Friday, April 30, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #3: CONFLICT


Since a story is essentially a character solving a problem, that is the conflict. I swear while I was at Bootcamp, the muse visited me. My mind struggled to wrap around this simple element of fiction. Although I understand conflict, plot, and character and I have a degree in Creative Writing, my mind was opened, via the muse, to a whole new way of thinking about conflict. But, alas, the muse has left and my mind is drawing a blank. So please allow me to ramble as I try to remember its paramount importance.

...still thinking...

Ahh...yes, it is slowly returning...

Shall I ramble some more? (And of course, NEVER ramble in fiction, unless it is a character's specific trait to do so, evident through dialogue. But don't let dialogue in general ramble either. Dialogue should be the ESSENCE of conversation, not verbatim scripts of them.)

Okay, conflict. Conflict is the problem. A character encountering a problem. My realization was that problems are presented in multiple ways. One way is through complications in the character's journey toward a goal. And I got to thinking about one of my stories. Did mine accomplish this? I thought yes, then no, then yes, of course. But in a backwards sort of way. My character does not set out with a desire. She does not set out with a goal. She didn't WANT something. Yesterday, I said: someone, wanted, but, so, then. And this is what I'm talking about. Conflict, or problems, can also come in the form of just living life so happy and gay without any problems coming your way, then WHAM! life happens and a problem is lying before you wondering what you're going to do about it. So in this case, the conflict is "what is the character going to do about this problem?" What does the character WANT? To get rid of the problem and return to life as normally as possible. The character doesn't set out to achieve some great goal. The character doesn't want something specific in addition to his or her normal life. The character wants the normal life back. Plain and simple. I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it was a profound little lesson for me to learn. Not all characters are the same, but all characters do have to solve some sort of problem. Maybe that's why mystery writers love mystery. The problem IS the mystery to solve. Each character has his or her own mystery to solve in figuring out what to do with the problem that is in the way.

All this leads into tomorrow's topic of STORY LINE, which is why I struggled with conflict in the first place. I was trying to follow a type of formula, which actually works, but my mind typically doesn't work that way...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #2: WHAT IS A STORY?

What is a story?

At schools, I tell children that a story is:

Someone Wanted But So Then

What is a Story? || someone wanted but so then | writing exercise | the main story question | Too Many Pumpkins by Linda Arms White

Someone wanted cake but mom said no so the girl took it anyway, then she got in trouble.

Keep going.

But she didn't care so she made another cake, then her mom forgave her. But the dad was jealous so the girl made him some cookies, then everyone was happy.

The essence of story is a character encountering a problem and what that character does about it. The problem should raise a question. Mom said no.


Every event in the story should lead to the answer of that question.

Linda Arms White used one of her books at the conference to illustrate this point. Too Many Pumpkins is cute, clever, and enjoyable. What is the main character going to do about having too many pumpkins?

Will will your characters do about the problem that raises a question?

Keep on keepin' on...

Monday, April 26, 2010

3 Tidbits from the Children's Writers Bootcamp with Laura Backes and Linda Arms White; Charlotte NC

I went to a Children's Writers Bootcamp and it was awesome. I had such a fabulous weekend! I met over 20 fellow writers. I learned a lot. I was reminded of a lot. I said, "Yes, yes," and "Oh, yeah..." a lot. I got another idea for a new book. I developed one of my current ideas much further. I was inspired. Here are some of the tidbits that I learned.

Writer Tidbits || author advice | writing tips | conference notes | author wisdom | Don't quit your day job

Tidbit #1

Real writers write. And don't stop writing. Can't stop writing. We read. We write. And we always continue to do both, consistently and persistently. Persistence does pay off.

Tidbit #2

Jane Yolen has said that she could live off of her writing...but not until her 60th book, Owl Moon, won a prestigious award, her first award, 26 years after her first book, Pirates in Petticoats, was sold at age 22.

Tidbit #3

In other words, don't quit your day job, right? But I know at least 2 writers who have quit their GOOD day jobs to pursue the dream of writing full time and even making money with it. I, too, aspire to this writing dream. And one day I WILL be able to live off of my writing. But for now, let's just say I'm not quitting my day job.

Being with other writers, even in the virtual world, is very inspiring and energy-boosting. More tidbits and writerly wisdom to follow.

Keep on keepin' on...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

School Visit

I completed my author visit to the second graders. And, of course, they loved it. I also had their wonderful illustrations laminated and created a book for their teacher. She almost cried.

I had a blast doing the presentation: a couple activities, a slide show, and a reading. They were able to comprehend the story just fine. I think their favorite part was illustrating it. It was tricky to come up with because I had to divide the scenes up and allow all 20 students a picture to illustrate. Most pages ended up with text AND illustrations. But to create the 32 page picture book with 29 pages of text, I had some of the spreads be one page of text only and the facing page be an illustration only.

When I do the presentation again, I'll have to come up with a different focus and/or activity because I don't really want it illustrated a dozen times. It was hard enough to do for 20 students. What if the next class has 18 students, or 24? I'm still letting the ideas percolate in my mind for the future. Hopefully within the next several weeks, I'll do two classrooms together, maybe even three (1st and 2nd graders)!

Come back soon!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Accomplishment #2

Today, I didn't really write very much. I spent nearly the whole day, what I like to call, "Doing my Monies." I'm pretty good with my financing. Even as a teenager, I horded all my Christmas, birthday, and babysitting money. My family borrowed money from ME! Doing my monies entails, balancing my checkbook, entering in a number of debit card receipts, looking over my budget, paying the bills, and filing the paperwork. I kind of like to pile it up (and here's that ugly word again) *PROCRASTINATE* doing this one necessity of life. I think one of the main reasons I put it off is because I dread having the slightest discrepancy when balancing my checkbook. Then I have to research the entries, recalculate the operations, and figure out what went wrong. Anyway, it sure is a good feeling to finally have it finished. Until next month.

That being said, after I put the children to bed, I revised the query letter and cover letter for my hiccup story. That felt good, too. It had been two months. Hopefully will get to send THAT one out soon (like within the next couple of months). Well, keep on keepin' on!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

To a Higher Standard

Declaring my goals "aloud" to others helps hold me to a higher standard. Today, I actually started typing my proposal. I got the skeleton entered. If I had typed it a couple of months ago when I was in the middle of inspiration, I might actually be able to remember where I wrote it all out. My ancient chicken scratch may require a decoding tool to help me decipher all the notes. At least I got started, which is good because my excitement for the project has been rekindled. Life is good, though I often feel like a squirrel that changes direction so rapidly that a car never knows if it will end up hitting it or not. At least they have direction; they're just easily side-tracked by all the acorns on the ground. Too many to get all at once. So if I just focus, really make an effort to work under one tree at a time, I know I will finally get all my projects ready to submit. So far, there are 5 that have been written. I just have to make them really pretty (revise, write queries and the like). There are two more that are ready to be typed, but I am forcing myself to wait until the first 5 have been mailed out. And my latest wip is about the toothfairy - but trust me, it is very different!

Here are the sections of my proposal:
About the Author
Series Outline
Book Summaries

What did you accomplish today?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Goals Are Great

So, I tend to work harder when I'm reaching toward a goal. I went back to college - a second time - to get my teaching degree. That took about 6 years. When I took up running about 10 years ago, I signed up to run a marathon (26.2 miles). It was a life-changing event. I tend to set goals all the time. I'm not so strict that I can't change them, though. We can only do so much. My goal was to finish the race before the 8.5 hour time limit. And I did, barely. Needless to say, I didn't really run very much. My average speed was actually about 3.1 mph, a slow walk. But I did it! Two years later, my second marathon was 2 hours faster at about 6.5 hours! Last year, I ran a 10K (6.2 miles) about 2 minutes faster than my goal time.

With writing, my goal is to be published before I turn 40. So I have about 6 years. I think my life works in 6's. My daily goal is to work on SOMETHING related to writing every day. I don't get torn up if I don't actually write something new each day. I do research for topics and book ideas. I study picture books for craft and enjoyment. I write my occasional blog posts. I read other writing blogs. I critique others' writing. I revise my own wips (works-in-progress).

My goal for this week of Spring Break is to get a book proposal typed up. I've written most of it in my notebook, but it really needs to be typed. I've been procrastinating. Instead, I'll revise my rhyming book, or write a blog post, or read, or work on a new story. Oh, yeah, and I'm preparing my lesson plan for my upcoming author's visit. But I WILL get this proposal typed up. And now that I've broadcasted it to the world, it better be soon, right?

What writing goal do you keep procrastinating?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My First School Visit

I have scheduled my first school visit as an author. One of my manuscripts was accepted for publication! (April Fools!) But I really am doing a "school visit." I work part-time as a math tutor at an elementary school. I have 5 classes I visit each day. The teacher of the second grade class I go to has asked me to teach another lesson. (My first was about Christmas customs of Hawaii. I did a power point and we made leis, too.) So, I'm going to read my story to the class after doing a What-If Game activity. Then we'll review the book and talk about the writing process and how much time it takes to write a book. And finally, I am going to let them illustrate it. Then I'll laminate the pages and have it bound and give it to their teacher as a gift. It will be fun to see how the real illustrator does it once accepted for publication, which could easily take another year or two. Hopefully these second graders will still be in elementary school. The date of my event is Tuesday April 13. The cost is free - duh! Looking forward to this exciting adventure. I love to teach. But I especially love to teach about reading and writing! Wish me luck!


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