Tag Archives: humor

Oh, the Drama! Novel Writing from a Playwright’s Perspective

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Images are from a recent production of Peter Pan which I directed, but unfortunately, did not write.

As a director and resident playwright at my local children’s theater, I came into novel writing from a script writer’s background. There are drawbacks of coming from the stage to the page. But there are benefits, too. I think the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning apply to writers from all backgrounds, and I look forward to reading how you deal with these areas when writing.

Pitfalls: 

Seeing the Scene: “Could we have a little more description of this location?” My editor wrote this several *cough* times in my first novel manuscript. I call it the plague of the playwright: I “see” all my scenes as if they’re on stage or in a movie, often forgetting the reader can’t see them as well. I’ve had to make conscience decisions to describe “the set” of each scene, realizing that setting is what grounds the reader in the character’s world. This usually happens during the second draft.

Disoriented: “Orientation.” That’s another comment that occasionally still pops up in edits. Related to the first pitfall, in a script, I’d put the character’s position and movement on the set in parenthetical stage notes. I see it in my head when I write, but have to remember to help the reader see it by describing it for them.

Lost in Transition: As a director, I’m used to beginning and ending scenes via light cues and curtains. But that won’t work in fiction. It doesn’t always take much, just showing the passage of time or giving a character some internal dialogue (another thing it’s easy for this playwright to forget to include), but it’s the difference between a confused reader and one who can suspend disbelief.

Pluses:

PP2 (1)What’s That You Say? Dialogue is probably the playwright’s number one vehicle, and most of my first drafts consist of the characters talking. If I’m writing a script, I will often hand a copy to my husband so I can hear how a scene sounds aloud in comparison to how it sounded in my head. A strong internal ear is valuable for a novelist, but when in doubt, read it out!

Hands Free: I recently saw a contest for a short story written entirely in dialogue-no tags allowed. If I weren’t working on other projects, I’d probably enter for the fun of it. Body and dialogue tags aren’t a bad thing, and I use them often, but they can clunk up an otherwise snappy conversation. Playwrights have to rely solely on words in a script and let the actors fill in the rest. I think a stretch of dialogue without any tags gives the reader a chance to connect with the characters in a deeper way, utilizing the imagination to fill in the blanks. Jane Austen was a master of this. A conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“Of what are you talking?”

“Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say he will not have Lizzy.”

“And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems a hopeless business.”

“Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her you insist upon her marrying him.”

“Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.”

Now, I would have been tempted to at least used one physical description of Mrs. Bennet flailing about or pulling at her cap, but Jane trusts that she’s painted the characters well enough for us to see it all in the theater of our minds. Also noteworthy is that she doesn’t use a single exclamation point.

I’m Hearing Voices: Nobody wants to see a play with characters who sound like echoes of each other, and the same holds true in fiction. I like to give characters varying sentence construction and one or two key words or phrases that they say without thinking, especially in conversations.

PP3It’s All About the Timing: There’s no time for lags in action or dialogue in theater. If you’ve ever been to a play with a seemingly eternal scene change or worse, where an actor forgets lines, you know how it pulls you out of the show. Pacing is priority in fiction, too. Varying sentence structure, giving readers time to “breathe” after intense scenes, and knowing how to end a chapter with a page turner will all keep your audience fully invested in your characters’ journeys.

I’d love to hear from other script writers on how you make the transition from script or screenplay to story, and from anyone else who has insight on how to improve a novel’s setting, orientation, and transitions.

LGBioPicture copyIn addition to writing, directing, and occasionally acting in plays and musicals, Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill). She resides in Kansas with her large family and a noisy parrot, who supply plenty of comedy and drama. 

 

 

 

You’re Invited: A Giveaway and Interview with Jen Malone and Gail Nall

The Mixed-Up Files is very excited to introduce Jen Malone and Gail Nall and their new series about four girls who run an event planning business. The first book in the series, You’re Invited, was released just last month.

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The authors recently stopped by to answer some questions about themselves and their books.

MUF: I see that the two of you live pretty far from each other. How did you meet? And what made you decide to collaborate on a book?

