Friday, January 29, 2016

Writer Super Power #1: Hearing

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.

Writers have super powers. Did you know that? It's true. We do. YOU do. You have super powers. And like all superheroes, you'll discover, if you haven't already, that there is a HUGE learning curve to navigate once you've been bitten by that radioactive spider. 

Various aspects of the writing life might come naturally to you, but just as Spiderman had to hone his spidey sense, you too will have to hone the gifts you've been given. The upside is that, unlike Spiderman, you shouldn't feel compelled to keep your super powers a secret. We can train together!

Over the next few Fridays, we'll be doing just that. Taking one sense at a time and discussing just how this God-given sense can be a multi-faceted tool in your writing toolbox. I'm going to do my best to keep this series as streamlined as possible. To do that, I'll be addressing each sense from three different angles. Today we'll focus on HEARING.

Quick note: Some of us may struggle, physically or otherwise, with one or more of these senses. I don't want you to think I'm overlooking that. In fact, I'd welcome thoughts in the comments section from those who do struggle with a specific sense. I'd love to know if and how you choose to engage with readers in such areas.

1. What the WRITER hears
The ability to listen to the world around us is a gift we often take for granted. What we hear touches us. It can steal our focus or refine it. The noises we hear can give or deplete energy, it can force us to take action or refrain. It can change the atmosphere around us and even alter our mood.

When I write, I often listen to movie soundtracks. No words, just loud music blasting through my earphones, keeping the outside world at bay. Music helps create the cave-like atmosphere I need in order to step cleanly from my world and into another. It's like my own private doorway to Narnia. But I never, ever listen to epic movie soundtracks when I'm not writing. I used to, but over time, after listening to them again and again, these pounding, escalating, scene-setting ballads have come to represent something of my work life. My cave. And when I emerge from my cave--blinking and tired and starved for sunlight--I need to hear a different sound.

Lately, when I'm not writing, I've been listening to a Pandora station called French Cafe. The music takes me swooping back to a very specific time in my life. I was eighteen years old when I left home and moved from a sunny California valley to Portland, Oregon, a mystical land with eclectic cafes on every corner. The cafe culture was all so new and bright and intoxicating to me. Everywhere I went, there was this music. I'd soak it up, my hands wrapped around a warm mug as I stared out at a misty world that looked so different from the one I grew up in (though it was just a 9 hour drive away). You know what I felt in those moments? Freedom. 

Now, when I turn on French Cafe, that's what I feel. Eighteen years old again, curious about everything, and free to explore all the possibilities just outside the cafe door.

Sound has that kind of power. What we hear can transport us through time and space. It can evoke memories and generate emotion. And it's not just music. Conversations and poetry, nature chirping away in the tree outside, the ocean crashing against stone, the click, click, click of a keyboard, the snap of a twig in a dark forest, the tone of your father's voice on a late night phone call. The things we hear move us, compel us, they force us to feel something. 

"But that happens to everyone," you say. "Not just writers." 

True enough, and so, to turn the gift of hearing into a super power, the writer's job is to refine this very ordinary skill. You must become an expert at remembering just what that sound made you feel, what it did to others, how those words destroyed or built up, how the music of a trumpet set your teeth on edge. You have to move past simply hearing. You have to listen. Such observations are powerful in the hands of a writer. They carry the kind of experience that will add depth and humanity to your scenes. They'll add truth to your fiction and authenticity to your characters. Which brings me to . . .

2. What the CHARACTERS hear
Most of our characters hear the world around them just as you do, just as your readers do. But your characters should have a history and it should not be your history. They should have memories that include things they've heard: noisy parties and night-shattering gunshots, wailing babies and fighting parents, whispered secrets and careless prayers. The things your hero hears can be used to transport him (and the reader!) into memories from his past or into tremulous anticipation for the future. Maybe he hears things that terrify him or inspire, words that force him into action. 

This is where your craft is going to come into play. How will you describe what your character hears? What words will you use? What about your tone? Are there sounds specific to your story world? How can these noises make your world and your characters unique? How can the things you, the author, have heard inform your storytelling? Just a few of the many questions worth asking yourself when you consider the noises that surround the characters in your story.

3. What the READER hears
Drawing on our own experiences is a very natural thing to do when we tell a story. But it would be wrong of us to forget that each and every reader comes to the story with their own history. The things they've heard--the music of their childhood, the hum of the bees zipping over summer grasses, the backfiring of a car engine--likely conjure images rooted in the reader's own life experience. This is neither a good or bad thing. It just is. And you, as the writer, need to be aware of it. At times, you may need to work extra hard to melt away a preconceived notion. At other times, the reader's own backstory will add a depth to his reading experience that you may never know. 

Stories belongs to readers just as much as they belong to writers. The life they've lived up until that point, the things they've heard, their responses to the voices they've listened to, will play some role as they venture into your fictional world. 

Let's finish our superhero training session today with a free-writing prompt. You can participate in the comments section or on your own, if you prefer.

What is it that compels so much emotion? 
Come back throughout the weekend to encourage your friends.

Also, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the interview and giveaway my munchkins hosted last week. Rafflecopter has chosen a winner: Robin J. Congratulations, Robin! Please check your email for more details.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Evolution of a Story

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

I had forgotten just how much work it was to move. We lived in Eastern Oregon for eight years. That's the second longest I've ever lived anywhere. And when you live someplace a long time, you gather a lot of stuff. When we found out we'd be moving, I thought it was a great opportunity to do some winter cleaning.

