The other day while reading Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo, I hit a passage that from a craft of writing perspective was so good—so well written—it stopped me cold. I marveled at the technique, and knew in an instant I’d have to blog about it. So here we go. See what you notice in this excerpt from pages 5-6. We’re in the point of view of a young girl named Raymie who’s in a baton-twirling class with a teacher named Ida Nee. Standing next to Raymie is a girl who says…
“My name is Beverly Tapinski and my father is a cop, so I don’t think that you should mess with me.”
Raymie, for one, had no intention of messing with her.
“I’ve seen a lot of people faint,” said Beverly now. “That’s what happens when you’re the daughter of a cop. You see everything. You see it all.”
“Shut up, Tapinski,” said Ida Nee.
The sun was very high in the sky.
It hadn’t moved.
It seemed like someone had stuck it up there and then walked away and left it.
Oh, my gosh. Stop. Isn’t that great? (Or do you think I’m crazy?) Notice what DiCamillo does. Or what she does not do. She does not follow Ida Nee’s rebuke with Raymie’s opinion about Ida Nee. She does not tell us Raymie’s feelings. Instead, she describes what Raymie looks at.
As a reader, what do you feel?
How do you think Raymie feels?
The brilliance of this passage is the way DiCamillo trusts the reader to get it. Read More
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Tagged Carson-Newman University, craft, emotional truth, fiction, Kate DiCamillo, manuscript, MFA, objective correlative, process, Raymie Nightengale, revision, show don't tell, T. S. Eliot, Tim Wynne-Jones, VCFA, Vermont College of Fine Arts, writing
In a July 2016 article in Toronto’s Metro News, writer Richard Crouse recounts a joke told by world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a new documentary called The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble:
A little boy says to his father, “When I grow up I want to be a musician.”
“Sorry son,” the father replies, “you can’t do both.”
Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty mentor Jane Kurtz retold this joke during her January 2017 lecture, and lucky for me, I was on campus to hear it! For eleven days I worked as a Graduate Assistant, attending the lectures in exchange for helping make the residency run smoothly. I had a blast. Now back home, I’m digging deeply into characters’ emotions and trying to tap into more of my childhood experiences—into both a sense of wonder as well as uncertainty and disappointment. Growing up wasn’t easy. Would you want to have to grow up again? I wouldn’t. Read More
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Tagged childhood, craft, emotional truth, fiction, Jane Kurtz, Martha Brockenbrough, MFA, process, scenes, story, The Music of Strangers, VCFA, wonder, writing, Yo Yo Ma
In this post by author Kathy Steffen, she talks about “giving your characters accountability.” I thought that was an odd phrase, and my first reaction was, whaaat? What does she mean?
As I read through her post, I got it. For me, the click came when I phrased her words differently. I’d say it like this: make your protagonist accountable to someone or accountable for something.
Accountability engenders sympathy. Steffen is saying that if you want to ensure that your readers will care about your protagonist—will sympathize with her and commit to turning hundreds of pages to find out how she fares—one way to do it is to craft scenes depicting her as accountable. Make other characters depend on her. Connect the protagonist’s actions to the welfare of others. Read More
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Tagged accountability, character, craft, fiction, kathi appelt, Kathy Steffen, manuscript, process, protagonist, revision, scenes, story, structure, VCFA, writing
One day when I was about eight years old and a friend’s mom was driving the carpool, she drove off without me. Her name was Mrs. Collevecchio.
I was at the swim club a few miles from home, and I remember seeing her station wagon pull into the lot. Within a few seconds, her car was beside our little crowd, and our group had piled in, and she was heading back out, and for some reason—had I forgotten my towel and run back for it?—I don’t remember, but I didn’t climb into the car, and Mrs. Collevecchio didn’t notice my absence.
To this day, I can see the back of that station wagon rolling away, see the dust in its wake, the matted grass and weedy gravel of the lot. With the memory comes a tight feeling in my gut. I wanted to yell, Wait!, but the thought of yelling brought shame, so I didn’t. There were other parents picking up and dropping off kids, and there was a teenager at the gate checking people in, and I couldn’t stand the thought of them or anyone staring at me.
I might have waved. Maybe I jumped up and down, maybe once. Then I froze. Mrs. Collevecchio had left me behind. Read More