Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Learning to Write by Reading - #amwriting

Chris writes romantic suspense as Kris Bock
I'm on a listserv for readers who are interested in mysteries (DorothyL). Someone recently started a discussion: "Is There a Fiction Book that Helped Teach You How to Write?" I thought my answer might make a good blog post, so here it is.
I've learned more about writing mysteries from the books I put down. Why did I lose interest?

Sometimes the answer is obvious in the first pages – poor writing. But in the last year, I've started a number of books and initially been impressed with the writing quality. But then I quit reading after a few chapters. I usually lose interest for one of two reasons:

First: I simply don't care if the main character succeeds in her goal. In a cozy mystery, the amateur detective has no real reason to be investigating. The crime doesn't directly affect her or her family or friends, and/or there's no reason to think the police can't take care of things. 

But it's not enough to make the detective a professional, so it's her job to investigate. The stakes can still feel low if there isn't some reason for me to be interested in seeing this particular crime solved, right now. 

That's not to say the stakes have to include the main character being accused of the crime. In the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, Brother Cadfael cares deeply about justice and protecting the innocent, even people he barely knows. And so, as a reader, I care. 

In a similar vein, I've always enjoyed Elaine Orr's Jolie Gentil Series. Jolie doesn't always have a good *practical* reason to investigate. But she has a burning desire to understand the truth. This is shown through her thoughts and actions, so it feels authentic to her character, not something tacked on by the author as an excuse for unbelievable behavior. To me that's a stronger motive than the surprisingly common "My horrible ex-husband has been accused of a crime, so I guess I have to get involved." 

Second: Not enough happens. One historical mystery I tried recently started out well, with dramatic action and strong writing. But this was followed by several chapters where the story didn't progress. A couple of new characters were introduced. They talked with the MC about topics that had already been discussed. Nobody had new information. The big mystery was barely acknowledged. The MC hadn't committed to learning more about it yet. Finally I got so bored I gave up. Perhaps things would've picked up again in a few chapters … but by that point, I didn't care enough to wait.

When I critique manuscripts, I often wind up explaining the necessity of having goal-motivation-conflict in every chapter. 

Another way to keep your story moving is to focus on your main character's goal in each scene. Even if we know what the overall goal is (gather warriors in order to battle the monster), remind the reader at the beginning of each scene what the scene goal is – and what the main character has to do to achieve it. You can also remind the reader why it is important (motivation) and why it will be difficult (conflict). This way, the reader is waiting to see if the main character will succeed or fail. It's also a way for you to check that your main character is staying active, and not just tagging along for the ride.

Sometimes writers know what the goal is, and why it's important, but forget to put it on the page. Sometimes writers get caught up in their own writing and don't realize they haven't had any conflict in a while. Sometimes writers haven't gotten close to their main characters, so the characters' behavior doesn't seem to come naturally from their personality. 

Writing is hard! It's why I recommend making an outline after writing a draft, to see what's really in the story rather than what you meant to include and thought you included. (More on that here.) It's the key to the revision method I discuss in Advanced Plotting.


The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help a writer work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also be used to help flesh out an outline. 

Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience.

More on this topic: 

Channeling The Reader’s Brain: What We Expect of Every Story, from Fiction University: The protagonist should want something, fear something, struggle, and change. 

The Two Things Every Novel Needsby James Scott Bell, from Crime Fiction Collective: Conflict and Suspense.

Four Questions To Ask When Your Writing Is Stuck, from Writer Unboxed: Quick overview on goals, motivation, conflict, and character change.

Ask an Editor with Theresa Stevens, from Romance University: A first-page critique discussing goals, motivation, and conflict.

Worrying Isn't Action by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com: "...use worry to amp up tension and raise stakes and definitely include it as Interiority. But remember that you need to balance it well with external conflict, or you risk your character…just sitting there." 

Chris Eboch is the author of You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

#Writing Resources for #KidLit Children’s Book Writers


Books: The Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishing, by Harold Underdown, explains everything from the genres to how to find a publisher. Underdown also has FAQs about the children’s book industry, and publisher updates, on his website. The Way to Write for Children, by Joan Aiken, is also recommended. Writer’s Digest also offers books on writing for children and basic writing craft, plus market guides.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, by Chris Eboch, offers an overview on writing for young people. Learn how to find ideas and develop those ideas into stories, articles, and books. Understand the basics of character development, plot, setting, and theme – and some advanced elements, along with how to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts. Finally, learn about editing your work and getting critiques.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Chris Eboch’s Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.

This really is helping me a lot. It's written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!


The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators  (first year $95, then $80 yearly) provides informational publications on the art and business of writing and illustrating. SCBWI also publishes a bimonthly newsletter and offers awards and grants for published works and works in progress. SCBWI members can join discussion boards. The SCBWI has an annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles and events around the US and the world. Learn more, or find out what’s happening in your region, via the organization’s main website.

