Friday, March 30, 2012

Friendly Free Book Friday

Happy Friday, Friends!  This week we have a special guest among us.  On Wednesday I shared with you one of my new favorite books, Into the Flames.  Today we are delighted to welcome the author, Jessie Sanders, as our guest.  In addition to writing, Jessie is an editor who shares her special skills with new authors to help them improve their fabulous work before it meets the world.

Today she shares her thoughts on how to build a better fantasy world.  Thanks, Jessie!

You might have heard it said that your story is like an iceberg. Well, it’s true. The tiny
tip that you see at the top is the story that your readers get to read in book form. The rest,
hidden under the surface, is everything that you, the author, know about your world and
your characters. Without the bottom of your iceberg, the tip of it will just float away,
baseless. Scary, right?

The core of every fantasy novel is a well-established fantasy world. Remember the
detailed inner workings of JK Rowling’s Ministry of Magic? How about all they ways
that Meyers’s vampires differ from the original legend? Both these authors took the time
to develop their worlds in such a way that you could step into it and really live it.

There is a very simple question that you need to ask yourself every time you begin
working on creating a world: What makes my world special? Even if you have a lot of
similarities to other fantasy novels (and it’s something that will be inevitable), you need
to have your own special take for your story and build from that. After you’ve deduced
what is special about your world, you can build it up into something that everyone will
want to enter with you.

If your story is set in a completely different universe, then Patricia Wrede, author
of Dealing with Dragons, has created a great checklist to get you thinking about
everything you will need to know about your world. The questions include things like
your country’s climate and geography, the rules of your magic system, and the type of
currency your characters will use.

The rules of your magic system are important whether you’re in a galaxy far, far, away
or just under some subway tunnels in London (that’s a reference to Neil Gaiman’s
Neverwhere, in case you want to check it out). High fantasy author Brandon Sanderson
has some great rules to consider when working through your magic system: Sandersons-First-Law. In my novel, Into the Flames, one of the characters mentions the rules that govern their superpowers. Rahab, the main character, expresses disbelief that there is such a thing. But even though Rahab doesn’t know it, I’ve been running her and her friends’ lives by a set of rules that
governs what they can and can’t do. In the end, the restrictions to their superpowers raise
the stakes and make the ending more exciting.

Even if your characters use magic sparingly or never at all, you still need to know what
would happen if your bad guy suddenly decides to use your version of the cruciatus curse
to torture your hero. Take your main character through a typical day in his life. What
types of magic might he encounter, and what would happen if something went totally
awry? Why is that what happens? In every scenario, what could possibly go wrong?
Figuring out alternate paths for your story to take ultimately makes the path you choose
much stronger.

Remember whenever you’re creating a new world that it’s great to let others’ works
inspire you, but you should never mimic anyone else’s ideas. If you love the idea of a
magical train that has a secret train station, then put one in your story! But make sure to
make it your own. This world already has a Platform 9 ¾, and we don’t need another. But
we do need whatever your imagination can bring us! Take the time before you delve into your
plot to sit down and really hash out what your world will look like and how it will work.
Your readers will thank you, and it’s actually a lot of fun!

* * * * * * *

Did you think I forgot the free book for Friday?  Well, to celebrate the release of Jessie Sanders' first book, her publisher, Consortium Books, is offering one special reader a free copy of Into the Flames.  Leave a comment below for a chance to win.  Then, on Monday, we'll announce the lucky reader that gets to take home Into the Flames.

Gotta Write,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Writer's Life: Dream Journals

I have very vivid dreams. I like to call them, Movie Dreams. Often, in my movie dream I am not myself. I get to see the world from someone else's point of view, experiencing the world through their eyes. I may be exploring Africa on safari, or attacked by villains at a fancy party. I've seen ancient Rome, climbed mountains, been chased by wolves, and fallen in love dozens of times - all in my dreams. I learned years ago to use them as inspiration.

It started after a particularly fantastic dream. I woke up with that familiar frustration. "No! Why did I wake up? I wanted to see what happens next!" So, I lay there wishing, trying to see what I had seen before and when that didn't work, I began to fill in the blanks. What would have happened next? How did they get into that situation in the first place? Before long I had a pretty good story on my hands. I didn't want to forget any of it. So, I climbed out of bed and grabbed a pen and a journal. I wrote feverishly, desperate to get it all down on paper. Before I knew it, I had nearly ten handwritten pages.

I kept that journal, even added to it a few times when I woke up with a particularly great story in my head. A few years later, that dream became my first finished novel, one I will hopefully be able to share with you before the end of the year.

People always want to know where great writers find their inspiration. Some find their ideas from life around them, from asking deep questions, from news stories, from re-imagining history, and some find their inspiration from dreams.  This is why keeping a detailed log of my most vivid dreams helps me to be a better writer. When I have a truly fabulous dream, I write it down before I can forget. Then, I keep it until I am ready to write more. I have many more dreams logged than I will ever write, I'm sure, but it is nice to know I won't run out of ideas.

Do you have vivid dreams? Wish you could go back and relive some of them? Do you wake up wishing you knew what happened next? Try a dream journal. Just a spiral notebook and a pencil is more than you need. You'll be on your way to becoming a great writer.

Gotta Write,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Gotta Read: Into the Flames

Into the Flames by Jessie Sanders is the beginning of what may be my new favorite series.  In this book we are introduced to Rahab, a transfer student at Grover Cleveland Academy, a boarding school in Boston.  Quiet and shy, she takes a while to make friends, fearing a repeat of the painful events that sent her running from her last school.  When two of the school "freaks" befriend her, she wonders if she should trust them, or if she should avoid them and try harder to be "normal" this time.  But soon she discovers that she might have more in common with them than she thought.  Can she be a true friend and stand up for them against the bully that torments them?  Will Rahab face her fears when her friends need her most?

It took me awhile to relate to the main character since she is so guarded with herself, but her friendship with Scout and Hawkins draws you in, revealing more of Rahab, and soon you are cheering for these three. I couldn't put it down!

I am recommending this book “T for teens.”  I didn’t see anything in it that my preteen wouldn’t enjoy or even be harmed by, but it is clearly written for a slightly older audience.  I just think she’ll enjoy it more when she’s a little older and can relate to the characters better.  I finished it with a rush, desperately wishing there was another book to follow it because Sanders really does an incredible job of making you care about her characters.  I have so much more I want to say about it, but doing so would spoil the surprise.  So, go now and grab a copy for yourself.  I downloaded mine for the Kindle app, but you can also find it at B&N’s site and even order a paperback on Amazon.  Come back and let us know how you liked it.  

Don’t forget to come back on Friday for a special treat - I have the author, Jessie Sanders, sharing her thoughts on 
fantasy world building for teens/young adults.  You won’t want to miss it!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Free Book Fridays

Fridays at Kids Gotta Write are reserved for free books and good friends of the writerly persuasion.  I have some really fabulous writers lined up for the next few weeks, so be sure you come back on Fridays and see what they have to say about writing.  There might even be a free book in it for some of you!

This week I wanted to share one of my new found loves: PubIt! books on Nook.

In my search for new authors to read and, above all, free books, I discovered this fabulous section of the Barnes and Noble website.  PubIt! allows authors to share their self-published books with the world through the B&N website.  This means you can discover new authors at incredibly low prices!

The Barnes and Noble Nook section of their website is wonderful and you should go explore as soon as you finish reading this.  Why?  Because they make it easy for you to find exactly what you are looking for whether it is a digital book for a certain age group, a particular genre you enjoy, or a specific price point.  I go straight to the PubIt! section and search for juvenile fiction, my favorite is fantasy.  I usually browse through a few pages of free books first.  Sometimes I get distracted by some suggestion of a book and I end up paying a dollar or two, but I've read dozens of books now from their site and never paid more than $2.99 for a book.

Some people, mostly people in the traditional publishing industry, complain that these sorts of sites are a disservice to the public because they don't control what is sent out into the world.  Any person, even my youngest child if she wanted, could publish their work through PubIt (or any of the other venues that are similar) and you, the reading public, could pay money to read the unedited, mediocre work of a child.  Well, I say, is that really so bad?  Who among us hasn't paid actual good money ($15 or more) for a book somewhere along the way that was written, edited, published and marketed by the big publishing companies, placed in a big important looking bookstore and then into our eager hands only to find that the overpriced book we just bought was rubbish?!  I have!!! More times than I want to admit.  Honestly, that kind of scenario is exactly how I ended up convincing myself that maybe someday I really could be an author.  If someone else can get their horrible no good, very bad book published and read by millions, then maybe I could dare to do the same.  (Only with a slightly flawed book instead of horrible, no good... well, you get the picture.)

I suggest you explore, take a chance on a new up and coming author who will sit at home rejoicing in that one sale because it was one more than he/she had yesterday.  Take pride in helping some fledgling out and I hope you choose well.  If you do, come back and tell us about the wonderful new book you found and enjoyed.

Don't forget, next week I'll start sharing some of my favorite books and authors I've discovered.  They are all either self-published or working with indie publishers, so you will be seeing some of the great new authors our world is only just now getting to know.  I can hardly wait to share them with you!  See you next Friday!

Gotta Read,

P.S. - Here's a sneak peak: Click on Me!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Writer's Life: My best advice

Okay, here it is.  My absolute best writing advice, and it’s just for you.  

1. Notice the world around you.  
2. Pay attention.
3. Take notes!  
4. Write about it.

That’s it.  Really.  

If you are anything like me, that’s not enough.  I’m the one who always wants more.  So, here’s an example or two from the past week to get you started.  

Last weekend I was at Silver Dollar City with our family.  Seeing a sign for “Science Theater” we decided that was the sort of thing we couldn’t pass up (I know, we’re nerds.  Seriously.  The kids weren’t even with us.)  So, anyway, the guy begins his demonstration and we’re wavering somewhere between, “that’s cool” and “that’s ridiculous.”  Suddenly he makes this statement, “Our eyes only allow us to see a fraction of the light that is all around us.  We can only process certain wavelengths.  So, there are many more colors of light than what we see.”  He goes on to talk about the different microwaves and radio waves and other waves that are passing around us, through us, bouncing off of things, all without us being aware that it is happening constantly just in front of us.   

Now, this isn’t really knew information for me.  I think I learned about most of that in fifth grade science.  But, for some reason, his words start waves in my brain.  I start thinking and asking questions like, “What if someone could see the other colors?  All the colors?  What if you could see all those waves?  What would that be like?  Would that help you in some way, like a superpower?  Or would it just make you crazy?  Could you maybe turn it on and off?”

So, I missed the rest of what he said, because I was thinking about all these things and my mind was creating a super hero who could see all the different colors and waves and soon he could manipulate them like sending out radio waves of his own somehow or redirecting light waves so that he seemed invisible, that sort of thing.  

What I wanted to do was write it all down.  If I had been at home, or even had my purse with me, I would have pulled out a notebook or a computer or a smart phone and started typing notes for myself.  Then, I would put that into my “book ideas” file for later.  You never know when an idea like that is going to come in handy someday.

Here’s one more example for you.  Last night, I’m sitting in church listening to a Bible lesson that was very good, by the way.  One of the scriptures catches my attention and I flip through my Bible to read it again.  Lucky for me, the teacher had passed out a set of notes and I had the scripture right there on paper already.  Well, that scripture led to a thought, which led to another scripture and another thought and soon I’m writing all over my paper and I have to dig through my purse for another sheet of paper.  Within minutes I have the rough outline of my next book in my hands.  

Now, to be honest, it’s a book I have been thinking about for nearly five years now.  I had been stuck on what the central theme of the book should be exactly because the first two books in that series had very strong themes that were straight out of scripture and I wanted the next book to be just as good, or better.  It wasn’t as though I didn’t have any ideas.  Honestly, I had too many!  It was just hard to narrow it down to one really good idea and find how it fit with the first two stories.  Well, sitting there in class, my brain had solved the problem for me.  I wrote it down.  I came home and typed it into my computer under “Light series, notes”.  It will be there for me when I am ready to write it next month.

So, here’s my challenge for you.  Get a notebook and a pencil and keep it handy at all times.  Look at the world around you.  Pay attention!  Then, when you see something that makes you think harder than usual, makes you ask questions or imagine something new, GO WRITE IT DOWN!  Then, come back here and tell us all about it if you want to.  Better yet, go write your story and then we can all read it!  

Gotta Write,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Gotta Read: TEEN Agents

TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol by Joshua Unruh is a fabulously fun adventure.  It tells the story of Elly Mourning, Hea Jung Noone and Saturday Knight, best friends who are all about to celebrate their thirteenth birthday.  A mysterious teenage boy decides to crash the party with an army of robots, and boy do they crash it!  The robots capture the girls' dads and carry them away.  The worst part?  No one believes it happened!  Only the girls saw the robots and their handsome leader.  Who is going to believe a few thirteen year old girls crying about evil robots who swoop down from the skies?

With their dads missing, and presumed dead by all the adults in their life, the girls decide it is up to them to play rescue party.  That's when they are approached by the director of a top secret agency, T.E.E.N.  The Teenage Extranormal Emergency Network will help them in their rescue mission, that is if  they can pass the dangerous obstacles that will test their skills.  They will have to work together if they want to survive and become agents.  Can they pass the test?  Will they ever see their fathers again?  Can they find the villain behind the kidnapping and stop him before he completes his evil plan?

My daughter and I both loved this book.  It was a fast read, fun and exciting as the adventure carries you through chapter after chapter of tricks and traps, drama and daring.  The girls are like most thirteen year old girl.  Best friends, they still manage to squabble once or twice and spend a fair amount of time thinking about boys all while wanting to save the world.

The eleven year old girl in this house thought this book was "awesome!  The best book ever!"  She has now read it three times and is planning a birthday party with this book as her theme.  If she could, I know she would send a copy to each one of her friends.  In her words, "every girl will LOVE this book.  So, they should go get one right now.  And I mean RIGHT NOW!"

Well, you heard the girl.  Go get yourself a copy!  You can find it at Amazon, both in paperback and in Kindle edition.  Don't own a kindle?  That's okay, they've got an app for that!  You can download the Kindle app for almost any digital device.  Go check it out and then come back and tell us how much you loved it.

Gotta Read,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You've Gotta Read to Write

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the process of writing.  One of the books that is so often quoted by other writers is On Writing, by Stephen King.  The book is fabulous, no matter how you feel about his other works, and I found myself highlighting section after section in the vain hope that I will somehow be able to apply some of his wisdom to my own writing.  I especially liked what he had to say on the importance of reading as a writer.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." 

King goes on to explain that he carries a book with him everywhere so that he will always have something to read.  In describing his daily habits, it seems he reads at least as much as he writes and the man writes for several hours every single day of the year!

Why is this important?  How does reading help us to be better writers?

First of all, reading ignites our imagination.  A good book encourages us to think and ask questions, to look at the world a little differently.  To wonder, “what if....”  This is invaluable as a writer.  It is often hard to find inspiration, but good books offer it to us in heaps.  

Secondly, reading exposes us to good writing.  One of the best ways to learn to be a fabulous writer is to follow the example of other fabulous writers.  Sure, you could go to writing classes and learn many helpful things from professors, but if you really want to write well, all you need to do is pick up a talented author’s work and study it.  Ask yourself, "How did they do it?"  Then, practice.  Rewrite a paragraph or two in the style of your chosen author.  What is different between your work and theirs?  Is it the word choice?  The sentence structure?  How do they express emotion? Describe action? How do they handle a transition from one scene to the next?

An example that always comes to my mind is Harry Potter.   J.K. Rowling's first book astounds me in its simplicity and its intrigue.  I find myself wanting desperately to implement her style.  How easy it would have been for her to over explain every detail of her new and fascinating world.  That would have been my temptation.  Instead, she gives you just enough to create your own picture and then she moves on with the story.  I have to admit, I have read that first book many times trying to gain a grasp on exactly how she does it.  To me, that is Harry Potter’s true magic.

Even a poorly written book can be useful to us who are learning to write. Sometimes it is easier to understand why we should “follow the rules” after we have witnessed the breaking of rules.  Have you ever read a horrible book and thought, “Wow.  I could do better than that!  How on earth did this get published?”  Well, to me, that is the greatest value in a poorly written book.  It convinces me to go back to my notes and keep writing.  After all, if that author got paid for their awful book, surely someone will pay me for mine!   And then I pay careful attention to what made that book so painful to read so that I avoid the same mistakes.

How often do you read?  Do you read only when someone forces you or do you choose to read for entertainment?  Start paying attention to what you are reading and see if you can discover what makes your favorite books so wonderful.  Then, practice some of the same in your own writing.  Need an idea for a new book to read?  Come back tomorrow and I’ll share a fun new book with you as I review TEEN Agents: The Plundered Parent Protocol.

