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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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Tips on Tuesday: Already Missing Robin Williams

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

Writers: let’s take a little break to consider what other artists have given us. The one I have in mind today is Robin Williams, whose passing I was so heart‑broken to see in yesterday’s news.

We could all consider the legacy he left behind that lifted us all, and come up with ways to celebrate his life, our lives, the lives of those we hope to touch. Each of us will have our own memories, but I’d like offer a list of some of my favorite films and/or TV shows starring this gifted actor — and perhaps you have some favorites of your own.

Dead Poets Society touched me as a teacher, a human being, a writer.

Good Morning, Vietnam brought me some new clarity — and even closure — about some “old news” while reflecting on a portion of my life when I, along with the rest of the country, was conflicted and confused.

The World According to Garp showed of crazy and quirky from almost every character in it, challenging my reactions to a world I knew nothing about.

Good Will Hunting brought out the teacher in me, again. And the humanity. And the writerly instincts.

Mork and Mindy was a not‑to‑be‑missed weekly jaunt into silliness and laugh‑out‑loud moments.

Patch Adams introduced me to a doctor I wish I had met and grown to know well . . . a brilliant mind and an engaging manner.

Not to mention the many, Many, MANY zany “interviews” on late‑night television.

Which of his works touched you? How can we learn to reach out, as he did, to “our” audiences?

goodbye-tears-smiley-emoticonThanks, Robin Williams, for the zaniness, the smiles, the many laugh‑out‑loud moments, the surprisingly tender touches, and, yes, even the heart‑breaking moments, not least of which is this last one.

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Saturday’s Spellbinder: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

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

My TBR (To Be Read) list is so long, that once I get around to some really great book, I often feel I’m the last one at the party! And I’ve just done it again!

I’ve had what I thought was the full set of Michael Scott’s epic set for a couple of years or so, and I’ve had them on my TBR list for even longer, but I’d only actually read the first 15 or so pages of the first book: The Alchemyst.

I was deep into the second book in another trilogy, when—not having it with me one day, I picked up The Alchemyst and started over. That was seven days ago. Within about three days I’d given up the trilogy, knowing I would go back to it. Just to let you know, I walk in the early mornings as often as I can (make myself do it). I walk within the smallish community I live in, one time around about a half mile. I’m finally up to 3 times many days. And I read. Try to avoid parked cars, so I don’t walk up the back of them when I’m not paying sufficient attention. I finished today and told my husband, “I still think T. H. White’s the Once and Future King (the whole tale of King Arthur) is my favorite of all time books. But Alchemyst has GOT to be in my Top Ten now!”

Can’t wait to dig into book two: The Magician (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel). But I have to finish the trilogy I was on, so I can pick up book two (for more than my short morning walk). And then book three. And four. And five. And even six. Yes, SIX! All published, starting from 2007, at about one a year.

85b5c0a398a05ffb9e0a0210_L__V192421766_SX200_Michael Scott lives and writes in Dublin, and is known as an authority on mythology and folklore. With the years and years of materials he’d gathered, thought about, found and written, my mind is boggled at the scholarly take on the mythology and folklore from many ethnic backgrounds in this tale. And that’s only the first of them. I loved how he wove together magicians, good and evil, with weird creatures from multiple backgrounds. Many I was familiar with, and greeted as if they were old friends when they were called on stage. Others were delightfully new to me, and I loved, feared, hated them equally with my “old friends.”

Some are “old friends” because they are historical characters or mythologies. Scott claims the only characters he “made up” are the teen twins, “normal” kids who get to explore times and historical characters we all might want to meet. And The Story! I cannot imagine what it would take to add this pair of twins, who learn what magic is, to the odd, interesting and international mix of characters, critters, and creatures from all times and backgrounds. Additionally, it has humor, spunk, mystery, tension, intrigue, magic and the lore of ages. Put this one high on your TBR list!!! I dare you to resist reading the rest of them . . . I’m starting Book 2, The Magician, on tomorrow morning’s walk!

See you next for Tips on Tuesday!

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Tips on Tuesday: Countable or Indeterminate?

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

OK. Time for a dose of grammar! I know, I know, you all learned the “rules” when you were “kids.” But the truth is, learning all the rules always seemed hard. I’d like to take a crack at a few of them, just to tell you some easier ways to tell which is correct and you won’t have to remember the old rules.

