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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing tips, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Notes from the Critique Group - The Gap

by Maureen Lynas

This was a very interesting discussion at the SCBWI BI York critique group involving:
The space that's left for the reader when we SHOW rather than TELL

Leaving THE GAP gives the reader a role to play in the story as they infer and interpret the text. There's a balance to be had between showing and telling depending on the genre, age group, and experience of the reader.

If a book is set in a familiar world to the readership then THE GAP can be quite large. The reader fills it with their knowledge, life experiences, cultural history, emotional history etc. The author can then play with the reader's inferences and expectations. If the book is an unfamiliar world then - the author has to try harder to familiarise the reader with the world and may need to leave a smaller GAP. Without resorting to information dumps.

What are these worlds?
This is what I've come up with so far. Please do add more in the comments.
The book samples below are taken from a western readers POV but I'd love to see a similar post with book choices from another cultural POV e.g. which children's books reflect the normal world for a reader in India and how big would THE GAP be for the western reader. 

The normal world young readers live in:
Often school based. The readers are familiar with school, teachers, family, friendships, bullies, emotions.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
Most books by Jacqueline Wilson.
Mariella Mystery by Kate Pankhurst.
Chocolate Box Girls by Cathy Cassidy.
The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres.

The world young readers live in plus…
Often still school based but includes some sort of magical or fantasy element. The readers are familiar with school, family, friendships, bullies, emotions, this type of magic, good v evil, destiny, prophecies etc
Harry Potter by J K Rowling - school plus magic.
Matilda by Roald Dahl - school plus magic.
Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson - school plus ninja.
Spies in Disguise by Kate Scott - school plus spies.

Readers are bringing an awful lot to THE GAP in the above worlds.  They're really dealing with a familiar unfamiliar world. But what about the next lot.
There are lots of examples of the above that I'm very familiar with. I'm not so familiar with the types below. So please do add extra titles in the comments.

A contemporary culturally unfamiliar world.
Shine by Candy Gourlay.

An historically unfamiliar world.
Which may also be based in a culturally unfamiliar world.
Buffalo Soldiers by Tanya Landman.

An alternative historical world of unfamiliarity 
Twisting history but history is unfamiliar to children anyway. So would they know? 
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.

A non-existent unfamiliar world of oddness.
A society and premise different to the familiar - physically, culturally, geographically, and socially. 
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

An alternative future of weird technology
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.

How can you begin to establish it's a different world? I would begin with the question - How do other authors do it?
Analyse People! Analyse!
I've taken a look at Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines to get you started.

In the first chapter Philip Reeve paints a picture. He establishes a world for the story, and creates a smaller world for the protagonist, Tom.

These are the notes I've made on my first pass through.

The book opens with: An Action Scene
The city of London is chasing a small mining town.

Establishing the bigger world:
Philip Reeves places us in an unfamiliar 'bigger world' as the action unfolds. Sometimes through dialogue, sometimes through announcements, observations, setting, interactions etc.

Tom Natsworthy, Chudleigh Pomeroy, Herbert Melliphant, Clytie Potts

St Paul's cathedral glinting gold, two thousand feet above the ruined earth, land-bridge, ziggurat-town.

The Anti Traction League, guildsmen, apprentices, historians.

To the people of London it seemed like a sign from the gods.

Municipal Darwinism.

…lawns grubbed up to make way for cabbage-plots and algae plants

Unique language and technical terms which help to establish this is not here and now.
Gut-duty, traction city, argon lamps, goggle screen, exhaust-stacks, sky-clipper.

Time and cultural references that set the book in an alternative future
"It's playing merry hell with my 35thCentury ceramics."
…once been the island of Britain.
…past the big plastic statues of Pluto and Mickey, animal headed gods of lost America.

Establishing the protagonist's smaller world:

Position in society
"He's just a third, a skivvy."

Clytie Potts - "Dancing and fireworks! Do you want to come?"

