Friday, February 27, 2015

Write Characters Worth Caring About

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 finished reading a book recently. It was an exceptional book. Well-written. Clever. Unique.

From all appearances, the author accomplished what she set out to do, but you know what? I didn't really like it. And here's why:

I didn't care about a single character.

Not the protagonist. Not the antagonist. Not the sidekick.

It's certainly possible that other readers felt differently--likes and dislikes are a tricky thing--but this book forced me to think about why I fall in love with certain stories and why I don't.

While story worlds can make or break a tale, it's the characters that compel emotion from me. Either I connect or I don't.

In Blake Snyder's book, Save the Cat, he says this:

So how do we do that? How do we create characters that are worth caring about? A few ideas:

Show your character doing something noble. Snyder calls this the Save the Cat scene. Early on, you can pen a moment in which your character does something that endears him to the reader. He can save a cat from a tree or help an old lady carry in her groceries. She can stand up to a bully or rebuild something that was broken. Whatever it is, it must scream, THIS CHARACTER IS WORTH YOUR TIME!

Show your character struggling. We all struggle. Our characters should too. It helps readers connect when they can identify with the imperfections in your fictional people. It keeps the pretend real. But don't just tell us what your lead struggles with. SHOW us. Write that struggle in. How does she deal with it? Does she fail every time? Maybe the struggle is another person. Maybe it's internal. Show us.

Show your character is redeemable. This is especially important if you're going the antihero route. An antihero is a lead character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Maybe your character is not brave or kind or noble or fearless, but you must show your character to be worthy of the fictional air you've pumped into his lungs. If your readers do not care whether your lead lives or dies, you've missed something somewhere.

Show your character is special. While there is a desperate need in all of us to be normal, there is also this warring notion that somehow, some way we must also be special. Where does your character find herself in relation to this? Does she feel TOO special? Is she attempting to hide her uniqueness? Or is she trying to find what makes her different from everyone else? Maybe she's trying to master her special gift? Like Spidey learning how to shoot webs. Opening up this struggle to the reader will endear us to your lead.

Now, it's not necessary to show ALL of these things about every character, but making the effort to endear your readers to the main characters will pay off in one simple way. They'll keep turning the pages. They'll HAVE TO KNOW what happens.

They'll care.

And in that way, you've spun a little magic.

Tell me, what makes you care about a character?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

We're Having a Linky Party: Post the link to one of your blog posts

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.

As my last act of love for Love an Author month, I'd like us to try having a Linky Party.

What is a Linky Party, you ask? I will tell you.

A Linky Party is when the author of a blog hosts an invite on that blog for the readers to link up blog posts. These are usually for posts on the same topic. I thought it would be fun for us to link a post from our own blogs. Whichever post you like. One that you are particularly proud of. Or one that you think might be helpful to the Go Teen Writers community.

Since this is a blog for teens, I set the system so that I will approve all links, just to make sure no one spams us. So you won't see your link appear until I approve it. You will have until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 1, to enter your link. Then come back and click on each other's links and read each other's posts.

Have fun!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

4 Things You Can Do When Your Story Is Rejected. Again.

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.

Many of you have heard me talk about RoboTales, the children's chapter book series I wrote with my son. (I wrote a blog post on chapter books here.)

Since I would be pitching this to New York publishing houses in a genre I wasn't published in, my agent told me I needed to complete the first three books in the series.

So, Luke and I worked hard. We wrote the first three books, we wrote a book proposal, and we sent it off to my agent.

And it got rejected by everyone. Some of the rejections were random, like one editor who no longer worked at the publishing house. Some were downright lovely, like one woman who loved the idea but her house had moved away from publishing children's chapter books. For us, the reasons didn't matter. Not really. All that mattered was that the answer was no.

These things happen. Rejection was not new to me. It was new to Luke, and he was discouraged. I was too, but I had a lot of perspective to measure it against. Still, this was a pet project for me. It still is! It's more than just another book. All my books mean something to me, but this was something special I'd done with my boy. And we weren't finished yet.

Luke and I talked it over, and we decided to self-publish the first three books. We talked about what we wanted them to look like, and we researched until we found an artist we both thought was perfect.

She was too expensive, though.

Back to the drawing board. We decided to try a Kickstarter campaign. Now, let me just warn you, rejection is common to writers in many forms. Kickstarter can easily be just another form of rejection. And that is how I felt a few days ago. And, knowing me, I'll likely feel that way again before the whole thing is over. But Luke and I are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to pay our artist in advance. We look at it as a way readers can pre-order the books. You can see our Kickstarter project page here:

But here's the thing. We might not raise the money we need to pay our artist. We could fail. This would be, yet again, another form of rejection. What do we do then?

