One Writer’s Journey

May 17, 2019

4 Things to Study in Screen Plays

Recently Writer’s Digest published a blog post about studying screen writing and what you can learn by reading specific Oscar winning screen plays.  Their post was intended for people who are studying screen writing. I’d like to expand on this – study screen writing and screen plays no matter what type of fiction you write.  Because there is something to learn whether you write picture books, graphic novels, or young adult mysteries.

Here are four things you can learn by reading screen plays.

The Three Act Structure.  Stories frequently consist of three acts – the beginning (introduction), the middle (body of the story), and the end (or resolution).  While fiction writers in general are aware of this, among the first to realize the importance may have been screenwriters.  In her Plot  Whisperer book, Martha Alderson pulls examples from both books and movies.

The Hero’s Journey.  The importance of this form in story telling may have first been discovered by Joseph Campbell who studied ancient stories and found that throughout time they consist of certain types of characters and certain plot points.  You have heroes and mentors.  You have a call and a climax.  To read more about this and how it applies to writing check out The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

Humor.  So often I see editors asking for books with more humor including books that deal with serious issues.  One of the screenplays on this list, The Apartment, was cited not only for being funny but also funny while dealing with the “unsavory.”  Loved the use of that word. Casablanca was also noted for its often humorous dialogue.

Characterization.  Speaking of Casablanca, another reason it made the list was for fully realized characters.  Even the cameos presented characters who were given an opportunity to shine.  There are no stock characters here so if you feel like your secondary characters come across as flat, check out this screen play.

Check out the post from Writer’s Digest, download the various screen plays and get to work.  It is time to make those manuscript shine!


October 11, 2018

Writing Humor: Oddly Specific

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Way back when I first started writing, I attended a conference workshop on how to write humor.  At the beginning of the session, the presenter encouraged us to imagine our character’s backpack.  What would be inside?

He explained that the expected items might include a math book, a spiral notebook, a pencil, even half a sandwich.  Humor comes in when you make things oddly specific.

Instead of a math book, your character might have Escher’s Basic Geometry.  Half a sandwich?  That’s going to depend what type of sandwich.  PBJ?  Boring.  Half a peanut butter, bologna, onion, and pickle is something else altogether.  I have to admit that I’m only so-so at this.  My son?  He’s a natural.  Three of the five items in the script below were his.

In fact, he’s the one that reminded me of this exercise.  He was telling me about a class exercise in sociology class.  It was about societal expectations and how people react when unexpected things happen.  Each student was asked to write down four things – a place, a food, an item, and a dollar amount.  It turned out that the professor was using them in a Mad-libs style script that went something like this.

Him:  I’m sorry we’re at the food court.  If I’d had ($3.26) more, I’d have taken you to (Paris).

Her: That’s okay.  This is great.  I’ll take (Church’s Chicken) and (zebra cakes).

Him:  And thank you for my gift.  I’ve always wanted (a bootleg copy of Incredibles 2).

This would have been a lot less funny if he had said he wanted to take her to the country or the beach.  Paris. That’s a place we can picture and seems a bit out of reach for anniversary food court types.  Again, chicken and cake?  So what.  Church’s Chicken and zebra cakes?  It’s a combination worthy of pregnancy.

Specific and off.  It isn’t what makes all humor funny but it is something that you can slip into most any type of fiction.  Instead of a favorite teddy bear, your character could have a stuffed bullfrog.

Play around with some details in your story and see if you can bring a smile to your reader’s face.


November 16, 2017

Picture Books: Writing Funny

Whether you plan to write humorous fiction or work humor into your nonfiction, it pays to know what your audience finds funny.  Part of that is a matter of personal taste.  My son never got Sponge Bob or Captain Underpants, but Veggie Tales cracked us both up.

Still, humor is also a matter of developmental stage.  A younger child simply does not understand humor in the same way.

Here are the developmental stages of humor as defined by this article at Scholastic.

Infant responds/laughs along with physical play such as tickling or peek-a-boo.

A one year-old knows that it is funny to do unexpected things.  This can be as simple as playing keep-away by not letting someone take something.

By two, a toddler is stepping up this game and may run away when called.

Imitation is also funny.  If one toddler drops something, they all drop something.

Three year-olds want people to laugh with them.

By four, bathroom humor is a hoot.

Four year-olds also like to make up silly stories.  Note, they are silly but may not make a lot of sense to adults.

By five, it is funny to substitute one word for another to make a funny sentence.

Kindergartners are coordinated enough that it is now funny to pretend to be uncoordinated.

Sea Monkey and Bob by Aaron Reynolds is a preschool picture book.  From cover to cover, this is a silly story.  We have a puffer fish with a human name who is afraid he will float to the surface.  Sea Monkey is just a funny sound thing and he’s afraid he’s to heavy to float at all.  Questioning limits and outright silliness appeal to readers two to four.

In Dogosaurus Rex  by Anna Staniszewski the humor comes from the fact that Ben doesn’t get that you can’t adopt a T-Rex at a shelter, it is just so big.  The t-rex is imitating a dog and that’s just funny for 3 and 4 year olds.

This one contains a plot spoiler!  It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk plays with this fairy tale with Jack arguing constantly with the narrator and making friends with the vegan giant. This is another silly story but it is older as one reality is substituted for another.

Humor is a great way to hook a young reader of any age but you have to know what works at what age to make the sale.



October 26, 2017

Mind Your Tone: 3 Ways to Teach without Preaching

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Last week, I checked Her Right Foot out from the library.  I wanted to see how another author handled a patriotic theme that could easily become preachy.  Why?  Because I’m getting ready to try my hand at a patriotic book.  I wanted to see how another author handled a similar topic.

Here are three things that I learned reading Dave Eggers book.

Start with the Facts. Eggers started with a history of the Statue of Liberty.  He covered who first conceived of it and why.  He went into when and how it was crafted and what it took to erect it in the United States.  For page after page, he focused on indisputable facts.

Throw in some humor.  Eggers may be writing about a serious topic but he doesn’t pass up the chance to make a cheeky comment.  “You have likely heard of a place called France.”  “If you have heard of France, you have likely heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.”   Silly helps lighten the mood as he moves into serious, even controversial, themes like freedom and immigration.  I have to admit that at first I found it a little irreverent, but that’s okay.  Because my son, in 3rd grade, would have adored the book that much more because of this somewhat sassy tone.

Let your reader take that final step.  Eggers has written about immigration. He has written about the Statue of Liberty going out to meet those who are in need of liberty.  He doesn’t say that certain people sitting in certain oval-shaped offices might do well to do the same thing.  He didn’t write the word Syria.  He writes about Lady Liberty stepping down from her pedestal.  “She is not content to wait. She must meet them…”  But that final step?  The one that would take it from teaching to preaching?  Eggers doesn’t make it.  He leaves it to the reader.

Humor helps.  Trusting the reader to make connection helps.  Sticking with in arguable facts also helps.  Fingers crossed that I can manage to pull off something that works even half as well!


June 23, 2017

Story First, Theme Second

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I’ve come across another example of a picture book that delivers a theme but does so without preaching.  If you are a picture book author, you need to read BunnyBear by Andrea J. Loney.

BunnyBear is a bear.  He can roar.  He can stomp.  He’s big and strong and furry.  But when he’s alone he likes to hop and eat strawberries. The other bears give him a hard time so he sets off to find someplace to be BunnyBear. When he sees a bunny, he follows it and scootches his way down into the warren.  It isn’t a flawless procedure and he is asked to leave by an older bunny.  But he is followed out by . . . she may look like a bunny but she is big and ferocious and has quite a roar.  She calls herself Grizzlybun.  Just to cement the lesson, BunnyBear has this to say to Grizzlybun. “You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay.”

I don’t think you need banners and protests to know this is a book about gender fluidity but the cool thing?  It never says it.  Not once.

That makes it a great book for any kid who has ever felt like he or she did not fit in.  “What’s so great about that?” you ask.

That makes the book more marketable which, in the end, makes the book easier to sell.  If an editor or publisher doesn’t predict a strong enough interest level or see the possibility for a large enough market share, they are going to pass on your manuscript.  No matter how well written it is.

Something else that works in this books favor is the humor.  This may be a book about inclusion and being true to yourself, both serious topics, but it is also funny.  The images of BunnyBear squeezing through the runs into the warren are a hoot!  And then you have Grizzlybun looking oh so fierce as she stomps around BunnyBear.

This book puts the story before the theme of inclusion and does so in such a way that it becomes much more salable.  It is definitely a title we all need to study.


May 31, 2017

Writing Humor: Know What Your Reader Thinks Is Funny

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am
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Whether you plan to write humorous fiction or work humor into your nonfiction, it pays to know what your audience finds funny.  Part of that is a matter of personal taste.  Even when his classmates were rolling around on the floor over the latest antics of Sponge Bob or Captain Underpants, my son couldn’t be bothered with either.  That said, he loved Cyberchase and Veggie Tales.

But another element of humor is development.  A preschooler may laugh when you laugh but that doesn’t mean they get it the same way that preschool humor doesn’t always make sense to adults.  We drove from LA to San Diego with our son, who was then a preschooler, making up knock-knock jokes.  They were funny not because the humor was funny but because he just didn’t get what made a knock knock joke funny. “Knock Knock.”  “Whose there?”  “Potato.”  “Potato who?”  “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

Picture book readers love extremes and things that are over the top.  That’s why cumulative stories appeal to them.  My favorites include One Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova and The Mitten by Jan Brett.  There’s another one but I can’t think of the title but it is really hard to look up a picture book sans title!  Puns in picture books are for older readers.  That works because not all picture books are written for preschoolers.  Puns appeal to elementary aged readers and the parent who may have to read the picture book 467 times in one evening.

