Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Winners and Some Winning Writing Advice

In another totally random drawing, Rosi Hollinbeck, the SCBWI critique group coordinator for SCBWI in Northern California,  won last week's giveaway contest! A copy of Chris Woodworth's new middle grade book, Ivy in the Shadows is on its way to California. Tracey Adams of Adams Literary kindly offered two copies and the second name I drew was Carolyn Abiad, a member of my SCBWI critique group.  The moral of the story? It pays to follow my blog AND to be a member of SCBWI!

Today I'm offering something different: some advice via Writer's Digest and a link to a fantastic blog post. Both of these resources made me think about upping the ante in my scenes in Half-Truths. Not so coincidentally, this is next week's topic for my "Writing for Children" class at CPCC

First, here are seven points about narrative forces from Steven James' article, "Go Organic" in the March/April 2013 issue of Writer's Digest. He outlined the points within the article and then asked corresponding questions in a sidebar. For the sake of this blog, I'm going to list his points and then follow each with his questions to writers. His questions make a great checklist for all of us! Here is the excerpt:

"Imagine a ginat ball of clay being held by a group of people. As one person presses agains the clay, the clay's shape changes.

"The clay is your story; the people surrounding it represent the narrative forces pressing in upon it to shape it. For example:

  • Escalation: The tension must continue to escalate scene by scene until it reaches a climax after which nothing is ever the same again. Does this scene ratchet up the tension of the one before it? How can I make things worse?
  • Believability: The characters in your story need to act in contextually believable ways. All the time. What would this character naturally do in this situation? Is he properly motivated to take this action?
  • Causality: Everything that happens must be caused by the thing that precedes it. Is this event caused by what precedes it? How can what I want to happen bow to what needs to happen for this story to work?
  • Scenes and Setbacks: If nothing is altered you not have a scene. If your characters solve something without a setback you do not have a story. Have I inadvertently included scenes just for character development? Are there necessary interludes or moments of reorientation between scenes?
  • Inevitability and Surprise: Each scene should end in a way that's unexpected and yet satisfying to readers. The end of every scene must be not only logical but, in retrospect, the only possible conclusion to that scene. Does this scene end in a way that's unexpected and yet inevitable? How can I ensure that readers don't see the twist coming?
  • Continuity: Continuity develops through pace (the speed at which things are happening) and narrative energy (the momentum carrying them along). Do my revelations happen at the right moments in the story? Have I used foreshadowing to eliminate coincidences, especially at the climax?
  • Genre Conventions: Readers enter a story with expectations based on their understanding of its genre. You need to be familiar enough with genre conventions to meet or exceed those expectations without resorting to cliches. What obligatory scenes are inherent to this genre? How can I render them in a way that's not cliched?
Just in case you need more to think about when you're creating scenes that sizzle, check out Lorin Oberweger's blog on Writing Scenes: Cooking at the Right Temperature. Like James' article, this is also chock full of the reasons you want to write high temperature scenes, and how to accomplish that. 

I read that blog before and during my writing session today. It made me aware of creating conflict between my characters and taking power away from my protagonist (sorry Lillie!). 

What are yours technique to create powerful, reader-gripping scenes? I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Behind the Scene with "Ivy in the Shadows" and a Giveaway!

Last spring I met Chris Woodworth, a middle grade author who had recently moved to North Carolina from Indiana. I was struck by Chris's unassuming and humble attitude about her writing accomplishments. She wasn't one to sing her own praises so when I heard her next book was coming out this spring, I invited her to guest blog about it. I hope you'll snoop around her website and see all of her award winning middle grade books. She has great resources for teachers too.
I love hearing a backstory behind a book, so was delighted when Chris wrote this up for all of you. In addition, her publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux, is giving a copy to one of you!
Read on for an insider's look at Ivy in the Shadows and for your chance to win this fresh-from-the-presses middle grade book. And, if you live near or around Denver, NC, she and fellow writer Lisa Kline, will be giving a presentation at the Shanklin Library in Denver Feb. 25th from 6:30-7:30.

