Monthly Archives: January 2010

Red Room Assignment: Favorite Novel

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The assignment for this week’s Red Room Blog was to write about my favorite novel. It’s so hard for me to select one favorite novel. I have so many that have touched my life and my writing it would be impossible to choose one.

The Lord of the Ring series has influenced me through my love of dragons and mythical creatures, world and language creation as well as how people treat one another. My current WIP series is heavily influenced by JRR Tolkien’s vision.

Then there’s The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck which I read as a teen. Scenes from that book have haunted me since. I learned so much about Chinese culture and history from that book. I’ve even adopted a Vietnamese child.

1984 by George Orwell is one I’ve read several times over the decades. It is timeless and meaningful in any society at any given moment. I love its dark nature and the struggle for freedoms that we take for granted; the right to love whomever we choose, the right to READ.

Along those same lines I love The Giver by Lois Lowry. Again it is dark with spears of light and warmth. The reader grows along with the main character and you find yourself crying, rejoicing or mourning whenever he does. Few stories have moved me the way that one did.

And of course I adore ALL of the Harry Potter books. The characters are lovable, quirky, fun to read about and the darkness of the story is heavily punctuated with light-hearted moments. I only wish my own writing could be as universally read and my characters as universally loved.

So, as you can see, there is NO way I could select ONE favorite novel. I could actually keep listing stories that have touched my life and writing, but I won’t bore you. Discover your own list by reading, reading, reading. Discover other worlds to visit and meet new friends in books. You can check out my Dragons in the Dark  Volume I: Threshold on this blog or at Between the Dark and the Light.

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Things I Learned About Writing in 2009

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2009 was the first full year of my life I spent predominantly writing.  My family had to learn to be more self-sufficient (especially the 15-year-old male who kept saying, “Whatcha gonna fix for me to eat?” and walked away disappointed when I said, “You can do it yourself.”)

It was also a year of personal growth unlike any other I’ve had. Even as a new mom or new teacher (many years ago), I felt I learned more about life this year as I observed others and wrote about them or created new characters using those observations.

Things I learned about Writing for Children and in General in 2009:

This is a biggie. I attended a Picture Book Writing Conference because it was close to home (none are EVER held in North Florida) and came away with enough knowledge to write four really nice picture books which are being considered by a publisher as we speak. YAY! I’d never considered writing picture books because I think so grandly, but it was an interesting challenge to refocus my thinking. I might even do some more.

I also took a very blah Middle Grades novel and rewrote it from stem to stern for a YA audience with romance and new twists and turns. I played around with a MG version as well, but have decided to move on to the second book in the series instead.

So what did I learn?

KISS-keep it simple stupid. I started with a huge premise that was overwhelming and even I couldn’t keep track of it. After losing a lot of that (destined for future books in the series) the actual story became clear and writable.

Know your Characters . The first characters I designed were flat and dull; one dimensional and too goody-goody. So I threw them out, renamed them even, and gave them flaws and quirks and attitudes. That’s when the love triangle appeared and really worked! See my posts about designing characters. How to Create a Compelling Character Part I  & II (https://rebeccaryalsrussell.wordpress.com)

Outline the basic book before writing. This provides several aspects that you won’t have to go back and try to insert later.

Arc-Every story needs an arc, a curve, a bell curve from start to finish. Without a basic outline you can’t see where it is or even if there’s one present. A story without an arc is flat and uninteresting. Each chapter should have one as well.

Inciting Incident-What happened to cause a story to begin?

Plot Points-There should be three definitive times when your main character and/or plot change direction or learn something.

Climaxes-Yes, I said plural. That’s because the climax should be broken into three parts. If you don’t outline, this could come too early or too late in the story. It shouldn’t occur before 50 pages from the end of the story, according to several blogs I read over the course of the year.

Climax A– Lighting the fuse

Climax B– Watch it burn

Climax C– Kaboom!

Denouement– Wrap up.

While editing is critical, you can over-edit as well. I’m bad for that. Every time I look at my MS I want to change things around, add something or remove something. After a while it’s not the same MS I sent off. There comes a point when you have to say, “Good enough” and move on to the next book. BUT, you also MUST edit. No one writes the perfect MS first, third or even the fifth time. It takes time to write a good book.

There is so much more I learned but can’t list it all here. Start your own list for 2010 and you’ll have a finished blog for January 2011. That’s what I’m going to do.

Things I learned about Blogging in 2009:

  • Do it often. Every week to ten days you should post something. (Although I don’t find the time to do this myself.)
  • Choose an audience and keep your posts relative.
  • Keep a file of Blogging Ideas from the news, other blogs, your own thoughts…
  • Shorter posts are easier to read. Break long posts into Parts.
  • Keep blog pages organized and clutter-free.
  • Keep pictures to a minimum as it takes them too long to load and some might lose interest.
  • Proofread posts before posting. Editors, publishers, etc, will see them.

Hopefully some of these ideas will help stimulate you to write or begin a blog or look into improving your writing by reading others’ blogs, etc. It’s how I’ve learned. There’s a wealth of good info out there waiting to be found.  I might even do a blog on that…

My Favorite Short Story: The Most Dangerous Game

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As a teen I really got into reading the classics. One of the short stories I fell in love with was The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell ©1924.

There are a lot of reasons why this has become my favorite story. In fact, I’d say it must be a favorite of a lot of people the way it’s been used in television shows (Reality TV), movies (Savages (1975),  The Naked Prey (1966), Surviving the Game (1994)) and books (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins).

One of the things I like about it is the way the main character, Rainsford, changes from the know-it-all hunter insisting that Jaguars have no feeling beyond instinct to the hunted and knowing what it feels like. The character of General Zaroff is interesting in his lack of humanity. He sees hunting men as sport born out of boredom in his life. He even goes so far as to purposely crash ships in order to obtain ‘game’ to hunt and classifies people as worthy or not. He seems to have developed a god complex, although there is some question by Connell about his being purely evil.

The story is incredibly well-written with some of the best descriptions I’ve read. …”trying to peer through the dank, tropical night, it was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht”; or …”a screen of leaves as thick as a tapestry”; …”black cigarette; its pungent incense-like smoke”; …”He lived a year in a minute”; the best is …”an apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle.”

The story is timeless. Although Connell references many things appropriate to his time-period, such as “mid-Victorian” attitude, Madame Butterfly, Folies Bergere, the over-all theme of man’s inhumanity to man is timeless. For many years this story has been studied by 14-15 year-olds in school literature classes.

I love the way Connell chose to end the story. He didn’t describe the final battle, he didn’t even show Rainsford killing General Zaroff or tossing him from the window. All he did was suggest that “one of us will feed the dogs and sleep in this fine bed” then the final sentence stated: “He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.” Classy.

For the Love of Reading and Writing

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I recently received an email inviting me to respond to the following prompt. I didn’t even have to think hard about the answer. My fingers immediately began dancing across the keyboard and the following essay is the result.

Who first introduced you the love of books and reading? What about them resonated so deeply with you that you came to love books and reading too?

I learned to love books and reading from my father. Daddy grew up in a household so poor they never had newspapers, magazines or books in the house. Oddly enough, however, he broke the mold of most kids in that situation and learned to escape into the worlds of books borrowed from the library. He wrote stories and poems that no one ever saw. I found them after he had died and sat for days reading the genius of this modest man who could never find it in himself to seek publishing, but should have. In high school the guidance counselor recognized his potential and helped get him a scholarship to U of F. He chose to go into teaching.

When I came along his last year of college I quickly became Daddy’s girl. We rode to the A&W stand on his red motorscooter in the evening for rootbeer floats and went boating and fishing down the Oklawaha River and Rainbow Springs River. All the time Daddy would talk about stories he’d read and characters he’d read about. By the time I was in Middle School I was devouring anything written by Ray Bradbury, JRR Tolkien, HG Wells, George Orwell, Edgar Allan Poe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and more. We would discuss the characters and plots and find the symbolism together. He was the best teacher anyone could have asked for.

By the time I could write I scribbled poems and stories and songs. Throughout my entire life I have written. I still have most of it and sit giggling at the insanity of it some days. Today I am a struggling writer of YA/MG literature. Each time I finish something I feel proud of I wish I could show it to my Daddy and let him know what a wonderful influence he was on my literary development. Finally getting published and becoming an author of books enjoyed by others will be the cherry on my rootbeer float and I know Daddy will be smiling.