Teachers Write 7/31/13 Q and A Wednesday

Good morning, everyone! I’m traveling this week & won’t be around to comment, but we have some great guest authors for Q and A Wednesday today, including Shutta Crum, Sarah Albee, Danette Haworth, and Dayna Lorentz!

Got a question you’d like to ask one of these friendly writers?

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

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26 Comments

  1. Jessica Loupos
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Good Morning Authors! My question is about dialogue. I love to write it, but sometimes I find my characters spending too much time chatting. What are your tips to keep a story moving while not losing important exchanges between characters? Thank you 🙂

  2. Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Jessica,
    I have that issue as well sometimes. Depending on the situation your characters are in, you can intersperse short actions into the dialogue that might reflect how they’re feeling, without you (or they) explicitly telling us. A character who is worried or distracted might spoon seven teaspoons of sugar into her coffee cup. Someone confused or frightened might have to try three times before she gets her key into the lock. A flush might creep across someone’s cheeks. An angry person might set his coffee mug down so hard the rest of the dishes jump. Often I write the dialogue and then go back in to see if it can be broken up with action (or substituted for action if there’s too much of it).
    Now to add 49 + 47, This may take me awhile…

    • Jessica Loupos
      Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Sarah. I definitely can add in more action! I was able to add my numbers in my head …pretty impressed wih myself 🙂 Oh sure, i said that, but then I had to re-do it!

  3. Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I once read a writing handbook that stated dialogue should be used as sparingly as spice; yhe book included samples and challenged the reader to examine how much dialogue appears on a single page if any book. I was shocked to see some of my favorite books sometimes had only one or two lines on a good number of pages.

    That said, I think it’s perfectly fine to have runs of dialogue as long as the narrative contains a balance of interior dialogue. My books have plenty of dialogue, but as dialogue raises issues between characters, I might have my MC alone as she finishes the bike ride home, reviewing what was said or showing how she felt about what was said by how she rides her bike: she hammers on the pedals, or maybe she skids, leaving a solid black mark on the sidewalk–especially if the sidewalk is in front of a house that is home to someone related to the problem.

    Hailee Richardson’s bike does a lot of the “talking” in A Whole Lot of Lucky!

    Let me know if I can expound!

    • Posted July 31, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Jessica-
      Apologies if this is a duplicate post (the last one is still awaiting moderation):

      I have that issue as well sometimes. Depending on the situation your characters are in, you can intersperse short actions into the dialogue that might reflect how they’re feeling, without you (or they) explicitly telling us. A character who is worried or distracted might spoon seven teaspoons of sugar into her coffee cup. Someone confused or frightened might have to try three times before she gets her key into the lock. A flush might creep across someone’s cheeks. An angry person might set his coffee mug down so hard the rest of the dishes jump. Often I write the dialogue and then go back in to see if it can be broken up with action (or substituted for action if there’s too much of it).
      Now to add 49 + 47, This may take me awhile…

    • Jessica Loupos
      Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Danette! I love the idea of having my MCs object do the talking! I am in the first draft process of my WIP so just lettin them blab is working to lay the foundation for beigger scenes later on 🙂 ACK! Two replies = two capchas!

  4. Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Jessica! In a first draft, I think it’s important to just let your characters talk. See where the conversation goes. You might find yourself and your story in a new and interesting place! When you get to the revision stage, read the scene out loud to yourself. The unnecessary or ramble-y parts will jump out at you. Also, this is a place where having trusted first readers or a critique group can really help. Best of luck!

    • Jessica Loupos
      Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Dayna! I should have my husband read it to me. He’s not a reader so I’ll be able to tell when he’s getting exasperated by my chit chat 🙂 I’ll throw this out to my critique group net month as well!

  5. Posted July 31, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I am working on a middle grade novel in verse. I do not have a specific time period or place. My first book was place based, but this one is more focused on the MC and her thoughts. How important is it to have a specific setting?

  6. Posted July 31, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Hi Margaret! Even though your draft is character based, your readers still need to be grounded in time and place. My editor has always asked me “What year is this?” and “How can we allude to it?”

    As you imagine your story, I’ll bet you have a certain time period in mind even if you don’t realize it. It’s easy to suggest time periods–you don’t have to put up the year, but you can use artifacts: cell phone and anything digital indicates contemporary; bell bottoms and eight tracks are the seventies; reading about Houdini in the newspaper–easy drops like this. Your reader needs only hints to realize the time and these subtle means get the info across without calling attention to themselves.

    The same is true for place. You can make up a town name but set it in a real place–my editor likes to know where the story is happening. Again, this can be as easy as naming the school “Blake Middle School, the best torture chamber Pennsylvania has ever known.” Or even more subtle–“even the water towers around here are shaped like Mickey Mouse.”

    You need only drop it in here and there–not often at all, but definitely early on; don’t give the reader a reason to lapse out of the story trying to figure out where/when they are. Good luck!

    • Posted July 31, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Thanks. Just the advice I was looking for, Danette. One of my students got hooked on your books last year. She will be so excited to hear that you responded to my question.

  7. Posted July 31, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Aw! Thanks, Margaret, and good luck!

  8. Posted July 31, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    My arithmetic skills are improving thanks to your blog, Kate!

  9. Elizabeth Muster
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I have been in contact with an editor at a small publishing house and if they accept my manuscript she said the royalties would be in the range of 7-13%. Is this pretty typical? Thanks for your time!

  10. Posted July 31, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Showing up late to the party! (Away all day…)

    Anyway, I agree with Danya–let your cahracters talk and then go back and cut all but the necessary bits. Replace a lot of it with action, as Sarah says. And watch out for info dumps–I find that when there is way too much talking going on, it’s simply a not-so subtle way to info dump. Take a yellow marker and highlight those bits of dialogue that are strictly informational–“You know the store, the one on Eisenhower Street where the flower vendor is.” Cut it–and see if you can work in that bit of info about the flower vendor in another way. Hope this helps!

    • Jessica Loupos
      Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      Every little bit helps! Thanks for your time Shutta 🙂

  11. Brian R
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I don’t qualify as a published author, Jessica, but the ‘Do the Math’ problem was 2+1 so how can I *not* reply!

    Regarding dialogue, I once came across what still seems like iron-clad advice. Sadly I can’t recall the source (though this sounds like something said more than once by more than one person): If your dialogue isn’t either advancing the plot — which I now think of as adding microtension — or revealing character in essential ways, cut it.

    • Jessica Loupos
      Posted August 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Brian! I’ve used that advice but had never thought of it for dialogue. I also like how Shutta referred to excess talk as and info dump. So glad I asked this question 🙂 Oh look, a +1 math problem!

  12. Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Margaret–I think it’s critical to have a specific time and place. For one thing, your readers will want to know about how the setting, culture of that place, and historical events have affected your character\’s thoughts. And they SHOULD be informed of that — for no matter how introspective a character is . . . he/she will be molded in part by his/her time and place. We all are. We will want to see a well-rounded character, though you do not need to write directly about the setting and time. Hope this helps!

  13. andrea p
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Hi Authors,
    I wondered if you can talk about your experiences with Skype. Can you explain what makes a skype visit successful from an author’s point of view? On the other hand, can you tell about a time that didn’t work so well and what was learned by the “bad” session? How can we as educators make it a productive virtual visit?

    As a teacher, I’ve used skype a few times with authors, and the sessions seemed to be engaging and interactive, but setting up for skyping can be a challenge. (size of group,
    behavior, technology, and access to equipment, etc.) My local writing group uses skype visits to meet and chat with other authors, but that’s become a challenge due to the lack of equipment at our meeting place. We have to bring our own computers, projectors, etc. and we depend on the wifi of B&N. We’ve had sound issues that interfere with the visits. It’s nerve-wracking at times… I know what it’s like on our end, I was curious to hear about your point of view.

    Thank you for your responses…in advance 🙂

  14. Posted July 31, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Andrea–

    I have not done any Skype visits, though I have author friends who have. Those that do require the classroom to have read at least one of the author’s books, and to have questions written out in advance. This way the event has more meaning, the questions are relevant, and there is no dead air time while students are either too shy or can’t think of a question.

