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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Craft of Writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 261
1. Three Steps for Nailing Your Author and Character Voice

I’m starting a new WIP, which is really exciting for me. I finally have the story nailed down, and now I’m writing actual pages. That’s both exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve been writing Barrie’s voice for so long that I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to slip into a new character’s head and speak in her words.

I’ve had a number of people ask me about “finding their voice,” so maybe it’s time to visit that question again.

The first thing that I have to say is that there is a difference between author voice and character voice. The author voice is something that expresses itself unconsciously across multiple works. It’s what enables someone to recognize an author’s work regardless of what they’re writing about. That’s not a bad thing. It’s similar to the way that we can identify the voice of a friend on the telephone. Author voice is unique and largely unconscious. It comes from your life, education, and point of view, and it includes:

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2. Ask a Pub Pro: Author and Editor Erin Rhew on Branding, Cover Art, and Voice

We are thrilled to welcome editor and author Erin Rhew to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Having worked with Erin, I'm amazed at how she tirelessly juggles so many hats. Not only is she an editor and the social media whirlwind for BookFish Books, but she's also the author of The Fulfillment Series, with the last book, The Fulfillment, releasing in just a few days!

Erin's here to answer your reader questions on how to brand yourself across genres, whether to send your own cover art in with submissions, and facing the fear of writing to a group younger than your age. Be sure to check out her newest release below!

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.

Ask a Pub Pro with Erin Rhew

1) I've heard the advice that if you want to build a fan base, you need to brand yourself. But my ideas don't all lend themselves to one category or genre, though they all have some similar themes. I'm wondering if you can brand yourself writing across categories and genres but by always exploring a similar type of story question or theme. Or even a similar type of story?

That’s a great question! When branding yourself, it’s important to remember you’re branding YOU, not a specific book or genre. If you have a cause that’s important to you or a theme/message you’re trying to disseminate, you could certainly include information about that in your branding. For example, let’s say you want to bring attention to animal cruelty. As you blog, perhaps blog about that particular topic once a month or so. Highlight and promote charities you feel exemplify the work you’d like done for animals.
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3. Having Fun with Editing by Skylar Dorset

If you're like most writers I know, you just LOVE revisions and edits. ;-)  So you'd probably appreciate some good ideas as to how to make the process less painful. Skylar Dorset, author of The Girl Who Never Was, is here with us today to share how she turns the process into an enjoyable game!

Having Fun with Editing: A Craft of Writing Post by Skylar Dorset

Here’s the thing everyone will tell you about a first draft: Don’t worry about it! Don’t try to fix it! Just get through it! Write without judgment! You’ll deal with it all later!

I embrace all of this. I *love* first drafts. First drafts are the best. First drafts are when you sit down and you get to just *write.* All of your writing in a first draft is pure creation. I am addicted to the no-judgment idea. Once you get yourself to accept it—and learning not to be too hard on ourselves is hard; for just general life advice, I recommend learning how not to be too hard on yourself. Give yourself a break! You’re a nice person!—it’s marvelously freeing. First drafts flow easily from my fingers. Is that a continuity error? Worry about it later! Is the tone a little off? Worry about it later! Did you foreshadow this too little or too much? LATER!

I breeze my ways through my first drafts, and then when I’m done, I look back on a desolate landscape littered with trash I’ve left behind in my wake. “Oh,” I say, looking at the heaps of run-on sentences, the confetti of commas, the neglected secondary characters roaming through the wasteland giving me the evil eye. “Did I do that?” It’s like waking up the morning after you host a party. That party seemed like a good idea at some point in your past but on the morning after you’re cursing Past You for all you’re worth.

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4. Essentials of a Pitch by Ava Jae

I am personally very pleased to welcome Ava Jae back to the blog today. When I first started on Twitter years ago, Ava was one of my earliest friends. She did an awesome guest post on Harry Potter for a mutual friend's blog, and through that I discovered Ava's own blog, Writability. Like many others, I was instantly drawn into her warmth and keen insight into writing and publishing.

Since then, Ava has been a writing dynamo. Her blog has become a popular hub online for writers and readers, she signed with a fabulous agent, her debut book releases next year (see below!), and she's now an assistant editor at Entangled Publishing.  Ava's putting all that wonderful experience into the post she shares with us today on how to craft a good pitch. Welcome Ava!

Essentials of a Pitch, A Craft of Writing Post by Ava Jae

When you’re a writer, pitching your book is a scary, but inevitable part of the process. But trying to condense your book from tens of thousands of words (or more!) to a couple paragraphs, or even a sentence can be pretty daunting at first.

Once you get the hang of it, though, I think it slowly becomes less painful. Sometimes.

Through online critiques, critiques I’ve given away or traded, my own writing, and my assistant editing work with Entangled, I’ve seen many a pitch, and I’ve found that oftentimes, writers are missing the essential elements that should be in one. What essential elements, you ask? Well…
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5. Ask a Pub Pro: Author Bethany Hagen on Series, Deep POV, & Book Trailers

We are thrilled to welcome author Bethany Hagen to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Bethany is the author of the Landry Park "Downton Abbey dystopian" series with her newest book, Jublilee Manor, just released. She's here to answer your reader questions on how to work necessary backstory into a series, deciding whether to use deep POV in a large-scale book, mistakes in queries, whether book trailers are worth it, and do we really need to know what your characters are wearing? Be sure to check out Jublilee Manor below!

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.

Ask a Pub Pro: Author Bethany Hagen on Series, Deep POV, Book Trailers, and What Your Character is Wearing

1) In writing a series, what's the best method for working in the necessary information from a prior book into the next one?

Did you ever watch Lost? Lost was one of those shows (and Game of Thrones is currently another) that have those "Previously on" bits at the beginning. And of course, you always know what the show is going to be about based off the clips they show...like, "Oh, they showed Hurley winning the lottery, so it must be another Hurley episode." What I like about the "Previously on" bits is that they only reveal relevant information--and information that maybe wouldn't be apparent throughout the course of the show. For example, they didn't need to show us clips of Jack and Kate kissing for us to know that they have A Thing. While watching the episode, it would be pretty obvious that there's some serious romantic tension. Instead, they only remind us of the previous plot beats that would be essential to our understanding the plot developments of the current episode without being totally confused.

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6. How to Write a Novel (and Actually Finish It!) in 8 Simple Steps -- Plus a DAMAGE DONE by Amanda Panitch Giveaway

Writing a novel isn't magic. I'd like to say that anyone can write a book--and truly, almost anyone can. The trick is sticking with it, making it good, and getting it published.

Ah, there's the rub. Frequently when someone asks me "How do you write a book?" what they're really asking is "How do I get a book published?"

There are a thousand ways to answer that, but the most honest on is once a book is that no one can guarantee publication. Once a book is at a certain level of competency, no matter how good it is, or how many books you've written or previously published, sometimes what separates a book that gets a book deal from one that doesn't comes down to luck.

You can't control luck, but there are a number of things that will make it easier if you want to write a book that has a chance of traditional publication, or of successful indie publication.

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7. How to Write an Author Bio They’ll Remember

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how difficult it can be to write about yourself in a bio—after all, you’re a writer! But I understand it’s not as simple as that, so here are a few tips to make it easier.

Write your bio in first person for query letters, third person for most other purposes including proposals, book jackets, article bylines.

Make it professional but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don’t try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person.

What gives you credibility? What makes you interesting? What helps people connect with you? (When you’re on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, what kinds of posts seem to get the most comments?) These are things you can briefly include.

If your book centers on something specific—the Civil War, for example—are you a member of a Civil War society? Have you published any articles in historical journals? Include that.

Try not to include too much “resumé” type information–education, job history, etc. because it tends to be boring. Only include what’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.

As you write a bio, consider carefully the purpose of the bio – who is the audience? Is it agents and editors? Is it your blog readers? Tailor it to this audience.

How to write a bio if you have no publishing credits:

  • If you’re a member of a writers’ organization such as SCBWI, ACFW or ASJA, you can mention it.About Me
  • You can mention if you’re a member of critique group or if you have a degree in literature or writing.
  • Don’t say something like “I’ve been writing stories since I was two years old.”
  • Keep it short and sweet, i.e. “Jane Smith is a fifth grade teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and is a member of RWA.”

A bio for a query letter:

  • For FICTION, if you’re unpublished, it should be one to two sentences—about 50 words or fewer.
  • For NON-FICTION, it should be longer, enough sentences to establish your credits, credentials, and/or platform in the subject matter of your book.

Some tips for the process of writing a bio:

  • Read author bios in a dozen different books. Note what you like and don’t like.
  • Make a list of things you MIGHT want to say about yourself. Try to list 20 to 30 things—don’t self-edit, because you don’t want to leave anything out. Later you can choose the best elements to include.
  • Write two or three bios of different lengths and keep them on file so that you have them ready when you need them.
  • Trade author bios with a writer friend and help each other make them interesting.

What has worked for you? Comment to this post and share!