Well, we're thinking and planning and praying. If this door closes, that doesn't mean we can't publish these books. It just means that we need to go about it another way. So we will go back to the drawing board and make a new plan. Because we love our project. We love the story. We believe in it. And we're not giving up. Therefore, we've got to stay positive.

So today I'm giving you 4 things you can do when your story is rejected... again.

1. Consider the rejection(s).
What do they say? Many are simply form letters or words that give no clues as to why. But if there are some clues, it would be wise to consider what they are. If the editor or agent gives you any feedback, that is precious. Don't cast it off as nothing. Take time to think over that advice and how it might alter your story.

2. Submit elsewhere.
If you truly believe your story is ready to be published and the rejections offer no valuable clues as to problems with the writing, perhaps you simply haven't found the right publishing house yet. Take some time to research more publishers or agents and see who else is out there to submit to.

3. Take a break and let it sit.
Maybe you've realized that there are problems with your story. But maybe it's too overwhelming to think about editing it again right now. If you can't see anything wrong with it, setting it aside for a while can still be beneficial. Start a new story. Create from scratch again. By the time you come back to this rejected story, you will see everything with fresh eyes. And you might know exactly what needs tweaked.

Also, sometimes writers need periods of complete rest. Months where you don't write. Maybe you read a lot, just for fun. Or maybe you simply reflect on life, taking a break from the grind of striving so much. These periods of refreshing can be so helpful. And they can also give perspective when you come back to look at that story again.

4. Publish it yourself.
Maybe you've sent the story everywhere you could think to send it. Maybe you've taken time off, came back to it, and still felt it was the best it could be. If that's the case, and you still ache to get this story out to readers, it could be time to investigate self-publishing. I say "investigate" because it's so easy to rush into self-publishing these days, but the more time you take preparing and planning, the better you'll do. If you decide to self-publish, do your research and put out the very best product you can.

That's what my son and I are trying to do with RoboTales right now. And like I said before, we might not succeed in raising the funds to pay our artist. We're hoping we will, but we're already making a back-up plan should this door close. That's business, after all. And like it or not, publishing books is business.

Have you ever been rejected? Did you learn something? What did you do next? Share something positive that came about as a result of one of your stories being rejected.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Knowing Your Characters Can Take A While

by Stephanie Morrill

In my experience, I can do the character worksheets. I can daydream the character's backstory. I can pin images on my Pinterest boards. I can figure out my characters' strengths, weaknesses, one-word descriptors, and growth words. But no matter how many of these things I do, I still feel distant from my main character until I get all the way through the first draft.

I don't know why that is. The only theory I have is that it's like going through a hard time with someone, and how that shared experience brings you closer together. If you're doing the whole writing-a-book-thing right, your character is going through one of the biggest challenges of their life. Easing them through that situation is what makes you dig deep enough to figure out who this character truly is.

Regardless of why this is true, I was comforted to read these words from bestselling novelist Angela Hunt and learn that this is a common experience;

"I never feel that I know my characters until I've finished the first draft. We're like strangers mingling at a party, sharing a few whispers and hinting at buried secrets."
- Angela Hunt
Can you relate to this phenomenon? Are you similar in that you have to spend a certain amount of time writing a character before you really know them? Or does something else help you?

Monday, February 23, 2015

How To Build A Rich Setting For A Contemporary 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.

Maybe, like I once did, you think of world building as being something only for fantasy or sci-fi writers. While the setting of a contemporary story may not require you to draw elaborate maps or create binders to keep track of it all, it's still a vital part of making your story believable.

After all, can you imagine Gilmore Girls with no Stars Hollow? Veronica Mars with no Neptune? Gossip Girl would be wildly different without it's NYC backdrop, as would The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. 

I think the first question to ask yourself when figuring out your contemporary novel is if  you should use a real place or make one up. This depends on the type of story you're telling.

If you use a real place, you better be sure you're getting your details right. Anticipate spending a lot of time on Google's street view and posting questions to Facebook like, "Anyone here live in Kauai who can answer a few questions for me?"

There are several big advantages to making up a place. One is that you're not going to get any town details wrong, because you're creating them . Another is that you're not going to offend any locals if you invent not-so-nice details about the town, like in Veronica Mars

Making up your own town, however, doesn't mean it's impossible to make a mistake. Once in an episode of Smallville, they showed a closeup of a Kansas license plate on the front of a parking car. Apparently nobody on their staff knew that we don't have license plates on the front of our cars in Kansas. 

