Reading With My Mom

I’ve been working from home for 21 weeks. This prolonged period of isolation has given me time to reflect on happier times in life: adventures and excitement in college, friendships forged in high school, and time spent reading with my mom as a child.

Those were the good days — Mom reading to me and my brother as we snuggled up in my parents’ king-size bed, piled high with pillows and blankets.

Though we were capable of reading titles like Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children and Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew, we preferred to have Mom read them to us. We’d go to the local used bookstore weekly to find new titles and were excited to find the numbers missing from our collection.

self-editing for fiction writers

3 Tips from “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

“The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”–Zadie Smith

Write2Ignite’s  2020 Master class with  Joyce Moyer Hostetter is only a month away. The Write2Ignite team has suggested checking out several chapters of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King as a way to prepare for the workshop. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the great insights this book has to offer.

So Here are 3 Helpful Tips from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:

1: Characterization and Exposition

As writers, we can be tempted to tell our readers everything we want them to know upfront. We want to make sure they have the information they need to enjoy our stories.  However, if we try to stuff all those details into long paragraphs of narration, our readers disconnect. It’s better to let them learn about our characters and settings bit by bit. Giving information gradually draws readers in and allows them to make their own conclusions.

Browne and King suggest ways to reveal our characters naturally through dialogue and actions. When they come to discussing settings and world-building, they write:

“Bear in mind that this kind of background is really characterization, only what’s being characterized is a culture rather than a person. And as was the case with characterization, readers can best learn about your locations and backgrounds not through lengthy exposition but by seeing them in real life,” (pp. 35).

Just as we want our readers to meet our characters, we want our audience to experience our worlds. Rather than simply explaining, we can reveal the setting and culture naturally through the eyes of our characters.

2: Proportion

Sometimes it’s hard to decide how much time we should spend on certain events, descriptions, and characters in our writing. Spending too much time on unimportant details can mislead, bore, or even annoy our audience. Spending too little time can confuse or disappoint readers. The space spent on scenes needs to be balanced.

Letting our characters guide our decisions on what to focus on helps tremendously. Browne and King suggest, “You can avoid smaller-scale proportion problems . . . by paying attention to your characters. When you’re writing from an intimate point of view, your character’s interest at the moment should control the degree of detail you put into your description,” (pp.77).

3: See How It Sounds

One of the best reminders Browne and King offer is the value of reading your work aloud. Hearing a scene rather than just seeing the words makes problem areas infinitely more clear. Our eyes auto-correct in a way our ears simply refuse to. As Browne and King write, “The eyes can be fooled, but the ear knows,” (pp. 107). This is especially true for dialogue, considering that we’re used to hearing people speak. We know what people sound like, and so we can pick up unnatural rhythms when we hear them.

Browne and King go on to add that, “Reading dialogue aloud can help you develop your characters’ unique voices,” (pp. 107). They suggest reading all of the dialogue from one particular character and taking note of the patterns.  Reading their words aloud can help us consider how they would say something; to get into that characters’ mindset. Much like an actor trying to determine how to play a role, we need to shape our dialogue to match the characters speaking.

 

Final Review:

Whether you’re planning to attend the Write2Ignite workshop or not, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is an excellent resource to have on your shelf. Browne and King balance their practical advice with engaging examples from books that handle writing techniques well (and some that handle them poorly). Each chapter includes a checklist of what to watch out for in your own writing, as well as exercises to help practice what you learn. The book is clear and easy to read, making it a perfect guide for new writers as well as a great refresher for experienced authors.

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

 

 

 

9 Tips for Writing Unforgettable Characters

According to Elaine Marie Alphin (Creating Characters Kids Will Love p. 2)

“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories—the same magical closeness I felt as a child. They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.”

Every great children’s story pivots around a character who has a problem, a desire or a need. Through the events and conflicts of the story this character, by personal investment and volition, solves that problem, gains that desire (or loses it) or meets that need. In doing so, that character changes, grows or learns something.
So, how DO we create memorable characters?

For me, every story begins with the main character. I’ll be thinking “what ifs” and a character will parachute into my head. This usually gets me pretty excited! I get a rough idea of what’s going to happen to this character and how they are going to react.

