Monday, August 31, 2015

The Go Teen Writers Get It Done Weekend: Last day!


Today's giveaway: Write Your Novel From The Middle ebook.



Get entered below!

by Stephanie Morrill

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

Today is the last day of our "Get it done" weekend here on the blog. If you didn't participate any of the previous days, you're still welcome to join us.


Here's how it works:

1. You pick what you want to accomplish today. I've been working on some early chapters of my new book, others have been outlining, and still others editing. It's whatever you want!

2. If you haven't already, leave a comment sharing what you hope to get done. And then periodically check back in and tell us what kind of progress you're making.

I've been giving away ebooks daily, so if you enter, be sure to check back to see if you won!

Today I'm giving away James Scott Bell's Write Your Novel From The Middle which is a really unique approach to planning or thinking about your novel. I think you'll really enjoy it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


When you have story ideas, what usually comes to you first? The main character? The premise? The setting? Something else?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Go Teen Writers Get It Done Weekend: Day Three


Today's giveaway: Jill Williamson's Storyworld First ebook.



Get entered below!

by Stephanie Morrill

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

Today is day three of our "Get it done" weekend here on the blog. If you didn't participate Friday or Saturday, you're still welcome to join us today.


Here's how it works:

1. You pick what you want to accomplish between now and the end of tomorrow. Some writers have chosen a certain amount of words they want to write, others have picked a place in their story they want to get to, some are editing, and we even have some working on college essays. Totally your call!

2. If you haven't already, leave a comment sharing with us what you hope to get done. And then periodically check back in and tell us what kind of progress you're making.

That's it! I'm giving away ebooks daily, so if you enter, be sure to check back to see if you won!

Today I'm giving away Jill's Storyworld First which is a Must Read for fantasy and sci-fi writers. You'll love it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What genre(s) do you write?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Go Teen Writers Get It Done Weekend: Day Two



Get entered below!

by Stephanie Morrill

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

As you might have seen yesterday, this weekend I'm hosting a "Get it done" weekend here on the blog. It was super fun to see all the different goals you guys have and all the support and encouragement you offered each other.

If you didn't join us yesterday, you're still welcome to hop in! This is a come-and-go kind of event. Here's how it works:

1. You pick what you want to accomplish between now and next Monday. Maybe it's a certain number of hours that you edit your book, or maybe it's a number of words you want to write. Totally your choice.

2. Leave a comment sharing with us what you hope to get done. And then periodically check back in and tell us what kind of progress you're making.

That's it! I'll be giving away ebooks daily, so be sure to check back the next day to see if you won!

Today I'm giving away 2k to 10k, an ebook I stumbled upon and loved. As a warning, there's a little language in there, so if that bothers you, this isn't the book for you. I haven't adopted everything she does into my writing routine, but I found her experience fascinating.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


What's your favorite part of the writing process? The brainstorming? The first chapter? Edits? 


Friday, August 28, 2015

The Go Teen Writers Get it Done Weekend: Day One



Get entered below!

by Stephanie Morrill

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

Back in June, many of us committed to certain writing goals for the summer. Here are some examples of the goals people sent me:

  • I want to spend 50 hours editing my fantasy novel.
  • I want to finish my second draft.
  • I want to write 2,000 words a week.
  • I want to finish my first draft.
  • I want to send query letters to agents.
While our summer writing challenge runs through Monday, September 7 (the unofficial last day of summer in the U.S.), one of our community members, Linea, suggested having an end of season celebration of sorts where we can all be working toward our goals and know that other writers around the world are too. Kind of like the word wars we've hosted before. I thought that sounded super fun!

So here's how this will work:

1. You pick what you want to accomplish between now and next Monday. 5,000 words written? 3 college essays? 4 chapters edited? It's totally up to you!

2. Leave a comment sharing with us what you hope to get done. And then periodically check back in and tell us what kind of progress you're making.

