Friday, November 18, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 22: Letting Others See Your Work

(Originally posted on NextGen Writers)

Letting others see my writing has always been difficult for me. In 2009, I procrastinated for twenty days before joining my first critique group. I wanted my manuscript to be perfect! And, sure enough, after finally joining the group and sending my first chapters out, they came back doused in enough red ink to float the RMS Queen Mary.

Since then, I’ve queried agents and editors, gone to conferences, entered contests, and signed my first contract. All of these things required me to put myself out there, vulnerable, for strangers to judge, and that’s a very hard thing to do. In the past three years I’ve received my fair share of negative feedback—but I’ve never regretted putting myself out there.

Why? Because criticism has made me a much better writer. After the initial sting of a critique, I can usually dig through a reader’s comments and find several nuggets of wisdom. Most critiquers genuinely want to help you make your writing better! After all, they are taking time out of their life to invest in you.

The difficulty of a critique is figuring out what feedback you should take to heart and what you should ignore. A good critiquer will offer suggestions that will change how you say something, not what you’re saying. However, if a reader suggests a change that doesn’t sit well with you, ask yourself some questions. How would that advice make your book better? Why are you so hesitant to make the change? Is it an issue of pride for yourself? At the end of the day, it’s your book. You have to do what you think is right. But if you’re ignoring a suggestion that would truly make your book better, you could be keeping yourself from getting published.

So take feedback seriously, but also take it with a grain of salt. Opinions are subjective and they vary, but if someone who doesn’t know the craft of writing critiques your book and you listen to everything they say, their advice could end up sabotaging your story.

If you’re conflicted about a suggestion, get a second opinion. Find a mentor you trust who knows what they’re talking about and can give you honest feedback. Sometimes I lack the distance it takes to look at my writing from a bigger perspective. A mentor can peer over my shoulder and help me see things differently.

For example, I was a semi-finalist and then a finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Competition this year. I received a wide array of feedback. To prove this, here are the scores I received from the nine judges (in order from lowest to highest) throughout the contest: 64, 74, 78, 79, 85, 87, 91, 95, 99.

If this were school, based on these numbers my grade could be anywhere between an F and an A! I didn’t know what to do with all the comments I’d gotten. So rather than pull all my hair out, I sent my judged pages off to a few people I trusted and let them help me sort through things.

The truth is, I learned something valuable from every one of those judges, even the 64. The least helpful number was actually the 99. It made me feel great to get that score, but I didn’t learn very much from that judge’s comments!

The bottom line is this: Be brave. Put yourself out there to be judged, and then learn how to interpret the advice you’re given. Be willing to make changes, but take time to weigh the pros and cons of each suggestion you’re given. And have someone who can pat you on the back and buy you a wig once you’ve pulled all your hair out.

So, how about you? Are you in a critique group? Was your first critique painful? And if you haven’t joined a critique group yet, why not?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 21: Voice

This month I wanted to talk about authorial voice, as it is something very important for writers to have and develop.

At last year's ACFW Conference, when agents and editors were asked what they look for in the writers who query them, a lot of them said, "Strong voice." This was usually met with a mixture of nods, rolling eyes, and looks of confusion. The confused-looking people were either too shy or embarrassed to ask the real question on their minds, "What in the world is voice?"

You know that's a good question by the diverse array of answers to it. Here's how I'd define it: A writer's voice is the unique style they use to tell a story. It's the difference between James Patterson and Stephen King, Cornelia Funke and Donita K. Paul, Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey, John Flanagan and Rick Riordan. Each of those authors writes fiction, but if you read all their books you'd be able to tell them apart after reading only a page or two of their future works.

Whether you know it or not, everything you write—whether it's a tweet, a Facebook update, or a paper for school—is written in your own individual way. Writer's voice is like your personality or your thumbprint. No one in the world has the same thumbprint as you, and no one has the same voice.

But what exactly is style or voice? It's made up of things like syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, and dialogue. It's the distinct flare you write with. Some writers are funny. Some are dark. Some love sweeping descriptions of setting. Some enjoy scaring the willies out of their readers.

When you're first starting out, you're probably going to copy the style of your favorite authors. But that's okay! The first story I ever wrote was basically LOTR fan fiction (which, I hope, will never see the light of day). Your voice needs time to develop, because it's formed by each and every experience you go through. The way to develop voice is by reading and writing as often as you can. Find out what you like and what you don't like. You might try imitating one of the masters, just to study how voice works.

