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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Voice—Development Part One

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“It’s about being who we are--that will determine what we do.” Jay Kesler

Even our dream projects have the ability to grind us down emotionally, mentally, and spirituality because of excessive demands, or time constraints, or unexpected urgent issues that upend our day. It’s easy to get sidetracked from our creative process.  And get sidetracked from finding our personal creative voice for our stories. There are whole books written on creative process, so here are just a few basic thoughts that might help focus you on developing voice and story over time. And although I’m only mentioning a few possibilities this blog became so long I’m dividing it into three parts and will post again on Saturday and Tuesday before we dig into specific categories beginning with Picture Books next week.

One: Identify Your Creative Process

Creative Process in writing requires three parts: generate the material, shape the material (either to audience or form), and read/polish the material. Or create, construct and craft. All three need to be fed—all three interconnect.

One of Sarah Domet driving philosophies for her book, 90 Days To Your Novel, states, “If you do not write on a daily basis, or a near daily basis, you are not a writer.”  Yet, knowing how jumbled my own schedules have been over the years, I think the key is really consistency. Whether writing daily, bi-weekly, weekends, or for once a month mini marathons, once you choose what works within your life—make a commitment to it and don’t let go except for disaster interruptions.

James Scott Bell advises becoming “a snatcher of time.” He recommends taking a blank weekly calendar and darkening all the blocks that are obligations. Then look at the empties. Fill them up with writing appointments.

Time is a rich commodity. Take your creative pulse. When are you most alert to write new material? What can you nurture in slower stages of your day? Find your balance between create mode and critique mode and keep them separate.

Also be aware that there are often three main obstacles to goals that can effect your process. Perfectionism. Fear. Procrastination. Being stuck can also be part of the creative process too thought, so when that happens take time to ask questions to the answers you do not know. But sometimes we need to have a concrete time in order to write towards. Sometimes the story needs space to unfold and we need to give it the quiet and time to develop.

Action Steps:

1.      Keep track of how you use your unscheduled time over the next week.
2.     Pay attention to whatever obstacles block your creative projects. Perfectionism. Fear. Procrastination. Write down one action or shift in thinking that you use to overcome this attitude no matter what you are doing.

Share: How can you adapt this defense to your writing time?

Read deep, marcy

Friday, April 10, 2015


Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“No literature so transforms the reader as does the literature of childhood: shaping, molding, uplifting, explaining, and informing.” Jane Yolen


Another voice that impacts our stories is the genre in which it is delivered. Again for this introduction we’re doing a broad overview and will dig deeper as we discuss the different genres along the way. For general discussion though a genre is considered to be a kind or type of literature that shares a common set of characteristics. For example, a mystery has certain ingredients that a reader expects to find, as does a romance. Extensive world building is considered a foundation to fantasy, sci-fi and historical genres, but could be considered sluggish and intrusive in a contemporary or adventure genre even when the setting is a critical factor.

However the set-up isn’t always apparent. For instance, if we look at formulaic fiction: some categories are generally mysteries, romance, sports stories, or westerns and yet all of these can also be classified under realism as well. Also the lines can blur when two or more genres are combined like a western sci-fi, such as Firefly, or steam punk, or a detective series with romance. Classics often cross genre lines, are well worn, and continue to ‘sound’ across generation-to-generation hearts.

Usually though, when two or more genres combine there is still one main thread that carries the main genre voice.

Here are a few commonly considered genres as suggested by Rebecca J Lukens.

Realism: a story that is possible. Effect follows cause without intervention of the magical or supernatural. Outcome will seem reasonable and plausible. Usually the representation of action that seems truthful. Under its umbrella are: problem realism and social Issues, animal realism, historical realism, and sports stories.

Formula Fiction: follows distinct patterns, it doesn’t eliminate a writer’s creativity but it does restrict it within certain boundaries: mysteries, thrillers, romance often fall into this category.

