Friday, September 30, 2016

The Monster of Doubt

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I have these moments. They come hard and fast, drops of sunlight peppering my face as I sprint beneath a canopy of leaves.

There and then gone.

In these rare moments, I FEEL like a writer. Like a published author. Like someone who has the enviable job of writing stories for a living. They’re wonderful, these moments. They bring with them a simple, pure, always fleeting feeling of confidence.

I can do this. I can write another story. I can BE this person.

I work hard to respect these moments. To honor them by sitting down in my office chair and dumping words onto a page. Because the truth of the matter is, these inspirited moments are fragile. They dissolve at the very hint of negativity, at the first wind of frustration, at the stink of words like trending and bestseller. It takes very little to scare my muse away. And without that confidence, without the itch of inspiration compelling me to write, it can be a fight to keep my head in the game.

I’m not alone in this, I know that. This isn’t even a problem unique to writers, but the truth is, these battles are fought in a place where you are of little help to me and I am of little help to you. Bloody battles are fought daily between my ears. In the noisy, crowded, aching place where my thoughts churn and churn with little relief. And when I’m losing, my very own mind flips those once sunny moments inside out and uses them against me.

We writers spend so much (too much?) time here. In our own heads. We dissect everything we read, everything we watch, everything we hear. We try to fashion it and shape it and invert it into something usable. Into something we can write about. We pass a man yammering to himself on the sidewalk and, within minutes, we’ve concocted an entire backstory and plot. We know how we’d write this man.

Or we don’t. And that kills us.

We sulk away and claim writers block. We doubt we ever had THAT THING. That spark, that gift, that mojo.

We doubt. We doubt. We doubt.

We’re afraid to fail. So we stop writing. But that only angers the beast inside us and we’re reminded that just because we may not write in practice, we cannot simply walk away from the lens we view this world through. Whether you sit and write or not, your brain will not let you be. And so you have a choice: to write through the doubt or to let it gnaw on your gut as you wait for another passing moment of enthusiasm.

Should you take breaks? Yes, absolutely. Weeks? Sometimes. Months? Maybe. But should you ever let doubt be the reason you walk away? I think, no. Doubt is a monster we should never, ever feed.
I don’t know that there is one answer to the problem of self-doubt. But I think there are things that can help.

1. Redefine success. This word doesn’t have to mean what you’ve always assumed it meant. Redefine it. What is success to you? To me success is mattering, making a difference to someone. That’s success. I’m a Christian so I want to honor Christ. Success. I want to be of value to my publisher. That’s real, that’s success. Your definition of success might not match mine, but you should take a moment to figure out what it is. And be willing to adjust your definition as you grow.

2. Write through the doubt. It’s hard to swallow sometimes, but the only way to chase away the I CAN’Ts is to prove that YOU CAN. So prove it to yourself.

3. Write fearlessly. Being afraid to fail is very real, but if you let it hold you back, fear wins. Want some truth? We’re all afraid. Doing it anyway is what makes us fearless.

4. Look for inspiration. Those of us who write as a career have to learn something early on. Inspiration will not pay the bills. That said, perhaps you’re missing daily inspiration by assuming it will look as it always has. Try this, go outside. Be with people. Scrounge through bookstores and libraries. Go on grown-up field trips. Investigate the world around you. Inspiration may sporadically attack us, but if we go out looking it’ll have to try awfully hard to hide.
And finally,

5. Inspire someone else. Be the wind in someone else’s sails for a while. Put your pride, your competitive nature, your angst, fear, and doubt aside and lift someone up. Give them a sunshine moment. Not because you’re fishing for inspiration from their lips, but because we all need a little encouragement from time to time. And because others need to know just how valuable their contributions to the world are. Tell them.

These are just a few of the things that help me when I’m lost in the darkness of my own mind.

What have I missed? What advice would you give? 

Today, let’s choose action in the face of paralyzing doubt.

YOU CAN do this. You absolutely can.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Borrowing Languages and Cultures for Your Book


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Have you entered the contest yet? 

Today is the LAST DAY to enter the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest. We will accept entries through midnight Pacific Time.

Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.





Borrowing Languages and Cultures for Your Book

I am often asked for tips on how to come up with unique cultures for fantasy novels. A couple years ago, we had a fabulous guest post called Creating the Culture of Your Story. While I found that post fascinating, that's not the process I used in my Blood of Kings trilogy. I cheated, really. I looked to cultures and languages that exist or once existed on earth and I borrowed from them.

Languages

I used Hebrew for my "ancient language." When my bad guys spoke in the ancient tongue to power their dark magic, I simply looked up each word and used the direct translations, knowing full well it was likely the wrong version of the word. And when my good guys spoke in the ancient language, I got a translator to make sure my Hebrew made sense. In the series, I had one of my great knights, Sir Gavin, accuse the bad guys of perverting the old language. That worked well for my story, especially since Hebrew is a rather obscure language these days. This process wouldn't have worked the same for a language like French, since many of the translations are familiar to English words.

You can use this process to borrow from other languages. There are thousands of languages to choose from, though some will be far more difficult to find anyone who could translate for you. Always be careful to know the translation of each word used to make sure that you haven't chosen something vulgar or offensive. Whether or not you have a translator depends, I think, on how obscure the language you choose might be. If you choose something common like Spanish, many of your readers might speak Spanish and they would know your language is a mess even if you didn't. A language like Hopi, however, is so rare these days, it would be safe to borrow from for inspiration. (I used variations of Hopi in my new book King's Blood for one of my native tribes.) You can also research dead languages, then find an old dictionary of them from the library and use that to help you. Here is a link to a list of dead languages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinct_language

Cultures

My "cultures" in By Darkness Hid started from lists of character names for each region. I’d been using Hebrew for so many and wanted some variety, so I came up with some tricks. Allowntown, for example, is an orchard town. So I wrote a list of types of apples: Gala, Pippin, Cortland, Concord, Crab, Ginger, Fuji, etc. When I needed a new character from Allowntown, I’d pick a name from the list. Each town had a theme. Carmine was a vineyard town, so I brainstormed a list of things having to do with wine: Rioja, Flint, Terra, Keuper, Pinot, Concord, Malbec, etc. For Berland I used Inupiat names. For Magos I used Gaelic names. For Cherem, I used names of stars. For Nesos, I used Hawaiian names. And those themes became a vague culture for each place. And really, my story didn't require deep cultures for every location. I just needed to create the illusion that each place had a deep culture.

I once read a fantasy novel in which the hero came to a desert land. There he met a people group with Middle Eastern-sounding names. They wore turbans and fought with cutlasses. I found it corny because the author had pretty much stolen several Middle Eastern stereotypes for his fantasy culture and it just wasn't unique enough to pass by my notice. It took me out of the story again and again. I caution you against doing that. Don't steal too many attribute from a single culture and call it something different in your book. The same is true of fantasy creatures. If it looks like a horse, acts like a horse, eats like a horse, sounds like a horse, call it a horse, not a gorse. Save your unique creature names for unique creatures and call a horse a horse. And with cultures, look for inspiration that works for your storyworld and the plot, then make it different and unique. 

For example, you might find the way China controls its population intriguing for a people group in your book. Great. Use that. But don't have too many other similarities to Chinese culture. Also, try and create a backstory for the population control that is different than China's reasoning. This will take that intriguing concept of population control and change it to fit your storyworld. Here is another example: You might take some dance culture from a Native American tribe, a religion from India, and the dress and climate from Finland and create a culture. Don't just do it randomly, though. Be intentional. Choose each attribute for a reason. If that area of your map is cold, ask yourself what cultures on earth are cold and what elements of those cultures fit well with your story and plot? It's the difference between stealing something and being inspired by it. Don't steal. Be inspired!

How do you create cultures for your books? Have you ever borrowed from real cultures? If so, how did you make your culture unique? Share in the comments.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should You Write What You Love To Read?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.


A few years ago, I was wholeheartedly pursuing publication of my contemporary YA novels, and it felt like running on a treadmill. I worked and worked and worked, but my energy never amounted to anything other than a pile of manuscripts that no one in the industry wanted to publish.

At a conference, when I received a particularly hard face-to-face rejection, and then another one just a few hours later, my agent suggested we step outside for a bit.

We went out to the deck by the pool. I didn't shed any tears, but I know I looked terrible. We talked for a few minutes about this dead end we had reached, and that some kind of change needed to be made.

After rehashing how my appointments had gone and grasping at some ideas of where else we could pitch, my agent leaned back in her seat and asked, "What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?"



I knew immediately she was looking for ideas of what other genres I might enjoy writing. Because not only is it advice new writers hear a lot—"you should write what you love to read"but it's also how a lot of writers get their start. Either they don't see books they want on the shelves, and they decide to write them for themselves, or they read books in a genre they love and decide that they want to do the same thing.

So, is it good advice to look at what you love to read, and consider writing the same type of books? Yes, but...


Don't limit your thinking to where a book is shelved:

I do think there's value in examining what sparks your interest as a reader and then applying it to your writing, but I don't think we need to limit ourselves when it comes to genre.

If you only read one kind of genre, then yes, that's probably the right fit for you. But what about someone hodgepodgy like me? I love Jane Austen. Sarah Dessen, The Scorpio Races, The Help, 11/22/63, the Harry Potter series, and the Heist Society novels.

What do you do then? While Harry Potter is high up there on my list of favorites, and while I haven't yet had a desire to write fantasy, there are still elements of those stories that I connect with as a reader and a writer. That's a valuable thing to take notice of.

Don't be afraid to try something different OR admit if it's not your thing:

For a while I tried writing novels for adults. I've read and enjoyed lots of novels for adults, and I happen to be an adult, so it seemed like this would be a natural fit. 

But I really struggled to come up with an idea. I would send several at a time to my agent and she would call me and say, "These all sound like young adult books." So I would try again.

I even tried writing the most promising one of my ideas, and I just got annoyed with my character. I wanted to tell her, "Hey, you are a grown woman, and you can take control of this situation but you're choosing not to. Just stop being stupid." 

This was clearly not a good fit.

You may love reading steampunk or epic fantasy or cozy mysteries, but those genres still may not float your writer's boat. There's no shame in trying several genres or in admitting that while you may love reading a certain type of book, writing them isn't your thing.

And don't expect to write it well just because you like reading them.

You have great taste in books, and you've read every YA regency mystery novel you can get your hands on. Now you want to write your own. 

This is where a lot of writers start. The struggle is that as a beginner, you are not yet able to create the kind of story that you're used to enjoying. It's kinda like when you grow up eating amazing food prepared by someone else, and then you try to cook for yourself for the first time. Just because you enjoy eating food doesn't make you a natural with preparing it, right?

Don't misunderstand meit's a huge advantage to have read a ton of books in the genre you're writing. Because I had read lots of mysteries before writing my first one, I was able to pinpoint what wasn't working. But it was rather disheartening to work so hard on a story, read it for the first time, and realize, "Nope. Still have lots of work to do."

If you're struggling with what kind of stories you want to write, I think it's a great idea to consider your favorite books. Maybe they're all different genres, but what kind of common elements can you find in them? What kind of style are they written in? Who are your favorite characters in those stories, and why do you like them? Do they have similar themes? How did you feel when you finished them for the first time? 

I think it would be super fun to see some of your lists! If you'd like, please share some of your favorite books and how the stories you write are similar.







Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Prompt (and a GIVEAWAY!)

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH for participating in the Friday Prompt challenge. I read every single one and adored them. Seriously. You guys are so creative and talented. Please, please keep writing. 

I wanted to announce the winner who was randomly selected. Here's a screenshot of the entry. I've chosen to do it this way, because I don't know Rose's last name or her email address. I'll try to reach out through the Go Teen Writers FB page, but Rose, you're welcome to email me at admin@shannondittemore.com and we can discuss your book choice!

 
***

Hey friends! Friday is so bright and shiny. Makes me want to hug it all day long.

Today, we're keeping it simple. I've given you a haunting little prompt but there's a twist! For some extra motivation, I'll check the comments section on Monday and randomly select one writer as the winner!

"What does the winner get?" you ask.

How about a book of the winner's choosing from The Book Depository? That's right. Any book (under $15) is all yours if your prompt response is chosen. If you're under 18 years of age, I'll need one of your parents to approve the book choice of course.

Sound fun?! I think it does! Here's how it works. I'll start you off with a sentence or two and YOU give me a paragraph or so to follow it up. Be creative! Have fun! And check back Monday afternoon. I'll update this blog post with the winner's name and details.

Here's that prompt for ya:


Now go, write! And if you're still in the giveaway mood afterward, check out my Instagram. I've got a lovely fall giveaway running and it's easy peasy to enter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Makes Fantasy Epic?


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


First of all... The contest.


The Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest is open for submissions between now and Wednesday, September 28th OR until we receive 300 entries.

Click here to read the full rules and find out how to enter.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.





What Makes Epic Fantasy Epic?


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “epic” stems from the Greek “epos,” which meant a “word; a tale, story; promise; prophecy, proverb; poetry in heroic verse.” And from 1706, as a noun it referred to an epic poem or “a long narrative told on a grand scale of time and place, featuring a larger-than-life protagonist and heroic actions.”

Epics were a type of poetry that often dealt with action and grandeur of traditional or historical interest. Most focused on the deeds of a specific hero. Epic poetry was recited aloud, to entertain an audience with the exploits of the hero and the nation that hero represented. It’s not so much about the individual as it was about how the heroic traits of that individual reflected national pride.

Epic fantasy, therefore, is not simply about a hero and his quest. That type of a story often falls under the subgenre of heroic fantasy. Epic fantasy is about more than one person. It’s about a world, the people in it, and a conflict that is rising up to forever change that world.

One of the most famous epic fantasies is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That story is not just about Frodo’s quest. It goes much deeper than that and is quite complex. Here is a list of elements that I believe every epic fantasy should have.


10 Must Haves in Any Epic Fantasy

1. Incredible Worldbuilding
An intriguing world that’s different from our own. Worldbuilding is a huge part of epic fantasy. The world should feel so real that it is like a character. I wanted my Five Realms to be different from anything else I’d written, so I made it a desert land with a high elevation. All freshwater is underground and frequent earthquakes have created dangerous cracks and fissures throughout the land. I also spent a lot of time developing five different nations, a complicated history between them, and a magic that is a major source of strife.


2. A Map
Most epic fantasy stories have an incredible map in the front of the book that readers will continue to flip back to as they read. Here is my map of the Five Realms from The Kinsman Chronicles. I love drawing maps. And with this one, I really worked hard to try and make the map look old school by purposely drawing the proportions off for my cliffs and to include the most interesting elements of my world. I think if you click on it, you can zoom in.





3. Massive Scope
In epic fantasy, the storyworld is big and the story takes place all over that epic map. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. The story doesn’t take place in Hobbitton alone. The characters move all over Middle Earth. A massive scope also means a lot of pages and/or a lot of books to tell that massive story.


4. Massive Stakes
The story cannot be simple. And while it might involve a quest or revenge or a chase, the stakes have to be bigger than one person’s life. In epic fantasy, the world is at stake. Often this involves a great evil sweeping through the land or an invading kingdom. Epic fantasy usually involves some politics and some ruling characters be they kings, emperors, senators. The point is, the world as the characters know it is at stake. Their way of life is being threatened.


5. A Complex Plot and Subplots
There is a lot going on in an epic fantasy. I’m talking soap opera complexity here. Yes, there should be one major plot that is threatening the world, but that should also involve many characters and their individual storylines.


6. A Large Cast
To go with that complex plot, an epic fantasy needs a large cast of deep characters that the reader can root for. This often means many points of view, but not always. The point is, readers should grow to love many of the characters, as is often the case with the Lord of the Rings.


7. Magic
Oh yes. There should be magic in an epic fantasy novel. And if at all possible it should be intricately woven into the plot somehow. There have been epic fantasy novels without magic, but I can't think of one at the moment. If you can, share in the comments.


8. A Showdown
An epic fantasy usually ends with an epic battle or a major showdown between two or more characters. The entire book often leads to this clash of morals. And oftentimes, the hero doesn’t go it alone. One or more side characters come in to help in the main battle or a side battle.


9. The Feel of History
An epic fantasy should, in the same way epic poetry once did, feel like the telling of a major part of history for that storyworld. This is a story of history. Of when a threat came upon the world and a group of individuals fought back and defeated that threat. Someday a hundred years in the future from the time of the story, kids will be learning about these stories at school and there might even be a museum of sorts where people come to see the weapons of those great heroes who saved the land.


10. Breaks the Mold
Epic fantasy should attempt to break the mold in some way. For years Tolkien was the mold and everyone copied him. People still do. But part of writing epic fantasy is to try and do something different. Something no other author has tried. It’s a chance for an author to take a risk—just like the heroes he or she creates.

I tried to do that with The Kinsman Chronicles. I wanted to write a true epic fantasy in which a world was ending. It was a plot I felt hadn't been done before. A "Battlestar Galactica at Sea," if you will, and how those survivors moved on and eventually began again.

Have you ever read epic fantasy? If so, what are some of your favorites? Share in the comments.

Also, if you're building your own storyworld and need some inspiration, the Kindle version of my book Storyworld First is on a .99 sale until this Sunday night, September 25. If you haven't grabbed your copy yet, now is a great chance to save. Click here to see the book on Amazon.com.




Monday, September 19, 2016

How Your Main Character Can Help You Get Unstuck

Stephanie here! I'm jazzed to introduce you guys to young writer, Olivia Smit. Olivia is one of the writers who answered our call for submissions several months back, and she's been hard at work the last few weeks to develop this article for you guys. I think you'll love it!


Stuck? Your Main Character Can Help!
Olivia Smit is a small-town-at-heart Canadian girl who loves big stacks of books, puppies, her youth group, and writing! She started keeping a journal at the age of seven, and quickly began exploring short stories, poetry, and even a few songs (but you don't want to hear those!) Olivia wrote her first novella in eighth grade using the homeschool curriculum One Year Adventure Novel, and then completed NaNoWriMo in 2011. She has recently finished her second full-length novel, currently titled Seeing Voices, and is working through her fourth set of edits (very, very slowly). You can find Olivia at her blog, the cwtch, where she posts lists, life updates, and occasionally a poem or two! 

Picture this: you’ve finally started writing the book of your dreams (go, you!) This is The Book, the one that you’ve been dreaming about for practically your ENTIRE life… maybe The Book that no one else thinks you can write. But you know better.

You write your way through the first eight chapters at top speed, churning out plot twists and character confrontations and mesmerizing dialogue, and then…

You get stuck. Everything comes to a grinding halt, and you’re left watching that taunting little cursor, blinking away on the screen. Your main character is staring at a scratch in her kitchen counter, thinking about spaghetti, and not only do you a) have no idea why she’s in her kitchen alone, but b) you can’t figure out what’s so great about spaghetti, and c) you have NO IDEA how to make her leave the room and get on with her life.



But I can fix this, you think, and dive backwards through your notes, trying to figure out where it all went so terribly wrong. Maybe she should have argued with her mom for half a page more, you muse, or I could have that cute boy show up and knock on the door to end the chapter. I’m sure if I start a new chapter, it will all fall into place again. 

And maybe this is the case. Maybe you just need a little nudge to get going again. Maybe it’s as simple as sticking two loose ends together with a couple of hasty sentences (after all, you can always fix it later).

But maybe this time, none of your old tricks seem to help. You are well and truly stuck, like an old, worn-out zipper, and no amount of tugging backward and forward is going to make any difference at all.

If this happens to be the case for you, I want to encourage you to take a step back from your notes for a moment. (If you have them. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer, I want you to stop trying to figure things out in your head and just roll with me for a moment). Sometimes, getting yourself out of a stuck place is really, really hard. And sometimes, it isn’t difficult at all.

Occasionally, all you need to do is take a step back and re-evaluate your scene.

Asking questions is the easiest way to do this… as long as they’re the right kind of questions. Beware of questions that will only lead you back to your notes, and instead try to push yourself outside of your own expectations and plans for your novel. Instead of asking yourself, “What SHOULD happen next?” or “Where does my character NEED to go?” or even, “How can I FIX this to make it less boring?” I challenge you to experiment!

Try asking personal questions about (or even directly to) your characters, like “what does my character WANT?” and “what is getting in her way?” “Why can’t she just HAVE what she wants?” “Who is stopping her from reaching her goal?”

Maybe your character is thinking about spaghetti because the kitchen has always been a place of refuge for her. She and her mom used to cook together all the time, but lately there just doesn’t seem to be time. Suddenly, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole new array of questions! “When did they stop cooking together?” “Why?” “Is her mom sad about it too?” “What are they really fighting about?” “If the cute boy comes to the door, will she start to cry? Will she get mad? Will she invite him in on a whim and make him dinner?” The possibilities are endless!

Questions like these may seem silly, unprofessional, or childish, but sometimes when you ask seemingly pointless or irrelevant questions, your characters will surprise you! Maybe you’ve written a scene that has underlying messages you haven’t even realized yet. Grab hold of those when you find them, and don’t let go! You can run for pages and pages on a surprise idea, and just from asking a few simple questions.

Remember: the readers don’t care about the mechanics of a story, so long as it works. 

We writers are so used to running around with a thousand notes and plot devices swirling inside our brains, and sometimes we get so hung up on the inner workings of our story that we just end up stuck. Our inspiration and creativity has been sucked away by our wholehearted plunge after the behind-the-scenes, and we forget that our audience is sitting out there in the dark waiting for the show to start.

To the reader, sitting down with a book is kind of like owning a car. As long as the car starts when they turn the key, most of them don’t really care to know why or how the engine works. However, if the car breaks down, you better believe they’ll notice! Your audience doesn’t want to know what needs to happen next to advance your novel’s plot, or that the main character’s argument with her mom was two pages instead of two and a half. They want to know how she feels about the fight, and what she’s going to do next, and why spaghetti is so important to her.

Don’t get me wrong – knowing those boring old background details is IMPORTANT. After all, someone needs to know how a car engine works! But sometimes, putting yourself in the reader’s shoes and just hanging out with your characters for a while can get you the answers you need. (and it’s kind of fun, too!)

What kind of questions are you asking right now, wherever you’re at in your book? Do your characters ever surprise you?




Friday, September 16, 2016

Winners of the 100-for-100 writing challenge

We are super proud of these writers for finishing the 100 words for 100 days writing challenge!

Ciel
Taïsha Chéry
Jessica Johnson
Soleil
Justine Morris
Melissa Gravitis
Rebekah Gyger
Emily G
Crystal
Cameron E.
Tracey Dyck
Ash Scott
Kat Stulpin
Taylor Marshall
Faith Potts
Lydia C.
Savannah Perran
Ruth Ellen
Lydia DeGisi
Lydia Harrison
Sarah Taleweaver

These writers wrote at least 100 words a day every day for 100 days, and many of them wrote even more than that!

The writers who wrote the most during the challenge were:

Melissa Gravitas: 92,012 words
Ash Scott: 73,492
Savannah Perran: 70,391

Amazing! For being in our top three, these writers earned their choice of a 1,000 word critique or a 20 minute Google Hangout session to talk over writerly things.

Three other finishers won their choice of several books, and the winners were Lydia Harrison, Kat Stulpin, and Tracey Dyck. Congratulations!

If you're curious about what it's like to do the challenge, Tracey Dyck wrote a summary of her experience, and it's a really interesting read about persevering. Thanks, Tracey!








Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks Contest is open for submissions

As announced on September 1, 2016, the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks contest starts today! We're open between now and Wednesday, September 28th OR until we receive 300 entries.


THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.







The Rules

1. Who can enter: Those who are 21 and under, un-agented, and not a contracted or traditionally published novelist. One entry per person.

2. Your chapter must be no more than 3,000 words. Do not submit 3001 words and hope to get away with it. You will be disqualified. We highly recommend that you submit the first 3,000 words of your story, but that decision is up to you. If you have a prologue, you are welcome to include it as long as you stay under the 3,000-word limit. We also highly recommend that you don't end your entry in the middle of a sentence because it's jarring to a judge. It's better to submit 2980 words of complete sentences and thoughts than it is to leave us off in the middle of a sentence or explanation but use exactly 3,000 words. (If you're confused about word count, there is an explanation below.) Wherever you decide to stop your entry, keep in mind the post on powerful chapter and scene endings. Hook us with that last line!

2. Your synopsis must be no longer than two pages. You synopsis and your chapter should not be formatted the same. Detailed formatting rules are posted below.

3. You must save both your chapter and your synopsis in one file to submit. That means you should perfect your chapter, triple check that the word count is 3,000 words or under, then add a page break and paste in your synopsis. This is because our entry form can only have one attachment per entry.

4. This contest will have two rounds of judging. Stephanie, Shannon, and I will work together to read every entry and compile a list of three finalists. The finalists will be given two weeks to prepare their first three chapters, which we will send to editor Roseanna White, who will pick the winner.


How To Format Your Entry

Your chapter and your synopsis will not be formatted the same.

Your chapter must be formatted in the following manner:

-It should be double-spaced with no additional spacing before or after each line.

-It should have one-inch margins on all four sides.

-It should use 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font.

-Set your indentations to .5.

-Each chapter should begin on a new page. Don’t hit “Enter, Enter, Enter” to get your cursor to a new page. Instead insert a Page Break at the end of each chapter, then begin typing your new chapter on the next page. Remember, your submission has a word-count limit, not a page-count limit, so if you have more than one chapter, that's okay.

-Start each chapter ¼ to ½ of the way down the page.

-Format all chapter headings the same. It doesn't matter if you write "Chapter One" or "1," as long as you're consistent.

-Use only one space after punctuation, not two.

-Use italics for inner thoughts and to stress a word. Don't go overboard.

-Avoid all fancy formatting, like drop cap letters to the start of each chapter, flowery scene breaks, or any other decorative graphics.

-Scene breaks should be marked with asterisks or a number sign. Again, you could use one asterisk *, five in a row ***** or three with tabs in between *      *      *. It doesn't matter as long as you are consistent throughout the manuscript.

-Save your file as a .doc, docx, or txt file.

-Please save your file with your name and story title. For example: JillWilliamsonThirst or Jill_Williamson_Thirst. (If you already submitted your entry before I added this instruction, no worries. We will figure it out.)

Click here to view my tutorial on proper manuscript format, if you're not sure how to change some of the requirements in the list above.

-You do not need a title page, page numbers, or page headers.



Your synopsis should be formatted in the following manner:

-It should be single spaced with no additional spacing before or after each line.

-It should have one-inch margins on all four sides.

It should use 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font.

-Set your indentations to .5.

-It can be between one and two pages long. One-page synopses are preferred, so if you have both, give us the short one. You will not be marked down for having a two-page synopsis.

-Use only one space after punctuation, not two.

-Your synopsis should give us an overview of the full book and include the ending. Spoilers are part of a synopsis. You're trying to show an editor or agent that you can plot out a book well. If you need help writing your synopsis, please refer to Stephanie's posts on how to write a synopsis and how to edit a synopsis. They are great posts.


Other Questions

What if I don't have Microsoft Word?: You don't have to submit a Word file. If you have a different word-processing program, just be sure to save a copy of your submission as a .doc or .txt file so that we will be able to open it.

When will we find out who the finalists are?: We don't know yet. We'll have a better idea once we see how many entries there are, but we're taking the first two weeks of October off from blogging so that we can dedicate significant time to judging. We hope to be able to announce finalists when we return from that break, but we will just have to see how many submissions come in.

Will I get feedback on my entry?: We will do our best to give each of you something helpful and concrete that you can apply to your writing. But Stephanie, Shannon, and I also have young kids and books of our own to write, so we won't be able to do a line edit or talk over specifics with everybody.

If I win, do you publish my entry on your website?: We would like to highlight each of the three finalists on the Go Teen Writers blog by posting the first page of their chapter. Each finalist will have the choice whether or not they would like us to do that. We will ask permission first and will leave the decision up to each finalist.

How do I find the word count of my entry?: The industry standard for word count is Microsoft Word. In older versions of Word, you had to go to "Tools" and then "Word count." The newer versions keep track of the word count down below. (See the red circle):

See that place circled in red in the bottom left corner? There's your word count.
Or you can also go to the review menu and find it here:



Another option is using a site like WordCounter.net.


Ready To Enter?

Because of the need to have an attachment, we were unable to use Google Forms for the contest. Instead I was able to set up a form on my author website. You must give us three things on this form:

1. A name (a pen name is fine).
2. A correct email address. (Triple check it, please. If we love your entry but cannot find you because of a typo in your email address, that would be really unfortunate.)
3. Your attached submission---in one file. This is the tricky part. Please bear with us. Because of technology and the way the forms plugin works on my author website, I can only handle one attachment per entry. That means you will have to add a page break at the end of your chapter and paste in your synopsis. Make sure you check the word count of your entry before pasting in your synopsis. And make sure that your entry is 3,000 words or less because we hate having to disqualify people.

To enter, go to this link and follow the instructions. 



One final note

We don't like to limit entries for contests, but there are only three of us, and while the Go Teen Writers blog is very important, it is only a portion of our professional responsibilities. Plus we all have families with children and our own writing schedules to try and maintain. While it pains us that the limitations we've put on the contest (only accepting 300 entries) might inevitably exclude some writers, we hope you can understand why we need a restrictions in place.

As it is, Stephanie, Shannon, and I each have committed to reading and providing feedback for 300,000 words free of charge, and that will take up a lot of time and energy. We're happy to give back in this way to a community that we're blessed to be a part of, but we still have to put boundaries in place to remain healthy.

Good luck, everyone! And please feel free to ask any other questions you have in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Finish your book!

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.


I've been a total writing podcast junkie for the last few weeks, and it amazes me how many times I hear veteran writers give the advice to finish your book.



This advice makes sense to me (and I've given it too) for several reasons, but hearing it over and over made me think about all the unfinished books floating around on my hard drive. Even as a multi-published author, I don't finish every book I start. So today I want to dig into the reasons why authors so often tell new writers that they need to push through and finish their book, and also why maybe you shouldn't.

Why you should finish your book:

Sticking with a story from beginning to end--even if you never go on to edit or publish it--is the best way to learn how to write a novel.  With every first draft I've completed, I've learned so much about what type of ideas excite me enough to make it through to the end, how many complications and twists are necessary to keep a story interesting, how do build a good character arc, and so much more. Craft books, blogs, and classes are great, but the absolute best way to learn how to write a novel is to actually write a novel.

You can't sell an unfinished book. Lots of new writers get jazzed about ideas for their cover, looking for an agent, or writing the screenplay adaptation for their novel. But none of these great things can happen until you've finished the book. So that needs to be priority number one.


Why you should not finish your book:

You've lost that loving feeling: (Cue the music.) Now, mature writers know that we don't always have warm, fuzzy enthusiasm for our books. We do at first, of course. Same as a crush. But with time, that new-book-crush feeling fades and with it goes our energy and interest.

I scrolled through my archive of abandoned projects from the last few years and identified why I walked away from a few:
  • Story #1: This idea was more about characters and the situation, but I never found a plot that I liked well enough to write more than a chapter or two. Maybe one of these days I'll figure it out.
  • Story #2: Working on this book bummed me out. My character was in a dark place, and I found myself getting annoyed with her because she wasn't doing more to fix her situation. I gave up after about ten thousand words.
  • Story #3: I was so excited about this book! I wrote three chapters, and then my enthusiasm faded until I forgot about it until just now.
  • Story #4: This book sounded so fun to write, but I never could figure out where to start it and moved on to something else.
Sometimes, like with real love, when our book crushes fade, our feelings evolve into something deeper. That happened to me with The Lost Girl of Astor Street. While the book definitely felt like a struggle at times, it felt like a worthwhile one.

Right book, but wrong time: Now, one of these days, I may come back to the books on that list above. I may find a plot to work with my premise, or I may figure out how to write that story without getting bummed out and annoyed. There's certainly no rule of, "Once you've abandoned a book, you can never come back." For me, both Me, Just Different and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet were books that I gave up on a few times before returning and finishing them.

What are your thoughts? How do you know when it's worth it to push through to the end of your novel?







Monday, September 12, 2016

Taking a sick day

Sorry, writers, but I have been sick the last few days and my blog post never made it past the garbled, first draft stage. Now that I'm finally on the mend, I'm hoping that I can get it all shined up for tomorrow.

Thanks for understanding!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Where Did Your Character's Journey Really Begin?

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Every novel has a beginning. An opening paragraph. A first sentence. A compelling first line. And if you read on, you'll find that every novel has an inciting incident--a point of no return for the main character.

While this juncture--the opening of a Hogwarts letter, the reaping of a little sister, the realization that the wardrobe isn't just a wardrobe--compels a character down a road they may have not have otherwise taken, the story began long before this moment in time.

In this way, we have to differentiate between story openings and story origins. 

Consider Harry Potter. His story began long before he opened that Hogwarts letter. It began before the murder of his parents. It began long before Tom Riddle was born. Harry's story wouldn't have existed in its current state without all the work JK Rowling put in to develop the world around that one moment. 

According to her publisher's website, JK Rowling first came up with the idea for the Harry Potter books while she was sitting on a train, waiting through a delay, as she traveled from Manchester to King's Cross Station. From that fledgling idea, she fleshed out an entire world and gave the boy wizard a fantastical and compelling backstory that would lead him to open a letter, that would tell him to board a train, that would deliver him to the school that would change everything he ever knew. 

Rowling started with an idea that captured her imagination and she worked backwards.

She gave Harry's Hogwarts letter context. 

Most authors I know work the same way, but many of them would tell you that it wasn't always so. As new writers, we have a tendency to start with an idea that captures our attention and move forward without considering just how the main character arrived at that moment.

There are many elements worth considering as you develop your story's origin. Here are a few: 

1. Story world - How does the world around your main characters contribute to the situation they find themselves in now? We can see this clearly when we examine the Harry Potter books or the Star Wars movies. It's easy to point out story world development in science fiction or fantasy tales, but it's just as crucial in other works. The Book Thief wouldn't be The Book Thief without the tragedies of WWII. The same goes for Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. And what about Eleanor and Park? The story would have been vastly different if it hadn't been set in a decade and a part of the country where school buses were commonly ridden. Each of these authors used the world around their characters to provide context for the first moments of their stories.

2. Heritage - Where did your main character come from? The Hunger Games would be an entirely different story if Katniss had been President Snow's daughter, born in the Capitol, and had enough to eat every day of her life. Her family and her family's family matter to the story. Where her people lived and died touch deeply on her motivations and lead directly to the moment when she hears her sister's name called out over the crowd. These small things that make up Katniss as a living, breathing character were chosen specifically for the value they bring to the journey this character must undertake.

3. Regrets - What does your main character regret more than anything? When we first meet the star of your story, does he harbor any regrets? Has he done things he's ashamed of? This is an important thing to consider because many of our current circumstances find their root in decisions we've made in the past. The Welsh television series, Hinterland, features a detective who is clearly running away from something. We catch glimpses of it throughout the first few episodes and we understand it has something to do with his daughters. The mystery of it, the regret itself, is hidden but seeps out into everything he does especially when he is assigned a case involving a murdered child. This mistake that occurred before the story ever began is a vital part of this show's origin and frames both the lead and the crimes he investigates in a shade of melancholy that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. 

I've given you three areas to explore as you work backward from either your story's inciting incident or simply an intriguing idea. I certainly haven't exhausted the subject. Can you think of anything else we should consider when working to establish our story's origin? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The 100-for-100 writing challenge ends today!

Today is day 100 of the 100-for-100 writing challenge! 

If you are one of the writers who signed up to write 100 words a day every day for 100 days, and if you did not receive an email from me with instructions for turning in your final word count, please email me!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 27: Where to End the Book


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week twenty-seven of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I wrote the first draft of a book called THIRST and finished a few weeks ago. Click here to visit the chapter archives, if you want to read it.

I can't believe we're at the end of this series! But first... an announcement:


A New Release and Sale


My son Luke and I released Mardok and the Seven Exiles this past weekend. This is the second book in the RoboTales science fiction fairytale series of chapter books for kids. To celebrate we put both books on sale for .99 for a limited time. We're still working on getting the paperback version of Mardok published, so only the ebook is available for now. You can learn more here.






Recap

Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes 
Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
Week twenty: Action
Week twenty-one: Description
Week twenty-two: Exposition
Week twenty-three: Pacing
Week twenty-four: Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters
Week twenty-five: The Macro Edit
Week twenty-six: The Micro Edit


Contest Announced!

In case you missed it, last Wednesday I announced the details for the opening of the #WeWriteBooks contest, which launches one week from today. Click here to read the contest announcement post.







Today's Topic: Where to End the Book 

I can't believe we've finally reached the end. 

This was a really long series! I hope you've enjoyed working through my writing process and that you also got a lot of work done on your books. The contest opens next week. Are you ready?

If you’ve finished a novel, even in rough draft form, congratulations! Of all the people out there writing novels, the percentage of those who actually finish is not all that large. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

But if you’re not quite there yet, that’s okay. The ending is one of the most important parts of a story, and you want to get it just right. This is what you’ve been working towards. Your story has been building up to this very climax, after which you’ll tie things up in your resolution.

We’ve all read books that ended poorly, books that cheated us of a good ending, books we wanted to throw. And we’ve read boring endings too. It’s important to work really hard to write an ending that truly satisfies your readers. This requires you to make several decisions. Are you going to write a happy ending? Are you going to tie up your loose ends? Are you setting up a sequel? Do you seek to leave your reader pondering a theme or a question? Start by answering these questions, then seek ways to accomplish your goals.

Since most of you are writing genre fiction that fits a three-act structure with a somewhat happy ending, there are a few musts you’re going to need to do to satisfy your readers and not anger or annoy them.

Musts

1. The hero must act to save the day. It can’t be too easy. His friends can assist him, but it doesn’t work to have side characters save the day. The hero must step up and act. He must confront a worthy adversary and resolve the main story problem and conflict himself.

2. The hero must grow in some way. He cannot stay the same. He could learn an important lesson or overcome a fear. He could sacrifice something important or make a hard choice. No matter what, he needs to care about what’s happening, be invested in what’s happening, and change in a way that will make a big impact with readers.

3. You must work with what you’ve got. This isn’t the time to introduce new characters or plot threads. Anything you reveal in the end should have been set up, planted, or foreshadowed earlier in the story.

4. (For books in a series.) If you are writing a series, you still need to write an ending for this book. Every book needs some sort of resolution. Look for a story arc for this book that can be wrapped up nicely while still leaving a subplot or two unresolved that will hook your readers for a sequel. Don’t leave your readers frustrated or annoyed by what they think is a terrible ending. Make it clear that there are more books to come.

Don’ts

-Don’t break promises you made earlier in the story.

-Don’t leave the reader wondering why you planted something only to leave them hanging. If you foreshadowed something, follow through with a reveal.

-Don’t add drama for the sake of more drama. Events should feel natural to plot, character, and tone. Don’t ignore who your characters are. Stay true to them, and don’t allow them to act out of character to force your plot to work.

-Don’t rely on a flashback alone to end your story. Keep things active and engaging.

-Don’t use too much exposition at the end. I know. It’s tempting to let your bad guy monologue a little or let your hero give the big reveal like Shawn Spencer does on the show Psych, but too much explanation slows down the action in a book.

-Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out magically fine. Avoid the deux es machina where a seemingly unsolvable crisis is mysteriously resolved by the unexpected intervention of a character, a random magical ability, an object, or God himself. This is lazy writing and cheats the reader out of the ending they deserve.

-Don’t mess with genre conventions. Mysteries need to be solved in the end. The bad guy must be caught. Romances must end with a couple getting together. These particular genre conventions are nonnegotiable. Know what you can and can’t get away with in your particular genre.

Dos

-Do bring things full circle. Employ circularity (see this post on circularity).  Look for characters, plots, dialogue, or themes that were present at the start of your story and bring them back at the end. This gives a feeling of closure.

-Do tie up you lose threads. Maybe not every single one, but most of them. Trust me. You will get emails for the rest of your life if you leave too many things unresolved.

-Do recap what your character has learned. Don’t say it over and over, but have a moment in narrative or dialogue where your character gets introspective and contemplates how far he has come.

-Do stick to your characters and genre. Let those things ring true. If your book is a comedy, don’t have a dramatic, tear-jerker ending. If you’re writing epic fantasy, you’d better have an epic ending. Be consistent.

-Do surprise your reader. Realistically, deliberately. Intentionally and carefully. Watch for predictability and keep the reader guessing. Try to foreshadow more than one possible ending for your book to keep your readers on their toes.

-Do have a final, epic struggle that blows away your readers. Your ending should be the biggest, most exciting incident in your story. If you have a bigger incident in act two, that’s a problem. There is a reason this is called the climax. It should be the biggest.

-Do leave readers with a sense of wonder. Seek to give a powerful lasting impression. Grip them emotionally so that they’ll carry your story around in their thoughts for days.

-Do give your reader time to breathe after the big climax, but don’t go on too long. Every book is different. Some argue that I went on too long at the end of book three in the Blood of Kings trilogy, but I did it on purpose because Achan and Vrell didn’t get much time together in the last book. Really look at your story and carefully decide how much resolution is needed. Be intentional. Be smart.

-Do make your ending satisfying. It might not have to be perfectly happy, but it must satisfy your readers and give closure.

More ideas for endings

1) Plot Twist- You can surprise your readers with something they didn’t expect. Just do so carefully and realistically.

2) Give them the ending after the ending. Think of the biggest, most mind-blowing final conflict you can, then let your character fail and add yet another, even bigger ending.

3) Write an epilogue in which you show your hero at a later date. Stephanie wrote a great post on epilogues.

One Final Note


Remember the post a few weeks back about great beginningsand endings? The last page, the last paragraph, the last sentence, and the last word in your novel are all endings you want to perfect. Spend some time on them. Maybe cut the last sentence or paragraph. Play around with it until you have a powerful final page to your story. Stephanie wrote a great post on that too.

Assignment time

Think about your ending. Are you going to write a happy one? Are you going to tie up all your loose ends or only some of them? Do you seek to leave your reader pondering a theme or a question? Are you setting up a sequel? If so, how will you find the perfect balance of closure and hook for the next book in the series? Share some of your ending plans below. And if you have any questions, ask away. The contest opens next week. Are you ready?