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Results 1 - 18 of 18
1. 10 Tips to Immediately Create GREAT PLOTS

For those of you who missed my talk at the 10th Annual SFWC, I share the handout.

In Honor of the 10th Anniversary of the San Francisco Writers Conference

10 Tips to Immediately Create GREAT PLOTS for Your Novel, Memoir, Screenplay
By: Martha Alderson, aka Plot Whisperer

1) Generate external dramatic action excitement with a concrete goal for the character in every scene
2) Rather than tell the protagonist’s backstory in summary, show what she is unable to do today because of her backstory wound
3) Establish scenes by cause and effect
4) Activate the 4 energetic markers first and fill in all other scenes later
5) Test yourself for what you’re really trying to say in your story, what your story is really trying to say, for the thematic significance

6) Plot the territory of the antagonists in the Middle as an exotic world to the protagonist
7) Love the first ideas that come to you in the rough draft. In subsequent drafts, replace your initial ideas with ones that provide more depth and are more closely tied thematically to the whole of the story and are connected by cause and effect
8) Optimize your protagonist’s character emotional development transformation as you plot and write by keeping an eye out for the gift she brings
9) Take your story all the way from beginning to end before going back and writing the beginning again
10) Start plotting at the Climax and think backwards to the beginning

• How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? 27-step free tutorial at http://www.youtube.com/user/marthaalderson
• http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/ Best Writing Advice blogs as awarded by Writer's Digest 2009 & 2010 & 2011 & 2012
• http://twitter.com/plotwhisperer
• http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-PlotWhisperer/129253400461923?ref=ts
• http://www.blockbusterplots.com

(****NOTE: For those of you who are following along as you write a story from beginning to end following one prompt at a time, I'll start back in tomorrow at the MIDDLE. Gives you time if you need to catch up.)

Knowing what to write where in a story with a plot allows for a more loving relationship with your writing. Whether writing a first draft or revising, if you falter wondering what comes next in a story with a plot, follow the prompts in The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing.

Today, I write.

0 Comments on 10 Tips to Immediately Create GREAT PLOTS as of 2/20/2013 2:23:00 PM
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2. Hippo and Gorilla: Interactive Picture Books for Your E-Reader

hippo and gorilla Hippo and Gorilla are two loveable characters, (remember The Odd Couple?) who face problems children will be all too familiar with–things like crashing model airplanes (Airplanes), eating too many donuts (Donuts), and a rainy day birthday (Bathroom Beach) . Illustrator and author Bryan Langdo has created cute, humorous picture books for children. But what makes these different than the thousands of picture books at your library?

These are made for your e-readers! Right now, they are best for an iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad with the program iBooks. I didn’t have this (my iPod Touch is a 2nd generation–I can’t get iBooks on it, oh my!), and so Bryan sent them to me for my Kindle and then the MP3 files, so I could listen to the wonderful readings of the stories by Billy Bob Thompson (he does great voices for Hippo and Gorilla!). I listened to them at Panera Bread, and I found myself giggling out loud. What are the people around me thinking?

Okay, so as a preschool/kindergarten/first grade teacher or parent, what should you know about these cute books and how you can use them with children?

1. Brian and I exchanged a few e-mails, and here is what he said, “The bells and whistles are basically the audio narration, sound effects, incidental music, and read-along feature.” (Kids will LOVE this–my daughter at 2 loves ANYTHING on the iPod Touch or Kindle. She actually says this sentence, “I need the iPod Touch.” I’m not sure if I should be proud? :) )

2. Here’s what Brian said about his own series (and by the way, I COMPLETELY agree with him!): “I’m hoping to share with you and your readers my new series of early readers titled Hippo & Gorilla. It’s about two best friends who are total opposites. Hippo is a great friend, but he has a tendency to make bad decisions. He breaks things, he eats too much, and he makes big messes. Gorilla, however, doesn’t do enough of those things. Together, they make a great team!

These eBooks for young readers explore the joys—and the pitfalls—of friendship, using simple vocabulary and sentence structure. Each book contains audio narration along with original music and sound effects. They’re available for iPad, Kindle, and Nook.”

