Monday, April 30, 2018

How To Make Sure Every Character Counts In Your Story



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920s 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 free books on her author website.

I have a tendency to create large casts of characters. I never intend to do this, it just seems to be the way my stories come out.



Within These Lines is actually the first book I've written where I didn't have to cut a character or scale back someone's role dramatically. I hope this means I'm getting better at identifying which characters need to exist and which do not.

If you want to write a story that reads smoothly, it is critical that every character serves a purpose. In well-crafted stories, there is no space for characters who are cuttable.

How do you make sure you accomplish that?

My first suggestion for creating purposeful characters, is to give consideration ahead of timeor in edits, if that ship has already sailedabout what motivates each character during the story.

Here are the primary motivators I listed for several key characters in Within These Lines:


(This is part of my story workbook that I create for each book I write. If you want to get a free tutorial about how to make one for yourself, all you have to do is subscribe to Go Teen Writers Notes.)

When you know the different primary motivators for each character, not only does it naturally cause each character to play a different role in the story, but a source for conflict is built in.

There is also a way to make sure you are accomplishing purposeful character choices within each scene. Think about each scene as though you are planning a heist. (Not that I have ever planned a heist, but I've watched Ocean's 11 several times, and I love Ally Carter's Heist Society series. So I'm totally qualified to rock this analogy.)

When planning a heist, everybody has a specific role to play. One is the decoy, another takes care of the technology, another does the actual sneaking in and stealing, and so forth. Unless there is a very specific need to double up, you never see two people filling the same role in a heist. We don't need two characters dropping in from the ceiling to snatch whatever it was that Tom Cruise was stealing in Mission Impossible.

The same idea applies to individual scenes in your book. You don't need five characters to disagree with your main character, you just need one. Maybe two or three can be justified in certain circumstances, but only if they bring different reasons for disagreeing to the table. We don't need different characters saying the same thing.

An easy ways to figure out if you are already doing this is to ask, How would this scene be impacted if I cut this character? If you could  cut the character and keep the scene mostly intact, then that character is not serving a strong enough purpose to be there. You should either look for ways to give them purpose or remove them completely.

Just for fun, pick five of the most important characters of your story. In a phrase or sentence, tell me what their primary motivation is in the story.

Friday, April 27, 2018

A Day to Rest


Hey friends. Shannon here.
 
I hate to bug out when it's my turn to blog, but I'm struggling with some chronic issues today and sitting at the desk is a little too much to ask of my body. I hope you understand and I look forward to chatting with you all next week.


Talk soon, friends. Take care of you.


-SD

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How to Write a Back Cover Copy for Your Book

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). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Whether I'm going to put together a pitch for a publisher or self-publish, I will need to write some back cover copy for my book. If I'm going to create a pitch, the back cover copy is part of that, and if I'm going to self-publish, I'm going to need the back cover copy when I put the book up for pre-ordermaybe even sooner, like when I'd do a cover reveal.

Stephanie wrote a great post on writing back cover copy a few years back. Click here to read it.

I have a nifty method of coming up with back cover copy for a novel. I have no idea who to credit for inventing this three-part formula. I've seen it many times over the years both online and taught at conferences. So while I did not come up with this brilliance, I have no idea who to officially credit. Thank you, o wise one, whoever you are.

Here is how it works:

You need to create at least three paragraphs. One for the hook. One for a book summary (and this part could be two or three paragraphs, if necessary). And one for the sales pitch. Let's take a closer look at each.

Part One: Create a hook sentence, statement, or header that grabs the reader's attention. Think: newspaper or magazine headline.

This hook statement should show the main conflict in your storyor at least the first conflict that pulls your character into the plot. It should also be something the reader can identify with. I recommend writing out as many of them as you can, then edit them and/or combine them until you find one you love. You might even narrow it down to your top three, then poll your critique group or reader group. Here is a long list of potential hooks I wrote for Onyx Eyes.

For centuries, fairies have enslaved humans and imprisoned criminal fairy changelings in human homes. No one outside this system has ever discovered it—until now.
Would you risk your life to save another?
Would you break the law to save a life?
Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn has a secret. Her brother is a fairy changeling.
What would it take to make you leave earth and enter another world?
What if you discovered your brother was a fairy changeling?
●There's a fairy in the house.
One missing teenage boy. One missing fairy princess. One epic problem.
Kaitlyn thinks her brother has gone crazy. Until she learns that he is not her brother at all, but a fairy changeling.
Kaitlyn’s brother isn’t crazy. He’s missing. Taken by fairies and replaced with a changeling replica.
Kaitlyn just learned that her brother has been replaced by a fairy changeling, so where is her real brother?
Kaitlyn wants to find her brother, who was taken captive by fairies, but the fairy warrior she has found to take her into the fae world has a mission of his own.
Could you abandon your life, your friends, your family, to find your missing brother?
Kaitlyn has a problem. Her brother has been replaced with a fairy changeling.

I narrowed these down to four:

Would you break the law to save a life?
Kaitlyn’s brother isn’t crazy. He’s missing. Taken by fairies and replaced with a changeling replica.
Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn has a secret. Her brother is a fairy changeling.
One missing teenage boy. One missing fairy princess. One epic problem.

I felt like since Drake is the main character for the first part of them book, the tagline should be his, rather than Kaitlyn's. For now, I'm going with this one (though I might change my mind later on):

Would you break the law to save a life?



