September Banned Book Challenge

As many of my older blog readers know, last September was all about books here at the Dancing with Dragons blog.

This year, we're doing something a little different. I'll still be posting reviews, and talking about books of all kinds, but I have a new twist. Introducing....

The Banned Book Challenge!


Here's how it goes. I challenge you, my loyal and wonderful readers to read at least one banned or challenged book this September.  And not only read it, but review it on your blogs, webpages or Goodreads.

And to help you out, I've set up a new site: http://readabannedbook.weebly.com.  You can sign up for the challenge, and leave links to the reviews when they're up.  I will collect the links and post them on the site.

More fun merit badges!

Yesterday I was browsing and wandered by the Merit Badger website. And guess what?  I found MORE merit badges that I've earned. Hooray!


Query Letter (I love the heart stuck in the envelope.)

A song for this summer.

Every now and then, I get a song stuck in my head that seems to embody everything going on in my life right then. It becomes kind of a mascot song, something I hum whenever crazy things happen.

This summer that song was Miniature Disasters by K.T. Tunstall. The bridge (in bold) is my favorite part.

I don't want to be second best
Don't want to stand in line
Don't want to fall behind
Don't want to get caught out
Don't want to do without
And the lesson I must learn
Is that I've got to wait my turn

Looks like I got to be hot and cold
I got to be taught and told
Got to be good as gold
But perfectly honestly
I think it would be good for me
Coz it's a hindrance to my health
If I'm a stranger to myself

Miniature disasters and minor catastrophes
Bring me to my knees
Well I must be my own master
Or a miniature disaster will be
It will be the death of me

I don't have to raise my voice
Don't have to be underhand
Just got to understand
That it's gonna be up and down
It's gonna be lost and found
And I can't take to the sky
Before I like it on the ground

And I need to be patient
And I need to be brave
Need to discover
How I need to behave
And I'll find out the answers
When I know what to ask
But I speak a different language
And everybody's talking too fast 

 
Miniature disasters and minor catastrophes
Bring me to my knees
Well I must be my own master
Or a miniature disaster will be
It will be
I've got to run a little faster
Or a miniature disaster will be
It will be
I need to know I'll last if a little
Miniature disaster hits me
It will be the death of me


Here's a video of the acoustic version:



So that's my song right now. How about you? If you had to pick a song to summarize your life right now, what song would it be?

Monday Snippits: Funny things I've tweeted lately.

I confess, I love Twitter. It's taught me more about concise writing than anything else I've ever done. Without Twitter, this blog would be much more rambly and hard to read than it is. A few days ago, I tweeted this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the good things I often write, courage to rewrite the awful bits, and wisdom to know the difference.

I liked it so much I wrote it down and stuck it up on my Board of Cool Quotes. Then I decided it might be fun to be narcissistic and post a few more.
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WriteOnCon favorites: And the winner for funniest v-log is...

Pie in the Face (how characters react to situations) by author Rosemary Clement-Moore.

So awesome.

So hilarious.

And so true.

WriteOnCon favorites: Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O’Neill,

As most of you know, I spent most of last week delving into the awesome v-logs and articles at WriteOnCon, a free online writer's conference. This was one of my ABSOLUTE favorite posts of the entire conference. 
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If this were an in-person conference, you’d probably be drinking really bad hotel coffee right now, listening to microphone checks, sitting in a less-than-comfortable chair, and wondering why they insist on keeping it so darn cold in the room.

Instead, I hope you’re sipping your favorite kind of caffeine in a comfy chair at home, or, if it comes right down to it, kinda getting paid to be here, since you’re sneaking peeks at this site during your day job (but don’t worry; we’ll never tell).

There are definite perks to this whole online conference idea, and we owe enormous thanks to the masterminds behind WriteOnCon for creating the kind of conference that people can attend while in their pajamas!

WriteOnCon favorites: Author Branding by Shelli Johannes-Wells

As most of you know, I spent most of last week delving into the awesome v-logs and articles at WriteOnCon, a free online writer's conference.

A LOT of the information deals specifically with kidlit writing, but not all of it. And this two-part talk on author branding was one that I especially thought you writers out there would enjoy.


We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging to bring you some adorableness.

I realized yesterday that this blog has been failing in its secondary mission of providing you with cute baby animal pictures.


 Oh, hai!


Oh, hai!

What, you don't LIKE baby animals? You want to talk more about serious things like writing? Well!

Devious Plots, part 6 1/2: Useful plotting resources

 This is part of a six-part series on plot. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?
~Devious Plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room
~Devious Plots, part 4: Plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 6: Plot store, final sale!
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Hello, plotting peeps!

I just wanted to wrap up my plot series with some great places to look if you're looking for plotting ideas.  The truly great thing about all these resources is that you can use them either before or after you've written your first draft.  So even if you're a diehard pantser, these ideas can make your rewrites much, much easier.

