If you email box is anything like mine you see a fair amount (OK a large amount) of spam and junk emails. Sometimes, though, buried deep among the weeds is a beautiful note and I've gotten a few of them over the last few weeks. (Thanks everyone for the positive feedback of the new website!)
While I loved each and every one of them, the best emails were the ones from fans of the Achdus Club, at least two of whom, wanted to know when Tova (one of the Green twins) would be off of crutches. Others asked for more books, and if I could send them a list of the books I've written. I am beyond thrilled that these girls not only cared about the characters and love the books, but that they took the time to let me know how much they value and appreciate the books.
Letters like those make all the bad writing days and struggles worth it.
And for even more on the positive impact of the Achdus Club books, check out this review of the series by Evalyn Broderick of Bookishly Jewish.
Haven't tried the series yet? No time like now, check out all my books on the Menucha Publishers website.
Toward the end of last school year a teacher contacted me. Her students had read my books and wanted to write me letters. She wanted to know if I'd respond if she sent the letters my way. I was so excited and said that I'd love to respond. I waited. And waited. And waited. It was June. School would be ending soon and still no letters. I wrote back to the teacher. She had mailed them the day we talked, but they never arrived. Knowing that there were only a few days left in the school year I wrote a general letter to the students to about being a writer. I wish I could have read their letters and seen what was on their minds, and answered each letter individually. I had to settle for a general letter and here's what I came up with ...
Working on a new book in an ongoing series is amazingly rewarding. It means you have readers eager for what you have to say. It also means you get to spend time with your characters, who, hopefully, are like old friends.
But revisiting those old friends brings its own challenges. Not only do you have to remember what you did before so you don’t repeat a plotline, you have to consider the “rules” of the world you have built for your audience.
For my Layla’s Diaries series, that world is not so much her physical space as both books in the series take place in different venues, but in the storytelling technique. As the series name suggests, everything is told through Layla’s diary entries. There are definite benefits to telling a story in this format—I love the breezy, carefree style of the diary entries, the brevity of the “chapters,” aka each diary entry.
It is this very style has led to some reluctant middle-grade readers to pick up and devour the first book, Layla’s Vistaville Summer, and its sequel Layla’s Sugarland Winter, which was released late last year. I’m thrilled that I can provide these readers with stories they love. (Plus, I LOVE writing Layla she’s a hoot.)
However, as a writer, the limitations of writing in this format present interesting challenges as I try to balance my desire to dig deeper into who the characters and tell more of their stories with readers’ expectations of the series.
For instance, as much as I would like to know exactly what Shira thinks of her cousin, Layla, I can’t delve into that too much. I can, however, allude to it through Layla’s observations of Shira’s actions and words. Readers of the first book, know that Shira doesn’t have patience for her cousin, isn’t fond of mysteries and is bossy. They know it not just because Layla tells them, but because Shira’s been known to fold her arms across her chest, sigh deeply and shake her head at her cousin’s sometimes crazy ideas.
Likewise, readers of my Achdus Club books, expect that at the end of every book the girls in grade four will still be friends. They may have fights and disagreements in the middle of the book, but at the end of the book, their issues need to be resolved because friendship is at the core of the series.
To suddenly have a character decide they are better off without their friends, would betray the connection and trust between me as a writer and my readers.
Staying true to the tone, format and style of an ongoing book series is a pact the writer makes with reader. Finding a way to make that happen and still provide a compelling new story readers will love gives authors an opportunity to grow and challenge their writing and storytelling skills.
WRITERS: Do you juggle multiple stories at one time? How do you ensure that you stay true to the world in your novel?
Have you ever heard a friend say something and you immediately think that’s such a “them” thing to say? Or have you identified a catchphrase that only they use or the way they use certain words and expressions that lets you know they are speaking even if you aren’t looking at them.
That is their unique voice coming through. Every time you hear “IT” you know who is speaking.
That unique “voice” is critical when building your novel. Each major character needs their OWN voice so readers can connect to them. When done correctly, voice not only conveys who is speaking, but it can also tell you lot about the character as an individual.
On a basic level, think about regionalisms like the pronunciations of roof vs ruff or tomato vs. tomahto or soda vs. pop. Then take it to the next level.
A girl raised in a very rural area isn’t likely to have the same dialogue structure as someone raised in an inner city.
A 3-year-old will have a very different vocabulary than a 9-year-old or a teenager.
Giving “voice” to your characters can be a challenge that even veterans writers face.
This came up for me recently when I was reviewing a manuscript. I got to specific scene when I was struck by a line of dialogue. I immediately thought to myself “What’s that character doing in this scene?”
Turns out that character wasn’t in the scene, only her “voice” was.
How is that possible? It’s because the dialogue was in her “voice” and not the “voice” of the character who had been speaking.
Now, I know what you are going to say … but that’s why we write “said so and so.” The problem is “said” gets tedious when repeated over and over again in a novel. (The rules are different in journalism, please always use attribution in those cases!)
YOUR HOMEWORK: How do you know if your characters have a “voice”? Take a page from your WIP (work in progress) and ignore the tags (said Jane or said Joe) and focus on the line of dialogue. Can you tell who is speaking without looking at the tag? If so, then you’ve captured their voice. If not, go back and see if there’s a way to rewrite the dialogue using their voice.
I’m not suggesting every single line of dialogue needs to have this level of attention, but it’s definitely worth it for scenes that are crucial in your story and are at the book’s emotional core.
The more you work on this, the more naturally it will come to you. Good luck!
It's hard to believe it's already December 1! Where has the year gone? Heck, where did November go? It was just a few weeks ago that NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, started and sadly it's already over. As you know, I signed up with the best of intentions, knowing that November was a particularly busy one for me. Between prepping for my book launch, the presidential elections, Thanksgiving travel and previously scheduled writing assignments, I knew that trying to write 50,000 words in a new novel would be problematic.
Indeed, I fell far short of my goal. I discovered that while I'm great at giving advice (don't get discouraged, just keep writing, don't worry about the plot), I'm not as good as taking it myself.
I made a few other discoveries along the way, as well.
1. There will never be "free" time to write. If it's not my priority, it won't be any one else's priority either.
2. My WIP (work in progress) does have some plot holes I need to figure out. I also need to do some research because that will have an impact on the way the story unfolds.
3. Whether I planned it or not (not, being the operative word), I find I'm challenging myself with each Achdus Club entry. This is a really good thing. As writers we need to keep pushing ourselves and our work. We need to continue to grow and strength our writing. We need to learn new storytelling techiques and new ways to express our characters thoughts and fears.
4. Rather than being intimidating, opening up a new blank writing document signals the start of something amazing. It's the promise of a fresh start, of unlimited possibilities and the chance to keep bettering myself. I love each new story beginning. It's only as I let my inner critic take over, figure after the first three thousand words or so that I really start to worry. By 10,000 words I'm questioning if there's even a story worth telling. Maybe the trick is to treat each part of the story as it's own beginning, middle and end. Perhaps if I work in individual "segments" (sort of like the three-act structure in screenwriting) it might be easier to quell my inner critic.
I maintain that NaNoWriMo is a great way for creative writers to get into the groove of writing daily and making it a priority. That alone is worth the price of admission, whether you've reached the 50,000 word milestone or not.
Will I participate again next year? Perhaps, but I know I've already learned the most important lesson -- just keep on writing.