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1. Bringing Your Story World to Life

When you mention world building to a bunch of writers, most are instantly going to think about fantasy worlds. Makes sense since that’s the genre that does the most world building from scratch, but every story needs a rich world, even if that world is set in the good old USA. Luckily, the same tricks genre writers use to flesh out their worlds can also be used by non-genre writers.

A Room With a View

One of the strongest tools writers have for world building is our point of view character. She can ground the reader by what she sees and provide context for those details. She can show what’s normal and what’s unusual for that world by how she reacts to things. Just as readers have never been to Middle Earth, they might not have ever been to the Midwest. Sure, they’ll have a general idea what it’s like (corn, flat, farms), but imagine how much richer we can make that world if we treat it like the reader has never seen it before. Especially if our world isn’t what the average person thinks of when they hear the location.

People know what mundane things look like, but they don’t always know what importance a mundane item has in a story. We get our pick of details to convey subtle information to our readers, so it’s useful to provide details that are more than just window dressing. Look for things that have meaning to the point of view character, and let that meaning add a new layer of understanding to the world they live in. Make it clear that this world couldn’t be anywhere else but where we’ve set it—whether that’s Atlanta or The Kingdom of Asaguili.

Introducing…the World

Setting is a vital part of any story, and one of the hardest to deal with because it’s all description. As a fantasy author, I have to establish an unfamiliar world and the rules that govern that world right at the start. To avoid bogging down the story, I background the world building details into the actions and thoughts of my narrator. I don’t need to tell readers about the economic climate if I show my protagonist stealing food so she can eat. Making her wary of soldiers posted along the street shows an occupied city without me ever having to say a word of explanation. It also mixes the world building with the action so the pace stays tight and keeps the story moving.

Backgrounding works just as well if a story is set in the real world, if not better, because readers already have an idea of what the world is like. (They do live there after all). If the protagonist lives in a crime-ridden area, we might show her locking multiple locks on the door, or have her hear gunshots or sirens. She might not carry a purse that can be easily grabbed on the street. Seize the opportunities to flesh out the world in ways that not only show setting, but add tension, deepen characterization, and even further plot advancement. Just because readers know the world is no reason to skimp on making it feel real. And those tiny “real” details can add so much to a story.

What’s That You Say?

Dialog is as distinctive as geography in defining a world. Slang terms, swear words, clichés, metaphors—every culture and region has their own set. If a story takes place in the south, let the dialog reflect the slower pace and country charm of the region. And I’m not talking about writing dialect (dropping the g off words, spelling things all funky) but using the rhythm and flow, the slang and phrasing of those who live in that area. A New Yorker is going to ask for a cup of coffee differently than a Southern Belle, or even a Midwesterner. Find the language characteristics common to a region or culture and use them to bring that region to life.

You Look Marvelous

Visit both Florida and Chicago in the winter and you’ll notice how different regions dress. We can use this to show climate and even morality with what people wear and how others react to the way people dress. What’s acceptable in Manhattan is very different from what flies in Salt Lake City, and neither might be appropriate in Louisiana. Instead of having the protagonist wear just a green blouse and jeans, see if there’s anything specific to a region that would show another side or trait of the character.

Well, See, There’s a Problem

Even the obstacles we throw at our characters offer chances at world building. A fight with the boss is something that could happen anywhere, so what might be distinctive to your world that would make that fight memorable? Are there jobs unique to the book’s setting? Are there concerns that only people who live in a particular place have? Perhaps the environment plays a role. Cultures or politics often shape a region, so how might these beliefs hinder the protagonist? When the character’s daily routine is a challenge, we have extra tools to use to keep our story exciting.

The World is in the Details

Just as fantasy authors choose details that flesh out and create a world readers have never seen before, non-genre authors can take advantage of the same opportunities. By looking at your world as someone seeing it for the first time, you can discover details that will help make that world a richer place. It’s really no different than choosing the right verb for the right time. Every line of your story will feel layered and deep, and even a world readers know will come alive.

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2. 2016 Debut Authors Share their Research Tips

Note from Julie: Today’s post is a compilation of advice on historical research from a few members of the Sweet Sixteens, a group of YA and MG authors who are debuting in 2016. You can learn more about the Sweet Sixteens and their upcoming books on their website. I’m very proud to be a part of this great group, and I’m excited to share some writing advice from my fellow debut authors!

The idea for this post came from a thread on the Sweet Sixteens’ discussion forum. Kali Wallace, who writes YA horror, posted a question for historical fiction writers. I thought it was great that a writer was reaching across genres to ask a question, and the replies were stellar! Thank you all for agreeing to let me share this great discussion with the readers of PubCrawl! (And stay tuned for more of Kali Wallace and YA horror in a future post!)

Kali Wallace pictureI have a question for writers of historical fiction:
How do you research for a historical novel? What sort of research do you do?
How do you balance getting the period details right with writing for a modern MG/YA audience?

~Kali Wallace, author of Shallow Graves, Katherine Tegen Books 2016. You can visit Kali’s website and follow her on twitter @kaliphyte.

Lois SepaSweet Sixteens Lois Sepahbanhban: My stories always start with a character, and I think that even in a historical setting, the character’s experiences are what make his/her story accessible and interesting for modern readers. But getting the setting details right does require research. Over a period of several months, I devour everything I can find about the setting–books, newspaper articles, diaries, documentaries, and museums. During those months, the story starts to slowly come together in my mind. So as soon as I’m ready to start writing, then I’ve already done most of the research.

I use a notebook to keep track of what I learn, and I always need to go back and dig up new details while I’m drafting.

By immersing myself in the history and culture before I start writing, I have found that the details come naturally as I’m drafting.

(Lois Sepahban is the author of the upcoming MG Historical, Paper Wishes, coming from FSG/Margaret Ferguson Books in Winter 2016. Learn more about Lois on her website and say hello to her on twitter @LoisSepahban)

Janet Taylor pictureJanet B. Taylor: When I FIRST started writing for REALS, I’d planned to write adult historical fiction. I was working with a hisfic author as a “writing coach” who told me–in no uncertain terms–that though I was a good writer, with potential…blah blah…my “voice” was too modern and too “YA”.
Now, at the time, I didn’t really know what “YA” was. And I certainly didn’t know what voice meant in writing terms.

Soo…I cried. A lot. Then I got to thinking. Okay. Modern voice. YA. Loves historical…..TIME TRAVEL!

I’ve been fascinated by the medieval period for years, and had studied it for a long time. Particularly England and France, and even more specifically, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. (I’d LOVE to write about her one day. Her teenage years are absolutely astounding. However, there are a LOT of wonderful books already written about Eleanor. And I’m not sure I have the chops to go up against someone like Elizabeth Chadwick or Sharon Kay Penman, for instance.)

Anyhoo, with that background, I basically did what Lois said. Total immersion for months. Websites. Read a lot. Traveled to Europe a few times. Read a lot. Castles, museums. Oh, did I mention I spent WAY too much money on books so I could read a lot? I got everything about anything to do with time period. I even got to spend the night inside Fontevraud Abbey in France, where Eleanor spent her later years, and is buried. I got to be alone with her (and Henry II and Richard the Lionheart) at night, in the cathedral, all alone. It was magnificent!

Now the sequel to my current book will take place in NYC during “The Gilded Age” 1895. That is requiring a LOT of new, very detailed, very intense research, as I wasn’t really familiar with that era. But it’s such a cool time and I’m enjoying it very much!

(Janet B. Taylor’s debut YA Adventure/Time Travel, Into the Dim, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2016. Visit Janet on her website and follow her on twitter @Janet_B_Taylor)

Patrick Samphire picturePatrick Samphire: Almost everything I write is set in one historical period or another. I’ve written short stories in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, as well as in the first world war and prehistoric Britain. My novel, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, is set in 1816, and I’m also working on a novel set in the 1930s.
But the shameful truth is that I’m an absolutely terrible researcher. I hate doing it. I pick up some incredibly informative, vastly heavy reference book and I rarely get past the introduction before my brain melts into a puddle of supreme apathy. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Come on. I can’t be the only one, right?

So, I have developed a special method of Historical Research for the Historically Ignorant and Terminally Lazy:

1. Watch movies and read books set in the relevant period, to get a basic idea of what the period was like. You have to be careful that you’re not picking books and movies by people who are equally Historically Ignorant and Terminally Lazy. For my 1816 book, that meant reading Jane Austen, Bernard Cornwell and Georgette Heyer and watching lots of Jane Austen adaptations. Yeah, and some people claim this is work…
2. Write your book.
3. Figure out all the bits you should have researched and go and look them up. Wikipedia is, of course, not particularly accurate about many things, but admit it, we all use it… Alternatively, ask my wife (you’ll have to find someone else to ask; sorry). My wife loves doing historical research. She reads books like that for fun. She even has degrees in this kind of stuff.
4. Realise that what you have in the book can’t possibly have happened, because you didn’t bother to research it in advance.
5. Rewrite, making it less impossible.
6. Blame the wizards/fairies/aliens. My books tend to have pretty heavy fantasy or science fiction elements, so when I get something wrong, I just blame the influence of magic/technology for changes to real history.
7. Now no one will realize how little you actually know about your historical period. Unless you write a blog entry admitting it.

(Patrick Samphire is the author of the upcoming MG Adventure, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, coming from Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt / Macmillan) in January 2016. Learn more about Patrick on his website and say hello to him on twitter @patricksamphire)

Heidi Heilig PictureHeidi Heilig: For starters, picking historical fantasy/time travel over straight up historical fiction made things easier when it came to research. In the world of the book, characters can travel to historical and mythological maps, so I am not tied strictly to widely-agreed-upon reality.

That said, accurate history can really make the fantasy aspect shine. When I did my research, reading was key for me, and I often went down the research rabbit hole for hours on something small that never made it into the final draft–or even the draft I was working on at the time. But that time wasn’t wasted–having all that information in a soup in my head made it easy to pick small things out and weave them into a detailed story.

Obviously, primary factual documents were very useful–boat time tables, newspaper articles–but I also found fiction of the time period very helpful for dialogue and speech cadence. Old pictures helped (the bulk of the story takes place in 1884 so there are some) and maps, of course, so I could see, for example, what areas of town smelled because they were near the tannery or how noisy things were due to proximity to the market. Paintings, art, or songs of the time helped me humanize the characters and understand what people filled their time with when they weren’t doing Important Book Things, because I have this tendency to see historical people as Very Serious.

In the future, I hope to be skilled enough to do straight up historical fiction. I love history. I think there are some issues that are universal. No matter when, teens are always growing up, or falling in love, or looking for their place in the world.

(Heidi Heilig’s debut YA Fantasy/Time Travel, The Girl from Everywhere, will be published by Greenwillow/HarperCollins in February, 2016. You can learn more about her on her website and follow her on Twitter @heidiheilig.)

What are your thoughts on historical fiction? Do you use any of these techniques when you research? Please share you thoughts in the comments!

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3. On Preaching and Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers

I sat on a library panel this week with four other YA authors. I'd had a busy day, and was irritable already. I probably should have sat back, listened, and shut up, but of course I did no such thing.

"Do you purposefully put messages in your books?" someone in the audience asked.

"Do you feel you must censor yourself to any extent because you're writing for young people?" another attendee asked.

A few of the other panelists responded, and the consensus seemed to be a rousing no to both questions. They talked about the freedom we need to create good art, the disaster of didactic fiction, and the mandate to trust our young readers. They sounded so cool, and so right. But I've already told you I was feeling contrary. Without much thought, I leaped into the conversation.

I've been ruminating on why I erupted with such fervor and decided to air my responses out here on the Fire Escape. I'd love your comments and thoughts. Do you resonate with any of these statements/questions—all of which popped into my head, and some out of my mouth (more inarticulately than below)—and if so, which ones and why?

On putting "message" in our books:

"Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain? A belief that there are no definitive answers is a particular philosophy. An author's reluctance to convey any morals or ideologies doesn't mean a story isn't saturated with them. And if the head isn't in charge of weaving your worldview into a story, the gut will do it for you."

On writing more carefully for children than for adults:

"Children's stories are more powerful conveyers of worldview because a child is in the process of formation. Don't we have a responsibility as adults to discern the hidden as well as overt messages in children's stories, even our own? Shouldn't we steer them away from the 'danger of a single story,' for example, about certain kinds of people?"

"Is there a right 'age of consent' for young people to roam freely in the world of stories? Is a parent solely to decide or are we in the wider community of adult writers, publishers, and educators also called to defend young minds and hearts? If so, shouldn't we pay closer attention to our stories and perhaps limit our freedom more than artists who produce works for adults?"

Wow, was I cranky. But what do you think?  I don't mind you showing me why and how I was off. Or on. Or both. Don't hold back.

0 Comments on On Preaching and Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers as of 4/16/2015 10:23:00 PM
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4. Guest Post: Beating Deadlines with Healthy Writing Habits

We’re continuing the highlight of Egmont books and writers here at Pub Crawl with Bree Despain and THE ETERNITY KEY! 

Bree_Despain-close-up I once saw a fellow YA author tweet something to the effect of: “Books are made out of caffeine, sugar, and tears.” This sentiment stuck with me (though not the author’s name, unfortunately) because it was not only simultaneously hilarious and sad—but also because it was very true to what my own writing process used to look like only a year ago.