When I was packing up my house, I went through my file cabinet to get rid of stuff and found this folder:

If you can't see from the picture, the tab says "Joe Doe." There I was, sitting in front of my file cabinet, papers stacked ALL around me, and I'm staring at this folder thinking, "John Doe? What is that?" Then it hit me. This was where the Blood of Kings trilogy all started. 

It began with a dream. Literally. In the spring of 2007, I dreamed about a woman. She was a soldier entering a hospital with the mission of rescuing the prince. It was a dangerous mission because he'd been in a transport accident on the wrong side of the city. This city had two sides. A good side and a bad side. And the prince was now stranded in a hospital in the worst part of the bad side of town!

So in comes my soldier woman. She's stealth. She's undercover. She's packing a blaster. She's moving with her team up the stairwell. They find the prince's room, find the prince. He's sedated, but okay. They load him onto this sweet floating stretcher... (Think how Han Solo frozen in carbonite floated along and you're with me.)

So our heroine has got her man. She's moving out with him and the team. And then the curtain splitting the hospital room down the middle opens and a guy walks out dressed in nothing but a hospital gown. He starts asking our girl what she's doing. They talk. And this guy says he doesn't know who he is or what he's doing there, but he knows he is supposed to stay with the man she is taking away. Our girl doesn't want to leave anyone important behind, so she takes Amnesia Guy along.

But what she doesn't know. (And what I do know. It's my dream. I know things.) Is that Amnesia Guy IS the prince. And that the guy our girl thinks is the prince is an impostor!

That was all I remember from the dream. My girl called Amnesia Guy John Doe, so that's what I called the new story idea.

Also around this time my son and I were on a walk. He was a baby. (He's 14 now!!!) And I was pushing him in the stroller in Burbank, California. We passed by a house that had been burned down. I stood there, mesmerized by this tree in the yard. It was right beside the fence. And the part of the tree inside the yard was all charred black from the fire. And the part that was hanging over the fence and street was leafy green and blowing in the wind. And as I was standing there, I thought, "What if there was a world that was half shrouded in darkness? Half dying?"


John Doe merged with the tree idea. This is where my science fiction story became a fantasy. I figured I'd be safer writing about swords and horses than blasters and spaceships. I started brainstorming my story, creating plot summaries, character names (My hero was Gideon, which later became Gidon, pronounced with a long "i.")

Here is a note written on a paper inside the folder: Alon is the gift blood sharers can use to see into the mind of the blood relatives.

If you've read By Darkness Hid, you know where I went with that. ;-)

Also around this time, I had recently met Jeff Gerke at a writer's conference in San Jose. Jeff is big on description, and he had suggested I check out a George R. R. Martin book if I wanted to read a fantasy author who handles description really well. (He did warn me about the content.) Two things stood out for me in the first Game of Thrones novel. I loved the harsh, medieval storyworld. And I loved the appendix that listed the people from each house and showed the house's sigul.

This book made me realize my world was way too small.

So I set to work. I drew a map with a ton of cities on it. I wrote lists of characters who ruled each city and everyone in their family and house. I drew flags for each house. I drew castle floorplans. I drew sketches. I went to the library and checked out tons of books on medieval history. I think you've all heard me talk about how I fell into storyworld builder's disease. It wasn't until my husband said, "I thought you were going to write a book?" that I snapped out of it.

He was right. Time to get busy. I put everything into this binder and started writing. (Think I'd done enough world building? Um, yeeah.)

I spent another few months thinking over my plot. Lots more things changed. I really got into using the Hebrew dictionary to find cool words for things. I made a major plot change when I decided that I would write in two points of view. That was inspired by another series I was reading at the time. The books were called The ThiefThe Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia (written by Megan Whalen Turner, they are AMAZING, go read them all right now). I don't remember which book it was, but there was this minor character. And it was a boy, but he was always described as small and thin and soft spoken, and I thought, *gasp* "This character is a girl pretending to be a boy! That is SO COOL! I figured it out! I figured it out!" And I was totally jealous because I thought that would be so much fun to write.

Well, imagine my surprise when I got to the end and that boy was actually a boy! (I had NOT figured it out.) But I knew then that I had to have a girl in my story who was dressed up as a boy. So I went back to my plot and thought and thought and thought until I figured out how to make that work.

I was SO READY to write this book that when I finally did, I completed the first draft in a month! It was December 2007. We were planning to move to Eastern Oregon at the end of January. I would need to be packing up my house in January. I wanted that book done! And it was.

Once we got settled in our new Oregon home, I rewrote the book a few times. And I pitched it that August to Jeff Gerke, just for fun, to see what he thought, since NO ONE at the conference wanted to see YA or fantasy. And Jeff bought the book for his new publishing house Marcher Lord Press and here it is:

So pretty and look at the half-living half-dead tree and there is Achan on the front hearing those voices. *happy sigh*

This here blog post was a summary of how it all went down, but the real thing took a lot of effort and time (dream in spring 2007 until I pitched it in August 2008). And this was the sixth novel I wrote, so I did have a little practice. My first book took me three and a half years to finish and it was NOT in good shape even then and didn't sell for another four and a half years! 

But as I sat there in my house in Oregon, holding the John Doe folder, packing up to move to a new place, I marveled over how stories evolve from that first nugget of an idea into a complete book. I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do a series on Go Teen Writers where I write a story from scratch? And the teens could play along and write one of their stories from scratch. We could practice Story Evolution together and write a whole bunch of new books!"

That sounded pretty sweet to me.

