Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

Check out the information on the conference at their website:

And become a fan on Facebook too!

Conflict Should Not Be Contrived

By Julie Daines

Conflict. The driving force behind the novel. The peril that pursues our main character through crisis after crisis. The element of the story that keeps the reader turning pages or reading late into the night. The only problem is, it has to be believable.

I recently read a novel where the first two-thirds of the book was driven by conflict that just wasn’t believable. A high school girl starts to fall for the wrong guy. He’s bad—as in not human.

The problem is that her father, mother and brother, who all love her very much and want to protect her, know the truth about the guy. They tell her over and over to stay away. But they never explain why. I don’t buy it because if they really loved and worried about her, they would tell her the truth about the guy.

I call this secret keeping conflict. Other people know the truth, but for whatever reason—usually to protect the main character from becoming upset or scared—they just don’t tell. It can sometimes work, and often not. Because it feels too contrived.

So, I guess my advice for this post:  Make sure your conflict feels real and not contrived.

How do you do this? You have to constantly question your character’s motives. Why would he do this? Why wouldn’t she just…? What is preventing him from simply…? Would she rather…? Wouldn’t it be easier if he…?

If the answer to any of these questions is because it would mess up my story, you might have a problem.

This is where the critique group comes in handy. They read your chapter and say, why wouldn’t they just tell the truth? And you ask yourself, why indeed? Then you snatch your manuscript out of their hands and head back to the drawing board to fix it. Hopefully.

This post is dedicated to the Sharks and Pebbles, who ask the questions I seem to miss.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What If

This post may help no one, but I felt I should make it in case it can aid someone out there.

So we always hear about making ‘what if’ statements to find ideas. This never worked very well for me personally, so I get my ideas other ways. Every once and a while I’ve found a good opportunity to use what if’s; when I find a dead bird and can describe the battle it just lost, when I see a suspicious person and can describe their lives, etc… But using them in my everyday life as often as most writers do… The skill never came.

I think I’m getting better at using what ifs however, for I had an ah-ha this morning about them. I really hope there’s someone out there who may have of yet not had my ah-ha; so this isn’t a wasted post…

This morning I was watering the plants. We have 2 small plants--they need a half cup water—and 2 big plants—they need a full cup. I filled two cups, watered a big one with half the water from one cup, then let it soak in while I watered the two small ones. I then went back to the big one and emptied the rest of its water into it. I hope that made sense. I refilled the cups watered the last—big—plant with half a cup, while I let it soak in I drank from the other cup.

That thrust a what if into my mind.

What if I was a plant.

Because of the fact that the first time I’d watered the little plants while the water was absorbed, the second time when I watered myself I got thinking; what if there was some plantperson who watered the others and itself. Could take place in some enchanted greenhouse or something.

Now, I’m probably not going to use that particular story idea, but the experience gave me an example of what ifs and helped me realized how they can be found anywhere in anything, if you just keep your mind open.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut's Rules for Writing a Story

by Scott Rhoades

In Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut gave his eight rules for writing a short story, most (or all) of which also apply to a novel, screenplay, memoir, or pretty much any other kind of writing:
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Vonnegut also mentioned that great writers, including Flannery O'Connor, break each of these rules but the first.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stories Attribute Significance

by Deren Hansen

I once heard a Native American creation tale which explained that the mountains surrounding their homeland came into being when the trickster punished wicked giants by trapping them and turning them to stone. I was struck by the way in which the story imbued the landscape with significance.

One of the remarkable things about Lord of the Rings is the way in which Tolkien produced a fictional landscape full of the significance attributed (or accreted) by three ages of lore: there were stories, often only hinted at in the text, behind so much of the landscape that it becomes a quasi-character in its own right.

There's something very interesting going on here. In both cases it is the stories that give the landscape significance.

