Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ray Bradbury on Ideas


Jill here.

Thinking today about ideas, and how when I get one I like in my head, I really, really want to work on it. And even though sometimes I can't work on it, because I'm under contract, the idea just won't go away.



This is how it is for me. I have some ideas that I love to daydream about. The scenes continually play out in my head, over and over. Does that ever happen to you?

Well, I say, if an idea won't leave you alone, pay attention to it! It clearly wants to be written. (And is trying to DEMAND to be written.) If you can't work on the idea now, at least take some time to jot down a list of the thoughts and scenes that are building in your mind. That way, you will have them all filed away for later so that when you DO have time, you will be ready to write!

What ideas are hounding you right now?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Map-Making 201: Naming Things



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.

Two weeks ago, I posted Map-Making 101: Drawing the Map, which was the first half of a workshop I presented at the fifth annual Teen Author Boot Camp. Here is Part Two of the class, which is on how to name all those places (and eventually the people too) for that map you've drawn.

Consider genre & tone
Knowing the genre and tone of your story will get you started on the right track. If you're writing a realistic fantasy novel, you probably don't want to choose satirical names for places like those used in the Princess Bride: the Cliffs of Insanity, the Fire Swamp, Zoo of Death, or the location of the R.O.U.S.'s. Also consider the two movies Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both have a similar storyworld, similar adventure, similar cast, similar villains, and similar stakes… but Star Wars has more of a dramatic tone, where Guardians of the Galaxy is comical.


Try something different
Strive to find a unique method of naming the places in your story. You could do this in many ways. A couple examples that come to mind is Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone and Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember. Bardugo used a Russian theme in Shadow and Bone for the culture of the people, the architecture, and for many of the character and place names, like Chernast, Ravka, and Balakirev. In City of Ember, DuPrau chose many names for her underground city that had to do with pipes or underground things, like: Rockbellow Rd., Stonegrit Ln., and Plummer Street. Click on these Google search results for "Shadow and Bone map" and "City of Ember map" to see what I mean.

Think about the geography, religion, and cultures in your world. What do these people care about and why? How can the names you choose reflect that?


Foreign Languages
J. K. Rowling used Latin for many of the names and spells in the Harry Potter books. I used Hebrew in a similar way in my Blood of Kings books. Is there a foreign language that hasn't been overused that might fit one of the cultures in your storyworld? You don't have to use actual words. You could simply choose the style and sound of a language and rearrange letters to make up your own words. Be sure to Google them to make sure you don't choose words that have awkward meanings in the real world.

Fictional Languages
Creating your own language is always an option, but I warn you to be careful. You might spend much longer than necessary doing so. Languages like Elvish and Klingon took a very long time to write, and if you want to write a novel, that's where you should invest the majority of your time. But if creating your own language is something you really want to do, go for it! I'm far from an expert, but I did write a post on creating your own language a few years back. Click here to read it.

Atlas/Globe
Google Maps is a favorite of mine. If I get stuck and need interesting character or place names, I often open Google Maps, type in a foreign country, and zoom in, looking for interesting words. I've done this by themes, as well, to come up with a series of similar sounding names like Leigh Bardugo did in Shadow and Bone. You simply pick a country, find interesting names, and flip a letter or two around to create your own unique words. Again, just remember to Google possible meanings.

The maps of earth are also useful for speculative fiction genres like alternate history and dystopian. With these genres, use what's already on the map and invent a few changes. Brandon Sanderson's Rithmatist has an amazing alternate history map. in which the USA is actually an archipelago called the United Isles with states called Georgiabama, New France, and Canadia. My dystopian map of the Safe Lands was set in the real town of Crested Butte, Colorado, eighty years in the future. I traced the shape of my map over a map of the local ski resort. When I had need of street names in my story, I zoomed in on Google Maps and used the street names that were already there, tweaking some and leaving some as is.

