Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Feedback: A True Story from Avi . . . and Character-Building.



So, as many of you know, I had a BIG birthday this week.

And what better birthday week present than to have an author participate here on my blog whose work I not only admire, but also read aloud to my own boys when they were younger!

Talk about the perks of becoming a published writer...

When Avi offered to guest host a Friday Feedback, I thought (omg! omg!) what to ask him to talk about?!?! I scrolled through his blog -- which is rich with wonderful writing information, by the way) and came across a version of this post he shares below here on Character Building. It so resonated with me, that I asked if we could head in that direction.
This was weeks ago, and, so, I was particularly excited when, last Friday, the issue came up in the comments about a character describing himself by looking in the mirror.

Like starting a story with the weather or a character waking up from a dream, it is, of course, a "common-wisdom-says" no-no to have a character describe him or her self using this technique. As I wrote in the comments, however, I have mixed feelings about this hard rule against (and most hard and fast rules for or against anything). I do believe there are times when a character -- especially a teen girl -- will look at her image in the mirror and react to what she (or she) sees, and that this action, and its reveal (the character's subjective perspective on what she sees), is right and organic for the story.

From The Summer of Letting Go.
My editor left it in, so I assume she was okay with it too.

It did get me thinking again about how hard it is to describe a character well, to figure out the right amount of description and make it occur organically.

When it comes to a character's physical description:

  • How much is good and needed? 

  • How much should a writer leave to the reader to fill in? And, 

  • Even if you don't describe your character to a great degree in your story, do you, the writer, need to know what he or she looks like in detail, in order for that character to feel authentic and come alive on the page?


Here to talk more about this is the author of more amazing books than I can count, including in no particular order, the Newbery, and other award, winning winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Poppy, Nothing But the Truth, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as the forthcoming Catch You Later, Traitor, March 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers. You'll learn more about the story below in his post!

As always, I hope you will pick up the book when it comes out and share it with your students in your classroom!

So, without further ado, here's Avi.


Here is a true story.
Of all my books, Bright Shadow, took the longest to write—fourteen years.  


Of course, I did not work on it continually all those years, but picked up, put it down, until, finally, it was done.  I was rather obsessed with it, a medieval fantasy, about a girl who is given—without her knowing it—five wishes.  In the text, there is very little physical description of the girl. 
A few months prior to the publication of the book, I dropped into my editor’s office. “So glad you came by. We just got the art for the cover of Bright Shadow.”  He held it up. I looked at itMy instantaneous thought was, That’s not her nose.
I am not aware that I ever thought of her nose before—nor did that nose have any consequence for the story-- but unconsciously, I must have pictured her because, the artist had not depicted her nose as I had imagined it. 
Did I say anything to my editor? No.  I felt silly. But I do believe that knowing—albeit unconsciously—what my character looked like, helped me write that book.
I thought about this because my next book, Catch You Later, Traitor, will be published early next year. It is, as they say, in production.  The story is told by Pete, in the first person. Just recently, I received this note from my editor’s assistant:
“One more thing: Our art director has asked me for a physical description of Pete, to give to the jacket illustrator. I’m looking through the manuscript and not finding anything too specific. Would you mind letting me know how you picture Pete?”
In other words, though this book has been in my head—and on paper--for something like eight years, actively working on it for four years, only then was I required to think (consciously) what my lead character looks like.
I quickly wrote back (note: the story is set in 1951):
“He’s 12 years old, just about to go into his growth spurt. (His best friend, Kat, the girl in the story, is taller than he is.) But at the moment, his is youthful looking, not particularly adolescent. Rather innocent, in fact, though on the edge of growing older. Stands tall. Wants to be tall. No slouch. Wishes his voice was lower. I’d bet his hands seem a little big, likewise feet, but not his ears. Nose, blunt, round.  Round cheeks. His eyes are dark and that is the most intense aspect about him. He looks at things, people. Curious. He will be tall, (taller than his father) and on the slim side, long faced. He would like to look like a lean, hard faced movie detective…but won’t, ever. Black hair. Curly. Not particularly neat in dress or hair. Wears Converse sneakers. Lumpy vest sweaters his grandmother knits. Collared shirts. No t-shirts to school. Might have a denim Eisenhower jacket. There is nothing athletic about him—but he enjoys playing sports, punch ball, dodge ball, stoop ball—city sports. He’s a reader, but does not wear eyeglasses. There are not many laughs in the book, but I bet he has a good grin, and he likes jokes. When he is worried, it is obvious.”
 
Voila! The beautiful cover for Catch You Later, Traitor,
coming March 2015 from Algonquin YR.
My point is this: knowing your character outside your book will help you write about him—or her—inside the book.  

So, given that it's Friday Feedback, let's think and post about character today: Either a literal moment of character description that you're working with or trying to get right, or a section where you're hoping your outside knowledge of your character's physicality will help you get the inside passage right. See, as you read Avi's excerpt, if you can feel how his knowing his character physically helped him to develop the character's personality.

And, please remember the RULES: What works first, what doesn't if something doesn't, and keep it short, please. NO MORE than 5 paragraphs if short, or 3 paras. if they are long. 

My huge thanks to Avi for being here. 

Now, the first few paragraphs from Catch You Later, Traitor. Enjoy!



Catch You Later, Traitor

CHAPTER 1

The way I see it, I stopped being a kid on April 12, 1951.
That afternoon we were playing our regular afternoon recess punch ball game out in the schoolyard. I was about to smack the ball when Big Toby, who always played catcher, muttered, “Hey, Pete, that true about your parents?”
I looked over my shoulder. “What?”
“Is what Donavan said about your parents true?”
I stared at him as if he had walked off a flying saucer. Why would Mr. Donavan--our seventh grade teacher--say anything about my parents? And how come I hadn’t heard?
“Come on, Collison,” Hank Sibley yelled at me. He was near second base, which was someone’s sweater. “Stop gabbing. Recess almost up.”
He blew a huge bubble with his gum that popped as I punched a shot inside third.
Kat, the only girl playing, raced home.
Our schoolyard was cement, which meant if you slid home, you’d peel off your skin. So no sliding allowed. Anyway, Kat stomped on her geography text—our home plate--and yelled “Dodgers win!” well before the ball was thrown home.
Grinning, I stood on first base--my English reader. Next moment the school bell clanged. Recess over, we grabbed our stuff and headed back to class.
“Kicky hit,” Kat said to me.
Kat’s real name was Katherine Boyer. Some people considered her a tomboy. I couldn’t have cared less. She and I had been sitting next to each other ever since fourth grade. In fact, we did most things together—school, homework, movies, radio and TV. Her mother once said we were back and forth between apartments so much, it was hard to know who lived where. Kat was like the other half of my brain.
“Thanks,” I said, but Big Toby’s question—“that true about your parents?”—kept bouncing ‘round my head like a steel marble in a lit-up pinball machine.

We poured into Brooklyn’s Public School Number 10. The old brick building had no music room, no art room, no library, and no gym. All the same, it stank like a locker room. 
________________________  

- gae & Avi

160 comments:

  1. Sooo, I just realized that I don't really describe my characters...hmm, major oversight. But I did try to infuse a bit about her here.

    Dancing to her room, Penelope grabbed the nearest tank top and shorts, decided they were clean enough for public viewing, pulled her long brown hair back into a pony tail and slipped on some flip flops. She met her dad at the door and Mr. Glass was smiling.

    It occurred to Penelope that it had been ages since she had really talked to her dad. He never asked why she skipped school that day. Penelope thought he just didn’t notice, or care.

    The air outside was muggy, but better than the air in their house. Penelope would have skipped, but then remembered she was twelve and much too old for skipping outside.

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  2. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 5:02 AM

    Hi, Rebecca.
    Actually, I think you do a pretty good job of describing your character here. "...she was twelve and much too old for skipping outside." That sentence tells her age and reveals what she believes to be true about what kids her age should/should not do. The dancing in her room is a wonderful image as well. And the fact that she hasn't really talked to her dad in a while. All of this is authentic for a 12-year-old girl. Nice job!

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  3. Avi, I cannot thank you enough for being here....and for being a major force of good in my middle school library. You really are one of my heroes. My 11 y.o. son walked in earlier and I couldn't resist telling him that I was going to talk to you....His eyes just bugged out and he wants me to tell you how much he thinks you are brilliant. His teacher just had his class read Don't You Know There's a War On. And, my son fell in love. Apologies for the gush...and yet, I"m really not sorry!

    Below is a WIP I didn't even know I had in me until the prompt this morning. Thank you Gae and Avi for bringing it out of me.

    *****
    It’s just a madhouse of comments in Spanglish and I love it.

    “Today’s book talk is about seeing ourselves in books”

    The room is oddly quiet. I can tell that my statement is percolating
    in brains and more questions are about to flood.

    “I want you to find a book from the cart. Here, I will
    spread them all over these front tables…and chose a book that you can hold up
    to your face like this….and it will represent you.”

    Kids dive for the books, tossing books aside that look too
    boring or worn. Josue sits quietly in a mock letterman jacket. I can tell he is
    scrubbed squeaky clean…the bristles on his gelled head just about sparkle. A
    gold chain and crucifix shine around his chubby neck. And, when I look down I
    see the beautiful glow of his hands and perfectly clean fingernails. He hasn’t
    understood a word I’ve said.

    Kenia and Sonia are giggling with Fancy Nancy books held up
    in front of their faces for me to see and I give them two thumbs up. J.P. has found a 39 Clues book with skulls
    and a Wimpy Kid book…he’s weighing them both thoughtfully in the hubbub.

    I’ve never been good at leaving kids alone. I take a small
    stack of books over to Josue and sit down.

    “Hola. I’m Mrs. Mitchell”

    “Hola.”

    I hold the cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone in front of
    my face and pull it away peek-a-boo style to see his reaction. Not a flicker….just
    a polite smile I’m sure his Mami instructed him to paste on. I try other books….Chasing
    Lincoln’s Killer, Wimpy Kid, and an autobiography of Messi. Nothing. Gennifer
    has my attention and I turn to her absorbing difficulty in choosing a Sarah
    Dessen book to suit her…which she’s not able to read yet.

