Outlining a New Story

To see if I could do it and have students feel they’ve learned something about writing their own stories, I’m leading a class at the Pamlico Community College in their “Cultural Enrichment Program.” At the first session, I asked my students to tell me what they wanted out of the class. Several of them wanted to learn how to structure a story.

So, even though I’m a “seat of the pants” style of writer, I set about doing an outline for them. Actually, I’ve done two different outlines. This is the second one. Please let me know what you think.

Plotting Structure outline:

First off you need to have at least have an idea in your head of what you’re writing about.  A memoir? A short story? A poem? History? A scientific treatise? A blog? A play?

The structure of your story is the same whether you’re writing a scene or a book. So, I’m using a scene as a more succinct example of making an outline.

  1. Purpose of the Scene: First scene should set up who the main character is and what’s happening.

A: Physical description:

  1. Age
  2. Sex
  3. Location (In the kitchen? In a car? In the woods? On a boat?)
  4. Is the person alone?

B: Action:

1.Waking up? (Why?)

2. Cooking? (What? And Why?)

3.Driving? (Where? And Why?)

4.Walking? (Where? And Why?)

  • Character’s thoughts. (Anxious? Calm? Frightened? Angry?)

C: Reason for the scene:

1.Going to work?

 2.Meeting someone for dinner?

 3.Grieving?

4.Getting married?

5. About to murder someone?

  1. Arc of scene: Every scene should have a beginning, middle and end.

A: Beginning:

1. Does the alarm go off?

a. Does this awaken the character?

b. Or was he already awake? (Why?)

2.What’s her reaction?

  1. Does she pop out of bed? (Why?)
  2. Does she groan? (Why?)

B: Middle:

1. Character takes a shower:

a.She shampoos her hair, but as she starts to rinse it, the water goes cold or quits running

  • How does she deal with this?
  • She’s finally out of her bathroom.

C:  End:

1.Dressed and fed, she leaves her abode

a.What’s she thinking about?

b. Does she stride out the door with bold, confident steps?

b. Does she pause and listen?

2. What happens when she heads toward where she’s going?

                      a.  Car won’t start?

b. Or the bus is late?

c. Or the heel breaks off her

                          shoe?

d. The bad guy shoots at her?

  b. (Here you leave your reader hanging and solve the    

                          problem in the next scene. Or keep building toward the story climax.)

If this is the end of your book, of course you do complete the scene. The main character rides off into the sunset on his favorite horse.

In the next scene, conclude the immediate problem—She jump-starts her car, calls a cab, etc.—then give your reader time to breathe and cogitate on what’s going, however make sure your scene ends on a compelling note, with a hook at the end.

What I Learned

The first thing I learned is the usefulness of going to conferences even if you think you know it all. Guess what? There’s always more to learn.

Besides, there’s no way I thought I knew it all before I went to this year’s SCBWI-Carolinas conference. (For those of you who don’t know what SCBWI stands for: Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.)

I always go to the Friday morning Intensive where the speaker spends four hours delving into a subject. Vickie Selvaggio gave us an in depth look at books from the past and present that have been successful. Which reminded me to look to the future, but remember the past.

Highlights for me were visiting with long standing friends and meeting new people. It was sad to bid Teresa Fannin farewell as our stalwart leader, but she has trained a good replacement group of Donna Earnhardt (a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa), Kelly? who hit the ground running and Elizabeth Rawls. Nary a hitch in the proceedings was noticed.

I attended a delightful presentation on what is one’s voice and how do we know when we’ve found it. Not to worry, it’s been there all along. Sadly, this turned out to be Robyn Campbell’s last speech on this earthly coil. She died on Sunday. But I’m quite sure she’s regaling the Heavenly Hosts with her humor and her unique voice.

Of course, the annual “First Pages” session was delightful and inspiring. I think it’s safe to say that the rhyming picture book about things would or would not eat was the hands down favorite. The final pairing of the part that Alan Gratz read was a rhyme of moon pie with cow pie.

