October 2015 Archives

You need to remember not

You need to remember, not events, so much, as how things felt to you. Then you have to be honest about it.
Katherine Paterson

Not in the Script

finnegan-not-in-script.jpgNot in the Script (Bloomsbury, 2014) by Amy Finnegan is a fun read from the If Only line.

Emma Taylor is a young actress that knows relationships with her co-actors end badly. Jake Elliott hates modeling, and takes an acting jobs only as a means to get where he wants to go. As a reader we get to see both of their viewpoints and get an insider's look into Hollywood.

This book is the author's debut novel.

I also enjoyed reading how author Amy Finnegan's writing story began here. And her "not in the script blog tour post of most reread books" here. (Great, now I have some new titles to try which I figure will be wins since I like so many she listed!)

All the Bright Places

brightplaces.jpgAll the Bright Places (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) by Jennifer Niven is a difficult story to put down whether you are in Finch's viewpoint or Violet's. Is today a good day to die? Theodore Finch asks himself. Then he realizes he's not alone on the ledge of the school's six-story bell tower. He saves Violet Markey from falling and lets her save face by taking credit for saving him, the Freak. These two become partners in a school project, then more.

It's an emotional story of relationship between two unlikely teens. I don't want to say more and ruin the story for anyone. Let's just say it's a very good read. (My concern for younger students reading this is that the sex appears to be unprotected.)

The cover seems over simple, but so fits the story.

The book is going to be made into a movie and I bet will be popular like John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. Read more on the author's website.

Jennifer Niven has also written historical and nonfiction books as well as YA--she's got quite the range. See details here. I'm definitely going to check out her Velva Jean books.

I enjoyed the About Jennifer page and think you will too.

Every wellwritten book is a

Every well-written book is a light for me. When you write, you use other writers and their books as guides in the wilderness.
Kate DiCamillo


image courtesy of Kevin Conners and morguefile.com

According to grammar.about.com, overwriting is "a wordy writing style characterized by excessive detail, needless repetition, overwrought figures of speech, and/or convoluted sentence structures."

Overwriting happens when a writer tries too hard to get the point across or is out to impress the reader. Often, the writer has no idea this is what he's doing. But the result can be long, boring writing that is often unclear. This can be deadly to a story.

So what's excessive detail? Those details that don't really matter, that most everyone will assume.

Excessive detail example:
Jon pulled on his underwear, then white socks, his jeans and a button-down shirt, which he buttoned carefully.

Jon got dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt.

The reader will assume underwear and socks (unless there have been indications earlier or will be later that Jon doesn't wear those items) and buttoned the shirt in some fashion. Think about what happens in a movie. You might see someone get out of bed and pull on jeans and a shirt. You might see someone showering, and then come out of the bathroom dressed. But usually you don't see every action of getting those clothes on. It's because they aren't usually important details to the story.

Those normal details could make a difference if it is an out-of-the-ordinary detail, such as:
Jon pulled on a pair of lacy women's underwear, then covered them with a pair of Carhartt jeans.

So think about details that make a difference--ones that matter in your story. But if they are ordinary details, keep them simple and clear.

Excessive detail can also slow the action. You're off talking about yesterday's lunch, or plans for tomorrow, when the reader is thinking, but what is happening now?

How do you spot this?
1. Find places in a story where a character says something and the answer from the other person is held in stasis by lengthy thoughts or plans.
2. Look for danger and see if the characters are running from (or fighting) the dragon or are they talking about different ways dragons attack humans? When characters are in danger, they must act. No time for witty riposte, deep thoughts, backstory, etc.

Needless repetition is often easier to see in someone else's writing than our own. Here are some tips to catch it yourself:
1. Cut the same word used more than once in a sentence.
E.g. My favorite painting is the painting of the tiger. (Simplify: My favorite painting is the tiger.) OR He walked across the room and he opened the door. (Cut second he.)
2. Avoid different forms of the same word used in a sentence.
E.g. Making do, the pioneers made homemade gifts. OR I don't tolerate intolerance in my classroom. (Reword.)
3. Look for redundancy with words and phrases that over explain.
E.g. On Monday, the first day of the work week... (Like that isn't standard?). OR Her backpack was purple colored. (We get "was purple.") OR I got out of school at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. (Either p.m. or afternoon, not both.)
4. Watch out for repetition in sentence construction.
E.g. The dog walked into the living room. The dog circled three times and lay down. The dog fell asleep. (Vary sentence structure. At times combine. E.g. In the living room, the dog circled three times and lay down. He fell asleep.)
5. Don't overuse proper names.
E.g. Sally was homeschooled in sixth grade, but Sally went back to public school for seventh grade. In eighth grade, Sally was in honors English. (Rewrite so you don't use the name twice in the same sentence or even a sentence immediately following--it's okay to use pronouns.)
6. Be wary of overusing favorite words or phrases.
E.g. really, very, looked, turned, etc. Clenched his jaw. Tensed her muscles. (Sometimes these are clich├ęs as well. If you become aware of a favorite word or phrase, you can always have your word processor search for it.)
7. Make your point once and trust your reader to get it.
E.g. Milton had worked hard and was very hungry. "I'm so hungry I could eat a giant pizza all by myself," he said. Milton felt as if he'd starve to death if he didn't get something to eat soon. (Really? It's necessary to say that in three different ways? Pick the best. For fiction, I'd choose the dialogue. For a report, I'd probably use the first statement.)

Reading your writing aloud can be very helpful in finding repetition.

Overwrought figures of speech can be expressions that don't make sense in context or ones that are "over the top" for the situation.

