Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Musings: What's Next, Kekla?

If you've been following the blog here, you know that I am only in Miami temporarily. Today is my last day as Writer-in-Residence! This afternoon I am headed back home, which means this is my final post on the MiamiYAWriter blog.

What's next for me? Well, I have lots of writing to do!

For the past year I've been hard at work on a non-fiction book-- I'm going to buckle down and get the manuscript finished so I can turn it in to my publisher at the beginning of the new year. After that, I'll be working on THREE new novels, one right after the other. I'm looking forward to spending the spring with my fingers flying over the keyboard! Writing is hard work, but for me it's also a lot of fun!

I've had a great time in Miami, and I'm so pleased to have been your Writer-in-Residence. Everyone who came to a writing workshop, or stopped by this blog, or waved hello to me in the halls of the library helped make my time here a little more special. Thanks to all of you for making it a wonderful experience!

Remember: If you like the tips and writing prompts and links I've been posting here, you may want to follow me at my WORD Conference blog. I'm not posting every single day over there right now, but I do post regularly and I post things that are similar to what you've seen here. I hope to see you there!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Forum: Did you like this blog?

You know I love to hear your opinions on everything related to books and writing, but now I want your opinion of this blog.

Do you like it? Is there anything you don't like about it? How often have you stopped by? Did you have favorite posts? Favorite topics? Topics you wanted to see more or less of?

Remember: writers always need to be able to look at their work and think about how to revise and make it better. Blogging is part of my work as a writer. I want to know how I'm doing, and I won't be able to figure it all out unless you help me.

What do you think of this blog? Now's your chance to tell it like it is!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

WORD Conference

My time in miami is winding down, and so this blog will be ending very soon. I wanted to let you know where you can find me online, if you have enjoyed following my posts here.

My website is the easiest place to find me.

You can also follow my posts on my Facebook fan page.

I tweet (occasionally) as keklamagoon.

And I've really enjoyed blogging tips for young writers this fall, so I will continue to do so at my WORD Conference blog. I started that blog because some author friends and I hope to one day host a teen writing conference, but in the meantime, you can keep getting tips and links from me there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: I Always Cry at Endings

Do you know yet how your story ends?
image: Barker

Some writers like to plan and outline and prepare every moment of their story before they actually start writing. Others like to fly by the seat of their pants, just sit down with a notebook and see what happens. There are very successful writers who do it both ways.

Most writing prompts give you something specific to start with. Today, let's mix it up. I'm going to give you three possible endings to a story that doesn't exist yet. Choose one, and work backwards. What happened right before? And right before that? And right before that? Write short scenes in reverse order.

Ending #1: As the ship crashed into the rocks, the girl leaped to safety, just in the nick of time.

Ending #2: He knelt on the sand, grateful to be alive.

Ending #3: They could no longer see land in the distance, not even the palest outline of the country they were leaving behind.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Musings: What have you done in Miami besides write?

view from Key Biscayne lighthouse
Oh, my friends, I am having such a wonderful adventure! It's my first time in Miami, so I am seeing everything I can.

Most weekdays, I worked in my office at the library.
at the office

I hung out at Books and Books in Coral Gables.

I climbed the lighthouse at Key Biscayne.

I went to Key West.

Miami Beach
I biked through the Everglades.

I ate delicious food!
tostones, pollo, empanada and spicy sauce

Gelato wheel of fortune. Possibly the most enticing thing I have ever seen.
I ate ice cream in Miami Beach (and pretty much everywhere else I went!)

There's always time for a strawberry milkshake.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Forum: What do you want to be?

Image: codrin
A while back, I told you I didn't know I was going to be a writer when I was younger. When I look back I can see that I always enjoyed writing--I just enjoyed a lot of other things, too.

One of the greatest things about writing is that you don't have to be a full-time, professional author (like me) in order to write. You can have any job or profession that interests you, and still write a lot. In fact, nearly every writer and author you've ever heard of has probably had many other kinds of jobs along the way.

