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1. My Writing Process…Lately: A Craft of Writing Post by Mindee Arnett

I am thrilled to welcome Mindee Arnett to the blog today. When I first started blogging and Tweeting, she was one of the first writers to welcome me in. Mindee is an incredibly talented and prolific writer, and I envy her ability to have 2 series going simultaneously. She's here today to share with us some of her secrets behind how she does it all. And I, for one, look forward to checking out the resources she recommends. Thank you, Mindee!

My Writing Process…Lately: A Craft of Writing Post by Mindee Arnett

The last five books I wrote—The Nightmare Affair, Avalon, The Nightmare Dilemma, Polaris, and The Nightmare Charade—were all written in more or less the same way, using an approach I like to call a “pantser who stops for directions.” Basically, this means that I didn’t outline, but I also didn’t just rush through the first draft pell-mell. I took my time, contemplating events carefully along the way.

I’m happy with this approach. It works for me, and I’m sure to keep using it whenever I’m drafting. However, with my latest two projects I have made a turn toward the dark side. Yes, you heard me right. I have become an outliner.

But wait, let me qualify that statement lest my little pantser heart breaks—I have become an outliner out of necessity. With the conclusion of both of my series, my agent and I decided to submit my next projects on proposal. Now, what all a proposal entails varies by agent, writer, and editor, I believe, but for us it meant opening chapters plus a detailed outline. Given that I had never in my life written an outline, I had no idea what constituted a detailed outline, so my agent helpfully provided two examples and said, something in between would work. The first example was four pages, single-spaced. The second was 35 pages, double-spaced. Although both were helpful in their way, that made for an awfully large margin.

I knew I needed help. Normally, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in a book until I’ve written the first draft. That first draft is an outline. It’s a way for me to discover the story, spending hours and hours with the characters and the world. But now I needed a short cut, or at least a semblance of a shortcut. There really is no way to get the same depth of discovery in an outline that you’ll get in a draft. But that’s okay. For a proposal I just needed to get the bones. The flesh and heart and muscles of the story could come later.

I decided to check out a book my writer friend Kristina McBride had recommended to me months before—The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. One reason why I chose this book to help me write an outline is because it’s primarily focused on screenplays, and screenplays, it’s always seemed to me, are stories boiled down to their spine. Also, one of the tools I have relied upon in the past is specific to screenplays, too—Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. You can find all sorts of examples of this online. For my prior five books I used this plot structure as a road map to help me gauge where I was in the novel while drafting. It was particularly helpful with word counts. Most of my novels come in around 100k, so using the plot structure, I tried to make sure I hit that 50% mark, the “Point of No Return” at about 50k. But more on this Six Stage Plot Structure in a minute.

What I found in Truby’s book were techniques to help me think about my story as a whole and how to flesh out the key parts without doing any actual drafting. And those techniques did help, although they weren’t enough on their own. I ended up using the Six Point Plot Structure as well. But together the two tools were enough to help me generate a decent outline. What follows is a breakdown of the process I ended up using.

  1. Idea Generation. It goes without saying that before you start a writing project you need an idea, preferably a good one, or at least an idea good enough to sustain a whole novel. I don’t really have any tips for this step or any insight to offer save this—good ideas require two parts. My author friend Jody Casella likes to say that stories are like fires. Just as it takes two sticks to spark a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. I sort of love this symbolism, and I think it’s definitely true. I know for me, the two ideas is critical. One idea sometimes feels like it’s enough, but when you get down to writing it, nothing happens. That’s the difference. For example, consider the movie Home Alone. The first idea in this movie is simple and promising: young boy is left home alone over Christmas while family travels to France. At first this seems like enough to be getting along with, but it’s not. It’s not until you add the second idea—two incompetent robbers are planning to rob the neighborhood over the holidays—that you get a story with legs.
  2. Exploratory first chapter. Once I have my two ideas, I write the opening chapter. Beforehand I will name my main characters, and I usually have a vague idea about their personality, but not much. What I do know at the beginning is the sense of conflict—the “what’s at stake.” This is something I’ve worked out at the idea generation stage.
  3. Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. If the first chapter went well and I have an idea for the next chapter, I will start to work on the Seven Key Steps of Story Structure outlined by Truby in Chapter 3 of his book. I won’t go into detail here, because they’re in the book, but these steps are:
    1. Weakness and Need
    2. Desire
    3. Opponent
    4. Plan
    5. Battle
    6. Self-Revelation
    7. New Equilibrium
  4. Six Stage Plot Structure. While I’m working on the Seven Steps, I will also be thinking about the Six Stage Structure with a goal of filling in the key points of the structure—especially the Point of No Return, the Climax, and Change of Plans, etc.
  5. Back and Forth plus Character Web. This stage is just a repeat of steps 3 and 4, and I will also start working through Chapter 4 of Truby’s book, which is all about identifying the character web. The cool thing I’ve discovered about these two approaches is that they work on different, but complimentary levels. Truby’s Seven Key Steps are all focused on character motivation, and on the deeper thematic elements at work on your story. Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure are focused on events, on the what happens. Together, they make for a solid approach to outlining.
  6. More Chapters. If I make it this far—if I’ve successfully identified all Seven Key Steps of the Story Structure, and at least the Climax of the Six Stage—then I know that I’ve got enough for a whole book. But I also know that I’m going to need some awesome opening pages. I go back to chapter one, make any changes I need to based on what came out of the steps above, and then I’ll move on to chapter 2. And then chapter 3, and then…
  7. Write the Outline. Eventually, I will get far enough into the draft that I know it’s time to start working on the actual outline. I always do this last, because I hate it. Fortunately, the exercises I’ve worked through make it easier, doable at least, but the process is still just the worst. Nevertheless, I still complete the task. To my shock and amazement, the first time I did this, my outline ended up being fifteen double-spaced pages long! Hell has never come so close to freezing over.
  8. Submission. Once I have an outline and some polished opening pages, I will submit them to my agent. She’s already seen the pitch for the story and probably the opening chapter, but she will need to review again. Most likely she’ll have comments that I will need to work on. But eventually, the proposal will be in good enough shape for us to submit to my editor.

And there you have it. My process as it exists today. Maybe it’ll work for you and maybe it won’t. But no worries. Give me a few months and a few new projects and I’ll come up with a new process. That’s the coolest thing about writing—it never gets routine. Always be searching for a new approach.

Happy Writing!

About the Author:

Mindee Arnett is the author of two young adult series: The Arkwell Academy Series, a contemporary fantasy from Tor Teen (Macmillan), and Avalon, a sci-fi thriller from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins). She has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. Find her online at www.mindeearnett.com.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About the Book:

Jeth Seagrave and his crew are on the run. The ITA, still holding Jeth’s mother in a remote research lab, is now intent on acquiring the metatech secrets Jeth’s sister Cora carries inside her DNA, and Jeth is desperate to find the resources he needs to rescue his mother and start a new life outside the Confederation. But the ITA is just as desperate, and Jeth soon finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure hell-bent on capturing him and his crew—dead or alive.

With nowhere to run and only one play left, Jeth enters into a bargain with the last person he ever thought he’d see again: Daxton Price, the galaxy’s newest and most ruthless crime lord. Dax promises to help Jeth, but his help will only come at a price—a price that could mean sacrificing everything Jeth has fought for until now.

The conclusion to the story Mindee Arnett began in her acclaimed novel Avalon, Polaris is a dangerous journey into the spaces between power and corruption, life and death, the parts of ourselves we leave behind and the parts we struggle to hold on to.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

 -- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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2. I Heart Revisions: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Langston

Few writers approach revisions with as much love as the initial creative process. But not author Elizabeth Langston. She joins the blog today to give us a fresh, and much appreciated, perspective on how to really dig revisions. And we get to help Elizabeth celebrate the cover reveal of her upcoming book. Congrats, Elizabeth, on a fabulous cover for Wishing for You! Check it out below!

I Heart Revisions: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Langston

I love revisions. Maybe that’s freakish, but it’s true. For me, edits (no matter how many rounds) are fun! I’d rather “fix” a second draft than write the first.

So today, I’m sharing three of my favorite revision techniques to try with your next draft. I’ve included an exercise with each, plus examples from my book I Wish.

Rediscover the heart of the story

What is the point of your book? What is its “North Star”? Whenever you feel frustrated or distracted during revisions, it helps to have clarity on the emotional core—the heart—of the manuscript.

In one sentence, can you capture what the protagonist strives to achieve or needs to discover? You don’t have to share the sentence with anyone else, so it can be as corny, sweet, or idealistic as you like. The heart of the story can be whatever helps you—the author—to stay focused.

Write your sentence on an index card, put it in a teaser, or make it your computer’s background. Just have it front and center, so you’ll always know where your story is headed.

Exercise: Write the heart of your story in one sentence. If you can’t think of something original, then:

  • borrow a proverb (“slow and steady wins the race”)
  • use a movie quote (“there’s no place like home”)
  • fill-in-the-blank (“[protagonist] discovers that _________________”)

I WISH Example:

Witness scenes from all perspectives

Read through key scenes multiple times, once from the perspective of all major characters present.

I do this for the emotional, intense, story-changing scenes. I start with the “least” important character there. What does this character know before the scene begins? What does s/he observe in the scene? What does s/he smell, hear, taste, and feel? Does her dialog or reactions reflect her true emotions? Does his presence contribute something important? If not, could the character be removed from the scene?

Once I’ve allowed a character to affect the scene (or not), I go through the scene again in the head of the next character—and then the next, revising as I go.

Exercise: Pick an important scene (from your 1st or 2nd chapter) with at least 3 characters, such as friend & hero & heroine. Get into the friend’s head and experience the scene, especially using all of his/her senses. Is anything missing from the narrative or dialog?

I WISH Example: Lacey argues with Grant (the genie) about her depressed mother—in front of her mother. In the first draft version, Mom says something vaguely hopeless to Lacey after Grant leaves.

     I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”
     “Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
     It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
     “Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when that’ll change.”

When I reread the scene through Mom’s eyes, I realized that she felt regret for how her depression was affecting her daughter. So I let Mom reveal her regret through dialogue.

     I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”
     “Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
     It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
     “Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “I’m sorry, baby. You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when I’ll be able to be the adult again. I’m just…sorry.”

Give all relationships an arc

When I’m in the first round of revisions, I don’t analyze the subplots; I analyze the protagonist’s most important relationships. I write a mini-description of how each of her relationships evolve over the course of the book—ensuring that I address their status at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

Exercise: Pick a secondary relationship, such as between the MC and a teacher or employer. How do they feel about each other on page 1? On the final page? Does their relationship arc flow smoothly? Should it?

I WISH Example: When the story opens, Lacey has isolated herself from practically everyone. By the end, I wanted her to have happy or hopeful connections to all people who are important to her.

  1. Grant; Mom; brother; best friend; former crush: All of these relationships had clear arcs. I only had to tweak and smooth.
  2. Estranged friend: Lacey remained estranged from her best friend Sara—start to finish—in the first draft. I decided to bring them to more a civil place by the end of the book—which required 2 new scenes.
  3. Deceased stepfather: Lacey is angry with her late stepdad for leaving a mess in her lap. In the first draft, her anger never went away. But really, she needed closure. I added a new chapter so that Lacey could release her pain and remember how much she’d loved him.

So there you are—3 techniques to consider when you’re revising a manuscript. I borrowed and modified these ideas from a craft book called: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I highly recommend this book.

If you have suggestions for other books on revisions, leave us a comment!

About the Author:

I'm Elizabeth Langston, and I write Young Adult (YA) magical realism. Whisper Falls is a time-travel series set in 18th- and 21st-century North Carolina. The I Wish series features a "genie with rules." The first books in both series are on sale for 0.99 through February 15th at most e-book retailers. See my blog (http://authoretc.blogspot.com ) for details.

I live in North Carolina, USA and work in the computer industry for my day job. I have two college-age daughters and one geeky husband. At night, when I'm not writing, I'm watching TV (dance reality shows, Outlander, Elementary) or reading (and that is all over the place.)

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About the Book:

Wishing For You (I WISH #2): Avail Oct 2015

With high school graduation only months away, Kimberley Rey is eager to discover what her future holds. The next big decision is rapidly approaching--where to apply to college. But this choice is complicated by a memory disability. How will her struggles to remember affect her once she moves away from home?

Help arrives through an unexpected and supernatural gift. Grant is a “genie” with rules. He can give her thirty wishes (one per day for a month) as long as the tasks are humanly possible. Kimberley knows just what to ask for—lessons in how to live on her own.

But her wishes change when she discovers that a good friend has been diagnosed with a devastating illness. As she joins forces with Grant to help her friend, Kimberley learns that the ability to live in the moment—to forget—may be more valuable than she ever knew.

Wishing for You on Goodreads | I Wish on Amazon | Whisper Falls on Amazon

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3. The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick

Today we welcome to the blog Madeleine Kuderick, who has written a beautiful book in verse on an important and emotional subject. By the numerous reviews praising KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, she handled it with skill and sensitivity. Her post for us today is equally as insightful.