The post How to Write an Author Bio They’ll Remember appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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8. The Writing Life by J.J. Howard + #Giveaway

We are pleased to welcome author J.J. Howard to the blog today. J.J. has enjoyed one of the highest pleasures of an author...to see her book made into a movie. Her YA novel, Tracers, pictured below, was released as a film in March starring Taylor Lautner from Twilight.

J.J. is here today to share with us some of her insight and advice on the writing life learned from her years of experience. She's also giving away two books, so be sure to check the Rafflecopter at the end of the post!

The Writing Life by J.J. Howard

1) Get a dog

The writing life is lonely. It’s nice to have company during the long process of writing and the long, long, long process of revision

Cats are classic, but I say go dog. First, dogs are more the encouraging type. When it’s hour nine of a work slog and you look like a person who lives in a box and forgot how to shower, dogs will still look at you like you’re a rock star. At a moment like this, I’m thinking the aloof and, let’s face it, slightly judgmental cat is not your best bet. Also, dogs need to be walked, and this forces you to take a break once in a while to go be with the outside people.

2) Embrace bribery

I don’t mean slip an envelope under your publisher’s door—no, I’m referring to bribing yourself. Unless I’m absolutely on fire with a new idea—which is too infrequent to be counted upon—I must rely on bribery. I suppose there may be writers out there who wake up every morning filled with the bright, pure light of inspiration, who float on a cloud of ideas from one chapter to the next. If you’re one of those, good on you, but for the rest of us, there’s the bribery-based word sprint.

My sprint system works like this: I select a target word count, give myself a defined period of time (usually one hour), then give myself a “reward” when I hit the target. I personally try to ignore the sports-connotation of the words sprint completely, probably because most of the time I’m sprinting toward some sort of food. But you could sprint towards a spot of yoga or a long run, or whatever, if that’s your bent.

Sometimes my reward is a snack and a short break. Sometimes it’s lunch. The logic here is muddy, since I allow myself to have lunch even on days when I don’t write a word, but it’s really more the taking-a-break aspect that’s the lure. Once in a while, if I’m really stuck, I’ll give myself a bigger carrot, like a half hour to shop online and even a budget of how much I can spend in that time.

After a few weeks of treating myself like an errant teenager, complete with curfews and spending limit, viola, first draft. Of course, the first draft is just the beginning, which brings me to…

3) Don’t marry your characters

By that I mean, don’t get too married/attached to the first version of any of your characters. Or settings. Or plot. I know they seemed brilliant when you had the idea at one in the morning, when after a long day of writing the light bulb appeared above your head and you figured out the perfect way to fix chapter 13. Your dog certainly seemed impressed.

However (the writing life is full of howevers—they say to avoid adverbs, but there’s no avoiding this one). However, what you wrote at first is going to change. First, your beta readers or writing group won’t get chapter 13. It confused them, maybe. Or maybe it was just boring. You’ll fee sad. It was your favorite part.

You may stubbornly cling to the original chapter 13, but the next round of folks to read it may very likely say the same thing. Or perhaps 13 will skate by, but the best friend character you adore will suddenly have his head on the chopping block. The point is, writing is rewriting, and it’s less painful—and more productive—to view your first draft as a work in progress. No one’s ever sold a raw first draft. Or, if they have, I sure don’t want to hear about it.

4) Guard your writing time

This is harder than it sounds. The outside people can be tempting, with their lunches in restaurants, movies, and other fun outings. Sometimes you have to actually turn down an invite, which is hard, but hard work and sacrifice are often part of the deal. This advice may be more for folks like me who work full time plus write. I teach high school, so I get plenty of chances to socialize, so that’s not an issue. But sometimes my weekend has to be about writing or revision, rather than weekending. I’d imagine weekending is very necessary for the full-time writer. When I get there I’ll let you know (notice the lack of conditional if there—power of positive thinking and all that.)

5) Keep your sense of humor

Not just for writing—this is life advice, really. But the book business can be kind of crazy. You’ll get conflicting advice from separate, reliable sources. Your favorite project will languish in a drawer while something you weren’t sure about at the start takes off. Someone will see you walking your dog with a Cheeto in your hair. Learn to laugh about the ups and downs, and remember, it’s all material for your next WIP.

About the Book:

Cam is a New York City bike messenger with no family and some dangerous debts. While on his route one day, he runs into a beautiful stranger named Nikki—but she quickly disappears. When he sees her again around town, he realizes that she lives within the intense world of parkour: an underground group of teens who have turned New York City into their own personal playground—running, jumping, seemingly flying through the city like an urban obstacle course.

Cam becomes fascinated with Nikki and falls in with the group, who offer him the chance to make some extra money. But Nikki is dating their brazen leader, and when the stakes become life-or-death, Cam is torn between following his heart and sacrificing everything to pay off his debts.

In the vein of great box-office blockbusters, the high-stakes romance here sizzles within this page-turning thriller that will leave readers feeling like they are flying through the streets of New York.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

By day I teach English, Humanities, and Media Studies at a prep school in Florida. By nighttime I’m really tired, but I still love to write books: my debut YA, That Time I Joined the Circus was published by Scholastic in 2013, followed by Tracers from Putnam in 2014. My debut MG, Sit, Stay, Love is coming this January from Scholastic. Way back in the way back, I went to Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and I got my Masters from Tiffin University in 2010. I am moderately obsessed with coffee, French fries, and pop culture, especially anything by Joss Whedon.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 -- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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9. A comic for those who think that picture books are easy to write

Anyone who thinks that picture books are easy to write because they're short needs to read this advice from my Simon & Schuster editor, Justin Chanda.

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10. Editor Ellie Sipila on Screenwriting to Tighten Prose, Antiheroes as Protagonists, and Romance in YA

We are so pleased to have Ellie Sipila join us today to answer writer questions as part of our Ask a Pub Pro series. Ellie is currently editing for Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada, but has also worked for other publishing houses as well. I've been fortunate enough to have Ellie edit my work and value her professional eye for detail and sympathetic, insightful feedback. But not only is Ellie an editor, in her alter-ego, she's also Kat Hawthorne, author of The Boatman, which recently released.

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put "Ask a Pub Pro Question" in the subject line.

Editor Ellie Sipila on Screenwriting to Tighten Prose, Antiheroes as Protagonists, and Romance in YA -- An Ask a Pub Pro Post

Reader Question 1) I've heard that writing a screenplay can help a writer improve their plotting for a novel as the pacing has to be so tight for a screenplay. Do you know anything about this and what advice would you offer?

Great question. Here is a little known fact about your friend Ellie (otherwise known as Kat Hawthorne): I wrote the screenplay for an online RPG called Fearless Fantasy. (SHAMELESS PLUG, here's the link). Let it be known that I had never in my life before this written for the screen. So when the creator of the game approached me with the concept and asked me if I could write a story around it, I thought…okay, no problem. I’m a writer, I can do anything. Frankly, I thought it would be a simple task. I mean, there is no need to even write tags, dialogue, action, or otherwise – that’s like, less work. All you have to do is tell a story through the character’s words. Easy, right?


Screenwriting is very different from prose writing, just as poetry writing is different from prose writing. The most challenging part of writing for the screen for me was learning to trust in the animator (or actors as the case may be). You see, I had my own ideas about how the characters should say a thing, the inflection and intonation, but those ideas did not always gel with the way the voice actors thought they should be said. I could not direct that but for a little in the screen manuscript, though of course I had full control over that in my prose writing. This was a strange and frightening revelation for me. That, in my opinion, is the greatest difference between writing prose and writing for the screen. You can write the bones, but the fleshing out is up to someone else.

Also, if anyone has read my work (HAVE YOU??) you will know that my style is very literary. I like to describe things, often in great detail. But…not only does this not work in screenwriting, it is flat out discouraged. Actors are paid handsomely to put the words into context., the director has an opinion too. The writer must let them earn their keep. The writer is not the most important one in the screenplay equation.

If you really want to tighten your prose, write poetry. Or better yet, write flash fiction – now there’s a challenge! Write a complete story with a fully formed arc in exactly 97 words. Then, take that mentality to your novel manuscript. As an editor, I am well known for my ability to reduce an 80k word manuscript to a 60k word one. I am dead serious. Dialogue tags are not often needed. You can often use an action to both give some life to your scene and to name the speaker. Seriously, try it. Rather than saying, “he said” at the end of a phrase over and over, show the character doing something. Two birds; one stone.

Here’s an example:

“Why, that’s ludicrous!” After reading Ellie-Kat’s comments on the Adventures in YA blog, the reader slammed the book closed, causing a great waft of dust to slip up his nose. He sneezed once and then again, the force of which reopened the book. “What do you mean I shouldn’t use ‘he said’ so much? That’s, like, a staple!”


2) I'm writing an historical novel and am considering using a timestamp at the beginning of many scenes as the novel spans quite a bit of time. Are there guidelines for how I should or should not use them? Is it acceptable to write the time in at the beginning of a scene like this?

