All posts by loisdbrown2013

Keeping it Real

There’s more to writing “tween” books than making characters come to life, crafting unique plots, and weaving suspense and humor throughout.

You also have to keep up with the times—what’s cool nowadays? What do nine to thirteen year olds think about? Are you using phrases or similes that relate to them?

This concept became obvious to me a few weeks ago when my husband and I decided to take my kids on a hike in Southern Utah.

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We were in an area with lots of natural red-rock formations. Some of them were high up on mountain tops, like the “elephant rock.” Other face-like formations were on the sides of dangerous cliffs. There was one outcropping of rocks on the top of a plateau, however, that was within our reach. By the locals it’s called the “milk bottles.”

“Huh? Milk bottles?” my kids asked. “What are those?”

It’s true. My children have never seen a milk bottle before. To them, milk comes in one gallon plastic jugs at the local grocery store.

We pointed to where the milk bottles were. They couldn’t see them. We then explained the precise location. Still nothing. Then we did one simple thing that changed their entire perspective.

“Think of them as water bottles,” I said.

“Oh,” my children said, “we can see them now!”

So, in the morning hours of that late summer day, I hiked, with my husband and children, to the “water bottles.”

Fifty years ago kids would have been stumped if you’d called them water bottles. Who drank their water out of bottles? But in 2014, that’s what our kids know.

One word can make all the difference.

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Morphing: In books and real life

animorphsMorphing characters (not to be confused with morphling which I learned is a powerful painkiller) seems so easy to do. A character begins as one person and turns into someone or something else. There is a popular MG series based on this concept called Animorphs.

In real life, however, morphing is not so simple. I have two children that are morphing into something new at this graduation time.

Sixth grade graduation
Sixth grade graduation

My sixth grader will be entering junior high next year. It always amazes me how much change happens in a tween’s life as they move from elementary school to junior high. Some of the changes are great. Others not so much.

Second of all, my oldest is graduating from high school and moving onto college. It’s a big change that is laden with many bittersweet emotions–excitement, regret, hope, worry, etc. She’s going to be moving out on her own, which is going to be so awesome for her, but she is so much fun and responsible that I am really going to miss her.

Senior Grad announcement.
Senior Grad announcement

 

In writing, when we morph a character into something else, the idea is that the transition needs to be seamless. Sometimes the morphing takes a while, like a person slowly becomes someone else over time. An example of this is in the classic book, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Other times, the character morphs abruptly like going from a teenage boy into a werewolf. I’m sure you all know a book or two where this happens. If not, ask yourself where you’ve been for the last ten years. 🙂

Regardless, to make a seamless transition there needs to be preparation, build up, and a clear explanation of how it happens. If not, it doesn’t sit well with your reader.

My husband and I were listening to an audio book once when, at the very end of the story, the author had written herself into a corner. So what did she do? The main character all of a sudden realized she had ESP and talked to the mind of another character to get out of the climatic problem.

It BOMBED!

Just as I have tried to prepare my real children, build them up, and explain (as best I could) what the new stage of their lives will bring, we can do the same with our characters, only we have a lot more control (which, let’s be honest, is really nice sometimes.)

Plot Like a Snowshoe Expert

snowshoe blogThe problem with snowshoeing is that you can’t expect your feet to do their normal thing. The whole “one foot ahead of the other “ concept is not applicable when you have 3-foot long tennis rackets strapped to your boots (at least that is what it feels like).

Instead, you have to keep track of where both feet are at all times. This concept came to me a few weeks ago when my husband and I stole away for a snowshoe adventure.

It was my hubby’s b-day, and for his present we trekked through the snow (in the dark with spelunking lights on our foreheads) to stay the night at our “mountain resort.” (Did you catch the sarcasm?) It’s actually a quaint little cabin that runs off of propane and a most-of-the-time broken solar panel.

So how does this relate to writing? One word: plotting.

Imagine your left foot as “cause” and your right foot as “effect.” As you move forward, the interplay between cause and effect is crucial. Each chapter, each situation, should involve action. We all know that. But when writing, do we remember to ask ourselves, “what is the cause of this action (the catalyst), and what was the effect (or consequence) of it?”

snowshoe blog 2It’s not necessarily the action that propels the plot forward, it’s the cause and effect of that action. Simply put, the effect of the last intense situation causes the next bit of adventure. In your novel, don’t let things happen “just because.” Tweens can sniff out a weak plot just as much as adults can.

If you forget to keep track of your cause and effect (a.k.a. left and right foot), you could easily end up face down in a snow bank. Trust me, I know. 🙂

Breaking the Board . . . or Not

My son is now a yellow belt. The last feat he had to complete before shedding his beginner belt was to break a pine board. (No, not balsa wood.)

He was nervous. You don’t get to try it until the actual day of testing, and then you only get three attempts. To see what happened, you’ll have to click on the video below. (It’s 19 seconds—not a big time investment.)

In addition to the excitement of the day, I learned a lesson that I (of course) related to writing. To break a board, you cannot aim for the board. You’ll never succeed. You have to aim for a spot past the board.

It’s brilliant the way our brain works. Without us even having to tell it to, our brain slows the body down a little bit before getting to the target for which we’re aiming. It’s a good thing too when you’re walking toward the edge of a cliff.

However, at times that same “safety mechanism” limits us. In martial arts, if you aim for the board, your foot will hit the board but not break it. When you aim a few inches past the board, then you break it.

As authors of tween books, if we simply aim “to write a book”  we might not hit our potential. On the other hand, if our goal is to tell a story, one that makes kids laugh, think, cry, and stay up late reading under the covers, then we will succeed.

My goal in 2014 is not to write books, but to tell stories. Join with me in aiming past the board.

What I learned picking berries

Berry5A few weeks back my family took a four-wheel ride on some mountain roads. Along the way, we noticed the trail was lined with green, leafy wild raspberry and thimbleberry bushes. The fruit growing on them was perfectly ripe and ready to eat.

All six of us hopped off our machines and began picking. My two youngest were the most energetic. Yes, there were a number of thorns, and yes, the berries were not as large as those we buy in the grocery store, but it felt so amazing to have found this wild fruit that otherwise might have dried on the vine.

As we continued on our way, my mind started making an analogy between indie publishing and wild berries. (Yes, I am slightly obsessed.)

berry 2Indie-published books are like wild berries growing without the help of commercial farms (the big six publishers) and fertilizers (marketing budgets). And while there are “thorns” in the indie publishing field of which readers must be wary (books published without any thought to professionalism), there are so many other ripe and delicious  books ready to be picked.

Many books that are independently published don’t fit into the major publishers’ “norm,” either in size, genre, or whatever. Without the possibility of indie publishing, many thriving, non-mainstream books might have dried up on someone’s hard drive, lost forever.

So what does this have to do with “tween” books? Depending on what is popular, certain genres don’t get as much interest from agents and publishers looking for “the next big thing.” Several years ago, it was very difficult to generate interest in a middle grade book. At least that was my experience and that of some of my associates. Everything being published was young adult. (According to an agent I know, tables have definitely turned but that is not the point of this blog.)

berry 1The point is that good books are so vital to the education of our youth. Reading both non-fiction and fiction at a young age develops the mind and prepares it for bigger and better things. With independent publishing alive and well, there will always be a plethora of books for our pre-teens and teens to choose from, regardless of what is the “hot” genre at the moment.

By having both successful traditional publishers and flourishing indie writers, it’s like having a system of checks and balances in the world of books. Some readers will go to the grocery store for their large, mass produced berries (which can be a very good thing.) Others will seek out their own patch of wild berries at indie bookstores and online retailers. And many will choose to gather from both sources—the best from both words.

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What do you think about the vitality of both traditional and independently published books and what that means to the “tween” genre?