Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book a School Assembly, Classroom Visit, or Writer's Workshop TODAY!

Author MaryAnn Easley will visit your school and present 1-3 assemblies, provide a classroom visit, or facilitate a writer's workshop for grades 2-8.

She will also contact a picture book author for grades K-2.

Invigorate the teaching of California state standards by having a real author visit your school to discuss the writing process.

Many books also teach science and environmental concepts.

Certificated K-8 teacher with 30 years experience in the classroom.

Costs range from FREE to $875 depending on specific needs, number of assemblies, and location. Each assembly, classroom visit, or writer's workshop is personally designed to fit your students. Available for public and private schools, after-school and summer programs, and homeschool groups. Improve test scores. Two-day writer's intensives also available.

Visit includes student handouts, realia, and book signing.

Get kids excited about writing!

Visits appropriate for K-8. Author available to speak about writing to adult groups as well.

"Best author assembly we've every had and I've taught at this school for 25 years!"

Contact authorinschools@gmail for information. Book an author visit TODAY! 949-285-3831.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Structure a Story

Without structure you have no story. Structure in story must include a character in a situation with a problem who tries over and over again to solve that problem but fails again and again and then, at the climax of the story, makes a final last-ditch-effort attempt and proves himself or herself. Within this framework, you have plot or story arc and character arc.

Joseph Campbell's HERO'S JOURNEY contains the best story structure formula and is used by novelists and screenwriters.

1. The hero is confronted with a challenge,
2. rejects it,
3. but then is forced (or allowed) to accept it.
4. He travels on the road of trials,
5. gathering powers and allies, and
6. confronts evil—only to be defeated.
7. This leads to a dark night of the soul, after which
8. the hero makes a leap of faith that allows him to
9. confront evil again and be victorious.
10. Finally, the student becomes the teacher.

Every book or film can be analyzed according to the Hero’s Journey.

Once you learn to plan a story this way, it becomes much easier to plot stories and to critique your own work as well as the work of others.

Basically what's happening in story is a character must make a CHOICE and this choice is shown by ACTIONS and all those actions must have CONSEQUENCES.

The character must make a choice required by the story and there must be action because of this choice. Think CAUSE and EFFECT. Something happens, the character reacts based on who he or she is and that causes reaction and so on. There's a SET-UP, a RESPONSE, an ATTACK, and a RESOLUTION. This paradigm will make it easier to structure your story.

The MAIN CHARACTER or PROTAGONIST or POV NARRATOR has a history (the character sketch and backstory you've created) and something changes that creates the story: a bomb drops, a best friend betrays, an opportunity arises, etc. The hero attacks the problem or goes after the goal and something else changes and then, finally, things resolve: the mountain is climbed, the treasure is found, the race is won.

Story is like life. As heroes of our own stories, we are constantly responding, reacting, changing, adapting, shifting and, because of our actions, something changes.

That brings about conflict and that is story.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to Write a Story

In order to write a story you must create a good main character or protagonist. This character might be based on someone you know or a composite of several people.

Besides having an identity, this character must have needs or desires or goals. He may want to win something. She might be desperate to escape a situation. He needs to stop something from happening or she must retrieve something lost. As your character struggles to reach that goal, you will put obstacles in the way and therefore create a plot.

Think short, not long. Put only two or three obstacles in the way. Concentrate on making this a short story or flash fiction. How about 500 words? That's two pages.

Get to know your protagonist or main character by jotting down characteristics in your journal. Cut out pictures of people who look like your protagonist. Figure out how your character talks; decide what his weaknesses or her strengths are. What about hobbies? Skills, talents, fears? What’s in his pocket? What does she carry in her backpack? Know how your protagonist will react in different situations. Let your imagination roam free.

Analyze what other authors do to make their characters real. Your protagonist must be sympathetic and likeable and in some sort of jeopardy so the reader will identify with him or her and feel tense when there's trouble and joy when there's success. If you spend enough time thinking about this protagonist, you will begin to hear his or her voice in your head. You'll know exactly how he or she talks, what makes her angry, what makes him cry. Your character must be strong enough to drive the plot forward or you won't have a story.