Interesting question. I have seen this done before (for example, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus features the time stamp at the beginning of each chapter, as does Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries – both arguably quite successful books!) but to be honest…as a reader, I don’t always grasp the importance of the dates, particularly if there is a degree of jumping ahead and jumping back in time. The dead honest truth is that numbers are not my forte – they don’t tend to stick with me. I can’t even remember my own phone number. I imagine I’m not alone in this. (I’m not alone in this, RIGHT?)

This is just my opinion because there is technically nothing wrong with including time stamps as you’ve suggested. But…unless your manuscript is in journal format, I would personally prefer a character to mention the time jump somehow – have it worked into the narrative. Of course, your particular manuscript may be perfectly suited to time stamps, in which case you should definitely use them. So to sum up, it depends on the context, but use them knowing that they may not stick with every reader (AKA, don’t depend on them to get your message across. Guaranteed at least a few of your readers will miss the point).

Sorry this is not a particularly definitive answer.

3) How difficult do you think it would be to sell a YA that had no romance thread whatsoever?

You know...it's no secret that I am not a fan of romance. I find it very exciting that authors such as yourself are considering moving away from the worn out mandatory kissing scene in your YA manuscripts. High fives all around. That said, as with many other genres, YA readers expect at least one mushy scene in their books. Therein lies the problem.

The current trend is definitely toward romance in YA. However, there are some wonderful YA books that don’t have any included, such as James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. It’s possible, my friend, though perhaps yet a little cutting edge.

In honesty, for a great long while, romance in YA was almost a prerequisite. However, I am hopeful that we are now on the leeward side of that stiff wind. The times, they are a-changing (much to my infinite glee). I think, if your story is strong enough, you can scrap that concept of mandatory romance in YA altogether. And then when your book publishes, as a non-fan of romance, let me know because I want to read it. :D

4) I'm considering an antihero as my main character for my new WIP. Do you know of any YA novels with an antihero that you could recommend I read?

Um, well... Joe Abercrombie’s recent Shattered Sea trilogy (considered YA in the UK but unfortunately classed adult here in North America) features several characters back-stabbing one another (literally and figuratively, of course, as is common in Master Abercrombie’s work) including the main characters, who may or may not be “heroes” of a sort. Kinda depends on how you look at it. These are a little gory though and there is some questionable language used (though not much in these particular books), so if you’re not in the mood for that, keep looking. Consider yourself warned.

I’m not sure how you’d classify this, but if you were to look at any DC comic book, you’d find several fine examples of antihero as protagonist, and many of these were written for the YA-aged reader. Okay, maybe not any one of them, but many of them feature characters that are not at all against the idea of revenge or vendetta, and the readers are right there alongside them. You may be breaking some new ground with this concept, and indeed your challenges will be many, most specifically writing an effective antihero that your readers will like and that they will connect to. But I don’t think it’s impossible. Actually, I think it sounds rather interesting.

I say go for it. And again, when you’re done…

About the Book:

Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only does she see dead things, but her list of friends consists of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.

Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

About the Author:

Ellie Sipila attended Ryerson University for copy, stylistic, and substantive editing and then went on to earn a specialization in editing books intended for young people (picture books, middle grade, and young adult). She is a member of the Editors' Association of Canada and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Under her pen name, Kat Hawthorne, Ellie is a multi published author with two novels, eight pieces of short fiction, four poems, and one screenplay out in the great wide yonder.

Ellie has the great joy of being a house editor at BookFish Books LLC, though she is currently on a short term sabbatical to chase her dream of being an in-house editor at Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited. There, she whiles away her hours reading submissions, substantively editing contracted manuscripts, and trying not to drool on her keyboard so astounded is she that she has landed such an awesome job.

Oh, and she's also a wife, a mom, a cellist, and an all around geeky chick.

Website (author) | Website (editor) | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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11. The Secret to Creating a Connection Between Readers and Characters Plus a MAZE RUNNER Collector's Edition Giveaway

The lovely Angela Ackerman wrote a brilliant post last week about characters with secrets, and she was kind enough to mention Compulsion in it. The got me thinking about why both readers and writers love secrets, and it led me to an epiphany that's going to change how I approach character development.

I'm starting a new book outside of the trilogy. A brand new book with brand new characters. Isn't that bizarre? This week, I turned in the final book of the trilogy. I'm trying to spend my days not hyperventilating while I wait for my agent and editor to chime in. It's such a bittersweet moment. I'm done, but I'm also done. I'm going to miss this world and these characters. I know them so well. I know their secrets, their hopes, their fears, their vulnerabilities.

That's the key. Secrets make us vulnerable. The people who know our secrets are the ones who hold our sense of self-worth, our relationships, our very futures, in their hands. But the people who know our  vulnerabilities and handle them with care, the people who see the ugliness in us and like us anyway, those are the people who come to care about us. Those are our friends.

A reader can forgive a character almost anything as long as they understand why that character did what she did. They want to see the character be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is what creates connection. So how do you use that to create a riveting character?

Read more »

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12. Author Math by Y.S. Lee + Request for "How Harry Potter Influenced My Writing" Submissions

Before we welcome our guest poster today,  I'd like to request your participation in an exciting upcoming event the end of this month. Can you believe that it has been 18 years since Harry Potter was first released? So many authors whom I have had the pleasure to work with in these posts and on this blog have mentioned what an influence this magical series had on their writing. So, in celebration of Harry's birthday (and JK Rowling, who will turn 50!), we plan to host a special celebration for July 31!

If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in our upcoming celebration. Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.

Now, speaking of the UK...our author today has written a charming serious set in Victorian London featuring a young lady spying for The Agency, an all-female investigative unit. YS Lee put an enormous amount of research into bringing Mary and her London to life, and is here to share with us an inside look at some of the detail that goes into the recreation of an historical setting. Be sure to check out her most recent release at the end as this series sounds fresh and appealing (especially for someone recently bent on re-reading all of Jane Austen)!

Author Math, A Craft of Writing Post by Y.S. Lee

One of the things I find consistently surprising in historical fiction is how very long it takes to get from one place to another. My Agency series (aka the Mary Quinn Mysteries in Great Britain and Australia) is set in London between 1858 and 1860. They’re too urban to make use of the railways that criss-crossed the country and a shade too early for the first intra-city underground trains (the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863). Most of the travel in my novels takes place either on foot or by horse-power: carriages, cabs, and of course, simply riding on horseback. By 1858, there were also horse-drawn omnibuses that, like our present-day buses, plied regular routes through the city.

The climax of Rivals in the City features a fair amount of running around between locations in central London. One of the first things I did when plotting it was create a chart showing the different sites, the distances between them, and how long it would take to move from one point to another. In order not to spoil the plot, I’ve renamed the locations after four of my favourite North American cities. This, of course, is a fiction upon a fiction; the real locations are London landmarks. Otherwise, here’s what my chart looks like:

Timing the final action
Distance in miles
Walking (in mins)
Running (in mins)
Horseback (in mins)
Vancouver to Toronto
Toronto to New York
New York to Montreal
Montreal to Vancouver
New York to Vancouver

I assumed an average running speed of about 6 miles/10 km per hour - a pretty fast clip for a woman burdened with heavy clothes on slick, inconsistently paved, and poorly lit urban streets (it’s after dark). But I’m talking about the women of the Agency, an elite detective firm. Not only are they in excellent physical form, they are responding to an emergency.

I assumed a horse trot of 7-8 mph, since poor road quality and night-time visibility again make it impossible to canter. With horseback, I also needed to allow tie-up time and the need to rest or change horses. Riding turned out to be not much faster than running, but riding made it possible for a character to arrive at an important location looking respectable.

As it worked out, the time elapsed for a series of important messages to be relayed was:

  • 57 minutes: for a character to run from Vancouver to Toronto and back again
  • 41 minutes, plus delays while tying-up a horse: for a character to ride from Toronto to New York, and then from New York to Montreal
  • 30 to 35 minutes, plus time for marshalling and instructions: for a large group to walk quickly from Montreal to Vancouver

This left me with a space of 2 ¼ hours, the minimum period of time my heroine, Mary Quinn, would be alone in “Vancouver” after sounding the alarm. It turned out to be the perfect window of time to allow her to take action, imperil herself, yet receive help at just the right moment.

I love this kind of concrete plotting, and wonder if any of you do the same. How do you work out timelines, near-misses, and rescues?

About the Book:

In a tale steeped in action, romance, and the gaslit intrigue of Victorian London, Mary Quinn’s detective skills are pitted against a cunning and desperate opponent.

Mary Quinn has a lot on her mind. James Easton, her longtime love interest, wants to marry her; but despite her feelings, independent-minded Mary hesitates. Meanwhile, the Agency has asked Mary to take on a dangerous case: convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and Mary must watch for the return of his estranged wife, an accomplished criminal herself who has a potentially deadly grudge against James. Finally, a Chinese prizefighter has arrived in town, and Mary can’t shake a feeling that he is somehow familiar. With the stakes higher than ever, can Mary balance family secrets, conflicting loyalties, and professional expertise to bring a criminal to justice and find her own happiness?

