July 2013 Archives

In action scenes we

In action scenes we want staccato. Punch it up with strong verbs, don't slow it down with modifiers.
Carolyn McCray

If you use the

If you use the word color, it ruins the word blue.
Tony Quagliano

If you don't jump

If you don't jump, the wings never come.
Bruce Coville

jack.jpgThe Mostly True Story of Jack (Little, Brown, 2011) by Kelly Barnhill is told in multiple viewpoints. It's good. It's scary. And it has a great opening: "Frankie was the first to know. Frankie was the first to know most things--but since he hadn't spoken since he was eight years old, it didn't matter what he knew. He couldn't tell anyone." How could you not read that book?!

But in case you aren't convinced, here's a bit more about the story. 12-year-old twins, Frankie and Wendy, know that whatever happened four years ago when Frankie disappeared and came back scarred is back. So does Wendy's best friend, Anders. Even Clayton Avery of the rich and powerful Avery family senses something--his ears are itchy and there are bell like sounds. Enter Jack. His parents are divorcing and Mom is bringing him to stay with an aunt and uncle in Iowa. Jack feels like he is growing more invisible than usual. And now his mother is abandoning him here with these strangers and in this strange house that seems to shift and waver. Then he overhears his aunt and uncle talking about the family unraveling, and a catastrophe instead of divorce. Mabel says, "I just pray that Jack won't hate us for what we'll need him to do." Too late, Jack thought.

jack2.JPGI read the book with the above cover, but am buying this cover version for a grandson. It's spookier!

Kelly recently posted about work on her most recent novel. "On cutting, and revising, and hanging on, and letting go" is a helpful read for any writer.

Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face (Roaring Brook Press, 2011) by Paul Acampora is an appealing story. Here's the set up: After his mother leaves to work on a cruise ship, 9th grader Zachary and his police office dad move from a remote place in Colorado, to Falls, CT. Right away Zachary meets Rachel Spinelli and she asks him to watch out for her brother. Rachel gets mad if anyone picks on her special ed brother and accuses Zachary of becoming Teddy's friend to get close to her. But in reality both Zachary and Rachel learn some important things by the end of the story.

I found the cover image and title a bit misleading--the book is more serious than either portray. I wonder if the purpose of both was to appeal to boy readers...

I just read a recent blog post" It's the parenting - not the spider bite - that's going to kill me...." on the author's site that made me laugh. Read it and check out his other books.

Kidz Only! Adults Keep Out!

image courtesy of Scott Liddell from morguefile.com

One of the rules of writing for children is to:

Create independent characters.

Remember two-year-olds and the common refrain of "Do it myself!"? "Doing it myself," is how a toddler learns to put on clothes, button buttons, etc. It's how he grows in his abilities--it's how he expresses independence. It's how she gains confidence. It's the same way with a main character. She is going to have to do things herself to grow and change. Like the old adage of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" a main character will try something and fail, probably several times before he succeeds. But if the adult won't let the child try and try again, how can the child character grow and learn independence?

You also want to:

Give characters freedom.

Think about this scenario: "What are you doing?" an adult asks. "Nothing," the elementary age kid answers.

We all know that's probably not true. Of course the kid is doing something. So why the naught answer? Here are possible reasons:
• the adult may not approve of what he's doing
• the kid knows what he is doing is not permitted/accepted/approved
• the adult may think what the kid is doing is a waste of time and assign a chore
• the kid knows the adult is not really interested in what interests him
• the kid simply wants privacy and independence

For similar reasons authors keep adults out of stories or limit adult involvement. For example, how can the main character heroine try something a bit risky if adults are "all up in her business?" "You can't do that--it's not safe." Or "That's a stupid idea; you should ..." Adults often have a tendency to take over and keep the child from solving her own problem. I remember one friend telling when she was a child she started writing a poem and her mother got so interested she finished the poem for her. That sent a message to my friend that she couldn't write poetry. It was years before she tried writing a poem again. Or think about the child who is criticized for the colors she uses when drawing or coloring, i.e. "Cows aren't purple; they're brown or black and white." That says his ideas are not valuable or worthwhile. We have to allow our main characters freedom to express themselves without adults checking their every action.

Don't forget to:

Focus on kid characters and kid interests.

Remember long summer days and playing outside all day until dark? We discovered new things (at least new to us) and focused on our friends and what they/we were doing. Going home was for when we were hungry, thirsty, or needed the bathroom. At our house, we'd dash in and dash back out with Mom calling out, "Don't slam the screen door." The childhood games and adventures were "kids only" activities without need for adult supervision or input. Friends got our jokes and were interested in what we thought was interesting, but what an adult might find trivial. We loved riding bikes, pretending in the tall grass or in the woods, playing hopscotch or ball, picnicking in a graveyard, etc. Besides if we said we were bored, parents usually found something "not fun" to do, like cleaning rooms, or weeding flowerbeds. And it was great when we reached the age we could go to the pool, park or store without an adult. Keep the same perspective for your main characters in your middle grade stories.

And lastly:

Let characters "do their own homework."

When I was a kid, my siblings had a saying about homework, "only ask Dad for help if you really want to know the answer." Our father wisely wouldn't give us the answer--instead he'd help us figure it out. It wasn't the quickest way to get homework done, but it meant by the time we were done we knew how to solve that math or science problem. If the adult simply gives a child character the answers to their problems, how will he (and the readers) know how to proceed in the future? How will she pass her tests if everything is done for her?

So, if you want a successful main character, limit adult participation. You can have adults busy with something else, at work, or overwhelmed with their own issues. Give your character the chance to discover and grow and change on their own. If necessary, post a sign in your work space that says "Kidz Only! Adults Keep Out!"

If you don't have

If you don't have anything to be critiqued, go to group anyway. Being exposed to good writing AND good critiquing rubs off on you.
Lisha Cauthen

If words are to

If words are to enter men's minds and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men's defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds.
J.B. Phillips