The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick

“If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him.”

That’s what Flannery O’Connor said, and it almost seems too simple, right? But it’s true. Without change, there’s no arc. And without an arc, there’s no reason to follow a character anywhere, and certainly not all the way to the end of a book. Readers want to see characters that overcome inner demons, wrestle against external obstacles, and ultimately experience change. They want something cathartic to happen. That’s what creates a satisfying ending. That’s what burns the character into reader’s hearts.

But what if a dramatic change is unrealistic for the character? What if a tidal wave kind of transformation is not authentic? Should the writer force the big metamorphosis anyway or allow the change to be just a tiny ripple instead?

I faced this dilemma when I wrote KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, a YA novel in verse that deals with self harm. KISS opens with Kenna, the protagonist, being committed to a psych ward after she’s caught cutting in the high school bathroom. The entire novel takes place during her mandatory psych hold. That means it all happens in just seventy-two hours. I knew that in such a brief span of time, a transformative change would not be realistic for my character. In fact, it would be an absolute untruth to promise the reader that self-harm could be magically cured with a three day stint at the hospital. But as a writer I worried. Would a subtle change be enough? Would readers accept the more honest outcome or would they be disappointed that I didn’t deliver a shiny new protagonist at the end?

I’m happy to report that reader response has been strongly in favor of the realistic ending I wrote. They appreciate the honesty of it. Many readers comment that it’s refreshing to see a genuine story outcome. They say they’re tired of reading the saccharin sweet, bows and ribbon endings that bare no resemblance to reality.

I recently participated on an author panel doing a Twitter chat for the Guardian where we discussed this topic even further. “There’s a general problem in YA of tying endings up too neatly,” one participant wrote. “The problem with books is they have to end. Mental illness doesn’t.” I found this comment especially insightful and it’s very relevant to what we are talking about here. Yes, our characters need to change. But they should only change to the extent that it’s believable, honest and real. At least I believe that’s appropriate in contemporary realistic fiction, which is what I write.

So in the end, I agree with Flannery O’Connor. It’s the change that makes the character interesting. But, the change doesn’t have to be a tsunami of events played out unrealistically across the page. It can be just a drop. A hint. A ripple. Enough to let the reader know that transformation is possible. That your character actually wants to change. That’s enough. In fact, that’s everything. And the reader will follow your character to the very last page.

About the Book:


In the next 72 hours, Kenna may lose everything—her friends, her freedom, and maybe even herself. One kiss of the blade was all it took to get her sent to the psych ward for 72 hours. There she will face her addiction to cutting, though the outcome is far from certain.

When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for a mandatory psychiatric watch. There Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who's there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.

Madeleine Kuderick's gripping debut is a darkly beautiful and lyrical novel in verse, perfect for fans of Sonya Sones and Laurie Halse Anderson. Kiss of Broken Glass pulses with emotion and lingers long after the last page.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

"Readers will devour this . . ." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Vivid and descriptive . . . a moving story about a serious issue." -- School Library Journal

Kuderick's keen diction and free-verse technique shine.” – Kirkus Reviews

"A fresh, honest, and ultimately hopeful story." -- Horn Book

About the Author:

Madeleine Kuderick grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a community with rich literary tradition, where she was editor-in-chief of the same high school newspaper that Ernest Hemingway wrote for as a teen. She studied journalism at Indiana University before transferring to the School of Hard Knocks where she earned plenty of bumps and bruises and eventually an MBA. Today, Madeleine likes writing about underdogs and giving a voice to those who are struggling to be heard.

 Website | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by S.P. Sipal, @HP4Writers

0 Comments on The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick as of 1/23/2015 8:01:00 AM
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4. Three Questions for Children's Book Author, Samantha Berger: SNOOZEFEST, advice for young writers and mystery fruit

I love children's book author Samantha Berger's enthusiasm and creativity. Have you seen her #ePUNymousPortraitSeries? In addition to writing wonderful picture books like CRANKENSTEIN (illustrated by Dan Santat) and A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (sequel). Samantha has written cartoons and promos for Nickelodeon, comic books and commercials, movie trailers, theme songs, poetry, magazine articles. Not only that, but she's also a voiceover artist!

Samantha's newest picture book is SNOOZEFEST, a hilarious and endearing bedtime story written by Samantha and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, just out from Dial Books For Young Readers. It's perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals and/or the joy of SLEEPING. If you're on FB, check out her hilarious #Snoozefest Countdown pics.

You can find Samantha at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Q: Could you please take a photo of a random object in her office and tell us about it?

 Yes indeed I can. I took a picture of this lovely grapefruit, that grew right in the back yard! I am working in a California office for a few weeks, and the owner of the house where I'm staying gave it to me. The idea of fruit growing on trees has always been MAAAAGICAL to me, and I may have missed my calling as a migrant worker. And I really want to eat this one, but I have one reservation.

The yard where it grew contains five dogs, using that tree as a bathroom. This grapefruit reminds me to ask the important question: Am I such a germ phobe I won't eat this grapefruit? Or is that grapefruit some kind of dog poo/citrus hybrid. A "pisstrus" fruit, if you will. Stay tuned.

Q: What advice do you have for young writers?

*I would say, if you wanna write, WRITE. WRITE ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY. WRITE like a passionate discipline, like something you HAVE to do. No excuses. Write.

*Blather, blurt, and blab. Just keep writing. Do not write and edit at the same time. Write, write, write, then go back and read/edit, at a completely different time.

*Make your decisions, all of them, for a REASON. Make no choices arbitrarily. From dedication to author photo, every choice must be made with intent. That is what separates great writing from mediocre. Be prepared to defend every single word.

*Find your best way (pantomime wall building, pretending to erase, meditation) to block out any negators and nay-sayers. There will always be critics, opinions you don't agree with, and close minded haters. Don't engage, always ignore, keep being you, move on.

*Always find time to PLAY and HAVE FUN when you write. Pretend you're not writing for an audience, a paycheck, a critic, a career, a review, an award, an assignment, or whatever, just WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF WRITING, and go create. For the joy of it!

*Own your truth, speak your truth, and become brave enough to write about the things that terrify you the most to talk about.

*Don't dumb down words or ideas. Respect language. It's incredible.

*All writers, whether it's your first manuscript ever, or you're Judy "Prolifika" Blume, go through a perpetual pendulum swing, between excitedly exclaiming I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS CAME OUT OF MY BRAIN and a depressed disappointed "i can't believe this came out of my brain." There are days where we all feel like untalented hacks. All of us. And it's really important to remember this. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be a writer. So cut yourself a break, go do something that makes you happy, such as a hot tub, a hot sake, or hot stones.

Photo credit: Leo MoretonQ: What are you excited about these days?

I'm excited for these spectacular Pacific Ocean sunsets every single night! I'm excited to read Kay Yeh's book THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE! I'm excited to be writing on two new preschool animated originals. I'm excited for karaoke, wigs and sunglasses, glitter-toes, oysters, using the word "smidge" more, and sea-frolicking with my dog Polly Pocket.

I'm excited my book Snoozefest came out this week, and that it has an anthem performed by Chubb Rock, and for the Pajama Party Snoozefest Boozefest I intend on throwing to celebrate. I'm excited about a new 2 book co-author deal with the amazing Martha Brockenbrough and the legendary Arthur Levine. I'm excited to see/conference with/laugh with/write with/ and dance with all my beloved book people and SCBWI-ers again, and for all the incredible books everyone has coming out right now (including YOU, Debbie! Cannot wait for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS!).

Thanks so much for asking me these questions 3 on inkygirl.

Book birthday doodle I did in celebration of the Snoozefest launch


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

0 Comments on Three Questions for Children's Book Author, Samantha Berger: SNOOZEFEST, advice for young writers and mystery fruit as of 1/25/2015 3:09:00 PM
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5. Using Setting for Tone in Contemporary YA - A Craft of Writing Post by Jaye Robin Brown

If you're writing contemporary, you've got it easy regarding setting, right? No need to research for historical accuracy or imagine and detail a whole new world. Ah-hem. Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall, is here today to share with us how we all -- especially those writing contemporary -- can use setting to great effect in our novels. Thank you, Jaye!

Using Setting for Tone in Contemporary YA: A Craft of Writing Post by Jaye Robin Brown

Sometimes I feel a bit like a cheater for writing contemporary young adult fiction. I don’t have to make up elaborate structures of law, or create lands, or mythical animals. There’s no need for mechanical knowledge of space ships or the why’s and how’s of a black hole. It’s just what it is. The here and now.

Writing contemporary comes with its own set of challenges, though. The biggest being that your readers, though they may not know the setting exactly, will know the rules of the land. So what are some of the tricks to sink them so deeply into your story they forget to look for familiar landmarks? There are many—your characterization, a zipping good plot, a smoking love interest—but perhaps the quietest and most subtle of the tools available is your setting.

In my debut, No Place To Fall, I wanted to show Amber Vaughn’s small mountain town as both suffocating and freeing. She desperately wants to leave but it’s also a bit of a cocoon for her. The scenes where she feels the freest, she’s out hiking looking at vistas. The scenes where she’s fretting, she’s down low, surrounded by small minds with no view out. Simple, yes, but it might not have been a conscious choice in the early stages of my writing.

Here’s a trick. Take a really generic setting. Let’s say, your neighborhood grocery story. Now take a few different genres, contemporary romance, contemporary suspense, contemporary horror. What would be the things in each setting you would choose to write about? What would your MC notice?

For example, in a contemporary romance, maybe she’s picking up two oranges at chest level when her love interest walks by (there’s a meet cute of awkward!). Or she sees an elderly couple giving each other a sweet peck on the lips, the love light still in their eyes. It’s sunny outside, the light is good in the store, and everything is clean, glistening, and smells great (the bakery!).

from lobshots.com
In your contemporary suspense, maybe the fluorescents are flickering, maybe the lines are too long and too slow, maybe the one item she needs isn’t available or is expired. Maybe she barely misses slipping on the just mopped floor and the guy with the wet floor sign leers at her. For horror, you’d take the same sorts of things as suspense but amp up the fear factor, beady-eyed live lobsters in a tank, bumping into a display of gruesome Halloween masks, etc.

In short, your setting shouldn’t be a Barbie house to set your characters inside of and move them around and make them talk and interact. Your setting should be as dynamic and alive as all the other hard won parts of your novel. Each setting, each change of scenery, you have an opportunity for carefully thought out details. Why choose something random when you can choose something to enhance and highlight the tone and mood of your story or scene?

So next revision pass, focus on your setting. Are there places you can draw the mood out more? Objects or background moments that can serve as symbolism or metaphor for your main character? Setting is a gold mine of opportunity to take your story even deeper, especially if you write contemporary fiction.

About the Author:

Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends and family, lives in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. A dreamer by nature, she knew life wouldn't be complete until she was surrounded by land, horses, dogs, and one cantankerous goat. When not writing or playing on her fourteen acre farm, you can find her in the art room at the public high school where she teaches.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Instagram

About the Book:

The Sky Is Everywhere meets This Lullaby in No Place to Fall (HarperTeen), Jaye Robin Brown's poignant debut novel about family, friendships, and first romance. As good girl Amber prepares for her audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, her relationship with her best friend’s older brother gets more and more complicated. When the bottom drops out of her family’s world in an afternoon, Amber faces an impossible choice, being there for her family, or following her dream as an artist.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers 

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6. Has Social Media Changed How Readers Read? And A COURT OF THORNS & ROSES Giveaway

There was a post last week that fascinated me when I read it. Mary Carroll Moore, and author, editor, and book doctor, and her blog post How Do You Start Your Chapters for the Most Punch? Some Simple--and Surprising--Structure Tips for All Genres suggested that editors don't read the first five pages a manuscript anymore, they only read the first two. She further suggested that:

"We readers have gotten impatient. Or publishers are gearing toward a new generation of readers, the movie-goers? Our brains have changed, certainly, and we may not be able to hang in there for seven chapters before something happens."

Is that true, do you think? There's certainly some research to back up the idea that we've become so used to skimming information online that it makes it hard to settle down to deeper reading. There's even been suggestions of starting a SLOW READING movement akin to the SLOW FOOD movement. But this issue of skimming for key words and concepts has implications beyond just how people read. It might have implications for the success of how books are written, and bought, and sold, and for their success online. Look at the number of blockbuster YA series that are being written by very young writers. Is it because they know who to connect to younger readers? Might--*might*--this explain why some over thirty authors feel like they have a hard time breaking through? 

If we innately don't read the same way any more, has the way that YA books are set up changed from ten years ago? From twenty years ago? 

According to Mary Carroll Moore, until recently books began with character or setting with a hint of the story question. In contrast, she suggests that 90 percent of modern stories begin with an event. She suggests examining stories to:

"Look for a dramatic event that causes conflict for someone and has the potential to make big changes in the storyline."