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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13. Six Steps to Nail Your Plot, Motivation, Character, and Story Opening plus AN EMBER IN THE ASHES Giveaway

I was reading an interview with NYT Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen over on Novel Rocket, yesterday, and she mentioned that her favorite piece of writing advice is to focus on the character's predicament. I love, love, love that, because it actually addresses four different aspects of your WIP.

In one fell swoop, you can nail the core of your character, the movement of your story, the place you start it, and how you tell it.

Here's how.

  1. Start by putting yourself in your character's head. What's her problem? What no-win predicament does she find herself in? Journal this, just as a rough paragraph or two or three, writing as if she is screaming at someone for putting her in that situation. Let it all loose. Imagine the confrontation, all the emotion, the frustration, the desire to move forward and fix something.
  2. Examine that thing that she has to fix and establish the consequences if she fails. Brainstorm why she wants to fix it and jot it down your on one page in a notebook, note software program, or on a Scrivener entry. Why does she need to fix the problem? Why does she have no choice to act to change that situation? 
  3. What is your character willing or forced to give up to fix her predicament? Add a second page to your notes. Write down what is most important to your character. Explore what defines her view of herself, and how this predicament effects that. What wound from her past or weakness of character is going to make it harder for her to repair the problem? What unexpected strengths can she find along the way that will help her?
  4. Now build your plot like dominos. Once you have a pretty good grasp on the predicament itself, it's relatively easy to make a timeline of how the problem, the person who created that problem (or personifies it) and your character intersect. You can build your plot as if it's inevitable: this happened, your character reacted, because your character reacted, this other thing happened, and so on. One thing leads directly to another.
  5. Next, taking into consideration who your character is, find the place in the timeline, or right before what you've jotted down, where the problem first rears its head. This could be something that your character did that set the problem in motion, or something coming in from outside to shake things up, but there has to be a change. This is where you're going to begin your story, on the day that is different, with the first domino. Write down what that incident is.
  6. Finally, put everything together to set up the story. Your opening has to show the inciting incident, suggest the story problem, and jump start the action, but you also want to foreshadow your character's strength and the weakness that is going to hold her back. You want to give us a hint of the personal lesson she will have to learn in order to get out of the predicament she's facing.
That's it. When you look at it from the standpoint of the character's predicament, every aspect of the story comes together. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, and regardless of whether you're writing a fantasy or sci fi novel, a romance, a contemporary, or virtually anything else, these six simple steps will help you get enough information to structure it in a way that will let it feel like it's writing itself. 

Happy writing!

This Week's Giveaway

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Released 4/28/2015





LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at Amazon
Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at IndieBound
View An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads

More Giveaways

I have exciting news! Want to know the title for the final book in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy? Head on over to Elizziebooks.com. Liz has my first ever video about Compulsion and the title, plus a great new giveaway. There are two additional places to win a necklace and T-Shirt, and you might even find a Persuasion teaser along the way. : )

There's also a grand prize, and you'll be automatically entered to win it when you enter any of the three T-shirt giveaways. But if you'd like even more chances to win, keep an eye out here, and on my Facebook page. I'll be posting a separate Rafflecopter in a little while!

And finally, don't forget. There's a new Compulsion for Reading bag of books this month!

What About You?

Have you wrestled with this kind of an approach to writing your story? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and is this too much or too little planning for you?

As a reader, do you like stories where the plot feels inevitable? Can you think of an example of a book that read like the characters never had any choice but to do what they did?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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14. Blah Blah Blah: How Dead-End Dialogue Kills Pacing by Amy K. Nichols

We welcome author Amy K. Nichols to the blog today. Amy's here to help us shape up flabby dialogue to tighten our pace. Be sure to check out her upcoming release, While You Were Gone, at the end. Welcome Amy!

Blah Blah Blah: How Dead-End Dialogue Kills Pacing and How to Get Your Story Back Up to Speed by Amy K. Nichols

Of all the problems writers face when revising, one of the most elusive is pacing. Locking into the internal engine of a story can be tricky. We writers tend to overthink our scenes, distrust our instincts, and underestimate our readers. Then we compensate by adding more words, which only gums up the works. As a result, our stories sputter and lag, groaning under the weight of all the stuff we’ve crammed into them. Our critique partners return chapters with comments like, This section drags, This part lost my interest, What’s the point here?

Ugh. Fixing pacing problems can seem like an unwieldy process. Where do you even begin?

I suggest with dialogue.

In my experience there are three common dialogue problems that result in bogged-down pacing: white noise; perfect questions, perfect answers; and stating the obvious. The good news is, because dialogue stands out visually from the rest of the text, it’s easy to isolate and revise each section individually. Even better news is, each of these problems is pretty easy to fix. Here’s what to look for, and suggestions on getting your story back up on track.

White Noise

Sometimes your characters get to chatting and say a whole lot more than what needs to be said. The result is a slew of words that act like white noise or static, adding nothing to the story. When revising dialogue, look for repeated questions and dwindling comments. For example:

Character 1: Did you watch the finale of Game of Thrones?
Character 2: The one with Snow?
Character 1: Yeah.
Character 2: Yeah.
Character 1: That was crazy, huh?
Character 2: Totally crazy.
Character 1: Yeah.

Authentic character voice is good, but keep in mind that just because people actually talk like this, it doesn’t necessarily make for good reading. Here’s how you might revise such an interaction to keep the story moving:

Character 1: Did you see what happened to Snow on Game of Thrones?
Character 2: Yeah. That was crazy.
Character 1: Totally.

Done. It gets the information to the reader while keeping the authentic voices of the characters. All you’ve lost is the extraneous white noise that slows the pacing. Regardless of whether your dialogue is gripping or inane like this (hopefully it’s gripping), trimming away the excess takes away the drag.

Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers

The second thing to look for are instances where characters continually ask the exact questions necessary for getting information across to the reader or so the next plot point can take place. In other words, a sequence of perfect questions followed by the perfect answers. This is a really easy pattern to fall into, especially in early drafts when you’re trying to figure out the story. We think we’re being crafty, using dialogue to convey information and instigate action, but when your characters always say all the right things at all the right times, it actually stunts the story. It’s like when your windshield is too dry and your wipers make that awful bbbbrooooarromph noise. For example:

Character 1: Want to go to the movies tonight?
Character 2: That would be great. I’ll pick you up at six.
Character 1: Want to get dinner after?
Character 2: Sure. We can go to Bucky’s Burgers.
Character 1: Isn’t that where Brian works?
Character 2: Yeah. Maybe he’ll see me and ask me out.

Okay, hopefully your writing is a lot more compelling than this, but still, you can see the problem. Perfect questions followed by perfect answers. Sometimes info dumps lurk in these exchanges. There’s nothing in dialogue above that can’t just be shown through the action and progression of the plot. The characters go to the movie, get dinner after, see Brian, and he asks Character 2 out. The work is done visually rather than through stilted dialogue. If you absolutely must keep the exchange, pare it down.

Character 1: Movie tonight? Bucky’s after?
Character 2: Sure. I’ll pick you up at six.

You can use dialogue to set up the action to come without telegraphing what the plot will be. Keep it simple. Keep it moving.

Stating the Obvious

The final problem to look for when revising is sections where your characters say what they already know solely for the reader’s benefit. Writers do this when they question their ability to communicate the story, and/or when they underestimate the readers’ ability to comprehend it. Passages of dialogue that state the obvious cause readers to roll their eyes and think, We already know this! (Well, that’s how I react anyway.)

If you come across a character stating the obvious, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Has any of this been shown in previous scenes or chapters?
  2. Does this section of dialogue advance the story?
  3. If I cut this dialogue, will the reader be lost or confused?

If you answer these questions and still feel you need the exchange, revise the section to be as quick and snappy as possible.

Along the same lines, keep an eye out for info dumps. This is when a character (or in some cases, the narrator) stops the story to explain something, such as a character’s backstory or the technical specifications of a spaceship. Because info dumps act like a pause button on your plot, any momentum you’ve built up to that point will be interrupted. When it comes to info dumps, the rule of thumb is to wait as long as possible to include them. Only do an info dump when your reader is so curious and so wanting the information, they’re willing to put up with the interruption.

While fixing pacing can feel like a huge undertaking, starting with these three dialogue problems can be a quick way to jump-start your story and get it moving again.

About the Book:

Eevee is a promising young artist and the governor’s daughter in a city where censorship is everywhere and security is everything. When a fire devastates her exhibition—years in the making—her dreams of attending an elite art institute are dashed. She’s struggling to find inspiration when she meets Danny, a boy from a different world. Literally.

Raised in a foster home, Danny has led a life full of hurt and hardship until a glitch in the universe changes everything. Suddenly Danny is living in a home he’s never seen, with parents who miraculously survived the car crash that should have killed them. It’s like he’s a new Danny. But this alternate self has secrets—ties to an underground anarchist group that have already landed him in hot water. When he starts to develop feelings for Eevee, he’s even more disturbed to learn that he might have started the fire that ruined her work.

