Book I’ve just begun reading:
Zip by Ellie Rollins, Razor Bill, an imprint of Penguin.
Book I’m going to read next:
INKSPELL WRITERS PRESENTS:
YOUNG WRITERS’ WORKSHOP
A writing workshop for kids who love to write
entering 6th, 7th and 8th grades
Writing the Extraordinary Short Story
From Idea to Finished Draft
1 – 4 pm
Fort Mason Center
Sharry Wright, MFA
Ann Jacobus, MFA
Class size limited
Cost: $450.00 (with two half-price scholarships available—see us for details)
The other day we attended an art exhibit from the Dutch masters. Knowing very little about art history, we soon tagged along with a tour in session to discover the story behind the story. It turns out one painter, Meindert Hobbema, couldn’t paint people. In one of his lovely woodland landscapes, there were several farmers and local villagers in the scene. So what did he do? He contracted out. Paid them a fee and that was the end of their services. No credit at all.
Reminds me of the world of ghost writing in publishing, or work-for-hire. One example in children’s books is The Babysitter’s Club. Although Ann Martin began the series, soon she went off and wrote her own books and other writers penned them. They did get some credit, however. Just check the dedication page. That’s the author.
Art is also similar to literature in how we read a painting. On first glance of one shown at the museum, we saw a family seated around a table celebrating a baby’s christening with wine. One man was lighting a very long pipe. But to hear the story behind the story, we discover that this pious occasion wouldn’t have been a time for such inebriation. The pipe symbolized something else entirely. The adults in the picture looked like they were having way too much fun. The woman’s clothing dipped lower than it should have, and her seating position invited more than friendliness. Who knew? Today we wouldn’t think twice about it. In the corner a parrot perched. It wasn’t merely the family pet, but a symbol. The artist was saying the children in the picture would learn from the adults’ wild ways, or parrot by example.
The Contra Costa Reading Association presents:
Writers at Work
Join us for a morning filled with inspirational ideas from a children’s author, as well as writing sessions presented by outstanding local teachers of writing. Our featured author is
Elizabeth Koehler Pentacoff
Our keynote speaker is children’s author, teacher and is an energetic presenter who shares her love of drama and words in instruction to promote a love of writing. She has presented at schools throughout the state.
This author’s books include: Jackson & Bud’s Bumpy Ride, The ABC’s of Writing for Children, John Muir and Stickeen; An Alaskan Adventure, Curtain Call; Games, Skits, Plays & More, Louise, the One and Only, Wish Magic, Help, My Life is Going to the Dogs, You’re Kidding, Incredible Facts About Presidents, and Explorers.
Writers at Work is for students in grades 2-6 who are interested in writing, parents who are looking for ways to motivate and enhance their child’s writing and teachers looking for ideas to use in the classroom.
Please note: CSUEastBay now charges $5.00 for parking. If possible, please carpool with your friends.
When: Saturday, March 9, 2013, from 9:00-12:30
Where: California State University East Bay, Concord campus
4700 Ygnacio Valley Road, Concord
Cost: $5.00 per child (accompanying adults are free)
$5.00 per adult, unaccompanied by a child
Please make checks payable to CCRA
Stay in touch with CCRA’s events by visiting our website www.contracostareading.org
Every great movie has one or more ultimate memorable moments. A few lines of memorable dialogue:
* In “All About Eve” Betty Davis says, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
* In “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy proclaims, “We’re a long way from Kansas!”
* In “The Wizard of Oz” the witch cries, “I’m melting!”
Then there are the images which stay with you forever.
*Also from “The Wizard of Oz,” the sand running through the large hourglass timer
*E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon
*Wile E. Coyote hanging suspended in air
Every scene, whether it is from a short story or a movie, must include four things:
Desire, Action, Conflict and Change. (Thank you, Robert McKee!) Your character desires something more than anything in the world, takes action in some some or large way, runs into someone or something creating conflict and the character changes. The change can be slight, but there must be change. At the end of the scene, to be truly memorable, it should have a punch – a line of dialogue or an action that gives it an extra oomph.
1. What is a memorable moment from a movie you have recently seen? Why do you think it is indelibly etched within your memory?
