Monday, December 19, 2016

Everything on genre, characters, plot, and more from 2016

Stephanie here. Perhaps it's a cliche thing to say, but it's hard for me to believe that it's the time of year where I'm telling you Jill, Shannon, and I are on vacation for a couple weeks and will see you after the New Year.

The three of us are meeting this week (thanks to the magic that is Google Hangouts) to talk about plans for 2017, so if you haven't yet, we would really appreciate you filling out our brief survey.

Below is an overview of our posts from 2016. We will see you back here Wednesday, January 4th!

Posts About The Writing Life:

How To Make Effective Goals When Facing The Unknown
Build Your Own Writing Education In Five Steps
Transitioning In And Out of Your Fictional Worlds
Should You Write The Book Of Your Heart?
Should you "Kill Your Darlings?"
Should You Write Every Day?
Should You Write What You Know?
Read A Lot, Write A Lot
Write Stories That Excite You
Should You Write Like No One Is Watching?
The Joy of Writing Fast
Letting Go Of What Real Writers Should Be Like
Write Fast And Free
Write Your Passion
Should You Finish Your Book?
Should You Write What You Love To Read?
Self-Doubt As A Writer
Growing As A Writer When You Don't (Necessarily) Want To Be Published
3 Ways To Embrace The Writer You Used To Be
9 Ideas To Make Room In Your Life For Writing
When Writing Can't Be Your Life
7 Thoughts For Writers Struggling With Depression

Posts about Brainstorming:

Types Of Prewriting
Creating a List of Key Scenes
Using Your Synopsis as An Outline
What To Do With Characters Who Don't Yet Have A Story

Posts About Genres:

7 Tips On Writing Historical Fiction
Genre Review and Genre Mashing
What Makes Fantasy Epic?
Writing Romance That Works

Posts About Characters:

Character Wants versus Character Needs
How To Find The Heart Of Your Character
How To Change The Heart Of Your Characters
How To Create A Strong Cast of Characters
Main Characters
Side Characters
Character Conflicts
Your Characters Should Be Afraid
Where Did Your Character's Journey Really Begin?
Creating Characters By Working Backward
7 Questions To Ask When Creating Character Goals
Is The Wrong Character Telling Your Story?

Posts About Description:

Writing Super Powers: Hearing
Writing Super Powers: Smelling
Writing Super Powers: Tasting
Maps and Floor plans
Writing Super Powers: Sight
Writing Super Powers: Feeling

Posts About Plotting:

Creating Tension
Raising the Stakes
Choosing A Plot Structure
Adding a Theme

Posts About Editing:

Books aren't written, they're rewritten.
The Macro Edit
The Micro Edit
Editing For Musicality
Editing For The First Time?
Staying Motivated

Posts About The Business:

5 Tips To Successful Self-Publishing
6 Things To Consider Before Starting A Small Press
How To Make Connections and Boost Your Writing Career
How To Write A Synopsis For Your Novel
How To Edit A Synopsis For Your Novel
Traditional And Self-Publishing
Do You Have To Pick One Genre?
The Writer Versus The Author
One Thing No One Told Me About Being My Own Boss

Posts About First Drafts: 

Putting Dialogue To Work
Point of View
The Five Narrative Modes
How To Write A Scene
Where To Start
Dividing Your Books Into Chapters and Scenes
Dialogue and Thought
Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters
Where To End The Book
Borrowing Languages And Cultures For Your Book

Thank you for hanging out with us this year! What's something you've learned in 2016 (not necessarily from us) and what's something you'd like to improve upon in the coming year?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Surviving Messy First Drafts and a giveaway with Jenny Lundquist

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.

Today, I'm interviewing one of my favorite writers! She's also a very good friend of mine and I'm so grateful she agreed to sit down with us and chat.

Jenny visited us back in 2014 and shared some of her thoughts on brainstorming. It's a fabulous piece and definitely worth another read.

And now! Please welcome author, Jenny Lundquist, to the blog!