But stories work their magic on more than simply physical features. Stories give people and events significance. A number of people have wryly observed that we can't collectively understand a tragedy until we've watched the made-for-television movie about it. If we peel away the cynicism, the remaining kernel of truth is that stories are one of the most powerful ways of defining meaning and attributing significance.*

* This power arises from that fact that stories are models, which emphasize some elements of the thing being modeled and suppress others.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stickies: Keeping Notes Right Where You Need Them

by Scott Rhoades

Several years ago I gave an alternative word processor a test drive. I don't remember the name of it anymore and it didn't really do what I wanted it to, but I remember that it had one unique feature that I really liked. Attached to every document was a notepad that displayed next to the writing area. This meant that, for each document, it was easy to keep notes right where I wanted them, attached to the file but not actually in it. I thought this was pretty cool.

So I was excited a few years ago when I discovered a little program for Windows called Stickies. On the surface, it looks like just another computer sticky notes program, but Stickies has several features that other free sticky notes apps didn't. (It's possible that others do now. I don't know. I've--ahem--stuck with Stickies because I like its feature set and the improvements its programmer, continues to makes.)

You can already guess my favorite feature, the one that sold me on this app. You can attach stickies to documents. Unlike the stickies you stick all over your monitor, the stickies attached to a document are out of sight when the document is closed, but they pop up when you open your file so the notes are right where you want them, as if they were a part of your word processor's file.

There are quite a few sticky notes apps out there now, including several for the Mac. Most are good representations of the paper kind, and like the paper notes, are always visible on your screen. Others allow you to hide notes, and then open them with some kind of a notes manager, but that's really not much different than keeping notes in another document that you open separately. But being able to attach the note to a document (or Web site, or any other window) increases the usefulness of the notes while decreasing the clutter. That's really cool.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spanish Fork Boy Makes #1 App

I had to share this story. This Spanish Fork boy spent time in the library and made this #1 app that was downloaded over two million times! Kudos to libraries!

Utah Wonder Boy Writes Killer App in Librar

By Lauren Barack February 3, 2011

At the ripe age of 14, Robert Nay has turned his library card into a ticket to computer fame, crafting Bubble Ball—an iPhone game that morphed into a number one free iTunes app in January.
nay(Original Import)
Robert Nay developed a killer app in the library.
While visiting the library to research a school paper is often the sign of a strong student, using the library to research and then write an amazingly popular physics game on iTunes is a bit more unusual. And yet the Utah wonder boy parlayed his afterschool studies at the Spanish Fork Public Library into something more experienced programmers only dream of creating, even knocking the hit iTunes game Angry Birds from its perch.
The app, which debuted December 29, 2010, involves a series of puzzles in which players must guide a ball through courses that they manipulate. Bubble Ball was downloaded a million times in its first two weeks.
"I don't think we consciously realized the extent of what he was working on," says Pam Jackson, Spanish Fork's library director. "But we're grateful as it shows to officials and people that libraries do matter."
Nay checked out how-to books on building iPhone apps and computer programming from the library's collection, even downloading the iPhone software development kit (SDK) and the Corona SDK, an app
spanishfork(Original Import)
Utah's Spanish Fork Library, where Nay did his research.
development kit, from the library's own computers.
Nay is no stranger to the library. He started visiting as a preschooler when his mother, Kari Nay, would check out picture books to read to her son. Nay would also attend reading and arts programs that the library held during the summers, says Kari, who also volunteers running free classes on scholarship applications and ACT preparation.
Jackson says she wishes she could hold more programs for students, but notes that the library has been hampered by financial crunches just like library systems all over the nation.
"We wish we had more programming rooms, more shelf space and more Internet access for the community's needs," she says. "But we can't because of the economy."
Both Nay and his mother are remaining silent about what's up next for this eighth grader, but she says he does plan to attend college and perhaps pursue Web design or computer programming. Mark Zuckerberg may want to pay attention.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three Act Story Structure

by Deren Hansen

I've seen systems that layout the structure of a story in such detail that it seems the writer's only job is to fill in the blanks. Whether it's the archetype of the hero's journey or the classic three act structure, there are outlines with fifteen to fifty elements that are supposed to be included.

I've also seen and heard writers who say they can't make heads or tails of such things, that over-specificity leads to rigidity, and that you should stop worrying and just write.