2. Learn to identify these memorable moments within movies and the books you read as well as the desire of the characters, their actions and conflicts and their changes.
3. Write a scene with a character you have created or know well. After you write your piece, identify any memorable moments within it. If you can’t find any, structure the pacing of your story and the tension so as to create them. Remember desire, action, conflict and change.
4. Write a personal narrative scene with these same elements.
At a recent breakfast date, a friend leaned toward me over the table and asked, “Tell me, is Mary rich?”
I had been inside her home. “Everything in her house matches,” I said.
My friend laughed. We both had grown up poor so she knew what I meant. Mary was rich in our eyes.
Every piece in Mary’s lovely home did look expensive. Colorful tapestries showing European influences decorated the floors; delicate china and glassware displayed in dark cherry cabinets. A silver teapot and tray sparkled in the sunlight. Art work on the walls had been purchased from her travels from all around the world.
I remember a few years ago I was so proud we were able to get a matching white couch and chair for our living room. But when our son, who lives on the opposite coast, came for a visit and walked into our house, his jaw dropped. “Oh no!” he said. “One of those houses! It’s white and sterile and not comfy. This is not how we are.”
He turned and walked through our kitchen into our cluttered and mismatched family room. “Ah, he said. This is us.”
1. Does your house reflect who you are? Describe the room that best shows your personality.
2. In your most recent project, write about your main character’s bedroom or favorite place to be. Does she hang out in the forest behind her back yard? Does she love her high-rise office overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge? Does he cherish his music room? Describe your character’s actions in this room.
3. Write a short story or poem showing how setting is important to the theme or plot of the story.
4. Write about the importance of one object in an essay, poem or story. How can it fuel the plot?
5. Does your character collect any objects? Have a special style? Does she or he fit in with his surroundings? Stand out in any way? Write a scene to show the answers to these questions.
A week ago, my husband and I took a couple of days and drove to Santa Cruz, one of our favorite towns to wander about communing with sea lions and pelicans, eating clam chowder at Stagnaro Brothers, and people-watching throughout this wonderful community. The locals here were able to support their fabulous independent bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz and close the large chain one who moved in to close them. Hurrah Santa Cruz!
We stayed in a motel we often visited when our son was young, but we hadn’t been there in years. Away from the bustling crowds at the beach, the motel is quiet, not outrageously expensive or especially classy, but it suits our needs just fine.
Settling into the room, I began unpacking, but paused as I heard my husband chuckling.
“Liz, take a look at this,” he said, gesturing to our surroundings.
The left side of the room had been painted maroon with blood-red flowers stenciled along the top near the ceiling. A print hung near the desk with matching colors; the bedding corresponded too. But the sliding glass door’s curtain shouted bold green, along with its wall. I swear I heard loud screeching in my ears just like I did whenever I walked by a middle school band room during a practice session.
“So the question is, did they forget or run out of money?” I asked as we laughed at the look the decorator achieved.
When you think you are finished with your writing, it might only be half done. Set it aside for a while. Your eyes have grown accustomed to seeing it and you might miss those big, bold errors that are glaring to everyone else. Later, read it aloud to yourself. Print out the pages for revision. A paper copy is tangible and real. After that make your computer corrections.
Do you have too much narration? This technique works best for your less dramatic scenes. When it’s emotionally important, slow-down-the-moment with your senses with action, reaction, thoughts and dialogue.
Highlight your favorite parts of your manuscript. Why are they your favorites?
Analyze the rest of your piece to discover how you can make this writing as resonant as your best, favorite parts.
Don’t over-use tags. If it is clear who is talking, you may not need to say “he said,”“she said.”
Do you have “pet” words? If certain words come up over and over again, get rid of them!
If you were reading this in published book or magazine, what questions would you have? Critique it as a reader, not as you, the author. This is where the “giving it time” will help you. If you’re still too close to it and can’t revise, call in a trusted colleague or pay for a professional editor to help you.
And finally this from George V. Higgins from On Writing: “Reading your work aloud, even silently, is the most astonishingly easy and reliable method that there is for achieving economy in prose, efficiency of description, and narrative effect as well. Rely upon it; if you can read it aloud to yourself without wincing, you have probably gotten it right.”
For those of you children’s book lovers, here is a great link for you:
The Kirkus List of Best 100 Books for Children of This Year
“So, like you know Nick’s mom?” the teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.
“Yeah, like she’s blonde right?” said the girl in the middle of the three, her short-shorts hiking up oh, so far.
I huffed and puffed behind them on the walking trail and made sure I kept up so I wouldn’t miss a word.
The girl on the right chimed in with awe in her voice. “She’s really good-looking.”
“No kidding,” said Ms. Pony Tail. “She looks exactly like Carrie on Sex in the City. Her body, anyways.”
All three murmured their agreements.
Just a tidbit of conversation, but a goldmine for a writer. Why? Because if you’re not around teenagers, you don’t know how they sound any more. Whether they’re in your young adult novel or in another work of fiction, their dialogue needs to sound real. Nothing worse than phony characters!
Ever read a book for adults with a child who doesn’t sound kid-like? The talking doesn’t match the character, where they live, or time period? Fake. Or lines of useless talk without a purpose?
So what makes dialogue good?
Dialogue should show character and move the story forward. Talk should be action. Can you get your characters’ words to heighten conflict? Sometimes great dialogue has subtext, or a secondary meaning when words that mean one thing on the surface, but underneath they have a deeper emotional meaning. And occasionally dialogue is important because of what isn’t being said. The elephant in the room that no one is talking about.
It reminds me of an incident once years ago when my husband, young son and I traveled to see his parents, brother and sister-in-law. We talked in the living room for a couple of hours and then took separate cars to meet at a restaurant. In our car I mentioned to Bob that his mother was upset with his father and my sister-in-law knew, but I hadn’t figured out the reason yet. And my sister-in-law was irritated about my mother-in-law over an issue too, but we’d learn why at the restaurant.
Bob’s mouth dropped open. “You are nuts. We talked about the weather, everyone’s health and what the kids were doing in school. How did you get all of that out of mindless conversation?”
“You weren’t paying attention!” I said. “Watch the body language, the eyes, listen to the voices.”
My husband shook his head in disgust. “You are wrong, Liz. Totally wrong.”
Of course, we discovered the source of my mother-in-law’s irritation with her husband, and my sister-in-law’s problem with my mother-in-law. Later, he grew to appreciate my “women’s intuition.” But I don’t think it’s limited to women. All writers have this when they are working.
And when aren’t we?
1. Don’t use substitute words for “said.” I just unearthed a beginning writing piece of mine from a trillion years ago and I’m embarrassed to say each time someone talked I used gasped, murmured, whispered, indicated, questioned, etc. so often it was embarrassing. Occasionally it’s appropriate but generally, use SAID. it will make your writing flow more smoothly.
Or, skip the tags and employ an action. (See above. Bob’s mouth dropped open. The teen’s pony tail swished behind her as she walked.)
2. Don’t use dialogue to tell information a character would already know. Example:
“Mary, you are my very best friend. I’ve known you all my life and your mother is our horse’s vet. She saved his life two times.”
1. Listen to real dialogue wherever you go. Keep a journal. Jot it down after you hear it so you won’t forget. (But try not to write it down as you walk, or you’ll be caught like Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.) Choose a piece of real dialogue and create a story with it.
2. Write a story with special buzzwords. These are words that each and every hobby or occupation has. Does your character love horses? Research horses. Interview a horse lover. Read horse books. How does a horse lover talk about them? What are the “horse words” that would go with this character?
My husband was an engineer and he wrote a recommendation for one of his secretaries and said she had good “phone presence.” This time I thought HE was nuts. But sure enough, in that industry, it was exactly what they called good phone etiquette.
3. Write a story about you with real dialogue. Read your dialogue out loud. (In fact, read ALL dialogue you EVER write out loud!)
4. Check a recent project of yours. Do you have long narration that needs to be broken up with dialogue? Make sure your piece is balanced. Dialogue helps provide a balance and is good for pacing. Need faster pacing? Write short dialogue and skip tags. But don’t have huge blocks of dialogue, either. Make sure you have a balanced story that flows well. Read it aloud to make sure it feels just right.