Author Archives: Rondi Frieder

Create Tension on Every Page

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

I don’t know about you, but I have an entire shelf in my writing studio packed with “half-read” books on craft. I buy them with the best intentions, but here’s what actually happens: I start the book, read four or five or six chapters, do many of the suggested exercises, feel inspired, and go back to revising my novel. I tell myself I’ll revisit the “craft book,” but rarely do. Until now. A few weeks ago, I took Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK back off the shelf and flipped it open. And believe it or not,  I read every single page and completed every single exercise. No joke.

But why this book? And why now?” Here’s what I think happened. 1. My novel was ready for this level of revision. It had been edited and revised many times, but was missing the icing on the cake – the extra pizzazz and sparkle needed to draw my readers in. 2. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK is a workbook and invites you to write inside it. It has tons of blank spaces and lines. The book speaks to you and says, “Hey, let’s think more deeply about your characters, your plot, your setting. Go ahead – do it. Right now. And I did.

I sat at my desk, pen in hand, and poured through the exercises. I changed the motivations of secondary characters, made my protagonist go to her “third” level of emotion, and amped up the action wherever I could. But the most valuable suggestion came at the end of the workbook where I was challenged to create emotional tension on every page. This was the most elaborate exercise of all and could not be done in the workbook. I had to work with the actual manuscript and do the editing, one page at a time, out of order. One writing friend said she printed her manuscript, threw the pages on the floor, and gathered them up in a mishmash. This seemed a bit messy to me, so I switched on the teacher part of my brain and came up with a plan. I would make a make a graph! I went online, printed out a rectangular chart of squares numbered 1-200, and got to work.

Next, I took my yellow highlighter and colored in a square at random – 104. Then I opened my computer, pulled up my novel, and scrolled down to that exact page. I read slowly and critically, editing specifically for micro-tension. When I was happy with the revision, I grabbed my marker and found another square­ – 185- and repeated the process. Then I picked 36 and went to a totally different place in the book. It was like playing bingo or doing a jigsaw puzzle.

And here’s the exciting part. Along with editing for tension, I was able to accomplish a number of other editing tasks. I shortened sentences, got rid of unnecessary dialogue, found (and deleted) repetitive words, increased my use of metaphors and corrected punctuation. I also found a number of typos – ugh! It was exhilarating, despite a few snafus. The main one was page changes. After editing out complete paragraphs, or even a sentence or two, my page numbers were no longer accurate. I would go to page 32 and discover that it now contained the content from page 33, which had already been edited. Another issue was stopping myself from going on to the next page. It was so tempting to finish a chapter! But jumping around in your story is key with this exercise. It makes you hone in on a scene and make it the best it can be.

Do you have books on craft collecting dust on your shelves? Take one off the shelf and get reading. Do it. Right now!

Have you edited for tension on every page? If so, what were your strategies, pitfalls, and takeaways?

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Child-Testing Your Work

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

 

During my revision process, I try to read my works-in-progress to actual children. These willing guinea pigs have mostly been my loving sons and adoring first graders. Unfortunately, their reactions are often overly positive. “What’s wrong with those editors, Mom? Your story is awesome!” or “I loved it, Ms. Rondi. It was so funny!” And although these comments make me feel great about my writing, they rarely help me improve my books.

But this year, I had two “constructive” experiences. The first one happened when I asked a writer friend if she’d be willing to critique my middle-grade novel. She said yes, and then wanted to know if she could share the book with her eleven-year-old daughter who was extremely interested in my novel’s time period –World War II. I said yes, but knew better than to expect a great deal of useful feedback. Still, I printed out a hard copy of the manuscript, came up with a page of questions for her to answer, and dropped the binder off at their house.

In a little less than a week, I received an email from my young reader. “Hi Rondi! Is it okay if I write on the manuscript?” This was encouraging. It sounded like she was really digging in and taking the critique process seriously. I wrote back and told her I welcomed her comments and to write away. But deep down, I was a little worried. She was only at the beginning of my book and already making notes. Was it in worse shape than I thought?

