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The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
03 January 2012 @ 08:07 am

Thinking about...

Joseph...he could have had Mary stoned for breaking their marriage contract? And he was likely a fool not to.

Mary's dad...he would have been so pissed at Mary for potentially losing the financial arrangement.

Joseph...how bad would it have sucked not to get to share the joy of his 1st child with his wife?

Mary...when she missed her period & started puking, she knew she never had sex but knew no one would believe her.

Joseph...so the 1st time he saw Mary naked was probably to deliver Jesus. Sexy.

The Magi..."Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, I'm sure you're tired, but we've been traveling for months..."

Bethlehem...how tragic that all the infant boys had to be slaughtered, house to house, screaming mother to screaming mother, for Messiah to come.

The other young Bethlehem-ian mothers...how do you keep your faith in God when Herod slaughters your infant son?

Mary & Joseph...after such a long trip north, they have to travel the same roads south and beyond to Egypt, all the while staying off the main roads so Herod's soldiers wouldn't kill Jesus. Silent nights, indeed.

Joseph...He's never been outside Nazareth before, yet now he's hiking to Bethlehem, then fleeing for his life to Egypt & SEEING THE PYRAMIDS!!!

The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
23 December 2011 @ 12:18 pm
If I hadn't tried to teach so many people over the years, I sure wouldn't have learned very much. Thank you, God, for my personality. And THANK YOU for putting up with me!
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens

Anyone ever told you that writers need to be readers?

Ever heard that question asked to authors...
Q: What's the best advice you could give to upcoming writers?
A: read read read.

So I read a lot of books. From all genres, but especially from my target market. And I did get better. It did help. I earned an MFA in Creative Writing where we read a lot of books and talked about writing and reading and books and all that.

But still...

Then I read a fantastic post about "Why THE HUNGER GAMES is so compelling" that really got my wheels spinning. Here's the original post by @internspills.


I changed my colors slightly (to match my highlighters) but used her descriptions:

BLUE - action/description: characters move around, birds chirp, sights, sounds, smells, etc.
PINK - dialogue (a pink squiggly line for summarized dialogue)
YELLOW - internal narrative: memories, reactions, snippets of telling
PURPLE - internal conflict: struggles to make up mind about something or resolve conflicting emotions
ORANGE - external conflict: physical obstacle to be overcome
GREEN - an action or decision made as a result of internal/external conflict


This is a chapter in an ACTION novel where a few days pass. This chapter reads 1st column, 2nd column, 3rd column.

next column>>>>>

next column>>>>>




(1) The lines directly before any kind of time jump were either purple, orange, or green -- internal conflict, external conflict, or a decision. The effect is that we don't get bored following a long sequence of time passing.

(2) In a scene where 3 or more people are speaking, each new speaker gets an action or action tag. This prevents confusion and keeps us in the story.

(3) The MC uses Subject/Verb speaking tags. Other characters mostly use Verb/Subject tags. (Example: Batman says. says Joker.)

(4) Chunks of dialogue are hardly ever interrupted by any other type. Often the author saves the internal conflict till directly following the conflict right before.

(5) Plus the Interns realizations are right on, especially the one about decisions/choices almost always follow right after a conflict of some kind.

More coming soon.

The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowI love this book. Such great writing. Addicting and engaging characters. And as ambitious a storyline I've read in a long time. It's all the best parts of Orwell's 1984 with brilliant teenagers being daring enough to try to take down Big Brother. Frickin rad!

So I decided to study it a bit to see what I could learn from the writing. I can't post the original selection from the novel, but here's my breakdown. Let me know if you get any epiphanes. 


From p.320-321 in Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER — end of chapter 19 



