Teachers Write 7.13.16 Q & A Wednesday

Got questions about writing? Our Teachers Write guest authors have answers for you. Today’s official guest author for Q&A Wednesday is Karen Rivers, author of THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME and BEFORE WE GO EXTINCT.

karenr

You may see other authors popping in to answer questions as well, so ask away!

This entry was posted in TeachersWrite. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

51 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2016 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Good Morning Karen Rivers!
    Thank you for stopping in today. I have been looking over your website. It’s great! I love the humor sprinkled in like chocolate chips in a cookie. (yes, I do wake at an insanely early hour—it’s because I am part teacher….part librarian…..part writer and I’m WORTHLESS past 9 pm in the evening). Oh! And my favorite color is green too.

    While I was adding The Girl in the Well is Me to my vendor wishlist for my middle school library I was delighted to see the book is already a playaway! Playaways are super popular with kids in my library I book talk them…but they fly off the shelves anyway.

    Thanks so much for stopping in today. You have an impressive number of books under your belt. I would love to know if you ever teach an online workshop or seminar….as BC is a tad far from where I live in DC….but C is a nice letter to have in common.

    OK, enough gushing! I have craft questions.

    This week my writing focus is on weaving secondary characters into my story….better. They are there. They exist. But, they aren’t very dynamic yet.

    What tips, tricks, exercises or voodoo prescriptions do you have for new writers trying to write secondary characters in balance with the overall story?

    Thanks again for dropping by TW. I just LOVE all the authors I’m getting to “know” .

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Hi, Linda — I’m one of the random authors Kate mentioned might be popping in! Secondary characters need to have their own backstories –just as your MCs do, even though most of their background won’t appear in print. Those “character sketches” will inform everything your secondary characters do, especially when it comes to advancing the action and interacting with the MC. Pick out some faces in magazines or on the internet to give your secondaries a “face.” Sometimes, that helps. What does your SC have in his/her backpack? What does he/she not want the parents to know? All those kinds of questions will help. Have fun!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        I look forward to trying out these suggestions for a secondary character that I’m working on and I hadn’t really fleshed her out. Your suggestions reminded me that I need to give this SC some attention so that she doesn’t remain one-dimensional. Thank you for popping in!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        I know this is 10 hours later and you might not see it, but this leads me to a follow-up about character sketches. J.K. Rowling famously wrote WAY more than ever made it onto the page. But we’re not all J.K. Rowling. How much time do you spend on writing that is just for your eyes when it comes to secondary characters? What about primary characters, for that matter?

      • Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        I’m a day late in responding with thanks….but THANK YOU! The bonus support you and other bonus authors provide is much, much appreciated. And, the advice is good. I’m excited to start my writing this morning (7/14) with your advice.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much for the great question and for the kind words!

      I don’t teach anything on line at the moment, although it’s always a possibility. I just finished teaching an upper level writing course at the University of Victoria, and I loved doing it. Teaching is one of my favourite jobs and new writers are always so enthusiastic and inspiring in their own way.

      Your secondary character question is trickier. For me, I always try to visualize the complete family that my character fits into, keeping in mind that all families are weird in their own way. Every person in that family is going to have their particular weirdness, and I try to make sure to not leave that out, while also not necessarily shining a spotlight on it. The character that comes to mind for me is the father in my spring 2017 book (LOVE, ISH) who is obsessed with drinking water. It’s not particularly part of the story (although it is, a little), but it’s a detail about him that makes him instantly three-dimensional in my imagination (every time he wanders into the kitchen to pour another glass of water) and not just Stock Character Funny Dad. I endeavour to do something like that with all my secondary people, even if it doesn’t come through on the page, *I* like to answer the question: “What is this person’s weirdness?” So that they are real to me when I write them. A flat or stereotyped secondary character can suck the life out of your story. It’s sometimes useful to imagine what you would write about if your publisher asked you to write a novel about this or that secondary person. Could you do it? Do you know that character well enough to have an instant-idea about what their story would be? Think of it as a series of mini-novels all buried inside your bigger story. You don’t have to write those novels, but it’s nice to know that the seeds of them are nestled in there.

      Good luck!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Linda’s question is one that I’ve also wrestled with and appreciate all of the great comments. I never really thought about what I would write about my SC if I had to write something just focused on her. I have worried that my SC is too one-dimensional and I think that these suggestions will help me make her more “real.” Thank you for these suggestions!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you so much for the great question and for the kind words!

