One Writer’s Journey

March 5, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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beatsI’m often a fickle reader.  To engage me, something has to happen and I don’t mean dialogue.  Dialogue may be important, after all it gives the reader insight into the character and lets us hear her voice, but it is still talking, not doing.

I know, I know, you need dialogue in your stories. People talk about what matters to them and dialogue helps us work in a wide variety of information.  But if it goes on for too long you’re going to lose me.  One of the best ways to keep a fickle reader like me engaged is to break the dialogue up with beats of action. A beat of action is any small thing the character does.  Let me show you what I mean.

“Did you pick up your prom dress?”  Jenna inserted the detonator.

“Mom’s getting it on the way home from the embassy.” Kira scratched her eyebrow.

We have two beats of action:  1) inserting the detonator and 2) eyebrow scratching.  And doesn’t the action make the dialogue more interesting?  Yeah, I thought so too.

In addition to adding some action, these beats help us eliminate dialogue tags (he said, she said).  Sometimes you’re still going to need a tag to keep your reader from being confused about whose peaking but these beats can often take the place of a tag.  Above, you know exactly which girl is asking about the dress.  No confusion.

The other problem with dialogue tags is that when we writers use too many we are tempted to spece them up. She whispered.  He hollered.  She hissed.  The problem is that we see said so often that we skim right over it, mentally grabbing that tiny bit of information (speaker is…) and moving on.  Anything other than said runs the risk of pulling the reader out of the story, especially if you have your character hissing something that can’t actually be hissed.

Beats of action.  They keep your dialogue moving and fickle readers reading.  Nuf said.



March 4, 2015

Rising Tension

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:10 am
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Dot TestStart your story with a bang.  That’s the advice that we are given and it makes a certain kind of sense.  Start your story with a bang and you are sure to hook your reader.

The problem comes when you have to follow that opening scene with scene 2.  The tension in your story is supposed to build.  How do you follow that bang with something even bigger?  If the bang at the beginning sets your story in motion, it can work because your character now has a goal and is struggling toward it.  As she tries and fails and tries and fails, the tension increases.

But it isn’t enough to simply have more and more tension.  In scene 1, the family hurries to load their car.  The fact that they are in a hurry creates a certain amount of tension.  In scene 2, the family races away from an approaching flood.  Tension and floodwaters rise but it isn’t enough unless one scene causes or enables the next.  In this example, it does.

Unfortunately, sometimes we write tense scenes that just don’t cause or enable the next scene.  We use the excuse that we need to start the story with a bang.  Or maybe we’re adding to the reader’s knowledge of the main character.  Fabulous.  But for your story to hold together, the scenes or chapters have to be strung together like beads.

To make sure your scenes do all that they should, do a Plot Dot Test.  Take out a piece of paper and draw a line.  This is your starting point.  Read chapter or scene 1.  Mentally note how much tension there is.  This is ground zero.  But Dot 1 on the line.  Read the next scene/chapter.  Does the tension go up?  Then Dot 2 will be higher.

Can you state what in chapter 1 leads directly to chapter 2?  Got it?  Then you have the cause and effect and can connect Dots 1 and 2.

Work through your entire manusscript like this.  At some points, your tension will drop.  This is typical after your hero fails or succeeds to solve her problem (see above Dots 4/7/11).  But if you have too many drops and you can’t connect several chapters, you’ve got a bit more work to do.


March 3, 2015

Plot twists

Only recently did I finally read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.  Want to know how to work a plot twist?  Read this book.

At the recent SCBWI conference in New York, Katherine Tegen editor Ben Rosenthal discussed mysteries and thrillers.  One of the points that he made was that for a plot twist to really work, it has to surprise not only the reader but also the character.


Releasing information little by little is one way to build suspense.  That’s what Edward Bloor does in his mystery Tangerine.  The reader knows that Paul Fisher has vision problems but not why.  Fact by fact, Bloor builds the story and what happened to Paul eventually comes out.  The reader is shocked and appalled but this is hard to do because Paul knew what happened.  He doesn’t like to think about it but he knows.

Hiding information from the reader is tricky if it is something that the main character knows.  You have to do it in a way that feels natural.  This is especially hard to do if the story is first person.  Hold back too much and the reader will feel cheated.  “Hey!  He would have known that all along!  The author cheated.”

Cashore does it by also misleading her characters. They think they know what is going on and they do, to a point.  But there are things that no one except the author knows so everyone, readers and characters, gets to be surprised as they are revealed.  Another book that does this well is The Shattering by Karen Healey.  Healey pulls it off by creating a reality that her character desperately wants to misunderstand.  Little by little, the truth forces this misunderstanding aside and the reader and the main character face the facts.

Plot twists are tricky but done well they keep the reader turning pages.




March 2, 2015

World Read Aloud Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:25 am
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litworldWRAD15logo-web.jpgThe first Wednesday of March — this coming Wednesday — is World Read Aloud Day.  The goal of the founding  organization, LitWorld, is to encourage young people to “lead lives of independence, hope and joy.”

Wow.  Just wow.  How can you say no to that?

That’s why I’m telling you about this today instead of waiting until Wednesday.  Why not read aloud and share the power of story with a group of young readers?  As LitWorld says, “By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their futures: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their stories.”

How can you celebrate this day?

  • Take your children to a reading event at the local library.
  • If there isn’t an event scheduled, find a comfy spot in the children’s section and sit down to share a book aloud.  No, you can’t be too loud but that’s okay.
  • Read at a Scout or Youth meeting.
  • If your child is in school, ask if you can come share a short story with the children.

LitWorld has a host of ideas as well as reading kids for communities, classrooms, work sites and more. Check out all they have to offer here and make plans to read aloud on Wednesday.


February 27, 2015

Brainstorming: Using rhyme and homonyms to take an idea someplace new

littleredglidinghoodRecently, I read an interview with illustrator Troy Cummings.  One of his recent projects is a fractured fairy tale picture book, Little Red Gliding Hood (October 2015).  There’s a lot of great information in the interview, but immediately my brain went to something else.  Gliding Hood.  Riding hood.  Maybe brainstorming rhyming words be a good way to generate ideas for fractured fairy tales.

Riding Hood could become Gliding Hood (taken), Sliding Hood, Colliding Hood, and Flying Hood.  Okay that last one isn’t rhyme but the same vowel sound.  As long as I’m going that route I can add Minding Hood, Twining Hood, and Vining Hood. I’m not sure any of these are brilliant but I can imagine possibilities for Sliding Hood (baseball), Colliding Hood (demolition derby) and Vining Hood (plants/vines).

Homonyms are trickier because there are only so many words that sound alike but what if you tried turning something like this into a fractured fairy tail?  That could easily yield or version with animal characters — not my forte but a possibility nonetheless.

Why not give it a shot the next time you don’t know what to write?  Start with a fairy tale or legend and spin-off rhymes and homonym.  Or start with a failed idea out of your files.  Maybe you can take it someplace new and hilarious.



February 26, 2015

Writing Picture Books: Make Your Ending Personal

Front cover for 'Home' by Carson Ellis – published by Candlewick Press

Carson Ellis found the perfect ending for his story when he brought it all home.

Recently I read an interview with Carson Ellis on Picturebook Makers.   He was talking about his new picture book Home.  Because he is an illustrator, he sketched out his ideas for the majority of the book before he had an editor.  He tells about how most of the sketches made it into the book with little change.

The one spread that gave him trouble was the final page.  How to tie this book about homes in their many forms all together?  It worked when he showed the readers the studio where he created the book.  It worked when he made it personal.

When we talk about picture book writing and how to end the book, we often talk about an AHA moment.  The idea is that you need to find a way to end the book that will make the reader say aha.

This is a concept I’ve always had some difficulty grasping.  What if my aha moment is different from your aha moment?

When I read this interview, it hit me.  Ellis is talking aha moment — the moment that sticks with the reader because he has made the book personal.

How can you make the ending of your book personal for your reader?  Part of it will depend on what you are writing.  At the moment, I am working on a nonfiction picture book on prayer.  Throughout the book, I give examples of how people pray all over the world.  Right now, the ending emphasizes this diversity.  Now I’m left wondering if it would work better if I brought it home.  How do I pray?

You can also make a nonfiction ending personal by issuing a call to action – here is what you can do. . . Or you can challenge your reader to be the next pioneer in the field.

With fiction, create a spread that ties into an emotion that will call out to your reader.  This can be home or family and security.  Again, it will depend on your story.

If you are working on a picture book, give your ending some thought.  Do you currently bring the ending home?


February 25, 2015

Pitches wanted for ASK magazine

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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Call for SubmissionsAlthough I’ve never tried to break into ASK magazine, this theme is pretty tempting. The current theme is “making stuff.”  This is what the editors of ASK have to say:

“Long ago, people made everything they needed. Why not give it a try?
“Pioneer skills; living history town or farm; 3d printers; how to make soap, cloth, other item; Plastic from milk; DIY cell phone; Makerspaces; making stuff from recycled material.”

ASK is part of the Cricket group.  They don’t want completed articles but queries. The editors are looking for feature articles (1200-1600 words); the occasional photo essay (400-600 words); humor (200-400 words); short pieces on rofiles of people, inventions, events, or art (200-400 words); and experiments that match the theme.

If, like me, you haven’t written for this magazine, be prepared to include a writing sample of 200 unedited words on any nonfiction topic.

Final copy must be scientifically correct and you will have to include a bibliography.

Interested? Check out their complete guidelines here.



February 24, 2015

Book Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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Do not destroy books.  That’s generally my mantra.  But once in a while an artist manages to convince me that what they are doing is creation and not destruction.  One of those artists is Brian Dettmer.

Dettmer acknowledge that some people find his work disturbing because what they see is the destruction of a book.  The cool thing?  Dettmer acknowledges that this opinion matters, because we think of books as living things, things that evolve and change and grow.

For his part, Dettmer is helping books do just that.  He helps us to see something new inside of them because that’s where his art originates — from the inside of the book itself.  He seals the outside surface of the book he is work with and then carves into it to reveal images and words in layers.

Part of the reason that he works with books is that he loves their yin and yang and I’m glad he brought this dichotomy to my attention. The words in books create pictures in our minds, but when we look at the images in books we think about them using language.  Get it — yin and yang.

One reason that Dettmer is willing to work with books in creating is art is that he does’t believe that books will die out.  I’m going to make you watch his video (below) to find out why.  And, you really do want to see this video so that you can check out both his creations and how he thinks about the books we work so hard to create.




February 23, 2015

Book Love Blog Hop: There’s a lot of Beginning Readers to love

Here I am at the tail end (yes, I meant to say tail) of the Book Love Blog Hop.  I was invited to participate in this February long event by writing buddy Peggy Asher.  Book Love gives us a chance to write about books we love, and I have to say that I’ve read some great books lately. Today I’m going to focus on beginning readers.
First of all, I ‘d like to recommend Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant. I got to know this series as the mother of a young reader so I can tell you this — if you want to write early readers, read Cynthia Rylants books.  She has both the Mr. Putter and Tabby series and the Henry and Mudge series.  It isn’t easy to create characters with depth as well as solid plots in this brief format but Rylant succeeds and adds humor as well.
Another author who pulls this off is Mo Willems with his Elephant and Piggie series, including one of his recent titles, Waiting Is Not Easy.  Part of the reason that Willems’ books are such a hit is that children identify with these characters.  This particular book is about waiting for a surprise and Elephant is the quintessential impatient child.  Willems’ books are much simpler than Rylants.  He aims for the very youngest new readers.  His illustrations are so expressive that they add depth to his book.
Last but not least, I’d like to recommend Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo.  Di Camillo’s books are for slightly older readers, more advanced than Rylant’s readers.  She doesn’t write down to her readers as you can see when you encounter phrases like “very exceptionally cheap.” Readers will work through the challenge for the laugh-out-loud humor in her stories.
If you are interested in writing beginning readers, check these books out and make note of the differences.  Willems uses no chapters because he is writing for the youngest end of this audience.  Rylant’s books have chapters but aren’t as difficult as Di Camillo’s books which also have chapters.  Note the changes in the humor and the vocabulary.
It isn’t an easy market to break into but these are definitely the books to study.  Write like this, and your work will stand against the best.

February 20, 2015

Authorpreneur: How to boost your income as a writer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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AuthorpreneurWhen I was asked to review Authorpreneur by Nina Amir (Pure Spirit Creations/Short Fuse Publishing) as part of the Muffin blog tour, I jumped at the chance. If there are multiple ways to make an income from my first book, I want to know about it.

First things first, Amir emphasizes that you need a plan.  Income isn’t going to happen by accident.  You, the author, have to make it happen.  Instead of going with the first idea or two that comes to mind, Amir encourages readers to brainstorm.

Not sure what to brainstorm about?   Amir has suggestions ranging from free ebooks to telesiminars and more.  Follow her steps to come up with your list.  Once you have a list, figure out when each item needs to be finished.  With that date in mind, you can figure out when you need to start this piece of the puzzle.

Individual chapters cover various possibilities for salable content including:

  • Short e-books.  Based on my Ancient Maya book, I could write short e-books on how to research an ancient culture, what 5 experts have to say about the Maya, and more.  Amir encourages readers to go beyond a simple e-book to include videos and transcriptions of videos and worksheets as additional content on your website.
  • Talks based on your book.  For nonfiction, Amir suggests that you look at each chapter and see if it could be the subject of a talk.  For fiction, use themes and topics as subjects or speak on the writing process.
  • Workshops and classes.  These can be built from the topics of your talks.

Do you see how Amir takes you from one idea to another?  Don’t take the time to develop 6 vaguely related items.  Instead, use your book to create e-books and lectures.  Take these lectures and turn them into classes and workshops.  Lecture or classes can be used to create videos. These become transcriptions.  One piece leads to the next.

Not that you have to create them all.  Amir knows that no single writer will be comfortable with the full range but she still shows you all of the possibilities.

In the first several chapters, I sometimes found myself wanting a bit more content.  How do I do this?  What steps should I take? What do you mean?  I should have been a bit more patient — this material was all in the book, in the later more detailed chapters.  Although Amir doesn’t take you step by step on how to create an e-book or a webinar, she does take you through the process of deciding what to cover, some of your options, and what tools you need to get the job done.

Amir is definitely the one to lead the way and she definitely practices what she preaches. She is author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and 10 Days and 10 Ways to Return to Your Best Self, transforms writers into inspired, successful authors, authorpreneurs and blogpreneurs as an Inspiration to Creation Coach. She moves her clients from ideas to finished books as well as to careers as authors by helping them combine their passion and purpose so they create products that positively and meaningfully impact the world. She writes four blogs, self-published 12 books and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.


If you’re as eager to try these techniques as I am, you’ll be glad to know that the Muffin is giving away a copy of Authorpreneur.  To enter hop on over to the Muffin and fill out the form at the bottom of the post.  Good luck!




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