Monday, September 5, 2011

Tastes Just Like It Sounds

In October of 1994 I treated myself to a class on Writing Children’s Fiction by Mary Blount Christian at Rice University.  It was a Continuing Education Class, so I didn’t need to qualify for the University, thank goodness.

Although computers were becoming more popular, they were not ubiquitous, so there was a lot of talk about spelling and grammar, things which most writing programs help with nowadays. For instance, MS Word just corrected two typos as I wrote this paragraph. In the days of typewriters I would have gone through hoops to correct the errors. If you didn’t live those years, then just count yourself lucky.
We own this one, but we have few ribbons
I only have one page of notes from the class, though at the time I had a small notebook with advice and admonitions. I guess I consolidated when I moved the notes to the computer. Aside from a list of grammatical mistakes to watch for, I have a single phrase that I should have expounded upon: viewpoint problem.
That’s probably worth its own post, since viewpoint is often a problem regardless of the type of writing.
She told how a "blind man opened my eyes, literally." During a conversation with a blind man she said she had a dog. He asked what kind, and she responded collie. What, he asked, is a collie?
From a writer’s perspective, saying a dog is a collie short-changes the reader, unless you add other description. Imagine that your reader is a blind person. Of course, color has no meaning to the blind, either, but it works to create the better description. “The long, soft fur of the brown and white dog tickled me as she pressed her long snout and cold, wet nose against my cheek, licking me with her wet tongue.” That kind of thing.
Describe a collie to a blind person

Feeling is what we can always use to "hook" the reader. Two sensory feedbacks per page and she started getting rave reviews for her books. Often writers get locked into a single sensory feedback while writing, most commonly sight.
The final thing she covered in the class was the topic she deemed most important, and I find it is true of selling apps on the app store as it is selling stories. Create titles that say “Read Me!”
A title should make you smile, chuckle or at least interested enough to want to know more. The title sets the mood, even before you open the book. It teases and hints, though it doesn’t tell the story.
by Mary Blount Christian

For instance, “Fenton Catches a Bank Robber” is boring, but “The Mysterious Case Case” grabs attention.
The same is true for Blog posts, isn’t it? The original title of this one was Writing Children’s Fiction, not very original and certainly not catchy.

1 comment:

  1. Tastes Just Like it Sounds is interesting, and it made me want cookies. What about "Furry Fenton and the Financial Finagle?" Or "A Case of Clutches?" I would not read a story called "The Mysterious Case Case." Too mysterious. What's a mystery? "Ratty-Tatty Bag of a Burglary."

    I'm having too much fun with this.