FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JANUARY

by FIVE FABULOUS MAVENS

          It’s a new year, so for 2018 we are offering something new on our blog. At the end of each month we’ll post five tips on one particular writing-related subject, one tip from each of the Mavens. Our first topic is WRITERS’ NETWORKS.

From Dawne Knobbe: Start a private Facebook group page with your writer friends to share industry information. You can post upcoming events, editors who are open to submissions, writing tips, etc. It’s easy. Here is how to get started:

How to Create a Facebook Group

  •      Find “Add Group” From your “home page” on Facebook go to the Groups section on the left side menu and find “Add Group”
  •     Click “Create New Group”
  •     Name Your Group
  •     Add Members
  •     Choose Privacy Setting
  •     Click “Create”
  •     Choose an Icon
  •    Complete “About” Section

From Judy Enderle:  JOIN SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators  This world-wide organization is dedicated to the creation and promotion of children’s literature. Membership is open to published and unpublished authors and illustrators and others interested in writing and illustrating books and other material for young readers. Visit www.scbwi.org to learn about all they have to offer.

From Cheryl Zach: Conferences are great for networking, as are any events where writers gather. If you’re shy–and many writers are introverts–going to a workshop or discussion group or any event with a predetermined subject to discuss will help break the ice. Put your area of interest–picture books, YA, nonfiction, etc.–on your name tag. This will make it easy for another attendee to start a conversation with you. Remember to smile. And remember that it’s bad manners to rush an editor or agent and try to give them a long verbal version of your current WIP. If they’re open to a short pitch, they will indicate it. Otherwise just smile, make a comment about their presentation, thank them for coming. . . And keep their email for queries if they noted they are open to those. If it’s hard for you to get out to group events, there are online groups you can join, publishing news you can read. SCBWI and other writing groups have discussion boards and local newsletters.

From Stephanie Jacob Gordon: TWO not ONE GREAT IDEA

Writers need a computer or a pencil or pen and paper and a good light to see by and a drink and snacks (OK, I really like snacks when I write). But along with my snacks, I need Judy. You see, we have been writing partners for 39 years. Judy keeps me going, motivated, and nagged to death when I am not writing. But you may not have a writing partner (you may not have mine), so you write alone, lonely, without someone to tell you if you are any good at writing, someone to  encourage you to keep at it, or someone to tell you to give it up and get into plumbing and make some real money. What are you going to do?

Excellent question. I have two answers. Two because they are connected and number two probably will connect to most of the suggestions in this month’s tip list.

#1) TAKE A CLASS. Any writing class in whatever genre will help somewhat, but a class in writing for children, taught by a successful author, successful editor, or successful agent is a good place to begin. Not only will you learn some very important stuff to further your writing ability and career, but you will also meet writers. I met Judy in Eve Bunting’s class through UCLA. Will you meet your forever writing partner? Maybe, maybe not. But you will meet many like-minded people who are, like you, actively pursuing how to write for young readers. You will all be in the same place, at the same time, and be able to progress together. And you will make a friend or two or ten, like Judy and I did in Eve’s class.

#2) FORM A CRITIQUE GROUP. In fact no matter where you meet other children’s book writers, think critique group. Do they want one? Do they have one? Would they like to start one with you? Will they have room in theirs for you to join? When I met Judy I was new to Malibu, but she was already in a local group and I joined her group. When Eve’s class was over, all eleven of us started a group and we traveled to each other’s homes for our every-two-weeks meeting. Judy and I traveled farthest, but we had each other to talk to and slowly became best friends. YAY for writer’s classes! One of our group dropped out due to a work commitment, but the ten of us left became friends and all of us are published! Some of us are pretty well-known writers, too (sorry, not a name dropper, but I do know some amazing writers). From Stephanie, who is lucky to be Judy’s writing partner and 1/2 of Jeffie Ross Gordon . . .thanks to Eve’s class.

From Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton: OTHER EYES

Your writer’s instinct, along with your agent and your editor, have let you know that you are off track somewhere in the manuscript you’ve been slaving over. But where? And if you know where, how do you approach a fix? This is where “other eyes” might come into play. Over time, you’ll learn which writer friends connect with you and your work. Make an agreement to be “eyes and ears” for each other when you are stuck on your story, when there’s a hole in the plot that seems to keep getting deeper rather than filling up, when you are ready to make confetti out of your manuscript. You can do this via computer so friends don’t have to live nearby. Be respectful of each other’s time. Some friends may have time to answer and others may not. It can take many heads  and many hearts to birth a good book. And when you write acknowledgments for your book, don’t forget the “eyes and ears. (Laurie is deep in manuscript revision right now; she is the author of this month’s blog post. So this tip is ghostwritten by another Maven.)