  • 32 STRONG VERBS = teased, snuffled, twitched, shot out, grinding, gasped, grabbed punching, grind, shatter, swallowed, crushing, banging, shattered, yelped, spasmed, snatched, shove, walled in, grunt, slithering, clanging, thump, scrambled, dragged, slamming, screamed, padlocked, delete, poised, slap, shove, dove
  • 43 WEAK“er” VERBS = WAS—5x, HAD—7x, turned, reached, knew, made, stopping, stared, staring, taking, bit, crying, continued, didn’t say, felt, showed, moved, asked, look, find, moved, brought it down, hit, went, still moving, reaching, moved, heading, felt, fell down, heard, must have caught, didn’t
  • 20 “ING” VERBS
  • 4 FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE = fast as a snake, like it would shatter, like a gong, like Pharoah in a tomb
  • THEN = 0x
  • 12 PARTICIPLE PHRASES (“ing” or “ed”)
  1. How many "ing" participle phrases he uses. I've heard many people say that "comma + ing particple" slows down your action scenes, that you should use more hard "ed" verbs and simple sentences. But Mr. Doctorow proves otherwise.
  2. The sentence structure. In action scenes, "shorten the sentence length." "Make it feel faster with short punchy lines." That's what I've heard anyway. Yet when I look at his structure, he's got only 4 Simple sentences. 8 Compound, 5 Complex, and a whopping 12 Comma/Participle phrases (sometimes even back to back).
  3. Also a bit shocking was the number of what people would call "weak" verbs. "Make your verbs stronger." "I've highlighted all your ING and WASes. They slow the action and pull me out of it." Doctorow's strong verbs are definitely strong, but very few are scouring the barrel of unique action verbs. Which is pretty befuddling because the voice in this novel is SO unique and fresh. But that voice isn't coming during this particular action scene. He used "move" 4x, "felt" a couple of times, "stare" 2x, and "went / find / turn / look / made / continue."
  4. He never used the word "then." I've always thought the word was a sign of fairly weak writing. This strengthens my thought about that. If the pace and scene are good enough, you don't need "then."
  5. I've seen a lot of writing lately with fragments. Sometimes lots of them. I've used them too. I like them. A well-used fragment can accomplish a lot. But Doctorow doesn't use any here. Which intrigues me.
Of course, rules are made so that the masters can break them. But on the pre-publication side of the curtain, I wonder how many rules are made up by pre-pubbers, who are still figuring out the ropes themselves.

Like me.  
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
22 July 2011 @ 03:09 pm
by Brian Farrey (Twitter @brianfarrey)

Eighteen-year-old Evan Weiss paints on windows. Like most artists, he doubts his work and feels like a complete imposter. The truth is he’s very good, in a copycat sort of way. He studies famous artists, carefully learning their strokes and strategies. He sees the balance in their work and envies them.

Evan has already come out to his family. He gathered all the courage he could muster and said the words. Only they didn’t believe him. Earth-shattering news like that should actually shatter the world. But sometimes change is harder than that. So he retreats into hiding. After all, if the people closest to him won’t accept who he is, he’ll be himself in secret.

Which is why he doesn’t tell anyone about his sexy boyfriend Erik. That fated painting day at the volleyball courts is the best and scariest event of his life. Erik accepts him. Is fascinated by him. Believes in him. Even, loves him. With Erik, he’s found a place to belong. Someone to belong with.

The only other person who comes close is Evan’s best friend Davis. He knows he’s found something special when, even after they find out they’ll never be boyfriends, the friendship is worth keeping. It’s how they survived the constant ridicule and gay bashings at school. How they make it all the way to graduation day.

With a summer of freedom ahead of them, they hear about a new movement called the Chasers. “Learn what it means to be gay! Stop being a doormat!” the handwritten flier dares. And Evan has felt powerless so long, told so many lies for so long -- to his family, his boyfriend, his best friend -- that this sounds like it might be his answer. The right opportunity at the perfect time.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

It becomes dangerously clear that his worlds can’t stay separate any longer. No more lies. No more imitation. If he doesn’t figure out who he wants to be, he might lose everything he loves. Including himself.

Brian Farrey’s WITH OR WITHOUT YOU shows one of the grim realities of teenage life. No shying away from anything. No sacred cows. No pulled punches. Choices must be made between possibilities and consequences. Between truth and lies. Rumors and reality. And it is with the careful brushes of grit and grace that he paints a future that looks like hope. Imagine that.

>>> Purchase on Amazon.com

--- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens (Twitter @NormalForOnce)
--- Reviewed for www.TeenReads.com
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
02 July 2011 @ 02:42 pm
I'm not going to be one of those bloggers that bewails the fact they haven't blogged in a while. I won't I won't I won't.

Nearly a month ago, I had a baby girl. That was cool. She still is pretty cool.

I'm also blazing away on my WIP, working title BUMMIN' IT.  At 1,000 words a day, 5 days a week, I should have a completed draft by the start of school. Sweet!

And to the critic, vampire, laughing little red devil in my head telling me I can't sustain that pace...I say, "I've done it for 12 days, and I can do it a bunch more. And if I miss a couple days and end up with a few 1,000 words to finish during the first weeks of school, then so be it. I'll have 10s of 1,000s of words written on this schedule."

Which is very refreshing and relieving and empowering. I'm writing. And I can do this for a really long time because I love it.

Now, the wife/mommy is taking the newborn to the mall to get some shopping walking in, the 3 year old is sleeping, and I'm going to write.

The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
09 June 2011 @ 02:27 pm
On 6/6/2011 at 1:37am, our newest family addition was born. Poema (poe-emma) Rachel Stephens entered the world at 8 lbs, 1 oz and 20 inches long.

If you're curious about the origin of her name, here's a podcast on it. In general, it's a word from the Greek Bible that means God's masterpiece, his work of art.

We love her and couldn't be more excited!

Thus the pictures ...
(all photos have been approved for Internet consumption)

The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
28 April 2011 @ 06:04 am
We're debt-free! Freedom!!!!!

No student loans, credit card balances, lay-aways, cars, houses, planes, yachts, or vacation homes.

Now we can start saving up our emergency fund of 6-months of my salary.

That's right, we're on the Dave Ramsey plan (mostly), and it feels fantastic. And if we can do it on a teacher's salary with a stay-at-home mom, you can do it too!

(1) $1,000 emergency fund immediately.
(2) Use the snowball effect to pay off all your debts. Snowball effect = pay off smallest debt first and use that $$$ to pay off 2nd smallest debt faster, 3rd smallest even faster, then your largest debt.
(3) 6 months salary in an emergency fund
(4) Retirement

We're looking at steps 3 and 4 as fairly combined. Dave wants your 6 months in a completely non-risk fund, but after a while, I see that 6 months as part of my retirement. I 's all gonna be one lump.

We're big fans of www.EEBAcanhelp.com for our budget. We haven't spent over budget in 11 months using that site. There's a free app for the Droid too that can sync between phones so when one of you spends something, it immediately updates your budget. So cool.

Anyway, it feels good.
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
15 April 2011 @ 07:33 pm
Few novels have it. Especially in Y.A.

Multiple points of view.

I was considering doing this with my current work in progress, third-person-limited switches between two main characters. Both guys. But I'm pretty sure I just decided against it.

So the pros and cons of using multiple points of view:


(1) they can split up, yet I can still show both of their stories in real time
(2) two inner thoughts/emotions shown up close
(3) the angst of knowing both threadsthe angst of not-knowing one thread is more intense


(1) readers might not bond as well with both protags
(2) one thread might be more compelling, leaving readers pissed
(3) number of point of view chapters might not be balanced

What other reasons are there to go single POV or multiple?

Which do you prefer to write? to read?
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephens
I've been favoritting these Breakout Writing prompts from Donald Maass for the past month, so I thought I'd compile them and send them to everone. I think they're pretty helpful.

01 What’s the worst thing your MC does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.

02 What’s the most selfless thing your MC does? What good change or effect does that have on someone unexpected? Add that in.

03 Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.

04 Choose a middle scene: What does POV character feel most strongly? Evoke that feeling without naming it, through actions alone.

05 What should your readers most see, understand or be angry about? At what story moment will that happen? Heighten it in two ways.

06 How does your POV character change in your current scene? Work backwards. Make that change unlikely, a surprise or impossible.

07 What does a sidekick or secondary character see about your MC that your MC denies? Force a showdown over it.

08 Over what does your MC disagree with his/her boss or mentor? When does the boss/mentor prove to be right?

09 What’s a place in your story where something significant happens? Switch two other story events to that location too.

10 In your current scene, what’s a setting detail that delights or disgusts your POV character? Why? Elaborate & add.

11 Find a small passing moment in your manuscript. What big meaning does your MC see in it? Add that.

12 During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again? Add.

13 For your MC, what are the best things about these times? The worst? Create a passage of his/her take on this era.

14 In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.

15 What’s one thing your MC hates as the story opens? By the end have your MC love that same thing. (Or vice versa.)

16 What’s the precise turning point in your current scene? Make its trigger more dramatic—or less obvious.

17 Who in your story has an ironclad, unshakable belief? Shatter or reverse it by the story’s end.

18 Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it.

19 What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.

20 Cut 100 words from your last 3 pages.You have 5 minutes. Fail? Penalty: cut 200 words.

21 In the last dialogue passage you wrote double the friction, disagreement, overt hostility or hidden agenda.

22 In the last inner monologue you wrote insert one insight, question or worry that hasn’t hit you (or your MC) before now.

23 What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.

24 Find a strong emotion and replace it with a secondary one; find a throw-away moment and infuse it with rich feelings.

25 Before a new character debuts, give your MC an expectation or fear. Make the reality three times better or worse.

26 Whom is your MC afraid to let down? What is the sacred trust between them? What would cause your MC to break it? Break it.

27 What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.

28 Set off fireworks between two characters. What’s the biggest skyrocket you can explode for the finale? Go ahead…kaboom!

29 What’s the emotion or experience you’re most afraid to put your MC through? Go there. Do it. Now.

30 What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.

31 What’s the very worst aspect of the main problem your MC faces? Find one way to make it still worse.