Tag Archives: writer

I met the cast who inspired me to write Middle Grade

Over the weekend, I was invited to present my book to 100 Emmy nominees. (Tune in Sunday, September 18 to see who wins.) Believe me, I was both excited and honored to share what I’d written. The day was spent meeting young actors, bands, and recording artists who have been tapped to pick up an Emmy.

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A familiar face appeared before me, and I realized it was Sloane Morgan Siegel, the uber-talented young actor who played Gortimer on Amazon’s Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. My heart filled with the kind of happiness you feel when a kid you love graduates and you realize how impressed you are with the young person he or she has become.

I am on the author appearance circuit with my adult novel, but I’m especially proud to have recently completed my first Middle Grade novel, How I Learned To Play Guitar, after two years of writing and revision. It’s no coincidence that my children also entered middle grade over the course of writing my new book. But I owe tremendous gratitude to the writers of Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. The mix of magic realism, authentic relationships, humor, and thoughtful approaches to real-life family issues was hugely inspirational for me. gg-gf2

An excellent TV show is as transcendent and emotionally powerful as a beautifully written book. Siegel’s Middle-Grade show marked their transition from “little kid” stories to wrestling with bigger questions about friendships, family, and school. david-bloom-2While my boys liked the mysteries and laugh-out-loud humor, I couldn’t make it through a Normal Street episode without crying. The show depicts what growing up is all about, and often the lessons are bittersweet. Sloane’s portrayal of Gortimer, and the adventures and conflicts explored by the trio of main characters, including Ranger (Drew Justice) and Mel (Ashley Boettcher), riveted us. As I chatted with the cast, I thought, “I wish my boys were here. They would FREAK.”

I wish the cast, creator David Anaxagoras, and crew every success.

 

 

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Filed under Fiction Novel Writing, Your highest potential

Memoirs of Teen Writing Camp

There’s something magical and heart-warming about teens who choose to set aside a week of their summer break to craft their daydreams and ideas into captivating stories. I had so much fun teaching at the filled-to-capacity Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp last year, I couldn’t wait to do it again this year.

The Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp is the brainchild of co-host and Middle Grade author, Margaret Nevinski, MFA. Just as the previous year, we had a full house of 22 talented writers from Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Kingston, Washington. I can honestly say that the talent of our participants is astounding. Modern students understand instinctively how to begin a story, building to an inciting incident, and setting tone and character. I learn so much from watching them do what comes naturally.

What I loved about Teen Writing Camp Held at my beloved local public library, each day, we met in small Writers Circles, an encouraging and safe setting to read our work aloud. Often, the writers created fantastical worlds with strange creatures, but the problems their characters faced were very close to the teens’ hearts. Teens tend to write about what’s troubling them, or explore unknown territory, or sort out fears and anxiety. When a story is shared as fiction, the peer group offers solutions to the character’s problems, and in the process, help the teen writer feel supported, heard, and understood. By the end of the week, the bond between writers grew profoundly, and it was an honor to witness.

The teen writers submitted pieces to our annual camp literary magazine. This year, the writers chose the name THE QUILL. Teen Librarian Stefanie Reddy provided fabulous snacks, writing craft books, laptops, and a good sense of humor.
Margaret Nevinski agreed that camp was a resounding success. “I was inspired by the talent, ideas, and caliber of writing,” she said. “Several pieces came from the writing prompts we started out with each day, and others were from their own works-in-progress. Writers met with Rebecca and me for 1:1 consultations, and several chose to share their work with the group in the Writers Circle. We also had a good day at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, writing about a piece of art.”


todayDay 1:
The  writers had a mere seven seconds to scourge the Teen/YA section of Bainbridge Public library for a book. Their quest: find the seventh sentence of the seventh page, and write a story beginning with that one, random sentence. Some chose to apply the sentence to their work-in-progress. Others created fresh, new characters on the fly, crafting tense, energetic mini-stories.

Day 2: I lead a Fish Out of Water activity created by screenwriter Blake Snyder. This prompts deep, intricate story ideas, and often results in longer prose, including novels. The teens voted on proposed book cover designs for Lisa Manterfield’s A Strange Companion.

Day 3: Field trip! Our Teen Writers enjoyed lessons on Ekphrastic writing and book-making with Kristin Tollefson at BIMA. The stories that came out of the paintings, sculptures, and installations were astounding.

Day 4: The pressure was on! The writers worked one on one with me and Margaret Nevinski to edit and revise their pieces for our camp literary magazine, THE QUILL. Getting professional feedback is critical for writers at every level. Local editor Christina Tinling helped shed light on how new writers can open their work to constructive critique; “Consider any feedback a gift, not an insult. It’s assistance, help to make your story shine. Also, remember that each edit is just a suggestion, that it’s your story, and you get to make the final call. It’s not like English class, with your teacher marking something “wrong.” It’s just a “hey, I see what you’re saying here; it might connect more cleanly with readers if you put it/punctuate it/etc. like this…” Well said.

Day 5: The students learned the power of a deadline. All story submissions to THE QUILL were due, and the writers were eager to have us help them polish them. Some students were finished, and began new stories. We met in the Writers Circle and shared our best work. At first, some felt terrified about reading their private words aloud. But, in the safe and encouraging Writers Circle, our participants discovered they were on to something wonderful, that their peers admired what they’d written, and with peer feedback, they gleaned new ideas for taking their stories to the next level.

Would you like me to visit your classroom, book club, or libraBook Club or Classroom (1)ry? Learn more here or contact me at rjlacko (at) gmail (dot) com.

Live in the area? Margaret and I will be co-hosting the monthly Teen Writers Workshop at Bainbridge Public Library, the second Thursday of every month, 3:30pm -5pm.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Your highest potential

Story Prompt Monday: Comedy Writing Exercise

cheezitsWe’re going to have some fun this week! A short while back, I had a writing epiphany in the form of crafting a story outside my comfort zone. (I tried my hand at horror. Read about it here, the result was utterly satisfying.)
You might be thinking, “An epiphany? Sounds more like hyperbole.” Hear me out: I wanted to put more feeling in my writing, and being uncomfortable is a feeling I couldn’t ignore. I knew my horror story was on the right track because I felt my own dread. And, I had to stretch myself in ways I might not have dared, to fulfill my vague understanding of an unfamiliar genre.

I branch out all the time, now. I just wrote a sci-fi scene last night in my critique group, and a fantasy scene with the teen writers I mentor. I’m still not at entirely at ease approaching other genres. But I promise, it’s Fun with a capital F. You can do it too!

Comedy writing is intimidating, I think most of us can agree. But if you like sitcoms, and romcoms and dramedies as much as I do, isn’t worth a shot?

Have a look at the attached image. I have to wonder: what incident took place on November 14? It must have been pretty catastrophic, someone felt compelled make a poster using bold and underlined text, and an exclamation mark!

Write a scene (or short story) about that incident.
You’ll have to figure out:

Where the Cheez-Its came from, why, how many there were, and WHAT. ON. EARTH transpired.
Next, who made the poster? Why?

Perhaps the Cheez-It cracker company hopes we don’t use Cheez-Its. If you’re a fantasy writer, come up with a food only a magical race eats in your imaginary world (and why!). If you’re a Sci-Fi writer, choose some form of sustenance found onboard a craft or on another planet, moon, or space-station. If you’re Dystopian, Steampunk, or experimental, well–go where whim takes you, and report back.

Tips for comedy writing:

10 Comedy Concept Exercises <<These tips from Blake Snyder are excellent, and will have you off and writing in no time!

A Few Essential Points on the Elements Of Comedy

Humor Writing for People Who Aren’t Funny

10 Ways to Improve Your Writing While Thinking Like a Comedy Writer

Still daunted by comedy? Not to worry. Try another prompt idea from a past: Sometimes your closest confidant is a stranger. 

Post your scene in the comments below! Follow me on Twitter at @TheRJLacko. I love to chat with writers.

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A writer’s manifesto for 2012. Read this and get to work

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m writing “to” novelist Chuck Wendig. It helps me cut the crap when self-censorship creeps in. I love Wendig’s writing voice, and I just feel freer to speak my mind on the page when I’m in his literary presence.

What you’re about to read was actually blogged by Chuck Wendig last April. Who cares? If your manuscript or writing goals are in need of a New Year’s resolution-esque shaking of the collar, a smartening up, or a come-to-Jesus, you need to dig in and read these excerpts.

25 Things Writers Should Know by Chuck Wendig:

1.You Are Legion

The Internet is 55% porn, and 45% writers. You are not alone, and that’s a thing both good and bad. It’s bad because you can never be the glittery little glass pony you want to be. It’s bad because the competition out there is as thick as an ungroomed 1970s pubic tangle. It’s good because, if you choose to embrace it, you can find a community. A community of people who will share their neuroses and their drink recipes. And their, ahem, “fictional” methods for disposing of bodies.

2.You Better Put The “Fun” In “Fundamentals”

A lot of writers try to skip over the basics and leap fully-formed out of their own head-wombs. Bzzt. Wrongo. Learn your basics. Mix up lose/loose? They’re/their/there? Don’t know where to plop that comma, or how to use those quotation marks? That’s like trying to be a world-class chef but you don’t know how to cook a goddamn egg. Writing is a mechanical act first and foremost. It is the process of putting words after other words in a way that doesn’t sound or look like inane gibberish.

3.Skill Over Talent

Some writers do what they do and are who they are because they were born with some magical storytelling gland that they can flex like their pubococcygeus, ejaculating brilliant storytelling and powerful linguistic voodoo with but a twitch of their taint. This is a small minority of all writers, which means you’re probably not that. The good news is, even talent dies without skill. You can practice what you do. You practice it by writing, by reading, by living a life worth writing about. You must always be learning, gaining, improving.

Read the post in its entirety here

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Sell More Books: Good Writing vs. Creating Urgency

Writing “well” should be good enough. Good enough to score an agent and a publishing contract. Good enough to entice a potential reader to move past page one, and keep reading, breaking only for food and the uncontrollable urge to refer your book to everyone with an inbox.

Author and mighty story expert and deconstructrix Lisa Cron (read her bio below–be prepared to be impressed) says the goal of learning to write well is a myth. A myth! Phew. (Does that mean I can produce a dungheap and watch it skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list? Assuming I publish it under an anonymous pen name, that is.)

Ms. Cron points out how the myth of “good writing” is perpetuated: “Everyone says it – writing books, professors, writing groups, editors, agents, even readers. It sounds so logical, who’d argue?”

Makes sense to me. However, as Cron states, “The first goal of any story is to anesthetize the part of the reader’s brain that knows it is a story. When we get lost in a good story, it feels like reality–literally. Recent research has shown that when we read about an action, the same areas of the brain light up as when we actually experience that action. We really are there. As a result, the last thing a reader is able to do (or wants to do for that matter) is analyze how, exactly, the story is creating such a perfect rendition of reality. And so when asked what it is that grabs us about a great story, we say it was the luscious language, the intriguingly complex characters, the witty dialogue, the fresh voice. In other words, we say it’s well written when what we really mean is that it felt like life.”

Doesn’t that sound like good writing?

“Writing well is the handmaiden of story,” Cron says. “The real goal of every writer is to learn to create that sense of urgency that makes the reader want to know what happens next. This is not triggered by dazzling wordsmithing, but by mastering story itself, and understanding what people are wired to crave from every story they hear.”

To put it more plainly, “We turn to story to shed light on the thorny internal problems we face. Stories teach us how to make sense of ourselves, others and the world at large by allowing us to vicariously experience myriad “what ifs.” After all, life is tricky and rife with risk, so what better way to prepare to navigate the one place we’re all headed — the future — than story?”

Lisa Cron’s top three tips for creating a sense of urgency:

1. Make sure you know how your story ends; ask yourself, how
does my protagonist’s world view have to shift in order for her to achieve her goal?
What does she have to realize that, most likely, she’s spent her whole
life avoiding? Then don’t hold back — sew this internal conflict into the
story, beginning on the first page, if possible, in the first sentence.

2. Always remember, what draws people into a story is that sense that all is not as it seems. The reader is all too familiar with “business as
usual” (read: ho hum), a story is about what happens when something out of the ordinary bursts through that predictable pattern and forces your protagonist to deal with it or else – even if it begins with something as seemingly mundane as the mail arriving a half hour late.

3. Let us know that something specific is at stake, and don’t be shy about telling us what it is, and how it’s affecting your protagonist. Make us feel it by letting us know what it forces your protagonist to confront. How does it differ from her expectations? What action does it trigger?

After all, stories are about how the unexpected forces us to confront our beliefs about ourselves, the world and others – and find out what we’re really made of.

What’s the last book that swept you away? What did it teach you about life, or better yet, yourself?

Lisa Cron spent a decade in publishing, first at W.W. Norton in New York, then at John Muir Publications in Santa Fe, NM, before turning to TV. She’s worked on shows for Fox, Bravo and Miramax, and has been supervising producer on shows for Court TV and Showtime. She’s been a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency in NYC, and for Village Roadshow, Icon, The Don Buchwald Agency and others in LA. She’s featured in Final Draft’s book, Ask The Pros: Screenwriting. Her personal essays have appeared on Freshyarn.com and the Huffington Post, and she has performed them at the 78th Street Playhouse in NYC, and in LA at Sit ‘n Spin, Spark!, Word-A-Rama, Word Nerd and Melt in Your Mout (a monthly personal essay series she co-produced). For years she’s worked one-on-one with writers, producers and agents developing book and movie projects. Lisa has also been a literary agent and for the past five years, an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where she currently teaches. Her book, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, will be published by Ten Speed Press, Summer 2012.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Editing Fiction for Intelligent Readers (No Spoon-feeding Allowed.)

Kristen Lamb just hit me over the head. I’ve been contemplating an issue with my fiction writing lately, namely the balance between “poetic” description (of scenes, characters’ appearance, sex, etc.) and maintaining straight-forward clarity to allow my reader to build her own visual as the story unfolds.

Often I think I’m illuminating my reader, when merely I’ve employed “qualifiers”—See below why qualifying is akin to spoon-feeding the reader.

Sure, we’ve all been transported by lush, decorative (adjective-heavy) explorations of setting and of senses awakened (and wouldn’t we love to leave such a lasting impression on our beloved reader?)

And not so coincidentally, there have been fast-moving stories, tightly wrought and to the point, and when we put the book down, we walked away with a firm idea of character and place, without the author ever having spelled it out. How can we, as fiction writers, achieve balance?

As Lamb points out, “Editors are like engineers. We look at a writer’s race car (the manuscript) and look for parts that will cause drag, slow down momentum, or cause so much friction that a fiery crash or a dead engine is inevitable.” Those superfluous words slow the reader down—the adverbs and qualifiers, and nasty instances of showing instead of telling—amount to treating the reader “like a moron,” Lamb says in her post, Deadly Sin #7.

Lamb throws us a bone, bless her; “I would wager that most of us do not sit up all night thinking of ways to treat our readers like they’re stupid.  Yet, it is a common
problem, especially with newer writers who are still learning the craft. All of us can slip into these nasty habits, if we aren’t mindful.”

Let’s look at highlights from Kristen Lamb’s post:

Offender #1—Adverb Abuse

Here is a news flash. Not all adverbs are evil…just most of them. Adverbs are notorious culprits for stating the obvious. “She smiled happily.” Um, yeah. “He yelled loudly.” As opposed to yelling softly? To be blunt, most adverbs are superfluous and weaken the writing. Find the strongest verb and then leave it alone.

The ONLY time an adverb is acceptable is when it is there to denote some essence that is not inherent in the verb.

For example: She whispered quietly. Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly?

Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? The adverb conspiratorially tells us of a very specific type of whisper, and is not a quality that is necessarily implied by the verb.

Offender #2—Qualifiers

It is really unnecessary to qualify. We get it. Using qualifiers is similar to adding in needless adverbs. If we have just written a scene about a heated argument, trust me, our characters don’t need to “slam the door in frustration” (yep…got it) or “scowl with disapproval” (uh-huh) or “cry in bitter disappointment” (gimme a break).

The qualifiers add nothing but a cluster of extra words that bogs down the prose.  If someone slams the door right after a heated scene of arguing, the reader gets that the
character is angry, frustrated, upset.

Like adverbs, it is perfectly okay to use qualifiers, but it’s best to employ them very sparingly (and only ones that are super awesome). Allow your writing to carry the scene.

Dialogue and narrative should be enough for the reader to ascertain if a character is angry, hurt, happy, etc. If it isn’t, then forget the qualifiers and work on the strength of the scene.

What are your thoughts? What makes you put down a book? What methods transport you?

Kristen Lamb’s best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Lamb’s methods teach you how to make building your author platform fun. She helps writers change approach, not personality.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story

Great books are filled with conflict, and great characters who learn important lessons.

Writer and all-around-funny Jenny Hansen’s clever tips for Dirty Fighting Techniques can be applied to your main character’s friend, family member or a significant other…whoever he or she is in conflict.
Hansen asserts, “Every entry on the Dirty Fighting List is guaranteed to make the other person see red.” If you’re writing fiction, anger and tension is a fantastic vehicle to move your story quickly and appropriately introduce backstory. The following are excerpts from her post.

One difficulty with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples may be excellent, your characters would not necessarily say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to your character?

One answer is to make him or her fight.

Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if there’s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. The easiest way to pave the road is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want.

DON’T give it to them.
Or at least, don’t give it too soon.

Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give it to them!

This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found myriad ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions:

  1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
  2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
  3. How did the character’s parents fight?
  4. How did the character’s parents interact with him or her?
  5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?

All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is “broken” and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).

Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING IT ON.

Below are Jenny Hansen’s top five Dirty Fighting Techniques for adding tension and plotting options to your story. (Get ready to flex your sarcasm muscle – which is always used in a dirty fight.)

#1 – Triangulating: Don’t leave the issue between you and your
conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull
everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you haven’t spoken to, yet).

Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Let’s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.

If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, “Let’s watch the other two people fight.” Good times.

#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument
to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.

Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. But, the fight better be about something that really, really matters.

Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When you’re moving from the main issue to what the REAL issue is (often happens at the end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!

#3 – Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it can’t
be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.

Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I can’t depend on you, I don’t trust you, you’ve let me down.

You noticed how dirty those last three statements were, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?

#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able
to respond or least expects an argument.

Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything
with high stakes. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.

#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down.

Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless, but here’s some scenarios that come to my mind.

The main character could:

  • Realize the universal truth in fighting: the person who says “no” always has the power. Perhaps your MC will change their motivation so that the other character’s “no” doesn’t bother them so much.
  • Learn never to accept “no” from someone who doesn’t have the power to say “yes.” In other words, your MC could learn to stand up for they really want and find a way around their primary obstacle.
  • Find a way for there to be two winners. This a continuation of the point above

What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!

Jenny Hansen’s creative life is filled with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, and short stories. Find Jenny on Twitter @jhansenwrites, read her blog or look for her over on the Writers In The Storm blog.

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