Category Archives: Encouragement

The 12 1/2 Things I Know About Humor

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Blond Wig EMLA retreat

Sometimes I can be a little silly. 

Do I know everything there is to know about humor writing? The answer is YES. Yes, I do.

Let me qualify that–I know everything “I” know about funny writing. There. That’s more accurate. And to be even more precise, I know just over a dozen things you might like to learn about writing with humor for children. These are mostly observations. I’m drafting another glistening post with actual tips on humor writing. (I do enjoy pressuring myself.)

So, here you go, my little Pixie Stix:

  1. Humor is a heart-grabber. Humor can give you a portal to your reader’s heart. When your reader throws back her head and laughs, that’s the author’s opportunity to reach in and snatch that reader’s heart.
  2. Respect your natural inclinations. If humor happens to be your super power, let it infuse your work in an organic way. Other than professional comedians, nobody leaves the house with a list of gags. You’re not writing “material,” you’re making a story. To be really funny, you need to keep it real.
  3. Humor can reveal your character’s character. Your character’s sense of what’s funny  informs the reader about a character’s character/personality/point of view.
  4.  Humor serves to make serious scenes serious-er. Drama is more dramatic and stress is more intense when it is contrasted with timely little moments of levity.
  5. Please yourself and your reader first. If your story makes adults laugh too, that’s a bonus. Resist the temptation to include a funny aside or quip solely for the grown-up reader’s benefit. Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the young reader. Yes, Aretha said so.
  6. Humor lets your reader come up for air and can be used to dissipate tension. That means, the timing of your lighter moments is critical. Otherwise, you can let all the air out of the balloon (that is to say, the rising tension will dissipate).
  7. Don’t be afraid to use poop. The strategic use of taboo words like poop, booger, fart, snot, barf, belch or any of the other bodily-function-centric funny words is a sure-fire way to tickle your reader.
  8. Don’t over-do the doo doo. Remember the Poop Principle – even poop can lose its pizzazzle and be drained of its power with overuse. Just a sprinkling of poo will do.
  9. Sometimes, as in real life, your funniest character can be the one experiencing the most pain. So, your character’s sense of humor  provides an opportunity to reveal and contrast your character’s internal conflict with her people-facing side.
  10. Sarcasm is the wasabi of humor – use sparingly. Sarcastic quips get old and typically distances people. So, if you create a character who wants to push people away, sarcasm is the way to go. But be sure to dig deep to understand your character’s snark attacks. Why does he use sarcasm? What is his back story?  Why does he push people away & distance himself? For protection? To feel superior?
  11. Humor needs to fortify the overall plot (and not just hang out in the wings until it’s time to walk on stage). Otherwise, it’s just a series of Dad jokes—unless you want the Dad to tell jokes in the story “just because.”
  12. Humorous books meet a basic need. Kids need opportunities to laugh, to giggle, to be delighted and to escape. Your humor can forge an intimate bond with your reader because your stories will be source of happiness. Isn’t that marvelous?

And a half – Oh, I crack me up! There’s nothing like making yourself laugh, except for making your reader laugh.

Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

 

Go Ahead. Make a Scene.

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Let me go out on a squirrel-infected limb here, and take a guess about you. Here goes– unless you’re a “Real Housewife of (Wherever),” it’s unlikely you would intentionally make a scene in public.

Am I right?

I knew it!

Receiving positive attention from friends or colleagues is swell, but drawing every eye in the room because you did something outrageous or embarrassing, well, that’s un-swell.

For writers of novels, however, making a scene can be a sign of progress. My wise chocolate mint grasshoppers, you know I’m referring to a scene in a story.

I plotted by current WIP by making a simple bullet point list. Thanks to that list, the writing moved along swimmingly [cue ominous music] until I got snagged on a BIG perplexing plot point. I felt daunted and discouraged.

wavesThen, I found a detour! I studied my bullet list. I picked a few points later in the novel that I felt ready to imagine. I wrote those scenes. Wow! That felt good. As I progressed from one scene to another, in any order, I experienced the delight of forward motion. I sailed from Daunted > Encouraged > Empowered. Those good vibes are infusing me with the courage I need to draft the tricky scenes I skipped.

