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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Build Vocabulary

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain

Begin a journal for word ideas to build a sensory vocabulary based on connecting. Here are a few suggestions to get started.

Color Exercise

Choose any color. Do a five to ten minute free write on anything that comes to mind for that color whether cliché or not. Remember to include phrases that are already used in common language like yellowbelly or red-eye.

Now look back at your own list. Which references are literal and which are figurative? What categories can you place your connections in? What areas are missing? Can you add to them?

Sensory Vocabulary      

Do the same as above but use a different sense to develop a list. In a workshop I once took with author Ethel Herr, she suggested choosing a different sense per day and paying close attention to just it. So on Monday notice everything you smell. On Tuesday touch, Wednesday taste, Thursday hear, Friday see.

Then next to each word on each list expand. Did something smell rotten? As I shared earlier was it rotten like an egg, a sewer, or a dead fish? What distinguishes each ‘rotten’ smell?

Repeat for any words that you want to develop more depth.

Action Steps:

1.     From each sense category take one of your own experience examples and then assume that a person does not have the ability to identify with that sense, either always or for that particular situation. For example, a cave might be so dark it is impossible to see without light, or a person might be blind.

2.     Make a list of ways for your character to experience the same emotional response you had but through different types of connections.

Share: Which was the most difficult category to find a substitute connection for?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Internal

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The capacity to recall the sensory impacts and perceptions of one’s early years is obviously also a vital part of the talent in question: but a further dimension of recall is needed for the physical world of childhood, which, we tend to forget, is out of scale in surroundings proportioned to adults.”  Mollie Hunter

As are our story worlds out of scale to our normal everyday experiences. Not just the right word then to describe heat, or cold, or color, or temperature, but also the personal internal emotion that resonates along with them.

Crawling into a blanket-made fort for a child may hold all the anticipation of a dangerous journey, or a return to a safe haven. We need to be able to echo that experience for older readers too. The settings and description need to be in accord with both the age and the story itself.

Too often I concentrate on the description and miss the added impact of the feelings. This, I think, is what leads to a superficial treatment. I remember the first time my youngest son saw the stars at night. He was only two and did not have the vocabulary to describe what he saw. So he flung himself backwards and spread out his arms as if trying to hug the sky or hold it somehow. Pure speechless astonishment poured out of him. That night we, who did possess the word vocabulary, saw the night sky in a new way. 

This, I think, is what Mollie Hunter reminds us—to be conscious of this in our writing and remember the sense of awe that accompanies these first experiences, and not to diminish their impact.

Action Steps:

1.     For each of the five senses think of a particular experience that was positive and one that was negative.

2.     Next to each list your immediate personal words that describe your reactions.

Share: What horrible taste do you still remember from childhood?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Perception External

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“You present your story in terms of things that can be verified by sensory perception. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch—these are the common denominators of human experience; these are the evidence that men believe.” Dwight V. Swain

As I mentioned last week no sensory observation is considered complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. When eating new foods, or hearing new sounds, the concrete details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. Just as word choices need to be specific, so do the sensory details need to be definitive, externally as images and internally as personal reactions.

What are the telltale signs that we’ve moved from one neighborhood to another? What makes the restaurant on one street so much better than the next? We also want to make these sensory observations unique and not generic.

Picture book techniques impact all our senses through the story by the visual images and the sound of the language. They are crucial to their readers. By applying their principles to our manuscripts, when needed, can impact our novels too.

One method is to pause a scene or a description and examine it as if a frame in a movie or a photograph. For a moment we remove the sounds or taste or touch or whatever the key focus is and look at how else the passage influences our sensory radar.

 It would take too long to do this for every scene but whenever we feel that something is missing, or not quite what we intended, stepping back helps clear our external perception.

Action Steps:

                        Choose a movie that is age appropriate to your intended readers.

Movie Prompt

     1. Take one particular scene from the movie and put it on pause. Whether you like to write poetry or not pick out words and phrases from the visual sight that you would incorporate in a poem, with the idea that a reader may, or may not, see this ‘painting’ for themselves.

      2. Write a poem based on your selections just for the fun of it.

      3. Do the same exercise for a visual scene in your own novel.

     Share: Did you notice anything that surprised you?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Connect

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“..when sensory detail is included -readers are pulled into the scene as they recall their own associations with the experience.”  (unknown)

In our early drafts we often write everything down as it comes to us through our senses. Usually we lean on ordinary words for basic descriptions. Then we go back through to paint in feelings and scenery and ambiance. But sometimes we’re still stuck with the ordinary because it’s so familiar that other thoughts or phrases just won’t come to mind without sounding artificial or planted.

The key to using strong sensory details is to connect with the reader—which is extremely important to this age group—especially from the youngest up. So sometimes the familiar and ordinary can be the more powerful details. Or we can use them as a link to introduce a wider viewpoint and vocabulary.
 For example, when eating new foods or hearing new sounds the details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. We often see pictures of toddlers attempting to eat spaghetti and are covered in sauce. But what about a toddler who doesn’t like to get sticky? The experience is now not humorous but stressful.

Actually no sensory observation is complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. We need the essential, specific word choices: salty-sour-sweet-bitter. If it smells bad is it like a: rotten egg, a sewer, or low tide? However we also need to recognize that what smells bad to one character may actually be sweet to another. I discovered that one day when driving with an elderly friend. I smelt something noxious and worried it was my car. I asked if she could smell it and her reply was “isn’t it lovely?” Apparently we were smelling sulfur, which to her reminded her of where she grew up near sulfur springs.

We can’t incorporate every possible sensory detail but need to choose which reflects best for each scene, whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction. What will create the mood? Even in a fast moving fight scene we can have character feel the sweat and taste the blood on his lip.

Action Steps:

1.     One good exercise to try is to describe an object without saying what it is. Try it out at the dinner table and see if your family can guess. This helps pull in new sensory details.

2.     Note which vocabulary words made a connection.

            Share: What did you choose? What kind of response did you get?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Overview Plot Development: Historical Literature

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“This is perhaps the greatest challenge of the writer of historical stories: to make history come alive.” George Edward Stanley

What assumptions can we make about this particular ‘world’ based on this moment in time?                                             

Look at this ordinary day excerpt:

            “From the barn I see my mother on the back porch washing beans,
            my little sister with her dolls there on the stoop, my father
            leading horses from the field.

            Morning sun crawls up, a yellow dog just waking,
            stretching one leg and another, then
            its wide-mouthed fiery yawn.  I rub my eyes and push
            my hand behind a plank, grope until my fingers
            close around the edges of a wooden box. Crouched

            He stands inside the door, his hat pulled down, a bridle
            Hanging loosely in his hands. Behind him, sunlight
            Makes shadows dance across the dusty floor.”

What kind of scene are you seeing? What emotions do you apply to this reading? Pick out specific words that you think contribute the most emotional weight.
            “It’s not because my daddy thinks
            the South should fight against the North,
            but we’ve been so long a piece of Tennessee
            today we’re leaving for the war.”

Excerpt from Moon Over Tennessee, A Boy’s Civil War Journal by Craig Crist-Evans (pgs 7-9)

How does this sparse, yet detailed setting affect character and theme? Based on these few verses, what do you expect to happen?

“It’s important that the writer help the young person of today identify with the young person of yesterday.” George Edward Stanley

As an historical setting this passage establishes place, historical framework, season, time of day, moods, and atmosphere. Its authenticity allows us to fully participate.

A decision that needs to be incorporated is what is the level of historical importance to your world and what are the key factors that you want to maintain as its influence? In what ways can the plot points strengthen the history?

“The bottom line is that the portrayal should be truthful.” George Edward Stanley

Action Steps:

1. Choose a place in your novel and describe it with its history. Integrate what was there by first describing both the present, and the absent, and then the present and the past.

2. After you have chosen and written one from an “historical” viewpoint, rewrite it from a family history perspective within the same framework.

Share: Did you find some new plot points or patterns?

                                                   Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Overview Plot Development: Developing the Conflict

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Character is plot, that the plot has to grow out of the characters, not be imposed upon them.” Jane Yolen

Jane Fitz—Randolph notes that one of the strongest plot combos is when the Wish fulfillment acts as a second tier to Purpose Achieved. The basic substance and enduring value becomes the theme foundation as the basis of the second tier—which takes us back to motivation and response.

Developing the Conflict.

Which type of conflict will best work?  Man versus nature or man versus society as in Hansel and Gretel? Or Huck Finn versus himself and versus society? What is the relationship with another character? What does the character want?

            Olga Litowinsky says:

“1. They want acceptance by their peers.
2. They worry about their position in their family, and how the family functions.
3.They are concerned about their physical growth: size, puberty, and how they look.
                     4.They are striving for a positive self-image, their own view of themselves.
5. They wonder about what the future will hold, their own, the society &   world.”

All these questions can be applied to contemporary, historical, fantasy, and sci-fi. If you’re writing cross-cultural remember to lean on these emotional cores.

Action Steps:

            1.Take the story question and the pattern you have been developing and integrate conflict from one or two of the above types.

2. Then look for places to increase the conflict with one of Litowinsky’s suggestions.

3. What enduring value can develop the theme?

Share: Which question gives you the most conflict?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Overview Plot Development: Rising Action

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Every story can benefit from its author holding back enough so that the reader remains eager to find out what’s going to happen.” Barbara Seuling

The action, tension, questions and stakes need to increase throughout the plot—even when the story line is a simple one.

For example, in a linear sequence the main character keeps moving forward until she gets what she wants, says Marion Dane Bauer in What’s Your Story. And she will be in a very different place at the end than at the beginning.

In a circular version, by the end, the main character has literally returned to his beginning, but now the story’s resolution centers on how he repairs the connection with his father.

Aristotle is known for developing charts of rising action High Points with each chapter scene pushing the boundaries higher until the story reaches its climax. Each chapter in a sense contains the same issues—goal/conflict all gathering towards the over-arching story line umbrella.           

Fairy Tales and Folk Tales are often delivered in three stages with each one becoming more distressful.

Look at each event through the main character’s eyes. How will it change him? If a scene can be taken out without it altering what follows—it doesn’t belong in the story.

Action Steps:

1.     Make a list of possible scenes that explore your character’s main desire.

2.     Now rank them according to obstacles.

3.     Next by emotional ones.

4.     Now put them into the two tiers and see where any holes are. Fill them in.

Share: Which scene choices were the most difficult to make tense?

Read deep, marcy
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