Monday, June 22, 2009

Show Don’t Tell: Silent Pictures

Recently, I watched a friend’s silent video of what was happening at the moment inside her store during business hours. A young woman inside the store approached an older woman and they spoke. The young woman twirled her car keys. Soon, she slumped her shoulders, and she looked around and chewed her gum. The words casual and bored came to mind. The older woman at one point turned her back and smiled at something the young lady said. That smile reminded me of one I reserved for when my children have said something a little off the wall.

The two carried on more conversation, and I noticed they favored each other in appearance. Hmm, this is showing me a new clue. Then, the young woman kissed the older one on the cheek. Aha! Could they be related?

When I asked my friend about it later, and had described the young woman, my friend said yes indeed they were mother and daughter.

That whole silent movie scene taught me a bunch about “show don’t tell.” I had a wonderful lesson, for free I might add, and one that caught me by surprise in my otherwise busy schedule. A nice writer’s realization.

If you are like me and tend to go into too much telling, turn off the sound on a movie and you’ll see what I mean. I plan to watch something from time to time without sound, just to keep my bearings about this whole overdoing of “show don’t tell” in my writing.

By the way, don't forget to people watch from afar. That's another wonderful way to learn from body language.

I hope you’re enjoying your first days of summer. And keep an eye out for ideas during next winter's writing, so keep a note pad and pen handy.

Until next time . . ., blessings to my readers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Writer Critique Groups

There are many reasons we should be in a well-organized writer’s critique group. I’ve been in several with one group having around ten members, and one made up of just me and another writer. I have grown as a writer from belonging to each of these groups.

My current group has been going strong for seven years, and I’ve been with them from the beginning. There are six of us ladies, and two are illustrators as well. We critique one another’s work by way of Email. We’ve been fortunate to meet from time to time at various Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators workshops, retreats, and conferences. Sadly, all six of us haven’t been together at the same time. I had just moved to Oregon the last time the other five met for a SCBWI function.

Within our group, some are book published, and some are magazine and/or newsletter published. We come from various backgrounds and levels of education. We are moms. The tie that binds us together, though, is the reason we are a group: to see our words in print.

One of the needs for a successful critique group is to have respect for one another’s work. Easily done in our group of ladies. Also, we discuss the business end of writing and the craft of writing. We share information on agents and editors when we think it will help the group or individuals. It’s also nice to share in an occasional chat about daily life going on around us. My group has been there for me through several hardships, even. They are my good friends.

I read somewhere that when a writer gives a suggestion that something is not working within the story, they better suggest a way it might work. I like this thought, but sometimes we don’t always know why something isn’t working. I remember early on in my writing career, I never knew why my critique partner’s work felt off here or there within the story. She said it didn’t matter, she would figure out what to do. Just the fact I knew something didn’t ring true helped her. She found that every time I sensed an off part in the story, she discovered a problem within the manuscript.

I think it played out that way because before I wrote stories, I read a lot. This goes to show that if you care about words and wish to join a group, you can contribute. No matter that you are a beginning writer.

When I joined the SCBWI over thirteen years ago, they sent a nice packet of information. One article showed how to start a critique group. Also occasionally, there are articles about writer’s groups in the SCBWI Bulletin. Also, Ann Whitford Paul’s newest book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication has a chapter on critique groups. It’s getting good reviews so you may want to read it.

There are tried and true rules and room for flexibility to a well-run writer's group. Once that is understood, we’re able to enjoy, learn, and contribute our best as writers.

Until next time . . .


Monday, June 1, 2009

June, the Busy Month

My writer friends and I speak of the woes of less time to write, during this end of the school year and into the full swing of outdoor work.

What to do?

Well, my thoughts go something like this: Do what you can. Sometimes we really must put life first. Writing is not the life, really. It is our passion, our joy, and a job for many. But it is not living breathing life where we grow as characters here on earth.

Busy life can and will give us more fodder for our stories. Whether we are suffering loss, or celebrating a birth, or a graduation. This stuff of life goes into our thoughts bank where we draw from as needed.

Children’s writers draw from childhood at various stages. I find I draw from current relationships, struggles, and experiences all around me, also. I think this happens more, though, as I grow as a writer, and as I grow older.

Take time to be still and that may well be only when you sit down to write. I’ve found myself snatching fifteen minutes here. A page there. Some people may say if they can’t sit down for two hours, it’s not going to happen. I find working even for fifteen minutes moves my story forward an inch and, best of all, keeps my creative or editorial juices flowing for the next day’s work.

A tip to help you grow excited for the next day's work: stop at a point in your story that needs more of your attention.

We must not despair! Time will be on our side once more. Live life. Enjoy family. Experience it all as God intended.

Until next time . . .