One Writer’s Journey

October 23, 2017

Plot: From Simple to Complex

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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Adding layers.

Your character wants something.  She tries to attain it and fails.  She tries again and fails.  Third try for the win!  Denouement.

That’s plot at its most simple.  I’d love to say that mine are far more complicated than that.  And sometimes they are.  In chapter one.  Maybe even all the way through chapter three.  But by the time I make it to the end of the story I am writing the main plot line and nothing else. That’s okay because I can go back and fix it.

But what do I mean by main plot line?  That’s my external plot.  That’s your main character vs your antagonist.  Most of the time, that antagonist is another human being.  Sometimes it is nature.  Or time.

To give your story depth, it is important to go beyond this external conflict.  Include an internal conflict.  Your protagonist has a flaw.  This flaw feeds into the external conflict.  Until the main character addresses said flaw, the chances of achieving her big goal are iffy.

But as I was reading a post by K.M. Weiland I saw that she discusses a third plot layer.  The main relationship.  Yep. Even as things are going from bad to worse, your character has to sort things out with someone else.  It might be a love interest if you are writing YA.  If you are writing middle grade, it might be a friend or a family member.  Or a teacher.


As if all of this wasn’t enough, you could also add a subplot.  If you protagonist is having to work through a problem concerning self-identity, perhaps the antagonist is as well.  Or the side kick could be trying to sort this out.

I wish I could remember the name of one of the television shows my husband and I used to watch right after we got married.  It was a humorous family drama.  If one of the parents was having to work through X problem with a co-worker, one of the kids would be working through a similar problem with a friend or two of the kids would have this type of problem with each other.  Because of this, the stories felt layers and nuanced.

This sort of thing isn’t going to happen in the first draft.  Read through your work-in-progress and see where you can make additions, creating layers to provide the reader with a living breathing story.



October 20, 2017

5 Things to Do when You Don’t Have Enough Tension

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:45 am
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greenland-81241_1920On Thursday, I spotted a Tweet from Angela Ackerman.  It was a graphic about story conflict – Elevate Story Telling Through Added Conflict.

I just finished a draft of my early middle grade fantasy.  It is a true first draft in that it needs a lot of work.  If it was real estate the agent might say that it had good bones.

Angela’s link got me thinking about ways to add tension to my story.

Add a limit. Some authors do this by limiting the time.  They set a deadline or other time limit.  The bomb will go off.  The captors will come back. The deadline Mom and Dad set will pass.  You can also limit space, trapping your protagonist in a limited area.  Limiting space won’t work.  Not with my setting.  But time.  I might be able to limit the time.

Take something away.  Angela recommends taking away your character’s greatest asset.  I walk right up to this in my story.  My main character ends up in a situation in which her side kick is more comfortable.  The problem is that it is only early in the story that I play on this different between the two of them.  I need to do it later in the book when it really matters.  Hey – that could lead to my subplot!

Change the rules.  This is something that happens in the Hunger Games all the time.  President Snow and the game makers constantly change the rules.  Sometimes a tribute can get help. Sometimes they can’t.  Things can be taken away.  Sometimes the whole playing field literally shifts.

Have a key player change teams.  I just finished reading Japantown by Barry Lancet.  All along, Jim Brodie knows that the bad guys know things they shouldn’t.  His team finds a bug.  But it isn’t until the end of the story that you find out that one of his most trusted allies is a double agent.

Add to the challenge.  This is another one that Angela recommends.  What more can you give your protagonist to juggle?  Instead of having one goal.  Give her three.  I’ve been watching The Walking Dead with my son.  The main characters have to survive which means finding food and avoiding walkers (zombies).  This would be tough enough but they are also dealing with a really bad guy. To survive him, they have to find allies but who is safe to approach?

You probably can’t get by with doing all of these in one novel.  Probably.  But if you don’t have enough tension, play with one or more of these ideas and see what will work in your story and your story world.



