Recommended Reading for Writers

Hello everyone and happy Father’s Day!

Due to additional job responsibilities, summer plans, and writing deadlines, I will be posting two times per month for the rest of the summer.

The more I write, the more I discover how truly essential reading is to developing one’s craft. There are two books which I believe every writer seeking publication should read and a reading strategy which, in my opinion, all writers should employ.

Book Recommendations

The Essential GuideThe first book is The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work, & Thrive on Your Own Terms by Zachary Petit. In his book, Petit offers advice on how to break into the freelance market, build a platform, write a professional query letter, conduct interviews, and more. Although his book’s target audience is freelance writers, much of his advice is valuable for those who do not wish to become a freelancer. In addition to being informative, Petit’s voice is very conversational and often humorous, causing the book to read more like a novella than a “how to” book. I highly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing to anyone who wants to write professionally.

Writer_s Market Deluxe Edition 2017Another valuable resource is the Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition 2017 (aka the writer’s Bible). It contains:

  • Writing Related Advice (i.e. how to write a good query letter, how to build a platform, etc.)
  • Lists of:
    • Literary Agents
    • Book Publishers
    • Consumer Magazines
    • Trade Journals
    • Contests and Awards

Other books which are similar in content, but geared towards specific genres are Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2017, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2017, Poet’s Market 2017, and Guide to Literary Agents 2017.

Reading Strategy

Read in your genre. If you want to write poetry, read poetry. If your passion is science fiction, read all the science fiction you can get your hands on. Do you want to write short stories? Read short stories, especially ones printed in the publications you plan on querying.

The young adult novel I am currently editing, The Four Crystals, is an allegorical fantasy. Obvious books to read for this genre are The Chronicles of Narnia, Eragon, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I hope you find these book recommendations and the reading strategy helpful.

Happy writing!

Katie

What if…?

Hello everyone and a special congratulations to teachers and students everywhere for concluding another school year!

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

My family loves to play games. One which often results in lots of laughter whenever we play it is Imagine iff….

Writing Challenge

Your challenge for the next two weeks is to use the six Imagine iff… cards below to write a short story.

Instructions: There are three steps to this writing challenge. Steps 1 and 2 should be completed before reading Step 3. Together, Steps 1 and 2 should take between 5 and 15 minutes to complete.

thGNWQR3ZMSupplies for Steps 1 and 2: You will need a piece of paper and a writing implement.

Write down your answers as you read the questions. Do NOT read Step 3 until after you have completed Steps 1 and 2.

Step 1: Choose a person you know well or about whom you have strong opinions. He/She can be a friend, family member, or well-known person (contemporary or historical figure).

Step 2: Answer the following questions (from Imagine iff… cards) for the person selected. Write down your answers.

Question 1: Imagine iff… _____ were giving a big speech tomorrow. How would he/she attempt to calm his/her nerves?

    1. Picture everyone in the audience in underwear
    2. Meditate
    3. Nerves? What nerves?
    4. Focus on only one person in the audience
    5. Never look up and read straight from note cards
    6. Cram all night and sleep through the speech

monkey wrench & monkeyQuestion 2: Imagine iff… _____ were a tool. Which would he/she be?

  1. Monkey Wrench
  2. Shovel
  3. Vice
  4. Leaf Blower
  5. Orbital Sander
  6. Chainsaw

Question 3: Imagine iff… _____ were a section in a newspaper. Which would he/she be?

  1. Opinion
  2. Coupons
  3. Picture Page
  4. Stock Quotes
  5. Dear Abby
  6. Travel & Leisure

beach ball 3Question 4: Imagine iff… _____ were a ball. Which would he/she be?

  1. Magic 8-Ball
  2. Beach Ball
  3. Wrecking Ball
  4. Ball Bearing
  5. Medicine Ball
  6. New Year’s Ball

Question 5: Imagine iff… _____ were a type of painting. Which one would he/she be?

  1. Self Portrait
  2. Abstract
  3. Paint by Numbers
  4. Watercolor
  5. Face Paint
  6. Landscape

dust pan & broom 2Question 6: Imagine iff… _____ were something found in a closet. Which would he/she be?

  1. Bowling Pin
  2. Toys
  3. Dust Pan/Broom
  4. Umbrella
  5. Mouse Trap
  6. A Mess

Step 3: Write a short story. Question 1 is your conflict – your protagonist has to give an important speech tomorrow. The items from Questions 2-6 have to appear in your story. You may use the person you selected as your protagonist or create a new protagonist.

Happy writing!

Katie

Responses to Stress: Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Hello everyone! Happy Memorial Day!

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Everyone reaches a moment in their life where they face a situation (physical, financial, emotional, relational, etc.) which feels too overwhelming to handle. There are three basic responses to these situations:thS1LJR4YA

  1. Fight – Work to resolve the problem
  2. Flight – Remove oneself from the situation
  3. Freeze – Avoid or ignore the issue

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to come up with a potentially crippling situation and write a short story about how the protagonist handles it. The issue can be internal (a health issue or mental disorder) or external (a difficult relationship, financial troubles, a sick loved one, etc.). You must have a goal for the protagonist to either succeed at or fail to achieve.

1. Beginning: Introduce your high stress situation and decide how your character will respond to it (fight, flight, or freeze).

Things for You to Consider as the Writer:

  • What is the protagonist’s attitude towards the situation?
  • Will that attitude change over time?

2. Middle: Come up with three ways that your protagonist will try to accomplish his/her goal and a minimum of one consequence for each action taken. I strongly recommend that the first two attempts fail or that they are only partially successful. The results of the first two attempts should add to your protagonist’s stress in some way. The protagonist’s third attempt should be your climax.

Tension 4Example Responses to Stressful Situations:

  • confiding in and/or depending on someone (e.g. God, family members, a friend, a therapist, etc.)
  • trying to manage stress through:
    • a healthy diet and/or exercise
    • impulse shopping
    • excessive eating
    • using a controlled substance (e.g. drugs, alcohol, etc.)
  • becoming depressed
  • responding irritably to people
  • making a major life change
  • etc.

3. Conclusion: Does your protagonist succeed or fail?

Happy writing!

Katie

Strong, Clear, Concise Writing

Hello everyone!

It is easy to recognize bad writing and to identify why it is bad.  However, it is harder to explain why a piece of writing is good.

Below is an article and an infographic which helped me to identify weaknesses in my own writing.  I also included some of the strategies I applied to correct these shortcomings.

Active VerbsIn writing, it is always better to show than tell.  “Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose” by William Noble explains when and how to use adverbs and adjectives.

Laurie Wallmark directed me to 5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” by Jennifer Frost.  After reading the infographic, I found that I am guilty of regularly breaking rules three and four.

Rule #3 – “Do not use words whose meanings you are not sure of.”

When I’m writing, I will sometimes use a word that I am 90% sure means one thing.  Before I started blogging, I liked my chances of having used the correct word.  Now, I either look up the word before using it or change it’s color in the rough draft, so I will remember to confirm it’s meaning later.  I’m glad I started doing this.  Sometimes, the word means exactly what I thought it did and other times the meaning is vastly different.

Rule #4 – “Use concrete rather than vague language.”

thV903596HI tend to be sparse in my descriptions of cities and scenery during travel sequences.  For example, I might write “While walking through the forest, a tree branch whacked him in the face.”  What type of forest was he in: coniferous, deciduous, or rainforest?  Is it dark or is there lots of sunlight?  Was the tree branch leafy, flimsy, spiky, thick, dry, etc.?  (Remember Noble’s advice concerning adjectives.)  Since I am more drawn to witty dialogue and dynamic characters than descriptions, it can be difficult for me to recognize this lack of specificity.

After acknowledging this tendency, I began training myself to watch out for bland descriptions in my writing.  First, I reread portions of The Hunger Games, Eragon, The Maze Runner, and Divergent to get a sense for how some successful Dystopian Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors described their worlds.  I also re-watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, paying special attention to the different looks of elven homes (Rivendell vs. Lothlórien), human cities (Edoras vs. Minas Tirith), and the changing landscapes.  My brother, who studied film, recommended that I look at photos of whatever biome my characters are traveling through.  I could then assign the locations in my world specific photos and consult them before writing the descriptions.  I am hoping that these exercises will help me to eliminate vague language from my writing.

My challenge to you is to read “5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” and then look at your own writing.  Which rules do you regularly break?  After identifying them, take the necessary steps to reform.  Your writing will be stronger if you do.

Happy writing!

Katie

Tension in Storytelling Is Essential

Hello everyone!

One important element to storytelling is tension. No one wants to read a bland story. Readers want the protagonist’s urgency to transport them from one event to the next. If something is not emotionally, financially, physically, politically, relationally, or spiritually important to the protagonist, why should the reader care?

Any situation or task, however boring or mundane, can become stressful and increase the tension of your story if the conditions are right.

Tension 5Have you ever been in a car with someone who was mad at you or walked into a room where someone was crying? Awkward! How about doing your taxes, mailing them in two days before they’re due, and then realizing that you did them incorrectly? (Yeah, that one might be somewhat autobiographical, and I still have the second set of Certified Mail receipts to prove it.)

Writing Challenge

Choose one or more of the activities below and write a tense scene. If it has potential, try developing the story beyond just that scene. In order to achieve the desired level of tension, you will have to do some character development.

Mundane Activities:

  1. Eating cereal
  2. Getting the mail
  3. Grocery shopping
  4. Going to the dentist (Okay, this is an easy one.)
  5. Returning a phone call

Happy writing!

Katie

How to Create a Successful Blog

Hello everyone!

While preparing for the 2017 NJ SCBWI Conference, I thought back to September 2015 when I became serious about getting published. I researched how to make a living as a children’s author (FYI – The answer is to publish a lot of books or get insanely lucky.). Then, I explored how to make myself appealing to agents and editors.

One term I kept seeing and hearing was “platform.” Somehow, I didn’t think they were referring to a wooden plane. Eventually, I figured out that a writer’s platform is his/her following – the people who will read the author’s newest book just because he/she wrote it. I concluded that I needed to grow an online presence.

In January 2016, I decided to create a writer’s Facebook page, website, and blog. My friends joined my Facebook page, but my blog was a graveyard. It was so disheartening to post weekly and not have anyone read my work. I wanted to delete my blog, but knew that was not a good marketing strategy. So, I stuck with it.

In early 2017, I discovered the magic of using tags and other bloggers started to find my posts. I also started using more photos to increase the visual appeal of my blog. After almost a year and a half of blogging, I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and I still have room for improvement and adaptation. Isn’t that the majority of the writing process?

Below are some articles I wish I’d read before I created my blog. I hope you also find them helpful.

The Author’s Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog” by Claire E. White

How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points to Pause” by Darren Rowse

How to Use Tags on Your Blog or Website” by Michael Gray

Traffic 1Happy writing and may you get lots of blog traffic!

Katie

Fractured Fairy Tales

Hello everyone!

“Tale as old as time. Tune as old as song.” – Beauty and the Beast

Many of us grew up hearing fairy tales told the same way. There may have been some slight variation from one retelling to the other – for example, in the original Cinderella story the ball lasted for three nights instead of just one – but the essence and elements of the fairy tales always stayed the same.

More recently, I have noticed authors altering our beloved tales by deviating from the traditional outcome, moral, characters’ roles, etc.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to choose a fairy tale and rewrite it in an original way.

Below are a few examples for how to “fracture” your fairy tale:

  1. Put it in a different time period.
  2. Switch the characters’ roles.
  3. Switch the characters’ genders.
  4. Cut or combine characters.
  5. Change the plot.
  6. Change the ending.
  7. Create a backstory explaining why the hero or villain is doing what he/she does.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Your imagination is the only limit to your fracturing abilities.

Below are a few picture book examples of fractured fairy tales:

Prince Cinders by Babette Cole

Falling for Rupunzel by Leah Wilcox; illustrated by Lydia Monks

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub; illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This prompt was inspired by an acting project Brenda Eppley, one of my theater professors, assigned while I was earning my Associates in Performing Arts at Harrisburg Area Community College. My group’s story was Aladdin. We fractured the fairy tale by setting it in Chicago, making the Sultan the head of the Mafia, Jafar a dirty cop, and Aladdin a con artist. We further fractured it by making the Genie and Jasmine siblings. Jasmine wanted to take over the Mafia after her father, but he thought that his daughter should be innocent of the family’s illegal activity. The Genie, on the other hand, was the Don’s chosen successor, but he wanted to be free from his Mafia ties.

Happy writing!

Katie