COMPULSION is a mix of romance, contemporary story, and fantasy. It's the story of three teens-- lost girl, a girl who has become unpleasant due to circumstances beyond her control, and a boy who's ready to do anything to escape the confining expectations set out for him. Together, these three have to save themselves and their families and resolve a magical situation a thousand years in the making. 

This has to be a slower burn than most fantasies because Barrie begins as a lost, grieving, and ordinary girl with just one very small bit of magical ability. In fact, it doesn't begin as fantasy at all. I started COMPULSION as magical realism, kicked it up to paranormal, and then finally drop into full-fledged contemporary fantasy. And at the end of the first book in the series, we've barely scratched the surface. 

Even so, when we meet Barrie in the first chapter:
  • She is abandoned in an airport by herself after being orphaned, because her aunt, who she never knew existed until her mother's will was read, doesn't come to meet her.
  • She lies to her godfather about the fact that she's been abandoned, thereby giving herself no safety net or way to have him help her.
  • She goes off in a taxi to figure out what's going on with her aunt without knowing what kind of a reception she will get when she gets to the plantation her family has owned for three-hundred years--a plantation she never knew existed.
  • She uses her family gift for finding lost things to return the taxi driver's wedding ring.
  • She discovers that her finding gift connects her to Watson's Landing as if that's where she's supposed to be.
  • The gate to the plantation may or may not have opened magically to admit her.
  • She finds the mansion falling apart and her aunt sitting on the front steps crying, having evidently broken down so badly that she lost all sense of time.
Sarah J. Maas' upcoming A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES opens with a Feyre, a nineteen-year-old huntress who lives in a fantasy world on the edge of a magical land. Feyre has heard rumors of magic and the Fae, even if she hasn't encountered them herself. She's a skilled hunter. She has killed before and has no compunction about killing again to save herself and her family. In the first chapter:
  • Feyre has ventured further from home than she normally dares in chase of deer, who are being pushed further and further away as the forest dies. She and her family are a week from starvation.
  • She finds a doe that would feed her family for a week or more, but a wolf is after the same deer.
  • The wolf kills the deer and she in turn kills the wolf, who makes no effort to avoid being killed by Fayre's special arrow of ash and iron.
  • It isn't until after the wolf is dead that Feyre is sure the wolf isn't one of the wicked fairies who lay waste to entire towns and who may or may not have been spotted in the area.
  • She skins the wolf and carrying the pelt and dead doe, she retreats toward home.
The beginning stakes and character arc inception for these books are very different. Barrie could no more kill someone--or something--than she could fly at this point. She could be any girl. She's lost and she has to find her strength and her place. She will, but she hasn't started at that point.

Mary Carroll Moore is right in that both these books start with an inciting event and questions to draw the reader in. But I don't think the takeaway here is that readers are less patient. Some are. Others aren't.

Young adult readers have more competition for their time now, sure. But chiefly, they have more choices. They gravitate toward particular types of stories, the same way that they gravitate toward their favorite sites on the web and their favorite shows on television. Adults do too.

As writers, we should never dismiss readers or underestimate them. At the same time, we shouldn't give up or assume we can't get away without explosions, enormous body counts, or huge starting stakes. Readers will find and recognize the stories that speak to them, but not every story will speak to every reader.

On the other hand, no matter what you think of attention spans or book "fashions," whatever the pace or starting stakes of your story, you'll end up with more reader engagement if you:
  • Set out the stakes early. (Barrie has no where else to go. Feyre is a week from starvation. )
  • Start with the story question. (Will Barrie find a home/family? Will Feyre be caught and killed by the fey?)
  • Keep your main character in the forefront by engaging her/him in activity. (Barrie transports herself to Watson Island. Eyre hunt a deer and kills a wolf.)
  • Reveal character and special abilities through action as much as possible.
  • Build the story world as you go, slivering in the details of place as needed.


Want an ARC of A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES? Fill out the Rafflecopter for a chance to win!

by Sarah J. Maas

A thrilling, seductive new series from New York Timesbestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Have attention spans changed? Do you need action in the first few pages? Stakes? Are fast pace, character, or setting more important to you? Or do you like a blend of all three?

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7. Craft of Writing: Viewpoint Selection by Nikki Kelly

Today we welcome to the blog Nikki Kelly, whose first novel, Lailah, was published in October from Feiwel & Friends. Nikki has a most entertaining post for you today on how to choose the point of view of your protagonist.  As fun as those gifs may be, make sure you red until the end as she offers some really apt advice.

Viewpoint Selection by Nikki Kelly

Hi Nikki, I need your help! I have a story that I want to write but I’m a bit confused, I don’t know which point of view I should tell it from. How did you pick? What made you write your story from Lailah’s POV??? Please could you help me! I really want to get started but I don’t know what to do!

I originally posted my debut novel Lailah to wattpad, a community of readers and writers, back in December 2012. I am still very active on the platform and talk to young, aspiring writers every day. The above question hit my inbox a couple of weeks ago, but it’s not the first time I have been asked about viewpoint selection, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

This question almost, always includes these exact words—‘which point of view is the right one?’

The answer, I say… well, there is no right answer.

I usually begin my reply by breaking down the most common, and simple, viewpoints:

First Person
Writing as if you are the character: I, me, my.

Third Person, limited
Writing with: he, she, they and pronouns such as his, hers, theirs.
Maintaining the narrative to the feelings, and ponderings of only the viewpoint character.

Third Person, omniscient
Still writing with: he, she, they and pronouns such as his, hers, theirs.
This time, however, the narrator is ‘all knowing’ of all the characters thoughts and feelings. Omniscient gives a broader view of the story.

I go on to highlight that there are Pros…

…and Cons

…to writing in each viewpoint:

First Person, the Pros include:
The reader has an immediate connection to the viewpoint character.
Believability due to being ‘inside’ the viewpoint character's head.
Clear, and concise perspective.

First Person, the Cons include:
Your reader can only know what your viewpoint character knows.
Limited perspective.
If your viewpoint character is unlikable, you have to live in his/her head for as long as it takes you to tell the story!

Third Person, limited, the Pros include:
Can add suspense as the thoughts and feelings of the other characters remain unknown (only interpreted through the viewpoint character).
Can still connect closely with the viewpoint character.

Third Person, limited, the Cons include:
As with first person, the perspective is limited and your reader can only know what your viewpoint character knows.

Third Person, omniscient, the Pros include:
Can connect with more characters in the story in a more intimate way.
Easier to manipulate the plot as there are more choices and options available.
Greater flexibility.

Third Person, omniscient, the Cons include:
The reader has more distance from your viewpoint character.
Multiple characters thoughts and feeling to juggle

I check in and ask if that all makes sense…

So then I suggest writing a paragraph from the story using all three viewpoints, and reading each one aloud. This helps to see which viewpoint comes most naturally when writing, and also helps to establish which works best for the story you are trying to tell.

Often, this then leads to…

I chose to write my debut novel Lailah in first person, as it came more naturally, and it worked well for the story itself. Lailah is on a journey of self-discovery, and I wanted the reader to only know what she knew, to learn the truth of Lailah’s undiscovered nature, right along with her. This also worked really well for the reveals (there was, of course, some bread crumb dropping along the way!), and it worked especially well for the plot twists at the end of the book.

About the Author:

Nikki Kelly was born and raised only minutes away from the chocolately scent of Cadbury World in Birmingham, England. Lailah is Nikki's first novel, and the first book in the Styclar Saga. She lives in London with her husband and their dogs, Alfie (a pug) and Goose (a chihuahua).

Visit her online at www.thestyclarsaga.com
Twitter: @Styclar

About the Book:

LAILAH (The Styclar Saga #1)
Nikki Kelly

The girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.

On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve even darker forces. Jonah and the few like him, are fighting with help from an unlikely ally – a rogue Angel, named Gabriel.

In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?

Gabriel and Jonah both want to protect her. But Lailah will have to fight her own battle to find out who she truly is.

Amazon  |   Indiebound  |  Goodreads

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8. Working with an Editor by Stina Lindenblatt

Have you wondered what happens once your book is sold and the editing process begins? Then you're in luck because Stina Lindenblatt is here to give us all a behind-the-curtains peek at the editing process. Stina is published by Carina Press and blogs with Querytracker. Having lived in several countries, she now calls Canada home.

Working with an Editor by Stina Lindenblatt

When I first signed with Carina Press (digital imprint of Harlequin), I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard HORROR stories from other authors about the experience (with other publishers). When I was a newbie writer, I assumed if an editor offered you a contract for your book that meant she loved it. And generally, that is true. But that doesn’t mean your book is ready to be published yet. It might mean you have to tweak the story here and there (plus do line and copy edits). Or it might mean you’re facing major rewrites. The second scenario is more common with the second book on contract verses the first, because the editor generally has to love the first book before she forwards her request to the acquisition committee. With the second (or third) book on contract, the editor has no idea what to expect. She’s just hoping she’ll love it as much as she did your first book.

And you’re hoping the same.

Or else you’re in for some major rewrites. And no one enjoys that.

For the most part, you can expect three rounds of edits. Sometimes more. From my own personal experience and the experience of other authors I’ve spoken to, the first round (the developmental edits) will amount to a letter from your editor. This letter could be a single page or it could be fourteen pages (like Libba Bray received for her third book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy). But like the saying goes, size really doesn’t matter. Your editorial letter might be only two pages, and it could still amount to you rewriting a third of your book. If your editor is anything like mine, she’ll start off by highlighting what she loved about your book. If yours does that, REREAD IT A MILLION TIMES each time your stomach knots into a tight ball as you read the rest of her feedback. It will make you feel better and it’s calorie free (as opposed to the chocolate you’ll be tempted to scoff down while reading the editorial letter).

If you’ve sent your book out to beta readers before sending it to your editor, you’ll be familiar with the concept of taking a breath (and possibly a day or two) before tackling the edits. There is one big difference, though, between dealing with your beta’s comments and those of your editor: one you can ignore, the other you can’t. If you don’t agree with what your beta reader said after you’ve given the feedback some distance, then you can ignore it. But make sure it’s not just pride that’s keeping you from agreeing with her. With your editor’s comments, you often don’t have the same luxury of ignoring her feedback. Unless you have a good reason not to, trust her experience and judgment. She might have a very good reason for her comments. For example, your use of a common trope may be cliché. Or she might decide a major plot point is weaker than it should be, and you need to rethink it. A good editor will give you suggestions, and it’s up to you where you go with it.

Hopefully you will have nailed things on this round of edits, but it is still possible that you might need to do a few more back and forths on the developmental edits. Or if you’re lucky, the changes can be dealt with during line edits. After line edits, your manuscript will be sent to the copy editor. Some publishers will also include a round of proof reading.

If your book is under contract, your contract will specify the time frame all of these edits are expected to be done by. Unfortunately, things happen and you might not get the time listed in your contract. For example, instead of one week to hand in copy edits, you have only two days. Not only that, you might be expected to do the edits while you’re on vacation. It all comes down to the production schedule of your publisher, and you often don’t have a say in the matter.

It can be scary when you start working with an editor, but it doesn’t need to be. The most important thing you can do is learn from the experience and let it help you grow as a writer. In the end, it will be worth it.


Stina Lindenblatt writes New Adult and adult contemporary romances. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website and on Twitter at @StinaLL. She is also a contributing blogger with the Querytracker blog. Her New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.



Amber Scott should be enjoying life as a college freshman. She should be pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She should be working hard to make sense of her precalculus math class.

She shouldn’t be waking up her college roommate with screaming nightmares. She shouldn’t be flashing back, reliving the three weeks of hell she barely survived last year. And she definitely shouldn’t be spending time with sexy player Marcus Reid.

But engineering student Marcus is the only one keeping Amber from failing her math course, so she grudgingly lets him into her life. She never expects the king of hookups will share his painful past. Or that she’ll tell him her secrets in return, opening up and trusting him in a way she thought she’d never be able to again.

When their fragile future together is threatened by a stalker Amber thought was locked away for good, Marcus is determined to protect her—and Amber is determined to protect Marcus…even if that means pushing him away.

Goodreads  |  Amazon  |  Nook  |  Kobo  iBooks

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9. Craft of Writing: New Monthly Post - Ask a Pub Pro!

Welcome to the new Ask a Pub Pro!

For 2015, Adventures in Young Adult Publishing has a new offering for our Friday craft posts! Over the years, we've tried to cover every craft aspect of writing and have built quite an archive for readers to search when they are learning new skills or have a specific concern. We’re thrilled that Writer’s Digest has twice honored us on their 101 Best Websites for Writers, and we plan to continue offering in-depth articles by published authors each week to help writers fine-tune their craft. Of course, we’re going to continue running our author and agent mentored First Five Pages Workshop each month to provide five writers specific critiques on their manuscripts.

Have a Specific Craft Question?

