Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Call for Topics!

I'm in the process of designing a "curriculum" of sorts for this blog, and I'd love to know what kinds of things teen writers are wondering about, or would like to learn about. If you have any suggestions or questions, please leave me a comment so I can add it to my list of things to cover!


Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer School! Well, kind of...

Ok, not really. But since we're in the thick of summer, all you writers out there, this sound is the cracking of a whip! Take advantage of the time you have, even if it's just a bit, to scribble some things in your notebook or tap away on your keyboard. Before you know it, the summer will be gone and you'll be back to your eyebrows in homework. :-) I know, sorry. Hate to remind you of it.

My challenge for you over the next 6-8 weeks is to really delve into a project you've been wanting to do for some time. Brainstorm that novel idea you have like crazy! Fill up pages with ideas for it. Write those poems that have been kicking around in your head. Fill some journal pages with thoughts about what's going on in your life right now. Write it all down, my friends! You will forget it, otherwise, and someday you'll be so glad you took the time.

If you're feeling brave, commit here and let us know what you'll be working on. Then, when school starts, give us an update and tell us how it's going for you.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Expository dialogue. What's that?

So you hear someone say that a book was full of expository writing, and you're not sure what they mean. Here's my simple explanation. I say simple because that's how I think. ;-)

There's a movie from the 80s called The Great Muppet Caper. Maybe you've seen it? Well, I'm old, I do admit it. There's a part in the movie when Miss Piggy is talking to her new boss, Lady Holiday. Lady Holiday is going on and on about her degenerate brother, Nicky, and Miss Piggy says, "Why are you telling me this?" Lady Holiday says, "It's plot exposition. It has to go somewhere."

What she's saying is this- the information about Nicky is stuff the viewer needs to know, and there's no other way for us to know it unless Lady Holiday talks about it. Would she, if it were real life, say that much to Miss Piggy about Nicky? Maybe or maybe not.

There have been books I've read in the past that have gone something like this:

(The two sisters, Mary and Ann, are talking about their mother's funeral.)

"As you know, Mary," Ann said, "mother hated roses. We cannot have roses at the funeral. When she was young, her brother, Humphrey, stomped on her rose bushes and told her that tending them was a worthless waste of her time."

I'm sure you can see the problem. (Besides the fact that Humphrey would have come out of those rose bushes severely wounded.) If Mary and Ann grew up in the same house together and had a traditional sister relationship, Mary already knows all that about their mother. Ann doesn't need to tell her. (The only reason I can think of that Ann would need to say that to her sister is if she's so scattered, nervous, sad, whatever, about their mother's death that she's just rambling to her sister. It would show that she's not thinking clearly or she's really upset.)

Sometimes in writing, it's tempting to put information that the reader needs to know into conversations between characters. Sometimes that's ok. Suppose Ann was telling a friend about the rose thing. That would make sense if the friend didn't know much about Ann's mom. Other times, though, it needs to go into the narrative. (The part of the story that's not dialogue.)

The reason some writers feel the need to put "plot exposition" into dialogue is because they're worried that there's too much narrative. We've all read paragraphs that have gone on forever, either with too much description when we want to get to the meat of the story, or too much backstory all at once. If a character is having a flashback, for instance, as a reader I don't want it to be a long one that will pull me out of the story's action.

One suggestion to avoid too much narrative is to intersperse it throughout the story. The reader doesn't need to know all at once every detail surrounding Mary and Ann's mother's dysfunctional relationship with Uncle Humphrey. In fact, if it's going to be an issue that comes into play later, it's information that needs to be spread throughout the story to keep the pace going and the suspense up.

So when you're writing dialogue, make sure you think carefully about the characters who are interacting. Ask yourself these questions:
* How well do the characters know each other?
* With the characteristics I've given them, how will they interact?
* Do I have them sharing useless information with each other, things they would already know?

Remember to avoid plot exposition in dialogue at all costs! Leave that to Lady Holiday and Miss Piggy. :-)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Writing Fundamentals- abbreviations and terms

The writing life is full of odd abbreviations and terms and you may find yourself what certain writing articles or websites are talking about. This is a list of basic abbreviations/terms you may come across as you pursue your writing career.

pov: Point of View. The angle from which a story is told.
mss: manuscript
manuscript: what you're writing
stet: an editing comment which essentially means, "I just crossed that out, but ignore my cross-out. Leave it the way it was."
sp: spelling error
protagonist: the main character of your story, the hero
antagonist: the character who is giving your protagonist a challenge/hard time. The villain.
setting: time and place of your story

In essence, a lot of this may seem familiar from your language arts classes where your teacher tells you about the elements of fiction. There are about a gajillion more, but these are the basics that came to mind as I was thinking about the most common things I've come across in my writing.