Enemies and conflict
Of a similar age: Herbert Melliphant - "We don't want Natsworthy's sort there."
In a position of power: Chudleigh Pomeroy - "Natsworty! What in Quirke's name do you think you're playing at?"

Personal History
"Natsworthy's mum and dad lived down on Four, see, and when the Big Tilt happened they both got squashed flat as a couple of raspberry pancakes: splat!"

To be a hero.

Brilliantly done! Philip Reeves is a master. All that in one chapter with no info dumps. It seems to me that the protagonist's smaller world can have a bigger GAP because it's dealing with emotions and situations common to all. But the bigger world needs a smaller GAP if it's unfamiliar.

Right, now go and analyse a book  in your genre. Get the highlighter pens out. Use a colour for each heading. Add your own headings. Then apply this to your own writing. Work out what the reader NEEDS TO KNOW and get rid of anything the reader DOESN'T NEED TO KNOW. Weave the info in and out of the action. And above all

It'll be fun!
Maureen Lynas

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2. Come join us for November writing tips!


WGDW #58b

The response has been great! We’ve assembled a nice group of folks who are looking forward to their free daily writing tips all through the month of November.

There’s still time to sign up. Just go here for all the details and to get the free download of TOP 10 MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE. And be sure to tell your other writing pals. The more the merrier!

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3. Sign Up for November Writing Tips!

WGDW #58b

November is novel writing month! I’ve decided to expand the secret gift I was going to send a writer friend of mine, and send out daily writing inspiration and tips to anyone else who would like them! Here are the details. Sign up and let’s write!

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4. Moving House


Its been a while since I blogged and I’m actually excited to be tapping away at the keys on my keyboard and seeing words come alive on my screen.

Its been a busy period in my life and chief amongst the activities that have kept me busy all summer was a house move that seemed to drag on and on and on. Well, I’m happy to say my family and I have finally moved and I’m no longer a London boy. We moved to Kent fondly known as ‘The Garden of England.’ I now live in a beautiful and quiet village and my children are settling down in their new schools while I’m getting used to the longer journey into the centre of London where I work. We have good neighbors who’ve welcomed us with their smiles and cards.

We’re still unpacking but I can’t wait to set up my writing zone in our house. I started a mystery story in Spring which I’m looking to continue working on plus I want to write a Christmas story in time for the holiday season.diary of a wimpy kid My children really got into the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books over the summer holidays and it was nice to see them devour the box-set my wife and I got for them. It made me want to write something in that genre just for them. Watch this space on that front.

Cheryl Carpinello who was a special guest on Author Interview Thursday many moons ago, did a special piece on her blog about writing tips from authors and there’s a snippet from yours truly included in that piece. A worthy read to inspire and encourage you so click the link below to read all about it.

Cheryl Carpinello’s Writing Tips

Have a lovely day.


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5. New Voices Award Winners on Revising Your Story

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about one of the most important steps in writing a story: revision.

Question: What does your revision process look like??

pamela tuckPamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007

The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.

After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.

One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.

During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.

paula yooPaula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003

Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.

There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.

New Voices Award Winners on RevisionsSo during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.

Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.

THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.

I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.

I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.

Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.

Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat. :)

In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks. :)

glenda armandGlenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006

Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.

I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.

Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.

When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.

I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”

Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly).  I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.

I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).

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6. The Imagined Life of Imaginary Things: Michelle Cuevas on Writing About Imaginary Friends

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, is the imagined life of imaginary things.

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7. Get Started as a Travel Writer and Make Money Writing

Travel writing, surprisingly, is a genre that’s been around since at least the 2nd century AD when Pausanias wrote the Description of Greece. Narrative travel stories and travel diaries gained wide popularity during the Song Dynasty in medieval China, and of course, the English classic by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, has been continuously in print […]
Continue reading...

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8. 8 Ways Character Relationships Can Enhance Your Writing

Tonight in the night class I teach at a local university on writing children's books, we'll be talking about how the relationships your characters have can deepen your story's plot, enhance the connection between your characters and readers, raise tension, complicate conflicts, and much more.