Anyway, I hope this helps. :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 20: Top Ten Books of 2010

Novel Teen is a blog I'm a part of, and they posted their Top Ten Books of 2010 list awhile back. If you are looking for a good book to read, we hope this list will give you some inspiration. Click on the title or picture to view each book on Amazon.com.

1. Asking for Trouble (Book one in the London Confidential series) by Sandra Byrd
(A contemporary series for girls. All four books in the series are now available.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
Savvy Smith and her family recently moved to England to live. Savvy misses her best friend from Seattle. She’s trying to make new friends in London, but it seems no one has room for a new friend in their life, especially a weird American.

An opportunity arises for Savvy to work at the school newspaper. She has always wanted to be a journalist and she hopes this might be a way to make some friends. She applies for the position, but her lack of experience makes her a paperboy instead of columnist. If only she could find a way to prove that she is a good writer. But how?

Sandra Byrd always tells a good story. I love her Friends for a Season books, so I was excited to read her new series. Asking for Trouble did not disappoint. I enjoyed Savvy’s character, how she thought things out and how she struggled to understand all the differences in British culture and language. Sandra did a great job with her British accents and lingo in the other character’s dialogue. It was fun to read. I also liked Savvy’s determination and drive to make her own future, rather than mope about what she didn’t have or try to follow someone else. This was a fun read that made you think and I highly recommend it.

Age Range: 12 and up
Genre: Contemporary
Part of a Series: London Confidential, book one
Pages: 216
Publisher: Tyndale

2. Final Touch (Rayne Tour, book three) by Brandilyn Collins
(Great for girls who love mystery and suspense. All three books in the trilogy are now available.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
It’s wedding day for Rayne O’Connor and Shaley’s father, Gary Donovon. Shaley couldn’t be happier. She has longed for this day all her life. But minutes before the ceremony begins, Shaley is kidnapped! She tries to do all she can to leave a trail, in hopes that the police will find her, but Shaley’s kidnapper is always one step ahead. Will Shaley’s life as she knows it end forever?

Just when we thought it was happily ever after for the O’Connor family. Here is every mother’s nightmare in book form! Shaley is taken by a man who intends to keep her. This whole thing reminded me of the Elizabeth Smart story. I was terrified for Shaley and thrilled with how wise she was about trying to leave a trail of evidence. This book plugs right along and you won’t be able to put it down until the end. Well done, Brandilyn and Amberly! Highly recommended.

Age Range: 12-16
Genre: suspense
Part of a Series: Book three in the Rayne Tour
Pages: 224
Publisher: Zondervan

3. The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson
(A medieval, fairy tale romance.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
Rose has begun her training as the healer’s apprentice. She hopes to learn the job well so that someday she can be the healer of Hagenheim Castle and not have to marry any aging bachelors. But the mere sight of blood makes Rose swoon. Still, she is determined to make this life work for herself.

One day, when the master healer is away, Lord Hamlin, heir to Hagenheim Castle, is brought in with a grievous wound. Rose is the only one who can help. As she struggles to do a good job, she cannot help but notice how handsome and kind Lord Hamlin is. But she is a mere peasant, and Lord Hamlin is betrothed to another. Rose must fight against her attraction and focus on becoming a healer. For that is her destiny, is it not?

Melanie Dickerson writes a wonderful fairy tale romance. Her characters are noble and good, yet struggle with doing the right thing and sometimes fail. She paints a realistic medieval world from the beauty of Hagenheim Castle to the laws that governed society then. I was drawn in from page one and read the whole book in one day. If you love medieval stories, fairy tales, and romance, you must read this book. I’m so excited about Melanie Dickerson’s writing. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Highly recommended.

Age Range: 12 and up
Genre: Historical romance
Part of a Series: No
Pages: 257
Publisher: Zondervan

4. Kestrel’s Midnight Song by J.R. Parker
(Fantasy adventure. Great for boys, girls, and adults, too.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
Slave girl, Robbyn, is nearly burned to death in a fire set by the Marauder King. Drift, a giant, rescues her. Together they set off to warn King Darius that the Marauder King plans to attack the land of Gable. But will they get there in time? And even if they do, will anyone believe the claims of a slave girl and a giant?