      I don’t teach anything on line at the moment, although it’s always a possibility. I just finished teaching an upper level writing course at the University of Victoria, and I loved doing it. Teaching is one of my favourite jobs and new writers are always so enthusiastic and inspiring in their own way.

      Your secondary character question is trickier. For me, I always try to visualize the complete family that my character fits into, keeping in mind that all families are weird in their own way. Every person in that family is going to have their particular weirdness, and I try to make sure to not leave that out, while also not necessarily shining a spotlight on it. The character that comes to mind for me is the father in my spring 2017 book (LOVE, ISH) who is obsessed with drinking water. It’s not particularly part of the story (although it is, a little), but it’s a detail about him that makes him instantly three-dimensional in my imagination (every time he wanders into the kitchen to pour another glass of water) and not just Stock Character Funny Dad. I endeavour to do something like that with all my secondary people, even if it doesn’t come through on the page, *I* like to answer the question: “What is this person’s weirdness?” So that they are real to me when I write them. A flat or stereotyped secondary character can suck the life out of your story. It’s sometimes useful to imagine what you would write about if your publisher asked you to write a novel about this or that secondary person. Could you do it? Do you know that character well enough to have an instant-idea about what their story would be? Think of it as a series of mini-novels all buried inside your bigger story. You don’t have to write those novels, but it’s nice to know that the seeds of them are nestled in there.

      Good luck!

  2. Wendy Darasz
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Greetings Karen!
    Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your time and expertise with us today. I also checked out your website and love your style. I have a few questions.
    1. Did you ever receive any formal training in writing? I didn’t notice any reference to that on your website, but I may have missed it. If you did receive formal training – would you share what courses etc. that you took?
    2. What tips do you have for improving one’s own writing craft outside of standard/formal coursework?
    3. How did/do you get others to take you seriously when you are writing? (I’m thinking about you living in your parents’ basement writing away.) I ask because, although I’m not living in my parents’ basement, I do live with my husband and sometimes my 85 year old mother who comes to stay for months at a time. In any case – I find that some people don’t get that writing is “work” and feel compelled to interrupt with trivial (to me) matters. Is there a kind way to convey that these interruptions scare away the writing muse?
    4. At what point in your writing career did people take you seriously as a writer? In other words when did you notice a shift in perception from others?
    Thanks again for your time.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Wow, Wendy. Those are excellent questions. I’m interested in the answers as well, as I struggle with making my family understand that my writing time is sacred work time for me.

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Wendy — please check out my answer to Wendy D below…I was answering your question with the answer, too!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Have you tried phrasing it in exactly that way? “Sacred work time” is profoundly true. One needs time and space to write. If no one got any, there would be no books. All the books on the shelf represent someone else’s sacred work time! Yours is no less important.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Oh, Wendy…..I love your questions. I’m a mom of four children and two furbabies….and a wife and a teacher….and my writing is seen as “rather cute” on a good day.

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        How well I remember those days, Linda! Please see my answer to Wendy D below, and don’t lose heart! No one can steal your joy of writing away, even though it may be “cute”!!! Oh, my, heavens!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        “Rather cute” = INFURIATING.

        I always wanted to tell my ex’s family that it was my writing money that actually bought our house, contrary to what they believed. I’m having rage-flashbacks on your behalf now!

    • Martha Willey
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Good morning,
      Thank you for dropping in. I too would like to know when you felt your family was behind you in your writing. I often feel mine consider it a hobby if they consider it at all. And also how did you keep yourself motivated while going through the query process to find an agent. I’m doing that now and it’s tough. I’ve gotten some good encouragement from some people on Teachers Write and I’d like to hear your story too. Thanks again.

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Hi Martha,

        The query process is hard and can feel like an impossible current to swim against. I’ve been through it more than once! After I left my first agent, I spent almost a year querying new agents. And I made a LOT of mistakes. And received a number of rejections, a lot of no-answer-at-alls, and eventually a handful of “Show me mores”.

        I think it’s important to sift through the rejections for the positives. Often, a rejection letter contains useful advice, which you can use to improve your submission in your next round. I submitted five at a time, waited for responses, then did the next five with changes that I derived from the rejections.

        I stole this bit about rejections from Chuck Wendig’s blog (he’s very insightful and funny, if you’re not offended by strong language) and I think it’s great advice: “Cherish them the way you would a child, or a lost love, or the misery of an enemy as you slowly feed him into a growling wood chipper. By “opportunistic rejection” I mean, a rejection that aims to help you, not just reject you. A handwritten rejection, for instance, one that features an honest critique of your work, is &^@^& gold. Equally awesome are rejections that help you understand the good things about your story and, further, offer opportunity for future submission. Best of all are rejections that encourage you to resubmit — not other stories, but that story. My first short story on submission got one of those. I played ball. Resubmitted. Was published. Got paid. Freeze-frame high-five.”