And speaking of Alan, his closing keynote speech had everyone in stitches as he talked about who he is and was. Athletic prowess was not prominent in his list of attributes.

No matter what type of writing you do, be sure to go to at least one conference that covers the genre. If nothing else, you’ll come away with new friends and an energized look at what you want to write.

Writing Speeches

My thoughts on speech writing are that one should be concise, but informative. However, there’s no reason not to have a humorous tone even if the speech is of a serious nature. I’m not talking slapstick or nonsensical humor, but I’m of the opinion that your audience is going leave you, if not physically at least mentally, if you drone on.

For instance, a group of us are presenting a forum on our globally changing climate. We have, we hope, people coming who might not agree that our climate is changing or who believe God takes care of the climate. This, I think, makes gentle humor in my introductions even more appealing.

The first speaker’s talk is about how to deal with atmospheric changes, such as more ferocious hurricanes and more variances in rainfall amounts from year to year. For him, I’m going to say: You might say he’s seen the clouds from both sides now. (For you youngsters out there, that’s a reference to a folk/pop song written by Joni Mitchell, but made famous by Judy Collins.)

The second speaker is an expert on rivers and we have a delightful picture of him sitting in a row boat holding a container of greenish-brown river water. He’s grinning as if he’d just got a fish for dinner or pulled up Black Beard’s treasure. But his tag line on his emails is a quote from Mark Twain. For him I plan to say: So, what better job than surveying rivers and teaching other people about them. Plus, he quotes Mark Twain.

            The third speaker is a retired Marine colonel who is telling us about how the military has to deal with climate changes. For him I’m saying: How can you not like a guy whose nickname is Otter?

The final speaker is a wildlife specialist who is telling us about the changes in animals and their migratory patterns in eastern North Carolina. His introduction include my statement: He gets great joy from showing the people what lives around here.

I could have just recited their technical bios, but don’t you think people are going to be more receptive to what’s being said if they have more warm and fuzzy feelings about the speakers?

I’m writing this now after the fact, and am thrilled to say that the forum was an overwhelming success largely due to our four dynamite speakers, but also because of the way we set it up. And, she says with not a smidgen of humility, because I added humor into my introductions and because my co-leader started us off with a song.

Thanks for reading. Hope to hear from you. Next week I’ll get back fiction writing or reviews. Sarah

What a Way to Teach Young Ones to Read!

Interested in writing for beginning readers? This series strikes me as a good model. Especially if you can include very appealing photos. The ones in this series are stock, a.k.a. uncopyrighted, photos. Who knew there were photos out there of a bald duck growing in its adult feathers? I didn’t. The series is about baby animals and is entitled Animal Babies. Well, what else would you call it? The series focuses on several different types of animals, from mammals to birds. The pictures of the bald eagle are especially interesting. The series lends itself to a teacher adding on concepts such as what is a mammal. So pick up the whole series for your classroom.

Animals Babies: Bunnies

Kelsey Jopp

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby rabbits, bunnies, and has a picture of newly born rabbits with its eyes closed and pink skin. There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as eye and ear and nest and mother and fur and tail and grass are pointed out by an arrow in the text and, a photo in the glossary. Different colors of rabbits are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all bunnies are the same.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95/ school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-747-5

Animal Babies Chicks

Kelsey Jopp

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby chickens, a.k.a. chicks, and has pictures of newly hatched chicks, all fluffy and cute. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as feathers and legs and feed and beaks and coop,are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Even when they’ve left their mothers, chicken live in groups. Most of the chicks shown looked to be your basic backyard, chicken-coop residents, but some of the more colorful breeds are included.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions,

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 9781641859516

ISBN: 9781641858823

ISBN: 9781641858137

Animals Babies: Ducklings

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby ducks, a.k.a. ducklings, and has pictures of newly hatched ducklings. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as feathers and wings and nest and grass and seeds, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. The photo of the duckling growing its adult feathers is gross, but fascinating. Talk about an ugly duckling.  Even when they’ve left their mothers, ducks live in groups.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-745-1

