I'd won the book on Rosi Hollinbeck's blog, The Write Stuff, when Shannon stopped by for an author interview. I love to say thank you to such good luck by posting a review on Amazon and Goodreads, but imagine my delighted surprise when Shannon read the review and we got to talking. It was then I learned that Harlequin romances helped to shape this middle-grade author. I'm delighted our conversation developed into today's post. Welcome, Shannon!
I'm sure they were expecting me to say something smart about pacing or plot or character. Instead they got this. "Well, it just sort of happens."
But that question got me thinking. How had I learned how to write a story?
My memories went back to long, lazy summer days with my grandparents in the sneeze-and-you-miss-it town of Culloden, West Virginia. Grandma always had a crinkled brown-paper grocery bag full of Harlequins. She bought them in bulk at rummages.
She'd curl up on one end of the couch, and I'd stretch out from the other, my feet touching hers. The window air conditioner buzzed like a swarm of angry bees, blowing cool air across the room.
We read together for hours.
I should have an honorary doctorate in storytelling from the school of Harlequin.
I tried to boil down what I learned (even though I didn't realize I was learning it at the time) to six key themes.
- Start with engaging characters. Harlequins don't start with miles of back story; they dive right into the action. Ensure your characters have real strengths and real weaknesses. Perfect people don't exist, and if they did, they'd be awfully dull to read about.
- Expose a clear conflict early. Once you've got a character, there needs to be a problem. Happy people, happy town, happy life ... yawn! Characters need struggle, they need emotions that ebb and flow ... and so do readers.
- Keep your characters talking. If you've ever overheard people talking, then you know how much you can learn from dialogue—accents, favorite words, education and certainly emotion. Conversations in story are no different! I say lines of dialogue out loud as I write—my ears spot problems more quickly than my eyes.
- Ensure the ending isn't a given. Ever read a story where you hit the middle and know exactly how it will end? Ugh. Why keep reading? Maybe this tip should be "Add more conflict." Think of a roller coaster—it doesn't just have one big hill; there are twists and turns all along the way.
- Write with all your senses. You may veer toward a few senses in a first draft. For me, it is sight and smell. But on that second—or forty-eighth—draft, add in all those senses you missed before. Give readers a chance to identify with the full world you're creating.
- End on a high note. I'm a big fan of the happy (or at least hopeful) ending, which might be due to all those Harlequins. After all the up and down, it is satisfying to have people land right where they should be. Conflict solved. Drama over. Like chocolate at the end of a meal, it closes things out with a flourish.
|Shannon with her grandmother|
To all my writing comrades out there, keep writing! It doesn't matter where or how you have learned the craft. There are stories waiting that only you can tell.
I wish you inspiration and success in 2012.
MORE ABOUT THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS
Delia's summer is getting off to a terrible start. First, an inspector shows up at the house and threatens to condemn it. Then lightning strikes, literally, and Mama ends up in the hospital. To make matters even worse, with no other family to speak of, Delia is forced to move in with her nemesis, Tommy "as-dense-as-a-stump" Parker.
Not one to sit around doing nothing, Delia huddles with her best friend, Mae, and reluctantly recruits Tommy to help. The three of them resolve to tackle the long list of repairs, one by one. But Delia quickly discovers that it takes more than energy and willingness to handle some problems. When things go from bad to worse, Delia has to take another tack, one that starts with admitting she just can't do what needs to be done without a lot more help.
As Publishers Weekly says, "Down-to-earth life struggles combine with inspiring generosity of spirit in this uplifting debut." Kirkus Reviews adds "this nostalgic story ... will leave readers hungry for fried chicken and Coke from glass bottles."
And more stories from Shannon, I might add. Thank you so much for being here today!
WHERE TO FIND SHANNON AND HER BOOK
Shannon's Web site is http://www.shannonwiersbitzky.com/Site/Welcome.html, while her book is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Summer-Hammers-Angels-Shannon-Wiersbitzky/dp/1608981126.
The winner of Sheila Dalton's newest release, THE GIRL IN THE BOX, is Meredith Moore. Congratulations, Meredith! To forward your mailing address to Sheila, please use the contact form on her Web site, http://www.sheila-anne-dalton.com/contact.php.