About this time last year, I found myself in my doctor’s office because my health was total crap. I wasn’t sleeping, I had no energy, my anxiety was through the roof, I was testing as pre-diabetic, my hormones and thyroid were out of whack, my adrenals were burned out, and my BMI was far too high for both my and my doctor’s liking. I told my doctor that I was confused by my extremely unhealthy state because whenever I am “not on deadline” I try to eat as healthy as possible and be physically active. My doctor then asked me to describe what I’m like when I am on deadline.

My deadlines have always been tight (about 2 to 3 months to produce a first draft, and about 3 weeks or less per revision) and I found myself describing long days (sometimes 12 to 16+ hours) in front of a laptop, eating chocolate covered cinnamon bears, Swedish Fish, gluten free cookies, whatever take-out my husband brought home, and guzzling Coke Zero, to keep myself half-crazed and barreling toward that ever impending deadline. To this my doctor responded, “So basically you use sugar and caffeine to whip yourself into a manic frenzy in order to write a book?” After I nodded grimly at her assessment, she went on, “Well, we either need to figure out how to completely overhaul your writing process or you need to find a new career, because being an author is literally killing you.”

My doctor’s pronouncement was both devastating and a big “duh” moment for me. Rather than give up the career I love, I decided to dedicate myself to creating healthier (and happier) writing habits. I’ve spent the last year researching, consulting other professionals, and trying out new tricks and habits. During that same time, I thoroughly revised one book (THE ETERNITY KEY, which will be published on April 28th!) outlined two more books, and crushed a deadline for a first draft on another book—all while increasing my daily output by shortening my writing days, improved my emotional and physical wellbeing, and losing 40 pounds (instead of packing on my usual 15 pounds of “book baby weight” per deadline).

My new writing process is kind of involved (I could probably write a whole book on it) but I thought I would share a few of the highlights with you in case you’re inclined to make a few changes to your own process:


  1. Take on a book (or any large task) in bite-sized pieces.

To me, the act of writing an entire book is daunting, and thinking about it as a whole is an immediate trigger for writer’s block. I’ve learned through trial and error over the course of seven books that I do best if I look at a book in bite-sized pieces—or scene by scene.  I am both a very visual and a hands-on person, so when I plot a book, I do it by hand. I start by covering my walls with giant Post-it notes and list out ideas and questions. Once my ideas start to gel, I pull out a set of blank notecards. I ask myself, “what are the ten most important things I want to have happen in this book?” Or “What are the ten most important scenes?” I write out a card for each of those scenes (with about a two sentence description) and then start thinking of all the scenes I need to connect those ten scenes together. I keep making cards until I have a big stack, and then I use a magnet board to arrange them in a three-act structure—filling in or making changes as I go—and pretty soon, I have an entire book outlined scene by scene. When I sit down to write for the day, I will take two or three scene cards down from the board and those are the scenes (or bites) I will work on for the day.

  1. Clear your mind before starting your work.

Many people have recommended meditation to me over the years, but I used to write it off as new-agey mumbo jumbo. However, after listening to several Ted Talks that recommended daily meditation, I decided to give it a try—and holy crap, it actually works! I’ve had many a meditation session end with an answer to a plot quandary or character issue popping into my head. I now start my writing day with a ten to fifteen minute meditation session. I use an app called Simply Being to guide me through each session.

  1. Try to compartmentalize your writing time.

I used to spend long hours, day and night, chained to my computer during deadlines—much to my family’s detriment and displeasure. Now, I try my best to keep my “author hours” compartmentalized between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. while my kids are in school. This is my time for writing, taking care of author business, marketing, blogging, etc., so that when my kids get home, I can remove my author hat and put on mommy one. (Though once homework is done and the kids go off to play, I may sneak in a writing sprint later in the day if I find myself alone in the house.) Both my family and I are so much happier when I’m not trying to multi-task writing and mommy-ing at the same time. (And did you know that multi-tasking lowers your IQ more than if you were stoned?)

  1. Compartmentalize your writing time even more with “productivity sprints.”

There are so many important non-writing tasks that go along with being author (and non-important ones like Twitter) than can end up filling all my time if I am not careful. I am also naturally a very slow writer—I used to average anywhere from 250 to 700 words a day after many agonizing hours. To combat these problems during deadlines, I’ve become a big fan of writing sprints. After my morning pre-writing routine (which would take another blog post to describe) and my meditation, I take a scene card, sit down at my laptop, and set a timer for an hour. I then challenge myself to write at least a thousand words during that hour. I’ve found that speedwriting helps me turn off my inner critic and get the words on the page. I tell myself that it is okay to write crap during these sprints because I can always revise them later, but I’ve actually found that most of my best writing happens while I’m in speed mode. It’s like I’m tapping into my subconscious brain, and scenes I’ve been dreading writing almost seem to magically work themselves out as I go with very little conscious thought on my part. I try to do 2 to 3 writing sprints during my “author hours” and often find my daily word count to be between 2000 to 5000 words. That sure beats agonizing for hours over 500 words!

I will also set a timer and do productivity sprints for other non-writing author tasks—like responding to emails or writing this blog post.

  1. Take breaks!

Between my writing sprints, I give myself permission to take breaks. I get up and go for a short walk (or even just walk up and down my stairs a few times to get my blood flowing), check Twitter (though I really have to be careful with this), text with friends, read, or watch a show while I eat lunch. (CHOPPED and PROJECT RUNWAY are my favorite lunch break shows—I find it very motivational to watch other people be creative.)


  1. Trade out the sugar and caffeine for healthy snacks and water

This was the hardest (and best) change to my writing process. Because of my hormone and blood sugar issues, my doctor put me on a very specialized diet (think stricter than Paleo). I cried when she handed me my new “lifestyle” guidelines and thought, “How can I ever write without sugar and caffeine?” But on my doctor’s orders, I traded in my cinnamon bears and other goodies for nuts, berries, avocados, olives, veggies, and raw food protein bars. Instead of Coke, I guzzle bottles of water. At first, I thought this change was going to kill my writing, but now I find that I leave my writing sessions feeling healthy instead of gross and bloated. I feel even-keeled instead of hopped up and cranky. And because I’m not staying up late to write anymore and my stress levels are lower, I find I don’t need caffeine at all to get through the day. (My doctor does allow me a few pieces of 75% dark chocolate a day, and you better believe I savor the heck out of those!)

  1. Reward yourself!

I once read in an interview that Joss Whedon calls part of his writing process “feeding the monkey” because he has to reward himself with treats for getting his work done. I adopted this practice, but instead of using edible treats, I found other ways to reward myself. Every time I add 7,000 new words to a story, I give myself a prize. Maybe it’s a new pair of fuzzy socks to wear while I’m writing, a new book, or a date-night out with my husband. I sometimes even get my husband to buy me little inexpensive presents and wrap them up so I don’t know what they are. The anticipation is often motivating enough to get me to squeeze in one more writing sprint before my “author hours” end.

Okay, I could go on and on (like I said, I could probably write a book on this topic) but I should probably let the Pub Crawl gang have their blog back! You may not be in need of a complete writing process overhaul like I was, but I hope you found at least a couple of helpful tips to try out. Let me know what you think, or share your ideas for creating a healthier writing process.

Bree Despain is the author of the Dark Divine trilogy and the Into The Dark trilogy. Bree rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, two young sons, and her beloved TiVo.

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5. Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a School Librarian

Hey guys! Kat here. As you may know, we have a “A Day in the Life of…” series going on here at Pub Crawl, and today we have the fabulous Laura Wardle talking about her day as a School Librarian and writer :D 

IMG-20150407-WA0001Tuesday 24th March, 2015

5.00 a.m. My alarm blares. I roll over and fall back to sleep.

5.10 a.m. My alarm goes off again. My fiance, Neil, mutters for me to turn the blasted thing off. I scramble for my phone and knock it off the bedside table. Forcing myself onto the floor to feel for it in the dark, its shrieking stops just as I grab it. Sod’s law. I consider climbing back into bed—I’m so not a morning person—but Neil has nabbed my pillow, so I grab my dressing gown and head to the kitchen.

5.14 a.m. Armed with coffee, I sit at my desk and open my revision folder. As part of my evening routine I prepare my desk for the next morning. With only an hour and a half to work on my manuscript, I need to make every second count. My desk has to be tidy, with all that I need on hand, so I can get straight on. For the last few weeks that has been my revision folder, comprising of Susan Dennard’s brilliant revision series printouts and worksheets, and a hardcopy of my manuscript. I work on GMC charts for my characters. I get stuck on the antagonist’s internal goal for a while, and move onto filling in the character honing sheets for my protagonists Pausing to drink my now lukewarm coffee, I have an idea for the antagonist. I pull my notepad close. Frantic brainstorming commences.

6.46 a.m. Neil’s up and joins me in the study to work on a component for his 3D printer design before work. We chat while he gets his programmes started up and I pack up. The revision folder goes into the tote I haul everywhere, along with my pencil case, writing journal, Kindle, and day planner. This way, I can work from pretty much anywhere.

6.55 a.m. I shower, and get ready for the day. I spend a good few minutes covering up the crater-size dark circles under my eyes.

7.13 a.m. I scoff a bowl of porridge, and rush out the door. Road works on the route to work are adding an extra ten minutes to my journey. The radio stays on low, more for white noise than anything. I spend the forty-five minute journey wrestling with ideas for a later scene. Yes, I talk to myself. No, I’m not insane. I’m a writer. Same breed, really. Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do comes on the radio and I spin the volume knob. That song has infected my brain.

8.06 a.m. I’m at school now. The library is open for the day—lights on, furniture straightened, beanbags beaten into shape. I catch up on e-mails and reply to an English teacher asking if she can bring her literacy group across during first period, then read the daily student bulletin. A couple of students come into the library to print homework for the day, and some staff pop in to use the printer. I pull out my school day planner and make a to-do list. (Side note:  I swear by to-do lists, in all areas of my life. Straight-up type-A personality here.) First up is preparing for Reading Buddies, a reading scheme in place for the lower school to improve their reading ages. On the front desk, I set up their tracking sheets and the reluctant reader books specifically reserved for the scheme.

8.33 a.m. Staff briefing. Every Tuesday and Thursday, all staff meet in the staff room before the school day starts to make sure we’re all up to speed on what’s happening across the school. Briefing goes a little over as there are loads of notices to share, and we don’t get out until a little after the bell.

8.47 a.m. A few students are already seated in the library with their books and tracking sheets. These are the keen kids—the ones enjoying the free hot chocolate incentive. More peer mentors and students turn up and I put them in pairs. The last two mentors to turn up have the unfortunate task of tracking down stray students. A couple of students are absent, but the turnout for Reading Buddies is still brilliant.

9.15 a.m. A bell rings to signal the end of registration. The kids bring back their books and sheets to the front desk, and I get them put away to free up some room. More straightening up tables and chairs follows, ready for the literacy group. I’m printing invitations and schedules for the next cycle of Reading Buddies when they come in a few minutes later. With the library being used for their lesson, I need some quiet work. I cut out, fold, staple and seal envelopes between directing students to specific titles, and issuing, discharging and renewing books. One of my library assistants comes up to change her book—she’s re-reading Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series for the umpteenth time—and we debate over the content of Queen of Shadows.

10.12 a.m. The kids leave a bombsite behind, so I spend the next fifteen minutes reorganising and straightening most of the fiction shelves. Non-fiction is a constant state, but that’s nothing new—I’ve just finished purging and need to action all the stock that will stay. Big job. When the library is reset, I check my emails again. Nothing urgent.

10.45 a.m. It’s break time. I grab a coffee, and sit down in the staff room with my revision folder. I jot down those ideas from earlier, and get Love Me Like You Do stuck in my head again. Damn. Unable to focus, I pull out my wedding to-dos (yep, planning a wedding, too) and make a separate to-do list of what needs to be done this week. Told you, I live by them.

11.11 a.m. I take breaks before the kids, so I can supervise the library during theirs. I spend a couple of minutes clearing off the desk and computer for the two library assistants schedule to help out this break time. I sit at the table by the front desk so I can keep an eye on the library assistants—they are discharging books from the returned box—and any kids who come into the library, and replace the Dewey labels on a pile of non-fiction books. A student brings in an order from the latest Scholastic Teen Book Club magazine. She wants The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury. Good taste. I’ve ordered the same one.

11.38 a.m. Another bell. The kids leave for class, and one of my off-duty library assistants helps tuck in all the chairs. I reward her with a positive on her house card. I remain at the table, putting new labels on the non-fiction. I’m almost through a full bookcase when my handwriting pen runs out. I’m fussy and won’t use a ballpoint. I check the time and it’s a few minutes until I break for lunch, so I check my emails again. Watching the computer clock now waiting for the minute to be up. Writing tote already in hand, ready.

12.40 p.m. I dart for the staff room, and scoff a quick lunch of last night’s leftovers. I hit the revision folder again. Back on with the antagonist’s GMC internal goal, and his chart is completed in no time. I work through GMC charts for three more characters, then onto their character honing worksheets. I don’t realise my break is over until my colleagues start piling into the staff room. I stuff all the papers into the folder, and run back to the library.

