One Writer’s Journey

November 21, 2014

Action and Reaction, Scene and Sequel

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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scene and sequelWhen I started writing, long, long ago before the world was color, I remember hearing about scene and sequel.  Basically, the scene contains the action — wow!  exciting!  edge of my seat!   The sequel gives your character space to react — how does this change things?  What will I do next ?

I haven’t seen much on this topic in quite a while so was thrilled to read K.M. Weiland’s Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting. Her post is all about character depth and using sequel/reaction to create both this depth and empathy with your character.

One of the reasons that we need to see your characters react is that it gives us (the readers) insight into their motivations.  At best, a character who goes from one action to another without a thought in between is going to seem impulsive and shallow.  And that might be your point.  Maybe your character is impulsive and shallow and it creates all kinds of trouble for him.  If that’s the case, make that trouble oh so obvious.

But the other risk is that if we never see your character react and mull things over, we won’t have any clue why your character is moving from action a to action b, unless of course action a is climbing a mountain trail and action b is panting for breath.  That’s sort of obvious.   We won’t know what your character’s motivation is or why he does what he does.

Your reaction time doesn’t have to be extended.  In fact, some actions don’t lend themselves to long, drawn-out reactions.  Accidently pull the pin on a grenade and you might need to react rather quickly unless this is one of those from the grave stories.  But if you make the effort to build in some reactions, readers will know your character that much better, an essential ingredient in character driven stories.



November 20, 2014

Picture Book biographies: Who to write about and Who Not

age appropriate picture book biographyWhen I saw the cover of Patricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine, I did a double take.  A picture book on Josephine Baker?  Are you serious?  Apparently you can judge a book by it’s cover and I am seriously guilty.  After all, I haven’t read the book yet although I have requested it from my library.

And I should really know better.  After all, I’ve read Gary Golio’s Jimi:  Sounds like a Rainbow.  Yes, a picture book about Jimi Hendrix.  And, although Hendrix had a serious drug problem and died of an overdose, it is an amazing book.

The beauty of the picture book format is that you have 36 pages to tell your story.  Slant it right and you can avoid the bits that aren’t age appropriate without being accused of censoring your topic.   Golio did it by focusing on Hendrix’s childhood drawings and how they fueled his music later in his life.  The author’s note tells how Hendrix died and discusses substance abuse and addiction. As a result, the book it totally honest and totally age appropriate.

Since I haven’t yet read Josephine, I don’t know how Howell pulls it off.  I do know that the story is told in verse and that the rhythms and energy echo Baker’s life.

Who else may or may not make a good candidate for a biography for the very young.  Charles Lindbergh, humble and hard working early in life, would be excellent.  Charles Lindbergh, father of a kidnapped and murdered boy?  His later political statements?  Nope.  I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot picture book pole.  But I could easily see writing about what in his youth inspired his flight.

Pick several historic figures who led “colorful” lives and play with how many ways you could present them to a picture book audience.



November 19, 2014

Boy Books vs Girls Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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boy books vs girl booksDo you write boys books or girls books?

Personally, I write books.  Some of them are about people.  Some are about animals.  One is about religion.  And I can honestly say that they would all appeal to both boys and girls.

I’m not a complete knuckle head.  I can see that some books appeal to girls much more than they appeal to boys.  Think Fancy Nancy and Meg Cabot’s Princess Diary books.  I’m not saying that no boy will ever read them, but the appeal will trend more towards girls than boys.

The strange thing is that it isn’t as easy for me to name boy books.  Sure, there are books that some marketing department or other has skewed boy — The Dangerous Book for Boys comes to mind.  But honestly, I’m the one that read it.  Not my son.  What’s he reading?  Right now he’s into the Walking Dead graphic novels.  But several of the girls are reading them too.

Why do we believe that boys only read books written by men and books with male characters?  My son knew JK Rowling was a woman and he still read all the Harry Potter books.  He also read The Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent is on his list.  Female authors.  Female main characters.

This is one of those things that I find myself thinking about although I have to admit that I don’t have any answers other than some speculations about adults and our need to label things and people.


November 18, 2014

Call for Manuscripts: Shine

Call for SubmissionsDo you like to write for the Christian market?  Then consider SHINE brightly magazine.

This magazine is for girls ages 9 to 14 and is published by GEMS Girls’ Clubs (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior).  The goal of GEMS is to help bring girls into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  
Each issue features stories, articles, interviews, quizzes, poems, games, puzzles, crafts, and recipes.  Remember this is a Christian publication and each and every piece needs to show a realistic depiction of the Christian life and show readers how Christian beliefs apply day-to-day.
The word limist for fiction is 700 to 900 words.  For nonfiction it is 200 to 800 words.
Each school year, the magazine features a central theme.  I say school year because it seems to run from the summer issue through the spring.  The upcoming theme is Bring the Message and is described thusly:
“Bring the Message focuses on sharing the good news of Jesus. God sent Jesus to the world to deliver the message that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus is love, light, and life to a dark and dying world. And when we’ve been changed by His message, we need to share the good news of Jesus with others. This season we are focusing on ways people in the Bible shared the message. As the Father sent the Son, so He sends you and me. Let us be as quick to respond and say in agreement with Isaiah, ‘Send me!’”
The Theme verse is Isaiah 6:8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
The deadline for the summer issue is December 3rd.  The topic for this issue is Sharing Your Faith.
For details, read the guidelines posted here.

November 17, 2014

Fiction Based on Real Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:10 am
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life based fictionHave you ever tried writing a fiction story based on an event in your own life?  It can be really tough.  You want to write it the way that it happened and not change a thing.

But that doesn’t generally work.  No matter how true the story might be, it still need to work as a story.  That means that:

Motivations have to exist.  In real life, you might have done something on a whim.  “Let’s try this and see what happens.” That’s a lot harder to pull off in fiction.  Your character has to want something specific and she has to have a reason for wanting it.  The same holds true for your antagonist.  He can’t want to mess things up for your protagonist for no reason what-so-ever even if that seemed to be the case in real life.  Your story has to function as a story.

Coincidence needs to be minimized in your story.  Things can’t just randomly happen.  Yes, that might be the way it happend in real life, because coincidents really do happen all the time.  You look out the window just in time to see something happen.  You show up a half hour early and miss a huge wreck on the highway.  That’s fine . . . in real life.  But too many coincidents in a story make it look like you did a bad job of planning things out.

You have to make the real event work as a story and that will require making changes to what really happened.  To find out about writing fiction based on a real historic event, read my post from yesterday at the Muffin.


November 14, 2014

Write the wreck

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni

My favorite book by Dianne Salerni who recommends that you write your problem scene and use it to learn something more about your story.

Have you ever gotten stuck on your work in progress because you know there are problems with the upcoming scene but you don’t know how to fix them?

Recently I read a post by Dianne Salerni where she recommends writing this place holder scene.  You know it isn’t THE scene that you need to write so it is a placehold until you get things figured out.  She recommends writing this scene because through the act of writing it you will probably work through some of the problems.

I wasn’t sure how seriously I bought into this until I critiqued a chapter for a friend.  Kate is writing a middle grade novel in which a secondary character commits suicide.  She’s mired somewhere in the middle and trying to figure out how to get started again.

Instead of fighting to write a scene that is still nebulous in her mind, she jumped to the climax.  She knows what needs to happen in the climax and this enabled her to start laying out the words.

But a surprising thing happened.  All along, she’s suspected that she needs to add a subplot.  She hadn’t decided what to add or how to do it, but in this scene not only does the main plot climax as the characters find out about the suicide, the subplot also climaxes.  Yep.  She didn’t know exactly what that subplot would be, but now she has it all tied up.  She simply needs to go back to the earlier chapters and lay things into place.

When you’re stuck, pick a scene and start to write.  It might not be the next scene, but if you write you will not only make progress on your word count, you will make progress on the story as your subconscious hands you the solution to your problem.





November 13, 2014

Character Emotion: Indirection of Image

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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Check out John Thornton Williams post on Glimmer Train.

I’ve written before about character emotion and using a scene to demonstrate how a character feels.  In short, this means that instead of writing “Pablo was happy,” you create a scene that shows Pablo being happy.

Easy enough.  (Snort! As if.)

In his post “Indirection of Image,” John Thornton Williams challenges us to consider and show for our readers how the character’s emotion impacts how he reacts to a specific setting or image.  Think about it, a character who is entering a hospital for a birth will observe and interact with the hospital in one way.  A character whose infant is in neo-natal ICU will have yet a different experience.

Now think about your current project.  Pick a scene with a memorable setting.  How does your character’s emotional state influence what he observes and does within this setting?

Once you’ve found a scene, read over it and then open a new file.  Create another scene in this same setting but swap your charater’s emotion 180 degrees if possible.  If your character is elated in the scene in your story, have him interact with this scene when he is despondent.  If he is angry, create a delighted scene.  If he is sorrowful, rework it with gleeful.