In a few weeks, I got an email from my friend saying that although she still needed more time with my pages, her daughter had completed her critique. “She couldn’t put the book down!” were the exact words. This was good news, right? You didn’t zip through a boring book. But I could be wrong. She could have gotten all caught up in the editing process and ripped my words to shreds. All I knew was that the manuscript was ready to be picked up so I dashed to the store, bought a thank-you gift card, and drove to their house.

When we sat down in the family room together, I opened the black binder, not knowing what to expect. Here’s a sample of what I found:

        1.The names of these two characters confused me. You should think about changing them.

       2. How is this person related to the main character? You should tell us right away.

       3. We met this character in chapter 1 so you should change the name of chapter 2.

       4. You should explain this earlier in the story.

       5. You use some big words here that readers may not understand.

I was blown away. Her comments were sophisticated, specific, and helpful. She had taken the time to think about the nitty gritty details of my story and give me suggestions on how to make the book stronger.

There were also thoughtful compliments:

  1. I like how you added an author’s note so I knew the story was based on your mom’s life.
  2. Thanks for adding a glossary so people will know what the Yiddish and Italian words mean.

And last, but not least, the accolades:

  1. This book rocks!
  2. Great job!
  3. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read!

This young reader had turned out to be a fabulous editor! She was well-read in my genre,  the same age as my protagonist, and didn’t know me well enough to worry about pleasing me. But more importantly, she had taken her job seriously and given me an honest critique with positive overtones. It was a winning combination.

The next opportunity to “child-test” my work came when I was invited to do a lesson on “Creating Interesting Characters” in a second grade classroom. Before I read my first chapter to the students, I had their teacher (my former first grader!) interview me as my main character. I had modified the list of questions I often use myself. This immediately drew the children into the life of my protagonist, especially when I tried to sound like an eleven-year-old! And although they were an attentive and engaged audience, I instantly became aware of some glaring problems in the manuscript. There were places where the dialogue was too long and sections with excessive narration and not enough action. I made notes, immediately. But here’s the best part… when I finished reading, their hands shot up and the questions flew. “What happens next? Does Shirley get to sing on the record? Is the new boy a bad guy?” They were hooked. I knew I still had work to do, but the foundation of my story was undeniably solid. “Well,” I said, smiling. “When the book is published, you’ll just have to read it and find out!”

Have you had similar experiences when sharing your work with children? If so, we’d love to hear about them!

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Teachers and Librarians and Authors, Oh My!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

This past weekend, I had the privilege of running three incredible events for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. My position on our board of directors is called, “PAL Liaison,” which means I connect traditionally published authors and illustrators with teachers, librarians, booksellers, parents, and of course, children.

The first, and most elaborate event, was hosting a table in the Exhibits Hall at the annual Colorado Council of the International Reading Association (CCIRA) Conference at the Marriott DTC, on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. With over 1500 teachers and librarians in attendance, you can imagine the buzz and excitement surrounding us. I arranged for twenty different authors and illustrators to join me in two-hour shifts where they showcased their books, met teachers and librarians, and gave away swag. Here are a few creative displays:        

It was a joy to see our SCBWI PAL (published and listed) members share their passion with the people who love their books. For many years, I attended this conference as one of those teachers. I met Kate DiCamillo, Will Hobbs, and Lois Lowry at this very same venue. I was totally star struck when I had the opportunity to be in the company of these literary rock stars! This weekend, I am happy to report that we had our own share of squeals and howls as teachers won door prizes, took photos with our authors and illustrators, and went away with pencils, hand-painted rocks, and gobs of stickers. Yippee!

My next program was leading a “Speed Dating” session with authors, illustrators, and educators. There were eleven stations set up around the room which enabled our authors and illustrators to spend quality “one-on-one” time with teachers and librarians. Some attendees wanted to know how to  write for children. Others were interested in learning more about using specific books in their classrooms. No two conversations were alike. This went on for eight minutes until it was time for the next date. The only problem I had was moving the participants on to the next chair. Everyone was so engaged and animated! At one point, the chatting became so loud, other conference attendees began poking their heads into our room to see what was going on. They smiled and nodded when they saw our rollicking book party! It was so much fun that one teacher asked if we could do this next year as an exclusive luncheon. It certainly is something to consider.