    Lighting can be an issue, as well as “busy” backgrounds (noise and too much pattern/color).

    Personally, it’s the time lapse in sound transmission that drives me batty when I Skype with family/others. Hopefully the technology will only get better. I’m sorry my answer is not terribly specific, but perhaps the other authors will have more direct experience with these kinds of visits and can also chime in here.

    • andrea p
      Posted August 1, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Shutta, for the insight!

  15. Posted July 31, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Andrea! I’ve done plenty of Skype visits and I think they’re fun!

    What makes a Skype visit great for me is when the class is familiar with my work. They can relate to what I’m saying, they recognize points as I relate them to my writing, and they are eager with questions.

    I love the Q & A part; I love seeing their faces come closer and the sparkle in their eyes as they deliver their questions. I like to know their names so I can use their names in my responses.

    One thing I didn’t enjoy about an otherwise successful visit was that the teacher had their camera aimed at a blank corner of the classroom, so they could see me, but all I could see was plaster. I like seeing the students and their reactions as we talk.

  16. Posted August 1, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Hi Andrea! I have Skyped with a classroom twice and had great experiences. I started Skyping with them because a student was a fan of my Dogs series, and asked the teacher to contact me about a visit. I did the first visit, and she asked me back for the next year’s class. Both times, the class had read the first book in the series beforehand, and the students had questions prepared for me. I talked about writing the books, and then did a Q&A with the students. I’m not sure about technology issues on the classroom end, but for the most part the events went off without a hitch. Some keys for me in terms of technology: Make sure you’re using a headset, not the computer’s mic. We had lots of problems when I tried talking to them without the headset. And remain clam and make the best of every problem that arises. We’ve lost our connection, and had to do mid-talk repairs, but I think just knowing that this is part of the deal and going with the flow made both visits successes regardless.

    To actually answer your questions (See, I was getting here! There is a point!:), my Skype visits were successful because I got a chance to talk with a bunch of kids who were interested in and engaged with my books. So long as the students are even remotely on board with engaging with the visit (and any visit is a two-way street; both the students and I have to bring energy to the talk), it will be a success. The technological problems are par for the course; don’t let them shy you away from what can be a really fun and easy way to bring authors together with readers. In terms of what can be done to make the visits great, having the students read a book by the author (and for some this is a prerequisite) helps a lot, and having students think about or even prepare questions in advance, as Shutta said. I have loved having the opportunity to meet with readers across the country, especially since I don’t travel as I have young children. Best of luck!

    • andrea p
      Posted August 1, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the response, Dayna. And, for the encouragement to keep at it- it’s worth it 🙂

  17. Posted August 1, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I posted this yesterday, but i see its still awaiting moderation, so please forgive if double posted:
    Hi Andrea! I’ve done plenty of Skype visits and I think they’re fun!

    What makes a Skype visit great for me is when the class is familiar with my work. They can relate to what I’m saying, they recognize points as I relate them to my writing, and they are eager with questions.

    I love the Q & A part; I love seeing their faces come closer and the sparkle in their eyes as they deliver their questions. I like to know their names so I can use their names in my responses.

    One thing I didn’t enjoy about an otherwise successful visit was that the teacher had their camera aimed at a blank corner of the classroom, so they could see me, but all I could see was plaster. I like seeing the students and their reactions as we talk.

    Posted July 31, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Hi Andrea! I’ve done plenty of Skype visits and I think they’re fun!

    What makes a Skype visit great for me is when the class is familiar with my work. They can relate to what I’m saying, they recognize points as I relate them to my writing, and they are eager with questions.

    I love the Q & A part; I love seeing their faces come closer and the sparkle in their eyes as they deliver their questions. I like to know their names so I can use their names in my responses.

    One thing I didn’t enjoy about an otherwise successful visit was that the teacher had their camera aimed at a blank corner of the classroom, so they could see me, but all I could see was plaster. I like seeing the students and their reactions as we talk.

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