Fantasy: “the willing suspension of disbelief”, which creates another world and asks the reader to believe in it. Fantastic Stories include a wide diversity such as Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, and then moves  into High Fantasy as well where the focus is on conflict between good and evil.  Science fiction stresses scientific laws and technologies

Traditional Literature: The focus here is on folktales with stock characters and the emphasis is on plot or action or theme, as well as good versus evil. Includes: Fables with brief story morals, and lessons, usually with animals, Myths, Legends, Folk Epics.


Non-fiction: information such as biographies, science, history and how-to.

Which One?

How to choose? What do you read? What are your interests, background experiences, and particular passion? For example, are you a docent anywhere or do you have a lifelong of a particular sport or hobby?

Do you write short or do you write long? Do you love research? Are you visual?

And ask yourself the bottom line question: Why do I want to write and be honest with yourself.

Action Steps:

1.     Take that same memory you used in last week’s action step and now choose two different genres for one of the age groups you wrote your blurb for.

2.     Write up a paragraph or page in each of those genres. It doesn’t need to be an opening. Pick a situation where a new reader would be able to identify the genre because of your setting and dialogue and details.

3.     Let the pieces sit for a few days and then re-read. Does one voice sound more natural than the other? Does one version make you want to write more?

Share: Which genres did you choose to experiment with? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Friday, April 3, 2015


Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The memories must turn to blood within us before the images, ideas, the sounds of the heart can come forth.”  Katherine Paterson

Hopefully you enjoyed working on the journal exercises last week and are discovering a voice or theme that you want to develop. Don’t worry if you are still not sure about an age for your personal voice. The other side of voice is the story’s voice, which is usually heard through the narrator. So first, it’s important to recognize the voices of each age category, and then hear how they develop into genre, which we’ll look at next week.

All of the below divisions are general. And each publishing house may have specific guidelines for their readers within each category division.  If you have a particular publisher that you enjoy, request a copy of their catalogue if there isn’t one online.

 Twice a year Publisher’s Weekly puts out a specific issue geared solely for the children and young adult markets. It’s an excellent resource to study publishing houses and new trends. Check out your local library for a copy of the most recent edition. Note which books grab your interest and why and write them down in your idea file, or reading file. However, also remember that the market changes at a rapid pace, so it’s more important to find out what age and genre and topic you love rather than follow trends, which can change in an instant. 


Picture books: Tend to separate into two main categories age wise. Ages 3-6 are predominately the more familiar versions where the author and illustrator’s talent merge to create a visual and auditory voice that invites their readers into a new experience.
 Storybooks lean more to the 4-8 year olds and are heavier in text with illustrations that maybe highlights as opposed to integrated storytelling—basically both text and illustrations could stand on their own. However both categories also intermix across all ages, which can add a little confusion.

Easy readers: Predominately for ages 7-9, 1,000-1,500 words.
For Pre-school-1st grade there is often repetition and simple concepts.
            For 2nd –3rd grades there is a more developed plot and more complex sentences.

Chapter Books: Age range usually stretches from 7-10, 40-80 pages, 1,500-10,000 words, usually 8-10 short chapters.

Middle-grade 9-12, 10,000-16,000 words, 64-150 pages, and usually contains cliffhangers, even for the quiet stories.

YA 12 + can range from 120-150 pages on average, (to much longer depending on genre and publisher) 16,000 words, and can address complex subjects. Many houses differentiate between the lower age of 12 to 15 with some subject and language boundaries, but accept more intensity with the upper end of 15 to 18, as long as the material is pertinent to the story itself and not gratuitous.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose one memory from last week’s action steps that really caught you by surprise and/or intensity.

2.     Pick two age categories from the list above. Find one publisher’s online catalogue and read the blurbs for them.  Notice which ones you begin to skim over and which grab your interest.

3.     Now draft your moment as a blurb for each of your two categories.

Share: Do you find yourself leaning towards a particular age yet? Why? And are you surprised?

Read deep, marcy

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