Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dialogue in your story

Sometimes as writers, we struggle with dialogue in our stories. Is the dialogue in our story boring, an info dump, or does it move the action along like it’s supposed to?  “Not all dialogue is created equal.” That’s what Jan Fields writes on her post, “Diagnosis Dialogue,” on the Institute of Children’s Literature blog. She addresses the different types of dialogue, the problem, and the diagnosis. She gives examples as well. Interesting post. 

In the book that I’m reading, Writing Tools, by Roy Peter Clark, one chapter devoted to dialogue begins with, “Use dialogue as a form of action. Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.” Another great line in that chapter: “… dialogue defines a story because its power drags us to the scene and sets our ears to the action.”

What I like to do once I’m finished with a chapter or the story itself, is to go over the dialogue on the pages, highlighting it in blue to see if there is too much on the page or not enough. I also check to see if it is moving the action forward. What about you?

“The biggest mistake a writer can make is not taking the time to fully understand the publications, publishing houses, or literary agents she queries.” – Writing Tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Monday, October 24, 2011

San Marcos Texas Author Day

Join us for the annual San Marcos Texas Author Day on Sunday, October 30, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the San Marcos, Texas, public library. There will be a host of authors including yours truly. I will be doing a reading of The Battle of the Snow Cones at 2 p.m.

From the San Marcos Mercury: “These published writers and illustrators will sign copies of their books and chat with fans. A variety of genres will be represented including Texana, mystery, romance, memoirs, children’s literature, poetry, and non-fiction.” 
San Jose Mission Window

“ … one day you experience a new joy, that of your story being published (giving birth). Everyone sees this beautiful thing that you have created. They will dress it up (illustrations and packaging). Family and friends shower you with praise.” These are some of the words Shirley G. Webb wrote on her post, “A Book is Born,” for the Institute of Children’s Literature blog. It’s a wonderful piece that addresses the passion, the revisions, the rejections, and all that goes into the process of finally getting a book published. 
"You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better." -- Maxim Gorky

Friday, October 21, 2011

Word choice in scenes

Guest blogger, Ingrid Sundberg, had a really good article posted on The Parking Lot Confessional blog. Titled “The Right Word,” it addressed the topic of word choice in your manuscript. A few weeks ago, I had a manuscript critiqued at a local conference, and the editor talked about using the right word choice to bring a scene to life.

Sundberg has a couple of examples in her piece and also two exercises that go into more detail. In the first exercise, “Scene Analysis … pick a scene in a book where you (as reader) felt an emotional connection….  Exercise two … Write with Word Lists … A great way to use this technique in your own work is to create word-lists.” Of course, you need to read the entire piece to appreciate why word choice in scenes is critical. According to Sundberg, “a new emotional layer has been added to your work with the touch of a few carefully chosen words.” 

She’s right. 


I love the definition of scenes in the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. The author writes, “You don’t build a story or a book of words and sentences and paragraphs—you build it of scenes, one piled on top of the next, each changing something that came before, all of them moving the story inexorably and relentlessly forward.” 

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Handwriting in cursive

This doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but in a way, it does. Handwriting in cursive, that is. I wrote an essay on penmanship a couple of years ago and it was published in our local paper. The other day I came across an online article dealing with the same topic. Titled “Should cursive be saved?” it was posted by Kathy McManus on The Responsibility Project blog. 

According to the article, there are supporters of the flowing script and those who think it’s not really needed anymore. Comments in the article: “… But others say there is zero need to save a communication form which fails to prepare students for a practical future. ‘Do people need to be able to write? Of course,’ said one online commenter, who continued, ‘Is cursive the best method? Probably not, given how few people use it on a daily basis.’” 

In this day and age of texting, IPads, and PCs, I guess penmanship is fading. I’m glad I had a chance to learn it, though. What do you think?