Animals Babies: Eaglets

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby eagles, a.k.a. eaglets, and has pictures of just hatched eaglets with fluffy white feathers. The picture of the mother catching a fish is stunning. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as feathers and mother and nest and wings,are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Different colors of eaglets are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all eagles are the same. When they leave their mothers, eagles live alone. The series focuses on several different types of animals, from mammals to birds.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-7436-8

Animals Babies: Foals

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby horses, foals, and has a picture of new born foal with its eyes closed. Did you know a foal’s eyes are closed at birth? There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn, such as eye and leg and hooves and body and grass are pointed out by an arrow in the text and, a photo in the glossary. Different breeds and colors of horses are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all horses are the same. The mare and foal shown at the beginning have the distinctive dish face of an Arab.

BIBLIO: 2020, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95/ school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-747-5

Animals Babies: Kittens

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby cats, a.k.a. kittens, and has pictures of new born kittens whose eyes and ears are closed. The picture of a mother cat washing her sleeping kitten is sweet. As the kitten grows, its eyes and ears open and it grows teeth. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as tooth and mother and eye and ear and tail and leg, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. The photo of a kitten chasing a butterfly will endear the reader to cats.  When they leave their mothers, kittens generally adopt a human. Though the book indicates that all cats live with humans, but that’s not always the case.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-748-2

Animals Babies: Piglets

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about baby pigs, a.k.a. piglets, and has pictures of new born pigs whose eyes are closed and are born in a bunch. The picture of them nursing blissfully with their eyes shut is delightful. The vocabulary word the reader is to learn, such as eye and nose and mother and leaves and roots, are pointed out by arrows in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Different colors of piglets are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all pigs are the same. Even when they’ve left their mothers, pigs live in groups.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 library & school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-743-7

And finally, but not least:

Animals Babies: Puppies

Meg Gaertner

This book, as the title indicates, is about puppies and has pictures of new born puppies whose eyes and ears aren’t open. Did you know puppies’ ears are closed at birth? There is something to learn every day no matter how old you are. The vocabulary words the reader is to learn such as ear and eye and tail and teeth and food are pointed out by an arrow in the text and with a photo in the glossary. Though the mother with her fluffy, blond pups is a golden retriever, different breeds and colors of dogs are shown, giving the new reader an understanding that not all dogs are the same.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus Readers/North Star Editions, Ages 5 to 6, $24.20 list/$16.95 school.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Beginning Reader

ISBN: 978-1-64185-750-5

Now don’t you want to read with young children and cuddle each of the babies in these books? No? Where’s the farmer in you?

What’s Changed in Publishing over the Years

Like most writers, I’ve been a reader all my life. Some of my earliest memories are my mother reading to us. I even have taste and things connected in my mind. When I was two years old or so, Mother read a picture book about Siamese cats and she gave each of us a translucent sky-blue mint candy to suck on. To this day, seventy-six years later, if I see a Siamese cat—especially a seal point—I can taste the sharp mint flavor of the candy. And I have one of those mints, I visualize the cat. But some of the stories I loved as a child haven’t fared as well. I recently read a Five Little Peppers story and was not at all impressed. The writing was stilted and the characters not anywhere near as endearing as I remember.

