Monday, February 27, 2017

Edits Are The Time To Get Specific

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). 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, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

My first agent used to circle entire sentences in my manuscripts and write "BE SPECIFIC!" in the margin. I remember one time it was a sentence where my character came home from school and found her mom baking cookies. My agent wrote "BE SPECIFIC! What kind of cookies?"

Not only did I need to be more specific about my cookie choice, but "baking cookies" is a broad term that applies to many steps. What specifically did she find her mom doing? Was she scooping the cookie dough onto the baking sheet? Pulling the freshly baked cookies from the oven?

This has now become one of the highest priorities of my edits, to deal with my specifics. Sometimes this takes the form of  reconsidering the specifics that I've chosen, and other times I'm making vague details not-vague. Here’s what I mean:

Reconsidering specifics:

In brainstorming, I let myself get away with being vague. You see the language all the time on back cover copy, and you probably use it yourself when you write a synopsis or explain your book to a friend. I'm talking about phrases like, “And then after a series of weird events, my character decides the house is haunted.”

Then I get into my first draft, and I have that head-scratching moment of, “So…what weird events?”

Sometimes the choices I make in my first drafts are good ones. Other times when I read them in edits, I have that gut feeling of, “No, that’s not quite 'it' yet.” Maybe it seems too obvious, too cliche, or my character never would have made that choice. 

Whatever the reason is that the choice doesn't feel right, I always take the time to explore other options. Edits are the time to poke and prod at all those decisions you made back before you had experienced the story as a whole. 

Making details more clear:

Like the story I shared in the beginning, in my first drafts I'm often unintentionally vague with my story details. A first draft sentence might read like this:

I take off my shoes and leave them by the door.

This is a fine sentence, but it's not yet living up to its potential.

For starters, there are many ways to take off your shoes. You can slip out of them, untie them, yank them off your feet. You might unzip them, if they're boots, or pry them off if they're too small.

And what kinds of shoes is the character wearing? Sneakers? Flip-flops? Loafers? Snow boots? This sentence offers an opportunity to describe the character's wardrobe without stopping the flow of the story. 

Lastly, let's look at where the character leaves the shoes. This is a moment to show a bit of characterization. Dropping the shoes by the door suggests one type of character, while tucking shoelaces into the shoes and putting them in the closet suggests another, right?

Dealing with my "it" problem:

This tiny word causes big problems for me.

We're so used to it, that we often don't think about considering replacements. Just think of the cliché story opening, "It was a dark and stormy night." Why is "it" there? What is "it" doing to improve that sentence? 

Let's consider how much more specific we could be:

Monday was a dark and stormy night.

The evening he walked back into my life was a dark and stormy night.

The evening I died was a dark and stormy night.

The passive sentence structure grates on me, but do you see how there are so many more interesting and specific choices than "it"?

This isn't to suggest that you should obliterate every "it" from your manuscript, but run a search in your story and see if there are a few that you can replace with more interesting, specific choices.

Since we're talking about editing, why don't we try a little exercise? Pull up your work in progress (WIP), and hunt down a sentence that would be enhanced by you getting more specific. 

Leave your original and changed sentences in the comments section by this Friday, and that will automatically enter you to ask Jill, Shannon, and me a question for the next Go Teen Writers Live Episode. (So be sure to check back to see who was randomly selected!)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Writing Exercise #4: Fictional Sibling Relationships

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

This week has been all about fictional siblings here on Go Teen Writers and I thought we'd have some fun with that by venturing into the world of fan fiction.

For the uninitiated, fan fiction is when a fan takes a work of fiction created by someone else and tells their own stories about those characters or that setting. The Harry Potter books are wildly popular in fan fiction circles. In such stories, you might find Hermione desperately mooning over poor, dejected Malfoy, while characters you long-believed dead, are alive and well and raising their furry werewolf child on a sprawling English estate.

There is really no end to what the imagination can come up with--especially when you start with a delicious prompt full of ready-made characters.

On Wednesday, Jill provided you with 10 Examples of Realistic Siblings in Fiction. Your job today is to choose one of these ten examples and write a scene featuring fictional siblings. If you're unfamiliar with the characters Jill mentioned, of course you may choose another set of fictional siblings, but in the spirit of fan fiction, please choose characters from a published story written by someone other than yourself.

In your scene, one sibling must be teaching the other--or others--how to do something. It doesn't matter what it is. In fact, it can be just about anything at all. The goal here is to show off the relationship between your siblings.

Things to consider:

1. Think carefully about which sibling should be giving the instruction. It's possible one sibling makes considerably more sense than the other(s), but what kind of tension can you create by reversing their natural roles?

2. Where will your scene take place? Many of the examples Jill provided us are siblings who traverse several different settings over the course of the story. Put a little thought into which setting will allow you to highlight the relationship.

3. On Monday, teen writer, Abigail Wiley, shared a few tips on Making Sibling Relationships Realistic. If you're stuck, pop over and have a look. Perhaps her thoughts will jump-start your writing.

Please leave your response here in our comments section and be sure to come back throughout the weekend to encourage the other participants. You guys are fantastic at this, by the way. I love the community we've created here and I can't wait to see what you all come up with! 

If you're new to our writing exercises here on Go Teen Writers, give this article a read. It will explain how writing with us can earn you the right to ask us almost any question to be answered on an upcoming episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

10 Examples of Realistic Siblings In Fiction

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. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Inspired by Abigail's post on Monday in which she gave four tips for writing realistic sibling relationships, I thought I'd give you all a top ten list. If you want to see great examples of realistic sibling interactions, read any of these books (or comics) and you'll be inspired.

1. The Dashwood Sisters
Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility are one of my favorite groups of siblings. Elinor and Marianne, especially, have a wonderful dynamic. Elinor is "sense," a typical eldest child, overly responsible and careful about everything and almost motherly to her younger siblings. This gives impulsive and free Marianne, the "sensibility" in the story, the freedom not to have to worry about being anything but her own interests. Margaret, much younger, is a lovely and humorous counterpart to Elinor and Marianne's serious conflicts. Through the course of this story, Elinor and Marianne come to grow, value, and learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses. This book (and the amazing movie) makes me cry every time.

2. The Bennett Sisters
I'm sorry, but Jane Austen is just so good at characterizing, and the Bennett sisters from Pride and Prejudice are even more complex and wonderful than the Dashwoods, in many respects. Eldest Jane is a picture of perfection, both in beauty and temperament, while Elizabeth is clever, practical, and quite stubborn. I love this pair because they are so dear to each other. There is never any jealousy or anger between the two. They are stalwart friends, and it's simply lovely. They are not the only Bennett children, of course. In the words of their father, Jane and Elizabeth have "a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters." Mary is bookish and loves to play piano and spout legalistic advice. Kitty is rather vapid, always swept along by the youngest, Lydia, who is spoiled, willful, and altogether brash. How I love reading the dialogue in this book. All of the characters are so wonderful, I often laugh and laugh.

(Honorable Mention)
I must give a nod to Mr. Darcy and his younger sister, Georgiana. Mr. Darcy is a great deal older and plays more of a father figure role to his sister. He is her protector, advisor, and caretaker. He dotes on her. And even more precious, he rescued her from the horrible Mr. Wickham and forgave her with easy grace. And Georgiana loves her brother dearly, is proud of him, and looks up to him as the perfect example of what a man should be. Because of this relationship, readers love Mr. Darcy all the more.

3. The Weasleys
The Weasley family from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books are one of the most endearing families ever written. The chaos in a house filled with red-headed children, the pranks, the poverty. It's real and picturesque, even in a fantastical home called the Burrow. Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, Ron, and Ginny make me smile. Fred, George, and Ron, are especially responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud moments I had while reading this series. I will never forget Fred and George trying to enter the Triwizard Tournament and ending up looking like old men. Bill and Charlie are adults, off doing important things. And, Percy, of course, is over-ambitious to make something of himself and instead becomes a traitor to the family for a time. But all of that makes this family even more complex and wonderful. They're just good people.

4. Boromir and Faramir
This pair from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings are the opposite of the siblings I've described so far. These two don't get along so well. They have a complicated past, greatly affected by a father who plays unfair favorites. Oftentimes, for good or for ill, sibling relationships are defined by parents, and that is certainly true of this pair. I have always liked both characters, in spite of how the Boromir allows the ring to affect him, but I particularly enjoy how Tolkien let Faramir, as the underdog of his family, rise above his father's low expectations and become his own kind of hero.

5. Scout and Jem
Parents can have a huge impact upon their children, so when you think of the character Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, how could Scout and Jem not be wonderful people on their own and as siblings? A good dad will do that to his kids. I loved reading about raucous tomboy Scout and her older, more reserved brother Jem. A girl wants to look up to her big brother, and Jem's a good brother to have. Even if he doesn't have all the answers, he's always there for his sister.

6. The Pevensies
The Pevensies from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia were one of the very first group of siblings I ever read about. Since I was the eldest of five children, and I loved the idea of having an older brother like Peter. But I related to the everyday activity of siblings playing together for hours on their own while parents were elsewhere. That's how I grew up, so the idea that my siblings and I might be whisked away through a portal was an exciting one. Just like the Pevensies, we had our different personalities. Peter the take-charge leader, Susan the wise and level-headed, Edmond the once gullible and needy middle child becomes loyal and witty, and Lucy the kind girl with a very big heart. 

7. The March Sisters
Here is another classic group of sisters and one would-be brother. In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, sisters Meg, Joe, Beth, and Amy grow up during the hard years of the Civil War while their father is off working as an army chaplain. Each sister has a unique personality that shapes her life. Motherly Meg, independent Jo, shy and sweet Beth, and Amy the creative artist. They fight, they make up, they love each other despite their flaws and work together to make their neighborhood a better place. They shine such joy and love that their next-door neighbor, the wealthy boy Laurie, wants desperately to be part of their family. Who wouldn't?

8. Beezus and Ramona
Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series were some of my favorite books as a child. Being the eldest, I enjoyed viewing the world through the eyes of mischievous and creative daydreamer Ramona, but I also related quite well with Beezus losing her temper when her younger sibling's antics went too far. I loved everything about this pair and felt like I knew them well. That is characterization at its finest coming from a book first published in 1955.

9. Katniss and Prim
Katniss and Prim from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games gives a little bit of a different view at a sibling relationship. This one is a less-than-ideal environment, like that of Boromir and Faramir. Affected deeply by the loss of their father and the depression of their mother, the elder sister Katniss stepped into the void to fill the role of provider that had once belonged to her father and that her mother was currently neglecting. It is this same role that causes her to volunteer as tribute when Prim's name is drawn for the Hunger Games.

10. Lucy and Linus Van Pelt
When I was a child, I read every Charlie Brown comic book I could get my hands on. Some of them went over my head, as Charles M. Schulz often used big words that I didn't yet know. I read the comics anyway, loving the drawings and the characters. Linus and Lucy Van Pelt were two of my favorites. They have a sometimes antagonistic relationship as is bound to happen when a pesky little brother and his friends come around all the time, bothering the big sister. Lucy is quick to put everyone in their place, even charging five cents for psychological advice. She is bossy to Linus, berates him for carrying around "that stupid blanket," and rolls her eyes in disgust at many of his antics. But at the end of the day, Lucy looks out for Linus. In the middle of the night, she brings him inside from the pumpkin patch and puts him to bed. And Linus is sweet to his sister and quick to remind her to count her blessings, one of which is "a little brother who loves you.” Yep. That about sums up the sister and brother dynamic right there. Well done, Mr. Schulz.

Did I miss one of your top literary siblings? Share yours in the comments.

Monday, February 20, 2017

4 Tips for Writing Realistic Sibling Relationships

Today we have a guest post from Go Teen Writers community member Abigail Wiley! Abigail has some suggestions for writing realistic sibling relationships:

Abigail Wiley is a writer, and a self proclaimed bookworm.She also loves making art, baking, drinking coffee, and hanging out with her younger siblings. Her favorite genre to write is fantasy, but she wants to give mystery a try sometime soon.

While every family is different and there are exceptions to all generalizations, here are some ideas for how to keep sibling relationships realistic in your stories:

1. The siblings in your story should pick on each other and look out for each other.

You know the sentiment, “I can make fun of my family, but you can’t make fun of my family?" Most (if not all) siblings make fun of each other to some degree. Usually they are just messing with each other. Depending on the circumstances, the insult may be forgotten almost immediately.

But if someone else picks on a sibling, the others tend to get defensive. Especially if this person is a bully. Unless you have set up a reason otherwise, make sure your siblings know how to tease each other … but also how to protect each other.

    2. Have your siblings push each other’s buttons

Similarly, siblings will go out of their way to annoy each other. Because they spend quite a bit of time together, they can be pretty good at it. Whatever annoys your character, his (or her) siblings already know about it. If your character’s siblings decide to get on his nerves, it shouldn’t take them very long.

3. Don’t forget to create unique personalities and talents for your siblings

Siblings are never exactly alike. They can even be opposites. One can be super introverted, while the other is the life of the party. Or one can be funny, while the other is serious.

You can also consider how their talents may or may not overlap. You could create siblings who are all a little artsy, but they like different mediums or styles of art. Or maybe they’re all athletic, but enjoy different sports.

An idea for showing character development through your main character's siblings is to show how your main character feels about his or her siblings' talents. Does he wish he had the same skills? Does he feel competitive?

4. Even if they don’t say it much, most siblings love each other.

Maybe your sibling characters aren’t the types to talk about how much they care for each other, but the feeling is still there. Consider showing the depth of their relationship through actions. Like a big sister doing her little sister’s hair for a birthday party, or one sibling giving another a pep talk when
they are nervous.

Does your main character have siblings? What's their relationship like?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Join the scavenger hunt. Enter to win two Kindles, an Amazon gift card, lots of books, and more!

The Hunt Is On!

Jill here. To celebrate the release of King’s Blood, I am hosting an online scavenger hunt. There are 18 authors participating and a bunch of fabulous giveaways. It is EPIC. And it's happening right now.

The hunt is happening now and ends Sunday night at midnight,
Pacific time.

The hunt begins at Stop #1 on my blog.

What are the prizes?
First Prize: Kindle Fire or ($50 Amazon Gift Card) and signed copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Second Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card and signed paperback copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Third Prize: Signed paperback copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Bonus Quiz Prize: Kindle Fire or ($50 Amazon Gift Card) and signed copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Bonus giveaways: Look for more giveaways on various participating author sites (see each site during the hunt for details).

Who is participating?

Stop #1 Jill Williamson
Stop #2 Jaye L. Knight
Stop #3 Ronie Kendig
Stop #4 Shannon Dittemore
Stop #5 Kim Vandel
Stop #6 Kerry Nietz
Stop #7 Steve Rzasa
Stop #8 K. M. Weiland
Stop #9 Kyle Pratt
Stop #10 John W. Otte
Stop #11 C. J. Darlington
Stop #12 Melanie Dickerson
Stop #13 Chawna Schroeder
Stop #14 Tricia Mingerink
Stop #15 Gillian Bronte Adams
Stop #16 R. J. Larson
Stop #17 Morgan Busse
Stop #18 Serena Chase
Stop #19 Jill Williamson

How can you play?
Click here to join in the fun.

I hope to see you all on the scavenger hunt. Until next time. Save more. Read more.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spotlight on Theater, a guest post by Brooklynn Gross

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I've got something fun for you today.