Aguas Frescas

“Great editors do not discover nor produce great authors; great authors create and produce great publishers.” – John Farrar

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Chautauqua Experience

Lucky enough to have been the recipient of a scholarship, I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop in Chautauqua, New York, two years in a row. It was quite a while back, but I still remember the excitement of it all. Besides meeting and getting books autographed by renowned authors and illustrators, I enjoyed the fabulous food, basked in the tranquility of the campus, and made lifelong friends. I’d like to share some of what I learned about the craft of writing. 

“A writer is the verbal painter,” said Peter Jacobi, professor emeritus of journalism at Indiana University. He used examples of art and music, sensual art versus impact. 

“Capture your reader,” he said. “Think first, plan, then write.”  Some of his writing tips: 

§  Promise and deliver – The first page should set subject, tone and direction. Then what you promised the reader must began to be delivered. 

§  Flow – Make your narrative flow steadily ahead. A river of words unbroken from start to finish. 

§  Clarity in language – Lucidity in thought. Word choice. Seek to find the right one. 

§  Rhythm – Listen to your sentences as they grate against the mind. How do they come together? 

§  Movement – Do not bind your story with a pile of ingredients where there is no sense of movement or forward propulsion of your story. 

§  Surprise the reader with the unexpected from left field. 

§  X-ray – Take the reader behind the scenes. 

“Nice writing is not enough,” he said. “Surprise the reader along the way. Do not write the fact that it’s raining, but the feel that you’re being rained upon.”

 There was much, much more. I am only able to skim the surface in this article. I hope many of you will one day be able to attend the writers’ workshops at Chautauqua. It is well worth it. Most rewarding was the accessibility of the faculty and the inspiration and guidance they offered in a setting that most writers only dream about.

If you want to write for Highlights magazine, make sure your story applies to their mission statement. Address your manuscript to the appropriate editor.  Go to their web site,, subscribe or get a copy of Highlights so you can get an idea of what types of stories they’re looking for.

"When composing a magazine article, it is usally better to write with a specific market in mind so your work will match the publication's style and tone and be directed toward its unique readership." -- Writing Tip from Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing Animal Stories

The Children’s Writer is taking submissions for their Poetry or Verse Story Writing Contest. Polish that story you’ve been working on and submit before their deadline of October 31, 2011. Visit their website for contest rules. Good luck!

I once wrote a story about a dog that was rescued from the animal shelter by a family when they saw him perform in a local school play, Little Orphan Annie. Although it hasn't been published yet, I'm thinking of resubmitting. I took it out of my file, read it again, and decided it’s pretty darn good. I might just resurrect it someday soon and send it out.

This thought was triggered when I read the post, “5 Tricks Animal Writers Should Know,” on Writer’s Digest Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog. The guest column by Patti Sherlock, award-winning author, (latest book, A Dog for All Seasons), offers tips on how to write animal stories starting with “Respect what animals mean to your audience.”  Take a peek.

Pumpkins, pumpkins, everywhere!

"So much can be said and felt through poetry in just a few words or lines. A poem can have as much impact in ten, twelve, or fourteen lines as an entire novel." -- Lee Bennett Hopkins

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Events

Just had a jammed-packed two weekends of book events. First, I participated in the Education Services Center (ESC) Roundup in San Antonio on September 23. There were hundreds of librarians from the local and surrounding areas. I was on a panel with several other writers and illustrators who came from all over Texas. Between signings, we discussed our latest works and upcoming events.

Then on September 30, I was in the Rio Grande Valley at another ESC book event, this time at Region One in McAllen. Again, I was on a panel and met different writers and illustrators who were all enthused to be there.

Come Saturday, October 1, we all headed to the Harlingen Public Library where a book festival was the event of the day. The library is beautiful with a gorgeous courtyard where I did a reading of my book, The Battle of the Snow Cones. Then some of us were on a panel answering questions about the writing and illustrating process.

Courtyard - Harlingen Public Library

It was an exhaustive but fun time. Networking and socializing with teachers, librarians, writers, illustrators, parents of young school children, and of course, the children themselves was a super rewarding experience. Cannot wait until next time. 

Mark Twain and Author

 “To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity’s past, is to have no star map for our future.”Jane Yolen