Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 3 Pep Talk: Janette Rallison

One of the most common complaints I hear from new writers is that they keep starting stories but never manage to finish them. I used to be the same way. As a teenager (before the age of personal computers) I bought all sorts of blank books, each time telling myself that this time, I was going to finish a story. I still have those blank books somewhere. Most of them only have a few dozen pages written in them. I don’t remember how I planned on ending any of them—which was probably part of my problem in the first place. I didn’t know where my story was going most of the time.

Writing 200 pages without knowing the basic tenets of your story is like driving 200 miles for a vacation without a map or street signs. You’ll get somewhere, but it may not be where you wanted to end up.

If you’re feeling that your story isn’t going anywhere, ask yourself if you have these basics in your story:

1) Your main character has a big problem.
2) S/he has a goal that s/he is working toward to solve her/his problem.
3) S/he has obstacles to overcome in this quest.
4) Someone or something is acting as an antagonist. (An antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain, just someone or something that opposes your main character’s goal.)
5) Lastly, there is a dire consequence if your character fails to achieve this goal. This could be death but doesn’t need to be so drastic. For a teenage girl, losing a friend is a dire consequence.

If you have these elements in place and still feel like you’re struggling through your story, try writing your scenes out of sequence and see if that solves the problem. For example, when I wrote Blue Eyes and Other Teenage Hazards, I knew there was going to be a scene where the main character was on a disastrous date, and another scene where she was hauled to the police station with a drunken friend. I wrote these high tension scenes first, then filled in what I needed to fill in to get from the beginning to those scenes.

As you write, you’ll sometimes realize that you need to change a major aspect in the story. For example, you might have written your main character as an only child and then realize that no, what you really need for the story to work is a younger sister who died when your character was young. Instead of going back and rewriting the beginning, make a note of your change on a revision list and keep writing as though you’d already made the change. Writing your story this way will keep you moving forward instead of stuck endlessly fixing things.

Keep at it! “The End” isn’t all that far away!

Janette Rallison (who is also sometimes CJ Hill when the mood strikes her) is an award-winning author of 13 young adult novels that have sold over a million copies. Her books have been on the IRA Young Adults’ Choices lists, Popular Picks, and many state reading lists. Most of her books are romantic comedies because hey, there is enough angst in real life, but there’s a drastic shortage of both humor and romance. On her blog,, she discusses the funny side of being a YA author. She lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids, and enough cats to classify her as eccentric. Her latest book, ERASING TIME, was released August 28th.

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