Let’s take the case of “amount” and “number”:

Use “amount” if you are referring to an unmeasurable load of “something,” like money. You may have a large amount of money, or a large amount of snow. Some grammar books will liken this to being used when describing a “singular” noun. The term “money” is singular, even if there is a lot of it. So use “amount.” Same with snow.

On the other hand, if it can be counted, you would have a measurable load of something, like a large number of coins, or large number of debts, even a large number of “snowflakes”. These (coins, debts, and flakes) could all be counted ‑‑‑though don’t sign me up to count snowflakes. Theoretically, they could be counted. I just don’t want to have to do it.

If you are talking about a little bit of something, you have the same problems as above, but you’ll be using the terms “less” and “fewer”.

You may have “less snow” this year than last (If you’re lucky ‑ most places in the U.S. probably had more in 2014). You wouldn’t say “fewer snow” because it can’t be counted. You could have “fewer snow storms”—countable. And you may have “less money” this year, but “fewer dollars” because you can count dollars. The word “money” is singular, and can’t be counted: “I have 27 monies”? Or “27 moneys”? Dollars can be counted, but not its singular counterpart: “money.”

Countable? Or some indeterminate amount? That’s all you need to decide.

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Road Maps in More Detail

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

Last Tuesday I wrote about possible ways for Pantsers to make a road map which would help keep them on the straight and narrow with their novels. I also pointed out what can be learned simply by looking at some stats. And I made a promise. A promise to show what else I learned by taking a careful look beyond the numbers, and checking out the actual content.

This time, I put the chapter number at the top of each section. Underneath, I made 4 columns: page number, character, a single verb describing what the character was doing, and a brief description of what was done. The latter was accomplished in somewhere between two and half ‑a‑dozen words (seldom that many). Some of the pages were completed in only a line or two, most took about four, a few complex ones took more, but my first 14 chapters took only 2 pages, while double‑spacing between chapters. So keep it all short — it’s your story: you should recognize what’s going on in just a few words.

If the verb in the 3rd column was passive (that’s a problem of mine) I typed it in all caps. Here’s an example:

4          Wyndell          THINKS                     about (possibly) dead twin

Poppy            coughs                    —

Mum              rushes                    to help Poppy

Wyndell          STARES                    at tools

tells                           himself he’s NOT the One

HEARS                     Poppy saying “have to be sent…”

Those six lines encapsulated the entire page in 30 words.

So what can be learned from this? After the first 14 chapters I drew a lot of conclusions:

The story didn’t really begin until the second page

It was too long by at least half, considering all the passivity which was trying to pass as action: thinking, wondering, knowing, feeling, realizing, watching, wishing, questioning himself, acknowledging, hearing, worrying, believing — none of those were acting! (How should I deal with the fact that too often Wyndell, the main character, was by himself? How do I work in someone for him to talk to?)

I wanted to know what the reader would actually learn from these pages (in however subtle a way). So I made a list of story items revealed, such as:

An Evil Essence is threatening

11‑year‑old Wyndell is making a Luck Hat with scraps

He begins to notice Elements (water, air, earth, fire) responding to him

He wants to know what his Skill will be

His twin is missing . . . etc., etc., etc.

Then I was able to make some decisions about these chapters:

Split the first long chapter into two

Bring in the Sidekick character as quickly as possible

Let Wyndell confront his ailing father

Mix everything up by throwing in a 3rd (and important) character’s chapter

. . . and so on.

I was surprised to find that even though I was aware, in the back of my mind, that the writing was too passive, it took really listing what was going on to see how nothing much was going on outside the MC’s head. And that led me to seeing other ways to portray the events.

It was an interesting and revealing journey. I would recommend this to any of you who know you need to do some rewriting, but are not quite sure where to start. Good luck with your endeavors!

See you next for Saturday’s Softcover!

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Tips on Tuesday: Road Map for a Pantser

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

As writers, we all need to have a road map. Some writers draw (occasionally with a mapping program) their maps. Others format them as outlines. Or Post It Notes. Or a giant white board. Still others sketch it out on butcher paper or poster board.

And we “pantsers”? We do it entirely in our heads. And mostly without thinking about it. But somehow, inside our brains, the seed of an idea begins to sprout. It’s roots may burrow deep, its leaves may slowly unfold one mite at a time. Eventually that plant sprouts into fronds and leaves, flowers and fruit. But what if some of the fruit grows like potatoes and carrots, underground? The flowers forget to produce seeds and are left hanging and stunted. Even without the coming of fall, some of the leaves desert the twigs and branches from which the sprang.

