Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's in a name?

One of my daydreaming enjoyments is thinking up new titles and plot lines. I don't do anything with most of them, but they are good additions to my idea folder. You never know when a title can inspire you to write something that will take off for you. Even though I don't read lots of YA fiction, leaning rather toward lit for the younger ages, I particularly love the trends in contemporary YA titles.

How about you? How do you come up with a plot? Do you think of a title that inspires you, or do you agonize over a title after you've written your story?

Would a rose by any name smell as sweet?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Does Writing Take So Long?

Back in high school and college, the thing I dreaded absolutely the most was lengthy research papers. Theatre and music projects, more structured in nature, brought a faster reward. I finished those on time!

But a long paper?!?!?! Usually on a topic that I did not choose, I half-heartedly researched just enough to create an outline. Then I skated.....  and then didn't look at it until maybe two or three days before the paper was due. And I had to TYPE it on a MANUAL typewriter!  Most of the time, I didn't make the deadline. I must have had favor with my teachers because I think I got an 'A' on every paper despite its lateness. However, that never brought enough satisfaction to motivate me the next time!

Now that I am writing longer works of fiction, those days of one semester deadlines seem wimpy.  Two to three years is not unusual for me to write a screenplay or a novel. I guess that is why NANOWRIMO is so encouraging. I have written a full length novel in a month. That is rewarding! With that success behind me, I now think that with a little more focused attention,  I can get my current project done by the end of summer. Let's see that's 3 months from now, less than a semester. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Borrowed eyes

I have been cleaning house. If this doesn't impress you, it should. My kids all have weekly jobs, meaning that laundry, dishes, vacuuming, and something akin to dusting happens on a semi-regular basis. However, this doesn't mean that the house becomes truly clean. It just doesn't get too far out of hand. But with the coming of summer, I felt it was time to stir myself into deep cleaning/ throw away mode.

It was for this reason that I found myself standing on the back sidewalk sweeping the grass clippings off the back step. After mopping and doing all the work to get the inside of the house in order, I figured I could buy more time by pushing the dirt on the outside as far away from the door as possible. When I turned around, I noticed dirt smudges on the outside of the back door's white surface. How many times had I gone through that door and not noticed them? It looked dingy. It needed to be cleaned. How had I missed it before?

The answer is probably that I've been looking right at it but not seeing it for some time. I had become so used to it that I missed the dirt-inscribed details.

This week I read Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin, published by Writers Digest Books. While reading the book, you're walked through a process of reaching into your memories that will help you construct more believable characters for books. This is important, because the last thing any kid wants to read (or an editor wants to publish) is a cardboard character with no depth. I found Ms. Alphi's questions valuable because they helped me adjust my vision. I started to look at my memories, at the people and places around me, and I began to focus on them and really see them for a change.

So if you're writing for kids and you want assistance that will help you create 3D characters that jump off the page and into your readers hearts, my reading suggestion this week is Ms. Alphin's book. With her help, you'll be able to borrow the eyes of a child, and your writing will be better for it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New this week! Interview with children's author Carolyn Crimi

Every author or illustrator interview is exciting to me, because sharing his or her experiences is encouraging to other children's writers as well as being a gold mine of information. With this in mind, stop by my Examiner.com page today to see the first of a three-part interview with Carolyn Crimi, humorous picture book writer extraordinaire.

Double your encouragement level by clicking on the links below for interviews with other children's authors and illustrators:

Lori Mortensen (author) - Part 2 - Part 3
Tammi Sauer (author) - Part 2
Jeff Mack (author and illustrator) - Part 2 - Part 3
Laura Crawford (author) - Part 2

Have a great day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

When is a prologue okay?

The answer to this question is virtually never.

It's possible I'll get a comment or two listing successful books with prologues, but it doesn't matter. Agents tend not to like prologues, and that's putting it mildly. Sometimes you can bend the rules and make it work, but generally it's better not to when you're trying to break into the challenging world of publishing. In Les Edgerton's book Hooked, which I've been reading this week, he mentioned that prologues are usually unecessary backstory dumps. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you're better off incorporating it into the rest of the book instead.

Of course, I had stuck a prologue on the front end of my middle-grade sci-fi book. If prologues don't show up in adult fiction much, they really don't show up in middle grade. It wasn't really an information dump, since I didn't give the reader much information in it at all. It was just a chunk of action that I hoped would catch the attention of the reader. It helped me get my story moving and define what direction I wanted to pursue. My writing group liked it there, but I'm planning to can it because I believe I'll be able to release that information throughout the story instead.

So back to the original question. Is there any time when a prologue is okay? I think the answer to this is yes. When you're knocking out that first draft, a prologue can be helpful to you as a writer in helping you set the stage for your story. First drafts don't matter that much anyway, primarily because most of them get thrown out or changed. An example is Richard Peck, who writes his first draft and then throws away his first chapter and writes a new one. In the first draft, you're telling yourself the story. In later drafts, you're telling your reader the story. You might need that prologue when you're telling it to yourself the first time, but don't get too attached to it or feel bad if it isn't good enough to make the cut of the rule-breakers. Better to publish with no prologue than to hold onto something that's a death knell to your publication chances.

One more thing. Before you decide there's no way you'll part with your prologue, read Hooked, because if you can't hook a reader (and remember the first readers will be discerning agents or editors with sensitive literary tastes), your book is dead in the water.

For extra info on what's happening in children's literature, stop by my Examiner.com page for book reviews and interviews with children's authors and illustrators.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Live your life: it's an investment

I have a confession to make.

I did very little writing in the month of May. I tried to keep up with my picture book writing critique group, but I let the middle grade novel go. Now, as all writers who don't write for a time, I had lots of good reasons for it. I had two homeschooled seniors graduating, plus family descending from out of town and all kinds of final grading and ceremonial senior-stuff happening. It's not like I was sitting around moaning about writers block. No, I was severely busy and severely fatigued by the time it all ended. But still, I have to ask myself, was it okay for me as a writer not to write, even for a short time?

I think this is a question that most writers have to answer for themselves. Some people will push on and write through it all. In this case, I decided not to. I'm the only mom my kids have, plus I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to make their graduation a special event. I was their senior picture photographer, their autobiography typesetter, their graduation ceremony planner and implementer, and still their teacher and mom. I knew that May was going to be tough, so I told my critique group in advance that I was just going to take it off and live life. In retrospect, I'm glad I did it. True, my Monday blog also became a little sporadic, as did my Examiner articles, but I decided that even writers need to live life once in awhile.

No regrets.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I have been remiss

Well, not really. Mostly I've just been busy. We just celebrated graduations in our family, and since the burden of the ceremony fell to us as homeschoolers, we were extra busy. However, I plan to get back to the writing track as soon as this week is past. I have a couple of projects I'm excited to work on this summer. I won't be giving up fiction, but I'm going to work on an art curriculum for children as well. (I find it interesting that some homeschooling parents panic at the thought of teaching art. I hope this will make it fun and easy too.)

Have a great week!