instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

BACKSTORY

Photo by Alexander Kliem from Pixabay
 
Backstory is like a pinata. You have to bust it up to get sweet storytelling techniques.    

by Christine Kohler

 

I started reading a novel by a big-name best-selling mystery writer in the adult market when backstory confused the heck out of me in Chapter 2. I plodded through to Chapter 4 when, voila, that same backstory, only expanded, popped up again. This time it made sense in context. In my humble opinion, it never should have been inserted as early as Chapter 2. [I put the book down early in Chapter 5 because of poor writing and frequent tense and first-third person changes in single point of view passages.]

 

When I taught writing for a decade, one of the biggest problems novice novelists had was knowing when to insert the backstory. It's understandable because often we don't start "at the beginning" of a character's story. Often we begin the contained story in a book—the one that fits a story arc, and will hook the reader, then take off running pell mell—media res at the point of impact. Or, in laymen's terms, at the point where the apple cart is overturned. So, we have all this backstory that we feel the reader must know to understand our character and fully appreciate how the character got into this situation, and why the characters respond the way they do. (If you are tempted to add a prologue for this reason, don't. See my article on the purpose for prologues in children's literature.)

 

However, if you front-load your tale with backstory, then you are as guilty of slowing down the forward moving plot as if you had started the story in the wrong place. Either way, you lose their attention.

 

In first drafts, get the story down. Don't worry about what is backstory and what is forward-moving story at that point. Don't even get married to where your story begins. It's common to write a first draft, then in revision to realize the story really begins on Page 5 or Chapter 2 or backed up even further to show what is called the "Ordinary World" in a hero's journey.

 

In revision, get out your colored markers. One color for "Telling" and one color for "Showing" (action). One color for "Confused" and one color for "Backstory." (I capitalized the words here to show I use T, S, C, B as my shorthand codes.) In the confused places, often caught by a trusted critique partner, you may need a dollop of backstory. Just a dollop though early on. Maybe only a sentence or two.

 

In the places you've marked as backstory, take another colored marker and highlight how much of that backstory in the early chapters can be moved later and still have the context understood. How much can be deleted all together and not lose meaning or add confusion to the present story (what the readers already knows or needs to know)?

 

Some genres require backstory earlier, such as historical in children's literature. Ingrain in your brain this fact, all children today were born in the 21st century. Their Common Core experience is limited to only things that happened after the year 2001, at the earliest. Consider anything written in the 20th cenury as history to readers age 18 and younger. That's why you often need to fill in readers ignorant of the background in historical fiction and nonfiction. Consider, too, that this would also be the case if using in the story any pop culture such as music, dance, art before the 21st century.   

 

This same situation holds true in children's lit if you are writing about a sport, such as parkour, that is unfamiliar to readers.  

 

Other cases where backstory might need front-loaded is in mysteries where the premise and stakes need set.

 

Yes, we need to bust the backstory into smaller bites in the beginning. Or delay it. Or eliminate as much as possible so not to slow the forward moving action and bore readers. But, unfortunately, we can't cut all backstory, or make a hard-fast rule to dump it in, say, Chapter 5, if the reader gets lost early on without it.  

 

As always, I welcome comments regarding this difficult writing skill.

Be the first to comment

BLOG TOUR FEATURES NO SURRENDER SOLDIER SETTING

My daughter stands by the historic Chocolate House near where the Spanish Palace was bombed during WWII. (photo by Christine Kohler, available through iStock/Getty Images)  

Author Jenny Carlisle is featuring NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Simon & Schuster) on her new blog book tour. Only she's covering the novel from a different slant. Instead of interviewing me on process, Ms. Carlisle discusses the setting, including photos of Guam.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

 

I got a surprise call last week from an old journalist-friend, John Archibald. John and I worked as reporters at the Pacific Daily News, a Gannett paper, covering the West Pacific. Presently, Mr. Archibald is owner-publisher of Ouachita Life in Arkansas. John called me because Jenny Carlisle was at his house, interviewing him about the island of Guam. (Ms. Carlisle's book TURN, TURN, TURN: THE VIEW FROM A BABY BOOMER'S FRONT PORCH is published by Ouachita Life.) So, when you read Jenny Carlisle's article about NO SURRENDER SOLDIER on her blog tour, the setting info and photos are from her publisher, and my old friend, John Archibald.