Once you’ve done this, take a look at the setting details.  How your character sees the setting should vary somewhat depending on his emotional state.  If that isn’t the case, spend some time playing with your charcter and get to know how he reacts as a result of various emotions.



November 12, 2014

Lovecraft’s 5 Tips for writing “weird fiction”

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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My friend Marella Sands introduced me to Lovecraft when we were in junior high.

I love reading writing advice from classic authors so when I saw a link to H.P. Lovecraft’s essay, “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” I had to pop over and take a look.

What does Lovecraft mean by weird fiction?  The best way to understand that is to read his explanation about why he wrote his particular stories.

“I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions.”

Nature-defying illusions.  I’m not sure why, but that phrase grabs my attention, but back to his writing tips.  Although he gives these tips for those who want to write weird fiction, they are solid tips for writing in general.

1.“Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence —not the order of their narration.”  This is something that I’ve heard as advice for mystery writers especially.  List the events in your plot in order of occurance.  Once you’ve done this, you can move on to point #2.

2. “Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax.”  Sometimes we want to reveal scenes to our readers out of order.  Why?  Because it makes things more dramatic.  You reveal in chapter one that someone died.  Then chapter 2 is a scene that takes place much earlier, leading us up to the moment of the murder, a moment that we then anticipate.

3. “Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities—words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements—observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.”

I have to admit that I’m curious.  Did Lovecraft do this all as one step?  Because, for me, this would be something like 3 steps.

  • Speedy first draft.
  • Rewrite reconciling earlier scenes to changes made to the outline as the story developed.
  • Cutting anything not needed.

4.  “Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa. . . . etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.”

Again.  Wow.  Is this all one step or multiple?

5.  “Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.”

I’m wondering if Lovecraft worked his earlier drafts on the typewriter or wrote by hand?

Definitely good writing advice and not just for “weird stories.”  Are these the steps that you follow when you write?  I have to admit, that I often shirk steps 1 and 2.  But this makes me wonder if I could do all of #3 as one step if I did these synopsis.

What about you?  Do you follow all of these steps?



November 11, 2014

Picture Book Idea Month

piboidmo2014bannerPicture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) is well underway.  As I write this, it is actually the 9th which means that we are almost 1/3 of the way through the month.  In PiBoIdMo, participants are challenged to come up with an idea a day for 30 days.  Yes, you can come up with 2 or 3 on one day but technically that isn’t supposed to get you off the hook for the days you don’t do it.  Why?  Because the idea is to recommit yourself to being a picture book writer each and every day.

So far I have exactly 9 ideas.  I actually came up with two of them Friday night at some undetermined time between going to bed and getting up.  So, yes, I’m counting that as Friday and Saturday.

How do you brainstorm ideas?  I know that it I can find the time to do this for 15 or 20 minutes, I’ll get more and better ideas.  Why?  Because very often my first several ideas are not necessarily cliche but they aren’t terrifically original either.  If I can work at it until I come up with 10 or so ideas, numbers 3-7 or so will be the best.

Where do I get my ideas?  I read a lot of science and history blogs.  Those are always good for a host of ideas.  Pinterest is also good once I get into historic and nature photos.  I also tend to get ideas from my reading.  Most often they come about because of a fact or idea that I wish the author had explored further.  Or, I will pick a book up because of the title and then discover that it isn’t what I expected/wanted.

How do you come up with ideas?


November 10, 2014

Win a Free Critique

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know that sometimes you simply cannot move forward without feedback.  If you have a top notch critique group, you’re golden.  If you don’t, you might decide to turn to a paid critique service or a writing coach.
One of my writing buddies, Sharon Mayhew, is launching her own critique and coaching business.  In exploring career possibilities, Sharon discovered that she loved helping people realize the possibilities in their manuscripts.  She was much less enamored of the day-to-day tasks that an agent has to accomplish.  Still, she really wanted to work with writers to better their work.
Thus The Manuscript Maven was born.  As The Manuscript Maven, Sharon will offer a variety of services ranging from helping writers line-edit their work to critiquing manuscripts and query letters.  Personally, I’ve always found Sharon’s comments insightful and clear, something that helps greatly when the time comes to revise.
To launch her business, Sharon is giving away critique to 3 very lucky writers.  To find out how to enter, visit her blog.  The winners will benefit greatly from their opportunity to work with Sharon.  Frankly, I’m a little jealous and she hasn’t even picked anyone yet.
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