene where your character meets Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of the conversation, see just what juicy tidbits Sherlock can discover from your character’s setting, garb, appearance, and manner of speech.

Don’t have time to write a scene that won’t actually make it into your novel? (Unless your novel is set in London … on Baker Street ... in which case you’re golden!) Simply dig out your deer-stalker (you do have one, right?) and study your character through the windows of your mind palace, logging what you see and practicing your observational skills.

Once you look beyond the superficial, you’ll be amazed what little details you can discover—and how those little details can give such wonderful insight into who your character is and how you can best utilize them in the story.

What are some things Sherlock Holmes would notice about your character? And what does that tell you about who your character is? Share in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Questions to Ask When Editing Scenes

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. 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.

Every writer is different, so maybe it helps some people when they hear the advice that, "Every scene should have a beginning, middle, and end." That just confuses my poor, simple brain. Maybe it's the pantser in me, I don't know. For whatever reason, I work better with lists.



Scenes come in all shapes and sizes. In a first draft, I write my scenes by feel. I go into it knowing what my goal is, and I frequently know what my character's goal is, but I usually don't know more than that. I don't pay attention to how long the scene is, I just write until it feels done, and I try to find something snappy, poignant, or "I must turn the page to find out what happens next" to end on, but sometimes I don't even do that in a first draft.

It's when I'm editing that I start asking questions like these:

How does this scene impact the plot? If I cut it, would it matter?

I've found this is the best place to start. Otherwise I might spend a lot of time editing a scene and then deciding I don't need it at all.

Can I make this scene work harder for me?

I like to ask this question next because sometimes in my first drafts a scene only accomplishes one thing when it could easily take care of two or three if I just use my brain a bit. 

I'm going to use a scene from my novella Throwing Stones as an example. I like using my own stuff because I don't mind critiquing it, I know the thought process I went through (rather than presuming what another writer must have been thinking), and this particular book of mine is a free download on my website so it's easy and cheap for you if you want to see the whole thing.

When I considered the second scene of my first chapter, I needed it to communicate several things to the reader that are important to the story:
  • Abbie works hard to be a good student, but her life is very hectic.
  • It introduces her older sister, Skylar, and tells us she's getting married in 2 weeks.
  • Abbie feels jealous of the life her sister is living.
  • Skylar encourages Abbie to wear something nicer to dinner. Abbie thinks she's being bossy, but in the next chapter we'll learn that Skylar was trying to help out her little sister.
Even though the scene is short (472 words) I'm able to accomplish a lot. Which is critical to the success of a 16,000 word novella.


Am I telling it from the right point of view (POV)?

This is a moot point in most of my stories (all my published books have only one point of view character) but it's a very important question if you have multiple point of view characters. The guideline for deciding this is asking who has the most at stake in this scene? Or another way to phrase that is, who has the most to gain or lose?

Sometimes this question is very simple to answer but not always. Another issue you might face is that sometimes a character is suffering too much to be a good point of view character. Say your book has two point of view characters. They're both at a funeral for character A's mother and character B is here to support her. While Character A clearly has more at stake here, you might find she's too ensconced with grief to make for an effective POV character and that character B will give the reader a clearer picture.

Did I arrive late?

Just like the age-old writing advice of, "Start your story in the middle of the action," your scenes should each start that way as well. Something should already be happening.

This is how the second scene of Throwing Stones starts:

“Abbie!” From the bottom of the stairs, my sister somehow manages to groan and yell my name at the same time. “We’re gonna be late!” 
I flip my textbook page. “I’m coming!”
“You said that five minutes ago.” Skylar does nothing to hide the irritation in her voice.
She sounds so much like mom, I feel like a kid again.
I slide a foot into my flip-flop as I skim several more sentences. “This time I really am!”

In my early writing days, I might have chosen to start it like this:

After I fed Owen a snack, I put on the T.V. for him so I could study for the next day's test. I had been studying for several hours when I heard my sister come in the front door. In about fifteen minutes, I bet she would be harping at me to get ready for dinner with the Ross family. Sure enough, it wasn't long before she yelled, "Abbie!" up the stairs.

