Storystorm 2017

In January, I participated in Storystorm. It’s an online challenge to brainstorm 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days. Created by children’s author Tara Lazar, it was originally PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and was started as an alternative to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for writers who are not interested in writing a novel. Every day there was a new blog post by an author or illustrator or editor or someone else in the children’s book world, giving ideas on where to find inspiration, where their inspiration comes from, how to deal with a lack of ideas and so on. I thought it was great!

What I liked about it:

  • I only had to come up with an idea. It could be a title, or a character or a phrase or a whole story line. It didn’t matter. The point was to come up with something new each day. I preferred to do it at night, and was surprised how often something that happened or that I saw or that I heard during the day was the spark for a new idea.
  • It’s free.
  • It’s in January, which seems the perfect time to me. Start a new year by generating 30 new ideas to work on through the year.
  • No one sees my ideas but me. Let’s be honest, they are not all gems. 🙂 When I look back at them now, there is even one that is so vague that I have no clue what I was actually thinking! But that’s okay. There are some good ones, too.
  • My ideas could also be used for children’s poems, which I also like to write.

I didn’t actually finish the challenge – this time. Something or other came up and I got off track, but I did it for 20 days. That’s 20 ideas that I didn’t have before. I will definitely give it a go again next year, and hope to make it a yearly tradition. Anyone care to join me?

Researching your Story

This month’s discussion blog post is from Judith Silverthorne, author of many historical fiction books ranging from dinosaurs in the Jurassic to convict ships in 1842 to ghost stories of the 1900s. Here she talks about her favourite ways of finding information.

What about you? What problems have you found in doing research? How has research enlivened your writing? What unique or unusual sources have you discovered?

Here are Judith’s thoughts:

Research for writing projects can take many turns and lead to a variety of unexpected sources. Whether you are writing nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, research is necessary to find information about people, places, societies, settings and even right spellings and connotations of words.

An obvious source for basic information, fact checking and the like is the internet. The internet can be useful in leading you to other great resources, providing ideas and contacts that you might not otherwise have contemplated. However, it is important to check information with primary or other reliable sources to make sure the information is from a reputable authority or knowledgeable professional. Sometimes they’re not easy to find, but be diligent.

Typical research includes names for characters, attributes of personalities, types of clothing or attire, customs, technology, dwellings, geographic descriptions, even the types of weather at a certain time and place in history. Attitudes of society and social context can be found in other books about your topic, while libraries, archives, museum, art galleries, historical societies, and the like are rich resources that can lead you to documents, letters, diaries, and other personal insights.

Connecting personally with experts in the field of your topic is also very useful. Whether about forensics, medicine, the law or sailing tall ships, trudging through a rain forest or dwelling in the artic, contacting those who have relevant knowledge and experience is one of the best ways to get what you need to make your stories accurate and believable. Academics and other specialists often have specific information or knowledge you won’t find in public sources, and can help you add depth and richness of detail to your writing,

One of the single most valuable ways to research a particular location is to travel to it and explore the locales and talk to local people and historians. If you’re fortunate, you may find living history re-enactments or special commemorative situations where you can become involved in the real life adventures you are writing about.

Being informed and understanding your topic fully goes a long way towards discerning which parts of your research are the most valuable for use in your writing. Researching enough to immerse yourself in the culture or milieu of your setting is the best way to write a believable setting and atmosphere. Your readers will thank you for it, or better yet, they won’t even notice, because you’ve done such a fine job of blending and including your research that they become totally engaged in your work.

 

Ed Willett: Writing Young Adult Fantasy

Ed Willett

On May 30, 2016, award-winning author Edward Willett gave a talk on Writing Young Adult Fantasy at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Office in Regina. The talk was recorded and is now available on YouTube!

What: Young adult fantasy is one of the hottest literary genres around. Edward Willett, author of The Masks of Agyrima trilogy for DAW Books and the Shards of Excalibur series for Coteau Books (among others) talks about how—and why!—he writes fantastical adventures for young people.

