Monday, December 21, 2015

You Already Have Everything You Need

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 (Birch House Press). 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.

The singer wanted us in the audience to participate during the chorus of the song.

I'm excellent at listening to music. I like to sing along (if no one can hear me), but this guy wanted us to not only sing a line of the song, he wanted us to dance too. That dance  all rappers seem to love where you stick your hand out and move it up and down with the beat? I was supposed to do that while singing. I can't even clap to a beat while singing.

I wanted to fold my arms over my chest and just enjoy the music, but everyone else was into it. As uncomfortable as participating made me, not participating made me even more so.

So I stuck my hand out. I sung the line. I moved my arm mechanically up and down, noticeably off rhythm.

The next time, I focused on moving my arm at the same time as the others around me. I forgot to sing until about half way through the line.

The third time, I managed both the arm movement and the lyrics, but I could feel my face heating as I wished the moment away. I knew I looked completely stupid. That the people behind me could tell I was doing a terrible job. That those next to me could see my utter lack of rhythm and grace.

As the rapper moved about the stage during the next verse, I relaxed and enjoyed the beat of the song, the punch of the lyrics, the pulse of the bass. My body naturally began to move in time with the music, Nothing crazy (I'm still me, of course) but a little bending of my knees, a little swaying.

The chorus returned. I begrudgingly held out my arm ... but this time it was different. This time, because the rest of my body was already moving with the beat of the song, it was easier to keep the right rhythm with the motion of my arm. And because my body was moving by instinct instead of by my command"Now move up. Now move down."I found I could sing too. And that I was having fun.

Growing as a writer can feel much the same. We've covered a lot of topics this year. Here's a quick overview:

When you try to bring new techniques to your manuscript, you might feel like I did that first time I tried to participate during the song. You're having to focus so hard on the mechanics of it that there's no rhythm, no fluidity. "Oh, gosh, I'm terrible," you might even think. "What if somebody actually reads this? What will my parents think?"

Good writing, like good dancing, is about more than just the mechanics. Great dancers have to know the dance steps so well that they can do them without thinking. When they've practiced steps so much that they're more like a reflex, that's when a dancer can bring the beauty, grace, and rhythm that the art requires.

What we teach you on this blog is like dance steps. Knowing them won't make you a great writer. And if you try to think about them as you create your storyI can't use that adverb ... if I write it this way it's an info dump ... I can't do that because it was on Jill's cliches list you're never going to find any kind of rhythm.

As odd as it seems, the best thing you can do after studying the mechanics of writing is to put them out of your mind and write by feel. The more you write, you'll find yourself naturally incorporating techniques you've learned. And even if you don't, even if you get something wrong, unlike dancers we have the privilege of being able to edit. So:

Write like no one is watching. Because they aren't. 

Write like you don't have to get everything right the first time. Because you don't.

And write like you already have everything you need to tell your story. Because you do.

Sure, maybe you have some research to do before you can write that battle in a believable way. Or maybe you're still finding your voice or figuring out how to write multiple narrators. I'm not saying you already have what you need to write a perfect story that will make editors fight over you. I'm saying that you won't get there until you put words on the page. And now is the perfect time to start.

Go Teen Writers will return January 4th. Enjoy your holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Christmas Wish (or six)

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 love of all things literary. 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. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

My house is full of Christmas already. Yours?

I know not everyone celebrates Christmas in the same way and some of you may not celebrate Christmas at all, but as we round out 2015, I find myself wishing all sorts of things for the young writers that surround me.

For you, dear writer, I hope that writing will always be a source of joy. Not happiness necessarily because happiness can be a flighty thing and most always our writing requires more out of us than flighty emotions. And so while you may delve into dungeons of despair and hot fiery hells, while your writing might allow you to soar into adventures of peril, I hope that those moments--locked away in your writing cave--bring you a deep sense of satisfaction. A joy only the teller of stories can ever know.

And for you, young wordsmith, I wish you words upon words. That they would arrive in your soul in various states of dress--with their definitions firmly attached or begging to be understood. That you would open fictions and sift through histories to find shimmering arrangements of letters that will brighten your collection. Don't adopt the habits of an old gent though, collecting coins only to lock them away behind glass. Display your word collection proudly, first this way and then that. Take them out and use them for everyday living, will you? Play with them and turn them on your tongue. And for certain, write them on paper. Shape them in ways that make you smile or cringe or cry out in agony.

And please, please share them.

To those who worry about it all. About your voice and the time and the commitment and the craft, I pray you find another soul who understands. A creative heart you can depend on to inspire and motivate, to listen and truly hear how the worry feels inside your bones. I wish you the pleasure of being the answer to another creative soul's whispered prayer and I hope your writing is enriched by the conversations the two of you are certain to have.

To the ambitious crazy man inside your chest, the one who bangs against your ribs with his little fists and shouts about relevance and career paths and the talentless peons excelling in your place--yes, for the crazy man inside all of us, I wish a year of silence. Silence so that you can relish the words all around you, the stories waiting to be plucked from the air. Silence so you can converse with the slightly less crazy characters who desperately want to sit you down and tell you of the mischief they've got planned.

To those wondering if you'll ever know anything worth telling, worth sharing, worth writing, I say this: live. I wish you the kind of journeys you have to take with your own two feet. The kind that take place outside of stories. I wish you bravery in the face of the monsters and boldness when your voice is necessary. And I wish you would not worry so about mattering. You matter. Your voice matters. Some stories take longer to tell than others. Let the words steep inside you, like a good strong tea. When they're ready, when you've collected enough of the right ones, the sentences won't be so hard to come by.

And to the teenager who only has a handful of years to be a teenager (yes, you!), I hope the stories you're writing will enhance your youth and not keep you from it. Beware the heroes and heroines that steal you away from your own adventures for too long. You have stories inside your skin that must be lived. This next year, go live them.

Have you any writerly wishes, my friends? 
Anything you're hoping for that can't be tucked into a stocking?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

145 Romance Tropes

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

I've been making some new lists lately. My newest is a list of romance tropes that are often used in novels or movies.

Tropes can be use alone or combined. For example, if a rich young woman grew up in the same house as the cook's young son, you could have a "classes clash" trope and a "best friends/friends" first trope.

No matter which trope(s) you choose, make sure that both your hero and heroine each have two conflicts that keep them apart: an internal conflict and an external conflict. By the end of the story, they each must overcome both conflicts to reach their happily ever after ending.

Also, your hero and heroine might look differently at the situation. Could be it was "love at first sight" for your hero, but your heroine is experiencing an "everyone can see it" (except her) trope. 

Play with it. And have fun.

abduction to love
accidental pregnancy
afraid to commit
all grown up
antihero romance
arranged marriage
bait and switch
beauty and the beast
best friend’s lover
best friend’s sibling
best friends/ friends first
blind date
bodyguard crush
boy hates girl
boy meets ghoul
boy meets girl
break his heart to save him
brother’s best friend
bully turned puppy lover
can’t live with them, can’t live without them
celebrity loves commoner
celibate hero
childhood enemies fall in love
childhood friends
childhood marriage promise
Cinderella story/wrong side of the tracks
classes clash
clueless love
crazy love
damaged lead finds happily ever after
dark secret keeps them apart
different worlds
enemies to lovers
everyone can see it
fake engagement
fatal attraction
first love
fish out of water
forbidden love/Romeo and Juliet
friends with benefits
girl wants bad boy
guy wants cheerleader
huge guy, tiny girl/ tiny guy, huge girl
if I can’t have you, no one will!
imaginary love triangle
impotent love
innocent cohabitation
instant/false sweethearts
it happened in Vegas
jilted bride/groom
law enforcement
long distance relationship
long-term lovers
love at first sight
love interest has a profession protagonist abhors
love interest reminds of estranged family member
love potion
love reforms villain
love triangle
lovers in denial/ they’re the last to know
mad love
mail-order bride
marriage of convenience
men in uniform
mistaken declaration of love leads to love
mistaken identity
noble rescuer steps in, She’s dating Mr. Wrong
nobody thinks it will work
not good enough for him/her
oblivious to love
older man, younger woman/ older woman, younger man
on the rocks
one night stand
one wants true love/other wants a fling
oops! fall in love with the wrong person (which could ruin everything!)
opposites attract
overly shy love
parent/childcare worker
partners in crime
passionate lovers
Plain Jane get the hottie
pretending to be married or engaged
rejected as unworthy/ turns life around
reluctant sex worker
removing the rival
rescue romance
return to hometown
reunion romance
rich man, poor woman/ rich woman, poor man
rivals/ protagonist vs. antagonist
road trip romance
rock star hero
runaway bride/groom
scars from the past
second chance at love
second time around
secret admirer
secret baby- He doesn’t know she’s PG
secret that can end everything
sibling triangle
sibling’s ex-spouse
similarities attract
sleeps with everyone but you
sorry, I’m taken
stranded together
sudden parent
the one that got away
time travel
tortured hero(ine)
tragic love affair
tragic past
two-person love triangle (involves some mistaken identity) ex. superman
ugly duckling
unobtainable love interest/ one-sided
unrequited love
unrequited-love-switcheroo love triangle
unwanted harem
wallflower noticed by the rake
was it all a lie? (undercover love)
(wo)man in peril
working with the ex
workplace romance

Which tropes are some of your favorites? Which do you hate? See any that I'm missing? Share in the comments.

And click here to download a nice printable version of the list.

Monday, December 14, 2015

4 Tips For Writing A Satisfying Ending To Your Story

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). 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.

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

After our brief deviation last week, let's get back to talking about endings.

Your character has gone through their final test and now ... what? Do you need to have every plot thread tied up neatly with a pretty bow? What if you still have a sequel to write? Should your ending be sad or happy? Do you need an epilogue?

As always, your story's tone and genre will come into play. If you're writing a romance novel, for example, your story is going to end very soon after the couple finally gets together. It's just part of the genre. Same with a mystery—when the mystery is solved, the story is practically over. 

Regarding if your story should end happy, sad, or somewhere in-between, that really depends on the kind of story you've told. The Fault In Our Stars will have a different tone to its ending than a book like The Princess Diaries. So will The Book Thief and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things. Those stories are so different in tone that the reader needs different things to feel satisfied when they close the book.

Here are four other tips for creating a satisfying ending:

1. Fulfill your promises.

When we talked about writing chapter one, I said the opening of your book is a promise to your reader. Meaning if your story is the sad, serious type, don't open with a bunch of laughs. Otherwise your reader is like, "Hey, I thought this book was going to be funny, but it's not!"

Throughout your story, you've made promises to your reader whether you intended to or not. (If you're like me, you probably don't even recognize some of them, or you've completely forgotten and you'll find them in edits.) You need to pay them off before you close out the book.

Let's use Frozen as an example. We've known since Anna and Kristoff met Olaf that Olaf has always loved the idea of summer. He has no clue that he'll melt. "I'm going to tell him," Kristoff says to Anna. Anna says, "Don't you dare." And as Anna, Olaf, and Sven walk away, Kristoff says to himself, "Somebody's gotta tell him."

That's a promise being made to the viewer. It's saying, "Olaf is going to wind up somewhere warm, and he won't know that it's dangerous to him."

If Elsa didn't make Olaf his own personal flurries at the end, we would have this moment of, "Wait, what about Olaf?" It's not like it's some big plot thread in the movie, but because attention is drawn to it with "In Summer" and Kristoff's comment, we need to see it resolved to feel satisfied.

Does that make sense?

As I said, there are times that I make promises in my first drafts that I don't discover until I'm in edits. Often it's a character who I give a ton of page time for multiple chapters, but then they never get mentioned again.

2. Consider picking a scene that will showcase the lasting change.

Going back to Frozen, the final scene we see is Elsa and Anna having fun together once more. In Pride and Prejudice, we see that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married. These final scenes leaves us feeling like the journey we just went on with the characters was worth it, and that even though we're saying goodbye to them, we're leaving them right where they should be.

What if you're writing a sequel and this isn't really the end? Go to your bookshelf and pull off books that are part of a series you love. You will find that the author wraps up the main conflict of the book, but also nudges open a door that hints at bigger issues lurking in book two. If you read several last chapters of books in a series, you'll get the feel for the right balance.

3. Consider what feeling your reader should be left with.

When your reader closes the book, how do you want them to feel? Should they be sad and crying? Laughing and light-hearted? Sighing over the beauty of true love? Pressing a hand to their racing heart and thinking, "Phew, now I can finally get some sleep now that the serial killer is behind bars!"

If Frozen had ended with Anna punching Hans, it would have been fine ... but not best. As great of a moment as it is, Anna getting a piece of revenge isn't the final feeling that the viewer wants.

4. Work hard on your last line.

The last line of your story is—stating the obvious here—the last thing the reader will read. It's the last chance to direct their thoughts where you want them. So when you've figured out what feeling you want your reader to be left with, your job is to tweak the last line until you're achieving what you want. 

Sometimes that last line is going to come out just right the first time. Other times, it'll be something you have to work for. But it's always, always, always worth it to make sure you get it just right.

What about an epilogue? I've talked about that in a previous post titled, "Does My Novel Need An Epilogue?"

Any other questions about endings that I can answer? Without spoilers, what are some books or movies that you feel have ended just right?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Try/Fail Cycles

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 love of all things literary. 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. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

This past week I heard try/fail cycles referenced several times. Have you heard of the try/fail cycle? It's a wicked cool writing device that deserves a place in your tool belt. The third time the topic crept up this week, I did a little research here on the Go Teen Writers site, and I don't see that we've talked about this one yet.

So, let's do that, okay? Let's make sure you have this handy dandy little weapon at the ready.

A try/fail cycle is just what it sounds like. It's the process your protagonist must go through before he finally reaches his goal. We've talked extensively on Go Teen Writers about how your protagonist (main character) needs a goal. He  must be reaching for something. But here's the kicker, you cannot let him succeed until he's tried and failed multiple times.

Watching a character fail--especially a character we're digging--is hard on a reader in the best possible way. We want to root for a character, we want him to get that THING he wants most. Probably because, somewhere deep inside our own guts, we need to know that reaching goals is possible. That conquering mountains is something we can do too.  

So, since it's a fun metaphor, let's say your main character's goal is to be the very first person to reach the top of a particular mountain. He loads up his back pack and buys the right shoes and on a bright sunny day, he sets off on a journey. After days and days of unencumbered climbing, he does it. He reaches the summit and names the mountain after himself. Yay!

Bo-oring, right?

I mean, it's not even a story. We have a goal, we have progress, but absolutely nothing standing in the way. We need a problem. Or three. Or forty.

The way we prevent our stories from becoming snooze-fests is by filling our soggy middles with the stifled efforts of our main character. Regardless of how brilliant (or strong, or talented) he is, there must be things standing in his way. And they should not be obstacles he can breeze past. There must be some stumbling, bumbling, failure-filled moments.

Hard? Yes. But worth it. Readers will cheer for a protagonist who struggles like they do. And when at last he succeeds, readers will feel the triumph of that moment in a very deep, very personal way. 

To do this with style, repeat these words after me: Yes, but . . . No, and . . .

Four syllables that will revolutionize your writing if you'll let them. Let's use these magical words on our mountain climber, okay?

Mountain Climber wants: To reach the halfway point and make camp before the incoming storm.
Will he do it? Yes, BUT he breaks his leg.

Now, the Mountain Climber wants: To find something he can use as a splint.
Does he succeed? No, AND he slips and falls into a ravine.

Of course, the Mountain Climber wants: To be found.
Is he? Yes, BUT he's found by a mountain lion.

Desperate now, the Mountain Climber wants: Help.
Does he get it? No, AND while fighting off the mountain lion, he drops his pack down the ravine.

Mountain Climber wants: To get back to the trail.
Does he make it? Yes, BUT he has no supplies now and his leg is showing signs of infection.

You see where I'm going with this? Trying and failing doesn't have to look the same every time. We can give the protagonist little victories along the way, but they must always come with a level of sacrifice or loss. Our mountain climber must suffer.

Every obstacle you give your protagonist can be turned into a Yes or No question and while it is certainly your right to answer them simply Yes or No, you're better off employing the Yes, but . . . or No, and . . .  strategy.

Doing so will move your story forward in leaps and bounds and will propel you into one try/fail cycle after another until AT LAST you have this moment.

Mountain Climber wants: To make it the last few steps to the summit.
Does he FINALLY get there? Yes, but!

(I'm SO MEAN. Watch this.)

Yes, but while he's basking in the glory of his triumph, tears streaming his face, gangrene climbing up his leg, he catches sight of something flickering in the sunlight. Stooping to lift it from the rocky peak, his breath catches. It's the wrapper of a peppermint candy. H-how? How is that possible? He's defeated a mountain lion, fought through the pain of a broken leg and made it all the way to the top of the mountain, BUT he was not the first person to do it.

Okay, that was REALLY mean. And you certainly don't have to end your story with a BUT or an AND, but once you've discovered the effectiveness of try/fail cycles, it can be hard to break the habit.

There's oodles of information out there on the web about try/fail cycles and how to employ them. I've barely scratched the surface here, but what do you think?

Do you think try/fail cycles will help your writing? 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland - Book Review and Giveaway

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 August I had the privilege of taking a class from writing instructor David Farland. I filled at least a dozen pages in my notebook during that class. The man breathes wisdom, and I did my best to jot it all down.

Then, a few weeks later, I got to see him again at Salt Lake Comic Con. I had him sign two copies of Million Dollar Outlines. One for me. And one for you.

Here's a picture of me with David and the precious autographed book that I'll be giving away in today's blog post.

Here is a little bit about the book:
Bestselling author David Farland has taught dozens of writers who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight). In this book, Dave teaches how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller. The secrets found in his unconventional approach will help you understand why so many of his authors go on to prominence.

And a peek at the table of contents:

Section 1: What Makes a Bestselling Story?
        Introduction: Writing as a Form of Entertainment
        What is Entertainment?
        What Is a Story, and How Does it Work?
        On Story Types Versus Shapes
        Defining a Million-Dollar Property
        Why Do Research for Becoming a Bestseller?
        Audience Analysis: Novels
        Using Emotional Draws
        Pulling it All Together

Section 2: Identify the Elements that Help You Plot Your Story
        Elements of a Story
        Brainstorming Your Settings
        Building Characters
        Finding Themes in Your Tale
        Novel Plotting Tools

Section 3: The Plotting Process
        Promising Starts to a Novel
        Story Middles
        Ending Your Story Well
        Writing a Million Dollar Outline

What I thought of the book:

This book got me excited from the start. David Farland talked about entertainment and why people read popular fiction. He talked about story structure. Things like ... 

-Stories are strongest when they start with some sort of mystery that leaves the reader asking, "Why?" 
-The importance of having high stakes. 
-Letting the hero go through at least three try-fail cycles as he attempts to resolve the problem. 
-How to suck in your audience. 

All good stuff. The kind of stuff that can help you create a story that appeals to the masses. Though, based on the title, I would have liked to have seen at least one example of a million dollar outline in the book. A very small portion of the book is actually about outlining. But this is the way David Farland teaches. He has discussions. He talks about craft, the industry, his experiences, books that did things right, books that failed. It's like you're sitting down with him, talking over lunch. So while reading this book might not leave you walking away with a million dollar outline, you will be inspired and excited to get back to your story and apply all that you have learned.

Have you ever read this book? If so, what did you think about it? What other books on outlining fiction have you read that helped you?

USA entries only, since this book is in my house! Enter to win here:

Monday, December 7, 2015

What Should I Study In College If I Want To Be A Writer?

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 (Birch House Press). 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.

Since I talked about writing the climax of your story last Monday, and since I've been in a series about writing a novel from beginning to end, it makes sense that today I would talk about denouement or great last lines or something related to The End.

But, writers, I'm limping my way into this week. My weekend involved one kid going to the E.R. to be rehydrated when he couldn't keep anything downincluding his anti-seizure medsand then two more members of the family succumbing to the same stomach bug.

So instead of pressing on, I'm answering a question I get asked probably once a month. What's the best thing to study in college for someone who wants to be a writer? Is it creative writing? English? Should you  have a backup plan? What if you also want to be a teacher/accountant/engineer? Can you do that and be a writer?

The good news is there is no one right way to do this thing.. Being a writer isn't like being a lawyer or teacher or any other number of jobs where you have to get a certain kind of degree before you can perform that job. Writers take very different paths on their way to becoming published authors.

Here are the most common questions I get asked about college and being a writer:

Stephanie, what did you study?

I didn't. I went to a college prep high school ... and then flaked out on college. I had in my head that I needed The Perfect College and that when I found The Perfect College, it would already feel like home, and I wouldn't be so stinking terrified of leaving my parents.

No surprise, I never found such a place. When I loved the full-time work I was doing as a receptionist for a meeting planning company, I opted to continue working full-time, move into an apartment, and pursue writing in my spare time. I've never regretted this decision. I have the life I always wantedsplitting time between writing and doing the mom thing—without having to spend the money for a degree. For me, this was the best choice.

But if you had to go to college, what do you think would be the most useful degree to get?

Even though I'm very happy with how my life has turned out, I still see lots of value in the college experience. If I was doing it all again and went the college route, I think it would have been most valuable for me to get a degree in something related to owning a small business and marketing. Being a writer is like being a small business owner. As a writer, you're producing a product, selling that product, keeping track of money, developing a brand, and lots of other things that college classes could help with.

Do I need a back-up plan?

Only if you need to make money. I've been a published author for 6 years now and there's no way we could live on the money I make. It takes a long time to get published and even longer to make money you can count on. So if you need to make money when you get out of college, then yes, you need a plan for that.

I also want to be a (teacher, lawyer, fill in the blank). Can I write too?

YES. If you have any other interests, pursue those! Especially if they come with useful things like a job after college. The great thing about being a writer is that it's all useful. Do you know how many times I've thought, "Man, I wish I were a psychologist/doctor/lawyer/web designer/history teacher?" Anything else you pursue is only going to enrich your writing. Yes, it may take away some time from it, especially in the beginning, but writing has a way of working itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

If I want to study creative writing in college, where should I go?

I'm so out of touch with who has good programs. I've heard a lot about Brigham Young University and University of Iowa. I'm positive there are lots of great programs out there, and thatunlike what I thought as a high school seniorthere is no single Perfect College that everyone must go to if they want to be a great writer. Studying writing, especially from a great teacher, has a lot of value. But writing on your own, pursuing stories you love, and pushing through the hard times is what will eventually get you published.

Any other questions about studying writing or writing as a career that I can answer? I may be slow to respond today due to the state of health in the Morrill house, but I'll get to it as soon as I can!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Tragic Flaw

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 love of all things literary. 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. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I've been doing a little thinking, friends. Perhaps we can think together. 

Have you ever considered giving your lead character a tragic flaw?

The term tragic flaw most often refers to a failure on behalf of a story's protagonist. The failure can be a character flaw, or an action, or maybe even an area of ignorance. Whatever it is, this flaw leads to a tragic outcome. 

All characters have flaws but not every flaw leads to a full-blown tragedy. That said, many times we read to the end of the story, are appropriately mortified by the outcome and though we're a thinking person, we still can't identify just what it was that started the character down this road. This is the aspect of the topic I've been chewing on.

My absolute favorite teacher in high school was my AP English teacher. I liked him for a lot of reasons, but primarily because he challenged me. "What was Hamlet's tragic flaw?" he'd ask the class.

We'd all raise our hands and give some sort of answer. 



"A flair for the dramatic." 

To this day, I have no idea what the correct answer is or if there even is a correct answer. What I do remember are the discussions, the arguments for and against, the details we covered while dissecting the idea of a tragic flaw. I remember learning about the character of Hamlet because we dared to ask the question: What was his tragic flaw?

For the record, I did Google that very question and found several articles that identified Hamlet's tragic flaw as a multitude of different failures. And so! I've come to the conclusion that it matters little if we can pinpoint the flaw with perfect accuracy (tell your English teachers that!). What does matter is that we understand Hamlet's flaw led to a tragic ending in Denmark. 

If Hamlet had handled things differently--if he had confronted Claudius right away, if he'd had him assassinated, if he'd chosen to ignore the ghost of his father--the massacre at the end could have been avoided. 

Of course, there'd be no story. Certainly not one as brilliant as the play Shakespeare penned. 

And so I ask you again, have you ever considered giving your lead character a tragic flaw? How would this affect your tale? 

What if your character's curiosity isn't just a playful attribute? What if, like Alice, curiosity leads her down a rabbit hole she spends the rest of the story trying to escape from?

What if your character's inaction leads to the loss of his freedom?

What if fear of offending others costs your character her life?

What if you give your character a minor flaw, like a hot temper, and let it crop up throughout the story? What happens then? Can you use this flaw to bring about tragedy? Can you use this flaw to move your story forward?

Right about now, you might be thinking that you don't want to write a tragedy. And I get that. I do. Just remember that a story's not really a story if there aren't problems and while you may decide not to give your character a tragic flaw in the purest sense, it's always worth it to chew on the idea of letting your main character foil his own plans from time to time.

We can do that by building flaws into our characters and seeing where they take us or we can address the issue from a resolution standpoint. If you know your ending (lucky duck!), stop for a minute and think. How can a flaw in my main character lead to this moment? How early can I introduce the flaw and how does it change my plot?

Like I said, this is a topic I've been chewing on. It's not something I have figured out and while I think speaking intelligently about such things has value, I'm more interested in how this tool can be of use to you and me and help us move our stories forward. 

So, let's talk. What comes to mind when you read the phrase tragic flaw? Do you think of stories you've read or characters you're building? Do you have questions? I don't have all the answers, but a hearty discussion is always fun. Talk to me, friends.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

5 Tips for Writing a Sequel

SHONNA SLAYTON is the author of the YA novels Cinderella's Dress, (Summer 2014) and Cinderella's Shoes (Fall 2015) published by Entangled Teen. She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona.

I always wanted Cinderella’s Dress to have a sequel, but the publisher only bought the first book, and had a “wait and see” approach about the second. During the editing process, whenever I saw a thread that would work well as a reveal in the sequel, I’d put in a note saying something like: “I could say this here….but it would be more interesting if it came out in the sequel.” Hint, hint. Wink, wink.

Fortunately, my editor was interested in the sequel, so she let me hold back on some of those reveals, which gave me hope there would be a book two. However, I still had to end book one in a satisfying enough way that should sales not pan out and the second book not get picked up, readers wouldn’t be disappointed that they’d never find out some big plot point.

*Then SHOES was greenlighted*

When I started writing SHOES I only had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go. I hadn’t created a detailed outline for SHOES before finishing DRESS because I’d read advice that said not to plan too much because the first book might get edited so deeply that you will end up having to rewrite too much in the sequel. I’m still undecided about that advice because nothing big changed, and I could have worked ahead. But I did learn a few other things.

Here are five tips I learned about writing a sequel:

1. Re-read the first book and take notes. You would be surprised at some of the details you’ve forgotten, especially if you made changes late in the editorial process and your brain keeps remembering the original way you wrote certain details. (I’m sure if I went head-to-head in a trivia contest about my book with a fan, I might lose.) After I wrote the first draft of SHOES and completed one edit pass, I went back to DRESS to read them both back to back.

2. Watch out for repetitions. You don’t want to repeat the first book. It’s easy to slip into comfortable character behaviors because you are familiar with them. Actually, I think this point goes for writing any next novel, whether it is a sequel or not. Just like we can inadvertently repeat words, we can inadvertently repeat dialogue or plot points or character interactions.

3. Create repetitions! I’m talking about the good kind—“plants” that you intentionally or unintentionally wrote earlier in the series. I love it when I’m reading a series and something seemingly inconspicuous in the first book comes up again in another book. As a reader, it gives me a “that was cool”moment, and I think: “Clever, very clever, Ms. Author!”

4. Get someone who has never read the first book to read the second and see if they understand it. Although I, personally, could never start a series mid-stream, some readers do! My publisher had two editors on each book, but with SHOES one of the editors was new. She was very good at pointing out places that weren’t sufficiently explained. This is also helpful for readers who read the first book a year ago and also need a refresher to remember who all the players are.

5. Learn what readers loved about the first book, and if it matches your vision, give them more of that. I’m not a big fan of reading reviews after a book comes out because reviews are really more for readers than writers (and often the advice is contradictory!). Once the book is published there is nothing you can do to change what it is. But when you are writing a series, you do get to take that feedback and respond accordingly. If the people want more dragons—give them more dragons!

Readers love series books. They love to find out what happened next to the characters they came to know in the first book. As for writers, series books are fun to write, too. We become attached to our characters so it’s a pleasure to send them off on new adventures. I hope you find at least one of these tips helpful if you ever get the opportunity to write a sequel.

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Book Synopsis:
The war may be over, but Kate Allen’s life is still in upheaval. Not only has she discovered that Cinderella was real, but now she’s been made Keeper of the Wardrobe, her sole responsibility to protect Cinderella’s magical dresses from the greed of the evil stepsisters’ modern descendants.

But Cinderella’s dresses are just the beginning. It turns out that the priceless glass slippers might actually exist, too, and they could hold the power to reunite lost loved ones like her father—missing in action since World War II ended. As Kate and her boyfriend, Johnny, embark on an adventure fromNew York to Italy and Poland in search of the mysterious slippers, they will be tested in ways they never imagined.

Because when you harness Cinderella’s magic, danger and evil are sure to follow…

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