Do you see how much more effective and intriguing it is to start with the action of Abbie's sister yelling for her? While example number two certainly gives us more information and answers more questions right away, it isn't as interesting to read.

Do I help provide context for my readers? (Who, what, when, where, and why)

Once you've found the right action for starting your scene, you need to give your reader context as quick as you can. That means answering the who, what, when, where, and why of your scene. Who is there? What is happening? When is this taking place? Where are we? And why are we here?

Here are the next few lines of that scene in Throwing Stones:
I slide a foot into my flip-flop as I skim several more sentences. “This time I really am!”
From downstairs, I hear the muffled voices of Skylar and Owen. Then Owen yells, “Mommy? Where are my light-up shoes?”
“Don’t you want your nice shoes?” Skylar says. “To go with your nice shirt?”
“No. I want my light-up ones.” The duh is implied at the end of his sentence.
“Hey, Owen, let’s wear your nice shoes tonight, okay?” I call as I uncap a highlighter. “It’s a special night for Aunt Skylar.”
As are many nights.
Owen thunders up the stairs to his room, retrieves his black loafers, and runs back downstairs. And during this, I manage to read another two paragraphs.
“Oh, pal, you look so handsome,” Skylar says in the soft-hearted voice she only uses with Owen. Louder she adds, “And I bet your mother looks beautiful.”
I groan, mark my spot in the book, and clomp downstairs.
Let's see how I did with providing context in the first 200 words of my scene:

Who is there?: Abbie, Skylar, and Owen
What is happening?: Abbie is trying to study, Skylar is trying to get to dinner on time, and Owen is enduring a wardrobe change.
When is this taking place?: The last scene was Abbie picking Owen up from school. Here Abbie refers to wearing his nice shoes "tonight" so the reader can piece together that this is after school but before an evening event.  
Where are we?: A house. It doesn't state that Abbie is in her room, but she's studying upstairs and Owen goes past her in the hallway to his room at one point, so most readers would probably (correctly) assume she's in her room.
Why are we here?: Abbie is upstairs trying to get some peace and quiet to study. Skylar is downstairs trying to get everyone out the door. Owen goes back and forth.

Do I leave early and give my reader a reason to come back?

As soon as I've accomplished my objective with a scene, I want to get out of there. Even if it's not the end of a chapter, but just the end of a scene, I always try to end with something snappy, reflective, poignant, or question-provoking. Here's the close of this scene from Throwing Stones:
Skylar glances at Owen and bites her lower lip. “Which I appreciate. I just would suggest that you go upstairs and put on, like, that orange silk dress or something.”
Gosh, she’s bossy. I can’t wait for her to get married and get out of my hair.
“I’m not. Changing. My clothes.” I take Owen’s hand and stalk out the front door.
The next scene opens with the three of them in the car driving to dinner, so I could have made the choice to keep it all as one big scene. I liked ending here because it's more interesting to me than details like Abbie grabbing her purse and Owen getting his booster seat to ride in Skylar's car, etc. We end with a clear shot of Abbie's attitude and mood going into the evening, and it sets up the next scene nicely.

Any questions about scenes that I can answer? And don't forget your contest entry needs to be turned in on Wednesday!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Writing a book is hard: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I came across a quote this week that I thought was worth chatting about. I've sort of lived this advice for a while and it's a great time for me to give you my thoughts on it.

So, here it is. Rick Riordan in all his glory:


I absolutely agree with this quote, except that I do have one, teeny, tiny disclaimer and that's this: 

Every writer goes through seasons in their career. Even teen writers. And I think it would be a shame to overlook the benefit of not being contracted. That's right. There's a HUGE benefit to not having to write what you promised a publishing house you'd write. The benefit is that you can WRITE WHATEVER YOU WANT. 

We all go through phases where we need to start a million projects and one-by-one toss them aside. It's part of the growing process. If that's where you are, don't feel bad about it. Learn as you scribble furiously.