You'll still want to do your research on the region, and I would suggest picking a town you can use as a pattern for your invented location. 

Also, if you're setting your story in a large city, I think going with a real one is less distracting. Metropolis is fine for Superman, but it would be distracting in a contemporary romance.

How should you pick where the story takes place?

Sometimes the story dictates it. Gone with the Wind (which, okay, wasn't exactly a contemporary in its day, but I think you'll see the point) mandates that the story take place on a southern plantation. A story about a girl trying to make it on Broadway will need to take place in New York City, same as a story about a man trying to make a living as a cowboy won't take place in NYC.

But sometimes the story doesn't suggest an obvious location. Jodi Picoult's books all (or all the ones I've read, at least) take place in the northeast, but they could have easily been set elsewhere if she'd decided to move them. Same with Stephen King. A ton of his books take place in Maine because that's where he lives. 

I chose to set the Skylar books in Kansas City because I lived in Orlando at the time and felt desperately homesick. If the story doesn't imply a location, feel free to set it wherever your writer's heart desires.

How do you make a place come alive on the page?

Now we get to the fun stuff, where you engage the senses and the emotions of your character to make the setting feel alive for your reader.

The emotion: I think this is perhaps the biggest part of "selling" your contemporary setting to a reader. Few people, if any, are indifferent about the place they live. How does your character feel about her city? Her neighborhood? Her school? Her place of work? Would she live somewhere else if she could? What does she love about this place? What would she change?

Those are questions that you could probably answer about where you live with very little thought, and you should know how your character feels too.

The people: What kind of people inhabit this place? In Veronica Mars, people tend to either be haves or have nots. In Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, the other characters are mostly all spies or former spies. Having some common themes among the people as well as diversity will help sell the world to your reader.

The places: When you're away from home, what are the places you miss? When we lived in Orlando, there were times I would lay awake thinking about Sheridan's Frozen Custard or Jack Stack Barbecue. I wanted to be at the Plaza at Christmas time and go to baseball games at Kauffman stadium. What places are close to your character's heart?

The smells: Napa Valley smells very different than Dodge City, Kansas. Boston doesn't smell like Miami Beach. Smell and taste are two of the hardest senses to work into my writing, but they provide a great texture to the story.

The weather: I almost always forget weather until I'm in the edits stage, when I realize things like, "This takes place in downtown Chicago, and I haven't mentioned so much as a light breeze..." Weather Underground is a great place to learn about weather patterns in locations.

The heart: What kinds of issues matter to the characters in this location? The characters of Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls) were always having town meetings and working to protect their small community. Characters who live in a bigger city might not have those kinds of concerns. Residents in states like Arizona or New Mexico are likely to care more about border issues than those who live in Virginia. Those on the gulf coast fear hurricane season while Midwesterners fear tornado season.

One last note about contemporary settings...

It can be easy to assume your readers know what you're talking about. After all, you don't need to explain what houses look like or what kind of vehicles people drive, unlike in an otherworlds story. But don't forget that readers will still experience your character's world through the tangible details that you provide them. The morning fog. The cry of cicadas. The smell of neighbors grilling. Making the setting vibrant will make it a place your reader longs to escape to.

Contemporaries are my first love If you've read a contemporary novel that you love and that you feel did a good job with setting, mention it in the comments! 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Getting Excited About A New Story

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.

A few weeks back, Emma D made a blog post request of me. Here's what she said:

It absolutely makes sense, Emma. Every author will transition from one story to another in their own way. And just like there's no wrong way to write, there's no wrong way to make this jump.

After I finished the Angel Eyes trilogy, I struggled just as you're struggling now. I brainstormed several different story ideas and even wrote synopses for a few, but after being immersed in the fictional world I created for so long, I had a hard time sinking into another.

Here's what I did:

I took a creative break. My agent suggested I do this. She told me it was normal to go through this phase and that it was important to feed my creative soul however it needed to be fed. So, I read other books and I went to the theatre and I watched entire series' on Netflix. I wandered bookstores and ranked my favorite book covers. I researched things for no other purpose than to satisfy my curiosity. I let myself surf Pinterest for longer than I'll ever admit and I went on road trips because OTHER PLACES inspire me.

I spent time helping others. Just because I was stuck didn't mean everyone was. I had writer friends who wanted my feedback on their stuff and this was an ideal time for me to be of use. Just don't over-commit here. The goal is to give your brain a break so if this requires too much of your creative self, it should be avoided.

