Wednesday 27 March 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip # 4 - The Magic of a List

In celebration of the enjoyment I've had writing children's books, every week my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished story.

(c) Lisa Smith
The Seed: New snow had fallen and our family was packing up for a winter picnic. My two-year-old was rushing around like crazy. If there was this much excitement, there had to be a story! Even with my husband helping, however, it was too hectic to find my notebook and really write. Just before I headed out the door, I grabbed a scrap of paper and made a quick list of the last four things I'd put into the back packs...

The Book: Ben's Snow Song

The Writing Tip: If you can't do any other kind of writing...make a list! All afternoon that scrap of paper with it's four words, so patiently sitting on the counter at home, became a gathering spot for my thoughts. The magic of a list is that, even while it helps you focus, it almost begs for your thoughts to expand as well.  Soon all my senses were reaching for words and phrases.  The sound of the skis on the snow. The happy buzz of chickadees. Words repeated in my head to the rhythm of our movement through the trees.
                               Sunlight, shadow, sunlight, shadow.
                               Cold and quiet, 
                               world of snow.  
Have you ever noticed how a list becomes a poem?  
          When we stopped to build a fire, the crack of the wood being split, the smells of roasting hot dogs and the taste of gingerbread men all joined in. 
          No matter how well things seemed to be turning out in the list/poem department, however, I knew I must not forget the basics.  Every story needs a crises.  This is a gentle little story so the crises could be gentle as well - but it is there, complete with resolution.        
(c) Lisa Smith
 Lisa Smith did a perfect job of giving the illustrations the wintery freshness and the family warmth they needed. More of Lisa's lovely art can be seen on her home page

By the way, it's not just when I'm in a hurry that I use lists. I also use them  
  • to overcome writer's block (a form of "free fall" )
  • to internalize the age and interests of my young characters
  • to broaden a story plot (lists help to both focus and expand)
  • to try and pin down an illusive theme
  • to come up with a stronger and more surprising ending
  • to keep track of the problems I know exist in a manuscript but  haven't quite figured out how to fix yet 
  • to plan what I'll work on during my next writing period so that when I do return to a story I'm off to a running start
Happy writing, making lists and enjoying the great outdoors in whatever way the season allows... until the next blog!  
  c All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.  

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip #3 - Save Your Rough Drafts!

Every week my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished book.  

The Seed:  "Help! Help!" I heard the cry and raced into the living room.  My four-year-old's foot was stuck in the pocket at the back of the sofa.  Was the child about to be swallowed whole?

The Book:  Leanna Builds a Genie Trap ( Annick Press 1986)

The Writing Tip: Remember last week when I talked about jumping right into the action? This moment of panic definitely filled the bill in that regard. But this time I was trying to write a picture book for younger kids and if I started in such a dramatic way the story would be too frightening. I didn't want to give little kids nightmares!
       I began wandering around the house, gathering up all the small things that get lost in a home with busy children.  They were friendly, familiar objects...a good place to start.  I added my mysterious blue tin box (it just felt like it belonged). But it wasn't until I came across my kids' favorite rope (used for forts, climbing, and traps!) that I knew I really had a story.  
       Those familiar objects became the start. The trapped foot became the crises. It was another lesson learned --  a story seed needs to be looked at from all directions in order to figure out where it might best be used.
        I also learned a valuable lesson about rough drafts. An editor asked me to rework the ending of the story. I wrote six possible last pages, chose the one I liked best and tossed the others away. The next morning before I mailed the envelope, however, I happened to pass the waste basket.  Looking down into the crumpled pieces of paper, I spotted an ending that I rather liked after all....
        Yes - the "discarded" ending is the one the editor liked the best. Save those rough drafts!

      p.s. The illustrations for the book were done by Catharine O'Neill.  I love them but I haven't been able to find her contact information to ask permission to use them here.  Catharine, if you are out there, please e-mail me so I can replace this photo with your cover art! 
     My photograph above makes me shake my head.  I try so hard to come up with good visual images but they always end up "uninspired".  I am SO grateful for the wonderful, amazing visual artists who illustrate my books!

  c All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins. 

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip #2 - Jump into the Action

In celebration of 50 published titles, every week my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished book.

The Seed: I stood in the middle of our corner grocery store and stared at the clerk's dangling earrings. Those earrings reminded me of my wonderful, amazing Aunt Mag who, with a mysterious smile, would look at us sideways and announce "I have magical powers, you know. If you don't behave, I'll turn you into a frog." 

