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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tension Development Part Two

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The point that opens a paper is a general statement. The evidence that supports the point is made up of specific details, reasons, examples, and facts.” (Author unknown)

Topic Sentences

The topic sentence for each main point needs to both link to the overall thesis and clearly state its particular purpose. Then build its support. The support may require several paragraphs as well, so those opening sentences need to become their own topic sentence that links back to the main point you are expanding. The same guidelines expand to chapters as well.

The basic question is still why. Why as a writer are you giving this point to your overall thesis?  Each topic point becomes your key points to build support for your main purpose. The topic sentences introduce the support information that follows and the examples that build up the body of content. If you are writing for a particular magazine they will often have a word count limit which will affect the length of your paragraph points. So it is important for both you and the reader to be able to clarify each point and purpose.

There are three common errors that often go with topic sentences.

1) Making an announcement: “My Ford Escort is the concern of this paragraph.”
2) Giving too broad a topic: “Many people have problems with their car.”
3) Or too narrow: “My car is a compact.”

An effective topic sentence is a clear statement: “I hate (or love) my Ford Escort.”  This is an opinion that now must be supported by specific reasons, examples, and details.

Note that in the examples above I’ve put each of my topic sentences in italics. Have I made the links to my premise and my examples of ways to build your article or essay clearly?

Body/Key Points

Each main point followed by paragraph support builds up the article’s body. The key points keep the subject on target. Use the guideline below to either draft your own paragraphs or assess them to see how strong your body is.


The concluding paragraph restates the primary thesis and leaves the reader with a final thought on the subject. Hopefully your essay has interested readers who now want to explore the topic more for themselves, and/or continue to read your material.

When each of the topic points supports each other, the subject tension is woven throughout its delivery.

Action Steps: Examine your rough draft.

1. Is there a topic sentence for each body paragraph, which clearly establishes the idea to be discussed? If not, say what’s missing.

2. Does the information in each paragraph apply to the topic? Is there any information that strays?

3. Are the body paragraphs developed with examples, illustrations, quotes, and specifics? Do you have any constructive suggestions?

4. Does the essay include characteristics of its specific style? If not, what’s missing?

5. Are there enough transitions used between and within paragraphs to make each part of the essay flow together as one whole? Are there any gaps?

Share: Did any new ideas come to you as you shaped up the paragraphs? Why?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tension Development Opening

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. ... At its best, it can be not only a propellant, but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, a narrator or setting, convey a shocking piece of information.” Noah Lukeman  

Introductory paragraphs require the following ingredients in order to establish the key purpose and points. And to grab the reader’s interest.

            Statement of the Issue                                                Clear thesis statement
            A Thesis Worth Examining                                        Narrow Focus
            Attention Getter                                                            Clarity

Just as in fiction, the opening invitation is extended to enter into a shared conversation. The introductions are also a promise to the reader that their own curiosity and their own wonder will be satisfied. When we meet that promise, we build relationships with future readers. And we can build credibility in our particular field of interest.

What is your story/subject about? Where did it start? Is it an idea to explore, a character memoir, a significant place, or a feeling that sent you on a search?

The delivery voice, like a story, includes the writer’s voice, which must be the consistent voice of your work and worldview. It includes the
             —narrator’s personae/personality
             —attitude  towards the subject
             —world at large.

Invite your reader to care about your commitment and take the time to listen to your discoveries. As mentioned earlier in the outlines, your target audience will also determine your choice of style either for articles above or for different styles of essays such as narration, description, compare and contrast, persuasion, argument, or analysis. The delivery style, or approach, you intend needs to be defined as well in the introduction.

 Author Lee Wyndham considers the three most popular openings for this age group as statement, question and answer, and anecdotal.

Action Steps:

1. Does the beginning paragraph/chapter establish your voice and your tone?

2. Is your voice consistent throughout the opening?

3. Does your language style match your attitude? For example: Witty or sardonic. Formal or casual.

4. “They call me Ismael,” is the immediate focus in line one of the novel Moby-Dick. What do you want your immediate impression to be for your readers?

Share: Which style choice have you made for this particular essay/ article? Why?