Jenny Lundquist grew up in Huntington Beach, California, wearing glasses and wishing they had magic powers. They didn't, but they did help her earn a degree in intercultural studies at Biola University. Jenny has painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to write a book at a cafĂ© in Paris. Jenny and her husband live in northern California with their two sons and Rambo, the world's whiniest cat.  

Shan: You know, I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed you before! Which is weird, because you’re the author I sit across from most often. So, I’m looking forward to this. I’ll keep it short and sweet and then we’ll give away your newest release, The Charming Life of Izzy Malone.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Would you mind telling all our writers here what led you to fiction writing?

Jenny: I knew I liked to write ever since the fifth grade, although I figured that if I ever became an actual writer (and by “writer” I simply mean someone who’s serious enough to weekly put pen to paper) I would write either nonfiction or adult fiction. The first short story I ever wrote was about a woman attending her ten-year high school reunion. The story featured a couple of flashbacks to when she and her friends were in middle school. I realized those flashbacks were my favorite part of the whole story. I started exploring those characters more and eventually wrote a whole book about their middle grade selves. I’ve been writing kidlit fiction ever since.

S: And the world is so much better for it! Now, you’ve written books for both middle gradeand young adult audiences. What advice would you give authors who’d like to write for more than one audience?

J: My advice would be to write what you’re passionate about. There will always be pressure after you’re published to write in one genre. To “build a brand and stick to it.” I’m not saying that’s not valid, but especially before you’re published and under pressure from editors to constantly produce a certain type of content, my advice would be to write in as many different genres and age groups as you want. Try them all out until you find your writing “sweet spot,” that age group/genre that feels like the most natural fit. For me that’s middle grade.

S: I completely agree! Every writer needs to try their hand at difference things and what better time than when you're young? Tell us, what’s your absolute favorite part of writing a book?

J: My favorite part of writing a book is the beginning. All of the daydreaming and brainstorming that I do in my Moleskine journal. It’s sort of like going on a first date: It’s filled with butterflies and anticipation, but there are no expectations and no long-term commitments. Once I pass that point with a story idea I guess you could say I have a DTR (define the relationship) sit down with my manuscript wherein I decide if I want this story to be “The One” that I pursue wholeheartedly.

S: Love that analogy! Is there any aspect of the craft that you struggle with? How do you overcome such things?

J: First drafts are REALLY hard for me. Half the time I don’t really know exactly what I’m trying to say and my first attempts would probably not pass the fourth grade. (You may think I’m exaggerating when I say that, but I can assure you, I’m not!) I’ve learned that for me, the key to surviving a first draft is to give myself permission to write extremely terrible first drafts. It makes for messy writing, and multiple drafts, but it’s the only way I can do it.

S: I hope our writers take that to heart. So much of writing is rewriting! Tell me, friend, if you could go back in time and give teenage Jenny some advice, what would you say?

J: I would tell her to start writing immediately! Like I said above, I knew I liked to write from the time I was in fifth grade. But it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I got serious about it and really sat down and began writing every day. Unfortunately for me, I believed a lot of lies like, “You’re not creative enough to be a writer,” “No one will ever want to read anything you write.” Negative thoughts can keep us from pursuing our passions, and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that everyone is creative. In my humble opinion, creativity is an innate part of what it means to be human, and the only way to get better at the creative passions you have is to practice, practice, practice!

S: LOVE THAT! Practice, practice, practice! I know you’re busy promoting Izzy Malone, but can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?

J: Right now I’m in the process of editing the sequel to Izzy, which is titled The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby. It’s been a blast revisiting the characters and the town they all live in!

S: My kids are going to be so excited to hear that! They adore Izzy Malone. I'm going to let you go--I promise--but before you do . . . lightning round! Quick, quick!

