Thursday, July 31, 2014

Larry L. King on How to Finish a Book

I meet a lot of writers who have yet to finish a book. I meet a lot of writers who have been working on one book for years. I meet a lot of writers who get to the third act and never manage to write the ending. I myself have been in all of these places. And I'm currently struggling to get my word count in every day. Working in the summer is difficult with the kids home from school and everything so crazy.

But... for authors who want to finish their story... Larry L. King has the best advice.


And then, of course, repeat this process for the rest of your life. Some days it's easier said than done, right? When I encounter those days, I read. How do you deal with the days when you feel like you're never going to finish?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: Backstory, Goals, and Motivations

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

We took a week off from working through my new character worksheet (click here to download a copy), but today we are back at it. We are looking at backstory, goals, and motivations. And I put in the personality and conflict parts too, since they didn't really seem to fit in their own blog post. If you heard me teach this at OYAN, I've changed a few things about Trevyn since that talk. The more your write, the more you'll zero in on who your character really is.

First, backstory. It's important to know some of the things that happened to your character in the past as those things made him who he is today. And some of those things haunt him. And we want to help our characters grow in some way. And to do that, we need to know what his weaknesses are.

So here is Trevyn. He is the third son to a king who is a little nuts. He is fourteen at the start of book one, two months away from turning fifteen, which is the age of majority in my world.

Important Backstory
-Two months before Trevyn was born, several of his older brothers were given as human sacrifices to the god Barthos. As the third queen’s firstborn son, this made her an obsessively protective mother, smothering him.
-His brother Willek, who is ten years older, witnessed the sacrifice and was deeply affected by the deaths of his brothers. This caused Willek to be very protective of Trevyn.
-Trevyn grew up in a castle filled with politics. His father has four wives and people are always looking for ways to get on Trevyn’s good side to gain power at court. Trevyn hates all of that.
-As a lesser prince, the king decreed that Trevyn would  become a priest.
-Father Tomek took Trevyn out to sea for the first time when he was six. The sea became a safe-haven for Trevyn from his paranoid mother.
-A year ago, a girl named Shessy Wallington pretended to like Trevyn. He found out later that his brother Janek put her up to it with the promise that he’d get Trevyn to marry her, thus making her a princess. Trevyn hasn’t trusted girls—or his brother Janek—ever since.

Character’s Past
Happiest moment: When Trevyn took his first ride in a ship with Father Tomek and learned to draw a map of the coast. Both sailing and map-making became an important part of Trevyn's life from that moment on.
Dark moment: When Trevyn was eight, he set out to explore the castle and found his way into his father's privy chamber. He was proud of himself for not getting lost and was certain that his father would be pleased to see him. But when his father caught sight of him, he ordered the guards to take Trevyn back to his mother and lock him up for a week until he learned his place. This was the first of many moments when his father sent him away. Trevyn knows his father does not love him and never will.
Lie he believes: His live is meaningless—he doesn’t matter to anyone, except as a pawn.
Mantra he lives by: Life is too short to worry about anything, especially what people think. He should enjoy today because no one truly cares for him anyway, and tomorrow he might be locked up again. (An interesting thing about his mantra: He forces himself to believe it, but daily his instincts tell him differently, that his mother and Hinck and Father Tomek and Willek all love him. But the lie he believes about himself is stronger than the evidence that opposes this statement. Something huge is going to have to happen to change his mind about this.)

Goals & Motivations
Day-to-Day Goal: Explore wherever he can and perfect his maps of the coastline.
Story Goal (external): Solve a murder.
Story Goal threatened by: Evil priests.
The Push/Pull that makes him act: His room is ransacked.
Second Goal: Spend time with Mielle.
Conflicts with first goal: Both goals demand his time. Plus he doesn’t want to put Mielle in danger.
Goal he lives by (internal): Freedom.
Emotional Life Goal: To matter. To be someone’s #1.
How this shows: By proving to others that he is right/good enough.
He most values (take it away): Freedom. (This isn't always the same as the goal a character lives by, but it happens to be for Trevyn.)
Willing to die for: That his people would know the truth.
Greatest dream: To find new land beyond the bowl.
Noble Cause: To go where no man has gone before—and in that prove himself unique and worthy.
Greatest fear (make it happen in the story): Being locked up/loss of freedom.

Personality & Attributes
Personality descriptors: Impulsive, easy-going, creative, loyal, guarded, passive aggressive—purposely risks his life (No one would miss him, anyway).
Methods of action (When faced with a problem, how does he try to solve it? How does he act?): Works best alone, perfectionist. Must have meaning or he won’t do it. Or, if someone tells him he can't, then he's going to do it for sure.
Methods of evaluation (How does your character judge situations, life, himself, others?): Observes, reads.
Skills: Artistic, detailed, fast, athletic, smart.
Flaws: Sensitive, evasive, shuts down quickly, can't take rejection, distances himself from people, comes off as cold, emotional, hates criticism, acts indifferent towards his friends.
Traits/Quirks: Acts uninterested, fearless, untrusting, doesn’t like to sit, never gets lost.
Hobbies: Map-making, exploring, medieval parkour, climbing, any life-risking activity, annoying his mother.

Extra Conflict & Growth
Story change he must face: God is real.
How can I make life worse? Take away all his real friends (Hinck, Willek, Father Tomek, and Cadoc).
What can I threaten? The truth. His freedom. His choices.
What else can I take away? Mielle.
Six things that need fixing (For more on this topic, read this post.): Impulsive, stubborn, powerless to make his own choices, has a subconscious death wish, untrusting (afraid to risk his heart), he acts indifferent to his friends (Hinck).

Do any of these topics on the character worksheet help you as you work to create your characters? Which is the most interesting to you? Is there one you've never thought of before?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The fiction writer must rely on self-motivation


I think it's one of the things that has kept me so in love with writingno one makes me do it. I choose it each day.

It's also why there are so many people who talk about writing a book without ever actually doing so. Because sometimes the choice is hard. No one will make you get out of bed early to write before you head off to school. No one will force you to edit that scene again because you just know it could be better.

That's why communities like Go Teen Writers, great writing friends, and other writing groups are so valuable. They're the rare place that you can be motivated by others who are working toward a similar end.

What helps you stay motivated?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Get In The Way of Good Ideas

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 including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Stephen King has my favorite quote about writers and story ideas. "We are writers, and we never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know we don't know."



While I think there's a lot of truth in that, I also think writers can choose to put themselves "in the way" of story ideas and inspiration. All around you is great material for stories. Here are a few things you can do to become more aware of it:

1. When you're listening to music, try to think up a story to go with it.

I love songs that hint at a story. How many times have you been listening to a song and thought, "I wonder what that means?" Well, try to come up with a story for it. You could even do that for a few songs, and then see if there was a way to blend the stories.

2. Try to throw together different TV shows/movies/stories you like and see what happens.

I think Jill does this exercise in the class she teaches about high concept ideas. It works like this:

Sherlock meets Modern Family!
Mad Men meets Pride and Prejudice!
Harry Potter meets The Great Gatsby!
Star Trek meets Downton Abbey!

You're gonna get some weird stuff, but this creative thought process can also churn out some gold.

3. Read National Geographic and news stories.

Truth is stranger than fiction, as the saying goes, and you can use that to your advantage by absorbing nonfiction. I like National Geographic because of the diversity of stories and cultures. I'm not a fantasy author, but it seems like it could be a great source for worldbuilding too.

And your local newspaper is great too. A year or two ago, I saw an article in The Kansas City star about three teenage guys from a rather privileged area of town who attempted to rob a bank. Because I was reading the news with an eye for stories, I was thinking, "What a perfect ex-boyfriend for one of my characters!"

4. Listen to people's stories

I don't like parties, but I really appreciate the opportunity they provide to gather stories. (Which is why I'm the weirdo at the party who wants to grill everyone about their profession instead of carry on a normal conversation.)

Interacting with a diverse group of people is a great way to create diverse characters. You have to be careful about borrowing peoples stories, of course, but there's a way to do it respectfully.

5. Ever read a book/watched a movie/heard a story and thought, "I would tell this differently"?

Then do it. I recently read a book that had several plot elements I loved. But the author took the story to some places that I didn't care for. I eventually stopped reading at the midpoint, thinking, "I would have done this differently." There's nothing wrong with being inspired by that and working it into your own unique plot.

Now, I wouldn't recommend you write your own story about an 11-year-old boy who learns he's a wizard and goes away to wizarding school, but it's okay to borrow things that aren't so specific to a particular story.

6. What if?

This applies to all the techniques above. You need to constantly be asking "What if?"

We do it all the time in life when we're worrying (What if this plane crashes? What if the parachute doesn't open?) and as a writer, you get to turn your paranoia into art. My son has epilepsy, and I was able to pour all my what-ifs (What if he's on his bike and has a seizure? Or what if it happens when he's climbing on the playground?) into a story where a character suffers from epilepsy.

On a lighter note, I've often wondered if the movie Monsters, Inc. was born out of the question, "What if there really were monsters hiding in closets?"

But all of these story ideas won't do you much good if you're not able to keep track of them, develop them, and write them. Here are some posts that can help you with that:

How to keep track of story ideas
Questions to help you develop your story idea
Developing your story idea into a list of key scenes

What did I miss? What's a way that you've come up with story ideas?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

WORD WAR: Final Count


Congrats on finishing the word war! So how did you do this past week? Add up your word counts for each day and give the grand total in the comments below. This past week, I typed a total of 11,940 words on my novel King's Folly and 4739 on Storyworld First for a grand total of 17,005.

Thanks to all of you who participated. You really helped motivate me to make the most of writing this week. I'm proud of you all!

Friday, July 25, 2014

WORD WAR: Day Five

Today is the last day of our major word war. It's been fun to see how much progress you guys have made. We will have to do this again sometime.

Yesterday, I typed 5090 words. I started out strong and had most of that done before lunch, but my friend called and asked me to lunch and I went and had a very nice time. Writing is great, but sometimes you just need to leave the cave. How did you all do?


If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday will end on Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's not too late to join us!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTW or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved pronto.)

Looking forward to a long day of writing with you!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

WORD WAR: Day Four

Jill here! I can't believe how great you're all doing on the word war! I'm very impressed. It's been fun watching you all encourage each other's writing.

I had a blah day yesterday. I woke up tired and could not find my groove at all. Still, I forced myself to write. (After I whined to Steph and she so graciously cheered me on.) And I even got creative and switched projects, just so I'd stay productive. Here's what I did:

King's Folly: 1715 words
Storyworld First: 1292 words
A couple dozen marketing tweets for the Rebels release: 326 words
For a grand total of: 3333 words

And then I watched Stardust. What a great movie!

How did you all do?



If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday will end on Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's not too late to join us!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTW or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved pronto.)

Looking forward to a long day of writing with you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

WORD WAR: Day Three


My total for Tuesday was 5100 words.

I started out strong and quickly got stuck when I needed my characters to take a ferry across a lake. But it was a great lake, the size of one of the US Great Lakes, so I decided to make it a barge instead. And by the time I'd learned enough to write the scene decently, I'd lost almost an hour doing research.

These things happen.

How did you do yesterday? I am ready for a BIG day today. I'm past the hard scenes. What I have to write next should be fun. Lots of dialogue. I love dialogue because it goes fast!

If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick recap of what we're doing this week at Go Teen Writers: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday will end on Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's not too late to join us!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTW or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved pronto.)

Looking forward to a long day of writing with you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WORD WAR: Day Two



How did your first day go? I didn't do so well. I got up early and typed 810 words first thing. Then I had to drive my daughter halfway to her grandma's house. So I was gone for eight hours! I managed to dictate 311 words in the car on the way home. And then I got thinking about Spencer and dictated a 707-word scene for one of the upcoming Mission League books, which is unrelated to my WIP, but, hey, it's words, right?

The scenery on my drive was perfect for my WIP. My story takes place in a desert land, and I live in the high desert. So I snapped a bunch of terrible pics on my iPhone, but they will help me describe things. Here are two of them. There have been lots of forest fires in the mountains near my home. And there are some forest fires in my book. So I snapped this picture of the black ground with the ash.

Burned ground with little piles of ash.
And every-so-often, along the river, there were bright green trees that stood out against the dry, pale landscape. I'll totally be putting some bright green trees in my description as my knight rides a camel north.

I love how bright these trees are in the dry, pale landscape.
Yes, I know. I'm random.

When I got home, I managed to type another 1607 words, for a grand total of 3124 words for the day, which considering how long I was home, wasn't all that bad, really.

But I want more today! And I'm home, home, home! Cracks knuckles.


If you're just joining us on the word war (or if today's the first you've heard of it) here's a quick explanation of what we're doing: 

A word war is when you and another writer (or in this case, lots of other writers!) compete to see who can write the most words in a designated period of time. 

This word war began yesterday will end on Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's not too late to join us!

The goal is to buckle down and focus on our manuscripts whenever we can, make good use of our writing time, and encourage each other as we do. Hopefully you'll be meeting new writers and deepening friendships as the weekend goes on!

Here's how you can connect with each other:
1. In the comments section of the blog. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. There's strength in being able to encourage each other and in knowing that others are hard at work too.

2. On Twitter, using the hashtag #GTW or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. (This is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved pronto.)

Looking forward to a long day of writing with you!

Monday, July 21, 2014

WORD WAR: Day One


Jill here! As I mentioned in this post, today we're kicking off a five day word war here on the blog!

I typed 819 words this morning. Now I have to break to drive my daughter to her grandma's house, so I will miss a chunk of the day. But I'll be back this afternoon to check in with you all and to keep on writing!

Is this you've heard of a word war? If so, here are the details:

This word war is a friendly competition to motivate participants to type as many words as we can between now and Friday. 
While some word wars are shorter (fifteen minutes or an hour) and strict, this will instead be a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war. So start when you want to and write as much as you can. There are no hard and fast rules. This is about encouraging each other and writing a lot of words. It's that simple.

How you can connect with each other:
1. You can connect in the comments section of the blog. There will be a post every day and a final word count post on Saturday. So post your final word counts every day. Or post them in segments, if you prefer. Something as simple as "Just wrote 1,000 words in the last hour!" is fine. Seeing everyone's posts will help to encourage each other in knowing that we're all hard at work.

2. If you want to break the time into smaller word wars, you can post that in the comments section too. For example, you could arrange a word war from 1:00 to 2:00 with a few people. You could also do that on Twitter using the hashtag #gtwchat or on the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group (this is a closed group, so if you're not a member yet, apply to join and then shoot me an email telling me so that I can get you approved right away.)

Happy writing, everyone! Can't wait to join see how many words we write!

How To Develop Your Story Idea Into a List of Key Scenes - Part 2

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 including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Jill is going to be here this afternoon to check in how the word warring is going (the Go Teen Writers word war starts today!) but before she does, I'll wrap up what I started two weeks ago when I talked about how I develop my ideas into lists of key scenes.



(Looking for part one? Here it is!)

I love studying writing, and I'm a wee bit obsessed with learning how other writers write their books. If I've learned anything about writing in the last 13 years, it's that no writer is the same, and that you only figure out what works for you by trial and error.

One of the first craft books I ever read was Stephen King's On Writing, which my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was a senior in high school. And if you're going to copy someone's style, who better than Stephen King? So early on in my pursuit of being a novelist, I was very anti-plot, anti-plan. And that worked quite well for me ... until I got published. And then I figured out that it's a little tougher to get away with not planning your novels when your name isn't Stephen King. (Publishers aren't so keen on it.)

Since those years, I've sat in many classes and read many books and blog posts about how different writers write. I've charted. I've Snowflaked. I've used index cards. I've made plot skeletons.

The technique of using a list of key scenes to think through a book is one of those things I found in my studies that works well for me. It makes my list-loving brain happy, limits the rabbit trails because I make myself answer a lot of hard questions early, and yet it's a loose enough plan to keep my artist's heart from feeling too confined.

If this technique works for you, then you will likely put your own spin on it and make it yours. For me, it works like this: I take my story ideathe one I've written a blurb for, talked over with close writing friends, and written a chapter or twoand then I print out a template I've made for myself. I'm going to include several versions of my templates with the Go Teen Writers newsletter that goes out tomorrow.

Working from my template, which is a list of scenes like the ones I posted two Mondays ago, I start filling in the information I already know.

I typically already know how I want the book to open. Sometimes I know a twist that I want to happen in the second half of the book. I don't stress about going in order or being perfect, because this is just about gathering ideas.

After I've filled in everything about the story that I know (or everything I think I know) then I try to work chronologically. I play the "What if?" game like I'm sure you do when you're writing. "This just happened to my character. How would they react to this? What if...?" And I jot down whatever comes to me that seems decent.

I don't rush this process, I carry the notes around with me for days. There's something about having them close by that ensures some part of my brain is working through the story even as I'm flipping pancakes or folding socks. That's why they might look a little mangled by the time I'm done:

Page 1 of 3 for my work-in-progress that has two point of view characters

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is a tool. You're in charge of it, not the other way around. So if you're working off the template and decide, like I did, that your character isn't going to refuse the call, just cross it out.

Or maybe you decide that you want an atonement with the father scene to come in the middle, not the end. Move it around, and see how it works!

Also, don't let yourself think it has to be all filled out before you start. If you've been thinking about the scenes for a few days, and you just have no idea what the crazy plan will be, but you're feeling ready to write, just skip over it. You'll figure it out when you get there. Because the point of it all is to write a great book, not walk away with a pristine outline.

Even if you spent weeks on your outline, chances are that by the time you get to the second half of the book, you'll might be shifting things around anyway.

Happy writing today, everyone! Once I drop my kids off at summer camp, I'll be joining you!





Saturday, July 19, 2014

Are You Ready for the War? July 21-25, 2014

Go Teen Writers is hosting a word war.

July 21-25, 2014.

The war starts here on Monday.

See you then.

Click here for more information about the word war.



Friday, July 18, 2014

How to Win at Writing: Create Writing Routines

SHONNA SLAYTON is the author of the YA novel Cinderella's Dress, out June 3, 2014 with Entangled Teen. She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. While writing Cinderella’s Dress she reflected on her days as a high-school senior in British Columbia when she convinced her supervisors at a sportswear store to let her design a few windows—it was glorious fun while it lasted. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona. She blogs here: ShonnaSlayton.com and so far, always answers her email.

One of the hardest things for writers is finding the time to write. I know that sounds strange. Writers write, don’t they? Well, writers are also dreamers and sometimes they spend more time thinking about writing, or learning about writing, or (ahem) reading, that by the end of the week they realize, “Oops. I didn’t get any words on the page.”

To make sure you actually write, it’s a good idea to put some routines in place to set yourself up for success.

For example:

Daily goals
Some people like to write every day so the “wheels stay greased.” If you fall into this category, you can try things like:

* Nifty 350. This is novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell’s trick. Before doing anything else, he writes 350 words…or up to his Furious 500 words, just to get things flowing.

* Daily word count goal. Some people decide they won’t go to bed unless they’ve written a certain amount of words that day. Or before they get their words in they won’t let themselves check email, or play video games, or, eat chocolate (say it isn’t so!) etc.

* Content Goal. Instead of a word goal, how about a content goal: finish one chapter; write one scene; write all the dialogue for a chapter; write all the setting bits for the chapter…

Weekly goal
If you have a weekly goal for yourself, you can be a little more flexible in your schedule. If you meant to write 500 words a day and you ended up going out to a movie with friends instead of writing one day, you can pick up the slack guilt-free during the rest of the week. Or, if you set a goal to finish through Chapter 5 by Friday, you can vary how much you write each day, as long as you keep an eye on completing your chapters by Friday.

Challenges
Writing challenges help with the motivation to write.

* NaNoWriMo. Events like National Novel Writing Month are great to pump out a lot of words in a short amount of time. (NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. There is a teen track here: Young Writer’s Program as well as Camp NaNoWriMo in select other months.)

Think about the brilliance of NaNoWriMo! If you complete this one challenge, you could write a book a year. This is actually how I wrote my debut novel, Cinderella’s Dress. I completely organized my life in November around writing as much as possible and pushing out the first draft. Then the rest of the year you can revise and edit at a less crazy pace. I love NaNoWriMo so much I gathered a bunch of fun videos and comic links on my blog here: NaNoWriMo for Students.

* Twitter word sprints. There are several groups that get together to do word sprints—writing as fast as you can for a designated time period, like thirty minutes. I think this started as a NaNo thing, but continues on throughout the year. Use #wordsprint and someone might race you.

Contests
If you set your sights on entering a contest, you will be more motivated to polish up those chapters. Google writing contest for teens and you’ll find a bunch.

Critique Groups
Both online and IRL, writing pals will help hold you accountable. Together you can decide how often you want to meet. You can exchange your work for critique, or if you are shy and just getting started, it can be an accountability group. Ask each other: Hey, did you write this week?

Tomorrow is a New Day
And like Anne of Green Gables would say, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no missed words in it yet?”…or something like that (!) Don’t beat yourself up if you missed your writing goals. Start over right now and keep writing.


Jill here. Thanks for this wonderful guest post, Shonna! And congrats on your new book. We're giving away a paperback copy of Cinderella's Dress to one lucky winner. Enter on the Rafflecopter form.

And don't forget the coming word war, which is a great way to get some writing done!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Word War is Coming... July 21-25, 2014

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 have a week to myself. A whole week! And I intend to get some work done. But with no one around to keep me on task, I'm worried I might fall into watching Jane Austen movies all week and eating ice cream.

And while that would be amazingly enjoyable, it would not help me get this book done. And I very much want to get this book done. The sooner, the better.

All that to say, Stephanie suggested I challenge you all to a friendly word war. And I thought... YES! I will do this!



What is a word war?
A word war is a competition to see who can write the most words in a set period of time. Sometimes people word war for minutes or hours or a whole day. This time we're doing it for five days! 

When is it?
Monday, July 21 through Friday, July 25, 2014. Join us for any of the days and times you're available.

Where will it be?
Right here on the blog. There'll be a post each day, and you can leave comments as you make progress throughout the day or just post your word total when you're done writing. You can also leave comments of encouragement for the other writers.

Why do a word war?
Not only do word wars help you focus on your story for a period of time, but you can get a break from the isolation of writing. You get to encourage writers and be encouraged as well.

Are there prizes?
Anyone who comments on THIS POST with an "I'm in!" will be entered to win their choice of one copy of a book by myself or Stephanie. That's one book for one winner. So let's us know if you're going to participate!

Hope to see you here on Monday!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: Tags and Titles

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.

Welcome back to my series on creating compelling characters. I'm your host Jill "The Randomizer" Williamson. We are working our way through my new Character Worksheet, which you can download by clicking here. I am using as an example character, Prince Trevyn from the book I'm currently writing.

Today we are going to talk about tags and titles for your characters.

TAGS
Tags are descriptive ways authors can create memorable characters. Such tags are unique to each character and sets them apart from other characters in a way that makes it easy for the reader to remember who is who. J. K. Rowling does this very well in her Harry Potter books. For example:

Harry Potter: lightning-shaped scar, broken glasses, messy hair, clothes that are too big (because they're Dudley's hand-me-downs), looks just like his father but for his mother's green eyes.
Ron Weasley: red hair, freckles, poor, uses a hand-me-down wand, wears shabby clothing, has a shabby pet rat... everything he owns is shabby.
Hermione Granger: buck teeth, bushy hair, clever, often carries a book or seven, has a pet cat.
Rubeus Hagrid: half-giant, eyes like black beetles, has a wild beard and hair, loves animals, probably has some animal food or an actual animal in his pocket at all times. Is a terrible cook.
Draco Malfoy: blond, pale and pointed face, wealthy, arrogant pure-blood, has two minion-like friends who follow him everywhere.

Each of the above tags aid the reader's physical description of the character that they're picturing in their mind as they read. But they also match who the character is. Because of Harry's backstory, he wouldn't be arrogant like Malfoy because the Dursely's treated him so badly. He wouldn't be as clever as Hermione since he didn't have the opportunity to read so many books. Who he is comes from the life he has lived. That is what makes all his tags possible. If he had died when Voldemort had tried to kill him, he wouldn't have a lightning-shaped scar on his head, he wouldn't be famous, and Dumbedore wouldn't have had to hide him with the Dursleys, who treated him so badly and made him wear Dudley's old clothing.

Here are some tags for Prince Trevyn: tall and skinny, dimpled smile, long neck, wrinkled clothing, charcoal-smudged fingers, rolls of maps under his arm, often seen scaling walls or running through the palace and yelling out, “Sorry!” after he has knocked people over. (I'll explain more about these behaviors in the coming weeks as we talk backstory, motivations, and hobbies.)


TITLES
Titles are roles that each character fills. If I were to describe myself in titles, some of them might be: wife (my husband sometimes calls me "wifey"), mother (my kids still call me mama), author, friend, daughter, big sister, mentor, artist, blogger, entrepreneur, librarian, and The Randomizer (this is my superhero identity).

For my characters, I like to divide titles into two camps: names and roles.

Some example names that people call Prince Treyn are: prince, His Royal Highness / Your Highness, that boy (by his mother), firebrand (by many), Your Magnanimousness (by Hinck, his friend), Trev (occasionally by Hinck).

And here are some roles that Trevyn fills in his life: prince, son, brother, friend, student, map-maker, explorer, celebrity, potential husband (his mom is trying to marry him off), investigator, truth-finder.

See how that works? Choose one of your characters and post some tags and titles for that person in the comments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Make Today Your Masterpiece


What do you want out of your day?

I've started asking myself that question a lot more. What do I want to have crossed off my list at the end of the day? Who do I want to have spent time with? What do I want to make progress on?

Writing is one of those things that can easily slip away if I don't protect it. Some days - an unexpected phone call, a health emergency, a friend in need - the writing has to take a back seat. But other days I guard it by asking myself, "What do I want to have done with my writing time today?"

With the time I have today, I want to write 1,000 words and respond to two of the writing questions waiting in my inbox. What about you?

Monday, July 14, 2014

How To Effectively Test Your Characters

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 including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Last Monday I talked (more extensively than I intended to) about taking a story idea and turning it into a list of key scenes. It's the method I've used for the last few novels I've written and it's worked really well for me. I was a bit skeptical at firstthinking it might feel a bit too restrictive to my pantser heartbut I love it.

So last week, I made a very long list of the types of scenes that I brainstorm, along with brief descriptions. Some of them are more familiar to us than others, and I wanted to touch on the ones that I was unfamiliar with until I started using scene lists for creating stories:



Tests and Armor

During my studies this year, one of my favorite things that I learned was about the idea of establishing what your character brings into their journey that they believe will aid their victory. Another way to phrase this is, "What is it that your character takes from their home world or their old life that they believe will help them achieve their goal?"

It could be something physical. Katniss is good with a bow and arrow. She knows how to hunt. Those are tools or she takes with her into the arena. They make her feel like she could survive this.

Or perhaps the tool isn't physical. In Heist Society, Katarina Bishop believes she can get away with robbing a famous museum because she comes from a family of thieves. Her family heritage is something that aids her belief.

In the book I'm working on now (first draft stage) I used an ideal as a tool. My main character believes she'll achieve her goal because she was mistreated in the opening conflict. She believes her innocence will ensure her victory.

I like to think of these tools as armor because the way characters use them to deflect conflict. Armor has become one of my favorite things to brainstorm because as you figure them out, scenes of the story unfold in your imagination. You're not just brainstorming the character's armor, you're brainstorming what will strip it away. When I realized my character believed herself innocent, I immediately started brainstorming a scene in which she discovered her own guilt in the conflict.

Going back to The Hunger Games example, while hunting and archery skills certainly help Katniss during the games, they aren't what save her in the end. She strips herself of the bow and arrow when she realizes she can't live with herself if she kills Peeta. She'll have to find another way to defeat the enemy during the final battle.

Or in Heist Society, yes, Katarina still has her family heritage. But she'll have to use her own smarts to solve this one because her father and uncle are not able to help.

Fun, right?

Now for the other scene that was a bit too complex to explain in my last blog post:

Atonement with the father

As I mentioned last week, this is by no means a mandatory scene, nor does it need to be taken as literally as its title indicates. This is just a type of scene to consider when you're brainstorming.

Your character likely entered the story with scars from another character. Typically for this scene we're talking about a parent or a guardian of some type. 

I unknowingly did this in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. (It's so nice when I'm ignorant but get something right anyway.) So nice and so rare.In the beginning of the book, Ellie mentions that her real name is Gabrielle, but that when she was born her mother didn't think she "looked right" and so they called her Ellie instead. Because of this, Ellie believes she's been a disappointment since she was born. She actually hates the nickname of Ellie because to her it feels like a reminder that she has never measured up.

In the last quarter of the book, Ellie finally gets the courage to insist that she be called Gabrielle even if "she doesn't look right." Her mother is shocked by Ellie's fervor and explains that no seven-pound, bald baby is going to look like a Gabrielle. That they intended to call her Gabrielle when she got older, but the nickname had stuck. This realization corrects the lie Ellie has believe, bonds her to her mother, and builds courage in her to be the girl she wants to be.

And that's what the "Atonement with the Father" scene is about. Healing a wound and strengthening your character for upcoming battles. 

Next Monday, I'll talk about brainstorming the various parts of the story and then I'll be sending out the Go Teen Writers newsletter (which is our free, monthly newsletter) with a printable that you can try out of your own stories.

Does your manuscript have these types of scenes built in? Does your character have armor that you strip away? Do they have an "atonement with the father" type moment?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Genre Questions: What is Contemporary Young Adult Fiction?


The genre basics

What is it?: A contemporary YA novel is a story about a teenage character that takes place in our current time and deals with the concerns of modern day life.

Word count: The number is very flexible, but I would aim for at least 60,000 words. Stand-alone books tend to have a higher word count, like between 75 and 80,000 words. Series might come in closer to 60,000 words.

Notable authors in the genre: John Green, Sarah Dessen, Ally Carter, Ann Brashares, Meg Cabot

Recommended reads: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (others of hers are good as well, but that remains my favorite of hers), the Heist Society or Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series by Ann Brashares, The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot (both Sisterhood and Princess Diaries are tons better in book form than their silver screen adaptations), Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

Your questions answered:

Are contemporaries usually more focused on the characters than the plot?

Many of them are, yes. This is completely my opinion (and you should know that character building is my favorite and that contemporary YA is my genre of choice, so biases abound) but I think contemporary YA novels have a greater need for a strong voice and great main character because it lacks the bells and whistles of other genres. No flying monkeys, no teleporting. 

But there are high concept contemporary YA novels that have plenty of plot going on and don't necessarily delve into characters as deeply as a story like The Fault In Our Stars or There You'll Find Me. From the list above, I would say Heist Society and the Gallagher Girls series are high concept contemporary YAs, along with  The Princess Diaries series and the Travelling Pants books.

 In a fantasy or sci-fi story, you would probably say the antagonist is a bad person. But in a contemporary, the antagonist isn't necessarily a bad person, they're just not "for" the main character. Is that accurate?:

Yes, I think that's true. In some contemporary YA series - the Gossip Girl books come to mind - the antagonist fluctuates depending on who our point of view character is as well as which book you're reading.

Is the antagonist usually a person, or are they sometimes a force? Which usually works better to write, in your opinion?

In general, I think a person works best. Now, the antagonist in The Fault In Our Stars is cancer and time (I'm assuming. No character is coming to mind.) and that book has done all right for itself, so what do I know?

Also, do contemporaries often have more than one antagonist? Because in the Ellie books, sometimes Lucy could be doing something that kept Ellie from achieving her goals, but sometimes it was Palmer or Chase...

The writer who asked this question is referring to The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet and I thought it was a really perceptive question. In contemporary fiction, the antagonist does often seem to be a bit more mercurial than other genres. In a lot of my books, it's the main character's best friend who takes on the role of antagonist.

But I think it's true for many great stories that there is more than one antagonist, even in other genres. Let's look at Harry Potter because it's easy. Voldemort is, of course, the big villain. But what about Snape? What about Draco? Dudley? They all take turns making Harry's life hard.

So yes, it's good to have a clear antagonist, but it's also good to have other characters working against your main character at times.

Does the antagonist always have to be the one causing the inciting incident (not just in contemporaries but in fiction in general)? Or could the inciting incident affect the antagonist and cause him/her to become an antagonist?

No, the antagonist can cause the inciting incident, but I've never heard an argument that they should. That's a personal choice about the story that you get to make on your own!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Neil Gaiman's Thoughts on The Writer vs. The Blank Sheet of Paper

I've been fighting this week. And it hasn't been pleasant. Fights never are---at least not for me.

Who have I been fighting with? My story.

I'm currently at around 107K. I'm shooting for 160K. And I'm stuck. I'm in a battle with this story in my head. I know what needs to happen, yet for the past several days, every time I sit down, I've got nothing. No fire. No steam. No words. Emptiness.

The blank sheet of paper is winning.

But it won't win forever. I will continue to fight. I will find my muse again. And Neil Gaiman's prediction about the blank paper winning will fly out the window as I cover those pages with another 53K. I will be triumphant. I must. Because I am a writer.

Have you ever had days, weeks, or even months where the blank sheet of paper won?


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: The Character Chart

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.

As a writer, I am always learning. And I hope that will never stop. If it does, it's probably because I've retired from writing. Or I've gotten too big for my britches, which in that case, I had better retire.

All that to say, I've created a new character worksheet. I shared my old one with you over a year ago. But as I've learned what works for me, my methods change.

When I'm starting a new story, I need to spend some time creating my characters. This doesn't happen all at once. I get to know my characters. Then I write. I learn new things about my characters. They change. And then I go back to my character worksheets and tweak. Or maybe this is the point where I start filling out the worksheet for characters who have swooped in and given themselves a larger role than I had intended for them to have.

I create a character worksheet for all of my important characters. That means all my main characters and all the smaller characters who I deem important to the story. My character worksheet helps me find who my characters are. It is a handy quick reference when I need to remember something about a character. And as I mentioned at the start, my character worksheet is always changing.

Here is my new character worksheet. Click the picture to see it up close and to print, if you'd like. If the link doesn't work, click here.


Over the next few weeks, I'm going to walk you through my process with one of my new characters from the Kinsman Chronicles. (Which I had once called Evenroot and, who knows? By the time it's published, the title might change again!)

Name: Prince Trevyn Echad Chorek Nathek Hadar of Armania

A while back, I experienced a few days of obsession with Prince William's new son George and Googled like crazy wanting to learn what was going on. During that time, I discovered Prince William's full name. It was so crazy long that I decided to steal that for the princes in my WIP. Therefore, Trevyn's name is very long. Each name simply works its way up his family tree. For example, his father is Echad. His grandfather is Chorek, etc.

Age: 14

Trevyn is fourteen at the start of the story. He is two months from turning fifteen. In this world fifteen is the age of majority or adulthood. This is because the kingdom (and the king, especially) is suspicious about the number five. In fact, the official spelling of Trevyn's name is Trevn, since it has five letters. And maybe I'll end up changing the spelling of his name and other characters names to match that. Who knows? It's still early. The series will cover decades of Trevyn's life, so he will get much older in the story. If he lives that long. Mwa ha ha!


Appearance (tags): tall & skinny, dimpled smile, long neck, wrinkled clothing, often seen running and yelling out, “Sorry!”

Trevyn is in that awkward adolescent stage where he is growing very fast. He is tall and skinny. He doesn't care for swordplay and is a bit of a weakling. His dimpled smile and long neck came from the pictures of Alfie Enoch, the actor I chose as a template for Trevyn. His clothing is only wrinkled because he often sleeps in it and is too impatient to wait for for his onesent to bring him fresh clothes the next day. And he likes to run everywhere, often to get away from his bodyguards. He likes to use the servant's stairs and hallways so his mother won't see him, and it's here where he often runs people over and yells out, "Sorry!" as he continues on his way.

Famous counterpart(s): a young Indiana Jones (Alfie Enoch)

I like to grasp some famous character or living/historical person to use as another template for each of my characters. This helps me when I start out and I'm trying to get to know them. Trevyn is not Indiana Jones, but he is daring, rebellious, and brave. And since those traits match Indiana Jones, it sometimes helps me to think of that character when I'm planning out scenes. And as I already mentioned, Trevyn looks like Alfie Enoch (who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies). It always helps me to print out a picture of each character so I can look at them when I'm writing.

One-word descriptor: Curious

It helps me to have a one-word descriptor for each of my characters. I learned this from Stephanie when she wrote about it in our Go Teen Writers book. The example Steph used for her main character was: Invisible. The idea with using such a word is that everything your character thinks and does should tie back to that word. And it should be difficult for your character to act in opposition to that word.

Myers Briggs Personality Type

I like the Myers-Briggs personality types. You can read about then in the book Please Understand Me. I started out trying to give every character the actual personality test. That takes WAY TOO LONG. Since then, I've created a single sheet of paper for each of the sixteen types, and that helps me when I'm in the early stages of discovering a character. I have a general idea of what the character is like, and once I find his or her personality type, I can narrow in on specific traits and behaviors that are common to someone with such a personality. I've talked in-depth about Myers Briggs personality types on Go Teen Writers before. If you want to read that post to learn about the different types, click here.

Once I know my character's personality type, I like to visit www.celebritytypes.com to see what famous people had that same personality. The quotes also help me sometimes in finding my character's voice. They certainly did with Mason in Captives. Mason is a rare personality type and one that is opposite to my way of thinking. So in writing Mason, I not only used quotes by other INTJs, I searched INTJ forums to learn how they spoke. It was pretty fun. If you want to learn more about using celebrity types and forums, click here to read the Go Teen Writers post on that topic.

Trevyn: INFP
The Healer/Dreamer
Celebrity personality match: J. R. R. Tolkien

The 5 Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a nonfiction book first published for married couples. I always like to know my character's love language. They are:

-Words of affirmation
-Quality time
-Gifts
-Acts of service
-Physical touch

Trevyn is mostly a quality time guy, since he feels like people only want to know him to take advantage of his political connections. So when he finds a true friend, he wants to hang out with them. He also likes to give gifts of things he made.

To learn more about the 5 Love Languages, read my original Go Teen Writers post on the topic by clicking here.

That's it for today. Next week we'll learn about character tags and titles. Any questions?