As Danny sifts through clues from his past and Eevee attempts to piece together her future, they uncover a secret that’s bigger than both of them. . . . And together, they must correct the breach between the worlds before it’s too late.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Amy K. Nichols is the author of YA science fiction novels Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone, published by Knopf. She holds a master’s in literature and studied medieval paleography before switching her focus to writing fiction. Insatiably curious, Amy dabbles in art, studies karate, tries to understand quantum physics, and has a long list of things to do before she dies. She lives with her family outside Phoenix, AZ. In the evenings, she enjoys counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats. Visit her online at www.amyknichols.com.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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15. Five Tips for Making Any Scene in Your Novel More Tense and Interesting

I'm about to spill one of my worst kept writing secrets, by which I mean that I'm going to talk about why I include a lot of the kinds of scenes that  legendary agent and author Donald Maass, whose many books about writing I usually agree with in their entirety, says to leave out of a novel. What kind of scenes are those? The ones that take place in kitchens, living rooms, and cars driving back and forth. Let's call them the everyday scenes.

Now it's true that these scenes are the ones that usually are left out of successful novels--especially young adult novels. Why? Because they tend to be low-tension scenes. Scenes where people are sitting around talking and not much is happening.

But low action doesn't have to mean low tension. Novels aren't necessarily about action; they're about conflict. And conflict can occur anywhere. That's what a lot of writers overlook, and it can result in low-tension (aka boring) action scenes as well as scenes that end up being just two characters talking.

There are many valid reasons to have those everyday scenes, though. Which means it's a good thing there are easy ways to beef them up so they engage instead of disengage your reader.

Read more »

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16. Ask a Pub Pro: Author Stefanie Gaither on Character Names, Science Fiction Research, and POV

We are thrilled to welcome author Stefanie Gaither to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Stefanie is the author of the very popular and thrilling Falls the Shadow, with the sequel coming in 2016. She's here to answer your reader questions on unusual names for fantasy, how many books can an author squeeze into a series, the balance of fiction and fact for science fiction, and how many POV characters can make up an ensemble. 

If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.

Also, please do not forget next week's Happy Potter Birthday celebration!  If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in next week's celebration.

Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.

Author Stefanie Gaither on Character Names, Science Fiction Research, and POV

1) Writer Question: I'm worried about the names I'm creating for my WIP. My story is a fantasy, and the names I've envisioned sometimes have hyphenated endings to add a suffix meaning onto the name. But it seems that I've heard hyphens in names are frowned upon. I'm keeping the names very simple, even with the hyphens, so that it will not be confusing to the reader. Do you think that will work? Or would the use of hyphens be too off-putting? Would an apostrophe be better?

I actually just finished up a fantasy WIP of my own, so I understand the name struggle :) I don’t think that hyphens in names are immediately off-putting—so long as it fits the story and/or character. Other readers may feel differently, of course. If you’re really concerned about it, maybe there’s a way to compromise? Have their formal name hyphenated, but perhaps they go by a nickname that flows more easily for the reader?

Either way, one thing I like to do when figuring out names is to ask people unfamiliar with my story/character what comes to mind when I mention a person named “XYZ” or whatever; in your case, maybe write the name and then ask friends and fellow writers what immediately jumps into their minds when they see it—and if it’s in line with what you’re going for with this particular character, then you’re golden. Poll as many people as you can. Of course, not everyone will have the same answer, but it will give you a general idea of what the name you came up with is “showing” potential readers about this character—and whether or not they’re stumbling over things like hyphens.

Read more »

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17. Six Ways to Unleash the Magic of Subconscious Writing

In the language of a recent Suits episode, I'm a "grinder" rather than a "rainmaker." Writing doesn't come easily for me, and I spend countless hours staring at sentences and rewriting them fourteen times, only to discover that the first version was probably the best. I add layers, and subplots, and symbolism, and connect the dots through sheer hard grunt work.

Sometimes I hate writing.

But then there are the rare flashes of brilliance that I swear don't come from me. The moments of magic when there's a muse on my shoulder. Or a miracle. Or all of the above. That's the part of writing that makes the rest worthwhile.

We all want more of those creative insights, but how do we get them?

Read more »

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18. Tip for writers/illustrators: Intelligent perseverance will get you far. Take a break if needed but then try again!

To aspiring book authors and illustrators out there: Intelligent perseverance will get you far. Take a break if needed but then try again!

If you like my found object doodles, you can browse more on Instagram at @inkygirl.

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19. Back Burner Writing, Essential Apps and How I'm Squeezing In Extra Writing Every Day

Morning writer.

Since I started getting picture book contracts (yay!) I've put my novel writing on the back burner. Then last summer at SCBWI-LA, I was talking with my editor at Simon & Schuster (Justin Chanda) about my middle grade novels and time management. Justin said that if my novel writing was important to me, I needed to set aside some regular time to work on it...no matter how much other work I had going on.

Absolutely! I said. I am SO going to do this. And yeah, well. I was right on top of that for a few weeks and then the reality of work deadlines plus personal commitments pushed my novel projects onto the back burner again.

I've since come to terms with this. I am having SO much fun with my picture book projects these days and things are very busy for me in a good way. To those who didn't know: I used to write nonfiction while I worked on middle grade novels; Writer's Digest even asked me to write a book for them. I met my wonderful agent because of my middle grade writing, through children's book writer, Lee Wardlaw; Lee critiqued one of my first MG novels (thank you, Lee!). The two middle grade manuscripts that Ginger and I sent out never found a home, though we got close a couple of times near the end. I could tell from the rejection letters that my writing was improving. I shelved the older mss and began working on new stories. One of my new manuscripts that never got sent out was nominated for the SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication" Award; it didn't win but the nomination was encouraging; I could tell I was getting closer.

Then my picture book illustration career took off, thanks to the SCBWI and Simon & Schuster Children's. My heart is in picture books now, and I always want to help create them...I love this genre SO MUCH and connecting with the young readers continues to be one of my greatest joys.

There is still a part of my creative soul, however, that is still drawn to middle grade novels. I read middle grade constantly; not for market research but because I've always enjoyed reading them. It's okay that my novel writing on the back burner right now, but that doesn't mean I can't still keep writing! Even if it's only for a few minutes a day. 

So I decided recently to get back on my own 250, 500 and 1000 Words A Day Challenge.

 I created this challenge for those who are looking for extra motivation to get back into a daily writing habit but who also need some flexibility. Challenges like NaNoWriMo are wonderful (I've done Nano in the past and had great fun) but can sometimes be discouraging if, for whatever reason, you start falling behind.

Anyway, I have been trying something new which has been working pretty well, so I thought I'd share it. Here's what I do:

I bought the iAWriter app for my Mac and iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) and use it for my daily morning writing ritual. I've played around with MANY note-taking apps on my iOS devices ever since the first iPhone came out, and this remains one of the favorites because of its minimalist approach.

No settings to fiddle with, which means I'm not as likely to procrastinate. I love the easy-to-read monospaced font. 

I find using my iPad with my external keyboard works the best for this. Why not my Mac? Because I do most of my book illustration project work on my Mac, doing morning writing on a separate and very portable device helps deceive the "oh my gosh I can't work on my novel I need to get back to contracted paying work" part of my brain. Sounds stupid, I know, but I find it helps me focus. I can also take my iPad outside of the house at a moment's notice and work on my writing ANYWHERE.

When it comes to later revisions, I'll probably go back to my desktop computer so I can take advantage of the bigger screen space and two monitors. For a first draft, however, my iPad is perfect. I also tend to be the kind of writer who over-edits as she writes, and I'm finding that writing on a smaller screen encourages me to keep writing (editing is more of a pain). I know I will revise later. 

After I finish my session in iAWriter, I send the document to my Evernote account; happily, I can do this from within the iAWriter app. I know there are many other means of backing up my data and getting writing snippets to my desktop computer. I have tried many of them. This is the way that seems to work best for me, mainly because I don't need to open any other app that may possibly distract me. Did I mention that I'm easily distracted?

From the iAWriter app, I can share directly to Evernote and even choose the receiving project folder. I figure that I can always organize later on; I try to put a note at the beginning like "near end of book" etc. I also tend to write in scenes and snippets rather than from start to finish, and will organize them later. I *used* to write from start to finish but found that I tended to overedit and spend way too much time near the beginning.

I use Evernote for so much more, of course. Two of my favorite features: (1) with the paid version of Evernote, you can email anything to your Evernote account, and (2) when searching for a word or term in Evernote, the search will include any scanned documents...including business cards and handwritten notes (!).

I also use the Day One app for my Mac and iOS devices. I've tried other journaling tools before but like Day One the best because of its super-simple interface without all the bells and whistles.

As with iAWriter, I'm drawn to the minimalist interface because it makes it very easy for me to just open and use, without being tempted to tweak settings. 

I've been using the app to quickly record ideas and thoughts and character/title ideas as well as other personal observations, and I use tags (like "goals", "bookidea" etc.) so I can access them more easily later. One of my tags is "happy," by the way...whenever I'm feeling down, browsing all my "happy" entries always cheers me up. Another is "thanks", which I also try to use each day, to write down people and things and events I'm grateful for. 

I also use the DayOne app to quickly snap photos, which is great for grabbing a reference photo for illustration, character idea, a friend's book I want to read, etc. You can only take one photo per entry, though. If you plan to do this a LOT, I'd recommend Evernote instead. Also, you can share DayOne photos/text to social media as well! I don't do this, though; I'm too worried about accidentally sharing a post that's meant to be private. :-)

I do love Scrivener, by the way, and use it for many of my book projects (more on this in a future post), but the lack of easy syncing across all my devices makes it tough to count on Scrivener for my daily writing exercise.

Do you have any tools or tips to share that you've found useful in your writing? Feel free to share them below.

Good luck with your writing!


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20. Crafting a Satisfying Ending to Your Story by Amy Fellner Dominy

We're very pleased to welcome author Amy Fellner Dominy to the blog today. If there's one thing more important than how you start your story, it's how you end it. Amy offers some excellent advice for crafting an ending that your reader will be sure to love...and remember.

And be sure to check out Amy's new release, A Matter of Heart!

Crafting a Satisfying Ending to Your Story, A Craft of Writing Post by Amy Fellner Dominy


As summer winds down it seems like a good time to talk about endings.

Great endings make you sigh, tear-up or smile. They make you sad for the book to be over, and they make you want to flip the pages and go back to the beginning and start again. Great endings are, simply put, satisfying.

If only they were simple to write.

So, here are a few suggestions to help you craft a satisfying ending to your story.

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21. Reverse Outlining and Magic Post Its by Katherine Locke

As writers, we all love revisions...right?!? If you're not a revision-loving geek, or even if you are, author Katherine Locke is here to share with you some of her lightbulb-flashing ideas from her own revision process. I especially love the "but" and "therefore" method she shares. And be sure to check out her newest release, Finding Center, below the post.

Reverse Outlining and Magic Post Its, A Craft of Writing Post by Katherine Locke

Revisions are hard and overwhelming and it’s easy to feel like you haven’t fixed anything, or that you’ve broken the book. It’s a little like playing Jenga on a sand dune. But with the right methods, I think revision doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it often feels. As someone who really believes books are born in revisions, I’ve found that knowing my revision plan helps me find the book I set out to write. And today I’m going to share my revision methods so you can use them or tweak them to your own process and get started!

Read more »

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22. Interview with Melissa Grey, Author of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT

We welcome author Melissa Grey today to share with us some of her inspiration for The Girl at Midnight, plus her insight into the writing process. Melissa has always been generous with her craft knowledge as she was a former First Five Pages workshop mentor here at AYAP. We have a brand new workshop starting tomorrow -- don't forget to enter! Also, be sure to check the giveaway of The Girl at Midnight at the end of Melissa's interview below.

Interview with Melissa Grey, author of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT -- A Craft of Writing Post

What was your inspiration for writing THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT?

I was really inspired by the Firebird ballet and Stravinsky’s music. It comes from a fascinating bit of folklore that you see elements of pop up in cultures all over the world. I’ve always loved quest narratives, so building a story around that structure was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I’ve always known that I’m my harshest critic and while the ability to tear your own work apart can be a useful skill to have, I learned that I also had to be kind to myself. I have a habit of pushing myself to the brink when I’m working on something I’m passionate about and balancing my desire to write the best book I can while still taking care of myself mentally was definitely a challenge. But I’m getting better at it!

What do you hope readers will take away from THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT?

I mostly just want people to have a great time reading the book. I want you to feel like you’ve gone on an adventure with this ragtag group of misfits. If readers take away any greater meaning, I hope it’s the understanding that it’s our choices that define us, not necessarily our pasts. Even when things seem dire, there’s always a choice. A choice to be brave or kind or selfish or loyal.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Don’t be precious about your writing. Learn to move on from stories that aren’t working. Be critical of your work and take criticism gracefully. Sometimes what you write won’t be the greatest thing in the world, so take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it go!

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the third book in The Girl at Midnight trilogy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Girl at Midnight
by Melissa Grey
Delacorte Press
Released 4/28/2015

For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Purchase The Girl at Midnight at Amazon
Purchase The Girl at Midnight at IndieBound
View The Girl at Midnight on Goodreads


Melissa Grey penned her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. As an undergrad at Yale, she learned how ride a horse and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time, but hasn't had much use for that skill since graduating in 2008.

Her debut novel, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, will be published by Delacorte/Random House in spring 2015.

To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow her on Twitter @meligrey.

What did you think of our interview with Melissa Grey, author of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT? Did you learn any great writing tips? Let us know in the comments!

Happy reading,

Martina, Jocelyn, Shelly, Jan, Lisa, Susan, and Erin

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23. The Invisible Monster of Self-Criticism by Rosamund Hodge

Insecurities and self-doubt seem to be an elemental part of being a writer. Author Rosamund Hodge joins us today to share a very deep and heartfelt post on facing these invisible monsters and writing on.

The Invisible Monster of Self-Criticism by Rosamund Hodge

This post nearly included productivity tips.

"I'm writing about anxiety and self-criticism," I said to myself. "And if you're feeling like you're a terrible writer, obviously the answer is to become a better writer by working harder and more efficiently! . . . Wait."

And that right there is why I'm writing this article.

The Invisible Monster

In 2013, I thought I had the writerly anxiety thing pretty much beat. I had learned to finish novels. I had learned to revise them. I had survived getting rejected by 65 agents, and as my reward I had found an agent and sold my novel. I had completed all the revisions; in six months, Cruel Beauty was going to hit shelves and I would be a really-for-real Published Author. Life was great.

Then it was time to write the second novel.

I had heard, of course, about the Dread Second Novel, and how terrible it was. "That won't be a problem for me," I thought. "I've already written multiple novels! Cruel Beauty is technically #4! No Second Novel Syndrome for me!"

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Long story short: I wrote the novel. Then I rewrote it nine times. I added, removed, or added-then-removed-then-put-back-again characters, sub-plots, chapters, a prologue, a plague, a giant serpent, and a neighboring country. This list is not exhaustive.

The end result was a novel of which I am now extremely proud. But at the time? It nearly destroyed me as a writer. And yes, I have a career in being dramatic, but I am not exaggerating. As long as I have been writing (nineteen years, if you're curious), I have struggled with anxiety and self-criticism. And over the years, I have dealt with that better or worse.

But by the time I finished revising Crimson Bound, it was different. This wasn't feeling burnt-out sometimes, or about a particular project. This was feeling like I had an invisible monster--heavy, slimy, malicious--sitting on my shoulder all of the time, telling me that my book was worthless, that everything I wrote was worthless, that I should just stop. I couldn't read a sentence from my novel without getting depressed. I couldn't enjoy writing--not just working on the novel, but writing anything.

Writing had always been my passion, and more than that, my freedom. No matter what else was going wrong with my life, I could still write. I could still have that joy. You can’t take the sky from me!

. . . Except the invisible monster can. He took the sky away from me: that’s what it felt like, when writing suddenly became a burden.

Since this blog post is not titled "How I Quit Writing, At Last I'm Free," you can probably guess that I got better. But it took a while. It's still something that I'm working on--perhaps because my Second Book Trauma wasn't an Attack Of The Foreign Neurosis. Writing the second book, because it was so challenging, forced me to confront a lot of really old fault-lines in my coping skills.

Which leads me to my disclaimer: I think I have some pretty good advice in this blog post. But there are plenty of times when I don't follow it myself. I can't claim to be actually good at this stuff, just to have been forced to think about it.


I have a long and complicated history with self-loathing. When I finally started finishing novels in 2009, it was because I threatened myself with complete public humiliation: I signed up for NaNoWriMo and told everybody I knew that I was doing it--including a bunch of much-admired professional authors I had just met at World Fantasy Convention--and then posted my word-counts every day on a blog. Failure was unthinkable. So I succeeded: I wrote 50,000 words in less than thirty days, and wrote another 170,000 words in the next eight months.

It was magnificent. I had never felt so confident in my life.

Clearly, I decided, guilt-trips and the threat of humiliation were the answer to all my writing problems.

And for a while, they were the answer. I kept writing, and I kept finishing novels, and I kept feeling good about myself. But the threat of seething self-hatred works as a motivator only when you're already succeeding--when you normally feel good about yourself, and therefore you have something to lose. When the problem is just that you don't feel the project is urgent enough.

But when the problem is that you already hate yourself? When you hate your writing to such a paralyzing degree that you can't write anymore?

Trying to hate yourself out of self-hatred supremely doesn't work. Trust me; I really, thoroughly tried. I only started being kind to myself because I didn't have any other options left. And it was really scary, because by that point I had programmed myself to feel that self-hatred meant getting things done meant safety.

But facing that fear was worth it. Because it turns out that when you start being kind to yourself, you can start to heal.

Don't Talk to the Monster

Probably one of the most helpful things I ever did was learn to think of the invisible monster as an invisible monster. I've always had that voice in my head--I think we all do--but I'd always seen it as intrinsically part of myself. If it was my own logical judgment that I was worthless as a writer and a person, how could I fight that? All I had to use against my own logic was my own logic, and there's a kind of psychic entropy that prevents that kind of bootstrapping from working.

