Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sound Advice..and Personal Reactions

I enjoyed reading SOUND RESOURCES, Julie's last post, and the various sites that she recommended for sound theory in writing, particularly in younger children's stories. Written Sounds, Rhyme Zone and Rhyme Weaver are all fun, informative and tickle the ear.

But it was the discussion of the thesaurus that got me thinking of that great literary tool that was first published in 1852 and has been used by students and writers ever since. I love my old copy which my father used as an engineering student at MIT. This worn book with covers falling off is an old friend and as I flip through it  I remember my Dad's stories of using at MIT in the prewar years.

My Dad loved reading, especially poetry, but also was deep into the sciences. Many of his fellow students did not have the same literary appreciation. It just wasn't in their DNA. Each year the engineering students were required to take a humanities class. When the professor would give an assignment that called for a review of a book or poem he would say, "Do a personal review. Give me your personal reaction." The classmates would come to my Dad and say, "Pete, what does he mean? Personal reaction?" They had different talents and their heads and ideas dwelled in abstract thought, scientific equations and structural components, not personal reactions. Dad would give them his best personal advice, using various tools, including the thesaurus.  

Most of us children's authors can't build bridges, satellites, or computers, but we can use the building blocks of our craft to make good literature for children with intriguing sounds and fun rhymes by using sound effectively and using these inventive websites for sound ideas as well as our thesaurus.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Sound Resources

In the process of revising a manuscript AGAIN, I’ve been digging in to some familiar and newly-found websites to ignite my creative flame. (And, darn it, yes, I am able to make the manuscript better, even though I swore the *#@$ thing was finished.)  I thought others might find some of these resources useful. 

One of my revision goals has been to use more powerful and descriptive words, especially since this story uses a lot of onomatopoeia—sound words.  If words like sizzle, snarl, twang, whallop, belch, boosh, flump get you thinking and describing more vividly, then check some of these sites out. 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Full Catastrophe Writing

One of my favorite feel good books (you know, from that section in the book store* nobody wants to be seen in) is Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  In it, he recounts the line from the movie of Nikos Kazantzaki's novel Zorba the Greek:

Zorba, have you ever been married?

to which Zorba replies...

...Of course I've been married.  Wife, house, kids, everything...the full catastrophe.

So, maybe if I heard my husband refer to our life together as a catastrophe I might get offended, but actually the term 'full catastrophe' here and in John Kabat-Zinn's book is meant to express the richness of life and all its many faces —good, bad and the gray stuff in between.  It speaks to the joys and sorrows, our personal trials and triumphs.

If that isn't a perfect metaphor for the writing journey, I'm not sure what is!

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Which I Discover My Character Has Purple Hair

Guess what, everybody? I'm using Pinterest and Google Images to help with my writing research!  I got the idea from wonderful   Stephanie Burgis, author of the wonderful  Kat, Incorrigible series of middle grade Regency romances with magic.

Here's an example of how it's working for me. One of my characters, Alastair, is a rocker kid with dyed hair and eyeliner. When I did a Google Images search  for BOY EYELINER I found him! 

Is he not adorable? Love the ironic eyeroll! Must incorporate the purple hair!  After some sleuthing, I discovered that in real life, his name is Adrian Heard and he lives in Australia. But to me he's clearly Alastair Templeton, a British-born rocker, New York resident and magic-loving sidekick to my heroines. Here's what else I learned:

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Monday, May 13, 2013

And the Moral of the Story Is . . .

 Children's books with a heavy-handed moral? Preachy? Teachy? Very disparaged. A few books can get away with an overt moral - Sendak's Pierre is an example. "The moral of  Pierre is: CARE." Klassen's recent Caldecott winner, This is Not My Hat, is a more subtle example - the morals are mostly in the illustrations.
Obviously, what counts is how the moral is presented. Recently, I had a good chuckle . . .

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

National Picture Book Writing Week

So this past week was National Picture Book Writing Week. Otherwise known as NaPiBoWriWee, created by picture book author, Paula Yoo. 

The challenge for NaPiBoWriWee is to draft seven picture books in seven days. As anyone who has ever attempted to write a picture book knows, this is an incredibly intense challenge.

And this year I decided to give it a try!

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Getting Out of the Story

Last month I wrote about pulling the reader into the story, hooking him so he couldn't put the book down. This month I'll write on getting out of the story, that is, the author getting out, not the reader.

Recently I line-edited a manuscript where the author, charming as he is, was ever present, directing the characters, commenting on their foibles, mulling over their actions and dialogue, with "in facts," "indeeds," and explanations of the characters' feelings. This is, by the way, a great story with an unusual theme and an action-packed plot. But as you can guess, as the author followed his characters' every move and thought, the plot thread grew dimmer and harder to find. With some good cutting, the plot popped out and sparkled.

It's easy to point out where others err. It's much harder to take the scissors or ax to one's own work. But trust me, unless it's a personal essay, the reader does not care what the writer thinks.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Idea File

An hour after I read Robin's last post and video about where she got her inspiration, I found a ten-year-old idea file. I had forgotten this file existed. It wasn't in the right place. (At least it was in a folder in a file drawer.)

I pulled it out, wondering what stories interested me when I first began my writing journey.

Turns out I was interested in crime. Teen-age crime.

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