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26. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 3)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

If you’ve been around this week, you know I’m in the midst of a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction books. If you missed them, you might want to check out my previous two posts (here and here) on CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

The book is structured like a collage, a collection of several short narratives that are impressive alone but which together tell a deeper story. (I got into the nitty gritty yesterday.) There are other more subtle structures at work in this book, though, and I want to be sure to mention them before I finish my study.

Jenkins starts by exploring the ways humans have visibly changed the world, and then he leads us, animal-by-animal (snapshot-by-snapshot) to the less obvious but equally dangerous invisible change we humans are engineering: climate change. This progression from visible to invisible is logical and probably unnoticed by most casual readers. But it’s effective in that it adds another layer of movement—logical movement—to the piece.

There is also a subtle but palpable emotional arc from the opening question (Can we save the tiger?) to the author’s feeling that a world with “no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas” would be a shame. Jenkins’ final address to the reader (“don’t you?”) takes this arc even one step further. Could any reader resist this gentle pull toward the only imaginable ending? Do I think such a world would be a shame? Why, yes. Yes, I do.

Finally, the design of a children’s book lends a physical dimension to its structure and can, therefore, support textual and thematic structures. There are elements of the design of this book that demonstrate this, I think. For example, font changes are used to great effect: a bold font is used to name animals, gently emphasizing each; a chalky font is used to alert readers to pauses between snapshots (or mini narrative); and a traditional font is used for all the rest. What’s more, transition pages gently underscore the collage structure by offering artistic interludes between each section of the book (or, to use the language I’ve been using in these posts, between each snapshot in Jenkins’ collage)… and they give the artist room to share her glorious studies of animals that, like tigers, partula snails, vultures, bison and kakapos, are in trouble.

I could do several more posts on the ways, beyond structure, that this book works for me. Jenkins’ voice, for example, is superb. (By addressing readers directly, he allows them in to the story and keeps them there.) His descriptions? Lovely. (Partula snails “so small that one of them could happily spend its whole life in a medium-sized bush.”) But it’s time for me to move on to the next book, I think. This study is all about structure.

Bottom line from me? CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is an engaging exploration of a difficult topic, and I think the structure Jenkins chose to build it with is a big part of its success with readers.


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27. Can We Save The Tiger? (Part 2)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the structure used by author Martin Jenkins in his picture book, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? (For a more detailed introduction to this plan, read yesterday’s post.)

The story Jenkins shares in CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is a broad one: we humans are changing the planet and the animals that live here are paying the price. The menagerie of species considered endangered by human activities is overwhelming, so Jenkins separates them into five loose groups. Using a single high-impact example from each group, he then shares the extinction story in small doses, one endangered animal at a time. The resulting structure—a collage of sorts—brings readers to an unforgettable conclusion: losing species is unbearable and we must act.

Let’s look at this collage structure more closely, shall we? Here’s how I see it …

Snapshot 1: Animals that are running out of room. In other words, big animals, like the titular tiger. Jenkins’ voice throughout the book is lovely, and here, early on, we see how his choice to speak directly to the reader is effective:

“… if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months of working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.”

Of course the reader wants to save tigers. But the reader can also understand a poor farmer’s motives. With this carefully chosen first snapshot, the reader is hooked.

Snapshot 2: Animals that are endangered as a result of human-introduced predators. Here Jenkins shows us a tiny snail, a satisfying juxtaposition to the tiger and, I think, a subtle nod to the idea that endangered species run the gamut from BIG to SMALL (and, of course, everything in between; see the UGLY addition below). In his image of the partula snail, we see how the movement of species by humans can have unforeseen and unintended consequences for other species.

Snapshot 3: Animals that are impacted not by movement but by other human actions. Here we add to the idea of running the gamut: even UGLY animals, like vultures, are vulnerable. By now the reader is wondering if there are animals that aren’t endangered.

Snapshot 4: Animals that were nearly extinct but came back. The reader is ready for this bit of good news. Bison were forced to the edge of the extinction abyss by human actions, but we managed to pull them back from that edge in time. This snapshot is a much needed and well-timed picture of hope.

Snapshot 5: Animals that were nearly extinct, that we are trying to help, but which are still in trouble. Here Jenkins makes it clear there is still much to worry about. If we are lucky, as with the bison, we can reverse the damage of our bad habits. But sometimes we will act too late. It’s still not clear if we will be able to save the kakapo.

Each of these snapshots is actually a distinct story, a small narrative starring the animal in question and its plight. Arranged side-by-side, however, and with Vicky White’s art, the snapshots give readers a deeper and broader view of animal extinction on planet Earth. They build a perfect collage.

The effectiveness of such the collage structure, of course, is tied to the logic of its presentation. The order in which the individual images are presented to the reader must make sense, even if the reader only experiences that logic subconsciously. Jenkins shows us something big, moves on to something small, then adds something ugly, something hopeful, and something sobering. Another order of these images could, perhaps, build an effective collage. The point, however, is that there are certain orders that would not work at all … and Jenkins knew enough not to use them.

For example, starting with the kakapo, a squat and relatively unknown critter, is technically possible … but such an opening would have been much less compelling than the tiger opening. And Jenkins would have lost the lovely juxtaposition that so nicely relayed the breadth of the extinction problem. (That is, the big-small-and-everything-in-between gamut I mentioned earlier.) Starting with the tiger, an animal all readers will recognize and most will admire, gave the author a much stronger opening …  and plenty of room to transition into a second image.

Here’s something else that struck me about the collage structure: the importance of the order in which the snapshots were presented is very important, but it is not something I recognized on first reading the book. In fact, I didn’t give it a thought! On some subconscious level, the order worked for me, so, I sank into the book and enjoyed the read. The writer is the only one who needs to think the snapshot order logic through. If he does his job well, the structure will be invisible. Readers will read. Choose the wrong order, however, and readers are likely to stumble. I think Jenkins nailed it.

