Thursday, September 23, 2010

At Least It's Not Sideways

So I wanted to share a video and a tip from me today and I went to my file of flip videos and remembered - most of them are sideways. I didn't know the camera only really works in one direction. So, that limited my options and I picked this one of a very friendly dog in Oregon. I didn't even preview it. It was one of two that would work so I picked the dog. What's the point? Sometime you sit down to write and everything comes out sideways or backwards, or worst, there's so little coming out of your head that you feel ridiculous. How can I be a writer when this is what I produce, you might say? Well, we all have those times and that's when you get a soda or a cup of coffee or whatever you require, look again, and find some little kernel works. Dump the rest, and work with the one sentence, one idea, one metaphor that speaks to you. That new beginning should really help.

So what about the dog? That was about my only choice for this blog but we can work with that. This is the kind of scene I like to put right before something terrible happens. Someone is outside throwing a ball to their two very cool dogs. Rusty takes off with the ball. What happens next? Does someone scare your character? Does a mountain lion show up? Does the character get bad news? Try writing a scene that starts out perfectly normal and ends up with your character having a huge problem. The more everyday the scene, the bigger surprise the problem will be. So, now, what happens to Rusty and Lizzy? You figure it out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing Tip from MG Author Rosanne Parry

Rosanne and I had our first novels debut within a month of each other. They are twins in setting and some of the details - both deal with families changed by their loved one's deployment overseas. Both are set on ranches in adjacent counties - no kidding. We even both have a character named Paco. We didn't know each other until the novels came out. And the books are very different. A study in different writers, different voices. Since then, Rosanne and I have worked together on several projects. Our next one is a panel presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English in Orlando in November. So I'm excited to share her tip here:

Look for Rosanne's new novel, Second Fiddle soon.

Here’s a back to school writing idea to help your young writers tackle revision. The What-I-did-over-summer-vacation essay is a classic and one that can do with a little spicing up. Once your students have gotten back into the groove of writing with the standard essay. Let them go back to it and re-vision the piece with an imaginative element.
What would have happened on your summer vacation if….
A magical creature had come along
A natural disaster had occurred
Your favorite story character had come along
It had all happened in a different country
It had all happened 100 years ago
If you had super powers
If you were blind or unable to speak

Let them imagine a different outcome for a familiar event, and see how that moves a non-fiction essay into the realm of fiction.
You can take a look at some “revised” stories in published books. The Graveyard is a re-visioning of The Jungle Book with ghosts instead of animals. The 3 Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is a role reversal of the Three Little Pigs story. For high school students, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a retelling of the Rumplestiltskin story.
Having revised something in a more light-hearted context of the exaggerated vacation story may make it easier to tackle more academic revisions in the future.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seize the Day

So I'll take a look at my video library from the summer soon and post some new writing ideas with video. In the meantime I have Rosanne Parry's and Janet Fox's tips to post. Rosanne's on Thursday or Friday I think. But I want to use today to talk about stories.
I have a whole bunch of them in my head. Real ones that my relatives told me, experiences of my own, and then, of course the fiction that's always cooking. I love family stories and geneology - mainly because of the stories that go with it. And here's the thing. If I don't write them down and pass them on, they'll disappear. My kids know some of them, but I don't know which ones. I'm the one with the stories. So I need to tell them. Our neighbor and friend died suddenly last week - no warning at all. And he wasn't old. He was young if you asked me. Any stories that he had went with him. He left some songs. So, if you are a writer, a storyteller, a student with ideas - write them down. Don't worry about how silly they sound or how polished they are. There is no time like today. Only you own your stories. Only you can tell them. If you write them and want to change them tomorrow, all the better. But please, write them down and let them go. You need to start.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Author J.T. Dutton's Writing Tip of the Week

You'll notice it's been two weeks and I have writing tips lined up from several wonderful writers. I've been busy finishing a partial manuscript for my agent to submit and trying to catch up on yard and maintainance work before I head to Kansas City and Junction City, Kansas for the Kansas Association of School Librarians Conference and a writer's workshop with the Kansas Region of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I'll also be visiting Eisenhauer Middle School in Manhattan and maybe another middle school or two. The trip should be really fun. So, here it is - another writing tip - this one from J.T. Dutton, my Class of 2k9 compatriot, author of Freaked and Stranded. Jen is an English teacher so this one should be good. Suzy

