Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Mini Challenge #3 - Setting

     The Monday Mini Challenge is a 5-minute writing exercise inspired in part by an excerpt of a middle-grade or young adult novel I've recently read. Use it as a warm-up, a procrastination device, or maybe (let's be hopeful) a springboard to a real, live writing project!
     I read David Almond's book, Skellig, a Printz Honor winner, years ago. In the story, ten-year-old Michael finds a creature-person crouched in the corner of his ramshackle garage. His discovery comes in the midst of some unsettling changes in Michael's life. He's moved into a new house and his sister's illness has turned his family's life upside down.
    The story's setting drew me in right away; it's magically atmospheric. As Michael crosses the threshold of the garage, Almond builds the tension when Michael 'switched the flashlight on, took a deep breath, and tiptoed straight inside'. On the verge of collapse, the garage is the perfect place for a creature like Skellig to be hiding. Before Michael discovers him, the reader is treated to a description of the place, thanks to the sweeping beam of Michael's flashlight:
     'Something little and black scuttled across the floor. The door creaked and cracked for a moment before it was still. Dust poured through the flashlight beam. Something scratched and scratched in the corner. I tiptoed further in and felt spiderwebs breaking on my brow. Everything was packed in tight - ancient furniture, kitchen units, rolled-up carpets, pipes and crates and planks. I kept ducking down under the hoses and ropes and duffel bags that hung from the roof. More cobwebs snapped on my clothes and skin. The floor was broken and crumbly. I opened a cupboard an inch, shined the flashlight in, and saw a million wood lice scattering away.'
     Don't you feel like you're peering over Michael's shoulder, feeling thankful he's going in first? I love the gloomy picture Almond has painted with words in that scene. So now it's your turn.
     If you've read my previous post, you'll know I love, love, love snow! If you're under, say, 16 (when you start to drive, you're perspective on snow shifts a bit), snow means sledding, snow forts, and hitting some poor unsuspecting buddy with a snowball. Let's use a snowy setting but make it not so cheery. Make it eerie! Write a scene in which two kids take us into a forgotten graveyard deep in the woods, and it has recently snowed. One of the graves has freshly-overturned dirt.
     Ready, set, go!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Is It About Snow?

     I love snow. It's that simple.
     Maybe it's because a fresh blanket of snow seems so similar to a blank page with all of its promise and possibility. Maybe I like an excuse to stay inside with the finches for company at the side of my desk and the sound of the radiators humming. I like the quiet of a snow-hushed world or looking through the picture window over the computer monitor to see a male cardinal on a branch of the redbud tree, a cheery contrast to the powdered sugar-like landscape.
     Snow makes me happy, and a happy writer is a productive writer!
     Speaking of happy, thank you to Kelly Hashway for the following blog award. The award is designed to bring traffic to blogs with under 200 followers.
Here's a handful of blogs I've been following for awhile to which I'm passing the Liebster torch. If you'd so kindly check them out while you're filling your blog-reading quota for the day, I'm sure they would really appreciate it!
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Breaking It Down: Organizing the Revision Process

         The 187-page manuscript is at my right elbow as I type, figuratively poking me.
          I'm here, it's whispering. Time to get cracking.
         It needs a revision. A medium- to medium-large revision, depending on if I look at it in a glass-half-full or half-empty sort of way. I sliced some sections away already. I have in mind what needs rewriting (or so say the notes scribbled illegibly in the margins of my hard copy).  I know what the new chapters I need to write will be about.
         Sort of.  *shutters*
         It's a scary process. Tearing down, rebuilding scenes and chapters, creating a whole new book sometimes. I look forward to working with characters that are pretty cool kids and getting back into a story I love. Can I make this story better by breaking it apart, then reconstructing it? There's thousands of words, conveying ideas, themes, motivations that need to be rearranged in another, more coherent manner. How can I keep this information organized enough that I can put the puzzle back together?
    Ummm...this is supposed to help me revise how exactly?
         I went to a non-fiction writing workshop this weekend. The presenter was author Candace Fleming. She uses an accordion file system to keep track of her chapters and their contents, sometimes 3-4 years worth of research. I read yesterday that Bruce Coville is learning how to use Scrivener. There seems to be as many systems for writing and rewriting as there are authors. The trouble isn't a lack of choices. The trouble, at least for me, is finding the right choice.
         The creating/revising process has always fascinated me. I love, love, love to hear how other writers tackle it. For me, it's still a learning process. It's comforting to know that someone as wildly-successful as Bruce Coville is still experimenting.

         What's your method? What system for revising have you used that didn't work out?

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Bits of Writing Randomness: a Friday Five

         Six days into the New Year, I've sent off a manuscript to my critique group for next week's non-fiction workshop with Candace Fleming; finished reading through a MG manuscript and made extensive notes on what needs fixin'; and caught up on blog reading, desk organizing, and undecking the halls from Christmas. Here's what else I've been thinking about:

    1. I want this! Yes, it's a bookshelf that hides a secret room! Very Clue-ish, don't you think (was it Colonel Mustard with the candlestick behind the moving bookshelf)?
    2. Speaking of bookshelves, I have three new additions for the shelves: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (currently reading - awesome!); Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (read it already but I left my copy at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and wanted it in hardcover); and Johnson's sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope. Christmas break was spent reading while lounging on various chairs and couches around the house in pajamas, thanks to a few Barnes & Noble gift cards.
    3. My new favorite candy? Cafe Britte's Coffee Candy Chews! 
    4. One writing goal I made for the New Year is to maintain a daily word count: 750 words/6 days a week. I can do it!
    5. On the desk for Monday morning: charting the MG novel's plot and writing a new chapter while it's fresh on my mind. Mood: Hopeful!
         What are you working on now?

        Monday, January 2, 2012

        Monday Mini Challenge #2 - Humor

             The Monday Mini Challenge is a 5-minute writing exercise inspired in part by an excerpt of a middle-grade or young adult novel I've recently read. Use it as a warm-up, a procrastination device, or maybe (let's be hopeful) a springboard to a real, live writing project!
             Humorous dialogue packs a punch. It's fun to read. It can move the story along when done effectively. It helps build three-dimensional characters. It can also be hard to write.
             In Jerry Spinelli's Smiles to Go, a humorous exchange takes place during the first chapter between the main character, Will, and an older boy, Jim, his science-nut neighbor. Will loves to watch Jim tinker in Jim's basement. When Jim tells Will an amazing scientific fact, that everyone and everything is made of indestructible protons, Will struggles to process the news:
             "-- You're made of protons, too."
             I stared at him. "I am?"
             "Sure," he said. "Zillions of them. The protons in you are the same as the protons in that jawbreaker. And in that stool. And in a banana. And the sock monkey. And a glass of water. And a star. Everything"-- he threw out his arms -- "everything is made of protons!"
             I was getting woozy with information overload. Me and sock monkeys made of the same stuff? It was too much to digest. So I retreated to the one conclusion I had managed to extract from all this. ", I'm unsmashable?"
             Here's the challenge:
             Remember a time when you were a kid when you were astonished by some discovery, some revelation that AMAZED you! For me, it was finding out that the naked, pink animals that I found in nests all over the field each year were, in fact, baby mice, not baby pigs. Write an exchange between two characters where one is the 'know-it-all' and the other character is the one on the verge of discovery. Use humor to lighten the mood. Ready, set, go!

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