THAT SAID, Riordan's advice up there cannot be discounted. I've stumbled into this place with every book I've written and I can only now, after finishing my most recent manuscript, say with any certainty that it was perseverance that got me to the end. Not talent, not brilliance, not a magical bean. Perseverance. Period.

My detective story took me twice as long to write as any of my other books and I was tempted to throw in the towel on several occasions. I'm so glad I didn't. So very glad I stuck with it to the end. Even if it never gets published, it's the story I wanted to tell and I'm proud that the story exists as one of my accomplishments.

The upside of sticking with it is that you really will finish a book. And that's something most people never do. If the writing is hard right now, if you'd rather start something new, do yourself a favor and try these things first:

1. Reread what you've written. My guess is that in those early pages--the pages you were excited about--you've given yourself hints. You've unintentionally told yourself where to go next. FOR EXAMPLE, when I was trying to develop a bad guy for Broken Wings (minor spoiler alert!), I remembered that a very creepy man simply disappeared during the climax of Angel Eyes. It was enough of a start to get me going again.

2. Delete a character. This one is a bit heartbreaking, but it can jump start your writing. What happens to your tale if that old lady with the best advice ever never appears? What does that do to your story?

3. Rewrite chapters from a different point of view. But that's so much work! I know, I do. But it will get you writing again. And you may find you like your storyworld better through the eyes of a different character.

4. Cut scenes that are bothering you. Just do it. Cut and paste them into another document in case you change your mind, but get rid of them. It's like getting a long overdo haircut. You'll feel cleaner and healthier for taking the plunge.

5. Plot out your next three scenes. This is hard for a pantser, but because it's so different from what you normally do, it could give you the boost you need to keep going. 

AND THE TRICK IS TO KEEP GOING! Editing is the fun part, but we've got to get our book written first. Get it on the page. Fix it later. That other story that's been begging for your attention? It'll be fun at first too, but I PROMISE, it will get hard. They all do.

Tell me, what do you do when you hit the sagging middle of your book? 
What keeps you writing?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Beyond Fancy Clothes and Funny Foods—Creating the Culture of Your Story


Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and two children.

She is represented by Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. Her YA sci fi novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press Nov. 18, 2014.


And because people always ask, her name is pronounced "shuh-LEE." But she answers to anything that sounds remotely close.

When I was in college, I took a semester off to go to Ghana, West Africa. Everybody and their grandma warned me I’d experience culture shock. But hey, I’d studied up on the culture, I was ready for new experiences, and I could handle anything.

Then I got there and freaked out a little bit. Maybe a lotta bit.

I had to bathe from a bucket in cold water, and cram with six people I didn't know in the back seat of a taxi, and eat weird, slimy food like fufu with my fingers. Eventually I realized my biggest problem with culture shock was that I couldn't forgive Ghana and its culture for not being MY culture. I didn't understand the values behind the behavior, so I couldn't accept it. Once I was able to learn from the people around me, and to look at things and say, "this is the way it is because of this reason," I was able to love it.

Shallee walking the rope bridges in the Kakum rainforest canopy in Ghana.

So. In your stories, how do you make readers love this new world you’re throwing them into the way I came to love Ghana?

Culture. It’s the biggest key to your worldbuilding. It’s the world that shapes a character. It’s their way of life: the behaviors, values, and symbols that have become part of them as they live in their world. 

Building a culture is as simple as this diagram. Ha! If only it were really so simple. But if you understand these elements of culture, you can create them for your own world, and work them in to your story.

More information on cultures can be found here.

Let’s start at the core, the basis for everything in a culture—VALUES. All the things people do in a culture are practices, but all the reasons why they do them are their values. These are things that are most important to your world. What does your culture consider good or bad? What characteristics, objects, or ideas do they prize most? These values will be shaped by their environment (a desert culture would value water), as well as their history (a people nearly destroyed by war might value peace—or violence, depending on how you want them to be).

Once you know your cultures values, you can start on their practices, beginning with RITUALS. Rituals are activities that really aren’t necessary for survival, but are essential to how your culture interacts with each other. They’re actions performed that have some kind of symbolic value as dictated by tradition. It could be greeting, birth and funeral customs, or holidays. Think of things like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter. Rituals often take place when a certain event or circumstance comes up (such as births, deaths, weddings, coming-of-age, saying hello or goodbye, etc.).  These are often a big part of what we see as “culture.” And they always tie back to those VALUES you created—people form rituals that reflect their values.

Next up: HEROES. Pretty easy, right? Who do the people in your culture look up to—living or dead? These heroes are your culture’s role models. They are prime examples held up to everyone else as living those values they hold dear. Sometimes, rituals (like holidays) might even revolve around a hero. They are role models for how your society thinks people should behave. For another Harry Potter example, think of the Houses of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin—they’re all named after HEROES that exemplify the values of that House.

The final layer of culture are its SYMBOLS.  These are the daily outward expressions of a culture and its values. It's slang words, objects, dress, food, or hairstyles that define the culture and are significant to them. These are things like Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frog cards, wizards robes, and even wands in Harry Potter. This is where you can really play with the flavor of your world—but remember, that flavor is going to be a little bland if you don’t have the values, rituals, and heroes to back it up.

By starting at the center to build your culture, you can create a world that is not only fun, but has meaning and depth. You can create a world that seeps into every subplot and character in your story. And when you manage that, you can create a world and a story your readers will love.




Jill here! Thanks so much for the awesome guest post, Shallee. I learned a lot!

To thank Shallee for posting, we're giving away a copy of her new book, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. Enter on the Rafflecopter from below.


What would it feel like to never forget? Or to have a memory stolen?

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve them perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next. That’s why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims not only that they have met before, but also that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is that Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things—or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast…because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Suspension of Disbelief

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.

Reading is an act of faith. Someone picks up a book and instantly trusts that the author is going to tell a decent story.

When writing science fiction or fantasy, the author sometimes asks the reader to trust them further as they take the reader into another world. This makes it more difficult for the reader to relate and presents an opportunity to confuse him and shake that act of faith he brought with him into the story.

So, when writing, it’s important to keep in mind the term suspension of disbelief.



This means that readers will give you (the author) the benefit of doubt when reading your story. They’ll hold off on judging you for implausible things—and maybe even some confusing things at first—trusting you to have it all make sense at some point. But if you push this too far, if things become too far-fetched, you risk losing your reader.

This is on you. It’s your job to portray a world with characters, creatures, magic, and situations with enough realism that readers will believe it possible, or suspend disbelief, and enjoy the tale.

So tread carefully. Don’t give your reader a reason to mistrust your storytelling. Use science to make your inventions plausible. Give your reader familiar things to anchor him to reality along with your strange new ideas. Don’t have scaly snakes in arctic environments—unless you can use science to show the reader how it could plausibly happen. Don’t have characters on a fictional planet listening to Michael Jackson music—unless you intend to show how this mythical galaxy is connected to ours.

The reader is ready to trust you. Don’t betray them.

*This is an excerpt from Storyworld First: Creating a Unique Fantasy World for Your Novel.

Also, to celebrate the release of Storyworld First, I'd like to give you some free download links to worksheets I created for the Storyworld First book. Enjoy!

STORYWORLD FIRST PRINTABLES
-Solar System Worksheet
-Civilization Worksheet 
-Creature Worksheet
-Character Worksheet
-Magic Worksheet
-Single POV Plot Chart
-Two POV Plot Chart

Can you share in the comments a book that so captured you, that you read from start to finish without putting it down?

What about a book that broke the suspension of disbelief? Can you (kindly) share what the author did that pulled you out of the story?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Loving The Skies We're Under

by Stephanie Morrill

It was about 18 months ago when I realized I had totally fallen in love with the music of Mumford & Sons. I don't know how it happened, honestly. White Blank Page kept coming on my Pandora station, and one day I was like, "Man, I really love this song. I think I really love all their songs, actually!" Then I stole the CDs from my husband with no intentions of returning them, and he's fine with that because I listen to them so much he's burned out anyway.

Hopeless Wanderer is one of my favorites. I won't pretend to know what it's really about, but many of the lyrics connect with my writer's heart. As a writer, I can certainly be a hopeless wanderer and I've had to learn the necessary disciple to write and edit full stories.

I've also had to learn a lot of discipline to dream big ... and yet embrace where I am in my writer's journey. Which is why I love the line, "I will learn to love the skies I'm under."



It's easy to think about all the things you wish were different. I wish I had a contract. I wish I were so successful I could write whatever I want and know it would be bought. I wish I had finished this book six months ago.

If I'm to learn to love the skies I'm under, I have to learn to focus on what's good about now. Like that I don't have the stress of a deadline and can give the story room and time to grow. Or that I don't have to be marketing another title as I write this story.

Don't let worries about the future and what ifs rob you of the joy of where you are right now. What's something great about where you are in your writing journey? Is that you're having fun? That you're learning how to craft a great character? That you're enjoying some time away from your manuscript? That you can write whatever genre you want? We'd love to hear!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Go Teen Writers Writing Prompt Contest!


by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. 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.

Contest time!

Your prompt sentence is: (Character name/I) would need a lot of luck to make it out of this alive.

Here's how the game is played:

1. The prompt sentence must be the first sentence of your paragraph. It cannot be altered. You cannot insert words or change the punctuation. The parentheses are there because I wanted to let you pick your own character name. Or if you're a first person writer, you may use "I" instead. For example, you could write: Charles Bartholomew Hugginsworth III would need a lot of luck to make it out of this alive. (Though I don't recommend it.) or you could simply write, I would need a lot of luck to make it out of this alive. Or Joe Campbell would need a lot of luck to make it out of this alive.

2. Your paragraph must be NO MORE THAN 115 words (the prompt sentence + 100 words.) That means your entry can be 105 words or 99 words or 87 words, but not 116 or 243.

3. Your paragraph should read like the opening of a story, which means it should do the same things you want the first paragraph of a novel to do.

4. You must be 21 or younger to enter. One entry per person. Your entry needs to be in English, but writers from all countries are welcome to participate.

5. Your paragraph must be turned in by Wednesday, November 19th. (We wanted to provide extra time due to NaNo.)

How will the entries be judged?

Entries will be judged using this form.

Finalists will (hopefully) be announced Tuesday, November 25th , and then the three winners will be announced in December. Those in the top three will have their entries published on the blog (if they want).

Something special about how this contest will be judged is that it'll be like a reader's choice award. Shannon Dittemore is mentoring a group of junior high and high school writers. Together they've been studying the craft of fiction writing and will now be using those skills to judge our contest.

You enter by using the below form. Important: Entries are anonymous. The judges will not see names on any of the entries they read. We only use your name and email address to return your feedback to you and, if you final, to list your name on the website. Yes, you may use a pen name.
 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Using Nature to Enhance Your Theme

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

It's FRIDAY again! Confetti and cupcakes for everyone! Of course, you'll have to go in search of your own, but still, we made it to the end of the week and I think treats are in order.

On that note, I need to announce the winner of last week's giveaway. To refresh, we're giving away a set of Jenny Lundquist's The Princess in the Opal Mask and its sequel The Opal Crown. Drum roll, everyone . . . 

And the winner is Tiffany! 

Now, I know what you're thinking. There are a zillion Tiffanys out there, but that's the only name that was provided on the entry. I went ahead and emailed this specific Tiffany, so if it's you PUH-LEASE email me back!

Okay, now that that's all done, let's talk writing.

I thought I'd just drag you all into my head for a bit if that's okay. I've been thinking a lot about one of my favorite stories. William Shakespeare's Hamlet. It's not a novel, but a play and there's much to be learned from plays.

My sophomore English teacher is the one who got me hooked on Hamlet. He spent one of his lessons talking about the garden theme that's woven through the story. In Hamlet's first soliloquy he says of the world, "'Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."

Throughout the production, several characters join Hamlet in the colorful use of garden terminology. From Ophelia to Laertes, from the Queen to the Ghost of Hamlet's father, the concept of the garden is hard to miss once it's been pointed out.