Please welcome Brooklynn Gross to the blog! As a theater lover myself, Brooklyn's article resonates with me. More than that, she communicates clearly how the craft of theater relates to the craft of writing. Even if you've never set foot on the stage, you'll appreciate her advice.  

Brooklynn Gross lives in South Dakota with her parents and younger sister. She enjoys reading, playing piano, and writing poetry for her state’s literary magazine. Someday, she hopes to become a high-school English teacher.

I adore the moments leading up to a performance. 

There’s a buzz of excitement in the air--or maybe it’s just the chatter from the expectant audience. I adjust my costume, whispering my lines one last time before stepping up on stage.

The thrill of performing isn’t the only thing I like about the theater. Whether it’s a skit in drama class or a musical at the local retirement community, my acting experiences--both on and offstage have impacted my writing and the way I see the craft.

This past summer, I worked with a set of directors who stressed the importance of talking like our character, moving like our character, and improvising. Does this rule only apply onstage? I decided to find out.

Talk like your character.
In theater, you’re given a script with your character’s lines already written, but there is more to acting than just saying the right words at the right time. If your line is “Where is the princess?” you need to use your character’s feelings and traits as a guide. Are you the princess's mother, looking for your daughter in the woods? Or are you the evil witch, furious at your henchmen for letting Rapunzel escape?

In writing, it’s the same way. Although your character’s lines aren’t pre-written and highlighted, you still have to take into account how your character feels when she’s talking. Is she exploding at her best friend, using short, choppy sentences and constantly interrupting?

The best way to decide how your character would talk in a situation is to put yourself in her shoes. If she’s excited or scared, think about a time you felt that way. What does it sound like when she’s lying? Are her sentences filled with rambling explanations, or does she fall silent, only offering monosyllabic answers?

Move like your character.
During a one-act play festival at a local high school, I saw a play about three elderly women who all had crushes on the middle-aged detective living across the street. While I was watching, I kept forgetting that the elderly women characters were all played by teenagers. Sure, the fake wrinkles and frumpy dresses were probably a factor in that, but I believe that movement--the way the girls leaned on their canes and walked at half-speed--transformed the high-schoolers into ninety-year-olds. Even the most subtle movements, like the way their hands shook when they picked up their tea cups, showed that the girls were completely in character.

Words that show movement (walk, run, glide, etc.) do a lot more than get your characters from point A to point B. They can show how your character is feeling. Instead of saying, “She was winded from the race” you could let description do it for you, like this:

Lilly stumbled over the finish line and collapsed into the grass. Her lungs inflated like balloons as she gulped down air. Sweat trickled down her forehead in little rivers, drenching her shirt.

During drama class, I learned about a type of acting that doesn’t involve scripts or memorized choreography. It’s called improvisational theater, or improv for short. In improv, a group of actors perform a skit (usually a comedy), making up the plot, characters, and dialogue on the spot, without any rehearsals or practice beforehand. Oftentimes, the actors incorporate the audience’s suggestions to get the skit started.

One time, I watched an improv troupe who let the audience choose quirks for the characters in the skit. They were all silly things; for example, the first character thought he was a dog. The second one had short-term memory loss.

Real-life people have quirks, too. (Maybe they’re not as extreme as the person who thinks he’s a dog, but they’re still unique.) Like your sister, who says nonsensical words whenever she’s angry, or your friend who dips her french fries in peanut butter.

If people in the real world have quirks, shouldn’t characters in your storyworld? It makes them more realistic and helps with characterization. Your characters’ idiosyncrasies and habits can give readers a glimpse of their personalities. If one of your characters constantly calls her friends by the wrong name, maybe it shows that she’s scatterbrained. Maybe it shows that she thinks her friends are too similar, dressing and acting the same way just to fit in.

On stage and on paper, quirky, unique characters are more realistic and interesting.

Being involved in theater has helped me strengthen my characters and their stories. I believe that all writers should consider being involved in theater. But if the notion of auditioning for the school musical makes you feel queasy, fear not. Just pop your head into the school auditorium during rehearsal or cheer on your community theater during their next performance. Maybe you’ll see a writing concept in action.

Or maybe you’ll sit in the darkness, listening to the whispers floating from backstage, wrapped up in the magical moment before the first actor steps onstage.

Because that would be pretty special, too.

Have you ever seen a play or participated in a theatrical production? Did you experience anything that might impact your writing? 
I’d love to hear about it!

Note from Shannon: Yes! We'd love to hear how your theater experiences translate to writing. After you leave a comment, Jill Williamson has another fantastic treat for you that includes Kindle giveaways and oodles of books up for grabs. Hop over to her blog and bring a life preserver! We're all LOST AT SEA!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How To Edit Description

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. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

On Monday, Stephanie talked about how to make your setting come alive in edits. My job is to show you how that looks. As Stephanie mentioned, most all of us can see the setting in our imaginations, but it can be tricky to learn how to get what's in our head onto the page. Description is important. It's necessary. Readers need to know certain things, like where the characters are, what time of day it is, who is in the room, etc. It's also important to make memorable some of the places your characters go. This takes practice, but it also takes editing. And as you practice editing, you'll start to learn whether you have too much description, not enough, if you're telling the readers things or if your simply using bland words that don't do a great job of painting word pictures in your readers' minds. Take a look at the following examples to see if you can identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Too little?
You’re an under-describer. You describe pretty much nothing unless by accident. Your readers can’t picture your setting at all and they don’t know what anyone in your story looks like. 
Kate entered the house and glanced around. Creepy. Could the place really be haunted? And even if it was, would she have time to get upstairs and find the clue before the ghost came after her? Only one way to find out. She ran up two flights of stairs to the attic.