Favorite movie: Sleepless in Seattle
Favorite TV show: This Is Us
Favorite pizza: Combination (S: ME TOO!)
Desired superpower: The ability to speak, read, and understand every language.
Book you’re currently reading: The Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
Pancakes or waffles?: Pancakes!
Sherlock or Dr. Who? Don’t hate me, but I don’t watch either! Can I get a Gilmore Girls pass on this one? (S: Um, sure. But we need to talk about Sherlock. There's still time to catch up.)
Coffee or tea? Coffee. Always. (S: See, besties!)
Plotter or pantser? A combination of both. 

Isn't she awesome, you guys! She totally is. THANK YOU, Jenny, for hanging out with us. I love hearing your thoughts and we wish you the best of luck with your writing and The Charming Life of Izzy Malone.

On that note, Go Teen Writers is giving away a hardback copy of Jenny's newest release and it's easy peasy to enter. Use the Rafflecopter below and I'll contact the winner via email on December 28th. International entries are okay! Thank you all for hanging out with Jenny and me today.

Izzy Malone isn’t your typical sixth grader. She wears camouflage combat boots and tie dye skirts; the Big Dipper and Orion are her two best friends; and she’d rather climb trees or shoot hoops than talk about boys and makeup. And after only a month of middle school she’s already set the record for the most trips to the Principal’s office.

The only time Izzy feels at peace is when she’s on the open water, and more than anything else, she wants to become a member of the Dandelion Paddlers, her school’s competitive rowing club. But thanks to those multiple trips to the Principal’s office, Izzy’s parents force her to enroll in Mrs. Whippie’s Charm School, a home-study course in manners and etiquette, or they won’t let her race in the Dandelion Falls annual pumpkin regatta—where Izzy hopes to prove to the Dandelion Paddlers she is more than qualified to be on their team.

When Mrs. Whippie’s first letter arrives it’s way different from what Izzy was expecting. Tucked inside the letter is a shiny gold bracelet and an envelope charm. Izzy must earn her first charm by writing someone a nice note, and once she does more tasks will be assigned.

Izzy manages to complete some of the tasks—and to her surprise, she actually finds herself enjoying the course. But when one of her attempts at doing something good is misinterpreted, she fears her chances at passing the course—and becoming a Paddler—are slipping away. With some unexpected friends there to support her, can Izzy manage to earn her charms and stay true to herself?
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Winners and Excerpts from the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks Contest

Jill here to announce the winners of the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks Contest. Our top ten finalists were listed in this post back in October, and we appreciate your patience as Roseanna read over the top three finalists to choose an overall winner.

Below you will find our winner and the two runners up (listed alphabetically by story title). All three gave us permission to post the first 500 words of their stories, though I posted a few more or less words to stop at the end of a paragraph. Following each excerpt are a few lines from Roseanna's feedback to give you an idea of her overall thoughts on what worked so well in each story. 

Please extend your congratulations to the winners in the comments below, and thanks again to those of you who entered the contest. We are proud of you all! We hope you enjoyed the #WeWwriteBooks series, the contest, and found your feedback from the judges helpful. 

Work of My Hands by Kady Cossins – Winner

Few things can distract me from a science book. Unfortunately, the voice of Ferdy Fields is one of them.
“Dagnee!” Coming through his nose, Ferdy’s voice squeaks like a cornered hedgehog. Why did Darse have to send Ferdy?
“Here,” I call, swinging down from my evergreen perch. I spot Ferdy running in the wrong direction, away from me, panting and clutching his side. I’m tempted to let him keep running right off the edge of the cliff.
The best way to describe Ferdy is an adolescent nineteen year old. He tops my height by two heads but probably weighs about the same. I always wonder how he scrunches those grasshopper legs into the claustrophobic mine tunnels. A thick topping of dirty blond hair and plentiful eyebrows make him look like a gangly sheepdog. He’s about as smart as a sheepdog too.
“Here, Ferdy.” I finally catch his attention by waving my book above my head. He scrunches his face at my book, obviously disapproving of my hobbies, but says nothing about it. Thank goodness.
“You know,” he says, walking towards me, “I ran half a mile to find you. Looked at your house first, but you weren’t there. Knocked for five minutes. You should really stay in one place if you’re going to be the mine mechanic.”
“What’s the problem?” I ask, shoving my book in my satchel.
“Elevator quit working on the western wing. Jammed or something. You should check up on your little machines more often. Seven men are trapped down there. Darse doesn’t know how much—”
I jog out ahead of Ferdy, losing his griping in the wind. Ferdy has harbored a sore spot towards me ever since I replaced him as mine mechanic four years ago.
“You know,” Ferdy says, catching up with me, “your sister stared out the window at me for the whole five minutes and didn’t answer the door.”
How does he talk while sprinting? Quickening my pace, I attempt to lose him again, but his wire legs have an advantage when it comes to speed.
“What’s the problem with her?” Ferdy asks. “While we’re at it, what’s the problem with you? I think the Magicians should smite you both. What’s her name even? Wren.”
The word slides through his mouth like a rotten piece of goat cheese. I’d love to see him chew those words thoroughly and swallow. My sweaty fists are itching to find a place somewhere near Ferdy’s forehead.
“Wren is fine,” I say through my teeth.
“Doesn’t seem fine to me,” he continues. “You know, I don’t think Darse should let you near the mine, curse and all. My dad says he feels like the whole thing will collapse when you’re in it. You’re tainting it.”
Fortunately for Ferdy and for me, we come into the mine clearing before either of us sustains a concussion.

Roseanna said: First of all, the writing is fabulous. A true pleasure to read and amazing voice. You have real talent! I really enjoyed reading the selection and would certainly want to read more.

Azren by Charlotte Feechan – Tied for Second Place


It’s quite a feeling, the first time you bring something back from the dead.
Everyone marvels at the way the body starts to twitch and how their eyes light up with the unnatural glow of reanimation, an undead sack of flesh now bent to your will. And it’s true—all of that really is quite a sight to behold.
But Necromancer never seem to talk about the feeling that comes along with the spectacle, the vulnerability of the spell. I think that’s because a part of you gets used up each time you breathe life back into a corpse. A small part, sure, but it’s a piece you’ll never get back. A price to pay for the dark gift.
My first resurrection was a cat. My brother’s pet, Taggle, had been hit by a wagon and gotten its head bashed in—or rather, Taggle leaped in front of the moving vehicle without a second thought (he never was a particularly bright animal, but my brother still loved him dearly). So we stole a spell tome from one of the Calsanni professors seeking to revive him, in one way or another. We were eleven years old and saw the enterprise as more of a joke than a legitimate attempt at necromantic magick, which was, perhaps, our downfall.
It took an entire day to figure out the strange incantation but it was a clumsy, ignorant effort: the cat’s balance was off and its co-ordination non-existent. Once Taggle had leaped from the rooves of our village with superb feline grace, and yet after our meddlings he could barely walk in a straight line. Despite this, Taggle caught at least three rodents every day without failure, as well as tackling other animals as large as badgers. The most disturbing result was that our beloved childhood pet had developed a somewhat cruel disposition: for one, he’d try to bite off our fingers if we even attempted to stroke him, not to mention that he seemed to enjoy torturing the animals he’d ensnared, pinning them down in his paws and chewing off limbs and tails and ears.
A week after we resurrected Taggle, Akavarin Mallus came to us.
He appeared at our cottage in the early hours and spoke with our father until morning while we watched beneath the gap in our bedroom door. We’d seen plenty of mages in our lives, so it was very evident that Akavarin was not your average healer. He was wrapped in silk that seemed darker than black and yet still seemed to shimmer and shift in the night, coupled with a mask that concealed only half his face, while the other was covered in streams of deep tattoos. And then there were his eyes. Gods, his eyes.
Akavarin bought us from my father for a sum of money I have never learned, although and the abruptness and joy with which my father relinquished us from his care leads me to believe the figure was quite substantial.

