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Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Sun Jun 08, 2014 6:59 pm

Sorry that I haven't had a chance to reply to most of these posts--we were gone for the entire weekend.

I'd love it, if you're a lurker in this forum, if you'd let us know what you're reading, too! You don't have to write a long, analytical post--the title and author, and a couple of sentences about why you like the book would be GREAT.

It's a pretty easy way to dip your toe into the waters of contributing to this forum, and we'd truly--TRULY--love to hear from you!

Tell you what--I haven't done this in a while. If I get 10 more people to contribute to this thread in a meaningful way (not just a "hi, I'm here" sort of comment), I'll draw a name at random from all contributors for a FABULOUS prize.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby itsjoanne » Mon Jun 09, 2014 11:05 am

At the moment, I'm not reading anything "for pleasure," so to speak (unless you count what I am reading to my kids, which I WILL mention below.).

As I pursue a new direction in my writing, I'm making a point of reading a newer picture book every day - and I am really enjoying it. If you've got little ones, a few really fun ones I've come across in the past month or so are Guess Again! by Mac Barnett and Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

I am also reading a craft book on writing picture books - The Nuts and Bolts Guide To Writing Picture Books by Linda Ashman. Have only made it through the first chapter so far, but I am learning lots.

As far as reading to my kids, just last night I finished Alice in Wonderland with my 10-year-old daughter, and we'll be starting Through the Looking-Glass tonight. My 13-year-old son is a fan of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series (my husband loved them as a child), and we are currently working through the Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle. Enjoying all these.

Probably not terribly helpful to you guys - but I figured I'd share anyway (and maybe win a fabulous prize! :D)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Mon Jun 09, 2014 2:38 pm

Whew. We had bad storms all weekend and lightning knocked out the internet. But now it's fixed. And I was busy taming my new rooster. Fun farm days! :P

I am re-reading the first book in the Little Britches series, by Ralph Moody. I've read it a million times but I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. My mom bought it for me at a homeschool book fair years ago. Even though it could technically be called a young adult/children's book, I think it's a high quality book for any age.

The thing that draws me is that it is the author's true life story. All the amazing, laughable, frightening, heartbreaking, wonderful things that he writes about actually happened. It's written in a informal, conversational style, so each sentence and thought flows into the next so easily that it is almost impossible to put the book down. One can all but hear the author telling the story out loud.

It's one of those that you never want to end. The upside is that there are 8 books in Moody's autobiographical series, so it continues! I've only read the first two, but as soon as I save up my pennies I will be buying the rest - and I hardly EVER buy books. But I highly enjoy coming across true stories as good as Little Britches.

I've been thinking about re-reading "The Colonel's Lady On The Western Frontier: The Correspondence Of Alice Kirk Grierson" edited by Shirley A. Leckie. I read that one back in high school and loved it. I enjoy finding primary source documents to read about the American frontier. Mrs. Grierson's letters make those years come alive. She was a very brave and very strong woman - just as strong as the men around her. I think that's what makes me like her so much as a historical figure. Plus I live a hop, skip, and jump down the road from Fort Davis, Texas, where she lived for a time. :)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby Shann » Mon Jun 09, 2014 7:00 pm

Joanne and RC, you are both reading my favorite genre. I used to read every book my kids read and I love YA and picture books and all in between. I don't think I've heard of Little Britches, but am going to Che k it out for sure.

I have quite a few how to books about writing for kids. Most people think it's easier because it's generally shorter, but boy kids can be a difficult audience for sure. My favorite is You can Write Children's Books by Tracy Dillsboro. There is a handbook and a workbook. I don't think you need both as they seem to have a lot of the same things in them, but I've found it quite helpful. There is also a Writer's Market just for kids. Mine is about 15 years old and I have a newer version of the all genre Writer's Market that includes kids stuff too.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Mon Jun 09, 2014 7:24 pm

Shann wrote:Joanne and RC, you are both reading my favorite genre. I used to read every book my kids read and I love YA and picture books and all in between. I don't think I've heard of Little Britches, but am going to Che k it out for sure.


Do do do!! :D You will not be sorry!! I've heard it described as Little House for boys. But I think girls are just as likely to enjoy it. I do. :)

Hands down, the series is on my top 5 list of good reads. I can't say enough good things about it. Plus, I N.E.V.E.R. cry over books. Little Britches made me cry. Not because it was depressing, but because it was just so REAL.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 09, 2014 7:41 pm

Well, as often happens, this thread has gone off in an unpredictable direction. That's totally fine--it's exciting to see several of you connect over a common interest.