Part Two: Write a short summary of the story. Try to include the following information in your summary. You don't have to keep these things in this order, nor must you use all of these. It's important to at least introduce us to your character, show what they want, what they're up against, how it's going to get worse, and mention the stakes. Also, if you need two-three paragraphs for this part, that's okay.

●What is your main character's name? Jason, Piper, Brielle, Levi, Miri . . .

●What is your main character's role in the story? - Give the reader an identifier like a profession or role: knight, journalist, teacher, high school volleyball player, princess, engineer, dragon, etc. And if the book is about a kid, you might also give their age.

Here is an example from my book Captives: "When eighteen-year-old Levi returned from . . . "

●Where is your main character? - It's often good to mention a location, whether that's a city and/or state or the name of your fantasy world. Readers want to know where the story is going to take place. For example:

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "High on the slopes of Mount Eskel." 

From Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: ". . . in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago."  

From Shannon Dittemore's Angel Eyes: ". . . shabby little Stratus, Oregon."

Rick Riordan's Lost Hero: ". . . the Wilderness School, a boarding school for 'bad kids.'"

●What is your main character choosing or being forced to achieve? - Share the story goal or your character's goal. Tell the reader why your character is on this journey. Here are some examples:

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "Then word comes from the lowlands: the king's priests have divined that the prince's bride-to-be—the next princess—will come from Mount Eskel. The prince himself will travel to the village to choose his bride, but first all eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal lowlander life."

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets instead of magic. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake. Only one young faery—Knife—is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back."

●What is standing in your main character's way? - This is the conflict in your story. Who or what is trying to stop your hero from achieving his or her goal?

From Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: "When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she is willing to dig, how much she should reveal . . . "

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "At the school, Miri finds herself confronting both bitter competition among the girls and her own conceited desires to be chosen."

●What will happen if your main character fails? - What are the stakes?

Continued from Stephanie Morrill's Lost Girl of Astor Street: ". . . and if she's willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of truth."

From Andrew Klavan's Last Thing I Remember: "And more to the point . . . how is he going to get out of this room alive?"

●Use conjunctions to show a change in the action. - Words like: but, however, yet, when, otherwise, as a result, still, on the other hand, instead, finally, meanwhile, etc.

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she realizes."

From Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: "Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri . . . who must find a way to save her classmates."

From Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl: "Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different."

●End with another hook, one that leaves the reader wondering what will happen. - Give us a cliffhanger.

From R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels: "Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?"

From my book Captives: "Will Mason uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Lands' facade before it is too late?

From Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember: "For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness at bay. But now the lights are beginning to flicker . . ."

Part Three: Sell it! This is where you put on your marketing hat and pretend you work for the author. This is where you write things that might feel a bit pretentious. But you need your product to sound intriguing. You want the reader to want to read it. Right now. This final paragraph can include several of the following, but the first one is essential:

Tell them why they will want to read (and will like) this book. This can be done in many ways.

1. You could give the facts: "Onyx Eyes is the first book in a new YA fantasy series from award-winning author Jill Williamson." If readers like YA fantasy and/or books by me, then they'll be interested.

2. You could hint at the genre like in this example from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: "Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave enough to try." This tells us we're going to read a teen romance, and if the reader likes teen romance, she's in.

3. You could use genre words like in this example from Rick Riordan's Lost Hero: "Best-selling author Rick Riordan has pumped up the action, humor, suspense, and mystery in an epic adventure that will leave readers panting for the next installment."

4. Use the "If you liked THIS BOOK, then you'll love THAT BOOK.

If you liked R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels, then you'll love Onyx Eyes.

This can also be done using genre words: "If you like dangerous quests, a little romance, and fantasy worlds filled with dragons, then you’ll love Jill Williamson’s fantastic new adventure."

"Blending romance, family drama, and fascinating historical detail, The Apothecary's Daughter is a novel to savor and share."

5. Use a combination of facts and genres. For example:

"New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson beautifully re-imagines The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm into a medieval tale of adventure, loss, and love."

"Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win."

Use figures of speech (hyperbole) to get the reader excited. Just don't lie and say your book is epic or funny if it's really not. And don't overdo the hyperbole. A little goes a long way. Here is a list of phrases to give you an idea:

-If you like non-stop action . . .
-BOOK TITLE is a heart-pounding thrill ride . . .
-A powerful retelling . . .
-Time is running out.
-You'll get lost in the action.
-. . . of epic proportions.
-As the nightmare increases . . .
-A first-rate adventure.
-Even as danger mounts . . .
-In this poignant romance . . .
-. . . the shocking truth is revealed
-This breathtaking . . .
-Join old and new friends from in this . . .
-The thrilling conclusion to . . .
-The long-awaited final book in the . . .

Here are a few other tips.
-Read back cover copies in your genre to see how they do it. This will inspire you with ideas.
-Don't tell the reader everything. Be careful not to spoil your story by writing too much on the back cover. You shouldn't give us more than the first 25% of the story.
-Use the right voice for your story and audience. If your book is funny, so should your back cover copy be. If your book is horror, scare us. If you're writing for teens, use language that will interest teens. If you're writing romance, tell us about the guy and the girl.
-Read your back cover copy out loud to check for sentence flow and word choice.
-If you're self-publishing, you might also want to add a fourth paragraph with a call to action, urging the reader to buy the book. For example: "Buy Onyx Eyes by Jill Williamson and join the adventure today."

