I learn a few things in Junior High

Written By: Janna - Jan• 25•15

There are authors that thrive on book tours. Hoping from state to state, school to school. Signing autographs, giving readings, facilitating Q & A’s…

I’m not one of them.

Really, how do you get involved in such a thing? I can’t think of anything more awkward than to call up your local middle or high school and invite yourself as an author to come and impart wisdom about the written word to a group of young impressionable (possibly devastatingly uninterested) teenagers.

But I got to do just that. And it was awesome.

An old family friend knew about my recent books, found me online, and asked if I’d visit her sixth grade writing classes. She contacted me back in October, and sadly, we had to wait until January to actually make it happen (this Junior High happens to be six hours away, close to the small town I grew up in).

I was nervous as all get out, didn’t really know what I was doing, but I went and I loved it.

The teacher–bless her heart–gave me a little direction in what the kids struggled with in their own writing so I could prepare some kind of presentation. And I, surprisingly, found I had something to say on the business of writing that may have been helpful to new writers.

The kids were amazing. Attentive and thoughtful, asking great questions, taking an interest in what I had written, and best of all–wanting me to look at their own writing.

So with this new found confidence, I share with you what I shared with them.

Outlines

I actually have an outline I love and use often created by Alan Watts in his book The 90 Day Novel. Now I don’t write my books in ninety days, but I do like his outlining process. I didn’t use it for my presentation, because it’s a little too involved to be kid friendly. But I did break it down to these simple fiction facts.

  • Fact #1: Fiction is all about character. The best stories are built around rich, complex, extremely interesting characters.
  • Fact #2: Fiction is all about what your character wants. Your character wants one thing more than anything else in the world and that one thing drives everything your character does.
  • Fact #3: Fiction is all about how your character gets or does not get what he or she wants. Some characters get what they want, others fail. This is how you develop the plot of your story.
  • Fact #4: Fiction is all about how your character changes. After everything that happens, your character is forever changed. This is what makes your story meaningful.
  • Fact #5: Fiction is all about a world that you create. You choose the people, places, things, and ideas in your story. Your choices influence the meaning of the story and your readers’ level of interest.

On Writing:

Have a plan. I didn’t have a plan for my first book, and I paid for it (so did my editors!) in much heartache and pain in the editing process. I don’t care if you use mine, someone else’s, create your own or spray paint it under an underpass. Find one. Use it.

Write every day. Writing is a muscle, if you don’t exercise it, it doesn’t get stronger.

It can’t be done alone—feedback and outside opinions are vital.

Keep a list of the things you learn and apply it to the next piece you write until it becomes second nature.

Observation is key to writing. Translate those observations into descriptions that make your reader look at something common in a new way.

Read good writing.

 

Dialogue

Only use dialogue to:

Further the plot through important information.

Better understand what’s going through a character’s mind or their motivations.

Contractions and incomplete sentences are encouraged.

Know who you’re characters are, their relationships to one another, and how they interact, this will help you know what to say.

Read it out loud.

 

Describing details

Pictures help. I’ve recently discovered Pintrest and all it has to offer in the form of visuals. We write better if we know what we’re looking at.

The five sense. You’ve got five, don’t rely just on sight. Sometimes the impression a person or place makes is more rich and vibrant than describing the dimensions of the room in detail.

Make an impression instead of describing a picture. Mention the wash of heat from the fire, the stink of the person at the table, the chill in the room.

Sprinkling imagery throughout the scene. Use beats. If you don’t know them, look them up.

 

Helpful Websites

These are mostly geared toward kids, but writing help is writing help, no matter how old you are.

http://www.judyblume.com/writing.php

http://rickriordan.com/about-rick/writingadvice.aspx

http://ywp.nanowrimo.org

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

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