Who: Ed Willett is the author of dozens of fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as plays and newspaper articles. He is also a singer, actor, and director. For more about Ed, check out his website, http://edwardwillett.com/.

Sponsor:

Many thanks to the Saskatchewan Writers Guild for sponsoring this talk with a Writing Group Grant.

 

 

Revisions: Working with Different Sets of Eyes/I’s

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Collapse of the Veil, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Crossings, by Alison Lohans

Post by Alison Lohans

I’ve just finished revising my second previously-published book for re-release by a different publisher. The whole process – seeing my work through yet another lens, after having spent well over ten years working the book to a polished draft, and then going through it with the editor of the original publishing house – has been an eye-opening experience. During this time I’ve also seen good friends working hard at their own revisions in fervent hopes of their creative “child” finding its home in the publishing world.

How do we know when a book is finally “ready”? During this process with Timefall (which is the new title for the combined Collapse of the Veil and Crossings), I was shocked on more than a few occasions by things that had slipped past me during those ten-plus years of work, and had also slipped by the first editor. These different sets of eyes (I’s?) all come to a manuscript with subjective lenses, and these multiple perspectives quickly demonstrate the value of critiquing in a writer’s group. We all laugh when caught red-faced: “But isn’t it obvious? I can see it all in my head!”

I’d always figured I was reasonably good with characters, and their motivations and goals, so it was quite a surprise to see in the Track Changes margin:  “Out of character”. Fortunately this mostly happened with the secondary characters. But it’s a clear reminder that ALL of our characters need to be in our story for specific reasons, each with their own agendas, and flaws, that drive the conflict arc of the character-driven novel. “Out of character!” was a useful reminder to examine what a character’s response would actually be, and how long that response would play out – and working out a more realistic response led me to subtle shifts that freshened the protagonist’s response as well.

And … responses? Oops! Character X said/did something. Why didn’t Character Y respond? Caught up in one character’s point of view, and with the scene goal in sight, umm…..maybe things got rushed ahead just a little too fast, without honouring the perspective of Character Y? Definitely worth thinking about…

The choreography within a scene, again in the Track Changes balloon: “And Tyler is where?” This round of re-revisions got me looking long and hard at the mother-instinct not only in my teen mom protagonist, but also in her mother. The baby is a pivotal character in the book, and needed to be accounted for in all the scenes where he is present. Oops…. And lo and behold, in a high drama scene where (this time around) I caught myself on two giant faux pas that the present (excellent) editor didn’t catch…whoa!

There those Big Issues were, staring me in the face. By honouring each character’s integrity in the height of the emergency, the way unfolded to show both characters in realistic action together; this, in turn, also served to reinforce a tentative reconciliation. The shifts needed to play this out were amazingly simple to work in and, better yet, had all my characters accounted for. It is so easy for characters to fade out of a scene before they’ve actually exited.

So this was another wake-up call:  Characters are in a scene for a reason. If we’ve put them there, they need to have a tangible role to play whether it’s a speaking part or an action part. If they’re a secondary character, their presence has to have some kind of impact on what the protagonist is doing. And if the secondary characters happen to be more articulate/active than a more-reserved protagonist, our protagonist still must be truly “present” in a sensory and mental way, rather than simply to listen to what the other guys are all talking about.

When is a manuscript truly ready? Such a tough question! Sometimes deadlines will get us up and hopping, maybe with a hint of panic. If we stop and second-guess ourselves too many times, searching for the right word, the most evocative image, we can take the proverbial “forever” to get done – and too much of this can kill the spark that ignited earlier drafts. Yikes…we don’t want to do that!

When considering this question nearly forty years ago I used certain criteria, and for the most part I still adhere to them:

  • If it’s as good as I can possibly make it
  • if I still get excited (re)reading it (for the umpteenth time!)
  • if I can experience my narrative through the emotional lens of my protagonist and in a sensory way
  • if I’ve read chunks of it aloud to my computer monitor and the words sound pleasing and have a good feel on my tongue

Then yes, maybe it’s okay to let it go. That is, of course, after careful scrutiny:

  • Are the characters believable, and consistent?
  • Is the plot believable, and the goal worthwhile?
  • Is there strong enough motivation, with further conflict arising from the interplay of the characters’ diverse goals and motivations?
  • Is there a satisfying resolution that resonates beyond “The End”?

Yes? Then maybe it’s okay to hit send.

But maybe a book is never truly finished. For once it’s out there in the world, it will be re-created every time a reader plunges into our story – through yet another set of eyes.

Join the Discussion:

What is your revision process like? How do you know when your manuscript is finished and ready to send to a publisher? What have you learned about your writing style from your revisions?

Ending the Drought

desert-279862_1280

Prairie people know about drought. They’ve either experienced it or heard about it. “It’s so dry the trees are whistlin’ for the dogs.”  Writers also know about drought. Some people call it “writer’s block”, but to me a block is a temporary obstacle – something you need to find a way around or over and then you can continue on your way. A drought is a prolonged lack of inspiration, or desire to write, or both.

I’m in a drought. No new ideas have formed in my skies and no showers of words have fallen onto paper or screen for over a year. My drought began when my husband died, but drought can happen for a lot of reasons. I’ve tinkered with things I’ve written in the past, but I haven’t written anything new. And it’s time.

So, I’m looking for suggestions. How do you end a drought? If you’ve gone through it yourself, what did you do to get back to writing? If you haven’t gone through it, what do you think might work if you did?

I’m hoping this brainstorm will bring much needed rain. Thanks in advance!

Dianne Young is (was?) a picture book writer and poet and a soon-to-be retired educational assistant who lives in Martensville, SK.

 

Beverley Brenna: Writing about Diverse Characters

Beverley Brenna

Beverley Brenna

Join award-winning author Beverley Brenna as she discusses Writing the World for Today’s Kids: Diversity Essentials .

Where: SWG Office in Regina, SK (1150-8 Ave, Regina, SK, Canada)  OR at your very own computer or other internet device (see below for details).

When: 2-3 pm, Monday April 25, 2016

What: Ten tips from SK author Bev Brenna about writing for today’s kids. Bev’s award winning fiction portrays characters with exceptionalities and her perspectives call for titles that reflect contemporary kids with diverse abilities.

Who: The author of over ten books for young people, Bev is also a professor specializing in children’s literature and reading at the University of Saskatchewan. For more about Bev’s work, check out her website at: http://www.beverleybrenna.com .

Watch on YouTube

Sponsor:

Many thanks to the Saskatchewan Writers Guild for sponsoring this talk with a Writing Group Grant.

 

 

Potential Workshop Presenters: Who and What?

Paula Jane Remlinger talking about "Rhyme Crimes: What Makes Good Children's Poetry"

Paula Jane Remlinger talking about “Rhyme Crimes: What Makes Good Children’s Poetry”

The good news is…

that CANSCAIP Sask Horizons qualified to receive a writing groups grant from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild this year. We plan to use it to bring in two speakers to do workshops for us at the SWG office in Regina, on topics of interest to our Sask CANSCAIP members.

You don’t live in Regina? No worries–they will also be broadcast live right to your computer, AND recorded and put on YouTube afterwards so you can watch them any time you like.

We did one workshop like this last spring, with Paula Jane Remlinger talking about writing good children’s poetry. If you haven’t seen it, why not watch it now? (It takes about 45 minutes.) The point is, we know the technology works.

The question is…

who should we invite to do workshops, and what should they talk about? (Okay, that’s two questions.)

We can afford to bring in one speaker from out of Regina and one from inside Regina. Who they are will depend on what you are interested in hearing.

We had some suggestions at the General Meeting after the Prairie Horizons 2015 conference. I won’t put speakers’ names here, just topics:

  • Giving presentations to groups of different ages
  • How to create and pitch an illustrators’ portfolio for a publisher
  • The first five pages
  • Publishing your e-book
  • Using social media for marketing your book
  • How to do virtual readings

We need to have both presentations by the end of June. The first step is to figure out what we want to hear, and who should talk about them. So what do you think?