Maybe its time to examine our burgeoning Mystery Plant and see what we have.

I’ve begun just such an examination for a YA WIP of 211 pages, which has a beginning, a LOT of middle, and even an end. Of sorts. But I also knew something was wrong. How to fix it?

Before we can fix, we need to examine the plant and see why it is ailing, why leaves are falling prematurely, why the fruit is too small and undernourished to provide that which is needed by the reader. Or even by the Pantser.

I started by making a list of my chapters, by number and title, what pages they began and ended with, and how many total pages were held within that chapter. About half-way through the 21 chapters and the 14 unnamed and incomplete sections, I thought “Why am I doing this? It’s probably just a waste of time!” And later, “I could have written another whole chapter by now!”

Still, I pressed on. When I finished the list, I looked back at what I’d done and, surprisingly, I’d actually learned some things:

I have four fairly long chapters: 14, 15, 18 and 20 pages long.

I needed to examine those to see if enough was happening in them to warrant that many pages. Knowing me, I would also need to look for unnecessary repetitions, and trust that the reader would “get it” the first time around (or at least the second).

Other chapters were very short. 1 had one page, 2 were only 2 pages, 2 more had only 3 pages. Three of them — all in a row — had 4 pages each. Would that last appear to be for some significant reason? For “shock” value, or some surprise element, an extremely short chapter (1-2 pages) might have some value. Were they that, or did the need to be combined with another chapter? Or did they just need to be fleshed out?

I also discovered that I had — word for word — repeated one entire chapter just before the last chapter or two. CUT!

I found an ending chapter which I’d repeated large portions of THREE times. CUT!

Everything after p. 173 (in the new pagination, which cut it down to the 211 pages) really fell apart and needed Major Surgery. These “pieces” of chapters which came after p. 173 included one piece that looked like a repeat of something earlier, one piece — not at the very end — actually gave the line which I’d planned to have as the last line of the book.

And all that from, basically, a list of numbers.

For what I discovered next, I’ll see you for “Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Edits, COLD and HARD, Can Be Good for You!

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

At the recent five‑day Writing and Illustrating for Young People [WIFYR] workshop/ conference, several author/volunteers were subjected to a Cold Hard Reading, run by Cheri Pray Earl — who was joined by various editors and agents who were there. It’s a very scary thing to go through. They put one page for each volunteer up on screen where everyone can see it, then the panel subjects the piece to a searing, if not brutal, review.

But, I’m telling you: let your ego go, and see what you can learn!

I happened to be in Cheri’s morning class all week, so the day of the whole‑group effort, she practiced in our class on all of us! I’m pretty picky with my word choices, and some review edits on my part would have caught some of the things she did in my page. I wouldn’t want to expose anyone else’s “messes,” so I’ll only tell you a few she found in mine:

Using –ly words:

Adverbs. To avoid them, use stronger verbs

A hiatus:

A pause in the narrative, often indicated by a blank space or a symbol like an asterisk, etc. In my case, the end of the first part and the beginning of the next part did not mesh well together.

Repetitions:

“She, herself, had become lost.” Simplify: why not just “She became lost.”?

Rhythm:

I love to use rhythm in my writing – even much of my prose is “poetic” – but it’s jangling when the rhythm is “off”.

Few, very:

Any repetitions are off‑putting, but when they’re small, inconsequential words like “few” or “very” and don’t add to the story, cut them.

Favorites:

What I refer to as “faves” ‑ we all have favorite words which we use over and over. Become aware of what yours are. Some common ones, in addition to the two above, are that, it, there. Timeline words, too, can become “faves,” especially then and now. Trust your reader more: if you are telling things in a logical order you almost never need to specify “then” or “now.” And we tend to compound the problem by using those words over and over.

These ideas are only a small part of what happened to be touched on in my one page. Take a look at your own: avoid adverbs (especially the –ly ending variety). Be sure your narrative makes sense from one section to the next, whether you’ve used hiatus or section or chapter divisions. Watch out for repetitions words: and the culprits aren’t always your particular “faves”: any word repeated within a few lines or paragraphs begins to stick out. If you have a good ear for rhythm, and you use it in your writing, be sure to make it consistent.

See you next for Saturday’s Softcover!

Key Words:

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