Monday, February 23, 2015

Dialogue 101: 5 Things You Definitely Want to Avoid

Dialogue is one of the building blocks of life, and of your story. Dialogue carries a story, conveys personality and emotion, and relates your characters to each other and to the reader.

Maybe that's why dialogue is one of the hardest things to write. I took a Twitter poll and asked, "What is the hardest part of writing realistic dialogue?" Some of the prompt responses I received were:

"It's finding the balance between being too vague or too much to the point."

"Using current slang."

"That it sounds like the character, not me, and that it fits the logical flow of the manuscript."

"I tend to think literally, and that makes for boring dialogue."

"Accents and continuing personality patterns."

"I can't seem to write the way teens actually speak to each other. What are they saying these days?"

"The grammar. I write like I talk and that means it's choppy and rambling and full of pauses."

"Giving each character their own voice."

"Not knowing when to get them to shut up."

"I don't always pay attention to how people talk, or more vitally, WHY."

Sound familiar?

The conversation rounded out with one writer despairing, "Besides editing, dialogue is the hardest part of writing."

This seems to be a popular opinion. One I happen not to share.

Creating dialogue has always been one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I'm not a published author (yet ;) ), but I have had editors tell me my dialogue was on point. That being the case, I'm starting a series on dialogue. I hope it helps you enjoy the process more, and that it helps your characters sound realistic and lively!

To kick things off, let's talk about what not to do, so that your fictional cast doesn't sound like the notoriously awful script of Star Wars: Episode II.

1. Avoid Captain Obvious

I love the Lord of the Rings films, but Legolas wins the Captain Obvious dialogue award.
"The stars are veiled." "The sky is red." "You look terrible."
Gee thanks.
Conveying information through dialogue is just a cheaper way of telling instead of showing. In fact, using this tactic can result in laughter from your audience. Some MG-age kids I know, who are big fans of How to Train Your Dragon 2, started mocking the Captain Obvious remarks from even their favorite characters.

2. Avoid Hello My Name Is...

This method is an unfortunate new trend in animated movies, but is a definite no for novels. What is this? Well, it's when a character starts giving the reader the backstory of their life and situation. Film examples of this? How to Train Your Dragon, again, Brave, Tangled, The Hundred-Foot Journey, to name a few (all films I love, but you do not want any of this sort of thing in your novel.) In fact, I've read from numerous agents that if the first page starts with, "Hello, my name is enter the blank, and let me tell you all the things..." it's an automatic rejection.

3. Catch-up

Your characters are split in an action scene, and we see one character's POV, but instead of showing us the other's, we get a info-dumping catch-up monologue from Character 2. Books guilty of this? Redwall, Eragon, Nancy Drew.

4. Overdose of slang

I love James Dashner's new Mortality Doctrine trilogy opener, Eye of Minds, but his teenage characters use too much colloquialism, banter, and snark for me to handle. Almost every conversation between the three leads involves some form of one or the other, if not all at once. It's like a teenage stereotype overdose. I didn't mind the "slang" as much in Maze Runner, as it was all fictional and new and interesting, and a strong aspect of the limited world building, but I know of fellow readers who disliked it there, too. Unfortunately, it's as if some YA writers only use the colloquialism, banter, and snark as their keys to relate their characters to their teen audience, and end up overdosing their dialogue with it. I'll probably touch more on this in a later post on YA dialogue.

5. High and Mighty

"And unto thee I say forever and aught..."
This plagues fantasy, especially the Tolkien-esque and Arthurian. Just don't do it. Sure, make your characters sound like their era, but don't handle it in a way that your readers won't understand them. And just because other bestsellers do it doesn't mean that you should. Eragon had a bad lopsided case of this, where half the book's dialogue was High and Mighty and the other half more 21st century. Another book in this genre my sister was reading had her rolling her eyes and exclaiming, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!" So scratch the imperial conversation and wordiness and cut down to the necessary. Unless it's meant to be comedic, because it will painfully come across that way regardless.

So there's a good place to start. Like I said, probably the first thing I will touch on in this series is writing dialogue for YA, and later on accents/regionalism, historical, keeping it engaging, etc.

What are some things you try to avoid in your dialogue? What's hard for you when it comes to writing realistic dialogue?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Favorite Screen Characters Tag

I was tagged by Lana Wood Johnson in this fun blog hop, where those participating share their top ten favorite screen (movie or television) characters.

I am not a big television person, except when it comes to baseball, so most of my listed characters are from films, and most of them are from adaptations, because I watch a lot of those. Here goes! And in no particular order, because I have a general group of favorites without rank.

Eliza Doolittle

Because accent, catchy songs, "Aaooh," transformation to elegance, and Audrey Hepburn

"I could have danced all night!"

Cosmo  (Singin' in the Rain)

Because hilarious best friend, make 'em laugh, dancing skills, and Donald O'Connor

"Cosmo, call me a cab."
"Okay, you're a cab."

Hassan Kadam and Marguerite (Hundred-Foot Journey)

Because France, India, bicycles, cooking, sunshine, and despite-the-differences friendship

"Food is memories."

Natasha Rostova (War and Peace)

Because perseverance, dancing, Prince Andrei, talent, and Oscar-winning Audrey Hepburn

"When I finally say I love you to any man and really mean it, it will be like a defeated general... surrendering his sword..."

Hugo Cabret (Hugo)

Because clocks, gadgets, adventure, determination, and quiet expressive friendship with Isabelle 

"I'd imagine the world as one big machine. Machines never come with extra parts, you know... so I figured, if the world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason, and that means you have to be here for some reason, too."

Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (Tangled) 

Because lanterns and light and laughs

"Here's your pan, here's your frog."

Colonel Brandon (1995 Sense and Sensibility)

Because carrying Marianne five and a half miles in the rain and being satisfied with one "Thank you."

"Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad."

Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit trilogy)

Because spunk and spirit and nose wiggles and Martin Freeman

"I'm going on an adventure!"

Jean Valjean (Les Miserables)

Because redemption, selflessness, and some serious heroism

"Who am I?"
"You're Jean Valjean."

Elizabeth Bennett (1995 Pride and Prejudice)

Because poise, 19th century snark, and self-admitted humanity

"We are both of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room."


Lucy Pevensie (Narnia)

Merida DunBroch (Brave)

Mulan (Mulan)

Han Solo (Star Wars)

Westley and Buttercup (Princess Bride)

So there you have it!

Here's my tags:

Looking forward to seeing your favorite screen characters!

Who are some of your favorite screen characters, readers?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Newbery Review: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz (2008 Medal Winner)

            I am not one for poetry, as a rule, much less short stories set to verse with rather didactic tones. However, I decided to look over these things in light that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is meant to be more educational and interactive than some of its fellow Newbery winners.
            The book is thin, with colorful illustrations, and contains a set of short story poems, each from a different character’s point of view. Each character is a child with a position in the divided caste system of Medieval Europe, such as a blacksmith’s son, a lord’s daughter, a pretend beggar, etc. The intention is for the verses either to be read aloud, or to be performed by a class. That being the case, it’s hard for me to judge it as a reader, who was expecting something a little less interactive. I can see its value, though, as a teaching tool for young primary students. As a second and third grader, this is the sort of thing I would have loved to do.
            Otherwise, this book doesn’t leave much of an impression simply as a read. It may make you smile or laugh a few times, but where its true potential lies is in the hands of a room full of imaginative kids.

Recommended age: all ages
Content level for parents: a doctor’s apprentice elaborates on his master’s gory job

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, go to Shannon's post here

Friday, February 13, 2015

Query Blog Hop

Hi blogreaders!! In case you are wondering what this is all about, this is simply a post for contest feedback. To the givers of feedback, thank you so much! Please be entirely honest. I appreciate it.


Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my YA historical fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and titled THE RED AND THE SCARLET, which I have pitched as Les Miserables meets Mulan with a bounty-hunting Jo March as the heroine.

Eighteen-year-old mercenary Fyr has desperate aspirations. One: To keep her sickly brother Asaan alive after they escape racial massacre with only each other. Two: To get revenge on the one man she remembers taking part in the killings. And three, to fulfill an alleged prophecy she's stumbled upon.

The pseudo-historical script promises a supernatural race called "The Blue People" will conquer her native land. As a devoted sister and scarred survivor of near genocide, Fyr isn't about to let that happen, even if it means facing pirates, a tsunami, and her own arrest.

When Fyr and Asaan are arrested, by the same controversial politician she's vowed to kill, her plans are brought to a screeching halt. But instead of prosecuting the siblings, he invites them into his world. Trapped in the nobility's glittering society, Fyr's criminal dreams and her ideas about "Blue People" quickly become synonymous with scandal. She must fight self-doubt, racism, and a growing affection for her former enemy if she's to keep Asaan alive and safe, and escape before the Blue People attack.

THE RED AND THE SCARLET is a novel about siblings, culture clash, natural and political disasters, and pseudo-history. It is set on a fictional Slavic and Asian continent in the Napoleonic Era, and has sequel potential.

My name is Rachel Stevenson, and I am the winner of three Scholastic Gold Keys and two honorable mentions, all for science fiction and fantasy, and of a handful of local awards for short plays that were performed in my home city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Thank you for considering my work!


First 250:

When Fyr was struck, and Vladyslav scarred, the world was shivering.
            A blanket of clouds lay across the trinity of nations, and fingers of chill dragged into hearts and bones. Windows were shut, as were jackets. The breath of a hundred furnaces and the smoke of a thousand lungs rose to mingle with the skies.
            Nevertheless, a handful of bourgeoisie gathered outside the Vlalonnan King’s palace, hoping to warm souls and fill their purses. Ignoring winter’s slaps on their cheeks and voices, they sang.
            They looked up expectantly at the massive windows, where they hoped to see the king deigning to pay them mind, or preferably, cash. Instead, a snowflake drifted from above to their feet, as if a promise.
            And their ancient carol soared to mist-dusted rooftops, where relentless wind snatched and swept it south to the Grassland Reserves, where “savages,” the tribal Yihhe, lived.
            The same clouds hovered in their sky, but different joy in their hearts. One that gloried in their enemies’ disfigured heads, once unfortunate Vlalonnan pilgrims, staked around the camp.
            Yihhe children, free of chores, ran out shrieking to catch snow in outstretched fingers and dark lashes. Fyr, about eight, stood on the edge of her people’s territory, daring to poke toes past the invisible boundary, near the dreadful heads. She glanced at them curiously, balancing her infant brother on her hip.
            While the other children held the bodiless things in fearful reverence, Fyr was grateful to them. From them had come the book in her hand. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why You Should Read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Yay! It's Keeper of the Lost Cities Fandom Day! And in honor of one of my favorite MG series, I'm going to do the proper thing for a Fandom Day and fangirl a little. Well, actually, I'm just going to tell you why you should add KOTLC and its sequels (Neverseen coming out this fall!) to the top of your TBR list.

I first came across KOTLC at the library (fortunately for me about a week just before Exile was released) while philandering in the MG section and bumming that they were out of Artemis Fowl. Big thick MG with gorgeous cover about magic schools and girls who can hear other people's thoughts? Yes, please!

Keeper of the Lost Cities stars Sophie Foster, a 12-year-old high school senior who is hailed as a genius in her home city. But she has a secret: she can hear other people's thoughts. All the time. So when she meets a strange boy with the same so-called "gift," and he tells her that she's an elf from the lost  lands of vanished magical races, she's not sure whether she's just officially going crazy, or if she's actually part of an entire society that needs her help. Enrolled in the elves' top school, she proves herself a despised "special snowflake" there, too. But there might be more behind her seemingly unending abilities. Someone may have tampered with her powers, and for their own dark purposes...