Bonus Action Steps:

1. Write a set of opening lines based on the opening quote by Noah Lukeman above. Then write additional versions of each sentence based on the different categories that could apply to a potential series for you. They may or may not develop into a first chapter opening line for your articles but could become paragraph or example opening lines down the road.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Outline Sample Choices Part Three

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Outlines? Everyone Does (Excerpt From Write Your Novel Now Workshop)


As we’re developing our story, through brainstorming, synopsis, story questions, and plot points, the outline gives us a grid in which to see the overall effect. What umbrella will best cover this sequence?

If you are writing within a real historical timeline, you may need, or want to use, some particular events as external plot points. So you’ll need to know where you can place it alongside your character’s external or internal conflict.

As you come to each chapter, decide which outline will work best for this particular next step. Do the micro-steps in stages. Then when you’re done, you can lift out all the outlines and examine the overall macro view.

Another advantage is that the micro can be pulled out of a larger work and shared either as blogs or workshop sections. And the micro can be extended into full-length projects. We’ll talk more about blogs in a few weeks.

Your turn to make decisions.

1. So write an outline first and then write your chapter draft from it.

2. Or write your chapter draft and then outline it according to the style you’ve chosen.

3. For either, review: Where are the missing parts? Do you need research in that area? Make a separate work list for later or for your time filler schedule. And then move to the next chapter on your next writing time.

4. Another creative jumpstart is to find an outline that represents your focus and apply it to a novel that you admire. Fill it in first with the story itself, and then replace those lines with generic sentences just as you did with the story questions.

For example, if you needed a structure for introducing a legend, deconstruct a novel that does the same and mark where and how the “event” is covered. Or in your research if there’s an incident for a hero or heroine that is perfect for a sequence for your character then write up an outline for it and then watch for a place to adapt it to your character’s personality.


Don’t let outlining become a chore. Begin with the easiest and fill in as you go. Outlines make all the structure so much easier to plan and to edit, but they’re meant to be fun too.

Action Steps:
            1. Using the steps above outline your potential book.

Share: Which part was the most difficult? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Outline Sample Choices Part Two

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Outlines? Everyone Does (Excerpt From Write Your Novel Now Workshop)


Here are a few examples or working outlines from my own work. For my novel (Betta’s Song) I wrote a Simple brief three-paragraph general synopsis, and then the novel. The three paragraphs pretty much fit the category of a three-act structure. It was fun to write and I had no storyline problems until the crisis. Even though I knew how my story ended, I didn’t know how to get there and I wrote myself into a corner. I only needed the character to get from A to B. It took about four months to figure out how to write through that small section, almost as long as it had taken for the entire novel draft.

Jump forward a few years after I had begun to work with different structures a little more and was more comfortable with Easy-going generic outlines. My contemporary novel (Light That Fractures) first took place in a two-week timeline. My preliminary chapter outlines worked well. But something was scrambled and I couldn’t get it. After a few days (note the time difference instead of months) I decided to revise the trajectory and changed it from the decision making plot process to a timeline structure. And everything fell into place. Both factors were already present but I turned and simply reversed the focus of each. I was so set on my first viewpoint that I didn’t recognize the story’s viewpoint. When I did, it flowed.

Another work-in-progress novel (Invisible Light) had a threefold sequence, a Planned Stops and Easy-going combination. I needed a much more structured outline in order to keep all the parts straight, even though none of them appear to match the other. For my first sequence I took a fairy tale that interested me and outlined its sections. I found a three-act structure and within each section I found, or engineered, seven scenes. Then it became a dramatic narrative poem with a YA voice.

There was not much of a market for that particular piece, but at almost the same time I was also writing another contemporary story and I realized that my main YA character loved poetry too. So I re-did the character sketch and she wrote the fairy tale narrative. Then I looked at the two stories, so far apart in setting and character and timeline, but emotionally very close. So then my double-sided outline focused on theme, voice, atmosphere, and emotional journey. I set up chapter outlines with each character listed side by side to see where the matches would fit.

In nonfiction, my new Write with Impact series has gone through multiple outlines. Originally I have taught the contents in classes and workshops both in person and online, so they have each had several versions and overlap depending on the participants. One of my foundations is that each workbook will stand-alone for its subject matter and a writer does not need the whole series but only the subject that interests them. At the same time the undergirding principles are the same throughout.

My basic question was how do I give the repeat concepts and the new content. Finally I decided on a brief page series introduction for each book. Then I outlined the specific introduction for each individual workbook topic, then chapters, and references. Since my intent is layered information for all writing levels I include writing exercises and examples. However, because of the differences between topics sometimes they are a simple practice exercise and sometimes a developed process. 
Right now I think the overall series arc is a combination of all five outlines I’ve shared. The degree varies according the focus concept of each workbook and whether it is general information or detailed exploration.

My Table of Contents for each workbook does not reflect my interior outline, but I now have a working template to remind myself what threads need to be addressed in each separate topic.

Next week I’ll outline some beginning steps towards shaping applications.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose three of your favorite nonfiction books based on which you found easiest to read.

2.     Also choose three research books on your proposed topic that you found most helpful.

3.     Read the outlines. Do you see any similarity? Which parts capture your interest the most and why?

4.     How might the style of these outlines be applied to your topic?

Share: Did any format surprise you?

Read deep, marcy


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Outline Sample Choices Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

This week and next I’m going to share from an Excerpt From Write Your Novel Now Workshop that I gave a few years ago. This particular workshop focused on fiction but I have found that the basic concepts of outlines apply to nonfiction as well. So I’ll be adding a few comments as well. Think of it as a metaphor journey with a roadmap. I’ll indent the comments for nonfiction.

Whether we outline before we begin a project, or as we go, or wait until after the first draft, at some point we need to process the narrative flow. And even though one form may work well for one project, the next may require a whole new way of thinking. So here are five possible basic forms to consider. Not only are there many more possibilities but each of these is adaptable too. That’s the beauty of outlines. They are tools we can specialize and not formulas we must adhere to.

Outlines? Everyone Does

There is a broad spectrum of opinion on whether to outline or not, and so first of all, I want to mention that my personal system is a hybrid, which I’ll explain, but not from my own first choice writing preference. Instead I now choose whether to outline and how to outline according to the story’s needs. Some of which I obviously won’t know until I get the story down. If pressed for a position, I’ll say I’m an “organic write as I go” person, who has discovered how much an outline can steer me, and my clients, in the right direction creatively. And make sure I finish my novel. (Or nonfiction projects)


Regardless of whether we write down a detailed outline or think it through in our minds, we all plan. There are several metaphors for outlining and plotting, and for now I’m going with route destination or map potentials as an approach .

1) Simple: I’m traveling from San Francisco to New York City.
Write a sentence that describes from here to there. Takes the story question and use it as a launch point. No real details at least until after the first draft.

            Nonfiction: This works well for early brainstorming of your topic in general.

2) Detailed: A specific itinerary.
Has itemized details for every stage, every potential situation, with matching expenses, papers, maps, and phone numbers.

            Nonfiction: Works well for an ongoing pattern for an extended subject, especially for articles and essays, with the potential for a book.

3) Planned Stops: A General Aim
While en route there are a few places considered a must visit, but otherwise will make other choices when appropriate, or intrigued.

            Nonfiction: Good preliminary general outline with an open area to insert a variety of examples from different sources or subjects. Also can include an example or information you might only use occasionally.

4) Easy-going: Whichever route grabs interest each day.
As long as I’m headed in the right direction, I’m open to explore.

            Nonfiction: Gives you the freedom to work out of order, especially if you have to wait on some material. Or if you’re stuck in one section, switch to another so you re not losing writing time. Or take a break and do research for fun.

5) Full-Scale Travel Journal: A suitcase full of travel books for each major stop.
Read along the way to decide possibilities according to information on lodging, restaurants, history, landmarks and cultural interest.

            Nonfiction: This is the heavy-duty version for a full book. For a memoir it might involve tracking several threads throughout the narrative. For science or history or techniques it can involve specific steps, extra research, definitions, and precise references.

Next week we’ll look at some examples from finished book projects.

Action Steps:            

1.     Which of these feels the closest to your brainstorming process. What do you think its strength might be for your topic?

2.     Choose which process feels the most opposite to your preliminary outline? Rewrite your outline in that format. What is different?

Share: Was there any detail missing from either outline that you needed to add?

