Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Post: Creating Stories for Young Readers

This is not an easy subject, because I have to look at my process of creating a story in retrospect. I just have a story and I write it. I’m just a big old kid at heart, so writing kids’ stories simply delights me, and I think that this trait really helps in creating characters kids will want to identify with. I also remember the wonder on kids’ faces when you tell them a story, the more fantastic the story, the more wondrous their expressions. I love the world of fantasy, and so do kids.

I’m afraid the only outline I make is to just write my storyline as soon as it comes to me… otherwise I’ll forget it. The whole story is there with all its characters. Then, I start with my what-ifs. I may write two or three versions, usually not very different. Characters may get deleted or added. The characters take shape according to the version I choose. My protagonist starts out with a defining characteristic, but it’s the events that shape her. So really, the characters grow with the events I choose to make them go through.
Illustrations are a very important of children’s stories, and if you’re not an illustrator you must look for someone who can convey your characters the way you’ve conceived them. My illustrator and I discussed how I wanted the characters to look and she presented me with a storyboard. The important thing was that she was open to deviate from it if I didn’t like something, or changed my mind later on. I like to give the artist a free hand, as much as I possibly can.

Up till now, I’ve never brain stormed to get the ideas for the three stories I wrote (two of them still in revision stage). For me, the brainstorming comes later on, when I start playing with the what-ifs. 

I try to write the story in the simplest language possible, but I usually go back and simplify words more. Sometimes there are words that can’t be further simplified, but I don’t shy away from those. In my story about crabs, I have a few big words that I intend to put in bold so parents can explain them to their children. Of course the pictures will also depict them. I think it’s a great idea to introduce kids to new words. Their brains are like sponges and they learn quickly.

Maha Huneidi is a wife, mother and now grandmother, who finally found out what she wants to be when she grows up…a writer of children’s book. When Monsters Get Lonely is the first step of her journey.
Huneidi began writing this book and later found out her granddaughter was afraid of monsters. “It was not about my granddaughter at all, but when I heard that she was afraid of monsters, it quickly became all about her. I wanted to empower her to take charge of her fear,” states Huneidi. “I sent my son a copy of "When Monsters Get Lonely" in a word file, with illustrations, just before I submitted it for publishing in April. Hanaa’s parents immediately began reading it to her...Now, she sometimes tells her mother, ‘the monster touched my neck, but I made friends with him.”

Huneidi wants to help children, like her granddaughter Hanaa, find the courage to deal with monsters and other fears on their own. “My granddaughter still enjoys monster movies and monster stories! But she has found the courage to overcome her fears,” states Huneidi

You can find out more about Maha Huneidi’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Huneidi and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween: The Tale Of Peter Rabbit And Zombies

by Scott Rhoades (with apologies to the ghost of Beatrix Potter)

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. Now run along and don't get into mischief. I am going out."

Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella and went through the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.

Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail who were good little bunnies went down the lane together to gather blackberries.

But Peter who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden and squeezed under the gate!

First he ate some lettuces and some French beans and then he ate some radishes.

And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.

But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr. McGregor!

Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees, pawing at the grave of Mrs. McGregor. His face was pale and his skin was falling off, and around his eyes were circles as black as night. He jumped up and ran after Peter, dragging his feet and calling out "Braaauuggghhh!"

Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. No matter how he hurried, Mr. McGregor shambled after him.

Peter lost one shoe among the cabbages, and the other amongst the potatoes. After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new, but Peter thought about other things. He thought about his mother and how angry she would be. Mostly, he thought about Mr. McGregor, who showed fangs longer and sharper than dangerous Willie Warewolf. He also thought about Mrs. McGregor, who crept behind her husband looking as hungry as if she had not had a pie or one of the farmer's cabbages in a dreadfully long time.

Peter gave himself up for lost and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly ravens who flew to him in great excitement and implored him to exert himself nevermore.

Mr. McGregor's hand fell off, but he picked it up and reattached it and reached for Peter, but Peter wriggled out just in time.

Leaving his jacket behind him.

He rushed into the tool-shed and--

Jumped into a coffin.

It would have been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much blood in it and the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hedgehog. Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the tool-shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot.

He began to turn them over carefully, looking under each. Wherever he turned a flower-pot, he left behind a puddle of bloody drool.

Presently Peter sneezed "Kertyschoo!"