That’s a lot to digest in one post, so I’m going to stop here. Tomorrow I’ll share my final thoughts on this book and the collage structure. In the meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear them.


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28. Can We Save The Tiger? (Part 2)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

Today I’m sharing some thoughts on the structure used by author Martin Jenkins in his picture book, CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER? (For a more detailed introduction to this plan, read yesterday’s post.)

The story Jenkins shares in CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER is a broad one: we humans are changing the planet and the animals that live here are paying the price. The menagerie of species considered endangered by human activities is overwhelming, so Jenkins separates them into five loose groups. Using a single high-impact example from each group, he then shares the extinction story in small doses, one endangered animal at a time. The resulting structure—a collage of sorts—brings readers to an unforgettable conclusion: losing species is unbearable and we must act.

Let’s look at this collage structure more closely, shall we? Here’s how I see it …

Snapshot 1: Animals that are running out of room. In other words, big animals, like the titular tiger. Jenkins’ voice throughout the book is lovely, and here, early on, we see how his choice to speak directly to the reader is effective:

“… if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months of working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.”

Of course the reader wants to save tigers. But the reader can also understand a poor farmer’s motives. With this carefully chosen first snapshot, the reader is hooked.

Snapshot 2: Animals that are endangered as a result of human-introduced predators. Here Jenkins shows us a tiny snail, a satisfying juxtaposition to the tiger and, I think, a subtle nod to the idea that endangered species run the gamut from BIG to SMALL (and, of course, everything in between; see the UGLY addition below). In his image of the partula snail, we see how the movement of species by humans can have unforeseen and unintended consequences for other species.

Snapshot 3: Animals that are impacted not by movement but by other human actions. Here we add to the idea of running the gamut: even UGLY animals, like vultures, are vulnerable. By now the reader is wondering if there are animals that aren’t endangered.

Snapshot 4: Animals that were nearly extinct but came back. The reader is ready for this bit of good news. Bison were forced to the edge of the extinction abyss by human actions, but we managed to pull them back from that edge in time. This snapshot is a much needed and well-timed picture of hope.

Snapshot 5: Animals that were nearly extinct, that we are trying to help, but which are still in trouble. Here Jenkins makes it clear there is still much to worry about. If we are lucky, as with the bison, we can reverse the damage of our bad habits. But sometimes we will act too late. It’s still not clear if we will be able to save the kakapo.

Each of these snapshots is actually a distinct story, a small narrative starring the animal in question and its plight. Arranged side-by-side, however, and with Vicky White’s art, the snapshots give readers a deeper and broader view of animal extinction on planet Earth. They build a perfect collage.

The effectiveness of the collage structure, of course, is tied to the logic of its presentation. The order in which the individual images are presented to the reader must make sense, even if the reader only experiences that logic subconsciously. Jenkins shows us something big, moves on to something small, then adds something ugly, something hopeful, and something sobering. Another order of these images could, perhaps, build an effective collage. The point, however, is that there are certain orders that would not work at all … and Jenkins knew enough not to use them.

For example, starting with the kakapo, a squat and relatively unknown critter, is technically possible … but such an opening would have been much less compelling than the tiger opening. And Jenkins would have lost the lovely juxtaposition that so nicely relayed the breadth of the extinction problem. (That is, the big-small-and-everything-in-between gamut I mentioned earlier.) Starting with the tiger, an animal all readers will recognize and most will admire, gave the author a much stronger opening …  and plenty of room to transition into a second image.

Here’s something else that struck me about the collage structure: the importance of the order in which the snapshots were presented is very important, but it is not something I recognized on first reading the book. In fact, I didn’t give it a thought! On some subconscious level, the order worked for me, so, I sank into the book and enjoyed the read. The writer is the only one who needs to think the snapshot order logic through. If he does his job well, the structure will be invisible. Readers will read. Choose the wrong order, however, and readers are likely to stumble. I think Jenkins nailed it.

That’s a lot to digest in one post, so I’m going to stop here. Tomorrow I’ll share my final thoughts on this book and the collage structure. In the meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear them.


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29. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 1)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve committed myself to a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction. So, for several weeks now I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite titles and exploring their structures more deeply. What structure did the author choose to shape his or her story? In what ways does this structure work well for the piece? Are there ways that it doesn’t? And so on. Here are my not-so-short thoughts on structure in the brilliant picture book CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

First of all, after seeing that cover, how could one not pick up this book? Between the breathtaking drawing of a tiger and the irresistible challenge of saving it, I can’t imagine walking away. Can we save the tiger? Good gosh, I hope so. I truly, truly hope so. And before I dive into the structure, I have to dedicate at least one more word to the art. That word: magnificent. I’d read this book even if it had no text. I’d pore over Vicky White’s animal studies and I would weep for their suffering. I truly would. If you haven’t seen these drawings for yourself, you are missing out on something both beautiful and moving.

Of course, I’m a word girl, and so you won’t be surprised to hear that I think White’s art is, in fact, better for having been paired with the words of Martin Jenkins. Exploring the human-driven extinction of some of the world’s most beloved animals in a book for the elementary ages is not an easy task, but Jenkins is up to it. He tells the hard truth, but balances it with hope and invitation: we humans have made life on Earth hard for some animals, we can do better, you can help.

And guess what? Having studied the book more closely this week, I think it’s safe to say that Jenkins’ structural choices play a big role in how successfully these messages reach his readers.

