Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

I love finding the perfect THING.

We have this shelf that has needed the perfect thing on top of it for a long, long time.

This Hopi pottery just doesn't cut it.

We have looked and looked and looked.

We bought this cool bird hotel to go up there, but then it looked better somewhere else.

Then, while down South recently, I found the THING in an antique store. 

Perfect! (Okay, okay, same color as the, then ALMOST perfect. But close enough. I love it.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

This is Dialogue 101, but....sometimes it doesn't hurt to be reminded.

Let's talk about dialogue tags - sometimes referred to as speaker know, the "he said" and "she said" stuff.

Here are my Rules for Using Dialogue Tags:

1. Don't use the tag to explain.

Example: he snarled; she apologized.

Let the dialogue or beat (action) show what the tag was explaining.

2. Don't struggle for variety.

Said is usually the best choice. It becomes invisible, which is a good thing.

3. Don't use words that don't denote speech.

Example: "I'm so tired," she sighed. or "That's a good one," he chuckled.

You can't sigh or chuckle words.

You can say something and then sigh or chuckle. ("That's a good one." He chuckled.)

4. Cut or limit the -ly adverbs.

Example: She exclaimed hatefully. or She said angrily.

Show, don't tell. Those adverbs are telling.

Use the dialogue to show what the adverb is telling.

Example: "You're nothing but a pitiful loser" would certainly be hateful.

Or, instead of "She said angrily", how about, "I've had it up to here with you," she snapped. "Now get out of my face and pretend like you never met me."

5. Place the tag where there is a natural break in dialogue.

Reading out loud will help with this. Pay attention to places where you stumble over your words or you're tempted to change something. That's a big clue that maybe it needs to be changed.

6. Eliminate the tags if it's clear who's talking.

Use beats (little bits of action) to help identify the speaker.

But remember - it's very easy to overuse dialogue tags. Trust me, we all do it.

You might try highlighting ALL dialogue tags in red or yellow and then take a look at them. That might reveal even more than actually reading the piece. You will physically see how often you use them and what they are. (Same goes for those -ly adverbs - highlight them.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eating my way through North Carolina

Just got home from North Carolina. 

The food, the food, the food!

I ate about a gazillion pimento cheese sandwiches with sweet tea.

And, of  course, Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

In Asheville, you can create your own potato chips!

Or have a bacon shake.

This is a DOG bakery!

I got treats for Ruby and Martha.

I had dinner with my pal, Monika Schroder.

This has nothing to do with food, but it was a cool old elevator that actually had a cute dude to operate it.

And when you got to the top, the view of the mountains was amazing.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Good dialogue shows.
It shows emotions. Let the words that are spoken show the character's feelings.


She was puzzled.
"Huh?" she said. "I don't get it."

Good dialogue shows personality traits.

She was such a bossy girl.
"I'm the only one who makes up the rules to this game and only me. You got it?"

Dialogue can (and should) be used to show a whole host of story elements - setting, weather, motivation, backstory, relationships to other characters, etc.

When you're tempted to write narrative - to tell the reader some backstory, to tell the reader where the characters are, to tell the reader how the character feels about another character,


Try dialogue instead.

Next week: more dialogue

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hello, I think I love you....

The day before we left for N.C., my trusty UPS dude (Rick) brought me this.

After TWO years, people:

Friday, September 14, 2012


I'm headed South y'all.

Goodbye Massachusetts.

Hello North Carolina.

Back soon.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

The story you wrote, How to Steal a Dog, is amazing, but a little emotional, at least for my teacher. 

Writing Tip Tuesday

Let's talk about talking.

Dialogue, that is.

Knowing how to write dialogue is one of the best tools you can have in your writer's toolbox and, in my opinion, one of the easiest to master because it's very specific and concrete - unlike those big ole scary things like structure and pace and plot.

No doubt about it, good dialogue is critical to children's books.

  • Sections with no dialogue = narrative. Too much narrative bores young readers and slows the pace. Dialogue adds white space and breaks up the narrative.
  • Dialogue helps show the story. Narrative tends to tell the story.
  • Dialogue brings the characters to life.
  • Dialogue quickens the pace.
  • Dialogue moves the story along.
  • Dialogue contributes to voice and style of both the writer and the speaker (i.e., the character).
I think that part of writing good dialogue can't be taught. It's a talent, an art, an EAR - much like writing voice. Sometimes a writer has it and sometimes she doesn't. Sometimes she has it but hasn't honed it, discovered it, experienced her dialogue voice yet.

That skill can be sharpened by listening - really listening - to real people talking - and by reading good dialogue.

Remember that post from last week? The quote from Alison Smith about focused reading? I think that's a great way to study good dialogue - to read a book you love and focus only on the dialogue.

Another part of writing good dialogue that can't really be taught is mastered by knowing your character. Nobody can teach you to know your character. You have to know your character. If you do, you'll know how he talks.

But there are also part of creating good dialogue that can be learned - some simple, concrete, easy-to-master techniques.

So - next week - some tips on dialogue.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thank you!!!

A big shout-out to the smart, sweet, polite, adorable fifth-grader who took on the summer job of sorting TEN THOUSAND bookmarks into groups of 50.

Her bonus? She's a character in my next book. (And she's a smart, sweet, polite, adorable fifth-grader in that book. Although she'll probably be in college by the time I'm finished.)

Do you think she's sick of seeing my face yet? :-)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Go, Dog, go!
This is the fifth year in a row!

It was runner-up last year.

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I was wondering how old you are. Because I want to know are you 30 or 26 or 41.
Do you, Ms. O'Connor, have a husband? Do you?
I'm just asking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

I always end my school presentations by offering several pieces of advice.

One of them is this: If you want to be a better writer, you need to do three things:
  1. Read
  2. Read
  3. Read
I'm always shocked and a bit annoyed when I meet children's writers who don't read children's books.

But they are in the minority.

For the majority who do read, I recently came across a piece of advice from author Alison Smith (as quoted in Off the Page by Carole Burns):

I would reread my favorite writers and I'd say, this time when you read this book, look at how Charlotte Bronte structured a chapter. And this time when you read this book, let's look at dialogue and which parts are spoken and which parts are told indirectly. And it was really exciting. It was like going behind the scenes of your favorite book and seeing them again.

I think this is a great way to read as a writer and to learn by reading - a focused approach.

This is exactly the way I recommend approaching revision - by focusing on one element at a time - to read through the work thinking of only one thing at a time rather than the scatter-shot, try-to-catch-everything-at-once approach.