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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tension Development: Shapes

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“What difference does your choice of structure make?” Jack Hodgins

When and where can structure shapes add to the curiosity questions that continue to develop an ongoing tension to read more?

By now you have made your decisions regarding what style, what pattern, what outline, and what key points you want to share. Shape now overlaps with fictional techniques that can add another layer of atmosphere where appropriate. Shape choices are extremely helpful when including stories in your research and examples.

A horizontal shape leans well into any chronological story line—either autobiographical, or an historical event, or an accomplishment. Flashbacks can be a part of the examples as well.

A converging sequence follows several separate threads that at some point all converge at one place and time. The threads can be people or events or processes.

A vertical shape sinks a series of shafts into memory in some order other than chronological in order to come to an understanding of a total experience via several memories or opinions or experiments. An excellent example of all these threads can be seen in the movie Hidden Figures.

When approaching scientific material author Jane Yolen points out that metaphors and aphorisms help to bridge concepts we cannot see. Try writing a list of metaphors for your topic and see if they might add shape to your patterns or outlines that customize your field into fresh viewpoints.

The basic purpose is still your underlying foundation. Curiosity—Communication—Connection. What shape will best fit your purpose?

Action Steps: Read through Jack Hodgins’ comments below in italics and then answer the question that follows for your own project(s). The underlined words are my insert.

1.     The structure of a story—or a novel—controls the order in which the reader receives information, thus affecting how the reader reacts to events and people, depending upon what is told, what is withheld, and even how events are juxtaposed to create a relationship in the reader’s mind.

Does your topic lean towards a need for emotional involvement, or discovery, or revealing an injustice? How might the structure change if going from gentle to harsh or vice-versa?

2.     The structure suggests something of how you, the writer, see the world.

If, for example, you are writing a persuasive or argumentative essay what common ground can you start from in order to build a conversation of why this is important to you?

3.     The structure contributes indirectly to the story’s theme or total meaning.

Do you chose to circle around the important purpose and come to it slowly allowing the reader to make the connections or by a compare and contrast mode set the meaning in step-by-step stages?

4.     The structure controls the extent of reader involvement. ..Go along for the ride or…require the reader to remember and make connections.

Which shape best fits into your experience and discovery of what you want to share? Did you find it helpful so you will repeat the process for yourself or do you feel that the opposite shape is more authentic? Why

Share: Which choice was the most difficult for you to shape? Why?

Read deep, marcy

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


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