1.45 p.m. I forgot to make myself a post-lunch coffee. Damn. Ah, well. No time to go back now as the library is busy. We’re one library assistant down as she’s gone home poorly, but the remaining assistant mans the desk fine on her own. She’s a pro. Meanwhile, I have to kick out a couple of lads for eating sweets at the computers. I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to eating in the library. I picked out too many mouldy bread crusts and burger wrappers from the bookshelves to allow eating in here. A student librarian who’s volunteering for her Duke of Edinburgh award comes to start shelving the non-fiction I finished earlier. The shelves are pretty bare right now, but we’re getting there.

2.36p.m. A science teacher has booked the library fifth period to finish up the Science Week investigation posters her year seven group is doing. I set up a box of relevant non-fiction books to help their research. Again, while the kids are working in the library, I do quiet work. I sort through my ongoing tray, and reply to an email from PE department, asking if I will mind supervise an exam in the library over first and second period for a couple of year elevens on Thursday. I’m updating my school day planner with an event I will be attending after half-term when I get a call from a colleague up in isolation, asking if I’d mind running her a laptop up for a student. I do just that. I’m flagging, and stop by the staff room on my way back to make another coffee.

3.31 p.m. Posters complete, the science teacher sends her class back to the science lab. She leaves me three of the posters to display on the front panel of my desk. The school day ends, and a handful of students come to the library to do homework or use the computers. I do my end of day housekeeping duties—tidying up around the students, checking emails again, updating the date stamp, updating the stationery sales boo, plugging all laptops in the trolley and locking it up. I clear my desk off. I thumb through a volume of High School Debut by Kazune Kawahara, and it makes me smile. It’s one of few dozen manga I donated to school when I first started. I love sharing them with the kids. It’s almost like being able to read them for the first time again.

4.04 p.m. I drive home, blasting the radio to keep awake. I’m so tired. I dream about taking a nap, but know it won’t happen. Neil and I are supposed to be going to the gym tonight. We joined last week and still haven’t found the motivation to go. Maybe it’ll hit me once I get home.

4.56 p.m. Of course, it doesn’t. I force myself to  walk to the retail park behind our apartment building without stopping by home first, because I know that if I stop, I’ll crash. I pop into Lidl for some produce. They were sold out when we did the food shop last night. I buy a cinnamon roll for Neil. Thankfully, there’s only one left because I was tempted to get one, too. Good job, if I’m not going to the gym.

5.07 p.m. Neil gets home while I’m putting the shopping away. He announces he wants to work on his printer design tonight, so we’ll start the gym next week instead. I’m hugely understanding, and more than happy with that plan. He plays on his PS4 for an hour to unwind, while I do some housework and watch YouTube videos.

6.20 p.m. We’re both in the study, headphones on. I’m examining my scene cards, looking for plot holes.

6.48 p.m. I finish up scene ten, then stop to make dinner with Neil. I clean the kitchen as we go. We eat, and while Neil gets back to work, I pack leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and start my evening routine.

8.29 p.m. I struggle to keep my eyes open, but want to get to scene fifteen. I can barely finish eleven. I’m too busy nodding off. I tidy my desk, ready for tomorrow morning.

8.52 p.m. Leaving Neil in the study, I go to bed. I try to read a chapter of Fated by Sarah Alderson, but can’t even manage a page.


Laura Wardle is a school librarian and writes fantasy novels for teens. She has more ideas than time, drinks far too much coffee, and loves binge-reading awesome books. She lives and writes in Lincolnshire, England, with her wonderful fiancé. You can visit her blog, and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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6. Revision (part three of three)

For the last couple of months, I’ve been posting about revision. You can find part one here, and part two here, moving from the macro to the micro.

So at this point, the biggest parts of the story should be in line. The plot, motivations, worldbuilding — it should all be in shape. You should know your characters pretty well, and the things they do should make sense. The structure of the story should be pretty sound, without too much action grouped together, or too many talky scenes grouped together . . . any of that. The story should move at a good pace that fits with the kind of story you’re telling.

But what else?

3. On to the micro.

This might seem like the tedious part, but it’s what’s going to separate the good and the great. Don’t stop just because the big stuff is in order. Dig in deeper and make that story shine. If you want to bring this back to our house analogy, imagine putting in the furniture, hanging the curtains, and picking the countertops.

a) Sentence structure.

If you notice that your sentences are all structured the same, it’s probably time to introduce some variety. Because reading the same type of sentence over and over gets boring. The reader starts to hear it in monotone. There’s no voice. It’s easy to skim.

So go ahead: make it interesting,

b) Word choice

If you’re writing a historical set in the 1500s, the characters probably won’t say “whatevs” and call one another “bro.” (And if they do, why? Make it believable.) Make sure the words your characters use are appropriate for the time period, the world, and their backgrounds.

Also, keep in mind that the words your characters use can do cool things like reflect mood, secret hopes, and whether they think the glass is half full or empty.

c) Cut the fluff.

You know those lines you thought would be important but ended up . . . not? But you still like them so you kept them? Yeah. Cut them. Sorry. This is another round of “if it doesn’t add to the story, chop it.”

So sometimes we’ll write things with a character picking up a glass in the middle of a conversation, just to give them some sort of action. But beware — sometimes those little throwaway lines can be more distracting than anything. When you’ve given yourself some space from the story, come back and chop out anything that makes you do a double take, or wonder if it’s going to be important.

If you have a block of description, figure out how to incorporate it into your characters action. Make it real. Make it tactile.

Also, cut out repeated information. Trust your reader to remember it. Unless you have a really good reason for keeping it in. There are always exceptions, of course. But a lot of times, writers will add the same information several times because they’re reminding themselves. All that is useful in first drafts, but not in the final.

d) Be consistent.

Watch out for places where your character is wearing a green dress at the start of the scene, and a blue dress by the end — without changing her clothes. Common places to look for continuity errors are distances, times, clothes, dates, character/place descriptions, and other smaller things. These can be hard to notice when you’re so close to a manuscript, so give yourself some time away. Eventually those things will pop out.

Also, try to be consistent in your words, too. Of course, spell your characters’ names the same way every time. If you call Sarah Sara a few times, the reader might wonder if they’re two different people. And, one that got me recently — I meant to capitalize House every time, but at some point thought I’d decided otherwise. As a result, I had a weird mix of both in my manuscript and had to make a lot of changes in copyedits to fix it!

So watch out for spellings, capitalizations, punctuation — other things like that. Your publisher will probably have a house style and the copyeditor will look for those things, too, but it’s a whole lot easier if you’re consistent about something. (It also makes you look more professional/careful.)

Well, I could keep going, but again this is getting pretty long. And I think I’ve covered most of what I meant to. Of course, general disclaimers apply. What works for me might not work for you, etc.

So was this helpful? Anything to add? Anything you’d like to take issue with?

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7. Guest Post: Switching Gears with Karen Akins

Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from the lovely Karen Akins, whose new book, Twist is out on April 7th! It’s the sequel to Loop, and today she’s talking to us about the journey from her series start to finish, and the changes along the way.

Akins - Publicity Shot 1bWhen Amie invited me to contribute this guest post, my first question was, “Is there a particular topic you’d like me to write about?” She said it could be anything publishing-related…maybe the challenges of writing time travel.

Which makes sense. The first book in my time travel duology, LOOP is already out in the world, and its sequel TWIST releases on April 7th. I began writing LOOP in 2010. It’s 2015. That’s five years of writing time travel.

That’s a lot of time travel.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love the subject. If Marty McFly pulled up outside in the DeLorean right now, I’d nab those keys and take off without blinking an eye.

But…I finished my final polishes on TWIST several months ago. I wrote it over a year ago. I started writing LOOP half a decade ago. Talking about the process of writing time travel feels a bit like time traveling in and of itself.

Instead, I thought I’d write about my here and now.

And my here and now can be summed up in a single word: Change. One might say I’m in a state of high flux capacity. (I know…terrible.)

change gif bttf

Change is common in the publishing industry. I’ve witnessed a lot of it since I sold LOOP and TWIST. Some of it is in a writer’s control. Most of it isn’t.

Editors move. Release dates get bumped. Covers are switched. Hot trends die. Dead trends rise from the coffin like sparkly vampires.

Series end.

Which is where I am right now. My active, creative role in the life of my series is finished. Like it or not, it’s change time.

change gif 1

As a writer (and as a human being), I have two choices before me. Change, whether it’s the result of an unexpected occurrence or the natural course of things, demands one of two responses. You can fight it. Or you can roll with it.

One of my good friends was at a writerly crossroads not too long ago. We’ve been crit partners for several years. When we met, she was already agented and wrote gritty contemporary YA. She had undeniable talent, but for whatever reasons (timing, the market, a butterfly pooping over the Atlantic…it’s publishing, who knows?) her stories hadn’t sold.

She was faced with a moment that required change, and she didn’t fight it. Or hide under her fuzzy green blanket and eat a copious amount of Cadbury crème eggs (oh, wait—that’s me). No. She rolled with it.

She wrote something completely new and completely different. And, you guys, it is magical. If you don’t know Evelyn Skye yet, don’t worry. You will. (Click for a bigger version.)

change 2

Was it easy? No. Change is rarely easy. Or pain-free. But I think she’d be the first to say it was worth it.

So here I am at this new old place. My release date is so close I could smack it. A strange mix of emotions swirls around in me. Excitement, fear, pride, doubt, joy, nostalgia. It’s very loud in my head.

change gif sheldon

But when I stop trying to fight it, when I roll with it, that’s when everything quiets down. Only then can I hear a new character speak to me. Her voice is fun. Her story is unlike anything I’ve written before. I think it might be a story worth sharing.

I sit down.

And I write.

Loop Twist

How about you guys? What points have you hit in your writing journey when change was necessary?

Karen Akins writes humorous, light sci-fi for young adults and the young in spirit. When not writing or reading, she loves lightsaber dueling with her two sons and forcing her husband to watch BBC shows with her. You can keep up with her at karenakins.com or on twitter.

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8. When it’s too close to home: Writing Q&A with Anne Bustard, author of Anywhere But Paradise

AnneBustard_PhotoIt is my absolute pleasure to welcome Anne Bustard today, in celebration of the release of her new Middle Grade book, which comes out today. Anne, a part of Egmont’s Last List, has graciously agreed to indulge my questions about her writing process with her brilliant answers. So without further ado, welcome, Anne!

Anywhere But ParadiseSet in 1960 Hawaii, Anywhere But Paradise is the story of reluctant seventh-grade newcomer Peggy Sue Bennett, who is baffled by local customs, worried about her quarantined cat and targeted by a school bully because she is haole, white. At first, Peggy Sue would rather be anywhere—anywhere but paradise. But a new friend, hula lessons, the beauty of the islands and more, help Peggy Sue find her way. This is a story about fear and guilt. About hope and home. About aloha, love.

I’ve read that Anywhere But Paradise was inspired by your growing up in Hawaii. Can you tell us more about that? Did you do a lot of research on Hawaii in 1960 or mostly rely on your personal experiences?

I was born in Honolulu, moved away when I was a toddler and returned to paradise after fifth grade. I have wonderful memories of hiking to waterfalls with my cousins, aunt and uncle, eating lilikoi (passion fruit) shave ice on the bench outside the Matsumoto storefront on the North Shore, stringing lei from plumeria flowers from our yard and listening to the ocean.

I did not live in the islands in 1960. But even if I had, research would still have been a gigantic part of my process. I couldn’t have written the story without delving deeper and double-triple checking details. I love research, so this part of the writing process was particularly fun! I needed to verify the animal quarantine requirements, when the night-blooming cereus flowered, stories about Madame Pele and dozens of other facets of the novel. I did a lot on my own, but so, so many generous people helped me along the way. I am exceedingly grateful.

Small moments of my personal experience flavor the narrative. I know what it’s like to hear a tsumani warning siren wail and evacuate to higher ground, to be verbally threatened by a bully (though unlike Peggy Sue, it happened to me only once) and to be enchanted by the beauty and rhythms of the islands.

Writing about a character’s problems can unearth a ton of old ghosts of our own. How did you go about navigating your past and finding the inspiration for the character of Peggy Sue? Did you ever find her problems difficult to confront due to them being too close to home?

All writers draw upon some portion of ourselves, no matter how small. Part of my own journey was to recognize that I was holding back. In a pivotal conversation with the wonderful children’s and YA writer, Janet Fox, it occurred to me that Hawaii was the antagonist of the story. I love Hawaii. It is my home. I told Janet that I did not want it to be the antagonist.

“I know,” she said in a soft voice. “But in the end,” Janet said brightly, “Hawaii isn’t the antagonist.”

True. But. I realized not only had I been protecting Peggy Sue, I’d been protecting Hawaii. In the end, both would have to stand up for themselves.

What advice would you give to a writer who is struggling to separate their reality from their fictional character? How can we protect ourselves emotionally if a character reminds us too much of ourselves?

You are not your character. But there may be parts of her that resonate with you.

So my answer may surprise you—don’t separate. This is where you will find the gold.

It’s way scary.

It took me years to get to the point where I could do this. Years.

What was the most useful lesson you learned while writing this book? If you could go back and talk to the you who is about to begin writing, how would you warn or arm her against the difficulties ahead?

My big takeaway? Go there emotionally.

Breathe. Trust the process. It’s going to take as long as it takes. It’s all about revision, going deeper. About finding the heart of the story. About discovering what your characters really want.