Gotta Read,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Into the Deep End with Script Frenzy

Yesterday I told you about how this blog came to be all from a little event called NaNoWriMo.   As a writer, Nanowrimo helped me cross that ginormous hurdle called “a completed manuscript.”  I had been writing for years, but never finishing anything.  That is, until my brother, international bestselling author, Aaron Pogue (He pays me a nickle every time I call him that) introduced me to the fabulousness that is Nanowrimo.  A month later I had a finished first draft and the rest is history.

As a teacher, I love Nanowrimo because it gives kids a concrete goal and it helps to show them the thousands of aspiring writers from across the globe who all have the same goal they have: to write a book!  Nanowrimo’s Young Writer’s Program is amazing!  They provide teachers like me with resources to help my group of aspiring young authors reach their goal.  Last year I used some of their worksheets and we had a lot of fun learning more about dialogue together.

In my opinion, the best practice for learning dialogue is writing a play.  In October, my little writing group had a blast writing a few silly plays together as we practiced the important elements of dialogue.  We learned how to show action without simply describing it.  We practiced how to share sensory information with an audience (ie. “Brrr, it sure is cold in here!)  We even threw in a few ridiculous sentences just so that we could laugh as our friends had to read them aloud.

Well, imagine my surprise when I visited the Nanowrimo site yesterday and discovered this wonderful announcement: Script Frenzy begins April 1st!  That is just under two weeks away, so we better get ready if we’re going to join the fun!

Script Frenzy is another wild adventure brought to you by the same crew who pilot national novel writing month each fall.  Only, this time the goal is to write a complete script.  It can be a play, a t.v. show, a movie, anything that involves a full story line in script form.  What fun!  

Wait!  Did I hear someone say they don’t know how to write a script?  No problem!  That’s why we’re here, right?  We get to learn something new and practice it, too!  The young writer’s program over at script frenzy thought there might be a few of us who needed a little help, so they created Script Frenzy Bootcamp.  There is one for elementary age students and one for middle school students.  They even have a bootcamp designed for highschool.  At bootcamp, you’ll find all the help you need to train for the big event.  Stretch yourself and your imagination.  Practice and prepare a little each day.  This is how we get our brain and fingers ready to work together.  Before you know it, you’ll have a finished script.

So, what are you going to write?  I think I’ll start on my next webseries.  I’ve been thinking about it for months.  I know a sixth grader here who will be working on her own original movie script - something about the Muppets and the story of Peter Pan?   What story would you write?  Do you have an idea for a movie?  A play?  A new and fabulous t.v. show?  Tell us about it and then go check out Script Frenzy.  It’s going to be a blast!

Gotta Write,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Let's Get Started

Hi!  I am very excited (and a little nervous) to start this new blog.  The idea has been rolling around in my head for quite a while and suddenly tonight seemed like the time to get started on this project.  Let me tell you why.

Every fall I lead an awesome group of kids through an adventure we call NaNoWriMo.  That stands for National Novel Writing Month.  Our goal is to write an entire book in a month.  Each of us bold, daring, young writers (well, the kids are young, but I'm good at pretending!) start out in October getting ready for this wild and crazy adventure.  We practice.  We brainstorm.  We act silly and talk too much.  Then, suddenly it's November 1st and we start writing.  Something amazing happens after that... we write a book!  Isn't that wild?

What does all of this have to do with a blog in March?  Not much, really, except that I've been missing that writing group an awful lot and thinking about all of the fun things I would like to teach them this year in our pre-nanowrimo writing time.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Hey, I wonder if there are any other people out there who might like to have some fun writing, too."  That's where it all started.

Well, there is this one other thing, too.  Perhaps I should go ahead and mention it here just to be upfront with you.  Remember how I said we write books during Nanowrimo?  Well, I write books, too, not just the kids.  So, now I have three finished (or in various stages of finished, but we'll get to that later.)  I have been learning an awful lot about how to write properly, how to edit, how to format, how to start writing again, etc.  It's been amazing and another kind of adventure entirely.  I thought a blog might be just the sort of place to keep notes on what I learn, what I'm working on next, and maybe even someday... what I published!

If any of that sounds interesting, please come back and visit again real soon.  I would love to hear from you.  What did you come here looking for in a blog post?  What are you hoping to learn?

Gotta Write,