We think we can do even more to help though. As authors, we have all been stuck with our WIPs on our road to publication. There are times when we had specific questions about technique or craft that weren’t completely addressed by the articles on this site or elsewhere online, and we expect that may be true for other writers. Maybe you need to know whether the exotic name you've chosen for your historical heroine seems charming or hopelessly anachronistic. Or, perhaps you're wondering if the new character who suddenly appears in your third act is really needed...or if that beloved secondary can be killed.

from AdamHeine.com

Questions like these are where an Ask-A-Pub-Pro Craft Post will come in handy! Send us your specific craft or publishing questions, and we'll line up an experienced author, agent, or editor to answer it. Just make sure your question can be clearly expressed in a couple of paragraphs.

Are you an Industry Professional with Experience to Share?

To further make this a new opportunity for our readership, we will include authors and editors from a wide variety of houses and publishing experience to provide this detailed feedback. As we recognize that there are many talented authors and knowledgeable editors that don't usually get covered on this blog, we’ll provide a mix of perspectives from the big traditional publishers and smaller presses as well.

Here’s How It Will Work

If you are a writer with a specific craft or publishing question, send us an email to AYAPLit AT gmail DOT com with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Question" as the subject line. Likewise, if you are a published author, agent, or editor and you’d like to participate by answering questions for this series, please email us with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Volunteer" as the subject. At the beginning of each month, I will pick one or more questions and one or more publishing professionals to answer them. The pros will have a couple of weeks to prepare a response, and then the Ask-A-Pub-Pro post will go live on the last Friday of the month.

As a benefit for participating, writers who ask questions will get to include links to their website and social media as well as a Tweet-sized blurb of their current MS at the bottom of their question. You can also choose to have your question posted anonymously. Publishing professionals who respond will likewise get to include links to their sites plus a blurb and cover photo of a new or upcoming release.

Come on. You Know You Have Questions. Send them In!

Click here to start right now!

Posted by:
-- Susan Sipal
-- Martina Boone

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10. In the end, it comes down to having a good story. No amount of promo/networking can substitute.

A reminder: before you worry too much about a promo/marketing plan for your yet-to-be-published book, make sure your book is as polished as you can possibly make it. No matter what the format, how gorgeous the cover, how well-promoted....you need to have a good story and strong characters.

Take the time to hone your craft.

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11. The Undeniable Importance of Paper -- For Writers and for Readers -- Plus a Giveaway and Special Deal

A few years ago, people speculated about the death of books. Books, many said, wouldn't survive the rising popularity of e-books. Teens, the wisdom said, would adopt e-books, and within a few years, no one would read on paper anymore.

But guess what?

A recent Neilsen survey says that teens prefer "real" books.

And there appear to be concrete advantages to reading printed books. A study suggests that digital readers remember significantly less about when events occur in a plot than people reading the same story on paper, while another study showed markedly better reading comprehension for people reading a paper book.

I admit. I made the switch. There are several reasons that e-books work well for me, but they all boil down to convenience.

Here's the thing though. I also made the switch when reading manuscripts.

I read digitally when I write:

  • I type the story on my laptop. 
  • I read the story on my laptop and edit as I go. 
  • I make changes electronically, and my beta readers read digitally. 
  • And finally, before I send the book off to my editor, I make it into an e-book, and I read it in the Kindle program on my iPad.

My editor, on the other hand, prints the book out and reads on paper.

For those of you unfamiliar with the editorial process, it works something like this:

  • I submit the first(ish) draft to my editor.
  • She reads and sends me a letter about what's working and what isn't working and makes specific notes in the manuscript. She sends me the printed file via UPS.
  • I follow the document through digitally and come up with a chapter by chapter list of changes to address her concerns.
  • We discuss those changes and make sure we're on the same page.
  • I make the changes electronically and then send her the digital file.
  • She prints it out and reads it again, marking pacing and other issues in the manuscript margins and making suggestions for specific lines that need to be reworked. 
  • I go through the line edits and submit the file--digitally.
  • I send the electronic file to my beta readers and go through their suggestions--digitally.
  • I convert the book to an e-book and read it through, highlighting places I need to go back to.

And all this time, even though the book has been printed out, I don't *read* it on paper.

Then I get the copyedited manuscript. On paper. And I have to read and review it on paper.


There is a real difference in the way the words read and look on paper. I see things I didn't see when I was reading digitally, even when I read the book as an e-book. Even when I read passages aloud, which I also do frequently.

The moral of this story?

This is only the second book I've worked on with an editor. I'm going to get better--all of this is a learning process. I definitely have a takeaway on process for myself though. And for book three, I'm going to do things a little differently.

I'm going to print the book out for myself several times before the copyediting stage. Not sure how I'm going to work this in with the fast deadlines that we work with in publishing, but I'm going to make time, because it's worth it.

Takeaway writing tip of the day:

Read your manuscript in as many different ways as you can:

  • As a Scrivener or word processing file.
  • As a Scrivener or word processing file with the font changed. (You'd be surprised how just this small change brings things to light.)
  • As a Scrivener or word processing file that you read aloud.
  • As an electronic book.
  • As printed pages -- bound, if possible.

What about you? Do you prefer to read digitally or on paper? Does it make a difference in how you read and what you understand and remember?


Rebel Belle
by Rachel Hawkins
Putnam Juvenile
Released 4/8/2014

Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him--and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y'all beg for more.

Purchase Rebel Belle at Amazon
Purchase Rebel Belle at IndieBound
View Rebel Belle on Goodreads


by Martina Boone
Simon Pulse
Released 10/28/2014

Beautiful Creatures meets The Body Finder in this spellbinding new trilogy.

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

All her life, Barrie Watson had been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.

Purchase Compulsion at Amazon for $1.99
Purchase Compulsion at IndieBound
View Compulsion on Goodreads

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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12. Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part A

Before we roll-out our fabulous lineup of bloggers with great craft of writing tips for 2015, we thought it might be fun to look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlight some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The ones below come from the first half of 2014 and cover aspects from Character Development to Worldbuilding to Prologues. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article. And remember the blog labels! Follow Craft of Writing to read more great craft articles than could be mentioned here.

Finally -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in! Or, if you're a published author, or agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!

Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part A

Character Development:

Whenever writing a character, always keep one question foremost in mind: what is this character’s motivation? What does this character want? Characters drive stories, and motivation drives character. So that basic motivation should never be too far from the character’s thoughts. What does this character want and what is he or she doing in this scene to get it? It’s almost a litmus test for the viability of a scene. If your character isn’t doing something to get closer to what he or she wants, then you should be asking yourself if the scene is really necessary.
(from Using Soap Operas To Learn How To Write A Character Driven Story by Todd Strasser on 2/11/14)

Plot Element (A Ticking Clock):

from sodahead.com
The clock is mainly a metaphor. You can use any structural device that forces the protagonist to compress events. It can be the time before a bomb explodes or the air runs out for a kidnapped girl, but it can also be driven by an opponent after the same goal: only one child can survive the Hunger Games, supplies are running out in the City of Ember....
Only three things are required to make a ticking clock device work in a novel:
-- Clear stakes (hopefully escalating)
-- Increasing obstacles or demand for higher thresholds of competence
-- Diminishing time in which to achieve the goal
(from The Ticking Clock: Techniques for the Breakout Novel by Martina Boone on 5/20/14)

World Building (Details):

Whenever you have an opportunity to name something or to get specific about a seemingly random detail in your story, do it. Don’t settle for anything vague or halfway. Be concrete. You never know when one of these details might come in handy later. They’re like tiny threads that you leave hanging out of the tapestry of story just to weave them back in again later.
(from Crafting A Series by Mindee Arnett on 1/28/14)


“Write without fear
Edit without mercy”
Your first draft should be unafraid. Personally, I’m a planner, but you don’t have to be; I know published authors who aren’t. The important thing is that you embrace the flow of creation and let the story and its characters live. Don’t judge at this point. Write until it’s done.
Once you have that first draft in place, set the story aside for a few weeks, then take off your writing-hat – with all its feathers and furbelows – and don your editing-hat instead. The hat your inner editor wears is stark. No-nonsense. Maybe a fedora.
(from Edit Without Mercy by L.A Weatherly on 1/7/14)


Even less likeable characters are readable and redeemable so long as they are striving for something they desperately care about. One of the basic tenets of creating a powerful story is that the protagonist must want something external and also need something internal one or both of which need to be in opposition to the antag's goals and/or needs. By the time the book is over, a series of setbacks devised by the antag will have forced a choice between the protag's external want and that internal need to maximize the conflict. The protagonist must react credibly to each of those setbacks, and take action based on her perception and understanding of each new situation.
(from Use Action and Reaction to Pull the Reader Through Your Story by Martina Boone on 5/2/14)

from pixshark.com


Theme is important when writing. It can be one of the things that puts the most passion into your work. What is it you are really trying to say with this book? You don’t have to know before you start writing. Heck, you don’t even have to know while doing the first revision. But as you go over your manuscript again—and again—you will see things popping out at you. Tell the truth. Dreams matter. Work together. Listen to your own heart. Those are the things that make us fall in love with literature. Once you begin to notice these repetitions (or if you know what you want to say from the start) the real fun begins, because you begin to see all kinds of beautiful ways to make it evident. Symbolism and dialogue and imagery.
(from Write What You Love and Stay True To Your Passion by Katherine Longshore on 6/20/14)

Story Structure:

On Prologues:

The point I’m trying to make is that you should always strive to be confident in every page, to the point where you should never need a crutch like a prologue. Instead, the beginning needs to be amazing. Not necessarily adrenaline-filled, not necessarily action-oriented. Just damn good. Every page of your book should be, at the very least, strong and interesting writing, and your opening should have the tangible hooks of the ‘problem’ we feel in this book, even if they are only tugging ever so gently. If you have a prologue its worth examining the real page one and making it stronger, finding your real beginning, having faith in your book and your writing. If it doesn’t hold up, prologue or no, the book won’t work.
(from An Agent's Perspective on Prologues by Seth Fishman on 2/24/14)

On story structure and finding the heart of the story:

As a novelist, I have to be both mother and master of my imagination. Story structure is what both of those roles rely upon—structure nurtures, protects, rules and drives the raw imagination. Months into working on Willow, the other characters began to want to have voice in different ways that the original epistolary form would not have allowed. Although I was confident in the characters, I had to also have confidence in my ability to tap into my imagination and structure it so that the soft, intangible electric energy of the original idea or the heart of the story (what Turkish author Orhan Pamuk calls “the secret center” of the novel) are bolstered and illuminated. Structure is always what I go back to when I’m feeling panic or insecurity.
(from Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet of Creativity by Tonya Hegamin on 3/28/14)

-- Posted by Susan Sipal

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13. Productivity Tip: Create a safe mental space in which you feel safe to create.

Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.

Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.

Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.

Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.

What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?


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14. Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B

Last week we posted the first part of our look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlighted some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The quotes below come from the second half of 2014 and cover aspects from Pacing and Plot to Voice to Editing Tips. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article.

Also -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in! Or, if you're a published author, agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!

Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B

Pacing and Plot:

Pacing and plot are two entirely different things, and a common problem is when a writer plots a novel with plenty of surprises and cliffhangers and threads that all lead to a crescendo in the denouement and thinks this means that the novel will thus avoid pacing problems.

Remember, pacing is all about reader perception. If your plot demands a secret conference between all the rival kings to get to a key plot point, and the only relevant piece is that key plot point, then all the give and take and discussion in the scene may bog your story down until you get to the big “reveal.” This leads to skimming and comments like, “Get to the point already!”
(from Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr on 12/12/14)

Character Development:

...But I also think those kinds of stories can be really valuable, particularly at a time when “strong” still seems to mean “masculine” or “physically badass” to many. Being strong isn’t about wielding knives or a witty barb; it’s about how your characters respond to the challenges life throws at them. A girl in a wheelchair, overcoming discrimination and dismissal is damn strong. A woman moving past bullying or rape, a girl defying stereotypes to become a scientist in a male-dominated industry – these characters are no less strong for not wielding a sword or a gun.
(from What Does Strong Mean to You? by Tracy Banghart on 12/19/14)

from fanpop.com

What is it that makes a character likable? Some of the common denominators in likable characters include making sure that she (or he):

  • has something she loves.
  • has something she fights for.
  • is willing to sacrifice for something.
  • has some special skill or ability.
  • has some handicap or hardship that makes her an underdog.
  • has a flaw that readers can relate to and forgive.
  • operates from motivation the readers can see and understand.
  • has wit, spunk, or a sense of humor.
(from Unlikeable Characters and Mary Sues: Do We Give More Leeway to Male Characters than Female Characters? by Martina Boone on 7/10/14)

source: harrypotter.wikia.com
World Building:

On Important Objects/Mechanics
For example, in Lord of the Rings, there is the one ring and the lesser rings, the Wizard’s staffs, etc. Harry Potter has many as well: the sorcerer’s stone, the sorting hat, the Sword of Gryffindor, etc. If you have these objects, try to have them serve another purpose besides a plot device. Rae Carson does an excellent job of this in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The Godstone is crucial to the plot, it connects history to the present and informs the reader about the people. These objects should not be a crutch, but should add richness to the novel.
(from World Building Tips by Erin Cashmanon 10/24/14)

Editing Tips:

1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.

