Friday, December 28, 2012

New Year, New Author Interviews, New Ideas!

Happy Holidays to all the writers and illustrators out there who have been reading this blog all year!

I hope this blog and the wonderful tips by well-published authors have been a gift to you and a help on your writing journey!  Your reading of the blog has been a gift to me.

Now it's almost New Years Eve!

In the spirit of jumping with both feet straight into 2013 we'll have two wonderful interviews during the first two weeks in January. Who are they?

1.) Stephen Mooser, President and Co-founder of SCBWI will be here! He'll share his thoughts on where children's/YA book publishing is going in the future, and how we as authors/illustrators can move forward positively and successfully into the ever-changing publishing world.

2.)  Several well-published Childrens/YAauthors will share their personal tips and strategies for setting "Yearly Writing Goals" in January.  Don't miss this chance to learn from those who have made a successful career out of writing for children and youth.  We can learn from their strategies and incorporate them into our own strategizing as we set writing goals of our own for 2013.

So, the next few weeks on Writermorphosis will be an exciting time of tips for how each of us writers can plan for the future and turn our writing goals into successes!

This week, however, in leu of an interview, I want to direct your cursor to another "NEW" idea that's seems like it will be making waves in the world of books in 2013!  It's the idea of "LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES" like the one pictured above.

Little Free Libraries are a new idea introduced in the mid-west of the United States that encourages neighborhoods that don't have a library to fill a small wooden box with books.  Anyone can take a book, read it, then return it. Anyone can put books in the library for others to read.   I first found a story about this new trend in Country Magazine in October of this year, and the concept seems to be spreading like wildfire in small communities across the country!  Do kids and adults in your neighborhood need a "Little Free Library" to give them more access to the beautiful world of books?  Check out the ideas and perhaps you'll get ideas of your own at the LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES website! I personally think it's a very cool idea.

Have a wonderful New Years Eve!

Then swing by here on January 5th and 12th for wise words from those in the know about how we as authors can move our careers forward with hope, enthusiasm, and achievable goals for our writing careers in 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Author Helen Hemphill on Scene & Summary, Part 2

YA Author Helen Hemphill is the Director of the Highlights Whole Novel workshop.  She's written three award-winning novels for teens, and she teaches writing at conferences.  I first met her at the SCBWI Carolinas' conference in Fall 2012, where she led a 1/2 day workshop on "Scene and Summary."

Helen, thanks for being back with us for the 2nd part of your interview, sharing with us tips on how to balance scene and summary in our novels!

Jumping right back in where we left off in last Saturday's post, Helen. Can you explain to us how all the little scenes (like Harry potter buying his first wand, or Harry Potter confronting Voldamort in the graveyard,) and the bits of summary in between them that we are writing -- how do we make sure these fit into the plan or plot of the entire book’s story arc? In other words, how do we make sure they fit with proper tension into the “Beginning, Middle, and End” of the book?

As I noted earlier, scenes are the dramatic engine of a novel.  Scenes, along with the summary that connects them, take the reader along a path to a narrative climax.  Lots of times when reading manuscripts for the Whole Novel Workshop, I see one of two things happen.  Either the story is written in summary, telling the reader the events of the novel, or scenes are written (and lots of times the scenes are quite good within themselves), but the scenes are episodic.  They don't lead the reader to a specific moment of crisis for the protagonist.  In storytelling, there must be cause and effect.  Something happens that leads to something else, and each event must move the reader to the climax and conclusion of the story. Typically, when I write a novel I think in scenes, but I'm taking a class now with Dennis Foley on planning and outlining a novel, and I've learned to step back from scenes initially and do the analytical work necessary.  Identify the plot and subplots, sketch out how they will be complicated and then ultimately resolved, then list the scenes needed to fulfill that dramatic arc.  Do this analytical work before the first scene is written.  That exercise helps a writer look at the macro level of plotting, to make sure that each scene serves a purpose. At the micro level, a scene must also have its own tension.  Something must change. Think of each scene as a complete little drama of its own.  There is a problem, complication, resolution that helps structure the scene with a beginning, middle, and end.  

 So, we should plan ahead and plot those scenes into our story along the continuum that is the  entire story.  That sounds like great advice!

 Are there any specific tips or techniques you’d encourage authors to consider, Helen, in order to strengthen their scenes and summaries?

