Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Fairy Tale: The Three Little Writers

Once upon a time there were three little writers, Personable, Prolific, and Persistent. Each decided to venture into the publishing world.

"I'm going to get published by knowing people in all areas of the industry," said Personable.

"I'm going to get published by writing every day," said Prolific.

"I'm going to get published by submitting my manuscripts to everyone," said Persistent.

So each went out to build on their dreams.

Personable went to conferences, ate lunch with New York editors, and sent Christmas cards to every publisher. They all remembered Personable and could call her by name. "I have contacts," said Personable showing off a room full of business cards. "Surely I will be published." But Personable neglected to write and never submitted anything.

Prolific wrote everyday, read books about plot, characterization, and scene, and attended every how-to-write workshop she could. Fellow writers praised Prolific's stories. "I've learned my craft and write every day," said Prolific showing off a room full of marvelous manuscripts. "I know a great editor will knock on my door and insist my work be published." But Prolific never studied the markets, never learned who was who, and never submitted a manuscript.

Persistent whipped out a story in just half a day and sent it to every publisher in the market guide. "I only need one great idea and this is it," Persistent bragged showing off a room full of rejection slips. "I'm thick-skinned and stubborn. I'll never give up until it is published." But the story lacked plot, the characters were weak, and Persistent blindly submitted to whoever was who.

One day a Big Bad Editor came to town. He huffed and he puffed and he stormed all around. "I'm buried in stories I've no time to read. They're low quality, inappropriate, and from people I've never seen. I'm closing my doors until 2017."

The three writers almost abandoned their dream, but they put their heads together and concocted a scheme.

"The Big Bad Editor told me he loves mysteries," said Personable.

"I've got a perfect mystery tucked under my bed," said Prolific.

"I'll march it straight to his door and insist he see it," said Persistent.

So the three little writers went to the Big Bad Editor's office and knocked on his door.

"Go away!" a voice boomed from the other side.

"But I'm Personable. Remember me? We met once before."

A key turned in the lock. An eye peered through a tiny crack in the door.

"I've written a wonderful mystery," said Prolific holding up a neatly packaged manuscript.

The door opened a bit more.

"Please read our manuscript," said Persistent, sticking one foot in the gap. "We'll listen, we'll revise, and we'll work, but we won't give up."

The door opened wide. Mr. Editor grinned. "You're being professional, so I'll welcome you in."

Their work was soon published. They authored some more, because they'd learned to work together to open the door. So be Personable, Prolific, and Persistent, my friend. Someday Mr. Editor will welcome you in.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Invisible Writing

In the beginning of my writing career, my husband used to read my first drafts. And in his sweet beautiful wonderful brutally-honest way, he would say, "It's nice, but..." (here comes the brutal part) "'re writing too hard."

“Like where?” I’d ask.

“Like here.” Then he'd point to a passage. It was always the one I’d spent hours perfecting. It was well constructed, descriptive, filled with sensory images, and flowing phrases. I loved that passage! It was one of my ‘darlings.’

Then I’d take a closer look. Invariably, it was also the passage I’d Thesaurused, over metaphored, and big-worded to death. It was me saying to the reader, “Look at me, the author. Admire how well I can write.”

Last January, Paula LaRocque ( spoke at our North Central/Northeast Texas SCBWI chapter meeting. One of her ‘tricks’ for good writing (among several great ones) was to change long difficult words to short simple words. Then she showed an example, a short descriptive passage. It flowed on the page. It evoked vivid images. It set the scene without being intrusive. It was beautiful. She asked who we thought wrote it. We guessed some of the most famous authors in literature. All wrong. The author was a high school student. His assignment: write a descriptive paragraph using one-syllable words. In a room full of authors, not one of us had caught his powerfully effective ‘trick.’ It was indeed like magic.

The method reminded me of motto that can be applied to more than just writing: the KISS method. “Keep It Super Simple.”

Our writing is often beautiful, even brilliant, but if it pulls the reader out of the story, if the reader stops reading and thinks, "Wow! That's great writing!", then I haven't done my job as a writer. As the teller of the story, I need to back off, let the story take center stage, and pull the reader in with writing so well done it is invisible to the reader.

It can be a tough lesson to learn. Invisible writing often means rewriting and sometimes deleting our favorite passages. It hurts (a lot), but in order to craft the best story, sometimes our beautifully written 'darlings' have to go.

But be brave, and remember, your ‘darlings’ never have to die. Not really. Mine may be cut from the story, but not from my life. They reside peacefully in a folder on my computer simply titled “Darlings.” Whenever I wish, I can open it, reread them, pat myself on my back in the privacy of my home and say, “Wow! That’s great writing!” And my readers need never know.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Multiplication Brainteaser

Here's a brainteaser for budding mathematicians old and new.