What about you? Is writing just a fun hobby, or is it part of your career goals? What do you want to be when you grow up?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Teen Ink

Here's a site you'll definitely want to know about: TEEN INK.

Teen Ink is "a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums. Students must be age 13-19 to participate, register and/or submit work....We have no staff writers or artists; we depend completely on submissions from teenagers nationwide for our content."

Teen Ink has published work from more than 55,000 teens since 1989. WOW!

Teen Ink is sponsored by The Young Authors Foundation, which "is devoted to helping teens share their own voices, while developing reading, writing, creative and critical-thinking skills. All proceeds from the print magazine, website and Teen Ink books are used exclusively for charitable and educational purposes to further our goals."

What you'll find on site:
  • Submission guidelines for sending in your work
  • Tons of links to other resources for young writers
  • Forums and conversations
  • Poems, fiction and art
  • Polls and quizzes
  • Lots of ways to get involved
Check it out!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: He Said, She Said

Try writing a scene that consists entirely of dialogue.

He said:
She said:
He said:
She said:
He said:
She said:
He said:
She said:
He said:

See if you can convey everything your reader needs to know with the dialogue alone.

Next, rewrite the scene, adding dialogue beats. You may find that your dialogue changes. Try conveying some of your characters' thoughts through their actions or their observations instead of their words. Do your characters need to say as much, now that the reader can see more of what's going on?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top Five Tips for Revising Your Work
When it comes time to revise your work, where do you begin? It's important to remember that almost nothing comes out perfectly the first time. It takes a lot of trial and error to find the words that work best to tell your story.

Here are some places to start with your revision:

1. Vary your sentence structure. Text is more interesting and more dynamic when it is unpredictable. It becomes quite boring to read a series of sentences that are very similar. Consider:

I walked into the store. The clerk smiled at me. He reached for his notepad. I said hello to him. He said hello back.


As I walked into the store, the clerk smiled at me. He reached for his notepad. When I said hello to him, he said hello back.

2. Circle your verbs. Make sure you have chosen the best action words in every sentence. Did your character speak, or did he declare? Did she climb the stairs, or dash up them? Did he lean against the wall or did he slouch? Small changes make a big difference in the way your scene reads. Vivid verbs help create a more vivid mental picture for your reader. Consider:

picked up vs. grabbed vs. snatched vs. plucked

ate vs. munched vs. chewed vs. gnawed

smiled vs. grinned vs. smirked

3. Watch your adjectives and adverbs. Do this, too, while you are focused on verbs. If your character "walked slowly," maybe he "plodded" instead. It is usually better to use a strong verb (dashed) than a weak verb plus an adverb (ran quickly). Consider:

whispered vs. said softly

sprinted vs. ran hurriedly

smacked vs. hit hard

4. Read out loud. Find a quiet room and read the piece aloud to yourself. If you're comfortable, read it out loud to someone. You will be surprised how different it seems from reading in your head. You will notice parts that are slow, or sentences that don't make sense. You can also catch moments when your word choices seem awkward, or untrue to your narrator's voice.

5. Try everything. Trial and error in revision is a very important process. If a possible change occurs to you, try it. Don't delete your old version, in case you change your mind, but do give the new sentence, paragraph or scene a chance. Who knows--even if it seems strange at first, you may end up loving it! If you don't, you can always go back to how it was before, and you'll feel more confident than ever in your creative choices.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Forum: Writing Routines

Writers are creatures of habit, and once we find the places and tools that inspire us most, we tend to stick to them.

Do you have a spot you like to write? Are you a coffeeshop junkie? Do you hit the library? Is it the quiet of your own bedroom that inspires you?

Some of us type like our fingers are on fire, while others of us love the feel of a trusty old pen or pencil in our hands. Do you use a computer or a notebook for your writing?*

(*Okay, now it ooccurs to me that laptop computers are sometimes called notebooks...but hoepfully you know what I mean!)

Tell us about your writing routines!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


It's November 1, which means today's the start of National Novel Writing Month, affectionately referred to as NaNoWriMo!

During the month of November every year, writers of all stripes from all over the world come together to do what we love: Write, write, write!

