Monday, September 26, 2016

Guest Post by Joyce Hostetter: On Writing a War Series

Congratulations to Michelle Leonard for winning Radioactive! on last week's blog.
If you read my blog regularly, than you are no stranger to my friend Joyce Hostetter who I have featured on my blog many times. It is my privilege to host her today as she shares her reflections on some behind the scenes thoughts on writing a war series. Take it away, Joyce!

When I wrote BLUE I thought I was writing a book about polio. I had no idea that it would grow into a series that would make a statement about war and its effects on family.   However my hometown’s polio epidemic took place in 1944 so it was a natural for my protagonist’s father to be drafted.

Ann Fay is exceptionally attached to her wise, affectionate Daddy when he leaves home, asking her to be “the man of the house” in his stead.  While Leroy is away at war, she faces multiple challenges while longing for the day he returns. She hopes against hope that he will come out alive and unscathed.
But is it possible to survive the battlefield, emotionally unscarred?  
After publishing BLUE, I did not intend to write a sequel.  However, Ann Fay’s voice kept echoing in my head.  And other things echoed there too—memories of childhood friendships with children whose fathers had served in WWII and The Korean Conflict.  War Trauma and PTSD were not yet identified in the 1960s.  I don’t know all the factors that contributed to these men’s personalities, their alcoholism, and abuse of spouses and children but I knew they all had combat memories in common.  
I suspect they each had war going on inside their heads.  
Later, much later, one of those friends told me what a gentle man her father was before going to war.  “He never wanted to kill people,” she said.  I thought about that man with the soul of a poet who played guitar and composed original music.  I considered the times I’d been in his presence and how gentle he still appeared to be. And I remembered that when his family was growing up he was unable to hold down a job.  My friend told me that, while she was still a child, one morning, in an attempt to motivate him to go to work, she actually took his bed apart with him in it.   
So having published BLUE, I decided to listen to the echoes.  I began to ask myself how Ann Fay’s relationship with her father would be changed by his war experiences. The result was the publication of COMFORT, a story about a girl and her father each on their own post-trauma journeys and how they begin to heal.

Ann Fay is much like the friend I mentioned above.  The one who tried to prod her father into going to work.  You would think such an action would have provoked abuse.  But I don’t know that my friend’s father was abusive to her.  Apparently he saved that for one of her brothers. And I see the devastation in that grown son’s life today. 
I see the pain of war moving down the family lines of my other friends.
When my publisher asked me to write a prequel to BLUE and COMFORT I knew immediately who the story would be about—Junior Bledsoe, Ann Fay’s neighbor.  I would explore his emotional journey after his father’s death. And as I began to listen again to those echoes I discovered the story of four generations of men traumatized by war. That story, AIM, will be released on October 4.

I’m not a sociologist but my reflections on life, my research on wars, and war trauma lead to me believe that war begats war. Trauma gives rise to more trauma and the cycle is in great danger of repeating itself.
How do we stop that cycle?  
I believe stories, historical fiction, in particular, help us to listen to history.  As a historical novelist, my task is to find the universal truth or emotion that will hold a reader and focus attention on history that might otherwise be overlooked. 

Although I don’t set out to write anti-war novels, I hope that my stories encourage readers to reflect on the effects of war and to consider alternatives.  I trust that even in their personal lives they will observe that anger and arguments give rise to more of the same. After all, change begins at home and the ripples spread.  Better that they be ripples of peace than those that lead to war.
Next week I am reviewing AIM using material from a workshop I took with Jillian Sullivan at Highlights Summer Camp. PLUS I'll be giving away two ARCS.  Stay tuned!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World-- A Review and a Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won my Mr. Puffball Stunt Cat Across America ARC and Linda Phillips who won the hardcover book. Thanks to all of you for entering. Lots more giveaways coming up, starting right here.

Radioactive! is one of those books that makes you wish you had listened better during high school chemistry and physics. But even if your high school days were a long time ago like mine were, Winifred Conkling has written the history of how artificial radioactivity was discovered in such an engaging and reader-friendly way, that the science is accessible.  Better yet, it made an unscientific person like myself want to understand concepts like nuclear fission and transuranic elements. And that says a lot! 