Tim Wynne-Jones says, “The answers are in your writing.” He posits that we give ourselves clues to unlocking the mysteries of our own work. It’s our job to look carefully, to look differently, until we discover them.

Amen to that, Anne. Thank you for your wonderfully insightful answers!

To celebrate the release of Anywhere But Paradise, we are giving away a signed copy to a lucky winner! Enter the draw through the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win this beautifully written book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. She is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont Publishing) is out on March 31, 2015. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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9. Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway!

Some people say I’m a book pusher. I’m okay with that. I get impatient with friends when they still haven’t read that book I recommended at least A WEEK AGO, for heaven’s sake, so I just go online and send it to them. Pushy? Bossy? I will not apologize. People need to read certain books and yes, I do know what’s good for them.

Which is why I’m about to go full-on pushy once again, and not only recommend some books that you need to read RIGHT NOW to fulfill your need for kickass science fiction heroines, I’m also going to go the extra step of enforcing that by actually giving them away free to one lucky winner.

Diving into the Wreck ebook cover webFirst, Diving Into the Wreck, part of the Diving Universe series by Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been a fan and student of Kris’s for about 13 years, and have always viewed her as a pretty badass woman and author in her own right. But she also writes amazingly complicated and strong women characters who are always so much fun to spend time with. Kris has generously offered to give the lucky winner a signed copy of the book. She also answered some interview questions for me that I’ll share below, so hang on. It’s always fun to hear how other writers think.


The Lost WorldSecond is Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and if you were a fan of his Jurassic Park you may think you already know all there is to know about this sequel, but I think perhaps you don’t. Because the reason I’m pushing it is that it has one of my favorite heroines of all time, Sarah Harding, who is both scientist and never-say-die person-you-most-want-with-you-in-a-crisis, and I am so inspired by her intelligence and toughness I actually reread this book about twice a year just to pump myself up. I think once you’ve experienced Sarah Harding for yourself, you’ll be totally hooked, too.


Parallelogram OmnibusThird is my own Parallelogram seriesWhy am I book-pushing my own series? Because I wrote it for a particular reason: to show two very different girls who are entirely kickass in their own separate ways. One is a scientific explorer, willing to try out all sorts of bizarre (and potentially hazardous) physics theories she’s come up with, and the other is a teen adventurer who has been raised by her very badass explorer grandmother to handle all sorts of physical risks with a cool head and a deep will to survive.

In my spare time I like to read a lot of true adventure books by real-life explorers, and I based the teenage adventurer Halli and her grandmother Ginny on two women explorers I really admire: Roz Savage, who rowed solo across the Atlantic (why not??), and Helen Thayer, who was the first person to ski solo and unsupported to the magnetic North Pole. When she was 50, by the way. So yeah, I think you should read Parallelogram for the same reason you should read the Rusch and Crichton books: because the girls and women in these books will entertain and inspire you.

I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about her own writing process and what inspires her to write the strong kinds of characters you’ll find in all of her work:

RB: What qualities do you admire in the heroine of your book Diving Into The Wreck? Did you write those qualities into her character on purpose, or did they develop over time on their own?

KKR: Boss is her own person. She only lets people call her Boss, and she won’t tell anyone her name, because it’s her business. What I love about Boss is that she is so secure in who she is. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows just how much she’s willing to tell/give in any situation. She admits when she’s wrong, and she analyzes everything. She’s very strong, but she also can be vulnerable.

My characters come fully formed, but they do reveal parts of themselves over time. Boss & I share a love of history, but she’s so much more adventurous than I am. She would go crazy in a room writing all day. I love it. I never add traits consciously. Subconsiously, who knows? I assume so. But the characters are real people to me, with their flaws and strengths, and that includes Boss.

RB: Who are some of your favorite kickass heroines in other people’s science fiction books and movies? What about them inspires you as a person and/or as a writer? (I’m a big fan of Ripley’s in the Alien series. When she’s rescuing the little girl Newt from the breeding area in Aliens and fighting off the queen alien and her posse–you’d better believe Ripley makes me want to be braver in real life.)

KKR: Favorite SF women. Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. Most of the sf I read is short fiction, and the characters are one-offs. None of the women in the stories I read rise to the level of favorite. I like Ripley–and she was inspiring to me–but is not someone who comes to mind easily.

In SF, my examples were always negative. For example, in Trek, I was so happy that Kathryn Janeway had her own ship. Then I saw the dang first episode, and when she was faced with a big issue that James T. Kirk could have solved in 45 minutes, she gave in, and made her crew suffer for **years**  I think most of the sf films/TV suffer from stupid women problems.

The strong women I read about appear in the mystery genre. I adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. I used to love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone, especially when I encountered her in the 1980s. The female lead detectives were unusual women, who did their own thing in a man’s world. They’re the inspiration for my sf heroines.

RB: This is a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do you give your characters some of your own kickass qualities of bravery, wisdom, compassion, etc.–or do you feel inspired as you write their stories to be more like them yourself?

KKR: LOL, Robin. I love that you think I have kickass qualities. I think my characters are more articulate than I am, smarter than I am, more adventurous than I am, and more courageous than I am. I am blunt and stubborn and difficult, and in my fiction, those qualities are virtues, so there’s some of me there. But these folks are not people I want to be: they’re people I want to meet.

RB: Which character of yours has changed you the most as a person? Why?

KKR: The character of mine who has changed me the most as a person is Smokey Dalton, from my Kris Nelscott mysteries. He’s an African-American detective in the late 1960s. He’s a true hero, in my opinion. But his situations are beyond difficult. I always put him in the middle of a historical situation, and then ask him to respond. Some of those historical situations–I keep thinking, if I were there, would I have had the courage to do what he did? Would I have known what to do? And the thing I admire most about Smokey: His world, horrid as it is, doesn’t break him. It makes him stronger. That has had a huge impact on me and my thinking and my writing.

RB: What do you prefer in your favorite heroines, whether it’s the ones you write, read, or watch: More stoic than compassionate, vice versa,or a particular ratio of both? (For me, 80% stoic, 20% compassionate.)

KKR: Compassion first. I quit reading a mystery series set in the Middle Ages because our heroine–a smart and active woman–had a baby, and then abandoned that baby to go on a crusade. Well, this is the Middle Ages, and yes, she might have done that historically, but it would take 2-3 years to return to that child, and there would be no guarantee that the child was safe or well cared for. So I quit reading right there. The woman was too selfish for me to read about. Stoic, yes. But willing to sacrifice someone she loved for her own ends. Not someone I want to read about.

RB: Bonus question: I know you’re a big fan of the time travel series OUTLANDER, as am I. (I just finished the fourth book. What a ride!) If you were in Claire’s position, catapulted back to 1745 Scotland, what skills would you want to bring to the mix? I love her medical knowledge–it’s such a huge asset. But is there some skill you’d find just as valuable?

KKR: Great question. I have a wide variety of historical knowledge and weird trivia. I know how to make a match for example, and I know how to sterilize a room (even back then) and I know what’ll happen when in most of the English-speaking world. So I like to think all of that will be beneficial. Knowing outspoken me, though, I’d probably be jailed as a witch and executed. :-) I also know that I’d be panicked as hell about dying of something preventable, like the cold that has felled me this week in 2015. If it became an infection in 1745, I could die. And I’d probably worry about that more than anything (except the food, which–yuck!) So as you can tell, I’m probably too much of a worrier to time travel safely.


Kris and I both have novels in the Time Travel Story Bundle, which is on sale for just two more weeks. Here’s your chance to score a whole bunch of great fiction at an incredibly low price. Don’t miss it!


And as soon as you buy the bundle, head on over to my GIVEAWAY PAGE and enter to win those three fabulous science fiction books! I push them because I love–the heroines in those books and you, Dear Readers. Enjoy!

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10. 8 Things Writers Do When Life is Crazy: The Crazy Writing Life

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Life has been crazy the last two weeks and I’ve struggled to keep up. There’s been a major family crisis, a funeral, major snow storms, and illnesses. In spite of all of that, people get up and go to work. Writers must do the same thing: when life throws us crazy, we spin it into something useful.

  1. Accounting. With April 15 almost upon us, I found the extra time at home useful for doing accounting. Not sexy. Not writing. But necessary stuff. (The fact that I’ve been in accounting hell has more to do with my background and abilities than with the rest of the craziness.) I wish I could give you advice on how to do accounting better, but alas, I can’t. You might want to read, though, Laurie Purdie Salas post on her writing income last year. She’s posted this every year since 2007, so you can see her career over a long period.
  2. Reading other blogs using Alltop.com. Several years ago, I followed blogs by subscribing to RSS feeds. The programs that made that easy are discontinued, and I’ve found myself reading fewer and fewer blogs–which isolates me from the community. Alltop.com is filling that space for me. It’s a service that lists the top blogs in many categories, pulls in headlines/teaser from their five latest posts and displays it in an at-a-glance format. I set it as my browser’s homepage, so I’m reminded to check out the latest conversations. Here’s my personal Alltop page. You can create one for yourself that lists your top blogs by creating an account and following their directions.
  3. Clean up your book’s listings at AuthorCentral.com. This continues to be a catch-all site for anything related to my books on Amazon/Kindle. From here, you can change/correct listings, upload cover images, monitor sales and reviews, and more. The links to Amazon Help here are the most useful. Usually, they’ll call you right away. If you only have 15 minutes to do something in the middle of a hectic situation, clean up your book’s description.
  4. Take pictures. I recently got a hand-me-down Digital SLR camera and I’ve been trying to learn how to use it. By keeping it out and available, I can snap off a shot here or there. These are so useful for blog posts, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and most social media sites. Great photography is a useful skill for communicating in any online venue these days. Basically, online you can provide text, images or audio. That’s it. You might as well practice the image thing, because it’s crucial.
  5. My husband, Dwight, doing a "faceprint" in the snow, while the grandkids watch.

    My husband, Dwight, doing a “faceprint” in the snow, while the grandkids watch.

    Olga, Olaf's special friend. This would be a great image to add text for accompany a blog post.

    Olga, Olaf’s special friend. Putting text on top of this image would make it a good advertisement for a blog post.

  6. Choose a writing prompt. It almost doesn’t matter what prompt. Just choose something that will allow you to write. Even in the midst of Life (with a capital L), you need words flowing out.
  7. Start a blog. Oh, my gosh! Start a blog in the midst of Life? Shrug. Why not. You need one. And there’s no good time to do it. So, just get it done. OK. Then, just work on your author website for five minutes.
  8. Cheer for other writers. A friend recently got an offer for her first contract. While I’m in the doldrums, it’s inspiring to see her joy. She’s worked hard for this and deserves success. Who can you cheer for? Who can you cheer up? Do you know that when I get the occasional email about my blog, it totally makes my day? You could do that for someone else. It’s writing; it’s getting your mind off your own swirl of problems; it’s amazingly uplifting to the person getting the email–and to the person writing it.
  9. Observe. Hey! All this craziness is grist for the mill. The best writers see the world at a slant and can communicate that unique perspective in compelling ways. If you’re in a place where the communication can’t happen, then observe all the more. It’s our basic task: pay attention. Don’t check out. Look, listen, taste, smell, feel–live to tell about the crazy times

Send me your good news! I’d love to hear it!

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11. Revision (part two of three)

Last month I posted about revision, starting with a few macro items. I’m here to talk about that even more.

2. Start building on your foundation.

With the macro, we talked about the foundations of the story. Or of a house, in our analogy. (Which is going to get pretty wonky, since I’ve never built a house. You’ll just have to roll with it.) So we’ve got the character and motivation, the worldbuilding, and the major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

For me, everything is interconnected. Characters and their choices drive the plot, the world affects how they behave — that sort of thing. So while I’m talking about everything separately, it’s important to remember that adjusting one aspect of the story will likely impact several others.

And what kind of things am I looking at on this level?

a) Characters and their motivations.

I know we did this one in the last post, but since the characters are the driving force of my stories, I check this in every step until there’s no question that my characters are behaving as they should. I take a closer look at individual scenes to make sure the character development is natural and progressing at a reasonable pace. Or regression, as the case may be. I also go through to make sure that they’re never the same person they were at the start of the scene or chapter.

What’s that mean? I mean the characters need to be active. They need to make decisions. Their situation need to change, even if it’s subtly. They can learn something that changes the way they view a problem. They can take action and be faced with the consequences — either good or bad. Action can be taken upon them, and they’ll be forced to react. Or it can be as subtle as an interaction with another character, and maybe the way they view that character is a little different now.

And that needs to happen in every scene.

b) Plot and conflict.

Speaking of scenes, let’s make sure they’re all useful. A long time ago, I was on the receiving end of some advice. Every scene needs to do two things: plot, character development, worldbuilding, or theme, and one of those things always needs to be plot. If plot is not happening, it either needs to be shoved into that scene, or that scene needs to be removed from the story. Every scene has to earn its place, after all.

Furthermore, does the plot make sense? If at any time there’s an easy solution that my characters aren’t taking, it needs to be really clear why. Someone’s breaking into their house, but they’re not calling the police — WHY? Maybe the characters are hiding a dead body in the basement and it would be a shame for the police to find it. Or whatever. But it needs to make sense why they don’t take the obvious actions.