SCBWI-New Mexico, our regional branch, sends out weekly e-lerts (email notices) about our programs, other local events, and industry information. Contact elerts to get on the mailing list. We also put out a quarterly newsletter on the web site. Visit the region’s page at the organization’s main website for activities and our latest newsletter.

We have monthly Shop Talks in Albuquerque, the second Tuesday of each month, from 7-8:30 at North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center. These feature short workshops or discussions, followed by social time. Topics and location are announced through the e-lerts.

A peer critique group meets on the third Saturday of the month, from 1:30 to 3:30 at the Erna Ferguson Library community room.

Helpful blogs:
  • KidLit.com: Agent Mary Kole runs this blog for readers and writers of children’s literature.
Critiques by Chris: $2 per page for novels; $50 for works up to 1200 words (picture books, stories, or articles). This provides a critique letter of editorial comments on plot, characterization, flow, language, etc. (1-2 pages for short work, 4-6 pages for novels), plus notes written on the manuscript. Learn more at her website “for writers” page.
Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at here.
Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock novels are action-packed romantic adventures set in Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico. Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Counterfeits starts a series about art theft. What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog. Learn more at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page



Monday, November 19, 2018

Strong Writing: Raising the Stakes #NaNoWriMo

Get great plotting tips in 
Advanced Plotting (links below)
Are you doing #NaNoWriMo? You may be hitting a slump. What happens next? How can you keep the story going strong? Let’s talk about the stakes – and how to raise them.

Look at your main story problem. What are the stakes? Do you have positive stakes (what the main character will get if he succeeds), negative stakes (what the MC will suffer if he fails), or both? Could the penalty for failure be worse? Your MC should not be able to walk away without penalty. Otherwise the problem was obviously not that important or difficult. The penalty can be anything from personal humiliation to losing the love interest to the destruction of the world – depending on the length of story and audience age – so long as you have set up how important that is for your MC.

Are things worse at page 200?
Note that those complications should also be both Difficult and Important. Say you have a character who needs to get somewhere by a specific time, and you want to increase tension by causing delays. If she simply runs into a series of chatty neighbors, it’s quickly going to get boring (unless you can push it to the point of comedy). 

Instead, find delays that are dramatic and important to the main character. Her dog slips out of the house while she’s distracted, and she’s worried that he’ll get hit by a car if she doesn’t get him back inside... Her best friend shows up and insists that they talk about something important NOW or she won’t be friends anymore.... 

Ideally, these complications also relate to the main problem or a subplot. The best friend’s delay will have more impact if it’s tied into a subplot involving tension between the two friends rather than coming out nowhere.

Here’s another important point -- you must keep raising the stakes, making each encounter different and more dramatic. You move the story forward by moving the main character farther back from her goal, according to Jack M. Bickham in his writing instruction book Scene and Structure:

        “Well-planned scenes end with disasters that tighten the noose around the lead character’s neck; they make things worse, not better; they eliminate hoped-for avenues of progress; they increase the lead character’s worry, sense of possible failure, and desperation – so that in all these ways the main character in a novel of 400 pages will be in far worse shape by page 200 than he seemed to be at the outset.” 

If the tension is always high, but at the same height, you still have a flat line. Instead, think of your plot as going in waves. Each scene is a mini-story, building to its own climax -- the peak of the wave. You may have a breather, a calmer moment, after that climax. But each scene should lead to the next, and drive the story forward, so all scenes connect and ultimately drive toward the final story climax.

Example: In the Haunted books, the kids have a time limit for helping the ghosts, because their parents’ ghost hunter TV show is only shooting for a few days. But the stakes also rise as the kids get more involved with the ghosts, and understand their tragic plights. Complications come from human meddlers – the fake psychic who wants to take credit, the mean assistant who thinks kids are troublemakers, and Mom, who worries and wants to keep the kids away from anything dangerous.

Exercise: take one of your story ideas. Outline a plot that escalates the problem.

Advanced Plotting has tons of advice on building strong plots. Advanced Plotting is available from Amazon (paperback or Kindle, free in KU) or Barnes & Noble (paperback). 

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs


Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock novels are action-packed romantic adventures set in Southwestern landscapes. Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog

Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Turning an Idea into Story: Building the Middle #writing #NaNoWriMo

The middle of a story is a trouble spot for many writers. Maybe it feels slow, maybe it feels boring, maybe you can't even figure out what happens next.

A good middle should be filled with complications.


If a character solves his problem or reaches his goal easily, the story is boring. To keep tension high, you need complications. For short stories, try the “rule of three” and have the main character try to solve the problem three times. The first two times, he fails and the situation worsens.

Remember: the situation should worsen. If things stay the same, he still has a problem, but the tension is flat. If his first attempts make things worse, tension rises.

For novels, you may have even more attempts and failures. In my first Haunted book, The Ghost on the Stairs, I made sure each ghost encounter felt more dangerous. As Tania tries to get closer to the ghost in order to help her, Jon worries that she will go too far and be injured or even killed. With enough variety, you can sustain this kind of tension indefinitely (witness the ongoing battle between Harry and Voldemort in the seven-book Harry Potter series).

Worse and Worser


You can worsen the situation in several ways. The main character’s actions could make the challenge more difficult. In my children’s mystery set in ancient Egypt, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a young temple dancer searches for her missing friend. But when she asks questions at the barracks where he was a soldier, she attracts dangerous attention from his enemies.

The villain may also raise the stakes. In my Mayan historical drama, The Well of Sacrifice, the main character escapes a power-hungry high priest. He threatens to kill her entire family, forcing her to return to captivity.

Secondary characters can cause complications, too, even if they are not “bad guys.” In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids’ mother decides to spend the day with them, forcing them to come up with creative ways to investigate the ghost while under her watchful eyes.

Finally, the main character may simply run out of time. At her first attempt, she had a week. At her second attempt, she had a day. Those two attempts have failed, and now she has only an hour! That creates tension.

• For each turning point in the story, brainstorm 10 things that could happen next. Then pick the one that is the worst or most unexpected, so long as it is still believable for the story.

See the "middles" tab to the right for more advice on building an exciting and dramatic middle. 

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs

Her writing craft books include Advanced Plotting and You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperbackAdvanced Plotting is available from Amazon (paperback or Kindle, free in KU) or Barnes & Noble (paperback). 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Get ready for #Halloween with #ghost stories that share #history!

“Haunted is a fun read with some thrills and chills and has the added bonus of some genuine, compassionate personalities.” - School Library Journal


“I LOVED this book. My daughter who is 11 could not put this book down. She read it so quickly and is asking for more!”


In my Haunted series, thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical modern kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. 

In The Ghost on the Stairs, the kids help investigate a hundred-year-old tragedy in Colorado silver mining country. The Riverboat Phantom puts them on the Mississippi River on an antique riverboat. For The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, Jon and Tania travel to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, where the ghost of an old miner is still looking for his lost mine. 

In this series, the ghosts are being held in this world by something that happened in the past. In order to help free the ghosts, Jon and Tania must understand that past.


“My 10 year old daughter HATES to read. These books kept her interested and wanting to read more. I downloaded all 4 in this series. THANK YOU!!” 

“What I loved most of all, was the way my 4th grade daughter got sucked into the story. She's a reluctant reader so it was a joy to see her completely absorbed in a book; she immediately started the second book in the series when she finished, and can't wait for more.” – Amazon readers

Get all four books in the series from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other retailers.

For writing advice that came from writing these books, see:


See also my post on Learning #History through Ghost Stories for using books such as these in the classroom.


HAUNTED

Thirteen-year-old Jon and his eleven-year-old sister, Tania, are typical kids – except for the fact that Tania can communicate with ghosts. Their mom and stepdad are producers of a ghost-hunter reality television show, but they don’t know about Tania’s gift, and Tania wants to keep it that way.

Jon can't see ghosts and didn't believe in them, but things are getting too crazy for any other explanation. And if softhearted Tania wants to help the ghosts, Jon will have to protect her and try to keep them both out of trouble.

First the siblings have to find out what happened to keep each ghost trapped in this world. Then they need to help the ghosts move on—sometimes by letting them take over Tania’s body. All this while dealing with their overprotective mother, a stepfather who’d want to exploit Tania’s gift, and a changing assortment of human troublemakers.

Life gets interesting when your sister sees ghosts. And the TV show’s shooting season is just beginning....

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Nonfiction Truths: Finding Your Theme in Nonfiction


At Home in Her Tomb
Writers tend to talk about theme less than they talk about characters, plot, and even setting. When theme does come up, it's usually with fiction. Yet identifying a theme can even help in writing powerful nonfiction.

Christine Liu-Perkins, author of At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui, says, “My book is about a set of 2,100-year-old tombs in China that had over 3,000 well-preserved artifacts, including the body of a woman. I decided to write about the tombs as a time capsule, the various artifacts revealing what life was like during that period. Coming up with a theme really helped me develop the focus and content for my nonfiction book, and also helped in pitching my proposal to the publisher.”

Shirley Raye Redmond gives another example. “Before writing my first draft of Blind Tom: The Horse Who Helped Build theGreat Railroad (Mountain Press Publishing), I narrowed the focus of my story and identified my story theme by answering the following questions as thoroughly as possible: who, what, when, where, how and why? I then abbreviated my answers so they fit concisely on an index card. On the back of the card, I wrote my theme statement: With perseverance, ordinary people (and even a blind horse) can play important roles in shaping major historical events. I kept my ‘focus card’ where I could see it as I drafted—and later refined—my story.”