So, starting next week, I'm going to take you through my process. I realize that not everything I do will appeal to you as we all have our own ways to doing things--and that is good. But I want to encourage those of you who can to play along with me. And at the end of the summer, we'll host a BIG contest here on Go Teen Writers that you can all enter. More on that later. For now, plan to sign up to write books with me right here on the blog. Next week I will announce which book I'm going to write with you. I can't wait!

Who's with me?

Monday, January 25, 2016

February's Monthly Challenge - A Daily Idea

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. 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 much as I enjoy making resolutions at New Year's, I think it can be daunting to set a goal that covers an entire year. Trying to eat a certain way for a whole year or write a certain amount of words in a year, etc. That's why I love monthly challenges. A month is long enough to feel the goal stretching you, but it's short enough that you can push yourself to finish. NaNoWriMo is a great example of this.

I thought it would be fun in 2016 for us to take on monthly challenges as a community. (If you have an idea for one, please send me an email!) Some we might do more than once, so if the month doesn't work for you, or if you're not able to complete the challenge, you'll likely have another chance as the year goes on. If you want a sneak peek at upcoming challenges, sign up for our quarterlyish newsletter. (Yes, it used to be monthlyish. Then I had a baby. So this year, it will probably be more quarterlyish.)

The February monthly challenge is to come up with a story idea everyday for 29 days.

I gave myself this challenge in January with moderate success (more on that in a minute) and these were the rules I set for myself:

1. No holding back ideas. If I thought of two ideas on Monday, no saving one for Tuesday. One of the reasons I wanted to do this challenge was to push my creativity and notice the story ideas all around me on any given day. I wanted to press into my belief that each day hold's its own inspiration.

2. The idea must sound like a story that I would actually write. "Star Wars but with clowns" is an idea ... but it's not an idea that makes me want to grab a pen, much less write a whole book based around it.

How the challenge worked out for me:

Was I actually able to come up with a new idea everyday for a month? No. I did really well for about a week, and then I had An Idea. The kind where you get a bit of a zap and think, "YES. That's the next book I'm going to write." Once I had this idea, I really didn't want to think about any others, so instead I spent several days brainstorming it. Then I spent about a week writing the first three chapters.

And then I remembered I was supposed to be thinking of a new idea each daywhoops!

So while I didn't literally come up with a new idea everyday, I did have one of the best book ideas I've had in months, and that's what it's really about, right? Not just lists of ideas but uncovering a special idea.

What I liked about the challenge:

During the last month, I found I was intentional about pouring into my creative self. Because I was consciously looking for ideas, I listened to a lot of podcasts, questioned a lot of things around me, watched television differently.

How to take part:

If you want to participate in the challenge, you're welcome to do it on your own, or you can fill out the form below. Sometimes it helps to physically sign up for something. Makes it feel more official. You don't have to abide by the two rules I set for myself, if you don't want to. Make this challenge work for you!

When the month is over, I would love for you to send me an email telling me how the challenge went. You don't have to share any of your ideas if you don't want to, but just write me a few sentences about your experience.

Those who sign up for the challenge and send me the email at the end of the month will be put in a drawing for a $20 gift card!

This challenge is for writers of all ages in all countries.
You'll be able to sign up until the end of February 1st and then the form will close.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Unconventional Interview & Book Giveaway

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 thought we'd do something a little different today. My kids are both burgeoning young writers--like so many of you!--though we've yet to cross that fancy teenage threshold and that's just fine by me.

Justus is 11 and Jazlyn is 7 and they both have oodles of questions about writing. Today, I've given them permission to ask away and I thought you all might want to listen in as I answer. If you make it to the end, you'll find a fun little giveaway the munchkins are hosting.

You're up, Jaz! Give us that first question!

Jazlyn (crawls into my lap and lets me play with her hair): I want to know about writing, like how do you know where the keys are without looking?

Me (confused): What keys?

Jazlyn: The keys on the computer.

Me (does not laugh out loud): Well! It takes a lot of practice, but when I was in junior high, I took a typing class and that helped a lot.

Justus (This kid's all business.): About how long did the process of editing Angel Eyes take you?

Me: A million years, I think. No. Not really. Angel Eyes was the first book I'd ever written. I didn't have anyone waiting on me, no deadlines to hit. So I fiddled with the story for a couple years--editing it over and over--before I ever had an agent interested, much less a publisher. When I did sign a contract, I did two pretty hefty edits with my publisher and a round of copy edits to polish it up before it became a real live book.

Jazlyn: How do you come up with all your characters?

Me: I usually start with just one. My main character. Once I've written from her point of view for a while and once I have a pretty good idea about her day-to-day life, the other characters in the story just crop up. At some point during the drafting process, I flesh them out. But their presence in the story is always dictated by the needs and story arc of my hero or heroine.

Justus: How can a writer have so much expertise as to tying something from the beginning of the book to the end of the book?

(To the Go Teen Writer crowd: Justus is asking this question because he was enamored by a well-executed bit of foreshadowing in Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities series.) 

Me: I like how you used the word expertise when you asked the question, Bubba! Foreshadowing doesn't happen by accident. Sometimes an author is brilliant enough to include such amazingness in the first draft, but often foreshadowing is added during the editing process. By that time, the author has a pretty good idea about the direction of the story. When they go back to edit, they often add in hints of what's to come. Foreshadowing can be used to prepare the reader for the things that lie ahead, but it can also be used to mislead the reader, sending his or her thoughts in a different direction entirely and allowing the author to retain the element of surprise. Whatever its purpose in a story, it does take a certain level of expertise to pull of a good bit of foreshadowing.