Mr. McGregor was after him in no time, and tried to put his foot upon Peter, but his foot fell off. Peter jumped out of a window, upsetting three plants.

Peter sat down to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go.

Also he was very bloody with sitting in that coffin and had bits of brain hanging from his wiggly nose.

After a time he began to wander about, going
not very fast and looking all around.

Soon he saw Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, shambling
sniffing the air and coming straight for him.

He found a door in a wall; but it was locked and there was no room for a fat little rabbit to squeeze underneath, even one who was slippery with the blood and bits of brain of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hedgehog.

An old mouse was running in and out over the stone doorstep, carrying peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to the gate but she had such a large pea in her mouth she could not answer. She only shook her head at him and pointed toward Mr. ad Mrs McGregor as they shuffled ever so near.

Peter began to cry.

Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently he came to a pond where Mr. McGregor filled his water-cans. A black cat was staring at some gold-fish; she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her.

He had heard about cats from his cousin, little Benjamin Bunny, who should have paid more attention to what he had told Peter so perhaps he would not have been eaten by a fat orange tabby with stitches on its leg.

He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him, he heard the noise of a hoe--scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch.

Peter scuttered underneath the bushes, but presently as nothing happened, he came out and climbed upon a wheelbarrow, and peeped over.

The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor gnawing on the black cat. His back was turned towards Peter and beyond him was the gate!

Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow and started running as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some black currant bushes. Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not care. He slipped underneath the gate and was safe at last in the cemetery outside the garden.

Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes for a scare-crow to frighten the ravens.

Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to the big fir-tree.

He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit hole, and shut his eyes. His mother was busy cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes and why he was so covered in blood and bits of brain. At first she thought he was dead and was about to place him in the pot, but then he moved and she thought better of it. That would have to wait for another time.

I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother made him take a bath and then put him to bed and made some garlic tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter! "One teaspoonful to be taken at bedtime." But--

Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Demystifying Genre

by Deren Hansen

In an early episode of The Appendix, a writing podcast, Robison Wells, Sarah Eden, and Marion Jensen discussed choosing a genre.

Marion Jensen said, "When you pick a genre, you've got to pick something  that you like. It's kind of like picking a career."

That's right, writers. No pressure. Just like the end of high school when well-meaning people like guidance counselors and parents say, "Now that you've spent your life listening to us tell you what to do, it's time for you to make a decision, oh and by the way, this decision will have life-long consequences."

Choosing the genre in which you'll write is a critical decision only if you succeed.


Because with each book you publish you create precedents and build expectations among your growing circle of readers. It's not that you can never try anything different, but imagine the hue and cry if J. K. Rowling decided she wanted to write gritty detective stories full of graphic sex and violence.

The advice about picking a genre is better understood in terms of setting up shop someplace where you're comfortable because you could be spending a lot of time there.

One of the reasons this seems like a big deal is because genre is to kind as veal is to beef. This is another in a long series of cases where we have two words in English with the same meaning, but the Latinate, or more specifically French, version sounds more sophisticated.

Repeat after me, "Genre means kind." It's nothing more or less complicated than deciding what kind of books your book ought to be shelved or grouped with.

And why does that matter?

Because you're hoping to take advantage of recommendation engines, whether human or automatic, that will suggest someone might like your book if they liked something similar.

Put another way, in terms of publishing being a market, genre is shorthand for your audience.

That's why you must decide on your genre: you must know your audience and their expectations.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name or Does the Title of my Book Really Matter?

By Julie Daines

Everyone knows that when you publish traditionally, you get little or no say regarding the title of your book. Publishers have marketing specialists lined up to pick a title that will grab readers' attention.

Your job is to grab the attention of an agent or publisher. The title is your first opportunity to sell it to them.

There are three basic categories of titles (with a lot of overlapping).