NaNoWriMo participants set a goal of writing an entire 50,000-word novel (approximately 175 pages) from beginning to end in just one month's time. It's a huge challenge, but lots of people enjoy the community feeling of writing alongside friends.

When you join NaNoWriMo, you get to:
  • Choose a username for your account
  • Track your daily word count and upload your writing
  • Log in and chat with other writers for encouragment
  • Be part of an exciting movement of creative people who just want to write their hearts out
I've tried NaNoWriMo twice now, and I never made the 50,000 word goal. (I eventually finished my novels--just not in one month!) For me, it's still fun to try. Maybe for you, too.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: Scary Stories

Image: diamanti
 Happy Halloween!

Today's writing challenge is to get SPOOKY! Write a short story that includes at least one of the following elements:

a creepy old house with a very unusual tenant

a ghostly visitor from another era
an inanimate object that suddenly takes on a life of its own
a trick-or-treat outing gone very, very wrong
Bwa ha ha ha ha!
(Oh, that was my evil laugh. What? You couldn't tell?)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Five Tips for Writing Dialogue

"Dialogue is tricky business," the author said.

"Why?" asked her blog reader. "What makes it so difficult?"

"So many things." The author scratched her head, wondering where to begin. "Here, let me give you some pointers on writing dialogue."

1. Listen to real people talking. Dialogue on the page is a lot different from dialogue you hear in real life, but listening closely will still help you. Notice the cadence (rhythm) of different people's speech. Notice how some people repeat the same words and phrases a lot. What does their word choice tell you about them?

2. Eliminate unneccessary pleasantries. When you run into your friends in real life, you probably say hi every time. You might not need to have your characters do the same. Your scenes will quickly become boring if every conversation begins the same way:


3. Don't overuse character names. "Why not, Kekla? Isn't it a good way to remind the reader who is speaking and who is being spoken to, Kekla?" Well, sure, it can be. But if your characters are constantly using each other's names in dialogue, it won't sound very real.

4. Use beats to break up long passages of dialogue. Beats include tags, like "he said" or "she asked," but they also include actions, thoughts and descriptions that writers insert to break up the dialogue. Tags and beats give the reader more information about the characters.

"Let's go."
"Okay. Where?"
"Same place as usual."


"Let's go," Shawn said. He grabbed his backpack.
Eric picked up his satchel. He was ready for an adventure. "Okay. Where?"
 "Same place as usual." Shawn slid his arm into one strap, and turned toward his friend.
Eric grinned. "Awesome."

Often, if you are using beats well, you don't even need a tag. (Notice, I only use "said" once in the example above.) The reader can usually follow your characters' back-and-forth for a few lines.

5. Stick with straightforward tags. Beginning writers often try to make their characters seem more interesting by jazzing up the bland "he said" tag to something like "he grumbled," or "he muttered," or "he cried." If you do it occasionally, this is okay. But make sure you really, really need it, and don't overdo it! Also, be careful not to use words that don't really mean speech, like "he laughed." It's okay for a character to laugh, choke, or gasp while speaking, but you would punctuate it differently:

"I can't believe you did that," he laughed. (NOT GOOD)
"I can't believe you did that." He laughed. (BETTER)
"I can't believe you did that," he said, laughing. (ALSO OKAY)


"What?" he gasped. (NOT GOOD)
He gasped. "What?" (BETTER)

(Think about it: you can't actually speak while gasping. Really you can only do them one right after the other.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Musings: Who are your favorite authors?

I'm always intimidated by this question, because it seems there are way too many great authors and books to possibly name. I love lots of books, and lots of authors, and now that I know a lot of authors, too, they have become my friends. I don't like to pick and choose.

But, I get this question so very often, that I decided I need to have an answer. So here it is. I will tell you five books that I love, for five very different reasons:

1. The book I read in middle school that stands out most in my mind. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor. It was the first book I read that had black characters in it, and dealt with black history. There are scenes from this book that still come to my mind so vividly it's like they're happening in front of me. This book sparked my interest in writing historical fiction, and looking back on that experience as an adult was part of what made me want to write The Rock and the River.