Jazlyn: How long does it take you to write a book?

Me: My answers are going to be all over the place here. I wrote the first draft of Angel Eyes in four months and then edited for a couple years. Broken Wings and Dark Halo were both written on contract and I had only six months for each. The book I wrote after that took me thirteen months. In a lot of ways, I'm still a very new writer and my process is still evolving. I'd love to write and fully edit one book a year. That's the kind of writer I'd like to be.

Justus: When did your ideas for Angel Eyes first spring up?

Me: When you were sleeping! Jazlyn, however, was wide awake. She was a very fussy sleeper and I had my oh-my-gosh-I-can-be-a-writer moment while walking the house one night trying to get her to sleep. The story is a long and involved one and you can read more about it here, but the short version is that I was in a place where I desperately needed a creative outlet and Angel Eyes gave me one.

Jazlyn: How hard do you have to think to get the ages of your characters?

Me: Very, very hard! Deciding on the age of my characters at the outset isn't terribly difficult, but the minute I have to reference how old they were when such-and-such a historical event occurred or this one flashback took place, I'm lost. Character age math is my nemesis. 

Justus: How many full notebooks of plotting and brainstorming do you have?

Me: Probably none! I'm horrible at finishing one notebook before starting another. I TRY to keep one notebook for each story, but I fail miserably most of the time. I have scraps of ideas written here, there and everywhere. It's not uncommon to flip open one of my notebooks to find plot ideas on one page and the week's grocery list on the next.

(Justus has a zillion questions, so I tell him he can ask one more!)  

Justus: Does Jake ever get his orange tutu?

(Note: I realize this is an Angel Eyes spoiler, but it's such a small one and I'm so honored that my kid has finished a book I wrote, so I'll allow it this ONE TIME.)

Me: You, dear child, will have to read Broken Wings to find out. But I promise you this: Jake has not forgotten about the tutu he was promised. Quite the contrary.

To all of you in the Go Teen Writers crowd, thank you so much for reading (and maybe laughing!) with us. For being such good sports, Jazlyn and Justus have helped me put together a prize pack to give away. Use the Rafflecopter below to enter and come next Friday, I'll select one random winner.

He or she will receive:
(1) copy of any book in my Angel Eyes trilogy, winner's choice
(1) copy of Justus's favorite book, Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger
(1) copy of Jazlyn's favorite book, The BFG, by Roald Dahl (which you really should read before the movie hits theaters)

Remember, leaving a question or comment (for either the kids or myself) will get you an extra Rafflecopter entry, so give us your best shot.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Writing Wisdom From Jo March and Louisa May Alcott- Little Women, Chapter Twenty-Seven

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 summer I listened to the audio book of Little Women. This was the first time I'd enjoyed the story as an adult (who happens to be an author), and I was enthralled by all of Jo's scenes that involved the writing world she threw herself into, heart and soul. So enthralled that I wanted to pull you all into the discussion as well. I shall make my way through chapter twenty-seven, posting blurbs of each. But if you wish to read the whole, click here where you can do so.


Every few weeks [Jo] would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex,’ as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her ‘scribbling suit’ consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.

What does your writing space look like? Do you have any special clothing you wear when you write? Does your family check in or know to keep their distance?

[Jo] did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her “vortex,” hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.

How often does “the writing fit” come upon you? Does it look similar to Jo’s or different? Have you ever gone without showers or meals because you were lost in a fit of writing?


On [Jo’s] right, her only neighbor was a studious looking lad absorbed in a newspaper. It was a pictorial sheet, and Jo examined the work of art nearest her, idly wondering what fortuitous concatenation of circumstances needed the melodramatic illustration of an Indian in full war costume, tumbling over a precipice with a wolf at his throat, while two infuriated young gentlemen, with unnaturally small feet and big eyes, were stabbing each other close by, and a disheveled female was flying away in the background with her mouth wide open. Pausing to turn a page, the lad saw her looking and, with boyish good nature offered half his paper, saying bluntly, “Want to read it? That’s a first-rate story.”

Jo accepted it with a smile, for she had never outgrown her liking for lads, and soon found herself involved in the usual labyrinth of love, mystery, and murder, for the story belonged to that class of light literature in which the passions have a holiday, and when the author’s invention fails, a grand catastrophe clears the stage of one half the dramatis personae, leaving the other half to exult over their downfall.

“Prime, isn’t it?” asked the boy, as her eye went down the last paragraph of her portion.

“I think you and I could do as well as that if we tried,” returned Jo, amused at his admiration of the trash.

“I should think I was a pretty lucky chap if I could. She makes a good living out of such stories, they say.” And he pointed to the name of Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury, under the title of the tale.

“Do you know her?” asked Jo, with sudden interest.

“No, but I read all her pieces, and I know a fellow who works in the office where this paper is printed.”

“Do you say she makes a good living out of stories like this?” And Jo looked more respectfully at the agitated group and thickly sprinkled exclamation points that adorned the page.

“Guess she does! She knows just what folks like, and gets paid well for writing it.”

Here the lecture began, but Jo heard very little of it, for while Professor Sands was prosing away about Belzoni, Cheops, scarabs, and hieroglyphics, she was covertly taking down the address of the paper, and boldly resolving to try for the hundred-dollar prize offered in its columns for a sensational story. By the time the lecture ended and the audience awoke, she had built up a splendid fortune for herself (not the first founded on paper), and was already deep in the concoction of her story, being unable to decide whether the duel should come before the elopement or after the murder.

I love that Jo thinks this story trash, then runs off to write some of her own when she discovers how much money could be made by writing the same. Have you ever been tempted to write in a genre just because it sells well? Have you ever daydreamed your own “sensational” success? When did you first think of trying to get published to be paid? Share in the comments.


[Jo] said nothing of her plan at home, but fell to work next day, much to the disquiet of her mother, who always looked a little anxious when ‘genius took to burning.’ Jo had never tried this style before, contenting herself with very mild romances for The Spread Eagle. Her experience and miscellaneous reading were of service now, for they gave her some idea of dramatic effect, and supplied plot, language, and costumes. Her story was as full of desperation and despair as her limited acquaintance with those uncomfortable emotions enabled her to make it, and having located it in Lisbon, she wound up with an earthquake, as a striking and appropriate denouement. The manuscript was privately dispatched, accompanied by a note, modestly saying that if the tale didn’t get the prize, which the writer hardly dared expect, she would be very glad to receive any sum it might be considered worth.

Jo studied the publication she planned to submit to, understood how the stories needed to be written to be published, then worked hard creating her own. She did her homework! She even wrote a cover letter in the form of her note. Where did you submit your first piece for publication? Did yours contain a cover letter too?


Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap. For a minute she stared at it as if it had been a snake, then she read her letter and began to cry. If the amiable gentleman who wrote that kindly note could have known what intense happiness he was giving a fellow creature, I think he would devote his leisure hours, if he has any, to that amusement, for Jo valued the letter more than the money, because it was encouraging, and after years of effort it was so pleasant to find that she had learned to do something, though it was only to write a sensation story.
Ah, the wait. Many of us writers have experienced this, and it's simply awful! I loved that even back in the mid-to-late 1800s authors went through much of the same things we do today. And then she gets an acceptance! What fun. If you’ve been published by a company or won a contest, share your story of getting the news in the comments. Did you cry? I'm pretty sure I did.

A prouder young woman was seldom seen than [Jo], when, having composed herself, she electrified the family by appearing before them with the letter in one hand, the check in the other, announcing that she had won the prize. Of course there was a great jubilee, and when the story came everyone read and praised it, though after her father had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly way...
“You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.”
Have you received criticism from a friend or loved one that hurt? What did you do with it? Was that person right or mistaken?

Having copied her novel for the fourth time, [Jo] read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired.  
“Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this important subject,” said Jo, calling a family council.
“Don’t spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen,” was her father’s advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.
“It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial than by waiting,” said Mrs. March. “Criticism is the best test of such work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults, and help her to do better next time. We are too partial, but the praise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets but little money.”
“Yes,” said Jo, knitting her brows, “that’s just it. I’ve been fussing over the thing so long, I really don’t know whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it.”
“I wouldn’t leave a word out of it. You’ll spoil it if you do, for the interest of the story is more in the minds than in the actions of the people, and it will be all a muddle if you don’t explain as you go on,” said Meg, who firmly believed that this book was the most remarkable novel ever written.
“But Mr. Allen says, ‘Leave out the explanations, make it brief and dramatic, and let the characters tell the story’,” interrupted Jo, turning to the publisher’s note.
“Do as he tells you. He knows what will sell, and we don’t. Make a good, popular book, and get as much money as you can. By-and-by, when you’ve got a name, you can afford to digress, and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,” said Amy, who took a strictly practical view of the subject.
“Well,” said Jo, laughing, “if my people are ‘philosophical and metaphysical’, it isn’t my fault, for I know nothing about such things, except what I hear father say, sometimes. If I’ve got some of his wise ideas jumbled up with my romance, so much the better for me. Now, Beth, what do you say?”
“I should so like to see it printed soon,” was all Beth said, and smiled in saying it. But there was an unconscious emphasis on the last word, and a wistful look in the eyes that never lost their childlike candor, which chilled Jo’s heart for a minute with a foreboding fear, and decided her to make her little venture “soon.”
So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone, she took everyone’s advice, and like the old man and his donkey in the fable suited nobody.

I love reading all the advice that came from her family, and again, it's not all that different today. I've heard the very same things in my own writing journey, well over a century later! Have you been here? In that place where you know your story needs something, but you don't know what. So you ask everyone, get a myriad of conflicting advice, and do your best to please everyone? And in the process, you strip your book of everything that is uniquely you. I have. And it's frustrating, because you desperately want to learn to strengthen your own writing, but trying to please every reader isn't the right way to go about it.

There was much to discuss in this chapter and I hope we get a nice discussion going in the comment section about how each of our experiences relate with Jo's, even though she lived in a different place and time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How To Change The Heart Of Your Characters

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. 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.

Before we talk about how to go about changing your characters at the heart level, I want to touch on how the logical path that we talked about last Monday can break down.

As said last week, labels are caused by our actions, which are born out of our thoughts, which are reflective of our heart. But sometimes this isn't true.

Here's one example. My son has epilepsy, and we've had times when he's on a cocktail of medications to control his seizures. As you might guess, medication that messes with the brain can have some other fun side effects like slower processing, irrational anger, or moodiness. There were times over the years where, if you hadn't understood Connor's situation, you might have labeled him as a rude, grouchy child. Or if you'd seen me with him on the playground, you might have thought of me as a over-cautious parent.

This is just one example of how the pattern might get messed with. If you're wanting to find a disorder for your character, make sure you do your research! I was given The Writer's Guide to Psychology for Christmas. I haven't had much of a chance to use it yet, but it looks like a really good place to start.

Now let's move on to the meat of today's post—creating change in your characters at the heart level.

Probably most of us already know that story is about change. For a story to feel satisfying, a change needs to take place. With characters, we want to feel like they've really, truly changed. Not just that they're dressing differently or putting on a different show, but that change has occurred in their heart.

If we want to create change in our character's heart, we first have to look at the dark wounds or lies that they've stored in there.

I'm going to use examples from a couple different genres. Let's start with Sarah Dessen's contemporary YA novel, This Lullaby.

Heart: Remy has watched her mother go through failed relationship after failed relationship. This causes Remy to believe that lasting love doesn't exist.

Thoughts: This belief has led Remy to think, "Relationships don't last. It's best to not get attached."

Actions: Those thoughts cause Remy to have casual, surface-level relationships that only last a few months.

Labels: Because of that, Remy gets labeled as a heart breaker.

Let's do this again with Anna from Frozen:

Heart: Anna is wounded by her sister ignoring her for years. She's
even more isolated when her parents unexpectedly die.

Thoughts: This leads Anna to believe the only place she can find love is outside the castle walls.

Actions: When Anna meets someone and he expresses interest in her, she jumps into a hasty engagement.

Labels: When others (Elsa and Kristoff) hear about Anna's actions, they label her as having poor judgment.

What's interesting about this is that these labels reflect a truth about the character, not a misunderstanding. Anna really is doing something stupid. Remy really is a heart breaker.

Sometimes when we think about creating a lie for our character, we think we need to make up something for them to believe that's completely wrong. The most convincing lies are the ones that are arrived at with logic. If you're 18 and your mother is on marriage number four, of course you don't think relationships last. If you're Anna and you've been isolated by everyone's secrets, of course you don't think there's anyone at the castle who truly loves you.

Once we've identified the lie they believe, how do we create an opportunity for them to change?

We can't just try to slap a new label on our characters, right? This Lullaby would be a very disappointing story if Remy decided she no longer wanted to be viewed as easy or as a heart breaker, so she just isn't going to date anyone anymore. That's not change at the heart level. That's just impression management.

Remember how Shannon talked about try/fail cycles? This is one way you can implement that in your story. Your characters can be trying to change, but they're failing because they're only trying to change at the label or actions level.

For our characters to change at the heart level, they must be confronted by a truth that they can't ignore. This can come at any point in the story. Anna can't ignore that Elsa has ice shooting out of her hands and that she didn't really understand her sister's situation. Anna now has to rethink what she's believed about Elsa shutting her out for "no good reason." When Remy meets a boy who has even more step-dads than her, but who continues to believe in true love, she must rethink her view of the world.

Let's look at Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone for another lie that gets changed at the heart level.

Heart: Because his parents died in a car crash (or so he's been told), Harry is raised by his aunt and uncle who don't want him and who, at best, tolerate his presence. Harry believes he's nothing special.

Thoughts: Harry thinks that if he's just quiet and obedient and stays out of the way, he can scrape by.  That's the best he can hope for.

Actions: Harry never complains about the excess his cousin gets, and he gratefully takes anything given to him.

Labels: Harry's clothes are never the right size, his glasses are taped together. Harry is unwanted.

Truth that he's confronted with: When the owls bring letters from Hogwarts and Harry learns the truth about who he is, the lie in his heartthat he's unwantedwill get rooted out.

Once again, it's easy to see why Harry believes what he does. He really is unwanted and considered insignificant rubbish by his aunt and uncle. In Harry's case, I think it's particularly interesting that his label is the same as his heart. You could apply other labels to Harry, of course. Poorly dressed in too-big clothes, broken glasses, crazy hair, lightning bolt scar. But a lot of those (other than the scar) can be summed up in poorly cared for.

Another thing to take note ofthe lies the characters believe are all there at the start of the story. The lie has been worked into the marrow of the character's bones over years, and it'll take significant events to change what they believe about themselves.

What lie does your character believe? What truth is your character confronted with that helps them change?

Friday, January 15, 2016

There and Back Again, an author's tale

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.

When it's time to sit down and write, it is often the hardest thing for me to do. Most days, I write from home. I've a cozy little office and a cozy little chair and once I'm settled, it's all very charming. But those minutes (years!) that it takes my brain to transition from regular old me to SUPER ME--the me who tells stories--is not at all easy.

In fact, to make a go at this author thing, I've had to become an expert at ignoring. Everything, really. I have to ignore the stack of bills at my elbow and the half built Lego Lighthouse on the corner of the desk (the only place the 7yo is convinced will be safe from the destructive 11yo). I have to blatantly ignore the laundry and the dishes in the sink--and there are ALWAYS dishes in the sink.

I have to pretend I'm not really in my jammies, but wearing a cape and shiny spandex and that I have superpowers and, to be honest, by the time I've gotten everyone dressed and fed and off to school, sometimes my imagination has crawled back under the covers.

But I'm disciplined (most days!) and I do eventually make the leap from frazzled mom to author with a book to be written. Some days I make the shift smoothly and other days I'm less successful than Ron Weasley attempting to apparate out of the Ministry of Magic. Remember that? Left a chunk of his arm behind. Splinched. Awful, yes? But I understand just what it is to be half in one place and half in another.

The good news, I've learned, is that once I'm in, I'm in. Once my story has hold of me, once I've tumbled into the half-penned adventure, I'm all the way in.


Well, I share an office. For the last year or so, my husband and I have shared a space. I love having him home. Love, love, love. Some days I love it more in principle than in practice though, because the truth about his job is that he's on the phone for huge portions of the day. Talking. Out loud. Laughing sometimes. Being friendly and charming. But, you know, out loud.

I've had to resort to earphones.

And in this way--ignoring all the OTHER THINGS and with James Horner's various movie scores destroying my eardrums--I disappear into a world of my own making.

But, here's the thing. Transitioning into my story isn't the hardest part for me. It's transitioning out.

Because writing is such an immersive experience, I struggle immensely when it's time for me to hang up my cape and be mom and wife and dish-doer again. It's difficult to wrap my brain around day-to-day tasks and to give all of my attention to those who so totally deserve it--my husband, my kids, my friends. For a fair amount of time, I'm half in one place and half in the other and, while that's not ideal, I've had to learn to give myself some grace.   

Because writing is so very solitary. It is not an easy thing to climb in and out of worlds. We're like travelers in that way. A few wistful hours with the imaginary friends and then back home for dinner with the ones who truly matter. Making the journey there and back again so often is both brave and hard. And the longer you're a storyteller, the more you're alone in your writing cave, the harder you'll have to work at your apparition skills. But do work at it. Being splinched is messy.
I don't know that I have much advice today except to say that when you're writing, be writing. Your whole body. Your whole mind. That adventurous brave soul. Be there. All of you. And when it's time to be home again, be home. Be present with your family and your friends. Go, do, play. Engage. Let your mind rest. Your writing will be better for it. And when you struggle with the transition between here and there, give yourself some grace. With practice, with discipline, you'll get better at it.

Tell me, is the leap between real and pretend taxing on you? Do you find it hard to switch roles? 
How do you handle it?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ancient Authors Teach Us About First and Second Sleep

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.

Today's post doesn't have anything to do with the craft of writing. It has to do with history and how the writing of history can teach people about the past. Even when forgotten for years, something you write today could be found in the future, shared with the world, and reveal something that had been lost.

I find that fascinating.

As people have been reading Darkness Reigns, I’ve received a few questions about something in the story I called first and second sleep. I thought it would be a fun topic to discuss with you guys.

What is Segmented Sleep?
The idea of segmented sleep came from some of my research on the medieval era. It has been somewhat recently discovered by historians that in ancient times, long before the invention of electricity, people took two periods of sleep each night, separated by a short period of wakefulness. They would go to bed at dark for several hours, wake for an hour or two, then go back to sleep again. Many historians believe this is the natural way humans would sleep if it were not for the distractions of the modern world. Dickens spoke of first sleep in chapter 81 of his novel Barnaby Rudge:

“Such conditions of the mind as that to which he was a prey when he lay down to rest, are favourable to the growth of disordered fancies, and uneasy visions. He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream.”

First and second sleeps were mentioned in hundreds of historical writings, including: Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Homer's Odyssey, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And when authors such as these referenced first or second sleep, it was with the implication that the reader knew all about such things already and didn't need to have it explained. After all, when the sun set, one couldn’t see to plow fields or do any other outdoor work. Nothing to do then but rest and wait for the sun to come up again.

Historian A. Roger Ekirch wrote an entire book on the subject. At Day's Close: Night in Times Past is filled with fascinating information about what went on in ancient times during those nocturnal hours when humanity was forced to endure near total darkness.

Here is a little more about this book:

Bringing light to the shadows of history through a "rich weave of citation and archival evidence" (Publishers Weekly), scholar A. Roger Ekirch illuminates the aspects of life most often overlooked by other historians―those that unfold at night. In this "triumph of social history" (Mail on Sunday), Ekirch's "enthralling anthropology" (Harper's) exposes the nightlife that spawned a distinct culture and a refuge from daily life.

Fear of crime, of fire, and of the supernatural; the importance of moonlight; the increased incidence of sickness and death at night; evening gatherings to spin wool and stories; masqued balls; inns, taverns, and brothels; the strategies of thieves, assassins, and conspirators; the protective uses of incantations, meditations, and prayers; the nature of our predecessors' sleep and dreams―Ekirch reveals all these and more in his "monumental study" (The Nation) of sociocultural history, "maintaining throughout an infectious sense of wonder" (Booklist).

I so loved this idea of segmented sleep that I decided to make it part of my storyworld in Darkness Reigns. In my Five Realms, however, people tend to take first sleep for about two hours, wake for a formal dinner that lasts anywhere from two-four hours, then return to bed for another six hours or so.

What did people do when they woke up?
Historically speaking, what one did between the first and second sleep depended on who one was. Many simply relaxed and reflected on life. Some prayed. Those who woke from first sleep and recalled their dreams might have contemplated possible interpretations or meanings. Some would read. Some wrote letters or journaled. Those with bedfellows might have had long talks or made love—the perfect time for such activity if their children had shared the same room—since it is believed that children did not wake during this time... unless the couple had an infant, who likely took a feeding at this time. Some people got up to check the fire, go to the bathroom, smoke a pipe, or grab a snack. Some left the house and even visited neighbors.

Why did it end?
There are many theories as to what changed sleep forever. Some blame the invention of electricity, which allowed people to stay up later. Some blame the Industrial Revolution, in which people slept hard for eight hours after working a sixteen-hour shift. Most historians believe the practice came to an end long before then. As street lamps became more popular in large cities like Paris and London, the better lighting allowed establishments to remain open late into the night. People went out in groups to play games and socialize. Some attended church services and others joined secret societies. Night life began to flourish and people no longer went to bed so early.

Back to our roots?
Many retired people have said that as they got older and no longer needed to get up for work in the morning, their sleep patterns have changed, naturally morphing into a two-sleep pattern divided by a period of wakefulness at night. Some worry they are suffering from insomnia and take pills to help them get that eight hours of sleep that modern society deems necessary. Others embrace the quiet time in the dark of night, seeming to understand that there is something natural and calming about those hours. Perhaps that is how humans were created to sleep.

So, the next time you can’t sleep, take time to think. Maybe your body is trying to tell you to embrace the quiet night and try out a new—err, very old—sleep regimen.
Thoughts on this? Or about the fact that such a practice had been all but lost until historians found writings that had brought the truth out into the open? Wouldn't it be great if you wrote something that hundreds of years from now shed light on our culture for the people of the future? Words are powerful, aren't they? Share in the comments.
Also, in case you didn't know, Darkness Reigns is free in all ebook formats. So if you haven't grabbed it yet, check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Build Your Own Writing Education in 5 Steps (Plus a giveaway!)

Tessa Emily Hall spent her teen years writing about an imaginary girl whose life was far more interesting than her own. This resulted in PURPLE MOON (LPC), a 2014 Selah finalist. Her work has been published in various magazines, including Devozine, Guide Magazine, and Temperance Magazine. She also enjoys making homemade lattes, cuddling with her Teacup Shih-Tzu, and acting in Christian films. Tessa’s passionate about writing inspirational yet authentic YA fiction and encouraging teens to pursue their passions. You can find her on her website, blog, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

I began my writing journey when I was fifteen years old.

No, my book wasn’t published then. In fact, I was just beginning to write the first draft of what would become my first debut novel, Purple Moon.

But it was then that I decided I wanted to pursue writing as a career. I didn’t want to have to wait until after I graduated high school before I began to study the craft of writing.

I knew I would have to write a book if I wanted to become an author. But more than that—I would have to write a book that didn’t scream “amateur” or “teen writer”.

The only way I could accomplish this? By studying the basic fundamentals of creative writing.

That was almost seven years ago. If it wasn’t for the education I “built” for myself in this area, I would not be the writer I am today, nor would I have had a book published.

Nowadays, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to become a published author (although it certainly doesn’t hurt!). You can start now preparing for your writing career by building your own creative writing education.

Here’s how you can do this in five easy steps:

1)      Read books on the writing craft

When I was a teen, I was just as excited to buy a new book on the craft as I was to buy a YA novel. I would spend hours reading, highlighting, and taking notes on what I learned.

But simply reading a book on the craft wasn’t enough: I had to put into practice what I learned. I wrote the first draft of Purple Moon, then spent even longer on the edits and revisions, applying what I learned.

2)      Attend conferences and workshops

Writing conferences are pretty much a vacation to me. What can be better than spending a week with other writers, drinking coffee throughout the day, meeting authors and industry professionals, and taking classes that will enrich your writing?

Unfortunately, conferences can become pretty costly at times. If you do not have a manuscript that’s ready to pitch to professionals, I suggest saving your money and attend a conference when you’re ready. In the meantime, try to find a nearby two-day conference or a workshop to attend.

3)      Listen to podcasts and watch video tutorials

The great thing about audio learning is that you can listen to podcasts as you drive, work out, or in the evenings when most of your friends are watching TV.

Try to find podcasts and videos that not only teach about writing, but keep you updated on the publishing industry as well.

Here is a list of my favorites:

4)      Enroll in online courses

When I was a teen, I enrolled in two creative writing courses: One that was taught through my online school, and the other through Christian Writers Guild.

If your school doesn’t offer a creative writing class, no worries! Fortunately, there are plenty of classes you can enroll in online.

I offer a 3-month creative writing mentorship program and course specifically for teens. In this program, I cover the art of storytelling, craft of writing, as well as the publishing aspect of the industry. You can find out more info on Write Now by clicking here.

My agent, Sally Apokedak, teaches two online classes on the craft as well. Stick around to the end of this post for your chance to win a coupon to one of her classes!

5)      Visit blogs on the writing craft

When I was a teen, one way I grew as a writer was by visiting multiple writing-related blogs and learning the basics of creative writing. Not only did this help to grow my craft, but it helped me to become familiar with the professionals in the industry as well.

Of course, if you’re reading this blog and are apart of the Go Teen Writers community, then you’re definitely on the right track!

Here is a list of more writing-related blogs. You might also be interested in checking out my column for teen writers, Dear Young Scribes, over at

~ ~ ~

As you study about the craft of writing, be sure to learn about the ins and outs of the industry as well.

By doing this, not only are you preparing for your future career as an author (if you choose to take that path), but you’re also “testing the waters”. In other words, you have the chance to gain more of an understanding of what it’s like to be an author. This should help you make more of an education decision about whether or not this is the career you would like to pursue. =)  

However, make sure that the time you invest studying never overshadows the time you spend writing. Because even though I believe every writer should continue to grow in their craft—ultimately, the best way to learn how to write a book is simply by writing.

Now it’s time for a giveaway!

My agent, Sally Apokedak, is giving away two coupons for her online courses: Writing Fiction That Sings and Punctuate With Confidence. One winner will be selected per course.

** The only thing she asks is that the winners leave a review on the class after you take the course. Please only enter if you are willing to do so.

What are your favorite books and blogs on the writing craft? Have you already begun the process of building your own writing education, and if so, how have you grown as a writer?