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What’s so Peculiar? Nailing the “Novel Idea”

Recently, I had the misfortune to discover that my completed work-in-progress had some startling similarities to a recently released novel. Further digging proved that the similarities ended at the logline, but it was enough for me to put the project on hold. I threw up my hands, and for a few weeks, I allowed myself to feel greatly uninspired. Then, one day, I’m walking past my five-year-old’s stack of library books. He loves the shelf that features the bizarre and unusual, and when I looked at the cover of one, I almost fell over, a new idea struck me so fast. This time, I scoured Amazon, Goodreads, and the AR reading list for similar titles. At the end of it, I had a pretty big grin. My idea looked to be somewhat unique. But that begs the question: What exactly is a “fresh idea”? We see rehashed movies all the time, and we’ve come to expect regurgitations of our favorites. But editors in the book world, while wanting something intriguing and marketable, are always looking for something a little different. But what’s different? Well, here are a few ideas. Using a gimmick. No, this is not a dirty word. It’s great to be inspired...
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The Unusual Situation

As writers, we are often told to begin at the critical moment and to begin with action. I know from my own experience that this can be confusing. I’ve started right in the middle of a magnificent (my thoughts alone) car chase or fight scene. Readers weren’t introduced to the characters so they couldn’t relate and no one was hooked by the action. An unusual situation helps the writer start at the right time, in action, while introducing an appealing character.   Recently, I read 10 Ways to Hook Your Reader (And Reel Them in for Good) by Ann Garvin http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-ways-hook-reader-reel-good. The first three on her list included beginning at a pivotal moment, an unusual situation, and adding an intriguing character. I had just read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and I thought to myself, that is a great example of an unusual situation.  That unusual situation sparked my curiosity and as I read, I met the main character. Now that situation was not the main inciting event. In fact, it was rather mundane, yet unfamiliar. Still, it was a great way to introduce the main character.   Jacob’s construction of a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from...
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 What Hooked Me?—Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Jess: An Unusual Situation An unusual situation is key to introducing an intriguing character while also beginning with action. The  unusual situation is not the main event that changes the main character’s world. It is often ordinary, yet surprising. It sparks curiosity and I think Ransom Riggs utilized an unusual situation well. Jacob builds a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers; the wrong brand. It’s a perfect way to show through action, who the main character is. Jacob is a spoiled brat who is trying to get fired, yet he cares deeply for his grandfather. No one else in the family seems to get grandpa, but him and he goes to great lengths because of this love. He’s a flawed character that shows moral strength through love and loyalty. I was hooked as a reader and a kindred spirit of my own grandmother. John: A Promise of Wonder Many of those who have read and commented on the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites have stated that what immediately drew them to the book were the pictures. This idea makes sense since the book was first pitched as a picture book and only turned into a novel...
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Magical Realism- what the heck is that?

Many of you writers, and some readers, will have heard the term “magical realism.” It has recently appeared with some frequency on the wish lists of agents and editors alike. It wasn’t but a few years ago when I thought, “What the heck is that?” I recently read a post by Bruce Holland Rogers that talked about how magical realism was a debased term (he explains it much better than I do here, so visit this post for a more in-depth discussion). However, I might defend writers by saying that without correctly defining the genre and providing examples, publishing professionals do themselves a disservice when writers make claims that don’t add up to real magical realism. So what is it, then? Well, now that you’ve backed me into a corner with that simple question, I might try to make the definition as simple as possible. Magical realism is the acceptance of magic in the real world. Actually, Katharina Hagena says it great in her Huffington Post article on the topic: “In a novel of magical realism, you’ll find elements of the fantastic which break or creep into an otherwise realistic world.” So what does that really mean? Are the Chronicles of Narnia magical realism?...
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What’s Write About Art and Science

“We use math, science and code to create these amazing worlds. We use storytelling and art to bring them to life. It’s this interweaving of art and science that elevates the world to a place of wonder, a place with soul, a place we can believe in, a place where the things you imagine can become real—and a world where a girl suddenly realizes not only is she a scientist, but also an artist.” – Danielle Feinberg http://www.ted.com/talks/danielle_feinberg_the_magic_ingredient_that_brings_pixar_movies_to_life?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tedspread         I attended an SCBWI conference in Alabama in October, met another children’s writer within an hour drive from myself, and we met up for coffee. We wanted to know more about each other and we began sharing the projects we were working on, our successes, our struggles and eventually came to the question of when our writing started.         I reflected on how I taught high school chemistry, science summer camps, and a couple of introductory laboratory classes at a local university. I spoke of how when I taught that I had quarterly chemistry projects that implemented writing, creativity, and art. I loved these projects because the creativity allowed students to have fun and show off their unique ways.         My new writer friend pointed...
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Welcome to WWAT!
What's WWAT? What's Write About This is a blog dedicated to examining what works in kidlit. By tackling various themes and topics, we'll break down passages, examine sentences, and explore concepts that make-up the components of successful writing. We welcome you back each week with a new post. Thanks for stopping by!
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