Monday, April 30, 2012
But the ticking clock, I've come to realize, can be used in all genres. Like in really well done regency romances:
In Julie Klassen's latest, Margaret is a young society lady in London, but unlike her peers has had no real interest in marrying - unless for love - because on her 21st birthday she will inherit a tremendous sum of money from her great aunt.
But while she's 20, her mother remarries. Her stepfather has somehow learned about her inheritance, and is forcing his charming but slimy nephew to court her. Margaret overhears a conversation between the two men, in which it's made clear that they intend to persuade her to marry the nephew by ... ahem ... ruining her reputation as a virtuous woman.
With 3 months until her birthday, Margaret flees from the dangerous situation with what teeny amount of pocket money she has and goes undercover as a maid. Only she gets hired by two former suitors of hers, who might see through her disguise if they look closely.
Did you catch the ticking clock element? Margaret has three months until she inherits the money - can she stay hidden and safe until then?
Even if you're not writing something in the suspense vein, a "ticking clock" element can really tighten up your plot.
The one I described above is a big ticking clock, something tied to the main character's big goal (avoiding marriage to anyone who wants her just for her fortune) but also, look for ways to add smaller ticking clocks.
The show 24 was excellent at this. Not only did you have the big plot underfoot (terrorists who were trying to blow up Los Angeles) but there were also little ticking clocks along the way. The team is en route and we need that code broken now.
Are there ticking clocks in your manuscript? Or can your character take the scenic way to achieving their goals?
Saturday, April 28, 2012
His eyes stare up at me. Pale blue like the arctic sky, but lifeless as the ice beneath my feet. Dead. A prickle creeps up my arms and the sword falls from my numb fingers, cleaving a bloodstained gash in the snow.
Grey frosts my vision. A crimson river mars the pure white surface of the earth. My blood. This is not what I expected. A victor cheated of victory. Revenge stolen by the one who had already stolen everything. My family, throne, honor – all gone.
The earth seems to tilt and I fall. Cold seeps into my heart.
He has stolen everything. Including my life.
The judges say: Your incredible descriptions give me goosebumps, literally and figuratively . I'm intrigued to see where you take the story from here. Beginning a novel with someone's, presumably the protagonist's death, is a great (and not what I expected ) lead.
My heart sank as the last arrow from my quiver sunk, just shy of the bulls-eye, into the target with a heartless thud. I knew I ought to keep practicing, but the pile of failed shots clumped below the target discouraged me.
"Well, well, well," said my best friend Michael, "This is not what I expected from The Amelie's daughter." He ran a finger dramatically through his short chestnut curls, accentuating my mother's name and reminding me it was her legacy, not my own, I served to prove.
"Lay off Micky! You know the sword is my thing."
"Of course. Pointy and very, very sharp."
The judges say: The banter between the characters shows their personalities and makes me want to read more about them.
Skin so soft it is like satin. Angelic face and clear blue eyes just like mine. Cradling my daughter to my chest, I feel the deepest love that my teenage heart has ever felt. This is not what I expected.
The nurse comes in the room. “It’s time to let me take her now.”
Protectiveness rises in me and I turn as if I can see through the hospital’s pale blue walls, to where I know the adoptive parents must be waiting in anticipation.
Little Rose starts to cry, and my hear t writhes in pain.
I hold my baby tighter. “I can’t give her up.”
The judge says: The emotions in this scene feel very real and natural and push the story forward.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
What a treat it is to have Julie Klassen here with us today. JULIE KLASSEN!!!
I fell in love with Julie's writing when I read The Apothecary's Daughter, which I've mentioned pretty frequently on here.
At last September's American Christian Fiction Writer's conference, I spotted Julie and she graciously answered all my dorky writer questions. ("In The Apothecary's Daughter, when Lily said this..." "If Lily had money, do you think Marlowe would have...?")
Not only is she a talented writer, she's a sweet, wise woman. And today she's here! Yay!
Julie, all your current novels are set in the regency time period, plus I know you're a big fan of Jane Austen. If you had the chance to have tea with her and ask a couple questions, what would they be?
