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Carol’s Homework Assignment Post-WIFYR (Yes, I said “POST”)

The assignment is to read the first chapter of 50 books in the Middle-Grade and Young Adult venue. They can be sci-fi, fantasy, or into whatever genre they fall. I am to read them from a writer’s perspective, paying special attention to: intro to main characters, plot development, intro to other characters, anything useful that points to why these books start out well and, as a result, get published.

So here is the first book. “Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook” by Mary Amato. Middle-Grade. 140 pages.61K7EpEI-qL

From the School Library Journal:

The kids at Wordsmith Elementary School get a lesson on poetry when a thief stages a series of classroom thefts, leaving behind small poems at the scene of the crime. Edgar Allan keeps notes in his crime journal and writes some verses of his own as his classmates compete to solve the mystery. He thinks his home life is strange with his parents both employed as clowns, but when he learns more about the thoughts and personal lives of his classmates through the poetry they write, he gains a deeper understanding of himself and his community. With characters named Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and a teacher who drinks Tennyson Tea, readers will get thinly veiled lessons describing alliteration, meter, and metaphor. … A good springboard for introducing poetry units.

Opening paragraph shows the reader the crime of stealing the class goldfish.

Characters introduced:

  1. Edgar Allan (MC)
  2. Ms. Herschel (teacher)
  3. Kip (a skinny boy whose leg was jiggling against his desk)
  4. Taz (the class clown)
  5. Maia (the person who gave the fish to the class)
  6. Gabriella (the new girl)
  7. Destiny Perkins (Another classmate. I’m guessing she’s going to be an important character later. She’s the first character given both names)
  8. Patrick Chen (Edgar’s nemesis)

Eight characters introduced in the first four pages. One complaint about my storyline was the introduction of five characters in eight pages. Apparently too many characters are not always an issue. Further study on this will be necessary.

It’s a fast beginning. The theft, the discovery, several theories of who did it, and Edgar and Patrick’s competition to discover the culprit before the other are all laid out by the end of the first chapter (page 6). Fast paced and quick. That part I get.

One comment in a review section said, “It’s a little slow paced as the story progresses and sometimes Edgar seems to think older than a fifth grader.” To people who consider that fifth graders must sound a certain way and be only so intelligent, I divert your attention to “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

I had similar complaints that my characters sound older. They sound like I sounded at 14-16. My friends were, for the most part, the same way. We were avid readers and had been for a decade or more by that age. Nerdy kids who read a lot don’t sound like kids who don’t. They don’t think the same way either. I may try to tone it down some, but if I do it too much, the characters will lose their personalities.

I’ll definitely finish Edgar Allan’s Official… It has the makings of a good ride.


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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/22/15

D’ja ever put someone’s blog in a folder somewhere on your computer to savor again? I do that all the time. I keep something from an author I admire, or something well said by a person I may not even know. I’m going back and re‑reading some of these now. Several years ago, Annette Lyon wrote a post headed “What’s the Point?” (Writing on the Wall from Precision Editing Group, Jan. 27, 2010) where she talked about sections in our writing that give meaningless details or discussions which, if deleted, weren’t even missed. That’s definitely still relevant today, and she offered six potential goals for a scene:

  1. Advance the plot
  2. Create or show conflict
  3. Set the setting
  4. Reveal character
  5. Show back story
  6. Lay groundwork for later plot

Today’s Prompt, should you choose to accept it, is to take 5 or 10 pages of your WIP (or new pages of something you’ve just begun). Identify which of the above goals are met in your story. Strengthen that asset in your story if you can. If none of the goals are met, cut the scene (or offending parts) and write a new one. (Warning: don’t overload by cramming too many of these goals, either, into one scene.)

YES! I DID IT! While the scene I chose to analyze did reveal some about the MC and gave a fair idea of setting, there was no back story or immediate conflict so the scene seemed flat. I need more PLOT, more Something Happening. I did one rewrite in first person, which kicked up the character a bit, but the same things were still missing. Back to the drawing board!

This isn’t a bad check, scene by scene, throughout the book. Try it on YOUR WIP and tell us what helped (or didn’t).

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/17/15

From Rick Walton (way back when): Like a lot of Utah writers, I’ve been thinking about one of our most wonderful writers and human beings: Rick Walton. There have been many improvements in his condition but, as nothing is ever certain for any of us, I’d like to share a poem idea of his for today’s prompt: He sent out, over the Utah Children’s Writers blog [if their archives save things forever, these appeared 9/22/09], several poems ‑‑‑ all about Goldilocks: he wrote the story in the style of Walt Whitman, e .e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Emily Dickinson ‑‑‑ and Paris Anderson shared one back (of his own, I presume?) as a William Carlos Williams’ version. I’ll share here Rick’s Lewis Carroll’s send‑up. Then YOU choose a fairy tale and rewrite it in the style of YOUR favorite poets/writers!