Radioactive! is the story of how two largely unknown women- Irene Curie and Lise Meitner--worked independently on this important discovery. I selected this book from Recorded Books because Lillie, the African American protagonist in Half-Truthswants to become a scientist.  Irene's and Lise's stories helped me gain insight into Lillie's motivation and her thoughts about science.

Irene Curie 

Conkling includes the backstory for both scientists. Irene, the daughter of famous Marie Curie who developed the theory of radioactivity, seems to have been born to be a scientist. She was educated along with other French children of notable academics, studied science at the Sorbonne, and her doctorate dissertation was on the alpha rays of polonium, the element her parents discovered (along with radium) that was named after Marie's country of origin, Poland. 
Irene and Marie
working together in 1925
Irene worked with her mother during WWI helping to set up and operate mobile x-ray units. Irene not only inherited her mother's passion for science, but also the conviction that women scientists should be treated equally with men. Like her mother, she received a Noble prize in Chemistry (Marie also received one for Physics). But unfortunately,  Irene's death--like her mother's--was a result of working closely with radioactive materials. 
In 1934 the Joliot-Curies finally made the discovery that sealed their place in scientific history. Building on the work of Marie and Pierre Curie, who had isolated naturally-occurring radioactive elements, the Joliot-Curies realized the alchemist’s dream of turning one element into another: creating radioactive nitrogen from boron, radioactive isotopes of phosphorus from aluminum, and silicon from magnesium.....
Irène’s group pioneered research into radium nuclei that led a separate group of German physicists, led by Otto HahnLise Meitner, and Fritz Strassman, to discover nuclear fission: the splitting of the nucleus itself, emitting vast amounts of energy.ène_Joliot-Curie.

Lise Meitner

 As a child growing up in Austria, Lise Meitner kept a notebook under her pillow of things she was enthralled with such as the colors of oil slicks and reflected light. As a grown woman, she was not allowed to attend a public institution of higher learning so she studied physics privately. Since she enjoyed both mathematics and physics, she attended lectures on both subjects and was the second woman in Austria to receive a doctorate degree in physics. Born of Jewish parents, she converted to Christianity as an adult. 

These excerpts from Wikipedia, summarize Meitner's scientific career: 
In 1912 the research group Hahn–Meitner moved to the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute (KWI) in Berlin-Dahlem, south west in Berlin. She worked without salary as a "guest" in Hahn's department of Radiochemistry. It was not until 1913, at 35 years old and following an offer to go to Prague as associate professor, that she got a permanent position at KWI.

In 1917, she and Hahn discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry.[11]
In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. In 1935, as head of the physics department of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem (today "Hahn-Meitner-Building of the Free University) she and Otto Hahn, the director of the KWI, undertook the so called "transuranium research" program. This program eventually led to the unexpected discovery of the nuclear fission of heavy nuclei in December 1938, half a year after she had left Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie".[11][22][23]
World War II divided countries and scientists. Even though protected for a time by her Austrian citizenship, when the Nazis found out she had Jewish parents, she was forced to flee Germany. Exiled in the Netherlands and then in Sweden, Meitner continued her research--although without her precious laboratory equipment.

World War II

I admit that the science behind their discoveries is incredible. But what interested me was how the war changed everything for Meitner and Curie. Suddenly, the research they had done to harness the huge power within the atom, was taken out of their hands and used to create the atomic bomb. Both woman wanted nucleaer energy to be used in peaceful ways. Neither anticipated an application for warfare and both felt guilty after hearing of the destruction in Hiroshima. 

Nuclear fission experimental setup, reconstructed at the Deutsches Museum, Munich
In an interview with the West German television (ARD, March 8, 1959) Meitner said:[30]
Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann were able to do this by exceptionally good chemistry, fantastically good chemistry, which was way ahead of what any one else was capable of at that time. The Americans learned to do it later. But at that time, Hahn and Strassmann were really the only ones who could do it. And that was because they were such good chemists. Somehow they really succeeded in using chemistry to demonstrate and prove a physical process.
Although I quoted Wikipedia above, I can assure you that Winifred Conkling did an amazing amount of original research before writing Radioactive! and that is apparent when reading or listening to this book. Readers will be fascinated by the interplay of science, history, and political intrigue. 