A time to knit these disparate scenes together will come, and (gulp) I’m excited to see how well that process will work. If it doesn’t, I will scream @#$%&!! in the middle of a crowded restaurant, then sweep my arm across a table to upend coffee cups, slide china to the floor to shatter and send the salt shaker flying. Next, I’d quack and skip out the door with a bread basket on my head. Now, THAT would be a scene.

If you are slogging your way through a first draft and feel stuck,  why not free yourself to write a scene for any point in your novel–Act I, II or III. It may be just what you need.

As a bonus, here’s a practical, energizing article from Writer’s Digest with ten tips for launching strong scenes. And, as a bonus-bonus (that’s a thing), here are more options for regaining your momentum.

My best wishes to you as you craft your scenes. Pass your tips along too!

“[on scene execution] Interesting isn’t the point…storytelling momentum and relevance is.” ― Larry BrooksStory Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction

2018 Frog on a Dime Summer Open House & New Novel Giveaway!

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Hey! You’re here!
Come on in! Welcome to the 2018 Frog on a Dime Summer Open House.
Talented author and all-around excellent example of a human being Janice Broyles is here for the 2018 Frog on a Dime Summer Open House.
And you, my little asparagus spears, are just in time for a chance to win your very own personally autographed copy of THE SECRET HEIR, an ultra fresh historical fiction YA/New Adult novel by, yes, you guessed it, Janice Broyles.
Enter to win your own copy by leaving a comment on this post by Friday, July 13. If your name is selected, you win. It’s that easy!
A scintillating summertime read, THE SECRET HEIR is filled with drama, romance and intrigue for older teens, young adults and beyond.
_________

THE SECRET HEIR retells the story of David and the princess Michal. One lives in a palace; the other sleeps under the stars. Though they come from vastly different worlds, Michal and David are drawn together. When King Saul uncovers David’s secret and vows to kill him, Michal is torn between her love for her father and feelings for David. Two kings, two men she deeply loves but for different reasons — one heart-broken in two.

Published by Heritage Beacon Press, THE SECRET HEIR will be released on July 11. You can order it from your local independent bookstore, as well as online book distributors, including Amazon.

While she’s here, Janice agreed to sit on the comfy Frog on a Dime porch swing and respond to my list of hard-hitting questions. (And yes, I gave her lemonade and cookies first.)

So, Janice, tell us, what is your favorite day of the week–and yes, why?
Friday. I know it’s still a work day, but I’ve got the whole weekend ahead of me. I love possibilities, and the anticipation of sleeping in just makes the day awesome!
Nice. Okay then, what is under your bed?
I had to investigate in order to answer accurately. I found two socks (not matching), my husband’s lost slippers (seriously), and dust bunnies. They go by the names of Darryl and Fran, and they’re multiplying quickly.
Give my regards to Darryl and Fran!
Okay, let’s get serious, Janice. Don’t think. Just answer my question!
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
My first mother’s day as a new mom, John and I were really struggling financially. Our baby, Jonathan, was a preemie and had some medical conditions. I was finishing college and recovering from an emergency C-section, and John was working a difficult job in his uncle’s bumper shop. I wasn’t expecting anything from John because we couldn’t even afford groceries (WIC was a God-send). However, on Mother’s Day morning, he handed me a card. Inside the card were three envelopes with exactly $1.16 in each of them. That was the exact amount of a 7-11 Slurpee, which had been my favorite during the pregnancy. It made me cry because even though we were so broke, he still found a way to show me that he loved me.
That is so sweet. You want more lemonade?
This can be approximate, but what is your inner adult/inner child ratio?
Ugh, unfortunately, these days I’m finishing up my doctoral dissertation and working on marketing my books, so I’m feeling way too adultish. Currently maybe 80/20 (sorry, inner child). However, it fluctuates. As soon as I get into writing a middle grade or YA novel, my inner child makes an appearance. Or, if I tubing at the lake, I definitely feel like a kid. Until I get home and my whole body hurts, then I’m reminded I’m an adult!
I hope this one isn’t too personal: describe your sock drawer in three words or less.
Stuffed. Unorganized. Mismatched.
If you hadn’t become a writer, what would you be?
A teacher (ha, ha). I’m finishing up my doctorate to continue working at the university-level. I love that ALMOST as much as writing (but not quite).
Your favorite punctuation mark is:
I love them all, and I wish people would use them properly. (wink, wink, I’m looking at you Facebook memes)
And finally, reveal your fantasy road trip destination:
If I could drive there, I’d say Scotland and Ireland, but since a car would sink to the bottom of the ocean and I would die a horrible death, I will say California. I want to drive that road that goes up the coast all the way to Oregon and Washington State. That’d be sweet.
Adventurous and sensible. I love it. Can I go too?
Thank you so much, Janice. You made this year’s Summer Open House fabulous (if I do say so myself, and I just did).
Janice and I want to remind you to enter to win a copy of her new novel THE SECRET HEIR (for older teens and young adults) by lucky Friday, July 13!
Janice Broyles grew up in Madison Heights, Michigan, the third of four children. Janice loved Sundays because it meant she got to listen to Bible stories. Each week, she attended Sunday school with her siblings. It was there she fell in love with those Bible stories and the characters in them. Today, she is a college instructor, freelance editor, and inspirational writer and speaker. Her first book, No Longer Rejected: A Woman’s Journey from Rejection to Freedom, is an inspirational account that has won several awards.