The Book: Sarah and the Magic Science Project (Annick 1984, 2005)

The Writing Tip: The first line of the story seems so simple: "On a bright morning in May, the lady at the corner grocery store turned Derek Henshaw into a frog." Originally, however, that part of the story was a full two pages of "scene setting" before I distilled it down to exactly what it needed to be. Rewriting isn't fun. But it is necessary. Take out the boring parts. Add interesting parts. Bring your story alive with short bits of dialogue, quick touches of humor. (Remember when last week's blog post talked about energy? Dialogue and humor both bring energy!) Tell the story - or at least think about it - from a different character's point of view.  Do research to come up with wider ideas. And, especially if you are writing for young people or if you are someone who has trouble simply getting your story started in the first place, jump right into the action. 
      Originally issued as Anastasia Morning star and the Crystal Butterfly, and updated in 2005, the book has been published in Canada, Great Britain, Germany and America -- each time with different illustrations. I love the places a book can end up!

        I hope that right now you are reaching for your pen or opening a word document on your computer to begin to write...or jumping in with energy.  You never know where your own story might appear!

  c All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip #1 - Energy!

        Today I begin a weekly series "Story Seeds / Writing Tips".  Drop in whenever you feel like it! Or join the blog for automatic updates and draws for book prizes. For details, see March 3rd's post "I'm Celebrating !"

 The Seed: When I was in grades 4-6, the old "three wishes"fairy tale kept showing up in our reading books. It used to drive me crazy. The foolish adult characters always wasted their wishes in the worst possible manner. That's when I came up with my great idea!  I didn't actually write the story until fourteen years later...but when I did, it became my first published novel for children.  
The Book: The Three and Many Wishes of Jason Reid (Annick, 1983 and 2000)

The Writing Tip:  Some of the ideas one comes up with as a kid are very good ideas indeed!  But good ideas need energy if they're going to be able to carry a novel from start to finish.  One way I kept the energy level strong for this book was to alternate chapters. Magic. Baseball. Magic. Baseball. I wasn't even aware I was doing it at first -- all I knew was that somehow, every time I started on a new chapter, I was eager to write. And it showed.
             Where did the baseball theme come from? I thought at the time that it grew from a casual description I'd pulled from thin air. A boy with a baseball cap - it seemed pretty random to me.  
             I'm not so sure of that any more.  You'll see from future blog posts that some of the things that just "happen" to show up in my stories have all kinds of underlying connections.
             But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm trying to keep each posting to one short writing tip at a time. And please remember, writing tips are not writing rules. They're suggestions - things you might try to help you start a story, finish a story or improve a story on which you are already working.
             Moving back and forth between settings, subject matter or characters is one way to keep your writing energized and your audience reading. Are you reading a novel right now where the author uses this very technique?           

  c All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.

Sunday 3 March 2013

I'm Celebrating! - Story Seeds / Writing Tips

This is a cake from a wonderful librarian in Fort MacLeod many  years (and many books!) ago.  But it speaks to why I can't help celebrating.

I've been so lucky to be a children's author! So much fun writing the books (yes - those labour pains are the easiest things in the world to forget!)  So many, many great editors, publishers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, caregivers, writers, lovers of children's books and -- best of all -- so many great kids!  Of ALL ages. And in all the locations I've been privileged to be invited --- from inner city to outport, prairie grasslands to the far north.

In celebration of fifty titles (including four new ones this year!) for the next three months my Word Magic blog will have weekly postings featuring:
     1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories grew
     2) a writing tip that helped that idea become a finished story.

And yes - in one way it's a bit of navel-gazing.  My own private "Hazel retrospective".  But I also hope there will be something there for others  ----  for students, teachers, librarians, parents, writers and anyone who loves children's books. 

The entries will be short... just enough to remind us all of the wonderful "possibility" of story...the small seeds from which they might grow, the sometimes surprising ways in which they can be encouraged.

Feel free to spread the word to others who might be interested.  Drop by whenever you wish.  Or sign-in and "join" the blog to be automatically entered in a monthly draw for five Hazel Hutchins titles (March, April and May 2013).

The first post will be Wednesday March 6th - which by happy coincidence is World Read Aloud Day!  And I'll be posting once a week on  Wednesday for the next four months. 

Story Seeds / Writing Tips
At "Word Magic"  

And, most of all, thank you .... everyone!