So...am I going back in time, or is this meeting in heaven? :)
Here are a few things I might ask Miss Austen:
1. Can you believe your books are more popular than ever 200 years after they were published?
2. If you have seen the movie versions of Pride and Prejudice, which actor best captured your image of Mr. Darcy?
3. If you could write one more book, what would it be?
Oooh, good ones! I've just finished your latest The Maid of Fairbourne Hall.
|To escape the dangerous attention of her stepfather's nephew, Margaret flees London society. She winds up working as a maid for two former suitors...|
I know what you mean. Margaret (a bit vain, self-centered, and scheming) doesn’t start out as a very likeable character. To counter this in early chapters, I gave her a younger brother and sister of whom she is very fond. While we may not approve of her actions, we understand that part of Margaret’s motivation is to protect and provide for her siblings. And of course, as the story progresses, Margaret changes quite a bit through the humbling circumstances she finds herself in, and having to work hard for the first time in her life. Along the way, she learns she has been wrong to judge people by appearances and becomes a kinder, more self-sacrificing person.
It's a really well done character arc. I enjoyed my time with her and watching her grow.
Many of the writers here at Go Teen Writers write historical fiction. What kind of resources do you use, and how did you go about finding them?
Books: I have tubs of tabbed research books (hubby is building a big new bookcase for me as I type this). I locate and buy many used books through Amazon. A few I am able to find at local libraries or through Google books online.
Internet: There is so much good information on the web these days (though you have to be careful to verify what you find). There are also many helpful web sites that deal with different aspects of various time periods. For example, I visit specific sites to learn more about Regency clothes, carriages, customs, slang, etc. I also use etymonline.com to verify that words I write in dialogue were in use in my time period.
Loops/organizations: I belong to a loop of American Christian Fiction Writers who write historical novels set in non-American settings. I also belong to the Beau Monde chapter of Romance Writers of America, which offers Regency classes, online newsletters, and an email loop where I can ask other members research questions.
Julie, something I love about your books is the peek into different roles during the regency period. Like in The Apothecary's Daughter, there was so much cool medicine history. In The Silent Governess, I learned a ton about the unique place a governess had in the household. How do you handle research as your writing? Do you do the bulk of it before? Do you research as you go?
Even though my books are fictional, many of my story ideas have their basis in historical reality, so I do find new research material for each new book/occupation/location before I begin writing. But I don’t read these books cover to cover before I begin--or I’d never get a book finished! I read some ahead of time to gather the basics, then I do spot-research later when I come across something I don’t know (which is often!), like: Did they have injections (shots) then? Did they use this word? How long would it take by carriage to get from point A to point B? How much money (pounds, shillings) would a certain item or service cost back then, etc., etc., etc. But eventually, you have to lay aside the research and write!
Is that the way you handled research in the beginning as well when, I assume, you were still learning about the general culture of the Regency era?
Yes. When I started writing, not only was less information readily available online, but I knew so little (and had never even been to England), so I had to check nearly everything (and still didn’t get it all right, no doubt). I have gained a more general knowledge of the time period, so yes the writing is somewhat easier. If only my memory were photographic (or I had thought to index/organize my research from the beginning), writing would be a LOT easier. As it is, I still find myself rechecking things. However, now I feel less “alone” in trying to figure things out. These days, I rely not only on books and the internet, but I also have several other author-friends who write Regency, and are happy to share their knowledge in a pinch. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to England twice now, which really helps me visualize and research the settings.
If you could send a message back in time to new-writer Julie, what are 3 pieces of advice you would offer her?
Great question! I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. Let’s see:
1. You can’t--won’t!--please everyone. Make sure you concentrate on pleasing God with what you write.
2. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. There will always be authors who write better and sell better. Do the best you can with the gifts God has given you.
3. Keep you rear in chair and write already. What are you waiting for? :)
Julie, it was such an honor to have you as a guest. And congratulations on your latest Christy award nomination!
If you want more information about Julie's books (and if you haven't read them yet, you definitely do!) you can read descriptions and excerpts on her website.