Donuts cover revised3. GET HIPPO AND GORILLA IN DONUTS FOR FREE! Go to this link. This will only work if you have access to iBooks on your iPad or other Apple device. But here’s the link if you are lucky to have one of these: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/donuts/id585686738?mt=11

4. There are 5 individual books about Hippo and Gorilla. One is free as stated above, and the others are only 99 cents (again, right now for Apple devices). All 5 stories can be purchased together for $1.99!

5. These are the perfect books to start important conversations with our little ones–in the classroom or at home. You can ask questions like: Was Hippo a good friend? Should Gorilla fly his airplane again? What else could Hippo and Gorilla do on Gorilla’s birthday? How can Gorilla and Hippo compromise? and more.

6. Bryan has a website and blog for you to check out more details. You can see these at: http://www.hippoandgorilla.com OR http://www.hippoandgorilla.blogspot.com/ .

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments–Bryan can stop by and answer them!

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3. Jingo Fever by Stephanie Golightly Lowden

*Historical middle-grade fiction
*Girl as main character
*Rating: Jingo Fever is a well-written book, set in 1918. It is also universal in its themes–situations that Adelle has to deal with, such as racism/bullying, in the book are current in everyday life.

Short, short summary:

(FROM CRICKHOLLOW WEBSITE) This middle-grade historical novel is set in 1918 during World War I in a small Midwestern town. The story deals in a quiet, thoughtful way with the effects of anti-ethnic bigotry (towards German-Americans) during wartime conflicts abroad.

Young Adelle Klein is a German-American girl who has come from Milwaukee with her mother to live for the summer of 1918 with Uncle Mike in Ashland, a small town in northern Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior.

Adelle struggles to cope with the local patriotic fervor, in support of American troops abroad . . . but spilling over into a hatred of all things of German origin.

As she seeks friendships with local youngsters her age, she wonders how to deal with the bigotry of anti-German sentiment, which escalates with the approach of the July 4th celebration. In the meantime, she and her mother worry about Adelle’s brother, Karl, a young man of German-American who is fighting with the U.S. troops in France.

The summer’s events will teach Adelle about the importance of standing up for what’s right.

Family & Friendship • Ethnic Heritage • Patriotism during War • Resisting Intolerance & Bigotry • Standing Up to Bullies

So, what do I do with this book?

1. In the beginning (and throughout), Adelle deals with bullying/teasing due to her German heritage. She becomes embarrassed by it. Even though this is set almost 100 years ago, children will be able to relate to Adelle’s feelings and actions. Ask students to journal about Adelle’s problems. Then ask them to write about if they have ever felt that way and what they did/felt/wanted to do.

2. Students may not understand why there is so much hatred toward the Germans. Some history may be needed to understand the story to its fullest. You can do a KWL (Know Wonder Learn) chart about WWI topics to see what your students/child already knows about this time period and what they are wondering. Here is a link to a good site that shows how to do a KWL chart: http://www.education.com/reference/article/K-W-L-charts-classroom/

3. Discuss the title of the book, Jingo Fever. Do students like the title? Do they think it is a good match for the book? Which characters in the novel have jingo fever? Ask students to give examples to support their answers. Does Jingo fever have a positive or negative impact on these characters’ lives?

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4. Monsters Aren’t Real by Kerstin Schoene

*Picture book for preschoolers through second graders, fantasy
*A monster as the main character
*Rating: Monsters Aren’t Real is a cute picture book that will help children who are worried about monsters in the dark to see them as a little less scary. Children who love monster stories will also enjoy this. The illustrations are definitely the best part of this book!

Short, short summary:

The main character, pictured on the cover, is bombarded with the words, “Monsters aren’t real,” in the beginning of this darling picture book. But he feels like he is VERY real–isn’t he? He goes around trying to scare people and show that monsters are real, but nobody seems to notice him AT ALL (and he does some very funny and obvious things. . .). So, in the end, he decides that maybe he’s not real, until he meets another monster.

***To buy Monsters Aren’t Real, go here!

So, what do I do with this book?

1. This is a great book to introduce young readers to contractions and what these stand for. Monsters ARE real is written at one time, and then someone turns it in to: Monsters Aren’t Real–by adding the n’t. You can talk about what the n’t means and how it is added to many words to create contractions.

2. The illustrations in this story make it complete. Without them, readers would be lost. So to celebrate these drawings, allow students to draw and create their own monsters. If monsters are real, then what do they look like? To extend the activity, let them write a paragraph about the monster, describing him or her.

3. Start a discussion with children: what do you think? Are monsters real? Why or why not?

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5. Back to School Tortoise by Lucy M. George; Illustrated by Merel Eyckerman

*Picture book for preschoolers through first graders
*Tortoise as main character
*Rating: Back to School Tortoise has few words, but it is a super cute story with great illustrations. It’s clever and bright and cute!

Short, short summary:

Summer is over, and it is time for Tortoise to go back to school. But he imagines all these scenarios of what could happen–good and bad. So, he can’t decide whether or not to go in. Hint: There’s a twist at the end–the illustrations help tell the story as good picture book illustrations should do.

So what do I do with this book?

1. Take some time to check out the fun at the end of the story. Are there any clues before that last illustration?

2. Perfect book to discuss anxieties and fears over going back to school. Students can make a list of things they are worried about and share with the class. Or students could write in journals and then share and read these entries out loud.

3. In the book, Tortoise asks several what if questions. Can students pose some of their own what if questions? Students can engage in conversation using these questions as guidelines.

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6. Plot

One of the writing sites I subscribe to had a recent article about plot. This topic was pertinent as I am planning out my next story. Yet, it is also relevant in putting the finishing touches on a piece I am revising.

A good book must have story. The author needs to take the reader by the hand and lead them to a new world, a new reality. The main character’s circumstance must be believable and the writing smooth. I want to open a book, delve in, and become so absorbed by the story that my own living room seems foreign a few hours later when I come out of the story.

Jane McBride Choate, in the Children’s Book Insider October newsletter, describes plot as a summation of cause and effect. Often this is referred to as sequence action & reaction. It is not merely a series of events. The events must be connected to each other, with each new incident building on the last. Each attempt the MC makes to solve his problem should change something vital for him or her. Choate says every part of the story should be an absolutely essential step along the way to the outcome. If a scene does not belong in your story it should be removed. If its removal can be done without altering the outcome of the story then it doesn’t belong in your story.

Choate advises the author to look at each event through the MC’s eyes. Continually ask, “how does this make the MC feel?” “how will he react to this?” “how will he act in the future because of this?” Ask these questions of each scene of the story. If no answer comes, the scene is either out of order or doesn’t belong. Cut the scenes that don’t advance the story.

In the classic story arc, the main character has an object of desire they pursue. In that pursuit, something gets in the way – the cause, altering the MC’s path – the effect. That, then, becomes the new cause, forcing a change. You can build your whole plot right there. Dorothy lands in Oz and inadvertently kills the witch of the east. This causes celebration of the Munchkins, which in turn causes the arrival of the wicked witch of the west to claim her sister’s powerful red slippers. Acton and reaction, the events connected and built upon the last.

Choate’s message applies to the new story I’m developing, but is important to the one I am revising. In it MC1’s agenda guides the scenes and the story and MC2 merely has to respond. MC1 reacts to that response, and so on. As a writer, I must ask myself if this action/reaction sequence plays out. When it does, fine. If a scene does not help advance the story, it is superfluous and must be deleted.

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7. 2nd Annual International Plot Writing Month -- Day Twenty-Eight

Cause and Effect

Using the master Plot Planner you created on Day Twenty-Five, now draw a line from one scene to the next when they are linked by cause and effect. In other words, if the action in one scene causes the action in the next scene, draw a line to connect the two of them. Continue that way through every scene. 

Where one scene does not cause the action in the next, do not connect the two scenes with a line. Leave them blank.

Three days left and counting...

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8. 5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck

1) Writers Balk at Plot

At the thought of plot and structure, writers’ palms turn sweaty and their hearts race. Why the visceral reaction? The act of creation generally comes from the right side of the brain and the linear, concrete structure of plot comes from the left, making structure for writers inherently counter-intuitive.

At some point, however, every writer, even those who work out their stories on the page, requires some sort of structure in which to present their work. Plot is the interweaving of character emotional development, dramatic action and thematic significance. In other words, someone acts or reacts. In so doing, that someone is changed and something is learned.

2) Writers Concentrate on Their Strengths, Forgetting that Plot is not Merely Action-driven Nor is it Only Character-driven

The rhythm of story telling is in all of us right now, especially for those of us who were read to as youngsters and continue to read fiction today. (PLOT TIP: The best way to becoming a better writer is to become a more voracious reader).

Natural born storyteller tap into this rhythm unconsciously and are able to weave all three plot lines without much conscious thought to structure. For the rest of us who have something to say and long to be heard or, in our case, read, our stories tend to turn out lopsided. Why? Because we get stuck either by concentrating on action only, forgetting that character makes up 70% of good fiction, or by delving into the inner-workings of characters with little regard for conflict, tension and suspense.


3) Writers Forget the Importance of Cause and Effect

The structure of story has remained essentially the same since the beginning of time. The elements that vary are the beat or tempo and the intensity. Take, for example, the current best seller The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown with its break-neck pace of action versus the more leisurely plot pace of the early 19th century classic Emma by Jane Austen. Though the degree of intensity rises at differing speeds, both stories possess a strong element of suspense with cause and effect closely linked.

Without Cause and Effect, Tempo and Intensity a story can bog down and the writer gets stuck.

Of course, writers of today always have the option to give their readers the unexpected and slow things down. But whether you adhere to the current story telling standards or create your own, and whether you write thrillers, memoirs, historical or mainstream fiction, a firm understanding of the essence of plot helps to not only keep you going, but increases your chances of being published and enjoyed by readers.


1 Comments on 5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck, last added: 3/12/2010
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9. Master Plots and How to Make Them Count

Nicole Humphrey at It's All About Writing posted on the age-old plot question. How many plots are there really? It's worth the read.


I personally like both the answer that's given in many writing classes, which tends toward the thousands, maybe millions of possibilities, or Aristotle's answer, which is two, one that begins with good fortune and ends in bad fortune versus one that begins with bad fortune and ends with good fortune. Why? Because I believe that plot and character are intertwined in any good story. A good writer can take the same plot, use different characters, and end up with a completely different result according to what the characters would do and why they do it.

Does it really really matter whether the plot elements of two stories are the same? Look at King Lear and Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. Or Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Or something even more basic: take the fable of the tortoise and the hare, and switch it up with a cheetah and an eland (the slowest antelope). The cheetah can run at speeds between 70 and 75 mph, but it can't keep that up very long and has to rest after sprinting to lower its body temperature. The eland is slow, but it can trot almost indefinitely. The outcome of such a race would probably be the same as the race between the tortoise and the hare. But the key to plot--again back to Aristotle--is cause and effect. And now the two stories suddenly look a little different. Slow and steady may still win the race, but the cause of the cheetah losing is a physical limitation instead of hubris.

At this point, the writer in me takes over. What if the cheetah really wants to win? What can he do to make it possible to keep going instead of stopping to rest? What would the eland do if she knows the cheetah can't keep up? (Cheetah's only hunt successfully 50% of the time anyway.) What if the eland is hungry and far ahead? Would she stop to eat?

In 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, Ronald Tobias presented a list of lowest common denominators for sound plotting.
  1. Make tension fuel your plot.
  2. Create tension through opposition.
  3. Make tension grow as opposition increases.
  4. Make change the point of your story.
  5. When something happens, make sure it's important.
  6. Make the causal look casual.
  7. Don't rely on luck.
  8. Make sure your central character performs the central action of the climax.
So, to change up my plot between the cheetah and the eland, I'd make the outcome uncertain. I'd ratchet up the tension. Maybe I'd make the eland hungry and the cheetah starved. Maybe I'd make the cheetah the protag and the eland the antag. Who knows?

So many possibilities, so little writing time....

Here's a quick tool from Read, Write, Think. Teachers use it in the classroom to teach kids how to plot, but it's a quick way to help organize a plot by looking at the basic elements against the classic plot pyramid.


Here's another link to a list of picture books that illustrate four kinds of character-based conflict (character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. society, character vs. self).


And here's my old stand-by, the complications worksheet:
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10. Beatrice’s Goat and Heifer International

First, I’d like to announce the winner of the Seeds of Change book giveaway from last Thursday’s post. It is . . .Becky Povich. Thank you to Becky and everyone who left comments on this post.

Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter is a wonderful children’s book based on a true story. You may have heard about this book before–it’s pretty popular. It is the story of Beatrice and her family, who live in Uganda and whose lives change when they receive a goat from Heifer International. The goat bears two kids and provides enough milk to feed the family and to sell for profit. Before this, life is extremely hard for Beatrice and her five brothers and sisters, who lived in extreme poverty. The children could not even go to school because they were so poor. By the end of the book (a year), Beatrice is going to school and the family is moving into a sturdier house thanks to the gift of the goat.

I love Heifer International, and I will probably talk a lot about how they change lives in poor communities all over the world. They provide (through donations) livestock to families, so they can raise more livestock and collect products from livestock to help themselves and other community members.

I receive their magazine, and here are some facts on the back of the latest issue: “In just three months in 1994, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in one of the worst acts of genocide in recent history. When you donate to help rebuild hope in Rwanda, your donation will be matched 3-to-1 up to $1.6 million to help revive farming traditions lost 16 years ago. That means your gift will go four times as far to help turn Rwanda’s violent past into a peaceful–and prosperous–future.”

If you are looking for a project to do in summer school or at home this summer, think about reading Beatrice’s Goat or checking out the Heifer International website and raising money to buy a family a goat, a cow, or some chicks. You can buy a share of these for as little as $10.

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11. Un-Forgettable Friday: Volcano Wakes Up! by Lisa Westburg Peters; Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

*Picture book about volcanoes–found in non-fiction section–told in poem form
*Subject matter: A volcano erupting and how it affects life around it
*Rating: Volcano Wakes Up! is a wonderful book to teach kids about volcanoes and the life around them. Love it!

Short, short summary: In Volcano Wakes Up!, Lisa Westburg Peters uses poetry to tell the “story” of a small volcano. She follows the volcano’s activity throughout one day, and also includes the perspective of the ferns growing around the volcano, a lava flow cricket, a small black road on the active volcano, and the sun and moon. This book presents a very creative way to tell about an erupting volcano along with wonderful cut-paper illustrations by Steve Jenkins. Volcano Wakes Up! is a great book for use with science curriculum in the classroom or in a home school program.

So, what do I do with this book?

1. Let students research the facts they learn from the poems in the book to find out more facts about volcanoes, ferns, and so on. The author provides more detailed notes in the back of the book that you can share with your students. Students can create presentations of their facts with illustrations styled after Steve Jenkins work.

2. Not only can this book teach your students or children (if you home school) about volcanoes, but it also exposes them to different forms of poetry. What are the poems like in this book? Challenge your students to write a similar poem–maybe instead of a volcano, they can use a mountain as their subject. Instead of a fern–they can use a tree and so on.

3. Study with students what other effects volcanoes have on the land, plant life, animal life, and even human life when they erupt. You can do a lesson on cause and effect with this activity, also.

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12. A Guided Imagery Tour of Your Story

I often do guided imagery work in plot workshops to relax writers before they begin plotting their stories (for most highly creative writers, the work I ask of them is very stressful and counter-intuitive and can involve quite a bit of resistance on the part of the writer. all writers are anxious about their writing in a group setting), and I use my voice. Guiding an imagery tour on a blog is awkward because you close your eyes. You also need the directions... You figure it out.

Oh, and if, at anytime during the exercise, you are so moved to leap to your feet and write, by all means... do it.

Find an hour of undisturbed time (nice if you do this in bed before you arise in the morning or at night before falling asleep).

Make yourself comfortable sitting or lying down.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

Let the breath out slowly and mindfully (in other words, concentrate on the air of the breath itself as it passes through your nostrils and how it feels against your upper lip and...)

Arrange the first scene of your story in your mind.

Take another breath.

Let it out.

Settle into the scene. Wait for the fuzziness of the image of the character in the setting clear.

Take a breath. 

See your protagonist move from the first scene to the next scene in your story.

Like a film reel, let each scene play out moment-by-moment to the end of the story. Instead of seeing the words of your story on the computer screen, see the actual action take place behind your eyelids with your imagination.

1. Transitions are often determined by character motivation. When the reader understands what motivates the character to transition between two scenes (locations, time periods), the story flows. In order to image your story, you move between scenes. Without the character motivation, the movement becomes episodic. Character motivation provides a sense of cause and effect, and the movement of the story flows. If the character motivation isn't in your scenes as written, it likely will pop up now. Watch for transitions and keep character motivation in mind to incorporate in your story.

2. Foreshadowing opportunities reveal themselves. You may have noticed in real life that nothing appears out of nowhere, out of the blue? Well, even if you haven't noticed that, in stories, one scene serves to foreshadow what comes next or later in the story. The first scene is preparatory, sets up a feeling of anticipation in the audience. Watch each scene to see what it foreshadows about the upcoming major turning points in the character emotional development plot and the dramatic action plot.

3. Thematic tie-ins hover over the story as you imagine it. Watch for them and take note.

9 Comments on A Guided Imagery Tour of Your Story, last added: 8/7/2010
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13. 5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck with Tips How to Unstick

Whether a romance writer, historical novelist, screenwriter or memoirist, all writers bog down at one time or another or two or three or five hundred.. In my work with writers, I have spotted 5 classic reasons writers falter when it comes to the craft of writing: 

1) Writers Balk at Plot

At the thought of plot and structure, writers’ palms turn sweaty and their hearts race

Why the visceral reaction?

The act of creation generally comes from the right side of the brain and the linear, concrete structure of plot comes from the left, making structure for writers inherently counter-intuitive.

At some point, however, every writer, even those who work out their stories on the page, requires some sort of structure in which to present their work. Plot is the interweaving of character emotional development, dramatic action and thematic significance. In other words, someone acts or reacts. In so doing, that someone is changed and something is learned.

2) Writers Concentrate on Their Strengths, Forgetting that Plot is not Merely Action-driven Nor is it Only Character-driven

The rhythm of story telling is in all of us right now, especially for those of us who were read to as youngsters and continue to read fiction today.

(PLOT TIP: The best way to becoming a better writer is to become a more voracious reader).

Natural born storyteller tap into this rhythm unconsciously and are able to weave all three plot lines without much conscious thought to structure. For the rest of us who have something to say and long to be heard or, in our case, read, our stories tend to turn out lopsided. Why? Because we get stuck either by concentrating on action only, forgetting that character makes up 70% of good fiction, or by delving into the inner-workings of characters with little regard for conflict, tension and suspense.

3) Writers Forget the Importance of Cause and Effect

The structure of story has remained essentially the same since the beginning of time. The elements that vary are the beat or tempo and the intensity. Take, for example, the best seller The DaVinci Code (dramatic action-driven story) by Dan Brown with its break-neck pace of action versus the more leisurely plot pace of the early 19th centur

2 Comments on 5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck with Tips How to Unstick, last added: 11/14/2010
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14. Stranger Moon by Heather Zydek (Giveaway!)

I am excited to be giving away Stranger Moon and doing it with Rafflecopter for the first time! I would love it if you tried out Rafflecopter with me by doing as many of the tasks as you can below and then getting all the possible points to win this AWESOME book. The contest goes until Sunday, March 11 at midnight (so enter on Saturday or before), and it is open to anyone–(Canada and U.S.–you can get a hard copy; overseas–you can get an e-book). So, here we go. . .

Stranger Moon by Heather Zydek
*Middle-grade novel, contemporary fiction
*12-year-old girl as main character
*Rating: I loved Stranger Moon! I think middle-grade readers will, too. It has several boy characters that are friends with Gaia, and it has bugs (LOL), so I think it will appeal to both boys and girls. If you have a child being bullied, this book is great conversation starter.

Short, short summary: It’s summer break, and Gaia is searching for a Luna moth after she finds a Luna moth wing pressed between the pages of an old insect guide. When she convinces her friends to go with her to search for the moth, they encounter a strange woman in the woods who EATS bugs. She freaks them out, of course, but she also peaks their interest, and they go on a hunt to find out whom she is. In the meantime, they pick up another misunderstood classmate, encounter the bullies– THE EMMAS, and deal with their own issues. Gaia has a father who pays NO ATTENTION to her since her mother died, and she is tired of feeling like she’s invisible in her own home. So, as you can see, there’s a lot going on in this book. As more information is revealed about the mystery woman, readers can try to guess her identity. Once it’s discovered, they can debate what they would do with the info. The author does a great job of moving the story forward and tying up all these subplots in the end.

So, what do I do with this book?

1. This is a terrific book to open up conversations with children about how they are feeling at home, about bullying, about friendships, and so on. Use the characters in the book. How did you feel when Gaia and her friends got into the big fight? What do you think about the Emmas? and so on.

2. Your young readers may or may not be into insects. If they are, then ask them to find out about Luna moths on their own. If they aren’t, what are they passionate about? What would they spend their summer vacation searching for? Have them write a journal entry about this and compare themselves to Gaia.

3. The characters in this book are complex and well-developed–they are perfect for character studies. You could teach character motivation, character feelings, and even problem-solving (how characters solve problems in the story). Allow students to choose their favorite character and then write a letter as if they are that character. They could also write a journal entry.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway below! Please email margo (at) margodill.com if you run into any problems.

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From an interior spread for the book I just illustrated and now available from Stagger Lee Books "Song For A Giraffe"
It took almost a year to complete the illustrations for this book and this image is actually much larger as the giraffe and the text for this spread aren't included here. The research was one of the best parts of the whole experience. I learned so much!
©Ginger Nielson2007
PS... if you want to hear what the animals are singing, just go to my PROFILE section on this blog and play the Audio Clip.

24 Comments on ILLUSTRATION FRIDAY ~ ZOO, last added: 11/30/2007
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16. Cause and Effect / Character Emotion

Recent plot consultation:

Literary Fiction
Many POVs

Does my story have too many scenes?

(We did not get to the end of his story during our session so I cannot answer the question.)
My comment however is to do what you can to make the scenes feel linked.

The tighter the story, the easier for the reader to follow. Every element of every scene contributes to the scene that follows and to the overall story itself.

Link scenes through the use of:
  • Cause and effect
  • The transitions you create using:
Thematic significance of the overall story
Similar themes in the scenes to be linked 
Similar authentic details in scenes to be linked

Also, be clear about the structure you're going for and be consistent. This is especially true for the POV. Each time there is a change in POV, you risk the reader putting down the book. 

We connect to one character and resist and resent leaving that POV. Moving into another can be off-putting. 

Be careful and make sure the first line in every POV switch is compelling in order to pull the reader immediately into the next character and not feel like they are missing the character they were just connected to.

2 Comments on Cause and Effect / Character Emotion, last added: 5/22/2009
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17. Make them pay, I say! Mwahahahahhahahaaaha

watersmeetHaving finished my term paper (…the first one, that is), I recovered by spending all weekend reading. Beginning with an ARC [advanced reader copy: not-quite-final promotional copy] of WATERSMEET by Ellen Jensen Abbott.

I was quite absorbed by this fantasy, whose protagonist is an outcast in a harsh human world at war with other creatures and its own internal ‘demons.’ I definitely felt this book was a good use of my Saturday, although my enjoyment of it wasn’t quite evenly paced: I loved the first half, then it kind of dragged for a while, then near the very end I got interested again. Whatever, I had a good time reading it.

And yet. A couple things about it kind of bugged me. Like, the whole point of the book is that the different creatures have to overcome their antipathy toward one another, people from all species have done terrible things in their mutual wars but they’ll be stronger and happier if they unite, etc. But then there’s these other creatures to which this doesn’t apply.

Okay, so some of those other creatures are notably less sentient; I’ll buy that as a relevant difference. But some of them totally aren’t. And I find it kind of odd to be reading this whole story about species who assume each other have no humanity having to learn to question that assumption, and yet the book never questions it about these other guys. It’s not like I wouldn’t accept even some pretty tenuous principle here; it’s just that I didn’t see any principle at all.

Like, what was with Clem? is what I'm saying.

Like, what was with Clem? is what I'm saying.

I had this problem with the latter seasons of BUFFY and ANGEL, actually. My favorite “how season 7 could have not sucked” suggestion from someone on one of the Television Without Pity boards was that the show should have embraced the corner it had backed itself into by letting some soulless demons have apparent personhood, and let the “slayer death wish” come because slayers grow ambivalent about their role as they realize some of what they’re killing could be redeemed. …And now I am mindful that Emily’s principle that “MY SO-CALLED LIFE is inherently on-topic” does not apply to BUFFY. Anyway.

My biggest problem with WATERSMEET is that I respected the main character less and less as it went on. And the main reason for this is that she made various mistakes, terrible decisions, selfish actions, etc, all of which were potentially forgivable… except not one of them had any real consequences for her. That, to me, was unforgivable.

I actually kind of fall in love with characters who make huge mistakes, as long as they also pay huge prices for them. Here, our protagonist pretty much endangers an entire community — one could even say the world — through her desire to avoid an unpleasant discussion, and when this comes to light? No one is angry; worse, the monster who wants them all dead hasn’t gained any appreciable advantage from the added time when his enemies were unawares. This violates a Fundamental Principle of Cause and Effect in Fiction, I’m pretty sure.

It’s not that our hero doesn’t suffer; actually, she suffers a huge amount in this book. But all of it is because of things beyond her control — which is compelling, up to a point, but not when I kept feeling like she should be suffering more for what she was actually doing. Unfortunately, the ending in particular did not fill me with hope for the sequel that is obviously planned. Just remember, Abbott: Personal Responsibility — bad principle for U.S. politics; great principle for fictional protagonists.

Posted in Abbott, Ellen Jensen, Flawed does not preclude Interesting, I learned it from Joss Whedon, Watersmeet

8 Comments on Make them pay, I say! Mwahahahahhahahaaaha, last added: 5/21/2009
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18. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Reviewed by Margo Dill, www.margodill.com, margodll@aol.com

photo by Sarah Kennon www.flickr.com

*Picture book for prekindergartners through third graders, fantasy
*Two creatures–the Once-ler and the Lorax–as main characters
*Rating: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a wonderful book to teach students about the effects of pollution and industrialization.

Short, short summary: A young boy visits the Once-ler and hears the story of the Lorax and the Truffula trees straight from the creature who destroyed their home. The Once-ler cut down Truffula trees to manufacture his thneeds, which he sold for $3.98. He got a little greedy and built a factory to produce more and more thneeds. During this time, all sorts of lovely Dr. Seuss creatures left the area due to pollution and lack of food. The Lorax warned the Once-ler over and over again about what he was doing to the environment, but he wouldn’t listen. Finally, the last Truffula tree was cut down. What did the Once-ler and the Lorax do then?

So, what do I do with this book?

1. For a fun activity about creating ads for thneeds, see my Bright Hub article: “Creating Ads for Thneeds from The Lorax.”

2. For a 6 + 1 Traits of Writing activity, see my Bright Hub article: “Lesson Plan: Teaching Word Choice with The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.”

3. For an elementary art lesson, see my Bright Hub article: “Using Recyclable Materials for an Elementary Art Lesson.”

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