Archive for August, 2009

Back-to-School Writing

August 25, 2009

Buy one!  Get the second one half off!   That’s what a good percentage of the signs seemed to read at the mall today.  I didn’t study them very carefully though.  My college-age daughters were doing their back-to-school shopping.  I came along to bankroll the expedition.  But instead of watching them try on things,  I was back to that Chapter 1 that has been causing me so many problems. 

Last Wednesday, my critique group gave me some ideas for adjusting the time-line of events.  It allowed me to raise the stakes for my main character.  I know that I was more than a bit stressed out on her behalf.  And while sitting out in the mall today, I might have even found the right words for the first page.  At the very least, I think I’ve found the words that will let me move on.  I’ll find out whether things are working as I’d hoped after I get some feedback from an on-line critique group.

Wrestling with words has always been hard, but delightful work.  Some things don’t change.  Here’s a poem that I pulled together in high school that still sums things up rather well.

I wish I could express myself
In ways both clear and accurate
That every nuance, every thought
Could be written as I want.

I have not gained the skills I need
For finding ways to capture words.
So stories float around instead
Of lying flat on a printed page.


My parents always feature some event on their Christmas card. This is the year I graduated.

My parents always feature some event on their Christmas card. This is the year I graduated.

Well, I have gotten some stories to lie down.  I’ll look for this great quote by Elizabeth Peters that describes the process well.


I Second that Emotion

August 9, 2009

Just over ten years ago, I attended a SCBWI France Retreat at an old  abbey north and east of Paris.  I was living in northern Italy at the time, so it was the closest thing to a local conference even though I had to take a night train there and back.  All writers who attended had a critique session with an author or editor.  Mine was with Lynne Reid Banks, who wrote THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD books and many others.  She gave me a great piece of advice: “Feel what your characters are feeling, Kristin!  Don’t treat them like marionettes.” 

Abbaye Royaumont

I’ve definitely taken that advice to heart, but last week it hit me again.  I was panicking right along with my main character when she dealt with something frightening.  But as she retraced her steps through the maze of tunnels underneath the opera house, I found myself tucking in some information that the reader needed to know.  I was seeing things through my main character’s eyes, but I wasn’t feeling them with her gut.    

And that brings me forward to another SCBWI France retreat.  It was no longer a comparatively local event to attend, but the three wonderful friends I made back in 1999 were all going to be there. 


Dinner at Royaumont: The location provided atmosphere, but the people provided inspiration.

Dinner at Royaumont: The location provided atmosphere, but the people provided inspiration.

I brought back words of wisdom from Sharon Darrow, who was then an instructor in Vermont College’s MFA in children’s writing.  In her lecture  Emotion and Revision: How to get to the Emotional Core, she stressed choosing details that the character responds to and sharing emotional and physical responses.   And I do take heart from this advice: “Keep the imagination going.  Don’t expect too much too soon.”

Note: These photos were provided by my friend Sondy Eklund, who blogs about books at Sonderbooks.

Sampling Words

August 6, 2009

 While waiting for a library visit to begin, I found this quote by the award-winning author Lois Lowry on the wall: “You don’t become a great cook if you never taste good food. The same is true for writing.”

Now I’m guessing that Ms. Lowry expanded on this thought considerably in some speech or article.  But let me extend her metaphor a bit.  You don’t become a great French chef if you don’t taste good French food.  The same is true for writing.  If you want to write picture books, read them.  The same goes for any other category or genre.   Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read outside your genre.  The great chefs combine tastes from a wide number of cuisines to surprise and delight those who eat at their restaurants.  So do great writers.  They challenge and defy conventions.  But it’s almost essential to know what the conventions are so that you know when and why they should be broken.