Once you have your protagonist firmly set in your mind, create the plot. That will be easy because you already know what your main character wants or needs or must have and you will send him or her on a journey, either external or internal, to achieve that goal.

Of course, your story will take place in an environment of some sort. It will have geography, a time and place. You, the author, create that world as you go along. Don't stop your story right in the middle to explain it all to us. As your protagonist goes about winning the prize, you can have the fun of making it difficult. What's the worst thing that could possibly happen to your protagonist?

Okay, you play God and make it happen. Then when he or she gets up and dusts off the grime of that brutal encounter and is just about to reach the finish line, toss in another even obstacle or circumstance that's even worse. Don't let your character get what he or she wants too easily. Watch lots of movies and you'll know exactly what I mean.

It helps to outline your story. Have a compelling opening so that right away we know who your protagonist is and what he or she wants. Know how the story will end. The in-between middle part is the hardest to write, but if you think of the story as a journey with mountains to climb or rivers to cross or broken glass to walk through to get to the end that will make it easier.

Figure out what's going to keep the protagonist from getting what he or she wants. Is it another person? His or her own mindset? A burning building? An earthquake? A mean stepmother? Analyze what happens in other stories, in movies and novels you've enjoyed and you'll get the idea.

Okay, your story is finished. Now go back to the beginning and delete all adverbs (i.e., "quickly, loudly, silently," etc.) Make sure you don't have too many adjectives when describing something. Make every noun and verb count. Verbs should be active, not passive. If you have the word "was" over and over, then you're most likely writing in a passive voice. Rewrite those "was" sentences. You want to use an active voice. You want to show, not tell the story. ("Jane was tired" is not as interesting as "Jane fell asleep at the wheel of her car.

Delete all clichés, all trite words, all those words and phrases we hear over and over. Make sure the dialogue rings true. Every character should sound differently. Avoid dialogue tags whenever possible or use only "he said" or "she said." Don't use "he pontificated" or "she yelped."

Read your story aloud to yourself. Set it aside to cool a bit. Then read it aloud again. Now take it out in public and read it to the real world. You will get feedback and if you really want to write fiction, you will be tough enough and determined enough to listen. You will not defend your work or try to explain it to those who give you an honest critique. This is important. Feedback will allow you to see what needs to be done during rewrites; and revision is what makes fiction good.

Here are some things to remember:

The protagonist is the main character or "good guy" in the story. The protagonist reacts to what happens in the story.

The antagonist is the "bad guy" in the story and doesn't have to be a person. It might be a storm or a bum knee and mountain that must be climbed. The antagonist drives the story forward and forces the protagonist to react.

The plot is the string of events in the story, the obstacles in the way, all those things between the beginning and end the cause conflict.

The setting is the place and time in which the story takes place, the environment or geography of the story.

The dialogue is the talk or what the characters say. Every character speaks in a different way. Every time a character says something, make it be in a new paragraph.

The point of view (POV) is the viewpoint of the narrator in relation to the characters. First person or "I" POV, third person or "he-she" POV, or omniscient or a God-like POV are the three main and most commonly used points of view.

The premise is the main idea or meaning behind a story, i.e., "good conquers evil" or "home is where the heart is." The theme is broader and might be a topic like "war" or "love" or "friendship." So the theme might be "friendship," and the premise might be "a strong friendship can change two lives," or perhaps "a friend can be better than medicine."

The style is the way the author uses the language, the voice that comes through in the story.

Remember to be specific. (Write "Porsche" or "Hyundai" instead of "car," "rose" or "gardenia" instead of "flower").

Show, don't tell. (Use an active voice). Make every word count. Every line should move the story forward.

Avoid clichés and overused trite phrases. Analyze your words. Remember you're an artist and you are painting with words.

Don't take criticism personally. Separate yourself from your story. A real writer writes and rewrites and rewrites again and again. Your first draft is a lump of clay you've dug from the ground of your imagination. With feedback you will know just how to sculpt that clay into something significant and beautiful.

