Monthly Archives: April 2009

Grabbing and Keeping Kids’ Attention with Rebecca Shelley

Another of my favorite conference classes was about writing books that would grab and keep kids’ attention. The class was given by Rebecca Shelley, author of Red Dragon Codex and Brass Dragon Codex.

The first thing we covered was Know Your Audience – who are you writing to?

When it comes to kids, there are two major types of readers – the reluctant reader and the avid reader:

Reluctant Reader have their brains in the fast lain

  • Brains wire for information age- able to process lare amounts of information quickly
  • Super Smashbrothers vs. Space Invaders – she talked about how when most of us remember playing games that are slow paced such as Space Invaders these kids are able to keep up with fast paced very involving games such as Super Smashbrothers.
  • Twenty-minute TV plotlines – if it is too complicated, they’ll loose interest – it has to keep moving quickly
  • YouTube entertainment – Reading should be entertainment
  • Intimidated by thick books and large chunks of text

Avid Readers: The Harry Potter generation

  • Have developed neural pathways for deep reading.
  • Are confident in their reading ability
  • Are a growing demographic, but still a minority

Remember they are diferent audiences and to experiment and practice writing for both.

As a side note about paragraph length – I can’t begin to count the number of times it was mentioned in the various classes I attened that focused on YA and Middle grade lit that when writing for the younger audiences the paragraphs have to be shorter.

Once we deciphered the two different reading groups we focused on writing for the Reluctant Reader:


  • Lots of white space
  • Short, varied paragraphs
  • Varied sentence lengths
  • Proper word choices
  • Plenty of plot-moving dialogue

Characterization – for reluctant readers it is like a caricature – in fact she would often refer to caricaturization

  • The Mona Lisa vs the Ninja Turtles – She talked about giving characters a only few defining traits that would be memorable.  The example of Ninja Turtles went to how each turtle had a specific color and how it related to their temperment – the read one was the angry one, etc.  – another illustration she made was how it was done in Spiderwick – there are little portraits that tell the kids exactly what the characters look like, saving pages of detail for kids who would be impatient with it.
  • Complex characters expressed in digest


  • Hook and twist every two to four pages
  1. Clear and vital character motivation and emotions – she repeated a few times the ever important “clear and vital character motivation” – going back to the characterization class I wrote about yesterday – Motivations are SO IMPORTANT!!
  2. Proper grounding (setting expressed by sensory details through close 3rd person point of view)

So – I have to break in and talk about the sensory details a moment, because I need to do this more. She talked about being sure we used ALL five senses – we most often rely on sight and sound, and she stressed focusing on touch, smell, and taste as well.

The reader needs to be inside the character and experiencing their world through their senses. By using all 5 senses every 2-4 pages, and in the beginning of every scene, the reader will be grounded and hooked.

  • Twist – something has to change every 2 pages – snappy dialogue, humor, conflict, action, revelation, danger – keep it moving

Physical Action

  • Slapstick, battles, chase scenes, etc.
  • More action, less sitting around thinking and planning
  • Action must be interlaced with setting and character to be meaningful

Cliff hangers: Bait and Hook

She gave the comparison of fishing.  A fisherman waits for the nibble and then jerks the pool, hooking the fish.  The end of the chapter is like throwing the bait in the water, the beginning of the next chapter is the hook so we can reel them in.

  • Physical threat cliff hanger
  • Emotional cliffhanger
  • Puzzle cliff hanger
  • Mystery cliff hanger

Write to your strengths and understand you audience:

Recognizing what kind of writer you are will help you find your market.

I must say I was always an avid reader – and so I think I tend to write to that market. My kids love both kinds of books and while I enjoy them too, I always find myself yearning for just a bit more when I read books for the reluctant reader. Honestly, though, before this class I had never considered them as two seperate audiences, and I look forward to putting these ideas into practice.  And many of the points made can apply to either audience.


Filed under Writing

Characterization with J. Scott Savage

I can’t begin to tell of all the wonderful things I learned and of all the wonderful people I met. One of the highlights was definitely being able to hang with two really good friends, Donna & Christine, the whole weekend. We are in a little writing critique group together that meets here in my home, and we drove down together, hung out together – and on the way home they even listened to me read my book to them – the whole way!

I another fabulous friend who has read both of my manuscripts, Monique, was there as well and I loved seeing her again too. I got to see and meet more of the marvelous ANWA (American Night Writer Association) sisters like Stephani and Liz Adair – and the list could go on and on. I met amazing new writers and had classes from astounding authors.