Julie said she'd try to pop in and say hello sometime today, so make sure you leave a comment welcoming her to Go Teen Writers. And if you had the chance to ask a favorite author one question, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
By Jill Williamson
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a nonfiction book first published for married couples. I don’t remember when I first discovered it, but I found the concept fascinating. The five love languages work for every relationship. In fact, I asked my editor Jeff Gerke what his was, told him mine, and that helped us better understand each other.
I always like to know my characters’ love languages.
You don’t have to buy the book to understand how the five love languages work. Here's how it works. People tend to feel love in one of five ways:
You might know in simply reading that list which is yours. Some people have more than one. I’m a service girl. I show people love by doing things for them. And I tend to feel loved when people do things for me. My husband is a words of affirmation guy. I can do nice things for him all day long and if I don’t say kind, affirming words to him, he doesn’t feel loved.
See how clever this is?
You can take the 5 Love languages quiz here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/assessments/love/
So how about it? What’s your love language? Now think about your parents and see if you can figure out what theirs are. Then try and do their love language for them in some way.
What do you think? Do you see how it might be helpful to know your character’s love language?
Monday, April 23, 2012
The writers who judges contests here do it because they love pouring into the upcoming generation of writers. But as their own writing careers grow, so do the demands on their time. So we pow-wowed and tried to figure out a solution so they could keep judging, the contest could keep growing, and everyone could still receive feedback.
Here are the adjustments we've been able to agree upon for those that do not make the top twenty:
Many of the entries have the same technique issues. Instead of having to come up with new ways to say "your pacing is rushed" or "you're summarizing instead of showing the story" there will be a list of standard responses the judge can mark if they apply to the entry.
Ideally, we agreed, we would be able to provide tailored responses for everybody, but as the contest grows, it's clear we can't. Especially if we want to run the contests as frequently as we have been.
We're still tweaking this chart, but here's what it looks like so far:
__ This entry is highly creative – way to go!
Thanks for all your hard work and creativity - that's what makes the contests so fun!
Saturday, April 21, 2012
The lovely people at Zondervan thought you guys would be interested in this writing contest for those ages 16 and under, and I completely agree!
Naomi Kinsman, author of the From Sadie's Sketchbook series, and the award winning Spilled Ink: A Handbook for Young Writers, is setting off on a blog tour to celebrate the arrival of her newest release, Waves of Light (in stores in May 2012).
In conjunction with the new release, she is hosting a writing contest for young writers, and the grand prize winner receives a Kindle Fire. (Sa-weet!) For more about this teen writing contest, head over to Ms. Kinsman's site.
Friday, April 20, 2012
External Motivation Internal motivation usually stems from life experience. It grows out of your character’s past, his childhood. Let’s use Garrett Thomas as an example. Garrett was raised in an affluent home. His father was a senator, his mother a lawyer. Both parents took pride in their country. Garrett’s grandfather died in Vietnam and Garrett considers him a hero. He wants to make a difference in the world in the way his relatives have. He wants to be a part of patriotism. His internal motivation is serving his country.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
by Rachel Coker
I write historical fiction. I’m pretty sure it’s the one genre I’ll always come back to. Even if I take a break from time to time and dip my toes in the world of sci-fi, fantasy, or contemporary fiction, there’s something about a trip to the past that will work for me every time.
I love immersing myself in another time and culture. Filling my story with glimpses into life in foreign eras, whether it’s music, movies, fashion, or books. It’s interesting and exciting.
That being said, it is also hard. Why? Because I have yet to find a working time machine that operates outside of a cheesy teen movie. I haven’t spent a single breathing moment in the 1940’s, or Ancient Egypt, or the Wild West. So, obviously, it requires some work to create a realistic story in those settings. Work and research.
Ugh, now I’ve done it. I’ve made you think of school, which you were trying to forget about in your anticipation of a fun-filled weekend. But research is something that most definitely exists out of school, and is especially important if you want to be a successful writer.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are writing this wonderful, thrilling, touching novel set in the 1960’s. Everything is good and fine. You have a great plot line, charismatic characters, and a fantastic ending. But what about all the filler details? When your main character wakes up in the morning, would she reach for blue jeans or a dress? If she started her car, would it have a radio in it? Would her windows have screens, or would she sit on the sill with them flung wide open? If someone called her on the telephone, could she take it in her bedroom, or would she have to stand there wrapping the cord around her finger?