    

For my third act, I hosted a happy hour “meet and greet” in downtown Denver for authors and librarians. As luck would have it, the American Library Association (ALA) was holding its mid-winter conference at the Colorado Convention Center this same weekend. Despite frigid weather and blowing snow, a dozen of us made our way down to the Greedy Hamster on Saturday night for appetizers and drinks with a group of friendly YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) librarians from around the country. Many of our debut authors got to experience the thrill of giving away pre-released books to these lucky book lovers. Huzzah!

    

Connecting authors and illustrators with their adoring fans is definitely the best job in the world. I can’t wait for our next event!

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A Year of Logging

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

Last October, when the leaves were turning raspberry red, lemon yellow, and orange orange, I embarked on a serious mission to make myself feel more like a real writer. (www.inthewritersweb.com, Nov. 2016.) Although I took my writing seriously, it didn’t seem like I was doing enough. Like you, I spent my time setting yearly goals, working on a variety of manuscripts, submitting to agents for feedback, participating in writing/critique groups, taking classes, and going to conferences. I read blogs and books on craft. I wrote articles like this one.

But despite this dedication, I still had no offers of representation or publication to show for myself. I had gotten very close with a few agents and editors, but that golden ticket still eluded me. And, I had reached a crossroads – give up on the whole shebang or amp up my life as a writer. Obviously, I chose the second option. (First sign of being a real writer!) Now I needed a new way to prove to myself that I was getting closer; that I was doing everything possible to increase my odds.

So I came up with an idea. I decided to keep a daily log of everything I did that related to my life as a writer. As a teacher, I loved leafing through my over-stuffed lesson plan books to see how much I had accomplished with my students. There were scribbles in the corners of cramped daily squares and tattered pieces of paper shoved in between the pages. Everyday had been a whirlwind of accomplishments!

Only with writing, planning out my week in advance often went awry. On some days, it seemed like I got very little done. I’d spend hours rewriting one chapter when I thought I’d be able to do four. Or I’d plan to do a small bit of research, get caught up in the subject matter and read articles on the topic for an entire morning. Finally, it came to me out of the clear blue – a totally different approach to this problem. I would log about what I did after I did it, not before. This way, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t accomplish what I thought I should have.

I got to work. I bought a large calendar/daytimer/notebook. Then, at the end of each day, I jotted down whatever I did to further my life as a writer. And, after a year of doing this, here’s what I discovered:

 

  1. I was doing a lot. Seeing months of squares filled in with writing activities convinced me that I was doing all sorts of things to further my life as a writer. I included everything from working on my novels and going to conferences to doing research and reading books in my genre.
  2. I developed a habit. According to many experts, it takes at least 21 days to develop a new habit. And for most of us, it’s longer. By writing in my log every day for an entire year, I made being a writer a conscious part of every day.
  3. Reading counts. You must read to write. I made sure to log about the books I read, both in and out of my genre and on craft. Then I entered the titles onto my Goodreads page. I also included blogs, articles, and emails to my writing colleagues.
  4. Rewriting is very time-consuming. By writing down exactly what I did each day, I could see how long it was taking me to revise my novel. A looonnnngggg time. There was one week when I worked on my first page for five days in a row!
  5. I am part of a writing community. I saw how often I met with other writers, both individually and in groups. I included in-person writing groups, conferences and classes, as well as online blogs, workshops, emails, and texts. It was A LOT!!!
  6. I am improving my craft. I recorded all the classes I took, conferences I attended, books I read on craft, and the ways I was implementing changes into my manuscripts. So important.
  7. I took on more of a leadership role in the RMC-SCBWI. My board position as Exhibits Coordinator turned into the PAL LIAISON this year. Being involved at this level makes me feel more professional and has also has introduced me to an inspirational group of writers!

At a recent writers conference, I was thrilled to share a lunch table with renowned editor, and author of THE MAGIC WORDS, Cheryl Klein. When Cheryl asked if I wrote every day, I told her about my writing log. She liked the concept and said that a daily writing practice is the key to getting published. So maybe I’m on my way!

But here’s the main thing I discovered by keeping the log… getting published is only one part of living a writer’s life. It’s an extremely important part of the journey, but the things I wrote down in my log squares, … those are the things that make me a “real” writer. And here’s the surprising takeaway – I don’t feel the need to continue logging. A year of doing this has served its purpose. I am living the life of a writer. And I have a notebook full of scribbled-in boxes to prove it.

 

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It’s The Dog’s Fault

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

I am not a morning person. I hit snooze when the alarm goes off and pull the covers over my head for five extra minutes of luxurious, dreamy sleep. I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, I was  the last one out the door. On some days, my dad would actually leave and go pick up the rest of the carpool before coming back to get me. In high school, I did my homework in front of the television with the late night talk show hosts as company. And in college, I was known for writing papers long after my housemates were in bed. I wasn’t much for the infamous “all-nighter,” but it did happen now and then.

Years later, when I entered the work-world as a teacher, I needed to make changes. I had to get up early. My first job required taking a bus and two trains (the red and green lines in Boston) to my school, setting up for the day, meeting with colleagues, and greeting students, all before 8:00 am. And when I became a mom, well, that’s another story. Late nights and early mornings were a way of life.

But now, I am retired from teaching and my children are long gone. I can create my own schedule, the one I was born to live – go to bed at 11:00 p.m. (after Stephen Colbert’s monologue) and get up at 7:00 a.m. to meet my walking group by 7:15. It’s the perfect life. Except that my fourteen-year-old dog has decided to get up at sunrise. Every single morning.

I love this dog. She’s the dearest, friendliest, loviest, golden retriever you could ever imagine. Her name is Berni and everyone adores her. Especially me. But lately, this devoted ball of orange fur is getting up at 5:13 am. Okay, well sometimes it’s more like 5:29. But still, it is VERY EARLY. And for some reason, she only comes to my side of the bed. She totally ignores my husband (who is snoring loudly and doesn’t hear a thing) and waits for me to wake up. And, being the good mommy that I am, I get up, give her a cup of food, and let her outside to do her business. Only this dog is not interested in a quick run to the bathroom. She is WIDE AWAKE. She sniffs the grass, goes hunting for rabbits or squirrels or chipmunks or voles or whatever wildlife is also up at this ridiculous hour.

She wasn’t always like this. For most of her life, she lived by our schedule. But lately, as she approaches 100 (in people years), she’s up with the roosters. Like a farm dog, or an insomniac. Mostly she’s hungry, famished, in fact. And those yummy fish and potato dog food nuggets are calling her name. So, I go to the bathroom. I go outside. I watch her wander in the yard. I let her back in. And guess what? Now, I am wide awake, too. And it is only 5:45 am.

It was during one of these early morning strolls, when I was pulling weeds in the yard while Berni sniffed wildflowers, that I came to a big realization. This is the time of day when many highly successful and productive writers slink down to their studios and crank out a ton of pages. I don’t know about you, but I’ve read scads of articles, and heard many speeches, by authors who insist that they do their very best work before the sun is up. And every time I hear this, I say to myself, “MUST BE NICE, BUT I WILL NEVER be one of those people.” I envied those industrious authors, but knew that early morning writing was not for me. Until now.

Because here I am at my computer writing this blog. And it is only 5:48 in the morning. It’s the dog’s fault, of course. But guess what? I kinda like this time of day. It’s quiet and I actually am clear-thinking and more efficient. I’m writing faster and better and there are very few distractions. It’s too early to run the laundry (wouldn’t want to wake up that sleeping husband) and there’s nobody to call. And here’s the clincher, there are no new emails to read since I checked the night before.

Who would have thought I would become one of those early morning writers? Not I, said the little red hen and everyone else in the world who knows me. So thank you, sweet Berni. Thank you for nudging me with your big wet nose and breathing in my face at the crack of dawn so I could get up and… write!

It’s a good thing I love coffee. And afternoon naps. And beautiful sunrises.