Next, I get to know that character really well. Some writers do this on paper or screen. I do it mentally for picture books. I can actually “see” the character. That picture is sometimes sketchy. I learn more and more about that character as I write the story.

I try to keep the following in mind with my characters.

 

1. Is this person acting and reacting in realistic ways?
Is this really how a kid this age would think? Talk? Act? React to this situation? If not, ask kids that age how they would act or react. Or watch popular kid’s shows on TV. Or observe kids at a park, library, mall. (Careful! No stalking!)

2. Does this character have flaws?
If so, GOOD! Nobody is perfect. Do these flaws affect how they will react further down the story line? Readers can’t relate to a character who never gets in trouble, never has a mean thought, never acts sneaky, never laughs at someone else’s mistakes. If a character or their life is all good, there’s no story for me to write. My character must have room to grow in the story. Also, does my bad guy have at least one redeeming trait? One tiny grain of goodness in their soul?

3. Have I created enough CONFLICT in this kid’s life or situation?
Here is my personal nemesis. I hate conflict! But NO CONFLICT means NO STORY. Remember the elements of story? Conflicts, problems, issues, sticky situations are the blood and bone of story. No problems to face, to overcome??? YAWN!

4. Is this character someone my readers will love, or maybe hate? Can they feel for them?
If readers don’t identify with or connect with a character either positively or negatively they won’t keep reading the story.

5. Is this character bigger-than-life? Sometimes my characters start with someone I know personally, or someone I see out in public. Are they cute? Make them cuter. Funny? Make them funnier. Sneaky? Make them sneakier. EXAGGERATION, ABSURDITY, PREPOSTEROUSNESS (Yes, that is a real word.) make readers laugh and cry, tremble and shriek with your characters. And it makes them identify with your characters because they know that they themselves are not perfect either.

6. Is this character well-rounded in the story, or one dimensional? Do I SHOW (not tell) how they think? How they act? How they feel? How they speak? Do they always say the same thing? Act exactly the same way? A character who doesn’t fluctuate or change isn’t acting human, and adds nothing to the story.

7. Are each of my characters distinctive? Does the way each of them speaks and acts instantly show my reader which character is in the scene? Can I write dialogue without tags so that readers can identify who is saying each line?

8. Does my main character have one primary trait that the story focuses on? Is their story about their courage? Their fear? Their loneliness? Their optimism? Deciding this gives me a good clue as to the theme of my story. Isolating the way my main character changes identifies the theme of the story.

9. Have I built motivation into this character? Is their need, desire or problem big enough to motivate them to do the things they must do to make the story great? If not, I need to change their personality or situation enough to drive them to go after their goal.

A great story filled with action is fun to read. But if we want readers to ask for more, to keep reading the things we write, we must tell that story through amazing and unforgettable characters.

 

Now plop down in that desk chair and create someone who is unforgettable!

 

 

NEED MORE HELP?

Joyce Hostetter will be presenting on Creating Memorable Characters at our Master Class on September 19. You can find more information here. We hope to see you there!

 

5 Tips for Using and Understanding Literal and Figurative Language Part I

Tip #1: Use clear definitions and illustrations to distinguish literal from metaphorical.

For writers and readers alike, understanding the terms literal and figurative (metaphorical) is essential: what do they actually mean? And how can we distinguish the way language is being used, whether in conversation, on social media, in literature, in advertisements, in business documents, in poetry, or in the Bible?

Recognizing the type of language used in any text or conversation is an essential skill

  1. LITERAL language represents a physical or actual being, object, process, event, idea, or statement (process: sterilization, event: celebration; idea: E=MC2 ; etc.).

EXAMPLES: “I saw a heron fly up from the creek one morning last winter.”(statement/event)

  • CHAIR – an object (furniture) to sit on
  • FOX: a mammal with four legs, red or gray fur, a long, pointed snout, and a bushy tail.
  • KING: a man with political authority over a country or region; he is treated with respect by his subjects and ambassadors from other nations. He may have inherited his kingship, taken it by force, or received it by agreement of those he governs. Bible references to God or Jesus as King are literal claims of His rightful authority to rule.
  • EGGSHELLS: the hard, thin outer covering of a bird’s or other animal’s egg.
  1. METAPHORICAL language represents a concept, idea, or experience using figures of speech which people in a cultural group recognize. Examples include symbol, embellished language, simile, formal [ceremonial] language, humor, sarcasm, exaggeration, understatement, irony, satire, etc.