But then I learned to imagine that voice as something separate from me: an invisible monster talking to me. And for the first time, it occurred to me that maybe I should tell him to shut up.

I'd always tried to argue with the monster--he would tell me that I was worthless, I would try to come up with reasons why I wasn't so bad, and then I would conscientiously try to evaluate each one. Logic and intellectual integrity demanded that I consider each time whether or not the monster had a point.

The problem with that approach is that the monster is a lying liar who lies. He hates you. He wants to stop you from writing. He is your personal demon, and he tells the truth only to make you believe his lies.

Don't listen to him. Don't argue with him. Don't talk to him. He is not even worth fighting.



Do you know who taught me to think of my invisible monster as something separate? My therapist.

PSA: Therapy is really great! I think a lot of us have the impression that it's only for people who are:
  1. suicidal
  2. trying to save their marriages
  3. self-absorbed, over-entitled yuppies.

But this is not true. Therapy is not magic, arcane and mystical and completely unrelated to normal life. Talking to your friends is therapy. This article is an attempt at therapy. And if one kind of therapy doesn’t work, it is completely normal and rational to try a different form. Like talking to a professional, licensed therapist.

I didn't start seeing a therapist because of my writing problems; I was already seeing one because of some other (not entirely unrelated) anxiety issues. But when my writing fell apart, that therapist really helped me a lot with putting myself back together. If you have already read all the motivational articles, and you have already tried changing your writing habits, your sleeping habits, and your eating/exercise habits, and you have given yourself plenty of time to work through things and recover, and you are still feeling really sad and anxious about your writing . . . you might want to consider therapy.

Of course, therapy is not an option for everyone, whether because of location, or finances, or you just can’t stand the idea. If so, I would strongly advise finding somebody whom you both respect and trust, and talking to him or her about your problems. I have gotten a whole lot of help out of therapy. I have also gotten a whole lot of help out of talking to my mom. Sometimes, all you really need is to tell somebody you trust about the crazy thoughts, and to have the person assure you that (a) those thoughts really are crazy, and (b) you are worth something anyway.


I would rather be self-loathing than humble.

This sounds like a contradiction, but it's really not.

I've always wanted to be perfect. I don't really consider that a flaw. There is never anything wrong in wanting to be better, and to keep becoming better.

But it is a flaw when you want to be an omnipotent goddess of writing who completes her exquisite, entirely-on-time novels without any sort of outside assistance. And it is a flaw when you decide that if you're not perfect, that means you are the worst ever, and your terribleness is of such an epic degree that nobody in the world can help you.

That kind of willful despair is not an excess of humility. It's a form of pride. It's the determination to be more special than anyone else, no matter the cost. And it's deeply attractive.

But here's the problem: if you value something more than happiness? You are probably going to get something that's not happiness.

And that's where humility comes in. Because happiness is humble. Happiness is saying, "I am small enough that writing this deeply imperfect story delights me."

Humility is saying, "I need help. I can be helped."

I don't like being humble. At all, ever, for any reason. I would much rather be the Supreme Princess of Despair. But I love writing even more than I love my own pride. When the only way I could keep writing was by losing my pride . . . I chose to keep writing.

And here is the magic, the special secret: when you let go of your pride, people can help you. People can love you.

This past month, I was struggling with a deadline. I wanted to believe I could do it all on my own, but I couldn't. So I told some of my writing friends. And you know what? One of them sent me animated GIFs every morning to remind me that I needed to keep writing. One of them read every chapter as I finished it, and told me what she loved about it.

The Rosamund of two years ago would never have admitted she had those needs. And she would never have received that loving support.

It still hurts, every day, when I choose to be humble. Or when I try to be humble. But I keep trying. And I when I do succeed, I never regret.


Several months ago, I was telling my therapist how I'd had a lifelong problem with perseverance. Ever since I was twelve, I'd been trying to write, but I kept starting stories that I failed to finish. I had completed novels, but every time it had taken a cataclysmic effort that turned my life upside-down. I was a terrible person and nobody should ever respect me as a writer.

She looked at me and she said, "So what you're saying is, despite sabotaging yourself with self-hatred for years at every turn, you've still kept writing."

I had literally never thought of it that way before. And hearing it honestly changed my life, or at least how I felt about my life.

So this is what I really want to say, and what I want you to hear, if you pay attention to no other part of this blog post:

If you're struggling with writing; if you keep trying, and you keep failing worse and worse; if you can only sometimes manage to try anymore--if you are even just barely hanging onto this life by your fingernails--

Then: you are already strong. You are already brave. You have been fighting for years, and if you are still here? That makes you a hero.

About the Book:

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Rosamund Hodge loves mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. She writes YA fantasy that draws on two of those things. In her wild youth, she studied Medieval English at Oxford; she now lives in Seattle and writes wildly.

Visit her on the web at http://www.rosamundhodge.net or follow her on Twitter: @rosamundhodge.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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24. Stimulus and Response -- Finding Your Way Through a Story

This is a repost of an early post I did for AYAP. Unfortunately, I lost my beloved Auggie yesterday, and I'm having trouble focusing today, so I'm going to revisit this instead of writing something new.

Conflict is always good.

It's good for our characters, and it's good for us as writers. Pushing ourselves through the hard scenes, the hard revisions, the tough first drafts, that's conflict. Overcoming conflict in ourselves and our writing forces us to become better at our craft the same way conflict forces our characters to become better, stronger, more interesting to our readers. And just as our characters don't always choose the right fork in the road, it often takes trial and error--and an eventual alignment of whatever planets guide our writerly feet--for us to find the right path through a story.

As writers, we learn by reacting to a set of stimuli: a book read, a scene written, feedback received, or perhaps just the right combination of all of the above. Our characters learn because we put them in conflict with an antagonist, stick their butts in moral or mortal danger, and force them to fight their way back out. Learning how to do that to our characters credibly is the greatest thing we writers can learn. Because, in the end, for us and our characters both, fiction comes down to the credibility of stimulus and response.

From the first page we write, our main character must want or need something specific. She either has a goal or a problem. The antagonist, on the other hand, wants something that will prevent the main character from getting what she wants. The battle between the two will wage, nearly equal, until it results in a climax that pits all the strength of one against all the intelligence and cunning of the other. How do we, as writers, get them to that point though? That's the trick.

Pulling the reader by the heart from the beginning of the book to that climax, scene by scene, is the key to successful writing. Ultimately, a book isn't about beautiful descriptions or sparkling prose. It's about action and reaction, which is all a response to conflict.

I like to reread craft books. I usually try to get through one a month, even if it is one that I have read before, because I get something new out of it every time. Just forcing myself to think about craft in a new way gives me time to think about whatever story I am working on from a different perspective. This weekend, I picked up Jack M. Bickham's SCENE AND STRUCTURE, which approaches conflict from the approach of both logical and emotional stimulus and response.

Although Bickham focuses largely on scene, he also starts covers the cause and effect sequences that form the smallest elements of a story, the individual steps that begin to build the climb toward the climax. From the first scene in the book where the protagonist's journey begins with a the inciting incident, a stimulus, we writers have to provide a sound motivation for every action by every character. The more deeply motivated we can make the goals or problems, the more satisfying we can make the reader's experience, and ultimately, the more the reader will care about the outcome of the dilemma.

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.

Bickham points out that credibility results from understanding the stages of response. Character reaction, like human reaction in general, has four individual parts. As writers, we don't necessarily have to put all four on the page at any given point in time, but what we do show we have to put in the proper order. First the stimulus, then:
  1. the character's visceral emotional response,
  2. her unconscious knee-jerk physical action,
  3. her decision to act, and 
  4. her initiation of conscious action or verbal response. 
If we violate that order, we dissipate the tension in our sentences by creating a tiny, niggling disquiet in the mind of our readers, a sense that there is something wrong that can pull them out of the story and suspend disbelief. But as long as we follow the logical sequence, we can build from the initial opening action to the end of the first disaster. What disaster? The obligatory disaster at the end of every scene that answers the basic story question of whether or not the protag will get what she wants, the turning point of the scene that all those stimulus/response pairs lead up to as part of the two primary building blocks of story.

As Bickham defines it, every scene has to break down to the protagonist:
  1. striving to achieve a goal,
  2. encountering opposition (conflict), and 
  3. smacking into disaster.
The disaster can fall into one of three categories that answers the basic question of whether the protag can achieve her goal or overcome her problem. Obviously, the answer can't be a simple yes, or we would stop the story in its tracks. Therefore, the answer to the question can only be:
  1. yes, the protag gets what she wants, but accepting it means she will have to get over an even bigger hurdle or face a moral dilemma,
  2. no, the protag won't get what she wants 
  3. not only will the protag not get what she wants, but now something even worse will happen because of what she has done. 
Obviously, any of these three choices will need some getting over and regrouping. A lesser character might give up. But being the resourceful, engaging heroine readers will love to read about, our protagonist won't be daunted for long. Instead, she heads right into the sequel in which she:
  1. experiences an emotional response to the disaster that just occurred,
  2. picks herself up and recovers from her setback, 
  3. discovers she faces a choice with no clear-cut fix-all option, and 
  4. ultimately decides on the lesser-of-the-evils next course of action.
Which of course, gives her a new goal, which leads to new conflict, and results in yet another disaster. This active, dynamic structure pulls us through the book because we never have the opportunity to forget that the character is working for something. It applies on the book level, on the scene level, and on a micro level within the scene. At any point, we can leave out one or more aspects of response or scene or sequel. We do not have to show them all on the page. But we, as writers, do need to know that they did occur and how they ended. Even if we don't show them to the reader in real time, what happened must color future responses and actions.

Bickham also suggests that readers expect the scene/sequel structure, that like the order of the responses to a stimulus, the need for a sequel is so ingrained that niggling doubts will creep into the reader's mind if we leave one out. In essence, he is suggesting that we will leave the reader more likely to question and suspend disbelief if we shortcut their unconscious expectations.

That doesn't mean he suggests structure is inflexible. Within certain limits, we can make up our own. What I think he is inferring throughout the book, or at least what I took away on this read-through, is that the more that we deviate from the norm that our readers expect, the stronger we have to be as writers. Learning how far we can stretch, how far we can push ourselves? That's one of the best, and hardest, parts of the journey.

Reading SCENE AND STRUCTURE this time through, it occurred to me that if I go back to my WIP and examine every line as part of either a stimulus or response, I will very quickly see where I have inserted tangents. Sometimes, tangents are necessary. Just as sequels slow down the pace of a story and give a reader a necessary respite in which to regroup, breathe, and take stock of what is going on, sometimes a brief description or internal thought within a scene is a welcome break that can actually help ratchet up the emotional tension. In other instances though, it can dissipate the tension and make the scene collapse. I'm always looking for better self-editing tools, and I'm wondering if I've found one with the stimulus/response test.

What do you think? Do you notice scene/sequel as you read or write? Consciously or unconsciously? Do you pay attention to stimulus/response pairs, and do you think that test would work to help spot extraneous material and an imbalance of action/dialogue to description/introspection on the page?

Maybe it's one more way to approach those pesky areas that slow down pacing.

Happy writing and revising,


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25. Thoughts on Theme by Claire M. Caterer + #Giveaway

I love theme. For me, it is the hub of the wheel around which the story turns...after you write a compelling story and discover what that theme is, that is. That's why I'm so happy to welcome author Claire Caterer to the blog today with her excellent insight on why theme matters and how to judicially weave it into our stories.

As another Harry Potter fan, I've known Claire on Twitter for a while and am so glad she gave me an excuse in this post to include some Potter gifs! Her new book, The Wand and the Sea, releases in just a few days. Be sure to check out her giveaway for it at the end of the post!

Thoughts on Theme, a Craft of Writing Post by Claire M. Caterer

Hands down, this is the best question I’ve ever gotten from a student during a school visit:

How do you decide what your theme is going to be?

Bless those students! They learn all the right terms—character, setting, plot, denouement, and yes, theme. So they want to plug all those things into their stories. Just tell me where to put the theme, they say, and I’ll install it.

I’d like to say I had a crackerjack answer ready for this kid, but I stammered out some lame version of what I later thought hard about and decided to write down here. I have the feeling that kid will never read this, but at least he got me thinking.

How do you decide what your theme is going to be? Short answer: You don’t.

What the Heck Is a Theme?
Theme is the Big Idea of your story. It begins with a broad idea like unrequited love, corporate corruption, or good vs. evil. From there, the theme boils down into a statement or idea that the author is trying to make about that broad idea: Better to Have Loved and Lost Than Never to Have Loved at All. One Person Can Bring Down a Bad Company. Standing Together Against Evil Is Worth the Sacrifice. You get the idea. You might want to check out this handy list of 100 Common Themes here.

Why All Themes Sound Like Clichés
Themes are universal truths that everyone can relate to. Take Coming of Age, for instance. Everyone reading a COA book has either come of age, is going to come of age, or is in the throes of it as we speak. That doesn’t make it a bad theme; on the contrary, that makes it something your reader is sure to understand. The trick is to put your own twist to it. Have you ever thought about Gone with the Wind as a coming-of-age story? Scarlet grows up from a bratty, spoiled teenager to a grown woman who figures out some serious stuff. She may not ever face the popular clique in her twenty-first-century high school, but a lot of the lessons are the same.

Can You Have More Than One Theme?
Absolutely. Complex stories come at you with lots of different issues. In the Harry Potter series, a weak, good person takes on a supremely powerful evil force. (Same theme as the David and Goliath story, by the way, and Star Wars, and about a thousand others.) There’s some coming-of-age-ing going on too. There’s Professor Snape’s character arc, which is a Sacrificing All for Love theme. And several others as well.

The Trouble with Themes
All writers want their work to mean something, but if you’re looking for the theme while you’re writing, you’re doing something wrong. And if you decide what the theme is going to be before you start writing, you’re really doing something wrong.

Example: I’m going to write the story of Racism in the Deep South. Really? I’m already bored. It’s not that stories of racism can’t be interesting (The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird), but if you begin with that broad paintbrush, you’re likely to write something clichéd. Racism in the Deep South will have you trotting out all the well-worn tropes: the belittlement of some good-hearted but proud black woman; a girl getting pelted with tomatoes as she walks into an integrated school; a young man is threatened by a gang of whites. These things did happen and continue to happen, but with that giant billboard of THEME blinking in big neon lights over your computer, you’ll have a hard time making them unique.

Plot vs. Theme
Plot is closely related to theme, because once you summarize the plot, you often see the theme emerge. Corporate Corruption Nearly Proves the Downfall of a Young Idealistic Attorney (The Firm). Theme? It’s Okay to Break a Few Rules to Bring Down the Bad Guys. (Also known as The End Justifies the Means.) But again, if you come up with that tagline or summary first, you have to force characters and situations and settings into that mold. And in thinking up your characters, you’ll have to find the Evil Corporate Hotshot, the Idealistic Young Attorney, the Spunky Girlfriend Who Plays the Role of Conscience—ugh. I’m bored again. These are archetypes, not people.

So, What Do You Do?
Instead of searching out a tagline, plot summary, or theme, try writing a story about people first. Everyone’s different, and I know some people start with plot or setting, and I can’t argue with that. But character had better be close behind, because the best plot in the world can’t save a story peopled by cardboard cutouts. If readers can’t identify and engage with the characters, your big, deep theme won’t mean a thing to them. In fact, they probably won’t get far enough in the book to figure out what the theme is.

Find something compelling about your character in your story. Are you writing about someone who doesn’t fit in? That could be boring and faceless unless your character is Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) or Harry Potter or Charlie from Perks of Being a Wallflower. Come up with that person, and even if the theme is common—the Lone Hero Makes a Stand or Good Conquers Evil—the story will be powerful.

So … How Do Decide What Your Theme Is Going to Be?
You don’t. Your theme picks you. You write the most honest, real, go-to-the-gut story you’ve got in you. You people it with complex characters. You put them in impossible situations. Then, when you’re all done, look around. The theme will emerge out of the story like one of those Magic Eye 3D pictures.

And Then What?
You can just leave it alone, but you can also play up your theme once you see it coming out in bits and pieces. You might play with symbolism, or plant foreshadowing that echoes the theme. Is that wand symbolic of Harry’s power? What happens when it breaks and he doesn’t have it anymore? Does it further his Coming of Age, or does it impede it? Spin out those threads to see where they lead. Don’t dress up your theme billboard in neon lights—no reader wants to be blinded by the Big Theme—but you might put a small spotlight on it here and there. Bring it into high relief in places, and then back off.

Let the theme arise naturally out of the people and their situation, not out of your brain. All life events have themes if you look for them, and your story, after all, is just that: A life. Or many lives. Leave the theme-chasing to the lit scholars and fifth graders. They’ll find it if your story resonates.


A year has passed since Holly, Ben, and Everett discovered a fantastical realm called Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice it are hunted. Now, on their return, they find their friends imprisoned and the alliance scattered. Ruthless King Reynard and the sorcerer Raethius are determined to find the very Adepts they exiled in the first place—but why?

It’s up to Holly and the boys to sail to the Isle of Exile and find the Adepts first, but that means enlisting the help of the Water Elementals and a pirate captain with a private agenda. Everett is obsessed with a mysterious locket with a mind of its own, and somehow, no matter where they go, a sinister black-sailed schooner appears on the horizon. With no one to teach her, can Holly master Elemental magic in time to save the Adepts of Anglielle?

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Claire M. Caterer lives in the suburbs of Kansas City, where she spends most of her time writing down the adventures of her imaginary friends. She loves chocolate, dogs, and occasionally, chocolate dogs. The Wand & the Sea is a sequel to her first novel, The Key & the Flame.

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 -- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

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