Read deep, marcy


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tools: Outline Patterns

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“But the truly creative researcher is the one who asks not only what happened, but what does it mean? Not only how did it happen, but how does it effect other things? Jane Yolen

Do you notice the potential outline in the above quote? Her four questions could easily become a pattern, especially for science related articles or any other discovery subject.

If you are considering writing a series of articles or blogs or a book, then taking a look at setting up a pattern outline could help your focus, your research, and your style.

If you are writing subjects that include photographs or diagrams or instructions then a base pattern can increase the readability and interest.

Examine the best way to highlight the suspense, the unity, and the coherence. Even if your article is only a few sentences like this next sample.

Here’s an example from National Geographic Little Kids, December 2010, by author Lisa Husar. This excerpt is from a five-paragraph article that has matching photos for each statement. She introduces her topic in the title. Wintertime for Ermines.

So that gives immediate curiosity for this age group. What is an ermine? What happens in winter?

An ermine is a small animal that lives where winters are cold and snowy.

Note two words that the young reader can immediately identify with: small and cold. And, depending on where they live, snowy can either be familiar or a new concept.

Its white winter coat helps the ermine hide in the snow.

I expect the young reader is giggling now at the idea of hide and seek.

Ermines often tunnel through snow. They catch smaller animals to eat.

The first sentence connects the reader to playing and forts. The second might be yucky or upsetting or confusing and opens up the possibility of conversation to understand.

The author’s remaining two-sentence paragraphs move towards what happens next, engaging the reader’s curiosity again at the closure.

There are several facts in this short piece but instead of being dull and dry it engages the readers interest. She connects the facts and new vocabulary words to the reader’s ability to follow the details personally. And she answered the unspoken question she raised in the title.

This would be a very useful pattern to follow if she decided to do a whole series on different animals in winter.

Consider which of the questions Jane Yolen raises in the opening quote most applies to your topic and then set it up as your key introduction. Then work a pattern that will keep the tension and interest for your age audience.

Action Steps:

1.     From the brainstorm you did last week pick out your underlined words or concepts and see if they might fit the foundation of a pattern.

2.     Which ones create curiosity?

3.     Which ones build tension?

4.     Rearrange them in different ways to see what kind of flow works best for your purpose.

Share: Did anything new surprise you as a possibility?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tools: Outline Content

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Because the unifying and compelling force of a plot is missing in nonfiction, one must achieve unity, coherence, and suspense in other ways.” Jane Fitz-Randolph

Outlines and patterns become the backbone to substitute for plot in order to provide a beginning, middle, and end, whether as an article, essay, or chapter.

Basic Essay Development

1. Through creative exercises an idea develops. You shape an outline, find a focus point, a clear purpose.

2. Thesis: topic for whole essay. Think of it as an umbrella top with the following points/paragraphs to be the spokes. We’ll look at different patterns next week.

3. Audience: will determine also your choice of style either for articles above or for different styles of essays such as narration, description, compare and contrast, persuasion, argument, or analysis.

4. Paragraph: For brief essays, such as an in-class student essay, 150-200 words. One to three sentences. Topic sentence-why the writer is stating the main point. Then it is followed by support. If you are writing for a particular magazine they will have a word count limit which will affect the length of your paragraph points.

5. Introductory paragraph. Key points and purpose.

6. Topic sentences-stating each point for the support information and example

Overall Essay Process: Idea-Outline-Draft-Revise-Edit

By now you have your first few article ingredients—your topic idea---the slant or purpose—and your target audience.

Now you develop your thesis and potential examples to support your premise.

Also consider your time frame if it applies. If a biography will it be developed chronologically, by highlights, or one particular aspect as a thread?

Action Steps:

1. Do a basic brainstorm. Set a timer and write without stopping for 10 minutes. Don’t do sentences or punctuation. Just write down everything you can think of that you already know or want to know. Don’t pause to think. If you hit a hole make a dash or an extra space break and move on to your next thought. If possible do this by hand instead of computer.

2. Now go back through and underline any thoughts that can be developed as a supporting topic or example. How many do you have?

3. Do you have a repeating voice or tone?

Share: What is your main focus?

Read deep, marcy

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