Remove the Filters Between Reader and Story

In writing, a filter doesn’t create clarity but distance.
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When we write, whether it is nonfiction or fiction, we want to pull our readers in. It is hard to do this if we remind them that they are reading a story. One of these reminders is often called filtering language.

For example, don’t write – Before her, Ada saw the wreck of a passenger ship.

This sentence reminds readers that they are experiencing what Ada saw through my writing. How much better would it be if they were there with Ada?

So instead, write – Before Ada floated the wreckage of a passenger ship.

Every time you include filtering language, your reader is reminded that they aren’t experiencing this first hand. Yes, they already know that. But you want to pull them as deeply as possible into your story.

Some filtering words describe what a character senses. These include: felt, heard, saw, smelled, and touched. You can avoid using these words by simply describing the sensation.

Filtered: Ada found the deck of the spaceship cold to the touch.

Unfiltered: The spaceship’s frigid deck vibrated underfoot.

Not only does the second sentence have no filter, it shares more information with the reader.

Other filtering words involve cognition. These include: decide, felt, knew, noticed, realized, thought and wondered.

Filtered: Ada thought about all she had learned. They had been in hypersleep for 25 years.

Unfiltered: They had been in hypersleep for 25 years. No parents. No school. Nothing but sleep.

A 12 year-old has just come out of a 25 year sleep. That’s huge! Don’t filter it. Put it right there in front of your ten year-old reader.

I’ve seen several posts and mentions about filtering language lately. This might be the universe talking to me. “Sue, you’ve got a problem.” My character, Ada, does a lot of knowing and thinking. And I’m sure that’s how I word it too.

I think I bring sensory perceptions to the reader unfiltered. Space doesn’t look vast. It is vast. The food doesn’t taste bland. It is bland.

Still, I’ve got to deal with all that thinking and believing and knowing. I’ve definitely got some serious work to do when I rewrite.

I’m not saying that these words should never be used but when you use them you risk distancing the reader from your story. You remind them that the character is experiencing things that they, the reader, are being told about.

Why not let the reader have a deeper, more immersive experience?


The One Thing Every Writer Needs to Publish

You are going to have to be tenacious.
Image by PDPhotos from Pixabay 

My writing journey is not your writing journey. I learned to format manuscripts as if everything was still being done on typewriters. We weren’t all using typewriters but even on home computers the goal was to create a manuscript that duplicated type.

Those days are long gone so if you are tying to break in now there is no point in doing exactly what I did. Even if you write magazine nonfiction, you are working to break in to a new writing world.

But there is one all important trait that I needed that you will need as well. Tenacity.

It doesn’t matter what you are writing, board books, audio, or self published young adult novels, at some point in time you are going to experience rejection. If you are attempting to place your work with publishers or sites or agents, you are going to hear the word no. They may ask you to submit more of your work. They may tell you that your work is without talent (yes, this does happen). Or they may not respond at all.

If you are self-publishing, you will also hear the word no. Bookstores may tell you that they don’t carry self-published work. The same response may come from libraries. But readers may also tell you no. Granted, that may not be what they say. They may say that your characters are flat and your plots are unbelievable. If you are writing a children, your book for teens is too easy and your book for gradeschoolers isn’t cautionary enough. Whatever! The important point is that you did it wrong and they are going to make sure that other potential readers know this.

No matter what it is that you write, if you plan on sending it out ito the world, there is one thing that you are going to need. Tenacity.

You are going to have to sit down and write after getting a bad review. You are going to have to put your work out there again after an agent says no.

Some of us find the grit to do this on our own. But many of us find a bit more grit by turning to our writing communities. Fellow writers understand rejection and they also understand how often you are going to have to try again.

Hint: That number is always one more time than you’ve already tried. That thought can be discouraging but there’s a plus side. When you have tenacity and you keep working on your craft, improving your skills, and sending out your work, you are going to hear yes. The trick is to keep going until you hear that response.

You can do it. We know you can.


Breaking Promises to Your Reader

Do not break the promises you make your reader.
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Don’t ask me the book’s title or who wrote it. I simply won’t tell you. I don’t publicly bash my fellow writers. But I will issue warnings. My warning for today? Do not break the promises that you make to your reader.

Just don’t.

Tuesday, the book club that I’m in met via Zoom. We gathered to discuss a novel that was described as a “powerful depiction of the life a glamorous inventor.” Yes! Beauty and brains. I was so ready. And I read. And I read. And I read. Finally about two thirds of the way through the book, we got to her inventions.