EXAMPLES: “the wild, light, slender bird that floats and wavers, and goes back like an arrow presently to his home in the green world beneath.  [“A White Heron” -Sarah Orne Jewett] simile

  • CHAIR: “My chair gave me two new projects this week.” We recognize that furniture is not bossing someone around. Here, CHAIR means a person in charge of a company or department, who can give orders because of the position of authority that person holds.
  • FOX: Jesus (when told that Herod wanted to see Him) said, “Go tell that fox . . . “

Why does Jesus call Herod a fox? Foxes’ stealthy behavior gives them a reputation of being sneaky. Calling someone a fox indicates that person shouldn’t be trusted

  • KING: In the game checkers, a piece that crosses the board to the back row of the opponent’s side becomes a “King,” with extra power to move and change direction. A player whose piece reaches this point says, “King me!” The player hasn’t become a ruler, but the king reference symbolizes the increased power of the player’s doubled piece.

A celebrity who is acknowledged as the first or best in an art form or sport may be called “King of . . . “ Jazz, Rock and Roll, etc. [or simply, as with Elvis, “the King.” ]

  • EGGSHELLS: People complain about having to “walk on eggshells.” Children might picture someone walking on a broken egg with or without shoes (‘yuck” and ouch”). What we mean is a sensitive person or situation that we’re trying not to make worse by something we say or do.

Seeing literal and figurative language in books for young children

Writers for very young children work mostly with literal language, helping children learn basic vocabulary. Some board and picture books simply show words and pictures of objects, actions, and people. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (Al Perkins, Eric Gurney), depicts various functions these body parts can do and introduces plurals and number concepts (one thumb, two thumbs, one or more monkeys) . . . [https://vimeo.com/54193963 ]

Inside, Outside, Upside Down, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, illustrates prepositions and adverbs like in, out, inside, outside, over and under Pictures show different positions of objects or persons and objects in relation to each other.

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman, begins with literal words like “Go” and “Stop” before moving on to humorous, fictional, and more abstract concepts as dogs drive cars, ride skateboards, and end up partying in a huge tree house.

Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary, reveals problems caused by literal/metaphorical confusion for five-year-old Ramona. One literal situation that turns out well, though, comes when Ramona allows her neighbor and classmate, Howie, to remove a back wheel of her tricycle. Initially skeptical that this will ruin her trike, she accepts Howie’s assertion that she will have a “two-wheeler,” and careens, zooms, and balances on her newly modified ride.

Other episodes focus on Ramona’s imagination, assumptions, or misinterpretations of what grown-ups say. Ramona herself feels constantly misunderstood as the youngest child in her family. Rejecting anything she thinks makes her look “babyish,” she nonetheless emphasizes her individuality by putting a tail, ears, and whiskers on the “Q” of her last name.Her teacher’s direction to “Sit here for the present” results in a standoff when Ramona refuses to budge until she sees “the present.”

Do kids really need to interpret literal or metaphorical concepts?

We introduce children to imagination and figurative language with humor and games: puns, teasing, peek-a-boo, “let’s pretend,” hide and seek. Most children’s books include these elements, which children enjoy. Through them, they learn to deal with experiences like separation or loss, social interaction and complexity, interpreting differences in tone, facial expression, situations, and words. The combined input of words and personal interaction helps children acquire language skills and distinguish literal from metaphorical usage.

When you read to kids or discuss stories with them, do they demonstrate awareness of differences in literal or metaphorical language? What stories or activities help kids learn how to distinguish figures of speech from literal language? We’d love to see your comments here, on our social media, or email info.write2ignite@gmail.com .

Proverbs 13:12

Our Publishing Dreams

Proverbs 13:12

We’ve all had longings or yearnings during our lives, especially when we were young. Having the whole world before us, we could dream about what our lives would look like as writers/authors. “If only I could publish a book” “I wish I could find the perfect literary agent” “If I could only have more sales” “I wish more people would interact with my social media posts” “If only my family and friends would take my career as a writer seriously”. . . and so it goes.

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