Every time you start a story set in another time period, there are so many little details to think about. And honestly, it can really make your head spin. That’s why I suggest research. But not just the boring school type! Sure, it’s important to know who was president at the time and what was going on in the world, but it’s equally important to understand what kind of shows were playing on T.V. and what kind of cereal was most popular at the breakfast table.
Those are the details that make or break a book. They ground us and make us feel like part of the story. Immersed in that culture. And they are the kind of details that can’t be found in a history textbook. So this is where the interesting part comes in, okay? You get to do fun research. For me, research means watching black-and-white movies, listening to old music, picking up vintage magazines at thrift stores, and talking to my grandparents and their friends about life when they were kids. I have gotten some of my best information about life in the 40’s, 60’s, and other eras by just talking to people who have lived through it. Asking them what it was like to walk to school or sew their own prom dresses.
The same thing could also work for the nineteenth century or earlier, though! Just look for journals kept by adventurers or preachers or pioneers to discover what life was like in their world. Look for old Sears catalogs to discover what toys kids might have enjoyed and what technologies would have been available in that time period.
When it comes to historical writing, there is no one-size-fits-all mold. The research that works for me may or may not work for you. But I’d like to encourage you to think about the smaller details of your character’s life and discover what that would have been like. Look to magazines, movies, journals, and newspapers published in that time period and lose yourself in that culture. You may have never stepped into the 1930’s, but after a while, you’ll start feeling like you know it so well that Fred and Ginger might as well step in for tea sometime! ;)
- Where does your character shop? At a big department store? At a milliners? Does her mother make her clothes? Would she have modern conveniences like zippers and denim, or is she laced into a corset and all buttoned up?
- How many vehicles would a typical American household have during this time? Would your characters parents each own separate cars? Would walking or biking be more common than driving? What kind of cars would they own at their price range?
- Think about the technology. Would they have running water? Heated showers? Cordless telephones? Televisions or radios?
- What kind of cereals would be popular at that time? Would your character be more likely to reach for Cracker Jacks or Fruit Loops?
- Fast food chains may or may not have been around in your story. Where would your character go if she wants to grab a bite to eat? A drive-in diner? A café? A home-style family restaurant?
- What would homes do in the winter? Was there indoor heating, or would they have to rely in fireplaces, heavy blankest, and wool socks to keep warm? What about in the summer?
- Who were the key movie stars of the time? What dreamy star would make your character’s knees go weak? Whose hair did she try to emulate? What movie would she want to watch over and over again?
- What kinds of things did kids do for fun? Before video games and shopping malls, how would teens have spent their time? From drive-in movies, ice skating rinks, state fairs, and tractor rides, what would your character do on the weekend?
- What was the role of women in that era? Would your character’s mother be more likely to work in an office, or stay at home? Would girls be encouraged to go to college and pursue careers, or marry young and have children?
- Does your character go to church? What are some hymns she would have known? Would she be expected to sit rigidly still, or would she enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere?
By the way, thanks to everyone who ordered my book last month! It was so much fun to hear back from everyone who enjoyed reading Interrupted, and hear your opinions of it! If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to check out my blog, or like me on Facebook!
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
When I talked on Monday about the difference between the spark of an idea and developing a strong idea, someone asked a wonderful question:
What happens when you get a spark and you put forth the effort to write the book, but then it just...fades away? You lose your interest.
This has happened to me as well, and I'm guessing it's fairly common for writers. I've noticed that, sadly, some ideas work better in my head than on paper. Sometimes ideas just aren't as good as I originally thought, but sometimes the ideas are good and it still doesn't work. When that happens, it falls into three categories:
I have a story I regularly get an itch to write. Nine years ago (this week, actually) my father went through an extremely nasty, extremely bizarre situation with his business partner. I won't go into all the details, but in summary they had a disagreement and it was clear they could no longer work together. When my father left the office that day, his 50/50 business partner had the locks changed and then proceeded to ... well, do crazy stuff that drove away clients. The kind of stuff where you're like, "Is he on something?"