 

 

 

5 Tips for Rewriting After a Critique

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

So, you finished a manuscript and you have taken the manuscript to a critique group.

Your “Happily-Ever-After-Hopes were:
1. That everyone would love your manuscript.
2. That it was ready to send out to a publisher.

But, even though the critique group saw great merit in the story, they also saw flaws. Bummer!

Three examples of flaws could be:
1.Your story is flat. (That usually means-your plot is lacking. A plot is a series of events where the main character goes about trying to solve the story question. This usually happens with the main character trying to solve the problem with a series attempts without success.
2. You’re telling the story, you’re not showing the story. (Telling vs. showing. Telling is just that, you are a narrator telling a story. Showing means you let your characters show their thoughts and feeling through dialogue and actions.)
3. All your characters are the same. (Each character should have a purpose in moving the story forward. Each character should have their own quirks and ways of expressing themselves.)

So now that you have input, what do you do?

Sit on it. Let the new information roll around in your head.
Decide what input is valuable to your story. What rings true? If someone said something that you don’t think rings true for your story and your character, then put it aside. But if you hear the same type of comment more than once, I suggest you act on it
Go to mentor text. Read, read, read! This helps you to see how other authors moved through a story and accomplished a credible, satisfying story.

Re-acquaint yourself with the right way to:
A. Build a Plot B. Show Don’t Tell C. Write Believable Characters

Go back to your: A. Reference books B. Your favorite author’s How-To web pages,
C. Read/Listen to the How-To Web pages and You-Tube professionals.

THEN begin rewriting. Write, and then sleep on it. The next day, re-read and then ask yourself: A. Did I accomplish what I set out to fix? B. Is it strong enough? C. How could the wording be more sensorial?

Rewrite. Sleep on it. Then ask yourself the same questions. Repeat until you are satisfied with your story. Then take it back to your critique group. Keep working until you get the story that you will be proud to have out there!

You can do it! Good writing happens when rewriting.

WE WISH YOU . . .

The Mavens

a fabulous holiday season. May the new year be happy, healthy, and fulfilling in many ways.  Write on and may your words fall like stunning snowflakes on the pages to bring joy to all who read your work. 

Judy, Steph, Laurie, Cheryl, and Dawne  

 

 

 

Mining the Nuggets

Cheryl Zach

If you’ve read my posts before, you know I’m a big advocate of writers’ conferences as good places to acquire information, about writing and illustrating skills, about up to date market information, and much else useful to a professional. You can also network, see old friends and make new ones. And they’re fun!

This past weekend I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators MidSouth Writers’ Conference, held outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll share a few nuggets of interest with you.

The opening keynote was given by Laurent Linn, an author/illustrator and art director and general Nice Guy. He started his career working in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop and later won an Emmy as Creative Director of the Sesame Street Muppets, went on to work as AD at publishing houses, illustrate and write–his newest work is an illustrated YA novel, Draw the Line. Laurent shared some nuggets of wisdom, including the thought that you should start your book with a promise of what’s to come, but laid on with a feather, not a hammer. . . He noted that we are story tellers, and story tellers must share their stories.

And haven’t we all moaned about work and family obligations that keep us from our creative pursuits–the novel not finished, the portfolio that’s too thin? Time passes relentlessly. Laurent cited a quote from Walt Disney: “The way to get started is to stop talking and start doing.” I loved it–have to tell myself that more often.

He also noted in passing that we all feel like frauds, at times, and that’s not a feeling that goes away. Not something that every writer or artist will admit, but certainly comforting. Bravo, Laurent.

P.S. I didn’t have the chance to learn a lot on marketing, but did hear that the YA market is a ‘bit saturated,” no surprise there as I knew that demand had cooled, but sales are still possible. And there are no current trends in young adult novels. More editors were looking for middle grade than YA, also no surprise, as MG usually remains steady.

What Can Be Done to Help Midlist Authors?

I have a question for you.