Themes
In Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, Katnis, Primrose, and Rue are all types of flowers and plants. In my Blood of Kings trilogy, I didn't want to use Hebrew words for all my character names because I wanted to try and give the feel of different cultures. So I came up with themes for each city. For Carmine, since it is a vineyard manor, I created a list of names having to do with wine: Basalt, Clay, Peat, Flint, Gypsum, Keuper, Loam, Terra, Pinot, Malbec, Verdot, etc. In Allowntown, an orchard manor, I listed types of apples to use for names: Cider, Crab, Gala, Baldwin, Pippin, Ambrosia, Cortland, Cameo, Ginger, Jonamac, Braeburn, Macoun, Taylor, etc. Some other themes I used for names of people from different villages were: Inupiat, Kenyan, Gaelic, names of stars, and things having to do with the sea.

Call it what it is.
Did you know that a shire county is a non-metropolitan county in England? Put on your Jane Austen hat and see if any of these sound familiar: Yorkshire, CheshireDerbyshire, Nottinghamshire, HertfordshireShropshire . . . These are all shire counties in England. Tolkien simply called it what it was. Parts of your map could be named by trade: think of New York City’s Garment District or Financial District. You could also name things by ethnicity like in Chinatown or Little Italy. Geographical references like Upper East Side, Midtown, West Village are also clever ways to name things. Or what about landmarks like World Trade Center or Battery Park? What landmarks are on your map?

Acronyms
Chester Rapkin was known as the Father of SoHo. He was an urban planner who first used the term SoHo in 1962 to coin the area South of Houston street. This started a trend for nicknaming places in Manhattan by acronyms: NoHo (North of Houston Street), TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street). Click here to read my full post on this subject. I used Mr. Rapkin's idea when I came up with the location of Cibelo in my Safe Lands books, which is (SPOILER ALERT!) the CIty BElow the LOwlands.


History
Many of US cities were named in French and later Americanized. For example: Detroit (French for strait), Little Rock (la petite roche), Green Bay (baie verte), Boise (French for wooded). And that's only French. The United States is extremely diverse in the cultures that made up the places on our map. Your storyworld should be a little diverse as well. Think though the history of your world. Where did the people come from that named things? What language did they speak? And what were their names? So many places in our country are named after famous people. Think of Pennsylvania (named after William Penn) or Louisville (named after King Louis 16th of France). And what about Lincoln, Nebraska? It doesn't just work with cities, either. Think about the Lincoln Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge, FDR Drive, and the JFK Airport.

Simple is often best
When creating a map for a story, it's important to keep a few things in mind. Ask yourself: Are these names memorable? Can readers pronounce them? And do they fit my storyworld? The answer to all three should be yes, nine times out of ten. Really try to make things easy on your readers. Think of these names that are memorable, pronounceable, and and fit the storyworld, and you'll see what I mean.


PLACES
Death Star, Enterprise, Fablehaven, Firefly, Hogwarts,
Middle Earth, Narnia, Neverland, Newcago, Panem.


CHARACTERS
Agent Smith, Albus Dumbeldore, Aslan, Bilbo Baggins, 
C-3PO, Captain James T. Kirk, Chewbacca, Data, The Doctor, Gandalf, 
Han Solo, Harry Potter, Kelsier, Merlin, Morpheus, 
Neo, Mr. Anderson, Q, R2-D2, Randall Flagg, Spock, 
Starbuck, Terminator, Vin, and Yoda.

What are some of your favorite place or character names from books or movies? Share in the comments. And if you have a neat trick for choosing names, share that too!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

One Thing At A Time


Stephanie here. I listened to a podcast on Writing Excuses (The Four Principles of Puppetry with Mary Robinette Kowal) that was so good, I actually listened to it several times in a row to absorb it all. The whole thing is brilliant, but this quote really jumped out at me:


As a writer, you can only show the audience one thing at a time ... So what you are having [the reader] focus on needs to be what you want them to think about.
Perhaps this principle struck me because I was drowning in edits at the time, a phase where I'm constantly asking myself, "Is this the best way to say what I'm trying to say?" But after listening to Mary Robinette Kowal talk about this concept of choosing your focus, my mantra with each sentence became, "Is this the best thing to show my reader?"

If you're feeling adventurous, try looking over a page in your manuscript and see if asking yourself that same question changes anything.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Finding the way YOU write a novel

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). 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.


Surely there's a perfect novel writing system out there. 

I thought that for years. That one of the many craft books I bought, or one of the many blogs I read would teach me The Perfect System. The one with the worksheets that had all the right questions, that made my story unfold in a logical and deep way, and that made edits a breeze.

I no longer look for The Perfect System because I no longer believe one exists.

I now believe that I will forever be fine-tuning how I write novels, and that continuing to try new approaches and techniques helps keep me strong and fresh. I also believe that writing a story is inevitably messy, and I might as well get use to it.

I wrote the first "How To Write A Novel" series back in 2011, and I've learned a lot in the last four years. Some posts in that series still feel solid to me. Others make me cringe. For a while now I've been mentally kicking around the idea of redoing the whole thing, and it feels like the right time.

But don't think for a second that I'm offering you The Perfect System.

Writing novels is like climbing treesthere isn't just one way up. I'm not offering you a checklist or steps, because a technique that works best for me after the first draft might be something that you like to do before you ever put pen to paper. An exercise that helps me understand my characters may do absolutely nothing for you.

Rather, my intention is to offer you what consistently works for me in the order that I typically do it. In doing so, I hope you'll come to better understand the way you write. I also hope you might learn ways to deepen pieces of your personal process, and that you'll walk away with some new ideas to incorporate in your own writing routines.

To help me with my planning (and because this a topic I'm obsessed with) I would love to know a bit about your writing process. Do you feel like you have a good idea of how you write best? Do you like to plan everything out or discover the story as you write? What craft books, classes, podcasts, or blogs have influenced how you write? 






Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chapter One Young Writers Conference this August

Stephanie here. Wanted to let you all know about a very cool writers conference taking place in suburban Chicago this August. The Chapter One Young Writers Conference is put on by young writers for young writers, and they have some great things planned for you guys at a really affordable price. Here are the details, and be sure to check out their website to get your questions answered.



Founded in 2012, the first Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con) took place in Chicago with six teenagers in attendance in person and countless others attending via an online live stream. It was an experiment limited to members of the Scholastic’s Write It community and their friends: Could a group of teenagers from across North America really get together and run their own conference? The answer soon became apparent: Yes. And so the conference was born!
This year, the conference will take place on Saturday, August 8th in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, in Arlington Heights. 2015 registration is currently open on the Ch1Con website for writers from a middle school to undergraduate level and at an early bird discount price of $39.99. Three speakers have been confirmed so far: headliner Kat Zhang, the bestselling author of the Hybrid Chronicles, Taryn Albright, better known as the Girl with the Green Pen, and Ava Jae, debut author of BEYOND THE RED (YA sci-fi coming out in 2016). As a special bonus, Ava Jae’s agent, Louise Fury of the Bent Agency, will open to queries only from conference attendees for up to thirty days after the event.
Between the awesome presentations and workshops, attendees will have the chance to participate in literary trivia games and giveaways, with prizes like professional critiques, signed books, and literary-themed jewelry! During downtime, all participants are free to explore the many sites of the Chicago area and to network with each other, establishing those vital writerly connections that help make careers and create lifelong friendships. There will also be a speaker panel open to any and all questions midway through the conference.
The 2015 conference will be held in the Courtyard Chicago Arlington Heights/South Marriott, with sessions from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Saturday the 8th of August. Tickets for transport and room reservations can be bought online with links on the conference’s Travel page. Early bird registration is currently open at this link with adult registration for those 18+ and youth registration (with parental/guardian consent) for those under 18. 
So if you’re a writer from middle school to undergraduate level and you’re interested in this opportunity, register ASAP! The early bird discount ends May 31st and there are only thirty slots open. For more information and to join in on the Ch1Con community, check out the website and social media platforms for the conference:
Website: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
Twitter: @Ch1Con
Tumblr: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
YouTube: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
Pinterest: Chapter One YW Conference
Facebook: Chapter One Young Writers Conference

Friday, April 24, 2015

April Word War Day 5! THE END.

Shannon here! 

I have the glorious privilege of waving you through on the last day of our April WORD WAR! I've been following your comments and LOVE the dedication and crazy competitiveness of your battling keyboards.

So keep going. Fight to the end! You can do it! 
You can't see me, but I'm ready for battle and cheering you on. Kind of like William Wallace.


 So, you know. Get going or my face will freeze like this and aint nobody wanting that.






What it is: 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 on Monday and will end tonight, Friday. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

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. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. 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 #GTWwordwar 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 Stephanie an email so she can approve you pronto.)

Let's finish strong, friends!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April Word War Day 4!

Jill again. Today is the fourth day of our Go Teen Writers word war. How you all doing? My edits are moving along, slow and steady. I'm still trying to find my groove!

Didn't know we were having a word war? Read on to find out what this is all about:





What it is: 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 on Monday and will end Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

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. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. 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 #GTWwordwar 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 Stephanie an email telling her so that she can approve you pronto.)

Stay focused. You can do it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April Word War Day 3!

Jill here. Welcome to Day 3 of this week's word war. I'm in edits, so I don't have time to write new material. I'm trying to work through 3-4 chapters a day, and so far, I'm behind! Life happens, so if you're farther behind than you wanted to be, take heart. It happens to all of us. Just do your best and keep on keeping on. Every little bit helps!

If this is the first you've heard of the word war, here's what's happening:





What it is: 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 on Monday and will end Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

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. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. 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 #GTWwordwar 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 Stephanie an email telling her so that she can approve you pronto.)

Keep on writing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April Word War Day 2!

Stephanie here!

It was so awesome seeing all the great community stuff going on yesterday! I didn't get a ton of words written since Mondays are my run-errands-and-pick-up-the-house day, but I'm hoping for a few more today.

If you're just joining us, here's what's going on:




What it is: 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 and will end Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

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. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. 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 #GTWwordwar 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 approve you pronto.)

Happy writing!

Monday, April 20, 2015

April Word War: Day 1

Stephanie here! With Camp NaNo going on this month, many of you have asked if Go Teen Writers could host a word war. We thought this was a great idea! So we'll have new word war posts up today through Friday that we hope will encourage you in your writing challenge.

Of course, you don't have to be participating in NaNo to join in the word warring fun. Here's how this works:




What it is: 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 begins today and will end Friday night. It's a come-and-go, write-when-you-can style of war, so it's never too late to join!

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. Or you can challenge each other to word wars. 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 #GTWwordwar 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 approve you pronto.)

Looking forward to a fun day!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Truth About Deadlines

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I finished my edits you guys! And while edits are my favorite part, and I am certain they made my story better, I. AM. EXHAUSTED. I look like this.



I have very few words left in my head, but as it is my day to blog, I'm happy to share them with you. Here goes:


Deadlines are good.

Deadlines suck.

Deadlines make you better.

Deadlines make you crazy.

The week before your book is due, you won't be able to escape it. Not on a boat, not in a tree, not in your bed. 
STORY, LET ME BE.

Your family will not get your deadline persona. They won't understand your wild eyes. Or why you're talking to yourself at dinner. Or why you can't just "stop for a sec to watch this Minecraft video."

The dishes will not get done.

Someone else will feed the dog. 

Showering is overrated (change your jammies every now and then, no one will know).

Coffee and keyboards should remain separate entities. 

No you don't need that comma. Or that one. Em dashes are super rad. But cool it on the ellipses.

Your story will change.

Those changes will force other changes and that will make you cry.

Stop crying. You'll figure it out. You always do.

You should give yourself deadlines.

You should invest in eye drops.

There should be a deadline support group. Nevermind. Who has time for that?

Moments of brilliance will be followed by heaps of self-doubt. Keep going. Brilliance comes round again.

You'll take pics of your eye drops and your coffee and your growing TBR pile.

You'll do everything except write.

You'll write.

You'll think, "This is THE BEST story I've ever written!"

You'll think, "Who would ever want to read this?"

You'll get THE GREATEST idea. But not for the book you're working on. No, this idea will be for THE NEXT book. The one that's sure to be a bestseller.

You'll give up.

Smack yourself and start again.

BECAUSE YOU ARE A WRITER. A storyteller extraordinaire. Your task is a noble one. An enviable one. So, let the dragons circle, let the castle burn, let the earth shake and the zombies rise, but WRITE ON, my friend!

Because you are a writer.

Oh wait. I said that.

See. Told you. I'm running out of words.

Annnnd now I'm . . . yup.

I'm out entirely.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Brandon Sanderson on Investing in Yourself

Jill here.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I had the privilege of spending last Saturday at the Teen Author Boot Camp writer's conference. It was phenomenal. I even met some of you there!

You all know that I love Brandon Sanderson's books and teachings, so I'm sure you're not terribly surprised to see me return with a quote from him. I jotted this down during his keynote address. Some 670 teen writers heard him say it on Saturday, and I really wanted you all to hear it too.



Brandon said that too many writers focus everything on THE BOOK. But the book isn't the only thing that matters. You matter. And if you've decided you want to become a writer someday, then recognize that you need training. Each book you write provides that training. You are investing time in training yourself to become a better writer. That's what this is all about. And with each book you write, rewrite, and complete, you get better at this thing called writing. Even if you never get published, you will have invested in bettering yourself at something you love. And that's a very good thing.

Do you spend too much time focused on the dream of seeing one particular book published? Have you ever thought of this time in your life as a time of self-improvement? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Map-Making 101: Drawing the Map



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

This past weekend I drove out to Utah Valley University, which is about an hour south of Salt Lake City, and presented two classes at the fifth annual Teen Author Boot Camp. I was so impressed with this event! Some 670 teenagers attended. It was a packed, energetic, house!

I presented a class called Map-Making 101. Here is Part One of the class in blog-post form.

No matter what genre you're working on, sketching a map is a great way to brainstorm. Today I'm going to talk about making a map for your story, how to come up with the layout, the items on said map, and how to name everything.

Cartography is the study and practice of making maps with the intent of effectively communicating information. Have you ever been confused by a map in the front of a book? I have. As novelists, we want to avoid that. Our maps should aid the telling of that story, not confuse our readers. 

One of the many objectives of cartography is to have an agenda or a purpose for your map. Not all maps seek to communicate the same information. For us novelists, just like characters and scenes have a purpose in our stories, our maps should also have a purpose. This purpose will keep us from trying to do too much with a map and potentially confusing or overwhelming our readers with information they don't need.



WHAT’S YOUR MAP’S PURPOSE?
Do you want the map to:

show everything? The entire land, continent, planet? Or perhaps just the "known land" in an ancient world that hasn't done much exploring. 

For my map of Er'Rets, I wanted to show the entire known land, which was a single continent and a few islands. I also wanted to show the forests, mountains, cities, rivers, lakes, roads, the Gadowl Wall, the Reshon Gates, and the Darkness that was growing across the land.


show points of a journey? If the story is a traveling type of story in which the characters journey from one place to another, you might want to show those locations on your map. The map in The Hobbit is a great example of this purpose.

show the physical attributes of the land? Trees, roads, rivers, lakes, mountains, coastlines, etc. On my map of the Five Realms in King's Folly, I had an unusual terrain, so I included a key with my map that showed the cliffs to designate high elevation, canyons, and cracks; dotted lines to show underground rivers, shaded areas to depict The Gray, a symbol for bridges, and numbers for altars. 


show the layout of a building? In Replication, Martyr drew a map of the Jason Farms cloning facility.

show political borders? The walls enclosing The Safe Lands were very important to my storyworld for that series. I also wanted to show the cities outside the walls.


show key locations? I paid an artist to draw this map of Moscow for The New Recruit because I only wanted the shape of the city. That way the map could have letters and numbers to list the locations my characters went in the story, and the map wouldn't be cluttered up with irrelevant information.


help you write? One of the best reasons to draw a map isn't to put it in the front of the book but to help you write your story. Drawing a map can make it much easier to describe places or write travel scenes. Here is a sketch I drew of Sitna Manor from By Darkness Hid. This is the place Achan grew up, so I really wanted to know this place well.



