Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Wishes & Lame Poetry

The year is coming to a close, and despite what the Mayans predicted, the calendar will click over to 2013. Crisis averted!

What time of year is it? Time for lame poetry, you say? You're right! Here's my 2012 attempt:

Full of laughter, full of cheer
Thankful for another year

Highs and lows, then side to side
Writing is a crazy ride

Every day, each writer knows
We're thankful for the gift of prose

The right word here, a comma there
Polish, send it, do I dare?

Of course you do, the world deserves
To delve into your worthy words

Beaten down? Then start anew
That dream of yours looks well on you

My kids are home from school again
I'll close the laptop, cap the pen

I wish for you what you love most
Let's raise a glass and make a toast

Friends and family, hands held tight
Bringing in the new year right

There you have it! I'll return to the blog on January 8th. As always, I'm so thankful for the joy and wisdom you've brought into my life. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and an exciting 2013.

What's your most special memory from 2012? And where will you spend the holidays this year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Study Writing Until We "Get It"

My mom has always been sort of a "baby whisperer." She has a way about her that comforts a fussy baby or an antsy toddler. I wish I'd written down all the little nuggets of advice she dispensed while my kids were smaller.

Disclaimer: I know that parenting styles differ. A lot. And there's more than one way to raise a child.

One piece of my mom's advice stood out. When my first son was little, and I didn't want him to do something, I'd tell him no. He'd try to do it again, and my mom reminded me to remind him again. After several reminders, I was frustrated and asked my mom, "How many times do I need to teach him?"

Her answer? "Until he gets it."

Stay strong, be firm but gentle, and don't give in. Choosing our battles comes into play here, too, but that's another subject.

"Until he gets it." That little piece of gold has helped me through all stages of parenthood, even as we're deep in the teen years. How many times did I teach which letters made which sounds? Until he got it. How many times did I teach him to be a good friend, even when others weren't? Until he got it.

That same piece of advice could be helpful for writers.

  • How often should we learn about plot? Until we get it.
  • How often should we learn about character? Until we get it.
  • How often should we write new material? Until we get it.
  • How often should we refill our creative wells? Until we get it.
  • How long should we pursue our publishing goals? Until we reach them.
And when we finally "get it?" We keep going, because there's always something to learn, and many ways to improve.

What's your opinion of the "until he gets it" advice? If you're a parent, what's the most valuable piece of advice you received? As a writer, what's the best piece of advice someone gave you?

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Truth More Horrifying Than Fiction

I had a different post planned for today, but after the awful school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt the need to change it up.

A shooting at a movie theater, a mall, or a school leaves our nation shocked and sad. And when children are involved? It's even worse. As a parent, I pray with my children every day before school, hoping they'll be okay. My mom did that with me as a child, and it gave me a sense of peace. Try as we might, we can't predict everything that will happen.

We read and write books about tragic events, but when reality out-horrors fiction, it's shocking. Parents, communities, and a nation will grieve. There's no sense to it all, but I'm hoping theses quotes about grief will help anyone who's suffering:

"Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow--it is not a permanent rest stop." --Dodinsky

"There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept, things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go." -- Author Unknown

"In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing." --Robert Ingersoll

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." --From a headstone in Ireland

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break." --William Shakespeare

My heart breaks for anyone going through such an awful tragedy. Do you know someone who was affected by the recent mall shooting in Oregon or the school shooting in Connecticut? Have you ever grieved for someone you loved dearly? If you feel comfortable enough, please share your story.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does Quiet = Boring?

I think everyone would agree that Lord of the Rings is a huge success. My brother-in-law and niece love those stories. My critique partner, Leslie, is a total LOTR fangirl.

Recently, I watched Lord of the Rings for the first time. For the first 90 minutes, I loved it. The rest of the time? I was...bored. I know, I know. I've just tilted the world off its axis. I'm definitely not their target market.

Thankfully, there are stories that meet everyone's needs. Fantasy, sci fi, thriller, romance, whatever. Some of my favorite books can be described as "quiet," but quiet books aren't for everyone. Many people would even describe them as boring. On the surface, they may seem that way, but down deep there's so much more.

I've become a fangirl of Sarah Dessen's books, and I'd describe them as quiet. When I first read the jacket copy of JUST LISTEN, I wondered what all the fuss was about. But as I read the book, I learned her stories were quiet, but deep.

Other opinions may differ, but for me, these are the best qualities of quiet fiction:

  • Lovable characters with interwoven dramas. It's not just about the MC achieving her story goal. Her life is connected with other lives, and there are complex, tangled relationships.
  • High personal stakes. In the quiet fiction I've read, there usually isn't a threat of physical death. The stakes are personal, and usually involve some sort of personal death, like death of a societal position, death of a marriage, death of a friendship, etc. These stakes are definitely relatable, because these worries are common to everyday people.
  • Heartbreaking choices. I know a book has been well written when the personal choices the MC makes cause my heart to quicken. I've learned her fears, I've learned how difficult the choice is for her, and my heart breaks for her. Like the mother who was forced to choose between freedom and her child in THIS BURNS MY HEART.
Is quiet fiction boring? I'm biased, of course, but in my opinion, no. Quiet fiction can be beautiful, and memorable, and painful. As long as there's a lovable character, an important story goal, and significant stakes, it's a story worth telling. For me, quiet fiction has staying power. 