Gail: In summer 2012, we were both querying and doing blog writing contests. We “met” on one of those blogs where we each had an entry (spoiler alert: my entry was my upcoming YA debut, Exit Stage Left, which was MG back then!). We each read the other’s entry, and then I think we left simultaneous comments to the effect of, “Hi! You write like me. Let’s exchange manuscripts!” So we did, and quickly became critique partners. Not long after that, Jen snagged an agent, and then about four months later, I also got an agent. Then Jen’s book, At Your Service, sold to Aladdin, and a few months later, my book, Breaking the Ice, also sold to the same editor at Aladdin. So, collaborating on a story was almost meant to be the next step! We write MG with comparable voices, were already with the same editor at the same house, and we knew we could get along! It was a nice surprise to find out that we both drafted chronologically, and that neither of us was particularly skilled in plotting before writing. (We had to fix that last one, quick!)

MUF: What sparked your idea of a group of friends becoming event planners?

Jen: I love to write wish-fulfillment books (At Your Service is about a girl who lives in a fancy hotel) and I also love books about girl entrepreneurs, so I basically just asked myself, “What business would I have loved to do with my friends when I was twelve?” Party planning was something tween girls could kick butt and allowed for lots of creativity on their part, but also offered plenty of potential for drama and hilarious mishaps, which Gail is a master at devising! I was rereading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants around the same time and loved the four best friends each writing from her own perspective. We always knew the tight-knit friendship would be the real story in You’re Invited, and we pitched the book as a cross between Babysitter’s Club and Sisterhood, which became a touch point for us as we wrote.

MUF: Have either of you had any of your own event planning disasters?

Gail: Okay, so back in high school, my BFF and I decided to throw a party at her house. It was very last-minute, and it was really more of a way to invite the guy she liked over without specifically inviting him, if that makes any sense. So it’s 7:00, and no one’s there. 8:00, no one. About 9, the guy’s friend calls and says they’re coming over. So rather than look like the girls who threw a party no one came to, we raced around filling up plastic cups with various levels of Coke, crumbling food onto paper plates, and generally making the place look like there’d just been some amazing party these guys had missed out on. The funny thing is, I think they bought it.

Jen: I used to work as a Hollywood publicist and a big part of my job was planning premieres and special screenings, so I’ve had my share. One of the most memorable was when I had to spend a weekend hiding the boyfriend of an A-list movie star from the press… and from his wife (it actually forms the basis for my YA out this summer, called Map to the Stars). And then there was the time a movie star ground her stiletto heel into the foot of a fan who just wouldn’t give her space on the red carpet at a film festival, and I had to distract the press so they wouldn’t notice the commotion that caused. Good times! I will say, that job taught me to be a little too hyper-organized in order to avoid any potential for disaster- when it was time to plan my own wedding everyone in the bridal party got three-inch thick binders of instructions. I cringe every time I think about those, and I’m sincerely lucky to still have them as friends today!

MUF: What was your process when you wrote? Did each of you take two characters? Or did you each have a hand in writing from the point of view of all the girls?

Gail: The book is a rotating, four-person POV, so each chapter is narrated by one of the girls. We each claimed two characters and wrote “our” girls’ chapters, but there was a lot of input and revision based on the other person’s comments. The other person also had carte blanche to go through and fix her characters’ dialogue and quirks in the chapters she didn’t write. There was a lot of “blah blah [insert Becca-speak here] blah blah”-type notes throughout the first draft. If it was something more than that, we usually wrote long margin comments to each other, suggesting changes to the scene that would better fit the characters and their motivations. Co-writing is sort of like working with a built-in critique partner!

We actually wrote a three-part blog series about the whole process (from idea to publication), which you can find the first installment of here: https://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/behind-the-curtain-what-happens-when-you-co-write-a-book/

MUF: I love how each girl’s chapter starts with something that relates to her, e.g., Sadie’s chapters always start with To-Do Lists; Lauren’s start with definitions; Vi’s start with recipes; and Becca’s start with horoscopes. If you were characters in your own book, how would your chapters start?

Gail: A list of the books in my to-be-read stack. Wait, that would take about fifty pages to list . . . So maybe I’d be a Sadie and have my endless to-do list that lives on my phone. I have reminders to “buy groceries” and “clean cat litter boxes,” because seriously, who has time to remember stuff like that? 😉

Jen: This is a great question! Mine would probably start with a quirky or inspiring quote because I’m a total sucker for them (even if I never remember them later!) 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts by R.J. Palacio is basically my nirvana. It would definitely not be a recipe, like Vi’s chapters have, because I can only cook pizza bagels and oatmeal.

MUF: I see that You’re Invited Too is already in the works. When will that be out? And do you expect to do more books together?

Gail  and Jen: You’re Invited Too will be out on February 2nd, 2016! It was so much fun to write about the girls’ continuing adventures as they take on their first huge event (a wedding with a Bridezilla). We’d love to write more books for the RSVP girls, so fingers crossed!

Thanks for such great answers! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for stopping by!

Gail and Jen are giving away a signed copy of You’re Invited. To be eligible, just leave a comment below. A winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 9. (You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.)

Read more about the authors here:

official%20author%20photoJen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014, and her new series, You’re Invited (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launched with Book #1 in 2015. She has three young adult titles forthcoming with HarperCollins, beginning with Map to the Stars in Summer 2015. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com.

Gail%20NallGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, and is the co-author of You’re Invited (both Aladdin/S&S, 2015). Her upcoming young adult debut is Exit Stage Left (EpicReads Impulse/HarperCollins, 9/8/15), and two more middle grade novels, You’re Invited Too and Out of Tune, will follow from S&S in 2016. You can find her online at www.gailnall.com and on Twitter as @gailecn.

 

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, which takes place on the Jersey Shore, will be out in May 2016 from (Aladdin/S&S). You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/ 

 

 

NOOKS AND CRANNIES Interview with Jessica Lawson & Giveaway!

Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Jessica Lawson, author of THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER, and NOOKS & CRANNIES, which releases June 2nd.

Cover- Nooks & Crannies

Tabitha Crum, a girl with a big imagination and love for mystery novels, receives a mysterious invitation to the country estate of the wealthy but reclusive Countess of Windermere, whose mansion is rumored to be haunted.

There, she finds herself among five other children, none of them sure why they’ve been summoned. But soon, a very big secret will be revealed-a secret that will change their lives forever and put Tabitha’s investigative skills to the test.

What was the genesis for Nooks & Crannies? How did the story idea come to you?

First of all, thanks so much for having me on the blog! I tend to come up with main characters—their situation, their hopes/fears, their voice—before I come up with clear plots. Originally, I had Tabitha Crum’s character being sort of like Anne Shirley, and the story was going to be sort of like Anne of Green Gables in the Lake District of England. But somehow, after months/years of having this girl in the back of my mind, the cottage I had her being sent to turned into a manor house, and the adopting man/woman/couple became a mysterious Countess who was keeping secrets. Before I knew it, five other children were begging to go to the house as well, and then, well, the mystery-in-a-manor house idea was set.

As a big Austen fan, I love that so much of the book is set in the Lake District of England. How did you choose and research the area?

As I mentioned above, my original intentions with Tabitha Crum were for her to be sent to the Lake District as an orphan. I love Beatrix Potter (author/illustrator of Peter Rabbit and other delights), who lived in the Lake District for a time, and thought I might even work her into the narrative. And Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so I was familiar with the area from many of her novels. For research, I checked books out of the library, looked up historic village information, and learned about various backgrounds and lifestyles of Lake District residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early idea stage, I imagined all sorts of outdoor splendor/activities/adventure, but then a nasty snowstorm became part of the plot, ruining any chance of outdoor fun. The setting became the house, which meant that I spent long periods of time looking up historic manor homes in the Lake District, which, as it sounds, was heavenly.

Nooks & Crannies is about a group of kids who receive invitations to a mysterious Countess’s mansion. It reminded me a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at times. Is that an intentional choice you made?

The book was actually pitched to my publisher as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue. When I was drafting, I wasn’t writing an intentional tribute to one of my favorite books by Roald Dahl, but once Tabitha was joined by several other children, the comparison was a bit unavoidable (mysterious invitation, famously reclusive host, etc.). And there is definitely a Veruca Salt-ish character among the children ☺

Yes, there is, and she’s wonderfully drawn. One of my favorite characters in the book is Pemberley, Tabitha’s pet mouse and confidant. (I used to raise mice as a girl. ☺) What was the inspiration behind this character?