I decided to input a number of my notes and such from some of my favorite classes – in the hopes that if I re-write everything it will stick in my head better, and that some one else might benefit from what I learned as well.

One of my favorite classes was “Creating & Maintaining a Character Bible” given by J. Scott Savage, author of Far World.

First thing was a review of Orson Scott Card’s MICE quotient (what kind of character do you need): What kind of story are you writing?

  • Millieu – place story – lake J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series – all about the place
  • Idea driven – plot heavy
  • Character driven  – really being in the head of your character
  • Event driven – usually fantasy/sci-fi – something is wrong in the world – an event occurs that puts the world out of order and the characters have to fix it.

Once we know what kind of story we are writing, then we can decide what kind of characters we need.

Then we talked about minor characters vs. major characters – What role you want your character to play will dictate how much we get to know the character

  • Protagonist – should have the most detail, implied history – we should know everything about this character – their favorite color, most embarrassing moment, the works – we won’t necessarily use it in the book, but we need to know it.
  • Antagonist – we need to know as much or more about the antagonist than the protagonist
  • Secondary (sidekick, mentor, major victim) what is the role they are going to play
  • Background (comedic relief, red herring, minor victim, bureaucracy)
  • Walk-on –

Not every character needs the same amount of detail – minor characters with too much detail detract from the story.  Also, we don’t need to tell every detail – let the reader come to discover the character through their actions, etc.

Character Bible – why is it important? A lot of authors don’t come to know their character until they are 3/4 of the way done.  A character bible can help us think through our characters and get to know them quicker –  some things to focus on:

  • Actions –
  • Motives – probably the most important in my opinion – what does the character want? What they want will drive their actions, make who they are, etc. The motives of the character need to be clear.
  • The past – what in the past effects the characters now.  We don’t necessarily need to read about it in the book, but we need to know what made the character who he is today
  • Reputation
  • Stereotypes – play upon them
  • Habits
  • Talents
  • Tastes
  • Stereotypes (again – because we need to come back and play with them in a different way)

The first impression you create of your character is really important

Ask questions that don’t seem to relate to your character at all – you might find a hidden attribute

Attributes Vs. Gimmicks – its a gimmick unless we know the reason they do something –

For example – he told us about a character who twirls his ring – seems like simply a gimmick, until we learn that he lost his wife and twirls his ring to remind him of who she was and the revenge he wants, etc.

Expressions can be used as well  – if a character has a favorite expression, etc

Characters we love: some one we can empathize with

  • We like what’s like us but it may not be interesting (so enhance what we like to make it interesting)
  • Looks – just enough to know how to recognize (I have to add unless you’re writing a book that has romance in it that girls will be reading – girls like to know what guy looks like – all the fabulous details 🙂 )
  • Victim, Savior, Sacrifice – the three main likable characters we have
  • Noble Goal – a goal the main character has that we can root for – we need to know what it is
  • Courage and fair play
  • Cleverness
  • Attitude
  • Imperfections – how the character is going to grow – motivations need to change. You can start with a perfect character who discovers imperfections – but most often you have a flawed character who overcomes some of the flaws


Characters we hate:

  • The bully
  • Self-serving
  • Dishonest
  • Attitude

The biggest thing about the characters we hate is the ultimate WHY? – Why are they so horrible – motivations for the antagonist have to be as as strong or stronger than the protagonist

Creating you Character Bible:

  • Every time your character responds, is acted upon, or reacts you need to note it in your character bible and note WHY – always ask WHY?
  • The reason? It’s easy to loose track – if you get to a point where you don’t know what your character is doing anymore (or why they are doing it) go back and look in your character bible – remind yourself of your character’s motivations

Finally a list of questions to help you evaluate your characters:

  • Do you have a clear main character?
  • Do you like that character?
  • Do they have flaws?
  • What are they going to learn during the course of the story?
  • Who are the subordinate characters?
  • Is the main character in jeopardy? Of what?
  • What are the consequences of failure? Of success?
  • Are the obstacles to success difficult enough?
  • Is the character acting or reacting. Readers want a hero/heroine that is actively trying to fix things.  Remember – your character can only be acted upon so much until they start reacting

I’d like to add that the evaluation is just as much for the antagonist as the protagonist (but the opposite on some questions – hate rather than like – etc.). After this class I realized while my main character was well rounded and had good clear motivations, flaws, etc. that my antagonist was a bit on the flat side. He had motivations, but I wasn’t taking advantage of those and making his character as deep as it could have been.

