Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writer as Observer

Most people who know me, know that I'm a writer. I've never come out and said it, but I sometimes use other's quirks as character traits in my writing. The very first manuscript I wrote - and which my agent is shopping around - has a character who calls both the main character's house and cell phone until the m.c. answers. When a friend of mine first read the manuscript, she said, "Hey! That's so-and-so." I was caught!

My point is here that writers sometimes use what they observe in the real world within their writing.

Two nights ago, I lost my voice. It's a common side effect from nasal drainage. It maybe happens 1-2 times a year. My kids sort of think it's funny, but mostly they get concerned, wondering when Mom will feel better. I was feeling better yesterday, so I went to work for a phone meeting with an out-of-country illustrator (she's from Canada). Good thing my boss was in on this phone call because I couldn't speak any louder than a whisper. When I arrived at work, my boss treated me no different than she normally does. I wrote notes to her to convey to the illustrator, and afterwards she and I even spoke about another project. I left promising to drink lots of tea and told her that I'd be attending another meeting the next day.

Driving home, I decided that I wanted to have some chicken noodle soup. I contemplated going to Panera, but that would require talking above an anticipated lunch crowd, since it was now after 12:00pm. I opted instead of going to Busch's and getting my own fixings for soup. I trolled through the store, picking up a few more items than needed, and landed at the check-out lane of a gentleman who I've often checked out with. He was his typical nice self, but when I indicated that I couldn't speak because of laryngitis, he started talking louder and slower.

Huh? I'm not stupid nor deaf (sorry to the hearing impairment community.) But, c'mon. I just couldn't speak louder than a whisper.

The bagger also treated me the same, and I left thinking that was weird.

Fast forward to the evening. My youngest son's Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. Trust me, if I could've stayed home, I would have. But it meant a lot to my son, and I was clearly not on my death bed, so I went. Being in a room full of people and not being able to talk to them is quite an experience. I handled myself well. I hung at my table, wrote notes to my tablemates, and enjoyed the evening. At one point, my friend wanted to introduce me to another mom. The mom knew who I was, but I had no clue who she was. We both have 5th grade boys, and apparently they boys are friends. Who knew. Anyway, when she realized that I couldn't talk, her whole demeanor changed. She bent down, got closer to me, and had this look on her face that I imagine one would give to an elderly person when that person was having a hard time communicating. Was I seeing my future? Ugh.

Either way, both of these experiences really made me start to think what it would be like to live in a world where the only communication you have is with flapping your hands around, writing notes, and clapping to get someone's attention. Granted, people don't really communicate in this way most of the time - even if they do have a speech problem. But still, it was an interesting day and night.

Today my voice is still not there. I have a hair appointment at noon today and my hairdresser has a slight hearing problem. I'm not sure that I should keep the appointment because if I can't tell her what I want, she's not going to be able to understand me! Perhaps I can find a picture. Wish me luck.

I'd love to know as a writer, do you use your surroundings in your stories? Are your friend's quirky behavior the same as a character's? C'mon, spill it. I promise I won't tell. : )

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Challenges

I don't mean "Writing Challenges" as in writing contests, or the 5-minute challenges I used to do with other writers on Romance Divas.

What I'm referring to here are those things in your life that prevent you from writing on a daily basis.

Here's a list of my challenges:

1. Children - not so much them bothering me, but the fact that they are so busy, that when they are home, they need my attention.

2. Work - I'm a contract editor, so 90% of my work is done at home. I always have work to do, and it is usually staring at me on my desk. I bought a netbook so I could "remove" myself from my "work" area. With my netbook, I can write wherever I want.

3. Time - this is a poor excuse, but sometimes that ticking clock makes me feel anxious and then the words do not flow when I do end up sitting down.

4. Feeling like I've lost my juju - does this happen to you? You love a story. You think about it constantly. You start writing it. The words flow. And then it stops. The story doesn't interest you anymore. Maybe the characters are not who you think they are, but for some reason, you just aren't that into the story.

5. Downright procrastination - this is different than time or lost juju. Procrastination is, for me, when I know I gotta do it, I can feel the story, but I just don't feel like sitting down and writing. I find other things to do - like work, or those PTO minutes I forgot to type up, or those websites I thought I should review. Whatever it is, procrastination is a bummer.

What are your writing challenges? How do you help yourself get over the hump and back at the keyboard?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writer's Life Tip #3


It's so easy these days to get caught up in everything. With the internet at our fingertips, we're either online at home, at the office, in the car (you know who you are! bad, bad, bad!), or in the restaurant/hockey rink/library/grocery story/airport terminal/park/wherever! We spend TOO much time in front of some electronic device, surfing and chatting.