I wonder if anyone else out there might want to bring this thread full circle. Are you reading something that you can share with us? A paragraph or two of excellent writing, in any genre?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby Allison » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:13 pm

glorybee wrote:Well, as often happens, this thread has gone off in an unpredictable direction. That's totally fine--it's exciting to see several of you connect over a common interest.

I wonder if anyone else out there might want to bring this thread full circle. Are you reading something that you can share with us? A paragraph or two of excellent writing, in any genre?


I found another part I like that won't give too much away.

Andrew Peterson in "North! Or be Eaten" wrote:The dragon raised its face to the sky with careful grace until its gleaming scales caught the sun and the best towered above them like a giant golden scepter. Soon the other dragons joined it in song, and Janner felt that his heart might burst. He heard the clatter of swords as they slipped from the Kimerans' limp hands while the big men stood in awe. Artham spread his arms... wide and basked in the song as if it were sunlight.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby swfdoc1 » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:24 pm

glorybee wrote:I wonder if anyone else out there might want to bring this thread full circle. Are you reading something that you can share with us? A paragraph or two of excellent writing, in any genre?


Maybe tomorrow, if time permits. I'd love to win the Rolex!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby lish1936 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 7:59 am

I never win anything :) , but I'm re-reading the autobiography of the late Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Here are few snippets from a chapter about a tent revival service that demonstrate why I admire her absolute mastery of descriptive writing and word choices to weave a story.

"The earth was carpeted with a silky layer of dried grass and cotton stalks...collapsible chairs were poked into the still-soft ground...And the tent, that blurry bright three-dimensional A...The lights hanging slack overhead, the soft ground underneath and the canvas wall that faintly blew in and out, like cheeks puffed with air, made for a feeling of a country fair...Would the gentle Jesus care to enter into that transitory setting? The altar wobbled and threatened to overturn and the collection table sat at a rakish angle. One leg yielded itself to the loose dirt. Would God the Father allow His only Son to mix with a crowd of cotton pickers and maids, washerwomen and handymen? I knew He sent His spirit on Sundays to the church, but after all. that was a church and the people had had all Saturday to shuffle off the cloak of work and the skin of despair."

( I wonder why there is no comma after "God?")

Her use of metaphors and similes reflects what she is also known for-her poetry. Although the book is a great example of superior storytelling, since it's about memories as seen through a child's eyes, it's hard to believe that some of the facts are not fictionalized. But this makes the book a more enjoyable read. She is bold and aggressive in talking about her impression of racial differences during her childhood. But again, I wonder how a mind so young could think so deeply so as to retain those impressions years later.

There are many examples of "breaking the rules." In the same passage that describes the tent meeting, she writes:

"Teenagers enjoyed revivals a much as adults. They used the night outside meetings to play at courting." And then this elongated sentence followed; one that I might have re-written or added a comma or two. :)

"The impermanence of a collapsible church added to the frivolity, and their eyes flashed and winked and the girls giggled little silver drops in the dusk while the boys postured and swaggered and pretended not to notice."

I wonder why the editor didn't include a comma after "winked?"

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 10, 2014 8:43 am

lish1936 wrote: Would God the Father allow His only Son to mix with a crowd of cotton pickers and maids, washerwomen and handymen?

( I wonder why there is no comma after "God?")


"God the Father" is a phrase that doesn't need a comma. Think of it as equivalent to "Smokey the Bear."

lish1936 wrote:"The impermanence of a collapsible church added to the frivolity, and their eyes flashed and winked and the girls giggled little silver drops in the dusk while the boys postured and swaggered and pretended not to notice."

I wonder why the editor didn't include a comma after "winked?"


In this case, I think it's because the writer wanted her readers to take in that scene as a whole, with all of those things happening at once. The flow of that sentence, mostly uninterrupted by commas, helps us to visualize that scene in its entirety, rather than visualizing first the giggling girls and then the swaggering boys.

There's a sentence in that same book that floored me the first time I read it, and although I can't recreate it exactly, I still think of that sentence as one that first showed me the power of the written word. Angelou is talking about an instance when she and her brother laughed hilariously about something (I can't remember what). After the incident, she says something like "...for days, we stood at the edge of laughter's cliff, and any little thing threatened to push us over."
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby dmbowman » Tue Jun 10, 2014 9:26 am

I've been reading 'Ruthless - Knowing the God Who Fights for You' by Bo Stern. I'm still new to figuring out what is good writing so I'll post part that has impacted my life and let you tell me if it's good or not. :) I like how relate-able and conversational her writing is.

