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.





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!