2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.

3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.

4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!
(from Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little on 11/7/14)

 Learning from Positive Reading:

...The advice this professor gave me was to forget “good.” It wasn’t my job to determine whether or not a book, poem, story, etc. was worth reading. Other people with far better credentials had, in fact, already determined the work was “good.” It had made its way into the literary canon. It was a classic. My job, as a literature student, was to figure out why. What separated this work from its contemporaries? Why did it survive while others produced in the same vein were forgotten?

When I graduated and was up to my eyeballs in rejections, I returned to that lesson. I checked out piles and piles of contemporary juvenile literature from my local library and attacked each book in the same way I’d once attacked the works I’d read for my literature professor. I went at it thinking, “Okay, somebody—an agent, an editor, a publishing house—has already decided this book is good. Why? What does this book have that made it a work to be acquired? What are this author’s strengths?”...
...Then challenge yourself. Figure out how to incorporate other authors’ admirable qualities into your work in your own way. I contend it’s far more useful to try to emulate something positive than it is to avoid something negative
 (from Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler on 10/10/14)


For me, voice is telling. To be true and genuine, voice has to take us by the hand and lead us into the magical world of the character, or the narrator. But beyond the facts or emotion that the words convey, voice is about the selection of the words themselves. It's that indefinable quality of rhythm and sentence structure and elegance of expression that elevates writing above the ordinary.
(from What Is Voice In Fiction? by Martina Boone on 7/12/14)

On Writing Dialogue:

from awrighton.com

Read play scripts. Remember, plays are almost all dialogue. Not film scripts, watching and reading those are totally different experiences, there’s nothing but stage direction in a film script and very little dialogue, despite my film examples. The plays the thing. Heh. If you’ve never read a play and Shakespeare or Marlowe aren’t your jam (though you may love it and no one writes better dialogue than those guys) there are a million amazing contemporary playwrights (Mary Zimmerman or Sam Shepard, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, John Patrick Shanley to name just the big ones) who all write dialogue that will set your brain on fire. Feel the rhythms, feel how the conversations make the story unwind and let tension grow, feel the quiet moments and the fighting, it’s a really unique experience. Full-length plays, when read straight through, can be consumed in like, an hour.
(from A Diatribe on Dialogue by Jennifer Longo on 8/8/14) 

On Outlining a Novel:

An outline helps you to summarize the story in your own mind. It sounds like an obvious point, but knowing exactly what your story is about -- in as few words as possible -- helps you to write it better. An outline helps crystallize your themes, your characters' goals, attributes and shortcomings, and the obstacles standing in their way. Being able to easily put a finger on these things lets you write your first draft much more efficiently.
(from The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan on 9/12/14)

-- Posted by Susan Sipal

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15. The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan

Kiki Sullivan is the brand new debut author of THE DOLLS, a fantastically creepy thriller that just came out in August. Although Kiki is a debut author, her knowledge and tips on writing rival any well established author.

The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan

In real life, I'm not always one for planning ahead. I like to see where the day will take me, what adventures will come my way.

But when it comes to the page, things are entirely different. Not only do I prefer to know where I'm going, but it's vital to me to be able to see the road to the end of each story I write before I write the first word of chapter one.

That's why I outline. Some writers swear by the technique. Others prefer to let their characters guide the story. I do a little of both; I outline very thoroughly, but I never stick to the blueprint entirely, because it's impossible to know before you begin writing exactly what your characters will do once you set them in motion. It's like having a roadmap, or a set of Mapquest directions, that show you exactly how to get to where you want to go. But once you're on the road, detouring off the main path a few times is always fine, as long as you eventually keep heading toward your destination.

In fact, sometimes it's the detours that make the journey so memorable.

So why outline? For me, there are several reasons. First, outlining makes writer's block virtually impossible. Sure, you'll still have unproductive writing sessions or days when your head's not in the game, but you'll never be defeated by your story because you'll always know where to go next.

Second, an outline is a way to try your story out before you begin writing the chapters. Why is this so important? It's simple; wouldn't you rather know you're going down the wrong path on page 20 of a 30-page outline instead of on page 200 of a 300-page book? Not only will you have spent far less time traveling down the wrong road, but it's also a whole lot easier to go back and tweak a plot thread in outline form. This saves you both time and wasted energy.

Third, an outline is a bit like a safety blanket. It gives you comfort on the hardest of days and keeps you safe and protected from your own self-doubt in a way. As long as you've found the way to the end of your outline, you can find your way to the end of your book too -- as long as you're willing to work hard.

Fourth, an outline helps you to summarize the story in your own mind. It sounds like an obvious point, but knowing exactly what your story is about -- in as few words as possible -- helps you to write it better. An outline helps crystallize your themes, your characters' goals, attributes and shortcomings, and the obstacles standing in their way. Being able to easily put a finger on these things lets you write your first draft much more efficiently.

So how do you outline? Different people do it different ways. Some prefer bulleted outlines. Some like to write scenes down on index cards so that they're easily rearrangeable (although I find that's handier in screenwriting, where scene placement tends to be a little more fluid). And some -- like me -- prefer to write outlines in an almost book report-like style. In other words, you're essentially writing a summary of your book before you even begin writing the book itself. Personally, I've always found that this helps the words and ideas to flow a little more freely, because you can also include dialogue, descriptions and other notes that bring the scene to life the moment they first appear in your head.

I wrote my first novel in 2003, and I did it using an outline technique that I taught myself -- and that has been my specialty since then. Here's how to get started:

First, choose a book that's similar in tone, length and style to the book you plan to write. It shouldn't be about the same topic -- for instance, if you're writing a vampire love story, don't choose Twilight -- but the target audience and genre should be the same. Now, sit down with that book and with either a notebook or your computer. Read chapter one. Now, summarize chapter one in one to three paragraphs, noting such things as when characters are introduced, how much background the author has included, how much dialogue is included, etc. Summarizing the story presented in that chapter should be your primary mission, but also keep an eye out for the writer's technique.

Now, do the same with chapter two. And chapter three. And so on, until you've reached the end of the book.

Now, you should have a solid outline of a single published book. Put it aside for a day, and then pick it back up again. Read it in one sitting. Here, condensed, is the framework for a book that works, a book that's been published, a book that's successful. You'll use this as a blueprint for writing your own outline.

Your scenes shouldn't follow the scenes of the model novel exactly. Simply use them as a guideline. Get a sense of the model author's flow. When does he or she introduce main characters? When do conflicts crop up? When are problems solved? How do the stakes get higher for the main character as the first half of the book progresses?

Now, sit down at your computer, open a new document and type, "CHAPTER ONE." Skip a few lines and begin your own outline. Take a look at the outline of the published book you've already developed. How did that author start his or her story with a bang? How are you introduced to the main character's world?

Essentially (and you'll find this advice on www.kikisullivan.com/writing-tips too), you'll want to begin with a scene that centers around your main character, gives us a chance to get to know her and her life situation, and gives us a good idea of her personality and lifestyle through dialogue, action and interaction. This scene should be fast-paced and take place before the main storyline of the book really kicks off, because you want the reader to be fully on board with your character and in her corner before anything very important happens. Follow that scene with a second scene, moving your main character to another location to show us a different aspect of her life. Bam – you have a chapter one.

Now, read chapter two in the outline you've produced for the already-published book. Use it as a rough model for your chapter two. And so on.

In general (this is also from www.kikisullivan.com/writing-tips):

• The beginning of your book should start with a bang and introduce us to your main character. By the end of chapter 1, the reader should feel drawn into the story. By the end of chapter 2, the reader should be fully on board with your main character. Don’t weigh the first and second chapters down with background. Only give us the essential parts of the backstory, and save the rest for later. We should arrive, relatively soon, at a dramatic plot twist that kicks off the main action of the book.
• The middle of the book will deal with a big challenge (and smaller associated challenges) your main character is facing and how she deals with them and learn something in the process. It should include a sort-of up and down pattern, where she solves some problems while trying to work through the main conflict, but she also runs into other problems along the way, many of which are of her own making or stem from the main issue at hand. The conflict should keep getting more complicated until the middle section of your book concludes in a climax that leads us to the end.
• The end of the book is where things get resolved and where the questions you’ve laid out throughout the book get answered. Your character should have grown and changed by now, as a result of what she’s gone through, and her responses to situations will show that change. This is your chance to conclude storylines and tie up loose plot threads. And remember, a satisfying ending doesn’t always have to include all the characters living happily ever after. But your main character, at least, should be better off at the end of the book than she is at the beginning, as a result of the way she has grown and changed throughout.

Hope this helps a bit. To some, outlining sounds tedious. To me, it's the most creative part of the writing process. It's your chance to begin getting to know your characters and to see them interacting with each other on the page. It's your chance to test out plotlines you're not entirely sure about. And it's an opportunity to see where your imagination takes you without having to take the time to make sure your words are pretty and perfect yet.

Good luck, and happy outlining!

About The Author

Kiki Sullivan is the author of The Dolls series. Like the main character Eveny Cheval, Kiki used to live in New York and now calls the American South home. Unlike Eveny, she finds it impossible to keep her rose garden alive and has been singlehandedly responsible for the unfortunate demise of countless herbs. She may or may not have hung out with queens of the dark arts, strolled through creepy New Orleans cemeteries at night, or written the first book of this series with a red-headed Louisiana voodoo doll beside her computer.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

Eveny Cheval just moved back to Louisiana after spending her childhood in New York with her aunt Bea. Eveny hasn’t seen her hometown since her mother’s suicide fourteen years ago, and her memories couldn’t have prepared her for what she encounters. Because pristine, perfectly manicured Carrefour has a dark side full of intrigue, betrayal, and lies—and Eveny quickly finds herself at the center of it all.

Enter Peregrine Marceau, Chloe St. Pierre, and their group of rich, sexy friends known as the Dolls. From sipping champagne at lunch to hooking up with the hottest boys, Peregrine and Chloe have everything—including an explanation for what’s going on in Carrefour. And Eveny doesn’t trust them one bit.

But after murder strikes and Eveny discovers that everything she believes about herself, her family, and her life is a lie, she must turn to the Dolls for answers. Something’s wrong in paradise, and it’s up to Eveny, Chloe, and Peregrine to save Carrefour and make it right.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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16. Craft of Writing: From Pantser To Planner: How I Changed My Writing Style by Victoria Strauss

We are incredibly pleased and tickled pink to have Victoria Strauss on the blog today discussing some amazing writing techniques. Victoria is the widely acclaimed author of many young adult and adult novels and her advice is something to watch out for.

From Pantser To Planner: How I Changed My Writing Style by Victoria Strauss

I'm the original pantser. I hate planning and preparing. I'd rather just dive into whatever it is and learn as I go. This has gotten me into some messes, as you can imagine. Deciding to refinish a table and realizing halfway through that you really ought to know how to work with furniture stripper is not a recipe for a happy outcome.

Once upon a time, that was also how I wrote.

Nearly all my books require some degree of preliminary research. But after investing that initial effort, I just want to get on with the actual creation. When I first began writing, I'd start out with a premise, a setting, a compelling image for the beginning, and a definite plan for the end. The rest was a blank canvas that I couldn't wait to fill, discovering the bones of the story as I wrote it.

The problem was that the story never fell organically into place. I'd get interesting ideas for characters and scenes and plot points that sometimes worked, but often took me down irrelevant byways or banged me up against dead ends. Somewhere around the middle of the book (which never turned out to match any of the hazy ideas I might have had at the outset), I would realize that I’d gotten to a place that didn't fit either my planned ending or my already-written beginning, and be faced with the choice of throwing out a lot of material or making major changes to my basic concept. You'd think, since my concept was so nebulous, I wouldn't have a problem tossing it; but those strong beginning and ending images were (and still are) the essence of the book for me, what made me want to write it in the first place. I could never bring myself to abandon them.

In the end I always managed to pull it together. But it was exhausting and frustrating to do so much backtracking and re-writing, and with each book the process seemed to become messier. By my third novel, I felt that I was doing more fixing than creating--and if you do too much fixing, the seams start to show. Writing by the seat of my pants clearly wasn't working for me. I realized that if I wanted to continue with my writing career, something had to change.

So I decided to turn myself into a planner. No more pantsing. No more blank canvas. I'd discipline myself to craft my plot in advance, creating a road map to guide me all the way from A to Z.

But how to plan, exactly? Books on how to write offer a plethora of methods. Index cards. Whiteboards. Timelines. Checklists. Worksheets. Character questionnaires. Three-act structure. The Snowflake Method. Yikes.

Outlining (the kind of conventional I.A.1.a. outlining I learned in school) seemed most familiar. So for my fourth novel, that's what I decided to try. It totally did not work for me. It was too terse, too cold, too structured. Too boring.