I came across video of Dan Wells, author of I am Not a Serial Killer, who gave a presentation on this topic at the 2010 Life, the Universe, and Everything conference at BYU. Dan discusses the seven point system he learned from the Star Trek Role-playing Game Narrator's Guide. The points are:
  • Hook
  • Plot Turn 1
  • Pinch 1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch 2
  • Plot Turn 2
  • Resolution
This isn't too overwhelming, but it still has a fair amount of detail: what are pinches and midpoints and plot turns and so on.

But look at it this way:
Action (cause) = Plot Turn or Midpoint
Resolution (effect) = Pinch or Resolution
If we set aside the Hook as a special, initial case, were left with three pairs of high-level action and resolution. The resolution in the first two pairs is called a Pinch because it doesn't resolve the story problem.

If we stand back and squint, we see:
Act 1 = (Hook) Plot Turn 1 -> Pinch 1 [doesn't resolve the story problem]
Act 2 = Midpoint -> Pinch 2 [still doesn't resolve the story problem]
Act 3 = Plot Turn 2 -> Resolution [finally resolves the story problem]
We observed last week that story is fundamentally about cause and effect. So why three pairs of causes and effects? Because a problem worthy of a long-form story has to be hard enough that it takes more than one try to find the solution.

Three acts; three cause and effect cycles; the structure of a story need be no more mysterious than this.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Last Second and LTUE

Hey, I'm horrible at this. I think I've said that before. I don't even know if I did my second round in January. Work and life are just that busy unfortunately.

But, I want to remind everyone to go to if you haven't yet and check out the awesome writers conference going on this week. I really can't wait. I went to the Friday and Saturday sessions last year and it was awesome. First time I heard Dan Wells speak, who is one of the best speakers ever (of course, I fear him at this point, so I may pass on his lessons on horror writing.) Plus, the dudetastic James Dashner will be the Guest of Honor. (Couldn't find a better adjective.)

So, go to LTUE, it's awesome. Plus, I'll be there. And I'm awesome, right? :-)

Short post, I know. Busy life still. And remember:

Alien abductions are involuntary.

Monday, February 14, 2011


By Julie Daines

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d play a little game. The one called “If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island…”

(Also, my kids are driving me crazy and I can’t bend my mind to think of anything useful to blog about.)

So, here’s the question:

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book for the rest of your life, what book would you choose?

For me, it would be the Norton Anthology of English Literature. I know, I know. Choosing an anthology is kind of cheating, but I love that book. It’s got a little of everything, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Wordsworth. Enough meat to keep me chewing for a long time.

It’s true though; eventually I might perish from lack of a good novel. You can only eat meat for so long before your body craves something sweet. Luckily, I’m a writer! I can just write my own novel. Don’t laugh, it could work…

Leave a comment and tell us what book you would choose.

And do I really need to say that picking your Kindle or iPad actually is cheating? It has to be ONE book. There’s no electricity anyway, so all that technology equipment is useless.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It’s More Like Guidelines with VS Grenier

Riddle Me This!

They work for Father Time,
But some people hate them
While others love them,
And all writers need them.
What are they?

Do you know the answer? How about taking a guess? No, it is not a clock or timer. Nice try. Nope, if you guessed calendar, oh, you guessed a To-Do List and Schedule. Then you would be totally and completely . . . RIGHT!

One thing I find that works to my advantage is having many To-Do lists. I sit down and look at all the things I need to do for the day, week, month, and even the whole year. I find having To- Do lists work better for me over a schedule. However, I do have a daily schedule even if I do not stay on task all the time.

I am not sure how many of you use both or just one of these to help you as a writer. To be honest, I feel To-Do lists are one of the best tools to help you be a successful author. If you think about it, you sit down at your desk or open a file on your computer and it shows you all the things you need to get done in order for your manuscript to be mailed out to a publisher or agent. Maybe even both!

To-Do lists break down each thing making the task at hand seem less over-whelming and more manageable. The other thing I love about To-Do lists is if something is not completed the day I had it down, I just move it to the first thing to do the following day and so on. Let’s face it, no matter how hard you try . . . there will always be some kind of work needing to be done. However, To-Do lists help keep is all in perspective. For example, here is what my To-Do list looked like today.

