Are You Aware of the Negative Space in Your Writing?

Negative space.  We’re used to seeing that term used to describe art.   It is the open space between two or more objects.  The empty space.   What isn’t there.

But how do you use the negative space in your writing?  Yes, there is negative space in writing.  I came to that conclusion after reading the following quote from the Huffington Post.  “‘I like to cut away or remove parts of pages so that there is a kind of conversation between what is printed on the page and what is removed — the positive and negative space are equally important,’ [Ruff] told The Huffington Post . . .”

Take a look at the slide show.  Visually, Ruff’s work is a struggle.  My brain battles to reconcile the inked images in the newsprint with the gaps in the paper.  What is there and what isn’t?

Donna Ruff slide show

In any good story, there is play between what is there and what isn’t.  Sometimes, you are playing with this to trick the reader.   They mentally fill in what you leave unsaid.  Perhaps they fill in the space correctly, perhaps you have misled them.

When we cut from one scene to another there is an interplay between what is there and what isn’t.  We don’t need a blow by blow account of how your third grade character gets to school each and every day.  Unless we do.  If your character has always walked and has to ride the bus home, this might be something you would want to write about, but what you don’t want to do is bore the reader with ho hum ordinary moments.

Dialogue tags can also represent a use of negative space.  You don’t need to follow every bit of conversation with Ryan said, Clara asked.  But you do need to make sure that what it there reveals what isn’t — who is speaking.

Positive and negative space.  What is there and what isn’t.  How your brain fills in the gaps.  All of these things play throughout your stories.  The question is whether or not you use them as effectively as Ruff does.


Do You Ever Mislead Your Reader?

Do you ever intentionally mislead your reader?  I don’t mean lie to your reader, but do you ever write something that could be taken more than one way and then nudge your reader the wrong way?  It is something that Fannie Flagg did in I Still Dream about You.

One of her characters, Maggie, ends up investigating the life of a man who once lived in one of the biggest homes in Birmingham.  Maggie, a realtor, is trying to sell the home and reads about the man in old society columns.  One column includes a comment about his annual visits to his twin sister.  From then on, you find references to both Edward and Edwina, the siblings, but Maggie can’t find a birth certificate for Edwina.  She comes to the wrong conclusion but it is a conclusion that makes perfect sense given the evidence.  Only the reader knows the truth which means you’ll have to read the book to find out what that truth might be.

I’m currently noodling over a YA novel idea that would require this kind of slight of hand.  I hope I do it as artfully as cut paper artist Craig Tinsky.  Check out this video.  I thought it was a cut paper finger print until  he showed it to us from a different angle.

Special thanks to Ann Martin of All Things Paper who brought Tinsky’s work to my attention.


Where Do You Get Your Picture Book Ideas?

Making papier mache tea cups has managed to inspired not one but two ideas, one of which has nothing to do with papier mache.

Disclaimer — first things first, I should probably come clean.  I love all the smarty pants answers that other writers come up with when someone asks where they get their ideas.  My personal favorite is “a subscription service.”

So, where do I get my picture book ideas for PiBoIdMo?  Here and there.

It isn’t a very helpful answer, but its the truth.  Looking over my first fourteen ideas here is the “inspirational breakdown”:

1 story inspired by Halloween
1 story about a little girl who keeps getting interrupted
1 nonfiction piece inspired by my work
1 nonfiction inspired by a discussion with my son

Blog reading:
2 nonfiction historic ideas
1 biography
4 about animals

E-mail subscriptions:
1 from a Friday Idea prompt (weekly prompt for illustrators)

Other books:
1 idea that came to me while reading More Spaghetti

When you read over this list it becomes obvious that whatever I’m doing can be inspirational.  I’m one of those curious people who sees something or hears something and thinks why?  How?  What made it that way?

That said, I am also behind by about 4 ideas.  Why?  Computer issues.  Someone hacked my e-mail.  Someone spoofed my e-mail.  My internet provider was non-helpful until they finally became helpful.  Then the mother board on my husband’s computer went bye-bye.  I don’t tend to brainstorm really well when I’m stressed.  Fortunately, we have the tech schedules to come out and replace the under warranty mother board today.  Things seem to be calming down.

. . . Sorry, I have to go.  Another idea based on another assignment just percolated to the surface!  Ooo, ooo!  And here comes one fueled by another book.


Creativity and Passing the Torch

Different people write for different reasons but here’s a creepy little video about the creative process.  Fun, yes, but also creepy.   If you’re listening to this in the office, there is background music.  Turn it up.   Turn it down.  The choice is yours!

Special thanks to Lynn Viehl who blogs at Paperback Writer for bringing it to my attention.


How Do You Pick Out an Agent?

Which agent will get your work through the door? (Photo taken at Missouri Botanical Garden by SueBE, 2012)

I so love marketing myself and my work that lately I’ve been noodling over trying to get an agent.  Seriously, we all know it isn’t because I love marketing, but simply because I understand what an agent could do for me.  The benefits — more sales, access to closed houses, better contracts — is obvious.   What isn’t obvious is which agents I should consider.