 

Ms. Carlisle is right in doing a blog about Guam, the setting of my historical novel. Readers say it transports them to the lush tropical island, and to the time period of 1972 in an Old World Catholic society. Many military veterans who have read NO SURRENDER SOLDIER tell me that reading my book took them back to the Guam they knew.

 

GUAM SETTING

 

My family and I loved Guam. My children attended middle and high school there. I could tell you so many wonderful stories. But I already have in my novel. When I wrote about the tourist shop at Tumon by the beach and ocean. When I wrote about the Talafofo boonies (jungle) with banyan and tangantangan trees, the river, waterfalls, and caves where Tatan gathered fruit bats to eat. When I wrote about fiestas, and Catholic celebrations, and school, and Guam Memorial Hospital, I took you to many places on the island and introduced you to strong loving families who live there.  (Reviewers also said they salivated over the food in the book. One Romance author even asked for two recipes for a Romance authors' cookbook.)  So, I hope you'll hop on over to Jenny Carlisle's blog and check out her book tour featuring the setting in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER.

 

While there, comment and win a chance for a free signed hardback copy of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER.   

Jenny Carlisle Blog Book Tour

 

Si yu'us ma'ase!

Be the first to comment

ABC Radio Interview on Shoichi Yokoi, the Real NO SURRENDER SOLDIER

ABC Radio Sydney, Australia, host Sarah Macdonald interviewed (me) Christine Kohler, author of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Simon Pulse/ Merit Press), about Shoichi Yokoi, the WWII Japanese soldier who hid on Guam for 28 years.

 

Yokoi is the model for Isamu Seto, the old soldier in my novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER.  

 

Click the link under Yokoi's photo to hear the 30-minute interview.

Be the first to comment

NARRATIVE NONFICTION

Research peripheral topics of your subject matter to add details in writing narrative nonfiction.

by Christine Kohler

In journalism school at the University of Hawaii we learned about Thomas Wolfe and his concept of “New Journalism.” Wolf believed that engaging nonfiction should contain elements of a novel, such as eyewitness and primary source accounts, real people as characters, dialogue, and descriptive details. Today we would call this narrative nonfiction.

Some people use the term creative nonfiction. However, as I discussed in my last blog article about misclassification, creative nonfiction should not be confused with fiction. Considered the godfather of creative nonfiction, author Lee Gutkind said, “Creative doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear — and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader — the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: ’You can’t make this stuff up!’”

There are even some who believe that creative nonfiction is a separate genre. I do not. There are other quirky and erroneous beliefs about creative nonfiction. Because of the confusion in terms and misclassification (see my article “Classify Your Book Correctly”), I prefer to use the term narrative nonfiction instead of creative nonfiction or new journalism.

Narrative nonfiction tells the story in the sense that it may set a scene, or develop a character with details, and add lively quotes. But these all come from primary and secondary sources in research. They do not come from the writer’s imagination. Author Darcy Pattison said, “Nonfiction writers use scenes, sensory details, and work for a traditional story arc with a problem that is resolved in a climax.” An excellent example of a nonfiction picture book with a full story arc is THEY’RE OFF! THE STORY OF PONY EXPRESS (Simon & Schuster) by Cheryl Harness.

Author Ginger Wadsworth said, at the SCBWI 2014 conference in LA, that narrative nonfiction requires four elements:
1. documentable subject matter as opposed to invented in the writer’s mind;

2. exhaustive research, with verifiable sources, to provide unique perspectives on the subject;

3. creating the scene to give the reader context around events and people;

4. a story arc using fine, literary prose.

It comes to what I harp on all the time. Writers must do deep research. In research you can search facts outside of the main topic to add setting and character and plot details to your nonfiction topic to make it narrative.