The following are 8 ways you can use relationships between your characters to enhance the stories you write:

  1. Create resonance with your audience by putting your characters in relationships that matter most to and intrigue your readers 
  2. Use your character relationships to better reveal your characters’ personality and inner conflicts 
  3. Use character relationships to pull your readers deeper into the story and your characters’ lives 
  4. Use your character interactions to give your characters more profound opportunities to experience growth or change 
  5. Deepen your plot with character relationships that increase the conflict, tension and emotional/physical stakes of the story 
  6. Deepen your plot with character relationships that impede, thwart or help the protagonists’ success, or distract the protagonist from the end goal 
  7. Raise the emotional tension of your stories by creating relationship events or taking character relationships in a direction that terrify your readers 
  8. Increase the emotional connection between your readers and characters by creating relationship events or taking character relationships in a direction that makes readers worry, sad and/or happy

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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9. On Plot Structuring

Cross-posted to Aquafortis. I'm finally back to having time to devote to my WIP--or I should perhaps say, I have seized time back from the ravening bitch-goddess that is unexpected work. Not to mention the slightly less ravening bitch-goddess that... Read the rest of this post

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10. Interview: Nikki Grimes on Writing Poetry

nikki grimesComing this month, Poems in the Attic is a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.

In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?

Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words  as possible.  Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that.  I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story.  Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.

Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?

Start with word play.  I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses.  Take the word “lemon”, for instance.  What is its shape, its scent,  its color?  Does it make a sound?  Does it have a taste?  How would you describe that sound, that taste?  Where is a lemon to be found?  What does it do or what can you do with it?  In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.

poems in the atticIs there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?

There are a few answers to that question.

  1. Read poetry voraciously.  If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.  Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
  3. Play.  Build your vocabulary.  Experiment with a variety of forms.  For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default.  But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry.  It is merely one element of it.  Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry.  Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words.  These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a poem?

I love lines from my poem “Chinese Painting” in Tai Chi Morning: Snapshots of China.  In seeking to describe the magic of a master painter, I wrote

“a few strokes

And a bird is born

A few more,

And it sings.”

Do you prefer poetry on the page or poetry read aloud? Who is your favorite poet to hear or read?

I especially love poetry on the page, in part because not all poets read their work well.  I do love to hear Naomi Shihabe Nye, though, and I especially loved to hear the exquisite Lucille Clifton.

Learn more about Poems in the Attic on our website or Nikki Grime’s website.


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11. Insights Gleaned from Jane Yolen

A critical part of developing your craft as an author is research. Research involves a wide array of activities. It includes reading as much as you can in the genre you’re writing in. It involves attending writing conferences, networking with editors, agents and other authors. Part of it includes taking classes or reading the latest and greatest books on how to improve your writing. It also includes learning what other authors have to say on being an author.

As part of my recent research activities, I’ve been visiting the websites of some of my favorite children’s authors, one of which is the notorious and supremely talented Jane Yolen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read one of her books only to say to myself, “Wow! That’s exactly the kind of book I wish I had written.”

In reading Jane Yolen’s “Random thoughts on writing and on children’s books” found on her website, here are a few highlights that resonated with me.

“I generally do not think out plots or characters ahead of time… I want my own writing to surprise me, the way someone else’s book does.”

“Sometimes [a work in progress] seems promising, sometimes brilliant, sometimes just plain stupid. And that may be the same piece on alternate days.”

“Intuition works best when you remember that “tuition” is part of it.”

“Know this about being published: it is out of your hands. Even if you do everything you can think of to affect that outcome, you cannot make an editor take your work.”

And perhaps my favorite;

A writer puts words on a page. An author lives in story…  Learn to write not with blood and fear, but with joy.”

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12. For My Writing Friends: Some Great Books To Help You Up Your Game!

I’m so excited by these books, I have to pass them along.