Pet sidekicks have always been a favorite with me and, for a girl who sleeps in a musty attic, a mouse seemed like the perfect companion. A clever mouse seemed even better. Tabitha is a big fan of Inspector Pensive novels (my fictional version of books like Sherlock Holmes) and needed an equivalent of the Inspector’s partner, Timothy Tibbs (aka, the Watson of the I.P. books). With Pemberley, Tabitha has a loyal friend and a go-to partner to bounce her ideas/theories off of.

You did a great job with the language of the novel, making not only the characters but the writing itself feel British. How challenging was that for you?

I hope I did an okay job! It was a lot of fun to write ☺ I adore the novels of Charles Dickens (and—some of—the movie adaptations!), and have always been drawn to MG novels with a British voice and setting (from Mary Poppins to The Secret Garden to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books by Maryrose Woods). I’ve always loved British accents and British films/tv. I grew up loving shows like “Are You Being Served?” and Monty Python skits and the like, so my wording may be a bit of a caricature of all of those influences. It may sound odd, but during the writing process I just sort of tried to adopt a British voice in my head and hoped it would sink into the writing.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Oliver (one of the children invited to the mansion) and Tabitha, and think Nooks & Crannies will appeal to boys as well as girls. Could you talk about the importance of boy-girl friendships for middle-graders? How do you feel about books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books” based on the gender of the main character or book cover?

Thank you! I love the friendship between Tabitha and Oliver, too. I think that friendships are very important for middle-graders, regardless of gender, but boy-girl friendships have a special place in the middle grade years. I think they go a long way in showing younger people that physical gender differences do not equal emotional/cognitive and ability/interest-based differences—that no matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you can have similar interests, dreams, problems, and feelings. Stereotypes learned during childhood regarding what each gender is suited to can too often develop into adult gender-based assumptions and prejudices that I’m not so fond of.

As for books being labeled “boy books” or “girl books,” I think booksellers and librarians and teachers and parents are always going to have their own opinion on which books seem more attractive to certain readers, but labeling books according to gender simply because a cover has a boy or girl doesn’t really seem inclusive. Author Shannon Hale has written a series of posts on why it’s important to remember that books like The Princess in Black can be (and are) appealing to both genders, and targeting them toward a single sex can do a disservice to readers.

There are so many fabulous details in this book, making every scene so easy for the reader to visualize. Can you talk to writers about the importance of setting in a novel, and how you create such thorough and satisfying descriptions?

Setting is what grounds the reader in time and place, and without establishing a firm setting (or settings, depending on your novel), plot and character development simply don’t feel as rich or authentic. The setting in this novel is (with the exception of the first few chapters) the manor house. Because the Countess is an eccentric character who travels a lot, I was able to combine style elements and get away with it. I spent lots of time trying to figure out what the furnishings might be, what rooms might be like, what clothing would be worn, what food would be served, and then I threw out a whole bunch of stuff because as much as I’d like to, cramming in every fact you learn never makes for the best world-building. The voice and tone of this book allowed me to take liberties with the setting that I might not have taken if I were doing straight historic fiction, but creating a setting that was authentic and rich for this story was important to me. My favorite details to research were the food dishes, both common and ones that would have been fancier in 1906.

Could you tell us a bit about your current work-in-progress?

Sure! Waiting for Augusta is about an eleven-year-old runaway who travels from Alabama to Georgia in order to make peace with his dead father. It’s a story about miracles, watercolors, knowing yourself, keeping secrets, golf, barbecue, magic, friendship, wanting to make your parents proud, living up to expectations, setting your own expectations, and second chances at connection. The book will be out next summer from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

It sounds like another fabulous book, Jessica! Congratulations!

Jessica is giving away a signed copy of Nooks & Crannies to one lucky commenter. We’d like to know about a favorite pet you had as a child (real or imaginary) who was a best friend to you. OR, if you’d rather, tell us about your favorite book set in England.
BIO:Jessica Lawson- Author Photo- Black and White (web)
Jessica Lawson does not live in a fancy manor house, but she does deal with mysteries on a daily basis. Most of those mysteries involve missing socks and shadowy dessert disappearances. She lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
LINKS:
Website: http://jessicalawsonbooks.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JS_Lawson
Blog: http://fallingleaflets.blogspot.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531