My bias is to look at good movies.  I think for the most part, children are visual readers and want to imagine the scenes in a novel.  Look at any classic movie (Maybe It's a Wonderful Life would be terrific this time of year!), list the scenes, then answer the following questions:
Who's in the scene?
Where does it take place?
What's at stake for the characters going into the scene?
What's at stake for the characters going out of the scene? In other words, what has changed?
How long is the scene...use the digital timer on your computer to note the beginning and ending of the scene.
You will be able to see how the story builds to the climax and resolution, plus by timing the scenes, you can note how the pacing of the overall story works.  

I would also suggest reading and analyzing good novels.  As I said, my bias is writing in scene with little summary, but I recently read The Peculiar by Stefan Backmann, and the prologue of that novel is all summary and done really well.  What makes it work is the voice, and tone, and word choice working together to set up the rest of the story. I thought the plot of the novel fell apart a bit in the end, but the prologue of this book is really stunning. 

Thanks so much for those specific things to look for to understand why a scene is strong, Helen!  That give us something to really look for and take notes on when watching movies or reading scenes in books we love this holiday season!

And I loved the opening of the Peculiar too, Helen. Definitely one of the more gripping pieces of writing I've had the opportunity to read this year.  It is interesting how it pulls us all in, even though, as you say, that part of the book is written mostly as "telling."  Perhaps it works so well because that narrator "tells" with such a brilliantly intriguing voice about such very unusual occurrances. Hmmm... 

Now Helen, you’re the Director of the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop.  Can you tell us about that opportunity for writers, and how interested writers can get involved?

The Highlights Whole Novel Workshop is really a unique opportunity for writers to be paired with trusted readers (faculty) who are also well known authors, editors, or agents, and have their whole manuscripts read and critiqued.  This happens before writers come to the week long Workshop.  The Workshop itself is about revision.  Writers meet one-on-one with their trusted reader mentors, talk through revision ideas, meet in small groups to discuss challenges, listen to lectures given by the faculty, and have writing time so that they can begin to work on manuscript revisions while at the workshop.  Informally, writers then have the chance to talk through revisions as they work and really develop a plan for revision as they leave the Workshop.  Lots of groups continue with attendees in an online forum that gives them the support they need to complete the revision.  It's really a writing community that develops at the Workshop and continues online.  

The Whole Novel Workshop is in its seventh year.  In 2013, we have an amazing faculty, including Alan Gratz, Alexandria LaFaye, Franny Billingsley, Deborah Kovacs, Kirby Larson, Nancy Werlin, Tina Wexler, Linda Pratt, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tracy Barrett, and Tamra Tuller.  The Workshop also has teaching assistants who are published writers that offer feedback and help as needed, and we bring in a special guest for the Workshop, usually an agent or editor, to give additional perspective.  Plus, there's the wonderful hospitality of Highlights--cozy cabins and farm style food that is delicious! It's a terrific week--intense, productive, life changing.  You can get more information or apply to the Whole Novel Workshop by going to  We are already getting manuscripts for the Workshop in March, so join us!

Thanks, Helen!  I know there's a MG writer's week and a YA writer's week at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop. (Info can be found at the links above.) And I'm sure many authors reading this post are hoping to find a trip to the Whole Novel Workshop under their trees this Holiday season!

Well, here’s one last fun question! Since it’s the holiday season, which 2-3 books, other than your own, would be your first choices to give as gifts to teen or middle grade reader friends this Christmas season, and why? 

For the teen reader, definitely The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  Now, why would I pick a novel about World War II with Death as the narrator?  This book is so much about hope, even in the depths of darkness.  I've read the book multiple times, but the last line, I am haunted by humans, always just hits me in the gut.  Particularly with the events at Newtown in the last week, this story shows readers that even with evil, there is always hope and love in humanity.  No matter how devastating the events or actions, we are never without love. That's a message I want all teens to hear.

For younger readers, I would pick The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis. Actually, I've given this book to several young readers, and for the right child, this book opens up the world of poetry to them. I want all children to have the gift of poetry!  Plus, I love Pablo Neruda, and I'm amazed by the story of Pablo Neruda doing a reading and being ask to read his poem "I can write the saddest lines tonight."  He apologized, saying he couldn't because he didn't have a copy of the poem, but then the audience of several hundred people stood up and recited the poem to him!  That is the power of words, and I want children to know that power.

Thank you so much, Helen, for your love of children, teens, and their books.  Thanks too for the way you are spending your life helping other children's and YA writers get better at their writing! - Janelle

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Each One Teach One: Author Helen Hemphill -- Scene & Summary

Hailed as “a strong new voice in children’s literature” by Kirkus Reviews, Helen Hemphill’s debut novel Long Gone Daddy won the Teddy Award from the Writers’ League of Texas. Her second novel Runaround was named a Booklist 2007 Top Ten Youth Romance. The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones was the recipient of the 2008 Virginia M. Law Award from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library and was named to VOYA’s 2009 Top Shelf List. Helen holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and directs the Whole Novel Workshop for the Highlights Foundation.   Helen will teach a workshop with Linda Sue Park for the Highlights Foundation in October 2013, Building a Novel:  Scene, Summary, and Sentence.  