Tell me, do you read quiet fiction? Or have you tried reading it, and couldn't get past the first page? What do you think makes a story great, whether it's quiet or otherwise?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Unique Gifts Writers Can Give

As writers, we have the opportunity to give gifts that can't be bought. Here are a few ideas for unique gifts we writers can give:

  1. A poem--Write a poem to someone you love and/or appreciate. A family member, a friend, or a teacher. Make it funny, make it inspirational, or make it short and sweet. I've done this a few times for my hubby--for Christmas and Father's Day--and he loved it. 
  2. A hand written note--These days it's all about emails, and we've lost the art of the hand-written note. There's still something lovely about writing in script on pretty stationery. I plan to jot down short notes for each of my sons about what makes them special.
  3. Character name--Name a character after someone you know. If they have a great sense of humor, and wouldn't mind, you could even make them the villain. Or the sidekick. Imagine them reading your story, knowing Uncle Harold was named after them. (Btw, my late Uncle Harold had a 2-quarter plumber's crack and played Boogie Woogie on the piano like nobody's business. Seriously.)
  4. Character traits--Does a friend or family member have unique traits? Got a grouchy uncle who knits blankies? A friend who only washes her hair on Mondays? Use it! Heck, you can even create a cross blend of quirky character traits. The cousin who always smells their food before eating will get a kick out of reading about it. 
  5. Record history--Know an elderly person who would like to record their personal history? Writers can experience the joy of preserving history for an aging friend or family member. Imagine the amazing stories they'd have to tell.
  6. Pay attention--The best gift of all may be our time. We can set the laptop or notebook down and be in the moment. Sure, we can think about character or scene details, but when it comes down to it, the people we love want to know they matter most.
These are just a few ideas. Can you think of other ways writers can give unique gifts?

And if you've given a character the name or traits of someone you know, did you tell them? What did they think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Write a Page Turner

I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing. I subscribe to Children's Writer newsletter, which is great for craft tips and market research (click here if you'd like to's affordable, and awesome!)

In the October issue, Chris Eboch wrote a great article, "Make Your Novel a Page Turner." She wrote "A page-turner keeps the reader wondering with interesting questions arising from the story. If your readers never wonder, or if their questions are answered the second they are introduced, there is no suspense."

Here are some tips she offers for writing a page turner:

A Mystery

"When readers pick up a new book, they have certain questions. Who is this book about? What does the main character want, and why? How is he or she going to pursue that, and what is going to stop them?"

She reminds us that readers should never be left without a question, but that those questions should not build up indefinitely. She quotes Kate Sullivan, Editor of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who says:

"Reading is all about wanting to know what's going to happen next. It's all about balance, and thinking about these questions as individual plot threads. Too many and your reader won't have anything solid enough to follow into the next scene. Too few and the reader may lose interest. But just a few that the reader can braid together are like a guide rope: Imagine the reader holding on to it as they follow it into the next scene. It's very helpful for one question to lead to another."

Pull the Reader Along

Eboch quotes Kendra Levin, Editor at Viking.

"If you're revising a draft and trying to make it more suspenseful or beef up these questions, ask yourself what information you're sharing with readers that could perhaps be held back or reserved for a later chapter. How can you pull back from what you're revealing? How can you turn an unknown into a mystery?"

Scene by Scene

Eboch suggests focusing on scenes in order to find the right number and type of questions we ask and answer in our fiction.

"Start each scene with a clear character goal. This goal relates to the main problem or story goal, but is a smaller, scene-specific goal that is focused on a next step. With the goal comes a question: Will this character succeed? If the answer is yes, the character moves on to the next step, reaching for that ultimate story goal. If the answer is no, the character has to try again or try something else."

I plot using index cards. After reading Eboch's article, I made a master card that sits on top of all the others, which asks, Character goal? Will she succeed? Purpose of scene? Next step? New questions? This reminds me to address these issues in each scene.

For an excellent post about writing scenes, see Jody Hedlund's A Method Through the Madness: 5 Tips for Writing Scenes.

Asking and answering questions goes a long way toward improving the pacing of our fiction, and it's something I'm constantly working on. Eboch's article was interesting, and full of practical tips. 

For more of Chris' tips, visit her blog here, or the "for writers" section of her website here.

Do you have a good ask/answer cycle in your fiction? Do you have a well-established skill for pacing? If so, please share your secrets!

All content used with permission

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Helping Kids Tell Stories

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." -- Maya Angelou

Friends, today I'd like to bring your attention to a good cause, The Story Project, which "...impacts students living in challenged communities through a unique storytelling curriculum rooted in the media arts."

What's The Story Project? From

The Story Project: Imagine.  Create.  Live.Change your story / Change your life 

Behind every successful business, businessperson, and individual is a terrific story. From world class entrepreneurs to everyday people, understanding story is credited as the single most important factor in determining innovation and prosperity. People such as Richard Branson, Michael Jordan, and even Thomas Edison have publicly acknowledged storytelling as a device that helped chart their paths. 

The story behind The Story Project:

So what's the story behind The Story Project?  It's simple: Kids. Students more precisely. Our demographic typically falls under the categories of: Title 1, At-Risk, Under-Served, Middle & High School ages. If you're wondering why, the answer is simple. More obstacles.

Obstacles are a way of life. In screenwriting, adding an obstacle creates drama; in life, if unprepared, an obstacle can cause disaster.  

With generous donations, The Story Projects gives kids the opportunity to tell stories.

Our programs are rooted in: documentary and fictional filmmaking, poetry, spoken word, photograhy, murals, screenwriting, and many other means based in the media arts.

Want to see what the kids are up to? Visit If you're able to donate to The Story Project, please click here. If you can't donate money, it would be awesome if you could help spread the word. Thanks so much!

How has the power of story changed your life? When you were young, were you itching to tell stories? Who nurtured that in you? A parent? A teacher? A mentor?