Okay, so at first it probably sounds like it's a girl's version of Harry Potter minus the witchcraft. Girl is amazing, has connections with the possible bad guy, goes to magic school, etc. But it's a lot more than that.

This book did something that no other has for me. Every single page was interesting. Not one had me bored or drifting off, and yet it wasn't that exhausting, Maze Runner sort of being sucked in. Also, unlike most fantasy, things had a general cheerful mood. Sure, awful stuff happens, but there was always hope and support and sparkle.
I've heard some complaints that the characters acted more like teenagers than 12-year-olds (well, for one thing most of them are teenagers and not 12-year-olds), but this story brought me right back to being twelve. There were so many things I would've loved at that age, like hallways full of prize-carrying bubbles and flavored locker combinations and magical animals and talking mirrors and fancy clothes. I also was intrigued by Sophie's struggles with being the uber-special, super-extraordinary freak student.

And of course, as those in the fandom know, there's Dex, Fitz, Keefe, and Biana. Dex is sweet and technologically obsessed, Keefe is the undefeated master of snarkastic remarks, Biana is a refreshing reminder that girly-girls are awesome, too, and, well, as a adamant member of Team Fitz, I'd probably just say something biased about him. And the rest of the cast is large, well-rounded, and thoroughly entertaining.

Sometimes the series does get a little sugary, but that's coming from a big fan of N.D. Wilson's and James Dashner's hardcore mud and sludge and grime-coated, boy-oriented worlds. Sometimes things do get a little confusing, and you get annoyed with characters for running in circles, but needless to say, compared to most MG novels in its category, KOTLC stands out, and well-deservedly. I'd highly recommend it for any readers 10+, but especially for girls who want something more up their alley that's not super-princessy but not overly gritty and dark, either. That said, however, I've hooked a number of boys onto the series as well, for the same reasons I loved the book.

Oh, here's some fan art I drew awhile back (like, a year ago) while waiting for Everblaze to be released. And yes, fellow fans, Sophie is holding Pink Iggy.

Now I'm curious. Fellow KOTLC fans, which "team" are you on?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Newbery Review: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945 Medal Winner)

"New folks are coming to the hill!"sings young rabbit Little Georgie, and soon all the animals on the hill are humming his tune. For New Folks are coming to the Big House, and hard times will soon be over. Written after World War II, the book echoes 1945 America's hopes for restoration, stability, and safety for families.

Rabbit Hill is a classic children's animal story in the lines of Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh, with perky, well-meaning Little Georgie leading the story alongside a large and colorful cast of American wildlife. However, unlike its British cousins, it is shorter, with a easier reading level, making it, in my opinion, an excellent book for readers graduating to chapter books, or for a read aloud to younger children. It is cheerier than Charlotte's Web, and less philosophical than Willows, and has that good old sense of the bedtime story.

There were only two things I had a problem with. One, the large cast was introduced in a span of two chapters, and I found myself confused trying to keep track of all of Little Georgie's neighbors (this is coming from someone who had an easy time keeping track of Rostov cousins in War and Peace). And two, without giving away spoilers, the book climaxed and ended abruptly. I felt like it should have built up the finale more. While, true to the times, the book has a moralistic tone, it is never preachy. The characters are simply well-meaning and kindhearted overall.

Also, on a side note, try to find an edition that was printed after 1970, as the original contains some racial stereotypes.

All in all I enjoyed Rabbit Hill in light of its intended audience. After reading some Newbery winners that fell flat by trying to be "grown up," it was refreshing to read a book that was not trying to be any more than it was: a sweet animal story for younger children.