1. Character Titles: Romana the Pest; James and the Giant Peach, Keturah and Lord Death; Julie of the Wolves; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Coraline

2. Plot Titles: The Hunger Games; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Princess Academy; The Lightening Thief; Speak

3. Mood or Subgenre titles (very popular now in YA): Paranormalcy; The Dark Divine; The Forest of Hands and Teeth; Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Some other things to consider while choosing a title:

Be Provocative Provocative titles (especially one word titles) are extremely popular. Just check the Amazon list of best-selling YA books. Choose words that elicit emotion or curiosity and phrases that make book browsers do a double take. The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; To Kill a Mockingbird; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now

Use Resonance Use words that bring to mind something evocative or reminiscent, and phrases that already mean something to the reader. Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Grapes of Wrath; Gone with the Wind

Create a Strong Visual The Color Purple; Where the Wild Things Are; Love in the Time of Cholera; Cry, the Beloved Country

Use Alliteration, Rhyme, or Repetition This makes the title catchy or memorable, like how we can remember a nursery rhyme we learned years ago as a child. Listen to the flow. I Capture the Castle; The Secret Circle; Maniac McGee; The Wind in the Willows; There's a Wocket in My Pocket 

Words that Contradict Beautiful Chaos; The Death Cure; Sacred Sins; Neverwhere

Above all, be true to yourself and your book. Go with what feels right to you. 

What are some of your favorite titles.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Another Side Of Writers Groups

by Scott Rhoades

Other posts on this blog have gone over writers group procedures and the importance of group critiques. Maybe my favorite thing about a good group, like my current group (hello, Sharks & Pebbles!) is the support we give each other.

Support is not always cheerleading, although that's an important part of it. Support is also lovingly telling each other when something's not working, and when it might not work without a massive overhaul. That's hard to hear. But when a group works well together, that news can be shared without being as devastating as it could be.

Of course, support also means cheering each other on through the query process. The Sharks & Pebbles are in a situation I've never seen in another group: we all have fulls out with agents, every one of us. Some groups would have to deal with envy and jealousy and competition. While I think each of us would love to be the first to come to group with good news, we're also rooting each other on. We genuinely want each member of the group to be successful. That's the goal of every critique, and we all recognize that we're looking out for each other.

That makes the occasional tough love message a little easier to take. When you trust each other, respect each other's abilities, and know that each group member wants to see the others be successful, then those hard messages can be taken as they're meant, as constructive criticism meant to help the author make the right decisions to become successful.

That means much more to me than any critique.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave
in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue"
meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing
has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to
have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not
seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write
the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms
without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted
to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the Advice to, "Write What you Know."

by Deren Hansen

Doubtless you've heard the advice to, "Write what you know." It's at least as old as L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, in which the precocious red-head publishes a story about Avonlea after all her high-minded romances have been rejected.

"But," you object, "we wouldn't have hobbits and Narnia if we only wrote what we know."

That might be true, if you take the advice literally.

Like the gossip game, where players relay whispered messages and then laugh at the garbled version that comes out of the end of the chain, I suspect we've received only a degenerate version of the advice.

We should say, "Write what you know, not what you think you know."

L. M. Montgomery's Anne thought she knew the style in which she should write. Contemporary writers often think they should write in a particular genre (sparkly vampires) or to a particular audience (YA) because they know those are hot.

Distinguishing between what you know and what you think you know is often difficult because most of what we know is actually what we think we know.

Perhaps it would be less confusing to say that writing what you know isn't about the facts and information at your command, or even about your experiences. Writing what you know is fundamentally about what you understand.

The advice to "write what you know" should also be understood as advice to, "Write what you love." Sometimes your heart knows what you know better than your reason.

That's why, if you love a world no one else has seen yet, you can honestly say you're writing what you know.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Adults In Middle Grade Stories

by Scott Rhoades

The way we use adults can make or break a middle grade story. The primary audience for these books are kids who are beginning to spread their wings and establish independence. However, they are not yet as independent as young adults. They still rely heavily on adults for survival, even though they are beginning to develop their own ideas and friends are replacing parents as a primary influence. Adults, even those who mean well and want the best for the kids, are often seen as interfering.

When you look at many classic middle grade novels, the antagonists are often ineffectual adults. Look at James' aunts in James and the Giant Peach, Mathilda's parents and Miss Trunchbull, and the Dursleys. These characters tend to be either cruel or ridiculously stupid, or sometimes both. At the same time, the characters also benefit from supportive adults, such as Dumbledore or Miss Honey. This shows the relationship the middle grade characters have with the adult world that they are increasingly becoming a part of. Adults get in the way and cause many of the problems that need to be overcome, but they also offer support and comfort.

There has been a bit of a backlash lately against the "dead parents syndrome" in middle grade and young adult books. Many fear that by taking parents out of the story, kids don't learn that they can go to parents for help. But there's a reason why good, healthy parents are often bad for a story: the child antagonist needs to solve his or her own problems and overcome the antagonist with minimal adult interference. If the story includes supportive parents, then the temptation is there to have the parents protect the child and solve the problems. That's what good parents do. If the parents are in the story and don't solve the problems for their kids, there has to be a good reason why. Adults who take care of everything don't make for a very satisfying middle grade story.

The middle grade reader wants to see his or her peers overcome their own problems. The kids reading the story often don't have the tools yet to solve their own problems, especially when the problems are caused by adults, but they fantasize about the day when they can do it alone. They cheer when kids win, and cheer even louder when the kids beat adults. If adults step in and take care of things, then the adults win, not the kids.

It's perfectly fine, and probably a good thing, to give your child characters adult helpers. But those supportive adults need to be taken out of the story in one way or another at the end, forcing the child protagonist to fight the final battle alone. This is capital-I Important. The young character must win against seemingly insurmountable odds, and must win on his own without parents stepping in and fixing things. If the adult helpers are still present, this becomes more difficult, but not impossible. The child character must come up with the solution to the problem and solve it. If good parents are still in power, they are almost required by their position and because of their love to defeat the antagonist for their kids.

If you don't want to follow the common orphan path and want to include examples of great parents, that's fine, but make sure that the helpful adults are somehow removed so the child protagonist has to do his or her own protagging.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Balancing Action and Information

by Deren Hansen

Balancing action and information is a challenge in any story.

If you start with action--explosions! riots! mortal combat!--your readers won't have any reason to root for the hero (aside from the fact that he or she is the hero) and will likely be confused.

If you start with an exposition about each character and why they matter, readers will likely lose interest before they get to the exciting bits.

With stories set in the real world, you have the luxury of relying on common knowledge and convention. In a political thriller, for example, it is sufficient to say that the conspirators are working to topple the government and proceed on the assumption that the reader agrees such an outcome would be a bad thing.

With fantasy, you have the additional problem of introducing a reader to a world that contradicts or extends their common experience. In order to care, the reader needs to know what's at stake (otherwise the action is meaningless). But in order to know what's at stake the reader needs to understand the fantasy world (which interferes with the action). The problem of finding the right mix of action and information isn't unique to fantasy, but it seems that a fantasy author walks a finer line because of the additional burden of revealing information about a new world.

The best practice I know is to weave action and information together: start with a small action that, in addition to its intrinsic interest, provides a way to share some information with the reader. Of course, both action and information are most interesting when we experience them in a way that tells us something about the characters.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Writers On The Move: Writers Read

Writers On The Move: Writers Read:

Good writers read good books. There is no getting around it. Of course being a good reader doesn't necessarily equate to being a good writer, otherwise most publishers would be publishing their own bestselling books, however, as a writer it's critical to be able to understand what words are capable of, the limits, and how to stretch those limits.

Read more here

Monday, October 10, 2011

When History Repeats Itself--Too Much

By Julie Daines

Scott recently wrote a great post on including details in our writing that can help bring the characters and settings to life. In today's post, I want to take that one step further--or maybe a step to the side.

A large portion of one of my novels is set among the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest before they ever encountered "White Man." I had to do weeks of research. I learned an enormous amount of interesting and fascinating facts, and I wanted to find a way to put them all in my story. But, I couldn't. Waaay to boring. I can't expect all readers to have my same excitement level for how they smoked salmon and the hierarchy of the different clans.

Then I found this great quote by bestselling author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I'll just let his words speak for themselves.
I think you have to be careful with research in fiction. I believe the best way to use it is to learn a lot yourself about what you're going to write, and then don't really use more than 1 percent of all the research you've done, at least visibly. 
But you need to know all about it, because the effective way to use research in fiction is to internalize it and embed its essence in the narrattive fabric of the tale. 
Information only works in fiction when it plays a dramatic role.
Often you read novels in which the author includes much of the research he's done on a subject or a period or a place. None of that stuff sticks to the reader's brain unless it is instrumental in terms of story.
It needs to work dramatically. In literature you need to find a way to incorporate it in the texture, the aesthetics, and the fabric of the world your building rather than a display or erudition. That way the readers absorb it without realizing they're doing it.
So, there you have it. Once again, less is so much more.

Find more on writing YA fiction at

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Developing Plots with Award-winning Author Camille Matthews

According to the blog, (, “The plot of a story is the sequence of events, the ‘why’ for the things that happen in a story. . .The plot draws the reader into the characters’ lives.” As a second grade teacher once put it to a group of children, “What makes you want to keep reading?” I like this because, as both a reader and a writer, I have always wanted my characters to draw me into their lives by having feelings and problems that I understand and relate to and that make me care deeply about them.

I have certainly created a character in Quincy the Horse who has feelings. While it may surprise some who do not have frequent contact with animals in general or horses in particular, this is not a case of dramatic license. Horses are very emotional and relational beings who exhibit a range of feelings. They are capable of deep and lasting bonds and rely on each other and their humans as part of herd dynamics. These features of horses are present in the Quincy the Horse Books. 

Now that I have established that characters need to feel things so that readers can care about them, I come to another important issue. For the plot to unfold, characters must make choices and take action to grapple with conflicts they face. Going back to the quote from, we have the following, “The plot helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make.”  I have found that it is not simply the varied feelings of the characters that create a believable plot and an engaging story. It is the personality of the character and his or her characteristic way of feeling and reacting to problems that makes the reader believe in him.
In both Quincy Finds a New Home and Quincy Moves to the Desert, the main character, Quincy, is faced with situations that are not of his making. In the first story he is sold to a new owner and taken to a new home, and in the second story, he is sent off on a cross country journey. While he does not have control over the initial situation, he learns that he has choices about how to cope as he struggles with the state of affairs in which he finds himself.  

Though he is lonely, confused, doubtful and bored at times, Quincy is also an observer of himself and the world around him. He knows he has problems and he wants to find answers. In the first story, he learns that it is okay to ask for help when he is befriended by an old horse named Beau who loves to give advice.  Quincy confides and then listens and gets an answer to his problem. After that experience, he trusts Beau. When future dilemmas arise, he chooses to turn to Beau for guidance.  In the second story, he has doubts and fears, but he learns another important lesson. He learns to go with the flow, and before he knows it, he is discovering all sorts of amazing new things. 

So I have tried to do a bit more than simply recount Quincy’s adventures. I have encouraged young readers to get to know him on a personal level. I have explored his attempts to sort out the world around him in more depth than might be common in a children’s picture book through a discussion of his observations, his use of imagination and fantasy, and his tendency to ask questions. Last, but not least, I have permitted him to have what all children need, the support of his mentor Beau, and a strong bond with his beloved owner. 

Camille Matthews, MSW, LCSW is a clinical social worker and writer who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, complex PTSD and attachment disorders. In 2002, she received her certification in the new field of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association and established the Pathfinder Program in Farmington, NM where she treated adolescents, children and women victims of domestic violence using EAP.

She teamed with illustrator, Michelle Black to create the Quincy the Horse Books for children ages 5-10. Matthews was born and raised in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky where her father was a law school professor. She was an only child and her favorite thing to do was visit her grandparents and cousins. She is a lifelong equestrian, avid reader and student of politics who blogs and is an op ed contributor.  She relocated to the Reading, PA area from Northwestern New Mexico in 2010.

You can find out more about Camille Matthews’ World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Matthews and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Camille Matthews about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Matthews will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life.

The show will be live October 10, 2011 at 2pm EST.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Real Simple Article on the Best Pens

This headline caught my eye!

"The Best Pens" 

Ahhh, I can hear my writer's heart singing at these beauties. Time to go shopping for a new pen, I think.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Add Reality With Details

by Scott Rhoades

It's true that modern fiction does not typically include the detailed descriptions that many older novels have. But, well-placed descriptions make your fictional world real. This is especially true of little details that add color and reality to your world.

While on a recent business trip to San Francisco, I noticed several little details that could work their way into one of my stories (or one of yours--if you like something here, go ahead and use it). I find that I notice things more when traveling, even in a city as familiar to me as San Francisco. Travel makes you more aware of the details in your surroundings.

Here are some of the things I saw:

Cell phone as mirror. Two young women on a train, using their cell phones as makeup mirrors. This doesn't seem like it would work, especially with their dark skin, and it would never have occurred to me, but there they were, two young women in their late teens or early twenties, using their cell phones as mirrors while tweaking their makeup.

Authentic Italian pizza kitchen. At Uncle Vito's Pizza, a tasty and pretty authentic little pizza place, most of the staff spoke to each other in Spanish. Not a big surprise in California, but the irony adds a bit of detail that can be interesting in the right story.