Last Sunday, my handsome devil and I went, as we usually do, to the semi-annual New Bern Friends of the Library book sale. We go on Sunday so we can load up on a paper grocery bag full of books for $5! What a deal. True to my lifelong love of horse stories, I picked up one entitled, Fury and the Mustangs, by Albert G. Miller. It is part of series about Joey Newton, an adopted boy, who lives and works on a western horse ranch and has tamed a beautiful black Mustang stallion that won’t let anybody else ride him. The story has all the elements of suspense and intrigue that a modern novel has, but it is written in a bland style. The thing that bothered me the most though, was the lack accuracy that most modern publishers would not allow. Especially the lack of attention to knowledge of horses and other animals. Part of this is because I tend to like accuracy, so I’m more inclined to notice incorrect details such as how a rider encourages a horse to change speed. One doesn’t “slap the reins,” one taps his heels against the horse’s barrel. But more serious errors were having this young boy, who would seem to be around fourteen or fifteen years old judging by the amount of strenuous work he is expected to do, throw temper tantrums and run away from home when he gets upset. Still and all, the book did keep me engaged for the most part. And I’ll forgive a lot if animals are involved. Plus, the illustrations were nicely done drawings by Sam Savittt. The story may originally have been made for television.

BIBLIO: 1960, Grosset & Dunlap/Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., Ages 8 to 13, Price unknown

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade

No ISBN

Keeping My Aging Brain Busy

The Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (http://www.clcd.com) has a new way of getting books to reviewers. They send out a list of books from which to choose and the reviewer gets to pick books of interest. As you can see from my selection, I like to see what’s going in all KidLit categories. Makes it more interesting, I think, especially since I write for all ages.

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The first book for today is very intriguing and comes with its own set of special viewing films. But have a youngster with when you read it, because your adult eyes may not see as sharply as young eyes.

Illuminightmare

Lucy Brownridge

Illustrated/Designed by Carnovsky

Part of a 3-D series complete with special lenses; this book focuses on seeing different aspects of images. Since this book deals with spooky images, the reader must look through the various lenses to see the figures clearly. Red is to see the historical aspect of the picture. Green is to see the surroundings of the area depicted. And Blue is to see the spooky, ghostly areas. Children reading this with an elderly person might have to explain what is shown under the blue lens. Grandparent age people might not see what’s seen through that lens. Either that or the ghostly world is hiding. However, the book is fun to look at and the red and green lenses do make the images much sharper. The first and second two-page spreads are about the Thrse shipwreck, which was wrecked in 1669. Following those spreads are black and white drawings of what the “Earthly,” or red lens, depicts and what the “Supernatural,” or blue lens depicts. The second set of spreads are about the Black Forest in Germany. Even people who can’t see all that’s there will enjoy looking at the pictures and finding what they can.

BILIO: 2019, Wide-Eyed/Quarto, Ages 7+, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-78603-547-9

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This is a fascinating tale of what humans can do if they don’t think through their plans.

The Casket of Time

Andri Snaer Magnason

Translated by Bjorg Arnadotter and Andrew Cauthery

Sigrun’s parents buy into the line that they should wait for better times in their time-stopping caskets and re-emerge when life is better and the world is a safe place. Well…that doesn’t always work out the way it’s supposed to. Sigrun’s casket opens ahead of time and she discovers that, though the world may be better for plants and animals, it’s most decidedly not better for humans. As she wandering around trying to figure out what to do, she meets a boy, Marcus, who takes her to an old woman who tells them and other children a long-winded fairy tale. The main character in the tale is named Obsidiana, the daughter of a king who wants his daughter to have a charmed life where she knows only good times. Problem is, the world changes without the “Eternal Princess” realizing it. Her father, King Dimon, is always off trying to conquer the world, but she doesn’t know this in her casket. Though a bit long winded, the story is a parable on why we should take better care of our planet and be more compassionate toward each other, including the plants and other creatures that share our space. The reader jumps back and forth from present time to olden times, which can be disconcerting, but who doesn’t like a good tale. Told mostly in true folk/fairy tale fashion, the book could be used as a starting point toward a discussion of being good minders of our world.

BIBLIO: 2019 (orig. 2013), Yonder/Restless Books, Ages 10 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781632062055

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Sometimes it seems as if new spins on old tales work too hard to be different, but this version of the 3 little pigs is cute.

The Three Little Superpigs: Once upon a Time

Claire Evans

Illustrated by Claire Evans

We all know the basic story of the Three Little Pigs, right? How they had to deal with the mean old wolf who wanted them for a snack. This version adds the idea of the pigs wanting to be superheroes. When Mother Pig has had enough of their mess and sends them out on their own, they end up in Fairyland where they meet none other than Little Red Riding Hood. She warns them of the mean old wolf who steals Mary’s lamb, and sheep’s and various grandmothers’ clothing. Each of the pigs builds his own little house and, as we all know, two of the pigs don’t think it out well, plus they just want to play. So, they make easily destroyed houses of straw and wood. Of course, the prudent pig builds his house out of bricks and ends up saving everyone’s bacon. We all know how the story ends, in this case with the Fairyland people all proclaiming the pigs to be Superpigs. The drawings are cute and the story is as endearing as ever.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-24548-6

Hope all is well with you. Let me know what you think about my selections. Thanks, Sarah

Consequences of War

As some of you may know from my posts on Facebook and elsewhere, my father survived the 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines during WWII. The Japanese then interred him in a POW camp until 1944, so two years, more or less. Ironically his father had sent him to a Japanese school in Hawaii when he was five years old (1915,) in the hopes that having Americans better understand Japanese culture, we would not end up in a war with Japan. Came in handy when Daddy was a prisoner. His camp was the best run one in the Philippines. But that didn’t stop the Japanese from putting Daddy on an unmarked POW ship going to Japan. The ship did not make it out of Subic Bay, so my father ended up drowning as he tried to save another person on the ship. Anyway, back then nobody had the equipment to dive deep enough to recover the bodies. I was three when he died and have spent my whole life wondering if he did indeed die, or miraculously survived and end up spending his life in the South Pacific, not remembering who he really was. That’s the hope all children who have lost family members and had no closure, I’m sure. The bottom line is now researchers hired by the DOD are “repatriating” the bones from service members lost during the WWII, Korea and Vietnam wars. I was contacted because I was the sole descendant the genealogist could find. The problem is, being female, I don’t have the particular DNA strand to make a match. I put the researcher in touch with my two brothers’ sons and with my 83-year-old brother who lives in Florence, Italy. Now maybe we can get some answers. The contact person from the Army says Daddy would be eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, but I’m not fond of military funerals, having been to too many of them. I hate Taps.  

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I just reviewed a book written about Cmdr. Jeremiah Denton, who was in the Hanoi Hilton for eight years with little way to contact his family. (If you don’t know what the Hanoi Hilton was, be sure to research it. Senator John McCain was also there.)

And here is a hug to all who are suffering from what I’ve gone through all my life.

If you don’t read this book, look for Alan Gratz’ books on prisoners of war.

Captured

Alvin Townley

This biography of US Navy Aviator Commander Jeremiah Denton’s internment by the North Vietnamese from July 1965 to 1973 is horrifying. How one human being can perpetrate such savagery on another is beyond comprehension. But it has happened for as long as humans have interacted with each other. Mr. Townley tells this tale with gripping attention to detail and makes the reader admire with great fervor what Commander Denton and his fellow inmates endured. Senator John McCain was also in his group. The reader learns of the torture both physical and mental these men suffered, but through it all the prisoners’ tenacity as encouraged by Jerry Denton to adhere to the Naval Code of Conduct is admirable. He promoted communication amongst the prisoners by encouraging use of a Morse Code series of taps. He withstood more torture than one would think possible. And though he occasionally broke because of treatment, he never gave out important information and sent out coded messages with twitches or blinks of his eyes. Though the language is bit stilted, it’s hard to think how to write the story without using a “just the facts” style of writing. The reader will leave this tale of courage with a further understanding of how evil war is. Any child reading this should have someone to talk to about it.

BIBLIO: 2019, Focus/ Scholastic Inc., Ages 16 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9781338255669

Next week, I’ll about something funny, I promise.