The Next Big Thing

Snake Talker Today I’m hosting the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an international campaign that began in Australia. Authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults talk about their recently published books and/or those that are due to be released. Each author who has been nominated turns around and nominates a couple of other authors. We all answer the same questions about our work. It’s really just a great big game of “Tag, you’re it.” Today is my turn to answer The Next Big Thing’s standard questions about my book, Snake Talker, and I’m tagging two of my favorite fellow kids’ book authors, Ann Koffsky and Sean McCollum, to go next. What is the working title of your next book? The one I’m currently working on is still in my head and not yet on paper so I’m going to talk about a book that is already out. Snake Talker came out over a year ago. Where did the idea come from for the book? I actually got two ideas for books at the same time. I decided to write this one first because I knew more about the story. I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from. Like so many story ideas they seem to be made up of bits and pieces of things that interest me. They merge in my subconscious and suddenly the idea is there. What genre does your book fall under? YA science fiction. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? You’ve got me on that one....

Premature Story Ejaculation Treatment

You’ve got a great idea for a story and you can’t wait to start writing. I’m here to caution you against spewing out your story too soon. You need to indulge in plenty of foreplay before you’re ready. Okay, enough sexual innuendo. The truth is that no matter how tempting it is to start your first draft, you need to wait until you’re ready. A story needs to mature before you start writing it. Or, at least for me it does. I’m an outliner. I can’t speak for pantsers—people who sit down and write without knowing where their story is going. I need to know. It helps me build layers of depth in the first draft. If you start writing too soon you will quickly run into a wall. You won’t know where to go next. Your characters will thrash around wasting a lot a time until you figure out the next move. When this happens you end up with passive characters—the story happens to them instead of the characters driving the story. When you take time to think about your story you’ll be able to see how the pieces fit together, how you can strengthen themes, add motivation, create nuances. You can add the subtleties up front that often don’t develop until a third or fourth draft. It saves time and you’ll have a stronger story to work with. But this blog is supposed to be about treatment, so the next time you have a great story idea I want you to open a new document and write down your ideas. And then walk away from it. Keep...

Bo’s Latest Trick

This is Bo’s latest trick for trying to get me to pay more attention to him than my laptop. Of course I was just reading Huffington Post at the time so I wasn’t exactly working on a deadline. He can usually entice me into a quick game of fetch. And when I’m too busy, he lets out a big sigh then curls up between my knees with his head draped over my right shin. It’s surprising how heavy a dog’s head can get. Still, it’s nice to have him curled up next to me while I’m working—like he is right now as I write this post. Plus there’s nothing like the comfort of  a warm dog on a cold...

Character Debt

Economic times aren’t bad enough, now we owe our characters a debt? Yes, but we don’t owe them money. We owe them our time and our effort to make them real. I can hear someone yell “Time is money.” I see it more as an investment. We invest in our characters to make them dimensional so our readers fall in love with our story. That pays off in compound interest. Okay, that exhausts my financial vocabulary. To be blunt, writers have to make their characters come alive. That doesn’t happen by filling out character charts on what’s in their closet or hanging on their walls. That only comes when you ask yourself what would this person kill or die for? What matters to your character? What type of person are they that they want or need this thing that matters more than life or death to them?  That takes some thought. You’re searching for their soul—what makes them tick—and that doesn’t come from making snap decisions about their likes and dislikes. You must move beyond the superficial if you want to create outstanding characters. Easily said, but how do you go about doing it? First off, don’t worry about their physical characteristics. You don’t need to go into detail about the color of their hair and eyes, body build, clothes they’re wearing, etc., unless their physical appearance is part of your plot. Josie shops at Goodwill. She’s into retro and doesn’t care what the cool girls at school say. Her choice of clothes, then, is a statement about her personality. Generally, though, physical details are quickly forgotten by the...

Mojo’s Back!!!!!

I finally have a novel idea that I love. It feels so good to have a story idea that I can think about and write notes for and get excited about. It’s been two years since I last wrote a first draft and I’ve been feeling the drought. Hilari is almost finished with a first draft for her second novel since my last one. Way back when I was writing the first draft of Quantum Striker I remember her telling me that she was jealous that I was working on something new. Well Hilari got her payback and then some. But she’s been hogging the creative fairy, and now it’s my turn. I’m not turning him loose until I’ve got this first draft finished. Seriously, though, I was beginning to wonder if I had writer’s block. I’ve spent all my creative energy on developing apps and I was having a hard time coming up with an idea that was big enough for a novel. In the past I would see something or read an article and I would get that first spark for a novel idea. Ooo, that’s interesting. What if… and I’d be off into my creative bubble figuring out a plot. But that didn’t happen this time. I got tired of waiting for the spark to strike so I started trying to force myself to come up with an idea. I thought about themes I like to write about. I looked at my file of book ideas. I picked up and discarded several ideas I’d had in the past for potential story situations. Nothing was turning up the...

Description

I recently hosted a schmooze, where the topic was description, and I came to several realizations in preparing for it. As I looked for different examples of good and bad description it struck me that the least effective ones were where just a basic description of what the character(s) could see around them. One description, in particular, helped me to see this. The description covered an old stone church that had been converted into a school refectory. There was all kinds of history associated with the building, but the description was just a simple list of things the character could see when she walked inside. The part of the description that stuck with me was when the character thought of churches she’d seen back home that were in old trailers with plastic chairs. That image was so strong and full of all sorts of meanings and connotations, it sparked my imagination. But that wasn’t where the story was taking place. And while it was helpful background information about the character, the power of the scene should have been where she currently was. Instead, that one line took me out of where the character and the story were taking place. The old church should have been oozing with possibilities for description. It was a lost opportunity. It made me realize that description needs to be more than simple surface details. That kind of description is forgotten within a page turn. It makes no impact and therefor has no staying power. When I found examples of good description, I realized they had something in common. They were rarely a laundry list...