        Notice that none of the rejections you receive say what you really probably fear: “You’re not a writer! Fraud!” Because all of them are ultimately validating one thing that is true: You ARE a writer.

        Being represented by an agent is great, but an agent’s opinion is subjective, just like an editor’s opinion and ultimately, your readers’ opinions. Not everyone is going to like what you write, not ever. But somewhere in that field of agents, there’s an agent who gets what you’re trying to do, and who will really see you. That person is worth waiting for, not just an agent-for-the-sake-of-having-an-agent, but an agent who is completely on your team.

        I have had no less than four agents in my career and it wasn’t until I found my most recent agent that I realized that finding an agent is much like finding a life-partner. (You sometimes have to date a few to find the right one!) And one should ask the same questions as one does when one is dating! Fewer questions such as, “How can I get this person to like me?” And more questions like, “Do I like this person enough to want to form a bond with them?”

        Never give up. That person is out there. Take all the advice you get from the rejections, really examine it for a pattern, correct for that, then keep on swimming.

        Good luck!

        • Martha Willey
          Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          Thanks so much. Your words of encouragement are appreciated.

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Martha, I completely understand your feelings! It takes a while, sadly, for families to really understand what it’s like to be a writer. But, as I answered Wendy D, really it’s usually only other writers understand what we go through, so all we can do is keep writing, and try to keep CUDO (chin up; dust off) in mind. We do what we do because we love it. It’s tough to look for an agent, and I vacillate back and forth. Karen would be a much better responder to that question, because I’ve never been agented. My hat is off to those who are in the hunt. To keep yourself motivated, check out the SCBWI Message Board. There is good encouragement there. Good luck and best wishes!

        • Martha Willey
          Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the encouragement. This is one of the reasons I love doing Teachers Write, because the campers are willing to bare their feelings and share their struggles. Appreciate it.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Hi, Wendy, random author here. Your questions resonated with me. I don’t know what Karen’s formal training was, but mine was “on the job” training as an English teacher, taking the UCLA Writing Project, classes with writing teachers, and so on, but the main training, IMHO, is to write, write, write, and read a lot! As far as having writing taken seriously, ummm, that’s a toughie. I’m not sure, even with twenty-seven books under my belt, that some still don’t take my writing seriously! It took having several books published, seriously, so we just have to be patient and not have high expectations about others. That really does help. Writers understand each other –the fears, the dreams, the slogging (!), so just enjoy the company of other writers and commiserate with each other, but, most of all, take joy in what you love to do –write! No one’s reactions can take that away from you!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for the great questions! I’m copying and pasting them into my answer so I can see them while I type.

      1. Did you ever receive any formal training in writing? I didn’t notice any reference to that on your website, but I may have missed it. If you did receive formal training – would you share what courses etc. that you took?

      I studied Creative Writing for a couple of years at University, but ultimately got a degree in something unrelated (International Relations). Other than that, I haven’t had any formal training (although I do sometimes teach Creative Writing now, and teaching offers many learning opportunities, as I’m sure you know!) I mostly learned by simply doing the writing, and by reading reading reading…always reading.

      2. What tips do you have for improving one’s own writing craft outside of standard/formal coursework?

      Oh, I just answered that mostly above! But it’s definitely reading widely, in multiple genres (not just your own), saturating yourself with good writing. I would also advocate for simply being curious about things. You never know when something will be useful for a future novel. I used to love working in retirement homes because I loved all the stories that I heard from residents. I’m crazy about podcasts, like This American Life and The Moth because they are slice-of-life stories that can plant the seeds of ideas. I suppose my best advice to improve your writing would then be to just take it all in, take everything in, listen to every little fascinating thing that life throws your way.

      3. How did/do you get others to take you seriously when you are writing? (I’m thinking about you living in your parents’ basement writing away.) I ask because, although I’m not living in my parents’ basement, I do live with my husband and sometimes my 85 year old mother who comes to stay for months at a time. In any case – I find that some people don’t get that writing is “work” and feel compelled to interrupt with trivial (to me) matters. Is there a kind way to convey that these interruptions scare away the writing muse?