Are you up for a romp through this special book? Great. Go on and give it a read. Tomorrow I’ll post my thoughts on its structure, and you can, if you wish, add your take on the matter. Be forewarned: my ruminations on the structure are longer than the book itself!. That’s why I’ve decided to break the post up. I hope you’ll stay tuned anyway …


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30. Can We Save the Tiger? (Part 1)

tiger

Can We Save the Tiger?

By Martin Jenkins

Illustrated by Vicky White

Candlewick Press, 2011

Category: Picture book nonfiction

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve committed myself to a self-directed study of structure in children’s nonfiction. So, for several weeks now I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite titles and exploring their structures more deeply. What structure did the author choose to shape his or her story? In what ways does this structure work well for the piece? Are there ways that it doesn’t? And so on. Here are my not-so-short thoughts on structure in the brilliant picture book CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?

First of all, after seeing that cover, how could one not pick up this book? Between the breathtaking drawing of a tiger and the irresistible challenge of saving it, I can’t imagine walking away. Can we save the tiger? Good gosh, I hope so. I truly, truly hope so. And before I dive into the structure, I have to dedicate at least one more word to the art. That word: magnificent. I’d read this book even if it had no text. I’d pore over Vicky White’s animal studies and I would weep for their suffering. I truly would. If you haven’t seen these drawings for yourself, you are missing out on something both beautiful and moving.

Of course, I’m a word girl, and so you won’t be surprised to hear that I think White’s art is, in fact, better for having been paired with the words of Martin Jenkins. Exploring the human-driven extinction of some of the world’s most beloved animals in a book for the elementary ages is not an easy task, but Jenkins is up to it. He tells the hard truth, but balances it with hope and invitation: we humans have made life on Earth hard for some animals, we can do better, you can help.

And guess what? Having studied the book more closely this week, I think it’s safe to say that Jenkins’ structural choices play a big role in how successfully these messages reach his readers.

Are you up for a romp through this special book? Great. Go on and give it a read. Tomorrow I’ll post my thoughts on its structure, and you can, if you wish, add your take on the matter. Be forewarned: my ruminations on the structure are longer than the book itself!. That’s why I’ve decided to break the post up. I hope you’ll stay tuned anyway …


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31. Trailer park Thursdays — What I learned making 13 on Halloween’s book trailer

The trailer for 13 on Halloween was the second trailer I produced. I learned a lot when I produced my first book trailer for Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale. Winnemucca’s trailer was a bit long. The standard seems to be right around a minute and a half at the most. It’s crazy how long two and a half minutes can seem. The minute difference really matters to readers/viewers. I’ve been doing a lot of presentations lately on my trailers and wanted to share this one with you because, as you know, I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to Halloween. I love it. I always have. And 13 on Halloween is free everywhere, so if you like reading about a girl who gets a birthday gift that’s literally out of this world, on her 13th birthday which just happens to be on Halloween, you might want to check it out.  When I produce trailers, they help me see my stories in new ways. My process so far involves writing the novel, then designing the cover, then producing the book’s trailer. I love this creative process because it reminds me of a crescendo in music. I begin with all the characters in my mind, then I get to “meet them” visually for the first time in the process of designing the book’s cover. And finally I get to experience the world in a bigger way when I add music and live action footage to breathe even more life into the story.

When my girls were little, I liked to serve dessert or breakfast for dinner sometimes. I loved it when their schools had upside-down days, or inside-out days. I’ve been thinking it would be fun to do the same type of thing with my creative process. Take that crescendo and reverse it. Start with a trailer, then a cover, then write the story. It’s fun to think about. Mixing things up. Trying something new creatively. But, whatever I do, I need to keep it under a minute and a half! LOL!


1 Comments on Trailer park Thursdays — What I learned making 13 on Halloween’s book trailer, last added: 10/11/2013
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32. Cardboard Robots

Schuhe London cardboard robots-001

My friend Laurel, who is visiting London, sent me this photo. Aren’t the robots great? I love how the cardboard is rolled for the arms. This is the window of a shoe store called Schuh on Oxford Street.

In case you missed my earlier post about our own cardboard adventures, it’s here.

Meanwhile, I am still deep in research mode on my nonfiction book. It’s keeping me quite engrossed.

I’m looking forward to the Carolinas SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference here in Charlotte this weekend. Say “hi” if you’ll be there!


1 Comments on Cardboard Robots, last added: 10/18/2013
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33. Cardboard Rocket Ship

Cardboard Rocket Ship

Hey folks! I didn’t mean to be gone for so long. End-of-year activities completely knocked me off course in the last weeks.

Meanwhile, my five-year-old came up with this project. He designed the whole thing, directing me to cut the box into specific shapes and getting me to help him put it back together with duct tape. It’s a rocket for his Lego guys.

Cardboard Rocket Ship

He often has cardboard construction projects going on, but this is by far his best yet. Next up, the two kids are working together on a shadow puppet theater. Hopefully I can share that soon.

As busy as we’ve been, I’ve found a few minutes here and there to finish up a few of my own projects that were alllllmost done, so I hope to show those to you, too.

Sadly, I did not finish my novel revision on time (my personal deadline was the end of preschool). But, I’m stealing all the minutes I can to keep working. Having a deadline definitely helps, even if it’s already passed me by.

What about you? Have you made any summer plans of things to do with the kids, or for yourself? We started making a list of fun things to do together. What’s on yours?


0 Comments on Cardboard Rocket Ship as of 6/14/2013 12:53:00 PM
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34. What Dan Brown Does Right

“Ha!” you say. “Dan Brown is a hack. He doesn’t deserve his millions of followers.

He head hops, shows instead of tells, dumps info, layers the adverbs, and has clunky descriptions.”

All of that may be true, but he does several things that you should emulate to make your thriller thrilling.