In general, people will look for the simplest solution possible. Plots that could be solved within a few pages, if only the characters took the natural action, don’t make for good books. It’s not believable.

That said, simple, natural solutions can cause further problems. Going back to the stranger breaking into the house with the people who call the cops (because they don’t have a body in the basement after all), what if the cops come and make things worse? What if they’re on the robber’s side? Or the intruder leaves and the police don’t believe that someone broke into the house? What do the characters do from there? We have all kinds of opportunities to make things worse for the characters and find a plot that both makes sense and will fill an entire book.

c) Balance and movement.

Sometimes, I find my drafts have too many discovery scenes in a row. Or too many action scenes in a row. Or whatever. Too much of one thing at a time gets boring. (Yes, even if it’s action.) When you ride a roller coaster, it’s the steady drag upward that makes the steep drop even more thrilling. And if all you did was roll down the hill . . . even that would get boring. Stories need motion. Up and down. Side to side. They need change.

I like to go through my manuscripts to make sure I don’t have too many talky scenes in a row — or if I have several, make sure they all mean different things to the character, or are about different plots. They need to build tension.

Same for action scenes. (Which doesn’t have to mean sword fights, necessarily. They can be sword fights, of course, but they can also be car chases, kissing scenes, or characters putting their plans in motion.) Constant action, without highs and lows and change is pretty boring. A ten-page sword fight is only interesting if the reader cares about the outcome, and the situation changes rapidly. Maybe people are coming to watch. Maybe there’s money riding on the outcome. Then, an airplane is on a collision course with the fighters. And a meteor! And then someone’s delivering a baby! And more things that escalate the tension.

You get the idea. Things change. There’s movement. And there aren’t a lot of back to back talky scenes, or back to back action scenes without some kind of relief.

d) Structure: Beginning, middle, and end.

For this, I can mostly link to other blog posts about beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is another thing I take a look at when I’m revising. Do I have a solid beginning? A solid middle? A solid end? Have I resolved everything that needs to be resolved?

And that’s all I have room for this time. More next month!

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12. Volunteering: Marketing’s Best Kept Secret

Writing Life Banner


Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72I’ve met very few writers who got excited over the idea of marketing and promotion–and those who did, were typically folks who did that for a living. Maybe it’s an aspect of a creative soul, but it’s not usually something that comes naturally to us. And the thought of pushing our work on others? -shudder-

I’ve always advocated that the best marketing strategies are the things we enjoy doing. Good marketing is all about making connections, and a great way to do that is by helping others. Volunteering is a fun, rewarding, and beneficial way to “promote” without promoting. For example, conferences need volunteers:

  • To pick up presenters from the airport and assist them during the conference
  • To help register attendees
  • To moderate panels and introduce speakers
  • To work book sale and refreshment tables
  • To help promote the conference through blog interviews or guest posts with presenters

All of these provide opportunities to meet and network with other local writers as well as industry professionals.

I’d belonged to various writers’ organization prior to selling my first novel, but it wasn’t until I joined my local chapter of SCBWI that I realized how valuable such groups could actually be. Up until then, I’d always been “on the outside,” paying my dues (literally) and attending the occasional conference, but never taking advantage of what the organizations had to offer. In fact, I was so clueless then I didn’t even know there were local chapters of the national groups.

Then I met a fellow author at one of my first book signings, and she encouraged me to check out Southern Breeze, which happened to be having their fall conference a few weeks later. I figured, why not? It was only a two-hour drive away, reasonably priced, and had a fun workshop schedule.

As I was registering, I noticed there was a box marked “want to volunteer?” Again I thought, why not? and checked it. Shortly thereafter someone contacted me, and I was signed up at the registration desk to help folks as they checked in. I spent the morning meeting and greeting other writers in my area and had a fantastic time. I was at that conference alone, but after that one hour I knew the names and faces of half the attendees (those in the M-Z section). What could have been a lonely conference was suddenly more welcoming, and guess what–a lot of those people went over and bought my brand-new book when they found out I was brand-new author.

That experience led me to volunteer to moderate the peer group critiques, then I helped out at the conference bookstore, then I became the bookstore liaison, and eventually the publicity coordinator for the region. Along the way, I’ve met some amazing people–from writers to editors to agents and other industry professionals I wouldn’t have been able to meet had I not be a volunteer. I’ve also had some wonderful opportunities offered to me. Best part of all of this–I had fun. Tons of it.

There lies the beauty of volunteering.

Obviously, volunteering for the sole purpose of promoting and shoving your work down everyone’s throat isn’t going to work (we can all spot a poser, right?); you honestly have to enjoy it. But ultimately, networking is what a professional conference or organization is for–to help the members of that organization advance their careers. You get out what you put into it.

Reasons to Volunteer: The Good Deed Side

Volunteering feels good, it’s helpful, and much appreciated. Many local events run on volunteers, and the more people who help out, the better the event is for everyone.

  • You’re supporting other writers
  • You’re sharing the task burden so those who run these events don’t burn out and get overwhelmed
  • You’re helping your organization raise money to educate writers
  • It’s a way to pay back any good fortune you’ve received
  • It’s a way to be part of the community you want to belong in

Reasons to Volunteer: The Business Side

Publishing is a business and these conferences are networking opportunities. The more connected you are, the better your chances of encountering something that can help your career.

  • Opportunities to meet and interact with authors, agents, editors, and publishers
  • Opportunities to speak or present workshops
  • A chance to be considered first (because they know you) when career opportunities present themselves–speaking engagements, awards, writing jobs, etc.
  • Opportunities to meet other authors who can team up with you to market and promote
  • Opportunities to promote your own work

Conferences take a lot of work by a lot of people, and they’re wonderful opportunities to connect with fellow writers and industry professionals. Volunteering can be an enormous benefit on both a professional, and a personal level.

Do you volunteer? Share your experiences!

And speaking of conferences…

Springmingle banner graphic

Calling all kidlit writers and illustrators: Springmingle ’15 Writers’ and Illustrators’ Conference will take place on March 13-15, 2015 in Decatur, GA. Meet editors and agents from industry-leading agencies and publishing houses—and the friendliest, most supportive colleagues one could ever hope to find. Attendees will find nearly a dozen workshop sessions, including: 101+ Reasons for Rejection, Writing La Vida Loca, and Traditional Picture Books in a Digital Age. Visit their website for a complete listing of workshops: https://southern-breeze.scbwi.org/events/springmingle-15/. Presented by SCBWI/Southern Breeze Region.

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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13. Guest Post: The Unlikeliest Road From Fanfiction to Agenting

Industry Life


Jess Dallow

Note from Sooz: I’m DELIGHTED to introduce you all to the subrights and film/tv assistant at New Leaf Literary & Media. She has a great post today that I think will resonate with many of you just as it resonated with me. So many of us in writing and publishing got our starts working with fanfiction. But I’ll let Jess take it from here! :)

Up until a year ago, I thought I had a dirty little secret.

From the age of fourteen to thirty, I read, wrote, and beta read fanfiction. I didn’t know there was a name for it when I started (this was a world before fanfiction.net, message boards, and of course, Tumblr), but more than that, I never realized that these stories would end up changing the course of my life. I was a terrible student, but I was creative and happy, and the more I wrote, the more I honed skills I never quite knew I had. And when I ended up majoring in screenwriting, getting told by professors that my dialogue was too clunky and not realistic enough, I wrote more fanfiction. I watched more episodes (at that time it was hours upon hours of Law and Order: SVU), I listened harder, and I kept practicing. It wasn’t for a grade, there wasn’t so much pressure, and I taught myself to fix all of what was wrong. It was only months later when I started to get complimented on my dialogue and so I continued to switch back and forth between screenplays and fanfiction.

One was mandatory. The other taught me things school never did.

In the past sixteen years, I’ve spent time in three different fandoms religiously, and dabbled in a fourth. I hid it from the people in my everyday life, ashamed of a stigma that had been attached to fanfiction since it became whispered about like sin. Things like, “only people with no friends spend their time online, obsessed with a TV show”; “It’s just poorly written porn”; and any other number of insults that I’ve heard throughout the years. But in my secret online life, I started to get a reputation. I was a good writer, but more than that, I was an even better beta. I could look at someone’s work and see the bigger picture. I knew what was missing, what would make it better, but most of all, I discovered that as much as I liked writing, I loved writers more. I loved their enthusiasm and watching their work blossom and take shape and become something beautiful. The knowledge that I helped make someone else’s work stronger made me want to beta every story in every fandom, even if I had no time. I took on more than I could chew, started to write less, and fell in love with this life.

And then a year before I turned thirty, everything changed. A friend I knew through fanfic had written a novel and wanted me to beta it. I was flattered and excited, and I spent the entire weekend reading through it, making edits, and wishing deep down I could do this for a living. And instead of living a life that was no longer right for me, I left all my former dreams behind, including Los Angeles, where I had been living for the past eight years, and moved back to a city I swore I would never return to again. I took informational meetings at literary agencies and got an internship at the incredible New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. It took less than three months until I was hired in a permanent position and where I’ve spent the last year.  Every day is an adventure and every day I am grateful.

Without fanfiction, without those years of writing and editing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have discovered incredible people along the way who believed in me and made me better; I wouldn’t have gotten dialogue down to a science; and most importantly I wouldn’t have discovered what I truly love. I’ve grown up with fanfiction writers who have later become published and I’ve met people who liked the idea of writing, but didn’t discover their life dreams of it until they wrote and posted for the world to see.

I realize now, it was never something to be ashamed of. So whether it’s writing or editing, or even just learning, embrace the fanfiction. It might just change your life.

Before moving back to her home state of New York, Jess Dallow spent eight years working at a talent agency in Hollywood. Deciding books and cold New York winters were more her speed, she became an intern at New Leaf Literary & Media before being hired as the subrights and film/tv assistant. In her spare time, Jess can be found at either Sprinkles or Chipotle, stuffing her face with cupcakes or guacamole (thankfully, not together). You can follow her on twitter.

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14. Five Years, Five Lessons


Alex Bracken


Hello, PubCrawlers! I’ve managed to thaw out my frozen little fingers enough on this absolutely freezing holiday weekend to bring you some news: today is my last post as a regular member of PubCrawl. I have loved my time here beyond words, and it feels wrong to say goodbye–it’s not goodbye at all! You’ll always find me in the comments, and (hopefully!) my friends here will have me back for guest posts every now and then. Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to thank all of YOU for your wonderful comments and thoughts you’ve shared from the beginning!

So much has changed for me over the past year, I’ve been a little more reflective than usual about my life as a writer and thought it was time to solidify five publishing truths for the five years I’ve been around the block. Many people assume that The Darkest Minds was my debut novel, but that’s not the case at all–my first novel, Brightly Woven, was published in 2010 by EgmontUSA. Which brings me to my first point:

1) You will survive set-backs. It’s so much easier to reflect back on this in retrospect, when you have distance between that initial panic and pain and the steadier ground you find, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to remind yourself of this. Setbacks come in all sizes, and usually when you least expect it. One of my biggest was when my first agent, the one who signed me after reading Brightly Woven, left the business right when I was really floundering in that post-debut what-do-I-do-next? state of mind. I’d just moved to New York, and (no joke) the only place I could get reception was leaning out of my bedroom window nine floors up, which added an extra layer of anguish to that particular conversation.

I was reassigned to a new agent within the agency and then spent the next six months wallowing that my new agent didn’t really want me and was too busy for me and we would never have the same relationship I did with my first agent. Well of course we wouldn’t have the same relationship–they’re two different people! I had to take the time to go back to the start and figure out how to rebuild that foundation. I so admire all of my fellow EgmontUSA authors, especially those on the verge of debuting, who are now being asked to do this very same thing in a much, much bigger way. Once the shock of the hit wears off, you will find it in yourself to figure out a way to heal and carry on.

2) This is a very small industry. Everyone has human moments where stress or frustration finally gets them in a stranglehold and sparks a reaction. My editor still teases me about a very emotional email I sent her trying to argue against certain edits she suggested. She understood that it was prompted by a mountain of stress and sleepless nights… and, well, in the grand scheme of authors acting up, it’s not something that’s all that noteworthy. But what I want to say here, as a gentle reminder, is that kidlit publishing is so, so, so small, and despite houses competing over projects and for sales, everyone is pretty friendly with one another. It’s so rare for anyone to stay at one house their whole career, and when they do move, they bring stories with them… and those stories can reach important ears. And, well, this is very true on the author side, too. It’s okay to have an off moment, but people will remember the way you made them feel, both good and bad.

3) Find friends at the same stage of the journey as you. This is so crucial and it relates to what I was saying above–everyone gets frustrated, everyone feels ignored, everyone has questions they’re too scared to ask anyone for fear of looking stupid. Your agent is a great resource for you on this front, but if you’ve decided to go a different route, finding other writers and creating a circle of trust is a great way to blow off some steam. This is such a strange little business that most people outside of it will have no idea what you’re talking about half of the time, even if they are a patient listener and willing to lend an ear. I was really, really lucky to meet Sarah before either of us ever sold a project–in addition to critiquing projects, we could bounce Is this normal? and Am I being a crazy person? questions off each other.

4) Are you having fun yet? There are certainly parts of the publication and drafting process that are NOT fun and leave you wanting to tear your hair out… but if no part of it is feeling fun to you–drafting, daydreaming new projects, what have you–then it might be time to take a breather, just for a little while, and reassess. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision about publication. You start thinking in terms of doing X, to get to Y, to get to Z–you convince yourself that the reward is the end (publication) rather than the process itself… but–I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times–it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to make a career out of this, then you have to enjoy the work itself. Publication is one day. The rest of it takes months, sometimes even years.

5) Find YOUR balance. Here’s one thing I’ve struggled with a lot over the past five years: accepting that what works for others won’t necessarily work for me. I feel envious of other writers who can churn out book after book, seemingly without ever needing to take a break. I wish all the time I was funny enough to rock social media and be a real presence there. I’ve tried copying other people’s work schedules to see if they’ll work for me. And, well, they don’t. I have to take a break between projects, sometimes weeks, otherwise I’m too tapped-out to write anything worth reading. Social media is fun for me, but it’s also a source of anxiety that sucks up a lot of my time, energy, and emotional well-being. It is so much better to be honest with yourself/agent/editor about what you can handle rather than put yourself through the gauntlet of trying, and maybe failing, to get it done. To jack a sentiment from Thoreau: Be not simply good. Be good for something.

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds series. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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15. Guest Post: The Five Elements Every Book Needs

Writing Life


by Peggy Eddleman

Peggy Eddleman1The Chinese have a theory that there are five different tastes in food— sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, and sour— and if you have each of these five elements in a meal, then food will be more satisfying. You won’t be searching in the fridge 30 minutes later for that something you can’t quite put your finger on that you are missing.

It’s the same thing for writing books. There are five elements that every book needs to make it every bit as satisfying.

1. Humor

Scientists say that laughing does two things: it helps us to bond with people, and it lessens tension and anxiety. Both are VERY important in fiction. We want our readers to bond with our characters. (As an added bonus, it’ll help the reader bond with you as the author!) And at key points, like right after an intense scene or even during a stressful scene, we can use it to lessen tension and anxiety.

2. Horror / Scariness

Even if horror isn’t your main genre, there are plenty of ways to occasionally frighten your reader. Even things as simple as having your character walk through a creepy setting or leaving a chapter at a cliffhanger will go a long way in adding horror to your book. The big key is to make your reader afraid: they don’t want to know what will happen; they want to worry about what might happen.

BothHardcoversNoBackground3. Mystery

A mystery in a book, such as information the character wants to find out, can keep a reader glued to the story. So build curiosity— even if it’s something like whether a character is a friend or foe, or what the key that they found goes to. Hint about things— like a monster, a treasure, or what’s around the next corner. But NEVER try to build a mystery by making things unclear. That’s confusion, not a mystery.

4. Action / Adventure

It’s a good idea to not go too long without action in your books. I’m not saying your characters have to run for their lives or jump off a cliff (although I am quite fond of characters jumping off a cliff :)). Action can be things as simple as running to make the train. Sneaking around somewhere they shouldn’t be. Being caught in a rainstorm. Something that gets the characters moving. Preferably fast.

5. A Sense of Wonder

Some genres— fantasy and scifi, especially— evoke a sense of wonder quite strongly. But it can be added in any genre through fascinating characters, looking at an everyday something very differently than you’ve looked at it before, or with an interesting setting. Think of where you’d love to go on vacation the most. You want to go there because of the sense of wonder that setting will evoke, right? Whenever you can, think about putting your characters in a more interesting setting. Why have a conversation happen in a boring kitchen, when it can happen in the woods, at a construction site, in a museum? Use things that will get the reader to stop and think about what is possible. To stop and look at something closely. The wonder they’ll create themselves.

If you put some of each of those 5 things in your book, when a reader finishes, they won’t be searching their Kindle for the something they’re missing that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll be texting all their friends about how they have to read your book.

Peggy grew up in an area filled with untamed places to explore, with parents who allowed her to be daring, and with resourceful siblings, which combined to make her middle grade years one giant action / adventure story. The magic of those years has never truly left Peggy, and she can’t help but tap into them as she writes books like Sky Jumpers and The Forbidden Flats. Today, Peggy lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, and hangs out online at her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

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16. Guest Post: From The Heart

Writing Life


by Pamela Voelkel

Amie here first: Today’s is a very special post, and we here at Pub Crawl want to encourage you to read it all the way through, and pass this news along to the readers in your life.

As you may be aware, Egmont USA recently closed its doors, leaving some wonderful authors without a home. Many people would have screamed in frustration at the unfairness of it all — all that work, then this! — but instead, Egmont’s Last List has handled the situation with grace and humour, and we all admire them so much. In the next few months, Pub(lishing) Crawl will be featuring Egmont authors as their books release, and we hope you’ll all join us in supporting them and celebrating their wonderful books.

You can find them in their new online home here, and if you’re a blogger and want to help show the Last Listers how ready the publishing community is to support them, we hope you’ll head over to the blog hop that Cuddlebuggery is hosting, and sign up. Let’s show Egmont’s Last List some love — you can do so in the comments below to enter today’s giveaway, and whether you enter or not, we hope you’ll let the Egmont authors know you’re right behind them!

Now, here’s Pamela:

Back CameraToday is a huge day for my co-author (and husband!) Jon and me because it marks the end of a ten year obsession. That’s how long we’ve been researching, writing and illustrating the Jaguar Stones books, a series of Maya-themed adventures for middle-schoolers.

So much has happened. So many family trips to Central America, so many interviews with archaeologists, so many nights at home in Vermont arguing about plot points or trying to coax a crashed computer back to life. And then there’s the journey to publication, the book tours (thank you, Egmont!) and school visits, the amazing emails from readers, and the way people just generally seem to like you better when they find out you write books for children.

So today, as the fourth and final Jaguar Stones book, THE LOST CITY, is released, I’d like to share my top ten moments from the last ten amazing years:

The first time we visited Egmont USA and the wonderful Alison Weiss had made a huge poster of a Maya stela to welcome us.

Discussing the perils of trying to make a living as a writer with another Egmont author, the great Walter Dean Myers. His advice? “Write fast!”

The sheer terror and excitement of being interviewed live by Al Roker for his book club segment on the Today Show.

The look of horror on Meredith Viera’s face when we took a wrong turn after our spot and nearly stumbled onto the news set in our pith helmets, like explorers looking for the source of the Nile.

JaguarThe day I forgot to pack food for a dawn walk in the jungle and fed my kids termites for breakfast. (A woody, carrotty taste, since you ask.)

The day Jon was peed on by a howler monkey.

The school visit where a boy who’d never spoken in class before raised his hand and said: “I am Maya.” We handed him the mic and he took it from there.

Being after-dinner speakers for an End Of The World party near Chichen Itza on December 22, 2012.

Something that can’t be told in bullet points, but so many faces, so many places, so many Maya people who told us their stories.

Being part of this incredible community of authors, bloggers, booksellers, editors, teachers and librarians who have rushed to support the last ever list from Egmont USA. Since our age range of readers aren’t online so much, we don’t do much blogging beyond our own website – and then shamefully sporadically. So it’s been astonishing to be swept up in this wave of love. I will never again say that writing is a lonely profession.

In that moment when we received the shock news from Egmont, it felt like everything was over just like that, and we were alone and forgotten in a publishing world that had its own problems to worry about. But then the emails began to pour in.

When Amie. suggested this piece, she said: “It’s the least I can do.” No, Amie. No, it really really isn’t. I never expected to associate the closure of my publisher with happy feelings. But thanks to Amie and to all you guys, and whatever happens next, it will be impossible not to look back and smile a little.

Amie says: Leave a comment below showing Egmont’s Last List some love, and enter to win a copy of all FOUR Jaguar Stones books, signed by the authors! (USA only, sorry internationals!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Pamela and Jon Voelkel are the author and illustrator of the Jaguar Stones series. You can find them at their series website, or on twitter! To research the Jaguar Stones, they and their three adventure-loving children have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on Today.

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17. Author v. Them: When to Revise for Critiquers

PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
  • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
  • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY

I am scared to work on my WIP story right now.
Because someone I respect read the story and said that it’s working well, but I think I need to make one change–a pretty big one–to make it even stronger. But Critiquer said it was great, as is. If I mess with it, will it – well, mess it up? Or will messing with it make it stronger like I suspect?

The Role of Critiques: Clearing up Confusion

This leaves me with a major question about the role of critiques. Basically, I get critiques to check how well I’m communicating. I don’t get critiques to see if my writing is any good (see this post on the good/bad question)

Good feedback includes a reader pointing out where they are confuse or where they lost interest.

Confusion, in early drafts, is often because my vision for the story isn’t solidified, which results in inconsistent portrayal of a character, or contradictory information.

“On page 11, you said Martha was mad, but when she meets Horace in page 15, she runs up and hugs him. Which is it? Mad or glad to see him?

Often, I want to say, “Both.”
But that doesn’t work, does it? If she is livid on page 11, she’d better show that fury on page 15. Else, why have her so mad on page 11?

Another inconsistency that escapes me in early drafts is points of fact or logic. In my WIP, the villain will use a drone to deliver something remotely. My idea about drones was that they are sort of airplane shaped, but the reviewer quickly sent me to YouTube to discover that they are more helicopter-like, but instead of one big blade on top, they have multiple rotating blades on top. Or at least, one current popular model looks like that. I could, of course, invent my own drone design for this story, but why? That would take valuable time away from the creation of characters and plot. My story isn’t ABOUT drones, so it’s not worth the effort. Instead, I’ll look at videos of several different models and synthesize something more factual than the current description.

The Role of Critiques: Reader Reaction

Again, I don’t care if you call my story good or bad. But I do want to know where a typical reader loses interest. WHERE is the key question. Not WHY? As the author, I should be able to pinpoint the why. I just need to know WHERE. When you tell me where you lose interest, I’ll look and go through a mental list of things that could be happening: the prose is awful, nothing is happening, the characters are boring, etc.

I can revise to keep your attention by using better prose, pumping up the action, writing more active character descriptions, putting more at risk in the main character’s life and so on.

The Trap of Critiques

The biggest problem for me today, though, is the trap of critiques; or perhaps to sat it differently, the problem is that someone said my story is Good. Good is the enemy of Best, goes the old proverb. But it’s good. Someone–a reader I respect–said it’s good. Do I trust that, or do I listen to the itch in my storyteller’s sense that I need to tweak this one spot, which will improve pacing later, and create BETTER?

I’m scared of messing it up badly. Of course, I can keep a copy of BEFORE; but the revision will take a lot of small changes and it will be hard to get back to the original. Will I take a chance or not? And if I make these changes, but then realize that it didn’t turn out for the best, will I be willing to do the work to undo everything? Commit or not? Today, I’m scared to work.

It’s a typical day for an author.

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18. Guest Post: Selling On Proposal

Writing Life


by Kara Taylor

i-3dhcRPx-X2There’s a ton of information out there for writers on the submission process, or what happens once you’ve signed with a literary agent and it’s time to take your book out like a nice, meaty gazelle to all the editor lions. Usually when an author says their manuscript is on sub, they’re talking about a complete book.

But what if you’ve been on the sub train before and have already got a book or two published? You’ve proven that you can finish an entire book in a timely manner, and you’d love the income and stability of another publishing contract—even if you don’t have a polished, complete manuscript ready to go.

prep school 1That’s when you should have an honest conversation with your agent about selling a book on proposal.

Full disclosure: My agent sold my latest book on proposal. I had just wrapped up a series for a publisher, and I’d started a new project I was really excited about. Instead of waiting until I had written the whole book, I showed my agent the first few chapters, plus a synopsis. She was even more excited than I was, and we mutually decided to submit it to a batch of editors.

Wizard that my agent is, she found an editor who was even more excited about the book than WE were, and by the end of the week, we’d accepted her offer.

The first rule of Selling on Proposal: There are no hard and fast rules.

prep school 2So what is a proposal anyway? Generally, I’d say a proposal consists of, at the very minimum, five sample chapters and a detailed synopsis of the book. My proposal had seven sample chapters—about 50 pages. I’ve also read a proposal that had sold on nearly 100 pages and a very detailed synopsis.

*Here’s a good time to mention the distinction between submitting on proposal and a contracted book. If your agent sells your manuscript in a multi-book deal, and you accept, you get to write more books for your publisher. Yay! You will probably have to have your editor approve the topic of your next book based on a proposal—especially if the first book you sold is a standalone and not the beginning of a series—but lets forget about contracted books and focus on submitting on proposal.

I’d heard that only bestsellers can sell on proposal, or that proposals don’t sell for as much money as completed manuscripts. Both proved false for me, but again, there are no real rules. This is publishing!

The second rule of Selling on Proposal: That proposal has to rock!

prep school 3Since you’re only showing editors a sample of your writing, it should be the best dang writing you’re capable of. A lot of writers get hives at the word “synopsis”, but the synopsis is where you have to sell all the twists and turns in your story and set it apart from other books in your genre. So while technically a proposal is an unfinished book, a proposal should never feel unfinished.

Easy, right? You’re probably thinking, “I’d rather just write the whole book at that point!” Which brings me to…

The third rule of Selling on Proposal: It’s okay if it’s not for you.

I see a lot of authors worry about selling on proposal, since it’s essentially selling an idea. The actual, finished book might not be what the editor who bought it was expecting. It’s true that delivering a book under a deadline is stressful, and some writers feel the quality of their work suffers when there’s pressure to produce.

My story ended happily: My editor and I are both very happy with how the book turned out. Now, let’s see what readers think next year!

KARA THOMAS is the author of THE DARKEST CORNERS, coming from Penguin Random House/Delacorte Press in Spring 2016. She also wrote the Prep School Confidential series (St. Martin’s Press) and the pilot The Revengers for the CW under the pen name Kara Taylor. She’s represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or on the couch with her rescue cat, Felix.

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19. What happens in the middle?


Jodi Meadows

I’ve talked about beginnings (here, too) and endings (and here’s one from Sooz), but recently someone mentioned they’d really like some thoughts on middles.

A lot of times, when people get stuck in the middle of their book, it’s because they’re not totally sure what the middle is supposed to do.. Obviously the beginning sets up conflicts and the ending resolves them, but the middle? The middle is all opportunity to make things worse.

Here’s a handy numbered list.

1. Build on established conflicts.

Take a look at what you’ve already done. Build on that by reinforcing something the characters already know, or the reader knows, and show something in action.

  • If there’s a monster marauding through the city in the first part of the story but we haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to give us a peek. (Cue JAWS theme.)
  • If someone’s threatened war, let them announce the war is on.
  • If there’s a plague, start killing side characters right in front of your main characters.

Show the reader that these conflicts you’ve set up are that serious by giving everyone a hint of what’s to come. The middle is the perfect spot for making everything real

2. Complicate established conflicts.

Yep, I’m counting this as different than building, because by complicating conflicts, you can use twists and reveals and other things to make everything worse.

  • Someone betrays our main characters.
  • Another character appears to shake things up.
  • The characters attempt to solve the problem and they make it worse.
  • Information is revealed and suddenly everything we thought was true is an awful lie.

I always feel like the middle is my last chance to introduce new complications to the story, be it characters or events. For me, introducing those later starts to feel a bit contrived, unless there’s a sequel and something at the very end happens to complicate the situation for the next book.

3. Nudge your characters toward the end.

You’ve just made everything awful. Give them something useful.

  • Information that can help them later (even if they don’t know it yet).
  • A hint about how they might solve the big problems.
  • Even give the poor characters a chance to plan to take some kind of action.

This is your chance to line up those last few dominos so everything can just go horribly (violently!?) wrong in the ending. Godspeed.

So, that’s my basic thoughts on middles. Anyone have anything to add?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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20. From Pantser to Plotter

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Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangThe more I write, the more of an outliner I become. I literally started the first draft of What’s Left of Me with nothing but a blank word document and Eva’s voice in my mind. The world-building, the other characters, the plot, all developed over the course of that first draft.

Of course, that meant the first draft wasn’t very good. Characters switched names halfway through. Plot lines were dropped, changed, or added. Settings morphed from scene to scene. The second, third, and fourth drafts were wobbly as well, as I slowly distilled all those rambling words into a coherent story.

For a long time,I figured that this was just how I wrote. I’d tried outlining, and it just didn’t seem to work for me—one attempt, in particular, had scared me away because it all but killed my enthusiasm for the story I’d been trying to write. I was definitely an exploratory writer, and watching a story fall into place was one of my favorite things.

But as I started writing more, and started needing to write faster, I began reconsidering things. Unlike a lot of writers, I’ve often enjoyed revision more than drafting, because it wasn’t until I started revising that the story started becoming clear. Not only that, but I was beginning to feel frustrated by how many words I’d always end up throwing away as I wrote draft after draft.

So I decided to give this outlining thing a second whirl. And while it’s a work in progress, I think it’s going pretty well. The trick is to find the right kind of outlining for you.

Here’s a collection of “beat sheets” (the term comes from screenwriting, I think, but as I’ve said before, there’s a lot novel-writers can learn from screenwriting craft) to get you started: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/

If you scroll through those, you’ll see that there are beat sheets for internal conflict, external conflict, romantic arcs, character-growth arcs, etc, etc. Personally, I don’t use any one exclusively, but it’s nice to keep a roadmap in your head while you outline, even if you end up going off that roadmap a bit (it’s okay to break rules, after all, as long as you know what you’re doing and why).

Nowadays, I’ve figured out that my old outlines were less than useful to me before I focused too much on external events. It was a lot of “And then they do this, and then this happens to them, and then this happens, and then they travel here…” rather than internal motivations. So when I started trying to draft based on these outlines, I felt frustrated because it felt like shoving my characters from one situation to another without any natural progression.

Now that I’ve changed my outlining to focus on not only external conflict, but internal conflict (and, even more importantly, how the two tie together), the whole process has become a lot more useful. Not only that, but I’ve come to enjoy drafting way more than I did before, because all the waffling and exploration (and resultant dead-ends) now happen during my outline process, when it’s a lot less heartbreaking to set aside 1000 words worth of outlining than 10,000 words worth of drafting!

What about you guys? Any more pantsers-turned-plotters? Anyone sure that they’ll never be tempted down this plotting path? :P

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, released September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.


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21. Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Every story has a narrator–some narrators are the protagonist, others tell the tale as a group, and some lurk in the shadows or hover above the story like an all-seeing-eye. Whichever point of view style a writer chooses, it’s pointing at someone.

In grand terms, it’s the reader, but it can be more subtle than that. Some novels break the fourth wall and address the reader directly, while others have their characters exist in a world that feels like we’re watching on closed circuit TV.

All of these point of view styles can work, and one isn’t preferable over the other. But if you’re struggling with your novel, or feeling like your point of view is off in some way and don’t know why, or just want to kick you novel up a notch, it might be worth identifying a few things:

  1. Who is your narrator?
  2. Who is he or she talking to?

Answering these two questions can help you pinpoint who is at the center of your story and the best way to convey that story to your readers.

Who is Your Narrator?

In most cases, this will be easy to answer. A first-person novel is clearly narrated by the first-person character. Same with a tight third person perspective. Third person omniscient has an outside narrator. But when you add more characters or write with a medium narrative distance, the narrator(s) can become less obvious or even get lost. If you’re unsure, ask yourself:

  • What point of view am I doing?
  • Who’s story is it?
  • Am I inside or outside of the point of view character’s head?
  • Do I share any information the point of view characters couldn’t know?
  • Once you know your narrator, think about who she’s narrating the story to.

Who is Your Narrator Talking To?

A common trope (especially with first person) is to treat the novel as if the protagonist was writing or had written down her story. These are the events that passed at a certain point in a certain life. The narrator is literally talking to the reader, intending the novel to be read by someone. But take a step back and think about what that means to the protagonist–the “reader” means something different to her than it does to us, because in her mind, it’s someone living in her world. If she’s writing about her struggles to overcome a natural disaster, she expects her readers to know about that disaster and understand it on a personal level. She’s probably not picturing people sitting in a comfy chair at Starbucks while they sip a latte, but assuming they’re either going through the same thing or are reading it after they survived it. She might even be writing this story to help them survive it.

If you keep that in mind, it can guide you in deciding what that narrator is going to share with that reader–what aspects of the world she might think are vital, what she wouldn’t bother explaining because it’s so well known to everyone, what secrets she might reveal or lessons learned she might pass on. There are things the intended recipient of this story is going to need to know.

Conversely, a third person omniscient narrator is often more like a camera recording the event, relaying the information with little or no judgment, and letting the reader decide what it means. The point of view characters aren’t specifically talking to anyone, and they might not know they’re being recorded at all. People act differently when they think no one is watching, and you can use that to your advantage with this kind of narrator. The narrator is putting the information out there for whoever wants to view it.

Of course, the narrator might have an agenda. Maybe the novel is one big propaganda piece designed to make the narrator look good or someone else look bad. The story could be trying to convince people of a lie. Maybe the narrator does convince readers, or maybe she doesn’t and readers can see through that lie to the real truth.

The novel might show just one side of a larger issue. The story is the narrator’s take on what she feels is the truth, even if it’s not accurate. The story (or her part of it) is what she thinks happened.

Or, the narrator is only talking to herself. It’s her internal monologue, a private peek at her world and her life, and she hopes no one else ever sees inside that life.

Even if narrators never expects anyone to hear or read their stories, they’re talking to someone. And knowing who that is can be a great tool when crafting or polishing a draft.

Taking some time to consider who your narrator is and who she’s talking to can add another layer to the story. It can color the details and bring out a richness just “telling” the story doesn’t achieve. That “person” never needs to be revealed, but having an idea of who it is can guide you to making the novel feel like it has a greater purpose. It’s not just a book, it was a story written to serve a larger goal.

Who is your narrator talking to?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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22. Novel Craft: Pottery Lessons

Hi folks, I'm writing a series about how certain artistic skills enhance other artistic skills. I am an artistic and crafty person. I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about pottery lessons.

Once upon a time back in my college days, I had the time learn how to throw pots. I have found that those long ago pottery lessons have always been with me as a writer.  At first, you need much support to even begin to throw a pot.  Someone else chooses your clay. She walks you through how to prepare it. You are give many hints on how condition the clay to make it suitable for throwing. Beginning writers need this same kind of support. I needed others to help me recognize my viable ideas versus my dead-in-the water ideas. I needed advice on how to approach ideas so that I could even get on the road to producing something that would engage readers. Seek out help in the beginning. 

Throwing a pot is about finding the center of the clay, and getting all the other clay to revolve around that center. At first it feels impossible. The clay bulges in weird ways. It will even go flying off the wheel. My hands and elbows would be scraped.  I practiced again and again.  Experience is everything. Finally the day came. I slapped the clay on the wheel and pressed it with my hands, and the clay instantly centered.  I had to have confidence and a steady hand. The first important step to writing is finding that story center.  Stories revolve around their centers.  It took much practice to throw the clay of an idea onto the wheel of my imagination and then center it with the force of my will.  I always feel that sense of knowing when I center a pot or center of a story. It is unimaginably satisfying. 

One more pottery lesson, once a pot is formed and hardened, it's time to fire it. A glaze is applied to the exterior of the greenware.  This glaze will harden into shiny coating when extreme temperature is applied.  All stories must go through a refiner's fire to come to elegant completion. This is a dangerous time for a pot and a story. I have worked hard to get it to this place, but the refiner's fire can destroy my work.   Pots crack, Glazes wonk. You may end up with something very different from your initial vision. You may end up with a muddy mess that has to be thrown into the scrap pile. Stories are the same. In writing, the fire is revision. Revision may lead to a new novel or it may lead to a worthless disaster. Regardless, it is the only way to success.  You may feel fear during revision time. You are right to be afraid. You will have to apply your hottest thought force to make your finished story emerge, and there is a good chance you will fail. Writing is not for the faint of heart. 

I hope these pottery lessons help you on your journey. One more week of lessons is ahead. Drop back by for it. 

Here is the doodle.

Here is a quote for your pocket: 

Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense. A composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and entire destruction of arts and manufactures. Josiah Wedgwood.

0 Comments on Novel Craft: Pottery Lessons as of 1/24/2015 3:57:00 PM
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23. Multiple Perspectives

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Biljana Likic

biljana new picWriting from multiple perspectives is often a very rewarding way to convey the complexity of a plot. In stories that involve a lot of world-building, like high fantasy, it’s a good way of expanding the world you’re creating. You can better develop concepts like the reality of social status if your story that includes slaves isn’t entirely written from the viewpoint of a princess. You can also mess with readers. You can have a blacksmith plan to manipulate a swordsman, but when the actual manipulation is happening, it’s told from the swordsman’s oblivious perspective. There are few better ways to create those exciting situations where the reader knows what will happen but the character does not. There are even fewer better ways to orchestrate an event in such a manner that even the reader is unsure if what they’re reading is true, which of course keeps them reading.

Platitudes aside, there’s a massive, massive trap that everybody can fall into (and I most certainly have in the past) concerning multiple perspectives: too many viewpoints.

Consider this. You’ve come up with a world, you have your map, you mostly know what you want to happen, and you start writing. The general gist is a classic “Let’s overthrow the Villain,” where a whole cast of characters is developed through the archetypes of Hero’s support, Villain’s support, collateral damage, etc.

First we meet the Hero. This is where you describe the Eastern Flatlands the Hero’s living in. Then we meet the Thief, who’s out picking pockets in the Central Capital. Then comes the Villain, scheming in a remote castle on the Northern Coast, then the Mercenary trudging through the Western Alps, the Hunter in the Ancient Forest in the south, the Peasant in the Bread Bowl that’s consuming said forest…

Well that’s a wonderful lesson in geography, but I can almost guarantee you that people reading won’t give a damn about a single person from whose perspective the story has been told so far. That means there will be no investment, and when bad things start happening, they won’t care.

Why? Because the story’s being spread too thin.

When people invest in something, they expect returns. The first thing introduced is the Hero. The Hero will obviously be important. Afterwards, we have the Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, and Peasant. That’s five people established in their own separate geographical locations. If each person gets around 1500 words, then that’s at least seven thousand words about random people we don’t care about in places we can’t relate to, because the places are all new and the people are not the Hero. Before you know it, nearly 10k of your story has already gone by and you still haven’t even gotten around to the point where the Hero’s mentor dies. Not that we’ll care, because the last time we met the hero was thirty pages ago. By now, we’re already in love with the idea of a romantically attractive killer-for-hire in the mountains and wondering why he was replaced so quickly by boring hunters and peasants trying to feed their families.

So what happened here? It could just be that kind of story: you have six or seven big players around the edges of the world symbolically traveling towards the centre where they will find each other, interact, and blow our minds with how masterfully their stories end up weaving together. After all, in the grand scheme of things, 10k isn’t that many words, and if you develop the other voices well enough and make us invest in all of them, we probably won’t care as long as it’s good.

Ooooooor you spent so much time coming up with your world that your plot fell by the wayside. Moving on to a different character is less of a conscious decision and more of a way to procrastinate. Less, “This is excellent! I know exactly what will happen when I come back to the Hero!” and more “Mmmmmlet’s see…what does the Hero want now…I wonder what the Thief is doing…”

Because you know your world better than the people in it, you’re taking more time exploring it than your characters, and you end up writing about what it’s like to live in the Flatlands, on the Coast, or near the Alps, instead of focusing on your Kill the Villain plot. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, just that it results in you writing an exploration of a land instead of writing what you originally wanted: a gripping tale of adventure and intrigue.

The point isn’t to explore the world. …Well, it is. But the bigger point is to explore the plot, and then what you see of the world through that is the icing on the cake. Focus too much on your world and you risk making your plot stagnate.

Admittedly, what I’m saying heavily relies on all of those perspectives being disjointed travel diary entries by characters of various vocations. It’s difficult to explain this without actually showing you a piece of fiction, because the skeleton of the work still has potential. But in the event that the cause of all these perspectives is, in fact, the helpless floundering of a writer with a world too large for the plot, there are a few things you can do about it.

First, admit it. That’s always the toughest, because by this point, you probably like all the character’s you’ve come up with along the way.

Second, kill off those characters. Or at least tuck them away for now. Keep them alive in your notes, but cut them down for the moment.

Third, and most important. Choose one character that will be the theme of your story.

Say the Hero is your theme. Spend time establishing that character so that we have some understanding of their life and motivations. Give them dreams and goals, and then gradually, gradually, LIKE REALLY GRADUALLY, start introducing more and more characters. But only if their story can somehow relate back to the story of the theme character. For example, the Hero needs to find X, and the Mercenary needs to find X. However, the first hint we hear that the Hero needs to find X isn’t until 10k into the story, and then we don’t find out what that X is until 50k in. So when would you introduce the Mercenary? After 10k, when the Hero has discovered that X must be found.

The Mercenary, who was once just a random hot dude wandering the Alps, is suddenly the Hero’s direct competition for X. That’s what makes us care about him. Now, slotting him in from time to time to break up the voice of the Hero will not only be an effective way to develop the western part of your land, but also a way to tease the reader with what the hell X could be and how it relates to the Hero.

As your plot develops, do the same with the other perspectives. If the Hero’s reading a rare book 4k into the story, and the book is one the Thief, all the way in the Capital, desperately needs, there’s your in for introducing the Thief. Then 35k later when the Hero’s finally visiting the Capital with the book in hand, let the Thief be a Thief and have them make contact. This will also give you the fascinating opportunity to recreate the city from the eyes of the country bumpkin Hero after dozens of scenes of the city through the eyes of the savvy Thief.

The idea is that even though these characters are so far away from each other, even though they have no clue who the other is, they’re all connected to the theme character through their desires and ambitions. They all relate back to something about the Hero whose influence, like a catchy hook of a good piece of music, can be found even in the parts of the story focused on other characters.

Another thing this will do (just by virtue of it being done) is drastically improve the flow of your story.

Alternatively, if you don’t approve of the idea of a theme character, you scrap everything I’ve said above and do this instead: make it so that the multiple perspectives are from characters who know each other. This usually depends on them being in the same geographical location, but if you don’t want a theme character and you have the luxury of the characters being in the same place, here is a different way to write your multiple perspectives.

Pick up all your characters: Hero, Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, Peasant. Drop them all into one place. Create relationships between them: the Hero and the Thief are friends, the Thief buys meat from the Hunter, the Hunter also sells meat to the Mercenary, who works for the Villain, who owns the land the Peasant tills. This way, they all indirectly know each other. Which means that the first scene with the Hero can maybe include the Thief. The next scene with the Thief can include the Hunter, etc. If the Hero’s perspective includes a character who later contributes their own perspective, at best it’ll be freaking awesome to know what that character was thinking while you were in the mind of the Hero, and at worst it’ll be an interesting addition that adds depth to the complexity of your story. Also, in this way, you don’t have to worry about how people will remember who’s who since they’re ever-present within the perspectives of the others, not only within their own.

But, like I said, it depends on their geographical location. It also depends on if they know each other at all. It depends on the kind of story you want to write, and if you’re at all willing to bend to the idea of a theme character.

Moreover, it depends, as always, solely and entirely on your plot.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has nearly completed her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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24. The Big Idea: How to Find the Right Idea to Turn into a Book


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Where do you get your ideas from? is a question writers commonly receive, and is probably one of the hardest ones to answer. Part of that is because the Idea Generation process is different from writer to writer, and part of it is because many of us simply don’t know. We might as well say we get our ideas from IDËA, the Scandinavian idea superstore. Makes as much sense as anything else we might say.

However, speaking with other writers over the course of the past few months, I’ve noticed that many of us don’t lack for ideas; we just don’t know how to turn those ideas into novels. This is something I’ve struggled with on a current work-in-progress: I’ve had ideas about this book for years (eight years and eight completely rewritten drafts, to be precise), but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally figured out how to wrangle the Idea into an actual Novel.

When I look back at all the books I’ve written (finished, that is), I tried to pick apart why I managed to reach the end of this particular story when that one was an abject failure. Because I like programs and formulas and systems-building (even though I hate math), I managed to distill Idea Generation into three components.

Characters, Premise, Plot.

Sounds pretty simple, of course. All books have these three components, but identifying these components is sometimes harder than you think. (Or it was for me, anyway.) If your novel has two of these three components, then the odds of you being able to finish writing it are pretty high. However, if your novel has only one of them, then you’ll probably find yourself floundering somewhere in the dreaded “sagging middle”.

First, some definitions:

  1. Character: the people who populate the story. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I will get further into this in a bit.
  2. Premise: the “hook”, or setup of the novel. What we in the publishing industry might call “high-concept” or what my old boss used to call “the handle”—the “nugget” you can get a grip on.
  3. Plot: what happens, or the journey, both emotional and physical. I’ve briefly touched on the difference between Plot and Story before (although I may get into this a little more in-depth later), but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call this point Plot.

Before, we start writing a book, I think I should note that it’s important to daydream. Daydreaming is the time when scraps of ideas come to you: the what ifs of Premise, the quirks of Character, the excitement of Plot. They may not necessarily be connected to each other, but all these scraps may become important or useful later. (Let’s call these wisps Story Seeds.) I think writing down these Story Seeds in a notebook or your phone is helpful, in case you might need something later.

How to decide what to work on.

This is different for everyone. Some people write because there’s a hole in their personal marketplace. Meaning, I want to read a book about zombie-engineers and I don’t see it on the shelves, so I’m going to write it myself. (Writing to the actual market is not the best idea.) Some people write to prove something wrong. As in, I read this book that I should have liked because it had all the elements I like in a book, but it was executed in a way I hated, so I’m going to fix it. (There is nothing wrong with this being your raison d’être for writing, by the way!) Still others have a character or an image that keeps coming back to them, and they want to figure out what the story is. Whatever the reason is, make sure it’s the “strongest”, the one you keep returning to, like worrying a loose tooth.

Identify which component your Story Seed(s) is(are).

I tend to start with Character. I often have an image of a person, a visual snapshot in my head. For example, in my current WIP, I had the image of a young girl, sitting on a rooftop in London, waiting for her best friend to arrive. Who was her best friend? What was the girl feeling? Anxious? Excited? Impatient? Why?

For the book I recently sold, I was suddenly struck by the image of a young woman in dingy 18th century clothes. She was in a barrow underground somewhere, and she was a musician. A composer. What was she doing there? Who was she? What was her family like?

Sometimes my Character Story Seeds come bundled with Premises, at which point I usually start writing, but sometimes they just float in the æther of my imagination, untethered to anything else. The Story Seeds I frequently come up with are Premise and Character. What if there was a system of magic where what was appropriate to practice was divided by class and gender? Why are there no California gothic stories? My Premise Story Seeds tend to drift and attach themselves to Characters without me having to think about it, but sometimes I have to go and pair up Story Seeds consciously.

I don’t talk much about Plot because I suck at it. This is generally because I’m a pantser, but when it comes down to it, I actively steal Plots from other things. Fairy tale retellings, movies I’ve seen, TV shows I’ve watched, etc. I don’t copy the Plots down to the letter, but stealing helps me find structure.

Identify which component(s) is(are) missing.

In the case of my current WIP, I was missing both Premise and Plot. For years, I lived with these characters; I knew their backstories, their histories, their futures, but what I did not know was The Point. Essentially, I didn’t know why other people should care about these characters. They didn’t have any purpose; they lived in an alternate past, but the alternate past was alternate because it needed to be to fit my characters, not because it served any other point.

I rewrote this book eight times. Between finishing other novels, I would keep coming back to this Story Seed. It wasn’t dead on the page, not like my retelling of The Magic Flute (that one just had a Plot, no Characters, and no real Premise either). I just needed to get the right elements together, the right chemicals, and get it started.

One night, I was watching Bear play a game of Magic the Gathering with his friends, which reminded me of one of my Premise Story Seeds. It was a system of magic I was noodling with, currently unattached to any Character Story Seeds or Plot Story Seeds. I had also been struggling with my WIP yet again just a few moments before and thought, Oh my god…what if my characters lived in this world with this magic system?

Boom. I had it now. Character and Premise. I started figuring out the Plot from there.


Of course, this system doesn’t work for everyone. But this is how I identified what wasn’t working in a current project. Why the “idea” wasn’t enough to fill a book. Hope this helps some of y’all!

What about you? What are your thoughts? How do you come up with your ideas for novels?

S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and the author of THE GOBLIN KING (Thomas Dunne, 2016). Before moving to grits country, she was YA fiction editor in New York City. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina, and many other places on the internet, including TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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25. Revision (part one of ??)


Jodi Meadows

There have been a lot of posts covering the revision process, but since every writer is different — and every book is different — there’s always room for anther revision post. The request for this post came with a mention of revising a Nano project, so I’ll start with sorting out the most basic first draft a person can write. Like, it’s just a collection of words on paper. Things happen. To people. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

1. Start with the macro.

That is, make sure the structure of the book is solid. There’s no point in moving furniture around a house that doesn’t have a stable foundation, or has missing walls. I mean, you can’t even put a window in when you don’t have a wall.

So first, identify the things that are important to you. Those will be what you come back to in order to ensure you’re staying true to the story you want to tell. What is the story you want to tell? What’s the most important aspect? What’s the thing that drew you to the story in the first place?

Once you know all that, you can work toward bringing what you have closer to your vision.

What are these macro things you need in place? (Since you’re writing a book, not building a house.)

a) Character and motivations.

Make sure you know your characters. When they take action — or react to something — make it consistent with what you’ve already set up. Or if someone acts out of character, be sure the reader understands why they’re doing that.

Deciding a few things early on might help. “Gabrielle never runs from a fight,” or “Alexia chooses sneakiness over directness every time,” or “Sarah always sees the good in people.” If you can figure out some basic, character-defining statements early on (just for yourself, not to state in the book), then you’re going to have a much easier time building (or reinforcing) the foundations of your character.

As you go through the draft, make sure that every decision your characters make is true to what you’ve laid out. If every single one of your character is doing this, then you’re more likely to have a solid foundation for the story, with fewer “but wait, I thought–”

b) Worldbuilding.

Speaking of “but wait, I thought–“, make sure your worldbuilding is in order. If you haven’t done so already, lay out your rules. Check them for logic. I don’t care if you’re writing space opera, steampunk, or contemporary: your world has rules and you need to know what they are.

If you’re writing something set in the real world (or real world with a twist), make sure you know all there is to know about the locations where your story is set. (Laws — written and unwritten — history, driving distances, etc.) Research is your friend for making the reader feel like they are living in your world along with your characters.

If you’re adding an element of magic to the real world, make sure your new rules are logical and consistent.

And if you’re building a whole new world . . . same thing, but you’ll have to go through and invent not just the laws and elements of magic, but the geography and cultures and even the stars in the sky. Get your macro worldbuilding solid so the micro makes sense.

c) Major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

Pull out the biggest problems for your characters. Is it getting a date to Prom? Is it saving the world? Something in between?

Make sure you’ve identified the main issues. Often you’ll find a few main plots — a couple external and an internal. (Obviously there can be more plots than that, but we’re talking main plots/basic structures.) Do your characters work toward their goals? Are the goals and conflicts connected?

A quick way to weed out useless scenes is to figure out whether or not the scene drives the plot. If a scene doesn’t get the characters closer to — or farther from — their goals, chances are you can cut it. (Or find a way to make it work.)

Sooooo . . . this is a lot of just identifying what you have on the page, and I’m already at a fairly good-sized post. I guess that means I’m breaking this topic up into parts. How many parts? I don’t know.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful for getting some of the big-picture items in order! Anyone have anything to add?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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