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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Amplitude Modulation? What Kind Of Writer Are You?


Dave Amaditz

I think it's important as a writer to be able to classify your writing technique. By that, I mean do you outline? Storyboard? Do you have the entire novel, characters, setting, plot worked out in so much detail that you don't need to outline or storyboard?

I've tried outlining and never made it much further than the first few chapters. On the surface, storyboarding looks great, having ideas and/or images for chapters and characters set up on a board in front of you so you can tell what scene a particular character has been in, what chapter and so on and so on. That didn't work for me either. It seems I spent more time on the storyboard than writing the novel. Plus, more importantly, when I began to write, my characters didn't always allow me to go in the direction outlined on the storyboard. Hence, all that work for nothing.

Perhaps none of those strategies work for you, either. Perhaps, you're like me and you know where the story begins and where it ends. The details, like chapter endings, character flaws, settings and personality traits are worked out while writing.

I let my characters guide me. It may sound crazy, but I can't do it any other way.

A story that follows a straight line from point A to point B is the ultimate goal when I write my novel. When reached, my plot and characters are consistent. They do not waiver from chapter to chapter, from beginning to end. However, my first drafts often resemble the image you may have seen in one of your elementary science classes about AM (amplitude modulation).

Sometimes my main character takes me on surprising journeys. He (no female protagonists as of yet) leads, and I follow, and because of that we end up a little off course, a little above, or maybe even way above the line. It is through those journeys that I learn so much more about him, the little nuances and idiosyncrasies that make the character more real, more believable. There are times he introduces me to another character and we dip below the line. That character may become part of the novel. They may even get temporarily left aside... for use in another novel, maybe?

My job is to make my story tighter, as close to the line as possible, like the image of the flatline below.
That only comes after many revisions, after learning more about how a character thinks and acts and relates to the others within the story. 

The current novel I recently finished has been through many drafts, six or seven or... more. Who's counting? (Not me anymore.) The first few drafts strayed far above and below the line. I've taken it as close to straight as possible, but welcome the chance to get it straighter with another round of revisions with an agent or an editor.

While waiting for that opportunity, I've begun a new novel. I know where I want the story to begin. I know where I want it to end. Although I'm trying to stay straight and true, I know I'll eventually deviate from the line. I know too, that this will help me to learn more about my characters. My only hope is that I can one day narrow down the amount of revisions it takes to write a straight line from point A to point B.

What kind of writer are you? I'd love to hear about your process.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is It Time to Invest in a Workshop?

Retreats or Conferences
 Just How do You Want to Spend Your Money?
by Kitty Griffin

One of my writing buddies, Dave, is getting ready to head to New Jersey for the NJ SCBWI June conference. He's excited because he's got a good manuscript and he's been paired with someone he wanted to meet.

The NJ conference lets you pick who you get to send your manuscript pages to. That's pretty special. I've been to other SCBWI conferences where you don't know who you have until you get there. 

Knowing in advance gives Dave the chance to do a little research on the person so he can go in prepared. That's terrific for both sides. 

So, as we roll into summer, there are lots of workshops and conferences available to children's book writers. How do you chose? Most of us don't have a gazillion dollars to spend, so it's important to find out what is going to help you get the most bang for your buck. 

For writers, I think it's very important to find a conference that leaves you so fired-up you're anxious to get to your story. Not only that, you've got some fresh ideas on what your story needs.

Beginning writers can't go wrong with SCBWI conferences. It's a great place to find out what's expected of you. For those writers just starting out, trust me, a day-long conference can be exhausting. If you've never read your work out in front of strangers, it can also be intimidating. But SCBWI has been helping beginners for a long time. They know what they're doing.

Those of us a bit further along need to find conferences like the New Jersey conference where there is a dedicated track for nearly published and published writers. (I must confess here, I've been on faculty for the NJ conference). 

I really love week-long conferences. I love being among all types of writers and immersing myself in words and characters. 

One of my absolute favorites is the Appalachian Writer's Workshop held at the Hindman Settlement School which is located at the Forks of Troublesome Creek.
I mean, just the name, Troublesome Creek, if that doesn't lure you in I don't know what would. 
(Again, this is a conference where I've been on faculty).

When I first went to Hindman I remember feeling accepted as a writer, and what joy that was. There was no separation of published and not yet published. We were all writers. George Ella Lyon taught the Children's Writing class and every day was an experience where we laughed, and yes, sometimes cried.

The Bridge Crossing Troublesome Creek 

I also took classes in poetry and non-fiction, screenwriting and grown-up fiction. It gave me a chance to try on different types of writing.

The Cabin at the Settlement School
This summer, the featured speaker is Barbara Kingsolver. Oh, how I wish I were going!

Music is important all week long

It's a long, busy week, but you'll come away refreshed and renewed. I have to caution though, the living style is not the Ritz. It's more like comfortable Girl Scout Camp. But you do have the option to stay at the Quiltmaker Inn for a bit more money.

For more information go to 
and follow the link to the Writers' Workshop. 

Another weeklong program I've been to is one held at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. This is another program that offers a variety of workshops including writing for children and young adults. You stay in the dorms. I chose this program because I paid the extra money and got credit towards my MFA. It was well worth it.

Whether you go for a day or a week, invest your money carefully. Some workshops, like the ones at the Highlights Foundation, are quite expensive, but if you come away with what you need to sell your book, isn't it worth it? 

If you aren't willing to invest in yourself as a writer, well, why should an editor invest in your book?

Does anyone else have a conference recommendation?

Friday, May 17, 2013

19 Tips for Writing Screenplays

19 Tips for writing screenplays
by Kitty Griffin

Now why on a blog that's dedicated to writing for kids am I posting about screenwriting? Simple. Without learning screenwriting I would not have been published. Learning how to build a screenplay was the most useful thing I did for myself as a writer. Understanding how to set up a scene helped me understand how to write picture books. Understanding how to set up acts helped me build a novel. I strongly urge anyone writing fiction to take the time and effort to learn how to write a screenplay. Not only is it fun, it is wicked fun. I truly found it to be some of the most enjoyable writing I've ever done.

Here are two books that you might find helpful.

1.     From the moment you start you must know your main character.
2.     You must know the premise of your story and tell it in 1-2 sentences.
3.     You must have a good grasp of the action line for your story.
4.     A screenplay has a structure. Acts I, II, and III. In between are the scenes that build momentum for each act as the story moves toward the resolution.
5.     Anchor the viewer quickly, bring on the protagonist and let us know their goal by page 3.
6.     Don’t let the viewer have to guess about setting/location/time.
7.     By page ten THE INCIDENT will have occurred. The incident that spurs your protagonist on to whatever the adventure is.
8.     Around page 15 we should have an idea as to who the antagonist is. 
9.     By the end of the first act you will have established the event/s that will set up Act II.
10. As Act II begins your protagonist will be up to their eyeballs in alligators and not only has the situation changed, so has the challenge.
11. By page 45 your protagonist will have been sorely tested. We will have seen her strengths and weaknesses revealed.
12. You’ve reached the midpoint, page 60. How is your character feeling? Confident or downtrodden? What will you do in your story to keep things moving forward?
13. Nearing the end of Act II your character hits bottom. All is lost. Your character has got to find the resources and resolve to keep going.
14. What will you do at the end of Act II to set up Act III?
15. Ahhh, page 90. The beginning of your final act, Act III. This is it. You’ve made things very difficult for your protagonist. Now you’ve got to show how you prepared them to take this final challenge.
16. Page 115 and you’ve reached the summit, here is the climax. This is where the protagonist defeats the antagonist. This is where all you put into building your character will shine through.
17. The resolution. All calms down. Your main character has changed. The problem solved. All the hints that you gave throughout have been harvested and everyone is satisfied.
18. As you write your dialogue remember that it serves several purposes.
a.     It helps reveal your protagonist. Perhaps they have a stammer when they get nervous, or they repeat words. It can help show a sense of humor which makes a character more likable.
b.     It helps to define the plot.
c.      Good dialogue will work to build tension, as well as relieve tension.
19. Remember to take advantage of subtext. Let your action line interweave with a background story, this will broaden your protagonist and help the audience understand your character’s dilemma. If we know the main character was abandoned as a child we will feel more sympathy for her when her boyfriend betrays her and dumps her for another woman.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Case of Mistaken Identity