I challenge you to take a vacation.

It can either be a literal vacation where you leave your home and spend a few days someplace else. Or, it can be an internet vacation where you turn off all of your devices and just be, like how you were back in the 80s.

Recently (like two days ago), my family took a quick trip to an indoor waterpark. The boys (read that as my kids and my husband) had a blast whooshing down water slides and pointing water guns at each other. A wave pool attracted the younger ones, while the grotto hot tub attracted us older types. It was bliss. The hotel didn't offer wifi, so my iPod Touch was just an mp3 player and a hand held gamer. My phone does not have a data package, but my husband's does. On the second day, where neither of us adults wanted to get wet, my husband surfed the net while I watched the commotion (uh, fun filled times) around us. Just being in the 95 degree area with 99% humidity made me feel groggy, but it was a pleasant grogginess. I did a lot of people watching, which is great for creating characters!

It was nice to get away from the gray and cold, even if it was for only two days.

If you don't have the cash, then why not stay with a family member or friend over night?

Don't want to hang out with family/friends? Well, turn off your computer. Pick up a great book. Write in journal. Take a walk outside. Walk around a mall. Go window shopping in your downtown or a town that you've always wanted to visit.

Get away and unplug.

You must take time for yourself, or you'll get too overloaded.

Trust me; I know!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does Twitter Make Me A Better Writer?

I have realized that the time I spend on Twitter actually does make me a better writer. Hear me out, okay?

Those 140 characters, that's what gets me. Watching the number of available spaces diminish as my hands flutter over the keyboard really makes me aware of the words I use.

Lately, I've found myself editing my tweets. Not the usual changing "to" to "2" or "and" to "&" - since those new keystrokes take up less characters, but I've been more in tune with the number of words I've used and how I could say the same thing with less.

This can only mean good things when it comes to my writing, right? I would think so. Since an overabundance of words can slow the pacing.

This isn't the only reason why I'm a better writer - there are so many people who post links to really great articles about writing. These articles talk about craft as well as the publishing industry as a whole. Learning as much as a writer can about the business side is also important. Conversations between people also provide a lot of information. Just recently, I saw a person ask about self-editing books. She was flooded with recommendations. Other writers post tidbits about craft in their 140 characters.

Twitter chats are a plethora of information. I try to attend #kidlitchat and #yalitchat each week. #kidlitchat is on Tuesdays at 9pm, EST. #yalitchat is on Wednesdays at 9pm, EST. Both of these chats are attended by writers, illustrators, agents, and publishers. It's AMAZING the amount of information that flies by in those 140 characters. Never, other than in the internet world, would a wannabe writer have access to these industry professionals. Part of me wonders why more writers aren't participating in these chats. You are missing out, people!

So, does Twitter make me a better writer? Craft-wise, probably not that much. But it does make me feel more connected and informed of more than what I would normally know from here in my living room in Michigan.

Do you tweet? Do you find it something you "have to do" or are you enjoying this new explosion of industry information?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pantser or Plotter?

Recently my younger son lamented about a playdate with his cousins. He planned everything they would do, even the script he would use when the youngest cousin asked to play with his hamster. He was so concerned that everything would go just right.

If my son were a writer, he'd for sure be a plotter.

I do not write this way. Even creating a synopsis before the manuscript is finished is terrifying for me. I don't like to have everything all planned out (which is the exact opposite of how I live the rest of my life.) I like to have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end -- but I like to let the character's actions push and pull the story along. Having a "plan", in my eyes, does not allow me to write organically.

I am a pantser.

Plotter vs. pantser. I've seen many discussions as to what other writers consider themselves. To each is own, is my motto.

When I come up with a story idea, I let it simmer for a while before I sit down at the computer. I think about it when I'm standing on line at the grocery store, when I'm cleaning the kitchen, or when I'm driving alone. The characters start to take on a life of their own. When I do finally sit down to write, most of the time the story pours out of me. Often times, I don't even remember what I've written when I go back and read what's on the screen. That is a freaky feeling. When that happens, I know that I've got my mojo. The sentences don't come out in chunks; they flow like tap water.

How do you write? Plotter? Pantser? A little of both?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Writing Basics #2 - Point of View, First Person

At my day job, point of view (pov) is the hardest thing for my authors to grasp. Many of them believe that "head-hopping" (going from one pov to another pov) is acceptable. I admit that there are a multitude of published books that do just this. Pick up any Nora Roberts book and you will see this in action for yourself. Her chapters will start out with, for example, the female character's pov, but a few paragraphs later, the male's pov takes over. She may even shift several more times within the same scene or chapter.

I believe that established writers can get away with this, but that new writers can not.

If you're just starting out, a refresher (or even a first time lesson) about point of view is a good thing to help with your craft.

There are several forms of point of view, but today I'll be concentrating on first person.

I love to write in first person point of view. I really feel like I get into my character's head and become them as the story enfolds. But, interestingly enough, writing experts say that newbie writers should not use first person point of view. It is too confusing, and writers are setting themselves up for failure due to the amount of mistakes that they make.

I say, write what you want - both content and point of view. BUT...make sure you understand pov before embarking on your writing journey. Pov slips happen, and a newbie writer can't allow too many slips, or the reader will know you're a newbie.

A Quick Refresher on First Person Point of View

First person point of view is written from the scene character's (usually the main character) point of view. Everything that is written is what the character sees, hears, says, and thinks. "I" is used primarily.


"Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Mom!" I yelled. "Mom! Come here, quick!"
The sky turned almost black, and the clouds swirled like a storm was about to explode. A brisk breeze whipped around, causing my math homework sheet to take off like a bird. I wanted to sit up and catch it, but I was too afraid to move.
"What the heck is happening?" I whispered aloud. "This isn't right."

Okay, so with the above example (the first part of my story, Saving Redwind) you can see that the character's point of view is used. "I" and "my math homework" show that the writer is using first person point of view.

Here's the deal with first person pov that you MUST remember: the author can only write what the scene character sees, hears, says, or thinks. Unless the scene character is in the room with Uncle Willard, the scene character will not see or hear Uncle Willard scratch his head or burp. It just doesn't work. Also, unless the scene character sees themselves in some sort of reflection, truly the character is not going to realize they are smiling. Check yourself throughout the day; do you realize really when you are smiling? Most of the time you don't. Your character isn't going to notice that either unless they are leering at someone.

What about blushing? In first person, many writers describe the feeling of blushing to get around this, because once again, do we see ourselves blushing? No. We feel it, and that's what a writer needs to describe when having their first person pov character blush.

Like I said, I love writing in first person pov. But my first manuscript that I wrote was written in third person, not first person. We'll discuss third person next time I do writing basics.

What about you? Which pov do you write in? Which pov did you like to read?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writer's Life Tip #2


In a world where bad news dominates the airwaves and internet, the one thing a writer needs is belief in themselves. The publishing world is full of rejection. Agents send them out even when a writer just sends a simple one page query, and editors send them out when a chunk of the manuscript is sent. Writers learn early on that they must have thick skin. This is not a business for the squeamish.

If you truly want to be a writer--a published writer--then you need to have a tremendous amount of belief in yourself and in your writing.

Now, this isn't to say that if you query fifty agents and they all tell you that you need to work on your craft, that belief alone will make you a better writer. Now you're just living in fairy world. Once in a while you will actually get a rejection that gives you advice. Take it. If the agent says, "Great concept, but poorly executed." Well, you need to take that as you need to do some work on your craft. Take a college course in Fiction Writing. If that doesn't fit in well with your life, consider taking an online writing course.

When I first started out, I realized that the last "English" course I had taken that had anything to do with writing mechanics had been in high school. AND, that course didn't tell me any of fiction writing mechanics. Realizing this lack, I took a few courses through Writers Online Workshops (WOW). I learned about point of view, scene and sequel, characterization - all the things that I did not learn in high school and college. Invest the time in yourself to work on your writing. If you have grasped all of the technical parts of writing, then join a critique group. Be warned though; people can be cruel, especially if they are jealous. Pick a critique group that gives positive criticism only. Negative criticism will only create self-doubt.

There are many non-fiction books out there about writing. On Writing by Stephen King is wonderful, and I highly recommend it. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is another great book. If you don't have the time or money to take a class, a good writing book can be a great substitute.

Read, read, read. Reading the genre you write will make you a better writer. BUT, you have to start reading with a different eye. If you pay attention to the mechanics of published works, you will learn a lot. Unfortunately, though, the more you read, the more you critique and sometimes it's hard to get lost in a story. Being an editor by day, it makes it very hard for me to stick with a book. If I'm not captured fully within the first chapter, the book goes back to the library.

What have you done to help hone your craft? Reading books, taking classes, a critique group? I'd love to hear what you've done.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writing Days

Since I'm not under contract with any house, my writing days are those that I chose. I have no deadlines, other than those that I create myself, or those created by my agent so she can do her magic. I still consider my "writing days" to be those that inspire me to sit down and let the words flow out. Unfortunately for me, at this point in my life, writing days are not every day. Oh how I wish they could be.

During a recent #kidlitchat on Twitter (or maybe it was #yalitchat--I truly don't remember) one published author insisted that she wished that she were unpublished, that sometimes the deadlines seemed like too much, and that dare she say, it pushed on her creativity.

Her comments saddened me. I love my writing days - they are days that I specifically set aside for writing, that I don't look at my email, or answer the phone. It's like I create a little cocoon and let my mind do it's work. I have a constant cup of coffee or tea on my desk and my iPod earbuds are rocking away that project's playlist. I'm usually alone, except for the dog, and I don't even notice time passing.

If you're published (or on contract), how do you feel about your writing days? Are they hectic or do they flow like they used to?

If you're unpublished (and not under contract), what are your writing days like?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Writing Basics Tip #1

Beginning - Middle - End = Hook & Story Problem

Whenever I say this in one of my company's writing workshops, I inevitably get an eye roll or two. Yes, of course, Kris, we know that a story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. It's not just writing that first sentence and then hoping that all the other sentences create the middle and then the end. A writer must have a story problem. Even though many participants nod when I say, "Does your story have a story problem?", most give me blank or expectant stares.

So, since it's my workshop, I make them suffer through a brief discussion on this topic. Because where else does a writer start, but at the beginning?

I have reviewed many manuscripts where there was no beginning, a middle, or even a ending. The "story" just sort of started and then sort of ended. No story problem, no wraparound. No real beginning, no real ending. These were not good manuscripts, and they were not accepted by my company.

Other manuscripts, as well as most published books, have a beginning - a hook - oopss, there's another word writers should know - which draws the reader into the story almost immediately. In a picture book, the first two pages with their text and illustration must explain what the problem is (the hook). In a chapter book, I've heard that the first paragraph must draw the reader in, but I really think it is the first sentence. I think the very first sentence is one of the hardest to write.

Pick up any book and read the first sentence.

Here are a few I have lying around:
"I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves." Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

"It wasn't much, really, the whole Jessica Feeney thing." Firegirl by Tony Abbott

"You have been chosen for your special skills to do something that urgently needs to be done." Swindle by Gordon Korrman

All of these first sentences--or the hook--makes the reader want to read on.All of them are from chapter books.

The beginning needs to present the problem that the main character needs to fix. Throughout the middle, the character must continue to reach the resolution to the problem, and usually finds more problems on the way. The ending needs to tie it all up. The original problem should be solved and no new problems should be introduced, unless the author is writing a series. Ending in a cliff hanger is especially good for a series as it will make the reader want to immediately buy the next book.

Take a look at the first line of your first chapter. Does is pull the reader in? Does is set-up the problem? If you answer no to either question, I suggest that you revisit this first line. It needs to whack the reader in the head and make them say, "Huh?" or "What?" or "Groovy!"

Story problem problems? I tell my workshop writers to come up with a question that has a yes or no answer, and that should be the story problem.

From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I think the story problem/question is, Will Charlie find a golden ticket which will change the lives of him and his family?

From The Lightning Thief: Will Percy finally understand his differences and how they will impact the world around him?

The story problem can be a basic one that is explored through the text, but it must be there. It's like a guide in the beginning to the rest of the story, and it will help the author tie everything up in the end.

What are some of your first lines and/or story problems? Have you ever thought about your story problem specifically?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blog closed for the weekend.

Hey, thanks for stopping by, but ABP (Adventures Beyond the Pond) is closed for the weekend.

Writing and district hockey games will be taking up most of Kris's weekend, so be sure to check back on Monday. She'll be talking about the basics of writing: beginning, middle, and end, story problem, and the wrap around.

Hope to see you on Monday!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writer Life Tip #1


Here's my tip to you: Invest in a good massage once a month.

As a writer you spend A LOT of time sitting in front of a keyboard. All that tension from the hours at the desk settle in your shoulders and creep down your arms. It's amazing how much the muscles can bear before you actually realize that you're doing damage.

A massage will help cure the muscle fatigue as well as move all of those toxins out of your muscles and into your blood stream- thus being able to be released. If you get a really, really, really good massage, you'll feel so relaxed, it's like you're drunk!

We have to take care of ourselves by eating well, getting exercise, and having a good emotional outlook on life. A massage will help with the last, although my massage guy tells me that after one of his massages, my body thinks I've run about 3 miles!

Have you ever had a massage? Too ticklish? Too shy?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hamster = Research. Really?

Hams the hamster came into our family on January 31. We all oohed and ahhed over him. Jack, our dog, ignored his existence. I know now that was all an act; we found Jack, front paws posed precariously on the dresser in front of Ham's cage. Luckily we stopped Jack before he could lick the cage open, sending Hams to a certain shaking or swallowing demise.

Originally we bought Hams so that our younger son would feel special and have something of his own to care for. Jack is the entire families, and so are the fish. But J (our youngest son) was feeling a bit out of sorts because of all the time we spend at the hockey rink for N (our older son). Hockey is a whole 'nother post. But back to Hams.

I know nothing about hamsters. They sort of creep me out. But Hams is a Chinese Dwarf hamster, so he's really little and somewhat cute. He does look like a mouse, though. I secretly wonder if the PetSmart people chuckled to themselves as we walked out with this fake mouse and $100 worth of stuff to take care of it. But I digress.

I try to view each new experience as an opportunity for research. Not only am I learning what hamsters are all about (yippea for me), but I'm watching first hand how having this new little thing is changing my nine-year-old's life.

He's suddenly concerned if Hams is eating and drinking enough: "Why do we have to refill the huge water bottle each day, Mom? Hams can't drink all of it." "Quick, Mom, it's time to replace those pellet thingys. My calendar says it's been three days." (sidenote: when we brought Hams home, J filled out each day on his calendar that he had to do something for the hamster. I.e. feeding, changing the bedding, cleaning the cage.)

He thinks the hamster is brain damaged when it drags a bunch of his bedding up to the huge wheel that is supposed to be his source of exercise, and proceeds to sleep in the wheel: "This is the dumbest hamster in the world. We should take him back and get a new one."

Everyone he's met since getting the hamster, my nine-year-old-who-rarely-talks-to-members-of-his-own-extended-family was yaking it up with strangers. J didn't have enough time at our dinner out that night to tell the waitress everything she needed to know about his new hamster.

So I'll look past the stinkiness, the poop pellets racing out of the huge wheel when Hams does decide to use it (maybe he'll sleep there forever, and I won't have to worry about flying poop-we did buy him another small wheel to go inside of the cage), as well as the daily "refreshing" of his bed because this is all research. Someday don't be surprised to read about one of my character's taking care of a hamster. AND, I'll be sure to leave in all the gross and messy things I've learned - because my audience will love it! I know my son does.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hello! Hello? Anybody Out There?

Good day, or morning, or night, for that matter. I want to make you feel welcome to my new blog home.

I'm Kris Yankee, and I'll be your guide through this maze I like to call, Adventures Beyond the Pond. (I hear that last part in my head like this, "Addvennturessss Beyooond the Poooond"). I know; I'm crazy. You'll see that the more you visit.

But I'm not always crazy. You see, by day, I'm an editor at a small press in Northville, Michigan. We publish wonderful books with really great messages. I've worked on picture books, middle-grade chapter books, young adult books, adult memoirs, and non-fiction books.I love my job and helping other authors achieve their dreams.

My dream, or should I say "GOAL", is to publish my own writing. My lovely agent, Christine Witthohn, is helping to make that GOAL become a REALITY. I'll give you updates when those things happen. 'Cause they will happen. I just know it.

I'm working on making this blog a bit more personalized, so be sure to stop by and see what I've figured out how to do with Blogger! My website needs a total revamp, but you're welcome to visit that as well at

Occasionally, I'll write about the mechanics of writing. Beginning writers think that a story is just that: a story. There's so much more involved with creating a cohesive and well-plotted story than just putting words together to form sentences which form paragraphs which form chapters which eventually form a "book". I'll have posts about the dreaded POV - point of view, for those of you newbies here. I'll talk about scene and sequel, and my favorite of all time: how your setting is a character.

Don't worry. I'll take it slow and let it all sink in for you before I give out a pop quiz.

Naw, just kidding.

At times, I'm hoping one of my character will pop in and take over the blog for a while. I've got two middle-grade series going on right now, and those characters like to have a lot of my attention. I thought if I let them out into the wide internet world, maybe they'd shut up for awhile. We'll see.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you real soon.