Roseanna said: Let me start by saying your voice is spot-on and your writing style is smooth, easy to read, and very compelling—great job! You pulled me into your world right away, which is always the mark of a great storyteller. =)

The Outpatient by Ansley Hills – Tied for Second Place

Most cunning, cold-blooded killers don’t have their own receptionist. An average-looking receptionist, at that. She’s talking into a headset, her voice calm and smooth like ocean water splashing against the shore. She nods her head toward a wooden door on the right. I hesitate.
It’s just a door. I run my hand over the smooth varnish to convince myself. It’s not a magic portal that will transport me back to September. If it were, would I walk through?
My hands clasp the cold handle. I push through.
His lab coat is a scalding shade of white. It’s brighter in person and practically demands attention. He has the same dark hair, sideways smile. Even his stethoscope is the same.
His office hasn’t changed much either. Leather chairs. Bookshelf. Diploma-splattered wall. The ghost of memory tarnishing every surface. He reaches an outstretched hand in my direction, and I instinctively shrink away. “Have a seat.” He gestures to the chair on the right.
Last time, a frail, balding man--a stranger I’d known my whole life--slumped in that chair, drinking in the lies of this murderer. He was dangling precariously off the edge of a boat, tiptoeing across a fraying tightrope, searching for a glimmer of hope.
He wasn’t in the right condition to make the kind of decision the man behind the desk presented him with. She wasn’t, either. She was a statue, solid and stone cold to the rest of the world. Only I could see her cracks, notice them in the way she sobbed into the phone or wiped a hand across her eyes.
That was his chair. I can still picture him there, translucent fingers tracing the buttons on the left armrest.
This room was our hope, our One Last Chance. It wasn’t until later, much later, that a flashlight shone around the edges and shadows, crawling across the carpet and illuminating the face of the man behind the desk.
“Miss . . . um . . .” Dr. Davis looks down at his clipboard. “Abberson.” He glances up at me. I expect a flash of recognition to ignite behind his blue eyes, a look of surprise to flit across his lips. But his face reveals nothing. He doesn’t remember.
“You’re here for a job shadow?” he asks, running a hand through his black hair.
“Yes.” I’m the murderer’s apprentice. A chill runs up my spine as I let the thought sink in.
“I have an appointment with a patient. Follow me.”
I follow him out of the office and past the waiting room, where the burn of antiseptic wipes invades my nostrils. He steps into a vacant elevator, and I hesitate. The door starts to close, so I jump on before I lose my nerve. The elevator rises to the third floor, where we pass a hallway lined with doors. The doors conceal rooms filled with this man’s current targets. Some manage to escape; those people are the lucky ones. My father, however, was not lucky.

Roseanna said: Excellent beginning! Your opening grabs attention right away, and your writing is stellar. I love your vivid style and the unexpected way your heroine views the world.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Help us shape the future of Go Teen Writers!

We talk a lot on the blog about how healthy writers are always growing and changing. We feel the same is true for a blog. A blog shouldn't be a static thing, and we want to be sure that Go Teen Writers is growing and changing in ways that serve our community.

Would you please do us a favor and answer a few questions? Jill, Shannon, and I will review all the answers and consider them as we make plans for 2017.

Thank you for hanging out with us!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Writer vs The Author

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.

Did you know there's a difference between being a writer and being an author?

A writer is someone who creates art using only words. She creates story. A writer has all sorts of tools at her disposal. Pens and pencils, computers and tablets, story boards and craft books. A writer might be messy or organized. A writer might be highly motivated or not. Sometimes a writer writes because she wants to and sometimes she writes because she has to. Sometimes a writer doesn't write at all--she simply watches the world twist and turn around this moment and that and she allows story to percolate deep in her soul.

An author is different. While an author spends much of her time wearing her writing hat, she understands that though story might be the most important thing she does, if she wants her book on the shelf, she has other responsibilities. 

Keeping it simple: The writer's focus is craft and creativity whereas the author in us understands that publishing is an industry.