I first met Helen this past September when she taught a great 1/2 day workshop on "Scene and Summary" at the SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference. 

Since the December holidays are a time when many of us writers have a little extra time to really begin revising those 1st or 2nd and 5th drafts we've been working on all year, to get them ready for submission, this seemed like a good time to have Helen give us some tips on how to make our scenes really pop!

Thanks so much Helen, for being with us today and next week!  Here's our Question 1:

We’re talking today about balancing “Scene & Summary” in our novel writing.  Before we jump into learning how to balance these two, Helen, can you please explain the difference between a Scene and a Summary? Also, how is a scene different from a chapter?

The basic goal of the novelist is to build a story though dramatic scenes that the reader can imagine.  The scene, then, is the core of the narrative.  It’s where events happen, character’s actions and dialogue are revealed, setting is shown, and the forward movement of the story takes place.  A scene happens in the “real time” of the novel (or in some cases flashback) and involves the reader in that moment.  More about scene in a minute.  Summary links the scenes together and moves the reader through time.  Summary can be as simple as writing, The next morning… or can be as rich in detail and observation as serves the story.  Both scene and summary are necessary for the narrative, but the scene is the backbone of the narrative arc. It’s funny, but lots of writers, including myself, start a novel by writing summary.  We tell the story.  I see that all the time in manuscripts for the Whole Novel Workshop.  But it’s not always the habit of an inexperienced writer. Recently, I saw Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon speak about his new book Telegraph Road, and he mentioned how easily he would write twenty pages of summary, then realize he hadn’t written any scenes.  He then would start over because the dramatic core of the novel was missing. Readers need scenes to stay connected to the story.

So what is a scene?  I’ll borrow elements from John Truby’s Anatomy of Story.  First the scene must take the reader into the story, so there needs to be a goal for the character (not necessarily the protagonist of the novel).  He or she wants something to happen in the scene.  That desire will drive the narrative.  Secondly, there should be some opposition to the character’s goal.  Who or what stands in the way?  A scene can end with the desire of the character met, or it can end with a heightened element of conflict.  Either way, it’s written using action and dialogue and must in some way be linked in a cause and effect relationship that moves the overall narrative toward the climax.  Scenes can’t happen in random order.  Events need to build to something greater.  

Thanks, Helen. That's a great explanation! So it sounds like a scene is an individual situation which is just a small piece of time within the bigger story, that moves the story forward.  It requires a character who has a goal in that situation, and who is trying to acheive that goal, and who either succeeds or doesn't succeed in reaching that goal in the end of the scene, and then whatever happened in that scene leads us forward toward the next scene (or the next situation in the book). And all the scenes are to be linked together with summary info as needed, and these scenes and summaries move the book from page 1 to the end.

It's amazing how we all think we "know" these things, and then, like Michael Chabon said of his own experience, we get to writing less thoughtfully and we write everything in summary ("telling" the story) instead of "showing" it through scenes. Ack!  This is a great reminder!      

      So, Helen, can you give some suggestions as to what are some of the key things to always make sure to include in a scene to make it strong?

Stephen King recently wrote that a writer must visualize a scene in order to make it strong.  The writer must see what is happening through the imagery of the setting, of the characters’ emotions, and through the action of the scene and then he or she must make the reader see it. Writing scene shows the dramatic action of the characters, but that dramatic action must take the reader somewhere in the bigger arc of the story.  Scenes build to something greater. 

I'm now envisioning a bunch of little cartoon characters all named "Scene" rushing toward each other and wearing red capes that are flying in the wind, and as the link hands together trying to save some damsel in distress who is hanging precariously from a tall building the little scenes are calling to each other "link up, link up, together we can build to something greater!" :) Hee Hee Hee.  Perhaps I've had too much coffee today, Helen! But I love those last 2 sentences! It shows how each scene is a tiny piece of the story building together to get the whole story to where we're trying to go in the end!

1    Here's one last question for today.  Are there different types of scenes or different patterns that we can keep in mind when trying to write strong scenes in our novels?

There’s no set pattern or formula.  No silver bullet.  The scene must serve the story.  It must inform the reader about the characters while moving the story to its climax and conclusion.  Maybe that’s why writing scene is difficult for most of us.  There’s no universal example that works for all stories.  But there are lots of scenes that work for the stories being told.  I often analyze scenes in movies as a way to figure out something I’m trying to work on in a novel.  Classics like The Godfather or Casablanca are great for seeing how a scene works within the context of a story.  But I also love Cameron Crowe’s movie Almost Famous

Thanks Helen.  I'm sure that most of us will be watching a movie with family or friends at some point over this holiday season.  How about some of those great scenes in some of our favorite festive films, like the Jim Carey version of The Grinch who stole Christmas, The Sound of Music, and It's a Wonderful Life!

Happy scene scouting, everybody!  Let's all find a few scenes in our favorite films, note how they begin, what happens in the middle, and how they end.  Let's look for the scenery, the characters' actions and emotions, and their ramifications.  Then we can look at our own stories and figure out how to make our own scenes stronger.

See you next Saturday for more specifics on scene and summary!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Illustrator Intensive! & Future-Children's Book Illustrators in Haiti

On our trip to Haiti 2 weeks ago Writermorphosis didn't have a chance to
read a lot of books with children - because there just weren't many kids'
books around. :(

But we did get a chance to meet some young artists who had a great time
with colored chalk and the cement walls and gates of the orphanage house
where they live near Cap Hatian!

We visited these great kids, handed out colored chalk, and were
delighted by all the creative things they came up with!  It was wonderful
fun drawing with them!  And I think many of our Children's Book
Illustrators will agree that some of these young folks showed impressive

Pictures and smiles speak louder than words, so here are some photos. 

Next week we'll be back to author tips and interviews again here on

Handing out the colored chalk...
Huge Thanks to Orphanage Director Rosamon for letting everyone draw on the
So intent on her artwork - it had to be pink.12 years old. No art training. Not too shabby!
Live-in orphanage director, Rosamon, who parents all 20 kids, joined in too,
as a wonderful example of the love of art (and also of great parenting)! 
It was a great day, and we left the chalk with them, of course, so that once
the rain washes today's art away, there will be many more days of
wall-drawing to come.
7 year old boys the world over draw cars!
As we wrap up this fun group of photos, just a note for
Children’s Book Illustrators out there who are considering attending
the 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC this February.

It looks like the Illustrators’ Intensive on February 1st, 2013 still has a
few open slots!  Click “Intensive 3,” below, for more info if you’re


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Writermorphosis visits Kids in Haiti

This Thanksgiving 2012 Writermorphosis went to Haiti to visit kids in and near the city of Cap Hatian, and to learn about their access to kid friendly books.

Here is a video of our trip, the kids, and what we discovered!

The video seems blurry on some computers so if you can't see it well, skip to the last minute of it for the fun videos of the kids we visited at a local orphanage near Cap Hatian.

Visiting the kids in the low income neighborhoods on the hill above Cap Hatian.

Visiting the kids who live down by the river where trash makes the water unsafe to drink.

Visiting the 21 kids at an Orphanage near Cap Haitian

We found that most books in Haiti are textbooks and below is the only fun kids' book we found on our entire trip. It's a coloring book that lists "Animals not found in Haiti."  It's printed in French, not Haitian Kreyol.

As in Haiti, many other impoverished countries also have hardly any children's books and very few public libraries.

This holiday season as you're considering gifts for friends, family, and especially fellow authors and rbook lovers, we hope you'll consider a gift to an organization that helps kids in "3rd world" countries get access to kids' books!

One of the largest such organizations, and one that Writermorphosis sponsors every Christmas to send books to kids who don't have access to them, is "Room to Read."   We don't advertise products for purchase here on Writermorphosis.  But we do encourage authors and Illustrators to share books with kids who need them in any way possible.  So today we're celebrating "Room to Read!"

Here's a link we hope you'll check out. It's a great video page showing how "Room to Read" is supporting and training local authors and illustrators in low-resource countries around the world, and printing and distributing children's books in new languages for global cultures who don't have access to kids' books.  It's really inspiring.  Check out the link on the webpage that says: "LOCAL LANGUAGE PUBLISHING: DRAWING ON SUCCESS TO AUTHOR CHANGE."
If that video for some reason won't play, definitely check out this great video about a 15 year old author from Nepal and how her book, published by Room to Read changed the lives of her whole family:

Please join us in considering "Room to Read" this holiday season to perhaps buy a gift, in honor of a friend, that will change the lives of hundreds of kids.

Next week we'll show you a group of children in Haiti who just might be future children's book Illustrators in the making!  Then it's back to author interviews!

Happy December!  Please share a book with a kid today.