About Writing

Foreshadowing – a writing device sometimes misused

Another guest post! Today I’m reblogging a post by one of my fellow horse story writers. So exciting that she mentions my own books in her article! Thanks, Connie!

by Connie Peck

A while back I was involved with a fairly tough critique partner who wrote in a vastly different genre than I. He was writing a 200K suspense/murder/mystery/drug & mind control novel while I was writing a simple horse story for fourth graders.

His biggest beef about my writing – foreshadowing. And of course real danger for my main character, an eleven year old girl who had a telepathic connection to her pony.

It was not a good fit.

My biggest mistake was that I let it get under my skin. But I eventually got over it. Then I did some research. For one thing, after re-reading some of his chapters, I recognized that his foreshadowing technique was actually almost pre-telling what was coming. I’m really not sure what category that falls into. Okay, so if a character, say a law enforcement officer, is approaching a potential bad-guy-hideout and slips the safety strap off his pistol, I’m going to look forward to a possible gun-battle. However, if the cop loosens his revolver, saying to himself “I’m sure I’m going to need this because this guy I’m after is crazy and I know he has an arsenal of weapons in there.” Well, that’s giving it away and since I know for sure what’s coming, I may just skim to see what’s next. (No that author didn’t write those words, that’s only an example. And he did get an agent.)

I did more reading.

A well-known children’s author who has won all sorts of rewards did the same thing in the first chapter by actually telling what the stakes were and how bad it could be right there in black and white. Instead of me looking forward to what might happen – be it good and wonderful, happy and funny, scary and adventuresome, I was no longer curious. I already knew. Sadly I couldn’t find the energy to keep reading. It was already told how dangerous it would be to approach the only means necessary to solve the big problem.

The best text for learning the technique of foreshadowing from both a writer’s perspective and a reader’s is THE LOTTERY, by Shirley Jackson, way back in 1948. And it still stands as the benchmark. Only a few glimpses, solitary items, which don’t really seem to add to the story – until the end.

What is foreshadowing? It’s an element in the story that you have no idea is there until the danger rises its scary face, or until the funniest thing in the world occurs. (Not all stories need to have death, murder, and mayhem involved to be really, really good.)

Foreshadowing is a passing glance at a picture on the wall, which may turn out to hold some secret vital to the outcome. And after dancing all around that non-remarkable painting, the reader is delighted to discover the clue hidden there. But if the author overstates the presence of the art, the reader will become frustrated when the MC doesn’t see it, or become bored with the whole story, and toss it in the corner without finishing.
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In my children’s book, LEGEND OF THE SUPERSTITION GOLD, which is my third Black Pony book, I dedicate a chapter to putting shoes on the pony, while dropping information about the upcoming trail ride along with a few stories about the Lost Dutchman Gold. Why the whole chapter? Well, it’s short and full of horsey stuff. Plenty of dialog between Annie and the pony. A humorous dismissal of the legends by the farrier (in my opinion one of the strongest pieces of foreshadowing in the book). AND every single element in that first chapter is seen again – several times. Not only that, the shoes themselves become in integral part of the plot. But you don’t know that until you read further.

My second chapter is dedicated to a pair of spurs and how they come to be in the possession of the main character. The spurs once belonged to Annie’s grandfather. Her uncle has very little success in using them and passes them to her. The connection won’t be noticed until mid-point of the book, but will be totally understood at the climax. But you never will know that until you get there.

Other bits of foreshadowing include Annie looking at hieroglyphics – and feeling a strange presence. Midnight warns her a few times that ‘The Others’ are nearby as well. True, I have a rather slow chapter where the whole thing is dedicated to a few of the stories, which anyone can google, about the haunted Superstition Mountains and its hidden treasures. But, they are all seen again. Besides, to at least a few of us, those stories are juicy and wonderful.

But, if at any point in the story I would have written ‘X is about to happen’ you may not have been interested anymore. Why do I point out that riding in the soft sand of a dry wash could be dangerous? Because a flash flood is coming! That was likely the most telling foreshadowing in the whole story.

