Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words?


At least.

How bout an entire novel.

Pictures can give us inspiration. They can make us say where, who, why, how, or what if.

Where does this tunnel lead? Where did it come from? Who built it? What's its purpose? Why is someone in it taking a photo? Who took the photo? How did they get there? What is the history behind the situation?

What if this tunnel leads to something dangerous? What if there's an adventure on the other end? What if the people who created this tunnel and the surrounding village suddenly vanished hundreds of years ago?

There's the story...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thesis

That's a scary word isn't it. Maybe I should have said, THESIS (boom thunder lightning).

I have to write a critical thesis next semester. I have a lot of ideas, which sounds like a good thing, but it can also be confusing. How do I decide what to write about? I honestly may throw all of my ideas into a hat and pick out the winner.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Telling Stories

My love for writing began long before I started writing words down with a purpose. In fact, it began way before I even liked to read. My love for writing began with my obsession for oral storytelling. For as long as I can remember, spoken stories, especially if told well, have been one of my favorite things. They really bring me back to my childhood. Maybe it was because my sister and I liked to ask a lot of questions, or maybe our family just liked to share? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, people around me were always talking about their experiences: my grandfather’s adventures as a struggling teenager during the depression; my dad’s travels through Europe when he was playing professional hockey in Germany; my mom’s resilience after my grandfather's heart attack; my neighbor’s old cars; my grandmother going to teacher's college. You get the idea.

These stories were amazing, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I didn’t care that I had heard the one about the stolen bike a dozen times, I still craved my grandfather’s passion each time he told it. Passion. Isn't that what storytelling is all about...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nerdy Athlete or Athletic Nerd



My wife and I joke about this all the time. Which one am I?

On the surface, most people that know me would probably say I'm a Nerdy Athlete. I mean, I played college and minor professional hockey, right? I coached hockey at the college level. I was a starter on a New England championship high school football team. I played organized lacrosse, baseball, soccer, and basketball. Even badminton.

However, I also check TORn daily. I know the names of the sons of Feanor. One of my cats is named after a dragon. I taught an 80's pop culture elective. I quote conversations between Jack O'Neill and Teal'c on a regular basis. When I hear the name Starbuck, I don't think of coffee. I write books for children and teens. And, I just read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and absolutely can't stop thinking about it.

From this day forward, I'm proud to finally be able to admit that I'm an Athletic Nerd and not the other way around.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gentlemen

In my current work in progress, one of the scenes contains a speech by a politician. The information given in the speech is essential to the story moving forward. The other characters and the reader need to hear what the politician has to say. As the writer, the difficult part is keeping the scene interesting. It could easily turn into a sort of info-dump. I don’t want to get into the situation where I am simply using the speech to get the information to the reader. That is boring and unimaginative, and my readers will no doubt see right through it. I set out to find an example novel that I could learn from. Gentlemen by Michael Northrop became that book.

In Gentlemen, the scene that I looked at was not a speech, but a lecture in a high school classroom. The situation was the same, however. The teacher in the classroom, Mr. Haberman, is speaking about the book War and Peace. The students – including the point of view character – and the reader need this information in order to move forward in the story. To keep the scene interesting, Northrop uses a balance of character interactions and internal monologue to keep the point of view character and the reader engaged in the information that is being disseminated.

I'm now trying to find that line in my own writing. What is too much information? There really is no correct answer, as different readers will tolerate different levels of information being given to them. I guess I just need to figure out what seems authentic. I'm going to continue studying techniques used in books like Gentlemen in order to improve.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Powerful Sentences

One sentence can make or break a story for many readers. I'm no different. I have decided to like or dislike quite a number of books based on one sentence that either yanks me in further or pushes me away. These sentences can come in many different forms. They can be short or long. They can appear at the beginning of a book or at the end. They can be simple and blunt or exquisitely detailed with imagery and metaphors.

When great sentences come at the beginnings of books, they often let the reader know that we are about to be taken to a completely different world. In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, the story begins with, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." OK, something is living in a hole in the ground, and it's called a hobbit. I'm intrigued. In M.T. Anderson's Feed, Titus, our narrator and point of view character, begins by saying, "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." It's a simple sentence, spelled out in the language that we currently use, but he's talking about hanging out on the moon. Awesome. These sentences give us just a glimpse of the worlds we will encounter, but they create an excitement that helps the reader jump out of the starting gate.

However, sentences can do much more than create excitement for interesting new worlds. A sentence can also give us a great deal of information. It can set the tone for the entire story. It can clue us in to how the narrator or characters think and feel. It can give us the knowledge we need moving forward, so that we will be able to infer and empathize, or not, right along with the storyteller.

I'm trying to open up my senses. I'm trying to delve deeper, both in my writing and my critical reading, to see just how powerful a single sentence can be. Then, hopefully, I'll be able to write my own.