I wrote. I didn't abandon writing altogether during this time. I wrote whenever I wanted to about whatever I wanted to write about. I let myself be sloppy and lazy and redundant and I played with characters who seemed interesting to me. 

I brainstormed with friends. Every now and then I'd come up with a story idea, but before investing much time in it, I'd run it by a few friends. There's something powerful about saying ideas out loud. It's similar to the magic of putting words on a page. Both actions make the characters real and that was what I needed most. Characters who felt as real as the ones I'd left behind.

In all of this, I realized how much I liked detective stories. And not just the who-done-it part, but the actual detectives themselves. I found them intriguing and it gave me a place to begin. A character I already knew I'd love before I started building her.

Now, I'll be honest. It took me an entire draft to figure my detective out and at times that was frustrating. I felt I should know her deeply as I wrote her, but that's not how I got to know the characters from the Angel Eyes trilogy. I got to know them and love them as I wrote. I bet that's how you fell in love with your characters too, Emma. It's easy to forget when you look back and see them in their fully realized form. 

Expecting to love characters you're just getting to know as deeply as those whose lives you've fully examined is unrealistic. Give yourself the freedom to grow into that kind of affection.

However you do it, the goal is to remind yourself that there are other stories to be told. Other characters worth falling in love with. There are other worlds worth exploring and you need to find a way to get excited about that again.
So tell me writers, what does that for you?

THANK YOU Emma for prompting this blog post. If you guys have topics you'd like to hear my thoughts on, please leave them in the comments section. I'd love to tackle more of what you're looking for.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Love on Roseanna White Day

Jill here.

February is "Love an Author" month, and today we're going to love on Roseanna White!

♥   ♥    ♥   ♥   ♥ 

Roseanna M. White grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, the beauty of which inspired her to begin writing as soon as she learned to pair subjects with verbs. She spent her middle and high school days penning novels in class, and her love of books took her to a school renowned for them.

After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, she and her husband moved back to the same mountains they equate with home.

Roseanna is the author of two biblical novels, A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, the historical romance, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland, and the historical, romantic suspense Culper Ring Series (Ring of Secrets, Whispers from the Shadows, and Circle of Spies). She is also the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, and a member of ACFW, HisWriters, and Colonial Christian Fiction Writers.

Other ways you can love on Roseanna today:

1. Visit her website at On the right-hand side you can subscribe to her author newsletter. You can also click on "contact" on the top toolbar to email her a note of thanks and/or encouragement.

2. Visit her author page and click "Follow," then write a quick book review for any of her books you have not yet reviewed. See some great reviews? Vote up the ones you find helpful and vote down the ones that aren't helpful.

3. Visit her Goodreads page and become her fan by clicking on the button under her author picture. And while you're there, scroll down to her books and add them to your To Read list. If you wrote any reviews, paste them here as well.

4. Follow her on Twitter. 

5. "Like" her Facebook page.

6. Follow her on Pinterest

Rosanna is one busy lady. She wears so many hats! Author, publisher, editor, graphics designer, book reviewer, wife and mom. Color me impressed. She still finds time to share her wisdom on Go Teen Writers. And she has so much wisdom! We are so thankful that she shares that wisdom with all of you. Here are a few of my favorite Roseanna blog posts:

5 ways to make a series work

What does an editor do, anyhow?

A peek into the cover design process

Is it possible to get your first novel published?

Ask an editor: What will get your manuscript rejected?

If you haven't read these posts, check them out! And if you haven't read any of Roseanna's books, add them to your TBR list. Leave Roseanna an uplifting comment below and/or shower her social media pages with love today.

We love you, Roseanna! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

K. M. Weiland on Outlining Your Book Backwards

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

When you think of outlines, you generally think organization, right? The whole point of outlining, versus the seat-of-the-pants method, is to give the writer a road map, a set of guidelines, a plan. It only makes sense that an outline should be simple, streamlined, and linear. An outline should put things in order. So you’re probably going to think I’m crazy when I tell you that sometimes the most effective outlines are those that are constructed backwards.

When I begin outlining a story, I usually have only a handful of scenes in mind. My job during the outlining period is to connect the dots between those scenes. I have to create a plausible series of events, a chain reaction that will cause each scene to domino into the one following. But linking scenes isn’t always easy to do, if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be linking to. As any mystery writer can tell you, you can’t set the clues up perfectly until you know whodunit. Often, it’s easier and more productive to start with the last scene in a series and outline your book backwards.

For example, in my work-in-progress The Deepest Breath, which I’m currently outlining, I know that one of my POV characters is going to be waylaid and injured seriously enough to knock him out of commission for several weeks. However, I don’t yet know how or why he was injured. I could work my way toward this point in a logical, linear fashion, starting at the last known scene (when he meets another character at a dinner party), and building one plot point upon another, until I reach my next known point (when he’s injured). But because my chain of events is based on what’s already behind me (the dinner party), more than what’s away off in the future (the waylaying), my attempts to bridge the two are likely to be less than cohesive.

By the time I work my way to the waylaying, my progression of events could have led me to something entirely different—and squeezing in the waylaying becomes a gymnastic effort instead of a natural flowing of plot. Plus, the fact that I have no idea what’s supposed to happen right after the dinner party means that I’m likely to invent random and inconsequential events to fill space until I figure out what needs to happen.

My solution?

You got it: work backwards.

Starting at the end of the plot progression—the waylaying—I start asking questions that will lead me to discover the plot point immediately preceding. How was he hurt? Where was he hurt? Why did the bad guys choose to do this to him? Why was he only injured, instead of killed? How is he going to escape? If I know these things, I’ll know how I need to set the scene up, and if I know how to set the scene up, I’ll know what scene to put in the previous slot in the outline. Eventually, I can work myself all the way back to the dinner party. Suddenly, I have a complete sequence of events, all of which are cohesive, linear, and logical enough to make my story tight and intense.

Facing the wide, blank unknown of a story can be scary. Putting one foot in front of the other, when you’re unsure of the terrain, can be overwhelming. But when you can work your way backwards from a known plot point, finding your way becomes as simple as filling in the blanks. And the result is a story that falls into order like a row of expertly placed dominoes.

Jill here. 

Ever try outlining backward? Share in the comments below or feel free to ask questions.

To love on K. M. Weiland this month and to thank her for sharing with us, we're giving away a paperback copy of her book. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Go write something!

Stephanie here. If there's anything that rivals my love for writing, it's talking about writing. Can you relate?

Maybe that's why the first time I read On Writing by Stephen King, I laughed out loud at his words:

"I'll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don't spend actually doing it."
There's of course a lot of value in reading craft books, brainstorming with writer friends, absorbing articles or podcasts on the craft, and deconstructing stories.

That is, there's a lot of value in it if you put it to use by sitting down and writing using what you've learned.

Your time is valuable! Today, I challenge you (and me!) to write more than you talk about writing.

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Build Unique Character Voices

by Stephanie Morrill

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

As I talked about last Monday, if you've been hanging around the writing world for very long at all, you've likely heard about the importance of having a strong author voice.

But you've also probably heard about the idea of characters having their own unique voices, that you don't want all your characters to sound the same. Especially if you're writing your story in multiple points of view. Books like The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver are praised for how each character has a unique sound. How even if the author didn't say the character name at the start of each chapter, you would still know who it was because the character voice is so strong.

So how do all these voicesauthor voice and character voicework together?

Creating strong and unique character voices is a quality of being a good writer. While it seems like character voice would steal from your author voice, somehow it doesn't.

I bet you can even think of an author you love who you would say has a great voice, but who has also written several different books with strong character voices. Let's use Jane Austen as an example. She has a unique author voice, and yet Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice sounds nothing like Emma Woodhouse from Emma.

As we talked about last week, your author voice is something you can influence and work to develop, but it's also something that's inside of you, rooted in your unique view of the world.

Character voice, however, is something you build completely from scratch. Here's how you do it:

1. Start with their position in the story.

By this I simple mean, who is this character in the story. How old are they? What kind of money do they have? Where do they live? What kind of people are they around?

I'll use two of the male characters from my Ellie Sweet books, Palmer and Chase, as an example. I'll just pick a few items that influence their voice, and I think you'll get a clear picture of how you can expand on this:

Palmer is a new kid at school: This means, particularly at the start of the story, he will still be in the "impression management" phase during conversations. He's building a new life here, and he wants to look like a cool guy.
Palmer is seventeen and from Kentucky: For my California born-and-bred main character, she'll notice the different way he says words, even though I chose not to go very heavy on dialect in my book. And being seventeen means he'll talk different than he would if he were twenty-seven or ninety-seven.
Palmer is somebody Ellie has a crush on: While at a glance it may not seem like this is something that influences Palmer's voice, it certainly does. As an author, it means that I need to figure out why Ellie likes being around him. So I designed Palmer in a way that Ellie liked talking to him. He's flirtatious and charming and (mostly) makes her feel special when they talk.

