Friday, June 17, 2022

Ben and Me (Redux): an Out-and-About Shout-Out!


    I’m happy to report:

    Since my last posting, I’ve been out-and-about in both the Real and Virtual Worlds discovering all sorts of opportunities that demand a Shout-out.

    For instance, in May I traveled to Philadelphia to (bravely) attend for the first time ever since graduation my (you-can-guess-which number) college reunion! I’ve proudly sworn allegiance to the University of Pennsylvania’s Red-and-the-Blue all these years, but never more so that weekend.

     While expanding my education as a long-ago undergraduate, I’d never noticed the outstanding architecture of my campus’ buildings, the gorgeous trees, the spectacular Oriental rugs in the Student Union! Reconnecting with everyone and everything surprisingly created Unforgettable Moments I’m still savoring.

     The Banter with Ben program I’d (again, bravely) agreed to facilitate with fellow classmate Mack Goode constituted one such Moment.  Benjamin Franklin founded my university in 1749 as the Publik Academy of Philadelphia. I’d visited Ben’s gravestone at 5th and Arch Streets on numerous Overbrook Elementary School class trips, thanks to the Philadelphia School District, tossing a penny and making a wish. How nice to have the chance to visit with him in person! How nice to learn he was as affable, erudite and engaging as reported.

      Though a believer in public education and a visionary as well, it’s unlikely Dr. Franklin, as he later became known, could have ever imagined the breath and depth of his academy 273 years later: a diverse and inclusive student body, including women (!), enrolled in diverse and numerous schools and academic programs, taught by a diverse and inclusive faculty (including women!). 

     The Kelly Writers House is one such offering, sadly established after I graduated. The Cosmic Writers initiative two Kelly Writers House alumni, Rowana Miller and Manoj Simha, and two Penn undergraduates founded would have surely earned a thumbs-up from Dr. Franklin, a life-long writer.

     Think: a full-fledged nonprofit that continues the established Word Camp program online for K-12 students around the world, expanding this year to provide free in-person creative writing workshops in several cities in the U.S.

     Think: a dedicated group of college students believing in the power of creative writing for social change!

     “We want to create cultures of joy around creative writing.  We want it to be fun,” Rowana Miller shared. “We want kids to leave our programs self-motivated to become strong writers and communicators.”

     Kidzine, a collaboration between Cosmic Writers and Reading Recycled, publishes writers and artists under 18, including many of the participants in the Cosmic Writers workshops. Submissions for the Summer 2022 issue open on July 1st.  The magazine publishes short stories, poetry, illustrations, photographs, memoirs and comics.

     Click here to read a description of the Word Camp workshops available this July 11-15 and 18-22.

     Click here to register.

    And here I repeat the words I proudly sang at my May Reunion: Hurrah, Hurrah, Pennsylvania! Hurrah for the Red-and-the Blue!

    Thanks to my fellow Chicago author-illustrator Michelle Kogan for hosting today’s Poetry Friday. 

    Happy Out-and-About-ing!

     Esther Hershenhorn


     Our TeachingAuthors Twitter account is now up and running again! Follow us at @TeachingAuthors!


     Bill Robling, the Ben Franklin reenactor, was every bit as affable, erudite and engaging as the outstanding American he portrayed.


Friday, June 3, 2022

How To Engineer A Revision


What does it mean to engineer a revision?

In my current WIP, I am working with two distinct points of view moving through simultaneous timelines against a hefty historical event. The challenge was making these points of view distinct without compromising either  timeline, while still making sure that the event – a coming together of complex social and political systems – was easy enough for young readers  to follow. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


So how does one weave together all of these elements into a cohesive story? I first came upon the term “story engineering” in Larry Brooks’ excellent book, Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing (Writers Digest Books, 2011). Story engineering is not just about planning or outlining, but certainly that’s a part of the process. In the same way that engineers really on blueprints to create a structure that bears weight and resists the elements, writers arm themselves with a strategy to create an equally structurally sound foundation upon which all the literary elements may rest.

Looking for information on how to engineer two points of view at once, I went to my go-to for information on writing strategies. Lorin Oberweger’s  Free Expressions Seminars .

And –of course – I found the perfect workshop: Non-Linear, Dual-Timeline, And Multiple POV Plotting with Donald Maass. No one does it better than Donald Maass. During the almost two-hour workshop, Donald offered step by step instruction, citing examples from ‘break-out’ fiction to support his process.

Returning to my WIP, I began to engineer my two points of view and their plotlines. (This is a basic step by step that fits my particular narrative. For more information, especially as it relates to your project, you must check out Donald Maass’ workshops at Free Expressions.)

First, I divided the draft by points of view. It’s like having two (or more, depending on how many POVs are used) separate stories. The parallel narratives need to be so tight, and so relevant, that one cannot exist without the other. While the two points of view need to be pronounced, and distinct, they need to be connected by theme.

Next, I reviewed the carryovers (transitions) between chapters to make sure the story of each point of view flowed.

Next, I reviewed both timelines to make sure the scenes connected to the broader plot.  This includes adding research as needed to make sure each scene was complete.

I then combined the two stories into one, aligning the events to strengthen the timeline, reinforcing the causal chain. This means quickly establishing the narrative pattern, in which the points of view shift between the characters. It also means noting where additional chapters might be needed to complete the timeline.

Finally, To keep the reader oriented, I review each points of view to make sure the characters are distinct, reinforcing certain literary devices. These devices include vocabulary, sensibilities (world views), personality traits, and specific artifacts (such as pets or songs!).

Now the foundation is set, and the real work of revision can begin!! Allons-y!!

-- Bobbi Miller