Thursday, April 17, 2014

Looking in on RCW

By Hazel Buys 
It goes without saying, the words you choose, their power, subtlety, variety and nuance will elevate your writing or drop-kick it into ho-hum, or worse. At our recent critique meeting, the members of the RCW were reminded that sometimes we don’t consider seriously enough each and every word we write. And that can make a big difference to the success of our writing.

Case in point: the author of one submission asked if the time period suggested was clear (it was not set in the here and now). Each of us suggested a time frame for the story based on clues in the narrative. We all got it exactly right.

What was that magic? Carefully placed clues and descriptive words pointed directly to the time frame the author meant to convey.
Similarly, making precise word choices plays an important role in making a story’s setting, environment and social milieu clear. For example, can the reader tell if a story is set in the deep south, the northeast or in a village bordering Mexico just from the vocabulary used? That should be a ‘yes.’
The group also revisited the importance of hooking the reader right away, especially the young adult reader. We discussed the ingredients of a successful hook. What grabs a reader from the first word?
Those of us who write picture books talked about how to make abstract concepts concrete. This is especially important when writing for the very young. If a character is loyal, how does the author show this quality without saying so?
What are your thoughts? What comments would you have made?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review

by Hazel Buys

Text and Illustrations by Viviane Schwarz

In this graphic novel, a child calls a champion to vanquish monsters under the bed and dreams so bad sleep won’t come, by putting a letter under her pillow. A dog and two sheep arrive who spirit the dreamer away to a safe house where a third sheep waits. The sheep and dog give the dreamer a strategy to use the next time the nightmare comes, giving her control of the dream. The sheep, however, are ready to retire so they create three apprentices whom they train to take their places. The apprentices must learn to work together to conquer their own fears before they can take on the work of the sleepwalkers. The comic book format uses a loosely drawn and subtly colored illustration style to seamlessly blend images and words. The narrative operates successfully on several levels as the sleepwalkers demonstrate how to conquer fears in dreams and in life. Visual references to the power of writing as a coping mechanism (one of the apprentices is a pen nib on a bird body), the affirmation of putting on a brave front (the bear apprentice creates a mask that helps him feel powerful) along with the strategy of turning a monster into an object of ridicule, create a faceted approach to conquering bad dreams and monsters that children will relate to. The hint at the end of the book that the sleepwalkers are as old as human history is a deft, delightful finish to the story. (Candlewick Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-7636-6230-1).