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

New PB Biography & a Side of Cherry Pie

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The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan, is the Center of the Universe.cherry hut

That’s according to my husband, the cherry pie fanatic. We have vacationed in its vicinity many times, typically in Frankfort, MI, and I am sure the allure, beyond the peaceful atmosphere, gorgeous scenery and beautiful beaches, is being in easy driving distance to aforementioned Center of the Universe.

Now, if you’ve driven all the way to Frankfort, and spent time in Beulah, you might as well stop at another special spot in neighboring Benzonia, home to the one of a kind print shop of the late author and artist Gwen Frostic.

I’ve lived in Michigan all my life and visited Ms. Frostic’s unique printmaking shop a few times. Because I share her love of art and nature, I’ve also enjoyed her writings, and sending her lovely block prints, cards and stationery for years. But to be honest, I never really knew a lot about her as a person. That is, until now, thanks to a lovely new non-fiction picture book from Sleeping Bear Press–NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen.

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The art and writing of Gwen Frostic are well known in her home state of Michigan and around the world, but this picture book biography tells the story behind Gwen’s famous work. After a debilitating illness as a child, Gwen sought solace in art and nature. She learned to be persistent and independent–never taking no for an answer or letting her disabilities define her. After creating artwork for famous Detroiters and for display at the World’s Fair and helping to build WWII bombers, Gwen moved her printmaking business to northern Michigan. She dedicated her work and her life to reminding people of the wonder and beauty in nature. (Description provided by Amazon)

NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY will be available on July 15 in your local independent bookstore, as well as online retailers, like Amazon. My Michigan teacher friends, especially, will definitely want to add this to their classroom libraries.

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Author Lindsey McDivitt will be stopping by the following Michigan venues, if you’d like her to meet her. She’d be happy to autograph NATURE’S FRIEND for you too! Lindsey McDivitt headshot

And, if you’re exploring Michigan this summer, why not stop by Benzonia and see Ms. Frostic’s shop for yourself. Oh, and be sure to toddle over to Beulah for a cherry pie or three.

Happy summering, my little cherry tomatoes!

Here lies one doubly blessed. She was happy and she knew it. ~ Gwen Frostic, 1906 – 2001 (She wrote her own epitaph!)

How to Unstuck Your Story

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I hate outlining

It was incredible. Two steps to the left in Lane 32 and I was out of the gutter.

Mind you, I move with the precision and grace of a mudslide,  yet those steps made all the difference. I actually got three spares in a row. (A lifetime bowling achievement. I may retire in glory now.)

Remembering how changing angles at the bowling alley was a literal game-changer, I tried the same thing with a research question for my day job. I began by Googling the obvious key words and only found what I already had. Then, I decided to take two [metaphorical] steps to the left and come at the search from a fresh angle. My little snow peas, I could not believe the great stuff I found. It answered my question and much more.

Also related to perspective, when I watch movies I can get distracted as I wonder how the camera person captured a particular shot. Where were they exactly? Under the water? On the roof? In the floorboards? Filming a scene from just the right angle is pivotal to conveying the story. Imagine James Cameron opting to create Titanic with the exclusive use of close-ups or if Greta Gerwig directed the film crew for Lady Bird to shoot each mother/daughter scene in wide, aerial views. Pish posh on those perspectives!

All this to say, in my experience, when it comes to unstucking a story, it can be as “simple” as shifting your perspective and peering at it from a yet-to-be-explored point of view. (This, from the writer who is drafting her first novel in third person. I love it! I mean, she loves it!)

Children’s author and writing teacher extraordinaire Sarah Aronson offers these gleaming quick tips to help you get your manuscript out of the mud.

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(“Quick Tips for Writers!” is shared with Sarah Aronson’s permission. Just so you know.)

I hope this has been helpful, my little rose hips. Let me know your perspective.

A little perspective, like a little humor, goes a long way. ~ Allen Klein, past president of The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. (Yes, apparently, that’s a thing.)

 

3 Rock Solid Reasons to Retreat

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cloudsWhen it’s used a verb, “retreat” is like a military term. “Our foul-breathed enemies are advancing–retreat! retreat!” But retreat can also mean to withdraw to a secluded, quiet place. To me, a writing retreat is a combo of both. For a lot of us, time is our enemy, so when we withdraw from our daily routine to devote time to craft, it’s like a retreating retreat.

Why take time to retreat?

  1. That story is not going to write itself. You have stellar intentions to write at lunchtime or after dinner or on weekends, but then out go your intentions when the tyranny of the urgent takes over. The only thing you find time to write is a to do list. Retreats provide concentrated time to truly, you know, concentrate.
  2. Creative juices curdle under pressure. You’ve noticed that, right? The more you push and strain your brain to produce in a tiny capsule of time, the quicker your creativity contracts. It takes time for half-baked ideas to warm, rise and fully expand.
  3. Getting out of your element opens your pores, I mean, doors. Perhaps I need to explain. When you write in a new environment, it’s unsettling–in a good way. It gets you out of a same ol’ lame ol’ rut. Go with it. If new ideas come knocking, open those doors!

139Bonus round–Ideas for creating your own retreat . . . book a hotel room for a weekend. Too pricey? Use your office at work–Saturdays are typically quiet. Ask a group of writing friends to rent a house for a few days. Will a relative be out-of-town for the weekend? Ask if they would like a house sitter. (Nothing wrong with sitting in their house to write, right?)

Please treat yourself to a retreat this year, my little triple berry scones. The only regret you’ll have is not doing it.

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion. ~ Albert Camus155

How I Knew What I Wanted To Do

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Childcraft, Volume 2, circa 1949

Not long ago, a colleague of mine brought his daughter to visit the office. She was about seven.

A confident little girl, she walked into my office and immediately engaged in conversation.

Then her dad encouraged her to tell me what she wants to do when she grows up.

“I want to write children’s books,” she said.

How at the age of less-than-ten does she know she wants to write children’s books? I mean, she is a child.

For me, I’ve known I wanted to write children’s books since I was a little girl too. It wasn’t that I wanted to simply be a writer; I wanted to be that specific kind. But why?

I suspect is it had a lot to do with coming under the influence of a certain book. (I know you have a “certain” book too.) For me, this book was Childcraft, Volume Two, Storytelling and Poems, copyright 1949. It was part of a 14-volume set my grandmother had purchased originally for my mom and her sister when they were little girls. Volume Two was filled with poetry by Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg, among many others and a stunning variety of illustrations by exceptional artists. My mom kept the set intact in the hall closet of my childhood home for years, but somehow that precious Volume Two vamoosed to WhoKnowsWhere.

Over the years, I thought about Volume Two. It may sound silly, but I longed to see those images of Miss T. dining with her grandparents, an elephant on the telephone, the dancing potatoes, the tiny black kitten curled on the blue rug. And I wanted to read those poems again. Those amazing poems. The combination of art and rhythmic words was like an incantation. So powerful. So magical.

I am happy to report I finally found Volume Two online and it is now at my house. Sure enough, seeing it again took me to the same place of contentment and delight that made me want to write for children, even while I was a child myself.

My little Snickerdoodles, let me encourage you to reread beloved books from your childhood. Not to study them, but because they are dear to you and can help you remember why you do what you do.  It’s not about recollecting, so much as it is rekindling. Sure, when you reread childhood favorites you may be surprised by how out of step they feel with modernity or wonder what on earth attracted you to this book when you were a kid, and that’s okay. But, there will still be that certain book that has built a cozy blanket fort in your heart. Get your flashlight and a box of animal crackers and enjoy it again. Experience the magic and it will motivate you to write some incantations of your own.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be

~Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends