Monday, May 30, 2016

Mail Bag: Titles, Killing Characters, Story Beginnings, and Fan Fiction

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Once again, I'm scrolling through my email and answering questions that have been lurking there for months!

First, if you haven't signed up for the 100-for-100 challenge, you need to do that by the end of June 1st. My eight-year-old daughter, McKenna, is doing the challenge this year. Here's a little video of her talking about why she likes the challenge and what her story is about: (If the embedded video isn't working for you, here's a link where you can view her eight-year-old adorableness.)

Onto the questions that have been sitting in my inbox:

Andrea wanted to know if I had any advice on coming up with titles for trilogies. 

I don't (I hate titles!) but Jill wrote a post called How To Come Up With A Cool Title and Roseanna talks about the re-titling process that often happens with publishers.

Andrea also asked about writing character deaths. Again, Jill has me covered with a great post on How To Kill A Character.

HelenAnn wanted to know about copyright laws, saying, "I'm an aspiring writer and I want to use lines of poetry for my titles in my series. Some of them are public domain but some of them are not." 

My answer: The public domain ones are fine, but you get into some dicey waters with those that aren't. The best thing to doand what you would want if it were your poem being usedis to ask permission from the publisher.

Olivia asked, "I have been attempting to start the second draft of my novel-in-progress, but have been unable to find where to start. I know my character's goal, and everything I need to happen in the storyI'm just not sure how to start getting there. Do you have any advice for me?"

My answer: Sure. I would work the problem backwards. Start with whatever the first thing is that you know needs to happen in the story. If you haven't already, write that scene. Then ask yourself, "Is this a good starting place?" Sometimes we think we need to start sooner than we actually do. Maybe this really is the best place to start your story.

Or maybe the answer is no, that the reader is missing too much information if you start there. Then you can figure out what information the reader needs for this scene to make sense, and try to write that scene. Then go through the process again.

In most stories the best thing is for the reader to get a good glimpse of the character's "home world." Here are a few posts that go into more detail:

7 Things You Need In The Beginning Of Your Story
How should your book start?

Hope those help, Olivia!

Last one for today. Ellen is a teen writer who enjoys writing fan fiction. She wants to write her own stories but suffers from writers block when she tries. She wants advice for what she should do.

My answer: I went through a period of time in my teens where fan fiction felt so much more fun and easy to write. Because it is! You're not having to do any of the heavy lifting. You're playing in a playground someone else builtfully developed characters, a storyworld that makes sense and that you love. and no full-length narrative to try and weave together.

The first thing I would say is try to not sweat it. Just because you're not yet able to come up with a story idea that you want to write a novel about doesn't mean you never will. I was 17 when I finished my first "novel" and it wasn't novel length. It was probably 20,000 words or something. And before that I had written loads of first chapters that went nowhere.

I kept at it, and eventually I learned how to write longer and more complex stories. I started finishing them. Then I learned how to edit them. Then I learned how to get faster and better. This process took years. That's okay.

So my advice is to keep having fun with fan fiction and keep trying with your original ideas. I bet before long one of them is going to spark your interest more than the others did, and you'll be able to finish a book.

Have a question? Send me an email, and I'll address it in a future post!


  1. Thanks for answering these, Mrs Morrill! On the subject of fanfiction, I started writing my current WIP as a fanfic, but I was so inspired by my ideas that I had to re-write it for my own world and characters. It was quite a good way to move on from fanfiction actually, so that might be a good technique to try--just make sure your own version isn't too similar. Also, good luck to everyone for the 100 for 100! I'm pumped now :)

  2. These were great questions to great answers! (Although haha I was not the one who asked the first two :P)

    I've been struggling lately with story beginnigs, so in a way I relate to Olivia's situation! Thank you for your helpful answer and the links to posts... I'll be checking those after I finish commenting :)

  3. I can't watch the video for some reason :(

    1. I couldn't get it to work either! I think I've fixed it...

    2. I can't get it to play either:(

    3. Blerg! I added a link, and I THINK that fixed it.

    4. The link worked great! I would totally read her story:) Good luck McKenna!


  4. It's so cool that you do Q&As like this :).

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  6. Still can't watch the video

    1. Blerg! Okay, let me see what I can do...

    2. I added a link, so hopefully that fixed it. Sheesh! I totally should have asked Jill to lend me her expertise :)

  7. How should those of us participating in Camp NaNo in July deal with the 100-4-100?