And PLEASE SHARE here in Comments:

Jabbergoldie by Rick Walton

`Twas brillig, and the hungry bears
Did gyre and gimble in their bowl:
All mimsy were the bearogoves,
And the mome raths outstroll.
“Beware the Goldilocks, my son!
The fist that knocks, the sniffing nose!
Beware the open door, and in
The Goldilocks she goes!”
She took a vorpal spoon in hand:
Long time the porridge bowl she sought ‑‑
Then tasted she of the first of three,
But oh, it was too hot.
And so she tried the second bowl,
Too cold. And then the third, ate all.
And then three chairs, too hard, too soft,
And one that caused her fall!
One, two! One, two! These beds won’t do.
The third, just right. She hit the sack.
And while she slept, those wandering bears,
They came galumphing back.
“And, who did eat the porridge? It’s
All gone. And who did break a chair?
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
Could that be her right there?
`Twas brillig, and the slithy bears
Did gyre and gimble by the bed;
All mimsy was the Goldilocks,
And home she up‑fled.

YES! I DID IT! Borrowing the idea from David M. Bader, who wrote HAIKU U. (100 Great Books in 17 Syllables [each]) I wrote 3 haiku’s:

Cinderella’s Glass Slipper

Sweeping up ashes.

What have I done with my shoe?

Now off to The Ball!


Hungry and tired.

I’ll eat and sleep for the nonce.

Did my tummy growl?

Jack’s Beanstalk

A handful of beans

Who wants beans? Just toss them out.

I’ll just aim higher.

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/15/15

Have you ever struggled with Beginning? I have. Often. Starting something new, when you know almost nothing about it at the start, is scary. I’ve been trying to read more, as I am writing more. So, ready to “start” the story I’ve been fumbling around with for some time, I decided to (here’s your Prompt): write down the opening sentences of a few books.

YES! I DID IT! I grabbed 30 of the miscellaneous books perched on an old roll‑around rack which sits next to my desk; wrote the title, author and usually just the first sentence. Occasionally I copied a tiny bit more: you’ll find here lots of fantasy, several historicals, two or three non‑fictions, several contemporary, and a fair number of Utah authors in the mix. It’s what I read C or am waiting to read. Which ones do you want to read, based on their opening salvos? Analyze what works, what doesn‘t, and why:


The Lightning Thief ~ Rick Riordan
Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

The Sea of Monsters ~ Rick Riordan
My nightmare started like this

The Titan’s Curse ~ Rick Riordan
The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school.

The Last Olympian ~ Rick Riordan
The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower ~ Stephen King
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Dreaming the Eagle ~ Manda Scott
Autumn A. D. 32 – The attack came in the hour before dawn.

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus ~ R. L. LaFevers
March 23, 1907 – I hate being followed.

Signed, Skye Harper ~ Carol Lynch Williams
Nanny sat at the kitchen table when I wandered in at dusk from swimming, not a light in the house on just a cigarette glowing.

Shadow on the Crown ~ Patricia Bracewell
Eve of St. Hilda’s Feast, November 1001      Near Saltford, Oxfordshire
She made a circuit of the clearing among the oaks, three times round and three times back, whispering spells of protection.

Wolf Hall ~ Hilary Mantel
Putney, 1500   “So now get up.”

Matched ~ Ally Condie
Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which directions should I go into the night?

Reached ~ Ally Condie
Every morning, the sun comes up and turns the earth red, and I think: This could be the day when everything changes.

Crossed ~ Ally Condie
I’m standing in a river.

The Fault in Our Stars ~ John Green
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

Possession ~ Elana Johnson
Good girls don’t walk with boys.

Surrender ~ Elana Johnson
Someone is always watching. Always listening.

Abandon ~ Elana Johnson
Secrets are hard to keep C especially if your girlfriend can read minds.

How Did I Get So Busy? ~ Valorie Burton
Do you find yourself rushing from one activity to the next, from the time you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep at night?

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Demigod Files ~ Rich Riordan
Dear Young Demigod, If you are reading this book, I can only apologize. Your life is about the get much more dangerous.

A Song for Gilgamesh ~ Elizabeth Jamison Hodges
In very olden times, early one morning in the land of Sumer a young potter with a goatskin bag over his left shoulder was hurrying through a narrow street of Unug.

The Blood of Olympus ~ Rick Riordan
Jason hated being old.

The Sorceress ~ Michael Scott
I think I see them.

Reading Like a Writer ~ Francine Prose
Can creative writing be taught? It’s a reasonable question, but no matter how often I’ve been asked it, I never know quite what to say.

Timepiece: An Hourglass Novel ~ Myra McEntire
Maybe getting drunk and dressing up like a pirate for the masquerade was a bad idea.

Dorothy Must Die ~ Danielle Paige
I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday C one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, starting taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.

Mark of the Thief ~ Jennifer A. Nielsen
In Rome, nothing mattered more than the gods, and nothing mattered less than its slaves.

TroubleTwisters ~ Garth Nix & Sean Williams
The year he twins turned twelve, everything changed.

A Confusion of Princes ~ Garth Nix
I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old Earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time.

The Throne of Fire ~ Rick Riordan
Carter here. Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell the story quickly, or we’re all going to die.

Characters & Viewpoint ~ Orson Scott Card
The characters in your fiction are people. Human beings. Yes, I know you make them up. But readers want your characters to seem like real people.

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB=s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/14/15

From Carol Lynch Williams: Getting to know the plot and subplots of your book, write each as news articles, journal entries, headlines, from the voice of a local newscaster, as an announcement over the intercom at school, etc. Make them as detailed as needed.

YES! I DID IT ! ! ! Choose what you want from the above: I was stuck getting started, so, being a “Pantser,” I chose the easy way out: Several days ago I’d made a list of “habits” for each of my characters. I’d written that with each character’s name on a different colored Post‑It. I’d stuck them onto a LARGE sheet of colored butcher paper which I hung on a wall in my kitchen. So I chose to just write ONE of the ideas in the prompt above: Headlines. Lo, and Behold! AN OUTLINE (of sorts. It was FUN and pretty HILARIOUS to see what I could come up with as each new character was met and dealt with. I may get over my distaste for OUTLINES, between these two exercise4s.

Just a FEW of my HEADLINES, as examples:

  • L’Aquellian (aka Lackley) Investigates New Hedge Near Lord’s Compound
  • Maidservant Claims to Have Seen Lackley Disappear into Hedge of New Planted Ivy
  • Ice Queen Accused of Kidnapping Lackley After Icy Trail Ended at Hedge
  • Weather Warnings: Strawberries Found Blooming and Ripening in Mid‑December
  • Bird Watchers Claim to Have Seen Smoke Rising From Possible Tower Peak in Giant Hedge

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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Spellbinder Saturday: Third Time’s the Charm

Easy as A, B, C . . . from HA

Benotripia3Benotripia: Keys to the Dream World is the third and final book in this series by McKenzie Wagner.

It’s been a great ride sharing the adventures of Roseabelle, Jessicana, and Astro as they rescue the queen (The Rescue), find three mystical, magic stones (The Stones of Horsh), and, in this final installment, enter the Dream World… and destroy it or risk losing Benotripia forever. “Only the final battle remains…”

Keys to the Dream World has everything we’ve come to expect in this series: magic, action, kenzie_frameadventure, danger, mystical creatures, interesting characters, and harrowing escapes. The one thing Keys to the Dream World has the others didn’t is a conclusion… or is there? The afterward takes place four years after the end of the final adventure, but there’s always hope for something new and dangerous for our heroes.

And, just as a reminder, McKenzie Wagner turns fourteen this year. We hope she continues to write and share more of her imagination and stories.

See you next time for Tips on Tuesday

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Tips on Tuesday: How Well Do You Know Your Antagonist?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

We writers spend a lot of time imagining, dreaming about, creating our wonderful “heroes” of our stories. We love them, we hate to hurt them . . . but we know we must. We want to let our readers know how wonderful, handsome/gorgeous, smart, talented, and clever they are.

snidelypolls_292384_main_4714_498326_poll_xlargeThen there’s the Villain! The Bad Guy (or Gal)! They need to be every bit as smart, talented and clever. Sometimes we even need to make them seem like the “hero” ‑‑‑ or a “winner” ‑‑‑ or a “friend.”

Here’s a little exercise that may help you put some reality into the creation of your antagonist:

Recall somebody who made you really angry recently. Imagine yourself dong something to that person: getting revenge, giving absolution, practicing an extended session of psychotherapy.

Have fun with it . . . go “all out,” writing a scene (or even a chapter) on what you could/would do to that person in your life, if only s/he were your antagonist. How can you weave that scene/chapter into your mystery? Your romance? Your sci‑fi thriller? Your Arthurian tale?

Yup! That’s the “assignment” for this week. Have All‑Out Fun with it!


See you next on Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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