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!

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”…An Update And A Possible Cover!

How To Explain Christmas To Chickens

I finished the major editing work for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” on Christmas morning. Approximately the last third of the novel takes place on the days leading up to Christmas and then Christmas day itself.

Each day, I edited what would happen on that day. This helped with details and continuity. Would the pomegranates still be ripe enough for Pearl to use them to make ink for her letter to Santa Claus? Would anyone be laying eggs during the shortest days of the year? Both of these were important elements to the novel’s ending which needed to be feasible to me. Now you may not believe that chickens talk with people who love them and can dance ballet, but as I see it, the other details need to be accurate. (If this seems a little idiosyncratic, I won’t argue with you. It seems that way to me as well.)

After Christmas, I began putting the edited text into publishing format which includes a final check of what I call “the ability to be easily read aloud.”

Everything was moving along nicely, but then on New Year’s Eve, I found a post on Twitter from a publisher in England. They were providing an open submission day – one day only – on January 2, 2020 in honor of their 20th year of publishing.

Honestly I had never considered the traditional publishing route. Who would want to publish stories about backyard chickens? Even ones who enjoy dancing ballet?

But perhaps it would be worth an attempt for no other reason than the publisher is named Chicken House, Ltd. They are located in England. Some of our very favorite readers are in England!

It seems sort of a natural fit, doesn’t it? When Gracie and I looked at their website, we found they were featuring a mystery book about ballet! When she saw that, she knew it was the right thing to do because the publisher must surely like chickens and ballet.

So I had a good deal of quick learning to do. In all of the books I’ve read about writing a novel, I’ve always skipped over the chapters about submitting to a publisher. I never felt that my odds would be very good.

But I kept reminding myself of all my chickens had taught me. I thought of fearless Amelia who launched herself on a journey to fly to the moon. (That story will perhaps be our next novel.) I thought about Pearl, eternally hopeful Pearl, who has never given up no matter how many times her goofy plans may fail. (That story is this current novel.) Most of all, I thought of what Gracie had told me.

“Life is a gift, and so is a talent. Wherever there is a gift, there is also a giver. But do not trust the gift. Trust the Giver of the gift.”

But you will read more about these things in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” whether traditionally published or self-published.

For now, we are waiting the required six weeks while the folks at Chicken House, Ltd. review our pitch letter and first three chapters. If we have not heard from them, we will just continue with self-publishing as we had planned all along.

Gracie thought you might enjoy a peak at our possible cover design if self-published, and so that is today’s illustration. Hopefully it strikes the right balance between playfulness and seriousness. It could also serve as an illustration for the last chapter of the novel.

It is still difficult for me to say where this book would fit in a bookstore or library. My goal is for it to appeal to a wide age group without fitting into any particular standard genre. Sometimes I think of it as an adult book pretending to be a children’s book, and other times I think of it as a children’s book pretending to be an adult book. Either way, like a bank of snow, there is more than what you see.

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