As a lover of books, the library has been my favorite destination since I was a young girl growing up in New York City. I still can't believe my good fortune at being a published author whose books are now in libraries across the country. Since the publication of my first art activity book (The Little Hands Art Book) I've visited many libraries doing craft workshops. These visits have allowed me to see kids making a craft from one of my books. Most recently I was planning a trip back to NYC and decided to contact a branch of the New York City Public Library. I offered to do a craft with some of the local children, including my three year old granddaughter and a few of her preschool friends. Well in advance I contacted the children's librarian in charge of author visits and we discussed craft supplies and publicity. She said she'd take care of the flyer and I filled her in on what I planned to do. In case you don't recognize her, that's a photo of Judy Blume and not me on the flyer! I'm still not sure how the mistake was made, but I must say it provided me with lots of laughs and wishes that I could be as successful an author as Judy Blume! So even if you've yet to publish a book, the library is still a wonderful place to volunteer and offer to give a talk on a topic you have expertise in. Just make sure they have your correct picture on the flyer!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Orange and Silver and Purple, oh my! Those Pesky Rhymeless Rascals

During my many spirited discussions at elementary schools over the years, the hottest topic in poetry is still that pesky rhymeless orange.  For as many students who agree with you that nothing rhymes with our citrus friend, there as just as many who say, how about 'door hinge?' I would counter that it is at best an imperfect rhyme.  Or, pray tell, how do you work a door hinge into a poem about an orange? 
As a matter of fact, had it not been for school visits, I never would have learned of those other rhymeless rascals: silver, purple and month.  However, being the hopeless rhymantic and Suessian that I am, my solution has always been to go where no rhymer has gone before - make something up.
Don't you hate to exercise?
I do it once a month.
The reason? I'm a lazybones
who will not jog or runth.
Eating peanut butter pie
is certainly more funth.

Go ahead and bend those rhyming rules! You won't be the first and you won't be the last.  If you went to rhymezone.com (a favorite of mine when my rhyming dictionary is not within reach) and typed in purple, pretend they give you burple, chirple and slurple.  Or beyond that, how about glurple? Isn't that the sound you make while slurpling your purple popsicle?

RHYMELESS ALERT:  On a recent school visit, a student added "pizza" to the list.  But he did go on to say it was something that he loved to eatza...

Friday, May 10, 2013

19 Tips for Writing Mysteries

By Kitty Griffin
One of the scariest books I've ever read!

A classic

This is a fun series
  1. The detective needs to do detecting to solve the crime. Consider this part of the oath written by G.K. Chesterton for the British Detection Club: "Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?"

  2. Mystery stories should begin with ACTION! They should have an energetic, suspenseful start.

  3. If your story is for middle-grade readers stick with a single viewpoint. YA can have multiple viewpoints as long as it helps the story progress and works to deepen the mystery.

  4. A good mystery will have a ticking time bomb…the character has so much time to solve the mystery or THE WHOLE WORLD ENDS!

  5. Remember to ask yourself, WHAT IF. And then think it through. You don’t want plot holes.

  6. In mysteries your main character is the most important part of your story. You don’t need a lot of back-story or painful character growth. Mysteries are fast, curious, and intriguing.

  7. Choose minor characters carefully. Best friends are good because it will give your main character someone to talk to. Don’t be afraid to let these minor characters be different or even a bit unreliable.

  8. So, the main character has a problem and must solve it by him/herself. In a mystery the problem has to do with the solution of the mystery.

  9. Remember to have each chapter end at an exciting place! And THEN….

  10. Keep track of the clues that you use in your story and pay attention to your “red herrings.” Red herrings are bits of information that are designed to mislead readers by making them suspect the wrong characters.

  11. Suspense is an important ingredient in a mystery story. Allow your characters to be scared.

  12. The setting should fit the mood of the story. Write so vividly that readers feel like they are right there with your character.

  13. Readers should meet the main character RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING.

  14. Know how your story will end before you begin to write it.

  15. Don’t try to fool the reader by having the detective use a silly disguise, twins, or a revelation from the Angel Featherduster.

  16. Make sure the clues you give your young reader are ones that they have access to and can understand. (If the caper is solved because the kid knows how to disarm a thermonuclear device, then the kid had better be THAT smart from the first sentence).

  17. Don’t make up stupid stuff. If you aren’t sure how a policeman would investigate something, go ask them.

  18. Show don’t tell. Of course. So important. Pay attention to how many times you use was. Try NOT to use was, if you have to, do it sparingly.

  19. Make sure you read your dialogue out loud and have someone listen. Your dialogue has to be realistic for your mystery to keep a good pace.

Monday, May 6, 2013

First Friday-Five Favorite Things: Personal Effects

by E.M. Kokie

E.M. Kokie

This past Friday, May 3, Marcy and I posted our answers to Emily's debut novel, Personal Effects. Today, you get to read Emily's favorite's. She's obviously given a lot of thought to her answers, which isn't surprising since the novel addresses so many thought-provoking topics.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

I love so many bits that show Matt's growth, but one of my favorites is:

"Whatever it was, I didn't ask because I figured, ultimately, whatever was in his head was about death. It never occurred to me it could be about life."

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

It's so hard to play favorites. And, I am conscious of spoilers. But I am very fond of the end of Chapter Sixteen -- Matt is bewildered and flummoxed after a tense time with Shauna. I love the last two pages of that chapter, Matt replaying what has just happened, seeing things realign as he realizes how badly he has misread the situation. It ends with him standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, bewildered and shoeless. I love that sense of what the hell just happened, and then his analysis of what just happened, all while shoeless on the sidewalk. And I'm really happy with it because it was such a difficult scene, to find the right course and the best ending.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

This one definitely could inch into spoiler territory. So, I will say one of my favorite secondary characters is TJ. I love his strength, his kindness, his sense of humor and courage, and how the reader (hopefully) gets to know him through Matt's and other characters' memories of him. It seems funny to call him a secondary character, given how much of the plot involves him, but it is Matt's story.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Personal Effects is in first person present tense. Much of it is Matt reacting to whatever is happening at that moment. But I love the scene early on in the book of Matt and his father in the kitchen, Matt is seated at the table, hurt and hurting, but still very much on guard, still afraid, all senses on alert -- it's description, but it's also insights into Matt and his relationship with his father:

My neck's so stiff, it might break if I turn my head, so I give up trying to read his face. Instead I track his path around the kitchen by sound.

Refrigerator. Sink. Cabinet. Sink. Freezer. Creak of the ice tray. Ice in a glass. Stray cubes in the sink. Clatter of empty ice tray on the counter. That cabinet opening. Twist of the screw top from the bottle. Whisper of scotch against ice. Long gulp. Silence. Crack-hiss of a can being opened. Silence. Clink of ice on glass. Smaller sip. Smacking lips. Silence. Deep breath. Silence. Movement. Then his feet are directly in front of me. I risk the pain to look up.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

So much of Personal Effects is heavy. But there are some lighter lines. One of my favorite less serious lines of dialogue is from later in the book, from Harley:

"OK. Clearly, you are not picking up the thread. Natasha is a kick-ass spy. Well, she should be, anyway, if it weren't a cartoon that relies heavily on a moose and squirrel always ending up on top. So let me be your Natasha and help with the spying or whatever."

We appreciate you sharing your current favorites for Personal Effects and encourage our readers to pick up a copy of the book.

Friday, May 3, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz &
Marcy Collier

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie

Welcome to May’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut author E. M. Kokie's novel, Personal Effects.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave - To me, this passage catches Matt at one of his lowest points. He thinks he's finally worked out a way to reconnect with parts of his brother's life he never knew, but... well, let Matt describe what happened, as he'll do a better job than I.

I thought I was coming here on a mission, one last thing I could do for T.J., maybe the most important thing anyone could do for him. And I planned and plotted and drove and skulked and it all worked... except for the part where I got everything totally 100 percent wrong.

Marcy - On the road trip back home from delivering a special letter, Matt makes a stop at McConnells Mill State Park (which is actually one of my favorite places to take a day trip from Pittsburgh). He replays the last camping trip he and his brother T.J. took and realizes that he had everything all wrong when his brother tried to have a heart-to-heart talk with him in front of the campfire. This realization shows how his character has grown.

But maybe he was trying to figure out if he could tell me or if he should tell me, or how. Maybe he was already getting ready to leave for good, leave me behind, and didn’t know how to tell me that. Whatever it was, I didn’t ask because I figured, ultimately, whatever was in his head was about death. It never occurred to me it could be about life.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - Matt has been reading through stacks of letters and searching through tons of pictures that were part of his brother's "personal effects." They're helping him to reconnect with the part of his brother's life that he didn't know. He's borrowed his friend’s car and drove hundreds of miles to meet the girl, Celia, who has written most of the letters and is in many of the pictures, the girl who he thinks might be his brother's wife.

