Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NEVER WRITE IT DOWN: Why We Should Never Underestimate A Child’s Ability To Understand by Eden Unger Bowditch

Recently, I was speaking to class in writing for children. One student asked about ‘writing down’ for YA/MG readers. Ouch.

I have never written ‘down’ to reach my readers. If a word is difficult, but necessary, I want to be sure my readers understand them so I may offer an integrated explanation as part of the story. But writing down? I have memories of being spoken to by adults in voices that were pedantic and slow and made me wonder if there was something wrong with me. While the Young Inventors Guild books are often read by kids 10-15, I have never had a single kid complain about them being too difficult. It is true that I have had adults (who are never teachers, librarians, writers, parents, or friends of children) complain that kids will not ‘get it’ or the writing is ‘above grade level’ but anyone who knows kids understands that, with the exception of certain subject matter, kids do get it.

Unless we are going to discuss phenomenology and Heidegger’s ideas of world-forming and experiential truth and existence or Kant’s epistemology or Einstein’s theory of relativity, having a background in reading should be enough to get through a good book. Kids are smarter than (non-teachers/non-librarians/non-writers/non-parents/ non-friends of children) give them credit for being. Children can grasp complex ideas and profound explorations into humanity (um…Harry Potter? Dr. Seuss?) and of

fering, to their avail, texts that elicit forth these questions and get readers to think are the best kinds of texts.

As writers, lets remember who our audience really is. It is made up of intelligent, interested, thoughtful readers who want to be a part of a journey. We must assume capacity and not frailty and bring them along on an adventure that demands but engages. Those readers, whatever age, want to get something back from the time they spend in that book and have fun doing it. Don’t we all?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dispatching the Bad Guy by Dianne K. Salerni

One of the challenging aspects of writing MG adventure fiction is killing off the bad guy without having your MG characters actually do the deed. It’s frowned upon for kids to kill people, and rightly so. But what do you do when the villain needs to be offed?

Here are a few ways to tackle the problem:

Not Quite Dead
Percy Jackson uses his pen-turned-into-a-sword to slice his way through adversaries who explode into dust and re-form back in the Underworld. You can’t kill an immortal, after all. Very clever, Rick Riordan! There are a few other ways to put your bad guy into an incapacitated but not-dead state. How about suspended animation? Disabling poison? Turn them into a toad? Carbonite, anyone?

It Was an Accident
You can knock off your villain in a chain of events that is started by your MG character(s) without any intent to kill, but results in the bad guy’s demise by pure chance. You could also call this the Rube Goldberg Method.

Let the Adults Do It
The MG heroes in Brandon Mull’s fantasy adventures usually travel in a group with lots of adults who deliver the fatal blows while the kids fight bravely by their side.

Bring in a Wyvern!
Yes, I really did that. But seriously, make use of a monster, a gaping crevasse in the earth, a crashing space ship, or some other uncontrollable force that is already part of your climactic scene to take out your bad guy.

Hoist by His Own Petard
One of the most satisfying methods of dispatching the antagonist is to have his death be the result of his own greed and villainy.

Actions have consequences, bad dude. You had it coming.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Do You Read While Writing? by Dawn Lairamore

I have a friend who has noticed that whenever she reads fiction while working on a manuscript, her writing starts taking on the style and voice of the author she’s reading. I’ve actually heard other writers mention the same issue, some even banning themselves from reading any type fiction while actively working on a manuscript as to avoid this problem. I catch it in myself sometimes. If I’m reading something historical that has a more formal writing style and old-fashioned dialogue, I sometimes find my own writing getting a little more verbose. If I’m reading something with a snarky or sarcastic tone, I sometimes find a little more snark creeping into my own scenes.

It’s not enough of an issue that I’d consider giving up reading for pleasure while I’m actively writing myself. (If that was the case, I’d never be able to read for fun.) And while I’ve jokingly suggested to my friend that she simply stick to reading authors whose writing styles she admires so her own writing would take on their positive traits, I’m not sure this is really a viable solution.

Usually, taking two steps is enough to help me with this issue: 1) I don’t start writing immediately after reading another author’s work, so his/her voice isn’t fresh in my mind. I’ll wait at least an hour or two, or do my pleasure reading after I’ve finished my own writing for the day, and 2) I re-read a chapter or two of my own current work in process before writing, since it’s a good reminder of the style and voice I’m going for (and helps with continuity as well).