Language lessons. While waiting for my calzone at Uncle Vito's, I sat next to two young Chinese girls. One giggle almost uncontrollably at the way the other pronounced the word "full," and tried to correct her, although her pronunciation was almost the same. The other girl coached the first on a Chinese phrase. It was clear that one spoke Chinese and the other grew up speaking English, but both had similar accents. I assumed that one is a recent immigrant and the other has immigrant parents, due to some things I've seen in that community before. As a language geek, I found this interchange fascinating.

Oddity store. I visited a store that sold odd stuff, like little figures made from animal skeletons, a unicorn, a flying monkey, and tons of other stuff. That store would make a great setting for a story, or items from that store would make interesting decorations in a character's home or room. If you see a store with weird stuff that you would never buy, go in anyway. It might give you ideas for settings, characters, or even for entire stories.

Farmers Market. Farmers markets often include many unusual products and foods, especially in a melting pot like San Francisco. Go in with your eyes open and you can find new experiences and interesting people, and add interesting color to your writing.

Loud Elevator Guy. One morning, i got into the elevator in my hotel. A kind of bug guy was in it before me. He greeted me loudly and cheerfully. As the elevator gained more passengers, his act got bigger and more animated. If I took some time thinking about this guy and why he is like he is, I'd probably discover an interesting character.

There's much more than this, but this should be enough for one blog post. Bottom line is, keep your senses open and pay attention, and you can find stories or interesting details that can add color to your stories.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Readers and Learning Curves

by Deren Hansen

I once heard an author of epic fantasy say, during a panel, that writers should give their readers "a gentle learning curve." Of course, the point he was trying to make was that being able to ease your reader into the world of the book is a key skill.

Many people, not just writers, misunderstand the concept of a learning curve. In a graph that shows learning (on the vertical axis) over time (on the horizontal axis), a gentle curve actually means that it takes the subject a long time to learn. A steep curve, by contrast, means that the subject quickly acquires the knowledge and information that constitute learning.

As with many things, however, when we examine the notion of learning curves more carefully, we find that for both different kinds of stories and different aspects of stories we want different kinds of learning curves.

For example, the best otherworld stories have fairly steep learning curves. Paranormal stories, on the other hand, only need gentle learning curves because they're not too different from the world with which the reader is presumably already familiar.

Within a particular novel, the backstory should have a gentle learning curve. That is, a reader should be given a little at a time instead of a big info-dump. On the other hand, the basic information about setting, character, and plot should have a steep learning curve so that the reader is grounded and oriented in the story as quickly as possible.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Books with Writer Characters

OK, so what are your favorite books that have writers in them? Not non-fiction books-- no '2012 Children's Writers Bibles" or biographies of C.S. Lewis. What are your favorite fiction books where the main character(s) is/are a writer? 

I just read "The Novelist" by Angela Hunt. It was fabulous. The writer wrote a writer character who writes a story during the story. It was powerfully and masterfully done. A very moving book with a strong Christian emphasis. 

Years ago, I read "Paperback Writer" by Stephen Bly. It was a rip-roaring, funny book. To this day, I can't figure out what really happened to the writer character and what was just his imagination. 

What other books have you read with writer characters? Share them below. 

Silence is Golden

How do you effectively convey the concept of silence in your writing? I mean just the idea of writing down silence seems to contradict the idea of it. Writing words for silence? You can't very well leave a long passage of blank space in your manuscript. So how do you do it?

You can do it simply:
   "it was quiet."
   "no one said a word."

You can try cliches:
   "you could hear a pin drop."
   "it was as quiet as a mouse."

You can try a James-Michener approach to the quiet and offer a long detailed narrative of the plethora of sounds heard in the absence of talking or human noise.

In one of my short stories, I needed to mark the passage of time and the quiet in a relatively short amount of space. I started off by simply stating time had passed and my character was bored. That approach lacked a lot in connection and intensity. The boredom was palpable! The silence was agonizing! He had just been dropped off by his father without even so much as a backward glance. He was desperately waiting for his mother to come when she was not coming. Saying the obvious weakened the scene and undermined its power. I ended up having my character count passing cars. It was the only sound. It was the only movement in his life. It was the only thing he had to do. With the help of some ellipses (. . . ), I was able to interject the passing of time by an ever-increasing amount of numbers. . . 46,47, 48 . . . 73, 74.... In a short amount of text, the reader felt more intensely the agonizing passage of time and silence for the main character.

What are some other ways that you can convey silence through the written word?