Write article about To-Do list and schedules for posting.
Link, Twitt and post to Facebook all current SFC blog posts for this week.
Finish reviewing submissions for Stories for Children Magazine.
Post book reviews.
Manuscript editing for publisher.

Now, most of this I have worked on through out my day. However, my daily schedule/routine sometimes does cause a bit of conflict in getting my To-Do list for the day completely done. That is why I have a To-Do list for the week. The reason…my daily schedule/routine includes taking care of all three of my kids. And as any parent knows, children don’t always follow the planned schedule/routine.

The one thing to keep in mind about a schedule/routine is it is always changing based on things that need to happen. I look at my schedule/routine kind of how the Pirates of the Caribbean look at their Code. “It’s More Like Guidelines.” I don’t think I could have said it better myself.

That is why I have a weekly To-Do list. It will include each thing I want done on a daily basis. I break it up by day based on how much time I know I will have for my writing, which is normally about three to four things on my weekly list per day and that means I am really working my butt off to get it all done or my children are being very cooperative.

The thing I find helpful about my schedule/routine is it helps keep the momentum going so I can reach my writing goals. My To-Do lists help me reach my writing goals by breaking them down over a manageable length of time. As much as I hate having to keep a schedule or something close to a schedule, I find if I didn’t then I would not find the success I do by completing each of my goals as a writer with my To-Do lists.

So how do you stay on track with your goals, workload, and time? Do you keep a To-Do list? A calendar? Use a timer so you don’t work too long on one thing? I would love to know what works for you.

To learn more about VS Grenier visit her sites at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Story is Fundamentally about Cause and Effect

by Deren Hansen

Ernest Hemingway once won a bar bet that he could write a story in only six word. His words were:
"For sale: baby shoes. Never used."
Like many other bar bets, it's impressive, but not quite what it seems to be. In particular, Hemingway's "story" isn't a story, it's a story prompt.

"What do you mean?" you may ask. "It's Hemingway. Besides, you're splitting hairs." You may even observe that each two-word phrase sounds roughly analogous to an act in a three act structure, where each new act takes us in a different and more dramatic direction.

What I mean by "story prompt" is that I have yet to meet anyone who isn't intrigued by those six words: they can't help speculating and filling in details to create a story in their own mind. And the story is always about what caused the effect of someone in the possession of baby shoes that were never used.

And that's the critical point. Story is fundamentally about cause and effect.

J. Michael Straczynski often uses this example:
The king died and then the queen died. (Not a story)
The queen died because the king died. (story)
Naturally, there's a great deal more to a satisfying story (or, more to the point, one for which people will pay money). Indeed, a novel will describe many causes and effects--though you may be more familiar with the writerly terms, "action" and "resolution."

Don't be mislead by the siren song of the "literary" and their conceit that a nuanced character study is superior to the plot-driven commercial offerings. Even a character study is about the causes and effects of the character's beliefs and behaviors.

Next time you think about your story at a high level, ask yourself if the causes and effects are clear and actually move the story in the direction you want it to go.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to Set Writing Goals with a Family with Author Mayra Calvani

I asked award-winning author Mayra Calvani, who is currently doing a virtual author tour, to share some tips with us today as part of her World of Ink Tour. Mayra not only writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She’s a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books, co-editor of Voice in the Dark ezine and a...Mother. I couldn’t think of a better person to motivate and inspire us today.

Guest post with Award-winning Author Mayra Calvani: How to Set Writing Goals with a Family

“Nothing has a stronger influence
psychologically on their environment
and especially on their children
than the unlived life of the parent.”
--C. G. Jung

You want to start your career as a writer, and you have young kids at home. How do you find the time to write and actually produce something while your children ask you for sandwiches, demand you play with them, or refuse to take a nap? Writing with kids at home isn’t easy, but it can be done.