Chris Woodworth relaxing at home.

Like most writers, I keep a file of ideas. My system has changed over the years from a bulging folder on my desk to a file on my computer. I keep them because my muse is a prickly one. If I don’t write down her ideas, she’s famous for zooming off in a huff, taking them with her.
One particular day, she fluttered down and reminded me of my childhood when I would listen to my mom and aunts during their girl talk sessions. Yes, I was a girl, too. But not old enough to be included. I wasn’t nosey by nature but there was something intoxicating about that glimpse into the adult world. I’d listen, until they got to the good part, when they would invariably realize I was in the room and shoo me out.
So I wrote down that idea and put it into my file. I’d reread it every so often but the timing never felt right and back into the file it would go.
My previous book had just been published when I switched day jobs from one I suffered through to one I loved. Flush with the excitement of a better job and a new book on the shelves, I was in the right frame of mind to tackle a fresh story. Once again, I got out the eavesdropping idea but I needed more than just this premise because adult problems aren’t what children’s books are made of. I wanted someone Ivy’s age to get under her skin. I knew she wouldn’t like it one bit if she had to share her home with a boy she barely knew. Especially one who told stories she didn’t believe.
But what stories? My muse flitted around, dangling an idea, which I immediately grabbed. That idea was to talk to the Marshalls, a family in my hometown who encouraged their teenage daughters to do mission work in Haiti. They had kept journals during their time there and published them in the local newspaper where I remembered reading them. They were gracious enough to allow me to alter and weave their stories into mine. The end result was IVY IN THE SHADOWS.
Thank you, dear muse. And please drop by anytime. My fingers are poised on the keyboard, awaiting your return.

Now for the giveaway! If you are familiar with my blog, then you know the rules:

  • Post this blog on your social media site of choice OR become a new follower of this blog. 
  • Either way, leave a comment with your email address (if you are new to my blog) with what you did. 
  • Winner will be drawn on Monday morning February 25th- so get those entries in!

Monday, February 18, 2013

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck, one of my newest blog followers and the SCBWI Critique Group Coordinator for North Central Northern California. She won last week's giveaway contest and chose to receive a 10-page critique from Rebecca Petruck

Thanks to all of you who entered this contest. Since it was so popular, Rebecca has agreed to sponsor it again. She'll be back again in a few months with more advice for me and a 10-page critique to one of you. And for those of you who don't want to wait until then, contact Rebecca on her website for information on receiving your own professional critique. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When the Teacher Becomes the Student PLUS a Great Giveaway!

My most recent book is Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8. Although intended as a teacher's guide for upper elementary and middle school students, I draw upon it when I teach writing classes at Central Piedmont Community College

I was looking over this week's class on Creating a Character and found my instructions for students to write "fast" by revealing their characters through their

    F-  Feelings
 A-  Action
 S-  Speech 
     T- Thoughts

Besides teaching, I am also deep into the second draft of my historical young adult novel, Half-Truths. I am fortunate to have Rebecca Petruck as a writing coach; she consistently pushes me to reveal who my characters are. 
Rebecca & I recently talked shop
at the Whole Foods in Wilmington, NC

In my opening chapter I had written a scene where Lillie, my protagonist, overhears her grandmother's employers arguing with one another. I had written:  

“What’s going on?” Lillie asked. 
“Missus Dinsmore is fussing at Mr. Dinsmore like usual,” Big Momma said, fanning herself with her apron. “Telling him that while his grandchildren are visiting he’s got to get his nose out of his books and stop playing around with his glass thingamajigs.”  
Rebecca commented, "We don't have much from her other than to be present and watch what's happening. I want her reaction to things, her interpretation of the world around her. This is her chapter, so we need to get to know her more. [I want to see more] of Lillie's internal experience."

I could have slapped myself "upside the head" (as a character in my book might say). I had forgotten the "T" in FAST. In fact, there wasn't much "F" (feelings/emotion) in this snippet either!

Several rewrites later, this passage now reads:

 In between claps of thunder, Lillie heard bickering coming from the other side of the kitchen wall. “Mr. and Missus Dinsmore fussing again?” Lillie asked. Missus Dinsmore was always acting better than everyone else.  But Lillie had overhead enough arguments to know that she could be as nasty as a barnyard dog.
 Big Momma fanned herself with her apron. “Missus Dinsmore be reminding him to get his nose out of his books and stop playing around with his glass thingamajigs while his grandchildren are visiting.”  Lillie knew exactly what Big Momma was talking about. A few times Mr. Dinsmore had invited her into the library to look at the different colored glass pieces displayed on his shelf. Cullet, he called it. Leftover glass from factories he’d worked at as a boy. Missus Dinsmore didn’t appreciate her husband’s glassmaking stories the way Lillie did. 

I thanked Rebecca for helping me to instill more internalization in my story and she wrote back: 

"I think calling it internalization isn't really correct because it is a very active connection with the protagonist--we are in her mind, trying to process the world, understand the why of things. That's where the story is for us, much less so than the actual stuff that happens." 

Along with providing helpful insights into my manuscript, Rebecca encouraged me to read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, retyping sections of other books in a similar genre, and reading when the Show, Don't Tell rule may be broken. 

I have learned a great deal working with Rebecca from her critiques as I write, revise, and write again. (Here is a helpful handout from Teaching the Story that demonstrates the revision process.) Her suggestions reminded me of to Lorin Oberweger's handout on Deep Point of View that was part of the Your Best Book packet. And a recent post on Janice Hardy's blog, also offered excellent advice on how to include internalization in your story.

Since Rebecca is such a wonderful writing advocate and coach, she is providing this week's giveaway! She is donating either a ten-page critique of a middle grade or young adult manuscript, or a copy of Wired for Story-winner chooses. I am so pumped about Rebecca's giveaway offer, that I'm giving you TWO chances to win.

  • Post this blog on your social media site of choice OR become a new follower of this blog and I'll enter your name once. 
  • Post this blog on two different social media sites, OR on one site on two different days, OR become a new follower of this blog AND post it on a social media site and I'll enter your name twice.
  • Either way, leave a comment with your email address (if you are new to my blog) with what you did. 
  • Winner will be drawn on Saturday evening, February 16th- so get those entries in!
Good luck to all of you and if the winner chooses a critique from Rebecca, get ready to grow your writing and revising skills!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Get Ready For Write 2 Ignite 2013!

Here is a guest blog by my friend and critique partner extraordinaire, Jean Hall, founder of Write2Ignite!

Whether you write for toddlers or teens, science or history magazines, school curriculum or drama clubs you’ll find a place at Write2Ignite! 2013, March 15-16 at North Greenville University, South Carolina.  And if you write for general markets or for Christian publishers, you’ll find education, encouragement and inspiration at Write2Ignite!

Our purpose is to offer you:
  • Instruction in the craft of writing and publishing.
  • Encouragement to keep on keeping on.
  • Inspiration to keep you in tune with the calling God has on your life.
  • Connections to assist you in the world of publishing.

We are thrilled this year that we can again offer outstanding and generous speakers and workshop leaders. Author Cecil Murphey (who has more than 150 published titles) will inspire us through keynote speeches. Familiar names like Kelly Starling Lyons and Joyce Hostetter are part of our line-up. At Write2Ignite! 2013 editors from Club House, Lighthouse Publishing, JourneyForth, The Kid’s Ark and more will offer private consultations.  Literary agents who represent children’s writers will join us, and make themselves available for individual consultations.

Another of our Write2Ignite! offerings is a special track for middle school and high school students who write. This year a whole team of professionals will instruct and challenge the Teen Track students.

Registration is now open, and now is the time to apply for one of our scholarships. Check our website for information and Registration at or contact us at


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