John’s Reading List For Writers…”Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron

If you are writing any kind of story, but particularly a novel, this book is for you. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. “Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron completely changed how I looked at writing a novel and just about anything else!

I checked out this book from our local library early last summer. Read it. Renewed it. Reread it. Took notes from it. Then I went out and bought my own copy!

“Wired For Story” is about how our brains think in stories and what our brains look for in stories. By tapping into the way our brains process stories, we can write compelling and meaningful stories. (This is not about tricking or manipulating readers the way annoying “click bait” does online.)

The story is what creates beautiful writing…not the other way around. —- Lisa Cron from her website

So what does that mean? To me, it means story has to come first. You may use the most sophisticated words in the dictionary and sound like a literary genius, but if your story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, you have wasted your time. You may have a beautiful piece of writing, but no one will want to read it. Once you’ve hooked the reader with good story, then they can appreciate beautiful writing.

Throughout her book, Lisa Cron pairs a “Cognitive Secret” about how the brain works with a “Story Secret.” Here is an example from the first chapter.

Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.

No one told me this when I took “Creative Writing” in high school. The focus was on saying things in a unique way and using lots of sensory description. (This was boring, and I was honestly not very good at either of those skills. I still am not.) By mastering beautiful writing, we would be able to make our readers feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves. Looking back, I wish I had asked, “Why are those things so important when no one cares what happens next to my main character?” Story has to come first.

Even if you only write blog posts and have no further aspirations, what you write here on WordPress must make the reader want to continue on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next post.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one. —- Lisa Cron “Wired For Story”

That one short paragraph from the first chapter completely changed how I wrote my first novel about my chickens. It went from being about “some cute and interesting things that happened to Pearl” to being about “how Pearl faced some tough challenges that changed her for the better.” This is not an external journey (what we do). This is an internal journey (how we change).

If you are a writer, this book belongs in your library! It will likely change the way you write your stories, and I believe the change will be for the better. By the way, you can also find some valuable free resources on Lisa Cron’s website. Check it out, and if you find the information there helpful, look for this book in your local library or bookstore. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul

The end of this week will mark the sixth week since submitting “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” to a publisher in England named Chicken House, Ltd. for their “Open Coop” submission day. (The six-week mark is when we will know whether we have been selected or not.) While waiting, I thought it might be good to share a few books which were helpful to me during the writing process. These may be helpful to those of you who are writers hoping to be published.

Although the title may make you think this book is not for you unless you write children’s picture books, there is valuable information here for any writer, regardless of intended audience or preferred genre. “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul taught me a great deal about writing any kind of book. (There is even a section on poetry which Amelia found very helpful and inspiring.)

Her book helped me consider how the elements which make a good picture book also make a good novel. For example, instead of the two-page spread, there is the chapter. The things which make you want to turn the page of a good picture book are the same things which make you want to turn the page of a good novel.

As I was writing, “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens,” if I couldn’t imagine a chapter as one or more two-page spreads, I knew something was probably wrong with it. If there were big sections which couldn’t be illustrated, I began to question their necessity. This wasn’t because I wanted to write a picture book, but because I wanted to write a book that would “draw” pictures in the minds of my readers and keep them turning the pages.

“Writing Picture Books” provides many important general keys to writing a story of any kind and for any audience. In fact, when reading many of its passages, it is unlikely you would realize you were reading about writing children’s picture books. This may not be a book to add to your shelf at home, but if you are a writer or an aspiring writer of any type of book, it will likely give you some helpful advice and may be available at your local library.

Never underestimate the power of a picture book! Even as adults, we can find our favorite picture books from childhood sneaking into everyday conversations. I’ll bet you remember “The Little Engine That Could” and “I think I can, I think I can.” One of my own favorite expressions lately is, “I’m just a Pokey Little Puppy today.” (Of course, even pokey little puppies can have naughty days!)

Wouldn’t it be great to be the author of a book that created such lasting memories for your intended audience? No matter their age? No matter their preferred genre?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

My Life With Gracie…Saturday Surprises!

Saturday Surprises

Here again is something a little different, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. It’s just a glimpse into life here with my chickens. I knew this book was somewhere in my garage and had been meaning to find it for months and months. I finally went looking on New Year’s Day.

This book is so special to me because it is one that I had checked out of my elementary school library when I was perhaps in the fourth or fifth grade. This was around the time when the original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” movie with Rex Harrison was released. Unlike most of my classmates, I never saw the movie, but I read the books, all that our school library had. The Dr. Dolittle from Puddlby-on-the-Marsh who lived in my imagination was much more vividly real than any on the movie screen.

When they were closing the school several decades later, they gave everyone a chance to walk through one last time. I found this copy in a box of books to be discarded and picked it up as a remembrance.

I loved the illustrations in the books as well. Their simple hand-drawn lines were appealing and still have an “honest” feeling to me. They helped me to believe Dr. Dolittle was a real man and these adventures with animals were real. After all, the books were the genuine account written and illustrated by someone who knew all about Dr. Dolittle and his animals, Hugh Lofting.

Lately on sunny winter afternoons, I’ve been reading “Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary” to my chickens. We are taking our time with this book because it is a treasure, just as a real green canary would be a treasure.

It will likely not appear on any of Gracie’s reading lists, but that’s not because it’s an unworthy book. It’s because you can’t buy this book any more, at least not the copyrighted in 1924 and printed in 1950 version with the reinforced library tape and the loose falling out pages and chocolate milk stains on the cover. Pre-read and pre-loved books are becoming harder to come by these days.

All of my chickens were ambivalent at first when we started reading this book because there are no chicken characters. Of course, they liked hearing about Pippinella, the green canary, Too-Too, the owl, and Dab-Dab, the duck, but they all felt the story would have been better with a chicken or two.

“Mr. Lofting should not have left out chickens,” protested Bessie. She is the one who most often speaks up when things appear to be unfair.

“Maybe there is a chicken who will appear in the end of the story and solve all of the problems,” suggested Gracie.

So we skimmed through the pictures in the remaining portion of the book. There were no pictures of chickens. Everyone was hugely disappointed.

“There can be a duck in the story but no chicken,” someone softly grumbled to herself. I think it was likely Bessie.

“Quite honestly, I’m glad Mr. Lofting did not write about or draw any chicken characters,” I said.

Everyone looked stunned, almost hurt.

“It’s like Mr. Lofting left all of the writing about chickens for me to do, actually for us to do. And for that, I am very grateful.”

Every head tilted to the side at exactly the same time. This was not something they had considered.

“Anyone reading our stories would think we were just rehashing what had already been written. It would be like if we had a pushmi-pullyu living with us here in the backyard. Everyone would say I was just copying Mr. Lofting and they wouldn’t believe anything I wrote about having a pushmi-pullyu in our backyard or any of you.”

“It definitely would be awful if people didn’t believe we were real,” said Emily.

“Or didn’t believe we could dance ballet,” added Gracie.

“All of that is beside the point,” said Amelia. “Tell us about this pushmi-pullyu animal. I want to know more about that. Can you find a book with a picture of it?”

Everyone agreed with Amelia. Finding out more about the pushmi-pullyu was much more important.

And so we spent the rest of that evening discussing the remarkable pushmi-pullyu and some of the other characters not found in “Dr Dolittle and the Green Canary.” By bedtime, the pushmi-pullyu was just as real in their imaginations as it had been in my own elementary school imagination.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!