Author Archives: CLW

Three Things Thursday!

Cheryl Van Eck
Powerful girls in YA is a topic that could fill books, and my WIP is making me question all my previous beliefs.
After starting this one, my previous projects feel like an elaborate form of make-believe. I designed characters I wanted to be and worlds I wanted to live in.
However, this project is different. I don’t want to be this character, but she’s a part of me. She’s the fragile part of me. The naive part. The scared, shy, uncertain part.
And when I let my main character just be, she came alive. I always made strong female characters, because that’s what the world needs, right? I don’t think so. I think the world just needs girls, period. All shapes, all sizes, all personalities. We don’t need to be loud, abrasive, and tomboyish in order to be strong. In fact, isn’t that the opposite of what we should be arguing? Girls don’t have to act like boys to be respected.
Best example: Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Sure, Scarlett was the epitome of strength. But Melanie  held all the power. When she spoke, everyone listened and obeyed. Her judgements were law, always. And why? Because of her never ending love, kindness, and pure respectability.
What do you think? What is your definition of a powerful woman?
Cari Lee
If my Italian was better, I would have understood “orange peel vodka” instead of orange peel “water” before the burn down my throat.  Whoops.  I still heard “orange peel water” as I questioned the waiter again.  My distracted husband yelled “vodka”  and looked up to see my guilty red face.

My weakness is to worry. I worry about everything.  It’s paralyzing. I am Wemberly, in “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes. My inner voice constantly says, “How can I read my story in my critique group?  It might be so bad everyone will laugh.” “How can I ever think what I write will be good enough for anyone to enjoy?”

What I have learned:
Make mistakes.  Make big, innocent mistakes.  My list of mistakes in the past month is long.  And this one is a doozy.  It’s embarrassing, yet my husband and I are still chuckling at the “orange peel shot” after five days.

Do you know what a relief it is to not be perfect?
Mistakes cause us to reevaluate.
Writing is no different. How would you write this differently the next time?
Open your eyes and ears.  Be humble. Try again. Enjoy the process.
Brenda Bensch
I LOVE this as a writing prompt (like last week’s note from me, this one also came from Greg Leitich Smith‘s WIFYR class this year):
Pick an endowed object and identify it. He explains “An endowed object is something like a hat that not only covers one’s head, but has emotional meaning to the protagonist, maybe his mother gave it to him before she died, etc.”
It would also be a good idea to describe, briefly, how you would incorporate this object in a significant way in your story: 200-300 words, maybe.

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Filed under Character, three thing thursday

More Writing Hints

Character One
Dave Munk

Sometimes secondary characters are flat and stale. This can create an odd balance in the story which will tip the reader towards the alright-I’m-kinda-bored side of the scale. There are many ways to develop characters, all of which can be used for main characters and secondary characters. For example, you can interview them or write their back story. But I suggest one exercise that can truly benefit the secondary cast in a story: write a scene or two from the perspective of the minor character. Learn how the he thinks and reacts. What does he pay attention to? What things in his environment does he recognize? What does he feel and how does he describe it? What are his motivations? How does he view the others around him? As you get to know your minor characters they will become interesting. Dialogue will improve and the sense of place will be enhanced. And most important, people will want to continue reading.

Character Two
Tamara Leatham Bailey
When I fall in love with a book, it is because I adore the main character.  That character becomes my BFF.  I don’t want our time together to end.  I can’t resist turning the page, but I never want to turn the last one. So, why is the thing that I love deeply in my favorite books the aspect of writing that, for me, remains one of Scooby-Doo’s unsolved mysteries.
One component that I’ve studied to strengthen character is giving the character an objective.  Each character must want something, and that character’s actions are determined by her goal.  For example Velma Dinkley, in the Scooby Doo series, wants to solve mysteries, so she asks questions and searches for clues.
Besides a story objective, the character must have a ruling passion.  That passion is the central, motivating force that drives the character.  The driving force may be to be loved, revenge, or to protect themselves and others. Velma is ruled by her passion to be a genius.

Whatever the ruling passion, it must be powerful and unchanging, enough to motivate the character throughout the story, or stories.
For Velma, it has motivated her for forty-six years.


Filed under Character, Character

And Becca Birkin Went to SCBWI . . .

by Becca Birkin!

I got back from SCBWILA a week ago. It was exhausting, and reminded me that the writing world is fast-paced. Agents and editors are very busy. Not only can they afford to be picky, they have to be.

 “The quality of what’s being published these days is very high, and your manuscript may be very good, but they are holding out for great.” SCBWI Market Report, Deborah Halverson.
So what can we do to move our manuscripts from good to great? The following is advice from the editor/agent panels.
Structure: Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte, likes manuscripts that show mindfulness in structure and clear vision of what the book will look like. The book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is an example. The main story and the backstory of the girl are separated with visual “play” and “pause” icons.
Uniqueness: Marylee Donnely of Candlewick Press said, “When I find something that’s fresh or exciting, it’s like meeting a new person that enchants or excites you. This is a storyteller I want to listen to.”
Your book is going to be up against hundreds of others in your category. Can you probe deeper for that extra element which could make your story stand out?
Polish and Pitch: While it’s a fast-paced world, “There is no speeding up how to get better as a writer,” said Luica Montcreve of Dial BFYR. So do your work. Write, revise, repeat.
As you edit, make sure you create a great pitch. This is your chance to frame the unique and special in your story, something with a word-of-mouth factor. Use specific details that make it stand out. “A story about a boy whose family doesn’t love him” could be lots of plots. “A boy with magical power must defeat the wizard who killed his parents” has instant recognition.
Now go back and make sure your story is as strong as your tagline. As you craft a great pitch and a unique story that lives up to that expectation, your manuscript is another step closer to great.

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Filed under Character, Editors

Matryoshka Dolls and Character Development

by Lisa Sledge

Several years ago, my sister-in-law went to Russia. When she came back, she surprised us with one of those Russian nesting dolls. It has nine layers and looks beautiful sitting on top of the book case in our office, right where I can see it.

I had an especially frustrating writing day last Thursday. After pulling at my hair and doing a face plant on my keyboard, I saw the nesting doll. She looked so smug. As pretty as she is, all dolls kind of freak me out. It didn’t help that it was 1am. Stupid things scare me when I’m tired.

So I yanked her off her shelf and disassembled her. Take that, creepy doll.

I took her apart and put her back together at least three times. As I did, my thoughts drifted to my characters.

When I began writing, my MC had only one layer. The rest of him was hollow.

Real people don’t work that way. We’re complicated. Our outer layer, the one easiest to see,  is only the beginning. What’s inside adds beauty and depth to who we are. There are layers of both good and evil—in all of us.

Our job is to sculpt authentic individuals out of words.  As a new writer, I’m struggling with this aspect of my book.

So help me out.

What do you do that helps you discover, understand, and stay true to the layers within your characters?


Here’s a Little about Lisa:

1. I’m working to make my first crappy novel not so crappy anymore so it can get published. I hope.

2. I have five belly buttons. Okay, not really. But I kind of do.

3. I used to think I’d be a doctor. Then I discovered blood makes me pass out. Paper cut kind of bleeding is okay, but please don’t ask me to help if someone’s bones are sticking out or they are gushing blood. Unconscious people aren’t good for much during an emergency.

4. On a slightly related note, the people I fear most are surgeons and those crazy ladies at baby showers who feel they have to tell everyone their most devastating labor and delivery stories. I’ve had two babies and no baby showers.

5. I taught English and remedial reading for three and a half years. Right now, I’m staying home with the kids. I love where I’m at in life and what I’m doing, but once in a while I miss my days as a teacher. My students were hilarious, witty, and sometimes very sad. They were full of unwritten stories. I used to write for them. I still do.
(photo to come) (I hope) (we’ll see) (I’ll have a daughter help me)


Filed under Character

Three Things Thursday!

Cheryl Van Eck

“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and work off the resonance.”
-Richard Price
I love this concept. Disney/Pixar in particular are geniuses at this. They can wrap so much emotion into the smallest object. Remember Mulan, when they reach the village that had been burned to the ground and they found the doll? Or Pocahontas, when Kocoum dies and he grabs her mother’s necklace as he falls and it shatters? And the note in the back of Ellie’s Adventure Book in Up?
All of these tiny, nearly insignificant artifacts pack major emotional resonance. If the big picture is too overwhelming to you as a writer, then it will be to your reader as well. It’s all in the details. A three page description can (and should) be replaced with a small, emotionally significant detail. And suddenly you’ve gone from long winded and dull to memorable. Unforgettable, really.
As you’re revising (and hopefully cutting), keep an eye out for this. Make your descriptions carry their weight. They aren’t there just so you can string pretty words together, and they aren’t there so you can have a laundry list of what a place looked like. Infuse emotion and character. Descriptions have been deadbeat freeloaders for too long. Let’s put them to work!
Brenda Bensch
My husband was lucky enough to be in Greg Leitich Smith‘s class at WIFYR this year.  Again.  Greg was his teacher two years ago, the first time Herb had attended this great workshop.  One of the things I admired, at a distance, was the variety of small writing assignments Greg came up with.  Here’s one of them from this year:
What does the person closest to your antagonist think about him or her?  (My first reaction: WHO is that person? Why is s/he that close to someone who is purported to be the “villain” by the end?  Why is s/he close to such a person?)
And my challenge for you: write a 300-500 word response to Greg’s question.  You may choose to write this in either 1st or 3rd person.
From Me
How is your summer writing going?
Are you letting life get in the way of your goals to work on your book?
Who in your family might help you accomplish your writing by giving you some free space?
Is that person you?
Remember, we give ourselves what we think we deserve, we make time for what we truly love and what’s important to us.
Are you doing that for your novel?

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Filed under Character, Exercises, Point of View, three thing thursday, writing process

Kyra Leigh, Queen Bee

I’ve been down in the dumpsters lately. I try not to dwell on the crappy stuff, but sometimes I can’t help it. But instead if complaining, I’m going to list up some great stuff that happened this week!
-I wrote. Something new. Could be crappy. Only time will tell. But at least I wrote.
-I read I’ll Give You the Sun. I know all ya’ll are gonna love that one. Glad I got an early copy of it.
-There was actually some good news given to me and Mom that I think might actually really help me.
-I had a brainstorming session with Mom. And we also had some amazing lunch. {not so amazing ice cream tho}
- I got to spend time with Nina. And during our time together. . . We got to see our favorite singer LADY GAGA together in concert. {blew my mind!!!!!}
- I feel some new voices in my head, and that is a good sign. Maybe I have more than one new writing idea.
-I’m happy to be alive.

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Filed under Depression, Family, Kyra

Monday, Monday–a quick hint

My dear friend Becca Birkin went to SBWI in LA. Here’s a cool quote she sent: “We had a panel on three things to do/not do when submitting. Many of the ideas from the editors were familiar, but this one interested me: Dinah Stevenson of Clarion said, ‘Something that frequently says first novel is when it’s obvious the writer has put in everything, and a skilled writer has made choices and knows what to include and what to cut.’ ”

I’ve been reading a few writers’ work. What always surprises me is the excess of words in a piece.


Dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward.

Too much description.

Back story that is in a lump at the start of a chapter or beginning of a scene or anywhere else in the piece.

Remember that every word must do its work plus some. Dialogue has to move a scene forward.

Back story can sometimes be woven in  or dropped altogether and must support the current story.

Repetition can be squashed by going through and removing the offenders.

Let every word you use carry weight.

I always say, “If you had to pay a dollar a word . . .” It’s because each word has a job–to drive the story to the climax of the novel. If that doesn’t happen, you can cut.



Filed under CLW, Revision, Voice, writing process