1. Use the treasure hunt or bread crumb mystery skeleton.

2. Employ the chase.

3. Place your protagonist in danger.

3. Start the timer.

4. Include obscure historical facts and theories that intrigue your readers enough to want to know more about them.

5. Raise controversy. Nothing spawns sales like someone asking for your head.

6. Add a love interest.

7. Introduce an unusual protagonist.

I read Brown’s earlier books, Digital Fortress and Deception Point, before I read The Da Vinci Code.  Both were solid suspense thrillers and I hope they make them into movies. As much as I love Langdon, the follow-up books have gotten progressively weaker. I keep reading them in the hopes of regaining that original thrill.

It was the controversy of The Da Vinci Code that made Brown headline news. However, controversy comes with risks. Be sure you can withstand the heat of the fires they set to roast you.

And, if you aren't willing to raise your level of craft, be prepared to be picked apart. Darling Dan is thumbing his nose all the way to the bank, but it wouldn't kill the guy to perfect his prose. Please, for the love of Fibonacci.

0 Comments on What Dan Brown Does Right as of 6/21/2013 9:39:00 AM
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35. Self-Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Tada! I finally worked up the nerve to finish this dress, after lots of fear over working with silk. It’s got plenty of flaws (ahem, wonky tonky hem), but I’ve gone ahead and declared it wearable because…I like it anyway. After all that work, I’m not resigning it to the closet.

The silk (crepe?) was gifted to me by a friend who was moving. The original color, blue-grey, was a bit too pale for me, so I overdyed it (click here for before and after). That was over a year ago!

I cut the pattern out way too big, I think overcompensating for fit issues in my first Anda, which was a wee bit snug in the booty. So then I had to cut the silk version down, but  when I finished, the sleeves stuck out in the oddest, ugliest way. I’ve since learned how to use bias tape better—-that might’ve been the problem. Great bias tape tutorial here at Collette Patterns.

I cut off the sleeves and used the bias tape as a facing, which worked much better.

Silk Anda Dress

I’ve worked on the hem some since these pictures were taken, and I will keep tweaking, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to be just so. I’m okay with that. I found another tutorial at Collette Patterns about rolled hems, but it’s too late to re-do this one completely.

I have to say, working with silk really is tricky, but I think I learned a few things, and I’d try it again. If you’re sewing with silk, another helpful resource is Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch. She offers helpful silk sewing tips here. Now I need a tutorial on ironing silk. I swear, I did iron it before these photos were taken.

Pattern: Burda Anda, with modifications

Sandals: gift from my friend (via Vietnam via Texas via Germany)

Necklace: a gift from my in-laws.

Photographers: my kids (5 and 9) Didn’t they do a great job? My primary photographer was, um, watching golf and could not be disturbed.

For more of my sewing, check out this link. This was my third Anda, the second being a linen colorblock one. I’m sure I’ll make more Andas, but I think it’s about time for me to move on to something else.

Have a great weekend! And oh, if you’re into Instagram, I’m finally actually using it, so you can find me there at emilysmithpearce. I’d love to see you there.


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36. Going Dark

I read two very dark stories in the same week. They were different genres: dystopian YA versus contemporary mystery. Both featured damaged protagonists. One kept me glued to the page. The other found me skimming to see how it ended without engaging me along the way.


The first was Julianna Baggott’s Pure. The dystopian setting is depressingly bleak. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people have been fused to objects. Her world-building through choice of details made the story interesting and kept me reading. I can’t say I enjoyed it. It was tragic all the way through with no happy moments. The third person omniscient narrator traveled between co-protagonists, Pressia and Partridge, at a remove. The verbal camera also encompassed secondary characters that never fully came to life. They served as pawns to move the story forward. I never really felt a connection to the main characters, though I felt sympathy for their plight. None of the information reveals about how the story world developed were surprising. The terrible choice the heroine made at the end was treated almost clinically. I didn’t sense the anguish she should have felt. The ending was left open for a sequel.

Writers interested in learning more about world-building and unique vision should read Pure.

The second book was Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Her rich, narrative voice made the story fascinating to read. The protagonist is a child damaged by the murder of her family (allegedly by her brother). She was sympathetic yet tragic. I could appreciate why she turned out the way she did: a thief, a liar, a user. The story’s theme about exploiting the murder of others is strong. Flynn addressed the way survivors are cast into the spotlight and quickly forgotten and the macabre people who fixate on murders. The question of whether her brother committed the murders or not kept me turning pages to get to the truth. Four credible suspects were presented. The verbal camera moved between brother Ben, via third-person close up, the mother Patty via third person close up, the protagonist Libby via first person. In the end, the mystery was solved. I didn’t like the alternative last minute fifth suspect. There is one weird deviation to his POV at the end which didn’t add anything for me.

Writers interested in captivating narrative voice and page-turning, effective information reveals should read Dark Places.

You can learn as much from what you disliked about books as what you loved about them. Read both.

0 Comments on Going Dark as of 6/28/2013 9:35:00 AM
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37. Child’s Linen Shorts

Boy's Linen Shorts

I had enough leftover fabric from this dress to make something kid-sized, and my boy said he’d be up for some new shorts. So many store-bought kids’ shorts seem thick and bunchy at the waist, so I thought I’d make him some that looked sharp but felt light and comfy.

I used Made by Rae’s free basic pant pattern, which I also used to make these. I gather the pattern is no longer available in that format. Rae does, however, have a new graded pants pattern (Parsley Pants) for sale. It looks to be similar, with maybe more bells and whistles and definitely way more sizes. I have to say she does an awesome job of explaining and tutorializing, so I’m sure you’d be happy with her pattern. The original was a perfect beginner project.

For the shorts, I followed the directions for flat-front shorts with front and back pockets. It was really so easy. The pockets were lots of fun (no, seriously, I mean that), and in the last photo you can see the lining, made out of a thrifted men’s shirt. Oops, I see threads that need trimming.