So here is the rough draft of my back cover copy for Onyx Eyes. Once I have the book finished, I will likely need to change some things, but this will work for now. 

Would you break the law to save a life?

When Princess AyannaRynn goes missing, the Grounder king gives Captain Alston FoyleDrake until the next moon to find her. Convinced the Aerials have taken her, Drake uses onyx to cast a forbidden bonding spell with a dragon so he can grow wings. This is the only way he can impersonate an Aerial and find out where they took the princess.

Drake’s search leads him and his dragon to a place called Idaho in the human realm. There he finds a changeling slave, who had been impersonating a teenage boy. Drake takes the changeling’s place. The bonding spell is starting to cause him pain, and he is so preoccupied with his search that Kaitlyn, the human boy’s sister, overhears the dragon use Drake’s true name. She commands Drake to take her back to his realm and help her find her brother. 

Drake doesn’t have time for human games, but the girl controls him now. The sooner he finds the girl’s brother, the sooner he can find the princess. Unless Kaitlyn chooses to enslave him forever.

If you like adventure, romance, and fantasy worlds filled with magic and dragons, then you’ll love Onyx Eyes, the first book in a new YA fantasy series from award-winning author Jill Williamson.

Your turn! See if you can cobble together a three-paragraph back cover copy for your story and share it in the comments.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How To Craft High Impact Scenes For Your Stories (Part Two)



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920s 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 free books on her author website.




Last week, I talked about crafting high impact scenes and how as writers we tend to ask, "What is going to happen in this next scene?" when the better questions are:

  • Because of what happened in the previous scene, what will my character choose to do now?
  • What is this character's plan or goal coming into this scene?
  • What obstacle stands in my character's way? How is their expectation foiled?
  • What decision does my character make as a result?
  • What is the outcome of my character's decision?

But we don’t want our stories to be action, action, action. Even if your genre is thriller or adventure, you still need to build in moments where your character has time to react to what is happening around them.



You may have heard this taught, as I have, as writing in “Scenes and Sequels,” with scenes being the action part and sequels being the slow-down-and-react part. I’ve always found this teaching very confusing.

What does work for my brain is to think about providing opportunities for my character to process the decision they just made. Usually, the amount of processing time corresponds with how big the obstacle or decision was in the last scene.

The next question going on our list is, “Does my character need time to process what has just happened?”

Going back to my example from Within These Lines, Evalina made a gutsy decision by deciding to go uninvited to Taichi’s hometown. Neither of their families know about the true nature of their relationship. Evalina has never been to his home, nor has she ever called him, for fear that they would be found out.

This is a very big decision that she made, and I chose for some of her processing to happen offstage. It’s implied in the opening of her next scene that she spent the ferry ride over thinking through what to do now.

I could have chosen to show that, but one thing about these kinds of reaction/processing scenes is that a little goes a long way. Hanging out with Evalina while she’s sitting on a ferry and contemplating the possible ripple effects her decision might have can get boring fast, so I chose to show none of it.

In Donald Maass’s Writing The Breakout Novel, and in all the workshops he teaches, he rails against “In the kitchen drinking tea” scenes, which is what these kinds of processing moments can too often turn into. He says:
“They are a pause, a marking of time, if not a waste of time. They do not do anything. They do not take us anywhere. They do not raise questions or make us tense or worried. No wonder they do not hold my attention.”
There are many ways we can have our characters “sit around and drink tea,” and it felt to me like to have a scene where Evalina sits on a ferry and stresses out would be one of them. So instead I have her on the phone with a friend:

“Evalina, you have flipped your wig.” But Gia sounds admiring, not admonishing. “I knew when you finally fell for a boy, you would fall hard, but you seriously took a ferry to Alameda?”
“What else was I supposed to do? He wasn’t at the market this morning, plus these articles in the paper …” I swallow. “I thought maybe his family had been taken.”
“You are so dramatic sometimes. They’re not going to be taken. It’s all voluntary.”
“I don’t think so, Gia.” I twist the cord of the pay phone around my finger. “I think they’ll all be made to go.”
“I still can’t believe you took a ferry to Alameda. What are you going to tell your parents?”
“Hopefully they’ll never know. You’ll cover for me if they call or stop by, right?”
“Of course. I’m meeting Lorenzo for lunch, but I’ll just say you were with us.”
Imaginary lunches with Gia’s on-again off-again boyfriend are the only kind I can tolerate. “Thank you, Gia. I’ll let you know when I’m home.”

In this moment, readers are able to see what kind of thought Evalina has put into this decision. Even though there's movement in the seasonEvalina is on the phone, as opposed to just sitting and thinkingit still feels like a beat of rest for the audience.

There is a great example of this in the movie Tangled. After Rapunzel has sung with the thugs that she has a dream, and the palace guards have come for Flynn, Rapunzel and Flynn escape into the tunnel underneath the Snuggly Duckling. While they are in a tunnel, we have about a minute in which they process what happened.

This slowing down from the action gives us a moment to breathe, and it gives them a moment to bond. To process what happened until learn a bit more about the other. (A few years ago, I wrote a post about How To Build A Romance Thread In Your Story, Tangled Style, if that's something you're interested in.)

So you’ve given your character a moment—whether it’s a paragraph or pages—to process what has happened, survey all their choices and various consequences, and feel all the feels.