1.  Each letter represents the same digit.
2.  Once letters have been replaced with a digit, the "math" has to work.
3.  Once a digit has been used for a letter, that digit can't be used for any other letter.

Previous similar brainteaser as a sample:
     PIG + PIG = OINK

Possible answer (there may be more than one right answer):
     P = 7, I = 4, G = 3, O = 1, N = 8, K = 6
     743 + 743 = 1,486

Try this multiplication puzzle:
    X   MY  (the "X" is a times sign and otherwise not part of the puzzle)

There may be more than one right answer for this one as well. Give it a try and let me know what you come up with.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finding Your Character's Voice

A popular writer's conference forum is an editors and/or agents Q&A discussion panel. During these open forum discussions, someone usually asks "What are you looking for in a manuscript?" 

#1 response: good writing.

That seems logical. No mystery there. 

Another response: a character with a unique voice.

Now there's a mystery. What is "voice" and how do I help my character get one? I've read books by other authors who've mastered 'voice' and I’ve studied writer’s how-to books. But the concept still felt elusive, vague, and mysterious.

Finally, at long last, author friends said, "You're manuscript has a great voice."

Really? When did that happen?

To nail down what I’d accomplished by accident so I could repeat it in the future, I looked back through previous drafts of my manuscript. After comparing versions of specific passages, here’s what I discovered.

Example 1 setup: Eleven-year-old Angie is returning to school after a long illness. Her older brother, Brandon, is waiting at the bus stop with her.
Angie wished she could ride her bike to school instead of the bus. She knew Brandon felt the same way. She suspected Mom or Dad (maybe both) had threatened or bribed Brandon into taking the bus, too. He’d scowled more than usual this morning, so they’d probably used a threat mixed with some big-brother-must-take-care-of-little-sister guilt.
The passage establishes that neither Angie or Brandon is happy about the this arrangement, but it lacks the ‘unique’ quality of Angie’s voice.  
Buses. Smelly, bumpy, and crowded. Disgusting. But it was better than getting dropped off by a parent. Slightly. And Brandon’s presence at the bus stop smacked suspiciously of parental spying by proxy. Mom or Dad, maybe both, had probably played the big-brothers-must-take-care-of-little-sisters guilt card.
The second version captures the same scene and the same discontent, but it also conveys the character's emotions the way the character might think it. It is in her ‘voice.’
Example 2 setup: Angie is searching for her friends in a crowded school cafeteria. 
Angie threaded her way through the cafeteria tables.
We know she’s walking though the cafeteria, but we don’t know what she’s thinking or see the other students as she does so.
Angie threaded her way past a group wearing all black, a cheerleader-wanna-be group, and Brandon and his snorting-soda-through-their-noses group.

The rewrite defines the setting and since Angie bypasses all these ‘groups,’ we also know she doesn’t feel comfortable joining any of these groups for lunch.
Example 3 setup: Jahma is a six-inch winged fantasy creature. He’s sitting on a bench next to Angie, when Angie’s best friend, Erin, joins them.
Jahma barely escaped being squashed when Erin plopped down next to Angie.
She plopped? Who (other than a writer) would say that they plopped into a chair?
Jahma fluttered away a micro-second before getting butt-squashed by Erin.
A little butt-squashing is more pre-teen and adds a bit of humor.

So what is ‘voice’?

For me, it’s allowing my character to tell their story in their own words. It adds emotion, shows setting through the details the character chooses to dwell on, and pulls the reader into the story by showing everything, even thoughts, through the point of view of the character.

So instead of putting beautifully written words into my characters’ mouths, I listen to their ‘voice’ and relate their story as they would want me to tell it to the reader.

Friday, December 7, 2012

iPad Whiteboard Recorders and Video Makers

UTube. Even my spell checker recognizes it as a real word. It’s a huge resource of videos of all kinds and one of the major catalysts for house-holding the phrase ‘gone viral.’

For beginners, making a video appears to be a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. iPad has a number of user friendly apps specifically designed with the time-crunched teacher in mind. With these apps, creating a video is as simple as pressing the record button and then talking to yourself as you work.

Educreations Interactive Whiteboard turns your iPad into a recordable whiteboard. You create a video tutorial by simply touching, tapping and talking. Features include voice recording, digital ink, photos, text, and the capability to share tutorials through Facebook or Twitter.

ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard is another great interactive whiteboard. You can record voice-over whiteboard tutorials as you work. It is very easy to use and intuitive. Teachers can use it, but it also makes a fantastic tool for students to create instruction videos to share. has several sample tutorials which can be viewed without an iPad.

ScreenChomp is a simple doodling board with markers and sharing tools for creating sharable videos. With its friendly, uncluttered look, this one is great for beginners and/or younger students.

There are also online sites that facilitate creating videos from a series of photos. In minutes, you can achieve great results for open house functions, family reunions, or a book trailer. One of the easiest to use is Animoto. Upload your photos, select options, and the site will generate your video for you. There is an Animoto app available as well.
For sharing these creations, use the resources within the app or site, upload to UTube, or utilize a version of UTube just for educators called Teacher Tube.

Making videos can be lots of fun and slightly addicting! And who knows? Maybe someday soon you’re video will make the ‘gone viral’ list. 

Fun Friday: Christmas Excel Fill Puzzle

A puzzle similar to this one was featured last month. I’ll repeat the instructions for completion here, but this time I’m not going to tell you what the puzzle is in advance.

This puzzle uses the fill feature of any spreadsheet application. Simply start a new workbook and fill in the listed cells with the indicated color to create a picture.

Before you begin, adjust the cell widths so that each cell is a square. Click the blank space above the first row’s 1 and to the left of the first column’s A. This will select the entire spreadsheet. Then click on the divider between column A and column B and drag until the cells are squares.

To determine which cells to fill:
C2 à means find the square in column C and row 2, click on that cell, then click on the fill color.
C2:D2 à means click and drag to select cells C2 through D2 and then click on the fill color.

Now click in the indicated cells and fill with each color to form a picture.

Orange: W2, V3, W3, V4:V7, D8, U8, C9, E9:G9, U9, B10, E10, H10, D11, F11, H11, F12, H12, E13, H13, E14, G14, D15, G15, C16, G16, B17, C17, G17, B18, F18, A19, F19, A20, E20, AC20, AF20:AH20, A21, E21, AB21, AD21, AE21, A22, B22, D22, S22, T22, W22:AB22, AD22, A23, C23, D23, J23, P23:V23, AB23, AD23, A24, B24, D24, I24, K24:024, R24, U24, AA24, AE24, C25:I25, K25, R25, U25, AA25, AE25, C26, I26, K26, R26, V26, AA26, AE26:AH26, C27, H27, L27, Q27, V27, Z27:AE27, C28, H28, L28, Q28, U28:Y28, D29, H29, M29, P29:T29, E30:G30, K30:O30, G31:J31

Do you know what it is, yet?

Red: X2:AB2, X3:AB3, U4:AC4, U5:AC5, T6:AC6, T7:AC7, S8:AC8, P9:AC9, F10, G10, L10:AB10, G11, K11:AB11, G12, K12:AB12, F13, G13, K13:AB13, F14, J14:AB14, E15, F15, J15:AB15, D16:F16, J16:AB16, D17:F17, I17:AB17, C18:AB18, B19:AB19, B20:V20, B21:P21,C22:K22

How about now?

Yellow: W1:AB1, U2, V2, AC2, U3, AC3, AD3, T4, AA4, AB4, AD4, T5, AA5, AD5, S6, Z6, AD6, S7, Z7, AD7, P8:R8, Y8, AD8, L9:O9, Y9, AD9, K10, S10:X10, AC10, J11, Q11, R11, AC11, J12, P12, AC12, J13, O13, AC13, I14, N14, AC14, I15, N15, AC15, I16, N16, AC16, H17, M17, AC17, M18, AC18, I19:M19, AC19, G20, H20, W20:AB20, F21, Q21:V21, L22:P22, E23:I23, K23

Hint: In each of the above, the first part of a cell code is always a letter. So if it looks like a zero, it is really the letter “O”. The same goes for the number one and the letter “I”.

                O11 is the letter “O” and the number 11. (column O, row 11)
                I16 is the letter “I” and the number 16. (column I, row 16)

Good luck and have fun!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tech Tip: Finding Apps

iPad app searching can take hours before you find exactly the perfect app for you. Many times I get sidetracked from my primary goal because I've stumbled across something I have to have, but never knew I had to have until there was an app for it. To streamline my app-finding (and keep me focused), I've used the following two apps.


AppsGoneFree is as simple as it sounds. Each day it will temp you with from eight to fifteen apps that are free for a limited time only, sometimes just for the day, sometimes just for a few hours, as a means for app-developers to promote their products.  If there is an app you’d like to see “gone free”, you can recommend it to AppsGoneFree for inclusion on their list.


WeWantApps! (the exclaimation point is part of the name) will help you search for an app based on the parameters you select. It’s a great tool to help you find apps suitable for children and preteens. Parameter settings include age, topic or subject, and cost.