Friday, April 29, 2011

Overheard #142

"When you have talent, more is expected of you."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Youth Writing Festival

Yesterday, I spoke on How to Write Fight Scenes at the Youth Writing Festival at Calvin College. My presentation includes time for the students to write their own fight scenes. The group of middle school students was large, so instead of reading their scenes out loud, we discussed what they found easiest and hardest about writing fights. Most agreed it was easy to see the scene in their imaginations, and hard to put it into words. No arguments from me there.

As the high school students wrote their scenes, I was delighted to see a girl pull out a thesaurus and consult it frequently. I was less pleased when a boy started thumbing his phone. When my session was over, the young man with the phone asked me to read his scene. I squinted at his tiny, spidery writing and asked if he would read out loud. He told me he couldn’t because English was his second language. The scene was hard to follow because of problems with English usage, but some of the descriptions were unique and lovely, and I complimented him. Later, I realized he must have been using his phone to access a Chinese/English dictionary.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It’s Been a Long Time Since the Last Teen Driving Post

Last week I drove by the high school as school was letting out. The car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read:

How’s my driving?
Call my mom.

It gave a phone number.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Scenes That Excel

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that when in doubt, I create and Excel file. Currently, I’m developing one to analyze the effectiveness of scenes. My file has the following columns.

Chapter #: Start easy. Not every cell in this column has an entry because many chapters contain more than one scene.

Setting: This is a simple way to denote scenes. If the scene takes place in more than one location, I use an arrow. “living room --> garage” How many scenes happen in the same place?

Characters: I list the characters in the scene and color code them to make it easy to scan for long absences.

Tension: I score tension from x to xxxxx. (Any scene with no tension has already been deleted.) This gives me a vertical histogram of the ebb and flow of energy in the novel.

Words: Are any of the chapters very long or very short?

Purpose: What does this scene achieve in the grand scheme of the novel? I try to be honest, even when it hurts. If a scene has a weak or duplicated purpose, I use the paint can tool to highlight it.

The problems are all laid out. Time to get to work.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Seagulls love Catalina Island. I didn't notice the photo realism in the middle picture when I took it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Overheard #141

"They didn’t mention this when I was student teaching."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Garibaldi Day

Garibaldi swim in the kelp beds by Santa Catalina Island. I don’t have an underwater camera, so the photographs were taken from land, looking into the water. Reflected sunlight, chop and swaying kelp affect the clarity of the pictures, so get your artsy on. For clear pictures of garibaldi, check out Wikipedia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spy Stuff

The Rachel Maddow Show helped me out with my series about cool spy stuff in the news. The CIA has recently declassified methods for preparing and detecting invisible ink that were used in WWI. I’m still enough of a chemist to want to try these things.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

California, California

Green Pleasure Pier
Last week we went to Southern California to attend our nephew’s wedding and refresh my memory about the settings for two of my works-in-progress. One takes place, in part, on Santa Catalina Island, so we spent a couple days on the island. We saw pelicans dive for fish right by the ferry, and dolphins breach in the Avalon Harbor. Sea lions fished twenty yards from the pier, and bright orange garibaldi swam in the kelp.

Real estate on Catalina Island is very expensive, and the houses cluster on the foothills above Avalon Harbor. Few of the houses have yards unless the land around them is too steep to build on. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to take one of the inland tours to visit the buffalo.

After Catalina, we went to Redlands. I’d forgotten how much concrete there is in Los Angeles, or how thick the smog can be below the San Bernadino Mountains. (I didn’t take photos of the smog or the freeways.)

I’ll be posting more pictures throughout the week.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Link and a Promise

Tomorrow, I'll start posting about my trip to California. Until then, while I'm finishing up the laundry, check out this brilliant post from The Intern.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Thorn reflected.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Overheard #140

"Teaching is scary as hell, if you do it right."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring Break

I’ve been going through Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer videos on YouTube. They offer excellent, user-friendly advice on how to fix novel structure. I’m learning a lot – which is always a painful experience.

This is spring break for Jeremy’s high school. We had three college visits lined up but decided to cancel the last one because that university doesn’t have a guitar major. Jeremy is discovering that rock guitar is the unloved genre at conventional universities.

Next week, I’m off to Southern California for my nephew’s wedding. I hope to take some pictures of the Pacific, blooming flowers and chaparral-covered hills. Michigan is mostly brown and muddy these days, so photo ops have been limited.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


It was overcast all day on Friday, but the sun came out just when I snapped this photo.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Overheard #139

"I’ve never had any problems with excessive genius."