Nonsensical figures of speech examples:
I have insomnia but I am not going to lose any sleep over it.
I would give my right arm to be ambidextrous.
He's out to lunch about his new diet.

Going overboard with figures of speech is something some teens are very good at doing. So if it's in dialogue and that fits your character's personality use an extreme figure of speech. But every time something goes wrong for your character, you don't want to exaggerate in narration.
E.g. He couldn't breathe. She couldn't speak. (And then the story shows that the character can breathe or speak. Or the dialogue shows the problem. "I . . . can't . . . breathe.")
He thought he was going to die if she said no. (Of course he won't die. This is often telling instead of showing as well.)

Too many figures of speech in a single paragraph can be too much as well.
For example: The man hummed like a busy beehive. The intensity of his tone rose as if someone was trying to steal the honey. A buzz burst from his lips.
Line after line of this can be exhausting.

Convoluted sentence structures can be difficult to understand. Sometimes the problem is an out of place phrase. Or perhaps there are too many thoughts and/or actions in one sentence. It may only be clear in the writer's mind who is doing what.

The fix is to simplify. Cut unnecessary words. Divide a sentence into two or more. Make sure clauses are appropriately placed.

Convoluted examples with simplifications following:

1. Did you work full-time or part-time for an employer or were you self-employed during the week ending last Saturday, which you have not already reported? (Huh?)

Better: Is there any other work, whether full-time or part-time for an employer, or self-employed work, for the last calendar week that you have not reported?

Better yet: Did you do any other work during the last calendar week that you have not yet reported? Please consider all full-time or part-time for an employer and any self-employment work.

2. After Marie started using the medicine for four days is the reason she felt better. (I get it, but it's not as clear as it could be.)

Better: The reason Marie felt better was four days of taking the medicine.

Better yet: Marie felt better after four days on the medicine.

3. Reaching through the open door of the stable, Lisa grabbed a bridle and set of reins, then turned around and speaking softly put the bit into the horse's mouth, eased the bridle over his ears and draped the reins over the saddle horn, before smoothly mounting the horse.

Better: In the stable Lisa grabbed a bridle. Speaking softly, she stepped up to the horse and slipped the bit between his teeth. His ears flickered when she eased the headstall over his head and draped the reins over the saddle horn. In one smooth motion, she put her left foot in the stirrup and mounted the horse. (This is more step-by-step, rather than cramming it all in one sentence. The terminology is also more technically correct. Plus, breaking it up allowed me to add more detail.)

4. Matt let go of Sean's arm and wiped the sweat off the back of his neck. (Was Matt wiping his own sweat or Sean's?)

Better: Letting go of Sean's arm, Matt wiped the sweat off the back of his neck. (More obvious it's Matt's sweat.)

Better yet: Matt wiped the sweat off the back of his neck. (Do we need to know he dropped Sean's arm? He has two hands.)

Remember, the point of storytelling isn't too impress anyone with your imagery, your attention to every detail, or your unusual sentences. Unclutter your writing and clearly tell a good story.

I write to give myself

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of.
Joss Whedon

Fuzzy Mud

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

fuzzymud.jpgFuzzy Mud (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015) by Louis Sacher is creepily good! Or should I say, even though it's creepy, it's very good. Of course, what would you expect from the author of Holes, but a good story?

Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh customarily walk to and from school together, but when they detour into the woods to avoid the school bully, not only will their lives change, but so could the whole world! All because of some fuzzy mud...

The beginning is a bit slow, but this thriller of a mystery is well worth the read.

Here's some background on the story via an interview with the author.

You can read about Louis Sacher's writing process here.

In queries avoid verbs like

In queries, avoid verbs like "discovers" "decides" "realizes" - these are internal, invisible, and not very dramatic.
John M Cusick

Rhyme Schemer

rhyme scheme.jpgRhyme Schemer (Chronicle, 2014) by K.A. Holt is a novel written in verse that will appeal to kids looking for a quick and interesting read. It is also an Amazon Best Book for Kids and Teens, and a Bank Street Best Book of the Year.

Kevin is in seventh grade and he keeps getting in trouble and sent to the principal--sometimes he deserves it, but other times not. He writes in a notebook about his classmates and teachers, and his real trouble starts when his notebook is lost and another student finds it. Now only is Kevin being blackmailed but he's also being called Poetry Boy. As he says, however, "I'm not a poet."

Even though the main character, Kevin, is a troublemaker, I found myself sympathizing with him.

I love how author Kari Anne Holt introduces herself in a short poem on the main page of her website. It's also interesting seeing the variety of books she writes. Plus on her website for this book there's a Common Core Discussion Guide.


Switch.jpgSwitch (Dial, 2015) by Ingrid Law is the third book in her series that started with Savvy*. Like the two other books, it grabbed me and was hard to put down.

Gypsy Beaumont gets her savvy like her siblings on her 13th birthday, but the excitement is spoiled with the news that mean Grandma Pat is going to move in with them because she has Alzheimers. But then something very strange happens. Gypsy's savvy switches to something different and so do the savvies of the other family members at home. Is the switch permanent? And will the disaster her first savvy predicted come true?

On her website, Ingrid answers this question:
If you had a savvy what would it be?
If I could have any power, I'd want the ability to teleport. Then I could go anywhere I wanted, anytime! (I'm always changing my answer to this question... maybe I really want to have a different power every day!)
Read more on her FAQ.

*Savvy was a 2009 Newbery honor book. The sequel is Scumble. Switch just came out in September.