I am giving away my copy of this audio CD in conjunction with the fall issue of Talking Story on Radiation: Friend or Foe. Leave me a comment by September 23 for one chance to win this excellent book that would be useful in a middle or high school classroom. Share this on social media or leave another comment through Talking Story and you'll be entered twice. Just make sure that you tell me what you have done and PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to this blog. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America- A Review and TWO Giveaways!

Some of you may remember when I featured NC author, Constance Lombardo, and her debut graphic novel, Mr Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars. I'm happy to report that the sequel, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America is being released on September 27 by Harper Collins. So, for all you Constance Lombardo fans, here's the scoop on Mr. P's next adventure!

Mr. Puffball has a problem. He's tired of suffering burns, bruises, frost-bite, and all manner of stunt-cat injuries to his pride and person.  He is itching to do more. So when his friend and mega-movie star El Gato wants Mr. P. to co-star in a buddy movie with him--he can't refuse. 

Figuring that their movie will be his ticket to stardom, he is ready to start filming when El Gato informs him that they don't have the cash they need for a director, costumes, extras...well, just about everything. Turned down by the head honchos of Purramuont Studios in favor of Jude Claw and Benedict Cumbercat, Mr. P. decides to take the bull by the horns (or maybe the tiger by its tail?). He and El Gato will make a demo reel that outshines Cumbercat's and show Purramount who they should hire to star in Mac and Cheesy's Excellent Adventure.

Cue Mr. Puffball.

Mr. P. and El Gato, along with their friend Rosie as the director, set off across America on their Cross-Country Road Trip Demo Reel Adventure.

Even though Mr. P. wants to shed his stunt-cat identity, young readers will applaud his courage as he outwits hobos in Las Vegas,  jumps through fire at the Cirque de Soleil, and rescues Pickles, the adorable kitten who has joined them, from drowning in the Colorado River. In typical Mr. Puffball fashion, he doesn't always understand how courageous he's been until Rosie gets her footage and they're on the road to their next destination. 
Pickles makes his debut!
Constance brings all the characters to life through her animated drawings as well as through the voice of the characters. Besides Mr. P. himself, one of my favorites is Bruiser, the Russian stunt cat who trained Mr. P. Early in the story he flies into the hobo camp from a passing train exclaiming, "Looking out Below!" When he lands on his paws after a perfect flip he says, "Mr. Puffyball! How you here?" From that moment on, his voice is heard as he travels across America--often saving Mr. P. from disaster. 

I don't want to spoil the story, so you'll have to get your own copy to read about all the crazy adventures the crew has on their way across America.

Constance and I are giving you two chances to win her latest Mr. Puffball creation. I have my autographed ARC to give away and she will send an autographed book to another winner. Leave me a comment by September 16 and I'll enter your name in this double giveaway.  Share on your social media of choice and/or become a new follower of my blog and I'll give you an extra chance to win; just make sure you leave me your email address and tell me what you did. This book will definitely entertain the 3-7th grade reader in your life.

PLUS: If you live near Asheville, NC, Constance's book launch is at Malaprop's Bookstore on October 8.

In case you're new to Mr. Puffball's adventures, here is how it all began:

And yes, there will be a third Mr. Puffball book in early 2018! Hooray!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Moments and Memories: Summer Camp at Highlights Part V

It's been over a month since I've returned from summer camp at Highlights. In this last post I leave you some of my lasting impressions from the week.

When you attend a workshop at Highlights Foundation, this Welcome sign on the Barn will greet you,

as well as a sign on the screen window of your temporary home.

You may stay in one of these cabins

Photo courtesy Judie Anderson Offerdahl 

and will definitely eat wonderful food like this.

What, whip cream again??

You'll probably have a drink or two when schmoozing with your fellow writers before dinner.

