Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Five: Resources for 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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I'm currently holed up in a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado with a bunch of my family. We're up here to celebrate Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays. Even though I'm a big fan of presents and Christmas lights and all that good stuff, I love the (relative) serenity of Thanksgiving. That's it's about being together and eating great food and that, other than the grocery store, I didn't have to do a bunch of shopping for it.

With Thanksgiving in mind, here's a Friday Five list of 5 Resources That Writers Can Give Thanks For:

1. Agency Blogs

Seriously, how great is it to live in a time where many literary agents blog? Publishing isn't such a mysterious, faceless business anymore. Here are a few greats, listed in alphabetical order:

Miss Snark (a classic - the blog closed in 2007)


2. Etymonline.com (And Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com)

Etymonline is a great resource for understanding the origins of words. Every historical writer should have this bookmarked. 

3. Google Street View

For the Ellie Sweet series, I basically lived on Google Street View trying to get a feel for the Redwood High School campus. (Note to self: Use a fake school next time!)

If you can't afford a research trip, Google's got your back with Street View and Google Maps Views. Want to go to Antartica? Or see the Bridge of Sighs in Venice? Stonehenge?

4. Conference MP3s

Conferences are pricey. By the time I buy plane tickets, book my hotel, and pay my registration fee, I'm looking at $1,000. 

But some writers conferences also offer the MP3s of the classes for purchase. You can buy an entire conference or just a few sessions. American Christian Fiction Writers offers that option on their site. For RWA, it looks like you have to be a member to order the conference recordings.

Also, Jill speaks very highly of the podcasts on Writing Excuses, which is for fantasy and sci-fi authors, but has stuff that would apply to writing in general too.

5. The Chicago Manual of Style

This thing is ridiculous. Look at it:

She's the orange one with the 15 on the side. I'm not sure why she's a girl in my head, but that's the pronoun that came out.
It would be pretty impossible for me to write a book of that length on any subject ... but if it had to be on grammar? No, thank you. I'm super appreciative, however, of the folks who've actually given thought to the fact that brussels sprouts shouldn't be capitalized despite Brussels being a proper noun in another context. 

What resources are you thankful for? Pinterest? A certain writers conference you go to every year? A favorite craft book? Please share!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Walt Disney's Key Steps in Animation

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.

A few weeks back I went to Chicago for a marketing event with my literary agency. My husband came along this time, and when the event was over, he and I were tourists. Chicago is a fun city with lots to do. And we hit the museum circuit. Hard. In two days we visited the Field Museum, the Art Institute, Willis (Sears) Tower, the Shedd Aquarium, the Hancock Tower, Ed Debevic's, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

It was at the Museum of Science and Industry where we saw the special exhibit on the life of Walt Disney and the studio he created. My husband is a huge Walt Disney buff, so he was so excited. The event was called Treasures of Walt Disney Archives, and there was lots to see. If you live near Chicago and love Disney history, it might be worth the visit.

I greatly enjoyed a section of the exhibit which showed 11 key steps in animation. I instantly knew I wanted to share them with you all, as they have much in common with the steps one might take to create a novel.

A picture of the section of the exhibit I'm talking about.
1. Visual Development
This is the initial period in a film's development. Long before any characters are drawn or scripts are written. In this stage, the film's director and production team determine the look and feel of the story, the mood, relationships between the characters, costumes, layout, architecture, and the film's overall visual style. Hundreds of concept images are created as the team seeks answers to these questions. If I were to try and compare this to writing a novel, this would be my storyworld building stage. I'd draw my map here and do a lot of research on things for my book as I'm seeking to define the story I want to tell.

2. Story Development
Walt Disney loved storyboarding. This is where the concept images are arranged into a plot and analyzed. Sequences are changed, key scenes might be acted out, and the plot and storyline are chosen. I storyboard my books. It helps me see the story all at once. And it's easy to rearrange scenes or see holes in the plot.

3. Character Development
Here Disney set out to create memorable characters in both design and personality. Walt always sought to put lifelike movement into all his characters. He hired actors to model and act out movement for the animators to capture realistic attributes in each character.

4. Character Voice Recording
The right voice can make an animated character come to life. Disney searched hard to find the perfect voice actor for each character. Once an actor was chosen, he or she would record several pages of dialogue for the animators to listen to as they drew the characters. I have a period in my brainstorming where I seek to learn who my characters are, find out about their past and their dreams for the future. This is usually where I find their voice.

5. Animation Maquettes
A maquette is a miniature three dimensional model of a character. Maquettes are given to animators so that they can see their subjects in three dimensions. The only 3D things I've made of my characters have been clothing. I did make a necklace once too. But I almost always find pictures of actors or people I know to model my characters after.

6. Action Analysis
In the 1930s, animation was done frame by frame. But Disney was a pioneer for putting cutting edge technology into everything he created. Action analysis is animation in motion. It involves timing, spacing, staging, and depth. Actors were brought in to show how movement really looked so that the characters would be even more realistic. Have you ever recruited a friend into acting out a scene from your book to help you be able to describe it? I have. Lots of times. My kids get very hyper helping me too.

The cover of the book from Snow White is carved wood. The
inside is thick pages with hand-printed text and color illustrations.
I wanted it!
7. Photographic Pencil Tests
In order to see how well the character was coming along, Disney had pencil drawings filmed in what is now known as a "pencil test" that he would watch with his team. The animators called these screenings "sweatbox sessions" due to the heat the projector made in the small room and to the fact that Walt was reviewing and critiquing their work. This sounds to me like getting edits on the first draft of a book.

8. Backgrounds and Layouts
Animated backgrounds provide the backdrop on which a story unfolds. The setting. They create a time and place for the character to live in. Disney backgrounds vary per picture from the simple and fun brightness of Dumbo to the gorgeous medieval setting in Sleeping Beauty. It's kind of fun to think about your own setting as an animated background to give mood and scope to your story. Give it a try.

9. Inking, Painting, and Checking
The Ink and Paint Department added color to the animators cells. Once they were done, they were placed with their corresponding background. Soon after, a checker went through, looked for missing details, and added them when necessary before they were filmed. Sounds like proofreading to me.

10. Animation and Multiplane Cameras
Walt Disney knew that for audiences to enjoy an animated movie-length feature, he would need to create the kind of depth and realism that live-action pictures offered. So he had his staff build a multiplane camera. This kind of camera takes pictures of a collection of images at various depths. And each layer can be moved or not to create the appearance of movement and perspective. Here's a link to a video where Walt explains how it works. It's fascinating.

11. Music Scoring
Once the rough cut of the film was complete it would be sent to the scoring stage where the musical score and sound effects would be recorded. This has always been a dimension that books lack. However, with ebooks and tablet technology, some have released books with sound effects. I'm intrigued by this new type of storytelling, though I will always like holding a physical book in my hand as well.

So what do you think? See some similarities in the animation process and writing novels? Some differences? Did anything here spark an idea of something you might try and add to your own storytelling?

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Reveal Thoughts of Other Characters When Writing In First Person

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

A writer emailed me to ask, "As I'm writing my book in first person, how will I be able to express the feelings of other characters effectively? Especially the feelings and thoughts they don't say?"

This is a great question. Because the more you learn about good craftabout showing instead of telling and not head hoppingthe harder you realize it is to write a good book.

All my books are in first person, so I've wrestled with this issue a lot. Here are my thoughts:

Misunderstandings are a good thing.

A common struggle for new writers is that they want the reader to understand everything right away. That's why new writers struggle so much with backstory and telling, because you don't want the reader to feel confused. 

But a little confusion is an okay thing. When handled well, it can create intrigue.

So if your main character is struggling to understand why another character is behaving the way they are, that can work to your advantage.

Your main character is always guessing.

How can you tell your sister is mad? Or that your mom had a rough day at work? How do you know if your dad is feeling stressed? Is it when the person says, "Hi, Jenna. I'm feeling so angry today because my co-worker took credit for work that I did."

I'm guessing that with the people close to you, you can figure it out from the signals they're sending. Like how they're giving you one word answers when usually they would say a few sentences. Or the way they won't stop biting their nails.

Your main character will experience the same things. She'll wonder why Charles is looking at her like that or why Tara is being so quiet. Just like you and I walk away from conversations thinking, "Yikes, they woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," your character will think those same things.

Be strategic about how the other character reveals his or herself

A temptation for writers is to have the other character (the non-POV character) finally blurt out their story so everyone will know what exactly is going on. Sometimes blurting is okay, but you want to make sure you don't use it too often and that you set it up logically. (Here's another post that talks some about "strategy" in dialogue.)

If a character has decided to share something they're feeling or an experience they've had with your main character, you need to provide a reason. It may not need to be stated in the story, but you need to know it. Maybe the character thinks this will help the main character with a tough decision? Or maybe the character wants to manipulate the main character into doing something? Whatever it is, make sure you think it through.

Remember to vary how characters tell stories.

For example, I've noticed my mom tends to feed me information in reverse order. A conversation between us might go like this:

Mom: I just wanted to call and let you know that Grandma has been released from the hospital and is back at Park Edge nursing home.
Me: Oh, I don't know she was living at Park Edge.
Mom: Well, they kicked her out of Sunny Farm because she refused to cooperate with her medicine.
Me: She was at Sunny Farm? The last I heard she was living at Brookfield...
Mom: We decided we didn't like Brookfield because...

This happens all the time with my mom. She gives me the end first, and then I have to dig out the other information. My sister-in-law, on the other hand, likes to build everything up for dramatic effect. 

Use your main character's filter

When I'm writing first drafts, I often ignore that everything needs to go through my main character's filter. That means when it's editing time, I'm left with problems like this:

My nails bite into my palms. “But that’s a week away.”
“Don’t ask me to add something else to this week’s schedule, okay, El? I can’t take it.” Mom’s fingertips press into the nape of her neck where her head aches. 

The problem with this of course is that Ellie can't know that her mom's head aches unless her mom comes out and says it. She can only guess. So I revised it to this:

“Don’t ask me to add something else to this week’s schedule, okay, El? I can’t take it.” Mom’s fingertips press into the nape of her neck, the same place where my stress headaches strike.
Ellie isn't come right out and saying, "My mom has a stress headache," but her observations plant the idea in the reader's mind.

Here are a few other ways I've hinted at other character's thoughts:

In The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie's aunt has just dropped a bomb on the family that she's moving:
"That's . . . amazing, Karen." Mom sounds as stunned as I feel. "What, exactly, is in Phoenix?"
Ellie is feeling stunned and that's the way she's reading her mom's emotion too.

In this next example, Ellie is walking with her friend Chase and has noticed he's being extra quiet. She's wondering why when he asks her if she wants to come over for dinner next week:
"No big deal if you can't, but it's kinda my birthday. My mom's making a special dinner and asked if I wanted to invite someone. So . . ." He shrugs and jams his hands deep in his pockets.
But not before I note the tremor in them. 
Poor Chase is terribly nervous. He's using a lot of passive language ("it's kinda my birthday") to make it seem like this is no big deal, but his body language says otherwise.

And here's one last example (this one from The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet) where Ellie is observing two friends interact. She doesn't understand what's going on, but she notes enough clues for the reader to put it together:
As they come to a stop beside our bench, Palmer smiles at Harper. "Hey, Harper. I didn't know you worked here."
"Well, I do." The gleam in her eye and the set of her jaw are far from friendly. They seem almost challenging.
Palmer blinks at her. "Okay, then." He turns back to me. "You need a ride home?"
Again, your story loses effect if you start saying things like, "Harper is rude to Palmer. Palmer is surprised by her rudeness." You want to look for body language and dialogue clues that your POV character would notice.

If you have questions, I'm happy to help! Or if you have a sticky spot in your manuscript where you're trying to figure out how to communicate a non-POV character's thoughts, post it in the comments section below and we'll work together.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Journey with Gillian: Beyond Skin Deep Dialogue

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.

Crafting dialogue is one of those areas where I feel like I’m in a constant learning cycle. I mean, I keep learning so much … but there’s always more to learn. So while I enjoy writing conversations, crafting dialogue that is unique to my individual characters is something I have to work at.

This is how I’ve come to think about it. (Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to get technical.)

Unique dialogue comes through layers and filters.

Huh? What are layers and filters?

Layers affect what is said, while filters affect how it is said.

Layers are drawn from your character’s backstory. They are a part of your character and remain in place throughout the entire novel, forming the foundation of word choice. Things like who I am (personality), how old I am (age), where I’m from (nationality/location), are all layers that you use to influence your character’s dialogue. This is also where accents, slang, nuance—all that exciting stuff—comes in.

Filters, on the other hand, are more immediate, changed by whatever is happening at the time. Filters can be anything from a different setting, to a new circumstance, to a strong emotion. Using filters enables you to change the current tone you’re attempting to convey through your character’s speech.

Okay, so that all sounds great (and highly technical), but let’s get practical. What in the world does that look like? How do you use layers and filters and whatnot in your dialogue?

Let’s try an example. Say we’re writing a story about a two-bit, down on his luck, rough-riding gunslinger in the old west, named Brett Martin. After being out on the trail for three months, he finally has some hard-earned cash in his pockets, so he walks into the bank only to see a bunch of robbers stuffing cash into their saddlebags. And the robbers have the drop on him.

What layers do we have in this scene? Just from the information above, we can make a few educated guesses.
Layer 1: WHO: Brett Martin, two-bit gunslinger. He’s not the most educated person in town—had to start working at a young age, wasn’t able to finish school. Doesn’t possess the largest vocabulary, but gets by on common sense rather than book smarts.
Layer 2: PERSONALITY: Hardened—he’s had a tough life, but it’s just made him tougher. Tends to be a bit short of speech. Doesn’t waste his words.
Layer 3: AGE: He’s a young feller. Most folks consider him still a bit wet behind the ears, but that’s just their mistake.
Layer 4: HOME: Old West! He’s from some little old Texas town, so you can expect plenty of “y’alls” and “reckon” and “fixin’ to” in his speech.

We could keep going, but this is enough to start with. You can see how the layers that we’ve highlighted would affect Brett’s speech regardless of the situation. This is Brett’s VOICE. How he usually talks as a character.

But now, we start on the filters that have to do with this particular scene.
Filter 1: EMOTION: Bone-Weary—Brett’s been on the trail for three months, probably rode all day long just to reach town.
Filter 2: EMOTION: Pride—It’s been a long time since he’s had cash in his pockets. Now look at him, walking into a bank like one of them big rich men from back east.
Filter 3: LOCATION: Bank—This is where the snobbish bankers work. It’s frequented by the rich who like looking down their noses at hard-working folks who don’t have as much as they do. But as Brett walks up to those doors, money in hand, he can’t help standing taller and talking a little bit more refined.
Filter 4: EMOTION: Fear—Brett spies the robbers and freezes, unable to draw his gun, as his grand dreams come crashing down around his ears. The robber asks him a question, and Brett manages to stammer out an answer.
Or EMOTION: Anger—Brett spies the robbers and anger courses through his veins. Steal his money, will they? He’s not Brett Martin the gunslinger, for nothing!

So you start with the layers—that’s what give you your character’s voice—and then for each individual scene, you add in the filters to change the tone of the dialogue within the scene.

Can you see how each of those things is going to affect the choice of words? The length of your sentences? Even the things your character does and doesn’t say?

You don’t have to do this for every scene. But it’s something I think through whenever I hit a roadblock while I’m writing a tough scene where all my characters sound the same and I can’t figure out how to make their dialogue unique.

And if you want a fun “dialogue-crafting” research assignment, watch The Avengers. Awesome movie with seriously hilarious one-liners and dialogue that perfectly matches each individual character. And yes, it does count as research! :)

What tricks do you use to craft dialogue to match your individual characters? Any fun dialogue research assignments you can think of?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Limited Time Only - Earn Double Rewards Points

At the beginning of the month, Jill and I re-opened Go Teen Writers Rewards. This is a program where when you do things to promote Go Teen Writers and our fiction titles, you earn points that can be cashed in for various critiques or video chats.

Between now (November 21st) and Monday, November 25th, if you write a review for the Go Teen Writers book and post it on a retailers website, you will earn double points.



That means instead of earning the normal 15 points, you'll earn 30 points for posting your review on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or another site where you can purchase the book. (We're grateful for Goodreads and blog reviews, but the 30 points offer is limited to retail sites this time.)

And 30 points can be redeemed for a one-page critique (or you can combine it with other points, of course) so it's a good return for just writing a review.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tight Writing


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.


At a writing conference this past fall, I took a class called Tight Writing from Brandilyn Collins. Everyone who signed up was asked to submit the first few pages of a work in progress. Brandilyn would select some to edit in front of the class. One of the ones she picked was mine.

I was so excited.

I learned a lot from this, and I wanted to let you take a look so that you could see what she did. Now, keep in mind that Brandilyn is a suspense author, so she writes very tightly. But my opening chapter of Outcasts is very suspenseful and I valued her input. She edited more than this, but for the post, I just used the first few chapters.

Brandilyn's main point in the class: "You want your readers to feel your scene, not read your scene." By that she meant to purposely craft each sentence to give the emotional rhythm that you want your reader to feel. So, long sentences for relaxed, pondering scenes. And short ones for tense, stressful scenes. And to remember to make ever word count. Too many words decreases tension in a scene.

So here is a series of intros for Outcasts. First is the version I turned it to Brandilyn.


Prologue
July 2088


Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to run—to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs to keep their long strides, swinging her arms, and breathing in the mixed scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry on her right and the Cinnamonster ice cream shop across the street.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center, and Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked—everywhere—determined to firm up the wrinkled skin of her abdomen, determined to look normal again, determined to forget.
The medic had also advised that Kendall wait to return to work until the six weeks had passed, but the loneliness of staying home with her depressing thoughts and the worry over the task director general’s summons—and no baby to hold—had been too much. Kendall had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
But even the cool night air couldn’t keep Kendall’s thoughts from the summons. She had no way of knowing if the task director truly had business to discuss or if this was another one of the Creature’s games.
What could he possibly want now? He had taken everything from her. She had served her term in the harem and had given the ultimate sacrifice, so this couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation. No, she felt certain this summons was of a personal nature.


And here is Brandilyn's edit of my first few paragraphs. She edited in Track Changes, so what she deleted appears in strikethrough, and what she added is underlined.



Prologue
July 2088

Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to jogrun —to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs into to keep their long strides. Kendall swung, swinging her arms, and breatheding in the mixed scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry on her right and the Cinnamonster ice cream shop across the street.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center. , and Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up the wrinkled skin of her abdomen, determined to look normal again. D, determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks either. But The medic had also advised that Kendall wait to return to work until the six weeks had passed, but the loneliness of staying home with her depressing thoughts and the worry over the task director general’s summons—and no baby to hold proved had been too much. SheKendall had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. But even the cool night air couldn’t keep Kendall’s thoughts from the summons. She had no way of knowing if the task director truly had business to discuss or if this was another one of the Creature’s games.
What could the task director possibly want now now? He had taken everything from her. She had served her term in the harem, and had given the ultimate sacrifice. T, so this couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation
This summons had to be personal.. No, she felt certain this summons was of a personal nature.


And here is Brandilyn's edit of my first few paragraphs after I accepted all her changes. See how much shorter it is? 


Prologue
July 2088
Almost there.

Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to jog but held back, forcing her legs into long strides. Kendall swung her arms and breathed in the scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry and Cinnamonster ice cream shop.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center. Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up her abdomen, look normal again. Determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks either. But staying home with no baby to hold proved too much. She had begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. What could the task director want now? He’d taken everything from her. She’d served her term in the harem, had given the ultimate sacrifice. This couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation
This summons had to be personal.


And here is my rewrite in the end. I took some of Brandilyn's advice, but I needed some of what she cut because I was planting clues. And in a few places, I just liked the way I worded things better. Whenever you get an edit, you need to weight each item carefully. And I wanted to make sure I kept my own voice. This is how it now appears in the book.



Prologue
July 2088

Almost there.
Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.
She wanted to run—to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs into long strides. Kendall swung her arms and breathed in the scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry and Cinnamonster ice cream shop.
Barely four weeks had passed since she’d given birth in the Surgery Center, and only two since she’d moved out of the harem and back to the Midlands. Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up her abdomen, look normal again. Determined to forget.
She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks, either. But staying home with no baby to hold … Add to that her depressing thoughts, worry over the girls from Glenrock, and the task director general’s summons—it had been too much. She’d begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.
Kendall picked up her pace. What could the task director want now? He’d taken everything from her. She’d served her term in the harem, had given the ultimate sacrifice. This couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation. 

This summons had to be personal.


What do you think of this type of editing? Can you see how Brandilyn cut unnecessary words from my writing and tried to use rhythm to create an emotion? Think you can do it as you go back to edit your work?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing a Good Story Is Hard Work: How to Push Through and Find Your Next Step

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

You love your story idea. It's the best idea you've ever hadyou can feel it in your writer's gutand you just know this will be The Book. The one you will love enough to write the entire thing. That you will edit. That you will create all that marketing copy for (the back cover blurb, the one line pitch) and take with you to writers conferences. The one you're willing to risk it all for because it's The Book.

Fast-forward several months and there you are in your normal Stuck Place. Most writers I know have one. Mine tend to be at 75% of the way through the first draft, or in the early stages of editing. What's going on? you find yourself wondering. This is The Book. The idea was so good, this wasn't supposed to happen!

Is this sounding familiar to anyone? If so:

You are a normal writer.

Sarah Dessen, New York Times bestselling author of 11 great, award-winning YA books, has been quoted as saying that her favorite book is the one she's going to write next. Because the flaws and cracks in the story haven't appeared yet. It's still perfect in her head.

That fills me with a sense of relief, to hear that a veteran like her struggles after the initial excitement of an idea wears off.

So how do you get over it?

1. You figure out what you need for motivation. Is it NaNo? Is it designing a book cover and hanging it by your computer? Is it telling people you'll have a first draft by the end of the month, creating pressure to deliver on your promise?

We all have a Stuck Place in the writing process. And maybe we have one in the editing process too; I've learned that I do. But don't make the mistake of interpreting being in your Stuck Place as an indicator that the book stinks or you stink. You don't stink. You're just stuck.

2. You grit your teeth and do the thing...or you walk away.

Once you've found your motivation, whatever it is, you now get to grind out the words.

Or not.

Walking away from a manuscript doesn't mean you'll never finish it. I walked away from the book that became Me, Just Different several times during the four years I worked on it. I kept coming back to it because it was The Book. But I was frustrated because I was learning that even when you're writing something you love:

WRITING A GOOD STORY IS HARD WORK

And it's a process to figure out how it works.

It makes me think of how a few years ago, my husband started running over his lunch break. He found it fun, apparently. (This is mysterious to me, but my love of writing is mysterious to him, so it works out.) Ben ran as a hobby. He wore regular sneakers, cotton T-shirts, and didn't really track his pace or distance. He would peek at a map to estimate how far he had run, but that was about it.

I was like that with writing in middle school and early high school. I loved writing, and whenever the fancy struck, I scribbled stories in notebooks using markers. I didn't care about proper story form. I didn't even know it existed, really.

As my husband ran more consistently, he met other coworkers who headed out for a run on their lunch breaks too. These people were more serious about running than he was, and they had all run in races. After talking to them, Ben decided he wanted to try running a marathon. Because this is obviously different than running three miles over your lunch break, he looked up training plans and studied what it took to train your body to run 26.2 miles.

In high school, during my junior year, I became increasingly obsessed with writing a real novel. I had always wanted to write novels, but now I was reading books like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in my English class. It was the first time I had ever had the chance to read about another writer and her process. Reading that book didn't just crank up my desire to write a novel, it equipped me with the tools I needed to finish my book.

Ben put in the training to run a marathon. And it cost him. It meant getting up early on cold, drizzly Saturday mornings to run 18 difficult miles. It meant buying proper gear, enduring knee pain, and living with a wife who didn't quite understand how she wound up married to a runner.

But he did it. He crossed the finish line. He ran a marathon. And while those early days of running certainly played a part in his success, he was a very different runner than when he started out. He did not cross the finish line in a cotton T-shirt and basketball shoes.

Ben running his first marathon
By the time I signed my first contract, I no longer looked like a hobby writer. I owned a dozen writing books, belonged to two writing organizations, had attended three writers conferences, and had sat in writing classes. I had logged lots of time at my desk too. In the years between high school and signing my contract, I wrote a handful of full-length books and countless story beginnings.

But there was still a lot of work to be done.

When my husband ran his first marathon, I thought he would cross "26.2" off the life goals list and move on. But, no. Because he's a runner. And runners run. Now that he'd found he could do it, the question became how could he do it better? How could he get faster? How could he get rid of his knee pain?

And isn't it the same for us? I was never in this to write a novel. I was in this to write. So when I finish a book, I start asking what kind of book I want to write next. How can I get better? What new technique do I want to try?

A couple final thoughts:

Maybe it's not you that's holding you back from finishing your book. Maybe it's the idea. When I say that, I don't mean your book idea is a bad one. I've had ideas that are good, but I'm just not ready to write them yet. Or maybe I like the idea ... but I don't love the idea. I need to love the idea to finish a book. This is a link to a post that talks about when you should give up on an idea.

Focus on the next step you need to take. One writer emailed me to say she was feeling bad because she's been writing for two years now but can't make it past a first draft. My feelings on that are, "Hooray! You can write a first draft!" I mean, that's HUGE. NaNoWriMo exists because of how many people WANT to write a book but never do. And this writer has done that!

But to grow, the writer needs to figure out what it'll take to motivate herself through the editing process. Maybe part of it is a knowledge thing. Maybe she needs to study books like Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell and find the tools to equip her for this part of her journey.

Or maybe she's already done the studying and needs to apply it. That could involve grabbing a couple writers and having a NaNo"Edit"Mo together. Or maybe she can find someone to hold her accountable and say, "By the end of this week, I want to have completed my first read-through of my book. Can you ask me about it on Friday?"

If you're feeling stuck with where you are in the process of growing as a writer, try to figure out what your next step ispreferably without panicking over the step that's three or four awayand what you'll need to motivate you through.

Other posts that may interest you:
A progressive checklist for writers. (Gosh, I also talk about my husband's running in this one. I might be a wee bit obsessed with the man. Good thing I married him, or that could get weird.)



Friday, November 15, 2013

Melanie Dickerson on Debut Novels

Stephanie here. In honor of The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet releasing this month, I've asked a couple writer friends to share about what their book debut was like.

We're also giving away a copy of Melanie's latest fairy tale retelling, The Captive Maiden. You can find details at the end of Melanie's story.

Melanie Dickerson is the author of fairy tale retellings, two of which have finaled in the Christy Awards. She loves writing romance and lives with her husband and two daughters in Alabama. Visit her on her website, www.MelanieDickerson.com, which includes her blog, and you can watch her trailers there as well. Keep up with any breaking news about her books on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MelanieDickersonBooks and on Twitter @melanieauthor. She loves hearing from her readers, so don’t hesitate to say hello!

A debut novel is a dream come true. In my case, as is usually the case, it was the culmination of many years’ work, of studying the craft of writing, of researching and learning about marketing and the publishing industry and the different genres, and especially, writing. Writing, writing, writing. Hours, days, weeks and years. And when that first novel was finally published, it was a glorious thing.

At least, that’s how I presumed it would feel. In fact, I’d heard authors say that whenever they got their box of author copies, they cried tears of joy. They stared lovingly at the cover. They danced and celebrated ecstatically. So that was how I expected to react too. But the truth is, it wasn’t quite like that for me.

When the UPS man came and brought my box of books, I was excited. I tore open the box and stared at the identical copies of MY BOOK with MY NAME right on the cover. But rather than joy, I felt an excitement that was maybe more akin to terror than anything else. People were actually going to be reading this book that I had written, this piece of myself. Strangers—who knew how many, but hundreds, at least—would read these words, MY words and MY story. It was an unsettling feeling. No, not just unsettling. It was nauseatingly terrifying.

I had laid a copy of The Healer’s Apprentice on an end table in our living room, thinking I would enjoy having it in a prominent place where I could see it, since the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach would surely go away soon. For the next several days, every time I walked by that end table and saw that book lying there, I felt queasy. Nauseated. Terrified. What if everybody hated it? What if my friends read it and decided I was a freak? What if it got scathing reviews on Amazon for the whole world to see? Even the thought of one scathing review was horrifying.

But the first several reviews I got were not scathing. In fact, most people seemed to really like it. Whew. What a relief!

I did have to face my first 1-star review. And then another one, and then another. That was a process of learning to focus on why I was writing and who I was writing for, which took at least a year or two to work through, but I won’t go into that. I suspect all writers deal with it in different ways, and most decide NOT to read their 1-star reviews.

View Melanie's books on Amazon.com

And I did eventually get over that feeling sick when I thought about other people reading my book. But I did have a very amusing thing happen with my debut novel.

In my book, Peter Brunckhorst is the name of the villain. He is ugly and evil, and at first, the reader thinks he is only a wool merchant who wants to marry the heroine. Later on, you find that Peter Brunckhorst wasn’t his real name at all and that he is not at all what he seemed. He turns out to be a real nasty piece of work, a conjurer of demons, no less. So, you can imagine my surprise one day when I happened to check my email, and in my inbox was a message from PETER BRUNCKHORST!

I was in shock. Was someone playing a joke on me? Or was there really a person named Peter Brunckhorst who had read my book and been extremely offended that I could use HIS NAME for such a horrible character!?

With great trepidation, I opened the email.

It was not an angry message demanding I make a public apology for maligning his good name in my pretentious little novel. (Thank goodness!) Rather, it was a very polite message from a man named Peter Brunckhorst who lived in one of the New England states. (I forget which one. I think Massachusetts.) He explained that he had been researching the genealogy of his family name, Brunckhorst, and he has been unable to trace it farther than the 1500’s. He had noticed my book was set in Germany in the 1300’s, and since his family was originally from Germany, he wanted to know whether I had found the name in my research as far back as the 1300’s.

Whew! Is that all? But I did have to admit to him that, although I usually get my characters’ names from a census list from the time period and the place where my story is set, I had not found the name Brunckhorst that way. (In fact, I had found it on a package of ham, but I didn’t tell him that.) I thought the name sounded delightfully interesting and kind of hard-edged, and once I confirmed that it was German, I decided to use it for my villain, who had actually invented his name. So I had to tell the poor man that I had been unable to find it that far back either.

But it was really weird to get an email from my villain a few weeks after the book came out. Really, really weird.

So when you end up with a debut novel of your very own, I hope you enjoy it AT LEAST as much as I did. ;-)


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Question of College Majors

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'm often asked what's the best college major for someone who wants to be a novelist. There is no right answer. I will say that most creative writing programs are not designed to help you get published. And most don't teach writing craft tips to help you improve at genre fiction. I've talked to writers who, after graduating with a bachelors in English or creative writing, still had to go to writers conferences before they got published. And it was at conferences that they learned how to improve their storytelling techniques.

But every author has a different story.

Here are a few authors who majored in English:
-Stephen King
-Douglas Adams
-Tom Clancy
-Arthur Miller
-Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel)
-Amy Tan
-Stephenie Meyer
-Dave Barry
-Toni Morrison
-John Updike

And here are a few authors who majored in another field:
-John Grisham was a lawyer.
-Michael Crichton studied medicine at Harvard.
-Robert Ludlum was working as a Broadway producer.
-Danielle Steel studied fashion design.
-J.K. Rowling majored in French.
-Larry Niven majored in math.

And there are plenty of authors who didn't go to college, but continually worked hard at their craft until they sold their first article or book. Here are a few:
-Mark Twain
-Jane Austen
-William Shakespeare
-Charles Dickens
-Agatha Christie
-Ray Bradbury
-the Bronte Sisters
-George Orwell
-H.G. Wells
-Jack London

In case you didn't know, I majored in fashion in college, hoping to someday start my own wedding gown design business. But if I were to go back in time, I think I'd have majored in marketing or business. When I started writing, I didn't realize that, should I succeed, I would become a small business owner and that marketing my "products" would be so very important. I think a business or marketing degree would have been useful. Or even accounting, though I shudder to think how agonizing an accounting degree would have been for me. I had one accounting class in college and that was more than enough.

What about you? Are you in college now? If so, what are you studying? And if you are still in high school, what are your college plans, if any?

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Plan A Book Series

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I've had a couple questions come in about writing series so I'll tackle those today.

"So I finally plotted out my story idea for my first novel, but how do I plot all four? Meaning if I want this one story idea to be a trilogy, or better yet a series, how do I go about that?"

I'm sure this process is unique for each writer. As I've mentioned on here before, I'm not a super plotter but I can talk about some guiding principles for plotting a series

1. Don't feel like you have to have everything figured out.

When I was working on So Over It, the third book in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, I had a plot twist idea that I was really excited about. But I couldn't do it exactly like I wanted to because of some things I had said in the first book. Which hadn't been published yet but was too far along in the process for me to make big changes.



And while I grumbled in frustration for a bit, I eventually made the plot twist work in a way that was more creative than my initial idea. Don't be afraid of that moment when you've written yourself into a corner. That's just an opportunity to creatively write your way out.

2. Each story should feel bigger than the last.

This is one of the reasons why the Harry Potter series is worthy of the literary praise it receives, because each book has a fresh plot and yet builds onto the story as a whole. Each book has a fresh feel to it. Other series, even wildly successful ones like the Twilight saga or The Hunger Games trilogy, don't do as well with this. (In my opinion.)

With those principles in mind, what's worked for me is to write a detailed synopsis of the first book, and then to write long-ish blurbs (2-3 paragraphs) of what I think could happen in later books. This has helped me to keep the story on course but to still have the freedom to explore new plot ideas that crop up in the writing process.

Jill has written several series as well (fabulous, award-winning series) so I asked her about what she's tried. She said something similar:


I had a spreadsheet for The Mission League. I had a spreadsheet for that series before I ever finished book one. But on the Blood of Kings trilogy, I didn't. I had some vague ideas of how things would end, but that was it.
I didn't like that, though. So on my newest series, I'm trying to do a mix of the two. I want to plot out enough so that I'm confident in where I'm going. But not to the point of huge spreadsheets.
One thing I want you to notice is that even as published writers, neither Jill nor I have The Perfect System or The Secret Plotting Device. We're both always looking for ways to improve our process, and we figure it out by trial and error. Don't be afraid of that.

The second question I received about writing a series was:

"I'm wondering if during a second book it's okay to introduce a few more newer characters while older characters are temporarily gone (but will return). I mean, obviously I'm keeping the same protagonist but as for friends and family go, I really want to add some new people in. I'm just scared it will be too much going on."

I think it's a great idea to bring in new characters. I know it's popular to hate the Twilight saga these days, but one of the things I thought worked really well in those books was that Edward was basically gone for all of book two. That's a bold move for a writer to make, to rip away the hero like that. It works because Jake, who hardly had any role in book one, is so darn likable.

Jake also has a big part in the story that eventually unfolds, which is another thing that makes the addition of him work. It isn't nearly as effective to add characters just for the sake of adding a character. They need to fit into the story as a whole.

Any other questions of series that I can help answer?

Speaking of series, there are a couple of giveaways for my Ellie Sweet series going on right now. (These are in addition to the ones I posted last Tuesday.) Here's where you can enter to win:

Also the first book in the Culper Ring series by Roseanna M. White, who blogs here frequently, is a steal right now for 1.99 on your e-reader. It's a series that follows several generations of a spy family, and it's excellent.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Jill's House Cleaning Giveaway

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.

For years I've wanted to build shelves for our living room. And about eight months ago, my son and I designed some. But months passed and I had no way of getting the help I needed to build them. I was a tool-less designer. The dream remained merely a dream.

Until my dad came to visit. Dad is a carpenter, and he was kind enough to allow me to put him to work while he was on vacation. So for two-and-a-half days we built those shelves! Then my husband put all his movies on them, leaving me with the old shelves for my books. (My books finally have a home! I'm so happy!) This rearranging was the start of an accidental spring cleaning in October. But clean we did. And many things went away.

It's a good feeling.

But I had a some things that I didn't want to just ship off to the local thrift store. These things, I felt, were valuable to writers. So I decided to host a House Cleaning Giveaway. Here's how it works. I'm listing all my freebies individually. Each will have it's own Rafflecopter entry box so that you don't end up winning something you don't. want. Enter one. Enter them all. Enter whichever ones you want. I will pay the shipping. But it is for USA only, guys. Sorry about that.

Click to view on Amazon.
First we have The Essentials of English. This is a great reference guide if you don't own The Chicago Manual of Style. Keep in mind, The Chicago Manual of Style is THE go to manual for book writing. But this book is handy as well. It's the fifth edition, and according to Amazon, there is a sixth edition out now.

Here's the product description: This book fills a double purpose as both a useful classroom text and a practical style manual for writers. It reviews English grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and correct word usage, and advises on adapting writing style to different formats, including both classroom assignments, business documents, and electronic communication. Readers will also find detailed instruction on essay writing, starting with outlining a subject, and going on to writing a draft and then editing and polishing it into a finished composition. New in this edition is a sample research paper that uses online sources and follows the widely popular MLA style for footnotes.




Next is Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets. I read this book in hopes of becoming a Twitter guru. It didn't happen. Though this book had some interesting content, it seems that I just don't have what it takes to be amazing at Twitter. Ah, well. Guess I'll keep on writing books, then.

Click to view on Amazon.
Here's the product description: Twitter is hot! It's used by everyone from teens keeping up with their friends to fundraising charities and organizations responding to natural disasters; even President Obama tweets. Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets gets you in on the fun, taking you all the way from setting up an account to incorporating cool third-party applications.

Defined as microblogging, Twitter allows you to be as active or passive as you choose in keeping up with the conversation. Limited to 140 characters per comment, or "tweet", it's designed for here-and-now communication. This handy guide gives you everything you need to know.

•Guides you through setting up an account and following Twitter rules
•Explains how to tweet from mobile devices
•Shows how to add Twitter to a blog or to other social networking sites such as Facebook
•Offers ideas for using Twitter in business as well as for personal contacts
•Covers Twitter terminology
•Provides useful tips and tricks for expanding Twitter's usefulness through third-party applications

Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets explores all the features of Twitter, so you can join the conversation and discover what all the buzz is about.




Now we have Sally Stuart's Guide to Getting Published. I've had this forever! It was published in 2000, so it's pretty out of date. But that doesn't mean there aren't good tips in here.

Click to view on Amazon.
Here's the product description: Every Writer Needs One Book that Jump-Starts a Writing Career. This Book Is It. In this one-stop writing resources, Sally Stuart will tell you how to:

•Find the publisher you want
•Write a professional query letter or book proposal
•Approach and work with editors
•Decipher copyright and tax laws
•Negotiate contracts
•Manage the writing life
•Set up a home office
•Develop your book and article ideas

With practical tips and anecdotes, technical details and legal helps, this essential compendium provides the information every writer needs to get in print and stay in print. Whether you are just beginning or you have been published for years and want to polish up on a few fine points, this is your guide to publishing success.




Click to view on Amazon.
The Synonym Finder is an old friend. Before WiFi existed, back in the days of dial-up, I used this book all the time. And you can tell from the picture. It's a lot beat up. It's a big book too. Two-and-a-half inches thick. Yes, thesaurus.com can do the same job, but sometimes it's nice to have this book to leaf through. My husband bought me a leather-bound copy, so this one was going to go to the thrift store. Unless someone wants it! *grin*

Here's the product description: With a simple alphabetical arrangement this book has been expanded to include thousands of new words and expressions that have entered the language in recent years, and includes clearly labelled slang and informal words and expressions.




I KNEW I bought this book at a thrift store in McCall, Idaho in the fall of 2012. But when I went looking for it, I couldn't find it anywhere. So this past summer, I finally ordered it used online. It came missing the first five pages of the story! So I went on Amazon.com and tried to read them in the "Look inside this book" thing. Couldn't quite read far enough, though. Sad.

Click to view on Amazon.
Then my friend Diana Sharples gave me a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble online. So I bought the first three books in this series in a box set and finally read The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. (Thanks, Diana!) Then, after the arrival of the new shelves, when we were moving things around, I found the first used copy I'd bought in McCall. And it has all the pages. So, I tossed the page-less copy, but this one should go to someone who writes epic fantasy and has not read any of the Wheel of Time books. It's long. But it's good. And it's important to read the books that are as famous as this one. I think.

Here's the product description: The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.




The Christian Writer's Manual of Style is a book that is filled with information for anyone who writes for the Christian specialty market (Christian Booksellers Association/CBA). I bought this ages ago before I was published, then when I signed with Zondervan, they sent me a copy. So I now have two. If you want to be published in CBA, you should have this book.

Click to view on Amazon.
Here's the product description: The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style is an essential tool not only for writers of religious materials, but for their editors, proofreaders, designers, copywriters, production managers, and even marketers. Rather than simply repeating style information commonly available in standard references, this newly updated and expanded edition includes points of grammar, punctuation, usage, book production and design, and written style that are often overlooked in other manuals. It focuses on information relating to the unique needs and demands of religious publications, such as discussions on how to correctly quote the Bible, how to capitalize and use common religious terms, and how to abbreviate the books of the Bible and other religious words.

Also included are rarely found items such as: • an author’s guide to obtaining permissions • guidelines for using American, British, and Mid-Atlantic styles • discussions of inclusive language, profanity, and ethnic sensitivities • discussions of Internet and computer-related language style • a list of problem words • style issues regarding words from major world religions • a discussion of handling brand names in text • a list of common interjections • issues of type design, paper, copy-fit

This edition has been completely updated since the 1988 edition and contains more than twice as much information as the previous edition. This is the most detailed and comprehensive guide of its kind.




Click to view on Amazon.
Here's another book for those writing for the Christian specialty market. For the Write Reason: 31 Writers, Agents and Editors Share Their Experiences with Christian Publishing is a book filled with wisdom from professionals in the industry. It was published in 2005, so it's a bit out of date in some areas, but there is still lots of gold in these pages.

Here's the product description: Drawing on the wisdom of experienced writers, agents and editors, this book offers writers of all levels a valuable source of encouragement and wisdom. By combining personal stories with an in-depth Bible study, you can delve into God's calling to write in your own life.




And finally we have The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction: A One-Semester Creative Writing Workbook with Lesson Plans and Daily Assignments written by Jeff Gerke and Mary Aguis. Mary is the same author who helped me write homeschool literature units for my Blood of Kings series. This is the first project she did. It's meant to be used along with the nonfiction book. So if you don't have that book, you might have to get it to complete the course. It's never been opened, still shrink-wrapped in plastic. Jeff gave me a copy way back when, just because, and I never knew what to do with it.

Until now.

Here's the product description: The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction: A One-Semester Creative Writing Workbook with Lesson Plans and Daily Assignments encourages high school level creative writing students to examine their motives for writing fiction, while challenging them to use their writing ability to honor God. Delivered in a convenient hole-punched 8.5″x11″ format.

Students who complete this biblically-based creative writing curriculum will benefit from:

•Setting a weekly writing goal and word count
•Working through the “Three Act Structure”
•Integrating engaging plots and captivating characters in a way that enthralls readers
•Learning how to spot and correct writing mistakes




And that concludes my House Cleaning Giveaway. If you could only choose one, which would you want and why?