Researching agents is a lot like researching publishers.  Here are some of the things that I’m looking for as I read up on various agents…

Does this agent represent a variety of works?  This may not be a good thing, but I write a wide variety of material.  While the majority of my published work has been nonfiction, I’m also writing fiction.  Add to this the fact that my manuscripts cover child readers from the picture book crowd to young adult.  While an agent will probably tell me to focus, at least for now, I would like an agent who will take a look at everything before pointing me down one particular path.

In addition to genre, what kinds of books does this agent like?  The importance of this has become obvious as I look at the agents my friends are considering.  I’m seeing angst ridden YA novels which are just dandy if that’s what you write.  Me?  I do angst well enough once I leave my desk.  I don’t want to write about it too.  Sweet, precious picture books are another issue.  I’ve got a fairly warped sense of humor.  I suspect that I give the precious hives. I’m going to have to find an agent who can appreciate how I see the world.

What publishers are their clients published through.  Recently a friend was approached by an agent who only sold her client’s books to open houses.  Since these are houses I could approach on my own, this isn’t a huge benefit.  Yes, I’d still have someone to negotiate for me, but I want someone to approach a wider range of publishers goo.

So far, those are my biggest concerns.  Right now I’m reading about agents and requesting their books.  Once I do that, my list of priorities may change a bit.

What have you been looking for in an agent?


Beware Being a Cookie Cutter Writer

Beware using the same story elements again and again…

Recently, I was chatting with a writing buddy.  We’re both avid readers and we were talking about new books and new authors as well as authors who have recently disappointed us.

“By chapter three, I knew which character would somehow be locked away, who the love interest was and that he was going to betray her and have to win her back,” I said.  “It was more or less the same story as her last book.”

I’m not going to name names  but let’s just say that she and I rattled off a list of writers who do this.  You may have to read more than one or two books, but soon you’ve got them figured out.   By chapter three, you know more or less what is going to happen through out the entire book.

How do you avoid this?  That’s a tough one.  Initially, I was of the opinion that these writers don’t know that they are doing it.  That’s where a really good agent or critique group could say, “hey, this is just like your last book.”

But when I heard my friend’s opinion, I started to wonder.  Because many of the writers who do this have sold a LOT of books, she believes that they have figured out a formula that works and they are sticking with it.  Obviously, their fans don’t mind.

Cookie cutter or not?  I guess it all depends on what stories you have to tell.


What to Read Before You Start Writing

One of the things that Emma Dryden and I discussed when she critiqued my manuscript was the fact that I should read middle grade novels with 11 year-old protagonists.  I knew that, but then she asked me who I would read.




The only author that I could think of was Bruce Coville.   His magic shop books feature 12 year-old protagonists who are new to using magic so they’re pretty on the mark but I really needed to read more than one author.

Fortunately, I’m on a list for children’s writers so I sent out an e-mail.  I also posted on Facebook.  These generous souls responded and I soon had a list to take to my local library.

Before you start a new project, especially if it is a kind of writing you’ve never done before or don’t do often, read.  Read new books for the same audience.  And if you can’t come up with enough examples on your own, ask librarians.  Ask teachers.  Ask other writers.  Fellow book lovers will point you in the right direction.

Here is the list my friends helped me put together:

Adam Gidwitz’ :
A Tale Dark and Grimm
In a Glass Grimly

Gary Schmidt:
What Came from the Stars

Joni Sensel:
The Farwalker’s Quest
The Time Keeper’s Moon
Skeleton’s Knife

Anne Ursu:

Melissa Wiley:
The Prairie Thief

Patricia Wrede:
(Enchanted Chronicles series)
Dealing with Dragons
Searching for Dragons
Calling on Dragons
Talking with Dragons

(Frontier Magic Series)
The Thirteenth Child
Across the Great Barrier
The Far West


What to Do when a Rewrite Turns into a Whole New Book

Just over a week ago, I blogged about my critique with Emma Dryden.  I’ve had some time now to noodle it over.  The more I think about it, the more certain I am that her off the cuff comment is 100% on the mark.  In fact, I blogged about that today over on the Muffin.

This is, of course, going to mean a complete rewrite.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am not as much rewriting as I am crafting a whole new novel.  Of course, this means reworking my characters and their motivations.  The plot is going to completely change.  I may get to keep one or two key scenes . . . maybe.  But for the most part I will be starting from scratch.

To keep from taking short cuts, I’m rewatching the Plot Whisperer videos.  In case you aren’t familiar with Martha Alderson and her work, I’ll paste the first video in below.  It is about your character and character goals.  This I had figured out, but I know she’ll make me think about things that I would have skimmed over without even slowing down.  These are definitely the kinds of tools that I need to get me going.  What do you use to help you consider the various aspects of a new project?


Get Inspired with Book-based Art

Check out the Etsy shop of Canadian artist Benjamin Wieler.   In addition to selling vintage books, he sells art made from book pages including silhouettes, combinations of folder paper and string art and inked art.   Take some time perusing his offerings and see if you don’t come away inspired.

Why not try writing something new today?  Or try bringing something new into your work?  Wieler doesn’t limit his work to what everyone else had done and neither should we.

Special thanks to Ann Martin of All Things Paper who brought Wieler to my attention.