Craft Book Review: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

The Magic Words book cover

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book for writers who are ready to take their manuscript to the next level. As an editor for Scholastic, Cheryl has experience that makes her an authority on the subject of revision and editing MG and YA novels. She shares first hand stories about the revision process that bring difficult subjects to life.

Why I picked it up:

It was one of the books recommended by Denise Jaden at the end of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days for when you’ve finished your draft and you’re ready to edit.

My Expectations:

Because the book is about writing for children and because Magic is in the title, I expected it to be focused on magical thinking and getting back to the child mind. I expected exercises in discovering stories that appeal to children and using language geared toward different age groups. This book wasn’t like that at all.

Intended Audience:

The ideal reader is a fiction writer who has finished a first draft of a novel fomiddle school, high school or adult readers. To get the most out of the exercises, you will want to have read through your draft and created a “book map.” The book map is a lot like the story grid from The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne that I talked about in the Editing Focus sections of my Final Days of 2017 posts. Cheryl Klein uses a post from Anita Nolan as an example. The book map is also a lot like Susan Dennard’s index card outline.

What I liked:

I liked the examples from her work as an editor working with authors. Her experiences were informative and brought the concepts into the real world. I also liked the extensive exercises in every chapter. The exercises raise poignant questions to get you analyzing your work.

Since I focused on plot last fall, I enjoyed that this book presents a fresh take. I learned yet another plotting structure called Freytag’s pyramid. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Based on Poetics from Aristotle, it describes the five act dramatic structure of classical plays, but also works as a model of rising action.

The Magic Words is thorough, covering every aspect of writing and revising your novel.

For your convenience both the plot chart and the character chart discussed in the book are available on the book’s page of Cheryl’s website.

What I didn’t like:

I got tired of Harry Potter references. If I didn’t write adult fiction as well as children’s fiction, I would have found most of the examples (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight) to be geared toward older kids and I would not have found this book very useful. However, as a book on the craft of writing, it was excellent.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  5/5 Highly Recommend

 

Writing Reviews

I have a favor to ask. This year, I plan to write a review each week. I’m trying to come up with a format that is both fun and informative so I would appreciate your feedback of this review.

  • Did you like the layout?
  • Was the review helpful?
  • What else would you like to know about the book?
  • What didn’t you like about the review?
  • How could it be better?

Please respond in the comments. Thank you.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Advertisements

Beware The Creeping Nouns

creeping-nouns

I am reading A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart. Though it is geared toward journalism,  the information is useful and inspiring for my fiction.

One sign of a skilled writer is avoiding redundancy. Mr. Hart uses the analogy of felling a a-writers-coachtree. The skilled woodsman takes efficient strokes and controls where the tree falls, but the “city slicker” hacks away, exhausting himself and endangering his neighbors.

Sharpen Your Axe

During your first draft, you don’t want to think about word choice, you just want to get your ideas down, right? But what if, some of those overused words, those pesky redundancies and expletives never got on the page? It would save you a ton of time during editing.

This Halloween, you are sharpening your axe for a monster hunt. You are hunting E.B. White’s “leeches that infest the pond of prose” and Jack Hart’s parasites that live alongside them in that pond. Once you are trained to recognize these monsters you can stop them dead before they get to your pages!

The Leeches and Parasites

leech

Leeches –

Expletives are more than the beeps we hear on TV. The word expletive also means any syllable,word, or phrase conveying no independent meaning,esp inserted in a line of verse for the sake of the metre (from dictionary.com).

Make sure to hack away at “it is,” “it was,” “there is,” “there were,” and “there are.”

Creeping Nouns are nouns that attach themselves to other nouns but add nothing but dead weight. Mr. Hart believes that if we avoid unnecessary use of “situation,” “field,” and “condition,” we could eliminate half the creeping nouns published. Here are a couple examples from A Writer’s Coach.

. . . and one source said the Cincinnati Reds manager faces a possible suspension for gambling activities.

Gambling is already the activity causing the possible suspension. Activities is redundant.

Officials are saying the combination of millions of dying trees, the seventh year of drought conditions and . . .

Drought is the condition thus conditions is redundant.

Hart’s other examples of creeping nouns you should include on your monster hunt are: field, industry, profession, concerns, event, experience, facilities, situation, and status.

Remember: these aren’t words you want to eliminate from your writing, they are words that can become creeping nouns that create redundancy when they cling to other nouns.

parasites

Parasites –

To avoid parasites, you want to avoid over using qualifiers. A qualifier is the same as a modifier – a word, phrase, or sentence element that limits or qualifies the sense of another word, phrase, or element in the same construction.(dictionary.com)

Mr. Hart calls these parasites “petty modifiers” and “needless qualifiers.” The monsters that should see the sharp blade of your axe before they mangle your writing are: rather, somewhat, generally, virtually, pretty, slightly, a bit and little.

And don’t forget the pernicious overused words: very, like and just!

Happy monster hunting and happy #Writober.

 

Booklist: Finding Books To Get Excited About

Books through a fish eye lensDuring my last visit to the library–on my mad hunt for middle grade fiction represented by agents I want to query–I happened upon Booklist, a magazine full of book reviews from the American Library Association. I browsed the magazine and noticed it also had a web component booklistonline.com.  

Though that site wants you to sign up, or subscribe to the magazine, it also links to a blog  The Booklist Reader which has lots of great book reviews, promo videos, articles and booklists. Just browsing the site to tell you about it, I found a book I can’t wait to read. I already put a hold on it at my local library (the book is on order).

The book is:

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, by Sharma Shields

The sasquatch hunter's almanac book cover

I was first drawn to the book because I’ve started a middle grade fiction story about a Sasquatch hunter. Then, in the description it said that the Sasquatch is named Mr. Krantz–presumably after Dr. Krantz who I met while studying at W.S.U. It turned out that the author is from Spokane, WA. I was not at all surprised to see, when I finished the review, that I had been drawn to a review by a librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

This is not a children’s book, and most likely not related to my story in the least, but I’m very excited to read it.

How do you find books for your reading list?

Ever hunted a Sasquatch?