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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Overview Character Development: Part Three: Internal Heart

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The victory, however, comes only very gradually, for it relates directly to the slow and difficult process of accepting one’s self-knowledge and coming to peaceful terms with it.” Mollie Hunter


A story grows from the character’s emotional core. What? Why? The issue is not the event itself but how the character perceives and reacts to it. Makes his judgment and does this based on his own feelings.

So to dive deep into your character it’s important to know his motives, values, psychological profiles, and temperament. Tension builds as the barriers you put up against these four categories creates conflict and stretches your character from the inside out.

They don’t need to be dramatic or threatening but they must be real to their inner character and the immediate situation they are in. It’s a major decision for a two year old to decide to share his favorite toy with a playmate. It’s a major decision for a teen to be at a party that has gotten out of control.

So how do you get to know their hearts and what choices they will make. Get to know them. Here are some possibilities depending on what age you are writing for.

Write a short monologue for your character, whether they are talking to themselves or another. Do the conversation two ways; first showing something they care about, and then showing a negative side of themselves. What kind of words do they pick for either? For example, if your character has disrespect for lawyers they might use adjectives such as, he’s like a fox or a shark, instead of saying she has a sharp mind.

Write journal entries for them for a day or a week or a month.
Give your character a chronology and then from your character’s POV write a memory for each event: 1st day of kindergarten, 1st day of high school. Notice if any changes have occurred personality wise. Has a shy, quiet boy become a profane bully?

What do they dream about? What nightmares do they have?

When they have to pack their backpack for a day or a short trip what do they want inside?


The key to find internal patterns as plots is to find the ones that honestly take root in personal experience. F.A. Rockwell lists potential plot seeds from jokes, news, quotations, irritations, crisis, values, Bible stories, Cinderella, Faust, classics, and values. She recommends starting with clashing goals and then crisscrossing plots.

1.     Make a list of contrasting values:
Hope vs despair
Brotherly love vs bigotry
Courage vs Cowardice

2.     Once you choose the combination that interest you, then work it out in different ways, such as the four Davis versus Goliath possibilities. Will it end in tragedy or comedy? Depending on your mood, material, market, and purpose, Rockwell suggests four ways to develop a David and Goliath conflict, using real and fictional characters:

1. David conquers Goliath.            Erin Brockovich
2. David is conquered by Goliath. Billy Budd
3. David conquers Goliath but eventually becomes a new Goliath who threatens a new David. The Godfather
4. David is physically conquered by Goliath, but is undefeated morally and spiritually. Nelson Mandela

So look at your character’s situation or dilemma and ask what is their Goliath and what personality traits and heart values will help them overcome. In The Wild Things, temper tantrum Max remembers love and is able to be sorry for his behavior. In Shadow Spinner, Marjan’s compassion and gift of storytelling combine to save her mistress.

Action Steps:

            Below are some general “What if?” questions to get you started.

Share: What makes your character laugh?

Read deep, marcy

What If Questions

Who is the main Character?

Who or what is the antagonist?

Who are the other people in the story?

What does the main character want?

How important is it for him to get it?

What does the antagonist want?

How does he/it prevent the protagonist?

Results-initial action

Struggles lead to (crisis)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Overview Character Development: Part Two: External Details

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

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

In order to grow this kind of depth it is necessary to know each key character thoroughly from the inside out, and to know each minor character for the primary detail they contribute to the story. Whether or not their personality, or moral character, will reflect or oppose their external portrait first impressions matter.

Whether we mean to or not we often begin to assess a new person from the moment we see them. In addition to the basic criteria of size and age and gender we consciously or unconsciously begin to make assumptions or at least make a surface impression based on external details.

These external tags can silently add atmosphere and focus with just a few specific phrases. What does their overall appearance or choice of clothes suggest—are they sloppy or neat? What make you think that?

How does their speech indicate level of education or geographic region? Are they friendly or do they scowl. What other possibilities do their mannerisms suggest? What about attitude—do they appear shy or quiet—what makes that difference. How do you indicate arrogance by tilt of head or demeanor?

Each character needs one or two of these tags to personalize themselves and your main protagonist and antagonist will need more.