In regard to map design, also try to keep things as simple as possible. Only include things that are relevant to your story. Make everything legible and easy for the reader to understand. And, as always when working on anything related to worldbuilding, don't forget to write the book! Map-making can easily suck you into storyworld builder's disease.

LETS MAKE A MAP!
Once you've made your choice as to what type of map you're making and the purpose(s) you want it to accomplish, you're ready to start drawing. 

The Shape/Layout of the Map- It's time to draw the shape of your map. Some people really struggle with this. Others, not at all. To start, it doesn't matter all that much. You can always change things later. First decide if you want to show coastlines or put your map into a frame in which the land continues on outside the border. If you need help with shapes, check this out. Here is the map of the Six Duchies from Robin Hobb's Farseer books. 


Here is that same map upside down. Notice anything familiar?


It looks a lot like Alaska, doesn't it? It's not exactly Alaska, and I have no idea if this was done on purpose or not. But using an atlas to look for interesting land shapes can be a great help. 

If you're writing an alternate history story or something that takes place in the future on earth, you can use real maps as a starting point. That's what I did with my Safe Lands map. I drew the map over top of the ski resort map for Crested Butte, Colorado. Brandon Sanderson's map of the American Isles from The Rithmatist is a great example of an alternate history map.

Keep in mind, map-making helps your worldbuilding, and worldbuilding shapes your map. As you draw, be thinking about the following:

Geography and Environment- What does this world look like? Does your planet have multiple biomes like earth? We have five: aquatic, desert, forest, grasslands, and tundra. What’s the landscape like? Do you need trees? How about mountains, deserts, forests, lakes, rivers, bays, oceans, etc. Remember, water flows downhill toward larger bodies of water and eventually into the ocean. How is the weather in your land? Does it affect your map? Are there habitable zones or places too dangerous to go? If so, perhaps those need to be marked.

Culture, Religion, Economics, and Population- How many people live per square mile/kilometer/league/etc?  Research comparible cities to get a good idea so you know how close your cities should be to one another and how many you should have. Check out this post called Medieval Demographics Made Easy to learn more about this topic. Remember, the more food and water your land has available, the higher the population. Deserts don't support as many people as jungles do.

Cities and Towns- We talked about size and number, but what other interesting attributes might go on a map? City walls, perhaps. Think of Zion, the underground city from The Matrix; Lothlorian, the city in the trees from The Lord of the Rings; or Knowhere from Guardians of the Galaxy, which is the city inside the severed celestial head. Is there an interesting city in your world? Why not try and put at least one in your story?

Methods of Travel- Know what level of technology your world has. If you are writing a pre-steam engine society, people travel on roads or rivers. Roads would be windy, curving around mountains and rivers, not straight like freeways. During the Western Expansion of the United States, the Toledo War was fought between Ohio and Michigan over the port city of Toledo. The Great Lakes provided a waterway to the Atlantic Ocean, and everyone knew how valuable that was. Take that into consideration when you create borders for different countries in your world. Also, you really only need to include a legend if your characters are traveling great distances. 

Creatures- Are there any beasties or bugs that are so frightening that people won't go near the land they live on? If such a thing is applicable to your story, it should go on your map.



Boundaries- Do you have walls, gates, or borders in your world? Think about the Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany or the No Touching Zone between the USA and Canada. 

History –Tolkien wrote a very complex history of his world. A great mapped example from that history is Osgiliath, a city that was once the capital of Gondor and is now in ruins. Is there anything that's a part of your world's history that could be added to your map?

Magic- Is there magic in your story, and if so, does it affect your map? In King's Folly, magic comes from a tuberous root that is dug up. Cities tend to be located where that root grows. In By Darkness Hid, the Darkness is a magical curse. Are there portals in your story? Magic schools? Think through your magic to see if any aspect of it can be included on your map.

Landmarks and Buildings- There are lots of landmarks on the map inside the front of the book The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Think of Rabbit’s House, the 100 Acre Wood, Pooh's Trap for Heffalumps, etc. Are there important locations in your story? Perhaps castles, gates, abandoned cabins, altars, bridges, monuments, etc.


JILL'S MAP-MAKING METHOD
I tend to start a map by sketching it out on tracing paper. Once I'm happy with it, I'll trace over the pencil with a Sharpie. I usually draw one cluster of trees, mountains, or anything else I need a lot of. Then I scan the map and open it in Photoshop. I clean it up and copy and paste the trees, mountains, etc until I have as many as I want. The last thing I do is add my dots and titles. I wrote a blog post a while back in which I showed you the evolution of my latest fantasy map. Click here to see that post.


MAP-MAKING RESOURCES
There are many programs you can buy to help you draw maps easier than using Photoshop or doing it by hand. Here is a short list:

Fractal Terrains Pro is a random world generator made by ProFantasy. Click a button and a world appears. Don't like what you see? Click again. It's that simple.

Campaign Cartographer is handy once you've created your world in Fractal Terrains. Here you decorate your map with symbols, rivers, roads, and text. 

www.cartographersguild.com is a forum for map enthusiasts. On this site is a tutorial on how to use GIMP to create a map. GIMP is a free Photoshop-like program. Click here to download the GIMP software. And click here to visit the tutorial page.

AutoREALM is a vector based drawing software designed for RPGs.

Astrosynthesis 2.0 is a 3D mapping utility for space, galaxies, and local planetary systems.

FractalMapper 8.0 is a product that combines what Campaign Cartographer and Fractal Terrains do for ProFantasy.

Tutorials- There are tutorials for everything these days. Google "How to make a map with _____" and name the program, and you will find help.

Deviant Art is a wonderful site to find inspiration. Go there and do a search for maps. There are so many on that site, it's amazing! Don’t copy other people’s maps, but get inspired. Let your ideas flow.

We're not done yet! Stay tuned. Two weeks from now comes Map-Making 201: Naming Places.

Have you spent much time making maps? Share any tips you have in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Make it Personal

Stephanie here.

Many of you either write or have dreams of writing a sweeping, epic story. Something with a big scope and lots of point of view characters that will take hundreds of thousands of words.

Or maybe you're writing about a big topic, like Margaret Mitchell did in Gone With The Wind.

However large your story scope might be, I think this is great writing advice:



"When writing about war, write about one man's war." - Angela Hunt

(I came across this quote in Angela's Writing Historical Fiction. She said it's an old writing adage, but my Google searches yielded no results so I'll attribute it to her unless otherwise corrected.)

Something unique about our art form is how personal we're able to make it. We're able to draw others into the hearts and minds of our characters. Don't forget that even when you're writing about something bigwar, cancer, alcoholismyour goal should be to make it very personal.

Monday, April 13, 2015

6 Things Blogging Taught Me About Writing Fiction

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 (Birch House Press). 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.

I've been blogging for nearly six years now. The only reason I started blogging was that I had a book coming out, and it was something I was "supposed to do." But before that, I had never really been interested in it. What on earth would I talk about? It seemed like a lot of energy to invest in something that wasn't a novel.

My first blog never took off, but Go Teen Writers has continued to grow since it's birth in January 2010. And since that time, not only have I fallen in love with blogging, I've also learned a lot about writing fiction.



Here are six things blogging taught me about writing fiction:


1. How to be disciplined in writing.

For a rather blurry period of my life, I actually had two blogs going. I posted on my author blog five days a week and Go Teen Writers two days a week. I had to find content, I had to write the article. I had to edit the article.

While some days this felt like no big deal, other days I struggled. Big time. And I quickly learned to override my inner artist who said, "I don't feel like doing this."

And while most of the time I really feel like working on my book, sometimes my mind wanders to other fun things. Like that new book idea I hadso shiny and perfectand I have to push myself to stay focused.

2. Don't underestimate the importance of passion.

My author blog never took off. I had some dedicated readers (several of them were even non-family members) but my passion for what I wrote about was tepid at best. I didn't realize just how lukewarm I was until the idea for creating Go Teen Writers zapped me one night as I did dishes.

The timing was ridiculousI had a two year old, a baby on the way, and I would be releasing two books that yearbut I had to do it. There was something in me that said Go Teen Writers was a part of what I was meant to do. So I jumped in.

Passion is vital to our fiction. Ever had a book idea that you just can't shake? (If you haven't yet, don't worry. It'll come.) One that felt bigger, more important, more weighty than all previous ideas? As fun as novel writing can feel, creating a book that others want to read is no easy task. The deeply rooted passion for an idea helps us push through the dark days of writing, editing, and getting a book published.

3. Passion doesn't guarantee success.

So I created Go Teen Writers, and then ... it sat there. I blogged faithfully, I wrote what I thought were pretty good articles, and still most days it was just me and Roseanna—who was fulfilling her duties as the supportive best friendchit-chatting in the comments.

That went on for a year before I made some changes that finally helped the blog gain some momentum. Even with all my passion, it still took patience, creativity, and hard work before I saw much pay off.

This is true for our stories. Me, Just Different? That book idea haunted me. Skylar and Connor were the type of characters who followed me around. Even when I didn't want them to, when I wanted them to just go away so I didn't have to fix the problems that I knew the book had. But my passion for that book was so strong, I couldn't let it rest.

And you know what happened to it? In the eyes of the industry, that book is a failure. Inconsequential. A burden attached to my name when publishers consider publishing anything new of mine. I was passionate, and I worked hard to perfect and market it, and still it failed in the marketplace.

If I don't say this next part, my husband will give me an earful tonight for talking down on myself and the book. Do I wish the Skylar books would have sold more? Absolutely. But there was still fruit that came from them. Girls who wrote to me that said it changed their lives, or that it changed their friend's life, or it helped them through their parents's divorce. To me, the failure sales-wise of the book doesn't eclipse the quiet successes it saw.

4. How to write with an audience in mind.

I think Go Teen Writers has seen success because we know who our target audience is, and we keep them in the forefront of our mind at all times.

Fiction writers grumble about being asked to declare a target audience. They want everyonemale and female, young and oldto read their book and love it. They don't want to limit themselves.

But writing with an audience in mind is actually very freeing. I try to hold one person in my mind when I'm writing and write to them. That means I don't have to think about my grandmother or my hairdresser or my neighbor. Writing to a target audience, and to one person who personifies that audience, frees me from caring about what the others will think of it.

5. How to build a brand.

You probably wouldn't like it very much if you showed up today and found that I was blogging about dress patterns or taking my daughter to the zoo. Even if I had posted something somewhat related but still out of character, like a book review, you'd likely be thinking, "What's going on?" And how many times would that have to happen before you stopped visiting Go Teen Writers? If you're like me, I would guess only two or three times at the most.

And yet I have so many conversations with writers trying to convince them that it's not in their best interest to write a contemporary romance book and follow it up with a young adult horror novel. I know the artist in us doesn't like these kinds of restrictions, but just like you don't want to come here and find anecdotes about my trip to Costco, I don't want to learn that in the next Veronica Mars book, Veronica gives up being a P.I. and becomes an astronaut instead.

Building an author brand used to feel very scary to me, but blogging has helped me figure out that my brand is just the promises I make to my readers.

6. This writing thing is better with friends.

Ever since a high school critique experience that apparently scarred me much more deeply than I originally realized, sharing my writing with others has been a challenge for me. I didn't even look for writing friends until I was in my twenties because I didn't want them.

But the truth is, writing is better with others. I cannot imagine what Go Teen Writers would look like if Jill hadn't decided to join me over here. Or if Shannon hadn't felt a tug in her heart to mentor teen writers. Or if writers like Roseanna White, Gillian Bronte Adams, and the other awesome guests we have didn't agree to share their wisdom with us. Having other voicesvoices who share the Go Teen Writers commitment to honesty and encouragementhas only enriched our community.

And I've found that's true in my fiction too. By letting the writers who know me and my writing goals into the early stages of my books, my stories have grown in depth and truth. And when I'm having one of those low days, it means I have others around me who can say, "Remember why you wanted to write this book? Remember what you said when we were brainstorming?" That kind of support and encouragement has made me grateful for every risk I took to be vulnerable about my writing.

What's something about writing fiction that you've learned from an unlikely place?