Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Write Well When the Muse Is Sleeping

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sleeping lion.jpg Not in the mood to write? No inspiration from the muse? Don't just give up, write anyway!

I love this quote from Peter De Vries, " I write when I'm inspired. I see to it I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." And look at this comment, "In order to have a real relationship with our creativity, we must take the time and care to cultivate it." -Julia Cameron. That all means showing up! Or as Jane Yolen says, "BIC: butt in chair."

That's also the reasoning behind NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). When a friend of mine completed this for the first time, she was so encouraged by reaching 25,000 words, then 50,000 words. She talked about writing "through." Write through the rough spots; write knowing you are writing badly; keep going. She learned so much about her characters and how she wanted her story to play out. She also learned about herself.

Recently, another writing friend and I were discussing how writing creates writing. The more you sit (or stand) and write, the more motivated we get to write. We get excited as we see what our characters are doing. We get inspired by the completion of a scene, a well said paragraph, word count going up, etc.

For me, sometimes I make myself "get in the mood," by rereading what I've written in the WIP novel. That might be the last three chapters or just a scene, but it helps me get into the flow again and remember what is at stake for my character.

I also find it helpful when I take a chapter to my critique group and they ask, "What happened here?"--referring to the between the scenes I wrote or when I glossed over something with a simple line. They awaken my muse in that moment.

The muse is like sunshine--it's so easy to write then. But we all experience rainy seasons too--times when the muse can't be found. This is where we find out if we are a real writer.

Julie A. Campbell also says, "The beauty hidden inside a tiny seed can never be discovered until it is planted, until the rains fall and the sun shines down upon it. The process takes time and patience..."

So how do YOU move forward if your muse is asleep?

Writing Process Blog Tour

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turismo.jpg
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: http://heathertrentbeers.blogspot.com/2014/05/blog-tour-my-writing-process.html. 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 (suebe.wordpress.com) or her site (www.suebradfordedwards.com).


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 http://www.erindealey.com, her blog at http://erindealey.com/blog/, and follow her on Twitter: @ErinDealey.


I met Martha Brockenbrough through mutual Western Washington friends. I really like the thoughtful posts on her blog: http://marthabrockenbrough.squarespace.com/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.


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!

Plodding or Plotting

photo courtesy of Don Ford
rootbeerfloat_1.jpgAre you plodding along in your short story or plotting your story?

Plodding stories are often preachy stories. For example, a disobedient girl finally gets in so much trouble she has to get help. Or a small animal learns he can't do what he wants at the expense of others. Or a child who is different from everyone else finds out it's okay to be who she is.
Does that mean you can't ever teach something in a short story? Of course not. But it can't be the whole point of the story. It can't be something that only adults are interested in (i.e. children minding or having clean rooms). Nor can the lesson learned be a moral tagged on at the end. Instead the child character must have a problem that is important to him to solve.

Plodding stories can also be a day-in-the-life-of-the-main-character or what we call slice-of-life stories. First this happens, then that, etc. etc. But the child does not have a problem, nor does she solve it. Often these start with the child waking up in the morning and end with going to bed at night. There's no plot.

Following a child through imaginative play or a dream is also usually a plodding story. Again, no problem or solution is involved. No plot. In a blog post, freelance editor Mary Kole compared these to having to listen to someone's fantastic dream. It's really only interesting to the teller.

So how do you turn a plodder into a plotted story? It's fairly simple: you need a problem, an obstacle or two, and a solution. Sometimes, the obstacles are a failed solution, so another solution, and maybe even another is needed.

Think of a situation or a problem appropriate for your main character's age. Yes, I mentioned age. A problem that a five-year-old experiences is not the same as one a ten-year-old experiences and definitely different from a teen's. Think of mistakes made, fears, etc. for that age. These are not usually major life issues, but are a big deal for the child. What does your main character want right now? And what is preventing him from getting it? What can he do to get it?

Having trouble with ideas? Think back to that age when you were a child. Can you remember your fears, disappoints, mistakes? Do you remember getting in trouble? Remember wishing you'd done something different? Take one of your problems and win with it. Mine those memories and feelings for your characters. Examples often help me learn so here's one for you:

Once as a teen I gave into peer pressure and regretted it. I wrote a story with a character in the same situation; she also gave in and had the same regret, but instead of doing nothing about it as I did in real life, my character goes back to her friends and does something to make it right. Was my goal to say "don't give into peer pressure?" No. Did the story perhaps help some teen when they were facing peer pressure? I hope so. It might have also encouraged a teen who'd made another mistake. But mainly, it presented a story of a teen with a real life problem and her solution.

Okay, so what if you can't remember anything from your childhood? Do you have children, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, friends with children? Pay attention to what is happening with those kids.

My daughter told me my middle grandson got to learn a life lesson recently. His second grade teacher gave them an optional homework assignment. Each student who did it, would get a root beer float the next day. Our second grader has quite the sweet tooth and a root beer float was motivation. However, despite Mom's reminders that he'd better start on the assignment, he kept playing and putting it off. Dinner came--another reminder. Bedtime came and he still hadn't done it. Uh oh! There's his problem--no finished assignment, therefore, no root beer float tomorrow. Could he solve the problem? Yes. His solution: he asked his mother if he could stay up late to work on it. He did for a while, then got too tired. That's an obstacle. His next solution: he asked if his parents would wake him up early. They did, he got the assignment done before school and got the reward. Notice whose idea it was to stay up late and to get up early. In real life often the adults give these ideas, but in your story, the kid needs to come up with the idea(s).

Life is full of problems. We can't always solve those problems, but are encouraged when we hear how others have solved a problem. It gives us hope. Hope is part of the purpose of a short story. When the main character resolves her problem, the reader feels hopeful and the writer has accomplished something important.

Perhaps this article has given you hope about turning plodders into well-plotted stories.


Raise the stakes, honey!

men hanging from ladder.jpgimage by kfjmiller on morguefile.com

Raise the stakes, honey!

Guest post by Kathi Appelt

I have been a writer my whole life long, beginning with writing on walls as a toddler to writing professionally as an adult. In that life-long career, I have written articles, picture books, non-fiction, poetry, essays, short stories, a memoir, and even a song or two.

But for years and years the novel was a form that absolutely eluded me.

NOVEL PROBLEMS

For a long time, I told myself that I didn't need to write a novel. After all, I had plenty of published work to stand on, and I had plenty of ideas for new works.

But I was kidding myself, because in my heart of hearts, it was a novel that I wanted to write. So, I took courses, I bought how-to books, I went to workshops. I did all of the required groundwork. Why couldn't I crack this genre?

In the meantime, I had drawer after drawer, boxes stacked upon boxes, of half-finished novels that were just that: half-finished.

It seemed like I could create wonderful characters, interesting landscapes, and great, colorful details. My characters, despite their goals, just didn't seem to make much progress. I'd get about half way through and then my story would lose steam and whimper into oblivion.

It wasn't until I took an on-line course with master teacher Dennis Foley that I realized that the essential element missing from my work was tension.

GETTING TENSE

Now, plots are plots. I knew how to create plots. They involve a character who is moving toward a goal. And as Dennis so aptly puts it: "a goal is nothing more than whatever your character is trying to achieve, overcome or acquire." Easy peasy.

Yeah, right!

How could it be that I could have a character, in search of a goal, with all of the other elements in place, but still come up short?

As it turns out, in order for a reader to care about your story, the stakes have to be raised. You can have a character overcome incredible odds and obstacles, but if there's nothing at stake, then there's no reason to pull for that same character.

Let's consider an example. Say we have a great guy named Phillip who is a cross-country racer and whose goal is to win the regional track meet. We'll put Phillip at the starting line and pull the trigger on the starting pistol. Kapow! Off he goes.

If we use a basic plot, with three obstacles of increasing difficulty, we can first have Phillip develop an annoying blister on his heel. But because Phillip is tough, he runs through the pain. Next, it starts to snow. Now Phillip is having trouble seeing the track because of the snow, and his blister is getting worse, so the odds against his winning are increasing. Finally, he stumbles and turns his ankle. The entire pack is well ahead of him and Phillip is trailing badly.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

We'll leave it there. Whether Phillip wins or not doesn't really matter. But what is missing from this story is the why of it. Why is it so important that Phillip win this race?

You see, there's nothing wrong with this plot, nothing wrong with the obstacles, nothing wrong with the character. But we have no idea what the stakes are and why it matters so much to Phillip to win that race. Is a college scholarship at stake? Is he racing to prove something to his family, something about honor, about perseverance, about stamina? Is he racing to win enough money to buy medicine for his little daughter?

What will be irrevocably lost if he doesn't win? Why is it so important to Phillip?

And that's the key word - important. The stakes have to be so important to the main character that if they don't achieve, acquire or overcome their goal, we the reader will care. If not, then it's just a race.

Winning or losing doesn't matter unless the stakes are high.

Raise 'em, honey. Otherwise, nobody will care.



This article appeared in Bruce Hale's January 2014 THE INSIDE STORY - used by permission. Go here to subscribe to his newsletter.


kathi-225x300.jpegKathi Appelt is a National Book Award finalist (for THE UNDERNEATH), and the author of over 20 books for kids and teens. Her tales have won numerous national and state awards, and she serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts' MFA in Children's Writing program. Catch up with her online at: http://www.kathiappelt.com




Write Well When the Muse Is Sleeping

Writing Process Blog Tour

Truth in Fiction

Plodding or Plotting

Raise the stakes, honey!

One Size Does NOT Fit All

BACK UP!

175 Proof

He Thought to Himself and Other Excesses

Confessions of a Writer Easily Distracted

Is That Right?

Writing Business Expenses

Subjective

The Hero's Journey for Magazine Writers

Altitude and Attitude - Adult or Child?

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

Kidz Only! Adults Keep Out!

A Dark Side of Social Media

Do you struggle with grammar?

Can children and teens can get their work published?

Patience Required

I'm a Work-in-Progress

Illustrator Resources

Inspiration from Kate DiCamillo

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Writing and Life Balance

How To Start Querying an Agent

WEBSITE Q&A

Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction

Heartbroken?

Perfecting Dialogue Punctuation

Ouch! Thin Skin!

Agents Telling What They Want

School Visits, the Extended Version

Going Back to School

One of 75 finalists

Make It Work for You

Down with Discouragement!

Do as I Say

Professional Problem Maker

4 Ways to Make Your Characters "Talk Different"

Picture Book Month

Work-for-Hire Resources

Work-for-Hire Wisdom

Work-for-Hire also known as WFH

Picture Perfect Picture Books

Picture Book Resources

Author Talks versus Workshops

My Favorite Online Resources

Technicalities - More Thoughts on Public Speaking

Do as I Say

Theme List Tactics

What Would Sue Do?

Attribution or Action?

Don't Throw in the Towel

Do You Remember?

Dragged to the Podium

Double Identity - Pen Names

Before You Sign: Contract Resources

Welcome, Diane Bailey, Work-for-hire Champion

Ready, Set, Goal

An Editor's Day

How'd You Get That Gig?

On the Hunt for Ideas

Bloggers Supporting Other Bloggers

Shadowing a Submission

Give up or press on?

Turning Ideas Into Stories - Workshop

After the Critique

Keeping Track

The Synopsis Shrink

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part three

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part two

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part one

Standard Manuscript Format

CUT IN THE CRITIQUE

Critique Methods

Market Research Resources - Agents

THE SANDWICH OF CRITIQUE

CRITIQUE GROUPS: GO FOR IT!

Organizations and Groups

Writing a Novel? Where Does It Fit?

Meeting Editors and Agents - In Person

Meet Editors and Agents - Online

Book It! - Recording What You Read

Theme and Premise

Self-Editing Tips

The Story Ladder or Novel Timeline

Showing Versus Telling

Read, Read, Read

The Power of a Good First Line

Hooking your Reader

Listen to the Voices

DIALOGUE TIPS

Viewpoint in Children's Fiction

Making Friends: Character Development

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Genre Resources

Children's Book Genres

Why Write?