Minor Characters

Use a single, easily, identifiable characteristic that is unique but not complex. Choose whether the character should be flat or round. For example a bus driver may simply be flat because he only drives the bus. However, if he has a stronger role then he, or she, might smile or crack a joke or warning to your character as they pay, which adds personality to them as a person. Conversely some minor characters may need to be made flat because they really do not contribute to the heart of the story.

Whether you will use all the detail information or not, each character needs at least a physical work-up for your own ‘visual’ impression. Is the cook young/old/from another culture? Why might any of those versions matter or add to the plot?

Prepare to be surprised as you write. Unexpected characters might show up and might become minor characters instead of a flat one, or vice versa. Once you have a sense of who your character is then you can use a chart or other methods to build up a sense of who they are. Barely any of this will go into your story plot but you will know them thoroughly, as well as a sibling or friend. And because you do know them so well you will be able to pick out a telling characteristic exactly when needed.

Remember that real character have good and bad qualities. And they change. Pippi is not considered to be a real child by some because she never changes throughout all her stories.

We’ll look at internal details next week but we must be able to identify the emotional core in your character.  Choose a single core quality to focus on at first. This is where the character will change and it comes about as a result of what happens in the story. For example a clumsy dog saves the day. But to begin with the reader first only sees a dog getting into trouble because of his clumsiness. Later thought that same clumsiness causes a victory. It’s a showing external key that grows the plot.

The key is to provide convincing motivation for their behavior, whether helpful or destructive or contradictory. The protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable, but must be someone the reader can identify with, or at least be sympathetic to. Remember even the ‘bad’ characters believe they’re right. Their external details can be a mirror of their personality or a disguise or a hint of another possibility.

Action Steps:

            Develop the look of four characters using each of the methods below for each one. Choose two major characters and two minor ones.

1.Brainstorm from scratch using a character chart and fill in the basics such as height, weight, hair, skin tone, age and other basic facts.

2. Cut out pictures from magazines and write a background for them. Or look for a person that looks like your idea.

3. Take two people you knew or know. Make a list of their characteristics. Now make a single character mix and matching from their attributes. Reverse their personality.

4. Or take someone past or present. Change their age, their sex and completely reverse their appearance style.

5. Bonus: Sit in a public place for about five minutes and see whom you notice first. Write down the physical or action characteristics that caught your attention.

Share: Which version did you find most creative.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Overview Character Development: Part One: Personality Lens

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Character Development
            Here’s an exercise I’ve often used in workshops. It’s always interesting to see what a variety of perspectives this simple prompt generates. It’s as if everyone takes a verbal snapshot but their lens’ captures different aspects.

            1. Make a simple quick list writing down a character’s gender—age—build—hair (type & color) and core quality, such as honesty, hot temper, shyness, curious etc.

2. Take a separate sheet and across the top write: Name (leave blank)….. is waiting. In a few sentences describe where, attitude, how character is dressed, why or for what character is waiting.

3. Then go a few lines down and write: if you changed this character into an animal what would you choose?

4. Now take the first sheet and pass it to the person on your right. Using the sheet you just received write the paragraph exercise according to the list you’ve now been given. Hand the sheet back.

5. Compare your first interpretation with the other version. Are they similar? Different?

This is just a beginning idea for a character.  Notice that each person can have a different ‘take’ on a character. And that's fine. The reader needs to bring his/her own connections to the story.

However if a particular characteristic is vitally important then remember that one feature must be clearly established. Oscar on Sesame Street is a grouch. If he doesn’t act grouchy then we know something is wrong.

We need to build characters two ways: externally (next blog) and internally (the week after). The most important thing is to get to know your characters inside and out. They are to be characters and not caricatures.

Real characters have good and bad qualities. Pippi is not a ‘real’ child because she never changes. We’ll also look at some classics in a few weeks. It’s important to identify the emotional core in your character. Start by choosing a single core quality to focus on. This is the key point at which the character will change and it comes about as a result of what happens in the story. For ex, a clumsy dog who overcomes his weakness and saves the day.
The key is to provide convincing motivation for any character’s behavior, whether helpful or destructive or contradictory. The protagonist doesn’t always need to be likeable, but must be someone the reader can identify with or at least be sympathetic to. In Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Max begins in a temper tantrum and creates “havoc”.

Remember even the ‘bad’ characters believe they’re right. So as you develop your main characters look at them from all camera angles behavior wise.

Action Steps:

      Return to the journal sheet and do this prompt from your character’s perspective. Keep in mind that every thing you can write for a journal entry for yourself can also be written as a journal entry for your character.

  1. If you had to choose a color to describe you today what would it be? 
  1. Then write a brief description of why?
  1. Now write a few lines about whether this is a color you like or don’t or etc. i.e. how do you feel about feeling this way today?
  1. If you had to share this ‘color’ on your first day of school would you feel good or nervous? 
  1. Set up a journal for your main character and whenever you have a few minutes to brainstorm—write up a memory or question from their perspective.

Share: How would you personally feel if you were your character sharing on the first day of school?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Overview Markets: Part Four: Manuscript Preparation

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

My apologies for the delay on Part Four.

Are you ready to send your article out? Have you lined up a list of potential markets? If one magazine says no thanks, get ready to send it to the next and keep going down your list.

At this point you’ve revised the content, done a spell check, made sure your computer program used the right word such as from and not form, checked for extra space breaks, had an impartial reader give you feedback and have followed all the submission requirements re word count, font size, and margins if required. Now take a close look at overall clarity.

In his book, The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman divides the primary reasons that manuscripts get rejected by editors into three main categories: Preliminary Problems, Dialogue, and The Bigger Picture.

Preliminary problems include the normal spelling, grammar and punctuation but go beyond to include word choice, weak sentences, presentation, style and Lukeman also adds sound, style, adjectives and adverbs. 

Basically look at your language to make sure it said what you want it to say. Make your words count. Make your sentences active with strong verbs.

            Does your opening include a clear topic plus your position/attitude? Is it interesting? Create curiosity? Attract a reader’s attention? Indicate a plan of development or a preview of points to be covered? Why will your readers want to read more?
Paragraph Clarity

Unity: Is there a clear opening statement of the main point?
            Is the material on target in support?

Support: Is there specific evidence to support the opening point?
               Is there enough specific evidence?

Clarity: Are they distinct, easily and correctly understood, not only grammatically but also in concept?


 Does the article have a clear method of organization? Are transitions and other connecting words used to tie the material together easily?

Is the conclusion satisfying? Did it tie up the article topic without restating or summarizing the main points? Did it reach out to make personal or universal observations about the implications of the theme? For the age audience do you have next steps to suggest to build upon their curiosity?

Action Steps:

                        1. Send out your article. :) 

Share: What is your topic and age category you chose? Or share your opening sentence.

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Overview Markets: Part Three: One Sheet: Sample

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Here is an excerpt from my one sheet for my novel Lightbearer. It was set on the left hand side of the page with my bio on the bottom right. On the actual one sheet it is framed in an invisible box, which sets the following material up almost as a poem in 28 lines. This was important to me as it helped visualize the tone of the story.

You’ll notice that it gives genre, age category (implied by young man), main character, and story question. Basically enough to see if anyone is interested. It’s still general because I don’t know under what circumstances it will be read, so I’m not giving all the details yet.

Concrete specifics will come in the proposal. Then you will need to give the plot line and ending. Note too that some of this introduction material also appears later on the back cover as well as marketing text.

In the land of Lorica, in a place beyond time where prophecies
have been lost in ancient history and only myth
and legend remain intertwined with history, a Ka’hane arrives.

“Ask yourself what would fill you with shame or shrink
your soul to do day after day. Ask yourself what would be worth
dying for or even harder, living, for, with no hope of reward
or recognition or assurance you had chosen rightly. Especially
when the Darkness returns. What will you choose then?”

Jonne, a young man on the brink of vocation in Lorica,
is jolted by the stranger’s piercing remarks which lead him
to emotional, spiritual, and relational struggles as he tries to discover
the timeless question of his purpose and identity by becoming
a Lightbearer, a vocation people no longer even believe exists
or is relevant. The Lightbearers are a faithful remnant that stand
as watchmen for El Olam, God everlasting.

            Share: What is your first question re this story after reading this invitation to read it? Or what details would cause you to say not interested?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Overview Markets: Part Three: One Sheet

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

One-Page Sell Sheet
1) To Pitch

Think of it as a visual pitch and cover letter together, but with a shorter bio. Author Terry Burns says “it is a page with key information in that an editor can pull out and take to a committee meeting to pitch the book.” He includes an attention getting phrase or question as title. Once again: 1. This is my product. 2. Are you interested?

A potential series can be included here as well as in the cover letter.

One editor I know occasionally opens the calendar door for one-sheet submissions. He clearly states some specifics he wants to see. If he is interested he then requests a brief proposal: a cover letter, a one-page synopsis and three chapters. What I appreciate is the quick response. It’s an immediate—yes or no possibility. One caution though when submitting a one-sheet for a novel or longer non-fiction. Be sure the first or even second draft is complete. When a publishing house asks for one-sheet submissions they are usually looking for a completed project not an idea.

However often magazines and journals have specific topics or set themes and are looking for fresh perspective. One author I know writes regularly for a well-read audience but she has to wait for an email invitation from the senior editor to pitch. The timing is tight. If they say yes, she needs to be able to write up the article within a few weeks. So she sends two or three different pitches in different categories, as she doesn’t know where exactly the ‘holes’ are. Often her pitch might not fit the required immediate timing, but often her ideas will get a follow up invitation for the next edition.

2) To Prepare

Keep your own set of one-sheet ideas. Then if an opportunity opens you will be ready.

For example, you’ve noticed in your research that often the fall/winter issues that request nature might use pieces on hibernation. You’ve followed all the guidelines and polished your article till it shines. But they just bought one. No worries. Because of your research you have two or three alternatives that would be related without overlapping.

So whenever you research an article, make one-sheet list of possible sidebar or additional ideas to keep for your own file. When you have captured a child’s curiosity and hunger for discovery the best question is what comes next or how or why or where?

Think of your articles as stepping-stones. And from the research on your novel you will have a potential series of non-fiction pieces for either magazines, or blog material, or marketing.

Just as a query letter, or cover letter keep them succinct and inviting.

On Saturday I will post an example from my novel.

Action Steps:

1.     Take your query letter from the last blog and turn it into a one-sheet.

2.     Make a list of side topics to go with your main pitch.

3.     Turn them into one-sheets.

4.     Make a list of any information you now need to fully develop these ideas angles into article or a longer project.

Share: How many article angles do you have from your original topic?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Overview Markets: Part Two: Query

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

FIRST: Read the guidelines for each publisher/agent before you send. This week agent Karen Ball described what happens to your manuscript otherwise. And she is not only being very honest, but kind as well. I have heard many other editors and agents give the same advice but with a great deal more frustration due to time waste and misconnections for themselves and the writers. See her article at:

Query Letters/Proposals/One Sheets will all contain some common material but the focus and presentation will be slightly different in each. Three purposes are common ground for both you and the potential publisher. Remember you are looking for a business match.

1. This is my product. 2. Are you interested? 3. May I send you the full manuscript?

Query Letters.

Query letters are a quick way to find out whether your particular article, theme, story, genre, will or will not connect with this particular publisher. And for query letters you can send out several at a time as long as you have researched the intended market.

Suppose you have written an excellent article on the very first bicycle and your audience target is ages 10 to 14. You are thinking of a spring launch that might interest new riders for summer fun.

            However, even though you have followed all the directions accurately, you may not know that the publisher has already purchased two or three articles already and are full up. A quick rejection comes through and you both move on. Or joy, they say send it.

            Query letters need to be short and succinct. Opening: if you met the editor or attended a presentation where they were say so. I enjoyed meeting you at…Thank you for your invitation to query… . Or let them know you’ve done your homework. I see in your guidelines you are interested in… I have been reading your magazines over the past year and have not seen this aspect of your requested subject… mentioned.

            Next, the body: My article is for ages….. My subject is…. My focus point is…My qualifications are….(only if it needs some authority) Give a brief bio that connects you in some way to your topic if possible. Example I have been working at a camp for teens and run the bicycle trips… Or I have written/published…Otherwise just say who you are.

            Close with a thank you. Your contact information should be in the header but if there is anything else pertinent to contact put it here. Don’t include your telephone number unless you have a concrete reason. But be sure to have email, blog, website contacts if available.

            Set up a simple tracking method for all your correspondence: title, sent to, date, return, sent to next market, purchased, published, paid. Make it as easy as possible to maintain. One-sheets and proposals next week. 

Action Steps:

1.     Choose five possible markets for your article in process.

2.     Re-read their guidelines.

3.     Write up a query letter for each of them.

Share: What main difference or similarity did you see in the guidelines you checked?

Read deep, marcy
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