What things have you seen that you maybe didn't know about before? Anything you're wondering about? Share! :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The basics

So you love to write, but you're a little fuzzy on the grammar thing, sometimes. Well, as much as it's important to just get the writing down on paper without worrying about pesky details like perfection, (ha ha!), when you begin to edit, it helps to know a thing or two about the fundamentals of writing.

Annette Lyon has written a fabulous book, There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd. She also has a great blog, The Lyon's Tale. If you're looking for grammar help, this is a great place to start.

When you write, you need to know the rules so you can decide whether or not you want to break them. ;-) And as a writer, I've found that the more books I can find and read on the craft of writing, the better I get.

Happy writing!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Best writing advice ever?

I've seen countless bits of writing advice throughout my writing career, and I believe the best you'll ever hear is to read.

And then read.

And then read some more.

Then write.

Every day.


I love books on the writing craft. I own about a million of them. But I think by far the most effective way to become a better writer is to read a lot. Read your favorite genres. Read in other areas you might not ordinarily try, because you may pick up something along the way that will help your writing. Choose a book you'd like to read, and even if you're reading a ton of stuff for school, give yourself a few minutes each day to read something of your choice. It may take you a month to read a book that, in the summer, would take only about, say, a week and a half, but if you're like me, it's hard to have assigned reading when there's so much other stuff I want to read just for fun. Give yourself a little treat and steal a few moments with one of your favorite authors.

And of course, you must write. Write something every day, even if it's only a paragraph. Keep a journal. Keep a book of lists. (These are especially fun!) Start a notebook, (sometimes the uglier the notebook, the better, because then you're not afraid to mess it up), and find a writing prompt, either on this site, (I promise it will be updated daily!), or another and make the time to scribble something down in it.

DEFINITELY start keeping an idea notebook, if you aren't already. Jot down every little thing, idea, concept, character type, cool job, conversation that you think could make the beginnings of a good story.

Your brain, your writing brain, is a muscle! You must exercise it! Pretend I'm Jillian. Go, go, go!

There's something so fun and creative about this time of year. I adore Halloween, and you could really come up with a lot of amazing stories or scenarios geared toward all things spooky.

Now, I realize you have tons of homework and about a gajillion things making demands on your time. If nothing else, give yourself 10 minutes of uninterrupted writing time as you lay in bed at night, preferably before you turn off the light, for the sake of legibility. I've learned this: if you don't make the time, it will not seek you out. Cut off the Facebook surfing 10 minutes early, text your friends that your mom is being a ...well, whatever you call her when you're mad...and that she's making you turn off your phone for the night. (Always blame the parents. They have broad shoulders. They'll take it for you).

Do consistent writing for a week, every day, if you're not already. Then let us know here how it's going!

Oh, and watch this site for contests! They're going to be good. :-)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My book is boring me, or I have writer's block...

What happens if you're writing along, loving it, and then you miss a day or two, or three, or four and you find yourself slightly bored with the thought of picking up the pen or opening the folder?

This happened to me while I was writing my first book. I put it away for weeks at a time, sometimes months, and it took me five years to write a book that ended up being just under 200 pages long. Kinda lame, yes. I got bored with it, I listened to the inner voices that told me I was wasting my time...

Well, I've since discovered some things that will help. If you do need to put the book away for a small amount of time to take a breather, fine. Do just that. But don't NOT write something else every day. Keep your writing habit alive by still writing/journaling/scribbling something down each day. We must ingrain the daily writing habit, even if it's only ten minutes at a time.

Another idea might be to try a fresh project for a bit and then go back to the original one that was giving you fits. When you get a little bit of distance from it, sometimes you can see the thing that was wrong, or you realize you really do like that idea and you're willing to work with it again. I don't suggest you put it away for five years, though, if you can help it.

Maybe it would help to brainstorm a list of possibilities for your characters. Start making a list of things that could happen to him/her. Raise the stakes! Do something horrible and let the character work her way out of it. Shake it up a bit.

Go for a walk and think about your book. Let the fresh air slip into your head and rejuvenate those tired brain cells. (Or something like that). Truly, sometimes just moving around does wonders for my writing abilities.

Sit somewhere crowded and listen to people talking. See if there's anything you overhear that might be useful in your story. Challenge yourself- see if you can find a way to fit in something you might not have thought of otherwise.

Don't give in to boredom or writer's block! Fight it!!