May 2014 Archives

Use adverbs as if

Use adverbs as if they were rationed.
Juliet Gardiner

There's a war in

There's a war in every novel. We turn the page to see who wins.
Patti Lee Gauch

There is no substitute

There is no substitute for writing a book that people want to buy and read. If you can do that, you can get published. If you can't, no clever workaround will help, because we can't force people to buy and read books they don't like.
Neil Gaiman

Writing Process Blog Tour

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The lovely Heather Trent Beers tagged me for this blog tour. We met in Kansas and she's definitely one of the peeps I miss now I'm back in the Pacific Northwest. Heather is an encourager. Read about her writing processes here: I like that she, like me, does a variety of types of writing.

What am I working on?

Usually I'm working on more than one project--often a novel and a picture book or a short story. Sometimes two novels. Right now I'm working on an upper middle grade novel--I'm not the fastest writer (see more than one project), but this story is about 2/3s done. On the back burner is a ya novel. I have some not-there-yet picture books in process, as well.

My chapter book called "Imagine That" is on submission with an agent--I should be hearing something soon and I need to get it sent out to others if she isn't interested. I also have a picture book called "Pizza Dog" on submission to an editor. Both of these were requested manuscripts from critiques at writing events.

I occasionally dig out some of my short stories and look for homes for them. Sometimes they are new stories--sometimes I'm selling reprint rights, etc.

As a writing instructor and editor, I'm frequently commenting on the work of others. It's hard for me just to tell someone something is wrong--I want to give a resource to explain it further, too. That's one of the reasons I have a bunch of resources here on my website.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Who made up this question? It's a hard one to answer. *grin*

My novels often have a theme of "facing your fears." I didn't realize I was doing that for a long time, but from my one out-of-print novel to my current WIP all of them deal with that issue in one way or another.

Why do I write what I do?

I love writing for children from the little guys through teens. I dreamed of being an adult writer and have some novel manuscripts languishing in the drawer, but I then I got hooked by kids' magazines and books when I took a correspondence course through the Institute of Children's Literature. I still read some adult books for enjoyment, but I think children's books are often better written than many adult books.

How does my writing process work?

As I mentioned earlier, I'm often working on more than one project at a time. That means if I get stuck on one project, I switch to another project for a while and let the first story simmer in my subconscious.

The actual how is I write on my desktop (a PC) or on my laptop (a Mac). I have a standing station for my desktop and of course the laptop can go anywhere--often a recliner in the living room. My favorite way to write is to meet with other writers away from home and have dedicated time to write. I'm not as easily distracted there.

I'm definitely not an out-liner. Instead I start with a character and his/her situation. I have an idea of how it might end. I start writing and learn about my characters as I go. Sometimes I do some writing exercises to learn more about my character. I usually write in scenes with a page turn at the end and like to write at least a few lines of the next scene before stopping--that way I don't forget what I had in mind. I usually go back and revise what I wrote the previous time before continuing on. That reminds me where I am and what's happening. It helps me get in the flow again.

Eventually, I start taking chapters to a critique group, which causes more rewriting. I go to a conference or writing event and something said there makes me think of something I need to add or change in my WIP and I rewrite some more. Something happens with my character and I realize I need to go plant some seeds earlier in the story, so more rewriting.

Some writers know how many versions of a story they have--I don't. The only time I keep old versions if I change the story majorly, e.g. from 1st person to 3rd person. Otherwise, I just keep saving each revised chapter in the same document.

When I've done all that, I put it in one document and search for weasel words and overused works. I use a story ladder to check the flow and frequency of subplot mentions or small details that should be repeated in some way or another.

When I think it is as good as I can make it, I have trusted readers read the whole thing. I know I'm weak in going deep into characters so I ask for help there. Then I rewrite again.

Writers I'd like you to meet:

I first met SueBE, as she is affectionately, called online. I was in the Seattle area--she in the St. Louis area. When I moved to Kansas, we got to meet face-to-face and she's just as gracious in person as online. When I met her she was the long-time Regional Advisor for SCBWI Missouri.

In addition to writing a wide variety of nonfiction, Sue Bradford Edwards teaches Writing Nonfiction for Kids and Teens through WOW! Women on Writing. She writes fiction too but nonfiction is her bread-and-butter. To find out more about her, visit her blog ( or her site (

Another former SCBWI Regional Advisor I'd like to introduce you to is Erin Dealey. We met at an LA conference, where we've continued to meet annually and we are in touch online. She also writes in a variety of genres, from board books to YA.

Erin's newest picture book, DECK THE WALLS (Sleeping Bear Press/ Fall 2013) is a kids'-eye view of a holiday food fight and family. Her picture books with Atheneum, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX, and LITTLE BO PEEP CAN'T GET TO SLEEP have taken her to school visits as far south as Brazil and as far north as Tok, Alaska. Check out her Writer's Rap at, her blog at, and follow her on Twitter: @ErinDealey.

I met Martha Brockenbrough through mutual Western Washington friends. I really like the thoughtful posts on her blog: She wrote an educational humor column for Encarta for nine years, and founded National Grammar Day and SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. A friend after my own heart.

Martha is the author of seven books, five for young readers. The three out now are the YA novel DEVINE INTERVENTION (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books), which was one of Kirkus Reviews Top 100 Books for teens in 2012; FINDING BIGFOOT (Feiwel and Friends); and THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY (Scholastic/AAL). A second YA novel, THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, comes out in spring of 2015. Another picture book, LOVE, SANTA, comes out in Fall of 2016. Both are with Arthur Levine at Scholastic. You can follow Martha on Twitter, too: @mbrockenbrough

These gals will post their writing processes on Monday, May 19th. Check out what they have to say.

There is no perfect

There is no perfect time to write. There is only now.
Barbara Kingsolver

Truth in Fiction

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truth.jpgOur fiction is inspired by reality and by truth. However, reality and truth have to be used judicially in writing fiction.

Some writers make the mistake of writing something that actually happened as fiction and when someone says, "It's not believable," the writer says, "But it actually happened that way!" Perhaps the writer should use the event as an anecdote for an article or a personal essay.

Fiction has to be believable. It can't break that willing suspension of disbelief. Yes, we want the reader to feel as if what they are reading actually happened to the characters. However, in story, readers expect a logical progression and a satisfying resolution. Reality often isn't logical, nor does it have a satisfying end, and readers know that.

Does that mean writers can never write about a true event as fiction? Of course not. But the writer has to be willing to step away from what actually happened to make a better story. For example, when my middle grandson was in third grader, he got slapped by a little girl in his class. The slap was witnessed and the girl confessed to slapping him another time, too. It was serious enough she was suspended from school. My grandson couldn't resolve this problem himself. He wasn't allowed to. But could you or I write a story where the slap wasn't witnessed and he had to resolve the problem in some way? Definitely.

Truth also gets used in fiction to add verity. The day after Thanksgiving in 2012, I fell and broke my leg, which required surgery. My fall down a few stairs doesn't make a story. But, I can use much of my experience in bits and pieces in future stories. Need someone to be coming to consciousness after fainting? I know what that feels like and can write about it. Writing about someone in a wheel chair? I now have been personally frustrated by the lack of handicapped parking. Need to describe the flaccidity of muscles not used for several weeks? I witnessed it in my own leg.

Sometimes the truth we need to tell to make a story realistic or believable isn't our truth. I've never been a boy, nor have I raised one, so I have to depend on what I have learned and can learn about boys to write from a boy viewpoint. This is where I personally rely on help from males around me and those who have raised boys. Articles, stories, books, etc. help me in my quest to be realistic, too.

Another place where truth is used judicially in fiction is when the story has an unreliable narrator. Often this is someone who is lying to himself. As the story unfolds the reader learns the character isn't as innocent of wrong doing as he says he is. His actions have shown otherwise.

Another piece of reality we don't use in fiction is how people actually talk. Listen to all the ums, uhs, and sometimes meaningless and often off-topic talk that goes on in many conversations. They'd make boring reading. Every "hello" or "how are you?" or "what do you want for dinner?" isn't necessary in a story either. Fictional dialogue usually has to be much more direct and to the point.

I'll end with this quote from Jay Asher @jayasherguy, "Truth isn't stranger than fiction (unless you haven't read very much fiction), but it often has too many coincidences for fiction." Don't forget it!