~ By Amanda Smith
Our final classroom take-over for the 2019/2020 school year comes from an amazing group of 7th and 8th graders. Back in the fall when I had asked them about their favorite books, none of us could have imagined the way this school year would end. Missing them as I work through their responses, I am reminded why I write for children. Our readers, these kids, draw hope and strength from our stories. They escape into fantasy worlds where they learn how to deal with reality. They gather compassion and empathy, grow strong and kind. And they become our heroes.
As I worked through the questionnaires, I found it interesting that the majority of 7th and 8th grade students focused their answers on characters and endings. So, as writers, we should make sure we listen and give them well rounded characters and satisfying endings. Let’s see what they have to say.
What kind of characters do you like?
Adrienne—I recently read the book WE ARE OKAY by Nina Lacour, where the main character is always there for her friends. I like this character because of the way she cares for and loves her friends. I would be friends with this character because she is sweet and loving, and matches my personality.
Avery – In MATCHED by Ally Condie, I like the main character, Cassie because she is relatable. I can connect to her and know what she feels when she doesn’t want to follow the rules.
Ella H. – In WINGS OF FIRE, Tui T. Sutherland creates a character named Sunny. Sunny is a small nightwing-sandwing hybrid and she is always happy and optimistic. I would be friends with her because she is basically the dragon version of me.
Ella K. – I look for depth in characters’ feelings, details of characters’ thoughts and an elaborate display of characters’ motives for the decisions they make. I look for these things, because it makes me feel connected to the main character and the people around them.
Claire – Glory is my favorite character form WINGS OF FIRE. She is a dragon who can change her color and spit venom with her fangs. She is not aggressive, but will fight when it is necessary. I think if she was real, we would be good friends.
Sebz -- Ben Ripley from SPY SCHOOL is a character I like, because he is sarcastic.
Marley – The character in JELLY BEAN SUMMER by Joyce Maghin is a young girl like me and I liked her so much, because her inner thoughts were very funny. I would be friends with her because she is kind and clever.
Elyssa – I would be friends with Frances from RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman, because she is relatable and headstrong.
Carolyn – I liked Raina in GUTS (Raina Telgemeier), because she is a good friend and sounds like she would be easy to get along with.
Caden – I think I would be friends with Oliver in THE UNEXPECTED LIFE OF OLIVER CRAMWELL PITTS (Avi) because he is nice and very kind.
Inspiring or brave characters:
Julia and Hannah B —I loved the character, Sara from WHITE BIRD. What I liked about her is that she almost gave her life just to save Julien, and her loyalty. She has courage, honesty and a kind heart.
Jonathan – I liked how Julien from WHITE BIRD (R.J. Palacio) overcame hardship and hid his friend. I like characters that are positive friends.
Georgia – In the book I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter the main character is Cammie Morgan. She has a lot going on, but she seems to stay cool and she has two best friends. They stick together through everything.
Jake – Alex Rider us a teenage spy and goes on lots of intense missions. I like this character because there is always a surprise at the last second.
Damian – I like Harry Potter, because he is brave and adventurous, but I wouldn’t want to be his friend, because he can be selfish.
Makenna – Katniss Everdeen is from THE HUNGER GAMES. She doesn’t give up and will do anything to keep her family and friends safe.
Hayden – I liked Link from OCARINA OF TIME by Akira Himekawa, because he is fun-loving and mischievous, as well as courageous. I would like to be friends with him to have fun adventures.
Megan – Recently, I read A TALE OF MAGIC by Chris Colfer. The main character, Brystal Evergreen was a strong role model, because when her teacher was taken, Brystal gathered her friends and found her.
Kelsey – Auggie from WONDER (R.J. Palacio) is my favorite character, because he stayed positive and strong. I would want to be friends with him, because he would always be there for me.
Daniel – Cup from THE HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson is always loyal.
Brianna – I recently read ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein. I liked Kyle, because of his sense of adventure and team leadership.
Characters that provide deeper insight and personal growth:
Chloe – The book I’m currently reading, FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry, is about a girl with Tourette’s. I like reading books form the point of view of people with disabilities. I like these books, because it gives me insight.
Hannah – I like the characters Anya and Siobhan in ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol. I like how Anya grew to like herself for who she is and how Siobhan didn’t care what anyone thought of her.
Scarlett – In the book THE CUPCAKE QUEEN by Heather Hepler, I like the character Tally, because she accepts who she is. She isn’t afraid of anything, and she shows other people to stand up for themselves not matter what body-type they are.
Kaylin – In the book WAITING FOR SARAH by Bruce McBay, Mike has a very interesting personality. He was different from a standard character. He is angry at the world for what happened to him and blames everyone else.
Camdyn – Lizzie from LIZZIE FLYING SOLO by Nanci Turner Steveson is positive and never gives up. Maybe I would be friends with her because I sometimes need positivity.
Margaret – I liked Savannah in HIDEOUT (Gordon Korman), because she never gave up on Luthor. I would love to be friends with her, because she would push me to be better.
What kinds of endings do you like?
Just as with the 6th graders we hosted in March, these students appreciate a good cliff-hanger - provided a sequel is close at hand. But don’t leave them hanging with unresolved threads. Like Ella B. said, “You can’t just end a book with a major cliff hanger and never write another book explaining what happens.” What I have noticed, though, is that these discerning readers expect an ending to deliver more than just a neatly wrapped up story.
Take a look:
Rosemary – The ending of THE KINDOM (Jess Rothenberg) was great. It did not end with a “happily ever after.” It ended with a nice resolution to the plot, but left the rest to the readers’ imagination.
Erin – I liked the ending of THE OUTSIDERS (S.E. Hinton). The ending is similar to the beginning.
Grace – I liked the ending of WHITE BIRD, because it had a good message and made me think of what I can do to change the world.
Corbin – REBOUND by Kwame Alexander ended in a way that linked up well with the first book THE CROSSOVER.
Emelyn – The ending of AN INQUISITOR’S TALE (Adam Gidwitz) revealed identities of mysterious characters and tied the whole book together really well.
CJ – I liked the ending of TYRANT’S TOMB (Rick Riordan), because it ended with a battle. I don’t like books that end with “happily ever after,” because it makes it feel as if nothing had changed since the beginning.
Hannah – TO CATCH A KILLER by Sheryl Scarborough ended so nicely and all the pieces fit together. It made me feel like life could be like that someday.
Seventh and Eighth graders fall in that obscure place in the market – that crossover spot between upper middle grade and young YA, which can make finding the right book tricky. I doubt that they care much about marketing labels. However, they are clear about what they want: Adventure, escape, and hope. A call to action. Glimpses of who they are. Examples of who they aspire to be. And inspiration to be brave and be the very best version of themselves.
Other books and authors mentioned by these students:
AMULET SERIES by Kazu Kibushi
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys
BLINDSIDED by Priscilla Cummings
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
DEEP BLUE by Jennifer Donnelly
GEMINI SUMMER by Iain Lawrence
GIRL STOLEN by April Henry
GREYSON GRAY by B.C. Tweedt
GYM CANDY by Carl Denker
I WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Martin Ganda
LAND OF STORIES by Chris Colfer
LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff
MISSING by Margaret Peterson
PART OF YOUR WORLD by Elizabeth Braswell
PERCY JACKSON by Rick Riordan
SO B IT by Sarah Weeks
STORMRISE by Jillian Boehme
THE ABILITY by M.M. Vaughen
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CURSE by Richard Newsome
THE COMPOUND by S.A Boden
THE EXTRA YARD by Mike Lupica
THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Steward
THE PERFECT SCORE by Bob Buyea
THE RED STAR OVER CHINA by Edgar Snow
THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Messner
THE THIEF OF ALWAYS by Clive Barker
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls
By Annie Cronin Romano
If you’ve ever taken a workshop on novel revision, there’s a good chance you’ve heard your fellow writers mention doing frequency checks on words that are often overused. These “weed words” are words or phrases that pop up over and over in your manuscript without adding texture to your narrative.
Using the “find” feature, you type in the word you want to check and then edit accordingly. But did you know the exercise of a frequency check can and should go beyond merely deleting or changing an overused word? It can help you catch stereotyped phrasing and increase your awareness of varying descriptions and vocabulary.
Recently, I was completing frequency word checks while editing my middle grade novel. When I first started the revisions, I kept a running log of words I noticed I was using frequently. Rather than interrupt my flow when writing, I'd simply jot down the word in my log to check later. However, it was while doing the common words frequency check that I discovered my own personal “weed words.” For instance, I never realized how frequently I used the words “hand” "reached," and “turned” in this particular manuscript until I started the frequency check. They kept showing up! I was astounded at how often I used certain words I didn’t think of as overly-common. In finding those words, I also picked up on similarities in many of my descriptions. (Didn't she "roll her eyes" three paragraphs ago?) As I edited, my weed word list grew from about 40 words on my running list to over 100 words (i.e., adding "roll" and "eyes"), and the task at hand became much more than a find-and-replace drill. I delved deeper into my writing, examining my voice and style as I edited. Questions I began asking included, “How can I convey that feeling differently?” "Is this truly how the character would say this?" “What else can my character do to show that reaction?” and “Is this line essential/moving the story forward?” What started as a basic editing drill led me to reexamine my overall writing technique and how it impacted my story as a whole. The result was a significantly stronger manuscript.
I have included a frequency words list below, which includes words I discovered I use too often (my own personal "weed words") as well as some of the usual suspects ("very," "really," "seems," etc.). Your list may look quite different, but this will give you a place to start. Sometimes your weed words may be project-specific (i.e., if you're working on a book that takes place in the desert, check for words like "sand," "dry," and "arid"). You don't have to eliminate every instance of these words; use the list as a tool to ensure you vary your vocabulary and minimize common phrasing and descriptions.