      Ah, this is the age old question. I still sometimes wonder if anyone takes me seriously. Some of the most terrible battles I fought in my marriage were about my “little hobby” and how much time it took up. I’ve found the words, “I’m on a deadline” demand more respect than “I’m going to do some writing for a while.” (And no one needs to know who has imposed the deadline, even if it’s just to meet your own schedule!) Being firm is key, as is believing yourself in the importance of what you’re doing. “I’m not available on that day/at that time, because that’s a work day for me.” Referring to it as “work” is often the most important variable. And it IS work. It’s your work. It’s your life’s work. It matters.

      4. At what point in your writing career did people take you seriously as a writer? In other words when did you notice a shift in perception from others?

      I definitely noticed a shift after I was first published, and again when I became a single parent who made a conscious decision to write books as my full-time job. When I was married, I felt like people were saying (or thinking), “Well, he makes enough money to support you, isn’t that nice?” Now I’m supporting myself and my two kids by doing the work of writing and it seems like that makes other people treat what I do differently. It’s possible that I treat it differently now, also, that I stopped allowing people to dismiss it as a “little hobby”. I do have ongoing issues with balancing the kids’ needs/wants with time. I explain it to them as time that I’ve already “sold”. Someone has purchased this time from me, and as such I can’t stop because they want to go spend the day at the park, they’ll have to find something else to do. And again, “Mummy is on a deadline” are the magic words. 🙂

      • Wendy Darasz
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        I apologize for the late response. A mini vacation and then company made computer time difficult. Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses to all of my questions.

      • Wendy Darasz
        Posted July 17, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Apologies for the late response to your thoughtful answers. A mini vacation and then company left me with no opportunity to thank you until now. I appreciate your insight.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Hi Wendy and everybody! Another random author here, just jumping in because this question of “other people taking you seriously” plucks some central string in me. I think most of us may long to be “taken seriously.” In fact, that may be, for some people, how they secretly define success to themselves: “when people start taking my writing seriously.” Well, but the thing is–that may be the wrong question. I think it is for me, anyway. I’m pretty sure there will never be a time when “everybody” takes my writing seriously–family, co-workers, fellow writers, all people who read, all people who don’t read—-see how ridiculously huge this list is getting? 🙂 The shift that has been crucial for me is that I realized I’M THE ONE WHO HAS TO TAKE MY WORK SERIOUSLY. That models good behavior for, say, the family. I have to do my work FIRST–but nobody in my world is going to carve out time and space for me to do that. Nobody’s going to say, “Hey, Anne, you look like someone who needs some protected writing time!” Maybe your environment is different! But for me, the responsibility is mine to take writing seriously. And when I do that, everything works better, not to mention I skip the unpleasant business of feeling bitter, which never somehow improves my word count. GOOD LUCK to you! You ARE doing SERIOUS work. We see you doing it. Keep it up!

      • Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        Anne,
        This is excellent advice, and hits home with me. Thank you! I’m going to post your words on my laptop, and they will become my mantra. <3

  3. Diana Murrell
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Hi Karen

    Thanks for answering questions today!

    I am wondering about writing in Canada. Do you have any suggestions for publishing that might be different for a Canadian writer?

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Hi Diana,

      I posted a response to this already but I think it may have vanished into the ether somehow, so I’m going to try again! Apologies if it shows up twice.

      I write predominantly now for US publishers, so my current experience is mostly as a Canadian in the American market. The major downside of that is that as a Canadian, one doesn’t qualify for most of the US awards; and as someone who writes mostly for US publishers, one doesn’t qualify for many of the Canadian awards either! The other issue is sometimes that the publisher is less likely to send you out to conferences and on the road due to the extra expense of getting you there. That said, I think from my experience, that the publishing experience in both countries is fairly parallel. It serves you well in both places to have an agent, for example, although I feel like Canadian publishers are more open to unagented submissions than US publishers.

      I think that a lot of Canadian writers sell themselves short, or somehow see themselves as “less than” their US counterparts. My best advice is to not do that! A writer is a writer is a writer, regardless of where we call home.

      Karen

  4. Jen Caldwell
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Good morning, All! Thank you, Karen, for sharing your time with us today!

    My YA WIP deals with a difficult topic (the disappearance of a little girl) and the aftermath for the older sister. I noticed several of your books deal with heavy material, too. How do you not get mired in the depression of it all, and how do you keep it feeling real without dwelling on the sadness/fear/anger too much that you’ll turn off your readers? I want to be authentic and recognize the grief, but I can only have her fall apart so many times. (That sounds so cruel.) I’m trying to build in happy flashbacks of life before the disappearance to break up the mood, and give her some “good” days, but I’m worried it’ll be too depressing to read.

    Any advice? Thanks again-

    • Maggie Bokelman
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      As a reader of Karen’s books, I can say she uses a LOT of what I’d call black humor. It’s sad-funny, but it’s still really, really funny. That style doesn’t work for everyone but it definitely works for her. Read The Girl in the Well is Me to get what I mean. It’s an awesome book. Devastatingly sad, and yet a terrifically enjoyable read. I’m eager to hear Karen’s thoughts on this too!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jen,

      It can be really incredibly difficult to inject levity into a tragic story, especially at the YA-level, because the truth is that young adults tend to experience tragedy very intensely. Teen angst prevails! That said, there are some terrific examples of books where terrible, sad things have happened, yet the book is still a joy to read. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a pretty obvious example, and there are many others. Keeping in mind that your character is multi-faceted is important, and the layers of what is going on in their life are the key. While also experiencing the terrible loss, is your character falling in love? Is your character accomplishing something, taking on something new? There is often dark humour to be found, too, when someone says something to your character which is so much the wrong thing to say that it’s actually funny.

      I can definitely relate to your issue though. I just finished a YA for Fall 2017 (ALL THAT WAS), which in earlier drafts definitely suffered from this problem. It was just … dark. I’m honestly worried that it’s still a little depressing, but I’m hoping that I’m slowly adding on enough Life-Goes-On Layers to lift it out of the doldrums!

  5. Andy Starowicz
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Good morning, Karen and TW campers!

    Thank you, Karen, for stopping in to answer questions today.

    I have been using excerpts of my middle grade manuscript with my students (sixth graders), but I would like to use the whole story. My question is for anyone who has adventured into the world of creating an e-book. I have spent the last three weeks of summer researching different options for creating an e-book (some that cost and some that are free).

    I would like to create an e-book that my students could read for free on an e-reader device and incorporate reading (and some writing) lessons in class as we read the story. I would really like the format to be similar to a standard e-book (or paper novel). I am hoping to do it for free because I’m obviously not charging my students.

    My question:
    Does anyone have any suggestions about options to creating an e-book that I could use with my students?

    Thank you in advance for any feedback.

    • Diana Murrell
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      This is a great idea! I would like information about this too.

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Hi Andy!

      Unfortunately, I have no experience with creating ebooks. I love your idea though! As far as I know, all you have to do is save your book as a PDF file and it should be readable on e-book devices (do they all have them?) Hoping that someone who has more experience than I do can chime in here!

      Karen

    • Jen Caldwell
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Hi Andy,

      What a great idea (and a wonderfully brave one)! I have not done this but wonder if Scrivener will do what you want. I’ve only just begun using it and am sure it does far more than I understand, but I believe it can save into e-book format and/or synch/save with Kindlegen (to generate a kindle-friendly e-book through Amazon). I don’t know if that costs anything. You can do a free trial with Scrivener, but then it costs something minimal.

      I’m sure you’ve already considered Google Docs where kids could make their own copies and share comments (or editing-if that’s a deliberate skill) with you. Or reflect and respond to blog installments where they have to wait with bated breath until the next chapter. . . !

      I’ll be curious what others have to offer as suggestions. Good luck!
      Jen

    • Diana Murrell
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      Hi Andy

      I did some looking and iBook Author might work if you have a Mac.

      • Andy Starowicz
        Posted July 13, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Diana,

        Thank you so much. The weird thing is that I have not stumbled upon iBook Author (although it was in a site that I investigated, but I missed it). It looks good.

        Thank you again.
        Happy writing!

  6. sheila mustard
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Karen and other author’s my question today is regarding plot –

    I teach 5th grade and I struggle with teaching students how to develop a plot that has enough depth to it to –
    #1 – write a story – be it weekend news, personal narrative, or a fictional piece
    #2 – keeps the reader interested with the events

    I would love your advice on lessons and ways to get students to develop depth to their plot not just a simplified chain of events.

    Thanks again for being with us and helping all of us with our writing skills whether we are novel bound or not!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Good morning, Sheila! Yes, and, it’s tough to have them *not* write a “bed-to-bed” story that begins when the character wakes up and ends when the character goes to sleep. 🙂 What I did with my students is use David Mamet’s advice: begin with a character (have them develop a “character sketch” of qualities — and then: 1) who wants what, and why? 2) why now? 3) what happens if her (Mamet’s little joke) don’t (another Mamet joke) get it? So we have character needing/wanting something, the obstacle, the risk/reward, and the urgency to solve the problem, which, of course, must be generated by the character himself or herself. Encourage them to keep raising the stakes, make the character uncomfortable. I hope that helps! Your students are lucky you care enough about them and writing to be a summer camper!

