Archive for the ‘advice’ Category:

Talking to Your Characters–Give Them a “Dear Character” Column

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Dear Character,
Twelve and a half weeks ago I loaned my best friend a set of “Cooking with Salt” DVDs, which were a gift from my former best friend. I have asked her every week if she is done with them. Seven weeks ago, my boyfriend began cooking everything with salt.  He said he was experimenting. Five weeks ago, while searching my best friend’s apartment for my DVD set, I discovered, IN HER FILING CABINET, a pamphlet on breath care, which I had given to my boyfriend. I confronted her, but she was evasive. It has now been four weeks and six days since I have spoken to either of them. What am I to think? What kind of “experimenting” is my boyfriend doing? And how can I get my DVDs back?


Inconvenienced and Heartbroken


Let’s try this:

Choose a character from one of your works-in-progress and ask them to answer the letter above. With your character’s permission, post the response in the comments below. If you feel like it, have one of your characters write a “Dear Character” letter of their own and see if someone else’s character will answer it.

How do you develop multi-dimensional characters? What do you DO with them once they’ve sprung to life in your imagination?

Teenage Novelist: Talking to Your Characters

Marvin Whickpucket refuses to behave. When you want him to defeat the evil Onchnu, he won’t. Instead, he sits on the couch, surfs cable and eats potato skins. “This is boring!” you tell him. “Why are you acting this way?” “I miss Ilandra,” he says. “We had a fight. She said we were through.” “Why didn’t you TELL me?” you say, incredulous. Marvin shrugs. “You never asked.” Learn how to deepen your story by listening to your characters. Each class allows for hands-on exercises based on your work-in-progress and time for group critique.

Here are ALL the Writing classes at Bellevue College’s Summer Teen Program

I teach all but two of these classes. “Creating Graphic Novels” is taught by talented illustrator Dana Sullivan, and “Teenage Novelist: Writing Short Stories” is taught by amazing author Lois Brandt. Classes are held daily for one week, beginning July 14. Note that some classes are full or nearly full.

Select a course to view:

Creating Graphic Novels

Geek Fiction Writing

Teen Poets: Dancing on the Razor’s Edge

Teenage Novelist: Scenes and Dreams

Teenage Novelist: Live-Action Writing

Teenage Novelist: Novel Intensive

Teenage Novelist: Plotting and Scheming

Teenage Novelist: Publishing

Teenage Novelist: Revisioning the Novel

Teenage Novelist: Talking To Your Characters

Teenage Novelist: The Novel in a Nutshell

Teenage Novelist: What’s the Big Idea?

Teenage Novelist: Writing Short Stories

Young Writers’ Workshop



A Word on Risk


“You built some dandy walls

That held back the fire

And the barbs

But also the heat

And the fruit

That make it worth the suffering

The wind will blow through the remains

Of your fortress

And that mournful noise

Will be all the eulogy you are entitled”

©2014 Shane Guthrie

(excerpt from a longer set, which I will post later.)

If You’re Driven by Anxiety, Hire a New Chauffeur


I owe a lot to Anxiety: a degree, income, several books, resistance to credit cards. Anxiety has taken me places I may not otherwise have gone. Driven by work Anxiety, I have raced all night to meet deadlines. Financial Anxiety has carried me to jobs and business ventures that brought new friends, skills, and opportunities. Parental Anxiety has steered me to wise advisors.

But Anxiety is a zealous driver and riding with her is a little like being duct taped to the backseat of a ’78 Pinto. It’s hard to breathe and I keep wondering if the gas tank is about to explode. From the front seat, she points out, with a black-gloved hand, the scenes of my previous failures: the house I gave back to the bank, the job I lost in college. “You don’t want to go there again,” she says reprovingly.

Because we both know I Don’t Want to Go There, she capitalizes on this by favoring safe, predictable routes. “We don’t like accidents, do we?” she says, adjusting her peaked hat. Once I shockingly suggested traveling to France—I hadn’t been in decades. “We’ll rent a car,” I told her. “But I promise to let you drive.”

She paused from polishing her boots. “France.” She frowned. “You don’t even remember the subjunctive, nor which Louis was beheaded. Everyone will think you’re a half-wit. Besides,” she said, tugging at her jodhpurs, “we’re out of gas. And the accelerator has been sticking.”

The fact that we weren’t going anywhere didn’t mean she left me alone, though. She seems to want company regardless of my plans, and frequently pops in “just to chat” while I’m making dinner. I end up inviting her to stay, and I hate to say it, but Anxiety eats a lot, and my family doesn’t like her very much.   

Despite her penchant for avoiding risk, we’ve ended up crashing several times. Once she pulled suddenly into an alley to dodge a reviewer who didn’t like my book. We hit a wall and it was months before I could write again.  

Another time we collided with a Ford Escape when I was trying to finish a bunch of errands I’d promised to people. Anxiety was going a hundred miles an hour, so even if she says she’s committed to keeping me safe—she’s lying. In fact, the whole time we were screaming down the highway, she was listing all the people who’d be hurt or disappointed if I didn’t keep every single promise.

There’s no way to sleep when Anxiety is driving, either,  even on long trips–especially on long trips, because she talks all night to keep herself awake.

I’ve been giving some thought to letting her go, but she’s been so loyal that I feel badly for considering it. “I’m indispensable,” she often pronounces. “Who’d drive you if it wasn’t for me?”

She’s asking a very good question.

This is the first of a series on overcoming anxiety. Stay posted for the next installment.

In a Writing Rut? Steal from Another Author (but not really.)

I don’t know about you, but after years of writing, I notice that I get into a stylistic rut. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the solution is theft. Today I’m going to steal from author Janet Lee Carey, creator of Dragon’s Keep, The Beast of Noor, Dragonswood and many other books. This particular bit of larceny is from The Beast of Noor.

I’ve broken part of a scene down into its elements: dialogue, setting detail, internal monologue, etc. In this scene, Hanna, who is a dreamwalker, confronts her brother Miles, who used his secret shapeshifting ability to save her from the supernatural beast known as the Shriker.

Hanna lunged forward and pushed him on the chest. (character action) “Don’t!” she cried. “Don’t lie about it anymore! I saw you leap from the high branch, so I thought you’d die, but you didn’t. You…flew.” (dialogue)

Miles sucked in a startled breath and held it. (character action)

“You changed. Your body changed. I saw it happen. And you saved me from the Shriker.” (dialogue) Hanna looked up at him not so much with anger now as wonder. (character action.) He’d seen that look before when she’d knelt before the altar in the kirk. (internal monologue) It gave him a strange, tingling feeling to be so admired. (sensory detail) But he saw fear in her eyes as well (character detail), and he didn’t like that so much. (internal monologue)

High above a golden blade of sunlight pierced the clouds. (setting detail) Hanna was still looking at him, waiting for a word. (character action) “It’s true,” she insisted. “All of what I saw in the deeps. Isn’t it?” (dialogue)

A drop of sweat slid down Mile’s forehead. (sensory detail) He wiped it away with his sleeve. (character action) He couldn’t go on fooling her. What now? (internal monologue)


Now, taking these elements in the same order, I have created an entirely new (and rather silly) scene for an entirely different book.

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Kweeg H-41 jumped from the mossy wall, landing on her side and rolling. “Bleezbat!” she huffed. “Lexar didn’t tell me this required vanquishing primitive ecosystems.”  She examined her torn tunic.

“You were expecting a space pod with a driver?” Ilik-J16 smirked and offered his hand.

She would eat quantum rats before she’d accept any help from Ilik. Her bum smarted where it had hit a root. Ilik’s silver tunic was spotless, as usual. Kweeg suspected he’d spent his bonus on nano-cleaners for it, just to irritate her.

The ground was freezing as well as rooty. Kweeg hauled herself to her feet, glaring. She ignored Ilik’s proffered hand. “Lexar wants us there tomorrow,” she snarled. “The least he could do is provide transport.” Her left foot was beginning to throb and some kind of murderous plant was poking her. She jerked her arm away from the foliage and gave it a rub. When she got home—if she ever got home—she would fill Lexar’s sleeping compartment with Plutonian Slugs.

Not only is this a lot of fun to do, it’s not a way you would normally write. You can break the scene down into even more detailed elements if you like. While it would drive me crazy to do long passages using this method, I find that short bits help me to analyze my usual style and see whether there is something in the rhythm and pacing of another author’s prose that I could use to change up my own.

If you know a teen writer interested in gathering with other teens who write, check out our TEENWrite summer classes at Uppercase Books in Snohomish.


Six Annoying Statements Adults Make to Teen Writers

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I list these to educate and enlighten: Don’t be that guy.

1) “You should find something else to supplement that–like math!”–Submitted by Sydney

2) “Oh, I would like to read that!” *never does*–Submitted by Emily

3) “Oh! That sounds just like (insert famous story/movie by other author)!”–Submitted by Robbie

4) “Empire State Building should be capitalized. And ‘cat’s’ is a possessive, not a plural. What on earth are they teaching you in school?”

I’m dyslexic. And in school you always seem to get marks for punctuation and not imagination.–Charlotte

5) “Are you getting published?”

That actually annoys me. Just cos I write doesn’t mean I want to throw my words out there for anyone to read.–Kelsey

6) “Oh, that’s nice; you like to write. Do you write from your imagination? … Magic! Do you write about fairies and unicorns and princesses?”
“No, I write epic battles between dragons and bloodmages who can squeeze the life out of their opponent with a wave of their hand. It’s quite interesting, really.”
“How fun! Do the dragons sparkle?”

Kill me now.Lauren

TEENWrite Teenage Novelist Day Camp

If you are a teen who takes your writing seriously, you may want to join us at Uppercase Bookshop in Snohomish for one of three TEENWrite Teenage Novelist day camps in July.

Session 1 What’s the Big Idea?: From Idea to Storyline M-F July 15-19 9-11 AM REGISTER

Session 2 Plotting and Scheming: Plan Your Novel from Start to Finish July 22-26 4-6 PM REGISTER

Session 3 Talking to Your Characters: Create Characters so Authentic, They’ll Talk Back! July 29-August 2 4-6 PM REGISTER

(Sessions may be taken independently of each other.)

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The Importance of “Off-Stage” Writing: 5 Ways to Use a Secret Journal

You’ve just taken Pamela Protagonista, rebel goth girl, through the perils of cheerleader camp where she has scored a victory over Amanda Antagonistella, who was not as good at karaoke as she thought. The Final Showdown is twenty chapters away and you have no idea why Pamela would go to Kennebunkport nor how she will score a train ticket without Reginald finding out. You’ve made lists and charted character arcs and rechecked the color of Reginald’s eyes, but nothing gives. You are stuck. Hopelessly.

It’s time to take your writing off the “stage” of your manuscript and do some secret journal writing–writing that no one will ever see. At least, that’s what you need to tell yourself. Your story journal will have more in it than charts and lists. It’s a kind of conversation. I use mine to do the following things:

1) Rant. “The writing is going SO badly and there are so many bills and why won’t those women at the next table TALK MORE QUIETLY? Is it all the wine they’ve had? Why do I do this? Should I be a writer at all? Maybe I should have gone into real estate.”

2) Plan. “Today I need to not only tackle chapter four, but thread Amanda’s poodle through chapters one through three. Let’s see if I can hit a word count of 2k.”

3) Play What-If. “What if Pamela hates Reginald? What if he is the cause of her isolation? What if she really wants to be a Broadway actress, but her father forbids her to take acting classes? What if she and Amanda were originally best friends?”

4) Play Why-Maybe. “Why would Pamela hate Reginald? Maybe he humiliated her.  Maybe he thought he was doing something nice, but it backfired and he’s too embarrassed to tell her. Maybe this happened at prom. Maybe he invited her and didn’t show. Why would he do that?”

5) Write fake scenes. Tell yourself these are practice scenes and you’re not really going to use them. Then you can write whatever you want as horribly as you want. Often these scenes will stay in the journal forever. But sometimes you’ll find something the book needs–something you’d never have written “on stage.”

Want support and accountability in your writing? YA Novel Writing: Captivating the Teen Reader begins April 8 at Bellevue College. To register, go to the Bellevue College Continuing Ed website.


What I Learned by "Winning" NaNoWriMo Through Cheating and Trickery

…and yes, I am going to buy the tee-shirt.



The task? Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Usually, Iuse NationalNovel Writing Month to get as much word count aspossible on my work-in-progress. This is already cheating—but since I’ve nevercome close to winning, I haven’t felt guilty about it.


But three days before the start of this year’s NaNo, myeditor says, “Katherine, we need to start thinking about 2013.” Now,this does not constitute a book contract, but it does constitute a challenge. Idecide to begin a new novel on November 1 and that this year I will”win” NaNoWriMo.



Day 1: Brainstorm—characters, ideas, suggestions from Facebookfriends, (Hula Hoops, a camel, a zeppelin and “copious amounts ofdefenestration.”) I write all this sort of thing into what Janet LeeCarey calls a “story journal.” At The Lyons’ Den in Bothell, I try to write the opening scene, but a man at the nexttable is determined to attract my attention. I turn him into an eleven-year-oldgirl with black fingernail polish and add him to my word count. My goal is2,000 words a day. I’m going to finish early!


Day 2: Teaching day. Spend the entire day on lessons, and theentire evening hosting the Duvall 1st Wednesday Poetry Reading at Match Coffee and Wine Bar in Duvall, But, it’s only Day 2, right?


Day 3: Up to 1710 words. I’ll catch up.


Day 4: Paesano’s Coffee in Monroe. Lots of story journaling. A hunky, shirtless guy on a dirtbike has appeared and called my heroine Principessa.All in all, not a bad writing day.


Day 5: My son takes the SAT, so I hole up at Caffé Ladro in Edmonds and write. I hear an NPRinterview on Joan of Arc and decide she’ll have to go into thebook—somehow.


Day 8: My protagonist nearly drowns, so I spent many hoursresearching water safety on Mario Vittone’s blog. Then I teach a teen poetry workshop for RASP.


Days 9-14:Hunky guy doesn’t want protagonistto know he saved her life. Girl with black fingernail polish followsprotagonist everywhere. Up to 12,769 words. Still behind, but I have lots oftime.