Young writers often confuse these two roles and falsely assume that being good at one means you will naturally excel at the other. In truth, mastering these two roles and finding a healthy balance for each in your day-to-day life, takes practice. 

Because the writing always precedes the authoring, the writer in us tends to be more dominant. We practice writing, fill our free time with words, and willingly surrender our resources for tools that will make us better. 

Today, I want to remind you that learning to be an author is just as important as learning to be a writer

Here are six skills you, as an author, must hone:

Respect others' time. This is the earmark of a true professional. Each interaction you have should begin with the understanding that everyone's time is valuable and no one has enough of it. From the readers who will one day read your stories to the agents and editors, sales reps and marketing gurus who will help make your book a reality--everyone is busy. Any time these individuals choose to devote to you and your stories is time they could be filling with any number of other things. Gratitude is never, ever amiss. Be sure to show it.

Take pride in your work. When you send off a story to an agent or editor, you are saying "I believe this belongs on a shelf somewhere." If you don't truly believe your work belongs on a shelf, you have some soul searching to do--or perhaps some rewriting. We never want to submit anything less than our best to industry professionals. Work hard, write well, and then rest in the pride that comes with a job well done. I know--I KNOW--this is hard for those of us who struggle with issues relating to our confidence and I don't mean to imply that if you struggle here, you're not fit to be an author. We all struggle with our own worthiness to some extent, but if we do not think we've created publishable work, it's dishonest to attempt to convince the professionals to believe something we do not. So work hard and then be proud of what you've accomplished.

Do your own research. In the course of any given day, I receive emails asking me for information the sender could have easily acquired by doing a simple internet search. Don't be this person. I know it's easier to drop someone an email or a text to gather information, but it's also lazy. Asking your agent or editor to do something you can do on your own is unprofessional and clutters their inbox with minutiae that screams, "MY TIME IS MORE VALUABLE THAN YOURS!"

Build your platform. As an author you'll be expected to cultivate an audience. Ideally, your stories will gather readers to your stage, but in the current climate, publishers are looking for authors who already have people gathering around to hear whatever it is they're saying. While your stories should absolutely take priority, you must give consideration to how you plan to interact with potential readers as you build your platform. More and more of this responsibility is falling onto authors and while social media has opened many doors, it is imperative that you learn to use it thoughtfully and intentionally.

Establish a support system. Your family will play a role here, I'm sure. As will any editors and agents you team up with along the way. But what I want to stress here is that your agent cannot be your entire support system. Neither can your editor. You will drain the life out of those who believe in your writing the most if you do not take the time to extend your reach beyond the obvious. Go to conferences. Join critique groups. Make friends in the industry, friends who will understand the unique calling and responsibility of being a storyteller. You'll need these friends along the way. They'll keep you sane. They'll keep you writing. And they'll keep you from taxing your agent and editor with expectations that are wholly unfair.

Meet your deadlines. This sounds simple at the outset, but as writing turns to authoring and your career begins to grow, so does the quantity of deadlines that must be met. Get yourself a calendar, mark these dates in permanent marker and do everything in your power to finish your job on time. As an author, your deadlines usually start the clock ticking for others and if you do not get your work turned in on time, you're eating up workdays that do not belong to you. Oh, look at that! We're talking about valuing others' time again. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

And that brings us full circle, I think. That whole respect thing. It's at the very core of being professional and is a foundational skill you must master if you're to be an author others want to work with.

I wonder, do you have a hard time balancing the writer in you with the author you're working to be? I do. At times, I struggle violently against it. The writer in me is selfish and wants to write only when she is inspired and hates waiting for others to do their job. It can be a challenge to maintain professionalism when writing requires such emotion of us. And yet, I so value these things in others. It shows maturity and a commitment to excellence. And the authors I admire most, work hard to hone these skills. 

How about you? Which persona is hardest for you to wrangle: the author or the writer?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Helping Your Characters Make a Great First Impression, a guest post from Colin Cannici

Jill here! Today's we have a guest post from author Colin Cannici. I really love the concepts he presents in this post and have been thinking a lot about them as I have been writing these past few weeks. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did.