Next I attempted a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. But that felt too arbitrary--how could I lock myself into a chapter structure before I knew the rhythm of the narrative?--and too choppy. I didn't want to jump from chapter to chapter like hopping across a series of rocks. I wanted the story to be all of a piece: to simply flow.

So I decided just to tell the story from start to finish, imagining myself speaking to a rapt audience in the warm glow of a blazing campfire, with darkness pressing all around. This approach fit me much better. It felt creative; it had flow. I still took wrong turns and stumbled down blind alleys--but it's a lot easier to fix those in a synopsis than in a manuscript. And when I was done, I had a clear path from my blazing beginning image to the ending I was dying to write.

For reasons that had nothing to do with planning, I never did finish that fourth novel. But I've used this basic method ever since. First I figure out the core of the book: premise, setting, opening and conclusion. Then I build a bare-bones road map in my head, establishing the story arc and the main characters, making sure I can travel all the way to the end without getting lost in the middle. Then I write a synopsis, fleshing out the story bones and adding detail to plot and characters, but not drilling down to the level of individual scenes (unless an image really grabs me). For a 100,000-word book, my synopses generally run about 10-12 single-spaced pages. I also do brief character sketches as I go along.*

Once I'm done with all this preparation, I file it away and never look at it again. This may seem like a waste of effort. But writing from memory, without paying slavish attention to a plan, gives my pantser's soul the flexibility it needs, allowing room for change and inspiration, for those "aha" moments that, for me, are the most exciting part of writing. Because I do have a plan, however--because I've fallen into most of the holes and backtracked out of most of the dead ends in advance--I don't veer off track the way I used to; and where I do diverge, it's productive rather than destructive. My finished books nearly always differ in significant ways from my initial road map. But the important plot turns don't change.

This melding of planning and improvisation is the best balance I've found between the creative license I crave and the structure I need.

Changing my approach to writing has also taught me something important about writing itself: there is no "correct" or "best" way of doing things--only what's best for you. I can't count the number of times I've heard that planning destroys inspiration, or that only hack writers plan, or that real creativity is letting the story find you, not the other way around. Conversely, most of the highly-recommended planning techniques I tried felt too constraining or too boring.

Trial and error is the key. Don't be afraid to experiment. If something isn't working for you, don't be afraid to abandon it and try something new. It took me a long time, and many mistakes, to figure out my ideal method. But eventually I found my way.

You will too.

* If worldbuilding is needed, as with my fantasy novels, I work that out in between the in-my-head planning and the written synopsis (I've written about my worldbuilding method here: http://www.victoriastrauss.com/advice/world-building/).

About The Author

Victoria is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the Stone fantasy duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) and Passion Blue and Color Song, a pair of historical novels for teens. In addition, she has written a handful of short stories, hundreds of book reviews, and a number of articles on writing and publishing that have appeared in Writer’s Digest, among others. In 2006, Victoria served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.

Victoria is the co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She received the Service to SFWA Award in 2009 for my work with Writer Beware.

Victoria lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Color Song
by Victoria Strauss
Released 9/16/2014

By the author of the acclaimed "Passion Blue," a "Kirkus Reviews" Best Teen Book of 2012 and "a rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion," comes a fascinating companion novel.

Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed?or cursed?with a spirit's gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors as she creates them in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilit?. It's here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness and rekindled her passion to become a painter?an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy.

But when a dying Humilit? bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession?the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue?Giulia realizes she's in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color. Faced with the prospect of a life in the convent barred from painting as punishment for keeping Humilit s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist's apprentice?

Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilit s Passion blue. And Venice, she discovers, with its gilded palazzos and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, and where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way?

This stunning, compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to pursue your passion?

Purchase Color Song at Amazon
Purchase Color Song at IndieBound
View Color Song on Goodreads

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17. Craft of Writing: Creating a Treatment for Your Book Trailer by Rachel Wilson

Rachel Wilson is the debut author of the YA novel, DON'T TOUCH, the heart wrenching story of a girl suffering a severe anxiety disorder. She has been likened to Laurie Halse Anderson, and in my books, that is some of the highest praise you could achieve as an author. DON'T TOUCH hit shelves on September 2nd.

Creating a Treatment for Your Book Trailer by Rachel Wilson

When my director friend Matt Miller said he wanted to direct a trailer for Don’t Touch, I did cartwheels. When he asked what my dream trailer might look like, I began to twitch and mumble.

Time for a treatment. Planning a book trailer can be daunting. If you’re working with a director or photographer, a treatment will put everyone on the same page. Even if you’re making the trailer all by your lonesome, a clear plan for what you intend to shoot is a must.

A treatment outlines what will be seen on screen—it gives a sense of tone and reads in present tense. Yours may look like a screenplay script, or it may read more like a synopsis of shots. The format is not so important as helping the team envision the final product and creating a guide for shooting.

Here are a few strategies based on what I learned while working on the trailer for Don’t Touch:

Ask what the central message is that you want viewers to take away from your trailer. This will be close to your one-line synopsis and hint at the central conflict of the book. For Don’t Touch, we wanted to make it clear that Caddie has a fear of touching other people’s skin and that this conflicts with her desire to be close to Peter.

Collect key text from the book that you might want to use in your trailer. This might be narration or dialogue; it might be heard during the trailer or spoken as a voice over or in-scene. For us, a couple of lines of narration that captured our central message jumped out almost immediately.

Make a list of images from the book that might work in your trailer. Don’t limit yourself at this point—just brainstorm. And get descriptive. Your character is tumbling downhill—do you picture that as a series of jump cuts or in slow motion? What time of day is it? Do we see this from a distance, or is it more important to see a close-up of the terror in his eyes?

Use cinematic language. Your treatment needn’t be as rigid or specific as a script, but if you have a specific vision for certain moments (slow motion, extreme close-up, quick cuts), including those can help the whole team visualize together.

Is there a controlling image that might serve as an anchor for the rest of your trailer? For us, this was Caddie falling into the swimming pool. There’s no rule that says you need to work in chronological order—one strong image might be all you need, or you might choose, as we did, to use a single image as a frame for the rest, beginning, middle, and end.

Group images by location and prioritize. Each location adds time for travel and setting up equipment, and some will require payment or favors to access. For our one-day shoot, we aimed for no more than three locations. Can you avoid a hard-t0-find setting by using an extreme close-up? Must that shot take place in a classroom, or could it happen in the bedroom you’re already using?

Arrange and rearrange. Play with different combinations of image and text until your treatment has a sense of progression that you like.

Find visual connection between images. This helps pull the viewer through the trailer, creates visual interest, and tells a story on a subconscious level. In our treatment, we set up a parallel between Caddie stepping onto stage for an audition and stepping up to the edge of the pool. For her, there’s an emotional connection between those two acts. Our editor, Travis Hockswender, found other parallels in our footage that we hadn’t planned on. Notice around 0:47 how Caddie’s spin flows into Peter turning to sit down.

Be flexible with your treatment in shooting and editing. That moment at 0:47 wasn’t in our treatment but rather a happy accident. Likewise, the moments of Caddie and Peter mirroring each other’s hands were improvised during our shoot. The treatment is only a guide, so allow for discovery.

Time the treatment. Set a timer and, as best you can, speak or visualize through the shots you have planned. Short is best both for keeping attention and for conserving resources. Think of your trailer as the visual equivalent of a poem—just like every word in a poem counts, every shot in your trailer has to earn its place.

Most importantly, get inspired. A trailer isn’t worth the trouble if you aren’t going to have fun making it, so put on your film-making hat, watch the trailers for books similar to yours, gather inspiring images, and tap into the same creative energy you bring to your writing!

For the curious, here’s a peek at what the first moments of our treatment looked like on paper:

Image: Caddie’s feet, in shoes, stepping to the edge of a pool.
Image: Caddie stepping to the edge of a high school stage.
CU on Caddie’s hand fidgeting, clenching at her side.
CADDIE: I am Caddie Finn.
CU of Caddie blinking in the glare of stage lights. Raises a hand to shield her eyes.

VO: There are so many things in the world that can cause pain…
Image: Overhead of a trust circle—students being passed around the center.
Image: Caddie’s hands and Peter’s almost touching/coming together.
Image: Caddie and Peter’s mouths close up on the verge of a kiss.

VO: And people—people do it best.

Watch The Book Trailer Below!


Don't Touch
by Rachel M. Wilson
Released 9/2/2014

Step on a crack, break your mother's back,
Touch another person's skin, and Dad's gone for good . . .

Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it's never been this bad before.

When her parents split up, Don't touch becomes Caddie's mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person's skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn't make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama's humidity, she's covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school.

And that's where things get tricky. Even though Caddie's the new girl, it's hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who's auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she'll have to touch Peter . . . and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.

From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we'll let them in.

Purchase Don't Touch at Amazon
Purchase Don't Touch at IndieBound
View Don't Touch on Goodreads


Rachel M. Wilson is the author of the contemporary YA, DON'T TOUCH, forthcoming from HarperTeen, Sep. 2, 2014.

She graduated from Northwestern University and holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Rachel grew up in Birmingham, AL, and she currently writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, IL.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

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18. Craft of Writing: Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler Plus a GIVEAWAY!

Holly Schindler's third YA novel is being compared to The Lovely Bones, and in my opinion, that is amazing. Chilling, creepy and psychologically terrifying are words that come to mind when I hear that title, and reviews of FERAL are living up to and surpassing that.

Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler

I’m not going to lie—I don’t think my writing degree did much for me, in terms of preparing me to become a professional writer. That’s not to discourage anyone currently enrolled in a writing program. I’m only speaking specifically of the writing program I attended in the late ‘90s / early ‘00s. In fact, many of the “truths” that were taught in my creative writing courses did me a disservice—I had to spend a few years unlearning the lessons that had filled my classrooms.

The one lesson that I’m grateful for—the one lesson that actually did help me—came from a literature professor, rather than a writing professor. In fact, he was by far my favorite professor in the entire department.
I met this particular professor when I signed up for his course in Literary Criticism. The class was a real struggle for me, in the beginning—so much so, I wound up seeking this professor out to try to gain some perspective, some insight into how to better attack the subject matter.

The advice this professor gave me was to forget “good.” It wasn’t my job to determine whether or not a book, poem, story, etc. was worth reading. Other people with far better credentials had, in fact, already determined the work was “good.” It had made its way into the literary canon. It was a classic. My job, as a literature student, was to figure out why. What separated this work from its contemporaries? Why did it survive while others produced in the same vein were forgotten?

When I graduated and was up to my eyeballs in rejections, I returned to that lesson. I checked out piles and piles of contemporary juvenile literature from my local library and attacked each book in the same way I’d once attacked the works I’d read for my literature professor. I went at it thinking, “Okay, somebody—an agent, an editor, a publishing house—has already decided this book is good. Why? What does this book have that made it a work to be acquired? What are this author’s strengths?”

That lesson, more than any other, helped me move toward publication. And I’d like to encourage anyone in pursuit of publication to do the same. For one year, I challenge you to find something good in each new book you read.
It’s easy, when you’re covered in rejection, to fall into a pattern of negative thinking. That negative thinking could be projected inward (“I’m no good. I’ll never be in the company of published authors. I don’t have anything new to offer. Who would read my work when so many other great authors are already out there?”) Or, the negative thinking could be projected outward (“Published books are crap. These published authors are no good. My work is better than this. The reason my work isn’t being accepted is because editors only want crap.”)
Another negative thought pre-published authors fall into is the idea that a rejection means that the editor or agent is telling you that your work isn’t of high enough quality. That’s not it at all. Yet again, I encourage you to forget “good.” A rejection isn’t an editor telling you that you’re not good enough. In fact, I once worked with an editor who told me that she picked books that she felt she could edit in a way no one else could…she picked books she felt she could make a unique kind of editorial thumbprint on. She said she did pass on many books that were well done—it was about finding the right match.

For one year, then, I encourage any would-be authors to ditch the negative thinking—which can really affect your writing, hamper it. Let go of the idea that a rejection is a way to tell you that you’re not good enough. Let go of the idea that you don’t measure up. And while you should always, always, always have faith and pride in your abilities, let go of the notion that the published books you check out are somehow inferior. Decide, every time you pick up a book, that you’re going to learn from it.

For one year, forget good. Look at each read objectively and ask yourself, “Why did this one make it?” You may decide that it was because of the concept, or because of the writer’s ability to handle a plot twist, or because of the author’s voice. You may see value in their character development or humor. Find some positive reason for the book being acquired.

Then challenge yourself. Figure out how to incorporate other authors’ admirable qualities into your work in your own way. I contend it’s far more useful to try to emulate something positive than it is to avoid something negative.

I would bet that by the end of the year, you will have made progress in some way. You’ll have graduated from form rejections to personalized rejections—or maybe even signed with an agent. I would, in fact, love to hear your own stories of how this “Positive Reading Challenge” helped your own publication pursuit. Take the challenge, and at the end of the year, shoot me a message. (I can always be reached through my website or social media). I’d love to know how it impacted you.

I’m grateful every day for my prof’s lesson—it helped me in ways I never could have anticipated, back when I was a literature student trying to navigate through his class. It actually turned out to be the best professional advice I ever received. I’m betting that it’ll help you, too. I can’t wait to hear how.

About The Author

Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, teen librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found on her Website, Blog, Twitterhttps://twitter.com/holly_schindler, Facebook, and Tumblr


by Holly Schindler
Released 8/26/2014

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Purchase Feral at Amazon
Purchase Feral at IndieBound
View Feral on Goodreads

And check out Holly's Book Trailer for FERAL!

PLUS! Holly has an awesome giveaway going on right now, so enter for a chance to win a signed copy! But hurry, only 2 days left!

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19. Craft Book Recommendation – Writing Great Books for Young Adults

Writing Great Books for Young Adults Released – October 7, 2014 By Regina L. Brooks ISBN: 9781402293528 Trade Paperback/$14.99         Praise for Writing Great Books for Young Adults “Written from the perspective of an industry insider, the … Continue reading

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20. Across the Desk: Thoughts from An Author-Editor by Kate Brauning

I am beyond excited about the post we have for you today. It's a little different, but the insight into the mind of both an author and an editor is information you can't pass up. Kate Brauning is the debut author of HOW WE FALL, releasing on November 11th! Read on for an amazing guest post!

Across the Desk: Thoughts from An Author-Editor by Kate Brauning 

Hello, Adventurers! It’s Kate Brauning here, and I’m finding myself in an interesting position this year. I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But this year, my debut novel is being published (How We Fall, Merit Press 11/2014). I’ve been working toward being an author since I was a teen, so this is really a dream come true for me—but it also means I’m on the receiving end of what I’ve been handing out to my clients. Because I’m getting to see across the desk a bit, I’m here to chat about how editors and authors see the same issues.

The Manuscript:

Author:  When my agent first offered me representation, and when the offer for How We Fall came through, I was so nervous. What if they didn’t love my book as much as they said? What if they liked my book, but not me? And what if later on, my book got lost in the shuffle? Of course, I worried through all these things with my critique partners (and my poor agent), and I’ve seen the same fears go around in the writing community. They’re pretty normal concerns—and it’s great for authors when an editor recognizes that and reaches out to help stabilize those concerns. My own editor has made a point to congratulate me on good news and keep up with issues, even though we’re long past edits, and it really helps assure me that they still love my book and they’re working hard to make sure it does the best it can.

Editor: In my experience, an editor will almost never acquire a book he or she doesn’t love. Publishing is a business, but it’s a business that requires passion. We have to advocate so hard and so long for our books, and even read them 5+ times, that it’s not smart business to acquire a book we don’t genuinely love. And it’s not smart business to work with an author we can’t work with, either. We love you and your book, and even if we have other books and authors on our lists, working hard for your book is what we signed up for.

Editorial Letters:

Author: Getting your editorial letter can be exciting and terrifying. But it can be tough to hear what needs to be improved in our books—chances are we’ve been through multiple heavy rounds of revisions already. We may even be working a newer project that has grabbed us. Switching back and forth between projects can be tough, and along with handling the editorial letter itself and knowing how to apply the changes our editor is asking for, comes the insecurity of wondering how much our editor could really love the book if it has all these flaws. Positive comments and support are really helpful to us, both in the edit letter and in general, even just to help us know that yes, this part works. (If my editor sends me an encouraging note or tells me something she loves about my book, it makes my day.) Editorial letters can even be confusing, or contain notes that we might agree with, but can’t see how to apply. When revising How We Fall, I had notes I knew how to apply, but it meant I had to make other changes I didn’t know if my editor would like. Beyond being stressful, those edits can raise a lot of questions and tough issues.

Editor:A good editor breaks down both what works and what needs to be sharper in a manuscript. I want my clients to know the positives in the story so they can see why I love it, to help them see the book in a balanced manner, and to help offset how tough it can be to hear what needs to change. But it’s also the editor’s job to point out what needs cleaning up and sharpening. A heavy edit doesn’t mean we don’t like the book or that we think you did a lousy job revising. We’re working hard on your book because we love it. We’re helping you figure out how to get your vision on the page. It’s tough to see your own work objectively—we know that. It can be hard to see your own way out of plot or character issues. And we know you’ve been over this book many times, and it gets harder and harder to tell what’s working and what isn’t. Our focus is on balancing all that out and helping you make this book the best it can be. Because we love it. We’d be doing our jobs poorly and harming both the book and your career if we weren’t honest, so believe the compliments we give you, because we mean them! And if you need clarification or want to discuss ideas, let your editor know. We actually prefer it! We don’t want you floundering and confused. Definitely reply to the edit letter, after you’ve had the chance to think about it. We want to know what you’re thinking about the notes, and if you have questions or if the notes bring up other issues. We’re doing this with you.


Author: Sometimes I need a good, tight deadline to really make me tackle revisions. If I can dabble at it, it probably won’t get done. My revision rounds for How We Fall were incredibly tight, and I basically lived in my book until they were done. And my critique partners and writer friends went through the same thing when their edits came. Sometimes it went just fine and we tackled those revisions and got them sent off on time. But sometimes the deadlines went over a child or spouse’s birthday, or we got sick, or had crises at day jobs. Even more often, we floundered with how to apply the editorial notes, or discovered more that needed to be revised once we dug in. A caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived stupor doesn’t make for smart, thorough revisions. But can you tell an editor that? Can you ask for an extension, or does that make you a “difficult author”? Should we tough it out, or talk to our editor?

Editor: Deadlines are a necessary part of the publication process, and it can cause problems with production and vendors if we have to move them around too much. However, we know you’re human, and life happens. I don’t know of anyone who would label an author “difficult” if a problem crops up during edits. The earlier you let us know, the better. It’s much easier to adjust earlier on than a few days before your deadline. Honest, upfront communication with your editor is always best. Of course, your editor may say, “sorry, there’s a big immovable reason we need it by X date,” but we’ll usually try to work with you! Rushed edits from a stressed author usually aren’t the author’s best work, and we want those revisions to be solid. The key is to communicate with us. We’ll try to reply in kind, and work out the issue together. It’s what we’re here for! Communication, really, is one of the biggest things I’ve learned from seeing both sides of the desk. Honest, open communication. Be respectful of your editor’s time, of course, and realize they have other clients they need to be fair to, too, but communicate. Ask the questions you have. Editors sometimes don’t realize what it is you might not know. Get clarification on edits—they’re trusting that if you’re confused, you’ll come back to them. They want you to! Great books take collaboration, and both the author and the editor are in this together, to make that book the best it can be and to help it reach its audience.

About The Author

Kate Brauning grew up in rural Missouri and fell in love with young adult books in college. She’s now an editor at Entangled Publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she'd want to read. Visit her at her website, on her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook

About The Book

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle's sleepy farming town, she's been flirting way too much--and with her own cousin, Marcus. Her friendship with him has turned into something she can't control, and he's the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for...no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn't right about this stranger, and Jackie's suspicions about the new girl's secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus--and deepens Jackie's despair. Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else's lies as the mystery around Ellie's disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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21. Craft of Writing: World Building Tips by Erin Cashman

Today we have our very own First Five Pages Workshop Coordinator, Erin Cashman! Erin's novel, THE EXCEPTIONALS, is a YA fantasy that was named a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book.


Recently, someone commented to me that writing fantasy must be easy, since I can just make up what I need to fit my plot. I wish! As Lloyd Alexander said, “Once committed to his imaginary kingdom, the writer is not a monarch but a subject”. I think world building is both the hardest and the most wonderful part of writing a fantasy novel. Here are some of the techniques that help me:

1. Give your imagination free reign!
Do not edit your thoughts or ideas. During brainstorming sessions let your imagination soar. Take chances and risks while you write – try outlandish ideas. Editing comes later. Fantasy, is by its nature, a leap of faith, suspended belief, so – dream big. Write big.

2. Description and Parameters of the World
What is the nature of the magic? Who has it and who doesn’t? What are the rules? What are the consequences of breaking the rules? What does it cost? What does the world look like? Beware the dreaded info-dump, however. No one walks down the street and thinks about the color of the buildings, the thickness of the sidewalk – nor should your character think about the blue floating bridge that connects two purple fluffy clouds. The details of the world need to be woven in artfully and naturally – in revision after revision after revision.

3. Important Objects/Mechanics
For example, in Lord of the Rings, there is the one ring and the lesser rings, the Wizard’s staffs, etc. Harry Potter has many as well: the sorcerer’s stone, the sorting hat, the Sword of Gryffindor, etc. If you have these objects, try to have them serve another purpose besides a plot device. Rae Carson does an excellent job of this in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The Godstone is crucial to the plot, it connects history to the present and informs the reader about the people. These objects should not be a crutch, but should add richness to the novel.
source: harrypotter.wikia.com 

4. Power/Abuse of Power
Who has power? Who wants power? In a fantasy world a central conflict often arises from the control, or the use and abuse of the magic. Why should magic be protected? Why would someone want to exploit it? Try to weave in good, evil and murky gray reasons and purposes for using/controlling/monopolizing the magic, and strong motivation.

5. Government
Who is in charge of the fantasy world? What is their goal? Can those in power be believed and trusted?

6. History of The World
The history of my world often takes shape as my draft takes shape (I wish I was a plotter, but alas, I am a pantser). It comes to life through revision . . . after revision . . . after revision . . . you get the idea. I always draw (draw is a very grandiose word for what I do – it is more like scribble) a map. For The Exceptionals, a contemporary fantasy, I drew the school grounds, the tunnels, the tournament field, and the caves. My editor even asked me to send her a copy! If I’ve created a world, I make a map of the geography, and take notes on how it would have influenced the people and the government.
Source: lotr.wikia.com 

7. Travel
How do people get around in your world? Are there space ships like in Star Wars? Do they teleport? Is there a portal – like the wardrobe in Narnia? Do they use magical creatures? Back to #1 – let your imagination go wild!
Source: narnia.wikia.com

8. Recreation/Culture/Rituals
Think of the magic/powers/creatures that you have in your world. What would be a game or a competition that would arise from it? What about rituals? Expressions? Always be on the lookout for ways to include more world building, such as in currency, recreation, clothes, food . . . this adds layers to your world, and makes it more real to the reader.

9. Edit
Revise, revise, revise. Make sure the rules that you have created are followed, or have a consequence if not followed. With each new draft, look for ways to take what you have created and use it for more than one purpose. For example, if you have a magical creature, perhaps it can be used in a competition, or as a plot twist or for barter.

10. Find a Critique Partner and/or Writing Group
I really can’t emphasize this enough. Your CP should be someone that you trust who is not afraid of hurting your feelings. Consider what he or she says – the places in your manuscript that are muddled or confusing, the world building that worked, and more importantly, the world building that needs work. And then – you guessed it – revise, revise, revise!

About The Author

Erin's debut YA fantasy novel, THE EXCEPTIONALS, was named a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book. She primarily writes YA and middle grade fantasy while eating chocolate and drinking tea. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children. You can find her here, as our First Five Pages Workshop Coordinator. She loves hearing from readers and writers, and you can contact her at erin (at) erincashman.com, or through her Website or on Twitter.

About The Book

Born into a famous family of exceptionally talented people, 15-year-old Claire Walker has deliberately chosen to live an average life. But everything changes the night of the Spring Fling, when her parents decide it's high time she transferred to Cambial Academy--the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities. Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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22. Guest Post from Paper Lantern Lit Co-Founder Lexa Hillyer: Character WANTS and NEEDS


From Debbie: Thanks to Paper Lantern Lit for letting Inkygirl premiere their new series of GET LIT videos. In this video, former Harpercollins and Razorbill editor Lexa Hillyer talks about how to establish the right WANTS and NEEDS for your characters:

Hello from Paper Lantern Lit, the "story architects!" We're so excited to premiere our new video series, Get Lit, on InkyGirl. Each Get Lit video will explore the blueprints to each of PLL's secrets of the storytelling trade.


In this video, watch PLL Co-Founder (and author of PROOF OF FOREVER, out June 2015!) Lexa Hillyer talk about the Wants and Needs of characters, and how they form the essential basis on which to build your story. We hope these videos will be helpful to aspiring writers– especially all of you prepping for NaNoWriMo tomorrow!

If you missed the introduction to Get Lit featuring PLL Co-Founder and New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver (The Delirium Trilogy, Panic, The Spindlers) click here.

You can subscribe to the Get Lit videos here, and never miss an update.

If you want more content like Get Lit, check out PLL's Blog! We post lots of info for writers in our Toolbox series, which breaks down different parts of the storytelling craft.

On Monday November 3rd, check out Fic Fare for the next Get Lit video, and become the architect of your BEST story!

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23. Craft of Writing: Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Today we welcome back to the blog Kimberley Griffiths Little, MG and YA award-winning author. Kimberley has a lot to celebrate this week. Her amazing historical YA novel, FORBIDDEN, released Tuesday from HarperCollins, earned a coveted starred review in Booklist, and has already received a wonderful mention in USA Today as one of 3 "Must-Read YA Romances"!  We're so happy for her and can't wait to share her detailed and important craft tips with you.

Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little

You’ve been working on your story for awhile now, maybe months, maybe years . . . it’s drafted, rewritten several times, you’ve had feedback from trusted readers, the characters are deeply developed and motivated and three-dimensional, your plot is a rockin’ page-turner. You’re ready to start sending it out to agents! Yay!

WAIT! Hold the presses! That manuscript is actually not quite ready. Be sure you’ve done that final spit, polish and ***sparkle***. Here are a few tips to infuse it with professional polish. I’ve created a list for you to check off as you go through your manuscript once or twice more before hitting SEND.

And don’t worry if you begin thinking, “Ack! I do all these things!” We’re all guilty of every one at one point or another – and in every new manuscript we write! Thankfully, they’re all fixable!

(from gograph.com)
HOOKS, CLIFFHANGERS: Look DEEPLY at your First Page(s); they’re the most difficult because there’s so much to set up in an interesting and intriguing way (characters, setting, hook, foreshadowing the problem). Those pages are the first impression to your reader, and sometimes, (unfortunately), the last impression.

CHAPTER ENDINGS: This is another area to make sure the chapter ends in the *right* spot with a cliffhanger or teaser that keeps the reader turning the pages. They can’t stop at “just one more chapter!”

CHECK THE FIRST LINES of every chapter and make sure they’re active and pull you right in, maintaining the action and emotion from the previous chapter. (It’s easy to have clunky transitions, especially when we work on a book over several months time).

VOICE: 1st Person, 3rd Person close, 2nd Person, Omniscient, Tenses. Double check that you’ve stayed in the same tense throughout. Play around with different POV and tenses to be sure it’s the strongest one for your story.

PET WORDS, REPEATED WORDS: Look for those words that you use too often. Everybody has a few and we don’t usually recognize them in ourselves. Ask your critique partner or beta readers to help you pick them out.

CUT WEAK WORDS and PHRASES: “a lot,” “really,” “something,” “always,” “sort of,” “look,” “kind of,” “that,” “slowly,” “very,” “realize,” “suddenly,” “it occurred,” “smile,” “nod,” “feel,” etc.

TOO MANY DIALOGUE TAGS: Especially after a comma. Use an action of the character to show their personality and what they’re doing in the scene and leave out the he said/she said with those added qualifiers such as: “I don’t know where it is,” she said, rummaging in the drawer,” OR “He spoke to the professor, twiddling his No. 2 pencil between his fingers.” Too similar phrasing becomes wearying if it’s constant.

EXAMINE AND CUT: “ly” words or qualifiers. “She said sharply.” Let the words or dialogue speak for themselves. Try not to “help” them by adding qualifiers.

SPECIFICITY: Watch for too many phrases or vagueness. Use specific verbs and details to bring the characters and setting alive.

EXTRA THOUGHTS: Delete extra internal character thoughts that don’t move the story forward, or that repeat what’s already been stated.

EMOTION: Watch for emotion that becomes heavy-handed or melodramatic.

REARRANGING SENTENCES: Look for how rearranging sentences or paragraphs might give your manuscript better flow, better clarification, and better pacing and punch.

SENTENCE LENGTH: Make sure your sentences are not all the same length. This tends to create a monotonous rhythm. Change it up. Vary short and long.

DIALOGUE: Watch out for dialogue that’s too “on the nose” (a common screenplay writing term). Go here to read more about this: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/on-the-nose-dialogue/

NAMES that fit your characters and setting: Remember “your” characters and “your” setting and choose appropriately.

SHOW/TELL: When using adjective, metaphors, similes, think about the setting, time period, and characters of your story. For instance, don’t use winter/snowy metaphors for a book set on a tropical island. Watch out for that weak verb, “to be.” Rewrite sentences to eliminate the verb “was.”

A few more tips!

1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.

2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.

3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.

4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!


Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little Hardcover HarperCollins Released 11/4/2014

In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart.

Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.

Set against the brilliant backdrop of the sprawling desert, the story of Jayden and Kadesh will leave readers absolutely breathless as they defy the odds and risk it all to be together.

Purchase Forbidden at Amazon Purchase Forbidden at IndieBound View Forbidden on Goodreads

Plus, watch the trailer for FORBIDDEN below! Stunning live movie of a Middle Eastern actress in the desert with voice-over—camels—and pictures Kimberley took in the deserts of Jordan from her trip.


About The Author

Kimberley Griffiths Little was born in San Francisco, but now lives in New Mexico with her husband and three sons in a solar adobe home on the banks of the Rio Grande. Kimberley adores anything old and musty with a secret story to tell and makes way too many cookies while writing. She's stayed in the haunted tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland; held baby gators in the bayous/swamps of Louisiana, sailed the Seine in Paris; ridden a camel in Petra, Jordan; shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria. Kimberley's Awards include: Southwest Book Award, Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

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24. Craft of Writing: Selling on Proposal, aka The Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil

We are thrilled to welcome Gretchen McNeil to the blog today.  Gretchen is a woman of many talents being an opera singer and clown (what a lovely combination!) as well as an award-winning writer.  She's had novels optioned by Hollywood and has sold rights internationally.  And she's here to share with us today why the dreaded synopsis can actually be the professional writer's best friend!

Selling on Proposal, aka The Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil

Of my seven contracted books, all but one – my debut Possess – have sold on proposal. Some were sold from a synopsis plus fifty or so pages, some were just from a synopsis. But notice the common thread...

Selling a novel on proposal was, for me, the ultimate writing goal. “You mean I don’t have to write the entire book first? You mean I can finish the book knowing it already has a home (and a paycheck) lined up? Sign me up!”

It’s a double-edged sword, of course. While you’ve managed to charm an editor and publisher with your synopsis and/or pages, you still have to deliver a final manuscript on or before a due date, and the pressure of scheduling your creativity can be crippling.

photo credit: evegaddy.net
But I’m not here to talk about that part. I’m here to address that dreaded “S” word – the synopsis.

Like it or not, this is something that almost every author – published or unpublished – is going to have to deal with until the end of time. Synopsizing a completed novel is hard enough, but crafting one for a book you haven’t written yet? How is that possible?

(I can actually hear you pantsers in the audience screaming out in abject terror. Don’t worry, hopefully this will be painless.)

I think the key for me in writing a proposal synopsis is remembering its purpose: it’s meant to be marketing material, a sales pitch to hook your audience. It’s not necessarily a roadmap for your finished manuscript, which I think is where a lot of people get hung up. Think of it like an elongated query letter as opposed to an intricate blow-by-blow of the book. There are certain important points you want to hit, while the details can be left for later.

What are those important points? For me, I aim to answer the following questions:

  1. Who is my main character?
  2. What does he/she want?
  3. What’s in his/her way?
  4. What does he/she do to get around that obstacle?
  5. What’s at stake if he/she fails?

The answer to Question #1 usually resides in the part of the book most people refer to as “the backstory” – elements that come out during the action, but aren’t necessarily enumerated at the beginning of the book. In a manuscript, that’s awesome. In a synopsis – which doesn’t have a lot of action – that’s problematic. But since this synopsis is a pitch, feel free to front load a paragraph or two of backstory to establish your character. It’s important to hook your target audience with this right off the bat.

Next you move into the First Act of your book (if you’re a proponent of Save the Cat! beat sheets, you know of what I speak): basically establishing your supporting cast and your setting, and explaining the conflict, i.e. Questions #2 and #5. What does your character want? What’s at stake if she fails? Establishing this last question up front is important because it sets the stakes immediately which, hopefully, gives an editor the desire to keep reading.

So far, so good. And notice we haven’t had to really dive into much of the action of this book yet?

Unfortunately, that’s about to change. Questions #3 and #4 are basically the impetuses (impeti?) for action in your novel, the answers that force your main character to make a decision and go on his/her journey. The bad news is that this does require some sense of what actually happens in the novel, which is a scary concept since you haven’t actually written it yet. The good news is that all you really need to aim for are tentpoles: Event A! Disaster B! Turnaround C! Yes, this does require gazing into the crystal ball and trying to see the finished product, but it also allows for some leeway when you actually write the book. The specifics of the tentpoles can change, as long as, structurally, they still exist.

photo credit: Susan Morris Shelfari
Last but not least, the climax. I think this is the scariest part of writing a proposal synopsis because so much of the ending of a book relies on what happens in the middle…which hasn’t been written yet. So how do you tackle the dénouement?

I tend to dance around it a little bit, reestablishing the stakes and the difficult decision the hero is going to need to make in order to get what he/she wants, and then telling the reader exactly what the result of the climax will be. Not exactly what the climax will be, but the result of it. For example, “Refusing to play by the rules, Katniss is able to beat the Capitol at their own game.”


Notice I didn’t tell you how. Or that Peeta was involved. Just showed the outcome while teasing what may or may not happen in the climax. That’s how I get around, er, not really knowing what’s going to happen when I’m writing a proposal synopsis.

So there it is. It’s not particularly detailed but it’s a blueprint for the book I’m going to write, hopefully with enough voice and tone and plot and promise that an editor will love it. Just remember, “synopsis” isn’t a four-letter word. In the end, it can be your best friend.

About the Author:

Author of YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the new mystery/suspense series Don't Get Mad, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys, and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About the Book:

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars in Gretchen McNeil’s witty and suspenseful novel about four disparate girls who join forces to take revenge on high school bullies and create dangerous enemies for themselves in the process.

Bree, Olivia, Kitty, and Margot have nothing in common—at least that’s what they’d like the students and administrators of their elite private school to think. The girls have different goals, different friends, and different lives, but they share one very big secret: They’re all members of Don’t Get Mad, a secret society that anonymously takes revenge on the school’s bullies, mean girls, and tyrannical teachers.

When their latest target ends up dead with a blood-soaked “DGM” card in his hands, the girls realize that they’re not as anonymous as they thought—and that someone now wants revenge on them. Soon the clues are piling up, the police are closing in . . . and everyone has something to lose.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

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25. Three Easy Tips to Jumpstart Your Creative Writing PLUS a Giveaway of THE YOUNG ELITES

Do you edit censor yourself as you write? Before you even start to write?

We all second guess ourselves, at least to some extent. I do. Something happens, someone says something negative, or I read something brilliant by someone else, and the doubt demons start nibbling away at my self-confidence, whispering that what I'm doing isn't good enough.

There is so much noise in this business, so much whispering, so much doubt.

We can't let it take hold or we'll paralyze ourselves. Deadlines don't give into paralysis or doubt. : )

When I'm feeling like writing has become a chore and I need to regain the joy of writing, I find that there are a number of things I can do that practically guarantee to get me back on track.

If you're doing NaNoWriMo and feeling like you're overwhelmed, don't give up. Here are a few tricks I use to convince myself that I can keep going.

  1. Connect to what you love. If you're anything like me, the characters are what you love most about your manuscript, but if you're more invested in the plot or the concept, that's okay. Make a list of what you love and why you love it. Concentrate on rekindling that initial enthusiasm. Got it? Good. Now look at the scene or chapter you're currently writing and find a way to incorporate what you love into that chapter. Make your character do something that shows who she is, or demonstrate the "cool" aspects of your plot or concept.  
  2. Write a letter. Get in the head of your character more deeply by writing a letter from her to someone else in her life. What is bugging her most? What does she need someone to know? What would she tell someone who wronged her if she had the chance? What would she say to her best-friend, right here, right now.
  3. Write a paragraph. Focusing on writing a thousand words or two thousand or more can be debilitating. The task can feel too huge when you're not feeling inspired. Instead of telling yourself you have to write ALL THE WORDS, tell yourself to write the first sentence in a paragraph, and then another sentence. All you have to write is one paragraph. Then another. You can quit any time, but once you've met your goal for the day, the words may come more easily. 
Remember one more thing: your words may not be perfect, but they don't have to be when you first put them on the page. Focusing on word count can be debilitating, but words don't matter.

Hear me? Words don't matter.

Words change. Sentences change. Paragraphs and scenes and chapters may be deleted. 

Focus on what the characters want and why your main character isn't getting what she wants, why it's almost impossible for her to get what she wants, and your story will write itself. Once it's down on the page and you are happy with the story, THEN you can focus on the words. In the meantime, focus on the joy of story! : ) 

Happy writing,


Giveaway This Week

The Young Elites
by Marie Lu
Putnam Juvenile
Released 10/7/2014

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

Purchase The Young Elites at Amazon
Purchase The Young Elites at IndieBound
View The Young Elites on Goodreads

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