I know it’s important to authors to avoid copying others—consciously or unconsciously. Do you find reading other authors’ works distracting to your own writing? How do you avoid this becoming a problem?

photo credit: hard work via photopin (license)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Review of Switch by Ingrid Law, from Hilary Wagner

What can I say about Ingrid Law? I love her writing style, full of fun, with a certain magic to it, yet it's realistic and attainable. She makes her characters' savvys seem downright normal, though they're anything but and her latest novel, Switch, is no exception.

Here is the blurb about Switch from the publisher, Dial Books:
Gypsy Beaumont has always been a whirly-twirly free spirit, so as her thirteenth birthday approaches, she hopes to get a magical ability that will let her fly, or dance up to the stars. Instead, she wakes up on her birthday with blurry vision . . . and starts seeing flashes of the future and past. But when Momma and Poppa announce that her very un-magical, downright mean Grandma Pat has Alzheimer’s and is going to move in with them, Gypsy’s savvy—along with her family’s—suddenly becomes its opposite. Now it’s savvy mayhem as Gypsy starts freezing time, and no one could have predicted what would happen on their trip to bring Grandma Pat home  . . . not even Gypsy.

Oh, a whirly-twirly free spirit? Yes, take me to that world! Law really hits the mark with Switch. Middle grade girls and boys will relate to Gypsy Beaumont. She's insecure, as most kids are at this age, but she finds a way to harness her confidence, taking control of the otherwise uncontrollable and proving there's much more to her than her whirly-twirlyness. 

Even if you haven't read Savvy or Scumble, Law's two earlier novels, you can slip into Switch with ease. Law deftly gives readers backstory, without over explaining's just enough.

Law has an uncanny ability to make fantasy feel very real and very natural. From the opening line of the book, she sucks you into a world that's totally new, but somewhere you've been before. She takes the normal and throws in a handful of fairy dust and a pinch of unbelievable.

Switch is a perfect choice if you're looking for a great holiday gift for the young book lover in your life, not to mention it's got a nice wintry cover, and for those of you who want the perfect blend of reality and fantasy, pick this up for yourself. You just might believe you have a savvy by the time you're done reading!

If you've read Switch or any other of Ingrid Law's books, tell us what you think! We'd love to hear! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

To Believe or Not to Believe: A Guest Post by Krystalyn Drown

TRACY TAM: SANTA COMMAND is about a ten-year old’s search for the truth about Santa, but tackling the legend of Santa Claus can be tough when writing for middle grade readers. Among those eight to twelve-year-olds, there are a wide variety of beliefs and experiences. Some look to the skies every December 24th to see if they can spot a flying sleigh while others, for whom the magic has faded, only look for stars. How could I write about Santa without ruining the magic for some and eliciting eye rolls from the others? The answer was to take on the idea of magic itself.

From the very first draft, Tracy never doubts the existence of Santa. She knows that he is real, but she doesn’t believe he has magic. Her scientific brain doesn’t have room for flying reindeer or sliding down chimneys. She believes in jet engines and DNA samples. Her goal is never to disprove Santa. Instead, she wants to create a science project showing that he uses science instead of magic to make his deliveries.

With Tracy’s goal in place, the question then became, “Why would a smart, savvy ten-year-old believe in Santa in the first place?” To answer that, I had to set the novel in a slightly different world than ours. In Tracy’s world, Santa Claus absolutely 100% exists. Throughout the novel, there are little clues that show this.

Krystalyn Drown
Santa has his very own advertising agency, the Santa Commission.

It wasn’t until (Tracy) saw a magazine ad from the Santa Commission that she had her project. It reminded kids to have their lists in no later than November 20th so Santa’s elves had time to organize.

Adults in Tracy’s world also believe in Santa. In this excerpt, Tracy’s parents hear a noise in the hallway.

“It’s probably Santa.” It was her father’s voice this time. “He usually comes about now.”

“Yeah,” her mother said. “I bet you’re right. I hope he brings her that microscope Tracy’s been asking for. I couldn’t find it online.”

“Mm,” her father said. “Go back to sleep. We’ll see in the morning.”

Once the belief system had been established, I wanted to toy with it a little bit. What if Tracy was right? What if Santa does have help from science? What if Santa isn’t who everyone thinks he is? When Tracy arrives at Santa Command, she finds computers, holograms, and … a magical portal to the North Pole?

Yes, even in a world ruled by science, there is still room for the magic of Santa Claus. And this is where Tracy’s world is much like ours. Santa doesn’t exist to deliver presents. That is just one of the benefits. Santa, and his legacy, are there to inspire kindness, hope, and the joy of giving to others. You don’t need to see a flying sleigh to believe in that type of magic.

To Tracy, magic means disappearing from one place and reappearing in another. She soon learns that magic has many other definitions. What does magic mean to you and where have you seen it in our world?