Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing Exercise #20: Scene Transitions

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

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

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

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

The request we received recently read like this:

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

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

To address that issue, you can use scene transitions. 

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

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

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

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

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

As mentioned, some scene transitions are very short:

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

or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Pretend I'm in the Veil. ;-)

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






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

Any questions?

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



Monday, November 13, 2017

2 Ways To Be Sure Your Scene Really Matters



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


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

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

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

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



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

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

"What does my character expect to happen?"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 10, 2017

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

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

When A Writer Actually Writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key secret: actually write.


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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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