Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Pen Is Mightier Than the... Scalpel?

What makes a great book so great? 
What gives it that voila! that makes people want to
read it over and over and over?
And how do we as writers figure it all out?

Book dissection. 

Works for frogs, doesn't it?
Er, they're probably not too thrilled about it, sure, 
but after hearing Rachel Vail (Justin Case, Piggybunny), Melissa Sweet (Balloons Over Broadway) and Bonny Becker (A Visitor for Bear) discuss their research strategies at the writing conference, I got to thinking... 

See, biologists and writers have something in common.
Both need to get at the Hows and Whats and Whys, 
and can be bettered by a little friendly dissection.

How to dissect a book:

First, find a massive stack of books
in the genre you want to write.
(best-sellers and favorites 
are a good place to start.)

Read till you're stuffed.
Then, take out the scalpel - the figurative one - 
and pull your books apart.

Question everything. 

If you're an outliner, try boiling your favorites down into outlines. 

Ask yourself questions like:

1- What makes this a best-seller?

2- What do I love about this? 

3- What sets this book apart from all the others?

4- What is this story about in one snappy sentence?

5- What makes this book memorable:
            -Is it strong central characters?
            -emotional connection?
            -a plot that sucks you in and won't let you go?
            -an unidentifiable weirdness?

Record your findings to see if any themes emerge.
After doing this to sixty picture books, 
I have to say that I really do feel the vicarious cleverness 
seeping in...

I see how certain themes resonate with my brood
and I can pinpoint why some books rise above the rest.

Dissecting books is like
Toto and Dorothy finding the man behind the curtain.
It's like seeing someone that intimidates you
in their underpants.
It's like finding out the magician's secret tricks.
What's left to fear? 

If we can identify what makes a good book good,
we're almost there!
And hopefully some of that goodness will rub off
as we hunker down at our desks to go be clever.

Bookish books:
The Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers
Castle of Books, by Bernard Clavel, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wordy gifts

I've been dissecting books lately -
I'm reading and analyzing and trying to get
at the wild animal that is successful writing.
And in the process, I found I wanted
to actually cut something up.

So we made wordy gifts for our teachers and mamas.

The girls yarn-bombed pencils,

 helped fancy up some clipboards,
 did a little sewing;

then we stitched old book pages into apple, heart and flower puffs

 and stuck them on our pencils.

Ah, clipboards. 
I've often thought I could go just about 
anywhere with a clipboard and feel official. 

So, the wordy gifts are done. 
And the figurative book dissection continues...

I'll fill you in tomorrow on my discoveries.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sleep Well

Maurice Sendak,
thank you 
for your gifts to us -
for outstanding books and art;
and for your honesty, your passion and your naughtiness. 

As writers, as artists, and as people, 
may we be so honest -
to find that unique voice and be true to it; 
so passionate - 
to live and work with unashamed abandon;
so naughty - 
to remember that we were all children once, and hopefully some of us still are.

In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Good night, Maurice Sendak. 
Sleep well.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Some of our favorites:
Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak - 
Where the Wild Things Are
In the Night Kitchen
Chicken Soup with Rice
One Was Johnny
Little Bear books - by Else Homelund Minarik, ill. by Maurice Sendak
Nutcracker - E.T.A. Hoffmann, ill. by Maurice Sendak
Let's Be Enemies - Janice May Udry, ill. by Maurice Sendak
Bears! - Ruth Krauss, ill. by Maurice Sendak


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