That's it! I'll be giving away ebooks daily, so be sure to check back the next day to see if you won!

What are your writing goals for the "Get it done" weekend?




Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Characterization Study on Little Women


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 re-reading the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is the first time I've read the book as a writer, and I was impressed with how well she characterized the girls from the very start. Their words and actions always fit who they are. Toward the end of chapter one, she gives a one-paragraph summary description of the girls. Today, it would be against the writing rules to put such an information-dump paragraph anywhere in your book, let alone in the first chapter, but when this was published, no such rule existed. Let's take a look at each girl's description and see how well the author characterized them in such a short time.

First we have Meg, the eldest:
"Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain."
In the mid-1860s, being plump was a positive attribute and showed wealth. We see here that Meg is beautiful and we are let in on her one flaw of vanity over her white hands.

Next we have Jo:
"Fifteen- year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way. Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it."
This paragraph tells us so much about Jo, which makes sense as she is the main character (and represents the author of the book). Her description reminds me of an adolescent boy, all hands and feet, awkward. This is brilliant because Jo is very much a tomboy, who often wishes in the story that she had been born a boy. I love the descriptions of "colt" and "flyaway look," that give the reader a visual. And her one beauty of her hair being bundled into a net tells us that she couldn't care less about being pretty.  The paragraph ends by letting us know that Jo is not pleased about growing up, and this is an important clue to many of Jo's trials to come.

Next comes Beth who is very much the opposite of Jo:
"Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth- haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her `Little Miss Tranquility', and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved."
This description of Beth is spot-on. The title "Little Miss Tranquility" sums her up perfectly, and the surrounding sentences reinforce it with words like "shy," "timid," and "peaceful." I particularly love that she lives in her own "happy world" and invites in only a few trusted individuals.

Finally, we are introduced to Amy:
"Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners."
The most important thing about Miss Amy is that she thinks herself to be "a most important person." She is quite spoiled, and as such, when wronged, she tends to view her most important opinions as completely justifying her behavior. I also find it interesting that she is the only sister with blond hair, so her looks set her apart from the others.

As was common in classic stories, narrative descriptions were placed near the start to let readers perfectly envision the characters immediately. These descriptions feel perfect because we have been told who the characters are before we experience much of their words or actions. Therefore we can picture their behaviors and actions based on the description given up front. In modern novels, most authors strive to follow the rule: "show, don't tell." Characters are instead revealed by their actions and words, and readers discover more of them as the story progresses.

Despite the rules, writing narrative descriptions such as these can be extremely useful to you, the author, as the process will help you envision your characters from the start, whether or not you ever put these descriptions in your book. As you write, you can let every word and action of your characters match their narrative description.

Now it's your turn. Write a two-four sentence paragraph about your main character and post it in the comments below. Take special effort to chose each word carefully. And remember, this time only, "tell, don't show!"

Monday, August 24, 2015

Writing the Middle of Your Book: Test #1

by Stephanie Morrill

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

Last week, I talked about putting the wheels in motion so that the reader understands why your character goes on his or her journey.

After this moment in the story, you've likely moved into act two of your book. Unlike beginnings and endings, which are smaller parts of the story and have clearer needs, the middle can feel far too vast. How do you keep the tension up? How do you keep your character moving forward without it looking like you, the author, are dragging them to the end?



The next few posts I write will deal with just that—surviving the middle of your book. Middles were once a confusing struggle to me, and I'll share what I've learned that's helped me.

When I get to the middle, the first thing I like to plan is a test for my character. Have you ever read a book where as the story moves along, you find yourself thinking, "Why is this character still at it?" Maybe we understand why they started on this path, but why are they staying on it?

This is something that this first test can help with. Unless you're dealing with a crazy government holding your character hostage in their situation, a la The Hunger Games, you'll need to figure out how to keep your character engaged in their journey so that the reader isn't thinking, "Why don't they just give up?"


Test #1: Oh, boy. This is hard.

Shortly after your character chooses their journey, it can be very effective for them to have a moment where they realize this is going to be harder than they thought. Maybe before they made this choice, they suspected it was going to be hard, or maybe they knew for sure, but now they've had a taste of it for real.

In The Scorpio Races, the scene that comes to mind is the first time Puck tries to train her regular horse down on the beach with the water horses and nearly dies.

In Tangled, Rapunzel walks right into one of her biggest fearsa roomful of "thugs and ruffians."

When your character is on their journey, what's the first event that tests their resolve?

Sticking power: But here's why I still have to do it.

You'll notice in many stories that after the first test comes the first deepening of resolve. The character is forced to dig deeper, to invest more, and to decide yet again if they want to pursue this path.

Going back to our previous examples, in The Scorpio Races, Puck comes home from the beach that day to an unwelcome visitor who tells her they're going to lose their house in a few weeks if they can't make the payments. The only chance Puck has to keep a roof over her and her brother's head is to win the races. Despite the hardship she just went through down on the beach, she can't drop out of the races now.

In Tangled, when the others at the pub recognize Flynn Rider as a wanted man, Rapunzel has to think quickly or she's going to lose her guide before they've even really started on their journey. She tells the others that she needs him because without him she'll never see the floating lights and she's been dreaming of them her entire life. And then, because it's Disney, they all sing a song together. 

The moment in Tangled, you might notice, is different in tone than The Scorpio Races. It's important to consider your genre, audience, and tone as you're testing your character. In Tangled, the real danger is Rapunzel's fear, and she must dig deep to discover that she is strong enough to face this fear of hers. That gives her the courage to press on. This is different than The Scorpio Races where the threat is a new one that comes from the outside and Puck finds that she might lose more than she initially realized if she doesn't pursue her goal.

What does your character learn either during their test or shortly after that keeps them pursuing their goal?

Special event announcement:

This weekend (Friday the 28th through Monday the 31st) we'll be holding an end of season celebration of sorts. I know many of you have already started back to school (half of my kids have) but our summer writing challenge runs through September 7th, and we thought it would be fun to have an organized "Get it done" type event where we can all work toward finishing up our summer goals. 

You don't have to have participated in the summer challenge to join us this weekend. Like our word wars, this will be a open-to-all, come-and-go, stay-as-long-as-you-can kind of event. All you need to have is an idea of what you'd like to get done (a certain word count? some editing? college essays?) and we can hang out together while we work. Plus there will be some fun giveaways. It doesn't get much better than getting stuff done and winning free stuff, right?

Hope to see you here!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Internal Monologue: Some thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a 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. 

 Happy Friday, friends.

A couple weeks ago I opened the blog up to questions. Thank you all for asking away. I'll do my best to get to them over the coming weeks. Today, I'm answering a question posed by Melissa Gravits.




Melissa wants to know how to avoid presenting her point of view character's thoughts in italics. I completely understand. I'm not at all a fan of frequent italicization (is that a word?). Italics are fine, every now and then, but used to excess they are a huge distraction and most of the time they are unnecessary. Our readers are often smarter than we give them credit for.

Note: Stephanie has actually covered this topic in the Go Teen Writers Handbook. Get it. Flip to page 120. Hug her. It's very, very helpful.

My advice is to simply resist the urge to use italics to convey an internal thought. To illustrate my point, here's a short excerpt from my first novel, Angel Eyes:

His finger brushes my wrist as he hooks it through the cuff and pulls it off. “I thought you’d like an explanation maybe. About this, and maybe a few other things.”

I sit up straighter. I would definitely like an explanation. Or two.

“Like how you fixed my ankle, and why you’re so hot?”

My hands fly to my mouth.

Really? Did I just do it again?

Now, there is a very real temptation to italicize that last line. They're questions, right? Questions that she's not asking out loud. We need to spruce them up so the reader understands. Nope. Not really. We're clearly in this character's head. We understand that this moment is internalized. We do not need italics. Simple, right?

Melissa also wanted to know how to convey a character's thoughts without using dialogue, action, or dumping a lot of backstory. My answer here is to whip out a handy dandy tool I'll call internal monologue.

Before I sat down to pen this article, I did a little reading up on this topic and was amused by the various terms that are used almost interchangeably: internal monologue, inner monologue, interior monologue, self-talk, stream of consciousness, narrative. Without splitting hairs and arguing over whether or not they are all actually the same thing, these fancy shmancy words are often used to describe various facets of the very same tool.

It's a very handy tool. One of my favorites, honestly. But I think the fancy words add a level of confusion to something that--for many of us--ends up being very natural.

Internal monologue is simply a conversation the point of view character is having inside his or her own head. And as we read, as we follow this stream of consciousness, we are shown in a very intimate way, the world as this character see it.

The trick here is not to let this stream turn into a violently churning muddy river. You, as the author, must have a reason for allowing your character to take the reader on a ride. Meandering a bit is fine. Just don't get lost. In the end, if the internal monologue doesn't advance the story--even if it's pretty--it must be cut.

When I edit, it's usually chunks of internal monologue that I cut, but there is always plenty left behind. Chapter One of Angel Eyes begins inside Brielle's head.

The knot in my throat is constant. An aching thing. Shallow breaths whisper around it, sting my chapped lips, and leave white smoke monsters in the air.

It takes them nine seconds to disappear. Nine seconds for the phantoms I’ve created to dissolve into nothingness.

How long till the one haunting my dreams does the same?

The absence of an answer makes my hands shake, so I slide the lambskin gloves out of my book bag and put them on.

If only it were that easy.

Like glacial masses shoving along, ice travels my veins, chilling my skin and numbing my insides. Three weeks of this biting cold outstrips the severity of my nightmares, but I haven’t suffered enough and I know it.

This portion of writing has purpose. Several purposes really. We meet Brielle for the first time. We learn that she's cold through and through. We understand that she's haunted by some past experience. And we admit--perhaps in retrospect--that she might be a little melodramatic.

The goal here was to convey deep emotion, to set the mood and force the reader to decide if he wants to continue on with me inside this character's head. But most importantly, these internal thoughts move the story forward. And that is what makes internal monologue such a great tool in the writer's toolbox. Story advancement in the most intimate way.

Internal monologue doesn't have to be massive chunks of thought either. It can also be used in and amongst dialogue and action sequences. When done well, it can add depth and emotional attachment to the scene. Another example from Angel Eyes:
“There’s a lot to tell. Where should I start?”

I want to ask him about the monster. I want to know why Canaan needs two sets of wings. I want to know what we’re going to do about Marco and why Canaan hasn’t just turned the guy over to Deputy Wimby out there. But the thing holding my attention is Jake’s trembling hands.

“I want to know what you’re afraid of,” I say.

I don’t mean the words to sound so biting, but I can’t quite muster the energy to apologize.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s just, my paranoia makes sense, right? Invisible monsters, escaped murderers, Deputy Wimby, for crying out loud. But you seem just as scared as I am, and I want to know why.”
In this excerpt, Brielle's thoughts break up the dialogue here. The intention was to tie the reader ever more closely to the character. To see the moment--to feel it--like she felt it.

I've noticed that this kind of writing comes very natural to some and not so naturally to others. If you fall in the second group, don't fret. This is a skill that can be learned and the upside is that practicing will help develop your voice as well. Two birds, one stone, you know?

"Writing practice?" you ask, scandalized.

Yes, that's right.

Do this. Take the character you're currently writing about and give her a goal. Be specific. Like, Brielle wants to exit the train without anyone seeing her. Now, give her a problem. The train is full of people. Now, write. DO NOT LEAVE HER HEAD. What is she thinking about? Is she scheming? Is she forming opinions about the folks in her way? Does she hate the carpet beneath her feet or wish she had worn sandals? Is her mind far, far away wondering if that hot dog she ate for breakfast was a good idea? Don't lose sight of your goal as you write--get her off the train--but let her get there naturally.

If this exercise feels cumbersome, start by simply journaling as your point of view character. Let him talk about his day and who he hates. Let him ramble. As you get going, add focus. Give him goals. Give him obstacles. And when you start to worry that you're just wasting your precious writing time, slap yourself and say, "I am honing my craft. And my craft matters."


There is much to be said on this topic, more than I can possibly cover in a single blog post, so I thought I'd open the blog up to questions regarding internal monologue specifically. I'll do my best to pop in and answer them throughout the weekend. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Setting First: Coming up with a setting that feels real


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.

The setting of your story is where and when the story takes place. It can be just as important as a main character. Let's take a look at some memorable settings.

Think of stories in real places like Preston, Idaho in Napoleon Dynamite; "the Burg" of Trenton, New Jersey in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels; Astoria, Oregon in the movie The Goonies; Forks, Washington in Twilight; and even a futuristic Chicago in Divergent.

How about fictional cities that feel real like Molching, Germany in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief; Metropolis in SupermanThe Simpson's Springfield; and Hill Valley, California in the Back to the Future movies.

Or speculative settings like Neil Gaiman's London Below in Neverwhere; Brandon Mull's Fablehaven; Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; Dr. Suess's Whoville; L. Frank Baum's Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz; J. K. Rowlings Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Hogsmeade in Harry Potter.

These are all places that, if we love the books, we can picture in our minds. We've been there in our imaginations and on the page, and we know what it feels like.

A well-developed setting will enthrall readers while an underdeveloped one can cause your novel to feel like something is missing. If you're unsure where you want to place your story, here are some ideas to help you decide.

Choose a place you know well. 
Set the story in your hometown or in a place you once lived. Maybe in a town where a close family member lives. A place you went on vacation. Picking a place you know well will make things a lot easier.

Choose a unique place.
A summer camp, a marina, a dentist's office, a boat, a mall, an airport... Lots of stories have multiple settings within a single town. But you could set an entire story in one place. Take Night at the Museum for example. I've been to the Natural History Museum in New York City. I saw nothing come to life! But I'd love to go back there again and see what, if anything, they used in the movie. What a great idea for a setting!

Choose a unique environment.
A metropolitan city, a desert, the arctic, a foreign country, the moon! Pick a place that is totally different. A place few people have been and know anything about. It could make it all the more fascinating to the reader, and your main character, too.

Make up a town.
Like we saw above, sometimes it can be easier (and a lot more fun) to create your own town like Gotham City or Bedford Falls. If you do this, you don't have to research nearly as much. You don't have to get your town facts straight because you're making them all up. It can be quite a load off.

Add a speculative twist to a real town.
If you're writing something speculative like contemporary or urban fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, post apocalyptic, time travel, or dystopian, you can use places on earth but change them in some way. Brandon Sanderson did this with both Newcago, a futuristic all-steel version of Chicago in his book Steelheart, and with the United Isles, an alternate 1908 in his book The Rithmatist. I did this with the ski resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado in my Safe Lands series.

It's no secret that I'm a setting-first (storyworld-first) author. I like to get all that worldbuilding out of the way before I start writing so that when I sit down to write, I know a ton about the place in which my story happens. I know how this place looks, feels, smells. I know what a day-in-the-life of my character looks like. I have plenty of elements to help me as I write. But even more than that, I want my setting to feel real. Alive. I want it to feel like another character. I think of it like the sum of one big equation that adds up to equal one amazing setting. Something like:

time (year) + place (size, type, location) + atmosphere (social, cultural, political environment) + set design and costume (architecture and fashions) + technology (transportation, electronics, etc) + characters + scene locations + dialogue = setting.

Let's use the movie It's a Wonderful Life as an example.

1908-ish to 1945 + small town in upstate New York + honest, hardworking folk + quaint 1940's main street, 1940s fashion + old cars, bicycles, trains, walking + Ma and Pa Bailey, Uncle Billy, Annie the maid, Bert the cop, Ernie the cab driver, Violet Bick, Mary Hatch, Mary's mother, Sam Wainwright, Mr. Gower, Mr. Potter, Clarence, etc + Building and Loan, high school with pool under gym floor, the drugstore, main street, the old Granville house, etc + "Why, it was only last year you were seventeen." "Why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?" "Hot dog!" = Bedford Falls

And this movie is a great example of how important each ingredient is, because when George gets to see what the world is like without him, we see the setting of Bedford Falls change to that of Pottersville! And Pottersville isn't nearly as wonderful as Bedford Falls. It's a different setting, though some of the elements I mentioned above like the fashions, architecture, transportation didn't change. The atmosphere became different. If you change one element in your setting, you could change your whole world!

Need more help?
Still having trouble brainstorming a unique setting? You might think of your setting as a character. Characters need a backstory, an opposition/threat, and growth/change. Can you give your setting one or all of those elements? It might not work for every story, but it could. Let's look at them one at a time.

Backstory
It's good to know the history of your setting. Just enough so that the reader thinks you know it all. Take Bedford Falls again. We saw the history of George growing up in that town. So when it became Pottersville, we knew how different it was. We saw the impact this one man had on the history of his town. Ask yourself if there is some important history in your setting. Perhaps a character once worked for a bank but no longer does. And now there is trouble at the bank and a police officer comes asking questions. Or maybe the middle school closed down because of budget cuts and now your character's little brother is going to be at the same junior-senior high school she's at. Take some time to think about the characters in your story, their pasts, and include the setting in that. It will deepen both your characters and your plot.

An Opposition/Threat
Adding an opposition or threat can up the stakes and increase the tension in your novel. Ask yourself who or what is against something in your setting? Perhaps the new principal wants to tear down the old workshop building at school to build a new gymnasium for the all-star basketball team. Perhaps a rumor about your character got so big that parents withdrew their kids from your character's dance studio and now it might close. Whatever the opposition or threat, it should be tied in with the setting + either the plot, the characters, or both.

Growth/Change
Perhaps the plot will put your setting through a major change. Think of Middle Earth in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. By the end, the setting had changed quite a bit. The Shire is different. The Elves are gone. The world will never be the same. There was a cost. When there is a cost, things change. Does something need to change in your setting? Maybe it changes because of the actions of your characters. Maybe it changes as a result of the opposition or threat.

Weave Them Together
Let your characters clash with your setting. Make setting part of your plot. Create obstacles for characters to face that involve the setting. Or perhaps your characters need to work together with your setting to save the day. Think of interesting ways you can weave all these elements together to make your setting more interesting and unforgettable.

These were just a few ways you can use characterization techniques to make your setting feel like a real living place. How do you make your settings come to life? If you're having trouble with your setting, pick one idea from this post today and apply it to your world. How do you like the change? Share in the comments.

Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Motivate a Character In Ways Your Reader Will Relate To

by Stephanie Morrill

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

By the time I close out chapter three, I've usually pushed my character into making the choice to go on the journey she needs to be on. James Scott Bell describes this moment as a "doorway of no return," and I think that's a very helpful way to process this moment in the story: My character is choosing to walk through a door that will forever close behind her.

Does she have to choose it? Not necessarily, but I really like what it does to the complexity of a character when they make the choice instead me of forcing them to travel this path. Suzanne Collins could have had Katniss's name drawn in the reaping rather than Prim's and the result would have been the same. But isn't the story so much more interesting because Katniss volunteers in the place of her sister? 

Sometimes the character is choosing to go on a physical journey, like Bilbo in The Hobbit or Rapunzel in Tangled. But it doesn't have to be a literal journey. In The Scorpio Races, Puck chooses to ride her own regular horse in the races rather than a water horse. She's not physically going anywhere, but rather is making a choice about her life that she can't undo.

The character's hard decision has to make sense to the reader, though. Otherwise it just seems like they're foolish. Or like the author is just pulling strings to tell the story they want to tell. (While of course we do pull strings, we don't want our readers to be able to see them, right?)

I think the easiest way to process how to motivate a character onto a difficult path is to think about my own life. I've made hard choices before, and I'm guessing you have to. When you've picked something hard, why did you choose it?


I came up with a handful of reasons that apply to us as well as characters:

1. The choice is best for someone who I value more than whatever I think the journey might cost me personally.

I hate math, and I've always found nutrition to be super boring. And yet a lot of my daily time and energy is spent weighing out the exact amount of fats, carbs, and proteins in my five-year-old son's meals and snacks. Connor is on a strict medical diet, and if he has too many calories from carbs or protein, he could start having seizures again. I love my son much more than I hate math and nutrition, so I've chosen the path of the ketogenic diet.

We see this in The Hunger Games too. Katniss's love for her sister outweighs her fear of dying in the Games.

2. All the other choices are taken away.

I've been watching It's A Wonderful Life every Christmas for as long as I can remember. Something that makes the story heartwrenching is that George Bailey never leaves Bedford Falls despite having had a bad case of wanderlust since he was a boy. It's a choice he makes over and over during the story, to pass up opportunities for college and world travel, and sometimes he makes the choice to stay because the options to go get taken away from him.

I think this motivation works best when combined with something else on this list, but it can be a good way to back your character into a corner.

3. The potential pay-off is worth the risk.

In The Scorpio Races, Puck knows the races are dangerous. She chooses them because it keeps her
brother at home longer, and she has precious little family. Also, they are badly in need of money.

4. If I fail, I think I can turn around and come back.

Ever had one of those times where you think, "Worst case scenario, this won't work, and I'll just stop."

This can be an effective way to encourage a character through a door. I just read an amazing contemporary YA novel, To Get To You, where the main character chooses to leave home in order to help out his best friend, who is stranded a day's drive away. When he chooses this, he doesn't realize he won't simply be able to bail on the impromptu road trip if things go poorly. 

5. If I don't do it, something big, bad, and scary is sure to happen.

This one plays out in a lot of stories and tends to be directly tied to the "stakes" of the story. If Anna doesn't get to Elsa, it'll always be winter. If Frodo doesn't return the ring, evil will overrun everything. If Veronica Mars doesn't figure out who killed Logan's ex-girlfriend, the killer will still be on the loose and Logan will go to jail for a crime he didn't commit. 

6. Morally, it's the right thing to do.

This one is often combined with other things on this list. I mentioned the Veronica Mars movie in the example above. In Veronica Mars, Veronica doesn't want to go back to her old life of working as a P.I. She wants the new life she's spent years building. But she also can't live with the idea that her choice might result in her old friend, Logan, being sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit. She feels that choosing to return to her hometown is the morally right thing to do.

When you've figured out the reason (or reasons) behind your character's difficult choice, your next job is to make sure you've SHOWN the audience that this thing is important to them.

If we've never seen that Katniss loves Prim, then it'll seem odd for Katniss to volunteer. Or if we didn't know that Rapunzel has been watching the floating lights all these years, the risk she takes to leave the tower wouldn't make sense to us. So be sure to pick a moment or two in the early chapters of your story to show whatever it is you intend to use as a motivator for your character.

I'd love to hear what hard choice your character makes that sends them on their journey. Why do they pick it? And whereprior to them making this choicedo you show their motivation?

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Friday Prompt

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.

Hey all! Thank you so much for your blog post ideas. While I'm stewing on them, I thought we'd mix it up a bit. Show off some. Stretch our writing muscles before we head back to school.

Let's keep it simple, shall we? I'll give you a few sentences to get you going and in the comments section YOU give me five or six sentences that follow. Keep it clean and come back throughout the weekend to give your friends encouragement and feedback. I'll play too, but I'll give you all a head start. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

And now for a scintillating prompt.

Hmmm....

Ah!

Got it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Realm Makers 2015: A Report



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.

Ever since Realm Makers began two years ago, I've wanted to go. This year I did! Realm Makers is a writers conference organized by the Faith and Fantasy Alliance. Here is the Realm Makers mission:
To provide a faith-friendly symposium for writers and artists, focused on science fiction, fantasy, and all their sub-genres. Whether participating artists wish to gear their content for the inspirational or mainstream marketplace, they have a place at Realm Makers.

It was a blast!

I've been attending writers conferences for ten years now, but this was the first one that focused on speculative fiction. I was with my people. I was amazing.

Here are some highlights from my time there.



Sitting in the front row in David Farland's class. This man is a guru in regards to fiction writing and how Hollywood works. I really enjoyed listening to him teach and hearing about how he helped to make Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fablehaven into the successes they are. Oh, and he also taught Brandon Sanderson when he was a professor at BYU!


I got to hang out with six Enclave Publishing authors (formerly Marcher Lord Press) and the publisher/owner Steve Laube too. This was a delight, since I've known them all online for years, but hadn't met them all in person.


I got to see my new books for the first time. Steve at Enclave has re-packaged the Blood of Kings books in an effort to get them into bookstores. So, not only do they now have Enclave logos on the spines, they are each 100 pages shorter. This makes them skinnier (which is the only sad part), but it also makes the wholesale cost cheaper and friendlier to bookstores.


My friend John Otte was unable to attend, so I reinvented my Stephanie head-on-a-stick for John! Here is Gillian Adams and our friend Andrew Swearington posing with John (body double by our friend Chris Kolmorgen). Yeah, it's a little creepy, but we had a lot of fun with it.


I got to meet Kerry Nietz (in the Logan's Run costume) and Kirk DouPonce, who designed my book covers for the Blood of Kings trilogy, the Mission League, and the Go Teen Writers book too. You can see a few more of his covers on the display behind us. I HIGHLY recommend his work. Visit DogEared Design for more information.


I got to meet Donita K. Paul. FINALLY! We've been nearly meeting for years, and this time it finally happened. She and her daughter Evangeline Denmark taught a class on worldbuilding, and Donita told her class to go buy Storyworld First! All weekend people kept coming up to me saying that Donita told them to buy my book. I was completely surprised and honored. She is sweet, funny, humble... a delight. I'm thrilled to have had the chance to hang out with her. If you haven't read her Realm Walkers books, you should. They are great.


Another fellow I've been dodging for years: Robert Liparulo. This man was the keynote speaker for the Realm Makers conference and did a wonderful job of encourageing every writer in the room, myself included. In a nutshell, he gave two points: 1. STOP discouraging yourself, talking down to yourself, telling yourself you're no good, telling yourself you can't. And 2. GO out there and get the book done, submit it, make writing friends, keep track of each other. Write and enjoy it.

Good stuff, huh?



I met a Jedi family (Aaron, Doreen, and their sweet girl). They were totally awesome and won the prize for best cosplay.




I met up with some OYANers! Top picture: me and Mr. S. Middle picture: me and Adrienne. Bottom picture: Braden and me.

 

I met up with some Go Teen Writes! Top picture from left to right: Gillian, me, Chris, Victoria, and Rosalie. Bottom picture: Rosalie, Katie, Victoria, and Gillian.

I also got to hang out with my agent and meet with my new editor for the Kinsman Chronicles. Overall, it was a wonderful time. I highly recommend you all think about attending Realm Makers 2016.  

What have you been doing lately? Attend any writers conferences this year? Finish a book? Start a new one? Leave a comment and let me know.