Tip Tuesday: Interesting Writing Strategies

If you are looking for some creative writing help, take some time and watch some movies. You might want to check out a made-for-TV movie that came out in 1990 called The Dreamer of Oz. It starred John Ritter, Rue McClanahan, and Annette O’Toole. The concept behind the movie was how L. Frank Baum, the mastermind behind The Wizard of Oz, came up with his ideas using various methods of creative writing help. It showed how he met various people, held various jobs, and identified with various aspects of his stories, which made the fantastical nature of his writing more magical. The movie showed that he wrote what he knew, but he needed to learn these things he knew by doing creative writing research and employing it within his stories. He had to observe his surroundings and talk to people to gather his ideas.

More recently, Gregory Maguire took the helm in writing a “prequel” to The Wizard of Oz, called Wicked. It has been adapted from book form into script form, and it is now a well-known Broadway play. It details the life and times of Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, before they took on those respective roles in the land of Oz. Viewers are able to meet and find out the histories of the scarecrow, the cowardly lion, and the tin man and learn how Oz developed into what it had become once Dorothy showed up. Not only did this involve creative writing research, but also in-depth characterization. The story of the wicked witch took on a whole new meaning, as we saw Oz from her perspective.

Try to find a way to write your own “prequel” to a well-known novel, movie, or even a song. You may find that there is more of a story there than you might think. If you’ve ever wondered what life was like for certain people, or how things turned out certain ways, find your own way to express these musings through your writing. Curiosity can be aroused by one word or phrase that catches a reader’s attention. Find the word or phrase that piques your curiosity, and research it until you find the background and meanings behind it. It is only a mystery to you if you allow it to be.

Consider these movies or books as a means of helping to fuel your creative genius:

The Neverending Story: How would you end this tale? Why does it have to be never ending? There always has to be a story to tell if it is never going to end. What story is that enticing that you can’t get enough of it? Think of the shows you watch or the books you read that you can’t get enough of and start writing your own tale that encourages constant thinking and dedication.

Titanic: This movie told of a love story that occurred on the Titanic before the dreaded sinking of the ship. Re-imagine the ending of this story. Would a happy ending be had, or would Rose end up with her fiancé instead of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character? Maybe you will choose not to write a love story at all, but rather an action-packed adventure detailing the heroics of one man who brought numerous people to safety. Even if the story is not completely true, but instead is based on the ideas that happened on that ship, that’s okay. You just have to remember to say that your story is based on truth, and is not completely non-fiction.

The Catcher in the Rye: The novel detailed the life and times of a young boy who had been kicked out of school and didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. Besides his sister, he didn’t know to whom he should turn, and he found himself in the middle of situations he was not mature enough to handle. Now, think about some strategies that could change the way this book was written. For example, what if the book had been nothing like how J.D. Salinger wrote it? The title connotes the idea of a catcher. This book could have dealt with a worn-out old catcher who brings a bunch of old baseball players together to throw a few balls around in the rye fields on the outskirts of town. The catcher could have played for a famous team, and was cut from the team for some radical reason that he still cannot fully understand. Maybe he was just getting too old, and the team manager didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that.

It’s interesting to think about titles of movies, books, TV shows, and other expressive genres. When you first hear the title, what do you imagine? If it is something other than what that movie, book, or TV show is truly about, you have just found the basis to begin your creative writing research. You can then begin writing your own story based on that title that you mistook the first time you heard or read it.

After you’ve tried something new, feel free to share pieces of it in the comments or let us know what creative writing strategies you employ to help you get your writing started.

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Tip Tuesday: Accepting Constructive Criticism

It may seem difficult at times to put your work out there for someone else to critique it, whether it’s for editing in the process of publication, grading, or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that without hearing other people’s opinions, you are obviously bent on your own opinion on the writing you have done, and, let’s be honest – you think it’s great. We all do. It’s only natural to have emotional ties to the writing you have done. It is also possible that something you hated writing or hated the outcome of once it was fully written could be completely loved by one or more of your readers.