2. The book I've re-read most often throughout my life. Okay this is cheating, because it's actually a combination of seven books: The Harry Potter series. Probably Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the single volume I've read the most times, but I can't be sure. I discovered the series when the fourth book was still new, and I read the first three in rapid succession, ran out and bought the fourth and then re-read them all again just for fun. Then I re-read them when each movie was coming out, and then I re-read them when each new book was coming out. But at least once I cheated and didn't go all the way back to the beginning, I just started with Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite) because I didn't have time to do the whole series read. But just typing this has made me want to start from the beginning all over again!

3. A book I recently discovered and positively devoured. Please Ignore Vera Deitz by A.S. King. My favorite thing about this book is that it includes a talking pagoda. Which is awesome. I'm looking forward to reading much more of her writing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Forum: Scary Stuff

Image: diamanti
In honor of Halloween, store windows around town are decked out with ghouls and goblins, cobwebs and witches.

 In the bookstore, you may find a special table displaying horror titles, creepy mystery fiction and other scary stuff.

The question that's on my mind this week is simply: Do you like to be scared?

What's your pleasure when you want to be petrified? Scary books? Scary movies? Haunted houses?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teens Writing for Teens

Here's a site to check out: Teens Writing for Teens, a blog managed by two young writers, Rachel "Race" Mercado and Linda Ge.

The bloggers introduce themselves HERE, and their site posts interviews, reviews, reflections and other content about what it's like to be teens who write.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: Start with Setting

Where your story happens matters just as much as who it happens to. Even if a scene seems like it's all about the characters, and it could happen almost anywhere--at school, in a bedroom, on the sidelines at a football game--but the interaction is going to be different if it takes place in these locations.

What sounds do your characters hear? Why are they in that place? Do they want to be there? If not, where would they rather be? What do they see when they look around? How does the air smell? What is the temperature?

Today's challenge is to use a specific environment to create scenes. Choose characters you know, or make up some new ones, and follow them to at least three different places.

Here are some locations to choose from. Write a scene set:
                 in a child's bedroom

                 under the bleachers in the football stadium
                 on the shores of a small lake

                 deep in the woods

                 in a stranger's driveway

                 in an airplane

                 in a foxhole

                 on a cliffside

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top-Five W's (plus an H) krishnan
Surely you've heard of the five W's: who, what, when, where, and why. Reporters make sure to include answers to all of these questions in a news article, so that readers will understand every aspect of what happened. Writers, too, need to be sure they have a handle on the basics in each story.

Ask yourself:

1. WHO? Who is the story happening to? What is your main character's name? If you are writing in first person, have you found a way to let the reader know who "I" really is? What do you know about this person? What does she like? What is he good at? Who are is friends? What does she want more than anything?

2. WHAT? What is going happen to this person? Will it change her life? Will it put his life at risk? What will he or she do next? The nuts and bolts of any story start to develop when you ask yourself what else could go wrong? What would your character do about it?

3. WHEN? Does your story take place in the past, present, or future? What specific year? Who is the president? What are the styles? Be sure to consider small questions, too, like what day of the week it is. What time of day? It will matter for what your characters are doing, what the light is like, if they're out past curfew, or up earlier than usual. Time details matter a great deal when you are describing the world your characters inhabit.

4. WHERE? Does your story take place in a small town? A large city? Outerspace? On an oceanliner? In each scene, are the characters indoors or outdoors? In a place that's familiar or unusual? Try to see the world through your characters' eyes--what do they see and smell and touch?

5. WHY. This is especially important. What is motivating your characters? What makes your hero want to save the world, or rescue the princess, or run into the burning house to retrieve an object? What are his or her defining traits, that make him or her act they way s/he does? What is holding her back? What makes him rush forward, even when he's afraid?

Oh, and about that H. HOW do you use these W's in your writing, you ask? Well, that part's up to you!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Musings: Do you know other authors?

One of the most fun things about being a YA author is getting to meet lots of other authors whose books I've read and enjoyed.

My writer friends are spread all over the country, and all over the world, but I am lucky enough to cross paths with them at conferences, book fairs, writing retreats and all manner of fun book-related events.

The community of people who write for children and young adults is really amazing! Through the wonder of the internet, we can stay connected through blogs and social networks even when we can't see each other in person.

These are just a few of my writer friends, from various genres. If you haven't read their books, you should definitely check them out!

Laurie Calkhoven: Laurie writes the adventure-packed historical fiction series Boys at Wartime, featuring Daniel at the Siege of Boston, Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Michael at the Invasion of France.

Helen Frost: Helen is a poet, picture book author and novelist, author of Keesha's House, Hidden, The Braid, Step Gently Out, and more.

Bethany Hegedus: Bethany writes middle grade novels, like Truth with a Capital T and Between Us Baxters. Her first picture book is due out soon, too.

Malinda Lo--Malinda writes exciting fantasy adventures, like Ash (a Cinderella retelling, with a twist!) and it's seequel, Huntress.

Marie Rutkoski: Marie writes exciting fantasy, too. Her newest book is called The Shadow Society.

Eliot Schrefer-- Eliot writes lots of things, but especially YA fiction. I got to read Eliot's new book Endangered, about a girl trying to save bonobos (endangered apes) in the Congo, before it was a book! It'll be out in stores very soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Forum: Books vs. Movies

Lately it seems that every successful book (or series) is being turned into a film (or series of films). Books and movies are such different forms of media, and they lend themselves to very different

What do you think about this trend? How do you feel about books being turned into movies? Has it happened to any of your favorites?

Thursday, October 18, 2012


If you're a book lover, you definitely want to check out Goodreads!

Goodreads is a social networking site for readers to share their favorite titles, follow their favorite authors, and post their thoughts about the books they've read recently. It's a virtual version of the real life conversation that happens all the time, just like this:

                    Your friend says, "I just read this awesome book. You have to read it."
                    You answer: "What was it? I'd love to check it out!"

Goodreads says: "Our mission is to help people find and share books they love. Along the way, we plan to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world."

Goodreads has more than 10,000,000 members who have added more than 380,000,000 books to their shelves. WOW!

Things you'll find on the shelves:
  • Space to rate and review your favorite books
  • Reviews by your friends
  • Blog posts by authors you like
  • Fun literary quotes, quizzes and trivia
  • Book clubs and discussion groups
Check it out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: "I'm so very, very sorry..."

Today's challenge:

Write a scene between two characters where one apologizes to the other.
  • Does the apology come at the beginning, or the end of the scene?
  • Is the apology accepted?
  • Does only one character need to apologize, or do both?
  • How do the characters feel?

You decide!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Five Points in Any Story Plot

image: krishnan
Even though every good story seems quite different from every other good story, there are many things that good stories have in common. You just have to look a little deeper.

Even the most intricate plot has a few basic elements to it:

1. Status Quo. How things are, or how things were before the story started. At the beginning of a story, the reader learns at least little bit about what is normal for your character. (For example, at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we learn that Harry lives under the stairs, in the Dursleys' house, and that he isn't very happy with his life there.)

2. Inciting Incident. Very early in the story, something will happen that changes your character. Perhaps something beyond his control will happen to him, throwing him out of balance and forcing him to react. Or perhaps he'll make a decision to change his status quo by doing something he's never tried before. (The inciting incident for Harry occurs when Hagrid knocks on the door and announces "You're a wizard, Harry." Harry's life is changed forever by that knowledge.)

3. Actions and Obstacles. The rest of your story will unfold as your character reacts to the inciting incident. He will suddenly have a big problem to solve and he will set out to solve it. (Harry has several goals-to survive the year at Hogwarts, to protect the Sorcerer's Stone, and ultimately to defeat Voldemort.)

But it's not so easy to accomplish these tasks. There are many obstacles that get in the way. (Harry must make some friends to help him, sneak around the castle and avoid getting caught by the teachers, learn magic, defeat a troll, figure out where the Stone is hidden, and much more!)