Slightly older readers like bathroom humor – thus the wild popularity of Captain Underpants among the early to mid-grade school set.  Adults may find the books disgusting and offensive but many kids find gross wildly hilarious.  Thus the humor potential found in farts.

It is important to keep in mind what your reader understands about the world.  Humor often works because something is out-of-place and doesn’t quite work.  The surprising  and the jarring can be wildly hilarious.

Humor can also be used to diffuse a tense situation.  One of the best examples of this is the bogart scene in The Prisoner of Azkaban. The students each see the bogart as whatever they fear the most.  One student sees Professor Snape.  This same student defeats the bogart by making it laughable, in this case picture it in his grandmother’s favorite outfit complete with handbag.  A harsh professor?  Acceptably scary.  But a bloody corpse would have been taking it too far.

Although every writer must know their audience, the changing developmental levels of children makes this especially important.  Know where your audience is in life so that you can write fiction and nonfiction that cracks them up.



April 1, 2015

Mood Rings

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:28 am
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mood rings

Writer’s Mood Ring Colors, by M. Kirin. Want more writerly content? Follow!

A bit of funny in honor of April Fool’s Day — mood ring colors for writers.  Granted, not all of these are suitable to what I write but it still cracked me up.

December 12, 2014

What is a book?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am
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As you do your holiday shopping, I hope that you are buying a few books or book related items.  Book related items?  Book ends, book lights or screen cleaners.  Yes, screen cleaners.

Look — I’m way old school.  I don’t have a reader.  I don’t even have an I-phone and if I did have an I-phone I wouldn’t want to read on it.  What can I say that I haven’t said before — I’m old school.  I like paper books but not all paper books.  I’m not a huge graphic novel fan.  Some I love but generally I’m indifferent.

That said, if I’m buying for Christmas I need to consider the recipient of my gift.  One of my neices wants eb0oks.  Period.  Her sister wants print.  No questions and no deals.  Print.

If I want to be a well-received gift giver, I need to think about the person who will be opening this in anticipation.

No matter what form your gifts take, I hope you’re buying some books this year.  My gift to you — a humorous vidoe about books…


December 2, 2014

Picture books: The Humorous how-to

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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howtoNot too long ago, I read a blog post suggesting that all of us participating in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) should try to write a picture book how-to.  This isn’t meant to be a serious how to although to read just the text that is how it would sound.  This is a humorous picture book in which the illustrations make it clear that things are not going entirely as planned, although the main character is following the directions to the letter.

An excellent example of this type of picture book is Tea Rex by Molly Idle.  The main character is a the ultimate hostess following all of the directions needed to put on The Best Tea Party Ever.

But, as you’ve probably guessed by the title and cover, one of her guests is a tea loving T-rex.  Obviously trying to fit a gigantic dinosaur through the front door is going to be a bit of a problem and that isn’t the half of it, but the text is the straight man.  The humor comes as you see the enormous dino perched on the tiny chair, slopping tea and biting a plate in half.

What could you write about for your humorous how-to?  Start with some of your favorite things to do when you were a preschooler.  Obviously, tea party has been done but what about spending the night at Grandmas (perhaps Grandma wants to stay up all night), a sofa cushion fort (when cousin doesn’t want to read inside, he wants a pillow fight) or apple picking . . . what could go wrong here?

I’m not saying mine are the best ideas but I hope that you see how it can work.  Start with a fun activity  and then brainstorm a variety of ways it can go wrong.  If you go far enough afield, you’ll come up with an idea that is just wacky enough to grab an editors attention.


March 30, 2012

Saving the Economy, One Young Adult Novel at a Time

Yes, its a humorous video but check out this skit  on College Humor.  The topic?  How the young adult novel will save the US economy.  If you’re a writer, you will really love the novel writing kit as well as the group that is doing the cover design.

Humor aside, I love that the Hunger Games has been front page news.  Not only was there an article in my local paper, but it was also features online in Outdoor Life, a hunting/fishing magazine.

Maybe it is the fact that there are so many article out there, but some of the quotes just make me shake my head.  Where did they find this expert?  In one article, a librarian said something about hoping that, with the success of Hunger Games, publishers wouldn’t put out a stream of dystopian YA.  What book case has she been hiding behind?

Ah, well.

Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the dystopian novel and perhaps not everyone would classify these books as dystopian, but here are some YA novels I really enjoyed:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Set in the future but with something of a steam punk vibe.

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude.   A future in which a virus has wiped out much of the male population.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner.  Creepy fabulous.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.   Just how far is too far to save someone you love?

Not all fun and upbeat but they all leave you with something to think about.   And, isn’t that one of the best things about a really good book?



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