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!

 

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Poetry and The Fiction Writer

Pictures of books I recently read as a poetry study

Discovering The Art Of series and further study

The collection of books pictured above was inspired by discovering The Art of series at my local library. The Art of discusses different aspects of writing with examples from a great variety of texts. I wanted to learn more about the authors who wrote the series, so I picked up their poetry and essays as well. I’m glad I did. This group of books :intelligent discussion, imparted wisdom and beautiful poetry.

But I’m a fiction writer, why spend time with poetry and poets?

Words are a writer’s tools and poets have to use words in the most efficient manner for maximum emotional effect.

Ellen Bryant Voigt

The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song

Rhythm is what makes Ms. Voigt’s poems so amazing. Her contribution to The Art Of series is my favorite of the bunch. I learned some interesting vocabulary specific to the rhythm of words:

enjambment – the running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break.

trochee – a foot of two syllables, a long followed by a short in quantitative meter, or a stressed followed by an unstressed in accentual meter.

caesura –

1. Prosody. a break, especially a sense pause, usually near the middle of a verse, and marked in scansion by a double vertical line, as in know then thyself presume not God to scan.
2. Classical Prosody. a division made by the ending of a word within a foot, or sometimes at the end of a foot, especially in certain recognized places near the middle of a verse.
3. any break, pause, or interruption.

fricative

palimpsest – a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.

Headwaters: Poems

I loved these poems. Though completely lacking in punctuation, the message is never lost and the rhythm is clear. Her word choice is beautiful. These poems felt like a magical discovery.

Mark Doty

The Art of Description: World into Word

I enjoyed the idea of “the sensorium”–finding the places of sensory overlap and allowing the senses their complexly interactive life.

I also noted that I should read :

Middlemarch by George Eliot and
Resurrection Update: Collected Poems, 1975-1997 by James Galvin

Deep Lane: Poems

These poems take you on walks with the dog and inspections of the garden. They take you there through lovely description and word choice.

Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter is the editor of The Art of series.

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot

Full of examples of how subtext is used in fiction.

Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction

Mr. Baxter’s essays get into his thought process. They let the reader into the flow of a writer mind.

Here I also learned a new word: Pusillanimous – lacking courage and resolution

Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

It felt like serendipity when Charles Baxter started talking about Brenda Ueland’s book because I already had it on my bookshelf. It’s a great book for those times you need a cheerleader, which, as writers, we often do.

I just opened to a random page and found this bit of fun:

Now Blake thought that this creative power should be kept alive in all people for all of their lives. And so do I. Why? Because it is life itself. It is the Spirit. In fact it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears.   –Brenda Ueland

Excited to fill up on some poetry?

Here are some links to poetry sites I enjoy, so you can get your fill while you wait for the books you just ordered from Amazon to arrive  🙂

Poetry Foundation

Poets and Writers

Eunoia Review

Tweetspeak Poetry

Are You Thrilled

Joy Write

Happy Reading and Writing

Don’t be pusillanimous. Get out there and explore!

Who is your favorite poet?

What is your favorite poetry book?

What is your favorite poetry website?

The Worrying Workload of Weak Writing Part One: the discovery of the stretched-out sentences.

Book coverOver the last two years, I thought I had read every book my local library system offered on writing: instructional, anecdotal, genre specific, technique specific–the works. Last time I went to the library, however, a cute little book I hadn’t noticed before jumped out at me: The Curious Case Of The Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga. Modifiers were part of my research for my Hemingway post and I enjoy film noir and spent a lot of time researching film noir imagery for a puzzle design of Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks (believe it or not, I created a puzzle piece shaped like a man under a lamppost). Maybe that was why I brought it home, or maybe it was perfect timing; I was finally primed and ready for the serious revision this fun, easy read hid within its pages.

Editor Bonnie Trenga has created a humorous and entertaining study of seven mistakes writers make and how to remedy them. She starts each chapter with a catchy detective story title and weakly written scene that includes the specific errors discussed in the chapter. Once the reader learns to recognize and correct the errors, she is encouraged to correct the opening anecdote. Though I chose to take the exercise to my manuscript instead, I found the book format clever and inspired.

Though every chapter is informative, I started reviewing my work in progress with the tips from Chapter Seven: The Stretched-Out Story of Wordy Writing. I thought I would breeze through my manuscript correcting a few wordy sentences and move on to changing a few weak verbs, but my eyes have been opened and my writing will never be the same.

I started by opening the find function in word to highlight “even though”. Trenga recommends changing it to although, but I found other ways to tighten the sentences as well. Examples:

“He never talked about them, but even though he betrayed them and lied to them every day, she knew that he somehow loved them and didn’t want to harm them, or leave them.”

I changed to

He never talked about them. He betrayed them and lied to them every day, but she knew that he loved them and didn’t want to harm them or leave them.

and

“Even though he held her arm, she still wanted to run away.”

became

Even with Rick holding her arm, she wanted to run away.

After even though, I took a look at “Not only . . . But also”. Trenga recommends replacing both parts of the phrase with “and”. Let’s see what I came up with:

“He felt an urge to call Karen, not only to get it out of the way, but to make sure she wouldn’t mess things up.”

He felt an urge to call Karen, to get it out of the way and make sure she wouldn’t mess things up.

“She and her husband not only traveled to all the places Anna still needed to go, but sent her postcards and the most gorgeous invites to the best parties.”

She and her husband traveled to all the places Anna wanted to go and sent her postcards. She also mailed handmade invitations to her wonderful parties.

So far so good, right? Not too many instances to tighten up. The sentences were fun to play with, but then–I typed in “there was”. The sea of “there was”s was momentarily overwhelming. I dreamed of going AWOL or lying down and playing opossum, but I battled on for you, dear future readers, for you.

Trenga recommends to delete the offender which works in this example:

“He went into the ladies’ room and happily saw there was a lock on the door.”

He went into the ladies’ room and happily saw a lock on the door.

and this one

“Now, he saw that there was a faux stone facade along the back wall with pillars and statues so it looked like an ancient Greek temple.”

Now, he saw the faux stone facade along the back wall with pillars and statues like an ancient Greek temple.

Here are some other ways I struck down and defeated “there was”:

“He had evidently put in some effort. There was champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.”

He had put in some effort evidenced by champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.

“He was surprised there wasn’t any apparent bruising on his face.”

He expected more apparent bruising on his face.

“Rick knew there was no reason for worry.”

Rick wasn’t worried.

“There was a bright red light glaring out of the front of this fabulous piece of hunting technology.”

A bright red light glared from this fabulous piece of hunting technology.

“Brittany wished there was a way to make sure she would never see him again.”

Brittany wished for a way to make sure she would never see him again.

and a fun example of the many ways to reword one sentence

“Maybe there was something to what that stupid jerk Pat said.”

Maybe that stupid jerk, Pat, was right.

So that stupid jerk Pat wasn’t completely wrong.

She refused to admit that Pat could be right.

Oh F@#!, could Pat be right?

This is a small sampling of the epic battle I fought through the night to wipe out the rampant “there was”. “There were” still awaits on the horizon with “there is” and “there will be” as reinforcements. I will fight on.

Stay tuned for my next post in which we discover that the battle with “there was” was only a skirmish–a prelude, an aperitif–compared to the war on weak verbs to come.