The following are 7 tips to setting writing goals with a family:

Be realistic

If you set your goals too high, you’ll crash and you’ll be left with feelings of failure, frustration and bitterness. This will have a strong impact on the way you feel about yourself as a mom and wife, and will affect the time you spend with your loved ones. Face it, unless you have a nanny, you won’t have a lot of free time until your kids are old enough to go to pre-school. If you’re not able to set your writing goal to one hour a day, or even half an hour, what about 15 minutes? Start small. Take baby steps. Persistence is vital: If you stick to it, a lot can be accomplished in just 15 minutes a day over a long period of time. In 15 minutes, you can plot a scene, profile or interview a character, write dialogue, do research on a specific topic for your book, etc. Everybody can set aside 15 minutes of writing time.

Get organized

This is the key to succeed! Buy a planner or calendar and schedule your week in advance every Sunday. This way, come Monday morning, you’ll know what to do. What’s the best time to set aside those 15 minutes? Does your child take a morning or afternoon nap? Do you have the type of child who would be happy playing in a playpen by himself while you write? Could you hire a teenager to look after your child twice a week for an hour, while you write in the next room? Perhaps you know other moms who are in a similar situation and who would be interested in taking turns taking care of the kids? Brainstorm various possibilities. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

Stay flexible

You might not always be able to follow your daily writing goals. You know what? That’s perfectly fine. Life often gets in the way. In fact, it feels as if life always gets in the way when you have a family, doesn’t it? The planner is there to keep you motivated, focused, and steered in the right direction. However, those words aren’t set in stone. If you can’t meet your writing goal for that day, just try to get back in track the next. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself, “I tried my best.” It’s like with a diet. You don’t have to quit the whole diet just because you broke it one day by eating pizza.

Be consistent

Books are made of words, sentences, paragraphs. Depending on how fast a writer or how inspired you are, you can write words, sentences and even a whole paragraph or paragraphs in 15 minutes. The key here is to keep doing it regularly over a long period of time. You have heard it many times: write a page a day, and one year later you have a 365-page book.

Stop procrastinating

If only I had more time!
I’ll write when my kids start school.
I’m always so busy!
When I’ll retire, that’s when I’ll write that book.

Blah, blah, blah. Listen: there’s never a perfect or right time to write. You just have to stop whining and you have to do it. Why leave for later what you can start doing now? Life is short and unpredictable. You have no control over the future. However, you have control over the now.

Love yourself

You work hard. You’re always there for your children, husband, parents, relatives and friends. Why is it that you so often forget about yourself? Treat yourself like a precious jewel. And I’m not talking about being selfish—though being a little selfish is often the best thing you can do to be able to give yourself to others. Reward your accomplishments, however small. When you love yourself, you’ll find the time to set aside those writing times because you know your goals and dreams are important. When you do what’s important to you, you feel accomplished and fulfilled emotionally and intellectually. When this happens, you’re able to give yourself to your family without reservations. Mostly importantly, the quality of those family moments will increase because you won’t resent them.

Set Your Priorities

How badly to do want to become an established author? Can you live with your home not being spotless or dust-free at all times? Or with letting the laundry accumulate once in a while? Because this is, exactly what will happen once you’ve made your decision of becoming an author. You’ll face times when you’ll have to choose between writing or doing the laundry. I’m not saying you should neglect your family and put your writing first. What I’m saying is you don’t have to be a ‘super’ mom at all times.

You have the potential to make your dreams come true. Nevertheless, you have to believe in them and you have to follow a plan. You also have to make them a priority in your life. Keeping these tips in mind will help you achieve your dreams and become a happier writer. As I always say, a happy writer is a happy mama.

 You can learn more about Award-winning Author Mayra Calvani, her books, follow future guest post, interviews and her World of Ink Virtual Author Tour at

About Mayra Calvani:
Award-winning author Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She’s a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books and co-editor of Voice in the Dark ezine. She's had over 300 reviews, interviews, stories, and articles published in print and online. Mayra is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Children's Writer's Coaching Club. Visit her website at She also keeps a blog at

February 7th Mayra will be a guest on the Book Marketing Network where she will be sharing about how to pitch our book.