Monday, November 20, 2017

What To Do When You're Afraid Your Book Is Preachy



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 (Blink/HarperCollins). 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, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


We had a question from a writer about how to keep from "preaching" in your fiction. They specifically asked about it in the context of Christianity, but since preachy fiction isn't limited by religious fiction, I'm going to broaden the scope of my answer.



We all have a specific way that we view the world. The right way, of course. (Wink, wink.) We also all have passions, some that are positive in nature and others that are sad or hard. You might feel deeply passionate about writing stories that leave people feeling hopeful about the world. Or you might feel passionate about people understanding the pain caused by racism. (Though obviously these two examples could coexist.)

Passion is a good thing, and we're rightly advised to create out of it. If you're not passionate about your topic, you can't expect anybody else to care, right?

But what about when your critique group says that you're "preaching" or that you've gotten on a soapbox? Should you cool down your passions? What about books like Jodi Picoult's (The Pact, My Sister's Keeper) that are focused on issues like suicide, a broken legal system, stem cell treatments, and so on?

We know novels that revolve around religious or social issues can sell, so the question becomes:

How do you put your passions on the page without readers feeling like you're preaching to them?

Remember story is king.

Sometimes we build stories based on a subject we're passionate about. I did that with my WWII novel that comes out with Blink/HarperCollins in 2019. I grew passionate about the Japanese American experience in the United States during the war, and I wanted to explore it more, so I crafted a story idea.

But very few people will pick up that novel thinking, "I'm going to buy this in hopes that I learn more about the Japanese American concentration camps." That's not why we buy novels. We buy them to be entertained. 

As someone who adores historical fiction, one of my favorite qualities of the genre is learning about another place and time in history, but if I was truly wanting to be educated about a topic, I would head to the non-fiction section at Barnes and Noble.

I have learned lots and lots of fascinating things about the Japanese Americans in WWII, but only a fraction of it gets to go in the story. The rest are darlings that need to be killed, or kept out of the story from the beginning.

You have to be strict with yourself on this one. If it doesn't serve the story, it's got to go.

Show other viewpoints with equal strength and respect.


If you hang around the writing world very long, you'll hear characters referred to as straw men. This refers to characters who are clearly there just to give the main character someone to beat, and they're beaten easily. A friend of mine, novelist and writing teacher Daniel Schwabauer, said in a class, "It doesn't take much effort to knock down a straw man."

If you want to avoid being preachy or heavy-handed, it's vital that you create strong, respectable characters who believe the opposite as your character. These characters should have clear, understandable reasons for believing what they do. It's much more impressive if your character triumphs over another character who's strong, right?

I think the first step to achieving this happens off the page. You have people in your life who believe something different than you or who don't get fired up about this hot-button issue of yours. Take the time to think it through from their perspective and to be respectful of them. I'm not talking about watering down the truth of what you want to share, but rather how to be honest while showing honor to other view points or beliefs.

Remember to raise questions.

One of the biggest reasons that preachy fiction is annoying is that it's all about telling me what I should and shouldn't believe. That's not what we pick up novels for, nor is it a great way to convince somebody they're wrong.

I think it's much more effective to write a story that raises questions:

Is this really the best way to live? Is this really fair? Do you know this is going on in the world? How much risk is too much?

Questions make us think bigger than statements do. Your writing will be more effective if your story raises questions like that than if it states this is the best way to live, this is what's fair, and this is how much risk you should take.

Ask for sensitivity readers.

You can probably guess this, but sensitivity readers are people you ask to read your book because you are aware that something you have written could unintentionally offend a person in their situation. For example, I might be a sensitivity reader for a book that deals with epilepsy, since I have personal experience with it because of my son.

This is a great way to make sure you are treating an important issue with the respect and accuracy that it deserves.

Sometimes we need sensitivity readers even when our story is about something that we have personally lived with. Angie Thomas is the bestselling author of The Hate U Give, a book written from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old black girl about racism. Even though Ms. Thomas is also a person of color and has had personal experience with discrimination, she still got sensitivity readers for her manuscript. On a panel at ALA, she said words to the effect of, "Not everyone has had the experiences I have. I wanted their experiences in the book too."

So even if it's a topic you think you're an expert on, consider asking others for their take too.

I absolutely love books that open my eyes to an issue I wasn't aware of, or that gives me a new perspective on a belief I already hold. What book has done that for you?


Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing Exercise #20: Scene Transitions

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

We've made it to Friday again, friends! Some weeks it feels more like a victory than others. This is definitely one of those weeks. 

For those of you participating in National Novel Writing Month, how's it going? If you haven't hit a funky stretch, you will. I'm sure. But press on, okay? YOU CAN DO THIS!

We had a request a while back for a blog post on scene transitions and I thought I'd do what I could to bring a little clarity. We have definitely talked about this before on the blog, so if you'd like some more information on the topic, just type 'scene transitions' into the search bar at the top of the page and you'll have some options to sort through.

The request we received recently read like this:

How do you fill in the spaces between scenes? I'm a plotter who writes the scenes I've plotted, but I can't seem to figure out how they connect right with the other scenes in the story. I call it "grasshopper syndrome" because it feels like I literally have to jump to the next scene to stay motivated.