As your character overcomes these smaller challenges, it prepares him for the bigger challenge that is coming.

4. Climax. After all these trials, your character must face the moment of greatest tension, when he has to overcome the biggest obstacle he's ever faced. (For Harry, it is the final showdown over the Sorcerer's Stone, when Voldemort reveals himself.)

5. Resolution. After your character overcomes the problem at the book's climax, you are nearing the end of your story. The resolution occurs as the character celebrates his victory, mourns what he has lost (if anything) and begins to move forward with his life. (Harry gets on the Hogwarts Express, headed home, happy to have survived the year, and glad to be a part of the wizarding world.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Musings: How do you choose your book covers?

It's a very popular misconception that authors get to design our own book covers. Every publishing company has a design department full of artists whose job is to design the covers for other people's books.

How do I feel about this process, you might ask?

On the one hand, it's a little bit hard to give up control of something as important as the book cover. Even though people always say, "You shouldn't judge a book by its cover," it's impossible not to form an opinion about a book based on what you see when you look at it. Waiting to see the first book jacket samples is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the publishing process for an author.

On the other hand, I think it's wonderful that my book covers are designed by expert artists. They know how to use graphic design programs that use cool fonts, add photo effects and all sorts of digital magic. Their skills make them much better equipped to design a book jacket than I would be. I'm only an expert with words, not with pictures!

Most of my book cover images so far have been "stock photographs." This means the book designer purchased from companies that collect photographs from many different sources, and collect them in a huge library of photos. (Getty Images is an example of a stock photography company.)

Camo Girl (hardcover)
Camo Girl (paperback)
Karin, my book designer for The Rock and the River and Fire in the Streets, chose close-up faces to feature the main characters. She also designed the hardcover jacket of Camo Girl, which is also a photograph of a girl's face, with digital photo treatments to make her face look a bit different.

When Camo Girl came out in paperback, the designers decided to try a different look for the book, and an illustrator named Yuta Onoda drew a cover that features all three main characters.

For my YA novel, 37 Things I Love, the book designer is named April. She could not find a stock photograph that matched the way she wanted the book cover to look. So she hired a photographer and models to create the picture she wanted. It was very exciting for me to learn that they did a special photo shoot for my book cover. Photo shoots are great because the cover photo is perfectly tailored to the book, but they don't happen very often because it can get expensive!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Forum: Lock and Key

Writing can be a very personal and private thing. How do you go about sharing your writing, if you do at all?

Maybe you have never, ever shown anyone anything you have written. Maybe you have a trusted friend or family member or two who you feel comfortable sharing it with. Maybe you love to read aloud, and show people what you are working on. Maybe you never show your first draft, but after you revise and polish a piece, you enjoy sharing it.

There's no right or wrong level of privacy for a writer. It just depends on what makes you comfortable.

How about you? Do you keep your writing a careful secret? Do you like to share?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Teen Read Week

Teen Read Week is coming up!

The Miami-Dade Public Library System invites teens (ages 12-19) to visit their nearest branch library and be a part of Teen Read Week 2012's It Came From the Library ® events from October 15-24.

Teens are asked to read 'Outloud!' from their favorite graphic novel, comic book, book or magazine during one of many Word-a-Thons which are scheduled at various branches throughout the system. (Find a participating branch.) Participants will be awarded community service hours and will receive a T-shirt which was designed by 15-year-old Kevin Zapata, a student at DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High), and the winner of the Teen Read Week T-shirt Design Contest.

Teen Read Week began in 1998 and is an initiative of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). This year's theme is It Came from the Library®. Teen Read Week encourages teens to read graphic novels and other illustrated materials, seek out creative books, or imagine the world through literature, just for the fun of it.

Check out the Miami-Dade Public Library's list of Teen Read Week special events for more information.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: Mix and Match

image: miles
Today's poetry challenge works in any genre you choose: short story, poem, or personal reflection.

When I'm stuck not knowing what to write, I find words inspiring. I'm going to give you a handful of words. Choose one of the words to be the title of your poem or story.