For example, in writing a Civil War story I traveled to Vicksburg and read 1865 newspapers at the courthouse research library. (Get prior written permission before embarking on these research trips.) The national weather bureau suspended service during the war between the states, so instead I read harbor reports. Civil War museums also displayed period dress and uniforms. My husband called a realtor and we were able to visit the Balfour House. Downtown I found a pharmacy with historic objects on display. The drugstore had been in operation in Vicksburg for so long that the owner’s father, a retired pharmacist, talked to me about folk medicine during the 1800s.

These are just some ways in which researching the time period can give you detailed factual information to breathe life into facts to make nonfiction narrative engaging and entertaining.

***********************************

On a personal note, I want to close out this year by thanking all of you who faithfully follow my READ LIKE A WRITER blog. Since I’ve been writing blog articles for six and a half years now, is there any topic I have not written about that you would like for me to cover? (Once I got a request to write about what changed in this business in the 35+ years since I began publishing, and I wrote an article about that.)

Wishing you all happy holidays, and a hopeful writing journey for 2019.  Read More 

2 Comments
Post a comment

CLASSIFY YOUR BOOK CORRECTLY

by Christine Kohler

I was preparing a presentation for an international SCBWI conference in LA in 2014 on “Real World Facts: The Foundation for Narrative Nonfiction, Historical Fiction, and Fiction” when I became aware of the problem of mis-classification. Classification between nonfiction and fiction should be a concern of not just librarians.

When I taught writing for ICL for nearly a decade I used to be generous, calling a hybrid of nonfiction being forced into a story arc “fictionalized nonfiction.” However, I became alarmed when this classification confusion crept into professional children’s publishing under the guise of “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction.” It was especially troubling when authors made up dialogue and internal monologue and classified their works as nonfiction, under the guise of narrative nonfiction.

For an example of classification confusion, look at AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE (Scholastic) by Pam Munoz Ryan. Is this book nonfiction or historical fiction? Pam and her publisher Scholastic give a disclaimer in the front of this picture book, “Based on a true story.” In the author’s note, Pam admits that to make this a more compelling story she “fictionalized” it. Then she elaborates what is fact and what is fiction. I love Pam Munoz Ryan’s writing and admire her dedication to research, but in my opinion, AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE should be classified as fiction, not “a fictionalized true story.” Even if the author and publisher were trying to say this picture book is fiction based on facts, it gets hazy as to what classification it is in the way they danced around that the story is fiction.

THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills) by Alexis O’Neill is historical fiction written in first person. Alexis said she included back matter because readers will often accept historical fiction as fact and she wanted to help readers separate fact from fiction. Alexis said, “The more they are aware of the difference, the more they will keep their antenna up when they read other works of historical fiction. I hope they might begin to ask, ‘How could this be verified? Is there proof that this person really said or did that? Is the source of that information reliable?’”

When School Library Journal reviewed THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS, it placed the picture book in the nonfiction section. In an interview, Alexis called this misclassification embarrassing and said, “If a writer makes up even one teeny, tiny thing that can’t be verified-- a piece of dialogue, a neighbor’s name, an emotional reaction--the piece becomes fiction. Nonfiction means that everything is verifiable. But librarians struggle with this, especially if the book has biographical information in it. They want to place the book where readers are most likely to search for it.”

Compare these two picture books VOICES OF PEARL HARBOR (Pelican) by Sherry Garland and REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR (National Geo) by Thomas Allen. Why is Tom’s book classified nonfiction and Sherry’s fiction when both are in first person? Sherry used different invented characters to represent Every native Hawaiian, Every US citizen, and Every Japanese mother and wife. Tom begins in first person as the narrator of his own story and memories of that day as if in a memoir to create a framing to the factual information about the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. Notice that Tom put all dialogue in direct quotes in his book.

What are some no-nos in narrative nonfiction? Made-up quotes. People who never existed or interacted with the biography subject.

Even in FINDING MANANA: A MEMOIR OF A CUBAN EXODUS (Penquin), author Marta Ojito, a journalist, writes in her author’s note, “I won’t put dialogue that cannot be verified as exact.” This is not true for all memoirs. I admire Ojito for holding herself to a higher standard.

What does this mean for us as authors? I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards. We should figure out in the course of our writing whether a piece is fiction or nonfiction. Do not be wishy-washy in using terms such as fictionalized nonfiction or creative nonfiction. Pitch it according to the correct classification--nonfiction or fiction. Even in author notes, jacket flap copy, blurbs, and publicity, the author should make the classification clear, and if it’s not, correct it.

Once the book is released to the world, though, it is out of our hands. It’s like I wrote in my October 2018 blog post about how books take on a life of their own after publication. Once your baby grows up and leaves the nest, you no longer have control over it. If someone misclassifies it after being published, an author has to swallow it like a bad review. *Sing “Let it go. Let it go.”* Take solace in that you, the author, did the best you could to make the classification clear.

Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian and U,S. readers! Stay tuned, everyone, for my next blog article about creative and narrative nonfiction.  Read More 

1 Comments
Post a comment

STRATEGIES TO WRITING A NOVEL IN 6 WEEKS (OR LESS)

photo by voltamax

by Christine Kohler

Even though I’ve admitted to not joining in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO), this topic would help aspiring novelists to make their goal in November. I, personally, don’t like to drag out writing a first draft for a multitude of reasons. For me, it’s easier to revise words on a page than it is to get those initial ideas down on paper. For many writers, they never finish that first draft. It becomes the “novel in the drawer.” Imagine how many novels those type of writers could have completed and polished during the time they dragged out for a year (or more) writing the first draft.

OVERCOME FEAR

I bought ART & FEAR for my daughter, but started reading it myself. I don’t usually recommend books I haven’t finished, but this is one I’m really enjoying in unexpected ways. I don’t think of myself as being fearful to create art. However, being introspective, I do some things that show fear, causing me to procrastinate before writing sessions. For one, I circle like a cat before settling down.

Examine ways that you hold yourself back from plunging into writing sessions. Are you critical of your writing? Do you compare yourself with other authors? Do you self-edit to the point of hindering moving forward? Do you get stuck easily, then delay days before writing again? Once you’ve identified the fear that holds you back, then it’s easier to face, and break those negative cycles.

OUTLINE

I’ve confessed before that I’m a pantser, but mid-way through I reverse outline. However, if you are on a really tight deadline, outlining prior to writing the story will move you forward at a swifter and steadier pace. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline. Or a long outline. But just enough so when you begin each writing session that you know what comes next.

SCHEDULE YOUR WORK

Figure out how many words or pages you write on average per hour. Then figure about how many words or pages you expect your novel to be. Often a certain line for different publishers pre-determines length. Or if you’re doing NANOWRIMO, you have a word goal for one month. Then do the math. Once you figure how many words or pages you need to write per day, and how long that will take, write it on the calendar. If necessary, make set appointments with yourself based on your schedule between work and family. If this seems unrealistic, keep in mind that if you do get a coveted book contract with a publisher, you will be expected to work on a tight deadline. It’s the old adage, “You make time for what is important to you.”

ENDING WRITING SESSIONS

When you need to end a writing session, do so in the middle of a sentence. Or write the first paragraph of the next scene, or chapter. I write myself a note in brackets telling what comes next. Otherwise, if you end a session at the end of a scene or chapter, it’s harder to pick it up the next day and move forward. You may spend too much time circling the block, or from the kitchen to the bathroom to a chore, trying to figure out what comes next. Leave yourself fresh breadcrumbs in the forest of doubt.

RECURSIVE WRITING

I’ve written about recursive before in a blog article “Getting Unstuck.” Recursive writing is when you write one day, then the next day you go back and read and tweak what you wrote, then move forward. The trick is that you can’t start from the beginning after your second day of writing. Also, don’t get bogged down in heavy rewrites or you won’t be able to move forward.

GETTING UNSTUCK

Again, I recommend you read my article “Getting Unstuck.” [Articles on this Authors Guild website are easier to find by title on the Blogletter tab than they are on the Blog tab.]

Twice I’ve been in family-life situations where I could not write long hours and every day. Both times my first draft dragged out longer than usual. And in both instances, I had a harder time getting into the writing each session, and got stuck more often. What I did in both cases was this little trick. When I found myself taking excruciating long to move forward, I wrote what scene needed to happen next in brackets, then skipped writing that scene. When I told myself in writing what needed to happen next, I didn’t bother to do so in the tense or person or voice of the novel.

For example, I don’t drink or go to clubs. But I needed to write a scene where the protagonist is at drinking and dancing at a club, and discovers her stalker is present at the club with her. I must have been stuck for two weeks on not being able to write that scene. So, finally, I put what needed to happen in brackets, then moved to the next scene where my protagonist leaves the club, drives home, and is arrested for DUI. I had no problem writing that scene and rolling forward.

What happened in the cases where I skipped writing out scenes, but made notations to myself in brackets, was that in revisions I told myself, “Your only job today is to write this scene.” In some instances, it took me two days to write that scene. But when I did it was fully developed.

The main thing to keep in mind with all of these suggestions, from overcoming fear to getting unstuck, is that the first draft is like finger painting. Your job is to get the idea down on paper. It’s not a finished work of art. It’s only the line drawing, or the colors smeared around. Finger painting is messy. But have fun with it. Revision is where you flesh out the characters and scenes and strengthen the story arc and plot strands. It’s where your finger painting takes form and shape and because a recognizable picture. Tell yourself, “This is the first draft, it’s supposed to be messy.” Then just do it.  Read More 

Be the first to comment

WRITTEN WORKS TAKE ON A LIFE OF THEIR OWN

You never know. Your book might end up in an artistic book mobile, like this one at Storybook Cafe in Glen Rose, Texas.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings." -- Lewis Carroll, excerpt from “The Walrus and The Carpenter”

by Christine Kohler

What I am NOT going to talk about is kings, or presidents, or specifically President Donald Trump. I’d rather talk about cabbages and sealing wax and whether pigs fly than discuss politics publicly. So, if anyone posts a political comment, I’ll consider it off-topic and not approve. Sorry. My blog. My rules.

However, I am introducing this topic of how works take on a life of their own by using Steven Tyler, a musician with the rock band Aerosmith, as an example. When Tyler wrote “Dream On”—the chorus is an epic song for writers!—and Aerosmith released it in 1973, I doubt he had any idea who all would sing his song in the future. Miley Cyrus, Adam Levine, and Alicia Keys, to name just a few. He could not have foreseen that “Dream On” would sell Kia cars on 2018 Superbowl ads. Maybe he was surprised, flattered, when the cast of the tv show Glee sang it. (The royalties are nice, too.)

But in 2015, 43 years after “Dream On” was released, Steven Tyler had his lawyer send presidential candidate Donald Trump a cease-and-desist letter to stop using the song in a campaign rally. Now, Tyler has issued another legal letter to President Trump to stop using “Livin’ on the Edge” at rallies.

What I find interesting, according to an Associated Press article, is Tyler tweeted that it isn’t a political issue; he just does not let anyone use his songs without permission. This is the type of issue I used to enjoy debating in Media Law class at the University of Hawaii. A media law attorney could add to the discussion greatly by telling what case set precedence. Do we get total control of how our work is used? As writers, we do in that no one is allowed to use more than a percentage of the work without permission, and often financial compensation. This is how copyright law is supposed to protect us. However, I don’t know how this applies to music. This is a court case that would be interesting to follow, if Tyler pursues it.

Separate from the legal entanglements, the reason this news article caught my attention is because it shows how a work takes on a life of its own.

Several years ago, I typed my name into my daughter’s Google Scholar account. (Dr. Jennifer Sherman teaches at two universities.) I discovered that my first four children’s fiction books, published in 1985 by Concordia Publishing House, for ages 5-9 were mentioned in a book about working with at-risk children. I also found these books referenced in a scholarly journal. And in another article in a scholarly journal the writer had lifted a quote from an article I wrote while a political reporter. The writer used the quote to make a point very different than the topic of my article.

Children’s magazine writers often get requests to use their stories, nonfiction articles, and poems in testing materials, workbooks, and textbooks. The educational publishing companies pay nicely for these reprints.

When I wrote WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS I used examples from published novels and a humor book. In every case that the work was not in public domain, I got written permission from both the author (or heirs) and the publisher, or I wouldn’t use the selection. I’m sure when the writers wrote their books they never thought, “Gee, I hope someone uses this as an example of good writing craft in her writing book.”

Probably the most profitable spin-off a book can take is to have a tv show, or tv special, or movie made from the book.

Or, I’m sure you know of authors whose books were later produced on stage as plays.

If you are a writer, what are some ways in which your published work took on a life of its own?

We talk about birthing our work, and how books are our babies. And like our human children, it’s just possible as they age they will walk down a path we never imagined.  Read More 

Post a comment

WHEN I OFFERED MY WRITING BOOK FREE

Thanks to everyone who downloaded WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS on Amazon’s Kindle during the free week Aug. 7-11.

One author, Karen, contacted me and found mistakes in the copy. I apologize. I could give half-a-dozen excuses, but they would be just that—excuses. The buck stops with me, as Teddy Roosevelt said. I felt awful, as if I understood what it meant for the first time to be caught with egg on my face in public. The author was kind enough to mail me editing notes she made while going through my writing book. I made the corrections immediately. Anyone who downloaded WORDS ALIVE! at any time, please e-mail me at ckohler@christinekohlerbooks.com and I will send you a corrected Edition 2.

When I uploaded WORDS ALIVE! Edition 2 was to lower the cost from $7.99 down to $5.99. At the higher cost I made on average $5 a sale, and now I will probably only make about $2 a sale. The reason I did this free promotion was because after 10 years sales had slowed down. So, I decided to let Amazon try to generate more interest.

My goal was to get 50 reviews. I know that’s something out of my control and shouldn’t even be on a goal list. However—ta-da!—exactly 50 people downloaded WORDS ALIVE! during the free week.

In lending library, 184 people read WORDS ALIVE! However, the stats read zero income. A note showed that my book was possibly not enrolled in KDP. But if it isn't, then it shouldn't have been available in the lending library program. I only agreed (checked box) to the lending library because when I signed up for the free week & fluctuating prices, the fine print said I would get a percentage of the lending library fees. As a result, I am totally baffled and not sure how to go in and change anything in the agreement. It's for 90 days, and then I'm supposed to re-visit it. (Can you tell this is my one and only self-published book? The experience does not make me want to ever self-published, except writing books.)

My other goal was to improve my ranking on Amazon. Here’s the best stats it got to:
#5,000+ overall ranking
#13 education & reference
#22 religion & spirituality
#22 teacher resources

A side benefit I hadn’t anticipated was that viewers of my blog doubled the highest readership I’d ever had, a June 2018 article I wrote about “Confession Literature”.

So far I’ve gotten one new review. However, several people contacted me and said they plan to write one. I’m confident that from the 50 downloads, I will get more reviews. But possibly not enough to give WORDS ALIVE! more visibility in promotion. I’ve read where Amazon’s two benchmark numbers are 25 and 50 to give more weighted promotion.

Here is the wonderful review WORDS ALIVE! received from Chris in NM:

Prompts are short ideas or triggers that help a writer get started. But this book does so much more. Each prompt is related to a skill, from poetic concepts, to important writing skills such as character and plot development, to research and interviewing for nonfiction. There's a prompt for each week, which also encourages discipline and regular practice, very important writerly skills! This is a great book for beginners who want to get started but aren't sure how, or intermediate writers who want to expand their repertoire, or people who've taken a break from writing who want a way to get back to it.