For my fictionalized biography of Olympic runner Jesse Owens, I considered the various lessons of his life in order to focus the book. Because he overcame ill health, racism, poverty and a poor education to become one of the greatest athletes the world has known, a theme quickly presented itself: Suffering can make you stronger, if you face it with courage and determination.

With this in mind, I chose to open the book when Jesse was five, and his mother cut a growth from his chest with a knife. I ended the chapter with his father saying, “If he survived that pain, he’ll survive anything life has to offer. Pain won’t mean nothing to him now.” Jesse shows that spirit again and again throughout Jesse Owens: Young Record Breaker (Simon & Schuster), written under the name M. M. Eboch. Identifying that theme helped me craft a dramatic story, and may even inspire kids to tackle their greatest challenges.

In your theme, you can find the heart of your story. It’s your chance to share what you believe about the world, so take the time to identify and clarify your theme, and make sure your story supports it. Through your messages, you may influence children, and perhaps even change lives.


Chris Eboch is the author of You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. She is also the author of Advanced Plotting.


Chris has published over 50 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shut Up & Write: Julie Howard on Finding a #Writing Community


Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business

You’d think my laptop is my best friend. We go to coffee shops together, it rides next to me in my car, and I spend hours alone with it. When it’s feeling rundown, I’m the one it relies on to plug it in and lift its energy. Right now, we’re on vacation in Canada and spending a week in a mountain chalet with a tremendous view of the Selkirk Mountains. This can’t be a healthy relationship.

To be a writer, you have to write. That means you’re alone much of the time and, for me, focused on an imaginary world. This is a recipe for cutting oneself off from reality and real relationships. It shouldn’t be surprising loneliness creeps in. Several years ago, I found a great solution that not only solves the issue of human contact, but also significantly inspires my writing.

At first, I did what a lot of writers do. I went to coffee shops. There, at least, the voices and clatter of humans surrounded me. A few customers found their way into my stories – whether through their voice tones or hair color or the shape of their nose. A snippet of conversation became the inspiration for a side plot. I became friendly with a few of the other regulars who appeared each morning and the baristas knew my order before I arrived at the counter.

Then I discovered Shut Up & Write, a Meetup group for working writers of all sorts. It’s a very casual group, now with more than 25,000 members around the world, and totally free. I joined first in Sacramento, Calif. and started two morning groups there. Now I live in Boise, Idaho and launched the first Shut Up & Write there. We have well over a hundred members and have four writing sessions a week at various coffee shops. Writers sign up online to hold their spot for a session, show up and chat for a bit, and then write quietly on their own project for an hour. An hour doesn’t seem too long, but it’s amazing how joining others with the same creative energy spurs one forward.

My projects progress, but there’s also the benefit of friendships that develop and the mentoring I see happen. We share information about editing, plot development, writing conferences, and the long road to publishing. We also show each other pictures of our children and pets, offer suggestions on restaurants, and cheer each other on.

Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business. If you don’t have a Shut Up & Write in your community, you may consider starting one. There’s information about the organization here.

Happy writing!

Julie Howard is the author of the Wild Crime series. She is a former journalist and editor who has covered topics ranging from crime to cowboy poetry. She is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and founder of the Boise chapter of Shut Up & Write. Learn more at juliemhoward.com.

Crime Times Two (coming Fall 2018):

Meredith knows three things: First, the man in the library begged her to help him. Second, he was afraid of his wife. Third, now he’s dead.

While the evidence first points to a natural death, Meredith is certain there’s more to discover. People are tight-lipped in this small mountain village, and the man’s wife isn't talking either. Then a second death occurs, with remarkable similarities. It’s time to talk about murder. 

As a slow-burning relationship heats up in her own life, Meredith struggles with concepts of love and hate, belief and suspicion, and absolution and guilt. Nothing is clear cut…

She must decide: Is guilt, like evil, something you can choose to believe in?

Excerpt:

Jowls quivered under the man’s weak chin, and Meredith noted the stained and frayed shirt of someone who spent a lot of time alone in dark rooms, sending out a better version of himself into the virtual world. His eyes were anxious and beseeching at her as though she should have a clear understanding of him and his life.

Somehow, over the past hour and a half they’d been sitting next to each other – him playing video games and sharing his life story and her ignoring him the best she could – she had become his confessor and friend.

Meredith gave him what she hoped was an impartial-though-quasi-friendly smile. She reached for her purse and papers and rose from her chair. “Well. Nice talking with you.”

The man was lost in his own train of thought and seemed only slightly aware that Meredith was leaving.

He shook his head, morose.

“To make a long story short,” he summed up, “I think my wife is trying to kill me.”

Visit Julie:
Get Julie's first novel, Crime and Paradise, in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon.