Thursday, October 31, 2013

4 Tips for Creating a Writing Encouragement Group


Alyson Schroll is a homeschool student and published poet. Since she could hold a crayon, she has been writing stories and drawing illustrations. This has developed into a love for blogging and a passion for painting. Alyson is inspired by God’s continual and creative work in the lives of His children.  She enjoys book store cafes, warm sunny days, lessons from C. S. Lewis, and books with fascinating imagery. Find out more about her on her blog or on Goodreads

I live in a family of writers. Who knew? Actually, I didn’t until I prepared to write the second draft of my second novel. Then my mom got creative with her blogging, my brother started a story, my dad wrote a middle grade mystery, and my little sister embarked on a tale of her own.

My family had supported me before they wrote, but once I shared my enthusiasm with them, they joined in and offered encouragement of their own. Before we knew it, we had a strong encouragement group put together. Then, I began to see how important a group like this really was.

A critique group is great because it helps shape your writing, but an encouragement group helps shape you. These people knew you before you wrote, they saw you start, they can see how your life and writing intertwine, they know your personal beliefs and values, and they have the ability to step in when you need it the most, even if your writing shows otherwise. 

Too many times, we only look at the professional perspective and forget that a personal friend is just as important. Finding a few people to become your encouragement can help you get past a writing hump when you hit a rough patch. 

Look to family first, then to close friends. I realize that everyone’s families are blessed in different ways, and there may be fear involved in sharing your precious story with them. But your family has the most interaction with you. They are the ones who see you up late at night. They see you fall into a daydream while doing the dishes. They see you suddenly perk up with a new idea or story. And while they think you look crazy, they understand. These are the people to go to first.

Encourage them back. Notice, I said “encourage” not “teach.” A little support goes a long way. A passing, “How’s the story going?” could be all it takes. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read more than a chapter of my dad’s story. This keeps me from comparing and critiquing when I should be encouraging his journey.

Remember, they don’t know all about writing. None of us would claim to be an expert, but it’s easy to pretend with those who don’t know as much about the publishing world. Keep things simple, don’t try to explain everything. It’s alright if they don’t understand. How long did it take for you to get to where you are? They can learn on their own if they want. It’s the encouragement they need from you. When you choose to step out your own writers mind, you step into someone else’s world.

Work on a collective challenge. Doing something together without critiquing one another is a blessing I quickly began to love. My family is doing the 100-4-100 challenge together for the second time. At the completion of the last one, those who participated went out for milkshakes. You can choose to work on a different prompt every week, meet a weekly word count goal, or another challenge. Anything you all do together will be rewarding.

Critique groups have their place, but so do encouragement groups. I challenge you to look for the people in your life that can help you personally through your writing journey.

~Alyson

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Study Your Genre

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.

I was working in the mentoring clinic at a writers conference this summer and a conferee came up to me. I said, "Hi! Are you looking for me?" And she said, "No. But can I talk to you?" I laughed and said, "Sure!"

She bubbled over with the story of what had happened to her. She told me that a respected literary agent just offered to represent her from two things. 1. The author had already met with an editor who was excited about her manuscript and asked for the full. So the agent knew that. 2. The agent read 15 pages of her book and that was enough.

Man!

I said, "Whoa! Congratulations! That NEVER happens."

And it doesn't usually.

Then I asked her what made her story different from others. She was such a new author that she didn't know how to communicate it, but she did say that she'd read every book that publishing house had ever published in the historical genre.

Every one.

And that's why she was successful. Yes, she learned to write and tell a good story. But she had also studied her market in a huge way. She knew her genre. She knew her competition. And she knew how to make her story different.

Sold.

Nice, huh?

If you're not sure what genre you're writing or where it might sell, read. Seriously. Your book should fit somewhere, or it will be difficult to get it published. So, find the books that are somewhat similar in genre to yours. Read them. Keep track of how your book is similar and different. Doing this will help you discover which publishers are right for you. And you'll go a long way towards getting yourself published traditionally.

If you're not sure how to know who published a book, look at the logo on the spine. (I had to turn over some books because the logo was at the top and not the bottom.)



Or look at the bottom of the inside title page.


Take some time to make a list of publishers from the books on your shelves. Then go to your local library or Barnes & Noble and write down some more. Use this list to help you figure out which publishers would be the best fit for your book.

What did you discover? Which publishers might be right for your book? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where You Can Find Teen Writers

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.

Jill and I had great fun reading through all the comments from the Go Teen Writers survey. Thank you for taking the time what you love about the blog and ways that you think it could be improved.

Many of you said you would love more opportunities to connect with other teen writers. While Jill and I continue to look for more ways to connect you all, I thought I would go ahead and post a list of what we have in place already.


This is a really active and wonderful group. With 400+ members from all over the world, there's almost always somebody available to answer your question or offer thoughts on your writing. 

I'm very careful about who I let into the group, and we're not afraid to bounce people who are causing issues or who disregard the group guidelines.

Because I'm so careful about who I let in, I often deny access to people who I don't know so you can speed up your approval by sending me an email when you apply to the group: http://www.stephaniemorrill.com/contact-me/


This is an email list that's set up through Yahoo groups. We started it when we had our virtual writing retreat, and it's been a nice way for those who are participating in the 100 for 100 challenge to encourage each other along the way.


This is an unofficial hangout spot for teen writers, with the stated purpose of, "We're here to offer support for writing. Writer's block, flat characters, horrible dialogue, can't get from point A to point B. Post a question and hopefully the rest of the community will help." 

I hope these links are helpful! Many thanks to all those who wished me a happy birthday yesterday (it was awesome, especially because of the very generous surprise many of you contributed to) and you can still win a copy of the Ellie Sweet books!

Monday, October 28, 2013

30 Things I've Learned About Writing That Made A Big Difference

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.



We're back! I hope everyone had a great week and got lots of writing done. Jill and I had a long conference call last week talking about the blog. I'm still finalizing some of the details we talked about, and then I'll share them with you all.

One thing we'll be changing is when we post new content. This week we'll post five days, but starting next week, you can expect fresh posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The biggest advantages are that Jill and I will be able to devote more time to the content we write, we can be more responsive in the comments section of the blog (right now we're decent at responding on the day of the post, but not so great afterward), and we'll have time to plan more special events like contests and virtual retreats and such.

So today's my 30th birthday - yay? - and I'm also celebrating the release of my sixth book - yay! 


To do that, I'm sharing 30 things I've learned about writing in the last ten years that made a difference in my stories, and I'm also giving away four digital copies of the Ellie Sweet books - your choice! Details for getting entered are at the end of the post.





1. Story ideas don't just come to you - you have to work for them. Sparks of ideas come to you, but that's different than a story idea.

2. I need to ask myself why my character won't just walk away from the story problem. Another way to say this is, "What are the stakes of the story?" but my brain had trouble latching onto the concept of stakes. The question, "Why aren't you just walking away?" somehow works better for me.

3. Write with strong nouns and verbs. Most of the time when I'm using an adverb or adjective, there's a better noun or verb I could be using.

4. Stephen King is amazing and I adore his book, On Writing. BUT he's Stephen King and that includes certain privileges. Like getting contracts for books he hasn't yet written and doesn't know all the details about. I'm not Stephen King, and I will have to do some plotting ahead of time if I want to sell my book.

5. I actually like doing a bit of plotting ahead of time! Here's an article I wrote about plotting, pantsing, and the combo of the two.

6. Finding a one word description for my character. I love doing this because it helps me determine what my character believes at his or her core.

7. That I should write bare-boned (but useful) first drafts. It was my husband who first suggested this to me when I was complaining about rewriting scenes time and time again and not making any progress on the rest of the first draft. I had read about bad first drafts in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird but I had forgotten.

8. Cut dialogue tags. My writing tightened and became much more visual when I started using action beats to identify who was speaking rather than dialogue tags.

9. I have a voice. And I should use it. I love this article about voice that editor Barbara Scott wrote for Seekerville.

10. My character's voices come to life when I know them. In the first draft, when I'm still working out who all these people are, they all kinda sound the same - they sound like me. But around draft two I'm able to look at dialogue and think things like, "That's not really something Chase would say. That's more of something Ellie would say."

Sometimes I have to make rules for them. Like not allowing a character to speak or think with incorrect grammar. Or with Chase, I had a rule about not letting him use a a complicated word when a more simple option was available.

11. How to brainstorm plot twists and bigger story ideas.

12. My timer. Mmmwwwwaaa! (That's a kiss, if you can't tell.) If I'm having trouble staying focused on my book, I set my timer for twenty five minutes and ban myself from other activities until it goes off. By the time the buzzer goes off, I'm on a roll and eager to keep writing.

13. How to Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Angela Hunt told me about this book when I was eating lunch with her at a conference back in 2003. It made a huge difference in the strength of my stories. The workbook is excellent too. Maybe even better. I guess it's what I pull out time and time again, but I also needed to read the regular book too.

14. I don't work well with elaborate note card or spreadsheet systems, and writing software isn't ideal for me either. I love the ideas of those things but they're just not effective tools for me as a writer. My time is better spent just writing.

15. Character journals are the best tool for helping me capture the voice and backstory of my other characters.

16. Give main characters a super power. Something special and unique. Harry Potter excels at defeating dark magic, Rapunzel has magic hair that can heal, and Cinderella sings despite being abused.

17. Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. I read this over the summer so I haven't had very much time to apply what I learned to my stories. But I'm putting it on the list because I can tell it's changed the way I'm approaching my next story.

18. If a character isn't contributing anything, cut them or make them matter. My first few drafts of Me, Just Different were seriously crowded. I had already cut three friends from that book, rewritten it, and sent it to my first agent. She came back with, "One of these friends needs to go!" So I cut another one.

19. I need to write with my door closed.

20. When writing scenes, drop the reader in late and yank them out early.

21. The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. I've enjoyed every writing book of Bell's, but this one is my favorite. Lots of great nuggets of wisdom in there.

22. Try a new technique with each story. At the same lunch where Angela Hunt told me about Writing the Breakout Novel she mentioned that tries out something new with each story she writes. She had been writing novels for twenty years at that point in time, and I loved that she was still pushing herself. That made a big impression on me.

23. A story feels bigger when the character has a way to "stick it to the man."

24. When I'm early in the brainstorming stage, it's helpful to make myself write the concept in one sentence. It helps with a lot of marketing things later, but as I'm writing it helps me remember the essence of the story.

25. Every story needs a black moment.

26. I need 6 weeks off after I finish a first draft.

27. Writing middles is the hardest part for me, but I've found tools that help.

28. Write Away by Elizabeth George. I'm still reading this one and learning how to apply it, but it's lovely.

29. How to write active sentences rather than passive sentences. Figuring this out was literally the skill I had to conquer before my first agent would sign me.

30. How to edit for the big things first and then the small things. (This one was so big to me that Jill and I wrote an entire book about it.)

What's something you've learned recently about writing? Shout it out and you're eligible to win one of four digital copies of your choice of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet or The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet.
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Friday, October 18, 2013

Who is Your Target Reader?

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.

Shortly after I signed my contract with Zondervan for Replication, they sent me an Advance Marketing and Sales Information sheet. This document was filled with questions and blanks. They wanted to know my biography, the book description, character descriptions, names of influencers, newspapers and other media in my community, comparative titles, and lots more stuff to help them get to know me and my book. My final document was twenty-four pages long.

One of the questions was to describe my intended reader.

This is something writers learn about at conferences and in writing craft books. We all should be writing books with some sort of target reader in mind. But this sheet was asking for specific details. They also wanted to know how my book (Replication) would appeal to my readers.

Okay, I'm going to make myself really vulnerable here and share what I wrote with you guys. Keep in mind, this was 2010 when I wrote this.

I write for male and female teenagers, ages fourteen and up.
photo  ©2011  EaglebrookSchool, Flickr

My male reader is sixteen years old. He's in high school. He likes to read, but he’s busy. He usually only reads Dean Koontz or Stephen King. If it’s really popular, he’ll give it a try.

He’s an athlete. He lives in a small town where sports matters. He reads to be entertained and get his mind away from the stress of life, school, and relationships.

He yearns to be a respectable man. He fears failure. He cares most about his image, doing good in sports, getting decent grades. He’d like a girlfriend. One who’s not sleazy and doesn't flirt with every guy or isn't always freaking out about everything he does or doesn't do. A girl who is also his friend. Maybe an athlete. Maybe not. He's not sure if that matters.

He respects and loves his coach, a man who really cares and doesn't judge him when he does stupid things. He hates his dad, a man who left his mom and his siblings for another woman. When Dad does show up, it’s only to be critical.

Replication will appeal to his need to simplify his life. He’ll see the wisdom in how Marty questions the shallow things of our society. He’ll be inspired to think about what’s important in life and his own purpose. The idea that his choices define him will resonate with his desire to be a respectable--and better--man than his father. 


My female reader is sixteen years old. She's in high school. She loves to read, especially books like Twilight and Hunger Games and Maximum Ride. She loves books that have a strong girl character who meets a really nice guy. The kind of guy who’s different than the guys at school. The kind of guy she’d like to date. She loves romance in books. She reads to escape and to dream. She sometimes imagines herself as the main character.

She’s not in any clubs or sports. She babysits a lot to earn money to buy clothes and books and to get manicures. She longs to be beautiful, admired by other girls, crushed on by guys. Her last boyfriend turned out to be a jerk. She doesn’t understand why guys only want one thing. She wonders if there are any truly heroic guys out there. 

Her parents make her go to church. She likes it okay. It’s kind of boring most the time. Her youth pastor is nice, and she likes learning about the things he talks about. But she wishes there were more teens in church. At least more cute guys…

Replication will appeal to her romantic side. She’ll fall in love with Marty and wish there were more guys like him out there. Marty’s questions about God, love, and marriage will get her thinking. The idea that looks don’t matter—that they don’t define her or give her value as a personshe'll take that to heart. Behavior, kindness, choices. Those are the things that make a girl beautiful. Now if only she could find a guy who thought that way. ;-P

These are just two profiles of my target readers. They're not my only target readers. And a book will find a wide variety of readers, but an author should have a plan for what kind of person she's writing for. For example, I have lots of adult readers for my Blood of Kings series. But I still write for teens.

After writing ten novels, and now that I'm finishing up my last contracts, I'm taking a little break to write something new and rethink my target readers. They may stay the same. But my writing may change a little. I don't know. I think all writers evolve with each book they write. At least I do. And I'm definitely in a place where I want to try something a little different.

But I'll still write for teens ages fourteen and up.

Who do you write for? Take some time to write out a description of one of your target readers and how your book will appeal to him or her.



As Stephanie mentioned a while back, we're taking next week off to recharge our blogging batteries, and to determine what we're doing well and what needs changing here on Go Teen Writers. Have a great week, and we'll see you back here on Monday, October 28!

We'll miss you!

Jill

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Journey with Gillian Lessons Learned: Combining Scenes (with Merlin)


Gillian Adams is a speculative fiction writer who blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

I’ll admit it. I love the BBC TV series Merlin. I started watching it a while back … and you guessed it … I was hooked from the first episode.

And once I was hooked, well, I had to come up with a good reason for all the hours I spent catching up on the back episodes. And it didn’t take me long to come up with one. Are you ready for it?

It was research.

Don’t laugh yet!

I was obviously watching Merlin to improve my craft. After all, Merlin is a medieval fantasy … exactly what I write! I fell in love with the characters in Merlin … and my goal is to write characters that people fall in love with.

Open and shut case.

Research.

Okay, so that may not be the reason I started watching Merlin, but once I decided it was my excuse, I figured I’d have to actually start learning. So I stopped viewing the show as mindless entertainment, engaged my brain, and started taking notes. Figuratively.

And it wasn’t long before I learned a valuable lesson about combining scenes.

Lessons Learned: Combining Scenes

In case you aren’t familiar with the series, here’s the basic storyline:

Merlin is a young sorcerer who learns that his destiny is to protect Prince Arthur and help him become Camelot’s greatest king. But magic is outlawed in Camelot and anyone caught practicing magic is sentenced to death. Merlin must protect Arthur while concealing his power from the entire kingdom.

There’s an episode in the second season where Merlin needs to see Prince Arthur's top secret list of druid-sympathizers, while Arthur wants to find out why Merlin was sneaking flowers to Morganna, the King’s ward.

Rather than having two separate scenes, the screenwriters combined the two things that needed to happen and put them in one scene.

While Arthur is teasing Merlin about giving Morganna flowers, Merlin is distracted by trying to sneak a peek at the list on Arthur’s desk. So he keeps accidently giving the wrong answers to Arthur’s questions since he’s only half listening.

It makes for a truly comical scene.

In the end, Merlin gets what he needs. (Yay!) But now, Arthur is convinced that Merlin likes Morganna. (Uh oh!)

And thus conflict is born.

So not only was the scene hilarious, but it laid the ground work for future conflict, kept the story moving, and kept the episode from being bogged down with too many disconnected scenes.

Lesson learned: If there are two things that need to happen at some point in your story, rather than writing two separate scenes, see if you can combine them into one. It doesn’t always work, of course. But when it does, it ratchets up the conflict … and it saves time too.

A couple of guidelines for combining scenes:

You might want to combine scenes if:
  • It will increase the conflict
  • It will add humor to the story
  • The scenes complement one another in some way
  • You have one larger, important scene and one smaller, unimportant scene—for example, Merlin needed to look at Arthur’s list to move the story forward, but the flower fiasco existed simply to provide comedy.
  • You’re like me and tend to be long winded! Forcing yourself to combine scenes also forces you to cut the extra and find the heart of the story.

You probably shouldn’t combine scenes if:
  • Both scenes are large enough in scope that they deserve their own separate scene. Otherwise you’ll wind up with a crazy scene in which a dozen different things happen so fast it will set your readers’ heads spinning.
  • The combined scene would be too weighty or attempt to convey too much important information all at once.
What are your thoughts? Do you ever learn writing lessons from movies or TV shows? Have you ever tried combining scenes?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Write Your Character's Thoughts

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.



When we do Go Teen Writers contests, one of the feedback boxes that our judges can check is that an entry had "too much internal monologue." One of our writers asked me to explain in more detail what this means.



Internal monologue refers to the thought life of your point of view (POV) character. Often, it follows an action: (Internal monologue is bold in this situation.)
Susie dropped the plate. Well, that was dumb.
Internal monologue is a good and necessary component to make the character resonate with the audience, but like all elements in writing, it has to be balanced. Too much slows down the story. Too little makes the character read thin and you risk losing the closeness between the character and reader.

Here's an example where the internal monologue is too heavy:

Susie dropped the plate. Well that was dumb. But hadn't her mother always said she had the worst case of butter fingers?
"Can I help you, Susie?" John called from the living room.
He was probably only offering because he saw how rude her own husband was to her. "I'm fine, thank you!" She wished her voice didn't crackle like that when she talked.
She should have washed these dishes last night so she didn't have to deal with the pile of plates right now. That hadn't been smart at all. Tom hated the sight of dirty dishes.
See how slow this is? If it keeps going at this pace, it'll feel like hour five of Susie clearing the table and beating herself up over it.

And here's an example where the internal monologue is too light:
Susie dropped the plate.
"Can I help you, Susie?" John called from the living room
"I'm fine, thank you." Her voice crackled like always. In the kitchen, she was greeted with last night's dishes. And Tom hated the sight of dirty dishes.
The pacing of this is a lot snappier, but we're also missing out on Susie's feelings throughout this scene and because of that, we don't understand her state of mind. This last example is a better blend of action and internal monologue:

Susie dropped the plate. Her constant butter fingers would be the death of her someday - maybe literally.
"Can I help you, Susie?" John called from the living room. 
He was probably only offering because he saw how rude her own husband was to her. "I'm fine, thank you!" Her voice crackled like always.
In the kitchen, she was greeted with last night's dishes. Why, oh why, didn't she do the dishes last night? Tom hated the sight of dirty dishes.
Refining your story's internal monologue is best taken care of in the editing process, but there are a few things you can do in the first draft to help guide what you put in and what you don't:

  • Pick a dominant emotion in a scene. Is it surprise? Is it anger? To make that emotion pop, you want to choose internal monologue that reflects it. In the scenes above, Susie's dominant emotion is fear of her abusive husband. So when the writer dips into her thought life, that's what they should highlight.
  • If the dominant emotion of your character switches mid-scene, make sure to show that. Say John walks in to help Susie, and he starts to rinse dishes. Now Susie's dominate feeling isn't fear of Tom, but it's something else. Shyness from having a man she doesn't know scrubbing her dirty plates. Warmth from being shown a kindness. Mistrust because she's come to expect that men don't do anything out of the goodness of their heart, and she thinks John must want something from her.
  • Leave off the "he thought" or "she thought." If you're deep in your POV character's head, there's no need for it.
Are there any questions about internal monologue that I can help answer?

Also, Jill and I are giving away two copies of the Go Teen Writers book via Goodreads!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Go Teen Writers by Stephanie Morrill

Go Teen Writers

by Stephanie Morrill

Giveaway ends November 14, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
(This book is, of course, by Jill Williamson too. Not sure why it's getting listed as just me on the widget!)