I’ve heard from some more recently published writers that they feel (perhaps) increased pressure and less support from publishers than once existed. They feel that if their sales numbers don’t increase quickly –and we all know that nowadays authors and illustrators are expected to do a lot of PR on their own, maintain online presence, etc.–that they will be dropped in favor of another new author’s first book. This is good for some eager new author, but he or she will face the same predicament very soon, so in the long run, it’s not so good. And the new writer who shoots to the top of the best seller list with a first book is very rare, though publishers, and certainly writers, too, always hope for such a lightning strike.

In the not so distant past it was expected that midlist authors would grow a career more slowly and steadily, with a reasonable amount of publishing house support. (Midlist means just what it sounds like–anyone not a total beginner but not at the very top of the profession, either.) Most writers and artists spend their careers in midlist, and often earn honors and a well respected name in the process, even if not necessarily known worldwide.

If this attitude of publishers has changed, and if pressure is more intense now, I’m wondering what can be done to help authors. And I’d like to hear from you, and what you’ve heard from your friends or garnered from your own experiences.

The Strangest Things Happen on the Way to My Desk

This is February’s post, so look out your window and imagine rain or snow pelting down, especially if your in the North West. I meant to write this post on time, just like I plan monthly  to dedicate myself to writing, to make it a priority. I realized the other day that I may not have been putting fingers to keys, but in my brain I was still gathering information. Tidbits of real life that will enrich my writing. Unusual flaws and traits I experienced in the real characters I have met recently. And in times of boredom, I realize I often pull my stories and characters  to the for front of my mind and think about where they have gone and where they should go. So, I am making no more excuses. I think I have been wearing my observation hat quite well. Here are a few of the things I have slipped into my writer’s gear bag recently.

When he gets nervous he drums his thighs. Two fingers on each hand tapping his jeans in rapid succession. He’s a security guard, but used to be a plumber. He sharpens knives on the side.  He quits drumming and pulls out his hunting knife to show off the smooth flat blade. “Sliced open a lot of things with this,” he says.  “It’s so sharp I could fillet a bear before he he to the ground.”

She smokes the shortest marlboro reds one after the other. Her pink plastic cup doesn’t hide her margarita as well as she thinks. Tequila from yesterday wafts from her pores to mix with todays blend. She drums her cup with four fingers eyeing the man with the knife.

 

At 7 she is crow-like. Can’t resist shiny things on the ground. A nickel, a nail, a piece of glass if the sun makes it shimmer. She grasps them tightly in her pocket. Hidden treasure to worry till her fingers bleed.

He looks over-confident as he saunters over. His gait is wide and bowed like a cowboys. Like he thinks he is cool. It is actually caused by partial paralysis from back surgery. His gate gets wider as his spin disintegrates.

He never lets the small scar on his wrist heal. Picks at it as soon as it seals. A reminder of something?

As soon as anyone asks her a question her eyes dart to her father’s. A half nod from him and she will speak. If he narrows his  eyes, she remains silent.

He plucks his eyebrows until they are close to hairless and red and swollen. It’s 85 degrees outside and his ski hat doesn’t cover the damage. This is meth addict behavior. (Who Knew)

Please share any gems you have observed recently too:)

GETTING TO KNOW YOU . . . (sing on)


by Judith Enderle
Birthing characters can be challenging.Iin a book, each one must have a reason to be there and each character—whether protagonist or antagonist—must be unique. So how do you do that?

(Right at this point I’m tempted to say: “If you find out, let me know.) But I know how. It’s the doing that is the challenge.

Here are a few details that help me get to know my characters (please expand these lists as you birth your book characters):
Traits: like temperament, intelligence and knowledge, determination
Appearance: height, weight, coloring, health
Family: number of siblings, is your character oldest, youngest, or in the middle? Living situation. Parents and relatives. Economic status.
Personal: secrets, brags, embarrassing moments
Friends: longest, newest, best, many or few?
What matters most to your character? What is your character worried about?

Sometimes interviewing the characters helps you find the details you need.
You’ll need the most information about the protagonist and the antagonist, but get to know the secondary players so their actions and reactions make sense as the story unfolds.

Last, but not least: don’t forget the little things: good and bad habits, tics, favorite words and phrases, great smiles, evil eyes, favorite piece of clothing, nicknames . . . This can be the longest list of all.

Guaranteed, your writing will be easier if you know your characters so well you’d recognize them if they moved next door.

Happy Spring!

Two Way Interview: Dandi Daley Mackall and Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Laurie: Question
When you were reading the letters of correspondence between your parents, that led to your latest book, With Love Wherever You Are, how did you decide what letters should be shared with your readers and what letters would remain private?

Dandi: Answer
That was one of the hardest parts of writing this book! I wanted to include all 600 letters because they were meaningful to me. But I had to cherry-pick the ones I thought would be interesting to readers and ones that advanced the plot and stirred up conflict or showed a side of WW2 rarely shown. My first complete draft ran about 1,000 pages, so I had to cut, cut, cut. If my mom were still alive, I might have let a few of the letters remain private. But I didn’t want to soften or undercut the reality of newlyweds separated during war.

Dandi: Question
So, Laurie, what do you think? Should writers refrain from writing things that might embarrass or upset relatives?

Laurie, Answer
Most writers use their personal experiences to pull from for their writing. Anyone who knows a writer well should realize that most any interactions between them may end up as a character or a scene in a book.

It’s funny, because I have an example between the two of us. I shared a story with you about my daughter’ s ex-boyfriends. She was collecting dogs from each ex. I remember you laughing and saying, “Wouldn’t that be a funny premiss for a book!” and thus My Boyfriends’ Dogs was born.

I believe that an author needs to consider the collateral damage against the assets to the story. I remember having many discussions with you on how you would proceed with the letters and I believe you truly struggled with your choices. You considered the collateral damage and used strong letters that would move the story forward without being disrespectful to your parents.
Laurie: Question
You were a writer from an early age. Your book, A Girl Named Dan, was inspired by an essay that you wrote when you were 11years old. What advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

Dandi: Answer
1. Good for you! Most kids (and grownups) hate to write. So, if you like to write, you should go with that and hone your gift.
2. Read, read, read! You need to study the way writers do things you want to do. If an author creates suspense so you can’t put that book down, ask yourself how she did that. If you laugh at something, figure out how the author got you to laugh.
3. Be observant. Writers are people who notice things other people walk past. Writers find significance in the details and little things of everyday life. Jot your observations in a notebook you keep with you at all times.
4. Write! Write like crazy.
5. Welcome criticism. Yep—It hurts. But you want to improve, right? Take all the advice and criticism you can get for your writing. Just don’t take it to heart.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, do you have some advice of your own? What about where a young writer could submit a story?

Laurie: Answer
I’d suggest that when you find a book that catches your attention that you write out segments of the text, paying attention to:
A ) how punctuation is used
B) how dialogue gives information to the reader
C) what physical action is used to move the story forward
D) what sensorial words are used
E) how tension is used in a scene.

By writing the text you will get a firsthand experience of how the writer used punctuation, dialogue, action, sensorial words and tension to strengthen his/her story telling.

Where to submit written material:
I did a little research and The Children’s Book Guild has a wonderful list of publishers who publish the work of young people. Here is a connection to their web site.

https://www.childrensbookguild.org/about-the-guild/faqs/73-where-can-i-get-writing-by-children-published
Laurie: Question

The Secret of Tree Taylor is based on an event (or a murder) in your hometown. How do you as a writer decide to write fiction or non-fiction?

Dandi: Answer
Much of that novel actually happened, and the people are real too. If I’d stuck with the facts, I don’t think I could have told the story I wanted to tell. I wouldn’t have been able to create dialog, and I wouldn’t have been able to guess at thoughts. I love writing almost-true novels (fiction based on true stories and events). That way I can fill in the blanks and stay honest with the reader. I can adjust the timeline and weather to suit the needs of the story. I can leave out boring dialog, change names (as “Dandi” to “Tree”), and intensify conflict. My husband does a beautiful job of writing nonfiction narrative (Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish). He would never combine characters or change events or weather or dialog in any way. He and I agree that I should stick with fiction because I’m never satisfied with fact.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, have you written any nonfiction? How did you stick with the facts?

Laurie: Answer
I have written some non-fiction in craft books, Christian materials, and a cookbook. It is important that you triple fact check and always use original sources when possible.
Laurie: Question
In Larger-Than-Life Lara, you used the vehicle of written storytelling to unfold the story of Laura’s being bullied and a Laney’s dysfunctional family. How do you think using this additional layer added to the significance of Larger-Than-Life Lara?

Dandi: Answer
I think writing LARA was the most fun I’ve had writing any book. The layers surprised me, and so did the characters. Our narrator, Laney, doesn’t want to talk about herself or let the reader in, but she does both of those things inadvertently as she tells her story. That book has been used in elementary schools, English and language arts, but it’s also used as a text in high schools and universities. I consider it my miracle book.

Dandi:Question
Laurie, do you remember how you called me every day to see what was happening with Lara and Laney?

Laurie:Answer
I do remember that fondly. Larger than Life Lara, is in the top three of my favorite books you have ever written. Being a part of, listening, and watching the characters coming to life was a personal experience for me. Each of the characters was REAL, and I couldn’t wait until the next day to hear where they were going. I know when you got to the end that it felt rushed and we discussed ways to make a more satisfying ending. With some rewriting you totally nailed the ending, and I know many children have grown from reading your beautiful prose.

Laurie: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family?

Dandi: Answer
Honestly, it’s a tie between my mom and my dad, both great storytellers, with great stories to tell. I loved hearing how they met in Army training, Army Nurse and Army Doctor in WW2. Then they married in haste and were sent to the front-lines, to different countries. So many stories!

Dandi: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family
Laurie: Answer
That would have been my father. He had a quick wit, and a story for everything. He was very animated when he told his stories, and we’d all sit glued to our chairs waiting for the twist at the end of every story. For a child who couldn’t sit still, it was quite a big deal for me. I know I learned my storytelling skills from him and will forever honor him by telling my stories.

Laurie: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

Dandi: Answer
My favorite stories were about the lives of my parents and their relatives. Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to write a story that doesn’t have my relatives and me in it somewhere. They used details that embedded each story in my brain, and I try to use the power of the right details in whatever I write.
Dandi: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

I know that I am a better speaker from watching my father’s style at storytelling. He was a prosecuting attorney and would practice his closing arguments after we were sent to bed. I’d listen by the furnace grate late into the night. I got caught one night because I was so enthralled by his speech that I crawled down the steps and gave him a standing ovation at the end.

I held onto how his voice would rise and fall, and how strong a pause could be in the middle of a sentence. I was able to transfer that knowledge into my writing and it has served me well.

Well, Dandi, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for sharing with our readers!

GET OUT OF THE BATH BEFORE THE WATER GETS COLD (and, if you are any good at this, it will)

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Well New Years has officially come and gone, along with everyone’s New Year’s resolutions. I have not forgotten mine nor procrastinated on any I made. Mine are still 100% intact. I didn’t make any. I never keep them so I figured why waste time writing any down, feeling guilty because I don’t keep them, and having to find excuses for my lack of follow-through. The only reason I am writing my blog entry in the month it is due has nothing to do with making a resolution to be more conscientious. No. It has to do with the paper I found on the floor behind my printer that was Judy’s November e-mail telling all the Mavens when their blog posts were due. I had forgotten all about it. And, since I am going to stay at Judy’s house next week and I don’t want to give her ANOTHER reason to nag me, I am on it. She has plenty to nag me about already and I deserve the nagging. No New Year’s excuses here, either. Anyway Happy New Year, one and all.

My subject for the January 2017 Official Maven’s Blog is” THINKLING-IDEATING-CREATORISTABLE ENVIRONMENTS

In the spring of 1979, when I was young and beautiful, had an Afro, and believed in talking frogs, I took a class at UCLA from Eve Bunting (yes–the amazing one), and met my writing partner of thirty-eight years, Judy, and learned Eve’s Greatest Secret to Writing Superb Books for Children. THE BATHTUB! SHSH. . . IT’S A SECRET!

Actually I should start with Eve’s second Greatest Secret–the media. If there was anything in the newspapers, or on television, or in a magazine that might make a fabulous children’s book, by the time the rest of us saw it, Eve had already finished her beautifully-written book about it, had a publisher, was speaking worldwide, and making phenom sales. Judy or I would say, “Did you see this?” Then the other one of us would say, “Yes, but Eve probably has it in bookstores already.”

The Great Secret here was not to bother with anything in print or on the airwaves. You were already too late.

But Eve’s first Greatest Secret was something any writer, old or young, taking newspapers, magazines, or watching television, published or unpublished, prolific or writing one book in a lifetime, beginner or professional could use and never be too late: THE BATHTUB!

Well, Eve’s Greatest Secret was actually threefold. You needed a bathtub of bubble-bathed glorious water. You needed a glass of delicious wine. And, you needed a tape recorder. (Now, you might use the memo function on your phone but you may not want to after you read on.) Personally, I needed two more things, not things but attributes: I needed the ability to talk into a recorder and make sense and not stutter and lose my place and the ability to balance the recorder on the side of the tub. I ruined my tape recorder, my son, Jonathan’s recorder, and . . .someone else’s (I forget his name) recorder. I did great with the wine. . .until I dozed off and the bubbles died and the water got cold. Cold water did save me from drowning!

But I know a great idea when I  hear it. After hours of contemplation (one), I put on my shower-thinking cap and considered alterations to the original Eve’s Greatest Secret. In my case: #1 forget the tape recorder. In fact, I’ve learned there are now waterproof notebooks and pens, too. Check out your local art supply store. #2 forget the wine.

Just yesterday I took a bath with no plan except to soak my knees, my back, my left arm and shoulder and my . . . butt enough about me. I was just lying in my tub (more like wedged in–new-style tubs suck–soaking tubs, my . . .), and I was doing my stream of unconsciousness day-dreaming and a strange movie began to play on the screen of my brain. It wasn’t a children’s book but I went with it. And it was great (Eve’s-Greatest- Secret great–ask Judy). I am excited. I’m adding to it. I’m deleting things. My brain is whizzing along. The story is becoming outer-world-y–outer limits-y. We had another story in this genre. I am seeing a book of stories. I am loving this. I am . . . freezing! THE WATER IS COLD! Time to get out of the tub and call Judy! She makes me make notes–darn!.

There are days when a good idea, seems for me, to run away from home, wallow in depressed steph, blame the world, blame the government, blame myself, worry about Israel, to think of all the beautiful young people who are in other countries waiting to get maimed or die for my freedoms. Those are bathtub days, too. It is a good place to cry.

There are days that are perfect, days to celebrate, days to laugh, days to remember all my blessings, days to sing out at the top of my lungs all the patriotic songs no one bothers to teach kids these days, it seems. It is a good place to smile.

All those bathtub days have Eve’s-Greatest-Secret stories to tell.

Theme Vs. Plot

The theme is the thing.
Not that plot is not important–without plot, your novel is a jellyfish, no bones, no skeleton, no internal structure to give it shape and structure and hold it erect. Character-driven novels can be wonderful, but those totally devoid of plot are very difficult to pull off. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I think well developed characters are likely the most important element in a good novel–but that’s another blog.
Plot is what happens in a novel, and it’s much to do with the novel’s conflict, how the main character and others go about struggling with and resolving the conflict/problem: coming to a –we hope–victorious, or at least, bitter-sweet conclusion. (I hold with the late, great Madeleine L’Engle who said, if I may paraphrase, that a writer should always leave at least a glimmer of hope at the end of a YA novel. Adult readers can deal with a totally tragic ending, younger readers don’t have the experience as yet to cope–they need some optimism in a book’s conclusion to carry into their own life challenges.)
I’m sure you know the basics of plot and conflict: the main character must resolve the problem him or herself instead of an adult or an act of blind fate coming in at the last moment to make all things right, and so forth.
But that’s still not theme. Theme is the basic and overall idea that hangs behind the whole novel, that guides the momentum behind the character’s growth and change, his/her struggle with conflict, reaction to the setting, reaction to other characters, and more. Other writers have commented that theme comes from the characters’ issues–or perhaps, I might add, their issues develop partly from the theme.–and the theme grows from the writer’s heart. It’s possible you might write using a theme you don’t believe in, but I don’t really see how.

In the YA manuscript I’m working on now, working title: An Ounce of Courage, the protagonist has been relocated, after the death of his military father and much against his will, into a small isolated village from a much more cosmopolitan setting. His immediate conflict is being beset by the local high school bully. His bigger conflict is that he’s afraid he’ll never live up to his hero dad.

(My dad always said,’ Stick up for the little guy.’

My dad wasn’t on the bus.)

The theme, though, has to do with the nature of courage and the process of becoming a man, a journey every male teen has to make.  You might wonder why a woman is writing this book? The short answer, the story wouldn’t leave me alone until I started to write it.  Longer one: My writing has never been restricted to characters of one gender. : ) I do have a younger brother and a son, and now three grandsons, two growing old enough to begin this process. And perhaps sometimes a little distance is a good thing. . . And I am an army brat, so the backdrop of the story is one I’m very familiar with. There is a girl in the book, too, who is an important character, and she also has challenges to face and decisions to make. Courage is not just a question for boys–or men.

I feel every word and every page of this manuscript deeply, whatever the gender of the protagonist, because the theme matters. . . now my job as a writer is to make sure the reader does, too.

images-4Cheryl Zach is the author of Hearts Divided, Book 1 of the 4 book Civil War YA series, Southern Angels, and many other YA and MG novels.