Monday, January 31, 2011

Full-Body Workout

To quote April Halprin Wayland's wonderful Friday post about clutter-busting:

Before we get started, run over and read the dynamite interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Teaching Author Carmela Martino and enter our latest book give-away! Note that the deadline for entry is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Make sure you follow the rules by posting a comment at the bottom of that blog post and include your contact information. And you must have a USA mailing address.

Teaching Author Esther Hershenhorn kicked off our current topic with a great intro to 6 + 1 Trait Writing: Organization. Teaching Author JoAnn Early Macken followed with Getting Your Ducks in a Row. Teaching Author Mary Ann Rodman's It Just Looks Disorganized came next. All include practical and inspiring Writing Workouts, so check them out.

As the absolutely least organized of the Teaching Authors (the one who took my son to preschool on Friday when there was no school; the one who this week mailed our new church registration to my mom and a handmade card from my daughter to the church; the one who "ran" to amazon and purchased my copy of Clutter Busting as soon as I read April's post) -- it is my pleasure to tackle this topic last.

In fact, my college classes this week (when they haven't been canceled due to snow) have been learning about essay and paragraph organization.  Our text suggests the most obvious methods: chronological; spatial; most to least important or, conversely, least to most important.  We have also been stressing the use of appropriate transitions. 

To illustrate how writing instruction is similar across the grades, my daughter brought home the following exercise from kindergarten on Friday:

(She did not quite have time to finish, but you get the idea.)

It took me a long time to realize that, as a writer, I crave the structure that I lack in my real life.  Even as a kid, I loved the predictability of the series books that I read voraciously.  My favorite genre is the mystery.  If actual life is rarely neat and tidy, I want pretend life to be perfectly so!

The three-act screenplay format is widely applicable to nearly every form of fiction.  Extrapolating on this concept, I feel exceedingly comfortable with the teaser-plus-seven-acts format of Days of Our Lives, the predictable mid-break (Act 3) cliffhanger, the end-of-day "tags" (hooks), and all of the soapy norms for handling recap and flashbacks.  I also wrote Nancy Drews tailored to a very specific word count, structure, and, of course, the rules of Nancyland.

When it came time to write a novel of "my own," I decided to hang it on the structure of a science fair project report.  The big plus to this method was that the general plot trajectory was laid out for me from the outset.  Of course there were obvious drawbacks.  The book started to drag quite a bit in the 'methodology' section, and it wasn't until a brilliant critiquer suggested that I add interstitial chapters that it really began to come together.
Since I began writing MIND GAMES, I've sought out children's books written in 'nontraditional' (i.e., nonlinear formats): Walter Dean Myers (screenplay), Lauren Myracle (instant messages) Paul Fleischman's multi-POV wonders, novels in verse.  As ebooks and apps become increasingly popular, interactive elements will certainly become more widely used, as in the Choose-Your-Own adventure books that were beloved in my youth.

Picture book writers have both the structure and the stricture of the 32-page format.  Novelists have the privilege (and the curse) of a wide-open world of possibilities! --Jeanne Marie

Writing Workout

For the busy multitaskers among us, we must often choose between finding time to do a "writing workout" or a more traditional workout of the full-body sort.  I have devised a semi-solution to this dilemma by converting my workspace to look like this:

What changes can you make to the organization of your life to make your work easier, more dynamic, or more productive?  Please share!


Carmela Martino said...

So, does the picture mean you're working out as you work at the computer? I can't tell for sure.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Sorry, Carmela -- I take lousy pictures. Yes, that is my mini-ellipitical, and I try to keep moving while I write. I'm not sure how much of a workout I'm getting (vigorous it is not), but it's definitely helped my mental acuity to keep the blood pumping.

April Halprin Wayland said...

I beg to differ with you, Jeanne are NOT the least organized among us. We are all DIFFERENTLY organized. Also, you have small beings in your home. I got out of that bizz years ago. (Now it's just one large lanky teen-aged dog.)