If the reader can relate to your main character, if you can hook us right at the beginning and hold our interest until the end, you've got a story.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Are Story Elements?

Every story has structure and this structure contains story elements. Writing a story is like putting a puzzle together. When you are finished, you have a unified whole. At least, we hope so.

Story must have CONFLICT or it's not really a story. It's a nice description or a vignette or a character sketch. This conflict is contained in a format called PLOT.

All the introductory stuff where characters are presented and time and place is established and other information is called EXPOSITION. Be careful about dumping too much of this into the story. Get to action. You want to "show" not "tell" and exposition is the telling part of story that is actually a bit boring.

It's fun to use FORESHADOWING in story. This is where you give hints or insert clues about something that happens later on in the story. You have to be clever about this, not too obvious and not too subtle either.

A story should start with an INCITING INCIDENT. This is the event that triggers the conflict and conflict is the heart and soul of fiction. You should have conflict in every scene and on every page. Without conflict, there is no plot. Conflict might be 1) person versus person or 2) person versus nature or 3) person versus self or 4) person versus society.

A series of events follow this conflict and this is the RISING ACTION. It begins with the inciting force and builds until the CLIMAX. The conflict arrives at turning point where opposing forces meet and the conflict is really intense. Now we are at the CRiSIS point. The climax is the result of this crisis. This is the highest, most exciting point of the story. This is when your reader can't put the story down.

After this point things calm down and this is the FALLING ACTION. We are now in the closing of the story and know the outcome. And then we're at what's called the RESOLUTION or DENOUEMENT where the action comes to an end.

All stories have characters and, hopefully, they are three dimensional characters with strengths and weaknesses. The main characters have goals and ambitions and their values change. A round character changes as a result of what happens to him or her. A character who changes inside as a result of what happens to him is a DYNAMIC character.

The main character in The story is the PROTAGONIST. The ANTAGONIST is the character or force that opposes the protagonist. Stories have MAJOR characters who are well rounded three-dimensional and MINOR characters who are two-dimensional and flat and lack depth. Flat characters are STATIC characters because they do not change in the course of the story.

A story has a POINT OF VIEW. There is the FIRST PERSON POV where the narrator is a character in the story who can only reveal personal thoughts and feelings about what she observes or by what other characters tell her. In the first person POV, the narrator can't describe thoughts of other characters in the story.

There is also the THIRD PERSON OBJECTIVE POV. Here the narrator of the story is an outsider who can report only what he or she sees and hears. This narrator can tell us what is happening, but he can’t tell us the thoughts of the characters. In THIRD PERSON LIMITED POV, however, the narrator is an outsider who sees into the mind of one of the characters.

Finally, there is the OMNISCIENT POV where the narrator is an all-knowing outsider who can enter the minds of more than one of the characters.

IRONY is the contrast between what is expected or what appears to be and what actually is. There is VERBAL IRONY - the contrast between what is said and what is actually meant. There is SITUATIONAL IRONY where what
is happening is the opposite of what is expected or intended. And there is DRAMATIC IRONY when the reader knows more than the characters.

TONE/MOOD is the author’s attitude, stated or implied, toward a subject. An author might be pessimistic or optimistic, earnest, serious, bitter, funny. This attitude is revealed through the author's VOICE, choice of words, and story details. Mood is established through sensory detail, setting, and images. The tone refers more to story voice; mood is connected with the overall story climate.

A story can have SYMBOLISM, a person, place or object which has a meaning in itself but suggests other meanings as well.

Good stories have an overall THEME which is the main idea or underlying meaning. A theme may be stated or implied, but is a statement about a topic. While the subject of a story might be war, the theme might be that war is wasteful and cruel. Themes can be presented in thoughts and conversations of story characters. The main character usually illustrates the most important theme of the story. The actions or events in the story suggest theme.

IMAGERY can be accomplished by using sensory details. FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE is used in story through SIMILE and METAPHOR. Whenever you describe something by comparing it with something else, you are using figurative language. A simile is a direct comparison between two unlike things, usually with the words like or as. (Her eyes were as bright as stars.) A metaphor is an implied comparison between two relatively unlike things using a form of be. The comparison is not announced by like or as. (The river was a ribbon of moonlight.)

ALLITERATION is when we repeat consonant sounds at the beginning of words or within words. Alliteration is used in both poetry and fiction to create melody and rhythm. Many children's picture books use alliteration. These stories use ONOMATOPOEIA, too, where words resemble sounds (Snap! Crackle! Pop!)

PERSONIFICATION gives human qualities to inanimate or nonhuman things. If the moon smiles down on you, we are personifying the moon because the moon really can't smile.

By understanding the elements used in story, you can improve your writing. It can be fun to experiment with figurative language and it's worthwhile to develop your story characters so that they are three-dimensional.

Stop by again soon and we'll talk more about writing.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Where Do Stories Come From?

You may wonder where an author gets her ideas for stories. I feel the best stories come from real life because such stories are more dense and compelling. We like reading stories where we can identify with the protagonist or hero or point of view (POV) narrator.

When I lived in the Arctic in tiny Iñupiat villages without plumbing or roads or any modern conveniences, I acquired a lot of first hand experiences I could use in my books I AM THE ICE WORM, DOG WOMAN, ALONE IN THE ICE WORLD, and FINDING JADE MOUNTAIN.

I fished commercially for salmon along the California coast aboard a 55' sailing schooner and those adventures led to BELLY UP. My sailboat became the sailboat in the story and my experiences with sharks, whales, freighters and trying to catch fish in terrible weather gave me the nuts and bolts I needed to give the story verisimilitude.

I taught eighth grade on a USMC base after 9/11 and former students who have read WARRIOR'S DAUGHTER say it's like "reliving eighth grade all over again." And no wonder! The book is the result of those two years in middle school and the students in that eighth grade homeroom are the students in the story.

And KNUCKLE DOWN comes from growing up on the Los Angeles homefront during World War II. My dad's liberty ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Indian Ocean and the facts about that incident are absolutely true. I even used some of my father's own words.

So, as you can see, my young adult novels are based on my own life experiences. I've heard that writers should write about what they "know," and I believe this is a good way to develop characters and plots. Even the adult stories I write are connected to my own reality or my perception of it.

I tell young people to start writing from where they are and who they are, and being an outsider often makes for better stories. Outsiders are observers to all that goes on around them, to the groups and cliques, insults and deceptions occurring right under their noses. Sure, it's their perception of what's happening and everyone interprets a day's events from his or her own perspective, but it's certainly valid as far as feelings go and as close to reality as anyone can get.

The most important element of story is truth, and truth comes from reaching into those deep and sometimes brutal agonies and ecstacies of growing up, dealing with friends, parents, siblings, teachers, and even pets. Readers tune in to that truth at a level they might not understand. All they know is they've been there and done that and can relate to the story's narrator.

As writers, we need to excavate human emotions even if it hurts to face guilts, fears, and hopes. We need to somehow get those feelings onto the page. I don't mean you have to tell everything exactly how it happened. My stories are fiction but I start with fact. As an author, you can take an experience and rewrite that bit of history. You can get revenge or reinvent yourself in different characters. You can change the endings of things. The truth I'm talking about is the story element that makes readers say, "Aha! She gets it."

When I fell flat on my face and broke my nose, I used that humiliating experience in story. I knew exactly how it felt to break a nose and how long it took to heal and what it was like to go around with two black eyes. Hence, I was able to reveal the truth of having a broken nose. I also know what it's like to feel left out or have a broken heart or lose a pet. I know the truth of feelings common to everyone and I put that truth in story.

Journaling helps separate backstory from story and my adult writing students have a big problem with doing this. I have trouble myself and have to cut out great amounts of writing because I sometimes get in my own way. I'll discuss journaling and how to use backstory in story in a future post. If you're interested enough to scroll to the bottom of the page, I've revealed some author's secrets you might find useful.

I hope you'll visit my blog often so we can talk more about writing. Thanks for stopping by.