The plot seems to have Kate entering a haunted house with the goal of obtaining something from upstairs. She is worried there might be ghosts around, but we don't see any. We don't see anything at all. I'm not really scared for her. Some description of what she sees would greatly help increase the tension and emotion of the scene. The house is important here. It should be memorable.

Too much?

You love description and can’t help but putting into your story every tiny detail, but your readers get bored—completely overwhelmed by the long paragraphs of description distracting them from the plot. 
Kate stepped gingerly up the cracked steps and over a jagged hole in the porch to the front door. She could see blades of grass and dandelions poking through from underneath. A sheet of white cobwebs had completely ensconced the doorknob. How would she open the door? She pulled the sleeve of her blue fleece hoodie over her hand and turned the knob. She felt the latch click just as three spiders crawled out from beneath the thick web and onto her sleeve. She screeched and shoved the door inward, pulling back her hand and shaking it, wiggling in something akin to a tribal dance, shuddering all the while. The spiders fell to the porch and scrambled into the hole. Good riddance.
The hinges creaked as the door swung slowly open. Kate inched toward the opening, the toes of her Toms lined up perfectly outside the threshold. Blackness filled the doorway and she couldn’t make out what was inside. Reluctantly, she crossed over the threshold, took three tentative steps inside, placing each foot carefully in case there were holes in the floor inside as well. 
A musty smell made her gag, and she covered her mouth and nose with her hand. A beam of sunlight speared through the room and dust particles rioted in the golden glow. Beyond, everything was dark, but slowly came into a dim focus. She stood in an entry way at the foot of a long staircase with a banister on one side and a wall on the other that was covered with tattered paintings. She had to go upstairs to find the clue, so she ignored the rest of the house and began to climb.

This description was far more interesting. We do get a sense of why Kate is afraid. But the pacing is dragging out a little too slowly here. It would be nice to move things along. Plus, description should leave some room for the imagination, and there is little unsubscribed in the example above.

Too plain?
You give the facts—basic and no frills. It’s like you’re in a race, and if you're editing a first draft, you probably were. 
Kate walked up the steps and entered through a door that creaked and was covered in cobwebs and spiders. The foyer was dark black, but once her eyes adjusted, she started up the stairs, knowing that the clue would be found in the attic.

In the words of George Bailey, “Well, here’s your hat, what's your hurry?” This description is sprinting along. See if you can go in and turn each sentence in to two sentences. Or add another sentence in between the ones you have. Also, replace the vague words with specific ones. "Walked" could be "crept" to help give readers an idea of how Kate might be feeling. "Gloomy" is a more powerful word than "dark" and it also paints an emotion. And my guess is, the foyer isn't black at all but shades of gray and brown. Give us just a few details. Torn wallpaper, maybe. That musty smell. Cobwebs that tickle the neck. Sounds elsewhere in the house. You don't have to give the readers a lot, but what you do choose to give them should be fitting and memorable. Try to work in some more of the five senses as well.

Too fancy?
You love flowery language and like to paint the perfect image of everything your character can see. 
Kate inched up the gray, rotting steps that were putrid with the stench of decomposition. She opened an decrepit door, thick with sticky cobwebs. The hinges squeaked like a mouse being trod upon by an iron boot. Like a stealthy ninja, Kate slipped inside a drab foyer, so cold and uninviting that made her feel like it was sucking all the light from her very soul. Her blinking eyes caught sight of a narrow staircase carpeted in a thin, gaudy pattern, and she crept up the stairs one at a time, her heart pounding with each creak. Certain she could feel the icy beams of a ghost’s eyes piercing the back of her neck, she quickly made her way up toward the attic.

This paragraph has lots of telling and some descriptions and metaphors that are trying way too hard. Description should not be cliche, nor should it be so odd and puzzling that it pulls the reader from the story. It's good to add lots of descriptive words, but some of these feel wrong and the overuse of adjectives feels formulaic, as if every noun must have one. Try not to let your description work too hard.

Too passive?
You stop your story to describe things rather than have your character interact with the setting. 
The house sat crooked, like the foundation was bad and it might collapse at any moment. The porch was rotted and filled with holes, the door covered in cobwebs. Inside, everything was dark but for a single beam of sunlight that pierced through a crack in one of the boarded-up windows, lighting a plain foyer and a stairs that ran along one wall and was carpeted in a thin, gaudy pattern.

This description feels like a narrator hijacked the story, completely stopped the action, and gave us his version of how things looked. Description should be active and moving in a way that matches the pacing in the scene. Try to use Kate's movements to trigger the things that are described. Description should also come through the eyes of the point of view character. What is described should be things Kate can physically see and they should be described in words she would use. 

Most importantly, description should serve at least two purposes. It should describe and _______ (characterize or create emotion or reveals a clue or advance the plot) etc.

Here is my final draft of Kate entering the haunted house:

It's not perfect, but I tried to take the best parts of all the above descriptions and add some personality for Kate. I'd probably rewrite it another three or four times before being truly happy with it, but I think it does the job of getting Kate inside, describing the place, and giving a sense of foreboding to the reader.

Kate crept up the rotting porch steps to the front door, her heart pounding. A sheet of thick, white cobwebs had been knitted around the doorknob. She pulled her sleeve over her hand and turned the knob, wincing. Just as the latch clicked, a huge spider crawled out from beneath the thick web. Kate jumped back and shoved the door inward, pulling her hand away and shivering all over. This place was likely crawling with spiders.
The door gaped open now, revealing nothing but blackness inside. Kate pulled on her hood to keep anything from crawling down her neck, kept a close eye on the spider scuttling across the door, held her breath, and darted through the opening.
Inside she relaxed. It was cooler out of the sun and smelled of old books. She blinked her eyes into focus and found herself standing in a plain foyer with a narrow staircase running up one wall. She stepped over gray, scuffed wood to the runner of worn, faded blue carpet that ran up the stairs. Portraits covered in dust and cobwebs hung at intervals along the stairwell wall. A single beam of sunlight pierced through a crack in one of the boarded-up windows above the front door and landed on a picture of a young man from a different era. He seemed to be staring at her. 
Focus, Kate. You’re taking too long. Up to the attic, then get out.
She jogged up the stairs, strangely feeling like the young man from the portrait was watching her every move.

Here are some more posts on the topic of description that you might find helpful:

How To Describe A Place
How To Describe People
Describing Characters Through Characters
Describing Through Character's Interests
#WeWriteBooks, Post 21: Description
10 Tips For Tight Descriptions
8 Tips for Creating Great Descriptions

So what kind of describer are you? Share in the comments which of the above you tend to do, and if you want to share a paragraph of description that you're proud of or would like feedback on, feel free to paste it in the comments as well.

Help, please?

Tinker, the first installment in my children's chapter book series, is free on Amazon Kindle this week until Saturday. I'm hoping as many people as possible will download a copy to help it get lots of exposure. If you're a Kindle user, would you do me a favor and grab a copy of Tinker? And if you don't mind spreading the word, feel free to share the image below. For those who want to help, here's a few phrases you could copy and paste. Thanks so much! I appreciate you all. :-)

Download Tinker free on Kindle through Saturday. A great story for readers ages 6-13.

What's this? A fairytale retelling for boys? With a science experiment included? Download a free Kindle copy of Tinker through Saturday.

A boy an his robot dog set out to win the recycle race in Tinker, free on Kindle through Saturday. A great story for readers ages 6-13.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Lost Girl of Astor Street is on sale today!

If you've been wanting a copy of my latest release, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, but dragging your feet because you're the type to wait for a bargain, there's a sweet Valentine's sale going on today for the eBook!

For just 1.99 you can grab the eBook from Amazon, Nook, Google, or Apple:

Happy reading!

Monday, February 13, 2017

How To Make Your Setting Come Alive In Edits

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). 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, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.

***If you want a chance to win one of three signed copies of The Lost Girl of Astor Street, hop over to my blog to take part in a clue hunt!***

For some writers, the setting, or the story world, is the reason they write. This is a common refrain among fantasy writers that I talk to, that they started writing fantasy because they love the worldbuilding.

Sometimes during our first draft, the setting feels vibrant and alive in our imaginations. That was true for me as I wrote The Lost Girl of Astor Street, my young adult historical mystery, But when I re-read my first draft, I was surprised to find very few descriptive details. The setting had been very real in my imagination, but I hadn't done a good job of getting the details on the page.

If you can relate, here are some ideas for how to enhance your setting during your edits.

Slow yourself down.

Often the reason my setting details are sparse is that I'm so eager to get the story down that I skim over all those details. In a first draft when the only reader is you, that's fine. But when you move into your second draft, and you're preparing your book to be read by others, you need to make sure that what you're seeing in your head is showing up in the text.

For me, I must take physical steps to slow myself down. I'll close my eyes, imagine myself wherever my characters are, draw up sensory details (more on that next), and after a few minutes I'll begin revising the scene to include what I experienced.

Engage your senses.
When I've slowed myself down, and I'm imagining myself in the scene, I do this by thinking through the senses. What in this scene can my character see, touch, hear, smell, and taste?

Because of my tendency to rush through this step, I've disciplined myself to write down several ideas for each sense my character experiences in the scene. Not all of the ideas make it into my revisions, but I've still found it to be beneficial to have a big pool of ideas to draw from.

Push yourself to go beyond the obvious.

If you're like me, it's easy to get into a description rut. I have my characters walk into rooms and notice the same things that they noticed in that other roomsthe wall color, the quality of furniture, and so on. Or I'm always using the same colors for everything.

But you know what's amazing about being a novelist versus someone who makes visual stories? We're not limited by any kind of budget we have or what we can find at the store.

You want your character to have a green pinstripe couch? No problem. Want half your book to take place in Bermuda and the other half in Prince Edward Island? Sure. In first drafts, I often default to my habits. My characters are always meeting at ordinary restaurants, walking through ordinary parks, or attending ordinary schools.

If you write realistic fiction like I do, you of course need to be real with your settings, but don't limit yourself to obvious choices. Same goes for what you pick to describe in a room. Try to go beyond the details like the wall color or furniture arrangement and give us details that show creativity and thought went into crafting this place.

