Reading for Research

The first advice I received about being a children’s author was to read, read, read. It seemed like a daunting task. If I spent so much time reading, how would I ever find time to write? I’m one of those word-by-word readers, the kind that read as slow as they would if they were reading aloud. But I took up the challenge, finding some books I enjoyed and reading long into the night. This summer, though, I changed pace. Instead of focusing on children’s fiction, I opted for some books on research and development—child development, that is. The Whole-Brain Child is a book I’d recommend for anyone who has interaction with kids. It isn’t a usual psychology book and even has comics illustrating the different pros and cons of discipline methods. My favorite phrase now is “connect to redirect.” Instead of commanding a child to change her behavior, we can help her talk about her emotions and empower her to take charge of her actions. Of course, the amount of responsibility varies with age. I love how this book explains the “why” behind behaviors in children and adults. Another excellent book is The Connected Child. Written for parents who foster and adopt, this book encourages parents to recognize their own childhood hurts and relate to the unique circumstances of their new children. The authors express connection and trust is needed first, then negative behaviors can be corrected. This means rough days are to be expected, but with time and continuity there is hope for the parent-child bond to grow. These books have helped me in my writing in many ways: They give me a reference for a wide range of behaviors in children. They show me the positive and negative effects of how adults respond to them. The Whole-Brain Child gives me parenting scenarios and explains the way our brains process things. The Connected Child helps me understand the challenges in diverse families. My current novel has a child in the foster care system and another recently reunited with his mother. Without these two books I would not be able to write in-depth about these children’s emotions and growth. Hope you consider reading... read more

Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Humor

What would life be without humor? Boring, drab, depressing. The same goes for books without humor. The key to great writing is creating an emotional journey for our readers. Part of that journey should be to make them laugh, so here are a few tips on adding humor to your novel. DO learn from the world around you. Some of the best material comes from life. What makes people laugh? When do people laugh? Be observant! People laugh when they are happy. People laugh when they are amused. People even laugh when they are sad. Jesse Andrews book, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, deals with a heart wrenching topic, and yet it is filled with humorous moments. Andrews uses the drudge of everyday high school and an awkward main character to relieve tension in what is a depressing situation. DON’T force bad jokes on your readers. Let’s face it we all know that one person who thinks dumb one-liners are hilarious, but unless you’re writing a crazy uncle character who loves knock knock jokes… don’t do it. Most of the things people find funny come naturally. Have you ever been in a room with someone who had a great laugh which causes the whole room to laugh? Real laughter is always better than canned laughter. DO use characters and setting to get the laughs. The plucky comic relief characters are some of my favorites. Take Ron Weasley, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. He’s not the most intelligent of the three, but he plays an important role in the story. He makes us laugh. (At least he made me laugh.) He was the comic relief, which brings me to my next tip… DON’T shortchange your comical character! Ron was an integral part of the story. He wasn’t filler. None of your characters should ever be cardboard. Ron had tender moments, sad moments, and even the occasional romantic moments. (Although, I admit, I’ll always remember the hilarity of him burping up slugs.) I could go on forever. But since this is a blog post and not a book, I’ll stop here. The main take away is that laughter is an organic reaction and should always be part of the emotional journey a reader goes through. Even if you’re not a naturally funny person, there is always humor to be found in the... read more

A Tribute to the Sidekick

Every protagonist needs a best friend, right?  They’re usually the one your protagonist relies on the most.  Maybe he’s a bit sarcastic?  Maybe she’s the polar opposite of your protagonist.  Nine times out of ten though, this magical creature is the source of humor in your story.   Why am I bringing this up, you might ask?  Well, in case you haven’t figured it out, we are focusing on humor here at WWAT and my favorite bits of humor usually come from the plucky, often sarcastic, but always loyal best friend/sidekick of the protagonist.  These noble beings appear in stories, often with little character development, and provide wisdom, support, and laughs to your main character.   One of my favorite comedic sidekicks is a recent discovery for me.  I started watching episodes of Teen Wolf (thanks Amazon Prime!) to see what all the hype was for.  It’s your classic tale of nerdy guy falls for new girl at school.  Nerdy guy is nervous about trying out for the lacrosse team (yeah, this is now the “in” sport?).  Nerdy guy gets bitten by a werewolf and now must hide his wolfy secret from the girl he loves.  Classic right? Sure we are all sympathetic towards our main character Scott, the new werewolf, but what keeps us tuning in every episode is Stiles.  Yes, this loyal, comedic best friend of Scott who, in his own words, “refuses to be the Robin to Scott’s Batman” is what turns this show from another angst-filled teen soap to a fully-rounded gem of a story.  (Full confession:  I’m only on Season 1, so this could all change in later seasons).  Stiles’ hilarity during serious situations makes everything bearable.  This is one sidekick who could easily have his own spin off. And isn’t it time the sidekicks told their own stories?  Here is a great example of a loyal sidekick breaking out on her own exciting adventure! In the newish YA novel Dumplin by Julie Murphy, Willowdean Dickson has always been a sidekick to her model best friend Ellen.  Willowdean is witty and a self-proclaimed fat girl.  So when she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty contest, all hell breaks loose for her and her small town.  I love this novel because it is so obviously the story of a plucky sidekick who finally gets to do something amazing!  There’s love, friendship, a little family drama, and plenty of humor.    So next time... read more

Finding Your Wings with Humor

Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, had this to say about flying: The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. What does this have to do with writing humor? This: Trying to be funny is a lot like trying to fly. When you decide to tackle being funny, you take a chance, you throw yourself out there—you open yourself up in a way that most other writing doesn’t. You’re targeting a specific response and hoping for the desired reply. You’re taking a leap and if you’re lucky, you come just close enough to the ground to keep from splatting. In short, writing humor is frightening. Rather than leaving the writer flailing about, I thought I’d try to point out three classifications of humor that seem to work well for me. (These are arbitrarily named by the way.) Observational Humor (OH) is first. OH is usually based on how someone sees something. It can be attributed to a character or narrator’s unique or even quirky way of looking at things that makes the reader giggle for any number of reasons. Maybe the reader had never looked a situation the same way as the character/narrator or maybe it’s so absurd it catches the reader off guard. Regardless, this type of humor really helps the reader connect with a character. A good example of this can be found in the character of Charlie Valentine in the YA book, Bone Gap. “I’m not either,” said Charlie. “I was on my way to a date.” “Sorry,” said Finn, not sorry. “Eh, no need. She’s already mad at me anyway. Women are always mad about something. Did I ever tell you about the time I was traveling alone across this beautiful country of ours and met a beautiful woman with flaming hair? Her name was Esmeralda. Empira. Empusa. Something with an E. I thought we’d had a fine time of it, the two of us, until I woke up and found her trying to gnaw off my arm. Had teeth as sharp as a shark’s, that one.” In this brief snippet, the reader gets that Charlie has an odd way of looking at life, and whether you agree with him or not, his views help us better understand both the world of the book and the other characters in their reaction to him. Situational humor (SH) is (duh) humor based on a situation.... read more