Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Part 7, NY Erie Canal

Plot twists don’t have to be concerned just about circumstances, like the surprise at coming upon a wild animal. It can involve other senses, like smell. (So don’t forget to include your sensory awareness in your writings.)

When we lived in New York, and our boys were old enough to be in school, and I had a day off at the same time as Jeff, we would play!

One school day we went canoeing just the two of us along the Erie Canal. We took a side creek and paddled up that for a while through some farmland. I was in the bow with Jeff in the stern as usual. The creek became shallower and shallower, about shin deep, as well as narrower and narrower so we knew we wouldn’t be able to turn around.  We ducked under bushes and branches to proceed through. On either side was a slight hill only as tall as our eye level. Beyond the brushy creek area was farmland – a large pasture with barns in the distance seen over the dip to the creek. It was quite an adventure… until…

I suddenly smelled something “funny.”

We were already paddling very slowly and cautiously around and over the branches that a butterfly could easily have circled us. Being a whole seventeen feet behind me, Jeff couldn’t smell anything unusual. As the smell developed, I told him to slow down even more. Then I threw my hand over my mouth and nose, hardly able to breathe. And then I saw it, half in the water and half out…

The decaying carcass of a very large dead hog.

It seemed about half the size of our canoe and the tip of our canoe bow was coasting to nearly touching it.

“Backpaddle!” I screamed, gagging on the breath required in order to yell out that one word.

Jeff was confused, but only for a moment as the stern of the canoe came into the aroma cloud of decomposition and death.

We moved surprisingly quickly, considering there was no space to turn around and all the branches necessary to recross. We were very soon out of the range of the smell which was bad enough that my eyeballs would have melted were we to have remained that near it any longer.

Side adventure over. When the creek allowed, we turned around and stuck to the familiar urban waterway of the Erie Canal.

Wordsmithing in Verse

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At first I thought this goal of writing a poem a day during National Poetry Month was just another writing challenge. Then, I thought writing them was lofty, poetic, oh so literary. Then, I panicked, because I know I’m no poet and couldn’t tell good from bad. I can’t even rhyme. I craved to give up this challenge after the first few days. After all, I didn’t even have a Poetry Month Partner to encourage me along the rocky way.

I’ve found writing poetry HARD. Writing good poetry takes talent. But if I fail in this challenge, then I fail as a writer. Why? Because if I am unable to pick my words well in short focused pieces, how can I choose my words well in larger works? Word detail is vital. Accent, tone, and each syllable is important. What an awareness! I’m thinking that every novelist needs to engage in poetry writing for a time.

My Tools of the Poetry Trade: Usually I write with keyboard beneath my fingertips. But in this month-long experiment (well, only a week so far), I’m finding myself using pencil and paper more than any other time. I write down snatches of ideas for poems. I use the eraser a lot. Revisions take on an entirely new dimension. I also use a printed Thesaurus. I haven’t done that in decades. Lately, I’ve lazily depended upon computer-generated words. Soon, though, I may come to the thinking that even using a Thesaurus is lazy.

The very interesting thing I’ve concluded now is that I’ve also found that writing poetry is FUN. There are so many venues. I’ve written sentimental pieces, silly ones from a child’s point of view, love songs, nature and gardening prose, couplets, snatches of ideas. The variety of possibilities is nearly endless, and best yet, I am not limited. I am no longer scared to try wordsmithing in verse. I’m thinking next time National Poetry Month rolls around, I may focus more, like write 30 limericks about nature. Surely, just for the sheer weight of my words, there will have to be one or two which is audience readable.

Onward to engage in my poem of the day.

No Moving Body Parts!

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When I first started in this writing business (for real), I was in a critique group with a wonderful well-published author who wrote in a completely different genre than I. When she’d come across some of my phrases, like “Her eyes dropped to the floor,” Barb would waggle her finger at me and say, “No moving body parts!” I guess I did it often enough for the phrase to stick in my head.

Today I came across a critique from someone in my critique group, of someone else’s writing. The critiquer had highlighted that the submitter used the phrase “her eyes darted around the room” twice in as many paragraphs. It was the repetition which she’d pointed out. But for a flash, I remembered Barb’s words and imagined the heroine eyes floating from the body and moving quickly around.

So, here is my question concerning this phrase: Can eyes dart (they do within sockets), or should they not dart (detached from the body)?

Voice Workshop – Post #3 – Exercises

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Continuing with our online critique group’s Voice Workshop. Our workshop teacher, Rose Green, had us do some voice recognition and experimenting exercises. 

Exercise #1, part a: Find a passage in a published book with a good example of voice.

I was terrified of this exercise. Even after reading the assigned articles, what did I know of voice? It’s the very reason I so needed this workshop. I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around what voice was. When I was a kid, if I didn’t know how to spell a word, teachers told me to look it up in the dictionary. I don’t care how big the dictionary, I could never find the word psychology in the “S” section. Finding voice was the same. And then – kapowie – it stuck me. The published author who came to mind has a voice which is the voiciest voice I know: Barbara Parks in her Junie B. Jones series. The passage I chose was from Junie B. Jones is (Almost) a Flower Girl, p. 19.

The next day at recess, I sang the pretty bride song.

I sang it to my bestest friends named Lucille and that Grace.

“HERE COMES THE BRIDE… ALL DRESSED AND WIDE… HER NAME IS CLYDE, AND SHE READS TV GUIDE.”

That Grace looked admiring at me.

“Wow. I never even knew that song had words,” she said.

***** 

Exercise #1, part b: Embland the passage.

What a cool-cool word. I like to roll it around in my mouth. Embland. Embland. What it means is to take out the voice, to make it bland. So here was my attempt:

The next day at recess, I sang the bride song to my friends, Lucille and Grace.

“Here comes the bride. All dressed in white. Her name is Clyde and she reads TV guide.”
Grace smiled and said, “Nice.”

 

What I learned from doing this exercise: 1) I CAN recognize voice; 2) I don’t follow directions very well – I added my own voice with the last word of the emblanding exercise; 3) taking voice out of the passage certainly made the words sound dull; and 4) Dag-nab-it! Why did the emblanded passage have to sound an awfully lot like I write.

*****

Exercise #2  Pick a passage from your own writing and instead of emblanding it, give it more voice.

For everyone in our group, this was much more difficult than doing it with someone else’s writing.  To me, it ended up being more noticing when I told and didn’t show and putting things into my main character’s mind. I found with mine and with some of the others, that it is easiest to do this voice when using dialoge. But friend Jaclyn shot that down with what she did with her own passage. Jaclyn’s changed passage was still in narration, however, in her voicier passage I felt that it read like first person v.s. third.

From Jaclyn’s writing:

ORIGINAL:
Mr. Gormelly, Shasta’s homeroom teacher, was talking to a boy that Shasta did
not know when she entered and made her way to her usual seat.  He gestured toward a
desk at the back of the second row and the boy nodded.  As the students filed into
homeroom, Mr. Gormelly made the announcement.
 
 “Class, settle down and take your seats, please.  We have a new student with us
and I’d like to introduce him before first period begins.”
 
 As Shasta slid in behind her desk, she tried to size up the new boy.  He wasn’t
completely hot but he wasn’t bad, either.  There was something uneasy about him,
though.  Shasta thought it could be the dark look in his eyes; almost like that of a
criminal.  She had to smirk at her own imagination sometimes.
 
RE-VOICED VERSION:
Shasta frowned as she made her way to her usual seat.  Who was that boy talking
to Mr. Gormelly?  She watched the boy glance toward the second row and nod. 
Still fixated on the new boy, Shasta could briefly hear Mr. Gormelly’s voice in the
background, but only caught the words “new student”.
 
Her curiousity still not satisfied, Shasta popped open the flap of her white backpack style
purse and pretended to check out her bangs.  She waited for the boy to sit, so she could get
a better look at his face.  Something about his dark brooding eyes made her think
of the book they’d been reading in English, The Outsiders, and she wondered if
he’d been in a gang in his old school.  Closing the flap on her bag, she tried to settle into
the routine of another boring class, but her imagination continued to remain fixated on
the new kid.

Voice Workshop – Post #2 – What is Voice? (What I Learned From Others)

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The first day of the workshop for our on-line critique group, our workshop leader, Rose Green, gave us several links to articles and blogs. A couple of us “students” also shared a link or two. We read the dozen or so articles, then discussed what we learned. Here are a few of my highlighted insights.

Learned from Margot Finke on Harold Underdown’s site: There are two voices in writing – the author’s voice and character voice. This was brilliant, and finally made some things clear to me. Articles I’d read had to do with one or the other, making me confused as to what this voice was which everyone was talking about. Margot simply informed the reader me that sometimes an agent/editor/author may be speaking about author voice, and sometimes they may be speaking about character voice. Huge lightbulb turned on for me.

Learned from Editor Caroline Meckler, from Tabitha Olsen’s blog: Voice is the expression of the content, consisting of various elements, including diction, detail, imagery, syntax, and tone. This has to do with author voice, previously might be known as style.

Learned from Editor Cheryl Klein: Play with masks. Put on the mask of one of your characters and write in that character’s voice for a while, whether s/he is the MC or not.

Voice Workshop – Introduction

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My on-line critique group has taken a break from our weekly critiquing now and then to do workshops. Since “voice” is big with agents and editors now, and we have been talking about it for the past year or more, this week our critique group is doing a Voice Workshop together, led by our own, Rose Green. Then here, smack-dab in the middle of the week, I got this brilliant idea that next week we each write a post on our blogs on Voice, as sort of a term paper summary from this week.

It will take a while to soak in all the things we’ve been learning, so I may be compartmentalizing into more than one post next week. I always tended to be a rule breaker, even when I was the one making up the rules.

What we hope to discover in our Voice Workshop is:

1) What is Voice?

2) How do you create Voice?

3) What kinds of Voice appeal to you?

See you next week.

The Amazingly Creative Darcy Pattison

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A little behind on my email catch-up, but too early for epiphany (January 6), I saw this writing reflective article by author-speaker Darcy Pattison, and absolutely had to share it. In it, she gives writing tips from the song, “We Three Kings.” She also lists other writing tips from other Christmas-y subjects. Amazing, fun, and creative woman!

http://www.darcypattison.com/revision/7-writing-tips-from-the-3-kings/

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Pt 5

(Two conference speaker summaries today; I happened to have invited both these ladies to the conference.)

Speaker One: On Sunday, October 10, I participated in (listened in on) a group critique time with Tor Senior Editor Susan Chang. She chose five story outlines from the participants and gave each a fifteen minute critique about what worked and what didn’t. Here are the highlights from the five stories. The opening pages need to have action. Every chapter has something moving the plot forward or building the character arc. With more than one plots, each one must escalate the rising arc. A strong story foundation is needed. Shaky or thin plot problems collapse the story. Determine what your foundation is, and then if it is strong or weak. Make your characters believable, and make sure there are links between cause and affect, i.e., why is the character acting like this? Susan mentioned that showing while writing (v.s. telling) makes it more like a movie, and this is a good thing. She recommended the book MAKING GOOD SCRIPTS GREAT

Speaker Two: Amy Lennex, Senior Editor with Sleeping Bear Press in Michigan, spoke about who and what Sleeping Bear Press is, and things they publish. Amy shared with the group the publishing process. After the writer writes a story, and it goes through the revision process to become polished, an editor must love it. The editor takes the manuscript to the editorial group, and they must love it. It then goes to Acquisitions, and they must love it. A projected positive profit and loss statement is developed to determine if accepting this manuscript is a good investment or not. If it is, then a contract is issued, and the story is put on a pub schedule. The last step before publication, is the search for an illustrator. They listen to what booksellers have to say. What age group is this book written for? Will adults as well as children like this book? Is there a need for this subject matter, or has it been done before? Will this book have media attention? (i.e., is it timely?) Amy gave the example of FIRST DOG, which was written before President Obama gave a dog to his girls. The story was written, but since the illustrator didn’t know what kind of dog it was going to be, he left a blank doggie shape on each page, to be “revised” as soon as the dog type was known. Advice from Sleeping Bear Press authors: Love your book and promote it. Love words. Enjoy the process, and write every day. Those who attended the conference were given two colored stickies, one for each editor. It is to go on their submission envelope. Although Tor is open to submissions, Sleeping Bear Press is not. By attending the conference, attendees got a “free look” pass for their manuscript to be looked at by Sleeping Bear. I used up one of my colored stickies already.

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 4

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On Saturday, October 9, 2010, fantasy writer Cinda Chima spoke at the SCBWI-MI Writers Conference on “Engaging a Middle-Grade and Young Adult Reader.” She stressed the importance of drawing the readers in with your first line. She said to open during a change, or with an interesting character, or an interesting setting; to open with humor, or with atmosphere and suspense. She gave several examples of first lines of novels.

Cinda said that writers need to make a promise to the readers about the story in the very beginning, and then keep that promise at the end.

Use conflict and action to keep the readers reading. Story happens when character and conflict collide. She encouraged us to “write cinamatically” with our delivery, like screenwriters.

New world-building slows the pace of a story, so deliver information on a “need to know” basis. To help speed the pace, use dialogue with the scene, use short paragraphs and sentences, and use simple sentence structures.

Cinda suggested printing out your story, then highlighting in different colors the narrative, the action, the dialogue, and “the exciting parts” to see where the story drags.

She spattered her talk with quotes, one from Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”