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Great answer, Margo!

      • sheila mustard
        Posted July 13, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Margo – Thank you for your help and suggestions!

        • Posted July 13, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Thank you so much, Karen! Your answers have been so helpful and illuminating; thanks for sharing your wisdom and inspiration! Aloha!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sheila,

      When I’m teaching writing, I always emphasize character over plot. A really well-developed character is going to make any plot more interesting. I would always begin with character, and then think of the plot as a series of obstacles that the character has to climb through, as opposed to thinking of plot (“What is this about?”) as a separate thing from who it is happening to (“How does the character respond?”) One trick to do this is to focus on the character’s feelings as much as the obstacle they are moving through. If, for example, the event is an earthquake, get the students to first ask themselves the emotional response of the character before they describe the falling trees, toppling buildings, etc.

      The use of dialogue can also breathe life into a scene and stop it from seeming like simply a news report on an event. It can be a fun exercise to get students to take one scene from their story and write it as JUST dialogue (like a screenplay, for example); then write it as a diary entry; and only after they’ve done that, to try writing it as a story. Perspective is key and what makes the story interesting is the unique perspective of their character.

      Cheryl Klein’s book, SECOND SIGHT, has some really great Character Worksheets, as well as Plot Worksheets, which are fantastic tools. The more they know their characters, the more depth their stories will have!

      Good luck!

      Karen

      • sheila mustard
        Posted July 13, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Karen – Thank you for your help and your resource suggestion. I can’t wait to try it with students.

    • Barb Kallin
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      I’ve taught plot to kids (I teach high school) by reading them/ sharing books/ stories that are for much younger children (i.e. picture books) and then talking about plot development in those younger-grade stories. I don’t know if that would work for fifth graders, but it is just another way to use “mentor texts.”

  7. Kate Schoedinger
    Posted July 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I just finished The Girl in the Well is Me on the dock in Maine—one of those cherished one sitting books! Thank you for that! It is so well paced and authentic. I’m a reading specialist for 7th-8th grade and have several copies to use in groups this year. My WIP is a MG piece and I just changed to first person POV. Do you find it plausible to begin a new chapter with a secondary character’s POV? Is that shift problematic or worthy? Thank you for your time and talent. Your work makes my work easier!!

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kate,

      Thank you so much for your kind words about Girl In the Well! I’m glad you liked it.

      Shifting POV in middle grade can be a bit tricky. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it. I’ve done it in YA quite often though, and I think it’s a really fun thing to write. I suspect the reason why it’s largely avoided in MG is because it requires the reader to make the leap to a new character’s POV and for a MG reader, that can be more of a leap than they are willing to make and you risk pulling them out of the story. That said, I’m a big believer in the fact that there is an exception to every rule! Why not try it? If it doesn’t work, you can always scrap it. The one thing I would suggest is that you make it very very clear that the transition has happened, to minimize potential confusion.

      Good luck!

      • Kate Schoedinger
        Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I appreciate your counsel. The character has been introduced, just not served as a lead. This chapter focuses on this adult becoming a boss to two boys who have to work in a retirement community to pay off a window they broke with an icicle. The POV has been one of the boys. This new chapter leads with his boss’s thoughts about now having to manage two teenage boys. I’ll give it a try and edit again. Thanks!

    • Jennifer Laughran
      Posted July 13, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Not a writer here, but I have advice about this! You CAN have multiple POV’s in a middle grade novel (see: BECAUSE OF MR TERUPT or FLIPPED for good examples) — but the caveat is, kids 8-12 can have wildly different reading levels really – and I must caution you that I have had kids react badly to multi-POV books. Like in BARTIMEUS book 1, the voice switches from the kid (main text) to the Genie (footnotes), and there are a ton of great jokes and lots of vital info in the genie’s voice, and I know 10 year olds who straight up didn’t understand how to read it. And so they missed all the nuance and were confused. Which is like… not a great place to be at the beginning of a 300+ page book! I would just say, it’s helpful if you are going to switch POVs in MG, you have them in entirely separate chapters, and label the chapters, and be sure your character’s voices are quite distinct so there can be no question.

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Jenn is smart. Listen to Jenn! She may not be a writer but she knows writing better than anyone I know. 🙂

  • Find Kate Online