September 2010 Archives

Don't ask me who's influenced me.

Don't ask me who's influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he's digested, and I've been reading all my life.
Giorgos Seferis

Novel in Verse . . . for boys - Hate That Cat

HATE THAT CAT.gifI've long wondered if there were any novels written in verse that didn't have girl main characters. Now, I know there's at least one. I stumbled across Hate That Cat (Joanna Cotler Books, 2008) by master writer Sharon Creech. In it I met Jack, and traveled through his school year with him. He made me laugh out loud a number of times as he himself is learning about poetry and poets. (Regarding the latter, he always wants to know if they are alive.) Jack also tugged on my heart strings. Isn't he lucky to have Ms Stretchberry as his teacher? Again.

LOVE THAT DOG.jpgNow I've found out that Hate that Cat is a sequel to Love that Dog. Even though the second book revealed what happened to the dog, I still have to go get the story and read it. I think I might also need to share these books with my grandsons now that they are old enough.

Sharon shares the inspiration for these stories and tidbits about them on her site. Click on novels, then choose which one you want to read about.

Turning Ideas Into Stories - Workshop

Writers-Retreat.gifI was asked to do an online workshop on "Turning Ideas Into Stories" through the Writers Retreat area of the Institute of Children's Literature website. Here's what was advertised: "The journey from really good idea to really good story can be challenging. How do you make your story live up to the great idea? How do you turn ideas that come from the news, your experience, or your imagination into a really great story? Let Sue help." The workshop lasted three days and those signed in to the forum could ask me questions. And they asked good ones! I answered off and on through all three days. (At least once I figured out where the questions were being posted.)

It was challenging at times, because so often we don't think about our process. But to answer questions, I had to think about how to explain what I do. I also shared what has worked for me and what hasn't. We discussed short stories and novels both.

I got to share some favorite quotes, mention some writers I've learned from along the way, and talk about my experience with ideas, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It was fun also meeting new people working their way along the writing path.

After the workshop was over, Jan Fields, Web Editor, took the transcripts from the question threads and condensed questions and organized questions and answers in a logical order in one place. (UPDATE: Unfortunately the transcript is no longer posted on the website.)

These workshops are put on once a month. Last month was about "Short Stories Teens Want to Read" with Editor Deborah Vetter and next month will be "Motivating Your Villains" with Ellen Jackson. I'm honored to be in such great company.

Good prose is like

Good prose is like a windowpane.
George Orwell

After the Critique

Catittude.jpgYou've heard or read the comments on your manuscript. Now what? Rewriting, obviously. But it's not usually that simple. Now you have to decide what to do with the comments and suggestions. How do you decide which to accept and which to reject?

Those easiest to deal with, of course, are mechanical: misspellings, corrections in punctuation, formatting, etc. If what the critiquer said makes sense, do it. If you're unsure of the accuracy of the feedback, go to a resource and check it out. My favorite for grammar issues is Errors in English and How to Correct Them by Harry Shaw.

Some suggestions aren't better or worse. They're just different. i.e. "penciled" instead of "wrote." Use what you like best. Though perhaps neither is the perfect word, which means more work for you.

Next, are what I call the "ah ha" sections. An observation that gives you insight. It may be an area where you struggled. "I knew something wasn't right!" A suggestion to add more dialogue, emotion, action, etc., gives you a tool to make your story clearer. You may even feel eager to attack these.

happy dog.jpg

Some suggestions are to "improve your writing" in general, such as "watch out for passive verbs," "limit adverbs," or "show don't tell." The critiquer may have marked specific examples, but you have to carry the concept through all the text and future manuscripts. Eventually as you work on these issues, these concepts will get engrained into your writing.

At times what a critiquer says doesn't make sense. Ask for clarification. If you now understand, but disagree, move on. You don't have to make the change. But if you can't dismiss the point, try to figure out why it keeps bugging you. One short story, my silent response was "but that's what the character would do." It wasn't until I realized I'd gone off story focus with the internal dialogue, that I was satisfied and took it out. If you can't come to a conclusion yourself, get additional feedback and see if others mention the same issue. They may not know what is "wrong" either, but if multiple people independently see a problem, you have a problem to fix.

Others may try to take your story in a different direction than where you plan to go. Don't be easily swayed. It's your story.

giraffe_profile.jpgBut now to the nitty gritty--those suggestions that make you feel your "baby" is ugly. The comments that hurt--how could my manuscript have such a big problem? Don't do anything right away. Give yourself time to experience what agent Jennie Dunham calls the "fruitful darkness." It's okay to grieve. Then let go of defensiveness. Remember the critique's goal is to make your manuscript better. When you can look at the problem more objectively, don't jump in and make immediate changes. Ponder options. Your first idea is not necessarily your best.

For many of us being critiqued isn't easy. However, like many things, it does get easier with practice. In time you may even reach the stage where you look forward to rewriting after a critique.

You can’t write if you don't read.

You can’t write if you don’t read.
Garth Nix

Must Read Book - Escaping the Tiger

escaping the tiger.jpgEscaping the Tiger (Harper, 2010) by Laura Manivong is an eye-opening story that is so well written it reads like reality, not fiction. Inspired by her husband's escape from Laos, this book is about 12 year old Vonlai, nicknamed Skeleton Boy.

Go with him and his family on their journey to freedom. It's a good reminder for all of us when we think life is tough. It's a story kids need to hear!

Ms. Manivong has a blog on her website. A recent entry dealt with whitewashing of book covers. It's an interesting read.

Some books are to be tasted

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
Francis Bacon