Of course, you'll go to classes,

Jillian Sullivan's students appreciating her
presentation of The Hero's Journey.

And yes, there is time to write too.
Photo courtesy Gayle Krause
Pictured: Theresa Milstein and faculty member, Mitali Perkins

There will be time to play,
Photo courtesy Jilanne Hoffman

So many words to choose from!
The Word Garden

It was fun rearranging stones, adding and subtracting.
and creating new sentences and phrases.
Great classroom activity!
time to meet favorite authors,

Clark Gillow Clark and I are Twitter
friends. It was great meeting her in person!
and time to collect autographs.
Enjoyed talking to Lamar Giles who
shared personal stories of colorism after he
heard about Half-Truths

In your cabin you'll find a stuffed bookcase, lovely prints, and NO TV!

Do you see that little black book under the Native American picture? That's a journal where past residents leave their thoughts for future workshop participants. This will be fun to read and if you're fortunate, there will even be an encouraging entry from someone special. 

You will leave with a pile of books like this.

And when you return home, you'll receive a wonderful memento of your time at Highlights.

If you write or illustrate for children or aspire to do that one day, do whatever it takes to attend a Highlights workshop. You will be glad you did. 

And when you go, make sure you tell them that THE Carol Baldwin sent you.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Susan Says: Summer Camp at Highlights Part IV

Today I'm pleased to bring you a distillation of Susan Campbell Bartoletti's excellent key note, "The DIY Home Guide to Repair for Your Story." Her lecture was rich and I can only touch on some of her presentation--but look for a future book review that will use additional material from her talk. In preparing for this blog Susan acknowledged that her lecture was the result of what she has learned--from her own experience as well as from the wonderful people she has met in her own journey as an author. Susan cautions that these are not rules, but rather suggestions. "Writers often find their own way, once they have a map."

Rough Draft:  Your rough draft is your “get words on the page” stage. It’s not a first draft. 

You won’t know what your book is about until you have written your story from beginning to end. So write it through. Trust that your ending will inform your beginning. Once you’ve written it through, you will be ready for a true first draft.

TIP: Once you’ve written it through, read it from beginning to end without pens and pencils. Otherwise you’re tempted to tinker. Don’t. As Dennis Foley says, “You can’t tinker a novel into working.” 

After reading through this preliminary draft, consider the following questions: 
  1. What was the story you wanted to write?
  2. What was the story you actually wrote? 
If you wrote the story you intended to write, great. You’re ready to roll up your sleeves and begin the work on the first draft.  If you didn’t, decide which is the better story and what you have to do to fix it. 

First Draft:  This is the fix-the-storyline draft. 

Determine which scenes have to be added, deleted, rearranged, or revise.  (Carol’s note: I wrote several “first drafts" before I was happy with the storyline for Half-Truths.) 

Ask yourself: Did you begin your story at the best possible time? What do you have to kill off?  

Your first idea is often clichéd and has to be thrown out.  A first draft often needs bold changes. 

  • Play with the order of your narrative. 
  • Figure out what’s missing.
  • Write missing scenes. 
  • Add them into your manuscript. Susan does not do this on her computer. She uses a yellow legal pad and writes out the new scenes and inserts them into printed manuscript. Why? Because of the next tip.

TIP: Big changes require retyping.  Retyping will smooth out an uneven voice.

TIP: Every book should have a story problem. This problem can often be articulated as a Major Dramatic Question (MDQ) that can be answered yes or no.  For example In Sarah Plain and Tall, Anna wants a mother. This is a concrete goal, more than “she wants love” which is abstract. MDQ: Will she get a mother? In the climax, this question is raised: Will Anna get Sarah as a mother?
Susan with Kathy Erskine and Mitali Perkins
at Summer Camp

The MDQ is raised in the inciting incident and then trumpeted - raised again with more at stake - in the climax. It's the resolution that answers the MDQ. In the climax to Sarah, Plain and Tall, Sarah rides off in the wagon. We don't know if she's going to come back. We don't know if Anna will get the mother she so badly needs and wants. Our hearts are about to break, just as Anna's heart is about to break.  The resolution begins when Sarah returns. Our hearts are still thumping a bit because the falling action of the story doesn't mean that every battle is over, but then she stays and all is well and we have the final answer to the MDQ. 

TIP: To figure out what’s missing, outline your rough draft. This will help you find track your narrative action. It will help you find plotting holes and scenes that don’t turn. 


Sequence of events, which constitute your character’s attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal. 

Consider PACING

How quickly do events unfold?
  • This is about tension and how quickly the story moves through the plot. How the story unfolds.
  • The breath of the book, the breath of the story.
  • Reflected in the length of the sentences.

Consider STAKES:

  • What’s at stake if your main character fails to achieve his goal?
  • What’s your main character’s biggest fear if he or she doesn’t achieve this goal?
  • What are the consequences?

Goals and consequences create dramatic tension in your story.  (Don’t let your character get to her goal too easily. Then the story is over.)

In each key scene, the character should be at a crossroads. He or she must make a decision and risk something that is against his or her moral fiber. 

Summarize the story from the antagonist’s POV. The stronger the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist will become.


If you place too many in the beginning, then you’re not starting at the right moment. See if you can insert them within the text. 

Second and Third Drafts and Beyond:  

The polishing stage. You revise your story with an eye toward scenes, character and characterization, narration, dialogue.

TIP: Change line space. 1.5. or 2 inch margins. Print it out and it’ll look like a real book. That will help with the next revision. 

TIP: Revise for dialogue. Make sure dialogue does what it has to do.

TIP:  The best language grows out of the emotional and physical landscapes of your characters.

Susan uses a writing notebook for each book she writes. She jots down scenes and characters as well as what she’ll write the next day. At night she reviews what she’s going to write the next day. Then she lets the “sleep committee” (as John Steinbeck called it) take over. She stops in the middle of scenes so she can pick up there.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award-winning author of picture books, novels, and nonfiction for children, including the Newbery Honor book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, the Sibert Medal winning Black Potatoes, and the acclaimed The Boy Who Dared. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors, including the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. She also teaches in the low- residency Writing for Children MFA program at Spalding University. For more information, contact her at

For the previous posts about Highlights Summer Camp please go to:

Gems from Jan- Part III

Monday, August 22, 2016

#MGGetsReal: Behind the Scenes with Joyce Hostetter

Next week I'll return to my posts on Highlights Summer Camp, but today I wanted to share an intriguing marketing initiative.

You may have seen #MGGetsReal floating around the Internet this past month. And you may know that it involves five dynamite middle grade authors: Shannon Wiersbitzky, Shannon Hitchcock, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, and Kerry O'Malley Cerra. 

But do you know how it came about? In this exclusive interview with Joyce, you're going to see how this marketing effort was formulated and how this team carried it out.

How did you all decide to form the #MGGetsReal group? Who was behind it? How did you choose the title? 

Let’s blame this on Shannon Wiersbitzky. I think she’d participated in joint marketing initiatives before. But anyway, I received an email inquiring if I’d be interested in joining a few authors in a concentrated promotional campaign for one month.  Of course, I said, YES even though it was going to jolt me out of my comfortable blogging lethargy.

We five authors brainstormed via emails. Shannon envisioned a hashtag that could be used via social media.  We tried out a few, keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate, how visually clear we could make it in a hashtag, and what would be punchy and memorable.  #MGGetsReal emerged. Of course we did other brainstorming too, to establish the criteria for this effort.

Are you particularly targeting middle grade teachers? If so, how? Have you had any response to this?

We hope to reach Middle Grade teachers and school librarians, although we adore readers of all ages and professions!  We chose the month of August because educators would be gearing up for a new school year. We wrote articles and blog posts and offered to guest blog for a variety of teacher and librarian groups that we have connections with. 

Shannon W. assembled images of our books covers that we all could use and I (with help from my daughter) developed a video that introduced our books. 

Kathy landed a blogging slot at Literacy and NCTE and Shannon H. introduced our video at Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read

Shannon also cranked out terrific blog posts and articles that inspired the rest of us to get to work. 

Kerry compiled an astounding list of Middle Grade Books About Tough Topics.  

I used our Talking Story platform to create a newsletter to send to educators. 

We all blogged more than usual and reviewed each other books.  And we’re Facebooking and Tweeting a lot too!

I would love to tell you that our book sales spiked as a result and that teachers across America are choosing to use our books in their classroom. But of course, we have no idea just yet how the campaign will play itself out.  However, we believe the awareness of our titles is spreading and we’ve certainly fallen in love with each other’s books. Perhaps, best of all, we’ve built a small community of cooperation among ourselves as authors.  That’s worth a whole lot. We also know that this is likely the beginning of a movement that other authors will pick up and continue.  Our effort is simply the first wave. 

Please share the common threads between the books and tell us how COMFORT fits into the mix?

Tough topics—that’s the common thread.  Hard things happen in life and we want middle graders to discover characters who face difficulties with courage and creativity.

In WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky, Delia is especially resourceful when her surrogate grandfather develops Alzheimer’s, finding a way to help him remember his life experiences. She does this by drawing the whole town into retelling stories of his life. It’s such a beautiful novel with themes of legacy and flowers and memory and love.  How is that similar to COMFORT?  An adult family member has mental struggles and the protagonist helps him to connect with community. 

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw tells the story of Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. And yes, it describes the bombing and its aftermath.  This is such a profound story and I think Ann Fay feels the profundity of that devastation in COMFORT when her family hears the announcement of the Hiroshima bombing on the radio. This is the moment when Daddy’s post war trauma really begins to manifest itself. Both are books about war and how it changes a character’s world.

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Two boys, one Christian and one Muslim find their world and their friendship grinds to a halt in the aftermath of the attacks.  Jake the protagonist may be misguided in the ways he sticks up for his friend but his loyalty is always there. He is persistent too and those characteristics remind me of Ann Fay in COMFORT. 

In Shannon Hitchcock’s RUBY LEE AND ME, Sara Beth Mills lives in racially segregated North Carolina.  Ann Fay in COMFORT, does too. The difference is that Sara Beth has an African-American friendship that is actually threatened by school integration. Ann Fay has experienced a brief friendship with a black girl at an integrated hospital but is now separated from her. She is unable to reestablish that friendship. Both girls have family members they desperately want to be well.

Each of these books is about character and the human spirit and how it responds during really tough times. We trust that our protagonists will give readers the confidence that they can face  real life challenges.

To enter the giveaway of all five books (open to teachers and librarians), please visit our #MGGetsReal website and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gems from Jan: Summer Camp at Highlights Part III

I first met Jan Cheripko, author of Rat; Sun, Moon, Stars, Rainand Imitate The Tiger, when we both presented at a South Carolina Reading Association conference several years ago. I admire his tight prose in which young men face peer pressure and/or tough choices. His workshop at camp was on secondary characters and transitions. Since I'd never studied either of those in particular, I thought I’d learn some tips for Half-Truths and some advice to pass on to all of you. Below is a synopsis of his two presentations. 

Photo by Gayle Krause

On Secondary Characters

Pay attention to your secondary character’s motivations and make sure you develop a distinct identity for them. If you are only using a secondary character to advance the plot, you might be short-changing the plot. Secondary character must be there for his/her own growth.  

Focus on an individual in a crowd and realize how that person may personify the crowd. For example, in the opening scene of Casablanca moviegoers see a pickpocket. The thief represents how people are stuck in Casablanca and bad things are about to happen. Each minor character should reinforce the theme of the story.  

Shakespeare gave some of his best lines to his secondary characters. Can you be so confidant in you writing that you give some of your best lines to someone who only shows up on the page briefly?  In King Lear the Gentleman says: “Her tears were like diamonds dropped from pearls.”

Your assignment: Create a list of all your characters and assign a value to them.  

1- Most important
2- Supporting
3- Less so
4- Brief encounter
5- Part of the crowd

Then ask:
  • Who are they?
  • What’s their purpose?
  • Where do they come from?
  • When did they exist?
  • What’s their history?
  • What do we know about them?
  • Why does she or he speak that way?
  • Should she be eliminated or developed?
  • Is this character consistent with purpose and theme of the book?
Play with a secondary’s character language. Allow him to be extravagant in ways the main character isn’t. Experiment! Be poetic, use humor, innuendo, puns, and slapstick. Take chances! Be philosophical, offer insights, use recurring symbols and leitmotif. Then, if necessary, be prepared to cut it all.

An example from Half-Truths

Maggie, Kate's younger sister comes into the library after exploring her grandmother's attic. She and her brother are excited to find their great-grandfather's civil war uniform. While she is chattering about what they found, Kate looks at their great-grandfather's portrait which hangs over the fireplace.
Maggie follows my gaze. "That's it! That's what we found. Wait 'til I tell Frankie. He's going to be flabberdoozled!" 
"Flabberdoozled?" Grandaddy repeats. He bites his bottom lip to keep from laughing.  
Maggie looks at him with impatience. "You know, Grandaddy! Flabbergasted plus bamboozled. Flabberdoozled!"

Transitional Scenes: Half the Fun is Getting There

First, Jan gave a short primer on plot:

Beginnings. Will it get us to turn the page?

“Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick.  This is a command to the reader. 
“And the clock struck 13.” 1984.

Middle. Is there a clear inciting moment? It must happen in the first third of the story. Tension builds with the inclusion of backstory, new characters, danger, actions, dialogue, and interior monologue. Then relations become more complicated. Motives are introduced and action intensifies. Conflicts build to inciting moment until you get to a point of no return.

Rocky When the guy pulls Rocky’s name out of the hat and there is no choice: Rocky must fight.

Titanic Jack looks up and sees Rose in the balcony. Once they meet, it’s the point of no return.

End. Is the reader left thinking, feeling, wondering, sad, happy, perplexed, or satisfied? 

When crafting a scene ask:
  • Why is this scene in here?
  • How is it constructed?
  • Is it consistent with the story, plot and pacing?
  • Can it, or should it be eliminated?
  • Where is the story line going? Does this scene take my story forward?
  • Is the scene consistent with my purpose and theme?
Transitional scenes move readers from scene A to scene C by way of scene B. The transition can be physical, emotional, psychological, relational, necessary to flow of the story line, or some combination of all these.  Shakespeare used letters and messages for this purpose. In Casablanca a departing plane symbolizes hope to the people who watch it leave. You can see them thinking, “Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on it.”

Scene A: The Barn

Scene B: Summer Campers Tracey Meltzer Kyle and Jilanne Hoffman
strolling from Scene A to Scene C.
Scene C: The Creek

When you look at a transitional scene you have four options:

  • Leave it the way it is.
  • Eliminate it entirely and cut to the chase.
  • Expand it, develop it, and integrate it even more.
  • Judiciously trim it; let the left out parts speak volumes.

Your assignment: Write a transitional scene. Slow down, pay attention to details, and make the scene worthwhile. 

An example from Half-Truths

Kate is walking home from just having been in Lillie's neighborhood without her family knowing. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story,  Kate has just moved to a wealthy area of Charlotte, NC after spending her growing-up years on a farm in Titusville, SC.) 

It's getting dark and I hurry along the street. I've got to get back before my grandparents come home from the club. Even Grandaddy wouldn't be too happy with me walking around a colored neighborhood by myself at night. 
I walk past a white brick mansion high on a hill. Small lights line the long driveway casting a warm glow on the spacious lawn. This isn't at all like Titusville, but I feel like I belong here more than I do in Lillian's neighborhood. It's strange. I never thought I'd feel like I belonged in Myers Park.
Jan is a gifted teacher and mentor. It was a pleasure to chat with him and hear from other campers how much he encouraged them.

Photo by Jolene Ballard Gutierrez

In case you missed my previous posts about Summer Camp at Highlights, here is Part I ("The Power of Social Media") and Part II (Conversations with Kathy).

Word Garden, Highlights Foundation
Words by Rose Colson