(If you like non-fiction, choose a word that reminds you a of something that really happened to you, and write a journal entry about that experience).

Then, try to find a way to include all the rest of the words as you write the piece.

Here are the words:

            MARCH                SUBTLE             BLACK

                         UNDERNEATH         BRUSH

   PRIVACY               SUNSET                           COWER

          BRUSH                  CULTURE           ANNOY     

MARIGOLD               APOLOGIZE           KEY

Don't know what a word means? Look it up in the dictionary! (Merriam-Webster is one of my favorites online.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top Five Must-Have Books for any Writer

1. Dictionary. Words, words, words! Never doubt the power of words--and words are most powerful when used correctly. Every writer should have a dictionary on hand, even if you're an excellent speller, because there are always new words to learn. And no matter how smart you are, no matter how long you've been writing, every once in a while you will find yourself asking: "Does this word really mean what I think it means?"

2. Thesaurus. A thesaurus allows you to look up words by their meaning, rather than their spelling.  This book is tremendously helpful when you know the meaning of what you want to say, but aren't sure you've found the perfect word. Words are grouped by synonym, so you can easily find less common words to work with.

If you like poetry, I would also recommend picking up a Rhyming Dictionary. It's kind of like a thesaurus, but instead of grouping words by definition, it groups them by sound. Especially helpful when you're looking for a rhyme for "orange."

3. Encyclopedia. The encyclopedia is a fabulous resource for a writer, because the encyclopedia's goal is to provide a little bit of information about as many things as possible. The content is ordered alphabetically by subject, and you can look up everything from biographies of notable world figures, to the history of a particular animal species, or a description of how a technological invention actually works, and much more. There are almost always photos that go along with these short articles, too.

4. Almanac. All kinds of interesting facts and tidbits are contained in this book. Flip through an almanac sometime, and you'll see what I mean. You never know when you will get a story answer. Almanacs are especially useful if you write about historical time periods--you can easily look up the birth and death dates of historical figures, and what they were known for, in addition to plenty of pop culture trivia, like which movies were popular in a given year, or what were the most popular baby names, or what was the market price of different products, or when major brand name companies came into existence. And so much more!

5. Craft Books. Okay, this is not just one book, but a type of book. There are hundreds of books that have been written about how to write well. (Some of them are better written than others.) Here are a few I recommend:
  • What's Your Story? A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer
  • The I Love to Write Book by Mary-Lane Kamberg
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
  • Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter, Anne Mazer and Matt Phelan

***By the this day and age, you can find a lot of these resources online, too. It's nice to have a physical book ou can flip through, because you never know what you will find, but definitely also check out online dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias. (Wikipedia does not count, friends! You also need to look for sites that contain published, edited content.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Musings: "Why do you write for teens?"

Umm...because teens are awesome?? Need I say more?

Apparently I need to say more.

Simply stated, I write for teens because most of my stories are about young people. Who's to say why, really? I would never try to alter or suppress my creative instincts, and these are the stories and characters that come to me first.

But as far as the underlying WHY of it, I do have a few guesses. First, I'm a relatively young writer, so a lot of the life experiences I draw upon when I write are about younger people go through. Writing teachers often tell sutdents to "write what you know," and I do.

I also like the feeling of writing for teen readers. I imagine I can have more impact as a writer with young readers, especially because a lot of the issues I care about and write about are particularly meaningful to explore when you're young: like finding true friendship, relating to your family, and discovering your identity; in other words--figuring out who you are in relation to the world!

In fairness, I have readers of all ages, and you never outgrow these explorations, but it changes over time. I want to inspire young people to think about these things early--the more you know yourself, the more confident you can be as you move through all the challenges that life has in store for you.

In the regular grown-up world, the concept of writing for young people seems to be something you either get, or you don't. Most people who meet me think my job seems cool. Every once in a while, I meet someone who just doesn't get it, and they tend to ask me things like:
  • "Are you ever going to write a real adult novel?"
  • "Writing for children must be easier. Is that why you do it?"
  • "Do you illustrate your own books?"
The answers are:
  • Yes, probably. I have some adult book ideas, but, by the way, novels for children are perfectly "real."
  • No, it's not easier, and that's not why I do it.
  • No. In the first place, I've never published a picture book, only novels. In the second place, I'm not a visual artist. If I ever write a picture book, it'll be illustrated by a professional!
No matter what else happens, I plan to keep writing for children and teens!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Forum: What challenges you?

Some days writing comes easy, and some times it is very hard work. Every writer is different--some of us have more easy days and some of us have more hard ones.  What about you? Do you find writing easy or difficult most of the time?

For you, what is the most challenging thing about being a writer?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reading in Color

Here is a wonderful teen book blog: Reading in Color.

The blogger, who is a teen herself, started posting reviews of YA and middle grade books about people of color because she felt there wasn't enough of that going on. (She introduces herself and her blog HERE.)

She posts amazing reviews, and definitely has her finger on the pulse of multicultural YA literature.

She's even won awards for her blog, like 2011 BEST TEEN BLOG in the Black Weblog Awards.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday WordPlay: Emotions

Today's challenge: Write based on emotions.

Thinking about how your character experiences different emotions is very useful for fiction writers. Pick an emotion from the list below (or another of your choosing!) and write from your character's perspective as if s/he feels that way.

If you prefer, you could use this as a journaling prompt, and write a brief reflection about a time you personally experienced this emotion.

You could also choose to create a poem that conveys this emotion.

Here are some emotions to work with:










If you're up for an extra special challenge, now try writing a scene (or poem) in which the main character (or the speaker, in a poem) transitions from:




Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Five Ways to Create Compelling Characters

The heart of any good novel or short story is its characters. Think about it: When you pick up a novel, you are about to spend a number of hours, days, or even weeks moving through the world alongside these fictional people. Don't you want them to be interesting? Don't you want to feel glad you met them?

So do your readers!

When you pick up a short story, you may only be in their world a short while, but it still needs to feel worth your time to meet these people, even in passing. So, how do writers create characters who are compelling enough for readers to care about?

1. Get to know your characters, inside and out. Physical descriptions are helpful, but it's not quite enough to just describe what your main character looks like. Your reader needs to know who s/he is, inside.  What does s/he like? What is s/he afraid of? What does s/he want most, deep down in his or her heart? Who are his or her friends?

2. Look at the world through your characters' eyes. No two people see the world in the same way, even when they're looking at exactly the same thing. The things your character notices about the world depend on his/her personality and interests. A character who loves fashion will probably notice what everyone is wearing. One who works out a lot might notice whether other people are well-toned. A photographer will likely think in visual snapshots, while a sculptor may notice the shapes and textures of things.

This is true for actions (and reactions) as well. For example, what if I held up a red apple in a roomful of people? A hungry person might lick her lips and lean forward. A fearful person might raise up his arms as if I'm going to throw it. A person who just failed her driver's license test might flash back to the red stoplight she almost ran. And so on.

3. Embody your character. The paper you write on may be flat, but your characters should feel so well-rounded that they are bursting off the page. Go to a quiet room and try walking like your character might walk. How does s/he hold her head? Does s/he swing her arms, or keep them tight at her sides? Does s/he have a long stride, or a short one? Try to speak in his or her voice. (If it feels a bit silly, you're on the right track!)

4. Celebrate your characters' imperfections. No one is perfect. Sometimes we write down our fantasy characters, giving them all the best characteristics we can imagine--we make them courageous, good looking, honorable, talented, self-confident and more. Don't forget It's okay for literary characters to be larger than life, but not flawless. Readers won't believe your character is flawless. Plus, a character without a weakness or two is not going to be able to grow and change and make us worry if s/he will survive.

5. Give your characters unique challenges to overcome. Let who your character is determine what his or her story is going to be. Lots of books are written about romance, for example, yet no two romances are exactly the same because the personalities of the characters give each story a special flavor. Your character may face problems that many other people have faced before him or her--but how s/he responds to those challenges is what makes your story interesting and different.