School Visit: Questions of the Week

kids with booksThis week I embarked on something that I didn’t think I would do for a while: visiting a school as a writer! And boy, did I learn a lot!  The fifth grade students at Westview School in Champaign were a great and patient audience!  (My timer was accidentally set to vibrate so I never heard the darn thing go off!) Nonetheless, I enjoyed the visit a great deal and hope the students got something from it too.  I was asked to speak on the writing process.  My adventure in writing coupled with my years teaching gave me the confidence to do this.

Just as I do with my kids at dinner or bedtime, I will share my highs and lows.

High: Learning new technology!  Thank you, Donna Moores for introducing me to Prezi!  Love it!!!

Low: The darn timer!!!!!

High: Favorite part of the presentation was when the students helped me create an impromptu story to demonstrate goal-conflict-disaster followed by reaction-dilemma-decision (and of course that decision creates the next goal!)

Low: lack of concrete examples that the students could relate to (next time – get a list of books in advance that the children are familiar with)

High: Take home questions that I will answer ON THIS BLOG!  There were a ton of great questions that I didn’t have a chance to answer (ahem, use an actual kitchen timer next time!), but will answer a few every Friday until they run out.  There are two questions, however, that will not be answered here: What’s the title?  What are the names of my main characters? As I am keeping most information about my actual story fairly private while its still in creation, I would rather not post that here.  But I will tell Mrs. Moores. 🙂

So here are the first five questions (names will not be posted for security purposes).

1.  What inspired you to write a story?

I have been fascinated by the Great Chicago Fire for a long time.  The more I’ve researched, the more compelling it has become.  It’s a story that should be told and there are not many children’s books on this topic.  When I was in high school, an English teacher was very complementary of the things I had written.  That coupled with my own pleasure of reading and writing gave me the courage to go for it.  Thanks Mr. Pusateri!

2.  How hard is the process when you don’t think you have any more ideas?

This is similar to writer’s block.  When you are feeling stuck go back and look at the conflict.  Did you have the steps? Does the main character have a goal? Does conflict get in the way? Does a disaster occur that knocks the main character off track? (Disasters don’t have to be big, just a big deal to the character.)  How does the character react to the disaster?  What emotions come out?  Is there a dilemma?  What choice does the character make?  His decision will lead you to the next goal.  Then you can figure out who or what will get in his way.  (more conflict, more disaster).  So, in short, conflict keeps the story going.  If you are stuck CHECK THE CONFLICT.

3.  Why would you walk away if your still working on it?

While I was busy writing the verbal vomit (rough draft) I would write for forty-five minutes and then do brainless activity (like laundry, dishes, take the dogs for a walk) for fifteen minutes.    I did this to give my brain a chance to rethink what I had written and think about where to go next.  Writing is mentally exhausting and it is good to take breaks.  But if you are on a roll, keep going.  Once I finished my whole rough draft, got all the way to the end of the book, I took a month off of writing.  I read a lot, but I didn’t look at my story at all!  I did this so I would be able to look at it through fresh eyes.  Since you are writing a short story, you won’t need to take so much time off.  A good night’s sleep should be enough to give you a fresh look at it.

4.  How long does it take to write it and publish it?  Also, how much time does it take until the book is in the stores?

Different writers take a different amount of time to finish.  Since this is my first book and I’ve had to do extreme research it is taking me three years of working on it inconsistently.  Some writers do this for a living and are very quick.  I’m hoping to get faster for my next books!  Finding a publisher can be tricky – so I will answer that question in a future post.  But once you find a publisher it takes between one and two YEARS before it’s on the shelves in bookstores.

5.  What is a good beginning sentence?

Authors battle this same question every time they start new! First of all, take the pressure off of yourself.  It’s okay if it’s garbage at first.  Just start with what comes to your mind.  You can always go back and change it once you see how your story is coming to life.  But there are some things to think about.  What kind of story are you writing?  Is it action? Then you may want to get your character moving from the start.  Is it a mystery? You may want to give a hint that all is not right in your main character’s world.  Do you want to shock your audience?  Do you want to ease your audience in by painting the setting?  Remember you are the creator of the world your main character lives in.    So consider the type of story you are writing and how you want your readers to feel from the very first sentence.  That should give you direction.  Then give yourself peace of mind because you can always change it!

Also look at how some of your favorite books were started.    I guarantee those authors questioned their beginning and probably changed it a few times too.

Great questions Westview!  I will answer more next week.

Until then,

Enjoy Playing with Words!

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