First of all, right now you can get for the incredibly low price of $20 this entire story bundle of writing books. I would have bought just one of the books on my own–the horse one by Judith Tarr, since I’m writing a lot of horse scenes these days for The Bradamante Saga and yes, I’d like to make sure I get them right–but then once I saw all the other awesome craft books in this bundle: SOLD. Because every writer can get better, and it’s such a pleasure to read a great craft book by authors who are experts in their field.
Story Bundle Writing Books

And speaking of authors who are experts in their field, the great young adult author Tom Leveen now has a new book out on writing dialogue. Before turning to novels, Tom spent many years in the theater as both an actor and director. I’ve taught writing workshops with him, and his tips for writing great dialogue are always FANTASTIC. Treat yourself to this book. You’ll learn a ton.

That’s it for now, gang. Happy Writing!

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13. Writing Tip: How to Create Engaging Characters

So, you've written a story with an exciting or awesome plot, but for some reason your readers fail to connect with it or they quickly lose interest in reading it. It could be your characters' fault. Unless you have created engaging characters, it won't matter how interesting your plot is. Here's a short writing tip video on how to create engaging characters for the stories you write.

 Even though the video targets young writers, the concepts it teaches applies to writers of all ages. It's also great for teachers who want to supplement creative writing lesson plans. Enjoy!

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14. The Art of Writing About Villains

I’m not sure if there is an “art” to writing about villains, but I do find that to write convincing and three-dimensional villains, one must be sympathetic to their plight.

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15. Children’s Book Author Django Wexler Combines Computer Science and Creative Writing

Django Wexler is a self-proclaimed computer/fantasy/sci fi geek. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked in artificial intelligence research.

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16. Try-Fail Cycle Brainstorming Tips

Bestselling author, David Farland is not only a great author, but he's a great writing instructor. If you're an aspiring author and do not subscribe to his writing tips, you should. Today he posted a writing tip on brainstorming obstacles for try-fail cycles that I love. Try-fail cycles play a critical role in creating tension and moving a story's plot forward. But often effectively executing the the try-fail cycle as a writer can have mixed results. David's post gives some great insight for those who struggle with try-fail cycles or just need a little more help coming up with more creative ideas to throw more obstacles in your protagonist's path.

Check it out. 12 types of obstacles to consider when creating try/fail cycles

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17. Re-Imaging Shakespeare or Creating a Shakespeare Re-Mix

To make re-mixed Shakespeare exciting for young readers as well as older readers, get your hands dirty and have a field day in that Shakespeare toolbox.

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18. The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel

The verse novel is a condensed blend of poetry and story that flows from one word to the next. It shows the reader how to listen, how to see more sharply, how to emotionally connect. And somewhere in the journey we are changed.

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19. Plotting a Novel–Difficult Choices Authors Have to Make

Plotting a novel sounds easy, doesn’t it? After a […]

The post Plotting a Novel–Difficult Choices Authors Have to Make appeared first on aksomitis.com.

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20. Novel Craft: Sewing Lessons

Hi folks, I'm writing a series about how certain artistic skills enhance other artistic skills. I am an artistic and crafty person. I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about sewing lessons.

I love textiles. I always have. I know how to knit, embroider, and crochet. I can even do some tatting. I know how to dress a loom and weave fabric. I also sew. I learned how to sew in junior high. I've made over a hundreds of shorts, jackets, Halloween costumes, dresses, pants, toys, and quilts. I know how to use a pattern. I know how to create my own.

When I write, my sewing skills always come to me. Sewing starts with a provocative idea. Making a well made garment takes time and work. I fully envision the garment I plan to make. I fully envision the book I plan to write too. This is something in my head. Yes, I draw sketches and doodle on paper, but the big work is a complete internal vision. I see the thing I want, then I proceed to bring it into the light of life. Writing a book follows the same process. Just like a physical garment, I must envision a physical book at the beginning of the process.

To sew something I need a pattern. I have to decide do I want to use a pattern off the shelf or do I want to try and go it alone. I start by looking through books of patterns. For writing I look at books in the genre. I gather together patterns that are close to my vision. I always tweak patterns for sewing and writing. I feel a need to put my stamp on my sewing work and my writing. I have certain sleeves that I love, and often those sleeves go into the WIP garment , even if the pattern calls for something else. I don't like the way certain collars look so I will modify to put on a collar that is more of my thing. In writing, I have certain scene structures that I use often. There are some sorts of pacing that I will never use. The list goes on.

After I've got my pattern, chosen my fabrics, picked out my notions, gathered my tools, I'm ready to sew. In writing, I gather scrap art, pick characters, research subjects, gather thematic elements, and gather my tools. I cut out the pattern, and it's time time to sew. I write an outline and it's time to write. Sewing is painstaking work just like writing. You have to pin each piece just so. You must also fit in each scene just so. I have sewn in pieces backwards, upside down, and on the wrong side. It hurts to pick out all those stitches. No matter how slow you work, there are always necessary adjustments. It's the same with writing. I put scenes in the wrong place. I have to reorder events, sometimes I have to edit out huge swaths of my planned plot. I've got too much going on.

Sewing helps me write.

I often find myself working through writing problems by comparing them to sewing problems. The comparison helps me find my way. Perhaps you have some artistic skill that will help guide you, Will help you out of tight spots, Will help you complete your WIP. Good luck on your journey. I will be back next week with more lessons.

Here is a doodle for your week: This was a doodle I did when envisioning a dress.

Here is quote for your pocket"
Sewing mends the soul. ~Author Unknown

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21. Do Authors Manipulate Readers? Guest post by Vonnie Hughes

You bet they do! Authors know what buttons to push.

By ‘what buttons to push’ I mean what buttons do authors use to manipulate (yep, being honest) their readers’ emotions, to get them on side with the characters in their books. For example, perhaps the author creates unlikeable, evil antagonists and emphasizes the sterling qualities of his protagonists.

The most obvious ploy is the ticking clock. It not only lends urgency but it yanks the reader along at a rush, keeping him intrigued.

Then there’s characterization. Of course in this dynamic world, what worked ten years ago may not have the same appeal in 2014. The innocent 1960s virgin, so prevalent in romances of that time, would drive a reader from 2014 to drink. We are much more cynical, well-informed and downright demanding than we were then. Historically though, some classics retain their appeal because they are much more than the sum of their characters’ emotions. To Kill A Mockingbird’s racial tensions are still not outmoded today, and that lazy description of the syrupy south’s inbred attitudes is not far from the truth in some out-of-the-way places. And that is why books like these are classics. They endure not just because of the characters in the books but because of the settings and historical attitudes. And Harper Lee manipulated the readers’ emotions. Think of the way she pushes Scout’s lack of desire to be a ‘lady’ so that the reader is on Scout’s side.

Perhaps today’s writers manipulate the readers in more subtle ways. What of Dick Francis’s heroes who are often of the working class up against a criminal upper class or just up against class bigotry where he is on the outside looking in? Dick Francis does that so well that even if the protagonist is not your usual Everyman, the reader is still very much on his side. That’s right. The modern protagonist need not be a perfect hero as he has been in novels and movies of the past. Some have patchy backgrounds and they’ve made mistakes.

There’s Lee Child’s Jack Reacher who thrums a string in every male heart. They all want to be Jack with his freedom and lack of possessions but with an innate sense of responsibility. And of course Jack has been in the military and knows how to handle himself in vicious situations. Every man’s dream. There are a lot of wannabe Jacks out there. And Lee knows how to manipulate those readers. 

Tami Hoag’s heroines are believably imperfect. They make mistakes and have hang-ups that readers can empathise with and they frequently have to form alliances with people they don’t trust. There’s that little brush of reality that lends credence to the stories.

So…empathy and sympathy are the buttons. And the harder those buttons are pushed by authors and movie makers, the more a reader/viewer becomes invested in the characters. We need to see how the protagonists get themselves out of a bind, or if the evil antagonists get their come-uppance. And the best books of all are where you know darned well that the author is pushing your buttons, but you just don’t care. The book is so good! ~Vonnie

Vonnie Hughes is a multi-published author in both Regency books and contemporary suspense. She loves the intricacies of the social rules of the Regency period and the far-ranging consequences of the Napoleonic Code. And with suspense she has free rein to explore forensic matters and the strong convolutions of the human mind. Like many writers, some days she hates the whole process, but somehow she just cannot let it go.

