Monday, November 26, 2012

Map Your Way to Your Story's Emotional Truth

     While working on a writing project, author Susan Campbell Bartoletti recalls drawing a map of the neighborhood she lived in as a child as well as her childhood home. As she sketched the house plans, memories of events and emotions associated with each room flooded back. That simple exercise helped her establish a deeper connection to her story, she said at a November conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Illinois.
     I did this same exercise a few months ago during a revision. Even though I had a (very) rough layout of my character's neighborhood on notebook paper, I redrew the map on poster board. It helped to connect me again with the physical surroundings of the story. When one of the characters was chased through the streets and into an abandoned building, I could trace his path on the map. Running six blocks at full-speed would have a much different effect on him than running two blocks. Was I clear enough in describing how he felt as he hid inside the building, waiting to see if the antagonist would find him? Would it really take him 15 minutes to walk that same path like I previously had written?  In another chapter, two characters walk from home to school, taking the city streets to get from one place to another. But looking at the map I'd drawn, I see that going through a park is a short cut. How might these new surroundings affect their actions and dialogue? Might it change the dynamics of the story? These questions popped up only after I had drawn the map.
      Think about the project you're working on now. What is your inspiration for the setting? Is there a connection to a real place? Who cares if you're not an artist — this isn't about creating a masterpiece drawing. Postboard and a pack of colored pencils won't help you discover your inner artist but it can bring out hidden elements of your story.  Making the map was also a fun distraction from the actual writing, even though I was technically still working on the manuscript.
     Have you ever mapped your setting?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Within the Pages: Deadline by Chris Crutcher

     Sometimes a book grabs me and doesn't let go until I finish. In the case of Deadline by Chris Crutcher, reading this book ate up my weekend. My entire weekend (save for dinner out on Saturday and church on Sunday). Even though it was published five years ago, I was unfamiliar with the title as well as Crutcher's other books. As a new fan, I'm on a mission to read everything else. Read on for my impression of Deadline:

by Chris Crutcher
Published by HarperCollins, 2007

Summary of Deadline from HarperCollins:
     Ben Wolf has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world.
     How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho?
     First, Ben makes sure that no one else knows what is going on—not his superstar quarterback brother, Cody, not his parents, not his coach, no one. Next, he decides to become the best 127-pound football player Trout High has ever seen; to give his close-minded civics teacher a daily migraine; and to help the local drunk clean up his act.
     And then there's Dallas Suzuki. Amazingly perfect, fascinating Dallas Suzuki, who may or may not give Ben the time of day. Really, she's first on the list.
     Living with a secret isn't easy, though, and Ben's resolve begins to crumble . . . especially when he realizes that he isn't the only person in Trout with secrets.
Character Who Would Have Your Back: Main character Ben Wolf. Despite the fact that he's dying,    Ben stands proudly in the shadow of his brother, Cody; worries about his bipolar mother; and tries to rescue the town drunk from his moral abyss. Here's a guy who loads everyone else into the lifeboat when the ship is sinking, even though he needs saving the most.
Character You Feel Sorry For Hating: Sooner Cowans, the ignorant, racist, deadly-on-the-gridiron thug teammate of Ben and Cody, who stalks underclassmen in the locker room with a wet towel. It's no wonder he's the way he is, having Boomer Cowans as a dad.
The Teacher You Never Hope to Get: Mr. Lambeer should not be in charge of a classroom, especially in history class discussing civil rights. Ben tweaks Lambeer's nose every chance he gets since he won't be around long enough to deal with the consequences of not getting a high school diploma.
Why I Read Deadline: I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Crutcher at the SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter's annual conference in September. He cracked us up, mesmerized us, and told us to speak the truth and not hold back in our writing (advice coming from someone who loves that his books consistently land on the banned books lists). I'd never read any of his books so I bought Deadline, got it signed, and couldn't put it down from page one.

What are you reading now?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Winner of the Spooktacular Giveaway

Jen Haile
is the winner of 
The Empty Mirror by James Lincoln Collier and
Deadly Wish by Tony Bradman and Martin Chatterton

Congratulations, Jen!
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