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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: May 2011

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finals! (and Other Teenage Troubles)

bookwormFINALS. They have descended on our kids—and, therefore, on the entire household, a week of exams preceded by what seems like two months of building stress, final projects, deadlines, and kids with too little sleep. It brings back memories of my own high school career—the intense emotions of being a teenager coupled with the stress that comes with knowing that what I did mattered, like, for the rest of my life. Teens are in that awkward middle place where they want to be in charge of their own lives—and yet, at the same time, they don’t. Being in charge is scary. Being grown-up is scary. The stakes are starting to get higher.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

People-Watching with Purpose: Twenty Tips

I’m a huge fan of people-watching. The more we watch, listen to, and try to understand real people, the better we’re able to get inside the heads of our characters. 

I wrote earlier this week about the mix-and-match art of character creation and how you can collect details from friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers. Once you’ve collected a nice selection of show-stopping specifics, you can play around with them the way you might play around with a Mr. Potato Head, popping in different eyes, glasses, financial crises, psychological profiles, crazy relatives, and so on.

People-watching can yield other types of inspiration as well. It’s a fantastic way to get past first draft plot snags and a rich source of ideas for complications and surprises and…well, you get the idea.

The next time you need to replenish your pool of creative ideas, take yourself someplace with people, grab a latte, and enjoy some quality time with your idea notebook. Here’s a list of people-watching possibilities to get you started—use these as a jumping-off point, if you’d like, but above all pursue the details that inspire. Enjoy!

Twenty People-Watching Tips

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mix-and-Match Characters

I played with a cool “puzzle” as a kid: three blocks stacked on top of one another, with a rod threaded through them so they can rotate independently. The result is a 3-cube stack with a different picture on each of the four sides. The top third of each image shows a head, the middle third a body, and the bottom pictures the legs and feet.

Line up the images, and you have four simple characters: for ex., a cartoon tiger, alligator, hippo, and monkey. You can also twist the blocks to connect the monkey body to the hippo head and alligator legs, or connect the alligator body to a tiger’s tail and a monkey’s head. (Now, of course, this puzzle is available as a smart phone app….)

Sometimes I think character creation works the same way: you borrow the geeky appearance of one person, add in the always-in-motion high energy of another, mix in a quirky turn of speech you overheard in the elevator and the girl-next-door’s fluorescent pink high tops…and pretty soon you’ve pieced together your protagonist.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award!

A nice surprise awaited me on Monday—my first-ever blog award, gifted to me by Mel Chelsey over at Writings, Musings and Other Such Nonsense. I’m not sure my blog is “stylish”, exactly, but hey! I’ll take it!

The rules seem to be 1) I get to pass this award along to five other bloggers, and 2) I need to tell you seven random things about myself.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

When Characters Lie: Eight Questions to Ask

Do your characters lie? Lies can lead to additional untruths, misunderstandings, problems that grow bigger each time the character tries to solve things—in other words, lies are a terrific way to build story conflict.

Having your character lie is a terrific plot device—but one that can backfire if you aren’t careful.


Here’s what I mean. In the TV series White Collar, con-man and FBI “consultant” Neal Caffrey tells the occasional untruth. You’d expect as much from a con-man, but the funny thing is that he’s more likely to get what he wants through charm and wit than by lying; and when he has something to hide, he’s more likely to do so by keeping his mouth shut than by concocting an explanation. When he does lie, it’s always for a good reason: to protect someone, to accomplish a purpose that can’t be accomplished otherwise, to hide information from someone he doesn’t trust.

The result? Neal may be a con-man, forger, thief, and professional smooth-talker, but he makes a decent, loyal, and (mostly) trustworthy friend.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How Plot Development Is Like Navigating a Maze

It struck me, as I was working my way through my latest first draft, that plot development is very much like navigating a maze…


*Photo courtesy of Mecookie on Flickr Creative Commons

…and the similarities give some insight into how to tackle a tricky plot problem.

  • A methodical approach can work—but sometimes you just have to go for it. As an avid “plotter,” I usually know in advance the course I want my book to take. There are moments, though, when the muse tugs me off the beaten track. I always follow!
  • Sometimes you have to go down dead ends. No matter how well you’ve planned your route, sometimes the only way to know a particular path leads to a dead end is to go there…and sometimes the only way to know a scene doesn’t fit is to write it. Those efforts aren’t wasted: now you know where *not* to go!
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Up Your (Story) Game: Seven Tips

I wrote last week about games in middle grade fiction—especially in books that appeal to boy readers. Great, you may be thinking, but how do I do that?

If you’re like me, maybe you weren’t the most athletic kid in the PE class…maybe you were more likely to spend your spare time with your nose in a book than kicking around a soccer ball...

bookworm*Photo courtesy of kainr on Flickr Creative Commons 

But if you write for young readers, you don’t want to limit yourself to fellow geeks and bookworms (much as we love them). And that means that many of the kids in your intended audience will love games: sports, contests, puzzles, challenges, games of all forms and shapes and sizes. Actually, even geeks and bookworms love games—different ones, maybe, but still games. So why not consider whether a game might play a role in your next project? For instance, a game can…

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