Checkout this brief description of a store from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater:

Fathom & Sons is a narrow, dark corridor of a shop, stuffed like a Cornish hen, with odds and ends labeled with little price tags that glow like white teeth in the dim light. It always smells a little like butter browning in a panso, like heaven. 

This is a place we only visit a few times during the story, but still she takes great care in few words to craft an image of the setting. Go forth and do likewise.

Pick items that convey emotion.

This is a technique I like to play around with in edits. Examine your scene and determine what the mood of it is. What is the POV character feeling at this time? What are they going to feel at the end of the scene? What kind of change is going to take place?

Then when you're crafting the description of your setting, you can think about if there are elements you can draw out that will highlight the mood. For example, if your character is in a fragile place, or something is about to break open in the plot, you might share details like the cracked lamp on the end table or the glass figurines on the mantle.

You can get a bit too on the nose with this one, so sometimes it can be better to draw out opposites. Like your aggressive, fierce character journeying through a meadow full of flowers, or a happy occasion being shrouded in fog.

There's no right or wrong way to do this, it's just something to have fun with.

Tell me about your setting! Pick a few unique details about it to share in the comments.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode One

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.

YOU GUYS! We did a thing! A fancy, totally-new-to-us endeavor.

Yesterday, we recorded our first ever Go Teen Writers video blog!

In this fifteen minute chat, Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson and I answer two questions posed by two of you. Hadley Grace and J. Liessa participated in our recent writing exercises and were randomly selected to ask us ALMOST any question.

For more information on our writing exercises and how you can be awarded the opportunity to contribute a question for our next Live Episode, click here.

To watch Go Teen Writers Live: Episode One click the tantalizing arrow below. And then be sure to leave us a comment telling us how you liked it. And be kind! We're rookies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Two Ways To Tackle A Major Rewrite

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. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

To celebrate the release of King's Blood, I'm having an EPIC SALE on the paperback copies of book one, King’s Folly. You can order autographed copies of King’s Folly from my author store for only $10, shipping included. (NOTE: My online store is wonky. It will not allow me to put free shipping on a book. So I priced the book at $7 and it will add $3 shipping to equal $10. Sorry that’s complicated… But it works!) Click here to visit my author store. Sale ends this Saturday at 6:00 pm, Pacific. If you want the autograph personalized, please add instructions to the notes section of the order.

On Monday, Stephanie talked about what to do when your book is such a mess you don't know if it's worth editing. My job is to show you how that might look. When I am gearing up to do a major edit on a novel, I usually do this one of two ways, and it all depends on what shape the manuscript is in.

A writer can usually tell if his or her manuscript is a mess or not. But when you're newer to writing, it can be hard to know. If you aren't sure, I highly recommend getting into a critique group that has varied ages and levels of success so that you can get some diverse feedback. Another good way to get feedback on your craft is to attend a writers conference in which you can show part of your manuscript to an editor or agent.

But for the sake of this post, let's pretend you have sent your manuscript to your editor for a full, hard-core edit. You should get back two things. You should get back an editorial review letter that lists major problems with the story, and you should also get your manuscript back with comments from the editor throughout. Depending on the feedback in those two documents, you should have a good idea about what kind of rewrite lies ahead.

1. The Manuscript Is In Decent Shape

First of all, whenever I read an editorial review letter from my editor, I get discouraged. After twenty books, I know this about myself and I'm prepared for my reaction. So I'll read the letter, then mope a little (and I'm usually moping because I'm overwhelmed at the amount of work it is going to take to fix all the problems). A day or two later, I'm over it and am excited to crack my knuckles and get to work to make the book the best it can be.

I think it would be difficult for me to show you how this process works without showing you an actual editorial review letter. So if you click here, you can read the editorial letter Jeff Gerke sent me for my book Captives. The book itself was in pretty good shape, though I did end up changing a lot in my rewrite. So, take a moment to read or skim the editorial letter, then come back here and I'll tell you how I tackled this edit.

You back? Okay. So, I read this letter and pretty much agreed with everything he said. Here is what I did:

1. I made a To Do list. I wrote down the major problems from his editorial letter and from his comments in the manuscript. It looked something like this:

- Better establish the village.
- Create a ticking time bomb scene as a prologue to establish that danger is coming.
- Get fully into Mason's skin to establish him as the series hero.
- Expand the story's focus of Mason researching the Thin Plague.
- Jemma is a lame POV character. Why not create a new POV girl who will have to go into the Harem and become pregnant in the lab?
- Strengthen my main characters. Give them proper backstories and motivations, both inner and outer, and work hard to keep them consistent.
- Cut down the number of Glenrock characters. Kill off more people! :-(
- Don't forget to let your characters grieve the loss of their loved ones.
- Plant and payoff. Go back and plant yellow cameras, character traits, slang, etc.
- Work hard on making the technology futuristic and much cooler.
- Double check mature content.
- Consider wedding scene for the end.

2. I prioritized my To Do list, then I took each item one at a time. I didn't try to make anything perfect. I just focused on big, macro-edit, issues. That looked something like this:

- I went through and brainstormed a plot for Shaylinn, a new character who would replace Jemma's POV scenes. Jemma was still a character in the book, but I thought with my dystopian plot, it would be stronger (and scarier) to see what happens to one of the girls who is impregnated in the lab. So I plotted out all that would happen to Shaylinn in ways that fit into the scenes Jemma already had. I did have to totally scrap a few Jemma chapters, but overall this worked fairly smoothly.
- I wrote a prologue from Ciddah's POV. She is a medic in the Safe Lands who gives a report to the Safe Lands Guild. I chose her because she is an important character who would appear later on in the story, which cut down on my overall number of characters.
- I wrote a new begining to the book from Mason's POV. I worked hard to show as much of their normal village life as I could while simultaneously characterizing as many of my main characters as possible.
-I went through and added comments at the start of every chapter or at intregal places, reminding me of various things so that I wouldn't miss them when I came through with the micro-edit. Notes like "add yellow cameras here" or "check for Jordan's slang" or "add technology changes throughout this scene."
- There were a few more things on my list, but you get the idea.

3. Once the book was all put together again with the right scenes in the right places, I did my micro-edit. And this is where I worked hard to add description, characterization, tweak character voice, add technology, and things like that. And with any book, I always repeat this phase as many times as I can before I reach my due date.

2. The Manuscript Is A Disaster

Not all manuscripts are in decent shape. And some authors go through the process I did with Captives only to get an email from their editor that says, "It's still not working. Rewrite it again, but this time fix these things."

Can you imagine? 

It's quite common, though. I do have a manuscript that I equate with disaster status. I know some of you liked it (and I'm glad!) but I'm talking about THIRST. It was an experiment to write a book one chapter a week on my blog, but doing so left me with something a bit wild. There is no solid three-act structure to it, which can be okay with some books, but not with THIRST. So it needs a major operation before I can move forward with it in any way.

What to do?

If you have a manuscript like this, first give it some space. Write something else for a while and come back and take a look after you've had a nice break. You should be able to see the problems better then. When I'm in a situation like this, here is how I tackle it:

1. Since I don't have an editor to help me, I make my own To Do list. I usually know what many of the problems are, so I write them all down. Part of my list for THIRST looks like this:

-No one likes Jaylee. The fact that Eli likes her annoys people. We don't want him to be dumb, and anyone who likes Jaylee is dumb because she is mean! Make her likable already.
-You have two Kristas in the book. Change one name.
-Riggs needs to act like an adult a little better. He doesn't want to get chewed out by parents.
-Characters need to be more worried about the END OF THE WORLD.
-Add more road kill.
-Eli needs to be worrying about his dad more.
-Logan is annoying. Don't make him so 7th grade.
-Zaq would go inside with Eli to see if Lizzie is there...
-Creepy dudes chasing Krista. Creepy dudes chasing Hannah. Too similar. Change one.
-Careful of stereotypical characters! Jaylee, Logan, Riggs...
-What happened to Jaylee and Krista after Eli and the others moved to the house?
-All the characters need to get a task (job)
-What happened to Jaylee? Riggs?
-What happened to Reinhold and his daughter?
-We need some news from the outside world. What’s happening out there?
-Bring back shotgun man and his dog so that Eli can get back his dad's gun. I need it for Rebels!
-Make it clear that Eli and company are sticking close to the Safe Lands because that's the only safe water around.

2. Because THIRST is such a mess, I can't handle the above list the same way I handled it with Captives. It's not ready for that stage. I can't just go through and fix what is there because I need to change so much. One of the things I want to do is split it into two books. I'll end book one when they arrive in what will become the Safe Lands. And book two will pick up from there. 

So what do I do now?

I set my list aside, for now, and I scroll through the book, writing each scene (that I know I want to keep) on an index card. Once I have the whole book written out on cards, I'll divide the cards into two stacks: one for book one and another for book two.

3. I set aside the cards for book two, and I storyboard book one. That means, I lay out all the cards for book one in order, either on the floor or I tape them to the wall or a white board. I leave gaps here and there, especially when I know I need more scenes. Any scenes that naturally fit into the three-act structure I label (Inciting Incident, Climax of Act One, Midpoint Twist, etc), and once I can see everything before me, I brainstorm new scenes to fill in the holes and the missing parts of the three-act structure until I have the makings of a decent story. 

4. I go into my Word file and I cut out the second half of the book, save it in a new file as THIRST BOOK TWO (or a better name if I have one). Then I close that for later. Now I have THIRST BOOK ONE open, and I go through and add the notes for my new scenes until I have everything listed in the book chronologically.

5. I go in and write all the new scenes.

6. Once I have everything written, ugly as it might be, I then pull out that To Do list I talked about back in number 1 and prioritize it. I start rewriting the things that are broken, taking them one at a time. I'm now at the macro-edit stage.

7. When all those major items are crossed off the list, I'll go into micro-edit stage and fix all the minor things. I'll repeat this process until I'm happy with the book.

8. Then I open the Word file for THIRST BOOK TWO and repeat the process.

9. I know that once I finish THIRST BOOK TWO, I will find some things to tweak in THIRST BOOK ONE and vice versa. So I will likely bounce back and forth between the two books and tweak them until I'm happy with both.

And that's what it looks like for me, though I'm sure other authors have different processes. 

How about you? If you've tackled major rewrites, share in the comments any insight you might have for our readers.