The next time you’re editing your work, consider going beyond the find-and-replace approach to thinning out your weed words, and dig down further to bring out the best in every line. Weeding, when paired with conscientious revision, will make every word sing!
by Kelly Carey
Is your writing journey ready for our new virtual environment? Is your social media presence ready to be an asset to your writing?
If you’ve been timid about social media in the past, our new environment is the perfect moment to rethink.
We can’t meet in person and those wonderful connections you could make at workshops, conferences and book events are either no longer an option or they’ve all gone online. It’s time to pivot and create those connections virtually. That means you need to build a strong social media game.
Even when we are back to face-to-face days, your writing career will benefit if your social media community is full and rich.
But are you stuck in a cycle of social media excuses that are holding you back? Let’s see.
Excuse #1: Social Media Is A Time Suck
Everything can be a time suck and a distraction from your writing goals IF you allow things to obliterate your focus. Setting an egg timer allowance of 15 to 30 minutes a day or a week can help remedy this excuse and I would argue you may actually find time saving and valuable information on social media.
In that short 30 minutes spent on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram you may find the #MSWL tweet from an agent looking for your exact book! Score! You may happen across a Facebook post about a revision workshop that is just what your middle grade novel needs. Win! You may see a Publisher’s Weekly article that a fellow author posted and it will make you more knowledgeable and aware of current industry buzz. Excellent!
You can use your goals and focus your social media efforts so they are productive.
Excuse #2: Connections On Social Media Are Fake
Connections on social media are fake if you are being fake. Be your authentic self on social media and you will find real connections. I would argue that social media gives you the opportunity to make connections you might never have made if geographic proximity and chance were required.
If I read a book that I love, I tweet out praise and tag the author and/or illustrator and publisher. Almost 100% of the time one or all tweet back. There was NOTHING fake about my original tweet. It was genuinely motivated by my appreciation for a book. That is real. Social media gave me the mechanism to share my kind words directly with an author who I might never meet in person.
If I come across a great article, interview or blog post and I repost it on Facebook, my fellow writing colleagues may appreciate the opportunity to see it. If I tag the author of the piece and thank them for their efforts there is NOTHING fake about my respect for the article, interview or blog post. If you go through the effort of putting something out to the internet universe, it’s nice when someone notices. I think the authors and blog owners that see me repost their work alongside kind words appreciate that I do that. Almost 100% of the time I get a response. And now we are connected.
Be authentic and your social media connections will be real.
Excuse #3: Connections on Social Media Are Shallow
This is a situation of you get out what you are willing to put in. Granted, nothing can really replace the kismet meeting at a book launch that sparks a spontaneous conversation where you discover that you both had a childhood cat named Rex. BUT you can make connections that are deeper than ankle height. They will require effort and energy, just like any relationship.
If you are a passive social media user who just lurks around the platforms and hits like or clicks a heart if you see something that you agree with or love, then yes, your connections will be shallow. Those options are like waving across the room to a colleague but refusing to walk over and shake someone’s hand. You need to shake hands and offer a bit of conversation. You cannot just wave. Instead of hitting like or punching hearts, make a comment. That comment shows effort and moves you into the realm of active participant. Be that person.
If you engage in a meaningful way, your connections will be meaningful.
Excuse #4: I Stink at Technology
Me too! Just ask my kids. But you are a brave creative individual who puts manuscripts in front of critique groups. You can wade into Twitter and/or Facebook. Start small. As we suggest with all goals, make your technology goals manageable. We would never set a goal of writing three novels in one week, so why set a scary social media objective? Decide that you are going to set up a Twitter account and commit to 15 minutes of Twitter time a day and one tweet a week. You can do that. Want to get better at using Twitter? Add in a goal of watching a Twitter tutorial online.
Here’s the good news. While you are learning and figuring things out and making mistakes, like sending out a tweet with misspellings or forgetting to tag the author whose book you are gushing about, you will barely have any followers! So who is really going to see it anyway? In the beginning the only folks who see your tweet will probably be your crit group and your best friend! You’ll have time to hone your skills before a crowd is watching.
You will only master technology if you take steps to improve your skills.
Excuse #5: I Can Wait Until I Have a Book to Promote
No you cannot! Well before you have a book to promote and NEED your social media community you must put in the time to build the community and contribute to it.
I launched my debut book last month – in the middle of a pandemic that shut down everything! If I didn’t have social media, how would anyone have seen my book? The only reason I have followers on social media is because I posted and tweeted and tagged for years leading up to my book launch. The result was an online community ready to help boost news of my book because I had boosted their book news, retweeted their blog articles, and been a full participant in the social media community.
Even without the confines of the pandemic, my social media community puts my book news in front of WAY more folks than I could reach with face-to-face contact and to a much broader geographic reach.
If you wait until you need social media, it will be too late.
Are you ready to up your social media game, create real connections and build a social media community that will benefit your writing career? Great!
(Now prove it by tweeting and/or reposting this blog!)
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