This is the blog of children's book author and elementary school teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Finding Your Character's Voice

If a normal person told you that they spend hours of their day listening to voices of imaginary people in their head - you'd probably call them crazy. Thankfully I am not a normal person, I'm a writer. Not only do I listen to voices, I look forward to hearing them. I spend my time in the car, at night, in the shower -listening. When I finally sit down to write I replay the conversations I've been hearing and then find  the images to go with the voices. 

But every now and then a voice stays quiet. That's what happened this week as I tried to make final revisions in my middle grade novel. While most of the characters came in loud and clear, one character, a boy named Mike, held himself back. Unfortunately, without his voice, the novel couldn't come together.

I realized the problem right away. When I first wrote the story, Mike was sixteen. Since then, after many rewrites, rethinks, and replots, all of the other characters realized they were thirteen. Mike continued to think he was sixteen. It was only three years, but it made a lot of difference.

So how could I find Mike's voice? And how could I isolate his dialogue in a way that I could clearly see what he was saying? I decided to do something which was a little crazy, even for a writer. I turned my entire manuscript into a play.

Once the action, images, and thoughts were taken away, I could clearly hear my characters talking. I realized that while everyone else gave short answers with meaning, Mike spoke in speeches. I talked to parents of thirteen year olds, read books with thirteen year old characters, and listened to them in the real world. Finally thirteen year old Mike began talking and he really didn't understand what sixteen year old Mike had been saying.

Do I have him now? I hope so. I have beta readers and an agent who will tell me. But I feel good about the process, even if it was a little odd.

How do you find your character's voice? Ever do anything interesting to find it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Middle Grade Romance

Since today is Valentine's Day, I decided to write a love related post. As I pondered what I wanted to say, I was reminded of a conversation I've been having with a group of writers about the difference between middle grade and YA. One of the points brought up was the fact that YA HAD to have some sort of love interest, whereas middle grade did not.

But middle grade is a special time when it comes to romance. Girls who've had crushes on boys for years finally find that the boys are interested too - or that they are not. More people start "going out." Almost every conversation with friends is about who likes who. And along with these first real crushes are the first heart breaks and rejections. So how can middle grade books not touch upon that, at least a little?

Middle grade romances may be(and hopefully are)simple- smiles in the hallway, a friend telling a friend that someone likes you. First dates once you get to middle school. But that doesn't mean they are insignificant or unimportant. When I look at my own journals from that time there is not a page that doesn't contain my feelings towards the boys in my life.

Or maybe that was just me?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Finding the Story Inside Your Own Story

When I was eight my parents took my sister and me on a camping trip from Long Island to Wyoming and back. That camping trip has lived vividly in my memory for all this time, so it is no wonder that when I started writing, I wanted to revisit that trip.  I wrote a lovely story about two sisters who go on a camping trip and have a good time.

Unfortunately, what was a great memory for me was not a page turner for others. Real people don't always have problems and solutions. A camping trip is just a vacation. To tell that story in a way others would want to read was, and still is, a challenge. 

Now I am starting again, with only a setting. While I may pull from memory, what happens this time will be my characters' stories, not mine. They will have to face obstacles, challenges, and overcome flaws that my sister and I didn't experience. While I know their location, I am going to leave it to the characters to see where this journey takes them. 

Have you ever used your own story in your story? How did it work for you?  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dealing with loss

Have you ever noticed that in many YA novels and even in some middle grade, characters have to deal with loss? Whether it is a dead parent, relative, or even friend, characters have to face the reality of moving forward without someone they love.

So why? Why kill off characters? Is it just a cheap way to place the main character on their own to solve  problems? Is it an easy way to get the reader's tears? I don't think so.

Every human being deals with death, even at a young age. My earliest memories surround the passing of my great-grandmother and maternal grandfather. My children, ages 6 and 8, have already lost a dog, a cousin, a fish, a class pet, and today, a great-grandfather. With each loss they had to learn how to let go, move forward, and remember. Some of those losses were easy to handle. It was just "their time." But some seem senseless and those deaths reach beyond out capacity to understand.

My cousin died one of those senseless deaths last year. As hard as it was for me to accept, it was even harder to imagine what his sister was feeling. Then about a week after he died I read The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. The book gave me a framework, a schema, to wrap my head around what she might be going through. Even though I was reading a book, understanding how the character dealt with her grief was helpful and comforting in a time of pain.

Death and loss in books can help us deal with it in our own lives. They are ways to recognize that it is a shared experience, one that we will have to live through again and again.  I am thankful that there are books that touch upon experiences of loss in different ways. Hopefully everyone can find a story that speaks to them in their time of need. 

Has reading or writing helped you make sense of a loss? 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why write a story about a girl who plays baseball?

When my character first told me she was a girl who played baseball, my husband gave me a strange look. "In this day and age," he said, "do women and girls really have a hard time playing baseball?"

It was a good question. And for a minute or two I was hoping he was right and I was wrong. He was wrong.

Just watch this YouTube video and you'll see what I mean. It starts off on a positive note, announcing that the first female pitcher is playing pro in the US. Then listen for yourself to see where it goes.

So what are your thoughts about this video? I know what Sam would think.