Vonnie was born in New Zealand, but she and her husband now live happily in Australia. If you visit Hamilton Gardens in New Zealand be sure to stroll through the Japanese Garden. These is a bronze plaque engraved with a haiku describing the peacefulness of that environment. The poem was written by Vonnie. 

All of Vonnie’s books are available on Musa Publishing and Amazon.

Learn more about Vonnie Hughes on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Goodreads.

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22. Workshop Scholarship: The Art of the Pitch, Daedalus Books

Workshop Scholarship: Applying to Publishers and Artist Residencies (fee free)

Daedalus Books Presents THE ART OF THE PITCH taught by John Sibley Williams and Jill McCabe Johnson

Saturday, February 7, 2015, 2-4:00 pm
2074 Flanders Avenue, Portland, OR
Two scholarships are available for the workshop. To apply, tell us in 50 words or less, why you especially, of all the charming writers in the world, should get the scholarship. Free application. Deadline is February 1, 2015
Learn more about the workshop here.
Apply for a scholarship here.
Artsmith’s founding director Jill McCabe Johnson and literary agent and publicist John Sibley Williams will guide you through a hands-on, two-part workshop to help you find and pitch your work to the book publishers and artist residencies that match your vision and aesthetics. 
In the residency portion, participants will:
• Learn what reviewers look for in residency applications
• See examples of successful applications
• Gain tips and practical advice for crafting a compelling application package
• Find out how to target residencies that are a good fit for your work
• Draft the “story” of your creative work for application purposes
In the book publisher portion, participants will:
• Learn how to craft comprehensive publisher pitches
• Find out how to tailor your approach to specific publishers
• See examples of successful cover letters, marketing plans, and CVs
• Discover how to research and judge which publishers best suit your work and goals
• Draft the pitch cover letter for your book

Beverages and snacks will be provided, and Daedalus Books will provide a 10% discount on all book sales to attendees.

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23. Writing for Charity

I often get asked the question, "I've been thinking about writing children's books, how do I get started?" I have an FAQ on my website that goes in detail on my typical answer, but part of that answer always includes "attend writing conferences."

Fortunately, I live in an area with a quite a few successful children's authors. As a result, each year we enjoy the opportunity to participate in or attend a number of local conferences devoted to writing for the children's market. One such writer's conference is our annual Writing for Charity conference.

One of the unique things about the Writing for Charity conference is that all the proceeds for the conference to towards getting books into the hands of needy children. More than 40 local children's authors donate their time to present at this conference and give critiques. Some of this year's authors include Shannon Hale, Matthew Kirby, Jessica Day George, Ally Condie, Kristyn Crow, Sara Larson, and J Scott Savage.  The programming covers picture books, MG, and YA. It doesn't matter if you're a rank beginner or fairly experienced, it will have something to benefit.

The conference itself is high caliber, but very low cost - $55 for the entire day. The conference will be on March 21, 2015 at the Provo Library. You can find more information on the Writing for Charity conference at www.writingforcharity.blogspot.com.

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24. Creating Settings: Bringing the Sounds, Sights and Smells Home

Lisa Doan | The Children’s Book Review | March 6, 2015 When I began writing The Berenson Schemes, a middle grade series in which responsible Jack Berenson is repeatedly lost in the wilderness of foreign countries by his globe-trotting parents, I gave some careful thought to creating the settings. The books take place in the Caribbean, Kenya and […]

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25. Back In The Room…

It’s good to be back! I have taken time off from writing this blog to concentrate on writing children’s books. It takes a while to create meaningful, exciting and engaging characters who jump off the page, climb up your nose and playfully mess about with your brain. I shall be posting soon about some exciting new […]

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