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What Are Kids Reading These Days?

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of being  a judge in the Colorado Humanities Center for the Book’s Letters About Literature Contest. This is a literary competition where students in grades four-twelve write letters to authors of their favorite books. Since most of these children have teachers who are passionate about reading and writing, the books chosen are some of the very best out there and many of my own favorites.

So what are kids reading these days? I am a judge in the fourth-sixth grade category. As you would expect, many eleven and twelve-year-olds are drawn to humorous titles such as Jeff Kinney’s THE WIMPY KID and Rachel Renee Russell’s THE DORK DIARIES. Others enjoy dramatic non-fiction like Jon Krakauer’s INTO THIN AIR, or inspirational biographies like Misty Copeland’s MY LIFE IN MOTION and Malala Yousafzai’s I AM MALALA. There are also the lovers of fantasy  who are obsessed with JK Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series and JRR Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

But more than any genre, these pre-teens are choosing books that touch their hearts and evoke emotion. Titles such as John Green’s A FAULT IN OUR STARS, RJ Palacio’s WONDER, and Wendy Maas’s A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE and GRACEFUL, show up year after year. Pam Munoz Ryan’s classic, ESPERANZA RISING, Katherine Patterson’s A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL, Jennifer Nielson’s A NIGHT DIVIDED, and anything by Kate DiCamillo, are also favorites. Like adults, children want to be moved in a profound way by the books they read.

When drafting their letters, the students are required to use good grammar, strong word choice, and creative devices such as metaphor and simile. They have also been asked to relate an event in their life to the book they have read. This might be a problem with a friend, a family crisis, or the competitive nature of school and sports. One student wrote about being lost on a hiking trip, another expounded on coping with a parent’s illness, and a third described the agony of moving to a new town and school. But when a student vividly described how much she wanted to “jump into the book” to comfort a character, I was impressed. She showed me her deep sense of empathy and insight, and articulated what I had felt when I read the very same book.

Books can surprise the reader. Years ago, when one of my sons was in high school, I gave him A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE. I was hoping that when the main character discovered she had a sensory disorder called “synesthesia,” it would resonate with him. And it did. I will never forget the smile on his face when he bounded into the kitchen. “I’m just like her,” he announced. “Like who?” I asked. “The girl in the book, Mia. I have what she has. We’re both amazing artists, but algebra and Spanish make us crazy.” A year later, when he wrote his college essay, he described his synesthesia in full detail, emphasizing the point that he was “hard-wired” to be an artist.

As a writer of middle grade fiction, here’s my takeaway from reading these letters – The books we write are important. They help children navigate the ups and downs of their roller coaster lives. Writers have an obligation to dig deep and create characters and stories that will touch their readers in ways that make them say, “That’s me.” Your character can challenge the reader to keep going, to try harder, to be compassionate. More importantly, your book can help the reader understand that he/she is not alone.

Being a judge in this contest has been inspirational. Kids in this age group are often considered  anti-social, phone-obsessed, video-game-addicts, even bullies. But these letters have convinced me that after reading a powerful book, these same children are empathetic and deep-thinking.  After attending literary agent Donald Maass’s workshop on “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” last weekend, I know he would agree with me. He told us over and over that we change lives by writing good fiction… that a great story opens a reader’s heart and gives them a sense of hope.

So get to it people. Sit down, open up that computer, and write a book that makes your reader feel something. You might change someone’s life, and in doing so, improve our world in ways you can only imagine!

What books have moved you or affected your life in some way? Send me some titles and I’ll put up a list.

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The Tuesday Writers

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

Every Tuesday morning, I clear off my dining room table, plug in my laptop, and wait for the writers to arrive. They bustle in around 10:30 carrying cups of coffee and bottles of water along with their computers and notebooks. After putting their lunches in the fridge and setting containers of nuts and assorted baked goods on the table, we settle in. Mostly, we sit in the same chairs. Some add a pillow, while others lower window shades to block the sun’s glare. Then, after a bit of schmoozing and noshing, we set the timer. Our chattering stops and the room becomes quiet. It’s time to write.

Three of us met a few years ago at a “Write-In” during NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month. Although we were complete strangers, we were all determined to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Then, on the last day, after we had all become “Winners,” someone suggested we keep going. We hardly knew each other’s names. We certainly didn’t know much about each other’s books. But we had something very important in common. We were passionate about writing.

We decided to continue working at our local library every Tuesday morning. We reserved a conference room for two hours, kept our voices down, and got to work. It was wonderful. So wonderful, that when the library decided to do a major remodel and close their meeting rooms, we knew we had to find another location. I volunteered my dining room table.

Our group of three has now grown to five. Other writing buddies pop in now and then, but the core group is extremely reliable. Frigid temperatures, snowy roads, and needy relatives cannot keep us away from our beloved writing projects! And, when I’m out of town, others host at their dining room tables. On some days, we even write remotely, and text each other when timed writing sessions are about to begin. We typically get in three, forty five-minute sessions. And here’s the best part: the discipline of writing consistently has spilled over to other days of the week. I now find myself carving out short writing sessions almost every day.

Our projects span the genres. Two of us are writing MG fiction and picture books, while the others are focusing on women’s fiction, murder mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy. Although our content is widely varied, we often share information about local classes, conferences, webinars, and books on craft. We sometimes read paragraphs aloud, give each other immediate feedback, revise, and read again. We talk about query letters, character arcs, plot twists, even murder suspects! One member has been independently published and we all cheered when her cover designer came up with Book Two’s gorgeous graphics.

But most importantly, we write. Every Tuesday, no matter what, we set aside other commitments and scribble “10:30-2:30-NANOS” on our personal calendars. We put our work ahead of doctor’s appointments and lunch dates. I even had my hairdresser stop me when I was about to set up my next visit on a Tuesday. “Isn’t that your writing day?” she asked. “It is,” I replied. “It most definitely is!”

 

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My Writing Log

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By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

After assigning a page of math homework to my first graders, one of my students said, “I might not be able to do this tonight.” When I asked her why, she said she had soccer practice and play rehearsal after school. I told her it sounded like she had too much going on in her life. She smiled and said, “Oh no, I love being busy.” I smiled back. I totally understood. I love being busy, too.

As a teacher, I usually operated on high-speed. My classroom was a bustling whirlwind of dynamic lessons and activities. We always got a lot done. And I had my plan book and assessments to prove it. At home, my family kept track of our plethora of commitments on a large, color-coded calendar. I also made personal to-do lists on yellow legal pads, scribbled reminders to myself on post-it notes, and rolled into bed each night, ready to do it again in the morning. It was a fast, over-scheduled pace, but I reveled in it.

Today, I have a new life. I’m a full-time writer. My children have flown the coop, and except for hanging out with my retired husband, my time is my own. I can slow it down, write for hours on end, read books on craft, drink lots of pumpkin lattes. My only problem is that the over-scheduling person inside me is still there. She constantly nags me to get more done, check things off my list (I still make them), get published already. Hop, jump, repeat! Man is she annoying. But I can’t get rid of her. She is a big part of who I am. I just have to figure out how to deal with her.

At first, I tried integrating techniques that worked for me as a teacher, into my life as a writer. I made schedules, set goals, took classes, read books, attended conferences, workshops, and writing groups. I still do these things. But something was missing. I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing enough. Especially when I veered from my “plan” or failed to achieve my goals.

One morning, as I sipped a homemade latte and stared at my computer screen, a radical idea popped into my head. Instead of planning out my week of writing, I would reflect on it. I would  do something EVERY SINGLE DAY (even for a short amount of time) to further my life as a writer and record these activities in a daily log. Not a plan-book, a logbook. I immediately went out and bought a calendar/notebook with large 1½ inch squares and decided to get started. (You can also use the new RMC-SCBWI calendar if you order your copy ASAP!) And here’s the key: I only record writing activities in it. No dentist appointments or lunch dates allowed.

I’ve been logging for a month now and I’m pretty excited about how it’s going. At the end of each day, I jot down anything I’ve done that relates to writing for children. I’ve included: worked on my novel, did a character exercise, talked with a picture book collaborator, listened to a webinar class on revision, read a book in my genre, went to hear an author speak at Tattered Cover, sent emails to SCBWI volunteers for an upcoming conference, attended a critique group meeting, made notes for my works-in-progress, wrote this blogpost, and did research at a museum. It’s amazing. I can now see, in black and white, that I am living a writer’s life. Every single day. Well, almost.

Becoming a great writer takes time. And there is more to the journey than the actual writing component. But now, when I look at my writing log, I see that I’m really trying. I’m doing all kinds of things to move this new life forward. And when that ever-present “busy teacher” is nudging me to get things done, I open my logbook and say, “I am. I totally am.”

Author’s note: If you try using a writing log, let me know how it goes!

 

 

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Getting To Know My Characters Again

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

Prismatic-Question-Mark-Fractal-4-No-Background-800pxI did some serious preparation before pounding out the first draft of my current MG novel. After thinking about the story for years, I came up with a plausible beginning, a somewhat-hazy-but-action-packed middle, and what I thought could be a satisfying ending. I did rough character sketches and gave each person a name, a family, and a physical appearance. I visualized the various settings. Then I typed out a detailed five-page chapter outline. But when the actual writing began, things changed. A lot. You know how it goes. My characters came to life and did what characters do. They went on unexpected adventures and made unanticipated decisions. They directed the action and their personalities and passions bubbled up and morphed along the way. I thought I knew these kids before I wrote the story. But they’re different now. Their voices and desires have evolved. Some names have even been changed. So before I begin revision #1, I’m sitting down to interview each one of them again to make sure I know exactly who they are.

I like using the character inventory from Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones’s book, STORY STARTERS, but have modified it over the years. This is  the interview form I use today. I open my computer, visualize my character sitting across from me, say hello, and ask away:

What is your:

  1. Full Name:
  2. Nickname(s) Who calls you these nicknames and why:
  3. Age and grade in school:
  4. Birthday:
  5. Name of school:
  6. Hair color:
  7. Eye color:
  8. One distinguishing physical feature you like about yourself and one you don’t like at all!
  9. Who do you resemble in you family? Appearance, personality?
  10. A physical habit you have:
  11. One speech mannerism that makes you sound like you:
  12. Hobbies:
  13. Family members:
  14. Earliest childhood memory:
  15. One distinguishing personality feature that you love about yourself and one you don’t:
  16. Pets you have and pets you want:
  17. Thing of which you are most proud:
  18. Thing you hope nobody will ever find out:
  19. Strengths:
  20. Weaknesses:
  21. Fears:
  22. More than anything, the one thing you want is:
  23. The perfect way you might spend a summer day:
  24. The perfect way you might spend a winter day:
  25. Favorite sports to play, watch, or attend:
  26. Favorite musicians:
  27. Type of music you listen to:
  28. Games you like to play:
  29. Favorite foods and snacks:
  30. Clothes you love to wear:
  31. Clothes you hate wearing:
  32. The best part of school:
  33. The worst part of school:
  34. Best friend(s):
  35. The one thing worth fighting about with your friend?
  36. Prized possessions:
  37. Best birthday party:
  38. Favorite holiday and why:
  39. Where do you live? Describe in detail.
  40. What does your room look like?
  41. Favorite place to spend time alone:
  42. What new relationships do you develop in this book?
  43. How do you change and grow in this story?
  44. What part of what you want do you get in this story?
  45. What new thing(s) happens to you that you didn’t expect in this book?

This form is also great to fill out before you “Scrapbook Your Novel.” Our very own Carrie Seidel has written a blog about how to do this. Check out her post from October 2015 or read her article in the SCBWI newsletter Spring/2016. Then Google, cut, and paste.

You’ll be surprised at how these new details will add depth to your story and get your readers to deeply connect with your characters. For example, after I realized how important astrology was to my main character Cori, I assigned birthdays to two of her close friends based on compatible signs! What other items would YOU add to this personality inventory? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list. Write-on!

 

 

 

 

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