Criticism gets a bad rap. The word has a negative connotation. When people hear that someone is being critical or is criticizing something, they think negatively. Again, this is only natural and is a part of life. An important idea to remember, however, is that criticism does not have to be bad. Without criticism, think of how many pieces of writing, movies, TV shows, or other works of art would go out to the masses due to the biased opinion of the work’s creator.

Have you ever read a book you didn’t like? Have you ever watched a movie or TV show that you wish you hadn’t bothered with? Have you ever thought how nice it would be to be able to tell the author or creator of whatever it is you read, watched, etc. what you might have done differently? Everyone is a critic. Everyone judges. It’s something that is as normal as a typical daily routine. Yet, criticism and judgment can turn out positively. There are always at least two sides to every idea/topic/issue/etc. Just because you think something is great doesn’t mean the rest of the world does, and just because you think something was awful doesn’t mean the rest of the world didn’t love it. You are entitled to your opinion just like anyone else. Just because someone tells you that they suggest changing something doesn’t mean you have to do it. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. What it does mean is that you have to attempt to see that person’s viewpoint and analyze not only whether you agree with it, but determine whether you feel that others may see things the same way as the original critic. That is why having more than one person read your work and give you feedback is important. Even if the people you choose to read your work do not give the same advice, even if one person tells you how great it was while another says it was good but there was room for improvement, while another tells you they couldn’t stand it, sharing what other people had to say with the group of reviewers you have established for yourself will help you to gauge whether they truly noticed everything in your writing.

Just because you are the writer does not mean you are the only reader that writing will ever have. The definition of constructive criticism is “the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.” It is essential that this definition is not only remembered, but taken to heart. No writer has ever penned the perfect piece the first time around. If they say they have, they are lying to you. Read the following quotes from well-known people and authors to further your understanding of the power of constructive criticism:

Winston Churchill, Former British Prime Minister:
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Hillary Clinton, Politician and Former Presidential Candidate:
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

Neil Gaiman, Author:
“I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so.”

Why do you think there are reviews on sites that sell books, appliances, and any other item you can possibly think of? The reason is simple. It is because people want to know what others think. They want to see differing opinions to help them make the most informed decision possible. So should it be with writing. Writers must be able to make informed, intelligent decisions based on suggestions that others have made. When something sounds negative, consider the actual intent behind the suggestion, and then determine whether the person is in any way coming up with something that is a possible revision that can be made. Just as you are entitled to your opinion, so are your readers. This is why only certain books make the New York Times Bestseller list, why certain movies and TV shows win Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmy Awards, why certain music wins Grammys and American Music Awards, etc. If you have ever thought someone unfairly lost an award, an election, or anything else, you have a different opinion than those who did the voting. You are entitled to this. Remember this when someone reads your work and gives you suggestions. Your emotional and other connections with the work you have written is essential to you being motivated to continue writing. This is extremely important. Never forget this. However, don’t forget that others are entitled to their opinions as well, and their opinions may just help you improve your writing and sustain a more solid style from that point forward. Every little bit helps. You just have to see it that way.

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‘Challenge Accepted’ by Amanda Abram Book Review

Readers will find ‘Challenge Accepted’ by Amanda Abram hard to put down. Her writing style perfectly captures teenage life, from the steadfast friendships to the certainty that one knows what is right for oneself without necessarily seeing the bigger picture.

Abrams’ main character, Emma, is literally the girl next door. Yet, despite all of the stories that say otherwise, that does not mean it is a match made in heaven with the boy next door. In fact, it means exactly the opposite. Logan, her next door neighbor, who also happens to be her father’s best friend’s son, is more like her nemesis. They get on each other’s last nerve, and this is only exacerbated by the fact that Logan cheats on a charity compatibility test and winds up with Emma as his supposed “perfect match.”

While Logan’s reasoning for lying on the test doesn’t hold much water – that he wanted to give his girlfriend a reason to break up with him if he wasn’t compatible with her – his decision is a good one. Grace is not the kind of person one wants to be involved with, but more importantly, not the type of person one wants to cross. Logan’s choice only compounds problems for him, especially when it comes to Emma, who he finds himself helping, despite everything he stands for telling him he shouldn’t.

Logan’s egocentric, jerky way of acting around Emma is truly frustrating at times, but the underlying emotions that begin to come out as he spends time with her are realistically developed, as are Emma’s own feelings about Logan, as he tries to help her find her “real” compatibility test match.

The parents in the story and Logan’s and Emma’s friends provide some much needed perspective that the two main characters are loathe to accept much of the time. Sometimes it’s hardest to see what is right in front of you, and Logan and Emma are no exception to this.

A story about the power of reshaping past impressions and forging bonds that seemed impossible, Logan and Emma’s relationship in ‘Challenge Accepted’ is a testament to Amanda Abrams’ dynamic writing style. Readers will be flipping pages well into the night and dying to get back to the story the next day.

You can find ‘Challenge Accepted’ by Amanda Abram here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Promises’ by Michelle Lynn Book Review

In ‘Promises,’ by Michelle Lynn, main character Maggie struggles to find her footing after a troubled childhood and difficult marriage. Her past continually comes back to haunt her, from her father to her ex-husband, who also happened to be one of her childhood best friends. The only thing that remains steady in her life is her relationship with her other best friend, Elijah. His promise to always be there for her no matter the circumstance has never weighed on her, but she is finding herself questioning if their relationship is as it should be, or if it should maybe be something more.

Despite the predictability of much of the storyline, it does not struggle to keep readers’ attention. The best sections of the novel revolve around Maggie and Elijah’s relationship, as well as Maggie’s journey to come to terms with her past and the father she felt the need to escape from, and to keep her cousin Jason safe from, too.

The secondary characters in the story – namely Michaela, Jason, Chris, and Josh – helped add some levity to the story, but Maggie’s own sense of sarcasm didn’t hurt in that area either. Elijah’s desire to care for her and be there for her is abundantly clear, and his decision to give her time to figure out her life is a kind decision on his part, especially due to the fact that she is struggling to come to terms with her past. However, sometimes the relationships among the characters were not quite as clear as they could have been. They were obviously all friends, but Josh especially didn’t stand out in terms of his connection to the rest of the group. However, for those who have read ‘Choices,’ his relationship will make more sense.

Overall, Michelle Lynn delivers an engaging and romantic getaway in ‘Promises,’ in the same way she did in her first novel in this series, ‘Choices’. The romantic scenes will make your insides ooh and aah, while Maggie’s desire to find strength to move on with her life will at times bring tears. It is a sweet story that tugs at the heartstrings.

You can find ‘Promises’ by Michelle Lynn here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Sundae My Prince Will Come’ by Suzanne Nelson Book Review

‘Sundae My Prince Will Come’ by Suzanne Nelson combines main character Malie’s love of ballet with her relationship woes. Her boyfriend, Ethan, whom she has been friends with for years before they chanted their relationship status, seems like her perfect match. They get along well, share friends, enjoy spending time together, and respect each other’s personal interests, even if they don’t have them in common. Everything seems like it’s fine and dandy until Alonzo – Lanz for short – comes to town. His arrival prompts Malie to begin questioning feelings that she has never felt before, and which she doesn’t know what to do with, especially since she’s still with Ethan.

As she acts like she doesn’t want to be around Lanz, he makes every attempt to try to win her over as friends. The fact that she is standoffish only makes him more focused on figuring out why she doesn’t want to bother with him. When Malie doesn’t think she’ll be able to take ballet anymore, Lanz smoothly comes to the rescue, owing to the fact that his mother is the new dance instructor at the studio where Malie dances. They come up with what they feel is an even exchange, even though Lanz is willing to do even more than necessary to hold up his end of the bargain.

Malie’s friends and her mother figure into her predicament as she keeps a variety of secrets from each of them, including her attraction to Lanz and her feelings of upset over becoming disconnected from Ethan. The fact that a mean girl is out to steal her part in the ballet school’s performance of Cinderella puts the level of worry and annoyance over the top for Malie, and she has trouble knowing where and to whom to turn for help.

A sweet and enjoyable story about the power of friendship, family, and knowing how to rely on others rather than just oneself, Malie’s story is one that will resonate with readers of all ages. Life doesn’t always go just the way one hopes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t end up working out in the end.

You can find ‘Sundae My Prince Will Come’ by Suzanne Nelson here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘The Only Girl in School’ by Natalie Standiford Book Review

‘The Only Girl in School’ by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Nathan Durfee, shines a light on one of the biggest fears any young person – or older person, for that matter – can have. Being the only one can sometimes be seen as a gift, in that the person is unique. Yet, the fact that Claire is the only girl in her school, owing to the fact that she lives in a small town and her best girl friend has moved away, puts a spotlight on what she only sees as inadequacies.

Coupled with the fact that she doesn’t have her best friend to lean on anymore and share the woes of being the only two girls in the class, her other best friend, Henry, has become best friends with the class bully, Webby. She also has to deal with Gilbert, a boy who is nice enough to her, but only because he likes her and wants to kiss her. Her relationships with the other boys in her class, as well as with her brothers and her parents, are all predictably irritating for her. It all goes to show that no one can truly understand the plight of a fifth grade girl besides that fifth grade girl herself. Sometimes even she can’t understand what’s happening to her, and no one ever seems to be around to shed light on it.

As the novel progresses, she makes discoveries about herself and about her town and life in general. The story is sweetly written in the form of letters to her best friend, Bess, who has moved away. Even though we only hear Bess’ responses through Claire’s relating them back to Bess in her own letters, we get a sense that their friendship has survived their separation.

Both the young and young-at-heart will enjoy this story about trying to hold it together in the face of adversity. Readers will find themselves rooting for Claire and hoping that things work out in her favor, even though that doesn’t happen all of the time.

You can find ‘The Only Girl in School’ by Natalie Standiford here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Fracture’ by Melanie Hooyenga Book Review

‘Fracture’ by Melanie Hooyenga was a fantastic sequel to ‘Flicker,’ the first in the book series. Biz’s ability to flicker – to go back in time one day – is still intact, but it is coming at a cost. In this case, that cost is brain surgery. The loss of her hair, coupled with some nasty teenagers who have nothing better to do than make fun of her for looking less than “normal,” sheds light on the more contemporary aspects of the novel. The best parts of the novel were these contemporary parts, and how they meshed with the supernatural tendencies that Biz found herself still partaking in as a means of saving others from less than favorable fates.

However, Biz soon learns that no matter how many times she flickers, life has a way of happening the same way each time, even if it ends up being delayed. She works to change this – to keep her life from fracturing any further than it already has – but not everything works out in her favor.

It was refreshing to see Biz and her boyfriend Cameron still together in this book, but it was also nice to see how their relationship was not quite as strong as it used to be. Since Cameron’s sister Katie was rescued in ‘Flicker,’ his family’s life has been nothing like before, and this includes his new friendship with another rescued girl’s sister. He claims that he and Sarah are spending time together to support each other through their sisters’ and their individual family’s issues, but Biz is skeptical. Her focus on the jealousy she feels over Cameron spending time with Sarah is a normal and acceptable way for her to show emotion. In any other setting, Cameron wouldn’t have much of a foot to stand on. The fact that he’s trying to work through his grief makes Biz’s jealousy stand out all the more, causing Cameron to not at all appreciate Biz’s upset over his time spent with Sarah.

As the novel progressed, it was nice to see Biz realize more of her own worth and how to stand up for herself. Along with her dad, who only has her best interests at heart, since they mirror his own, and her mom, best friend Amelia, Cameron and his family, and even Dr. Martinez, her brain surgeon, she fights for her own life and those of the people she loves, hoping against hope that it won’t all be for naught.

A gripping and relatable contemporary novel with an awesome time travel component mixed in, ‘Fracture’ draws you in and refuses to let go. Next up, ‘Faded’!