The next question is basically, What now? What decision is born out of the reaction time?

Sometimes it’s a deepening in the relationships, like Evalina. She chooses to trust Gia with what she’s really doing, partly because she needs a cover story.

In Tangled, during the processing scene, after seeing how Rapunzel held her ground in the Snuggly Duckling, Flynn has a greater respect for her and has become interested in who she is. He chooses to ask her questions.

Sometimes reaction moments take up an entire scene, particularly in heist novels or movies. A heist will go awry, and then we’ll have a scene where the whole crew is sitting in a room debating the various choices and consequences.

Regardless of how long your reaction sequence is, this is a great opportunity for you to show your reader what your character is motivated by, and why they are making this particular decision.

This also leads beautifully into the next plan of action or scene goal, because after the reflection, they’ll be making a new decision.

So here is a compiled list of all the questions:




  • Because of what happened in the previous scene, what will my character choose to do now?
  • What is this character's plan or goal coming into this scene?
  • What obstacle stands in my character's way? How is their expectation of what will happen foiled?
  • What decision does my character make as a result?
  • What is the outcome of my character's decision?
  • Does my character need time to process and react to what has happened?
  • If so, what is the decision born out of his processing time?


What’s really fun is that once you understand these natural pattern, then you are able to mix and match how you put together your scenes.

Scene one could be your character setting out to achieve a goal, and it might end with their expectation being foiled.

Scene two could show the decision they make and the outcome of that decision.

Scene three could be processing, making a decision, and pursuing a new scene goal.

Scene four could be pursuing the new scene goal, having their expectations foiled, and then trying to process this new obstacle.

See how it's all happening in order, just being split in different ways? Arranging the structure of your scenes is like arranging your individual sentences. If you use the exact same sentence structure every time, your prose becomes very boring. Beautiful writing comes from sentences being arranged in all different kinds of ways, and the same is true for building your scenes. If every scene begins with the character having a plan, the plan getting spoiled, and them making a resulting decision, your story will quickly take on a mechanical feel.

What is your favorite scene in your manuscript? Tell us about it!

Friday, April 20, 2018

How to Identify and Correct Info Dumps

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

For a writer, beginning a new story is magical. You have all these ideas assaulting your imagination. Ideas about the storyworld and this fantastic new magic system you're designing. Ideas about your characters, their personalities, and the events that happened long ago that have shaped who they are now.

At the beginning of the process, your energy is high and the information you have to share with your reader is plentiful. These are good things, but be careful.

Readers want a story that will whisk them away to another time and place. A story that will challenge them and entertain. Characters who will inspire and enrage. Readers are trusting you to be a skilled conductor, introducing new melodies at the appropriate time and weaving in depth and history and context with restraint. Readers do not want a bunch of information dumped onto their laps.

So, let's talk about it.



An info dump is a hefty dose of information presented to the reader all at once. Info dumps can show up in both narration and dialogue and are super easy to spot. Here, I'll show you:

Narration


Maxwell isn't an ordinary boy. He's seven feet tall and instead of the standard buck teeth most children his age have, he has a pair of neon green fangs. His favorite movie is the Goonies, which would be perfectly normal if he didn't prefer to watch it in reverse order. He cuts the toes off the front of his boots so his toes have room to breathe. It's a trick he learned from his father who is just an inch or two taller than Max but has red hair and gray eyes.


Dialogue


"This is Maxwell," Dad said, tousling his red hair as his gray eyes sparkled. "He likes the Goonies too, but it's the darndest thing. He likes to watch the movie in reverse order. And watch out for his feet. He wouldn't thank you for stepping on those bare toes of his. He has to cut the toes off his shoes to give his little piggies room to breathe."

Now, in certain contexts this information might be entertaining. It might even work in a middle grade novel where younger readers need a bit more telling to set the scene, but as a way to share information with a reader, it falls into the category of DUMPY.

Info dumps aren't entirely bad and they can be a handy tool in your tool box if you use them sparingly. But most of the time, they signify lazy writing. In the example above, wouldn't it be much more interesting to show the reader a scene with Maxwell cutting the toes off his new shoes? Maybe bumping his head on a doorway as he goes in search of the movie Goonies? Wouldn't it accomplish more to paint a picture of Maxwell as a scene moves the story forward?

Of course it would!

Here are some tips for weaving important information into your story:


1. Less is more. If you're looking to slip a little info to your reader, stick with just a sentence or two. Any more and you're venturing close to dumpy. Any more and you risk boring your reader.

2. Voice matters. Certain voices can get away with info dumps, especially if the info dump serves more than one purpose. If it reveals traits about your character that the reader desperately wants, you might have some leeway, but so much comes down to the voice of your narrator. Consider the nasally voice of Ben Stein. It's hilarious in small doses, but if we had to listen to him explain the politics of a storyworld, we might just fall asleep. That is NOT what we want readers to be doing when they open our books.

3. Spread things out. Just because you, the author, came up with all this information at the beginning of the writing process, does not mean your reader needs all of it at the beginning of his reading experience. Info dumps are particularly dangerous early on in your story. The reader is not invested in the characters or the adventure. You risk losing them before they get to the fun stuff if you're not careful.

4. Consider relevance. Ask yourself, "Does this bit of info matter?" And then ask yourself, "Does it matter right now?" We have a tendency to dump everything about a certain topic into one big paragraph or section. Instead, give the reader only what they need in order to make sense of the action. Information should almost always be learned as a scene plays itself out.

5. Embrace your art. Your goal shouldn't be to simply inform the reader. You are creating a piece of art. So, do it well. Work at your craft. Important details should be woven into scenes, one thread at a time. Don't just chuck the ball of yarn at your readers. They won't have a clue which threads are important or how they fit together. YOU ARE THIS STORY'S CREATOR. If there are important details that the reader must know, take the time to sculpt a scene to show off those vital facets of your world or character. Do the work of a committed artist.

TIP: Oftentimes when I'm participating in word sprints or simply writing to discover what my story's about, I end up with some sizeable info dumps. When I return to these sections, if I like the concepts presented, I use these very TELLING paragraphs as writing prompts. In early drafts, certainly in your first draft of a novel, info dumps are perfectly acceptable ways to tell yourself the story. But, upon reflection, you must find a way to integrate the ideas you've developed into scenes that move the story forward. That's what a reader will expect.

Tell me, do you struggle with info dumps? What kind of information to you have a tendency to dump on the reader? Have you come up with any fixes for this problem? Share them with us!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How Do You Define Your Reader?

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). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Part of putting together a pitch for a story means knowing who that story is for. You can narrow this down by genre, age group, and sometimes even by gender. I'd like to recommend that you get even more specific.

When I write a book, there is usually at least one real person I'm writing it for--whether or not that person ever reads it. This is a person who might have inspired the story in some way or someone I think would really like it. Here is a Storyworld Short video I made to talk more about this topic.




The imaginary readers I talked about I also blogged about on Go Teen Writers several years ago in a post titled "Who is Your Target Reader?" Here is a link to that post if you want to take a closer look.

How about you? How do you define your target reader? Do you have a broad idea of who you are writing for or someone particular in mind?

Share in the comments.



Monday, April 16, 2018

How To Craft High Impact Scenes for Your Stories (Part One)



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920s 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 free books on her author website.


Two pieces of exciting news! The first is that Go Teen Writers was included in Writer's Digest's list of 101 Best Websites for Writers! 


This is the second year that we've made this list, and we are so delighted by that honor. We also know it's really YOU GUYS and the community that you've worked to build here and on Facebook that have made Go Teen Writers what it is. So, thank you!





The other exciting news is that in about a month (May 15th) we're going to hold another 100-for-100 writing challenge! Many of you have been asking for us to host another of these, and I wanted you to have time to put it on your calendar. If you're not familiar with it, the 100-for-100 is a challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days. More details will be coming!

Let's get going on our topic of the day, which is scenes! (I'll try to stop speaking in exclamation marks now.)

When you write a novel, scenes are your building blocks. There is no one-size-fits-all for scenes. Some might be 500 words and others 2,500. You might have three scenes within a chapter. You might have one in a chapter.

Some writers like to start a scene in the present, jump back to the past for a bit to catch up the reader, and then return to the present. Sarah Dessen does this quite masterfully. Some start with dialogue, and others with description, almost like an establishing shot in a movie. You'll hear writing teachers say that all scenes need a beginning, middle, and ending, or that every scene needs a hook.

All these different styles and suggestions can make the question, "How do I write great scenes?" a bit confusing. 



I will go ahead and say now then I often write my scenes by instinct rather than planning out the structure ahead of time. Even so, I still make a lot of decisions about my scenes, whether I'm actively thinking about them or not. I bet you are too.

Let's examine what some of those decisions are. If you're the charting, outliney sort of writer, you can use this list to brainstorm scenes before you write them. Sometimes that's what I do. But you can also use this as a checklist of sorts when you are editing, which is what I more often do. A way to kick the tires and make sure everything is as it should be.

Often the misguided question we asked as writers is, "What is going to happen in this next scene?" 

Writing a story using this question will likely give you a book that feels more like a list of things that happen than an actual, cohesive story. Another symptom of asking this question is your characters decisions might feel "off" or mismatched from their motivations.

The question that I think is better is, "Because of what happened in the previous scene, what will my character choose to do now?"

If we want our characters to come across as thinking, feeling, logically motivated people, then this is the much better question. The story's progression will feel more organic when you use the, "Because of this, now that," approach to your scenes.

There is also an implied question here, of, "Whose point of view should this scene be told in?"

If you are writing a single point of view story, then this is an easy one! But if you are writing a story from multiple points of view, then this is a good one to ask.

Typically, we want to write our scenes from the perspective of the character who has the most at stake. Who is the most vulnerable in this scene? Who could lose the most? Who could gain the most? These are the kinds of questions you want to ask if you are trying to figure out who gets to tell this scene.

Going back to our, "Because of this, now that" question, in a multiple perspective book we may not be speaking literally about the last scene. If this point of view character knows nothing of what just happened, then we need to think from the perspective of the last scene this character was in.

The next question I think we should ask is, "What is this character's plan or goal coming into this scene? What are they trying to make happen?"

It's possible they have a goal completely unrelated to what happens in the actual scene. Maybe their goal is to take their dog for a quick walk around the block, but then on the walk they are robbed at gunpoint.

But most of your scenes should have your point of view character who has something they want, and they are actively trying to obtain it, but then something gets in the way.

Let's look at an example from my World War II era historical, Within These Lines.