It's a good question. Moving naturally from one scene to another is a problem for those who plot their stories out in advance as well as for those who sit with their hands on the keyboard and pray the words come. Both drafting styles present different obstacles and can produce stories that read like a collection of grasshopper scenes. 

To address that issue, you can use scene transitions. 

Scene transitions are useful tools when you're changing the setting, moving to a different time, shifting the tone, or switching point of views. You can transition in all sorts of ways and how you choose to do this contributes to your style and the pacing of your tale.

The most common way to leave one scene and move into another is with a chapter break. When you end one chapter and begin another one, readers know that a change is, if not inevitable, at least possible. A change that's likely related to the location, time, narrator, or tone. A change at this point will not surprise them at all.

If it serves the story, you can elect to use the closing words of one chapter to set up the beginning of the next. For example:
Tomorrow would be a challenge, but Katie was more than up for it.

With a chapter ending like that, starting the subsequent chapter is easy peasy. And there's no need to fill in every moment of Katie's life between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. It's okay to simply jump with Katie to tomorrow. In fact, it's expected. You've done your job. You've closed out one scene and primed the audience for the next. In this way, scene transitions can be very short and simple.

Of course, it isn't always ideal to break a chapter after a scene, so if you need to, you can indicate a scene break with three asterisks or pound signs. Simply center them on a line between the two scenes and the reader will understand a change has taken place (a publisher too, but that's a different subject altogether).

As mentioned, some scene transitions are very short:

Introducing a new time: "Later that day . . ." 

or

Introducing a new point of view: "Bob's thoughts on the subject were very different."

But if a more dramatic change has taken place, you'll need to offer more substantial help to get the reader to make the jump. 

Setting changes: When you jump from one location to another, you need to set the scene. Depending on the type of novel you're writing and the voice of the character, these descriptions can be brief or more detailed. Either way, the reader needs to know where you've gone so they can follow you. Don't leave them asking, "Where are we now?"

Time jumps: Any substantial movement in time needs to be marked. We can jump hours or centuries and you need to somehow cue the reader into the present. It can be a simple mention of the time or it can be a paragraph about the dresses of the women moving down the streets of Victorian London. However you do it, you need to put us in the correct moment.

Tone shifts: Sometimes a book will call for a dramatic shift in feel. The pace slows or increases rapidly. Maybe a scene ends with a character drifting off to sleep in her bed, all peace and dreams. Our next scene begins abruptly, with her window shattering inward, glass peppering her body, sirens blaring. You want this transition to have the feel of SUDDENLY. It's okay to keep the transition short, perhaps just three pound signs indicating a scene break. We don't need to ease into every moment. But these kinds of abrupt transitions should be very deliberate and not overused.

Head hops: It's a rare author in modern writing that has mastered the omniscient point of view allowing for various degrees of head hopping. For the most part, I'd like to recommend that you tell the story from one point of view at a time. If you do need to leave one noggin and jump into another one, do the reader a favor and give them a chapter break or a scene break (###) to mark the transition. And when you do make these transitions, take a moment and ground us in this new perspective. Don't leave readers guessing whose thoughts they're hearing, whose eyes they're viewing the world through. 

As you can see, there are many different kinds of scene transitions, but the most effective are the ones that transport the reader completely to the author's chosen time, place, tone and perspective. Transitions do not need to be long and cumbersome, but they must be long enough to get the job done. 


For today's exercise, I want you to grab a novel. Doesn't matter which one; any novel will do. Take some time and flip through it, reading chapter endings and beginnings, looking for extra spaces between paragraphs that indicate a scene break. When you find a scene transition that jumps out at you as particularly successful or interesting, type it out for us in the comments section and tell us why you think the transition worked. I can't wait to read your thoughts!

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!
   
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Go Teen Writers Live: Episode 7: Finishing your book, and dealing with subplots

Jill here. I was gone all last week, first to Nashville for the Christy Awards, then to Nampa, Idaho for my *ahem* twentieth college reunion. I'm still super behind, so I promise to share about my adventures next week.

Today I have the privilege of sharing Go Teen Writers Live Episode 7. Sadly, I seem to be the phantom author in these videos. I don't know what's wrong with my connection. It could be that my iPhone is getting too old for these things... You can hear me, but you can't see me.

Pretend I'm in the Veil. ;-)

The questions we answer this week are how to decide which plot is the main plot and which is the subplot, how to finish a book all the way to the end, and how to blend two or more story ideas. Enjoy!






If you've missed old episodes, you can click on that tab up top that says, "Go Teen Writers LIVE" or subscribe to our YouTube channel. (You also get to see the videos early that way!)

Any questions?

Also, if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, how is it going? 



Monday, November 13, 2017

2 Ways To Be Sure Your Scene Really Matters



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 (Blink/HarperCollins). 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, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


I'm in a season of editing right now, which is a part of the novel-creating process that I love, even though it's also the part that I find most challenging.

No longer can I say, "I don't know what's supposed to happen here, so I'll just do my best and fix it later." Nor can I put off finding the answer to my most elusive research questions. No more slacking off!

This is also when I have to be brutally honest about individual scenes in the book. Is it working? Is it not working? Does it move the story forward? Am I starting in the right place? Did I end in a way that will make readers turn the page? On and on the questions go.

A few times now I've come across a scene that just isn't working like it should. Even though I had filled it with good character and plot stuff, something about it just felt ... off.



Finally, I had a breakthrough when I noticed a pattern about my character's expectations and decisions. (Or, rather, lack there of.)

Let's examine the two simple questions I've learned to use to help turn my Not Quite Right scenes into scenes that really matter: What does my character expect, and what decisions does my character make?

"What does my character expect to happen?"


This is the first question that I realized I wasn't asking, thanks to a post from K.M. Weiland about ... something. I scrolled back through her archives trying to figure out what lesson of hers prompted this discovery, and I can't find it. So the credit goes to Katie, but I can't link to it. Sorry, Katie!

Her point was that there should be a gap in what the character expects to happen and what actually happens. Most of the time I do this instinctively, and you probably do too. Your point of view character will think a conversation is going to go one way, and it won't. Or she will think it's an ordinary day, and the unexpected happens.

I realized on scenes that weren't landing like I wanted them to, often my character's expectations were met. She expected to have a tense conversation with her mother, and that's what happened. etc.

As I thought about this, I realized that this can work, and it certainly should sometimes. If your character's expectations are always wrong, we'll stop trusting them and their judgment pretty quickly.

So it isn't that your character needs to be wrong all the time. Instead, you can try applying the, "Yes, but" technique for creating an element of surprise. 

Yes, her mom is upset, but it isn't for the reason she thought it would be.

Yes, her friend has been lying to her, but the betrayal is even worse than she initially expected.

So that can work if we want our character to be right about something. Frequently, however, our characters should be surprised:

Lightning McQueen expects to win the race, but instead it's a three-way tie. (Cars)

Elizabeth Bennett expects to have an enjoyable evening at the ball with Mr. Wickham, but Wickham doesn't show up. (Pride and Prejudice)

Katniss expects Peeta to be on her side, but he's teamed up with the Careers. (The Hunger Games)

In my scenes that didn't work as well as they ought, it was because:
  • I hadn't given myself time to show my character's expectations, so when they shattered, the impact wasn't as strong. 
  • My character had no expectations.
  • Things happened exactly as my character anticipated, so there was no element of surprise.
So that's the first question you can start with. The next one I identified is this:

"What decision does my character make in this scene?"


Andy Stanley says, "Decision by decision, you are writing the story of your life." Initially, I latched onto this as a tool for making better decisions in my personal life, but as I worked on a problematic scene, I realized, "In this scene, my character isn't deciding anything that affects their life story."

Sometimes we choose to zoom in on little decisions our character's make. Like in the 2003 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when Jane is delighted over her engagement to Mr. Bingley, and she expresses a longing for her sister to fid true love too. Lizzy makes a small, beautiful decision to keep the focus on Jane and her happiness. Instead of spilling about Mr. Darcy, she teases, "Maybe Mr. Collins has a cousin."

Purposefully making a small moment into something big can be very effective, but unless we're very intentionally choosing that, then our character needs to make a noteworthy decision within each scene. Even if it's just a renewed commitment to "stay the course."

And a lot of timesI'm going to be so bold as to say almost all the timethis noteworthy decision should be based on whatever shift happened in their expectations.

Using the same examples from before, let's take a look at the decisions that resulted:

In Cars, Lightning McQueen expected to win the race, but instead it's a three-way tie. And so he decides to get to California as fast as he can for the tie-breaking race so he can rub shoulders with VIPs.

In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy expected to have a nice evening at the ball with Mr. Wickham, but he doesn't show up. And so when Mr. Darcy asks her to dance, she says yes.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss expects Peeta to be an ally, but instead he teams up with the Careers. And so Katniss gives up on loyalty to him too.

That phrase,"And so," is the key to creating compelling character motivation. It's also how you keep your book from sounding like a list of scenes, the way you make it feel as though your character is writing their own story.

It's also the way you make sure each scene matters.

If you're writing a first draft, take a look at your next scene. What does your POV character expect to happen, and what will actually happen? What decision will your character make as a result?

If you're currently editing a manuscript, try pulling out a random scene later in the novel (those early chapters tend to get the bulk of our attention!) and ask the same questions. 

Share in the comments section, if you'd like!


Friday, November 10, 2017

Writing Exercise #19: Trying and failing to resolve the hobbit's problem

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

I promised you all a resolution to our series of hobbit exercises and today we have it. If you're playing catch-up, here's a quick recap.

In Writing Exercise #16, we started where Tolkien started, with the very sentence that slipped into his head and compelled him to sit down and puzzle out a story.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

We used this sentence to create our own hobbits and we decided for ourselves just why our hobbits lived underground.

In Writing Exercise #17, we gave our hobbits a problem. And in Writing Exercise #18, we upped the stakes and made the problem worse.

Given all we've put our poor hobbits through, I think it's time we helped them resolve their problems. Resolving doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending, of course, but we're going to do our level best to at least END the suffering of our dear hobbits at the hands of this particular dilemma.

There are many, many ways we could do this. In fact, the solving of a character's main problem is usually what makes up the largest chunk of any story. Often this problem-solving process can get mired down and I want to remind you of a tool that can help you plan your way out of these struggles. Especially if you're not entirely sure how you want to resolve the situation.

We're going to try and fail our way to a resolution today.


Step 1: Identify your hobbit's problem in a simple sentence.
Example: My hobbit's underground hole is filling with water and her leg is pinned beneath a fallen cupboard. 

Step 2: Determine your hobbit's end goal.
Example: My hobbit needs to free her leg and swim to freedom.

Step 3: Identify the first action toward making that happen.
Example: My hobbit wants to find something sharp so she can cut away the hem of her dress that is caught under the cupboard.

Step 4: Ask yourself a yes-or-no question. 
Example: Does my hobbit find something sharp?

Step 5: Answer this question with a "yes, but..." or a "no, and..."
Example: Yes, but just as she's about to slice her hem free, a fresh gush of water knocks the knife from her hand and pushes it just out of reach.

Step 6: Determine your hobbit's new want.
Example: My hobbit wants to reach the knife.

Step 7: Ask yourself another yes-or-no question. 
Example: Does my hobbit reach the knife?

Step 8: Answer your question with another "yes, but..." or a "no, and..."
Example: No, and the gushing water has forced the cupboard to sink deeper into the mud, pinning my hobbit more fully beneath it.

You get the process here? You're going to continue to determine your hobbit's next immediate want, ask yourself a yes-or-no question, and then answer it with a yes, but or a no, and.

This type of exercise isn't for quick writing. It's for puzzling out where you're going. So, here's how I want you to set it up in the comments section below:

Problem: My hobbit's underground hole is filling with water and her leg is pinned beneath a fallen cupboard.  
Goal: My hobbit needs to free her leg and swim to freedom.

Want: My hobbit wants to find something sharp so she can cut away the hem of her dress that is caught under the cupboard.
Question: Does my hobbit find something sharp? 
Answer: Yes, but just as she's about to slice her hem free, a fresh gush of water knocks the knife from her hand and pushes it just out of reach.

Want: My hobbit wants to reach the knife.
Question: Does my hobbit reach the knife?
Answer: No, and the gushing water has forced the cupboard to sink deeper into the mud, pinning my hobbit more fully beneath it.

Keep going by listing the next want, question, and answer until you approach some sort of conclusion. When you ask yourself the final yes-or-no question, it is perfectly acceptable to answer it with a simple Yes or No. You don't have to continue to make life miserable for your hobbit. Although, you are welcome to. We do like misery around here. 

Leave your hobbit's try/fail cycle in the comments section below and be sure to come back this weekend to read what the other teen writers are posting and encourage them.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

When A Writer Actually Writes

Jill here. I met Keturah Lamb in person at this summer's Realm Makers writing conference in Reno, Nevada. She instantly started telling me how Go Teen Writers helped her on her writing journey. I was fascinated at the idea of a teenager texting a novel into her phone. What a way to Respect Your Dream! I was inspired. And I thought you all might enjoy and relate to her journey. I hope you do. Please welcome Keturah Lamb.

Keturah Lamb is a young woman learning how to both live in and embrace God's reality. Written and verbal words help this process. She likes to call herself a realistic idealist. She has many passions in life, the first being her ideas concerning friendship {love}, the second being laughter {smile}.

She blogs at http://www.keturahskorner.blogspot.comYou can also find her on almost any social media under her name, except on Twitter, where it is Keturah Abigail.

Mary, one of my best friends, first introduced me to the world of blogging through Go Teen Writers. Two things impressed me at first:

1. That maybe my love of writing could become more than a dream and even a worthy pursuit.
2. If I wanted to write the best thing to do was write.

When I was seven I would tell people that my three favorite things were reading, writing, and art.  I'd write short stories and illustrate them with my watercolors to share with all the people I knew. I still have many of these stories.

As I grew older my love for writing never died, but my passion did. Or maybe it was lack of motivation and knowledge? After all, how does one become published? How is writing even a successful or practical choice in life?

But my dream of telling stories to encourage, edify, and entertain the people I love never went away completely.

I've always written for as long as I can remember, but I didn't become serious about my stories until I discovered Go Teen Writers—and I learned a key secret on how to write.

Key secret: actually write.


I had told myself, “I will write my stories once I have a laptop.”

But I realized after finding Go Teen Writers that I would always have an excuse to not write NOW. So I began to write short stories, starting in a notebook, and then thumb typing words into an app on my cell phone.

I learned to text really fast! Probably just as fast as many teens that text friends—just without the acronyms. :D



Here is the story of how I learned to actually write:


Age Sixteen:
·         Had many unfinished short stories and a thirty page novel called Perfect.
·         My friend Mary started a girls' publication. I'd write two page stories or poems for it. Those were so hard to write, two pages feeling like a lot of work.
·         Could not visualize endings.
·         Made excuses to not write.
·         Discovered Go Teen Writers.
·         Learned the key to writing—actually writing. So I wrote.


Age Seventeen:
·         I joined a writing group on Ravelry.com in which we had bi-weekly and monthly challenges. First we set our word counts at 250-1000 words. Then we changed it to be between 1,000 and 10,000. Before this I could never finish a story—endings eluded my mind. And the idea of writing 1,000 words baffled me. After a couple months I was writing several thousand-word stories and thinking of the ending before anything else!
·         I wrote.
·         I didn't touch Perfect much but mostly worked on smaller stories.


Age Eighteen:
·         I moved on from Ravelry, no longer having time to focus on smaller stories, and I entered the Rooglewood contest for a Beauty and The Beast retelling with an 11,000 word story. I didn't win, but I received very helpful and encouraging feedback.
·         I joined my first Go Teen Writers 100 for 100 and asked my friend, Lauren, to join me. During this time I wrote my next longest story—a 30k novella called Silent Thoughts.
·         Lauren and I decided to keep writing daily word counts of at least 200 words.
·         I continued working on Perfect and watched it grow very, very slowly.
·         I started a blog (with only a cell phone) and wrote on it whenever I felt like it. Maybe once a month?


Age Nineteen:
·         I dug through my files of story ideas from when I was younger and rewrote many of them, also creating new stories, some of which are beautiful, some of which were stepping stones toward learning how to write more beautiful stories.
·         I started writing for other blogs, including doing regular fashion posts.
·         I wrote a couple articles for an online local paper.
·         I bought a laptop FINALLY.
·         I typed Perfect out for the first time and started watching it grow.
·         I continued writing short stories.
·         I decided to write with a schedule—every Wednesday I would make a post on my blog.


Age Twenty:
·         Lauren and I completed our first NaNoWriMo. Before this, writing our 200 words a day had seemed a lot. I wrote my first short outline and a whole 50k novel, The Fur Slipper.
·         After writing 1,600 words a day for NaNo, 200 felt little. I began writing an average of 750 words a day.
·         I finished Perfect in March 2017. My first novel was completed!
·         I wrote several short stories, a couple songs, my first play, and did a lot of editing.


Age Twenty-one:
·         I finished The Fur Slipper just three months after Perfect—my second novel!
·         I attended my first writer's conference in July 2017.
·         I started my third novel, Let Me Meet Death Dancing. It currently has 30k words. I have done absolutely no plotting, but I see the whole story in my head. (I believe I'm a pantser).
·         I wrote a 25k serial for my blog; many short stories; won my first writing contest (there was a small reward); wrote many more poems, songs, and short stories; and continue to think of new stories.
·         I brainstormed for this year’s NaNoWriMo and am hoping to write five 20k novellas (prequels and sequels to Silent Thoughts). That's going to be about 100k words. I know I will most likely not achieve my crazy goals as I'll be traveling the last half of the month, but that's all right—I'll just write as much as I can!

When I was sixteen my dreams were as scattered and confused as my seven-year-old-self's stories. I wasn't sure what to do with my stories, how to write them, or how to reach readers.

But now? Now I see my dreams becoming real. My stories are now on paper, and I have people that seem to enjoy reading them. My blog is probably one of the things I love the most about my writing journey as it lets me share with so many new friends.

I'm still not sure how I will be published… to be honest I haven't began in earnest to search out editors or agents and submit. But I am writing! I love what I write. And endings are no longer hard to write.

I don't have to have a certain tool to write—besides my fingers and mind. I can use paper, I can text on my phone, or I can type with my laptop. It doesn't matter (of course, I prefer the laptop) as long as words are happening!

I now write thousands of words a day and feel like I'm not killing myself (compared to when it was torture to simply write 100 words a day).

I don't know if it's easy to tell—but I love writing just as much as I did when I was seven. The only difference is now I actually write.

What about you? How you has your writing grown over the years? Or even months?

Do you find that words that once seemed huge and impossible now spill from your fingertips with ease?

What pushed you forward into actually taking that step to write? What do you need to actually write?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Go Teen Writers Live: Series, cliches, and creating fantastic creatures

Stephanie here! Over the weekend I taught at the Johnson County Library Writers Conference, which was a fantastic event. And free! If you live in the Kansas City area, you should definitely watch for it next fall.

Today I have the privilege of sharing Go Teen Writers Live Episode 6:


You have to at least watch the first 15 seconds when Shannon causes me to lose my focus. We're not very polished in our videos, but we do have lots of fun.

The questions we answer are about how to plot a series, how to avoid cliches in your writing, and how to create creatures for your stories that are cool and serve a purpose.

If you've missed old episodes, you can click on that tab up top that says, "Go Teen Writers LIVE" or subscribe to our YouTube channel. (You also get to see the videos early that way!)

How's NaNoWriMo going, for those of you who are participating?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Sick Day

Hey friends. Shannon here. 

I'm blogging from under a stack of blankets today. My kids brought home some sort of cold/flu thing and I'm miserable. My apologies for not having any writerly wisdom for you, but my head is too fuzzy to make sense of anything more than television. 



I do have a recommendation for you. Pop over to the NaNoWriMo blog for some bookish inspiration. As you're likely aware, November is National Novel Writing Month and even if you're not participating, their blog will be full of fantastic motivation all month long.

Thank you for letting me heal up, friends. I'm looking forward to writing with you all next Friday. We'll be revisiting our hobbits one last time, so keep those ideas fresh in your minds.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How to Come Up with Names for the Characters in 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 had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

*This is a Retro Rewrite of a post I wrote in 2013. I changed it up a little. If you want, you can read the original post here.

​How do you come up with names for the people in your books? Do you make them up on the spot? Do you name them after friends? Is there a better way?

There are lots of ways to find lists of first or last names for contemporary stories. I've listed some below. But what about historical stories? And what about fantasy or science fiction? Let's start by taking a closer look at earth's own history.

Ancient Methods
For some reason, many ancient cultures named their children whatever word came to them at the time of the child’s birth. Abraham named his son Isaac, which meant “laughing one,” because he and his wife were so old when the boy was born, they couldn't help but laugh. And when Rachel was in difficult labor, she named her boy Benoni, which meant “son of my sorrow,” but after her death, her husband Jacob renamed the child Benjamin, which meant “son of my right hand.”

With this method, names could be any word: nouns, adjectives, verbs, alone or combined, or even phrases. In Gaelic, Berach meant “sharp,” Ruadh meant “red,” Aisling meant “dream” or “vision,” and Fechín meant “little raven.”

You can find more examples from different countries in this brief history of surnames.

Prefixes and Suffixes
Names were also dithematic, which means that they were formed of a prefix and suffix. For example: Alfred means “elf counsel” because “alf” means “elf” and “rad” or “red” means “counsel.” Ben means “son of” in Hebrew. Bat means “daughter of” in Hebrew. I made use of that practice in my Blood of Kings books with the "mi" meaning "son of" in the giants' culture, for example, the name Jax mi Katt.

Check out this list on Wikipedia about German names. You can choose any two elements on that list and combine them to get a name. Then you’ll also get a meaning.  Look at the examples column in the center to see examples. Here are a few more I made up: Remwulf (PeaceWolf), Ernswint (HonorStrength), and Deganstan (WarriorStone).

If you were writing fantasy, you could create your own list of made up prefixes and suffixes that you could take from to create a feeling of uniformity in the names in your world.

Theonym, which comes from the Greek theos (god) and –onym (name), was a popular way of naming children in Norse times. Using the god Thor's name as an example, I came up with: Thorburn (Thor’s bear) and Thorleif (Thor’s descendant). If you have a god or gods in your novel, you could name characters after them.

Names Taken From Religious Texts
As Christianity spread, a trend developed to name children after martyrs (Stephen, Andrew, William, Dietrich, Agnes, Lucy, Cecilia) saints (Patrick, Therese, Francis, Clare, Christopher), or historic people of the Bible (Mary, James, Peter, Ruth, Naomi, Simon, and Benjamin).

Are there martyrs, saints, or famous kings or warriors in your novel? Why not name a character after one?

Bynames
Historically, bynames were literal descriptions of a person. This could involve one’s father’s name, for example, William had a son and named him Edward. So Edward's full name could have been: Edward William, Edward William’s, or Edward William’s son. See how that works?

Bynames could also involve the place a person was born or an occupation. For example, our Edward might be called Edward William’s until he’s a man, then he moves away from Harenton, the town he grew up in, and becomes an apprentice at a smithy. The people in his new town call him Edward of Harenton until he completes his training and becomes a master blacksmith. Then he might be called Edward the Smith.

Here are some other popular names that came from occupations: Abbott, Archer, Baker, Brewer, Carpenter, Farmer, Farrier, Potter, Weaver, Taylor, Thatcher, Smith, Swain (a swine herder), Weaver. The website Behind the Name is a great resource for names. Here is a list of surnames that derived from occupations. You can also filter your searches on this website by country.

Perhaps Edward’s father William still lives in the same house he grew up in, a house in a glen in the middle of a forest, so he is called William Forestglen. Some modern surnames that developed in such a way are: Atwater (at the water), Beckham (home by the brook), and Hill (hill).

Bynames might also be names of status or nicknames. Here are some examples to inspire you:
Marcus the Giant
Charles the Baron
Edward the Wifeless (Aww, poor Ed!)
Mary Burned the Barn (Forever labeled by her greatest blunder.)
Richard has Twelve Sons (I think someone is bragging.)
Bart Full of Ale (Oh, dear.)
Sarah Sings All Day (I hope her voice is good.)
Daniel Cut Purse (The lousy thief, anyway.)
Frank Waste Penny (Must have a shopping addiction.)

You can do all kinds of fun stuff with names in fantasy novels. You can create your own practices for giving titles or names, like in my Blood of Kings series, the guardians of orphaned children bestowed an animal surname on the child. You could also make up fictional titles based on occupations, like the Star Wars titles of Darth or Jedi.

So, think about the world you're creating. What historical Earth date does it parallel? How were names chosen then? Look back in time and see if you can come up with some fun ideas to help you name your characters.




Here are some more tips:

1. Find real names
Looking for interesting contemporary names? Start with baby name books and websites. (I highly recommend Behind the Name because some of those online baby name websites are all ads and no real information.) You can also look in old telephone books (if you can find one). You can look at Facebook profiles, on sports team rosters, or by perusing author names in the library. You can also make up fun names from nature, animals, colors, and from maps or your own country or foreign countries.

If you're writing a historical story, start by Googling historical names from the years your story takes place, then subtract the age of each character and look for popular names in the year each character was born. You'll likely find that some names were used throughout several generations. You can read novels that were written in the same year as your story or that take place in the same years as your story. You can also look up lists of names by historical event, for example, I looked up the passengers list from the Titanic. You can also browse name lists. Here are some of my favorites:

Unique Surnames
Fantasy Name Generator
Native American Names
Unique Baby Names
Generic English Place Names
Germanic Names
List of Titanic Passengers
Behind the first names, with meanings of names
Former names of islands
Finland map
Behind the surnames
Most popular surnames
List of Occupational Surnames
Medieval Surnames
Jewish surnames

2. Consider the evolution of names
Take for example the name Mary. Mary is the English form of the name Maria, which came from the Latin Mariam, which came from the Aramaic Maryam, which came from the Hebrew name Miryam. You can research the etymology of a name or create a logical etymology of your own that fits your storyworld.

3. Combine two or more real names
Combine two or more names to make something new. Emily and Grace become Emilace. Donald and Christopher make Donopher. Katherine and Louisa and Elizabeth become Katisabet.

4. Change the spelling of a real name or a word
Jill could become Jyl. Matthew becomes Methoo. Rainbow could become Rayneboh. School becomes Skuul. And take the word "hallelulia." From it we could get several interesting names: Hall, Hallay, Lelu, Lulie, Lulia, Layleeah, Ailule (going backwards), and on and on you could go.

You could also play around with names you made up. For example, if we played with the name Dasia, we might get: Dasiel . . . Dasielle . . . Rasielle . . . Raselle.

5. Create your own language
This tip always comes with a warning. Creating a language can be a trap that one might never escape. (See this post on how to create your own language.) If you do create some part of a fictional language, you could certainly make names from it. Not only that, you could create your own prefixes and suffixes, words for magic, creatures, or other storyworld elements, and use some of those as names.

6. Use name generators
If you’re totally stuck, try using a name generator. There are name generators for EVERYTHING! It's a little out of control. But they can sometimes be helpful. Either you'll find a name you like, or one of the names will inspire the perfect name. Here is a name generator I found for creating noble surnames. You can Google anything, for example: fantasy name generator, historical name generator, fairy name generator, creature name generator, mad scientist name generator, ghost name generator. I could go on and on.

7. Google is your friend
Google the name to see if it is already used in a famous novel. If it is but it’s a different genre, you can probably get away with it. But even if you were writing an Amish romance novel, I wouldn't use the name Katniss. It's just too recognizable. It's also wise to see if the name you chose isn't the name of a famous criminal or some other person who will come to the top of the search results when readers look up your character. :-O

If you've chosen to use something you found on a map of from another language, you should Google it to see if there might be any hidden meanings in foreign language translations. You don't want to accidentally name your hero something derogatory in another tongue.

8. Consider the meaning
It can be fun to give your character a name with a meaning that adds depth to the story. I did this with Hebrew words in the Blood of Kings books. For example, Achan means "trouble" in Hebrew. The man who raised Achan was making a point when he named him. Most baby name books and many websites will give you the meaning of a name. (Again, Behind the Name is a great place to start.)

Watch for "hidden meanings" that are too obvious. When you see the name Darth Sideous, it doesn't even sound nice, right? And what about Draco? If my name was dragon, I’d likely have a bad reputation without trying. In the book Finnikin and the Rock, the girl character Evanjalin is introduced and since the name is so close to the word "evangelist" instantly many readers wondered, "Hmm... Might she be the savior of her people? Might she bring good news?"  Be careful that some of your character names aren't story spoilers.

9. Check that first letter
Take a look at your full character list. Do you have too many names that start with the same letter? That is a great way to confuse your readers. Also check for names that rhyme or have the same amount of syllables. Switch out some names until you have a nice variety.

10. Keep it simple
I know, it’s difficult--especially when writing fantasy, but try to choose simple names. I made a mistake with my very first book in naming my hero Achan. I can't tell you how many people I've met that pronounce his name ah-chan, though I pronounce it ay-kin. I wish I would have put a short pronunciation guide in the front, but I promise you, a submission to a publisher that begins with a pronunciation guide will be treated as a red flag warning, so try to keep things simple. Take a look at this list of famous characters from fantasy and science fiction literature, film, games, and television. I can pronounce every one. Can you?

Agent Smith, Albus Dumbeldore, Aslan, Bilbo Baggins, Blade, Buck Rogers, Buffy, C-3PO, Captian James T. Kirk, Chewbacca, Data, The Doctor, Ellen Ripley, Emmet Brown, Gandalf, Han Solo, Harry Potter, John Carter, King Arthur, Leonard H. McCoy/Bones, Link, Logan 5, Luke Skywalker, Malcolm Reynolds, Merlin, Morpheus, Neo/Mr. Anderson, Q, R2-D2, Randall Flagg, Spock, Starbuck, Terminator, and Yoda.


So, say your names out loud. Are any of them at all awkward? Ask others to read them out loud. Did they stumble over any? Did they pronounce them right? Did you avoid adding unnecessary apostrophes (Sh’mal) and diacritics (Nüélmăr)? These are all good plans. Simply is often best.

Do you have any secrets or clever ways to coming up with great names? Share in the comments.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What I Learned This Last Year about Writing

Saturday was my birthday, and I put together a list of 34 things I've learned in the last year. (Nothing says, "I'm cool," like celebrating your birthday by making a big list and putting it on your blog.)

As I assembled my list, I kept thinking of writing things I'd learned as well. Some made it on my 34 things list, but I thought sharing here would be more suited my audience.



Here are 11 things I've learned about writing this year:

1. The benefits of logging my writing time

I have done this faithfully since NaNoWriMo last year, and I found that I love it. It gives me the same feeling as when I was a Sonic Carhop and had to punch my time card when I arrived or left for the day. When I jot down my "Time In" I feel like I'm reporting for work.



(I originally shared my work long in the Story Workbook tutorial freebie that's available to Go Teen Writers Notes subscribers.)

2. NaNoWriMo is fun! 

Last year is the first time my schedule aligned to let me participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm introverted, and I don't struggle with the discipline required to write a novel, so I was very surprised when I loved the community aspect of NaNo so much. If you're still on the fence about participating this year, I encourage you to give it a shot!

3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

(This book is written for an adult audience, and that's reflected in the language and examples given, so I would only recommend it for GTWers in their late teens who aren't sensitive to that kind of thing. It's in the same vein as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.) 

I didn't think I was going to like this book because I've never felt guilt or shame over being a creative. But I found Big Magic to be an insightful and inspiring read. Early in the book, she offers this encouragement to those who are young writers, and I thought of you all:
If you are a young person...feel free to start sharing your perspective through creativity, even if you're just a kid. If you are young, you see things differently than I do, and I want to know how you see things. We all want to know. When we look at your work (whatever your work may be), we will want to feel your youth--that fresh sense of your recent arrival here. Be generous with us and let us feel it. After all, for many of us it has been so long since we stood where you now stand.

4. Goals. I should make them.

My perspective about goals, particularly my writing goals, changed big time in the last few months. I've already blogged pretty extensively about that, so I won't repeat it here. (See my post Writing Goals And The Clarity That Comes From Having Them if this is of interest to you.)

5. Productivity is my best marketing tool.

This thought was given to me by James Scott Bell in his book Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing. I know some of us (me included) are worried about reaching an audience and how to best market and which social media platform is best. Mr. Bell suggests, and I'm inclined to agree with him, that writing great books and writing more of them is the best thing we can do to grow our platform. And that productivity (learning to write increasingly better books increasingly faster) would be the best marketing tool.

6. The Helping Writers Become Authors podcast.

Even though I've known of K.M. Weiland for years, and I've been on her blog multiple times, I didn't realize she had a podcast until last October when I was getting ready for NaNoWriMo. Then I fell into a lovely rabbit hole of resources that she's created for writers. She's helped me to recognize a few things about story that hadn't quite clicked for me yet, including how character arcs work with story structure, and that I could expect more of my first drafts.

7. Deep Work by Cal Newport

If you have a smart phone, you already know that the temptations for being distracted are great. It can feel nearly impossible to not check a notification that's come in. And I've always been a bit of an email addict.

In this book, Mr. Newport talks about knowledge workers (like writers) and how we need time to work for long hours without distraction. Jill talked about the book last May in her blog post on 10 Ways To Increase Productivity, which prompted my ordering it. Because of reading Deep Work, I've rearranged how I spend my writing time, I've learned to identify what's urgent and what's not, and I've worked on my smart phone habits.

I also missed a call from my editor once because I had my phone set to Do Not Disturb. At first I thought, "Oh, I shouldn't have had my phone on DND! Then I wouldn't have missed Jillian's call!" But you know what? We just chatted a little later, and it didn't mess up my writing groove. It's really okay to not be accessible all the time.

8. Procrastination is a disguise that fear wears.

Elizabeth Gilbert said this in her Magic Lessons podcast, and at first I was like, "Not always..." But the more I think about it, and the more I observe myself when I procrastinate, I think it's truer than I originally thought.

9. "Storytelling and writing are actually two different skill sets. Too often when we try to do them both at once in the first draft, they get in each other's way." - K.M. Weiland

YES. Hearing her say this helped something click for me about the drafting process. When I started planning out my scenes before writing them, the quality of my first drafts went up big time.

10. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

This was another writing book I discovered this year. I don't do everything the way she suggests, but I loved the way that she showed how everything needed to build in a logical way. That sometimes we struggle with our stories reading like, "This happens, then this happens, and then this happens." When, really, it should be, "This happens, and so this happens, and so this happens."

11. That I should fill the corners with wonder.

When listening to a Writing Excuses podcast, Dan Wells said something that has stuck with me. He said one of the unique things about the Harry Potter series is that J.K. Rowling, “took the care to fill even the corners with wonder.” Everywhere you look in that world, there’s unique, interesting stuff happening. So I’m trying to look for places where I’ve skimped on details or been lazy with descriptions.

What about you? What's something you've learned recently about writing?