Chase has never moved: Chase has an established reputation. This means his dialogue is built around protecting the image he has.
Chase is also seventeen, and he's from a rough part of town and a family that's had trouble with the law: With two older brothers who made life miserable for the school administration, Chase is used to teachers/classmates expecting nothing but trouble from him. A lot of times I noticed that this developed a bitter tinge toChase's dialogue. He feels like he was never given a fair chance by anybody and it impacts how he talks.
Chase is somebody who scares (and confuses) Ellie: While Palmer is a master and smooth talking girls and often says "the right thing" or what Ellie expects, I wanted Chase to unsettle her. His reputation already has her on edge, and then conversations with him never go the way she thinks they will.

(If you want to get a feel for how these two different characters play out on the page, you can read the first chapter of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet on my website. Or you can grab the whole book for just .99 on your Kindle.)

Again, these are just three facets of Palmer and Chase's voices. You'll want to think through their education, what part of the country they live in, their religious beliefs, their favorite books, and all kinds of things to get a broader scope.

2. Think through the character's primary motivator.

My agent had me do this with a manuscript of mine when my characters were reading a bit "scattered." Ask yourself, "What is it that motivates this character through the story?"

A character like Palmer, who's eager to make a splash in a new environment, is going to act and talk differently than a character like Chase. Chase, with his tough-as-nails reputation will act different than a character who wants everyone to like him. Make sense?

3. Define your characters  in one word.

As talked about in this post, it can be really helpful to find a word that your character would use to describe themselves. The words I chose for my example characters are:

Palmer: "In control" If you pride yourself on being in control, how might that color the way you talk? You'll be careful about what you reveal, won't you? Palmer keeps conversations light and tries to always position himself so that he's showing his good side.

Chase: "Bad news" Chase's view of himself as bad news means he doesn't mind saying things that might make Ellie uncomfortable or angry.

(Let's ignore that neither of those descriptors are one word!)

4. Delve into their back story.

This is where writing magic happens, I swear. 

Our personal back stories heavily influence how we interact with people and determining your characters' histories is how you'll develop a lot of the subtext in their conversations.

My favorite method is to use character journals, which I learned from James Scott Bell. I do this by picking a character (not my main character) and then I spend time free writing in first person.

Start by picking a question that's a good springboard for rambling. The one that's most effective for me is, "Tell me about your family."

And then you just write.

I've heard my mother was once beautiful, but a marriage to a cruel man left her looking old long before her time. I guess that's why I've never really believed in marriage. All I've ever seen is how it destroys.
I'm often surprised by how long I can go on for. Pages and pages, especially if I'm nailing down the backstory of an antagonist.

I think the reason this works so well is that you're getting deep in their head and figuring out why their bad choices make sense to them. Even if what you learn during the character journal process is never actually stated in the story, knowing it will help you create a consistent, logical character.

5. Write their dialogue (and/or their point-of-view chapters) as best you can from what you've learned.

Once you've done some of those exercises, it's time to write the story to the best of your ability. In a first draft, I wouldn't worry too much about if the character voices don't seem quite right. I seem to hit my stride with the characters somewhere around the midpoint, and I try to not let that bother me, It can be fixed in edits.

6. Refine their phrasings and word choices in edits.

Inevitably, when I'm editing I come across a piece of dialogue or a joke that just doesn't suit the character. By now, I've spent so much time with these people that I usually recognize it right away. If I don't, though, my critique partners will find it.

For fun, name one of your favorite characters from literature who has a strong voice. The first one I think of is Martyr from Jill Williamson's Replication.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love on YOU day

Happy Valentine's Day!

February is "Love an Author" month, and today we're going to love on YOU! Here is a small sampling of those of you who are a part of the Go Teen Writers Facebook group. You are all so beautiful!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Go Teen Writers was established in 2010 when Stephanie Morrill wanted to create a place to encourage and connect teen writers. In 2012 when she and Jill Williamson learned they shared that passion, they joined forces. Currently there are 1231 followers, 688 members of the Facebook group, 1,300 Newsletter subscribers, and 40,000 page views each month. The writers who hang out on the blog are some of the most encouraging, helpful, and hard working writers in the industry. They know how to respect their dream while taking care of fellow writers and having fun along the way. 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Ways to love on each other today:

1. If you're friends with some Go Teen Writers followers, email, Tweet, or Facebook each other some encouraging comments to brighten everyone's day.

2. Choose a few ways you'd like to be followed or supported and post those links in a comment below. Take your time and try and get all your links in one comment. (Hopefully we won't have trouble with spam...) You can also leave encouraging comments for each other below.

3. For those of you who are on Facebook, I've started a thread for each of the major outlets in which you can be followed. Go there and post your links on the appropriate thread, then follow the other people's links on that thread. Let's please try to keep them on the individual threads to make it easier for everyone to find and to not totally take over the wall. Check back later in the day to see who you missed. Let's all follow each other today!

Friday, February 13, 2015

When It's Out Of Your Hands

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.

For the past two years, I've had the privilege of teaching a mentoring class at a local charter school. Every Friday for ten weeks I get to stand up in front of junior high and high school writers and for one hour we talk about writing fiction.

It's one of my absolute favorite things to talk about. Teen writers always have such an important take on stories. They are rarely opinionless when it comes to fiction and I'm so glad because I'm the exact same way. Feelings abound!

But, over the course of a few months, we only have ten hours to chat. There's a limited amount of material that can be discussed in such a brief class and I find myself frantic at times wishing I'd told them this and told them that and WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER THINGS!?

In an effort to stifle my own panic, I asked a bunch of my friends in the industry to email me their very best advice for my teen writers. I compiled all the advice into one document and whenever I part ways with a class, I do so by giving them the handout.

The very last piece of advice on the handout is from me. Here's what it says:

I'm in one of those places where I lack control over a portion of my journey. My manuscript is in someone else's hands and I'm waiting. Again. It really never ends, you guys. There's always the wait. But, I'm learning--always learning--that I can still function in this place. I can still write. I can still tell stories and be confident that while my next step isn't clear, things are happening behind the scenes. Things I can't see. And even if things don't turn out the way I hope, no one can stop me from telling another story.

It's a simple reminder--I know it is--but I needed to hear it today. I needed to remember that I believed the advice I've given others. Maybe some of you needed to hear it today too. If so, know you're in good company. 

Take a deep breath, settle into that chair, and write. Your stories matter.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love on Shannon Dittemore Day

Jill here.

February is "Love an Author" month, and today we're going to love on Shannon Dittemore!

♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥ 

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. When she isn't writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California.

Other ways you can love on Shannon today:

1. Visit her website at You can subscribe to her author newsletter if you scroll down and look on the right-hand sidebar. You can also contact her through her website and email her a note of thanks and/or encouragement.

2. Visit her author page and click "Follow," then write a quick book review for any of her books you have not yet reviewed. See some great reviews? Vote up the ones you find helpful and vote down the ones that aren't helpful.

3. Visit her Goodreads page and become her fan by clicking on the button under her author picture. And while you're there, scroll down to her books and add them to your To Read list. If you wrote any reviews, paste them here as well.

4. Follow her on Twitter. 

5. "Like" her Facebook page.

6. Follow her on Pinterest

I was so enthralled by Angel Eyes, that I emailed Shannon through her website and told her so, having never spoken to her before. That's how we started talking and eventually became friends. Shannon is an amazing writer. We are so glad she's come to be a part of Go Teen Writers. She loves the beauty of words and you can really see that in her writing. When I read her stuff, I'm often marveling over the way she puts words together so powerfully. She has recently finished a new bookwhich I LOVED!—and is now working on something new. I hope it won't be long until I add more Shannon books to my shelf! Leave Shannon some encouraging comments below or shower her Facebook page with love today.

We love you, Shannon! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tax Time! Where Authors Make Money—And Where They Spend It

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.

It's tax time. Blerg.

Thankfully, I have a tax man who is brilliant, but it still takes me 1-2 full days to get all my paperwork and information together to give to him so he can do my taxes. It's not my favorite time of year, especially when it turns out that I have to pay more money.

Double blerg.

As I go though this mundane project and list everything $$$-wise related to my "business," I decided to share my accounting categories to give you a peek into the nitty gritty of an author's business. For the most part, I'm leaving the actual dollars off. And you should know that no author is the same. Some don't buy copies of their books and try to sell them. Some never speak or teach. Some don't do any advertising. But all of us have some income and some expenses, and we need to list those out to be able to do our taxes or have our taxes done. Hopefully this will give you a good idea of the money involved in an author's business.

I create this paperwork in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. In all the categories below, I will list each item separately and the amount I spent (which I have a receipt for). Then I print this out and turn it in to my tax guy with all my tax forms. I don't give him all my receipts, but I do keep the receipts in a big envelope in case I'm ever audited. Eww...

Income is money coming in. Yay! 

        Here I list each company that sent me money during the year. This encompasses any portion of advances that came in, royalties, or self-publishing payments. Some of mine are: HarperCollins, Marcher Lord Press/Enclave, Bethany House Press, Lightning Source, Nook Media, Amazon Digital Services (USA), Amazon Services Europe, and On-Demand Publishing (CreateSpace). 
                Total Royalties $

Freelance Services
        Here is where I’d list any money that was paid to me for services I provided, like editing or cover design.
                Total Freelance Services $

Book Sales
        Here I list money I made from selling my own books, be that in my online store or at events where I had a book table.
                Total Book Sales $

Speaking and Teaching
        Here I list any money I made speaking and/or teaching at schools and writing conferences.
    Total Speaking and Teaching $

        Here I list the money I made doing paid critiques at writer’s conferences.
                Total Other $

I add all these up and get my: TOTAL  INCOME $  

        This section is a complete headache for me. Here is my chart for the 2013 year. I went ahead and left these dollar amounts on here so that it wouldn't be terribly confusing. These are amounts I spent buying author copies of my books so that I'd have some to sell and give away.

Also, inventory cost is what the books are worth. They're worth what I paid for them. So I need to count up how many books I have, tally the costs for each, then add all that together to come up with an amount that all those books are worth. That is merchandise sitting in my basement. I need to account for it on my taxes.

1. I list a chart with each of my book titles, how many I had in my house at the start of the year, and the total cost of what that was worth (Cost of Inventory) at the beginning of that year.

2. Then I list my purchases. This is me buying author copies of my own books to sell. I list the added inventory on my chart. And I also list the costs I paid for those books. That gives me an amount for Total Book Purchases.

3. Then I list any gifts from publishers into my inventory, as authors usually get a certain amount of free books to use for promotion.

4. All this gives me a Total Inventory In for the year.

5. Then I subtract the book sales I had that year. I keep a separate Excel Inventory file for each year that I log any sales, giveaways, and new books into.

6. Here I subtract any books I gave away that year for giveaways or donations, etc.

7. And that gives me a Total Inventory Out for the year.

8. Which gives me the Inventory at End of the year, which, hopefully, matches the amount of books in my basement on Dec 31.

Expenses is money going out. Boo! 

        Print Media: Here I list purchases like stock photos for blogs, flyers and postcards for events, mailing labels, business cards, etc.
        Promotional gifts and prizes/contest entries: Here I list entry fees and promotional giveaway items that are not my own books, like books I give away on Go Teen Writers when I interview a guest.
Total Advertising $

Car and Truck Expenses               
        Total Mileage for 2013           X miles at .xxx cents per mile = $
                Total Car and Truck Expense $

Dues and Subscriptions               
        Here I list dues to any professional organization I’m a part of or subscriptions to magazines like Writer's Digest.
                Total Dues and Subscriptions $

        All the postage fees for things I mail out for business-related items go here.
                Total Postage $

        Equipment: Computer equipment, cords, a second monitor, a keyboard… things like that go here.
        Other: Toner cartridges, copy paper, bubble mailers, book display easels, etc.
                Total Supplies $

        Since I use my cell phone for business, I get to write it off my taxes.
                Total Telephone $

        Here I list each city I went to and the dates I was there. I list airfare, cab, hotel, parking, metro passes, etc.
                Total Travel $

Hotel, Meals, and Entertainment
        I no longer save receipts for every meal. My tax guy has a chart that averages a deduction per day that usually works out in my favor.
                Total Hotel, Meals, and Entertainment $

Other Expenses               
        Internet Services: Web hosting, website costs, social media services, domain purchases and renewals, etc.
        Book Publishing Costs: This is where I list self-publishing costs like title set-up charges, ISBN purchases, and US Copyright fees.
        Fees for operating a business: Business license stuff goes here.
        Conference Fees and Table Fees: Here I list costs for getting booths at conferences or attending conferences.
        Freelance Professional Services: Here I list items I commissioned, like custom artwork, book covers, ebook formatting, typesetting costs, editing charges, proofreading, etc.
        Books, Magazines, or audio recordings for research or portfolio: This is where I get to deduct any books, magazines, or audio files I bought for research. Have to be very careful here, but you are allowed to deduct those you use. I also list any magazines I purchased because I had an article inside and wanted to own a copy.
        Gifts: Any gifts I bought for my publishing house, editors, or agent are listed here.
                Total Other Expenses $


And that's that. Whew!

It really does take me two days to write all this out. If I was a good girl, I'd use QuickBooks regularly and that program would do the work for me. Sadly, I just don't have time to keep up with QuickBooks.

Another thing to note, I'm bad at budgeting. The first five years I had any income to report, I spent nearly as much as I made, so I was just about breaking even. I try to spend less these days. It's not always easy.

Any questions?