Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Just Write for Middle Grade Course Complete and Other Final Things

I first heard Emma critique queries through Julie Hedlund's 12x12 forum. Her insights impressed me enough to want to take her course. The video above is an excellent resource in how to write a query.

I recently completed Emma Walton Hamilton's Just Write for Middle Grade course. Sigh...I miss it. In 14 weeks I was able to accomplish something I'd been struggling to do for over a year: turn my middle grade novel idea into a workable draft.

Oh I still have lots to go, but an idea-that-wouldn't-let-me-go-until-I-had-to-write-it is finally getting it's own legs. 

Emma's class was an easily digestible, 14-week, online course set at your own pace. The topics included: Plotting, Characters, Theme, Dialogue, Revision, Setting and more. 

Many of the ideas she taught seem instinctive in successful writers, and perhaps they are for some, but the course helped me see that these "instincts" can also be learned.

I feel like some of that happened for me. Ideas I'd read about started to solidify. The lesson on settings and world building was particularly helpful. It showed me how to create a setting as alive as my MC, something I hadn't considered before, even though the setting is integral to my MC's story.

Here's a snippet from that lesson:
"Having your characters interact with the setting on a sensory level allows the readers to experience it more viscerally themselves. Revisit each section of your story where you interact with or describe your setting, and consider it from the point of view of all five senses. Is there a detail you can zero in on with respect to what a character can see, hear, smell, taste or feel?"
I enjoyed the exercises that went along with each lesson. Writing a jacket flap, listing each character's backstory and threading themes or symbols into the writing, were among some of the most rewarding. 

And best of all, Emma made her lesson easily accessible, print-outs or PDFs that you can take notes on and keep handy. I now have a binder with worksheets about my novel that I didn't have before taking the class. Each one added life to the idea I started with. 

So now that my novel has legs, I'm ready to give it wings and I feel better prepared, after Emma's course, to do that.

One other final note, we held another workshop with our regional group. This time Erin Cabatingan, author of A is for Musk Ox, and Musk Ox Counts, talked to us about using humor, but that is for another post, which I hope to do soon. It's a busy time for my family, full of many good changes. 

Have a great week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Play To Your Strengths

David Wiesner is my idol. Have you read Tuesday, when frogs start flying on their lily pads like magic carpets? When I say read, I really mean looked at, because there are no words. The story is all told in pictures. Or Flotsam, which is such a fascinating story, also told purely in pictures, I’ll let you discover it for yourselves. Or my favorite, The Three Pigs, where the pigs leave the wolf hungry and bewildered as they step off the pages of their book and then start to rescue creatures from other books? Weisner’s illustrations are elegant, funny and realistic enough to make you believe pigs can fly and octopuses have underwater living rooms.

Sandra Boynton

 For a few years, I was convinced that if I wanted to be a picture book illustrator, I had to have a whimsical style, like Maurice Sendak or Sandra Boynton, both author/illustrators whose books I adore. I thought I needed to stop being so realistic. During those years I wrote, but my attempts to illustrate went nowhere. I finally decided to embrace my own style and my own strengths. (Duh.) I hope whatever you are working on, you don't try to fit someone else's mold. Be inspired by others, but be who you are.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Make Way for Drawings

In 1942, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey won the Caldecott Medal. I loved reading it as a child and I’ve read it to all my children. Not a lot of books stay around for 72 years, but I think this one will be popular for many years to come.

McClosky spent a lot of time in the Boston Public Garden and his drawings are wonderful, but how did he make the ducks look so real? I’ve always wondered this because although the story is loosely based on a real event, he would have had to create the drawings without seeing it happen or having pictures of it. How could he make such convincing illustrations of ducks and ducklings?

For two years he “studied mallard specimens at the American Museum of Natural History and discussed duck anatomy with an expert on birds.”[1] But this wasn’t enough. Anyone who draws knows the best way to learn to draw something is by drawing it. When you draw, you see things in a way you never did before. You notice all the beautiful details, and the image of what you are drawing gets into your mind in a kind of permanent way. So McCloskey got some live ducks and let them live in his Greenwich Village apartment. Eventually there were 16 ducks living with him and his roommate. Now that’s dedication. Like many other birds, ducks wake up early and make a lot of noise. They also leave droppings wherever they go. But McCloskey was able to do hundreds of drawings of ducks from different angles.

He wanted to know what a duck’s bill looked like from underneath when it was in flight, so he “wrapped one of the ducks in a towel and put so that its head spilled over the couch. Then he lay on the floor and looked up and sketched it.”[2]

It takes some of the mystery out of illustrating to know that most artists don’t sit down and draw realistic illustrations out of their imaginations. Maybe a few of them do, but they’ve done hundreds of drawings to get to that point.

[1] Marcus, Leonard S., 1988, A Caldecott Celebration, p. 8

[2] Ibid.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Weekend Link: The Wand of Universal Power--a lesson in mentor text

A couple posts ago, I mentioned a workshop we recently held. In it Marcie Flinchum Atkins talked about mentor text. The video above is a fun, albeit obvious, way to see mentor text in action. 

Oh, and it looks like the whole thing will be at the FantasyCon, for those of you interested in that. And one of my favorite kid lit authors, Brandon Mull, appears in this. If you haven't read Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series or started the new multi-author Spirit Animals series, you might want to--they're excellent lessons in pacing and how to effectively build a fantasy world.

Have a great weekend.