The front door opens, and a tall guy in a suit shuffles through, juggling some kind of briefcase, two cloth bags, and some other stuff.

"Hi," he says when he looks up and sees me standing there. "You must be Matt, right?"

Oh. Celia's brother. A little older than in the pictures, and with the start of a scruffy beard, and glasses, but definitely him.

"Oh, uh, hi," I carefully put the picture back where it was, adjusting it until it's exactly like I found it. "I was just looking at the pictures."

I think she has some albums set aside to look through with you," he says, staring at the pictures on the table. "Some pictures of your brother."

I want to say something, but nothing seems right, with the twisting sick feeling in my stomach and the itching desire to see the pictures she's put aside right now.

"So, you're Celia's brother, right?" I take a large sip of my soda and push my hand out to shake hello.

"Uh, no. I'm Will. Celia's husband."

Marcy - I’m usually a pretty perceptive reader. I always seem to see the next surprise coming at me. I. Did. Not. See. This. Coming. Oh my gosh, this cliffhanger ending blew me away and forced me to stay up way past my bedtime to see what happened next. I will not ruin this for those readers who have not read the book yet. Go get a copy of the book!

“So, you’re Celia’s brother, right?” I take a large sip of my soda and push my hand out to shake hello.

“Uh, no. I’m Will. Celia’s husband.”

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave - Shauna is my favorite secondary character. She's known Matt for years and knows everything he's been through, yet chooses to stand by him despite all of his problems and how others think of him. She's risking so much of herself to help Matt make connections with his brother's friends, by lending him her car. The following example will give you an idea of how much she cares for him.

She shakes free and wraps her arms around her middle. "Look, whatever happens, or... whatever you decide to do, just call me, OK? Every day? Because I'm going to worry, and probably be grounded, and it's going to suck and..." Her hard eyes scare me. "Just promise, OK?"

Marcy – Oh, Shauna – a girl after my own heart. She’s sweet and adorable but can be oh-so-tough and forceful when she gets upset. She’s been Matt’s best buddy since they were kids. Matt wants to become more than friends but would never jeopardize their friendship. She wants to join Matt on his road trip, but he won’t allow her to come. She’s so mad at him, but doesn’t break her promise of allowing him to use her car. Then, she throws him an envelope with cash in it.

“It’s only what I had on hand from my birthday and babysitting, so not that much, but there’s no way you’d make it back with what you have.”

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave - So much of the story is tension-packed because of the relationship between Matt and Dad. I chose this passage because it shows that even with all the turmoil in his life, Matt is still on many levels able to function like a normal teenage kid.

I trade her one of the sodas for a steaming plate. Before digging in, I wait for her to sit. But she puts her soda down so she can pull her sweatshirt from around her waist and tug ittarget over her head. COUGAR SOCCER blazes across her chest in brand-spanking-new gold letters. I remind myself not to stare. It's new - the sweatshirt, not her chest. Her chest has been tormenting me for years. Last week, all the rising-senior soccer players got their "senior sweatshirts" in one of those very-important-to-them ceremony things. She's been wearing it whenever it's the least bit cool enough and being very careful not to get it dirty. Shauna already has senior fever: excited and going through all the rituals of junior year to be ready. The way things are going, I may never be as senior. Her teammates think I'm a loser. They're not the only ones.

Marcy - The reader doesn’t have a clear picture of Mom’s story until near the end. One of my favorite paragraphs relates to Matt coming to terms with his mother’s leaving him at such a young age.

How do you grieve for someone who kissed you good-bye one morning when you were five years old and then left while you were at preschool, so that you came home to an empty house and never saw her again? Do you even grieve when you spend the next year and a half confused and scared and sometimes worried that she might come back?

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave - This line comes from Matt , and I think it could've been used as my favorite scene relating to character growth, as he is finally able to stand up to his father and say what he thinks.

"Dad... I'm not T. J. And I'm not you." I don't know who I am yet. "can't you see that? And just let me... let me have a couple years to... figure it out? Figure out..."

Marcy –Matt has just discovered that he has no idea who his brother really was and can either face the truth or live in denial.

“If you want to hear about who your brother really was, come on back, or call. But if you ever take a swing at me again, I’ll break your arm.”

You can find Emily at: