Reading to Be a Writer

If you write, you need to read.  Its that simple.  What you should read is a bit more complicated.

Read the classics.  You need to know what has withstood the test of time.  Read the books that were popular when you were a kid and are still loved by readers today.

Read new releases.  But you also need to read what’s come out in the last two years.  The classics may be classic, but they aren’t what editors are buying today.  To know what they’re buying, read the books from their most recent catalogs.

Read ALA award winners.  Read the Newbery and Caldecott titles and the Coretta Scott King and all the rest.  These are the books that librarians chose as standout titles.  Librarians are huge readers and influential buyers.  They put books into the hands of young readers everywhere.

Read youth selected award winners.  Read the books voted on by the young readers themselves.  Check state awards lists. Read books reviewed by young readers on their own blogs.  This will give you some idea what they are choosing themselves.

Read books like the ones you write.  If you write picture books, read picture books.  The same holds true for young adult novels, middle grade nonfiction and early readers.  Read from the catalogs of the publishers that you want to approach with your own material.

Read books that are vastly different from your own.  Last but not least, if you want to write picture books, read novels.  Read nonfiction.  Read fiction.  Read across the board.  Why?  Because you never know where you will find that spark of inspiration or scrap of knowledge that will rock your writing world.



Book Trailers

Here I am with more book trailers.  As you have probably realized, the whole point of a book trailer is to make you want to read the book.  Different trailers work in different ways.

The trailer for Gina Damico’s Croak gives you a good feel for the character (Lex) as well as the fact that this is a book that starts in school.  There’s also a sesne of drama and a good feel for the story line.

The trailer for Suzanne Winnacker’s The Other Life is more dramatic but I didn’t feel that I really knew what the book was about.

The trailer for Struck by Joanne Bosworth is probably the most dramatic of the three.  I’m not sure if it is the fact that it is styled like a movie trailer with actors or simply that it is longer than the other two.

Which one compels you to read the book?  Do you know why?



Fixing Choppy Writing

Last week, I had a comment from a reader who was trying to write a review.  His work was rough and choppy and just not gelling.

When a piece feels choppy, it is usually something that I am having to cut.  And I don’t mean having to trim 200 words out of 2000.  I mean that my rough draft is 1300 words and the final word count can only by 750.  The original may have been good, but wordy, but the final is something else altogether.

When this happens, I start from scratch.  I open a new document and start writing.  Something about already knowing where I am going to start and where I need to end up seems to smooth out the whole.

If a piece feels rough and I haven’t had to cut it severely, then I read it out loud.  If I can make it more conversational, that smooths out the rough spots.  Even if I can’t make it more conversational, this usually lets me spot fragments, stylistic shifts or other problems that keep it from reading smoothly.

Finally, I also look for transitions.  For me, choppy feel can also be the result of missing or abbreviated transitions.  Add a bit to them and make them a bit more elegant and everything gel.

What does it mean when your writing feels choppy?


Good Parents vs Good Characters

“No parent in their right mind would let a child do that!”

“All of the adults in this book are idiots!”

The fact of the matter is this — if you write for kids of any age, you can’t let the parents solve the child’s problem.  Even if your character is four-years-old, she has to do it herself.

There are various ways to solve this problem.

First of all, give your character age appropriate supervision and an age appropriate problem.  If your child is fixing soup for someone who is sick, he can have adult supervision but take the lead, telling his helper what step to take next.

Secondly, find realistic ways to remove the adult from the equation.  A lot can happen while Mom is on the phone or driving home from work.

Third, if your story is told from the pov of a child, remember that they are living in a child-centric world.  Mom and Dad may be doing things that Junior simply doesn’t notice.

Fourth, there are situations were an adult is not present.  This may be because of extraordinary circumstances (getting separated in an evacuation) or neglect (parents who simply don’t care).

Remember who your audience is.  You are writing for children.  Write for them.  It may shake a few adults up but that’s ok if its in the name of a great story– just make sure it is something your readers will be able to accept.


Dialogue and Individual Characters

One of the things that I’ve been paying attention to as I rewrite my middle grade fantasy if my dialogue.  Who are each of my characters and what would someone with these traits sound like?

I’m trying to avoid having all of my characters sound alike.  Not that this is ever good but it would be especially bad given how dis-similar some of my characters are.  I have:

  • One hyper 12-year-old boy who is quick to move but doesn’t always think things through.
  • One super brainy 12-year-old boy who thinks everything through and then thinks it through again.
  • A swim coach.  He wants each swimmer to give their best in every aspect of their life.
  • A teen from the team.  He’s a high schooler.  One of the cool guys, at least as far as the other swimmers are concerned.  He gets on well with both the kids and the adults.
  • A six-year-old bratty little sister who can get by with anything and truly believes she is the center of the universe, both known and unknown.
  • Mom who created the above mentioned brat.
  • Dad who is less tolerant of said brat but picks his battles very carefully.

What factors go into how each of these characters sounds?  I start with age and authority level, interests and attitudes.  My brainy character sounds like a professor.  My hyper character speaks short, fast and assertive.  The Coach has little to say but is very direct.  The high schooler sounds more like the coach than the two younger boys but is easier going than the coach.

For some ideas on how to shape your character dialogue, see the post that Bruce Hale wrote for Susan Uhlig, 4 Ways to Make Your Characters “Talk Different.” 



When a Piece Won’t Gel

Last week, I spent the better part of two work days trying to write a single blog post.  No, that doesn’t mean I was at it for 8 or 16 hours.  But I did draft it something like 6 times.  There are a variety of reasons that a piece won’t come together.

  • Poor planning.  I haven’t thought it through and don’t know what I want to say.
  • Avoiding backlash.  I have thought it through but don’t feel like listening to people gripe when they don’t like what I had to say.
  • Too fresh.  Whatever inspired the piece is too recent and I haven’t processed the emotions yet.
  • Rats’ nest.  The piece is far too complicated for an abbreviated format like a blog post.  I either need to simply, break it into multiple posts, or write it for a longer format.
  • Recharge needed.  Other times I’m just too tired physically and/or mentally and need to recharge.

When a piece won’t come together for me, I’m usually having one of the above problems.  What does it mean for you when  piece won’t come together?


Tormenting Your Characters

As writers, we know that the key to creating tension is to put obstacles in our character’s paths.  There are various ways that you can do this:

Limit your character’s movement either due to the character’s on physical limitations (a broken leg) or through setting (a space craft).

Create a ticking clock which can be as literal as  bomb that must be defused or a limited air supply or more figurative like a contest deadline.

Give your character a flaw that makes her life more difficult.  Maybe your character is a gossip or finds herself lying to seem more important.

But there’s something else you can try.

Have your character’s difficulties come not from her weaknesses but from her strengths.  How much more tension would it create if your loyal law-abiding character must confront an immoral law?

Read more about this at my post on the Muffin, Cooking Up Complications: Making Things Tough for Your Character.


More of my work online

For those of you who want to see some of what I’ve been working on, here are links to a batch of activities and crafts that I wrote up for

This isn’t the batch that I turned in just a few weeks ago.  That batch included several poetry projects.  My new editor wants more of these so I’ll be casting about for ideas as well as working posts up for One Writer’s Journey  as well.

Hope you all are working on something exciting!