Shepherd boy, Micah, embarks on a journey. He must deliver a herd of sheep to the Gable Kingdom Castle. King Darius has requested that the sheep’s wool be sheared for his wardrobe. Many dangers await Micah on this long journey. And little does he know that the fate of the kingdom rests on his shoulders.

Kestrel’s Midnight Song is a solid addition to the fantasy genre. Jacob Parker started this story when he was fifteen years old! This young author writes an imaginative tale, filled with adventure, mystery, and unique characters. The storylines intertwine and keep the reader turning the pages, desperate to see how it will all work out. There are several plot twists that surprised me. I can’t wait to see if there will be a sequel. Highly recommended.

Age Range: 12 and up
Genre: fantasy
Part of a Series: No
Pages: 256
Publisher: Flaming Pen Press

5. Manga (Scenarios for Girls, book three) by Nicole O’Dell
(A contemporary, choose-your-own-ending book. There are four books available in this series so far.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
Molly and her friends want to find a part time job to earn extra cash and a discount on great clothes. But Molly is the only one of her trio that gets hired at Manga, the coolest clothing store ever. At first everything is going great. Molly is really good at her job and quickly gets more responsibility. But some girls at school try to bully her into giving her special deals and then her best friends ask her to do something she knows is wrong. What will Molly do?

You decide.

That’s right. This is a Choose Your Own Scenario book, where you read all about Molly’s life and then choose what she will do next. Then the book has two alternate endings, one for each choice Molly could make.

What an awesome idea for a series of books! And the author handled this in such a wonderful way. Whether Molly chose to break the law or stand against her friends, she was still Molly. There were consequences to both choices, and some consequences were harder to live through than others, but this wasn’t preachy. This was honest. So even in the ending where Molly chose to break the law, there was still redemption, and it was neat to read how she dealt with such humbling circumstances.

So I highly recommend this series to all girls. It’s a fun story to read for entertainment and a neat opportunity to see two sides of one choice.

Age Range: 8 and up
Genre: Contemporary
Part of a Series: Scenarios for Girls, book three
Pages: 190
Publisher: Barbour

6. Secrets Under the Midnight Sun by Elisa Maria Crites
(A historical story that deals with complex family issues.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
It’s 1967 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Twelve-year-old Fredricka O’Reilly has a secret that she doesn’t want anyone to know about. Her brother is gone off in the Air Force, so the only one she can turn to his her mother. But if she tells her mother the truth, it could rip her family apart. What’s a girl to do?

This is a story about a girl who just wants to enjoy life. Her daddy makes that hard, especially when he cuts her off from her best friends. For the most part, the story is lighthearted, filled with the fun things in Freddie’s life. Freddie’s hopes and dreams are heartwarming and I yearned that she would have the freedom she craved. Having been to Fairbanks , Alaska , I also enjoyed the history of the town and the visits to AlaskaLand. In the end, I wanted to read more about Freddie to see what she would do next.

Age Range: 12 and up
Genre: historical/contemporary
Part of a Series: no
Pages: 108
Publisher: Westbow Press (A Division of Thomas Nelson)

7. So Over It (Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt, book three) by Stephanie Morrill
(A contemporary story for girls. All three books in the trilogy are available.)

Review:
After all the drama that went down at the end of her senior year, Skylar is ready to move on. She jumps at the chance to visit her grandparents in Hawaii. She only plans to stay a few weeks, but perhaps Hawaii would be a good place for a fresh start, where she won’t run into her old friends everywhere she goes. But will she be strong enough to be who God is calling her to be?

Whew! I am thrilled with how everything came together in this third and final installment of the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. There is still some drama going on in Skylar’s life, even though she tried to get away from it. But she’s finally learning that no one is perfect and that true forgiveness is an awesome, freeing experience. I loved how everything came together, and certain characters matured and were able to do the right thing, even when they wanted to do the selfish thing. I’m being vague because I don’t want to spoil it. J

This is a great series for teen girls. There is romance drama, friend drama, and what do to with my life drama, but it’s fun, realistic, and entertaining. You won’t be able to put them down until you’ve read all three. I highly recommend!

Age Range: 12-16
Genre: contemporary
Part of a Series: Book three in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series
Pages: 262
Publisher: Revell

8. So Over My Head (A Charmed Life, book three) by Jenny B. Jones
(A hysterical contemporary mystery story for girls. All three books in the trilogy are available.)

Review by Gretchen Hoffman:
What’s better than a circus with clowns, a unicycle ballet (a skill I’ve been meaning to take up), and a bearded lady? Aside from a good waxing (for the bearded lady, of course), nothing! Ms. Jenny B. Jones writes yet another knee-slapping, laugh out loud, hysterical book that is a must, must, mustread!

Our favorite accidental detective, Bella Kirkwood, finds herself in over her head when she stumbles across the dead body of the Fritz Family Carnival’s fat (and also bearded) lady. Although another carnival member is arrested, Bella doubts his culpability, and decides to find the real murderer. Even though Bella doubts this man’s guilt, there are a few things she doesn’t doubt. For one, she’s certain Luke’s ex-girlfriend’s is interested in nothing other than stealing Luke back. Bella also knows her dad’s fiancĂ©e is up to no good. All she needs now is to prove it!

Expect nothing short of crazy schemes, a ride on a Ferris wheel, a creeper, and an undercover operation for Bella to bring a murderer to justice, figure out what to do with Luke’s ex, and stop her dad’s wedding. All in a day’s work, right? Bella’s friends and family are a whole cast of characters, and I love Ruthie (a kooky, crack-up), her stepbrother Budge (who works at the Weiner Palace—that alone is hilarious), her step-dad’s crazy wrestler friends, and a 13-year-old trapeze artist. If you’ve read books one and two, book three is a requirement. And if you have yet to pick up a book by Ms. Jones, definitely check this series out!

Age Range: 12-16
Genre: Contemporary
Part of a Series: A Charmed Life, book 3
Pages: 326
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

9. To Darkness Fled (Book two in the Blood of Kings trilogy) by Jill Williamson
(Fantasy, adventure, and a bit of romance for all ages. Books one and two in the trilogy are available.)

Review by Christian Miles:
The second installment of the Blood of Kings series will thrill, surprise, and delight readers just as much as the first. With stellar craftsmanship, the author continues to thrust her characters into a myriad of plot-driven obstacles that will have readers biting their nails late into the night.

The story picks up right where By Darkness Hid left off, with Achan, Vrell, and the Kingsguard knights fleeing into Darkness to escape the wrath of their former prince. They head north toward Ice Island in the hopes that they can free the wrongly accused men imprisoned there. Vrell continues to masquerade as a boy, but she knows it’s only a matter of time before she’ll either have to reveal her true identity, or abandon the party of questers. Achan, who has only ever known the life of a Stray, wrestles with the decor and responsibilities that come with his newfound authority. As they flee across Er’rets, their bloodvoicing talents and swordcraft excel, but in a world of ever-growing Darkness, how can two teens stay in the Light?

This is the best novel I’ve read since By Darkness Hid came out, and I’m a fairly voracious reader. I’d recommend it to anyone I know, young or old, male or female, fantasy lover or not. It’s just that good.

“Williamson pens an action-packed, imaginative second installment in the Blood of Kings trilogy. All the familiar epic elements and emotions are freshly rendered, with Vrell and Achan especially memorable. The pace gallops along, leaving readers hungry for the concluding book.” -Publishers Weekly

Age Range: 14 and up
Genre: Fantasy
Part of a Series: Book 2 in the Blood of Kings trilogy
Pages: 681 Publisher: Marcher Lord Press

10. To Save a Life by Jim and Rachel Britts
(A contemporary story based on the feature film.)

Review by Jill Williamson:
Jake and Roger were once best friends. They did everything together. Roger even stepped in front of a car to save Jake. But when they got to high school, and Jake got better at basketball, things started to change. Jake started hanging out with the popular crowd. Before he knew it, he didn’t have time for Roger at all.

And now Roger is dead. None of Jake’s new friends even know that he and Roger were once friends. They don’t understand what this loss means. Jake wonders what’s the point of it all? And if he had done things in his life differently, could he have saved Roger?

As Jake searches for answers and tries to find meaning in life, his friends just don’t get it. But Jake can’t go back, even if it costs him his reputation.

I’d wanted to see this movie, but it never came to a theater near me, not that any theater is near me…So I bought the book to tide me over. I’m totally glad I did. This book was powerful. It threw me into Jake’s life, the life most every guy wishes he had: star athlete with a full ride scholarship to play for his dream school, the perfect girlfriend, fun best friends, and popularity. Then tragedy strikes and Jake starts to ask important questions. And he won’t give up until he finds the answer.

This book gets into faith in an honest and ugly way. Sometimes that’s what we need to see. There are a lot of “Christians” out there making Christians look bad, loving themselves more than they love others. This book shows one guy struggling to do it the right way, no matter what anyone thinks. What an inspiring story. Now I want to see the movie more than ever! I highly recommend this to all high school and college students.

Age Range: 14 and up
Genre: contemporary fiction
Part of a Series: No
Pages: 315
Publisher: Outreach

If you decide to give any of these books a chance, be sure and come back here to tell us what you thought! :-)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 19: Curing the Lacklusters

Dear Christian,

Hello!
I’m writing a story about a girl whose Father is in jail and her Mother has died. She’s on her own, and she’s faced with some adventure and a little bit of romance.
But I’m thinking about giving up the story. The ideas are just not coming to me.
What do you think I should do?

-Tasha

Hi there, Tasha!

When you’re in the middle of a project, it can be easy to lose steam. Oftentimes, this is because you’ve gotten bored with your characters or plot. There’s several ways to defeat the Lacklusters, as I like to call them. I’ll list a few remedies below.

IdeaIs the premise for your novel engaging enough to write a full book about? Recently, my friend blogged about this on her site. She mentioned Stephen King’s idea that to come up with a strong story idea, you should take two totally unrelated things and mash them together.

Some examples:

High school and karate (The Karate Kid)

Talking horse and slave boy (The Horse and his Boy)

Flight and elephants (Dumbo)

Once you find two things like this, that what if question forms in your mind. Just to show how easy it is to get ideas this way, I’ll look around my room, come up with two things, and turn them into an idea.

Looking around, I see my brother and a dragon statue. To turn this into a story, I could ask myself the question What if my brother was a dragon? This would lead to other questions, and I could write those all down and answer them in an outline.

Which leads me to the next segment…

PlotDo you know what happens next in your story? When I first started writing, I couldn’t get past the first few chapters of any project. And then I discovered outlining. By expanding my story idea into a full-blown map of what my characters wanted to do and where they wanted to go, I gained the confidence I needed to write past those first chapters and all the way to the end.

Click HERE to read my post about Outlining, then HERE to read my follow-up post about Three-Act Structure.

CharactersIs your protagonist boring? If you have a meandering character that never seems to get anywhere, perhaps you need to give him more inner conflict. Figure out the goals of each character in your novel. What do they want in life? What’s standing in their way? What steps can they take to get where they want to be?

InspirationDo you need to recharge? Sometimes you can have all the above elements and still find it hard to write. This is when you’ve spent your creative juices. I find that the best way to cure this form of the Lacklusters is to go out and do something other than writing for awhile. Think about what inspires you. Is it music? Art? Find out what makes your creative juices flow, and spend some time immersed in that. Then get back to writing!

Hopefully this answered your question, Tasha. :-)

-Christian

If you have a burning question that you'd like answered, leave it in the comments below or e-mail it to this address: ChristianMiles@(at)live.(dot)com.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Teen Inklings Vol. 18: Resoloutions

Welcome to the year 2011.

I'm not sure about you, but I've made a few writerly resolutions that I hope to keep this year. Here's the main one I've set for myself:
  • Write a full novel before January ends.
Obviously, to do this I will need to buckle down and concentrate on pounding out the words. I'll be trying to write a chapter every day, which is roughly 3,000 words. Quantity, not quality is what they say—but why can't I achieve both? Hence my second resolution:
  • Edit the previous day's chapter every day.
Speaking of edits, I'm just about to turn some in to my editor at Port Yonder Press. I recently found out that the anthology my novella is a part of will be releasing Summer of this year! I'm excited.

Another thing I'm excited about is this site my critique group started to help writers. There's some great advice over there, with more to be added monthly. You can also win books, so go check it out.

I'm gonna strap myself to my laptop's keboard for the next 31 days, but before I do let me know in the comments whether or not you've made any writing-related resolutions for the year. Maybe we can keep each other accountable!