I’ll never say that I’m anywhere near as good at foreshadowing as Shirley Jackson, or in fact dozens of other authors out there, but the fact remains. You will never know what part of a scene foreshadows the coming event until after that event has occurs and it all comes together in a satisfactory ending.

A few examples of books using foreshadowing from Goodreads include, THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker, published by Random House; Mo Willems’ THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA; Though this next one has mixed reviews because of adult content, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, is pegged as a great book for foreshadowing.

One of my personal favorite authors is Linda Ulleseit, who writes a series of The Winged Horses. You know something is up when an outsider falls in love with a filly, and there is dark talk of a long forgotten village, but you don’t know what it is until it happens. And you know something is about to happen when a young rider is torn between a soon-to-be barn leader with an attitude – who will do anything to win, and a timid rider who has a fear of flying, but you are blown away by what happens – and you didn’t see it coming, until you read it again, and again, and again. (Yes, I read it that many times.)

Goodreads has more if you wish to look them up. Of course mine is one of the best (in my opinion). http://tinyurl.com/p6wm6kf

How well to you foreshadow the events in your story? Do you let it all out before it happens, or drop invisible hints that show their glory at the end?

I’d love to hear your stories and examples.

About Writing

Historical Fiction

rdgpastToday Sarah Johnson’s blog, Reading the Past features an article I wrote. It details the preparation and writing of Under the Almond Trees. It explores the question all historical fiction writers face–how much fact and how much fiction do I include? Click on the picture to the right to read my article. Please leave a comment!

About Writing, Narrative

National Novel Writing Month

2013_Participant_Facebook_Profile

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is well under way in my classroom. This is the fifth year I have undertaken this event with a class. It is an incredible experience for the students!

During October, students plan their novel. When November 1 dawns, they leap into the novel. This is only November 6, and they are still typing madly into the computer. Most adults are used to composing as they word process, but this is a new experience for my students. Usually they are required to type from a handwritten rough draft.

Next week their enthusiasm will begin to fade. NaNoWriMo is about stamina. It is a marathon rather than a sprint. Students will encourage each other and me (my word goal is 50,000 words!) and celebrate each 10% completed.

By the third week, fingers will hurt and brains will be tired of writing. We will have to push each other to hit each milestone.

The fourth week is Thanksgiving week. Some students will be going on a trip, others will be busy with family and food. In past years, the last day or two of November fell on the Monday or Tuesday of the week following Thanksgiving. This will be the first year that my students will be responsible on their own to validate their novels on November 30. I hope they all remember!

December, which seems so far away at this time, is a time for celebrating our novels and polishing them into shape. Accomplishing a novel in a month is an extremely empowering event. It gives confidence to students that they normally wouldn’t have. That is why I participate in National Novel Writing Month each year with my students. It’s worth it!

So far, almost a week in, my students have written 92,996 words! All but one met their 20% goal today, and many are already 40% or 50% done. I’m only at 20% on my own novel, so I’d better get writing! I can’t have my students beat me!

Keep track of my NaNoWriMo progress here.

About Writing

Award for Unpublished Novel

book_and_featherThe Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Award is offered by the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society in New Orleans. Two years ago I entered Under the Almond Trees, an adult historical fiction novel. I had not yet finished the novel, but entered in the Novel in Progress category. I made it to the semi-finals and was ecstatic.

This year Under the Almond Trees is finished and I entered it again, this time in the Novel category. There were 362 entries in the category, most from New Orleans but representing 37 states and seven foreign countries. Again, I made it to the semi-final round before being eliminated. Still, that’s the top third of submissions so I can be proud! It’s also great to have some street cred when persuading publishers to publish your book. Awards do that.

About Writing

Life Into Fantasy

Campbell_authorpic1  Turning My Life Into a Fantasy Novel.

I’ve always been something of a dreamer, a ‘what if’ sort of gal, if you will. What if I had a horse so smart I could talk to it? What if I could travel to other worlds and have adventures? What if I could actually write a novel and sell it? That last one, I think is the most fantastical of them all. Sometimes I think being an astronaut and getting to travel to the moon would be easier than being an author, but, as trite as it is, if it were easy it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

However, being a dreamer, the impossibility of those above ideas never really stopped me. Nine and a half years ago, I got my own horse. I swear she was smart enough to hold conversations with, and she was certainly smart enough to travel to other worlds with me in tow and create adventures. I just had to be smart enough to listen, and put her ideas to paper, and now, even the last dream has come true. I have other dreams to be sure, but some of the biggest ones have been realized in the last few years.

Sabaska’s Tale is a novel inspired by my life on the trail and my horse and turned into a fantasy novel. And before you ask, no, I’m not the MC, but my horse, Sabaska, is the main horse character, also called Sabaska. Much of this story came about on my many adventures with my her. It didn’t take much effort to translate our adventures into something far more interesting than a trail ride in the mountains, it just took writing it down. (I won’t go into the countless rewrites to get to the novel you may now decide to read, but I did a lot of that too.)

I’ve been told that my passion for horses and Sabaska in particular really comes out in this story. That pleases me and I think that because we had so many adventures in our 9 years together, it gave me the depth and experience to write a something that does display my passion and knowledge of horses and I hope it inspires others to have adventures with their horses and maybe even turn their adventures into more novels for horse crazy teens to read.

 

J.A. Campbell is the author of Sabaska’s Tale. Check out her giveaway! Sabaska's Tale GiveawayPromo

Find out more about Julie at  www.writerjacampbell.com  and follow her on twitter @Pfirewolf

About Writing, Authors

Why Knowing Your Setting is Important

Phyl Manning Tour Banner

Why Knowing Your Setting is Important

by Phyl Manning

No matter where on this planet you “set” your story, someone or twenty someones among your readers will have been in that exact place at that particular season/time/year. . . . and will have taken copious notes. And that’s fine—if you’ve been there, too, and recall the details.

But if in a flit of romanticism you decide (even though you’ve never been there) to set your story in Vatican City—you need to do your homework first. Extensively. I mentioned in an article published in a Southeast Asia hotel chain periodical my personal mistrust of birds (attributable to having read Daphne DuMaurier’s novelette The Birds)—and received almost immediately following publication impassioned letters to protest my barely mentioned personal stance on the subject of these magnificent critters.

In a humorous article I’d written and published in the Bangkok Post, I got mixed up on the left turn away from an elevator to get to the Ladies Restroom at one particular section of the Bangkok Airport—and received at least two dozen notes sent through the paper to correct my error, along with several actual phone calls at work.

And the matter of reader respect works both ways, I should add. Dan Brown set an early book entitled Deception Point in the high American Arctic. I started reading the book, liked the writing style and then put on the brakes. Like most of us, I know only a few subjects in great depth. One subject I happen to know a lot about is the American Arctic. And Author Brown’s details were SO inaccurate that I finally lost faith in him permanently and gave the book away.

To sum up, I urge you to know intimately and in detail whatever place and time you are writing about. It’s not that your readers are trying to trip you up. It’s just that they “know what they know” and are offended when you reveal that YOU know not of what you write.

 

Click here for more about Phyl’s BLOG TOUR and GIVEAWAY!

About Writing

What’s in a Cover?

 

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The cover of a book is an important marketing tool. I know I have skimmed right past hundreds of books whose covers did not grab my attention. Never did I appreciate the difficulty of choosing a cover until I had written my own book.

ON A WING AND A DARE was first published in May of 2011 with a stunning black and white cover. Online, the cover appeared solid black but the actual in-person cover had slashes of royal blue through the black. In one printing, the royal blue was actually purple. When I left my publisher in December, I needed to find a new cover.

This cover is one of three coordinated covers for my flying horse trilogy done by Tirzah Goodwin. For other designs by Tirzah, check out her blog, A Clever Whatever. In this case, it’s a clever cover!

I hope the colors in this one print well…you can order one yourself on Amazon by the end of January 2013. Stay tuned here for the announcement!

In the meantime, what are your favorite covers? They don’t have to be children’s books, or even books you liked. What covers made you pick up the book?

About Writing, Teaching Writing

To a Former Student

Any teacher will tell you that one of the greatest rewards in the profession is when students come back to visit you long after they have left your class. Usually they are thrilled to recount their academic and personal successes, and I am just as pleased to see what wonderful young adults they have become.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to support a former student as she branched out from the roots I gave her. Two years ago, this young lady participated in NaNoWriMo, when she was in my fifth grade class. Last year, although she was not in my class, she participated on her own. This year she moved on to the middle school. New seventh graders are often overwhelmed by six teachers instead of one, by changing classrooms every fifty minutes, and by the influx of new faces as six elementary schools converge. Not this girl.

Determined to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year, she decided to start a club at the middle school. She convinced three teachers to be the club’s advisers and made up fliers to pass out to students. Yesterday was her kickoff event after school. I dropped by to tell her how proud I was of her and to encourage the students who had signed away their lives to write a novel in November.

It is difficult to communicate how excited I was to hear of this young lady’s efforts. To walk into that library and see her directing a room full of eighth graders at laptops nearly burst my heart with pride. In a second room, an equally large group of seventh graders was busy, too. I greeted the teachers, gave the awesome young leader a hug, and connected with a handful of former students. I left an autographed copy of my novel for them to give away as a prize.

Now I have attended theatrical events and sporting events that former students have invited me to. I have marveled at their singing voice, their acting ability, their speed and agility. Yesterday, however, was the first time I have ever seen exactly how powerful it can be to turn a student on to writing. Because of this one student’s experience in my class two years ago, something like fifty middle schoolers are now, on their own time, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. If that doesn’t validate what I do as a teacher, nothing does.

In hardback: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

About Writing

NaNoWriMo 2012

In just five and a half short hours, National Novel Writing Month begins. This will be the fourth year I have participated in NaNoWriMo, all four times with my class of eager students. Well, that first group wasn’t very eager–they were pretty terrified. Three years, though, and all but one of those students finished their novels. Me, too. That sets a lot of pressure on me for this year!

My newest crop of students are a combo class. That means I have 18 sixth graders and 11 fifth graders. They are very independent workers and very good writers. I am looking forward to watching their fingers fly over the keyboards and their brains smoking as they whip out their novels. NaNoWriMo says a sixth grader should be able to write 10,000 words during the month of November. Last year my sixth graders averaged 20,000 words, so there’s some pressure on the kids this year, too.

Former students also participate in NaNoWriMo, often on their own without the encouragement of a teacher. Last year a former student did NaNoWriMo with her high school Creative Writing Club. This year a younger former student started a NaNoWriMo club at the middle school. I am so proud of these kids!

I need to remind parents that they, too, can participate in NaNoWriMo. As an adult, the word count goal is firmly set at 50,000 words. That means 1,362 words a day. Every day of November. To put this in perspective, one typed page is about 250 words. So do you have a novel that is screaming to get out of your head? Ever wanted to dabble in writing? Now is the time to try it! Parents of my students are welcome to write along with us. I’ve only had one parent commit to this in three years. Yes, it’s a huge commitment, but the exhiliration of finishing will carry you into the new year!

For more info on students, go to: ywp.nanowrimo.org

For adults: nanowrimo.org

About Writing

Interview on NaNoWriMo Blog

October always means it’s time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Since my NaNoWriMo novel was published last summer, the Office of Letters and Light (a.k.a. the people in charge of NaNoWriMo) interviewed me for their blog. Here is the link to the interview, which includes tips for getting ready to write novels this November as well as the story of my own novelling experience.

THE OFFICE OF LETTERS AND LIGHT BLOG

In hardback: Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan