Monday, September 30, 2013

Go Teen Writers Survey

In the Go Teen Writers newsletter, I mentioned that during the month of October, Jill and I will be taking a week off. We're doing this to recharge our blogging batteries, and to determine what we're doing well and what needs changing.

If you feel like it, we would really appreciate you taking the time to fill out this brief, anonymous survey. This will help us as we make decisions about what's important and what is not.

Thank you!

Stephanie

Friday, September 27, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the History

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

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

I enjoy studying history, and our world has a fascinating one. So should yours.

Be careful, though. You only need enough history to tell your story. This is something many fantasy writers overdo when they slip huge sections of history into their book or have a "historical" prologue. I advise against both. It's best to work in your history in ways that fit the story.

CREATE A TIMELINE
When I started my first fantasy novel, I didn't know how to go about creating a history, and I wanted to make it simple. So I wrote a timeline of my land. And, really, it's a timeline of only one group of people (Kinsman), starting when they arrived in the land and ending at the current day of my book.

I started with the year 0 and went up to the year 585, when Prince Gidon would turn sixteen. I used MS Word, and went down in a line and typed a number for every ten years. Then I added kings' birth's, coronations, and deaths, and I also added in some random wars, the discovery of new places, when a certain palace was built---whatever I thought might be worth remembering.

WRITE IT OUT
Click to explore Er'Rets
Another thing I did was write out a brief historical narrative for my land that included key events. It's two pages long. I did this for my own knowledge so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. You can read it by clicking here. (Keep in mind, I wrote it for me, so I never edited it. *grin*) And if you click on the map, it will take you to the large map where you can click on all my different cities and read stuff about them. Some of it is historical, some of it isn't. But all this came about from my storyworld creation time. And none of this went in my book, at least not the actual histories I wrote.

DON'T USE IT?
That's right. Fight the urge to cut and paste whatever cool histories you may have created. Instead, tell your character's story. The history will come out if and when it needs to. Here are a few of the places I used my history in the actual books:
-Achan learns early on that he is Kinsman, a certain type of people.
-Achan and Vrell meet giants, Poroo people, and wolves, all of which were creatures that I created when I wrote my historical narrative.
-When Achan reaches the memorial tree in Allowntown, he thinks about the murder of the king and queen and the curse of darkness on the land.
-Throughout the book the reader is given different bits and pieces of the story of how the prince came to live with Lord Nathak.
-I have characters talk about the Great War here and there in the book.

The other times are very similar. Short and sweet, mostly. I don't use a lot of the history in the actual book, but without having written it, I wouldn't have had a foundation from which to create.

USE THE FOUNDATION
I already had a map with lots of locations. Now my history and map combined gave me a lot to work with. I had places that meant something. I knew why certain characters lived where they did. I knew where I needed them to go. I knew who would stand in opposition to them. And I knew what surprises might lie in wait as they traveled. If I got stuck, I'd think about where they were on the map and ask myself if there was something I could do with the area or the history of that place. And most of the time, my options were clear.

TIPS FOR CREATING HISTORY
-Start with a timeline
-Write a one to two-page historical narrative
-Consider rulers, changes of regime, wars, and other major world events

Don't spend too long on this! A little goes a long way, and you can always stop writing and create more history if you need to. Remember, you're writing a book, not a historical tomb. Still, who better to consult the art of a historical storyworld than Tolkien? Check out this timeline of Middle Earth. Pretty sweet, huh?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why is it so hard to find an agent?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

So you've written and edited your book, and you've decided to pursue publication. If you're hoping to sell your book to a big publishing house, one that has a presence in Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores, you will most likely need an agent. There are definitely exceptions, but the majority of published writers get contracts because they have an agent.

By far one of the biggest complaints I hear from aspiring novelists is that they can't find an agent who's interested in representing them. Why is this so difficult, you might ask. Here are a couple factors:
  • Agents only make money when you make money. My agent keeps 15% of what I earn. If I don't earn money, neither does my agent. So an agent has to be careful about which clients they take on because they need clients who will make money for them. This means they can only afford to take on a few unpublished, unproven writers.
  • Agents don't have an endless supply of time which means they can only take on so many clients. There's no set amount of clients that an agent should have, it just depends on their personality. I've heard between 50 and 80 is a good amount, but of course it depends on how long they've been an agent. If you're talking to an agent who already has a very full client list, and who's very happy with all their clients, they might decide they don't have time to invest in you even if they like you and your idea.
  • Many agents (I would venture to say most) don't just care about if they can sell a book. They want to work with people who they enjoy spending time with, they want to like what their clients write, and they want to be apart of books that matter. So ideally they're looking for a writer who they respect as a person and a writer.
Those bullet points can make it seem like too much is stacked against you, but the writers I know who are persistent in their hunt for an agent eventually find one. While there are times that it will seem impossible, it really does happen. Here are the main ways you find an agent:
  • Query letters. This apparently works for some people, though I hardly had any success with it. Here's a link to examples of query letters that sold.
  • Writers conferences. Here's where I had my success, so despite my feelings that I'm an awkward conversationalist, I must make an okay in-person impression. Most writers I know met their agent at a writers conference. Writers conferences provide lots of opportunities for you to connect with agents, through classes, shared meals, and appointments where you can pitch to them in person. Here are a few posts that might be helpful regarding this: Pitching to agents, What Teens Should Know About Pitching Their Book, Elevator Pitches Part One, Elevator Pitches Part Two, How to Get Requests From Agents and Editors (a guest post from teen writer, Leah Good)
  • Contests where the agent is a judge. This one is pretty self-explanatory. I know a couple writers who have entered contests and wound up with agent (or book contract) out of the deal. Typically this happens with the big contests, like for ACFW or RWA or something.
  • Referrals. This is when a published/agented writer recommends you to their agent or an agent they're friends with. Mostly this happens if you're already published.
If you're wondering why in the days of self-publishing you need an agent at all, just this week Chip MacGregor wrote a really great explanation on his blog called Yes, You Need An Agent. Chip is an agent, of course, so there's a bias toward doing business that way, but he's also worked for publishing houses and has been in the biz a long time. On there he articulated something I've felt but haven't figured out how to express about the value in having an agent. He says, "More than anything a good agent looks after your career in difficult times."

Next we'll talk about how you identify agents with whom you could work well!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Simple Way You Can Make Your Next Book Better

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

On Monday I talked about how after you finish writing your book, you have to decide if it's a book you're interested in publishing or if you want to shelve it and pursue another story idea. (There's also the option of self-publishing, a writer brought up, which is true. For simplicity's sake, I'll focus on traditional publishing during this series. If you're curious about my views on teens/new writers and self-publishing, you can read them here.)

Before I talk about agents and the pursuit of publication, though, I want to spend one more day camping out on the whole writing the next book part.

I've said this on here before, but as a young writer, I bounced from story to story quite a bit. If I was bored with one, I abandoned it for a new flashy idea. And when that one became boring, I did it again. I never stopped to figure out why a book idea felt boring or why I couldn't seem to write much more than a chapter or two.



I didn't grow as a writer until I became critical of my own process. When I mustered the courage to look at my failed stories and ask why they had failed. 

The first time I did this, I was 20. At that point, I had written five full novels and one half novel. (There had been countless partial manuscripts over the years as well, but these 5 1/2 are books that I had worked on much more than the others.) At age 20, I stepped back and tried to figure out why those stories felt flat, why the idea hadn't produced a great book.

After some consideration, I noticed they were all stories about me. Not me me, but a variation of me and my life - what if that guy I once liked had actually liked me back? Or another, what if my parents moved me to this awful tiny town in Oklahoma that I hated visiting?

That was when I decided to write a book with a main character whowas completely different from me. The result was a really horrible draft of a book that (after a few complete rewrites) became my debut novel, Me, Just Different.

Because I had taken the time to evaluate what hadn't worked in my old stories, I was able to fix the problem and achieve writing a bigger, better story. I now take time after every story to evaluate what worked and what didn't.


Here's an extremely brief summary of what I've learned during the last five years during my evaluation time:


The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series
This was the first series I had ever written. Even though I'm very pleased with how it turned out (and extremely grateful to my editors who helped me along the way) I could have made life easier on myself if I had:
  • Done some very basic plotting about how the characters would grow over the course of the series.
  • Kept a calendar of events. There were some serious continuity issues in those early drafts!
Before It Begins (unpublished)
Because of how crazy scary it had felt to write the Skylar Hoyt series with no outline, I tried to incorporate a bit of structure to this book. I wrote a synopsis early on and that worked really well for me. I'm sure this book has some problems, but it remains one of my favorite books I've written. I decided to always write synopses for my books as part of my brainstorming process.



The book that became The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet
But in the first draft Chase didn't exist, Ellie wasn't at a writer, and at the end she moved to Kansas so it can hardly be considered the same book.

Because I had already written part of this book before (only it was a adult contemporary novel) I ignored everything I had learned about writing a synopsis early on. This was a big mistake. (I was also pregnant with Connor, raising a 2-year-old, and promoting the Skylar books ... so I'm not sure how clear headed I was at this point. I probably should have spent that writing time napping, now that I look back on it.)

When I finished writing this book, I decided that I needed to plot out novels. I went crazy with Randy Ingermanson's famous Snowflake method. I had barely ever outlined and now I had charts and spreadsheets and pages and pages of notes when I tackled my next project, which was:

The Teenage Chef book that I never could title (unpublished, obviously)
When I finished writing this book, I decided that I was not a Snowflake method girl. About halfway through the book, I had given up all my spreadsheets that I had painstakingly made. I decided, "No, I'm not a plotter after all. I'm going to embrace my inner-pantser and I'm not going to plot books anymore!" Next I wrote:

The Girl In The Bookshop  (unpublished)
I had the best time writing this book. At first it was an idea I was just playing around with, and then I hit this big plot twist that I absolutely loved, and I wanted to write the whole thing. But I did NOT think this book through (I did not write a synopsis like I had once planned to do for every new book I wrote!) so there are some major plot holes that I need to fix. I decided that for my next book, I needed a wee bit more structure, and that I should try James Scott Bell's method of plotting a few big scenes.

My Dystopian Book (unpublished and, sadly, abandoned)

Remember that first book I wrote after The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series? The one where I decided that I should write synopses for brainstorming purposes? Well, I finally remembered that and decided to apply it to this book. It was awesome. And because I had taken time to study structure after the previous book, I did a better job of making sure all the important story elements were in my synopsis and first draft. I like this method.

The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet
This was the next full novel that I wrote after my dystopian. I used a method that I now hear referred to as sign post plotting, where I made a list of the big scenes in a book (Beginning, inciting incident, dream realized, etc.) and then made notes on the side about those scenes in the book. This worked very well for me, and I intend to do it for my next book.

After you evaluate what went well and what didn't with your last manuscript, consider identifying a few new things you want to try on your next book. Like you could try using Jill's scene plotting charts, or dedicate a week to brainstorming your story, or try out a different POV to tell the story. Trying new things will ensure that you're a writer who gets better with each book.

What's something you've tried that's worked for your stories? What's something you've tried that hasn't?


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the Government

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

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Okay, this post was HARD WORK! I think I hurt my brain. Owzers...

If you’re creating a new world or a mythical one within our world, it would be wise to spend some time thinking about the government of that place. Even if your story doesn’t have much to do with politics, you still need to understand enough about the place in which your characters live to be able to write about their lives.

Let me just say, “Government? Not my favorite subject.” Still, this doesn’t have to be complicated. And I’m going to try and make it as simple as I can. If you choose a rare type of government for your storyworld, I highly recommend you do some research on that government to help you understand it.

On his writing excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson boiled the whole mess down to a simple question that really helped me, and here it is: Who has the power?

Who controls the food and water? The weapons? If there is a disease, who controls the medicine? Whoever holds these things holds the power over those that don't. These people make the laws, usually to their own political and/or financial advantage.

So, asking yourself "Who has the power?" is a great place to start. And if you’re writing a book that has little to do with the government, maybe you don’t need to go much further than that.  But since I know you all are trying to come up with really unique stories, I’d like you to consider using a different form of government than what's seen in most stories. For example, most medieval fantasy stories have a feudalistic monarchy. And most outer space science fiction stories have an intergalactic federation.

So here is a list that is not at all comprehensive, as I'm no governmental scholar. But I hope that it might inspire some interesting ideas on your current, or future, WIP. (My source for the gist of the following definitions was either www.dictionary.com or my own Websters from my bookshelf, so I give props to them.)

TYPES OF GOVERNMENTS
Anarchy – a state of society without government, law, or order.
Aristocracy – a government ruled by the elite, privileged upper class, nobility, or any group considered to be superior through education, ability, wealth, or social prestige.
Authoritarian – a government in which individual freedom is subordinate to the power or authority of the state and is not accountable to the people. Some types of authoritarian government do permit degrees of individual freedom.
Autocracy – a government in which one person (an autocrat) has uncontrolled or unlimited authority, power, or influence. Consider similar governments of despotism, dictatorship, stratocracy, fascism, and tyranny.
Qui -Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi bring Anakin before the Jedi council 
Capitalism – an economic system in which people investment in and own their own businesses and property. Wealth is made and maintained mostly by private individuals or corporations.
Communism – a classless society in which private ownership is abolished and the means of production and provisions for survival belong to the community.
Confederation – an economic and/or political union or alliance of sovereign states in which membership of each state is voluntary. Consider the European Union of today.
Democracy – a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
Empire – a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign, established usually through coercion.
Federation – a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a federal government.
Feudalism – the political, military, and social system in the Middle Ages, based on the holding of lands in fief or fee and on the resulting relations between lord and vassal. Under feudalism, the land in a kingdom belonged to the king, who gave some (called manors) to lords or nobles that served him. The lord or nobles gave some of their land (called fiefs) to vassals, who served the lords.
Libertarian – a government that advocates the freedom of thought, expression, and free will and protects its people from coercion and violence.
Monarchy – a form of government in which supreme authority is vested in a single and usually hereditary figure, such as a king. There are different types of monarchies to consider: absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, diarchy, elective monarchy, emirate, and a federal monarchy.
Spock argues his case against Kirk at the disciplinary hearing
Oligarchy – a government in which the power is vested in a few persons. These people could be wealthy, powerful, and/or influential, and might share similar interests and/or family. Some other types of oligarchic governments are: ergatocracy, kritarchy, netocracy, plutocracy, stratocracy, and theocracy.
Polyarchy – a form of government in which power is vested in three or more persons. The word polyarchy is Greek for "many leaders." This could also be a triarchy, tetrarchy, or more.
Republic – a government in which the power rests in the body of the citizens who are entitled to vote for representatives to exercise their will—the will of the people. Some other types of republics are: constitutional republic, democratic republic, parliamentary republic, federal republic, and a socialist republic.
Socialism – an economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled by the government rather than by private enterprise. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains influence over the economy. Some socialists insist on abolishing private enterprise. My understanding is that all types of communism are socialist, but not all types of socialism are communist.
Timocracy – There are two definitions for this. One is a form of government in which possession of property is required in order to hold office. The second definition is a form of government in which rulers are motivated by ambition or love of honor. Plato described it as a government in which ambition for power and glory motivates the rulers.
Totalitarian – a government that does not tolerate differing opinion and that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life.

Father from Equilibrium 
KEEP IN MIND…
I’m not a government teacher. And you are authors. Use your imagination! You can combine these and/or tweak them in regard to the storyworld, cultures, and magic you’ve already created. And you can add negative attributes too, like having your politics influenced by entities that are not part of the formal government, like corporations, banks, the mafia, thieves, mob mentality, terrorism, magical groups, crazy beasties, you name it.  Fun stuff.

credit Marie-Lan Nguyen 2009
ANOTHER INTERESTING THING TO NOTE…
In The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato discusses the five stages of government in descending order of moral goodness. They are: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Plato suggested that each regime would progressively degenerate until reaching tyranny, which when overthrown, would return to aristocracy. I think that’s a pretty fascinating concept. If you’ve got some sort of rebellion or anarchy in your storyworld, you might consider his argument as to what might happen next. After all, the people in a medieval-type of world who've overthrown the evil king might not come up with something like a democracy. You can read Plato's ideas in The Republic (book VIII), which you can download for free by clicking here.

IN CONCLUSION
So, I've issued a challenge, all you spec fiction writers. Tweak the government in your storyworld in some way. You can do it! I've read that there are a virtually no countries today that rule solely on one system of government. Most combine two or more. (Click on this cool Wikipedia map that shows current types of government in our world.) 

So play around with this. Mix and match and see what you come up with. Also keep in mind that these definitions that I cobbled together with the help of dictionaries online and at home are very brief. I strongly recommend that you do your own research to learn more about whatever types of governments you plan to use in your book. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Should I try to get my book published?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.



After you've finished your edits and applied your critiques, you have a decision to make. Do I want to pursue publishing this manuscript or should I instead write something else?


To an extent, you can do both. But pursuing publication takes quite a bit of research and emotional investment, plus you spend a lot of time writing query letters, blurbs, and proposals. So let's examine the choices briefly:

Option 1: Pursue Publication

This is just my opinion, but if you want to try to get your book published, I can't find much of an argument against it. (And maybe that's because I started trying when I was in high school.) It's not much of a financial investment, and the worst that'll happen is you'll receive some form rejection letters.

Here's a super brief outline of how the process works:
  1. You decide you want to try to traditionally publish your book. (As opposed to self-publishing it.)
  2. You look for a literary agent. The majority of publishers will not look at manuscripts unless they come from a literary agent. Smaller presses often will, so if you're interested in a smaller press, then you could submit to both literary agents and smaller presses if you like.
  3. You figure out which agents (and possibly small presses) you're interested in and then you find a way to talk to them. Typically this is through a query letter (an email or letter that you write that explains your project and who you are and asks if they're interested in seeing more) but you can also meet agents and editors at writers conferences.
  4. Even though a literary agent works for you (agents only make money when you make money) they still have to agree to take you on as a client. They can only have so many clients, after all, and they have mortgages and kids like everybody else, so they need to make sure they can make money. If they like the first impression you and your story make, they'll ask to see more.
  5. Once an agent agrees to represent you, you'll figure out together which publishing houses could be a good fit for you and where your manuscript might need some tweaking/strengthening.
If you're wanting to be a novelist, I encourage you to work on another book as you query agents and editors rather than just sitting around waiting.

Option 2: Write another book.

You might not be interested in getting your finished book published, and there's nothing wrong with setting it aside and working on something new. There are lots of reasons to not pursue publishing a book - it's something you wrote just for you, you don't think it'll be marketable, it's not the genre you ultimately want to write in. Since YOU are the one making the financial, emotional, and time investment, YOU get to decide if it's worth it to you.

Though others may argue (and you may argue with yourself) that you just invested a lot of time in a book you're doing "nothing" with, I don't think that's true at all. We learn a lot with each book we write. 

So say you decide you don't want to publish this book. Now you get to start over with another. For some, this is the most exciting thing in the world. Some writers are almost addicted to brainstorming new story ideas. But others can feel a sense of anxiety in the process as you wonder, "Is THIS going to be the story?"

Even though you're starting over, starting down a new canyon, you get to bring all your knowledge and experience from your previous canyon hikes with you, and that makes a big difference.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing Fiction for Dummies--Giveaway!

Me and Randy at a conference
Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

We interrupt the series on storyworld building to bring you a book review and contest. Why, you ask? Because I was gone for almost a week and my final edits for Outcasts are due today and I'm not done!

Ack!

Never fear, I am very close. But I didn't have two hours to spare to pour over a post on storyworld building. Because, as I've said before, when I even think about storyworld building, I get a relapse of storyworld builders disease and get lost. Only starvation or falling asleep at the computer can help me break free. And sometimes a loved one giving me a good shake helps too.

Randy & me in costumes
In my desperation today, I remembered that I once wrote a book review on this book. So I went looking for it on Amazon.com. And guess what? It's the first one! 100 out of 102 found it helpful! I feel tall. I have helped Randy make money. Who knew? Next time I see him, I'll tell him he owes me. Mwa ha ha!

I stumbled onto Randy's teachings early on in my writing journey. I took his Fiction 101 and 201 courses online, and when I met him at a writer's conference in 2007, I said, "I just wanted to say that I love you!" And he said something like, "Wow! I wish I could say that strange women came up to me all the time and said that, but it just wouldn't be true." So I explained that he taught me cool things, and all was well---the awkwardness had passed. And since then, over the years, we've become friends. So here is my review of Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson, an amazing writing teacher. He'd have to be if he was asked to write a Dummy book, right?

Randy photo bombing my pic with Matt
Randy Ingermanson is my hero. I have been learning from him since I discovered his website in 2005. The man is not only a wealth of information, he teaches in such a fun and friendly way, you can't fail to learn. And now, everything Randy teaches is here in one convenient package. Man, how I wish he had written this a few years ago! It would have saved me a lot of trouble.

I highly recommend this book to any writer, but especially to beginners who want to write a novel. You'll learn how to come up with a plot and test it to see if it's strong, how to create amazing characters that are deep and engaging, how to plot your story and avoid the dreaded sagging middle, how to keep the tension and pacing strong, and how to edit your novel. This book even includes cool things like an interview between J.R.R. Tolkien and Frodo Baggins. Ahh, Randy. What a funny guy.

So I'm going to give away a copy of Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson. International entries are welcome. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

5 Ways to Pursue Writing Right Now

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

This is a blog post I wrote in the spring for the Go Teen Writers blog tour, so you may have seen it already. With school having started up and many of us feeling our time get crunched, it seemed like a good time to publish it here as well:

Most writers want to be published. For whatever reason, we feel it's important to get our stories into the hands of people. It feels as though something about our journey will be complete if we can accomplish this.

But the reality for many is that we're far from this, and we often live in seasons of life where we aren't making noticeable progress on this dream. Maybe we aren't even getting to write. Even published novelists go through that during seasons of marketing and book promotion.

While I don't know your unique situation, here are five ideas to help you pursue your dream of writing wherever you are today:

Take Notes.

Some seasons of life simply are not conducive to writing. Like your first semester of college, when you're having your wisdom teeth taken out, or when softball and play practice overlap for a few weeks. There are times in life that are better for story gathering than story writing. Even if you can't be writing, try to tune in to the details of your life to save them for later.

If you're fighting with your brother, take note of how your body is reacting. Pounding heart? Clenched fists? You can use that later in a story.

Or if you're in the middle of a cross-country move, try to right down the mood swings you might be experiencing. The excitement of boarding a plane for the first time, mixed with depression over leaving your friends, anger with your parents, and anxiety over the new school.

Save up those life experiences to draw on later, and you'll find your stories coming to life like never before.

Write 50 to 100 words a day.

If you can find ten minutes a day to write, you can make more progress than you think with your novel. 100 words is basically a paragraph, and if you can do it everyday for 100 days, you'll have at least 10,000 words in a few months. If you can't commit to 100 words for 100 days, go smaller. Try 50 words for 50 days.

You won't be able to make much progress in your writing if you aren't writing. So even though it may not feel like much, the discipline and rhythm of writing regularly can do a lot for you.

Look for one thing you could cut.

I received a crash course in prioritizing when I had my daughter, McKenna. Before she was born, I was living the writing dream. I could sit at my computer all day every day and write if I wanted to. Most of the time I wrote in the morning and read in the afternoons. Bliss.


And then came McKenna. Who was beautiful and who I loved like crazy ... but I also had this agent who wanted to see revisions for Me, Just Different. And then, a few short months later, I had an editor buy the book and ask me to write two more. A call I received as I changed my baby girl's diaper after a too-short morning nap.

Pursuing writing - pursuing anything you want in life - will require giving up other things. When pressed for time, I had to make the call about what mattered most. I chose my husband and daughter, followed by writing. This meant saying no to lunch with friends. It meant telling myself no when I wanted to read or take a nap in the afternoon. It meant choosing to write or edit when I felt more like watching The Daily Show.

If you're wanting to get serious about your writing, look at your schedule and see if there's one thing you can cut or trim back to make time for writing. This might involve asking a friend or parent to help you.

Give yourself brainstorming assignments.

This is something Jill Williamson has taught me to do. If I'm getting ready to wash dishes or shower or go on a road trip, I give my brain an assignment. I'll remind myself that I still need to figure out how my main character is going to get from point A to point B, and then I let my mind wander around possible solutions. Often times my mind has wandered away from my current book when the right idea strikes and I have to yank off my dish gloves to get the idea written down. This means that when I'm back at my computer after the kids are in bed, I'm able to use my time well.

Read books ... especially ones on writing!

If I'm feeling stale or like my writing has plateaued, I often pull out my favorite craft books to peruse or reread. It's an activity that refuels me and gets me thinking creatively about my story. For brainstorming, I like ones with exercises in them, like Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass or Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren.

What's a step that you've taken to pursue writing right now?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Receive a Tough Critique

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

On Thursday, I talked about how to edit your novel, and we left off with when we send our manuscript off to our critique partners.

Opinions vary on whether it's better to have just one or if you should have, like, ten writing partners. Do you really want ten different writers telling you how to write your story? On the flip side, do you really just want one other opinion on your book? I would argue quality over quantity. Better to have one great critique partner than four so-so partners. I also wouldn't have more critique partners than you have time to critique for, if that makes sense. Don't ask ten people to critique your novel if you don't have time to critique their novels in return. I have two, and right now that works great for me. Eventually I might add a third.

Anyway. You've sent your manuscript off to your critique partners and, if you're like me, this makes you nervous. Even though you tell yourself you shouldn't be nervous, it's just a critique. But what if they find glaring plot holes? They're supposed to. That's why you have them. And that's why they have you. But what if they don't like it? They'll talk to you about it respectfully, same as you would them. Stop freaking out.

Which brings me to another important note about critique partners: Whoever they are and however many you have, these need to be people that you trust. People who love you and your stories. People who want the best for you. People who will talk to you honestly, but kindly, and who will respect you even if you don't make the changes they suggest. If you can't trust their heart and their critique, then it's a waste of your time and theirs.

Sometimes a critique comes back and it's better than you thought it'd be. Yay!

Most of the time, though, a critique comes back to me looking the way I expected (I knew something was wrong, just couldn't figure out what) or worse than I expected. (Yikes! That's the way that scene came across? That's not what I meant at all!)

If the critique comes in and you're feeling angry, hurt, depressed, ashamed, irritated, etc. then it's a good idea to take a step back from the manuscript. Read or take a walk or something. I've cried after getting critiques, including recently. I often have to fight off feelings of shame, like there's something wrong with me for having not realized my plot problems on my own, like I should have known better.

Also, if my critique partners are right about their feedback (which they basically always are) then I might cry from the sheer amount of work involved in fixing the book. Jill Williamson once told me she does the same thing, which made me feel much better. The thing is, at this point in the writing process, you're (usually) very tired. Especially if you're on deadline and haven't had the luxury of a break. So even if you love the book, even if it's a book of your heart, the idea of doing more rewrites and edits can be very disheartening.

For a particularly bad critique, I'll allow myself a night to feel bad about it. But the next day, I have to get to work.

I take the same bird by bird approach to applying a critique as I do edits. It can feel overwhelming at first, and I have to remind myself that I can't do it all right now, that I just have to put one foot in front of the other. The order is slightly different, though:

  1. I brainstorm: Critiques usually come back with some line edits but also with some overall thoughts that need to be applied somehow. "This character arc seemed off to me" or "This seemed too convenient to me." The first thing I do is brainstorm how to fix these bigger issues.
  2. I talk to my critique partners: After I think I've figured out how I want to implement their suggestions, I talk to my critique partners and see what they think about what I came up with. Do they think this will fix the issue? Often we brainstorm a bit more at this point too.
  3. I do the work: This one is pretty self-explanatory. I make the big changes first, and then I look through the line edits they did and apply those changes too. 
  4. I read through the book one more time before sending it off to my editor.
  5. I celebrate with ice cream.
But what if your critique partner has advice that you disagree with? The first thing to do (once you've taken a step back to make sure you're not just feeling defensive) is go to your partner and discuss it. "This advice just doesn't feel right for my story, and here's why." If they still argue their case, then I would take it to another critique partner for their opinion. If two or three others agree on a point, then you usually should take the advice seriously. If it's just one person and you disagree with them, then it's your choice. Ultimately, you're the author, and they should respect that.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating Technology

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

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

As I mentioned in my introductory post on creating storyworlds, there are four important things to consider with technology as these things greatly affect everyday life: communication, vehicles, weapons, and medicine. The first three work closely together in regards to government. Who has the power and controls the resources, controls the people. And a ruler with advanced technology will win over people without it.

If you don't know where to start, pick a time and place in earth's history to use as a general guide. For example, you could combine the late 1800s with the Native Americans of the 1400s. Perhaps steam power has been invented, so they can travel by train, but this is a peaceful people and they've never had need of guns, so they still use bows and arrows and spears for hunting.

Communication, Vehicles, and Weapons
Does your world have an internet? Cell phones? Phone lines? Something more advanced like communication implants? Or something more primitive like a messenger on a horse? How fast people can communicate affects the growth of a civilization. It also affects how well military commanders can get their jobs done. If a group of men were to travel back in time with CB radios, that ability to communicate could be a great resource in times of war.

Has someone invented the engine in your storyworld? Or are people still riding horses? Has someone invented guns? Or are we still using swords? Or maybe you've created a new weapon that's distinctive to one of the peoples in your story. I think that's awesome. Keep in mind, horses can only travel so far in a day. And they can travel farther if they walk rather than if they're run hard. So beware of having horses running like Gandalf's did in The Lord of the Rings, because Shadowfax was a special breed of horse, and most horses can't ride like he can.

Medicine
You could have a people the most advanced technology ever known, but if they have terrible health care, they're in trouble. So consider medicine as an aspect you can play with in storyworld creation. In my book Captives, the people of the Safe Lands are dying from a plague. That forces them to kidnap other people, something they never really wanted to do in the past. But they're desperate. They want to survive.

Play With It
Take some time to brainstorm how the technology works and how it might come into conflict with different cultures. In Dune, off world people are fighting for control of the planet Arrakis. And we later find out that the natives to the planet, the people that the Emperor thought were so very primitive, really weren't. They knew how to live in the desert, and they had developed amazing technology to grow plants and had even learned to ride the worms. They kept all that a secret because it served their best interests for the Emperor to think they were not a threat.

Dune by Frank Herbert
In my Blood of Kings storyworld, those gifted in bloodvoicing can communicate with their minds, no matter the distance. They can also slip into the Veil and instantly see any place they've been before--and they're invisible to the people there. But their physical bodies aren't able to travel with them. Still, this level of communication and being able to spy on an enemy greatly helps in battle.

There are other things beyond those four topics to consider. When I was writing To Darkness Fled, I remember getting stuck trying to figure out if silverware had yet been invented. I later decided that different peoples could be at different levels of advancement there. And when Achan ate dinner in Mirrorstone with Lord Eli, he noticed that his host used ceramic trenchers, which were technically plates. But Achan had never seen individual plates, so to him, they were ceramic trenchers.

So when you go back through to edit your novel, keep an eye out that your technology matches what you've set up in your storyworld and look for interesting ways to add conflict.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How to Add To Your Plot After You've Finished The First Draft

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

On Wednesday, I posted about the editing process. In the discussion that followed, several writers asked if I had any advice on editing their books to make them longer.

Writers tend to either write long or write short. I've always written short, so I understand where you're coming from. I will say, however, that every first draft I write is longer than the previous one. I think it's because I've gotten better at creating more complex story ideas before I even start the book. So just because your novels are coming out at 40 or 50k now doesn't mean it'll always be like that.

But if you want to make your first draft longer, you need to:

Add a subplot or plot layer

The easiest way to beef up your story without adding senseless filler is to add a subplot or plot layer. What's the difference between the two?

Subplot: Has everything a regular plot has only on a smaller scale. Has an inciting incident, a black moment, and a resolution. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the storyline of Buckbeak, Hagrid's hippogriff, is a subplot - it has a beginning, middle, and end.

Plot layer or thread: This is something that enhances the main plot. Things like the main character's best friend getting kicked out of her house and bunking up with her. While that thread will likely resolve by the end of the story, it's not something that has all the elements of a plot. 

Going back to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione's impossibly heavy class load and her strange ability to take classes that overlap each other, is a plot layer. It doesn't have a beginning, middle, and end. (Though, you'll notice, both the subplot of Buckbeak and the plot layer of Hermione's secret play a part in the resolution of the book.)

Make sense?

Here's what I do when I'm trying to add a subplot or plot layer after having written my first draft:

  1. I write each scene of my manuscript on a note card and post them in chronological order on my cork board.
  2. I brainstorm what additions I could make to the story. I try to think of things that will deepen the conflict for my main character, since those don't feel like filler. As opposed to things like, "Ellie gets a cat." (Though if you plan for the cat to go missing, that could certainly deepen conflict.)
  3. Next I examine the other characters in my cast. Who could use more fleshing out? Or who has a rich backstory that I'm not utilizing as much as I could? I give myself time to brainstorm ways I could enhance my cast as well.
  4. Usually after a few days of brainstorming, I have some clear winners (and losers) in my pile of ideas. So now it's time to brainstorm big scenes that need to be added. Usually there are two or three bigger scenes that need to be added per plot layer/subplot. I write those down on different colored index cards and post them on my wall with my original note cards. This way I can see where I think the new scenes will fit in.
  5. Then I skim over all the note cards and mark scenes that I already know will need revisions because of my new storylines.
  6. I write my new scenes and plop them into the manuscript.
  7. I reread my entire manuscript and make revisions along the way to weave in my new stuff.

That's what has worked for me! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating Religion

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

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Religion in fiction is an interesting discussion topic for me. See, my books are primarily published in the Christian specialty market. But when I started writing, I didn't know there was such a thing. Eventually, because of the type of story I was writing and the publishers I'd researched, I found myself at a Christian writer's conference, where editors from the Christian specialty market were looking for stories.

Back then, I still didn't quite understand that I was speaking to editors of a specialty market. I just wanted to get my books published, you know?

When Jeff Gerke read By Darkness Hid and offered to publish it, he asked me what made it Christian. I said, "I dunno." And he said that I needed to add some content to make it Christian. Looking back, I wish I'd understood more of what he was asking me to do. But I was a new author and did my best. And many people love the books.

But it’s a bit of a regret for me. Not that I did it, but that I didn’t know how back then. What’s the problem, you ask? I have two religions in my book. I had the One Way, and I had all those false gods. And the people who believed in the One Way were good. And the people who believed in the false gods were bad or misled.

When I read it now, it feels contrived and forced in places. And it doesn't always feel authentic because I didn't portray the other religions fairly. I chose a side. I told the reader which faith was the truth. And that took away their free will to choose. And it made some of them angry.

It wasn't wrong, what I did, especially since the book was published for the Christian specialty market. But I don't think it's the best way to tell a story and reach the most readers.

Today I’m an advocate for creating more than one religion in your storyworld and treating them fairly. Let's be honest. Earth has many religions. And whether or not you know with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength that Judaism or Christianity or Hinduism or Scientology is the one truth, as an author who is trying to create a unique storyworld with diverse characters, you should remain impartial. Let your characters be who they are.

So how do you make different religions seem real in your story? My best suggestion is to study religions on our world. Where did they come from and why did people follow them? Use what you learn to create parallels in your story. Oftentimes the level of technology comes into play with religion. Historically speaking, the more man leaned about science, the less man believed in a deity. If you have very little technology in your story, you’ll likely have people who think more primitively in regards to gods. People or creatures with great power or strength might be considered gods. For example: The dragon eats us, so we worship the dragon and give it sacrifices so that we can maintain peace with the mighty dragon.

Consider having sects of religion. There are so many denominations of Christianity. And some of the differences are  over little things don’t matter to me. But they do to some.

Are there churches? Services? Required prayer times like Muslims have? Fasting? Priests? Saints? Holy books? Statues to worship? Songs? Liturgies? Are there different worshiping rules for men and women? Are there secrets that you learn the longer you are a member of the church? Or is everything free to all people? Must young people go on a mission? Are there missionaries? Do the believers keep separate from nonbelievers like the Amish? Is there a symbol for the religion like the star of David or a cross? An object that helps a believer pray like a rosary or an altar?

Once you’ve developed a few religions, find a way to give them conflict with one another. For example, do you know why Jews, Muslims, and Christians fight over Jerusalem? It's because of when Abraham went up to the mountain to sacrifice his son as God asked him to do. (You can read the story in Genesis 22 of the Bible. I don't know the references for the Torah or the Quran.) The problem is that Jews and Christians believe that Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son God promised to him and his wife in their old age. And Muslims believe that he was asked to sacrifice Ishmael, Abraham's firstborn son that Hagar, his wife's servant, bore to him.

Seems like no big deal, right? But later on in history, hundreds of years later, God sent a prophet to King David, telling him to go and build an altar on another man's land. That land is the same place where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son. And that land is where David's son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem when he was king. And that land is where a mosque sits today. It is a holy piece of land to three religions. And they fight over it to this day.

That's the kind of conflict you want to create with the religions in your story.

And on a completely random note, my book Captives is on a .99 ebook sale right now on Kindle and Nook. Click on the links to grab a copy.

Captives on Kindle.

Captives on Nook.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Edit Your Novel

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I talked on Monday about taking six weeks off after writing a first draft. I also talked about how finishing the first draft can feel like you've hiked up a canyon, only to realize you have another one ahead of you.

Say you've taken your six weeks off. You've opened your manuscript, and you've started reading. Some scenes are good, better than you remembered, even. Others read stiff and need some definite work.

Now what?

This is my system for edits. Use what works for you and ignore the rest!

  • I read the book in as few sittings as possible and make notes as I do. Here's a post on my editing notebooks.
  • I usually have a few big scenes that need to be added. I write those and plug them in where I think they fit best.
  • I also usually have a few plot lines that I either foreshadowed in early chapters and never followed through on, or that I came up with halfway through the first draft and now need to plant foreshadowing. Often these are just hundred or five hundred word additions to existing scenes. 
  • I take a deep breath and start line edits. First I read a scene as a whole and verify that I want to keep it. I also try to think about ways to make it stronger. After I work on the content of the scene, I go line-by-line to make everything read smoother. I tweak just about every sentence. This process takes a loooong time. I posted about how long line (or micro) edits take over the summer.
  • After I finish my micro edit, I love to take a week or two off. I can't always do that, but man, is it refreshing when I can.
  • I go through and do another line edit. I'm still changing things, still smoothing out my sentences for stronger readability, but it doesn't take so long this time.
  • I send my manuscript to my critique partners.
Don't let this very orderly list fool you. Edits can be hard, messy, overwhelming work.

I've spent my summer doing massive rewrites and edits on my fall release, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. To be honest, there were moments that I thought it was the best book I had written, moments when it seemed so horrible that I was embarrassed by it, moments when I wanted to ask about cancelling my contract, moments when I knew what needed to be fixed...but I didn't know how to go about it. This is when I leaned on my critique partners. Next Monday, I'm going to talk about how to handle the response from your critique partners.

Any questions about the editing process that I can help answer? 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Journey with Gillian: The Story You’re Not Ready to Write



Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published sometime in 2014. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

First off, I’m so glad to be back on Go Teen Writers with all of you. It’s been a long time. I took a much needed break from writing this summer—an unintentional break since I simply didn’t have time to write due to my super-crazy-but-totally-awesome summer job.

But I am thrilled to be back in the writing world and excited to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year.

Ever had a novel idea that just wouldn’t let go of you?

A story that haunted your waking moments from the second your eyes opened until you fell asleep exhausted at the end of the day? Characters that invaded your dreams and whispered their names in your ears? A magnificent world that revealed itself to you through the magic of paper and ink?

For the past two years, there has been a story locked up inside of me that I’ve been dying to tell.

But every time I tried to sit down and write it, something felt wrong. The characters were flat. My story world was vague and colorless. The plot suffered from a terrible case of predictability and—perhaps out of rebellion—refused to move in the direction I wanted it to go.

So with a sigh, I shelved the story for a while, tucked my notes away, and quieted the voices of the characters inside my head.

I knew I couldn’t write the story yet.

I wasn’t ready.

I needed more experience—not just as a writer, but life experience. I needed to grow more before I was ready to tackle a story who magnitude I was only beginning to grasp.

At first I was frustrated with myself. This was such a great story idea! Why couldn’t I get it right?

But this summer, I finally learned that it’s okay to admit that you’re not ready to tell a story yet, and some ideas take a little more time to germinate than others.


About halfway through the summer, I was struck with an idea. Literally. It practically slapped me up the side of the head. (I told you these were painful lessons!)

And just like that, the story that had been locked inside of me for so long was finally released.

The words began to flow onto the pages. Raw, deep words. Words with heart in them. Within a week, I had over twenty pages filled with brainstorming notes, outlines, character charts, and world building notes. The first chapters were well on their way to being written, and I still loved and believed in my characters and plot—a rarity for me at this point in the writing process.

Lessons learned?

Don’t judge your writing time or process against what your writing friends post on Facebook.

I used to get really discouraged when I saw the number of words or chapters or books other people were racking up. Until I realized that my writing time and process is completely different from theirs and that’s perfectly okay.

I tend to spend more time editing the first draft while I’m writing it than  most people, because I know that if I don’t, I'll get more and more discouraged the farther into the story I get. And that's okay, because that is my writing process. It may be slower than yours, but it is uniquely mine.

It’s okay to admit that you’re not ready to write this story. Yet.

Some stories are harder to write than others, and there are some that you’re just not ready to tackle yet. Some stories need more time to grow, and sometimes, you need to do a little more growing before you’re ready to write them.

Should you get discouraged and think there’s something wrong with you? No, of course not. Because the story idea is still there, and when the time is right, it will resurface, and it will be better for the waiting.

Don’t be afraid to wait and allow the story to work itself out in its own time.

First off know that you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to be lazy and shelve your manuscript each and every time it gets difficult.

That said, sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is set it aside for a little bit.

When I first started having ideas for this story, my vision for the story was extremely narrow, hemmed in by the proverbial box. I tried to push through it. I tried to force the story to work. But it wasn’t until I had put it to rest for a little while, that I was able to approach it free of my stifling preconceptions.

Only then did my writing blossom.

Have you ever felt like you weren’t ready to write a particular story yet? Have you ever tried shelving a story for a bit, or do you always try to force your way through?