'Imagine that you came to me to say that a man had driven by you in his car, rolled down his window, hurled a rock at you, and called you ugly. How do you think I would respond? I can assure you that I would be furious. I would be so angry, in fact, that I would want to go get that guy and teach him a lesson in manners. I would be spitting mad at this injustice and ready to defend your cause at (nearly) any price.

Now imagine you told me that my husband, Steve, had driven by you, thrown a rock at you and called you ugly. Entirely different situation. How would I respond? I would tell you without hesitation, "You've got the wrong guy." I know Steve Stern. I've been married to him for twenty-eight years. That's twenty-eight years of conversations and family vacations and bounced checks and hard nights and fierce fights. I know him, and I've never known a more compassionate man. I've seen him rock our sick children through the night and tenderly care for their bike-crashing wounds. I was with him in a restaurant once when an older man who was recovering from surgery fell over and began bleeding from his head. While everyone else scattered, Steve got down on the floor, put the man's head in his lap, and started praying and speaking soft words over him. I know Steve I know his character.'

She wrote this to describe how when life is tough and we ask the question "Why would God do this to me?" that we have the wrong guy. Later in the same section she states, "God doesn't throw rocks at us."

I just love the reality check to go back and look at the character of God and see if what is happening in our lives is really from Him or if He is the one that is helping us pick up the pieces and go on.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby lish1936 » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:00 am

Angelou is talking about an instance when she and her brother laughed hilariously about something (I can't remember what).


Yes, they're in church and a ruckus arises that ends with the minister picking up his false teeth from the floor and depositing them in his pocket, all the while saying, "Naked I came into the world, and naked I shall go out." She and her brother, Bailey (She called him, "her Kingdom Come"), erupted into uncontrollable laughter that eventually evolved into such hysterical behavior that they were duly escorted from the church and whipped severely. Here's the passage that remains somewhat in your memory:

"Laughter so easily turns to hysteria for imaginative children. I felt for weeks after that I had been very, very sick, and until I completely recovered my strength I stood on laughter's cliff and any funny thing could hurl me off to my death below."

The above passage brings up another question. When I read it, I had to read the "after that I had been"... twice, because it seemed as if it should have read:

" I felt for weeks later that I had been very, very sick..."

Otherwise, if I fail to pause after "after" then I'm confused by the wording (after that I had been).

Am I making sense? :D

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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:37 am

lish1936 wrote:Laughter so easily turns to hysteria for imaginative children. I felt for weeks after that I had been very, very sick, and until I completely recovered my strength I stood on laughter's cliff and any funny thing could hurl me off to my death below."[/i][/color]

The above passage brings up another question. When I read it, I had to read the "after that I had been"... twice, because it seemed as if it should have read:

" I felt for weeks later that I had been very, very sick..."

Otherwise, if I fail to pause after "after" then I'm confused by the wording (after that I had been).

Am I making sense? :D

Lillian


It's a very subtle thing, but I think I might know why Angelou chose "for weeks after" rather than "for weeks later." First of all, "for" doesn't usually go with "weeks later;" for example, I might say something like

I went to Disney World and had my picture taken with Mickey Mouse. Weeks later, I found the picture and relived the experience all over again.

And in that case, "weeks later" indicates an event that happened once (finding the picture) rather than continually.

But when Angelou writes "for weeks after," she indicates something that happens continually, for a span of weeks.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with your preferred wording.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby glorybee » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:38 am

dmbowman, your passage is an excellent example of nonfiction written in an easily relatable voice. I don't read much nonfiction, but this passage held my interest and I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing it!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:56 am

The above passage brings up another question. When I read it, I had to read the "after that I had been"... twice, because it seemed as if it should have read:

" I felt for weeks later that I had been very, very sick..."

Otherwise, if I fail to pause after "after" then I'm confused by the wording (after that I had been).

Am I making sense? :D

Lillian[/quote]

Unfortunately, that does make sense. :lol: I have to watch myself or things slip into my writing that confuse people (and occasionally confuse me too when I re-read it, haha). I'm working on remembering not to fill in blanks in my mind or write jawbreaking roundabout sentences. My weird brain... :P

Good times! :)

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