Thanks to Chris and Karen and for everyone who has helped me with this project! I feel so blessed to be part of a supportive writing community! Please e-mail if you downloaded a copy of WORDS ALIVE! I would feel so much better knowing you have the up-dated Edition 2.
 Read More 

Be the first to comment

FREE CHRISTIAN WRITING E-BOOK WORDS ALIVE!

by Christine Kohler

WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS is free August 7 – 11, 2018, on Amazon’s Kindle. Please download, write a review, and spread the word.

This writing book is ideal for homeschool and Christian school supplemental curriculum. And ideal for adult writers specializing in biblical writing. (Biblical writing is any genre of inspirational writing that is based on the Bible.) It also builds discipline since there are 52 lessons, one for each week of the year.

Click on “Look Inside” and you can see how this curriculum is designed with lessons in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. In fiction, it teaches all the elements of a story. Each lesson gives a skill, prompt, topic and scripture, and example.

At my core, I am a teacher. My first degree is in secondary education with an English emphasis. (My second degree is in journalism with an English minor.) I have taught at three schools in South Florida and San Antonio, Texas. When I left my copy editor’s job at the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst daily, I taught writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) for nearly a decade. In anticipation of resigning from ICL in 2013, I started this blog, READ LIKE A WRITER, August 21, 2012, to have a platform to continue teaching.

As a former teacher, I wrote WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS to fill vacuums in Christian curriculum programs, and because a number of ICL students requested to write biblically-based materials. (I am published by Zondervan, Biblevision, Concordia, plus a multitude of different Christian publications in fiction, nonfiction, poetry in books, magazines, journals, devotionals, and Sunday School leaflets.)

Agents and publishers in both Christian and secular markets said they loved how WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS fulfilled a number of purposes—writing craft lessons, skill examples, and prompts. However, no surprise, it is geared toward small niche markets. At a Christian Writers Conference in Mt. Hermon, CA, agents urged me to self-publish my writing book. In February 2007, my girlfriend Marianne Dyson, science author extraordinaire, formatted WORDS ALIVE! for me and posted it on Kindle. (Marianne and I have known each other since high school!)

I love helping writers improve their craft and achieve their dreams of getting published. I’ve worked with many writers behind the scenes, guiding a number of writers toward getting contracts that launched their careers. If you follow me on twitter at @christinekohle1 you know that I promote other people’s book news through retweets. This is the first time in the 11 years that my writing book has been published that I have done a promotion.

I hope you will help me spread the word about WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS. My goal is to get 50 reviews and move this up in Amazon’s algorithms for writing books. Up until now I have been lax in promoting this book. By offering it free for this limited time period, it also gives me opportunity to give you a gift to thank you for following and supporting me. Thank you!  Read More 

Be the first to comment

CONFESSION LITERATURE IN YA NOVELS

St. Augustine was one of the earliest to write autobiographical confessions in a journal. This cover is by Penguin Books.

by Christine Kohler

I have a lot of confessions to make in writing this article about “Confession Literature in YA novels.”

CONFESSION ONE

I never use nor recommend using Wikipedia for a source. However, there are different definitions for Confession and Confessional Literature, and the Wikipedia entry works best for what I plan to open a discussion on in this article. The following is a condensed version of a fluid (as opposed to concrete) definition of Confession, or Confessional, literature, according to Wikipedia:

FLUID DEFINITION

In literature, confessional writing is a first-person style that is often presented as an ongoing diary or letters, distinguished by revelations of a person's deeper or darker motivations.
Originally, the term derived from confession. The writer is not only autobiographically recounting his life but confessing to his sins.

Fictionally, the confessional story is a story written, in the first person, about emotionally fraught and morally charged situations in which a fictional character is caught.
With the advent of the magazine True Story in 1919, the confessional (and later Romance) magazine was created, containing such stories. The formula has been characterized as "sin-suffer-repent": The heroine violates standards of behavior, suffers as a consequence, learns her lesson, and resolves to live in light of it, not embittered by her pain.

