Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guest Authors Talk About Writing Non-Fiction with Heart

Nancy Bo Flood and Marty Crump spoke at our April SCBWI meeting at Alamosa Books this month about "Writing with Heart."

Nancy Bo Flood has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and has studied fish brains and taught college courses as part of her academic career. She discussed making the journey from academic research writing to writing for children and told the group it is vital not to talk down to children. She discussed her non-fiction titles and said that schools are using non-fiction books more and more to provide the richness of information that children crave. 

She discussed how being forced to meet a short word count makes her very conscious of word choice. Deciding how to communicate courage and excitement and commitment about a subject like bull riding in a 150 word article is the type of challenge she often faces as a writer.

Even for fiction, an author must find the through line, the story arc, the journey, and the passion of their story. She said a good question to ask yourself is -- When the reader closes the book, what do you want them to remember? What is the theme? What is the heart of the story?


She told us that the theme of Sand to Stone and Back Again is that rock, just like you, is always changing.  Nancy likes to engage young students by teaching them to write 
Diamond poems which go from one thing to another using the sand to stone example in her book. 

To read more about Nancy and her books visit Nancy's website.

Marty Crump is a biologist who spent much of her life writing scientific papers where she was forced to edit out all creative ideas and use very specific jargon.  When she started writing for the general public, both adults and children, the hardest part was realizing that most people are not interested in the amount of detail that she discovers in her research. She said it's important to pick the most crucial information.

Marty writes about the environment and nature and her favorite part of the process  is collecting research, but that she must then distill all the information she has collected and tell only the absolute best parts. She learned that lesson the hard way when her first draft of Mysteries of the Komoda Dragon was 12,000 words but her editor only wanted 2,500. That experience forced her to make every word count.

Thank you to both authors for a wonderful evening, and stop by again the next time you're in Albuquerque. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Recognize Great Story Plots

The Secret Language of Stories is a twelve step story analysis system I’ve devised both to plot my novels and to teach story building to adults and kids. It’s based on Joseph Campbell’s classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, with strong influences from The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. In the past few years I’ve seen Vogler’s work referenced more and more in the classroom, but for the struggling readers and writers I work with, some of the ideas are still a bit abstract. My impetus for creating The Secret Language of Stories was to come up with imagery and vocabulary my students could understand all the way from first grade through high school but with concepts deep enough to still be a challenge in adult creative writing workshops. A complete description of my system may be found at  the Secret Language of Stories Tab at this blog.

When I give presentations at conferences and workshops, I provide numerous examples for each of the twelve points in the story analysis, but teachers frequently ask if I can give them any examples of an analysis of an entire book. Some of my older Spellbinders posts contain analyses of picture books, but I recently complete a novel that was so well plotted, it was easy to see the structure.

City of Bones is a fabulous New York Times Best Selling novel by Cassandra Clare. It is the first book in The Mortal Instruments series and it tells the story of Clary Fray, who seems to be a typical teenage girl until she starts seeing demons and Shadowhunters. For this week's issue of Spellbinders, I've written an analysis of the plot.


The following analysis contains several spoilers so I strongly advise reading the book before proceeding. I will attempt to avoid talking about the wonderful twists and turns while focusing on the spine of the story. I don’t want to ruin the fabulous revelations and family secrets that are uncovered.  On the other hand, the book is so well written, that it’s a total delight, even if you know how it ends. There are very few books that I start reading again as soon as I finish them, but this was one of them

To find my analysis of City of Bones, visit Spellbinders.