Monday, February 28, 2011

Mark Twain Wisdom

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."
Mark Twain

And we have "word replace." Imagine the shock and ease of correcting overly used words.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. Robert Southey

I put up a sentence with extra words for my 9th graders to edit. It was rather obvious, or so I thought. The sentence: I just wanted to tell you that you are just great.

They easily identified the overuse of "just" and I erased them from the sentence. Good. Then a student suggested deleting "that."
Done. Then a stroke of brilliance shouted from a corner of the room, "If you really want to get rid of extra words, it should be 'You are great.'"

Why yes!

Some of the words that are so beautifully condensed have stayed with me for a long, long time. The first that comes to mind is Dostoevsky's from The Brother Karamazov. Unfortunately, I have to paraphrase: Be kind to children and animals for God gave them the beginnings of thought.

Beautiful and written with minimal words-just enough to explain a profound idea.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tom Romano Quote Worth Quoting

Voice is the writer's presence on the page. It is the sense we have while reading that someone occupies the middle of our mind, the sense we have while writing that something or someone is whispering in our ear. Tom Romano

I'm still asking myself about my own voice. If something is so distinguishable, so original, why don't I recognize my own? What does it take to develop my own voice? Yet, I think it is something like class-when someone has it, it is truly recognizable. Especially if I am the beneficiary of her classy actions.

Maybe voice requires the confidence it would take to let someone dwell inside or occupy my mind-an open book unashamed to let someone in or possibly let myself out. So maybe voice requires a letting go-to trust my thoughts so implicitly that I quit censuring what I want or need to say. Perhaps this is what keeps me from saying, "I have a great writing voice."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Voice-the Single Most Important Element of Writing

Can't buy it, borrow it, sell just is what it
Jennifer Rees is an assistant editor at Scholastic. She is the woman behind Hunger Games and several other well-known Ya's. I listened to her speak in Los Angeles last August. Putting together her thoughts and other editor/agent thoughts that I've heard over the last few years, I am overwhelmingly convinced that the single most important aspect of anyone's manuscript is that the first page, but especially the first line must be intriguing, must catch their attention. You could have the best book in the world but if it doesn't start off beautifully, with a punch or a bang or a thrill, it will never go anywhere.

So entranced was she with the beginnings of Hunger Games, that Ms. Rees missed the subway stop to pick up her own children. That is what an author has to do these days if she wants her work published. In Ms. Rees' own words, a manuscript has to say to her, "Hey you. I know you're busy-come with me."

When she picks up a manuscript from the slush pile or one sent from an agent, she turns to the first page and reads the first page until she's bored...and she expects to be bored.
Again, voice is the most powerful and absorbing aspect of the manuscript.
Her recommendations for studying voice are:
Cynthia Rylant-When I was Young in the Mountains
Sunny Holiday-Forget Me Not
Sarah Pennypacker-Clementine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Flash From Heaven --Alice Sebold Continued

"Waking at 4A.m.-3a.m. when i am truly driven --is surely no fun for anyone, but having an image sneak up on you before the rest of the world wakes up is heaven. A small and precious secret that no one can see in the dark. Hours later, when the house stirs and I hear my husband making a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen, I begin to feel the pressures of the day invade. I feel as if the air around me literally changes, and the work that comes then is harder and driven by will, not grace. I finish up for the day--always in the middle of something with notes jotted down that make no sense to anyone )and if I leave my desk for more than a day, that often includes me)--and go into the world of responsibilities where that necessary if often oppressive goddess of discipline takes center stage.

The work I leave behind in my study is unfinished and unknowable almost every day. Characters come alive and die in an instant, metaphors wobble, and sentences shift meaning without my fully understanding how. After all, conscious though is the death of creativity and to have faith in one's unconscious is the ultimate need of a writer--at least this one. Dreams go unfinished while we sleep but can be completed upon waking if we both have faith and are willing to do the grueling work of followthrough. In this way faith is a figment, a dream, a creation--something beautiful I never hope to lose.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Understanding the Myth of Writing With Help from Alice Sebold

As a writer, I've experienced the mysterious-ness of writing. I once dreamt an entire newspaper column, woke up, wrote it up and saw it in print a few weeks later.
As a writer, I've experienced the magic of an idea.
I've heard of writers dreaming their story.
Alice Sebold wrote a short article for the Oprah magazine in May of 2007. I loved it, saved it and am now recording it:

In some sense, faith is what I'm all about and also what can disappear in the blink of an eye. For a writer, it is as simple as words coming easily one day and failing you the next. During bleak times, when my characters sound like so many holiday-drunk-relatives--and not the garrulous kind--I reassure myself that writing, like dreaming, is a function of my unconscious and will never leave me entirely on my own. I wake in the very early morning and like to start an hour or two before sunrise as if to catch the tailwind of my dreams. Also, pragmatically, I prefer to start when all the judges are still sleepy, including the harshest one--myself.

A difficult lesson, which I fought at every turn, is that what often must substitute for faith is discipline. Faith has a lovely ease about it, an ethereal ring. Discipline is the rod, the staff, your insecurities internalized and sprouting rules and limits on your life. Why can't I just have faith that books will be completed? Why isn't faith alone enough? I hear my Southern roots respond. Faith doesn't dig ditches, they say; faith doesn't scrape the burn from the bottom of the pot. Ultimately, faith gives freedom, and discipline, its sister, makes sure the job gets done. Authors, when alone, often talk of page counts or word counts or how many hours they spent working that day. Rarely do we discuss our own attempts at poetry even though it is the poetry of others that routinely charges us with enough faith to go on.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Revision snippets from notes taken at various writing conferences ( cleaning out files):
I look for bad transitions, unnecessary words, and descriptive gaps. And I pay attention to the pace and the music of the words. Janet Evanovich
Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost...clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering. William Zinsser
With every small refinement I feel that I'm coming nearer to where I would like to arrive, and when I finally get there I know it was the rewriting, not the writing, that won the game. William Zinsser
When am I finished rewriting? Never. The novel never attains the level of perfections (you will know when to stop rewriting ) when yo see the problems but, no matter how hard you try, you can't improve on what you have. That's it. Walter Moseley
To write is human, to edit is divine
. Stephen King
See revision as envisioning again. If there are areas in your work where there is a blur or vagueness, you can simply see the picture again and add the details that will bring your work closer to your mind's picture. Natalie Goldberg
Approach revision the same way you approach writing--with the understanding that there is no right way and the assurance that you will learn how to do it by doing it. Lisa Garrigues
Just as stories aren't written but rewritten, so should beginnings be written and rewritten. Look at your opening and ask yourself, "If I were reading this, would I be intrigued enough to go on?: Barnaby Conrad
I write my stories in scenes and always from a particular character's point of view. Then i may rewrite the same scene from a different character's point of view and find that it works better. Elmore Leonard
The best approach to rewriting is an attitude of discovery, seeking to find the inherent form in each small section within the sprawling rough draft, and editing out or chipping away anything that does not serve the idea. Then comes the building-up phase when skeletal impressions are fleshed out and specific examples and more precise language are added. Roberta Jean Bryant
It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing. Time allows for distance and objectivity about your work. Natalie Goldberg

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is Writing Ever Finished?

When I come to the end I will... pause for that ever precious moment of completion. I will reverence that a whole world, life and events have come to the page. A life has ended..had begun. How did they get there? Some stories have always lived but where did they live? Is it a primordial association? Is there a library of writeable thoughts in the deep recesses of the brain, or do they reside in the heart? Is there a valve that stories flow from? Or are stories like butterflies, twitting about an author poised with her net-catching a monarch?
When I come to the end it will only be another beginning. A beginning of revision and edit, a search for a home.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Little Details About Word Choice

Even, just, really---Excessive words to be used only if absolutely necessary-cut those trite words.
Use word search to ferret them out like termites in the attic. Words such as then, or so, can alert an author to overuse of compound sentences.
Prose has its own poetry and lyricism.

Strong words such as fettish, chortle--you know them-they can be overused too. Great phrases should be used only once.

Always read OUT LOUD. I'm starting to have my students regularly read their work out loud in class. I think they are surprised by the on-stage editing they do. It's one of the greatest editing tools.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nuggets from a Conference on Character & Dialogue

Characters must be necessary and different and have a specific purpose.
Characters must sound different in their voice-read dialogue without the tags. See if they really do sound different and their voices are distinguishable from one another.

Always consider body language and actions to show character personality. Actions speak louder than words; leave out the parts that readers will skip.

Every character needs back story. What may be obvious to the author may not be obvious to the readers.

Teenagers especially want to know what people look like and what they're wearying but this must be introduced subtly. In this line: she hitched up her jeans-we are given a slice of the personality. I like to think of a character as a 10 course meal and each part or personality, quirk, action, spoken word contributes to the 10 course character personality.

Language must match time, people, atmosphere.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Satisfying Ending Notes from Patti Sherlock Continued

4. Aristotle described a seven-point story incline. Three of them dealt with the story's ending
* The narrative climax is point 5. In it, the protagonist makes a strong moral statement. The statement can be in word, thought, or deed. It needn't be a statement; it can be implied. It signals a change of heart. Often, it's a statement of courage.
*The dramatic climax-point 6 grows out of the narrative climax. The reader gets to watch the protagonist put actions to her statement.
*The denouement, pt. 7, gives the reader a chance to say goodbye tothe character(s) he has come to love and care about. Often it's a chance to see the protagonist in her altered life.

5. We don't need to follow Aristotle's incline. It's a tool. And we mustn't let it get in the way of imagination. But it can be useful during rewriting.
*We can see whether a narrative and dramatic climax might strengthen our story.
*We can ask whether we've given the reader a chance to say goodbye.

6. During rewrite, we can ask ourselves:
*Did I tie up the loose ends?
Did I keep the ending honest?

My own notes:
*Surprise endings must be foreshadowed-can't come out of the blue
*If there are several subplots or even a few, they must all be resolved by the end of the book. Remember how we felt when "Lost" ended. So, so many subplots left unresolved...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

White Tornado

I've been re-shuffling my study-drawers, boxes, files and a lot of writing information is stacking up. I'm going through as much as I can; gleaning all that's important and turning them into writing posts. The convenience of a blog!
From a SCBWI writing conference in SLC 2008-a handout by Patti Sherlock author of Letters from Wolfie:
Satisfying Endings
1. It's okay to not plan ahead-
*character, theme and plot may change as you write
*Let your imagination carry you away, and carry the story.
*John Steinbeck, Tony Hillerman, Barbara Kingsolver report that the story points them where to go.
*Let go. Give up control

2. Writing, and how stories come to us, may be as mystical as religion/spirituality.
*Thomas Aquinas said we can't know what God is. We can only know what God is not. Something similar might be said of stories. We can't pin down how they work.
*In Aboriginal cultures and some earlier civilizations, the shaman, healer, medicine man/woman was often the story teller, too. Those cultures realized the link between the Gods and the persons the Gods gave stories to.

3. But even if we don't have to carefully plan or contrive them, we can be mindful of what effective endings do.
*They tell the reader the story is coming to an end. Then, they bring the story to a halt.
*Some books follow a pattern, as in musical pieces. In a sonata, the theme is expressed , repeated, and, near the end, recapitulated. Some books share this pattern.
*Strong endings don't resort to gimmicks. No deus ex machina, fairy godmothers, amnesia or lightning. The reader wants the protagonist to solve the problems.
*The ending does not have to be happy, but should be satisfying. It should have a feeling of inevitability about it.

Contd. in next post...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Creating Characters With Humor

Everyone loves to laugh. My favorite thing is to make my husband laugh--and then everyone else.
The notes below come from a panel on humor with Douglas Florian, Lenore Look, Mo Willems; I was only familiar with Mo Willems and his one picture book which I never thought was very funny. In spite of that, I've translated my notes in hopes that Becca Wilhite, in her upcoming class on truth (previously mentioned as humor at LDS storymakers will find something in the jumble below.

Brief one liners on writing humor (can be applied to any character development):
Write to illuminate character
Choose things that are not inherently funny
Pick something not funny
The manner in which you tell it so no one sees the funny coming
Do not start with ”I’m going to tell you something funny.”
Tangents help us to create diversions
Hide humor
Let bad, unexpected things happen to characters--do not protect characters
Give flaws

Perfect characters are humorless--will kill a book
Preoccupation with self-self delusions, overly enthusiastic, confident,
Spend time with character answer all the who what why when , how she feels, believes in, what you’re afraid of.

All characters are 50% me and 50% what you create
Don’t write to just make them laugh; make them writhe, laugh, hold their sides, roll on the floor.
Listen to kids, kids are funnier than adults, write it down.

Incongruity-in Look's Alvin series books: Shakespeare doesn’t fit within the Alvin books. When father gets mad, he curses in Shakespeare vernacular .
Look for incongruities in our own life.
Word play:
chapter title: the apes of math-a pairing of two words that really don't fit together.
Play with clich├ęs, flip them on their heads. Look originally wrote ”it really fried my patience" and changed to "It really fried my rice.”

The omission reader: the reader sees trouble coming but the character doesn’t.
Peggy rafman-all stories stem from embarrassing moments
The shock value of inappropriate behavior.
Why do humor? Is it just to make them laugh.
Surprise you and make you look again.
Failure, school, emotions, philosophy, society, religion,
Reading should be a path to the soul.
There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult thing-humor
Humor is a form of athletics-do it a lot to get good at it.
From a comedian's point of view-you have to write six months for 5 minutes of material.

Nobody knows what funny is. We only know what isn’t funny.

Mo Willems said that every draft becomes 20 % less words than the previous draft. So maybe the key to being funny is to edit, edit edit, because we all know----unedited work is not funny.!!!!