December 2011 Archives

A book with heart - Heart of a Shepherd

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Heart of a Shepherd (Random House Books for Children, 2009) by Rosanne Parry is a lovely book. I enjoyed the intergenerational relationships, the faith of the main character, and a look into a military and shepherd family's life.

12 year old Brother (Ignatius) is not happy. His dad, who is in the Reserves, has to go to Iraq. His older brothers are away at school and he and his grandparents have to keep the ranch going. Brother thinks that keeping the ranch the same will help bring his dad home safely. But sheep ranching is not really his thing.

One of the things I especially enjoyed on Rosanne's website is the story of how she got her idea for Heart of a Shepherd. Here's encouragement for other writers from her site: "It took me seven years to go from my first idea for Heart of a Shepherd to a finished book. But in those seven years I also wrote another novel, two mysteries, lots of short stories and many newspaper and magazine articles."

I next plan to read Second Fiddle, another book by Roseanne about military families.

Really good story - Grounded

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Grounded comp.jpgGreat first line: "I'm alive today because I was grounded." How could you not read on after that?

But there's more than one meaning of "grounded" in Grounded (Feiwel and Friends, 2010) by Kate Klise. Besides being a really good story, the book has a sympathetic character and a mystery to solve. No wonder it is an award winner!

Daralynn's brother, sister and father die in a plane crash. After her mother fixes their hair, shaves her husband for their funerals, she gets hired to do the hair for corpses at the mortuary. When her mother gets so good at doing hair that live people want her to do their hair, she uses the insurance money to open a beauty parlor. Daralynn/Dolly gets to help with the parlor. But then Clem comes to town with a crematorium which threatens her mother's job. So Dolly (nicknamed so after all the dolls she got after the funeral) puts a plan into effect: living funerals, so you can hear what people have to say before you die.

This is my first time to read a book by Kate Klise, but I plan to read more. Look at her website and see all the other books. I recently saw a mention on twitter from a librarian about Kate's book, Dying to Meet You. @tgaletti says its a popular book in her library. Guess that's the one I'll need to read next.

I want to write a

I want to write a book that will be read from beginning to end with a mounting sense of anticipation and discovery—read willingly, with a feeling of genuine pleasure.
Russell Freedman

Professional Problem Maker

What catches attention? Bad news or good news? You only have to look at a newspaper, the internet headlines, or watch the TV to know the answer. Bad news gets more space and attention.

Think back to your school days. When kids whispered about a classmate was it because something good happened? Not usually. The "did you hear . . ." topics were about someone doing something wrong, getting caught, etc. The stories didn't have to be true and often got worse as they spread.

Sounds a lot like fiction writing. Writers are paid to give characters problems and make them worse. Readers can't necessarily solve their own problems, but reading how someone else solved a problem gives them hope.

In a novel the first problem introduced may not be the main one of the book. Here's an example: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." (Savvy by Ingrid Law). Mibs, the narrator, will be turning thirteen and finding out what she has to deal with when she gets her own savvy. First, however, we are introduced to her brother's problem.

Short stories don't have the time to deal with multiple problems or much character development. Like juicy gossip, a short story problem needs to start right away.

Launch a short story problem with action, dialogue, thoughts or a combination. Let's take a girl who has lost the watch she borrowed. We could start with action: Wendy reached into her jeans pocket for the watch she'd borrowed from her older sister--it wasn't there! A dialogue beginning might be: "Oh, no! Teresa's watch is gone. She's going to kill me!" Her thoughts could introduce the problem this way: It's gotta be here, Wendy thought. I know I put Teresa's watch in my pocket. No matter which way this story starts, the reader knows it is bad news for Wendy.

Here's an example from a classic story: "There was once a prince, and he wanted a princess, but then she must be a real Princess. He travelled right round the world to find one, but there was always something wrong." ("The Princess and the Pea") By the end of the second sentence, we know there is a definite problem.

Some short stories may introduce the problem with the title of the story as "Who Will Care for Spot?" does. (Marilyn Kratz, Highlights) This problem is reinforced by the beginning lines. "Mom looked worried as she hung up the phone. 'That was Jenny next door,' she said. 'She won't be able to take care of Spot while we are on our vacation.'" Again, bad news.

Are you giving your readers bad news up front? Try it and see if sharing the problem early makes the readers worry and want to read on.

All speech, written or spoken,

All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The beautiful part of writing

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
Robert Cormier

4 Ways to Make Your Characters "Talk Different"

Guest post by the wonderful Bruce Hale! aka The Writer Guy

Have you ever read a manuscript where everybody talks alike, and you can't tell the characters apart without a constant "said Jack"? I have. This problem crops up again and again in unpublished manuscripts I've critiqued, and it's one of the things keeping those authors from getting published.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you want to make your characters stand out and be unique (i.e.: see the light of day in a published book), first try running your dialog through the cliché detector. Figures of speech can be so common you don't even notice them - phrases like, "we're not out of the woods yet," or "don't count your chickens before they hatch" tend to slip right past our radar. Don't let them.

