Category Archives: Voice

Three Thing Thursday

From Cheryl:


From Me:

Following the excerpts above, write either place or description that breathes life into your story.

Feel free to share.

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Filed under Ann Dee, Exercises, Setting, three thing thursday, Voice

Freaky Friday

For some reason, wordpress wouldn’t let me edit my last post, so I am redoing it.

Not so weird news! No this is great news! About a great friend!

Several years ago I met Luke Reynolds when he asked me to write an essay for a book called Break These Rules. We hit it off immediately and have been friends ever since. You know that feeling when you ‘meet’ someone you feel like you’ve known forever? That’s how it was with Luke.

He has a book coming out any moment now called The Looney Experiment that is terrific. Great voice. Great story.

Luke is a teacher and amazing at that, too.

We met at ALA this last June and I have to tell you, he’s as kind as I thought he was. And when I saw him interacting with the kids there, I was blown away. He was in his element. So natural.

I always feel like there’s something wrong me. I’m the odd man out.

I’ve never felt the way I saw Luke act. He was a natural. Funny. Calm. Pleased to be there. I felt like the kid (yes, I always feel like the kid) who’s so awkward people have to look away.

But not Luke.

You’re gonna love him.

Go to his website. He’s got lots of teachery things there.

Get his new book The Looney Experiment.

Meet Luke Reynolds

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Filed under CLW, Voice

Three Things Thursday

Ms Cheryl:

A writer’s “writing space” is a revered, almost legendary idea. I’ve heard one writer say that she had no writing space…as long as she has her laptop, she’s good to go. I know of another that needs a particular chair with a view, a yellow notepad, and a certain brand of tea. One friend needs pictures, toys, and brightly colored walls. Another needs a completely clutter-free desk.
For me, I need my books. I need to see them, to touch them, to remember the end goal in all of this. I need to look at the beautiful cover art. I need every series to be lined up, in order.
On the other hand, I once wrote an entire novel in a journal while sitting in a rocking chair every night for months, trying to teach my daughter to fall asleep in her crib. So I can be flexible.
What about you? What does your workspace look like? What would your dream workspace look like?
Ms Brenda:
Do you believe in Evolution? If you are a writer, you should give that some thought. We keep talking about ARCs:: Character ARCs, Chapter ARCs, Story ARCs. What is that but Evolution?
The character begins in one place (i.e., living under the stairs in his Uncle’s house — an insecure boy not sure of his place in the world, not even sure if he HAS a place in the world). Then he finds out he’s expected to go to school. A wizarding school. Because he’s capable of creating and utilizing magic. That’s some “evolution” over multiple books (and YEARS) in his life.
This boy, like any other boy, will have to change and grow — “evolve” into a good and talented and worthy young man . . . or be caught in the evil web he’s woven by going in the opposite direction.
His story means he will meet new people, learn to adjust to his every-changing (and ever-challenging) environment. Like all of us, his story will include good, bad and ugly people and places. The story begins with him in dire straits and evolves into a story of achievement and beating the odds.
Each book in this seven-tomed mammoth has its own ARC as well. And the eighth ARC is in the total of all the volumes.
Whether you are writing a short story, a novel, or a non-fiction book, whether it is a stand-alone or a part of a series, ALL those ARCs must be thought of, figured out and central to its main characters, it’s place within the (or each) book, and its over-all view within the series if you intend (or your single “story” later) dictates a multi-volume work.
The sooner you figure out each of the individual threads, the more easily you will weave the story into the fabric of the full tale.
Ms Me:
I once gave a speech where I was talking about strong writing. Of course I mentioned to cut all the adverbs and as many adjectives as possible.
A woman in the audience said, “When you’re speaking YOU use adjectives and adverbs.”
Speaking ain’t writing.
If our lives were novels, there would be a LOT of stuff fast-forwarded, thrown away and edited to fit.
We’d be cut down to 300 pages (on the way long side for me!).
All our words wouldn’t be used.
And our thoughts? Ha!
No, when we write, we pick and choose.
Our stories are the best parts of us.

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Filed under CLW, three thing thursday, Voice

Writing as a Team

So here’s how Ann Dee and I wrote our first draft.



We were very, very organized. We met together for several hours, plotted carefully, wrote everything down. We kept a log of words, characters, events and both knew where the story was set so well we could see Riverside, Florida, in our heads like a picture. We knew (after our hours planning) the beginning, the middle and the end of the novel. We’ve had to do few corrections because of this.

Lies! Lies, lies, lies!

I never know anything about a book when I start writing. In fact, when I begin any novel, I’m feeling my way along, listening to the character, seeing if I’m interested in stalking her for 250 pages.

It was no different in this book with Ann Dee.

In fact, we started out writing a dystopian–each writing just one section (all about food, mind you). Then Ann Dee, who was uncomfortable with the topic because of world events, set the idea aside and started something new. (I think we’ll write that other book at some point. The idea is dark and different for both of us and we’ve decided we want to write the thing we aren’t as comfortable with when we write together. But we might not. Who knows?)

That first chapter came from her and I had to decide if I took the novel from where Ann Dee ended or if I backed up in time a little. Howq was I going to tell my character’s story when the novel wasn’t–at this moment–about my character at all?

Writing with Ann Dee gave me permission to push my character, push the situation she was in. As I wrote, as we wrote, we discovered so much. Daddies–all kinds of daddies–good, dead, dying, crummy. All kinds of mommas–neglectful, fat, liars, the kind that ignore problems and grandchildren, the kind that dote. Two lonely preteens who need someone and happen to find the wacky kid next door. Girls who search for mysteries and solve problems they didn’t even know were there or didn’t even know they had the strength to solve.

I lead the novel in one direction, and during our first gentle rewrite decided (after talking to Ann Dee), that direction had to change. We made the book more mid grade by cutting out that plot point and now, in this last rewrite we’ll make the book solidly middle grade.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that YOU decide how you want to write with your partner. However, I’d make sure that you and the person you write with are equally balanced. This isn’t a “I got an idea for a book, why don’t you write it,” kind of deal. You each need to carry the weight of the book. That’s what I found so cool. When we finished that first draft I was surprised we’d written 50,000 + words because the weight was equally distributed between us.

Ann Dee did worry a little more than I did. In fact, when we got through with the book I was like, “Let’s send this off to my agent for a read-thru!”

Ann Dee blanched. “Now?”

“Sure, why not.”

“It’s not ready.”

“I know, but it’s close.”

“But . . . it has plot problems.”

“Who needs a plot? We have these two great characters.”


So now you and your writing partner will work on your ideas. Will you plan heavily or just follow along and see what’s gonna happen? What are each of your strengths? Do you both love to write? Both write often? What is your partnership goal for this week? Ann Dee and I can’t wait to find out.



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Filed under Ann Dee, CLW, Exercises, Plot, Revision, Voice

Ten Minutes for Beginnings

Running a blog for years–a blog about writing–well, one begins to wonder what one should write about.

Okay–that’s the line I started with. Then I thought–what am I going to say today? What’s new out there?

Probably nothing, actually. But as I sat here I remembered something Richard Peck said years ago when he was here in UT. He was talking to a group of writers and teachers. His bit of wisdom that I’ve repeated in every writing class I’ve taught since? “You are no better than your first line.”

That means for anything, I think. The first line of a campaign speech, of a novel, of a poem, newspaper, article, essay, picture book. Your blog.

“Your novel,” Richard Peck told us that day, “may start chapters in. Find the right beginning.”

“Start your novel where the story starts,” I tell my students. On the day something new happens. Don’t waste time with back story.

Get in and get on with it. Grab your reader and run.

“My book gets great right about page 40,” people will tell me. (And yes. That’s about the number they all say). Common sense tells us that means the story starts on page forty. Someone has some work to do.

While Richard was here, he looked at the first three pages of a novel I’d begun. He asked me two questions, one of which was, “Does this start in the right place?”

I dropped him off at the airport that day and as I drove away I realized he was right about the book. I’d started wrong. I chopped off the first line–a bit of Florida description, I think–and the book began right where it needed to.

“What you doing, Girl?” Daddy said, when the burying was done.

Introduction of two characters, a bit of voice and a problem. Buried because of an extra line. Exposed, front and center when the first line was chopped away.

A great first line won’t save a bad novel. But it can set you up as a writer and point you where you need to go. It can offer a feeling of what you may now do. It can be a promise to the reader.

I’ve not sold this book and it’s been years. There have been two editors interested. And now another editor is looking at that novel. But I learned something from Richard that I’ve tried to use in every book since–get rid of what isn’t needed. Quit meandering.

Write the story and only the story. Readers just don’t care about the rest.

So in this blog? Cut off the first 50 or so words. That’s where this piece really begins.

Now go do that to your books.


Filed under CLW, Exercises, First Line, Voice

On Death and Turning Fifty

by Cheri Pray Earl

I started a new blog when I turned fifty-five in October. Funny how staring sixty right in the naval can inspire you to dismiss that snotty poet who lives in your head. The one who says, “Isn’t it bad enough you can’t write poetry? Now you’re writing a genre novel? On a BLOG?!” My poet is a man, by the way. He also doesn’t approve of that exclamation point I just used.

Yes, I’m writing a genre novel. A murder mystery. Out loud. Scene by scene, chapter by chapter on a blog. Because I love murder mysteries. I read them like I eat candy—right off the shelf. I sit in the car in the library parking lot, reading the first chapter. I watch murder movies and murder television series for hours on end and listen to my mother’s heinous “true stories” of murder and mayhem.  Crime fiction is my barrel of meal, my cruise of oil. My shelf Twinkies because I don’t mind if the books and movies and TV series are not good for me and offend my literary sensibilities with lots of nutty dialog tags and adverbs. My poet says my analogies are goosey. Sometimes I shake my head real hard and knock him around in there.

Do you know why I decided, after all these years, to write a mystery novel? Mortality. Menopause. Because I want to give it a shot before I die. Life is short, as they say, and too short to listen to poets. Poets, by the way, talk about death a lot in their poems. Billy Collins once said that all poems are about death. I asked him what he meant and he explained that everything is about death, isn’t it? Since we will all die. Anne Lamott, on the other hand, says that because we are all going to die there’s no point in writing about it. What is worth writing about is how men and women live in the face of death. American writers should be willing to let a novel end well, she says, rather than in tragedy or worse, unresolved.

I also believe that every writer should have the experience, at least once, of writing what he or she loves to read. If that’s possible. For instance, besides genre murder mysteries I love Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Annie Proulx’s Shipping News. I doubt I’ll ever write the way they do because I don’t think the way they do, even though I try; that’s brain-melting work. A murder mystery, however, is just plain fun. My poet raises an eyebrow over that one—writing should depress you and force that inappropriate psychological disorder into the open and then make you brood a lot. He doesn’t like me using “a lot,” either.

QUALIFYING EXPLANATION: When I say write something fun, I don’t mean that a fun story can’t also be beautiful. It can be and should be. I can write a beautiful murder mystery if I try. Maybe. We shall see.
So today I told my daughter that she should stop trying to revise that serious, literary, depressing short story she wrote in “Introduction to Creative Writing” at Brigham Young University. She had become discouraged because she had no story; what she had was an abstract philosophy and some pretty words on the page. I told her to give herself permission to write something fun. “Write a clown scene instead,” I said. She smiled because she knew what I meant; the scene popped into her head in full color and live action. This. Is. Where. She. Lives. In her hilarious imaginings, anyway. And this is what she loves—quirky humor.

Talking all over each other, we described the scene—clowns wearing fezzes and big red rubber noses practicing their act and having dialogs about how to cram twenty of themselves in a VW Bug and someone’s got to take the lead of this insanity in the center ring of a circus tent before the matinee begins. Then we laughed about that one scene in Uncle Buck where the professional clown comes to the door and Buck answers it and the clown is drunk and dressed in a clown suit but he has a major five o’clock shadow and he drove to the house for a kids’ party in a VW Bug decked out like a mouse. Buck tells him to get in his mouse and leave but the clown says “Who are you, Mother Theresa?” Then Buck punches the clown in the rubber nose and the clown falls backward but bounces back up like that Bozo the Clown punching thingy and his nose is all caved in.

Hahahahahahhahahaha! That’s what we said. “Low hanging fruit” is what my poet says and he walks off to write a poem about death with a superior but brooding look on his face.
There you have it.


Filed under CLW, Depression, Family, Life, Voice, writing process

It’s Spam Day Again

So the other day I was shopping online. I had a catalog for flowers and plants and bulbs. I love irises and I clicked on a beautil melon-ish colored iris to see the price. And you’re right. I couldn’t afford it.


When I went to Facebook the next day, there on my page was the very ad I had perused.

I’m not kidding.

They’re watching us. Like always.

You can be tracked by your computer, phone and that chip you were implanted with.

This makes me wonder about all the emails that keep winding up in my spam. (And yes, I have to look through the spam box to make sure something from a friend didn’t wind up in there.)

Here’s a list of what I found after a few hours. And not a complete list, mind you:

Single and Sweet

Asian Hotties

Married Hall Pass

Want a One Night Stand?

Sexy Local Girls

Swing Community


A Secret Relationship

Sexy Latina at Your Service

Sexy Slutzzz

Naked Profiles

Big N Hard

Dog Food Coupon

I’m not sure if they want me to come work for them or not. Except for Big N Hard, of course.

My question is WHY.

Why Me?

I’ve been asking myself this since I was six months old.

Why me?

It’s even on my car tag: Y** ME*. And no, that’s not a joke. It’s the truth. I couldn’t believe when I saw it.

Here’s what I know–every day I fight against the Y ME. And many times I succumb.

I feel sorry for myself.

She has a movie deal for her book.

She has a series on TV.

He sold a billion copies.

His house is bigger.

No, I don’t want a One Night Stand.

I want to teach myself to be happy with what I have.

That’s a great thing to work on the week before my 108 birthday.

And in the month after.

Maybe it’s okay to spend ten dollars on a bulb if you get true joy from it?

Or to spend a year with a character because she makes you laugh?

Or to be thrilled that your daughter has an agent and your amazing blog partner is going to have a Baby Girl Named Carol?

It’s about attitude.

My new goals, Happier Attitude.

More Reading.

More Writing.

Happier Family Moments Because of Me.

Now, let’s see what happens on Facebook. Will Big N Hard be waiting for me?




Filed under CLW, Depression, Life, Voice