How to Recognize Value

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Illustration by Matt Faulkner

I am participating in a writing contest—You Are Enough—hosted by Positive Writer. The aim of the contest is to draft a blog post that will provide encouragement to fellow writers. Well, if you’ve ever visited Frog on a Dime, you know that’s what my hokey-pokey blog is all about. Regardless if I win, I hope this post energizes your creative spirit. (And that you find cookies in your cupboard.)

My husband likes to watch Prospectors on the Weather Channel. Prospectors  follows real, modern-day diggers of gold and gem stones. I like The Voice, a reality show/singing competition. Recently, I recognized the two shows intersect.

Prospectors endure extreme cold, looming storm fronts and other dangerous conditions to find the prize—a smoky topaz, a ruby, an aquamarine or even gold. Judges on The Voice listen to some lackluster auditions while searching for someone with golden pipes. So, the singers and the smoky topaz are treasures. That’s the obvious comparison, but there’s something more.

Were the stones beautiful while still encased in layers of limestone? I would say, yes. It wasn’t the touch of a prospector’s pick or palm that made them precious. And what about the hopefuls who appear on The Voice? It’s certainly not the judge’s ears or their feedback that make those singers amazing. The vocalists were outstanding before they ever walked on stage.

Here’s what I want you to know, my fragile little tea cups—you and your writing have intrinsic value before you receive a single word of praise. Think of all of the painters and poets who never received acclaim during their lifetimes. How sad to think they thought of themselves as “almosts” and even failures. You don’t need to have your name on a dust jacket to be a writer of worth. Interested editors or agents are simply recognizing what’s already there—like a prospector uncovering a lump of turquoise or a judge discovering a brilliant performer. Okay, okay, you make a good point. Like the unearthed gemstones or a singer’s vocal range, your work (and gosh, yes, mine) could benefit from a good polishing to bring out its true luster. But just because something can be improved doesn’t mean it wasn’t extraordinary to begin with.

Yes, I can hear the b-b-b-BUT coming. But I waaaaant an agent to love my work. I waaaant an editor to offer me a contract. I waaaaant readers to send me fan mail. Of course you do (and so do I). That kind of validation is wonderful, but remember–your work isn’t valued because it’s recognized. It’s recognized because it’s valuable–regardless. And first and foremost, you have to recognize that for yourself, my little lemon square.

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. ~ Philip Pullman

 

10 Truly Haunting Thoughts, Part 3

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Every creative person is plagued by angsty imaginings from time to time. In the spirit of Halloween, allow me to ramp up the frequency with these truly haunting thoughts.

  1. Kanye is named Poet Laureate for 2019.
  2. Use of the Oxford Comma becomes law.
  3. Your characters continue to talk to you, but they sound like Anthony Scaramucci.
  4. Recommended word count for a picture book manuscript drops to 24 words. Short words.
  5. Writing causes eyeball arthritis (and crows feet (around your nose).)
  6. Editors insist on the return to printed and mailed manuscripts. Slush Mountain!
  7. You fall in love with your first draft and refuse to revise it.

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    By Vicky Lorencen

  8. You lose your taste for chocolate, Red Vines and grown-up beverages.
  9. Before you nod off, you tell Alexa your unparalleled idea of a lifetime for safekeeping. She thought you were talking to someone else.
  10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop a vaccine to prevent writer’s block. The shots are administered by Nurse Ratched‘s less sweet cousin with a raging case of poison ivy, Nurse Annie Wilkes (from Stephen King’s Misery, remember?)

You say you’re not scared enough yet? Read more haunting thoughts. If you dare!

Read 10 Truly Haunting Thoughts

Read 10 Truly Haunting Thoughts, Part II

Bwahahaha!

Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought.Stephen King, It

12 1/2 More Things I Know About Humor

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Do you see what she’s doing?

I know. I’m mortified.

Opening with a disclaimer again? Can she not jump in like a real writer?

I know. Grow some confidence already.

There’s no stopping her, is there. And those glasses. What?

I know. I can’t watch. Let’s go find a bigger mirror.

______________________

Disclaimer:  Writing rules, like the English language, are tufted with exceptions. Humor writing is particularly subjective. If one of the following tips does not speak to you, just remember tips can’t talk, my little apple strudel.

Funny Glasses 2018

Some days you gotta bring your own sunshine.

My 12 and a half subjective take ’em or leave ’em suggestions for writing with humor:

1. Study sit coms and stand up comics.

Notice how situation comedies  approach even heavy topics – infidelity, gambling addiction, shoplifting, sexual harassment, gender bias, challenges of aging and elder care, infertility, death, marital disputes, divorce/separation, socioeconomic disparity, juvenile delinquency, mood disorders. All of those were woven into episodes for The King of Queens!

Listen to stand up comedians. Catch the rhythm of jokes and notice the use of the rule of threes to get a laugh. 1 & 2 set the expectation and 3 flips it. Listen for it!

2. Give a character a funny namebut not all. Example – my current middle grade novel has a teacher named Mrs. Belcher.

3. Pace yourself. If your novel is a gut buster in the first chapter, you’ve set an expectation. If chapter two goes super serious, it feels like a bait and switch to your reader. Make sure you can keep the promise you made with chapter one. If you can’t or don’t want to keep the comic pace, take the opportunity to create an emotional equilibrium when you revise. Go from FUNNY to funny.

4. Be genuine. Just because humor adds levity to a story, it doesn’t mean you can’t include heavy issues or situations that would be meaningful to your readers.  (See Point 1.)

5. Be natural. Allow humor to bubble up and feel organic to the personalities of your characters and the world you’ve created for them. For me, that means writing to amuse myself in those early drafts. I do not worry if a kid will get it or will laugh. I can keep the gems and edit out the excess later.

6. Harvest funny details from your family like unique expressions, odd names for things, unusual habits or hobbies. These goodies give your story a taste all its own.

7. Consider the pun.  I love ’em, but keep in mind, they don’t always translate to an international market.

8. Play with words and make up new names for products or games.  Related to this, make Urban Dictionary your new best friend. Trust me on this one.

9. Switch up the situation. Put your character in an unfamiliar situation. A “first” experience is prime territory for this.

10. Funny characters still need to be people of substance. If you have a 3-D straight man, you can’t have a flat funny man. Related thoughts  . . .

  • Interview characters – this is really, really, really important. Really.
  • Your secondary characters can be a gold mine, so be sure to interview them too.
  • Personality quirks are fun, but they must contribute to the story in some way.

11. Don’t overlook the “serious” character as a source of humor. Being earnest, having zero sense of humor and taking things literally, can be amusing in its own way.

12. Recycle your embarrassing moments, especially if it will aid your emotional health.

And a halfLaughter is carbonated holiness. ~ Ann Lamott

BTW, this post has a companion. If you enjoy humor writing, I have a funny feeling you may want to read that one too.

_____________________________

Is she done? She took like forever.

I know. But she is kind of funny.

Smelling.

I know. It’s like Windex mixed with burnt toast and apprehension.

But we still love her.

I know.

 

The 12 1/2 Things I Know About Humor

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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

We Have a Winner at the Frog on a Dime Summer Open House

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TheSecretHeirCongratulations to Pat Trattles–you are the winner of an autographed copy of a brand new, scintillating summertime read–THE SECRET HEIRby Janice Broyles. 
Janice Broyles
Many thanks to everyone who stopped by the Summer Open House. It was lovely to hear from all of you!
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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.

THE SECRET HEIR is filled with drama, romance and intrigue for older teens, young adults and beyond.

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

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Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.  ~ Henry James

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.
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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