October 2018 Archives

As a storyteller your job

As a storyteller, your job is to present your characters with compelling problems and create even more compelling ways to solve those problems.
Kate Brauning

Somewhere Among

SomewhereAmong.jpgSomewhere Among (A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, 2016) by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu is such a good book. It's told in verse and the sparse language works so well.

Ema has a Japanese father and an American mother. Usually, she gets to spend the end of the summer in California with her mom and Grandpa Bob and Nana. But this year, her mother is expecting a baby and needs rest, so beginning in June, she and Ema will stay with Jiichan and Obaachan in western Tokyo. And it's not going to be easy--especially with Papa working so far away. Then shortly after school starts, the whole world changes with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Listen to Ema herself:

At home
with Mom and Papa

I am

two cultures
two languages
two time zones
every day.

Everywhere I go
here or there
I am different.

Doesn't that just pull your heartstrings?

Read about the author and her family here.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star

Perfect Picture Book Friday

BigMooncake.jpgA Big Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018) by Grace Lin is such a lovely book. It reads like a legend that has been passed down generation after generation.

Little Star's mama bakes her a Big Mooncake and lays it onto the night sky to cool. Little Star promises not to touch it until Mama says she can. But . . . in the middle of the night, all Little Star can think of is the Mooncake. She thinks Mama won't notice if she takes a tiny nibble. Then the next night she remembers how sweet and tasty that one bite was. And the next night, and the night after that . . .

Little Star is adorable. I like the repetition in the story. I love the bright art on a black background. I love the ending. The book is sweet and tasty! Read the dust jacket where Grace talks about what inspired this story--it's very cool.

Grace Lin is an award winning author. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a Newbery Honor book. All Grace's books are books for the child she was who didn't have books that represented her. You can hear more about the author/illustrator in this touching Ted Talk here.

My job as a writer

My job as a writer is to seduce you. There are a lot of other things you could be reading or doing.
Dara Horn

Looking Everywhere

detective-1424831_640.pngI've done it myself and seen other writers do it too--have characters look up, down, around, at someone or something, etc. Many, many, many times. And changing the words from look to gaze, stare, watch, or what other synonym you can find, doesn't improve the writing much. On a discussion board a writer said, "Just did a search of 'look' on my main story, and I've used it 600 times across 200 pages." That's three per page! Unfortunately, the writer didn't get much helpful advice. (You can read the conversation here if you're interested.)

Deborah Halverson of DearEditor.com taught me, "Stop looking." Instead we can show setting, character, etc. by using other actions.

What is something your main character does habitually? Or what nervous habit does he have? A character might play with the zipper pull of his jacket (indicates something about what he is wearing, jingle her keys or coins (which gives us a nice sensory detail), or twist his long hair and tuck it up under a beany (character description plus clothing item).

What can a character do besides look at what's around them? React in some way. She might bark a cough in the dusty air (sensory and setting detail), run his thumbnail over the rough spot on the surface of the table (sensory and setting, plus possibly revealing the character's attention to detail), or sniff at the fragrance of cinnamon and apple from the pie cooling on the counter (sensory that might indicate hunger and makes my mouth water versus someone simply looking at a pie cooling on the counter).

Writing a novel should not include stage direction. I suspect in screenplays that minor aspects such as "looking" are left to the actor to figure out. Your readers will figure this out, too. For example: My dog just asked to go out. I looked at her. I looked at the lock on the slider door to unlock it. When I opened the door to let her out, I looked outside. When I closed the door, I looked at the lock to lock it. Argghh. It's all true, but painful reading. Instead I might write something like this: My dog whined to go out. I unlocked the slider and opened it for her. Cold air rushed into the house from the gray fall morning. I used some sensory details, so it is more interesting. You know I looked outside because I told you what it looked like, but I didn't use the word look. I didn't need to.

Avoid the mundane in our writing. When a character talks to someone, unless we point out that they can't or aren't doing so, they are probably looking at the other person. The assumption doesn't need to be reinforced. It's ordinary. And even if the character isn't, is it important enough to say so? Similarly, in my last example, a reader will assume that the dog and I walked to the door without me stating it.

Does that mean a writer should never use the word look? Of course not. But like in many areas of our writing, we don't want to be lazy. Use it where needed. But you'll probably find on close examination (during revisions) that the verb isn't needed near as many times as you have used it.


Steelheart.jpgSteelheart (Delacorte Press, 2013) by Brandon Sanderson is the first book of the Reckoners trilogy. In this world there are people with superpowers, but they aren't superheroes, instead they are evil. Ordinary people call them Epics.

David saw the evil firsthand when he was a child. The all powerful Steelheart came to take over the city and bring all other Epics under his control. In the process Steelheart heartlessly kills David's father right in front of him. David will never forget.

Now a teen, David has been studying Epics and a hidden group of people called the Reckoners who are fighting back. David wants to join them and help take out Steelheart.

The second book is Firefight and the last one Calamity.Firefight.jpg There's also a novelella set between books one and two called Mitosis. Calamity.jpg I'll need to check them out, too.

Read about the author here and all of his other books here.

I recommended his book The Rithmatist here.

One of the hardest things

One of the hardest things a writer learns to do is actually to read their own work. From first draft to proofing, we tend to see what we intend to write, rather than what appears on the page.
W.N. Herbert

Grace and Fury

graceandfury.pngGrace and Fury (Little, Brown and Company, 2018) by Tracy Banghart is a tale of two sisters who got the opposite of what they expected. And each have to survive the world she's suddenly been thrust into.

Serina, due to her beauty, has been trained all her life to be a Grace--a companion to the Heir. If she's successful in winning his favor, it will benefit her whole family.

Nomi has done the work around the family and is rebellious. She doesn't think young women should become Graces. But to support her sister, she goes with her to the Superior's city.

In a twist of fate, handmaiden Nomi is selected by the Heir and Serina is the one presumed guilty of Nomi's secret.

This is the first book in a duology. The sequel comes out in summer of 2019. See the cool cover to the right and below!queenofruin.jpg

Be sure to read the author's bio--very interesting!

The starting place for any

The starting place for any powerful story must be the author himself. If a story doesn't resonate first and foremost with you, why believe it will ever be able to touch a reader?
K.M. Weiland

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

Perfect Picture Book Friday

quickestkid.jpgThe Quickest Kid in Clarksville (Chronicle Books, 2016) by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison is such a fun book.

Alta is pretending she's the fastest woman in the world. Although she knows "Wilma Rudolph--who grew up right in this town--is faster than anyone." Then a girl she's "never seen before comes sashaying my way like she owns the sidewalk." Worse yet this new girl has brand new shoes to strut in. Shoes like Wilma's. And her daddy "went uptown to get 'em." Alta doesn't have a "she-buying daddy." The girls commence to race and . . .

You'll have to see what happens yourself. It's a very satisfying ending.

I love the illustrations and I love the author's note at the end that tells readers about sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who survived polio, yet in 1960 became the first U.S. woman to win three gold medals at the same Olympics.

Read about the author here. And read about the illustrator here.

If you really want to

If you really want to write, then shut yourself in a room, close the door, and WRITE. If you don't want to write, do something else. It's as simple as that.
Mary Garden