Early in the book, Evalina goes to the farmer's market to see Taichi. That is her goal in this scene, only when she arrives, he's not there.

This is the obstacle, which is your next question, "What obstacle stands in my character's way?" Or another helpful way to think of it can be, "How is my character's expectation foiled? What surprises them along the way?"

So now that Evalina has seen Taichi is not where she expected him to be, she gets to make a decision, which is my favorite question to answer. "What decision does my character make as a result?"

They can act, or they can choose to not act, but them making a decision is critical to your scene working. (For more on this, read my post 2 Ways To Be Sure Your Scene Really Matters)

Going back to my example from Within These Lines, Evalina could have chosen to not act in several ways. She could have just gone home. She could have complained to a friend. She could have decided that she would ask Taichi about it the next time they saw each other.

Likewise, there were many options for how she could act. She could find a phone booth and call him, or ask around the market to see if any mutual friends knew where he was.

But because Evalina is a bold sort, and because she is very afraid for Taichi, I felt she needed to make a big, showy decision. I decided that she would get on a ferry and go to his house. Not only does it fit her, which is important, but it feels interesting. Which is rather critical in writing a compelling story.

While there are no official rules for what kind of decision your character should make, having them make an interesting decision will go a long way toward crafting an interesting scene. The decision should still be logical, and it should make sense for who the character is and the circumstances around them, but it needs to be interesting.

Lastly (for today, anyway) we need to ask, "What is the outcome of my character's decision?"

Sometimes we don't fully explore the outcome until the following scene, so it might be that you close your scene by hinting at the outcome or resulting disaster, but with just a sentence or two. With the scene from Within These Lines, I ended the scene with Evalina's decision after she has talked to several others at the market and found they don't know where Taichi's family is:

Mrs. Ling holds out a beautiful naval orange, round and bold. “Share this with your friend. May it bring you both good luck.”
The market doesn’t officially open for a few more minutes, but San Franciscans already mill about the rows of tables, haggling over prices of the first spring vegetables. The men who stole the Hamasakis’ spot chat with customers, and the sight makes my chest burn.
I put the orange in my basket and pedal along the street. The fog has thinned, but my thoughts are hazy with anger. 
At the ferry ticket booth, I pull coins from my handbag and place them on the counter. “When does the boat leave for Alameda?”

I cut the scene off there, which makes for a very easy way for me to know what scene should come next. The question becomes, "Because of Evalina impulsively deciding to take a ferry to Taichi's hometown, what will she choose next?"

If you are looking for ways to surprise readers or add plot twists, try examining the way your characters expectations are foiled and the resulting decisions that they make. If your character is making logical but surprising decisions, and they are having logical but surprising outcomes, then your reader will be surprised ... but not in a way that makes them doubt the plausibility..

Next Monday, I'm going to talk about slowing down the action for moment's of reaction, and the questions we need to ask when writing those scenes.

Take a look at an active scene you've written recently, and apply the questions raised today:

Because of what happened in the previous scene, what will my character choose to do now?
What is this character's plan or goal coming into this scene?
What obstacle stands in my character's way? How is their expectation foiled?
What decision does my character make as a result?
What is the outcome of my character's decision?

Did your scene naturally have all those elements? What, if any, changes will you make?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Lost Girl of Astor Street ebook is just .99 today!

If you love books AND bargains, then today is a great day! My 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, is just .99! These flash sales never last long, so make sure to get your copy today.






and wherever else you can buy ebooks!

About The Lost Girl of Astor Street:

Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.


From the glitzy homes of the elite to the mob-run streets of 1920s Chicago, Stephanie Morrill’s jazz-age mystery shows just how far a girl will go to save her friend.

Friday, April 13, 2018

How to Craft the Perfect Opening Scene

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Story openings are crucial! First chapters determine whether or not a reader will stick around for the meat of your stories. It's vital we get this first scene right, isn't it?

BUT HOW?

How do you create the perfect opening scene?

As part of our Grow An Author series, I've explained that once I've created a list of possible story elements, I simply choose one that might work as an opening and I begin my drafting from there. At some point though, a decision must be made about whether or not the scene is a good one. I usually make that call while writing my working synopsis. For me this document will act as my outline.

Because there are so many different plot types out there, you won't hear me say there's only one way to make an opening scene successful, but I'd like to take you through the things I look for when deciding if I've chosen the correct moment in which to start my story.



Ask yourself these questions:

Does this scene introduce my storyworld as compelling?

When selecting an opening scene, you're looking for a moment that will give the reader a compelling glimpse into your storyworld. Even if your storyworld is the contemporary world we inhabit, you need to find the perfect corner of it to share with the reader. It doesn't need to be the most important setting in the story or the most idyllic, but it should be a location that gives the reader an idea of what it is to live and breathe and move in this place.

Does this scene introduce a protagonist worth getting to know?

Openings are all about the protagonist. The first scene doesn't have to showcase your protagonist's finest moment, but it does need to introduce you to him or her in a way that has the reader excited or at least intensely curious about this character. Readers are not going to flip page after page to follow a flat protagonist. If your first scene leaves readers with that impression of him or her, you've likely lost them.

Does this scene give readers a hint of what's to come?

In the best openings, there is an almost prophetic quality to the words. In the first scene of Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse, we're introduced to the female protagonist, Kestrel. She's the daughter of the General and part of the wealthy ruling class. We see her gambling at cards with a group of sailors and then we watch as her emotions get the best of her and she purchases a slave against her better judgment. She's won the auction, but lost in some way that she can't quite define. As readers, we are keen to wonder what the consequences of this action will be. Once you've read the book through to completion, you realize just how perfectly chosen this first moment was.

Does this scene have its own arc?

Like every other scene in your story, there should be a rise and fall to this introductory scene. It should, in a pace appropriate to your story, climb to a high point. This high point is the purpose of the entire scene. For example, if my scene is going to be about Bob having his phone stolen, that moment, that action, is the high point. If it's about him realizing his phone is stolen, the realization is the high point. So, you really need to know WHY this scene exists. It can't just be a fun, throwaway scene; it must advance the plot. The scene itself needs to climb to its purpose and then end with something to keep the reader coming back: perhaps a revelation, reversal or turning point.


Once you've decided that yes, this scene is THE PERFECT WAY to open your story, you have one more thing to ensure:


Does this scene start with a hook?

Your first sentence is one of the most important sentences of the entire story, if not THE most important sentence. It must hook the reader. Here are some fantastic ways to do that:

1. Make your readers curious. Prompt them with a question:

The first sentence of Nadine Brandes's A Time To Die
There was a time when only God knew the day you'd die.

This sentence makes me extremely curious! It makes me want to ask, "Well, who knows now?"

2. Show off the unique voice of your narrator.

The first sentence of Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs aint got nothing much to say.

The first narrator in this book is an uneducated boy named Todd. His voice is strikingly different from the voice of Violet, the story's second narrator and this first sentence introduces him in a starkly compelling way.

3. Establish a tone.

The first two sentences of Janet Fitch's White Oleander
The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Only the oleanders survived, their delicate poisonous blooms, their dagger green leaves.

Sometimes your opening hook isn't a single sentence. Sometimes it takes two or three to accomplish what you intend and that's okay. These two sentences do a lot of heavy lifting, which is another sign of a great opening. Here we learn the narrator's location and the time of year. We are also drawn in immediately by the tone of the storyteller's voice. There's something dangerous about this story. We've only read a handful of words, but we can already tell.

4. Drop your readers into the middle of a scene.

The first two sentences of Marie Rutkostki's The Winner's Curse
 She shouldn't have been tempted. This is what Kestrel thought as she swept the sailors' silver off the impromptu gaming table set up in the corner of the market. 

Starting right in the middle of a character's thoughts and action is a great way to pull readers along with you. There's no lead-up; we're just there. We're involved. And while you don't need to start with a fight scene, even small actions beg to be watched. 

I've given you a lot to think about today and now I'm wondering your thoughts on story openings. Is there an opening scene that has stuck with you long after you closed the book? An opening scene that hooked you and had you dying to know what happened next?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Writing a Synopsis- Jill's Method

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). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.


I know both Stephanie and Shannon have written posts on how to write a synopsis, but I'm now at the point in my drafting process when I do this for myself. So today I'm going to share with you my method for writing a synopsis, and perhaps some of you will glean something new from my approach.

I'm at the point in my author career that if I was hoping to sell Onyx Eyes to a publisher, I'd go ahead and pitch it. Since I'm a multi-published author, I have enough contacts within the industry to try and sell a story without actually writing the full story first. Most editors want to see a few sample chapters and a synopsis. That's usually enough for them to take the idea to their publishing board. Some might ask for a book proposal, which I'll talk about in a couple weeks. I've earned the chance to submit stories this way from nine years of publishing books consistently, having them sell well, and earning some awards.

I likely couldn't get away with this, though, if I didn't have an agent to pitch for me. And there is always the chance that I might approach a new publisher or editor I haven't worked with before who will want to read my full story before going to bat for me. So I never really know. Each situation is different. But for the sake of giving you my process, at this stage, if I wanted to work with a traditional publisher on Onyx Eyes, I might try and sell the story now. To do this I would need to give my agent a synopsis.

Now, I also want to point out that every agent is different, as is every publishing house. So while some might want a synopsis, others might now. When you're ready, be flexible and do what you need to do to get your work seen by editors.

I used to create synopses in an entirely different way (click here to read that method). That way still works, and I'm not opposed to using that method from time to time, especially if I need a synopsis in a hurry. Since I rarely have need to rush out a synopsis, I've come to use my new method because it's pretty much halfway done already. Allow me to explain.

First of all, for those of you who don't already know, a synopsis is a one- to two-page, single spaced document that tells an overview of your story and usually accompanies a submission to an agent or editor. Sometimes an agent will want only one page. Some might ask for a longer, five-page synopsis. Give them exactly what they want.


A synopsis should cover the main events and plot twists as they happen. It should also introduce the main characters and give the ending. It is very important to include the ending! This is not the time to be mysterious or worry about spoilers. The purpose of a synopsis is for an agent or editor to see that you can plot a compelling story from beginning to end. They don’t have time to request a manuscript they aren’t already convinced will be good. So you have to give the ending. That's just how this works.






My new method of plotting has streamlined my synopsis process. If you take a peek back at the post I wrote a few weeks back on How to Plot Your Story and Create a Loose Outline, you'll see that my outline  makes a decent rough draft of a synopsis. Here is a few paragraphs of how that looked:

Prologue - (KAITLYN POINT OF VIEW) - Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn's best friend recently disappeared. Now her brother, Quinn, is acting CRAZY. She wants to figure out what is going on.
PART ONE: Glasderry
1 - Setup (Hero in his ordinary world, not yet living his dream) - (DRAKE POV) - Drake, a Grounder knight, has been engaged to Princess AyannaRynn for years, but when a royal contingent from the enemy Aerial kingdom comes to court, the Grounder king annouces that his daughter will marry the pompous Aerial prince SuelAlefric. Drake is furious. Later he visits Ayanna, but neither of them know what to do.
2 - Turning Point #1: Opportunity - (DRAKE POV) - That night, Princess Ayanna goes missing. Drake is accused, and the Grounder king gives him five days to find her or take the blame. Drake confronts the king about his promise to allow Drake and Ayanna to marry. The king says that peace is more important than promises made years ago. Drake starts his investigation. Clues lead to the Aerials, but Drake cannot go undercover in Aerial territory without wings, and he is not a strong enough stonecaster to know such magic.
3 - Stage II: New Situation - (DRAKE POV) - Drake goes to visit Tulak, the Old One who took him in after his mother abandoned him as a child. Drake asks what spell might give him wings. Tulak says that only using onyx to bond with a winged creature could accomplish such a thing, but that is the darkest of magic and forbidden. Drake considers Tulak's warning, but his mind is made up. He would do anything to find the princess.


To turn this into a synopsis, I need to take out all the headings, add sentences for clarity, and streamline the prose so it flows like a story. Also, with synopses, here are a couple ground rules:

1. Synopses are always written in third person, present tense, even if the story is not. This is just how it's done. I'm not saying you can't try it a different way, but do so at your own risk.

2. It's customary to put a character's name in all caps the first time you use it in a synopsis.

3. Synopses are single spaced with 12-point font. Indent to 0.5.

3.  Use as few characters as possible. Just don't mention some of the side characters.

4. It's also helpful to leave out as much storyworld jargon as possible.

The point is to show you have an intriguing story without confusing the reader. Keeping things simple for the synopsis, even if your story is intensely complex, is the best way to do that. Here is the first part of my synopsis, edited from my outline:

          Sixteen-year-old KAITLYN PETERSON'S best friend recently disappeared. Vanished from her own bed without a trace. Now Kaitlyn's brother, QUINN, is acting crazy, and she doesn't know if he's on drugs or simply losing his mind. Though life in Meridian, Idaho seems to be falling apart, Kaitlyn will not rest until she figures out what is going on.
          In the Fae realm, DRAKE, the Grounder captain of the guard, is standing watch in the great hall when PRINCESS AYANNA enters. They share a secret smile. They are in love and hope to marry soon. The princess takes her seat just as the Aerial court arrives. Drake is nervous about this night. The Aerials and the Grounders have been enemies for centuries. There have been talks of peace between the kings of both realms, but Drake has his doubts it will work. The Aerials enter, including the pompous PRINCE SUEL. At the end of the meal, the Grounder king makes an announcement. To ensure peace between the Aerial and Grounder realms, the two kings have decided that Prince Suel and Princess Ayanna will marry. Drake is furious. Later that night he visits Ayanna, but neither of them know what to do.
          Drake is awakened in the night by men of his guard, who inform him that Princess Ayanna is missing. He rushes to investigate but finds no sign of a struggle. The Grounder king summons Drake and accuses him of helping Ayanna hide from a marriage to Prince Suel. Drake denies this. The king says that if Drake doesn't find Ayanna and bring her home before the blue moon, he will be arrested. Drake continues his investigation. Clues point to the Aerials, but Drake cannot go undercover in Aerial territory without wings, and he is not a strong enough stonecaster to know such magic.
          Drake goes to visit TULAK, the Old One who took him in after his mother abandoned him as a child. He hasn't been "home" in far too long, but Tulak greets him as if he had never left. Drake shares news of the missing princess and asks what spell might give him wings. Tulak informs Drake that only bonding with a winged creature could accomplish such a thing, but that it is the darkest kind of magic and forbidden. Drake considers Tulak's warning, but his mind is made up. He must find the princess, no matter the cost.

You get the idea.

I would continue, one paragraph at a time, to write out the full synopsis until I was happy with it, then I would work hard to pare it down so that it fit onto two pages--or one, if that was the request. That can be hard work. Focus on only what is necessary to the bare-bones story, and you'll be able to fit it all on one page. I promise. I know because I've done it many times (after hours of hard work). You can do it too!

A couple things to note:

Though my fairies have names like AlstonFoyledrake, AyannaRynn, and SuelAlefric, I chose to simplify their names for the synopsis. I kept the terms Grounder and Aerials, but I didn't give the name of Kaitlyn's friend, either king, or either kingdom. I had to add mention of Meridian, Idaho and the fae realm, so that the reader would understand that Kaitlyn was living in everyday earth and Drake was not. Also, in the prologue, Kaitlyn never really thinks her world is falling apart, but I needed a sentence that would neatly wrap up that paragraph. You can fudge details in a synopsis in order to smoothly tell the story. No one is going to call you on such things. But if you say that Kaitlyn falls in love with Drake in the synopsis, you'd better have that happen in the story. The point is to be aware that what you include in the synopsis sets up the correct expectations for your readers.

Any questions on writing a synopsis? Have you written many? What is your process?