Colin Cannici is a homeschooled, self-proclaimed genius who doesn't like ice cream. He does, however, have an unstoppable obsession with creating things, particularly stories. That might be why he writes epic fantasy, swashbuckling sea adventures, and superhero stories all at the same time, because he's pretty sure anybody else would have to be crazy to do that. Besides writing, Colin likes to read, eat peanut butter, play tennis, and think. He lives in Colorado with his parents and two siblings who have to listen to him blabber about this new story idea or that best idea ever at all hours of the day.

Characters are vital tools for storytelling. To some of us writers, their “lives” are just as real as our own. We love our characters and strive to make them the best they possibly can be.

But characters, like the stories they inhabit, rest on one crucial thing: their beginnings. First impressions matter. A good character introduction rests on two things: When the character is introduced (plot timing) and How they are introduced (characterization).

When in the story does this character appear? You want to bring them in at the time when they will affect the immediate story the most. While it may not be possible to have a unique When moment for every character, you can still pick the right one. Major characters will likely appear early on in the story in a common place with the protagonist. In this case, you will need to make each introduction unique to show their different personalities—more on that in How. 

Most minor characters will not be introduced until your main character happens upon the right location, like meeting a clerk character at a shop where your main character goes to buy something. Minor characters are best introduced when they are most needed, not before. Otherwise they will clutter up the story and be generally useless until they impact the plot. Then there are important characters who come into a story late. For these characters, buildup is needed, and you must introduce them at a time when they impact the story the most. Because nearly everyone has read it, consider the introduction of Gollum in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. We’ve heard of Gollum before, and we expect him to come in. He does so when he really impacts the immediate story: Frodo and Sam are lost and need a guide, and Gollum acts as one for them. At the same time, Frodo and Sam are more vulnerable than they were seeing as they’ve left the Fellowship, which means that now is the perfect time for Gollum to try to take the Ring. This adds the possibility of conflict where there might not have been any before.

How is about what the character is doing when they first appear and why they are doing it. You want your introduction to show the personality and motivations of the character so that the readers get a good grasp of character depth right off the bat. Once again, this differs for every character. Minor characters don’t necessarily need reasons as to why they are doing something as long as it isn’t enormously impactful to the main character and the story as a whole. Characters that you want to keep mysterious might not have their motivations revealed right away. But if it’s your main character or important supporting cast, you’re going to need to show them being their best selves (or worst, if it’s an antagonist) the first time they appear in the story. Reveal them in a way that perfectly embodies their personality.

Take, for example, the introduction of Professor Lupin in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

          “Quiet!” said a hoarse voice suddenly. 
          Professor Lupin appeared to have woken up at last. Harry could hear movements in his corner. None of them spoke.
          There was a soft, crackling noise, and a shivering light filled the compartment. Professor Lupin appeared to be holding a handful of flames. They illuminated his tired, gray face, but his eyes looked alert and wary.
          “Stay where you are,” he said in the same hoarse voice, and he got slowly to his feet with his handful of fire held out in front of him.

Lupin goes on to drive away the dementor on the Hogwarts Express. Lupin is an important character in the rest of the series, and his introduction shows him doing what he does best: fighting the Dark Arts. Besides that it also mentions what I think is his most defining quality—that is, looking tired and gray, which we later find out is because he is a werewolf. His description embodies his personality, which gives readers a great first impression.

The How for minor character introductions differs slightly, because they don’t impact the story as much and thus don’t need to be seen at their very best. Think of how the dwarves of Thorin’s Company come in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. None of the dwarves are major characters at that point. Still, their introduction epitomizes the queer nature of their group and also affects the main character a whole lot (a good example of When, also, because their appearance at that time drives Bilbo to start his quest).

When you blend When and How, things come together for a great first impression of your awesome characters. With the right first impression, the reader will follow your characters anywhere.

Do you have some character introductions that need work? How can you maximize When and How to fix them?