October 19, 2017

Webinars: Writing Events You Can Attend from Home

I love taking MOOC. These online classes offer me the opportunity to learn from university and museum faculty from all over the world.  And I can do it from my desk which means that I can sit here and knit while watching lectures. (It drives my husband nuts but I really do focus better if my hands are busy.)   I take the majority of my classes through  They frequently offer a paid version for those who want college credit but since I’m doing it for fun, I also do it for free.

I have to admit that I’ve never taken advantage of a webinar although I can see the benefits.  Webinars offer similar content to a conference without the travel expenses.  They also tend to be much more affordable.

Although Society of Chldren’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) regions offer a variety of webinars, you have to go to each regions site to see what they have to offer.  With roughly 80 regions worldwide, that’s a lot of sites to look through to find events.

Fortunately one region, Nevada SCBWI is cataloging this content so that we can review it all in one place.  Just go to their webinars page and see who is offering what.  I have to say that the nonfiction webinar and the one on picture book dummies both look really interesting!

When you are looking at these listings, be sure to pay attention to the time zones.  You don’t want to sign up for something at 6:00 pm Pacific if you will be putting the kids to bed.  And also remember that you will need to direct your questions to the region offering the event vs contacting the Nevada Region.

Take a look at what’s available and maybe I’ll “see” you there!



October 18, 2017

Leaving Room to Spook Your Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:01 am
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About a month ago, I read a post on Writer unBoxed about keeping your writing, especially your emotional scenes, clean and spare.  In “Say a Little Less, Mean a Little More,” Kathryn Craft talked about leaving space for your reader in the scene by not over-writing your “emotional peaks” as she calls them.  She put it so well, “They shouldn’t have to sift through the rubble of your exploded verbiage to find what it’s really about.”

I know it bothers me when I read but sometimes I wonder if that is just because I’m also a writer.  Is it just because I want other writers to do things my way?

Today, I got my answer.  My son was home from school and we were chatting about videos while we made lunch.  He likes to watch various YouTubers who are urban explorers or who check out other eerie situations.  The other night, he watched a video where four guys spent the night in a forest in Japan where numerous people to commit suicide.  I haven’t seen the video but he said that in spite of the setting, which is super sad, the whole thing was laughable.

Why?  Because they over did it.  They spend so much time psyching each other out that they scare each other.  They scare each other so badly that one guy threw up.  The super scary noises they kept going on about were wind and rain in their microphone and other electronics.  But they kept talking about how super scary it all was.  They kept making super scared faces.  Did it work?  Nope.

He had watched a video of another group exploring a haunted hotel.  They were moving through the hallways and the rooms.  Here and there were abandoned bits of furniture, papers, and whatever.  The overall effect was sad and dilapidated.  They were busy filming this and that and although their whole party is on-screen, you see someone move past the doorway.  That’s all.

But because they weren’t playing things up for the camera, it was much spookier.

Provide some detail, provide a bit of mood and tone.  But then get out of the way.  Let your reader connect the dots on his own.  If you can pull this off, it will have a much greater effect than piling emotional detail on top of emotional detail.

I’m not saying it’s an easy balance but it is necessary.  See Craft’s post for several writers who do this well.  Study them and practice using the technique yourself. Your readers will thank you as they step into your stories.


October 17, 2017

5 Senses: Use As Many As Possible When You Write

One of the things that Darcy Pattison has writers do in her Novel Metamorphosis workshop is to catalog sensory perceptions for a particular scene.  Don’t be satisfied with 3 or 4 details total. Darcy asks you to come up with 3 details per sense per scene.

Why so many?  Sensory details make your writing more realistic. They help pull your reader into the story.

The problem is that people are good at seeing and sometimes at hearing.  Smelling and tasting?  It depends on the scene since it is easy to include smell and taste at a meal or smell in a flower garden, but not so easy when walking down a corridor.

The importance of writing with the senses was again emphasized when I read “Using Physicality to Bring Your Characters (And Your Fiction) to Life.” Joan Dempsey wrote this guest post for the Writer’s Digest blog.  Dempsey explains that using specific sensory perceptions make the characters seem more real because they sense the same things we sense. They can also be a great way to demonstrate character emotion without saying “Hillary was mad.”  “Eddie was happy.”

In my WIP, I know I’ve worked in plenty of visual detail.  That one tends to be easy for me. We writers tend to describe various characters visually including details on height, build and hair color.  And I’ve also included visual details about the scenery. My character is in the mountains and I note the things that she sees.

Beyond that, I know I’ve worked in some sounds.  There’s wind.  There rock grinding on rock.  And there are foot falls not to mention an unfamiliar language.

But I need to do more with touch.  I have some information about temperature, but that’s it.  And given the fact that she slides down a rocky incline, that just won’t do!

As always, taste and smell are going to be tough. I know what I can do for smell but taste?  That one is going to require some thought.  But it will be worth the effort.  Because working in these details will help bring my characters, setting and story to life for my readers.



October 16, 2017

Hidden Human Computers Nominated!

It has been completely sureal.  Friday I was working my fanny to a frazel, editing the last two chapters of a new Abdo title because I had a deadline to meet.

Then I see a tweet from my publisher:

The book I co-authored with Duchess Harris has been nominated to be on the Amelia Bloomer List for 2017.  This list of feminist literature comes out annually and targets readers up to 18 years-old.  These are the criteria for a book to be nominated:

1. Significant feminist content
2. Excellence in writing
3. Appealing format
4. Age appropriateness for young readers

You can see the full list of questions to ask yourself before nominating a book here.  The list is extremely detailed and the book would not have been nominated without the excellent book design for which I claim no credit.  But seriously?  Can I just say that I’m a little bit excited?  Excellent and appealing!

So often we put a book out there and then we wait.  Very few books, compared to the many published, get any recognition at all.  This?  This is truly amazing.

And I am so, so grateful.


October 13, 2017

How Do You Read?

Paper?  Ebook?  Audio?

While I use ebooks when I do research, I have no interest in using a reader.  I know.  I might as well be a book-asaurus.  But that’s ok.  I work on a screen.  Unless I’m gaming or watching something, I’m not going to be on a screen during my leisure time.

Not that I’m opposed to everything electronic.  E-audio is fantastic.  Fan-tas-tic.  I love audio books.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I was going through my e-mail and saw something from a School Library Journal Partner. “Access RBdigital eAudio Exclusives with a Free Trial.”

What!?  It wasn’t just the idea of free access to literature that caught my attention.  The St. Louis County Library System, my library system, makes magazines available to patrons through RBdigital.  Yes, I read digital magazines.  But it’s on the treadmill so I hardly consider that leisure.  Work-out.  WORK-out.

Anyway, I popped on over to check this out.  So many books.

The offerings in children’s nonfiction are pretty lean but there’s quite a bit in children’s fiction including one of my favorites – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  They also have his short story collection War Dances.  

I’ve got another deadline to meet, but I need to do some more cleaning in this office of mine.  When I clean, I listen to music and audiobooks.  So it seems like a really good idea to check something out.

Wish me luck.  I probably need more with the cleaning than I do with the audio book.  I really and truly need a maid.


October 12, 2017

How Long Should It Take to Write Your Book?

I’ve been thinking about this since early yesterday when I read Sarah Callender’s post, “Bun in the Oven: The Gestation Period of a Novel.”  Sarah wrote about working on her novel for 4.5 years, writing several drafts before she discovered a plot.

When I write fiction, I’m a lot like Sarah.  I have to write to realize.  Usually before I start writing I know who my characters are and more or less what is going to happen.  But as I write, I’m feeling my way through the plot.  By the end of draft one, I have managed to record a fairly accurate version of the plot.

But I haven’t included much at all about the setting.  At least not past chapter two or three.  Early on, the setting is vibrant.  I use all of my senses.  I pull in relevant details.  But by the end, I’m writing the plot.

The good news is that by the end of that first draft, I have a much better idea who my character are.  I can go back and write the setting with that in mind.  What would character X notice?  And what about character Y?  Then of course I have to go back and work in the relevent bits of characterization.

That’s something like three drafts just to get what I consider a solid first draft.  Then I can analyze it all with Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis.  This book is a great tool for comparing the story in my head with the story on paper.  Once I’ve worked through her book, a workshop in print, I’m ready for several more drafts.

So how long should it take to write your book?  As long as it takes.

Seriously.  It’s a process not a race.

Not that you should think I’m relaxed about this.  I love it when I’m making progress but I also do best when I’m working on fiction and nonfiction simultaneously.  The best way to do it is to write draft 1 on a piece of fiction while working up a book for Abdo.  Why?  Because I have just over a month the write an Abdo book.

Ready set . . . write!  It must work at least sometimes because in that time I can produce a solid manuscript.  Fiction?  Pfft.  That’s a different situation.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go annoy my self with fiction.  I have some characters to torment.


October 11, 2017

3 Places to Turn for Story Ideas

One of my friends and I ended up chatting about idea generation yesterday.  I may go a week or so without an idea.  But then I have 5 or so in a day.  I keep a list, starting a new list each year.  So far the one for 237 ideas on it.  This morning it had 232.

Where do I get my ideas?  Because I write so much nonfiction, any time I’m at a museum or reading an article, a new idea might be just around the corner.  Others, some nonfiction and some fiction, are inspired by a line of text in a story.  Or something I overhear.  I’m a touch dyslexic so when I’m especially tired I tend to misread things.  That’s led to a lot of wacky story ideas.

If you are someone who could use a spot of help when it comes to idea generation, here are three places you can turn:

Editor Alli Brydon will be posting a writing prompt for children’s literature every Monday on Twitter.  You can either follow @allibrydon or search on #kidlitbot.  Read more about this new initiative here on Tara Lazar’s blog.

Inktober is a month-long illustration challenge.  You can read a bit about it here or search for illustrations from participating illustrators on Twitter (#inktober).  A friend of mine, Katie Wools, is participating so I’ve seen her illustrations and noticed several more on Twitter.  I did a search and couldn’t believe the enormous variety of work both in topic and in style.  Check it out and you are sure to come up with some ideas.

Last but not least, don’t’ forget about Illustration Friday.  This is a weekly illustration prompt.  I hesitate to say always but I think it is always a single word prompt.  Use that word to generate your own ideas.  Or look through the work presented.  Like Inktober, the range of topics and styles is vast.

Enjoy following the trail of great illustrations to a new idea of your own!


October 10, 2017

The Author vs Passive Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:23 am
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As you read this, I’m on Day #3 of rewriting a book for Abdo.  Teen nonfiction, I’m having to tighten here and add a bit of detail there.  I’m also rooting out the passive voice.  Why?  My editor is not a big fan.  Why?  Because passive voice is frequently a bit convoluted and wordy.  And passive.

First thing in the morning, I can identify passive voice like a pro but once I get tired it starts to get tricky.  Maybe it would be easier to just eliminate every sentence with is in it?  But then how would I say “My editor is not a big fan”?  Nope, I’m going to have to spot the actual passive voice.

Fortunately, there is actually a simple test.  Insert the words “by zombies” after the verb.  If the sentence makes sense, it is passive and you need to rewrite it.  Let me show you what I mean.

Sentence:  Run is a verb.

Sentence with zombies:  Run is a verb with zombies.

Nah. That didn’t work so it must not be passive.  Let’s try another one.


Sentence:  Passive verbs are hated.

Sentence with zombies:  Passive verbs are hated by zombies.

See?  It makes sense.  The zombies hate the passive verbs.  Hmm.  Maybe I should run a few tests on my editor?


When I’m writing about a study or legislation, it is especially easy to fall into passive voice.  “The law was passed by zombies.”  “The study was completed by zombies.”  Weeding it all out definitely makes my writing better.  I just wish there was a way to zombie proof the first draft and keep those pesky passive verbs out of the way.

Ah, well.  At least I know how to find them.  Hope this tip comes in handy for you!


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