MY DISCOVERY, CRITERIA, & ADDITIONS

I found examples in YA lit where someone close to the first-person protagonist was caught instead. Also, in the adult market stories the confessor didn’t always repent. And in the YA novels the resolutions were to reveal the mystery of who the real culprit (sinner) was who committed the crime, usually murder or theft. The one thing all of these stories seemed to have in common besides the first-person confession, dark subjects, and deep emotional self-analysis, was a surprise twist at the end.

CONFESSION TWO

This year I have been reading novels in the adult market, mostly mysteries. Recently I read short stories in a collections of Edgar winners, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I noticed some of the stories were told in a confession style, but it was writer Samantha Allen whose story “Some Kind of Lonely” in EQMM that moved me the most. Allen’s essay about Confession Literature clarified for me this specific style. Check out her thoughtful essay “Weight of the Words”.
This is what led me to think about what YA novels are written in Confession style.

CONFESSION THREE

I have read all the YA novels I’m going to cite as possible examples of Confession Literature. However, it has been years ago since I read them. I also have no idea if the authors themselves would classify their stories as a Confession style. So, if you don’t agree, please speak up and tell me why any of these books don’t fit the Confession criteria. Or is you know of a YA novel that you feel does fit the Confession criteria, please add the title and author in comments. Here are four novels with links and summaries from Goodreads so you can look them up and judge for yourself if you haven’t read them:

[Note: The Monster summary is from one by reviewer Medeia Sharif and part of the Harpercollins book summary on Goodreads because the original summary is very long and I wanted to mostly highlight the mixed media methods author Walter Dean Meyers—oral confession, jury trial with witnesses, film, journal. (Note: Check out my earlier blog article on using mixed media in novels.)]

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein (Egmont, 2012)

1943 -- When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.



[My note: I remember this story as a mystery being told from Verity’s point of view inside an interrogation room where German SS officers are trying to get a confession from her.]

DOVEY COE by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Atheneum, 2001)

My name is Dovey Coe and I reckon it don't matter if you like me or not. I'm here to lay the record straight, to let you know them folks saying I done a terrible thing are liars. I aim to prove it, too. I hated Parnell Caraway as much as the next person, but I didn't kill him.



[My note: This story is told from a courtroom with Dovey on trial for murder.]

THE SILENCE OF MURDER by Dandi Mackall (Knopf, 2011)

Seventeen-year-old Hope Long's life revolves around her brother Jeremy. So when Jeremy is accused of killing the town's beloved baseball coach, Hope's world begins to unravel. Everyone is convinced Jeremy did it, and since he hasn't spoken a word in 9 years, he's unable to defend himself. Their lawyer instructs Hope to convince the jury that Jeremy is insane, but all her life Hope has known that Jeremy's just different than other people—better, even. As she works to prove his innocence—joined by her best friend T.J. and the sheriff's son, Chase—Hope uncovers secrets about the murder, the townspeople, her family, and herself. She knows her brother isn't the murderer. But as she comes closer to the truth, she's terrified to find out who is.



[My note: This story is told during a trial, some scenes in the courtroom, and some elsewhere in flashbacks and outside the courthouse where Hope tries to solve the murder mystery to clear her brother. SILENCE OF MURDER is an example of the protagonist not being the accused. But her mute brother’s life is so entwined with hers that she speaks for him.]

MONSTER by Walter Dean Meyers

Steve Harmon is a teenager on trial for allegedly being an accomplice in the murder of a drugstore owner. The author makes use of not only the courtroom, but also Steve’s journal and a movie that Steve’s film club is making of the crime. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. – summary partially by reviewer Medeia Sharif & Harpercollins; see Goodreads for Sarif’s full review



CONFESSION FOUR

I am convinced that most of the readers of this blog are introverts. Not that I mind, but I would love for you to discuss this topic in the comment section so we can have a dialogue. Confession Literature is something I have not written in fiction, only in poetry and my own journals. It’s not a genre or style I’m experienced with. And I was surprised how I fumbled at coming up with YA novels that could be considered Confession Literature. So, please comment, your opinion counts.  Read More 

2 Comments
Post a comment