Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh, I see!

We've had a few complaints about the font color over the past year and finally got around to making it more "black and white." ;o) Plus, it helps that there was a cute new background we could use.

Hope you like it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

30 Days, 30 Stories Project

This whole blog started as a way to showcase the work of those participating in our first "30 Days, 30 Stories" project. It's almost April again and we're collecting names for people who want to join us.

Every author who joins is assigned a day to post a story or poem (500 or so words) to the blog. Any age, any genre-- preferably for kids/teens. Each day is a different work of art.

Want to join? Leave a comment below and I'll add you to the list. Assigned days and more info will be going out at the beginning of next week.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Which Kind of Writer Are You?

by Scott Rhoades

We all write for our own reasons, but I think those reasons can be grouped into a few categories. Chances are, we all fit in most of the categories to some extent, but we probably favor one over the others.

Here are my proposed groupings, all greatly generalized.

1. The Word Lover

I put this one first because it's probably where I fit best. I've loved words since I was small. I love the rhythm of words, and how the sound and look. Often, when people talk to me, I watch their words float toward me. Sometimes I pick one of those words and picture it in my head and turn them around and flip them over and examine them from all directions. It can make it hard to follow a conversation.

For fun, I pick a word and research its history and look for unexpected related words. I got two new books today to help me with this game. I still have the spelling list I made in third or fourth grade when we were allowed to make our own list. It's all long words, most having to do with dinosaurs, all words that look and sound really fun. The teacher commented that she'd never seen a list like it.

I've never found a toy I like better than words. I can build all kinds of stuff with them. Like stories. As early as five or six years old, I used to trace pictures of stories from books and make up new stories around them. I don't remember exactly how my love of writing started, but it's a good bet that it came from reading, which I started doing at an early age because I liked to find the patterns and sounds of words that I saw on signs and in early reader books.

I suspect that other word-lover-writers have a similar history. I've talked to a few who do. Word lovers often have to work harder at novels (although they enjoy that work and what it teaches them about language and words), but they enjoy the rhythms and sounds of poetry, songs, and other forms.

2. The Yarn Spinner

Some people are natural storytellers. They love telling stories and watching how people react. These people can invent a plot and make it entertaining with very little efforts. Sometimes, but certainly not always, these writers might not have the greatest mechanics, but they make up for it by telling a great yarn. These writers probably have an advantage in our modern entertainment-driven world, because their stories are just plain fun. They're page-turners. They're a fun ride.

3. The Maker of Imaginary Friends

Many writers have a bunch of people living in their heads. These writers like to let their imaginary friends out and watch them romp, so they make up situations and watch how their buddies react. The stories are entertaining, but the real strength is the detailed cast of characters who jump off the page, as real as the person sitting next you. They make us care about these people like we care about our neighbors. Maybe they are our friends. Or maybe we like to watch their lives fall apart so we can gossip about them.

4. The Treasure Hunter

The treasure hunter sees how much money some writers are making and wants a piece of the pie. They probably got decent grades in writing classes and figure this is an easier way to make a fortune than the lottery. Many writers find this kind of writer easy to criticize, but the fact is, writing is a business, and these writers take it seriously. They're not trying to write junk. They're trying to give the people what they want, as many people as possible. It might be harder for these people to actually meet their goals, and they're probably the most likely to give up before they finish when they discover that writing is a lot of work. But those who stick with it often create entertaining, successful stories that draw readers to them. There's really nothing wrong with taking this approach, and these writers still have to learn the writing ropes. They might not have the same romantic notions about what it means to be an author that the rest of us have, but that doesn't invalidate their work. I just wish them luck. They're in for a surprise.

5. The Literati

We've all known these writers, and most of us have been annoyed by some of them. These are the writers who want to contribute to the immortal realms of Literature. They are Artists, nay, Artistes. The worst of them are above the rules, better than the grammarians, superior to, well, just about everybody. These people will not accept rejection, criticism, or failure. Which is too bad for them, because they're almost certainly destined to fail. However, this class also includes the people who are genuine artists, whose love affair with writing leads them to push the limits of the art, to take writing to places where it's never been. The best recognize that telling an entertaining story is part of the art, but they are not limited by the set conventions of storytelling. As a double major who spent (and still spends) a lot of time with both English and German lit, I love these writers (the good ones) and admire them greatly. And I sometimes have serious issues with the bad ones.

How about you? Where do you fit? Are there other groupings that I missed? This isn;t just a lightweight question. If you understand the kind of writer you are, you'll know your strengths and develop them. You'll also look at the other groups and learn from them.

Because, the truth is, the really great writers fit in all five categories.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Trying to Get Published is Like Being On American Idol

1. There are hundreds of thousands of contestants.
2. Everyone has to follow the rules set by the big producers.
3. Contestants are screened by a highly subjective process.
4. Judges give harsh criticism and little praise.
5. The winners win BIG.

So who's going to win the Idol of publishing this year? Go big or go home, I always say!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dear Writing,

I know it's been awhile since I've spent any time with you. I'm sorry if this has hurt your feelings. I just felt like I needed some space. I mean, we spent SO much time together during the Picture Book marathon and all I ever focused on was you. I've needed some time to spend in the other areas of my life. I hope you've needed a break too. I believe this break has been good for our relationship.

I want you to know I'm not giving up on our relationship. I'll be back with you, I promise. Be patient with me for a little bit longer, and then I'll be ready to be with you again. Really. Hang in there. I haven't quit.

Talk to you soon.


Friday, March 5, 2010

What Is Your Story About?

by Scott Rhoades

What do you say when somebody asks what your story is about? Chances are, if you're like most of us, you give a brief synopsis of the plot. But is that really what your story is about?

A story is about people. Chances are you mention your main character and maybe your antagonist when you tell people what your story is about, but you probably focus on what they do. It's OK, in a summary, you probably have to focus on events.

But as you write, you have to remember that the story is about the reactions of your characters to the events. There should be nothing in your story that is not about the people. The coolest event, the most vivid description, the funniest words--none of that matters if they have no effect on your characters.

Every scene is about your protagonist trying to accomplish a goal, and being foiled by the antagonist. The antagonist, on the other hand, isn't getting in the way just to be a moustache-twirling villain. The antagonist has his own goals that just happen to run counter to those of the protagonist. It's not that the bad guy is evil, necessarily. It's just that he either wants the same thing the protagonist wants only he wants it first, or he wants something that's the opposite of what the main character wants. In the antagonist's mind, it's the protagonist who's the villain. This creates conflict, and conflict makes story because conflict causes the characters to react.

And it's those reactions that the story is about. It's all about the characters.

This is why some of the common problems in fiction are problems. Let's look at a couple.

Weak Opening

If you start your story with the weather, even if it's the best description of weather ever written, so real and so vivid that the reader can feel the raindrops bouncing off the page and splashing on his own face, the opening might fail to hook the reader.

Why? You know what I'm going to say. The character is absent. Even if the character is watching the rain and reacting to it, the opening might fall flat--unless the rain puts the character in peril and the description is crafted thoroughly from that character's point of view in a way that makes us feel the character's reaction, preferably a reaction where we feel that there's real danger, an intriguing problem. Weather can affect a story, but only by affecting a character. Without the character's reaction, there's no story in the weather.

This is also why opening with dialogue often doesn't work. We don't know the people yet, so we don't know why we should care about whoever is saying something.

Same thing if you start with the character waking. There's no reason to care yet, and waking up is normally not very perilous or mysterious, so it doesn't hook the reader.

Point of View Filters

"Johnny felt upset. He saw Jane walk around the corner with Tommy."

There's a lot wrong with this. It tells us what Johnny is doing, but it doesn't show us. We all get tired of the show-don't-tell cliche. Sometimes you just want to get to the important stuff, so you summarize. Summary is always telling, and sometimes it's necessary.

But why is showing better than telling? When you tell, like I did in the example, you take away the characters. Yes, it's true that there are three characters mentioned in those two sentences, but the characters are still absent, because you're being told about them instead of watching them.

Anytime you run across a "filter" verb as you revise, look at it closely and make sure you're getting what you need out of it. A filter is a verb that pulls you out of the characters point of view. These are verbs that tell you what the character is doing rather than letting you experience them. They include words like saw, heard, imagined, and probably the worst of all, felt.

If you are firmly in the character's point of view--where you want to be if you want to engage the reader by letting her live vicariously through your character--these filter verbs pull the reader away and put unwanted distance between her and the character.

If you tell me that Johnny felt sad, I can't experience it. If you show Johnny being sad from within him, by showing the symptoms of sadness, we'll feel it more deeply and we'll care more.

Likewise, if you tell us what he saw, we don't see it. If we're firmly within Johnny's POV, then everything described in the story is seen through his eyes. "Jane walked around the corner with Tommy" means that Johnny saw it. Why add the extra layer, the filter, by telling us he saw it when everything you describe is already what he sees? By putting in the filter saw, you take Johnny out of the real action, and you set yourself up for a weak description of what he's seeing.

If your story is about the characters, then everything that happens in the story is really about your character's reaction to events. He might walk into a crowded room, but he's not going to see everything. He's only going to see the things that cause him to react as he tries to accomplish his goal for the scene. The scene is not about all the stuff that is happening in the crowded room. It's about the character's reaction to the things in that room that help him or hinder him in his quest to achieve the goal of the scene, and preferably the things that create conflict by keeping him from his goal.

One of the problems we run into is that our initial story idea is often about a situation, so we think the story is about that situation. We create characters to fit the situation we want to write about. But once the story begins, it's really about the characters and how they react to the situation. If you want to engage a reader, the story is about the people, not the situation the people find themselves in.

If you remember that as you write and revise, you'll make sure that every word applies to the character and his motivations and reactions. And then you'll have an interesting story.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nathan Hale's take on the Publishing World

He mapped it out to make it simple for the rest of us! Great job, Nathan.

Check out his blog post:

And good job on writing 28 out of 26 days for the Picture Book Marathon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Where do you get your ideas?

I've spent the last two hours at a city coucil meeting. Why? Because an incompetent mayor and city council ended up creating a fiasco in our city. So now my neighbors and I have decided we're not going to ever be uniformed about local politics again.

So what do you do when you're stuck doing your civic duty? Catch up on your email. Brainstorm ideas for the book you're writing. Anything to keep from falling asleep in a public place (that happens to me way too often--disturbing I know).

Where do you get your ideas? Some authors claim dreams as the source of their inspiration. Others life experiences.

Me, I get my ideas in those moments before I fall asleep. And sometimes in loooong city council meetings. Leave us a comment and let us know the source of your inspiration.

Tiffany Dominguez
Freelance Writer, YA Fiction

Monday, March 1, 2010