You can find ‘Fracture’ by Melanie Hooyenga here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Destiny’ by Cindy Ray Hale Book Review

‘Destiny’ by Cindy Ray Hale focused on the desired romance between Destiny Clark and Isaac Robinson. The fact that the two are basically star-crossed in that they belong to two different religions – Baptist and Mormon – forms the crux of the plot. While Destiny and her brother Michael still go to Bethel, a Baptist high school, they have changed – or, in their opinion, added – to their beliefs by taking on the teachings of Mormonism.

It was made abundantly clear in the story that Baptists and Mormons do not see eye to eye on anything. The bullying factor was extremely evident, and it will make one who doesn’t know much about either of these religions wonder if it is always to that extent. The author grew up Mormon going to a Baptist school as well, so readers can be pretty certain that the ideas are true to life, but it seems overly ridiculous that people who are supposed to be religious and accepting, or at least tolerant, of others’ beliefs, can be so inwardly focused and unable to see anyone else’s perspective, even if just for a brief moment.

Despite the fact that people may be as narrow-minded about religion as they were portrayed in the story, it was nice to see a few of the characters go beyond those expectations and show kindness toward one another. These few moments of clarity were quite welcome due to the overwhelming sense of hate and upset that was brought about much of the rest of the time throughout the story.

While Isaac spends the beginning chapters of the story with Aspen, his attraction to Destiny grows, but his interest isn’t always abundantly clear. It seems at first that he only wants to get to know her in order to convert her back, but he also seems attracted to her, so it never seems quite certain what his motivation is, or if it’s a combination of the two. However, as the story goes on, this is cleared up.

It is quite understandable how two people of different faiths can get caught up in a lack of empathy for each other, and that is why it was especially interesting how Hale brought the story of Les Miserables into the plot. The way that the choir director cast the characters based on the real-life personalities of those he was casting brought a much needed symbolic level of interest to the reading, and helped the characters better shine as who they really were rather than who everyone thought they should be.

A story that encapsulates many ideas, including love, hate, empathy (or the lack thereof), jealousy, grief, hypocrisy, trust, and so much more, ‘Destiny’ makes it clear that there is still much to be learned about how to best get along with people and understand their perspectives. Even in this day and age, we’re still behind the times in being able to do this well.

You can find ‘Destiny’ by Cindy Ray Hale here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘1,000 Facts about the White House’ by Sarah Wassner Flynn Book Review

‘1,000 Facts about the White House’ by Sarah Wassner Flynn is definitely worth reading. From facts about why the rooms are named as they are in the White House to interesting facts about first ladies, pets, and food as related to the presidency, there is something for everyone.

There are plenty of interesting facts that even the most well-versed presidential fanatics can find at least one that they may not have known before. It is also nice how the facts are arranged so that the connections are pretty sequential. Learning the layout of the White House and when certain wings were added adds a lot to the points being made, showing that the home has evolved as time has passed.

No matter whether your favorite president is George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, or anyone who has come before or after, you are sure to find something that will engage your interest and round out your understanding of not only the White House, but also the importance of the highest office one can hold in the United States.

You can find ‘1,000 Facts about the White House’ by Sarah Wassner Flynn here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger’ by Colin Meloy Book Review

‘The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger’ by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Nikki McClure, took a bit to get into, owing to the prologue of sorts that took up the first few pages of the story. However, once the main story began, that delved into the biography of Pete Seeger and how his life moved from childhood to marriage to his singing career and more, the pace picked up and the rhymes, much like his songs, were imbued with his passion.

Learning about how he fits into history, from being accused of Communist leanings, to his role in the fight for Civil Rights, it is interesting to learn about Pete Seeger’s interest in social causes. The illustrations do a fine job of telling the story of his life, and the timeline at the end of the book helps connect all of the ideas throughout the rest of the story.

A worthwhile and interesting read about one of the more influential songwriters of the 20th century, ‘The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger’ weaves the beauty of music with the truth of his life story.

You can find ‘The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger’ by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Nikki McClure, here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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