Make your dialog better than that, more original. In your dialog revision, take the time to establish a voice, even a lexicon for each of your main characters. It'll make them stand out from each other, and more, it'll make them jump off the page. Here are four ways to make your characters "talk different."

Is your character defensive, combative, a know-it-all, a joker? Make sure that her dialog consistently reflects this.

Let your character's attitude inform every utterance. As an example, take Deborah Wiles' EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. The obnoxious little boy, Peach, could have just said, "Good morning, Comfort," when he came into her room. Instead he says, "It's morning and I've come to see you!"

That little tweak shows us his quirky personality, as well as his attitude. Is he excited to see Comfort? Oh, yes. (Is she excited to see him? Not so much -- and her dialog reflects this.)


Your characters' level of education determines so much of their speech, from word choice to sentence length and complexity. Make sure that you take this into consideration and use it to set characters apart from each other.

Have the smart characters use bigger words than the rest; have the not-as-smart-as-they-think-they-are characters MISuse bigger words. In my book, FAREWELL, MY LUNCHBAG, janitor Maureen DeBree aspires to a more sophisticated means of expression than her education allows. That's why she says things like "Don't cast nasturtiums" instead of "Don't cast aspersions," and advises the detectives to use their powers of "reduction," instead of "deduction."

What does your character obsess over? What kind of background did he come from? What kind of world does she live in? These considerations will inform what your characters say and how they say it.

For example, in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, Comfort's older brother, Tidings, is obsessed with all things military. When he greets her, he says, "Easy, Private!" When asked where the visitors are, he says, "The troops are reconnoitered in the back parking lot." It's never a challenge to know when Tidings is speaking, and his dialog reveals a lot about who he is and what his aspirations are.

What kind of character would say, "Criminently"? What character would say, "Eeww, gross"? (Hint: probably not the same character.) Exclamations are a small touch, but if you use them right, they can help the reader zero in on the personality of whoever is speaking in a heartbeat.

For example, in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the hero, Harry Dresden, is a wizard/private investigator. He uses phrases like "Hell's bells" and "Stars and stones" as exclamations, giving him a uniquely wizardly way of expressing himself. If he just said "damn" and "holy moley," it wouldn't have the same effect.

Take these four considerations into account, the next time you're taking a closer look at dialog. And I guarantee, to paraphrase David Sedaris, that your characters will "talk pretty one day."

bruce_hale.jpgEdgar-nominated author-illustrator Bruce Hale is passionate about inspiring reluctant readers to open books (and read them). He has written or illustrated more than 25 seriously funny books for children, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries series, Snoring Beauty (one of Oprah's Recommended Reads for Kids),snoringbeauty.jpg and the comics-novel hybrid, Underwhere. Read more about the books on Bruce's website.

An actor and Fulbright Scholar in Storytelling, Bruce is in demand as a speaker, having presented at conferences, universities, and schools all across North America.

Plus, he's one nice guy.

And, you can get great articles like this one by signing up for his newsletter. It's free here.

Wild Things

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The title of the book Wild Things (Boyd's Mills Press, 2009) by Clay Carmichael fits in so many ways: a wild main character, a wild cat, and other things you'll have to read to discover yourself.

11-year-old Zoe has basically raised herself, but now she's been sent to live with her Uncle Henry, whom she's never met. She expects him to fail her as everyone in her life has done before, including her now deceased mother and all her various boyfriends. Henry doesn't believe her when she tells him there's a cat hanging around his place, but not only is Zoe right about him, but she senses the presence of others, too. And the cat knows more than he can tell. I love how the cat and girl viewpoints work together to tell the story.

Don't miss the "Story Behind the Story" on the author's website. And, take note, the author illustrated the cover herself, plus did the drawings inside the book!

Family Story with Photographs - Finding Family

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Finding-Family.jpgIn Finding Family (Bloomsbury, 2010) by Tonya Bolden we get to see the characters grow and change in this historical middle grade novel set in 1905 Charleston, West Virginia. Author Tonya Bolden was Inspired by old pictures to create the story. Here's a brief summary:

12-year-old Delana is being raised by a great aunt and her grandpa. Aunt Tilley loves visiting kinfolk by pulling the pictures out of a basket. But Aunt Tilley has been scattered lately and changing stories. Grandpa doesn't say much and Delana thinks he doesn't love her, so when Aunt Tilley dies, she wants to go home with various family members, not that she's brave enough to tell them.

See what else the author has written on her website. As for me, I'm planning to check out some of her nonfiction!

Poetry is when an emotion

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.
Robert Frost