I have to say that my personal opinion is that the motivations of the characters are the MOST important and they have to be CLEAR – because the motivations are what drive the characters to act or react in the way they do.

For an awesome blog post about Editing – check out my friend, Christine’s blog – she went to an editing class by Julie Bellon (I was in a How to find an Agent Class) and got some marvelous information – including how to know when you are DONE.


Filed under Writing

Writing Conference

I started the month of April with the full intention of blogging regularly, when it jumped up and attacked me. Paul, Elizabeth, Dorothy, and I were all involved in an Easter pageant which sucked up our time (more on that later) and many other things which just made me busy busy busy.

One of those things was attending the LDS Storymaker’s Conference in Provo, Utah this past weekend. It was an amazing experience. Every class I attended was informative and well planned. I feel as though I gained a wealth of knowledge.

When registering for the conference I had the oportunity to sign up for extras – one of which was the boot camp, and early morning critique session which was fun, informative, and very valuable. The other extras were oportunities to meet with agents and editors to either pitch or review the 1st ten pages of your manuscript.

I signed up with Amy Jameson, an agent with A+B Works. Aside from being absolutely terrified, I was also excited and curious to hear her feedback. It is a rare opportunity to have face time with an agent and I appreciated every moment of it. The manuscript we went over was my YA novel I recently completed.

Aside from disliking my synopsis (which I completely agree with) and not caring at all for my title (which I also agree with, and am currently working on a new one) she told me she liked my voice. She also liked my humor, characters, and said it was one of her favorites from all the ones she had read for the conference. So, I am sending my first 50 pages of my manuscript in for her to read. I am simply thrilled and encouraged with such positive feedback.


Filed under Writing

Children’s Museum

On the last Thursday of March we were given a free pass to the Children’s Museum in Portland. There was a family that couldn’t use it and it was due to expire at the end of the month. So, we bundled up our kids and took of on the last Saturday of March to go to the children’s museum. We arrived to a wonderful surprise!

Star Wars!

Numerous people were roaming about in full costume. The kids were so excited – and of course Paul and I were too.

Star Wars at Children's Museum


Filed under Dot, Em, Family, Jacob, James, Lizy, Photography

A Quick peek at Paul’s birthday (back in January)

I am that lame! I didn’t realize, I never posted any of the adorable photos from Paul’s birthday. His birthday was on a Sunday, so we went to the zoo on the Saturday before as a special outing.

Jan 2009 Zoo 1

Jan 2009 Zoo 2

Then we celebrated on Sunday.

Paul's Birthday 2009 1

Paul had just returned from his week-long trip to Mexico. He was only teasing when he told me he was expecting a Mayan Temple cake – but I decided to quickly see what I could do. It was all very spur of the moment – so it doesn’t look very good, but it was fun to see his face! We called it Cakenizta. 🙂 My brother’s birthday is a few days after my husband’s (and both are named Paul) so we had a joint celebration.

Paul's Birthday 2009 2


Filed under Cakes, Dot, Em, Family, Jacob, James, Lizy

If I had lots of money, that’s what I would want to do

There is a couple in our small town that has down great and marvelous things for our community. They have donated land for schools, parks, and I am sure numerous other things. One of the neatest things that they do is to bring the Oregon Symphony to our small town once a year. They play in the college auditorium, and the best part about it, is that the tickets are free. What an amazing opportunity! We can’t begin to afford tickets to the symphony for the two of us, let alone the children.

So, early in March I laid anxiously in wait for the tickets to arrive at our chamber of commerce. Once they did, I pounced and recieved five tickets for Paul, myself, and our three oldest. We figured the boys were a little young yet. 🙂

The day approached with mounting excitement. The concert was a pops concert – I typically prefer the classical concerts, but that night it was amazing! Byron Stripling was the symphony’s guest. He is absolutely amazing! He just wails on that trumpet hitting unearthly high notes that left us in awe. He can sing – his Louis Armstrong impression is fabulous, play amazingly, and is a comedian to boot. The girls were in hysterics, and Paul and I were laughing so hard we were near tears.

The entire concert featured jazz – I wasn’t too sure about a symphony orchestra playing jazz – but it was fabulous! I was amazed at the talent not only the director had, as he arranged all but one or two of the pieces, but the orchestra members as well to play pieces that must be so far out of their comfort zone.

The girls loved it, and Paul and I did as well. How often do you get to hear a world class trumpet soloist in person – and for free! If I had lots of money, that’s what I would want to do. I would want to bring in the orchestra (or something similar) and let people enjoy it for free.

A big thank you for the wonderful couple that gives our community such wonderful opportunities!


Filed under Music

Snip! Snip!

James had his first haircut a few weeks ago. He went from looking like a baby (see photos from Paul’s birthday) to looking look like a miniature Jacob!

He looked a bit too grown up, and I have to admit I was a little sad to see his baby curls dissappear so soon.

James' 1st Haircut

But curls or not – he is one adorable boy!


Filed under Children, James

A Box of Wonders

A simple cardboard box – though technically the proper term would be corrugated fiberboard.

In 1871 Albert Jones patented single faced corrugated board. In 1874 G. Smyth invented the first machine for producing large quantities of corrugated board, and later that year Oliver long improved the invention to what we know as corrugated board (or card board) today.

The first cadboard box was invented by Robert Gair in 1890. It was an accident. He was a Brooklyn printer and paper-bag maker during the 1870s, and one day, while he was printing an order of seed bags, a metal ruler normally used to crease bags shifted in position and cut them. Gair discovered that by cutting and creasing bags in one operation he could make prefabricated paper boxes. Applying this idea to corrugated boxboard was a straightforward development when the material became available. By the start of the 20th century, corrugated boxes began replacing the custom-made wooden crates and boxes previously used for trade.

I can only imagine the reaction of the first child to ever get his hands on a carboard box. Surely it was a box of wonders. Why you could do anything in that box. Sail the high seas, soar through the skies across the oceans, go on an african safari, join the astronauts in outerspace, or visit the castles of old. I wonder if the men who brought about the cardboard box would be amazed at the delight millions of children have had through the years from their simple invention. Did they ever imagine what wonder a cardboard box would hold for a child?

We thank them! For years of fun and entertainment and family memories.

I give you (after we played a while in the giant refrigerator boxes first, of course!)….

Cardboard box
(By the way – I had to stand on top of the table in order to get pics of the kids down in the box)

(It’s pretty simple – we’ve already had some improvement ideas for the next time)

1st we built the tower. We took one refrigerator box, sawed off one side and used plastic zip ties to connect it to the end of the bunkbeds. Notice the convenient peephole located in the tower – they can keep an eye on the horizon for any unsavory characters.

Cardboard Castle 2

Then we built the castle wall.   Which is another refrigerator box, cut to size.  (Appliance stores are the best place in the world for your box needs.  We have been making REALLY good friends with a local one 😀 )

Cardboard Castle 1

All the kids are having an absolute blast with it.  I LOVE cardboard – I really do.


Filed under Dot, Em, Family, Jacob, James, Lizy

A Puppy for a Day

We had Jacob’s birthday party finally – it was post-poned when both boys ended up with RSV (at least we caught it before it got bad enough to send them to the ER or hospital – I thought it was a bad cold and ear infection for Jacob, so I took him in – ended up in both boys with RSV – I was never so grateful for an ear infection before).

We decided that a puppy party was in order due to Jacob’s love of all things doggy. I had this brilliant idea to make giant cardboard doghouses – the trick was where to find giant cardboard boxes. I now have a favorite appliance store! We got a washer box, a dryer box – and two refrigerator boxes! The smaller boxes were turned into doghouses – the refrigerator boxes were turned into a castle (pics to come). I made a puppy cake, puppy ears, and painted the kids faces (those who wanted it). Oh, and I picked up some cheap dogbowls at the dollar store and served their cake and icecream in dog bowls!

Jacob Birthday 2

We made dog collars out of giant beads – and I had to laugh as Jacob’s was most collar like, being all plain brown wood beads. For the dog tags I had cut little circles out of an old pie tin and wrote their names on them – those hung in the center of their collars.

Jacob Birthday 1

We played find the bone where I hid a bunch of poster-board cut-out white bones and the kids “sniffed” them out. Other than that, I just let the kids play and pretend they were dogs. The party was a hit! And the boxes provided lasting entertainment for days. 😀

One last photo collage – On Jacob’s actual birthday we had a mini family party with cupcakes for the birthday boy. I had to post a few of those adorable photos too. 🙂

Jacob Birthday 3


Filed under Cakes, Children, Dot, Em, Family, Jacob, James, Lizy