Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A New Christmas Standard?

by Scott Rhoades

I wrote a little thingy this morning, and thought I'd share. You don't get any of my homemade Lebkuchen, so you'll have to settle for this. Merry Christmas!


Wintertime, sun is shining
Freezing cold, so we’re whining
How can people survive
When it’s just 65
It’s an L.A. winter wonderland

Jacket's on, hands in mittens
Designer clothes, so nice fittin’
I bought a great tan
So glad I’m a man
In an L.A. winter wonderland

On the beaches surfers don their wet suits
Children building castles in the sand
Sun reveals a pretty blonde’s dark roots
Male movie stars stroll hand in hand

Keep your snow, we don’t want it
‘less we went out and bought it
Feel like Eskimos
When the ocean breeze blows
In our L.A. winter wonderland

Friday, December 18, 2009

This Space Left Unintentionally Blank

'Tis the season for being behind on everything and trying to remember so much at once--did we get Kyle that one thing (what was it again?), and how can we get Ryan something from Zumiez without actually going to the mall?--that nothing sticks. So imagine my horror when I woke up this morning and realized it was my day to blog, and of course it's on a day when I have to be at work an hour earlier for an end-of-year marathon all-day meeting.

So for all of my minions who wait anxiously for my next posting, sorry about not having anything today. For the rest of you, the normals ones who know what I'm saying, stay tuned. If something pops into my mind in the next few days, I might just blog out of turn.

And to all of you, have a GREAT Christmas week, the busiest, most hectic, most stressful, but also the most joyous, week of the year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My NaNoWriMo Experience by Yamile Mendez

Is it December already? Really? Because I feel like on November 1st I boarded the NaNoWriMo train, and I've missed my stop. My experience with Nano this year was completely different from last year's for several reasons. Last November I hadn't ever written a full novel. This year I worked on my third. Last year I let myself be taken over by the words; this year I had a plot and a plan I was working on. I set the rules for my story and tried to follow them.

Last November I wrote 51,000 words that showed me I had reached my goal. This year I didn't only reach my goal but exceeded it, and guess what? Even though November is over, my story isn't. This means more writing, but now that I have the habit of writing everyday--or almost-- I plan on finishing shortly.

This year I also used several tools that I didn't even know existed last year. For example, the Utah Word words: Utah County against Salt Lake against Elsewhere.

Through twitter I found out authors Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan, http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/) and his wife Justine Larbalestier (Liar, http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/) blogged daily with wonderful tips for Nanowrimoers.

I didn't attend any of the write-ins taking place across the valley, but next year I will for sure.

Now that Nano is over, I found another wonderful site, http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/, that gives a plan for revising your novel, with daily tips and directions.

This year I felt I was part of a writing community, and even at home I had my 9 year-old working on his own project. He got sick the last week in November, and unfortunately didn't reach his goal, but only for a couple of hundred words. He set himself another goal for the end of the year, and I don't doubt he'll reach it.

My novel will not be even close to perfect when I finally finish it later this month, but I'm proud of it because it was created from a tiny idea that I fertilized everyday without fail. I hope it will become the tree it is meant to be. If it doesn't, there's always next November for a new opportunity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

POV Experiments-- "Schooled" by Gordan Korman

I picked up "Schooled" off a library reshelving cart and was intrigued by it's bright yellow cover complete with a large peace sign and a school bus. The inside cover description was appealing so I checked it out. I read it yesterday and wanted to share the unique twist on the story. Here's part of the summary on the book:

"Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television. He's never tasted a pizza. Never even heard of a wedgie. Since he was little, his only experience has been living on a farm commune and being homeschooled by his hipped grandmother, Rain.

"But when Rain falls out of a tree while picking plums and has to stay in the hospital, Cap is forced ot move in with a guidance counselor and her cranky teen daughter, and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of the public school.

"Right from the beginning, Cap's weirdness makes him a moving target at Claverage Middle School (dubbed C Average by the students). He has long, ungroomed hair; wears hemp clothes; and practices tai chi on the lawn...."

The first chapter is told from the perspective of Cap himself and you see what he's thinking and feeling as he takes care of his grandmother immediately after her fall. The second chapter is from the POV (point of view) of the guidance counselor who takes him in; the third from the school big man who targets Cap as the 8th grade whipping boy; the fourth from Cap again. Throughout the entire book, the POV shifts from person to person all the while centering around Cap and how the school views him and his antics. By the time you get to the climax point, you know Cap better than you might have if you had only ever saw him through his own eyes.

The more I read this book, the more drawn I became to all of the characters. It was like watching an exciting sports game and rotating spots every few minutes so I could get a different perspective on the action. I loved it! I will admit that I was disappointed by the ending. It seemed to cut short this well-woven story, like finishing off a rug with some staplers or duct tape! But I loved the idea of switching back and forth between the first person perspective for each charcter. Gordan Korman pulled it off really well.

So how can this apply to you? Do you have a spot in your story that seems to be stuck or be excessively ridgid? Try writing the scene through the eyes of another character, whether major or minor. Hopefully it will give you new insight as to what's going on in the scene in a more three dimensional way. If you are trying to decide how to construct a novel out of an idea in your head or scratched out on paper, consider a different approach to the POV.

And, of course, to read a good example of alternating POVs, pick up "Schooled" by Gordan Korman. I highly recommend it, despite the weird ending!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tidbits from the Internet

Hi, folks.  I’m sorry I won’t be coming up with anything more creative today…I’ve had a day from you-know-where and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon.  So I shall just give you a few links you can peruse at your leisure.

First, author Sarah Rees Brennan shared (back in August) a thoughtful post about fictional ladies

Next, prolific writer Jennifer Crusie blogged about the important Turning Points in your story.  (An awesome post…I really enjoyed it.)

Last but not least, married writers Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier have a month full of blog posts on writing tips (specifically for NaNoWriMo but certainly applicable to all writers!).  I highly recommend them…they know what they’re talking about.  (See their November posts.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where I live by Shauna Leggat

I live in Mirlo Beach, North Carolina.

I live right by the Rodanthe House in Gere's movie, Nights in Rodanthe, and it was under water our last storm. Beautiful photos, though.

By the way, Nights in Rodanthe (Nicholas Sparks) was a terribly written book, and we were flooded for the movie premiere, so I never saw it! Was here through all the filming, though.

City & State Roll Call

I love the fact that our Utah Children's Writers group has members from all over the country. Will you take a moment and post your city and state (if not UT) in the comments section?


Friday, December 4, 2009

BIG Blocks of Text or "How to overkill your book with prose"

I read a book last night that had no more than 25% of its pages as dialogue, and even then the dialogue was a brief sentence followed by several sentences of description. One chapter I found had almost no dialogue in it at all. Now, mind you, the main character did a lot of talking and there were A LOT of other people in the book, but they rarely spoke for themselves. Instead most dialogue was filtered through the lens of the main character.

For example: Most of the primary grade teachers were planning the usual art projects along with having the kids bring valentines to give to everyone in the class. Alicia Despain, who taught fifth grade, plus environmental science to anyone who would let her, argued that it was a terrible waste of paper to throw away all those valentines every year, but most of the primary-grade teachers defended the practice. "The kids like it," said one of our first grade teachers, and someone else added that it really helped the students with practicing their letters and their handwriting coordination.

There are times when it is safe to let the main character describe everything from his/her point of view (POV), but it tends to make the rest of the characters seem like lifeless talking heads. We are never able to hear what they have to say for themselves. You may want to create a dominant POV, but it is a fine line between dominant (primary) and domineering (tyrannical).

Dialogue is essential to break up the flow of your writing and to provide some variation in what you are saying. No one likes to pick up a book and find massive blocks of text and little white space-- especially when it's a child/teen picking up that book. White space is visually appealing and less intimidating than BIG blocks of description, no matter how beautifully or cleverly writtent that description might be.

Finding a balance between dialogue and description is one that every author must create for themselves. I know great authors who struggle with description and end up adding it in through the final editing process to break up their scenes. Authors like myself are exactly the opposite. When I'm editing, I have to add in description to "fluff" out my scenes. The balance line between the two is different for every author and, I believe, for every story.

Now for some homework. If you want a description-heavy book, try anything by James Michener. He'll show what thorough description is, plus he may help you fall asleep at night! ;o) If you want a book with ALL dialogue, pick up "This is What I did" by Ann Dee Ellis. Her book is a remarkable example of a book with NO prose. Everything is a thought or statement by the main character or his friends/family.

Find your own balance. If you are not so good with description, then write a scene that is entirely dialogue with an occasional "he said sourly" or "she said tearfully" so you can keep track of who is speaking. If you are great with dialogue but are weak in the description department, then try writing a scene where two characters are interacting with each other but no one says anything involving " " " ".

Experiment. You may find you're the next James Michener or you may find your characters can pack a punch in what they say. You never know until you try.

Dialogue vs Description

by Scott Rhoades

A recent thread on the Utah Childrens Writers mailing list touched on preferences between dialogue and description. Like the title of this post, the discussion was framed as if it's an either/or question. It's not, of course. Both are necessary.

However, some people go description-crazy. When I look at a book and see nothing but a solid mass of gray text, I assume the following:

* The book has a lot of description, which is almost always telling, not showing, no matter how good the descriptions are.
* The pace is slow.
* I'll get tired reading it because it'll be kind of thick and heavy.
* Focus is on plot or theme, not character.

On the other hand, if I see a lot of white space mixed in, it's a sure sign there will be plenty of dialogue. And so I assume the following:

* The book will pull me into the scenes by showing me the interaction between the characters.
* The pace is faster.
* My eyes will get less tired because there's white space and there are more breaks.
* Focus is on characters.

Three guesses which book I'm most likely to buy.

To be sure, there is such a thing as too much dialogue. Some non-spoken prose is necessary. A good writer strikes the right balance between descriptive text and dialogue, controlling the pacing and action like a conductor controls an orchestra.

Some people struggle with dialogue. It's not that hard to copy the way people talk, but good dialogue does much more than that. Good dialogue is action. It moves the story forward. Like any good fiction, it is driven by conflict and heightens the tension.

And here's the thing: good dialogue often includes lively description. I don't mean it is expository, like:


"Hi, Joan. That's a nice blue sweater."

"Thank ya, John. I bought it at Sweatuh Emporium foah $100. Ya know ah don't have a lotta money, so it was moah than I could affoahd. But I lak it."


I mean something more like:


"Nice sweater," John said. Joan never did look good in blue. Blue washed out her pale face and clashed with the phony purply-red of her hair.

"You know Sweater Emporium has always been my personal Disneyland," Joan said without looking at him.

Probably cost more than a book of E-Tickets. She obviously hadn't gotten any better at controlling her spending. Maybe if she had, they might have had a chance. Whatever it cost, it wasn't worth it.

"Yeah, well, it's nice," he said.


There's a lot more that can be said about dialogue, and I suspect that you'll read more about it here soon. You might also want to check out Dialogue by Gloria Kempton, from the Writer's Digest Books "Write Great Fiction" series.