I wanted the science. I wanted the nuts and bolts technical details. Instead I read page after page about her dresses, her jewelry and her hair. I even got to read about how she dressed when she was inventing.

To put it kindly, I was disappointed. I am not going to seek out this author’s next book and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

I’ll admit that this disparity might not be the author’s fault. Maybe she wasn’t the one who wrote the description. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry. But I still felt cheated.

Be careful what you promise your reader. It doesn’t matter if this reader is your editor, your agent, or your intended audience. If you promise a romance, there had better be romance. Your mystery can have a romantic subplot but if you call your book a mystery, there needs to be a “who-done-it” as well.

The promise can be made in the title (The Secret of the Singing Statue) or it might be in the query letter. Beware how you describe your manuscript. Because if you don’t follow through and deliver on that promise, there is a chance you will lose your reader.


5 Tips for Dealing with Your Inner Critic

Learn to silence your inner critic.
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Many writers struggle with their inner editor as they try to lay down words. Their inner editor might better be called their inner critic, a nagging voice that tells them that what they are doing is not good enough. These writers write and rewrite a sentence or a paragraph.

Their inner editor does little more than get in the way. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to gain the upper hand.

Who Is the Boss?

The first thing to do is to realize that you don’t have to let your inner critic rule. It is going to take some work to retrain this inner voice but it can be done. When your thoughts turn negative, stop. Interupt these negative notions.

You don’t have to let this kind of negative self-talk rule your writing time. Instead, replace it with something more positive. “Wait a minute. This is a really good idea.”

Nix Distortions

It is also helpful to look out for distortions. If your negative thoughts include things about how X ALWAYS happens, you NEVER get Y right, etc., recognize these for the fallacies that they are. Never and always are distortions but the more you use these terms the more likely you are to believe them.

Look for Positives

Instead, look for the positives in your work. Do you really like the chapter you roughed yesterday? Maybe your scene descriptions or your dialogue are especially good. Remind yourself of what you do well.

Something else that can help derail an inner critic is referring to complimentary words about your work. I keep a file of “kind” letters that I’ve recieved from editors and content experts that I’ve worked with. When my inner critic takes over, I get these letters out. “Hey, I’m good at this writing stuff!”

Finish a Draft

If you find yourself writing and rewriting the same page again and again, stop. Force yourself to move on. So much of what is wonderful about our writing comes about when we rewrite. But you can’t get to that point until you finish a draft. Make yourself move forward.

When I sit down to begin writing, I will let myself rewrite the last two or three lines from the day before. But that’s all. I don’t scroll up and reread. I keep moving forward.

Ground Yourself

If you simply cannot silence your inner critic, step back from your writing. Take the time to ground yourself in something concrete. Take a walk and listen to the wind in the trees. Do something tactile like knitting. I like to bake bread because it means working with the dough. Do something sensory.

I’m not 100% certain why we call this nasty little voice our inner editor. My editors have been wonderfully helpful. But no matter what you call it, you don’t need to let negative thought spirals ruin your writing day. It may take some time but you can learn to minimize that voice and listen to the words of your story instead.


3 Query Letter Tips

Query letter tips.
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Now that agents are back at work after the holidays, I’m getting ready to start querying. Sigh.

Why the sigh? Because that means wrangling a query letter. If you put a little thought into you letter, you’ll have a much better chance of hearing yes. Here are three tips to get a positive response.

Check What They Represent

There are so many places to read up on what an agent represents. SCBWI has market listings in The Book. Agencies have detailed sites. Agents post profiles, including what they represent, on Manuscript Wish List. These profiles frequently include detailed wish lists.

Yet one of the most often heard complaints from agents is that people send them things that they don’t represent. If an agent only wants middle grade and young adult fiction and they love dogs, do not send them your picture book about dogs. Just don’t. If they only represent fiction, don’t send nonfiction. I’m not even going to try to detail every possibility.

Check to see what they represent. Send them what they represent or don’t send them anything.

Names Matter

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but an agent wants you to get their name right. This means that you need to call James Agent James Agent. Not Jimmy or Jim. Not Janet Agent followed by an apology. James Agent.

And what about Mr., Ms, or Miss? Check to see what they prefer. Many agents have this on either the agency site or their Twitter profile. I shouldn’t say ‘or.’ I bet that a lot of them have it on both.

If I’m not sure, I just go with James Agent. “Dear James Agent…” No one has rejected me for this . . . yet.

Manuscript Summaries and Expectations

Many queries are accompanied by sample pages. Check and see how many pages this agency/agent wants.

When it comes time to write your summary, make sure that something that happens within those sample pages can be found in that summary. You don’t want to write a high stakes summary and then send 5 samples pages in which your character is researching the origin of their sir name. You don’t want to hook the editor with a romance that doesn’t start up until page 45.

This doesn’t mean that your summary cannot go beyond your sample pages. But you don’t want to get the agent excited for something that they do not get to sample.

Agents want to find material to represent. Send them what they want, call them by name, and tempt them with a summary they get to sample in the pages you’ve sent.


Edgar Nominees Announced

If you love a good mystery, I hope that you take the time to check out the Edgar Award Nominees. These awards are made each year by the Mystery Writers of America and late last week they announced the nominees for 2022.

If you write for children or young adults, you are likely most interested in Best Juvenile and Best Young Adult. I’ll give a bit of information on each of these books below.

Best Juvenile

Cold-Blooded Myrtle 

by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Workman Publishing – Algonquin Young Readers).

Publisher’s description: When the proprietor of Leighton’s Mercantile is found dead on the morning his annual Christmas shop display is to be unveiled, it’s clear a killer had revenge in mind. But who would want to kill the local dry-goods merchant? Perhaps someone who remembers the mysterious scandal that destroyed his career as a professor and archaeologist. When the killer strikes again, each time manipulating the figures in the display to foretell the crime, Myrtle finds herself racing to uncover the long-buried facts of a cold case—and the motivations of a modern murderer.

Sue here: This one sounded familiar and I realized that’s because it is #3 in a series. I’ve only read #1. I have some catching up to do!


by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)

Publisher’s description:

Ivette. Joanna. And now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, a new hair color, a new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Forced to embark on a dangerous rescue mission, Katrina and her new friend Parker set out to save her parents―and find out the truth about her secret past and the people that want her family dead.

Sue here: Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden 

by Marthe Jocelyn (Penguin Random House Canada – Tundra Books)

Publisher’s Description: Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative but deeply shy, Aggie hasn’t got much to do since the death of her beloved father . . . until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room! As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal — including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends — to solve the case before Aggie’s beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn’t commit.

Sue here: Ooo, another historic series. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one too. And, oh no! I feel a historic fiction idea percolating.

Kidnap on the California Comet: Adventures on Trains #2 

by M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Feiwel & Friends)

Publisher’s description:

After his adventure on the Highland Falcon, amateur sleuth Hal Beck is excited to embark on another journey with his journalist uncle. This time, they’re set to ride the historic California Comet from Chicago to San Francisco.

Hal mostly keeps to himself on the trip, feeling homesick and out of place in America. But he soon finds himself drawn into another mystery when the young daughter of a billionaire tech entrepreneur goes missing!

Along with new friends―spunky 13-year-old Mason and his younger sister, Hadley―Hal races against the clock to find the missing girl before the California Comet reaches its final destination.

Sue here: So many great series. But not surprising since mystery fiction is also popular with adults.


by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)

Publisher’s description:

Six hundred and fifty-seven days ago, Meg Kenyon’s father left their home in France to fight for the Allies in World War II, and that was the last time Meg saw him. Recently, she heard he was being held prisoner by the Nazis, a terrible sentence from which Meg fears he’ll never return. All she has left of him are the codes he placed in a jar for her to decipher, an affectionate game the two of them shared. But the codes are running low, and soon there’ll be nothing left of Papa for Meg to hold on to at all.

Suddenly, an impossible chance to save her father falls into Meg’s lap. After following a trail of blood in the snow, Meggie finds an injured British spy hiding in her grandmother’s barn. Captain Stewart tells her that a family of German refugees must be guided across Nazi-occupied France to neutral Spain, whereupon one of them has promised to free Meg’s father. Captain Stewart was meant to take that family on their journey, but too injured to complete the task himself, he offers it to Meg, along with a final code from Papa to help complete the mission — perhaps the most important, and most difficult, riddle she’s received yet.

Sue here: An exciting stand alone.


Ace of Spades 

by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Feiwel & Friends)

Publisher’s Description: When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

Sue here: I’ve seen this one in various newsletters but have yet to get my hands on it.

Firekeeper’s Daughter 

by Angeline Boulley (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Henry Holt and Company BFYR)

Publisher’s Description:

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions―and deaths―keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Sue here: This one is being made into a Netflix series by Higher Ground, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company! It is one of the best books that I read last year!

When You Look Like Us 

by Pamela N. Harris (HarperCollins – Quill Tree Books)

Publisher’s Description:

When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—everyone else thinks you’re trouble. No one even blinks twice over a missing black girl from public housing because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister Nicole just got caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends. But she’s been gone too long. Nic, where are you?

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she would be at our house, spending time with Grandma.

If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list.

It’s time to step up, to do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Bring her home.

Sue here: This sounds like a book that should be on school reading lists.

The Forest of Stolen Girls 

by June Hur (Macmillan Children’s Books – Feiwel & Friends)

Publisher’s Description:

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min―Hwani’s father―learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village―and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol―Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

Sue here: This is another book that I’ve seen in the literature but not in person. Time to fix that!

The Girls I’ve Been 

by Tess Sharpe (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)

Publisher’s Description:

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when her mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter the bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage .

Sue here: Another book that’s going on my library list!

What an amazing group of books. Happy reading!

You can find the entire listing of nominees here.


Try, Try Again: Creative Pursuits

One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever seen for writers is this quote by Joe Chiappetta. Chiappetta is a graphic novelist with a style that is loose and a little messy. He is also extremely prolific. Being willing to take chances has paid off for him.

I’ll admit that I hesitated to sign up for the graphic novel course that I’m currently taking. I want to write them. I do NOT want to illustrate them and this class requires us to do some drawing. Still, what could it hurt to try?

The idea that I’m playing with isn’t for a full-blown graphic novel but single or double panel comics. The focus is on creativity and cats. I’m calling it The Mews. Obviously, if I’m going to pull this off, I have to draw a cat.

Both of my cats are black and I thought this would be pretty clever. Nothing is harder to photograph than a black cat. When I wrote for Young Equestrian, I thought horses were hard to photograph because nine photos out of ten are a horse making a ridiculous face. Then I started trying to photograph my black cat. Black cats absorb light like nothing else so all you get in the photo is a cat-shaped, black blob.

A creative muse is also an unpredictable, difficult thing. What better way to portray a muse than with a black cat?

But cleverness can be its own punishment. Because now I have to draw my ink black cat. For my first attempt, I inked Sleeping Mews 1. Not half bad. I like the way the white ink stands out against the black. But what if it isn’t the best way to do it? After all, my Mews will often have open eyes.

Sleeping Mews 1

For my second attempt, I decided to give my muse bright green eyes and add detail with grey vs white. I was unimpressed with the overall effect you see in Hiding Mews 1. I probably should have quit with my first drawing!

Hiding Mews 1

What if I duplicated Hiding Mews with white ink? That led to Hiding Mews 2. I like that a little better, but I still don’t like the eyes. And I got the shape of the face wrong. Newton, this particular muse, is a 15 pound male with a square head.

Hiding Mews 2

Discouraged, I went back to the sleeping cat. Maybe I could use grey ink and detail with black lines. Thus I created Sleeping Mews 2. Nope.

Sleeping Mews 2

I’m not sure what Chiappetti would say about my various attempts. Of them all, I like Sleeping Mews 1 the best. But I’m glad I tried several other approaches. I can’t defend the one that I end up using if I haven’t tried anything else.

Now, to figure out how to capture cat eyes.


How to Reach The End

Photo by Ann H on

Three days ago, a friend dropped off a book. This is something she does periodically, leaving things on our front bench and then texting me to go outside and check. “I just knew this would inspire you.” I didn’t even have to read the back cover before I found myself jotting down an idea. Yesterday, I saw a new book in a marketing newsletter. The title inspired another new idea. I wrote it down. Today, I listened to something about a Carnegie library. Here came another idea.

Then one of my friends on social media posted. “I’ve been working on a novel, but a new idea came to me. I wrote the story. It is best to act on inspiration.”

Maybe. But it all depends on how you work. If I did this, I would never reach the ending of anything too long to draft in one sitting. I would certainly never finish the draft of a novel. My mother always said that I was like a myna bird. Any bright, shiny object is likely to distract me.

New ideas work much the same way especially if I’m wading through the second half of a novel. By then, the shine has worn off my current project and it is serious work. Every time I sit down to write, I chant a few rounds of I think I can, I think I can.

Some people only have this problem in the very middle. Me? It lasts more of less through the second half of the manuscript. By then I have a pretty good idea what I have to fix and I’m not even done with the first draft! The new idea, on the other hand, is so shiny and marvelous and unblemished. Wouldn’t it be great to spend the day writing it instead?

Yes, I could start writing on something new. But if I did this every time I had a great new idea, I’d start three or four new things a week.

How do I reach the end of a project? I sketch out that new idea. When I’m eager to work on it, I think about it for a few minutes. I write out that idea I just had for a character. I take a few notes on the setting. I write down the story problem.

But when it is time to write, I get back to work on the old manuscript. Because the only way to reach the end is to keep writing. Word by word, you are getting closer to having a finished manuscript. If you want to reach the end, you need to work on it.


Humor: The Spoonful of Sugar

It pays to make your reader laugh.

Yesterday while I was puttering along on the treadmill, I watched a brilliant TED Talk by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas – Why Great Leaders Take Humor Seriously. It isn’t hard to get someone to admit that they love to laugh and why is pretty obvious once you realize something that Aaker and Bagdonas point out. When we laugh, our brains release hormones. Yes, that’s hormones plural. During laughter, the brain released endorphins (as during exercise), cortisol (as during meditation), and dopamine (as during sex). That’s a three for one impact!

The power of laughter is so strong, and so important in today’s world, that Aaker and Bagdonas teach a class at the Stanford Business School. Read that again. The Stanford Business School. You can get something about laughter and leadership or you can take personal management or microeconomics.

The pair went on to explain that listeners were more receptive and willing to pay more for a product or service (20% more!) if they laughed. This is a pretty powerful message for writers especially writers who deal with serious subjects.

At the moment, I am listening to The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. For those of you who don’t know the book, there are paired story lines. One is about a former slave child who sets out to rescue two young women, her hated mistress and this woman’s creole half-sister, and ends up looking for the siblings and cousins she was separated from during the Civil War. The second story is about Benny, a new teacher who realizes that her poor African-American students don’t care about Animal Farm but might connect with stories from their own pasts.

It is some scary, serious stuff. In spite of this, Wingate make you laugh. When Benny realizes some of her students are hungry, she starts stocking cream cakes (think Ding Dongs) which solve the problem so much as encourage her students to ask for sweets. She is taught by an older woman in the community to make a healthier banana and oatmeal cookie that is cheap to make. It would have been super easy to call them banana oatmeal cocoa cookies or cocoa raisin banana cookies or whatever. Instead, this stern, dignified matriarch teaches Benny to make Cocoa Oatmeal Raisin Pooperoos.

I laughed out loud. In no way does the name of the cookie diminish the desperate poverty in the modern community. It doesn’t take away from the fact that young women were still be snatched up and sold after the Civil War. But it does help the reader release some of the tension that they are holding and continue on with the story.

The print book that I’m reading is just as serious but I’m not going to name it. The author is a best seller but he has forgotten to make his reader laugh. And because of this, I’m contemplating skiping to the end and calling it a day. Without the humor, the book is just too much to slog through.

And now I’ve got a mission. I know I managed to pull it early on in Airstream, but I need to do it again. I need to make my reader laugh. I want them to stick with my story until the end.

Too bad I can’t just recycle Cocoa Oatmeal Raisin Pooperoos. That name still cracks me up.


Learning about Graphic Novel Design

Who knew studying books was so tricky!? Our first assignment for the graphic novel class is to list what you like and don’t about a favorite graphic novel. Not surprisingly, I got out The Way of the House Husband. I sat down and studied the panels on the first page. Then I went over the ones on the second page. Before long, I had fallen into joyful reading.

I refocused and tried again. No good. The same thing happened.

Next, I paged through it from the back. Without the reading flow, I could look at font, inking, and various illustration techniques. I didn’t notice things that I disliked but I did notice various things that Oono did. The font is all caps as is the font in Amulet.

Normal Dialogue
Intense Dialogue

Thunder and Cluck and Sprinkles and Swirls use caps as lower case as I do here on the blog. That makes sense since these are early reader graphic novels. Beginning readers are still getting a feel for language and writing and are still learning the rules for when to use caps and when to use lower case.

In Oono’s work, normal dialogue bubbles are bubble-shaped, nice and rounded (see left). But other times dialogue bubbles are bounded by straight lines and angles (see right). At first I thought that was angry dialogue but then I realized that those are the times when someone feels something intense. It is a subtle technique but I like it. In Amulet, intense dialogue is bolder.

Blurry fastness aka zoom

This isn’t the only thing that Oono does differently from other artists. It isn’t unusual to show speed or force with lines streaming back from a figure. Oono does that but that isn’t all. Instead of black lines to outline the figure’s hand, broken lines show it is a blur of speed.

I don’t know that I’m achieving a new level of mastery but I am definitely learning to look at graphic novels in a different way — right up until I forget that I’m studying and just start reading.