1. Alexandra Sokoloff

Someday I will write a book titled: Everything I know about Structure, I learned from Alexandra Sokoloff. If you haven't visited her blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, you should. Right now.
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Go on. What are you waiting for?
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I'm going to WriteOnCon tomorrow!

Are you?

WriteOnCon is a free online conference for kidlit writers, hosted by some of my favorite Internet people in the whole world. Registration is free, and they have forums where you can get critiques on queries, works-in-progress and more!

Devious Plots part 6: Plot store, final sale!

 This is part of a six-part series on plot that I'm doing. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?
~Devious Plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room
~Devious Plots, part 4: Plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
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Today, we're wrapping up the plot store posts with these last twelve of the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti.  As always, any examples or comments are welcome!

Devious Plots part 4: Plot store!

 This is part of a six-part series on plot. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?
~Devious Plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 6: Plot store, final sale!
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In my last post, we talked about the patterns that people like to live in and how that can translate to plot. Now we're going to talk about actual specific patterns that have been plots throughout the ages.

There are a lot of ways to classify these patterns, but for this plot store, I chose the Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

I like these because they're defined not just by what happens, but by who is involved. And though I'm giving examples of stories where these are the overarching plot, these situations can also be mix-and-matched.

(There were a few I couldn't think of modern examples for. Feel free to chime in on the comment thread if you can think of any!)

Need a plot? Don't know what you've just written? Come on down!
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Devious plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room

 This is part of a six-part series on plot. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?
~Devious Plots, part 4: Plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 6: Plot store, final sale!
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In my last post, I pointed out that plotting, outlining, etc, are all tools for organization. Whether you do the work before the first draft or after it, the goal is to make your story an organic, coherent, functioning whole.

Some of you might be wondering what the heck I meant by that. 

In fact my husband read the post and asked "Are you in favor of outlining or against it? I can't tell." (This is the sort of thing that happens when you write a blog post late at night, I'm afraid.)

For the record, I am in favor of organizing. I spend a lot of time outlining my ideas before I start a first draft. I write down key scenes. I figure out where my story arc is going to go beforehand.

Why do I do it? Because I believe in the power of patterns.

Here is the great secret about people. People love patterns. They love the familiar, the constant, the recognizable. They like to be surprised but not too much, challenged but not too far.

"But what about creativity?" you ask. "What about the power of art?"

Allow me to illustrate.
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Suppose you are an architect. But not just any architect. You're a great architect, a genius. Your designs are cutting edge, unusual.

pictures found at roxanneardary.com

But no matter how creative you are, as an architect you are going to follow certain patterns.

For instance, these houses look almost nothing alike. Yet without knowing anything about them, without even stepping inside, I can tell you some things that are almost certainly true.

1. All the toilets are in bathrooms.
2. Each bedroom has at least one bathroom nearby
3. The kitchen is accessible from the dining area
4. The front door does not open into a bedroom, bathroom or closet.

How do I know these things?  I know them because those are the patterns that people like to live in. No one wants to live in a house where there is one bedroom and seven bathrooms, where the kitchen is in a shed out in the back yard, the toilet is in the middle of the living room, and the front door opens directly into the shower.

At least I wouldn't want to.
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Stories work the same way. If someone settles down to a murder mystery, they expect the murder to be solved at the end of the book. If you start with a murder and end with the sleuth having a mid-life crisis and abandoning the investigation to become a call girl in Vegas, your readers will be angry.

If you spend the first fifty pages making your reader care about a viewpoint character and then abruptly hop to another storyline and never mention that character again, your readers will be very angry.

And if you write a romance where the hero and heroine spend three-fourths of the book getting together and then you drop an asteroid on them for no good reason, your readers will most likely throw your book across the room and never read anything else you write. Ever.
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The MICE quotient I mentioned on Wednesday is a really good example of this.  Each kind of story is defined not so much by what happens in the story itself, but by where the story begins and ends.

1. Milieu stories are world-based. They start when the character enters the new world and ends when they either leave or decide to stay for good.

2. Idea stories are question-based. They start when a question is asked, and end when it is answered.

3. Character stories are change-based. They start when the character decides to take action to change something, and ends when they either succeed or fail.

(This one tripped me up when I was writing House of a Thousand Dolls. I was trying to write it as a character based story and couldn't figure out why the beginning wasn't' working, why my main character was coming across as passive. Then I  realized my character had been forced into the situation, she herself hadn't taken any action. I changed the beginning so that SHE made the decision to get involved, and it instantly made the story much stronger.)

4. Event stories are based on the idea of something-is-wrong. They start when some disorder enters the world, and ends when the disorder ends and the world either goes back to normal, or settles into a new order.
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This is what I meant by making your story a coherent whole. It's about delivering on your promises and making sure the story that you're telling is the one your readers think you're telling.

Delivering on your promises does NOT mean you should be afraid to be creative. Surprise your readers. Throw in a twist or two, keep them in suspense, don't let them guess the end. But make sure that the end you give them is the kind of end they're waiting for.

Don't put the toilet in the living room.
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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.