My point is it's a story that has everything. Mystery. High stakes. Jealousy. People taking sides. Money. Gossip. Greed. Heartache. Love triangle. That whole mystique of, "Who's telling the truth? Who knows the real story?"
Because I was working there at the time and, unfortunately, had a front row seat of the company's implosion, this is a story embedded on my heart, but even nine years later, it's still too raw for me to tell. I want to, and I've tried, but it just doesn't work yet.
And when I first tried to write it, it was clearly just too big a project for me. Which leads to my next category:
We are constantly (or should be constantly) growing as storytellers. It's a story that, for whatever reason, is beyond my writing abilities. There are too many point of view characters, or I can't get the tension quite right, or I never can get the story started in the right spot. It can feel like this:
Like I'm a little kid who's just pretending the letters she's typing make sense.
We learn by writing, writing, and then writing some more. There's nothing wrong with setting aside an idea that's too complex and coming back to it later.
A couple years ago I had a book idea that I was extremely excited about. I talked to my critique partner about it, I did some research, I spent a bunch of time on the social security website hunting up names. Finally I decided that I must begin writing or I would go crazy.
I eked out 7 (double spaced) pages before calling it quits. I couldn't even make it through the opening scene! Where was this story headed? What was going to happen? Did my character have a goal?
No, I had nothing. Except a premise that I found exciting.
Now when I come across something like this, I choose from the following three options:
I try to pinpoint what about the story has me disinterested. Sometimes that's easy (there's no romance!) and sometimes I'm in such a funk, I can't think straight - It's just a bad story, that's why it feels boring! It'll never work! I'll never have a good idea again! (Don't I sound fun to live with?)
If I'm just stuck on something and starting to feel bored, I'll either schedule a chat with my critique partner, or I'll pull out Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass or Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren, both of which have a lot of writing exercises meant to deepen your manuscript.
If I have the luxury (like if I'm not on a deadline or if no one is expecting the story from me) then I put it away for awhile. And you never know when a new idea spark will fit perfectly with an old story, when you'll find a way to make it work.
Tomorrow, teen author Rachel Coker will be here talking about historical fiction and the research process. Don't miss it!
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
By Jill Williamson
I notice a lot of perfect characters in novels, especially male heroes in romance novels written by women…
Those authors might argue, “He’s not perfect! He has a scar.” Or “He’s not perfect! He refuses to forgive his brother for stealing his fiancé.”
Well, normal people have more than one imperfection. And real people tend to have a few more flaws than justifiable bitterness or a facial flaw.
To start, I want to talk about backstory. That’s kind of a bad word for new writers. I was always being told to cut out my backstory.So I’ve decided to do a series of posts on characterization. We’re going to explore different ways to make our characters feel three dimensional, alive, and real. And we’re not just going to look at imperfections. We’re going to look at good things too.
But I’m not talking about writing each character’s backstory into your novel. I’m talking about brainstorming it for yourself, to get to know your characters.
People develop personality through life experience. The first and most powerful influencers of a person’s personality are the parents. Think about each major character in your novel. What kind of parents do they have? Did these parents love by hugs, gifts, service? Did they criticize? Did they have addictions? Were they leaders in their community? Did they favor one child over another? Did they neglect all or one of their kids?
These childhood experiences tend to create very different people. A child who had lots of hugs and kisses from their parents generally feels secure and self-confident. A child loved by gifts could turn out a bit materialistic, or he just might appreciate nice things, or he might strive for a good job so that he can give his loved ones nice things too.
Whether or not your character has siblings affect his life experience. And his birth order is also a very important factor. I recommend that every writer own a book on birth order. It’s fascinating.A person who was loved by service could be a doer who takes care of people in a similar manner by cooking or cleaning, or he might be totally lazy, expecting that someone will do these things for him. A person with critical parents may think she can’t do anything right. It’s all how the child interpreted the actions of his parents that first shaped his personality. So take some time to think of each main character’s childhood and the people and events that shaped him.
Some other backstory elements to consider:
-Major life crisis (Deaths in the family, divorce, job losses, moving, abuse)
-Race and ethnicity
-Looks (Attractive people have different life experiences than unattractive ones. Also, if you consider a scar or birth defect, brainstorm where it came from and how your character feels about it.)
-Affluence or poverty
Take some time and think about your main characters. Choose one and write up a full backstory. Make sure to list names of family members that live close, and come up with some general descriptors for these people that will help you start to define who your character is. Share what you discovered in the comments.
Monday, April 16, 2012
On the Go Teen Writers Facebook page, when we were talking about writing fears, someone said, "I worry that I'll never have another good idea."
This is something that's crossed my mind from time to time. I think the best way to combat this fear is to break down the mystique of ideas and where they come from.
At every school visit I've ever done, I always get asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" And even though I've answered it dozens of times, I always fumble my way through.
Because the real answer is that I don't know. They just happen as I go about my day, and I'm guessing that may be the same for you as well.
I'll be doing dishes and hear an unfamiliar sound outside. What's that? I'll think. Probably nothing. But what if it were someone running from the police? What if they were innocent? What if...
Or I'll be enjoying some time with my kids when I'll think something awful like, What if I never had kids? What if nobody had kids?
When I'm describing this phenomenon to nonwriters, I refer to this as "the spark." It's not really a story idea yet, but it's where I begin.
And then I spend time thinking about it, or "composting" as my darling friend Erica Vetsch refers to it. I may compost an idea for as long as a couple months. I'm working on making the idea bigger, deeper, and richer. I'm teasing out the idea the way we used to tease our bangs in the early 90s.
|From Saved by the Bell. Oh, the bangs and the high waist pants...|
When I'm composting, these are the kinds of questions I'm thinking:
- Who is my main character and what is her situation? (Often this is the spark, since I tend to come up with character first rather than plot.)
- What's her family like?
- What lie does she believe?
- What makes her the right person for the journey I'm going to put her on, and what makes her the wrong person?
- Where's the best place to start this story?
- How do I think it will end?
- What are some turning points that will happen?
- What's my theme?
- Who opposes my character?
- What if so-and-so died? What if such-and-such bad thing happened?
Now, typically I'm not directly asking myself these questions. It's not like I'm sitting down with a checklist. (Though that wouldn't be a bad idea...) Usually it's more organic. Like I'm running around the house in search of my keys thinking What is wrong with me? Why don't I just put them back where they belong? That would avoid this whole mess! It's like in that story I've been thinking about, where my main character knows she should be doing such-and-such, but still she doesn't.
Great story ideas - ones that are big enough to sustain a novel - take work. In my early days, I thought good ideas just kinda happened. I thought the spark was enough. As I've moved along in my writing journey, I've recognized the benefits of brainstorming. Especially with others.
Recently I went to my agent with a story idea. As I typed up the email, I was so excited about it, I could barely sit in my seat. I knew it was the best book idea I'd ever had. Her (wise) response was: "I think you can go bigger with the stakes. What if..." and then she proceeded to brainstorm with me and we made the idea even better.
Going through that helped squelch my fear of never again having a good idea. Because what I had actually been afraid of during those times was that I would never have another spark. That's the part of the process that's mysterious, but it's also something that happens to me - and most writers, I would guess - naturally.
As vital as the spark is, the composting and the brainstorming is where the idea is really made. And that just takes hard work and patience.
Okay, so now that I"ve made that partial list up there, I'm intrigued by the idea of creating a "to think about while composting" list. What questions do you think about while you're brainstorming that could/should be on there?
Don't forget your prompts are due tonight! Haven't started yours yet? Don't worry - it's just 100 words. Details here.
Also, for the five of you out there who like seeing cute pictures of my kids, Angela Bell had me on her blog over the weekend. Click here to read about my experience of getting engaged at 17 and how so far it's been a pretty sweet deal.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Need help writing a great war? An epic battle? This post is for you.
If you’re writing one point of view at a time, then a full-scale, epic war is no different from the one-on-one fight scene. You can only show one battle at a time is one battle. There are exceptions, of course. Perhaps you are writing from the point of view of an onlooker on a hill. In that case, try describing one aspect of the battle at a time. How you choreograph all the little fight scenes and move from one to the next will help you show your epic battle.