And it was this one teacher and this one lesson that really opened my eyes to nature as a theme in literature. It's changed how I view books, but more importantly, it's changed how I view nature and the creation around me.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King makes the point that we owe it to ourselves and the books we write to decide what exactly it's about. Does it have a theme? Have we made that clear to the reader? And I wonder as you view your manuscript, have you considered using nature to enhance your theme?

I don't think it's ideal to start with a theme and work from there, but I do think that once you've penned your story, it's beneficial to consider how you can use the world around your characters to sharpen your message.

What are you talking about, Shannon?

I'm glad you asked.

When we think of nature, we think of forests and oceans, we think of mountains and sunsets and all the things that were created for us to enjoy. But we also think of seasons and the inevitable dying of everything that grows. And in that death, we often find new life. We think of cycles. We think of change. We think of incremental growth and maturity. We think of seeds planted and watered and we think of weeds that can squeeze the life out of the things that are meant to nourish us.

All are such glorious themes in the hand of an author! The applications of such themes and the uses of them in your writing can help to paint a picture that will stay with a reader and bring into focus THAT THING you're trying to say.

Anyway. That's what's been going through my head lately. How about you guys?

What do you think about using nature to drive home your themes? What books come to mind when you consider this concept?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Preparing to Get Your Manuscript Critiqued

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.


If you want to become a better writer . . . if you've written something and want an opinion on it . . . or if you feel your piece is ready for publication . . . it’s a good idea to get some feedback before you submit to a publisher. And not just from your best friends and family, either. At some point, you need to find a serious critique group.

What to expect? In an online group, you post your chapter and people download it and write their comments on your manuscript in a colored text or critique it using Track Changes. People tend to point out anything and everything that they feel is a mistake or could use improvement. So, it’s a good idea for you to decide what kind of help you want before you pass your manuscript around. If you want the works, say so. I always say, “Rip it to shreds.” Or “Tell me whatever bothers you.” I don’t have to take every bit of advice I get--and there are times where someone gives me advice that I know is wrong--but I still like to know what people are thinking. 

If you don’t want people to point out your spelling errors or punctuation, say so. Maybe you only want feedback on a character. Or maybe you only want to know if the piece holds the reader’s interest until the end. Whatever you want to know, tell your critique partners up front. This will save everyone a lot of time and get you the help you need. 


Here are a few things you can do before submitting your work for critique:

1. Decide what you’d like your critique group to look for. Do you want the works? Or do you simply want to know if the story holds their interest? 

2. Check for grammar and spelling errors. The spell check is great, but it doesn’t catch mistakes like: its/it’s, their/there/they’re, or though/through/thought. Train your eye to catch these things before you ask others to look it over. You always want to be as professional as possible. 

3. Make sure that your manuscript is formatted correctly. One inch margins all around. Double spaced. Times New Roman 12-point font. Indentations to .05. For a video on proper manuscript format, click here

4. Prepare yourself for criticism. Your critique group doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. They're trying to help you improve what you’ve written. Be ready for that. When you’re waiting for your feedback, you might want to psych yourself up a bit because taking criticism can be hard. Try to keep in mind that all writers are criticized. Even bestselling authors get negative reviews. Criticism is part of being a writer, so a critique group is a great place to thicken your skin and start getting used to it. 

Also remember, that a critique group should be a safe place to learn. Expect negative feedback, because that means you can figure out how to make the story better before you send it to a publisher. But if your critique group is hurtful and disrespectful, you should probably look for a new one. Try not to be overly sensitive, though. By its very nature, a critique looks for the negatives in your writing. Weaknesses and mistakes that we all make. No author is perfect. So it's logical that a critique group spends most of their time talking about what’s wrong with your piece rather than what’s right. 

When you get your work back, read the comments over once rather quickly. If you are frustrated or angry, close the file or put the paper away and wait a day or two. Come back to it when you’ve had time to think and relax. Then, let it go. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree. But if you find that three or more people have given you the same advice, you’d be wise to listen.

Hope that helps! How about you? What do you do to prepare for a critique? Share in the comments.