Red Linen Shorts

Oops again, I didn’t adjust the sizing enough. Rae’s original pattern was for 3T, and I was making them for an almost-six-year-old, so, I should’ve known better. Oh well, no harm done. I added side panels.

Linen Shorts

Voila! Now they fit. They must be comfy, because he wore them to play tennis the other day. I do love linen.

For more of my sewing projects, click here.

P.S. Currently reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Fascinating.

DSC_0309-001


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38. Summer Journal: Shadow Puppet Theater

Shadow Puppet Theater

My kids created this after seeing something similar on the ending of an episode of Curious George. See, TV isn’t all bad. The theater is basically a box with one side cut out and covered over with a sheet of white paper.

Shadow Puppets

The other shape with the cat (above) is an airplane. Of course.

Shadow PuppetsThey used chopstick pieces as holders. I’m loving the cardboard factory that is our dining room right now. Each package that enters the house is eyed as building material.

Our five-year-old wants to make a ball (sphere) of cardboard. Hmmmm……which gives me an idea…..


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39. Mended Patchwork

Stained Patchwork

My first instinct, when I saw these stains, was to freak. No, I knew it wasn’t blood. But markers are NOT allowed in bedrooms in our house! Especially not in bedrooms furnished with handmade patchworks! Especially not with mystery markers that may not be washable!

When I calmed down, I thought about my options. I could try to get the stains out, but with the mystery markers, there’s no telling what would happen. I saw visions of a splotchy pink stain covering half the duvet.

I finally decided to cut them out and replace them with appliques.

Mended Patchwork

I like the results. I’ve been interested lately in mending that’s meant to be attractive, not invisible. Annekata has done several posts about beautiful mending, like this one. There’s a word in Japanese (wabi sabi) for the imperfect beauty of objects with a history. You’ll get the idea from this wabi sabi Pinterest page. It’s full of the most beautiful mending you’ve ever seen. I love to watch fibers age and weather.

For more of my patchwork projects, including more pics of this one, click here.

I’ve been working on a new dress. So far, so good, if I can just master the zipper. Crossing fingers.

Still reading Quiet and also This One is Mine by Maria Semple. Looking forward to the Austenland movie next month!


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40. Nomad Soul :)


 Hola amigos!

I've been a long time silent; I apologise.  Since my last post in June(ish) I've been happily homeless in a non-serious-honestly-I'm-not-going-to-die way, & mainly doing Epic Shit.  At the moment I'm being an au pair in Somerset, but in the next few weeks I'll be moving again, either Devon to live with some donkeys, or to Bath to work in a youth hostel.  I'm putting together a project that should pull all my chaos together but for the moment I'm working on illio work as a nomad soul, which is very liberating.  Still open for business, just you never know what you'll hear in the background when you give me a call ;D

Here are a few bits & bobs I've been playing with since I left anyway.  Being around kids makes drawing them much easier.



Oh, this is Prolombious, I made him with an eight year old & a lot of scrap wool.  He's a magical wooly mammoth who happens to be an excellent singer, but trips over his very long trunk a lot.  This unfortunately damages his singing ability a little, so we're trying to figure out a better long-term solution for this than just tying a bow in the end of his nose.



:) xxx



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41. Scouting Locations

Just as a film director scouts locations for his film, you can scout locations for your book. Whether you are an organic, planner, or hybrid writer, your scenes will be set somewhere.

When you are planning or writing your novel, it helps to have visual images to look at when describing your scenes. You may have chosen a gritty urban streetscape, a desert SciFi terrain, a remote manor house in the Scottish Highlands, or a sheep farm down under. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to the place and truly absorb the sights, smells, and sounds, you are ahead of the game.

If not, the beautiful thing about the internet age is you don’t have to leave your house to research them. There are travel channels and brochures, DVDs, and movies set in specific locales for you to investigate. It won’t give you the smells, sounds, and tastes, but it is better than making it up entirely in your head.


Thanks to Google Maps and other satellite mapping programs, you can now zoom in and do a 360-degree pan of the area. While it doesn’t allow you to peek inside the windows, you can stroll through a neighborhood in Paris, London, or Peoria for free.

For interior scenes, you can find images through internet search engines. You can find examples of log cabins, Victorian parlors, industrial warehouses, and suburban homes. Tourist sites and real estate sites offer visual tours.

For my current project I needed a Victorian stage and the exterior and interior of a Victorian manor house. Some tours of stately homes offered floor plans. I will create a fictional manor house utilizing the rich details I discovered.

By zooming along England’s coast I found the town of Graves End. Perfect location name for a mystery and close enough to London that my investigators could easily go there by coach. A little more digging and I found it was on the coach line and had people arriving from London several times a day. Of course, Google maps shows a very modern Graves End, but I did find an early map of it as well as illustrations.

Sadly, I cannot afford to go to Graves End and I’d need the Tardis to return to Victorian times. I’ll have to settle for imagining the way it smells and sounds and the way it might have been. But if I hadn’t been scouting for locations, I would never have known it was there.

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42. Pre-labor before a plot is born

When women are getting ready to birth a child, there are often many signs that their body is ramping up for the big event. They might become restless, or have the urge to clean and organize, or experience a myriad of physical symptoms. 

I seem to have the same signs when a novel's plot is nearly done cooking in my brain.

I get incredibly restless. Nothing keeps my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. It feels like my brain is running at a really high rev--for no good reason. Lots of spinning, lots of smoke, no output. 

And I get the nesting urge too. All the laundry is done and put away. I put together bags of donations. I bake. 

It's not a comfortable time, mentally or physically. I don't sleep well. I binge on strange foods (sesame sticks mixed with chocolate chips!) and find myself pacing. 

Every single time this happens, a plot is born. Suddenly, the plot pieces that have been ping-ponging in my brain for months or years shift, as if I've twisted a kaleidoscope. 

Then it is time to run to the whiteboard and start sketching out the bones of my new novel. The plot has decided it is going to be born, and it will be born right now.

It is during this time that I best understand the obsessive nature of artists. I only want to work on this plot. Work, fun, food, none of it seems that important. Must. Birth. The. Plot.

When it's over, everything ramps down. I'm energized, because I want to write this thing. But my body and brain are on a steady pace now. They know that a marathon of writing, revising, and more revising is ahead--probably for the better part of a year. It's easier to sit down to work, and to focus. I have a goal in front of me.

I fear for the day that a series idea hits me full force. Triplets!

Can I handle it? 

Only if Trader Joe's keeps the sesame sticks in stock. Maybe some pickles, too. And dark chocolate... and those little pepperoni pizzas...

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43. Dissecting Christie Part 1


For the next few weeks, we are going to dissect The Crooked House by Agatha Christie.


The first layer we're going to examine is her use of theme. In The Crooked House, Christie used a children's rhyme to illustrate the bent and twisted nature of the family involved in the murder.

The following excerpts illustrate her use of the theme throughout the story.

Chapter 1

She added softly in a musing voice: “In a little crooked house …”

I must have looked slightly startled, for she seemed amused and explained by elaborating the quotation. “'And they all lived together in a crooked little house.' That’s us. Not really such a little house either. But definitely crooked – running to gables and half timbering!”


Chapter 3

I suddenly remembered the whole verse of the nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man and he went a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile.
He had a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.


I wondered why it had been called Three Gables. Eleven gables would have been more apposite! The curious thing was that it had a strange air of being distorted – and I thought I knew why. It was the type, really, of a cottage, it was a cottage swollen out of all proportion. It was like looking at a country cottage through a gigantic magnifying-glass. The slant-wise beams, the half-timbering, the gables – it was a little crooked house that had grown like a mushroom in the night.

Chapter 8

This was the Original Crooked Little Man who had built the Crooked Little House – and without him the Crooked Little House had lost its meaning.

Chapter 13

I went down to the Crooked House (as I called it in my own mind) with a slightly guilty feeling.

Chapter 15

“I think that’s what I mean when I said we all lived together in a crooked little house. I didn’t mean that it was crooked in the dishonest sense. I think what I meant was that we hadn’t been able to grow up independent, standing by ourselves, upright. We’re all a bit twisted and twining (…) like bindweed."

Chapter 17

“He was a natural twister. He liked, if I may put it so, doing things the crooked way.”

Chapter 26

“We will go there together and you will forget the little Crooked House.”

Throughout the solving of the murder, the evidence twists and turns and reveals the way the family members are intertwined in an unhealthy way. The young widow is often described as resembling a cat.

Christie sprinkled the theme in with a delicate hand. The analogy is referred to in only seven of the twenty-six chapters. The idea of crookedness inspires the whole.

To address theme, I suggest considering at the beginning or end of the first draft what you want the story to say. Then, as you go through the revision layers, develop your theme through description and dialogue.

You might find a nursery rhyme to fit your purpose.

Next week, we will take a look at how Christie uses description to introduce characters.


3 Comments on Dissecting Christie Part 1, last added: 9/16/2013
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44. Semi-Homemade Halloween Costumes

Homemade Halloween Costumes

It’s that time of year again. Time to slap together a costume or two! I thought I’d list some of our past hits as inspiration for you.

I don’t put a lot of fuss into making costumes, but I do like them to be comfortable and reusable. My favorite method involves hacking items we find in the thrift store. It’s inexpensive, much of the sewing is already done, and the fabrics are often more comfortable than those used in store-bought costumes.

For details on these costumes:

Center: Turtle Costume

Clockwise, from the top:

Ninja (Ninjago)

Anastasia Romanov (Russian princess)

Knight Tunic and Helmet

Princess

Fireman

One more idea for you. My niece is evidently going to be a mermaid, and I loved the look of this simple costume her mom showed me.

I hope these inspire you. This reminds me, I have to get my kids to commit to their costumes now, too. If they had their way, they’d probably get 10 costumes and choose one at the last minute. Ha!


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45. Linen Lisette Passport Dress

Lisette Portfolio Dress

This dress is fairly Eastery for September, but that didn’t stop me from wearing it when I finished it last weekend.

It’s a whole lotta pink! A little girlier than I’d intended. I just can’t seem to stop picking up pink fabric.

Linen sundress

The pattern is the Lisette Passport Dress (Simplicity 2209) by Liesl Gibson. While it’s not a particularly intricate pattern, it’s the most ambitious one I’ve sewn so far, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. It’s not perfect, but I’m proud of the finishing work and the fitting I did. Special thanks to my friend Amy G., seamster extraordinaire, who helped me figure out how to shorten the straps after I’d already completely finished them. That was the trickiest bit.

I had read that inserting the zipper as instructed was frustrating, so I ended up using an invisible zipper and this tutorial instead.

Besides the zipper part, the directions are very good, better than most commercial patterns I’ve used recently.

Pink Linen Sundress

The linen fabric came from the fabric market in Hannover, Germany from when we lived there. Silver necklace from silversmith Gaines Kiker in Blowing Rock, NC. Silver earrings from a shop in Brookline, MA—-they’re over 10 years old so I don’t remember the name, sorry. Belt from Marshalls.

I’m already cutting out another version of the dress—if I can just figure out how to line it.  For more of my sewing, click here.

In other news, I’ve really been getting into my nonfiction book project. So good to feel it finally starting to gel. A hint: it has to do with fashion.

Coming up on the blog: green beans! Craft books! All kinds of thrills.

Linen Lisette Passport Dress


2 Comments on Linen Lisette Passport Dress, last added: 10/13/2013
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46. Studying Structure

DSC_0782csm

It is not a stretch to say that I’ve spent most of my waking moments since 1975, the year I learned to read, lost inside written stories of one kind or another. If I know anything about storytelling, it was soaked up from these stories, good ones and bad ones, over the past four decades. This knowing has worked its way into my brain, and I draw on it when I write stories of my own. I’m sure of this. But talking about this mysterious knowledge? Articulating why I make certain choices in certain books. (Why a second person narrative in Citizen Scientists? Why that book-ended structure of The Hive Detectives?) Well, I find it hard.

As a writer who spent her career training days studying yeast cells in a laboratory instead of reading the classics and writing stories, I’m always a bit sheepish about talking shop. What do I know about writing? Only this: there is a beautiful logic to storytelling, and it is possible to feel this logic on an instinctual and mostly subconscious level. Which is a really fine way of saying: uh, not much.

But—and here’s the point of this post–I’ve decided to start talking about them anyway. I’d like to understand my own choices better, actually, and doing so is going to involve studying the logic that guided the choices. Deeply.

(Hey … maybe I’m maturing as a writer? One can hope.)

Anyway, since my years of writing children’s nonfiction has helped me realize that the key moment in my writing process is the discovery of the structure a story should take, I’m going to start my study there.  In this all-important moment—I swear there is an audible click!—all the ideas and facts and interview notes and people and places I’ve been researching settle themselves into a clear pattern. A structure. And this structure dictates how I’ll write the story.  I’m going to spend some time in the coming months thinking harder about this moment, about structure I’ve used in my books, and about the structures that work so well in the books of children’s nonfiction I admire.

You, dear reader, can join me if you’d like.  Stay tuned …


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47. Casting Mayberry

When I was a child, I loved watching the Andy Griffith show. It was a sweet situation comedy about a small town sheriff keeping the peace in rural North Carolina. The setting was bucolic. The cast was full of benign well-meaning people occasionally beset by antagonists passing through or creating problems for each other.

Let’s take a look at the functions of the different characters. 

The protagonist was the widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor. He had a shrewd mind hidden behind a good-old-boy smile. That was his secret weapon. The antagonists always underestimated him. His role was that of caretaker to a town full of people too innocent to protect themselves. His weakness was that he was too nice, bordering on enabling.

This was apparent when dealing with his sidekick, Barney Fife. Bumbling Barney meant well, but was often more of a hindrance than a help. He occasionally redeemed himself by luck rather than skill.

Andy’s Aunt Bee acted as the sweet voice of reason, but she occasionally got it wrong and this offered mild interpersonal conflict.

Otis, the town drunk, was usually a hindrance or complication to solving the story problem.

Floyd, the Barber, was the town gossip with feathers for brains. His tidbits of information sometimes helped and sometimes hindered.

Opie was Andy’s son and often posed important thematic questions. He occasionally got into trouble.

Goober and Gomer Pyle were goofy gas station attendants who innocently interfered. Their station was the portal to the town.

Andy was occasionally given a love interest who offered interpersonal conflict based on the occasional jealous pang or misunderstanding.

The antagonists were a series of moonshiners and petty criminals passing through. Once in a while they dealt with a real criminal (bank robber).

The characters not only offered local color, they were the source of interpersonal conflict. They aided or impeded and sometimes brought trouble to their door.

Andy’s genuine love for them kept him motivated to save them from their own folly and the bad guys who passed through.

There were no special effects, no guns blazing, no brutal murders. Sheriff Taylor was a loving but firm disciplinarian with Opie (and the rest of the town). Mayberry was a sweet place to pass a summer’s evening full of genuine love and kindness.

I doubt storytelling will ever return to that level of innocence, but the world could use a little country comfort these days. 

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48. YA Indie Carnival: Pssst…how long is your book?

Words, words and words

Words, words and words (Photo credit: Arslan)

How long should a book be?

It’s so personal! As a reader there are times where I love to get lost in an epic and don’t care how long a book is. There are times when I just want a quick read, and that usually means a smaller word count. I am a very slow reader. Extremely slow. So slow that may parents tried to give me speed reading classes when I was young. Isn’t that sweet? But, it just made it all so much worse because I didn’t enjoy reading anymore. As a girl I wanted to read short books. The experience of reading shorter novels made me feel more successful as a reader. I don’t have that criteria any more as an adult. But, I do remember how I felt when I was a girl. Maybe that’s why I write on the short side of most recommended word counts for YA. As a reader and a writer, I’ve been interested in the rise of the novella.

The story I want to tell always dictates how many words I’ll write. I try to honor the story and what it needs so that I’m able to tell it in the most unique, compelling and emotional way.

It’s so interesting in this era of 140 char Tweets, novelists are focused on thousands of words. I believe that the “shoulds” of word count are fading away as indie publishing takes hold and as the production costs of printing a book isn’t the single driving force behind the decision (more words=more pages=more expensive to manufacture). Since people are reading novels on electronic devices more and more I think the physical count of a book will become less of a concern. It’s all about the reader’s experience. When I buy a book, I expect it to be a certain kind of experience. I expect it to help me forget my world for a little while and get me wrapped up in another one. Length is part of the expected experience. As a writer, it’s all about knowing my readers and giving them an experience that they love so much they’ll be back to read some more.

I rarely read that the length of a book is a deal breaker for a reader. If the story’s good, I don’t care how long or short it is. Of course price is a big consideration. I’m a fan of offering shorter works, like novellas for free.

What’s your take on novel length? My fellow carnis weigh in here :

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy 16. Melika Dannese Lux, author of Corcitura and City of Lights

1 Comments on YA Indie Carnival: Pssst…how long is your book?, last added: 6/19/2013
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49. 2013 06 07 Convincing Arguments

There was a point in a work I was critiquing where a character completely changed her stance on the solution to the story problem without intervening scenes showing how or why. This is not the kind of plot twist you want to offer your reader. A good plot twist is set up long before it happens. 

Let’s take a stroll back to beginning composition class to figure out how to illustrate a convincing change in character motivation. 

When we first learned to write a paper, we had to come up with a thematic statement. We then came up with an outline listing key points to support or refute the thematic statement. Under each key point, we used paragraphs to expand each point. 

How can you apply this to your plot? 

Decide what the matter to be determined between two characters is. Perhaps Dick wants world peace and thinks if people worked together we could achieve it. Ted wants world destruction. He thinks the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the majority of humankind and start over.

The scenes between Dick and Ted should reflect, in word or deed, skirmishes over this deep divide. Don't beat a dead horse. Every encounter should contribute another point to the argument. This is true whether you are writing a Romance or a Thriller. In a romance, every encounter between protagonist or love interest should reflect something that brings them together or drives them apart.

In once scene Dick makes a point. In another scene Ted makes his counter point. Each encounter they have is an attempt to sway or force each other to adopt the opposite way of thinking. A different point is driven home each time.

This does not mean they make blatant clumsy pronouncements on a soapbox. Rather, everything they do and say in those scenes is motivated by their need to prove and enforce their point. Dick may believe that Ted can be swayed. Conversely, he may know that Ted cannot be swayed but must be stopped so Ted does not sway more people to his side of the argument or take action, such as nuclear annihilation, to achieve his goal.

Ted's scenes illustrate why he wants humankind destroyed. Ted may think Dick is a hopeless dreamer. Dick may drive home a few points that make Ted reconsider.

Dick's scenes address the reasons humanity should be saved. A few scenes could show him questioning his stance. Yet, it is Dick’s belief in the innate goodness of mankind that eventually gives him the tools or the access to stop Ted’s nefarious plan.

In scenes that follow them individually engaging with secondary characters should also support or refute the thematic argument. Secondary characters should have a stance on the topic and their behavior should illustrate the goodness or evil of humankind.

Ted may be surrounded by like minds, but perhaps one or two characters are on the fence. One of these characters could end up working against him. Perhaps Sally’s shenanigans reinforce Ted’s argument that humans are innately evil. She could be his poster child for why the world needs to end.

There will be friends that fight alongside Dick to save mankind. There may be a secondary character that is on the fence. Perhaps he or she encounters Sally and wonders if Dick is fatally naive. Jane could have a perilous dilemma of her own and her self-sacrifice illustrates Dick’s point that humanity is worth saving.

A secondary character’s arc could reflect one side or the other as they interact with tertiary characters.

The audience is satisfied when the hero wins and the antagonist fails. However, an ending could come down on either side of the thematic argument, creating an up or down ending. An ambiguous ending could reflect that there are shades of gray or no correct answer to the thematic question.

Whatever the outcome, stories with underlying thematic arguments are satisfying reads. When every character has a stake in the story, the reader cares what happens next. When each scene ties in to the thematic argument, you have a tight story.

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50. Priming the Pump

Your characters enter a scene. Something happens, preferably conflict. Now, stop and ask yourself, "What primed the pump?"

Hopefully one conflict scene leads to another conflict scene, but what if you are moving from one POV character to another or a great deal of time has elapsed in between scenes?

After you write a scene, take another look at it and consider what primed the pump. No one enters a situation as a blank canvas. 


1) What was Dick doing or feeling immediately prior? 

It may be obvious if Dick is moving between consecutive scenes. Whatever happened in Scene 3 primes Scene 4. A plot hole occurs when something happens in scene 3 and is never addressed again. You don’t have to waste a lot of page time explaining what happened in between if it isn’t essential. However, if Dick was upset in Scene 3 and is perfectly calm when we see him again in Scene 7, then something happened to diffuse his mood. You should probably reference it with a line of dialogue or interiority during the opening transition paragraph of the new scene.

2) What is each character’s mindset as the scene progresses?

Every character entering a scene has thoughts and feelings. Are they having a good day or bad day? It affects their receptiveness. Whatever happened in prior scenes could have bearing on the current scene. Conflicting emotions and situations prime the conflict pump. If Jane is happy and Dick is angry, they could trade moods quickly.

3) Has your scene been properly set up? 

Have you brought up an important point that you let lapse? Are the characters conflicted over something that makes no sense because you forgot to mention it in a previous scene? You may have cause and effect plot holes. If so, you have some revision to do. Beta readers or critique partners can be invaluable in catching these. My groups calls it the "read the book in my head, not the one on paper" syndrome.

4) Where does your scene take place? Why? 

Settings are often bland and add nothing. You add value when you set the scene in a place that heightens tension. It has to be logical and organic. Don’t do it because “the script called for it.” If your couple is having an argument at home in the kitchen, it is realistic but is it interesting? Is the kitchen the best place for the argument? Can you make the setting more awkward for them? Say, a PTA meeting or on a crowded bus ride home?

5) Who is present? 

You can have intense dialogue between two characters while they are alone. You add tension when they are striving to not be overheard or are wearing forced smiles at a formal function surrounded by family or coworkers. When two people are focused on each other, the crowd has a way of disappearing. They sometimes forget that other ears are listening. Being overheard can create future conflict. Having to behave decorously can force them to resume the conversation at another time, thus priming the pump for a future scene.

Consider not only the timeline of your story but how the timeline of the conflicts prime the pump. What happens immediately before can be as important as what happens during and immediately after.

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