Day 15: Wee hours of the morning. I watch a live feed of theeviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zucotti Park. Suddenly my screen freezes.When I reboot, my entire D drive is gone. Restore takes all day.


Day 16: Teaching day. D drive disappears again overnight.


Day 17: Restore.


Days18-19: TEENWriteBecause I’ve put TEENWrite into thebook, I come as my protagonist’s character, an elf.


Days20–26: School break. When I’ve had a goodwriting day, I get to watch Dr. Who.Make it to 17,963. 32k to go, which is somewhat alarming. Make plan for writing8k per day which is, frankly, impossible. Paste the story I wrote at TEENWrite into the book for another 857words. This is not really cheating.


Day 27: My daughter, Sarah walks by my office and says innocently,“Why don’t you include your story journal in your word count? It IS part ofwriting your novel.” Word count jumps suddenly by 7k.


Day 28: My friend, MollyBlaisdell dares me to write over 8k in a day.She uses Muppet Movie tickets as bait. (Molly’s picture book THE BIG FUZZY COAT is a contender on theMeeGenius Author Challenge) I add 8265words, including Psalm69, which I cut and paste in its entirety. (One of the characters prays alot.)


Day 29: One of my characters says, “Do you want me to tell you whatHindus believe?” Bing “What do Hindus Believe?”Seconds later I have 160 more words. Realize that one of my characters is a CatStevens fan, and paste the lyrics to “TheWind,” “I Wish, I Wish” and “How Can I Tell You?” into my story journal (nowpart of my word count). I go to The Wayward Coffeehouse in Seattle, where I write like crazy with a bunch of otherWrimos.


Day 30: Teaching day. Have not slept since yesterday. Phone meetingwith publicist in the morning. Get son from clarinet lesson. Grade stuff. Conversewith a student about leprechauns. Teach in an even more crazed fashion thanusual. Go home. I have seven hours to finish this book. 7775 words to go. Hunkyguy in book writes a very nice song. Characters sneak into the Lan SuChinese Garden. By 11:15 PM, I have 47k… There isNO WAY I will write 3,000 words in 45 minutes! I wrack my brains. And this iswhere the real cheating begins: My “secret blog” contains words. And myprotagonist and I muse about similar things… I paste in two blog posts. Notenough. I write more on the Lan Su scene. Still not enough. It is 11:52. Didn’tI start another book with that one character who’s in this book? I paste in theopening of that book And…I WIN!!!!!


So, now Ihave learned my lesson: It doesn’t matterwhether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game? No. It matters thatyou win.


1) In 30 days, I have writtenapproximately 150 manuscript pages. I have a full outline and 19 characters. Ifpressed, I could probably write a synopsis tomorrow. (Note to Leah—please don’tpress. The one I send later will be better.)


2) This manuscript contains huge gaps,but the writing is actually pretty good—maybe even better than writing I’ddeliberated over.


3) When there’s no time to figure outall the whys and whens, write “the heart of the scene.” Like the heart of the TARDIS, that’swhere all the power is, anyway.


4) DIALOGUE is the backbone of a novel.


5) Get a little help from your friends:When I was ready to give up, my friends were there with cheers and challenges.And, I got great tips from the Nanowrimoforums, which I’d never thought I had time for.


6) Even though I am a NaNoWriMoRebel I still feel giddy with success. Hitting that 50k, even with “illegal”content, gives me the confidence that I needto turn a viable book into a publishable book.

One Year to Launch—Calling on the Well-Traveled for Advice

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My debut YA novel is scheduled for release in May, 2012, so this morning I was thinking about the word “launch.” I think I came to my previous book releases a little bewildered, overwhelmed by the options (101 Ways to Promote Your Book), and a bit timid about getting my feet wet. Now, I realize that while I can’t do it all, I can have a focused plan.  So I asked myself, if I were sailing around the world, how would I prepare for my trip?
I’d love it if my novelist friends would tell me specific things you’ve done to prepare for your own launches. How would you interpret these steps?
Laying in Supplies—I’d need food for the voyage, blankets, emergency lights, fishing gear, etc.
Maps, both paper and electronic
A Route Plan–decide how I’ll get there
Talk to Experienced Sailors—especially those who’ve sailed around the world before
Enlist Supporters at Home—people who will stay in contact remotely and report on my progress
Enlist Supporters in Foreign Ports—people who would welcome me, let me stay with them, and introduce me around their city
Avoid Dangerous Waters—war-torn areas, areas with pirates, areas prone to storms
Languages—acquire a working knowledge of the main languages where I will be sailing, or find interpreters.
Time for Loved Ones–build in daily
Post-Trip Plan—a plan for after I return home, so I can rest and slow down, but not all the way down.
Work on Next Trip—preparing for another trip, even while I’m on this one.