Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dignity in the Details: Graham's Inspired "The Wind in the Willows"

Photo by Adele Annesi
As a former Scholastic editor, I'm interested in classic stories, particularly those with good illustrations. While visiting friends over the Thanksgiving weekend, I saw in their bookshelves the golden anniversary edition of author Kenneth Grahame's 1909 landmark The Wind in the Willows published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1959 with gallery quality illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, and a lesson on the art and craft of writing in the preface by Frances Clarke Sayers. 

Sayers said this:

Photo by Adele Annesi
"Much of the success of his [Shepard's] mingling of two worlds is due to Kenneth Graham's inspired choice of detail. With a sureness that never transgresses the actuality of either world, he instinctively selects the appropriate object which makes the animal human. When Mole is being traced by Rat, having foolishly gone off to the wild wood on his own, it is not by his paw print that Rat indentifies Mole's trail, but by the imprint of his galoshes!"

Photo by Adele Annesi

The key to detail is select that which doesn't transgress the "actuality of either world." For writers who are blending worlds or genres, look for the appropriate object that identifies one world with the other, in this case shoeprints instead of paw prints.

Tip: What story are you working on that blends two genres or worlds? Consider how you can mingle the two in a way that connects one with the other without abrogating either. Share your results with us.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Social Networking Resources for Writers

Chapter & Voice helps writers sell
Another great resource from Poets & Writers is Chapter & Voice, which helps writers ride the wave of audio's growing popularity to "get published, get known and sell books." Chapter & Voice specializes in AudioTeasers five- to eight-minute narrated samples of 1,250 words or fewer using a professional recording of a sample of the writer's work that can grab an audience's attention and leave them wanting more. For more info, visit Chapter & Voice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Social Networking Resources for Writers

Resources for the writer's toolkit
Regardless of which route writers take toward publication, we're increasingly responsible for marketing our work, and for managing our online presence. That's one of the many reasons I'm happy for publications like Poets & Writers, which keeps me abreast of new resources. One resource listed in the November/December is Klout, which measures online influence.

Klout looks at the extent of a person's online friendships and professional connections to measure influence. Recommending, sharing and creating content  engages and impacts others, and the KloutScore measures that impact on a scale of 1 to 100, based on a person's ability to drive action. The scoring system uses data from social networks to measure what Klout considers three key areas: true reach how many people you influence, amplification how much you influence them, and network impact the influence of your network.

If you're like me, you'd usually rather be writing, but knowing about what's out there for tools, and having the ability to use those that work best, is another skill for the writer's toolkit.

Check out Klout, and post a comment on what you think.

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Step Into Your Story With Backstory

Step into a scene with backstory
In the last post, we addressed that sinking feeling you get when something's missing in a scene. Yet, the feeling isn't necessarily a harbinger of ill. If you're right about something being wrong, kudos for good instincts. Just don't ignore the feeling. Instead, ponder your query. The answer can be as simple as lack of backstory.

The subject of missing links came up while I was editing and early chapter in a novel. A new character appeared at the start of the chapter, but without much context. Once I revised the scene to create a more concrete setting, I realized I wanted to know more about this new character. It's like introducing two people you hope will hit it off. Pretty hard to do unless you know them both well enough.

So, what do you do when you realize you lack backstory for a character? One approach blends two techniques: Stephen King's imagining your way into a story and Robert Olen Butler's dreamstorming (see the Resources section at the end). In essence, if you don't have a ton of time to write an extensive character study, or if you already have and just need to round out your character, try this. Before you write the chapter, write a scene that involves the character and some facet of his or her past that impacts this section of the current story. But even before you pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard, imagine the possibilities.

Tip: Select a chapter where a new character is introduced. Ask yourself what you want to convey about the person in the context of the current chapter that will allow you to reveal the character's past and convey that to the reader. Before writing let your imagination roam.

Resource: For more on Stephen King's technique, see the August 2010 issue of The Writer, an archived piece by called, "Use Imagery to Bring Your Story to Life." For more on Robert Olen Butler's dreamstorming, see From Where You Dream, Chapter 5, "A Writer Prepares."

Happy writing!