Rating: Three and a half stars
Favorite character: Little Georgie's father
Recommended age range: Anyone who can read or be read to
Content level for parents: An animal is hit by a car, though no damage is described

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, visit Shannon's blog here

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Liebster Award: Where I Answer Questions and Nominate Other Lovely New Blogs

Today I logged into Twitter to find that I had been kindly nominated by fellow fantasy novelist Hannah Heath  for the Liebster Award! Like Hannah, I had not heard of such an award before I was nominated for it, until I read the description:

The Liebster Award originated in Germany. The German word Liebster means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. In short, this award is given to the upcoming promising bloggers who have some worth-reading content and certainly have less than 200 followers as a recognition of their talent and as a way to greet them "welcome". This is a small act of inspiration that might change a blogger's whole point of view, just like it changed mine. The Liebster Award is an award for Recognition. You would not get any money, or cup, or medal, or certificate; just a recognition which will give you a spot-light mark in this crowded blogging-market!

Another thing about this award is that this is a "Pay it forward" award, like a chain-reaction. Once you have accepted the award, you have to search for other bloggers, who are emerging as new buds with some really promising content which you find worth reading. You can accept it, or you can let it go; no harm done....However, if you want to accept The Liebster Award, you have to follow six simple rules which are:

So, without further ado, here are my answers to Hannah's questions:

1. Have you ever been to California?

No, much to the chagrin of my native Californian friends, I'm afraid.

2. If you could get any famous writer/blogger to start following and commenting on your blog, who would it be?

Well, unfortunately most of my favorite authors died before the word blog existed. But I have to say I'd definitely do a Kermit Flail if Shannon Messenger followed my blog. Already I am a part of her meme Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, and I love her MG fantasy series (can't wait for Neverseen this fall!).

3. What kind of music do you listen to while writing?

It depends on the WIP. My last book I mostly listened to Irish Folk music and Lord of the Rings soundtrack. For this current project I listen to a lot of classical. Some pieces I replay frequently are Danse Macabre by Saint Saens, Glazunov's Mazurka Oberek, the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1, and Beethoven's 7th symphony. My next WIP in line is a dual POV space opera, so we'll see what that entails as far as writing soundtrack!

4. What are your three top goals in life?

Well, I don't know about top goals, but I definitely want to be traditionally published (nothing against self-pubbing and small presses! That's just me). I'd also love to visit Europe, and it'd be pretty awesome to attend the Olympics some day.

5. What do you hope to gain through your blog?

I hope to build is a platform and an audience (traditionally published, again).

6. Ebook, audio book, or just a plain book?

I object to "just a plain book." :) Just kidding. Definitely traditional paper and ink.

7. Is there a particular movie you're looking forward to seeing this year?

Haha. Star Wars Episode Seven. Don't judge.

8. What's a pet hobby of yours (that you don't blog about)?

Historical dance. I love English Country, East Coast Lindy Hop, and Contra.

9. If you had to dress up as any book character, who would it be?

Well, I've been Mary Poppins, Princess Leia (won an award for this one), and Eowyn at different times.  I think I'd like to add Natasha Rostova to that list.

10. What's your favorite social media to use?

For writerly stuff, Twitter.

11. How many more followers will you need to gain in order to feel justified in throwing a huge party?

Well, I know that I have two registered followers (I may have more. Certain reader feeds don't let me track that, such as Bloglovin'). But I like to aim big, so let's say 200. On the flip side, my "huge parties" to celebrate these milestones usually just involve Sonic milkshakes.

Now, since it's step three, here are 11 random things about myself:

1. I'm currently reading/reviewing all of the Newbery Medal winners. So far my some of my favorites include The Grey King, Maniac Magee, and Dead End in Norvelt. I own a signed copy of the last one.

2. I am also a photographer.

3. My favorite historical era is the Napoleonic Era. Hence I love War and Peace. I also like studying the 40s/50s and the time of the Reformation.

4. My favorite movie is Hugo. I also like Sense and Sensibility, The Hundred-Foot Journey, The King's Speech, The Book Thief, Fellowship of the Ring, and Chariots of Fire.

5. I am a big New York Yankees fan. If you follow me on Twitter, you will discover this come April and Opening Day.

6. I draw my own concept art. I might write about this sometime. It's lots of fun.

7. I prefer mountains to beaches.

8. I love cooking/baking.

9. Some fandoms I belong to: Keeper of the Lost Cities (Team Fitz!), Lord of the Rings, Jane Austen, Star Wars.

10. Some fandoms I do not belong to: Hunger Games, Frozen (sorry, I tried).

11. While my current work is a YA historical fantasy, I also have written an urban fantasy trilogy (think more N.D. Wilson than vampires), and have planned two sci-fi works, a historical comedy, and am playing around with a weird western.

There's my answers. And here are my nominees for the Liebster Award!

1. Ness Kingsley
2. Jessica Rubinkowski
3. Brett Jonas  (she may have more than 200 followers, actually. I can't tell. If so, then understandably :) Books and baby goats are the best combination.)
4. Connie Keller 
5. Gloria Chao (her blog is still under construction, but her story sounds amazing from what little I've read!)
6. Emma at Awkwordly Emma  (I love her reviews)
7. Ari Schwieters 
8. Sarah Faulkner (Host of #TBkChat, which you should check out).
9. Joanna Meyer 

I have no 10 and 11, because all of my other blogging friends either have many more than 200 followers, or already have won this award!

Here are my eleven questions for you, nominees. There's no obligation to answer, but if you would like, here they are:

1. What's your favorite way to get rid of writer's block?
2. When did you first start writing seriously?
3. What's your genre of choice to write? To read?
4. Coffee or tea?
5. If you have one, what inspired your current WIP?
6. Rain or sunshine for writing weather?
7. What was the last book you read?
8. What's a random talent you have others may not know about?
9. What's your favorite kind of scene to write?
10. Have you ever won a contest?
11. Would you prefer to tour Ireland, France, or the Netherlands?

There you have it! And here's your badge choices, if you'd like:

If you decide you'd like to participate, I'm looking forward to seeing your answers and your own nominees! My questions were all writerly related, as that's mostly what I and my nominees blog about, but feel free to ask whatever questions you want of your own nominees. And if you've already won this award, then just pass on by. Cheers!

Why You Should Act Out Your Novel

There's a lot of posts in the writerly blogsphere on dialogue (I might add to that in the future) that say the answer to realistic fictional conversation is to read it out loud. I fully agree with this. You will hear if something is off or if you have just perfectly nailed the wording in your teenage heroine's sarcastic quip when you read it to yourself.
Some other writers go even farther and suggest reading your entire novel out loud. I would agree (just don't do all at once for the sake of your vocal cords!), but I would take it one step further.

Act your novel out. Yes, act it out. Stand up, find a mirror, preferably in a bathroom because your voice will be amplified, and pick a favorite scene. Get rid of your self-doubt and embarrassment heebie-jeebies (no one is watching!) and channel your inner main character, antagonist, love interest, and walk-on.


There are a number of reasons this system is helpful (and fun!).

1. You will get a better grip on who your characters are

If you find yourself merely standing there reading your dialogue aloud, you have a problem. In reality, people have accents, mannerisms, distinct expressions that their friends recognize, and these things can convey personality without you needing to know their backstory. I admit that it's very difficult to convey mannerisms through the page, especially through first person narrative, but this, my friends, is what makes your characters come to life.
These same mannerisms and habitual quirks are what actors use to define their character's part, and animators for cartoon people's personalities. I'm pretty sure, after seeing The Hobbit and leaving the theater with my friends, that we were all doing Martin Freeman's Bilbo nose wiggle. Just that little tick alone brought something more to Bilbo's personality, and made him feel more alive to us, the audience. You should do the same for your own characters.

Another way mannerisms are crucial is that they portray emotion through showing instead of telling. They cut out the need for unwanted adverbs. For example:

John turned towards the window wearily. "It's been such a long day," he said, sounding tired.

John turned towards the window, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's been such a long day," he said with a heavy sigh.

The latter sentence, which shows John's exhaustion through his body language, avoids simply telling the reader how he feels.
Find mannerisms for your characters. Don't overuse them, but do take advantage of them. And the best way to discover new ones and ways to describe them is to act them out yourself.

2. You will have an easier time with combat and dance scenes

If you write fantasy, and if this fantasy is set in any period prior to the 1500s, then I'm going to assume you have some pivotal dueling scene. Acting out your duel can be very helpful for understanding the psychologically grueling reality of broadsword dueling (which I may also touch on in another post), and will help you decide what movement to write into the narrative and what parts to gloss over.

The same is true for dance sequences. I laugh at some historical-set stories sometimes because the author clearly did not understand the sort of dancing that would have existed in their era of choice and write these long conversations between characters a la Darcy and Lizzie. While their day's dance would've permitted such a thing, many others, such as those in the colonial period, would leave characters long out of breath by the end of the scene!

And of course, this applies to any situation where there is lots of physical exertion. Sports, riding, games, etc. I'm not suggesting you act out the entire duel/dance/sports play (that would get old fast!), but go through some of the motions. Get a sense of sympathy for your character's situation. In order to create believability, you can't just research these things. You have to immerse yourself in them, and acting portions out will assist with this.

3. You will get a feel for the flow of the scene

It isn't enough for dialogue to sound natural. The entire conversation, and what happens in the pauses
between remarks, must be just as natural. This is important for scenes with lots of emotion. It's easy to get carried away in the moment when jotting it down, and end up with a disjointed sequence.

Now, I am a plotter. The scenes I write I have planned meticulously for a long time. But I'm more than a plotter. I'm one of those people who try to write the best first draft that they are able. But that's just me. I know I'm in a minority, but as a former pantser (someone who simply sits down and writes without too much pre-planning), I can testify that sometimes, acting out the scene you're about to write can be extremely helpful for pantsers, as (in my short experience as one, anyway) they get writer's block frequently. When you aren't sure what to jot down, get up, and let your characters direct your movements. You may be surprised at what comes out. I used this method when pantser-writing my YA sci-fi a couple years ago, and it helped me break through writer's block plenty of times. And even as a plotter, I still do. In fact, occasionally my CP and I will act out scenes together. It's a whole lot of fun and enlightening at once!

In conclusion, many of the writers I know in person all share with me an ability to mentally play their story before their eyes like a movie. If this is the case, you should have no trouble acting out your scenes. In fact, it may make your "movie" more solid in your mind, and therefore your writing more solid on the page. Try it! You may be surprised.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Newbery Reviews: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2004 Medal Winner)

I have read and re-read this classic, even in French. With its pure, fairy-tale simplicity and its sweet illustrations, it will no doubt be one of the Newbery winners people know for its story and not for the gold foil badge on its cover.
The Tale of Despereaux is about a mouse with oversized ears and an oversized hunger for gallantry. It is also about a lonesome, counterculture rat, a fair young princess, and an unhappy, half-deaf kitchen maid. Between its pages you will find meaningful lines easy for readers of all ages to understand.
However, unlike the film, which I love despite its deviations, the book has next to no comic relief, something I find necessary for middle grade. It also has some rule-breaking quirks, such as breaking the fourth wall, and referring to the characters not by their names but by some form of their titles, which could be considered either artistic or abruptly confusing. It also isn’t a book that makes you scream “WOW. That was amazing!”
What it is, though, is a quiet read, with a quiet story guaranteed to make you smile, and guaranteed to be remembered for a long time. It has already been labeled as a classic in its eleven years of existence, and deservedly so.

Rating: Four Stars
Favorite character: Roscuro
Favorite line: "There is nothing sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name." 
Recommended age range: 8+
Content level for parents: none

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, check out Shannon Messenger's post here