Last year, I was invited to teach a three week arts immersion course at Hiram College (in Ohio) to unsuspecting business, nursing, and biological science majors. They chose my writing section instead of dance, fine arts, and theater because they thought writing would be less weird than standing on a stage singing, acting, or painting..
On the first day, I asked the group to draft original poems about an emotional state.
A woman in the front row of the class raised her hand.
"Does it have to rhyme?" she asked.
"Please, no." I said.
"I'm not that creative," a guy in back complained.
I'd heard this kind of thing before..
I suggested they all start the poem with a microwave oven. It was the first appliance that came to mind.
Generally speaking, new writers fall back on tried and true patterns of comparison and overly fixate on what they think is expected of them. They write about rainbows when they are feeling happy and clouds when they are feeling sad. I told the group that experienced writers venture out of the safety of cliche and make something more of their feelings and perceptions.
The process of inventing similes and metaphors is entertaining, like playing 'pretend' as a kid. It can crack into a whole level of thinking that some people aren't used to enjoying. Best of all, there is no way to be wrong when you search for authenticity.
So we made a list of ways in which a microwave oven was a metaphor for frustration. In my opinion, it's a very creative list for baffled students: Microwaves reheat food and turn it soggy. Their molecules bounce around but stay trapped inside. They only come in a few decorator colors, mostly black, they only do what you tell them to do.
The consensus when we finished brainstorming was that microwaves truly were oppressed appliances. We discovered the truth at the heart of the beast.
For extra credit, I suggested everyone consider happy microwaves. Here are the ways my students think a microwave can be joyful--they channel power from electrons, they bleep when you turn them on, they make life better for college students and give them something to eat besides institutional food.
"This class is strange," the guy in back stated when we finished.
"True enough," I agreed.
"But", I added, "A good life is more than rainbows. It can be household appliances too."
Somehow, given the kidding around the followed and the original poems they turned in, I think they got the point.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Author Sydney Salter's Writing Tip of the Week

You are in for a treat. A number of writers - all my friends so far - have agreed to share a writing tip for you so you aren't always hearing from me. We are starting with Sydney Salter who not only writes funny, interesting books, but she's a truly nice person as well. This is what Sydney says about herself: Sydney lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, two cats, a pair of quiet tortoises, and a baby bearded dragon. When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, hiking, skiing, traveling, and searching for the ultimate cupcake.
She sent a video too. It may take a minute to open, but how fun is it to hear from the real person - or the virtual one at least. Enjoy and try this very cool exercise. Sydney Salter’s novels include My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, Jungle Crossing, and Swoon At Your Own Risk.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Biblio Burro - the Library Burro

Just one thing to share today but what a treat. This is from my friend Yuyi Morales' Facebook page - and YouTube. If you wonder why we write, look at this. Doesn't matter if you speak Spanish or not. It's all in the video. And for a writing tip? Try this exercise - particularly if you DON'T speak Spanish. What do you know from the people's expressions? How can you describe them? Can you write a scene from the video without dialogue so we get the whole picture? Now write it with dialogue. If you have a friend who speaks Spanish, have them listen to the video and translate if for you if they can. How close is your version?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, That Writing Thing

I had lunch with a friend today and she told me I'd always been a writer. I corrected her - I started writing as an adult. But I was always a day dreamer. In fact, I used to get in trouble for that when I was in elementary and junior high school. There was always an interesting world in my head to inhabit. So that led to the train of thought that as an adult, I often judge my progress by words or pages written. How many time have you writers seen a post that says "Yay, I wrote 2,000 words today." Yes, that's a measure. But you know what? Yesterday I put not one word onto paper, or shall I say entered none on the screen, but I found the heart of my current novel - while I was walking my black lab Ralph before the sun rose. That's progress. That's that writing thing. Cheers.