    When I turn back to the class and tell them it’s time for me
    to leave I notice that Josue has pulled a book onto his table. It’s blue. I
    cannot see the title from where I am standing. It’s only when I return to the
    library and check all the books back in that I see that one is missing….a
    non-fiction book about birds.

    “Josue,” I whisper. “Nice to meet you.”

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  4. Kristina PaustianJuly 25, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    After being spurred on by Gae's pompom shaking, I added to my work in progress yesterday, so this is pretty rough...

    The next morning she limped outside to find her car parked in front of the house with a note that the keys were in the mailbox. She looked the car over and found it hard to believe that the experience had happened at all. She hobbled back to her writing studio and sat at the desk, her leg propped up on a pillow with a bag of ice set on it.
    She opened the scrapbook that she had made long ago out of a Karl Seed catalog. She had squirreled it away from her mother's junk mail and pasted in anything to do with Garan Karl.
    There was an article from the newspaper about the robbery at the gas station where he had worked when he was held up at gunpoint and been knocked out by the thieves. A note he had scribbled to her during school one day. Journal pages that told of the first time he came to see her at work. She had sat with him in a booth during her break to talk to him trying to think of interesting things to say.
    Some things, like the crushed Dr. Pepper can she had saved when he had bought her a soda during the first days they spent together wouldn't fit in the book. Neither would the yearbook he had scrawled in and rendered impossible to pass around for other signatures. She kept them beside it in a cardboard box that stored everything. She had never had the heart to throw anything away.

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  5. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 5:35 AM

    Thank you to Avi for being here today. What a wonderful post! I love the description of Pet and Kat's friendship, and of Kat as the tomboy (to which I can completely relate, being a former tomboy). My favorite line: "Her mother once said we were back and forth between apartments so much, it was hard to know who lived where." It's always amazing to me how a character or situation can be summed up in one sentence like that.


    Here's my excerpt. The first part of this scene has Lily and her mother meeting with Mrs. Schmidt in her apartment. Mrs. Allen is working hard to convince Mrs. Schmidt that Lily will be a great asset to her household (Lots of dialogue. I never know how to measure length for posting here when I have mostly dialogue):

    "She's very good at cleaning, and cooking, and she looks after her own washing." Mama fidgets. Lily thinks that it's not much of an accomplishment, looking after her own clothes. She only has two dresses. When Daddy was alive, she had three dresses. And a Sunday Best.

    "But does she know about babies?" Mrs. Schmidt's baby turns his eyes on Lily, as if asking the question himself.

    "She's a fast learner. Aren't you Lily?" Mama's struggles to keep a smile on her face. There's a note of desperation in her voice.

    Lily thinks it can't be very hard, caring for a baby. Especially with his mother around. What would she need to do? Change a dirty diaper? Give him a bottle? The tension in her body eases a bit.

    "I love babies." She says.

    "Loving babies, and caring for babies are not the same thing." Mrs. Schmidt's eyes are nearly smoldering as she looks at Lily. Her brows grow impossibly closer together. Lily tries to shrink into the stiff cushions of the chair.

    "No, ma'am."

    "She'll need some training, or course, but as I said she learns quickly and never forgets her duties. Isn't that so, Lily? And she's never late, or rude, and she always does her school work. You won't need to worry, Mrs. Schmidt. Not at all." Mama finishes her rambling and is out of breath. Her hands come together and she squeezes them. Silence settles in for a visit. A clock tick-tocks in the hall.

    George, the baby, begins chewing on his fist, and drool soon covers his fingers and dribbles down his chin. His eyes have not left Lily's since asking his silent question. Lily can't help but smile at him. He returns the smile and squeals. Lily waves. George attempts to wave, but only manages to wiggle his fingers at her.

    "Sit still, George!" Mrs. Schmidt firmly returns little George's arms to his side. But George is not sitting still. He begins squirming on his mother's lap, and reaching for Lily.

    "Well, it seems as if the baby really likes Lily." Mama says.

    "Hmph. Does she even know how to hold a baby?" Mrs. Schmidt rises from her seat and walks to Lily. "Stand up." Lily does as she's told. "Well? Take him." Mrs. Schmidt holds George out to Lily, who tentatively takes him under his arms and draws him to her body, balancing him on her hip.

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  6. That's fun to read. It's hard to know how this situation emerges. I assume this is not the book's opening. In short, I'd like to know more.

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  7. What's missing here, I think, is a sense of flow. That is, all in information one needs is here, but there is repetitious sentence structure, that creates a barrier to the emotional undertone. It is, as you say, rough. Play with the sentences more.

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  8. I enjoyed this. Wish I knew where this all takes place. I assume a classroom, but not sure. A physical sense would help a lot.

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  9. I think you are successful. These so short bits are frustrating insofar as I want more. That's a good thing.

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  10. I think this is the opening of a WIP. I've never published anything, and the thought of AVI(!!) reading it has me sweating profusely...


    He’d paid attention in class, even between daydreams. He knew at least some of the physics behind it. Something about friction and gravity. He remembered bits of his lab notes about momentum and force. But when it came to skipping stones, he didn’t need science to tell him how to do it. Choosing just the right stone was as natural as riding his black Huffy, which lay on its side on the shore of the Delaware. His dad had taught him when he was four years old; about the same time he taught him to whistle. Neither attempts were very successful at first.

    Memories of her flashed in his mind between counting the daps of the stones across the waters serene surface. The summer heat had made the normally choppy water heavy and flat. He’d noticed girls before. He knew they ran different than the boys, and threw a football like their arms were wet noodles. Sometimes it was annoying, but most of the time it was funny. But this time it was different. He couldn’t shake the image of her round, freckled face. He wondered if her boney knocked-knees caused as much friction as the stone projectiles.

    “Snap out of it, man,” he thought to himself, “girls are gross!” But she wasn’t, and it felt weird in his stomach. Like butterflies were trapped in his ribs. Or like when he ate too many chips and soda during a late night video game binge. He was afraid to admit it, but he might actually like girls. Well, not just any girl. Just Ally.

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  11. :) yes, there's more of a set up....but didn't want to overwhelm you. Here is the first bit...

    Josue’s Book Selfie

    I entered Mrs. Hudgins room with my rolling book cart. Book
    talks are my favorite part of library….I get to be on stage and not delivering
    content…just story. And, story is the best.

    Sadly, I’m used to losing kids from this class. The best
    reason is that students achieve a higher level of ESOL services and switch to
    another teacher. The worst reason is that their family moved and they didn’t
    have the knowledge or words to tell any of us adults at school.

    Josue’s face was new to me. Mrs. Hudgins quickly and quietly
    let me know that it was his first day in class and that he was from El
    Salvador. I prepared my materials in a flurry of questions from my favorite
    students. Their curiosity and courage never failed to inspire me.

    “Miss, miss….can I give you my book back?”

    “hi, hola!”

    “Miss….I saw you at Wal-Mart”

    It’s just a madhouse of comments in Spanglish and I love it.

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  12. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 6:44 AM

    Correct. This is the second scene of chapter one. In the previous scene, Lily has learned that she needs to go live with another family while her widowed mother looks for work. The story is set in 1918. I also cut out the first part of this scene for brevity.

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  13. I get more of this now, thanks. I don't know the context of the whole story--but be careful about editorializing. It can push your readers away. Try to build the info into the story.

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  14. Avi, thank you so much for being here today! And Gae thank you as always for hosting.

    Looking over my fledgling WIP I realize I do not offer much physical description of my main character, a middle schooler named Ana. I will look for opportunities to add detail. I hope the following snippet gives you a sense of her. This happens early in the story and is still rough:


    The window in Ana’s room sat just above her sister Hazel's bed. A very slight breeze moved the curtain over Hazel's butterfly-embroidered comforter. How in the world could moving air make it hotter she wondered?

    Ana sighed again and got out of bed. Her bare feet padded across the wooden floor. She cracked the door open and looked to see if her mom had returned from walking the babysitter home. A shining light in the living room was a beacon of welcome. Perhaps her mom would not be angry to find Ana up, legs curled under her with a good book on her lap.

    Watership Down tucked under her arm, Ana tiptoed past her parent’s bedroom door and sat on the couch in the small circle of light. Just then her mother opened the door with a start.

    “Ana what are you doing up? We have such an early start tomorrow. I need you rested because the drive to your grandparent’s is long and you are the best companion for your little brother. I swear you are the only one who can keep him in his seat on trips!” she gushed in an effort to hurry me off to sleep.

    “Mom, it is summer, July…I only have a few more weeks before middle school. Can’t I just enjoy the last few moments of my childhood?” I pleaded.

    “Middle school is a change for sure but you will still have some freedom. We do let you have afternoons off,” she joked with a warm smile.

    I stood up to hug mom when we both froze.

    Several loud popping noises pierced the heavy air outside the open window. The sound of a car followed and then we heard the screams, ear-piercing screams.

    “Elena! Elena! Hurry get the phone and call for help!”

    Mom flew out the front door without a moment’s hesitation. Whatever made those noises had caused damage and mom jumped into the fray.

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  15. Kristina PaustianJuly 25, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    Thank you for the great advice. I appreciate it!

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  16. Dear Beth:
    This is a tad over written, I think. Take the phrase, "Mom flew out the front door without a moment's hesitation." You could just have it, "Mom flew out the front door." It tells us the same thin, but is actually more dramatic. Look through what you have given, and pluck out those extra phrases. You will see you have a stronger piece.

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  17. Dear Jay,
    Don't sweat it.
    I like this except for one point. That first "her," stopped me--not sure to whom you were referring. Put in Ally, and you have me with you.

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  18. Avi-

    Thank you for being here. And for all your stories that fill our hearts.

    I wrote this section when a beta reader commented that she had no idea what my protagonist was like. I'm not entirely comfortable with this section because I feel like it tells more than shows, but I wanted to ground the reader with a little background after showing him in action.


    Thank you.
    Terry

    Owen Tobias Redding was average height, average weight, and average appearance. He had curly brown hair with blond summer highlights, pale skin that had turned brown from the sun, but did not freckle, and hazel-brown eyes that he hid outside with sunglasses because it is important to protect your eyes from Ultra-Violet
    light. In the class photo of 18 fourth grade students, Owen blended so
    completely and entirely, that on first glance his parents thought he must have been absent that day .

    Despite his extraordinarily average appearance, Owen was
    famous. Every single student in his school knew Owen by name.

    Owen never meant to become famous.

    It was his gift for disappearing that created his fame.

    Whenever the world was too much, or to be honest, whenever Owen had the whim, he would slip away to find a quiet spot. Sometimes
    he read. Sometimes he observed insects. Sometimes he performed quiet acts of greatness. The last were rarely noticed, but Owen knew. That had always been enough to make him happy.

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  19. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 7:21 AM

    Jay,
    I really like this scene; a boy on the cusp between childhood and adolescence. Your description of how thoughts of this girl affect him physically is wonderful. I also like his perception of how she throws a football (cliche, but so true!). I'm a little uncomfortable with the sentence about her knocked-knees causing friction (does a boy this age know the phrase knocked-knees, and what does he mean by friction? It could just be me). The part about what he remembers from his science notes seems inaccurate. I'm guessing your MC is about 11, 12, or 13. I know 11-yo daughter has not had this content in her classes, so that seems a bit off to me. I like this character, and I would keep reading.

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  20. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 7:26 AM

    Terry,
    I love everything about this excerpt, but the opening sentence seems out of place to me (It kind of reads like an editorial comment). Maybe something like: "Owen Tobias Redding considered himself to be completely average:..." I'm not sure this fits with your POV in the rest of the story. I love that part about his parents. I already love Owen, so I want to see more.

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  21. Avi, thank you so much for being here. Your excerpt immediately drew me in, and I can't wait to read the rest. And thank you, Gae, for hosting.

    This excerpt is from my first chapter, when a new student joins the school and has to introduce himself to the class. This is my main character's first impression of him. Thank you! --Jane

    Dale Evans is maybe the thinnest boy I’ve ever seen, and he’s
    wearing shorts even though it’s 57 degrees outside. His knees are purple, and his glasses are so huge they probably were made for a grownup.

    “Dale? Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.” Mrs.
    Thomasina straightens up, clutching a composition book, her crazy hair bobbing. Her desk lets out a deafening metal screech as she pushes the drawer closed.

    Dale clears his throat and adjusts his glasses. I notice he
    doesn’t do it like most people, pushing them up by the bridge. Instead, he carefully grasps the left lens between his forefinger and thumb and kind of lifts them back onto his face.

    “My name is Dale Evans, no relation to the actress by the
    same name,” he says, tipping his chin up as he says it, as if he’s having to make an extra effort to get his voice to a decibel level just one chick above a whisper. “I’d like to be called by my full name. I’m twelve years old, and my family just moved here from Concord, Massachusetts. I am keenly interested in aeronautics, though much more on the propulsion and fuel side of the equation than the mere aerodynamics and launching.” He blinks slowly and lifts the
    glasses again. “I am an only child, and I have a pet hamster named Rodney Blue, though he is normal hamster color in case any of you are wondering.”

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  22. Dear Terry:
    The oft quoted "Don't tell, show," come from Henry James, who, as novelist, told a whole lot.
    I think your description is fine. Again, as others below, it's the flow of the words you need to look at. Sentences are the basic building matter of prose, and you want to interlink them, build a kind of logic, and rhythm, with some sort of cumulative impact at the end of each paragraph. It helps to think of each paragraph as a poem--not poetry--but like a poem.

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  23. Rebecca, I really enjoyed this and felt like I got a good sense of Penelope just from three short paragraphs. I definitely wanted to keep reading.

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  24. Dear Jane: This is fun, and engages me. I do get a sense of Dale, and find him sympathetic. Watch the tenses. Do you wish it all in the present? Hard to do.

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  25. Thank you for the feedback. Now I have my writing assignment for the day.

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  26. Thank you so much for the feedback! I'd thought about having her (Ally) introduce that physical characteristic in the next chapter, so that is spot on. And yes, the friction thing is a stretch. My students are introduced in fifth grade to physics, but I know not all are! Thanks again for feedback.

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  27. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on all of our writing, Avi. It's very humbling. The edit has been made to "her" and I'm pushing forward with the piece!

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  28. Terry, I think this paints a sharp picture of your character, but I also think you get everything you need without the physical description of the first paragraph (if that's the part you're not comfortable with)."It was his gift for disappearing that created his fame"--love that sentence.

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  29. agree with all, Rebecca! What I love here is that there is such a light feeling to this little bit and then there is the hint of conflict -- that she skipped school and her father hasn't talked about it with her...

    And, yes, Avi, it can be frustrating to only get little bits,can't it? But with so many posters, that's all we can handle. . . so don't encourage them... or we will have 200 manuscripts to read! ;)

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  30. wow, that's a very insightful comment: "... be careful about editorializing...build the info into the story..." i noticed that with my own WIP on a recent reread, places where I was working in political commentary from my character than on reread felt very INorganic.

    As for your excerpt, Linda, I can tell it is, obviously, way rough, but I do love this bit of description: "Josue sits quietly in a mock letterman jacket. I can tell he isscrubbed squeaky clean…the bristles on his gelled head just about sparkle. A
    gold chain and crucifix shine around his chubby neck. And, when I look down I
    see the beautiful glow of his hands and perfectly clean fingernails. He hasn’t
    understood a word I’ve said."

    Keep going!

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  31. Yes, great stuff in rough form. Alas. Keep going!

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  32. Elizabeth WilsonJuly 25, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    Avi (and Gae),

    Thank you so much for participating in TW and Friday Feedback.

    I love the decryption of the friendship between Pete and Kat; my younger daughter who is now 36 is still friends with the boy who was the other half of her brain from kindergarten.

    My WIP is meandering through the problems of senior citizen hood. I'm not quite sure what direction it will eventually take, but this is a bit of it.

    "Mornin’, Nancy," my sister’s husband Larry grunted
    as he came downstairs for his morning fix of green tea. Larry used to be a
    coffee-drinker. Hell, he used to be a DRINKER, not a drunk, mind you, but he
    wouldn’t refuse a beer or three when the families got together. And then, one
    day, just out of the blue, Larry decided to get on the wagon, and not just the
    beer wagon either – the coffee wagon, the carbohydrate wagon, the red meat
    wagon, the salt wagon. No one ever knew why, but that wasn’t the only weird
    behavior we noticed. He started solving crossword puzzles, not New York Times
    puzzles, mind you, but puzzles from a Dell Easy Crosswords book he’d buy at the
    drugstore when he went to fill Dot’s prescriptions. He’d sit out on my parents’
    sun porch working puzzles while every one else was indoors watching whatever
    sports games were being broadcast that day. Periodically, when there was a lull
    in the action, we’d hear strange noises from the sun porch. Larry, having
    completed a puzzle, would have laid his pencil on the glass-topped table, and proceeded
    to whack his balding head, slappity, slap, slap, slap. All these precautions
    and he still developed high blood pressure, diabetes and prostate cancer.



    Larry chasséd into the kitchen, carrying his puzzle
    book, and began to look for the cup and tea bag he had used last evening. “Dot will be done in a bit; she just
    took her weekly dose of Fosamax and can’t eat for another half hour.” Finding
    his mug, he

    featherstepped to the sink and filled his cup then completed a whisk step over to the
    microwave. Larry and Dot were ballroom dancers. Neither of them could ever just
    stand still; they were always moving their feet through one dance step or
    another. They had come to Texas from their home in California to attend the
    International Choreographed Ballroom Dance Association convention. They were
    going to “Waltz into Waco.”

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  33. I have to admit I am star struck to have Avi here today. My boy students love your books. I look forward to this new one. In this excerpt you have already set up a conflict, a setting, characters...I am in and want to read more. What a great cover! Thanks for reading our stuff. I had to search my WIP for a character description. This is a sequel, so I haven't described the MC much at all. I did describe a new character, Harmony.

    On the porch
    hidden by the screen door, I think I see a child. All I can see are eyes,
    big and round like white marbles, staring out at me. Still, I am startled
    by the voice.



    "Hi,
    there! Whatcha' doin? Swinging?"



    A little
    black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side. She
    wears a tattered pink dress that's too short for her long skinny legs.
    Her hair is plaited in braids close to her scalp. Her skin is as dark as
    a moonless night. She runs around me and pushes me forward on the
    rope.



    I swing
    higher and squeal. Holding tighter to
    the rope, I ask the girl, "Who are you? Where did you come
    from?"



    "My
    name is Harmony, Harmony, Harmony." Harmony sings her name higher
    and higher on the scale. "Who are you, you, you?"



    Holding
    tightly to the thick rope, I unwrap my legs and stand.



    "I'm
    Blessen. I live right there in that double-wide with my momma, Miss
    Gardenia LaFleur. Are you living here now?"



    "Oh,
    well, it's all just temporary. We'll see, we'll see. Will you swing me
    high?"

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  34. Wendy-
    Thank you. I'm in love with my Owen too. It's hard to let bad things happen to him.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Dear Margaret,
    Not much to add, because this seems to work as is. Good job!. I assume there is more, and would like to read.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I love this part so much, Wendy, and you really have found the rhythm/voice of this piece. For me it works really well.

    Oh, how I especially love this:

    George, the baby, begins chewing on his fist, and drool soon covers his fingers and dribbles down his chin. His eyes have not left Lily's since asking his silent question. Lily can't help but smile at him. He returns the smile and squeals.

    You're such a good writer that, at times, I want you to feel free to pull back a little. Choose not to write details even though you write them so well. Sometimes, all the fabulous business can detract and by pulling just a word or two back, for me, would not.

    For example, every word of this is adept:

    Mama finishes her rambling and is out of breath. Her hands come together and she squeezes them. Silence settles in for a visit. A clock tick-tocks in the hall.

    I love the sentence on its own, "Silence settles in for a visit." Just lovely. BUT, it also almost pops me out of the story. Becomes lovely writing that interferes with the tension. I wonder if "It grows quiet in the room" would be less so because we don't have to think about it, or if it's not needed at all... I wonder if she squeezes her hands without the prior business because it's inherent...?

    Mama finishes her rambling and is out of breath. She squeezes her hands. It grows quiet. A clock tick-tocks in the hall.



    No right or wrong. All merely food for thought.


    The bottom line is that I LOVE this. You will, of course, keep going.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I love the eye contact between Lily and George, followed by the hip hold. The images in my head are very solid because of those two connections.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I love the glasses and Dale's self introduction.
    I just noticed: "One chick above a whisper" - if it isn't a typo (click?) then I'm a chick confused. But that's a very minor point. I'm in. More next week?

    ReplyDelete
  39. I use chick to mean notch, but maybe that's a word unique to my family. This is from my current WIP, so yes. More to come. Thanks, Terry.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Jay, I'm with Avi! I really like this piece! Lots of great stuff going on and, as a swimmer, I really love this description: "The summer heat had made the normally choppy water heavy and flat." Yes. I feel that. And a bunch of other things going on in this excerpt. Keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  41. This works for me because a persons diet is a really interesting way to influence how the reader sees a character. When people are this intense with what they put in their bodies I see eyes that are aware, physical movements that are deliberate and strong. I also see someone older because people can turn over a new leaf after a history of mistakes/decadence etc.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Dear Elizabeth:
    Hard to say much, because this is fine as it is, but of course, I don't know where it is going. So I suggest you keep going.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    Gae,
    Your comments and advice are always spot-on, your praise uplifting. Only this time...you made me cry. Thank you. Thank you. Yes, I will keep going. <3

    ReplyDelete
  44. Avi and Gae...

    I am so excited to be able to post and receive feedback from two authors I admire. Here is my few paragraphs. And, before you read the few paragraphs...Thank you for your time. This really means a lot! : )

    This town is more boring than watching two fleas mating.
    I smashed my face against the inside window of Deb’s Laundry
    Mat fogging up the window with every breath I took. The meth head stood on the crumbling curb in front of the Evans Hotel. His greasy hair hung over his forehead, bloody red sores created their existence on his forehead and cheeks like little exploding volcanoes. From what I could tell, he looked skinny with an oversized grey t-shirt and jeans that hung loosely on him. He would look down at his feet and then look across the street with a blank stare on his face. I continued to smash my face against the window glass, my cheekbone burning from the pressure of the glass, to see what he was possibly looking at. But I couldn’t.

    I pulled my face away from the window and walked out the front door of the laundry mat. Deb, the owner, always sat in her cramped back office smoking a cigarette and listening to George Jones or Johnny Cash unless there was a problem with one of the machines – or the machine where people could buy a small overpriced box of detergent. She always would tell me that the Ol’ Possum was her favorite with a half burnt cigarette hanging out the side of her mouth as she retrieved quarters for a somewhat unhappy customer who needed that small box of detergent to do their laundry. I always brought my own detergent and I hated his music! And his voice. I left my laundry in the washing machine.

    My bike was on the ground next to the front entrance of the laundry mat. I grabbed the handlebars of my bike and twisted it forward. I hopped on and started to pump the pedals to move forward.

    “Jesse!”

    I turned my head sideways and saw my friend, Hank, riding up through the alley and into the joint parking lot of Deb’s Laundry Mat and The Depot, a place for drunks to buy cheap liquor and for underage kids to buy beer, since the old man running the place never checked ID’s.
    A Greyhound Bus stops at The Depot to pick up passengers trying to get out of this town…or to drop off people that we didn’t want in the first place.

    I squeezed the breaks making dust and small rocks fly into the air.

    “Yeah?” I replied.
    “What are you doing?”
    “Staring at the meth head who’s standing in front of Evans Hotel.”
    “You need a life, dude. There’s plenty of meth heads to be staring at in this town.” Hank said.

    He was right.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 25, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    Yes, I could see Ally commenting that an adult in her life always said she had knocked-knees.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Avi is exactly right! If one flies out a door, there is, by inherent definition, no need to say it's without hesitation, eh? :D

    Indeed, you have lots of really strong imagery and tension going here, and that "pulling back" will make it pop and shine even more. One of the places I'm feeling it as a reader is in your dialogue tags. Because you've written adept dialogue, the tags sharing "how" things are said are not even needed. So this, yours:

    “Ana what are you doing up? We have such an early start tomorrow. I need you rested because the drive to your grandparent’s is long and you are the best companion for your little brother. I swear you are the only one who can keep him in his seat on trips!” she gushed in an effort to hurry me off to sleep.

    “Mom, it is summer, July…I only have a few more weeks before middle school. Can’t I just enjoy the last few moments of my childhood?” I pleaded.

    “Middle school is a change for sure but you will still have some freedom. We do let you have afternoons off,” she joked with a warm smile.

    I stood up to hug mom when we both froze.

    Several loud popping noises pierced the heavy air outside the open window. The sound of a car followed and then we heard the screams, ear-piercing screams.

    “Elena! Elena! Hurry get the phone and call for help!”

    And, now, pulled back. See if you're missing the tags... ?

    “Ana what are you doing up? We have such an early start tomorrow. I need you rested because the drive to your grandparent’s is long and you are the best companion for your little brother. I swear you are the only one who can keep him in his seat on trips!”

    “Mom, it is summer, July…" I pleaded. "I only have a few more weeks before middle school. Can’t I just enjoy the last few moments of my childhood?”

    “Middle school is a change for sure but you will still have some freedom. We do let you have afternoons off.”


    She smiled and I stood up to hug her, when we both froze.

    Several loud popping noises pierced the heavy air outside the open window. The sound of a car followed and, then, ear-piercing screams.

    “Elena! Elena! Hurry get the phone and call for help!”

    Mom flew out the front door. . .



    All merely food for thought... Keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  47. I'm going to buck convention and say that I like your opening line and description because it feels intentional, like the voice of the piece. A pronouncement. I haven't read enough to know, but it's working for me... and there are several lines that really made me smile and warm up to this character and this story.

    Love especially this: "Owen never meant to become famous." Especially against the backdrop of the intentional set up of average-ness, I find it so compelling!

    Sometimes he performed quiet acts of greatness. Gosh, I LOVE that too. Take it all in -- the criticism and praise -- and keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  48. Jane, love this! Too funny, too quirky and wonderful! In the good "too" sense. My favorite is the "... keenly interested..." dialogue. Oh, Dale Evans! Can't wait to read more about you. :)

    ReplyDelete
  49. Agree, Elizabeth! Good work, but hard to know what the conflict is yet, or what the story is that is happening. So all we can do is enjoy it in a vacuum. I especially love the line "Larry and Dot were ballroom dancers." And feel like your real "flow" gets going here... looking forward to reading more!

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  50. Ah, Margaret, for some reason I think this is the first excerpt I ever read from you. It all sticks in my memory which I think is a wonderful thing. Love it lots. And, I know you always keep going. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  51. Yay, John! You posted all on your own without having to email me! ;) You've got lots of good (and sad and gross and/or pathetic in the right way) stuff going on in this excerpt, and what I'm wanting is to pull back the excess and repetitive words so the rest of them can really shine. As such, I'm going to do a super quick superspeed flash edit to do just that... as far as the story goes, keep going!

    This town is more boring than two fleas mating.
    I smashed my face against the inside window of Deb’s Laundry Mat fogging up the glass with every breath. The meth head stood on the crumbling curb in front of the Evans Hotel. His greasy hair hung over his forehead, bloody red sores erupting on his forehead and cheeks like little volcanoes. From here, he looked skinny with an oversized grey t-shirt and jeans that hung loosely on him. He'd look down at his feet and then look across the street with a blank stare. I continued to press my face to the window, my cheekbone sore from the pressure, to see what he was looking at, but couldn’t.

    I pulled my face away and walked to the front door. Deb, the owner, always sat in her cramped back office smoking a cigarette and listening to George Jones or Johnny Cash unless there was a problem with one of the washers – or the machine where people could buy a small overpriced box of detergent. She would tell me that the Ol’ Possum was her favorite, with her half burnt cigarette hanging out the side of her mouth as she retrieved quarters for some unhappy customer who needed that small box of detergent. I always brought my own and I hated his music! (John, who is "his?" Johnny Cash's? George Jones? This is unclear...) And his voice. I left my laundry in the washing machine.

    My bike was on the ground next to the front entrance. I grabbed the handlebars and twisted them forward. I hopped on and started to pump.

    “Jesse!”

    I turned and saw my friend, Hank, riding up through the alley and into the joint parking lot of Deb’s and The Depot, a place for drunks to buy cheap liquor and for underage kids to buy beer. The old man running the place never checked ID’s.

    A Greyhound Bus stops at The Depot to pick up passengers trying to get out of this town…or to drop off people that we didn’t want in the first place. (your tense changes here... confuses me a little. Are you making a general statement, or is that bit happening now? Either way, the rest has been in past tense...)

    I squeezed the breaks making dust and small rocks fly into the air.

    “Yeah?”
    “What are you doing?”
    “Staring at the meth head who’s standing in front of Evans Hotel.” (Wait, he's moving on his bike, so how is he staring?)

    “You need a life, dude. There’s plenty of meth heads to be staring at in this town.” Hank said.

    He was right.





    A lot of this will come naturally to you as polish, but always a good opportunity for me to do some showing how vs. trying to tell... Keep going, John! Hope that town cleans up a bit! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  52. YA Historical/Sci-Fi. Setting: Italy, 1918. Narrator: 16yo farm girl.

    Every day that I come, the beach is empty. Papa told me most people were spooked by the earthquake and flood and never came back. That was ten years ago. Ten. 1908. They still believe the seas are cursed. Evil. Old men whispering that the worst hasn’t come yet. Old women praying about Fata Morgan all the time. In this day and age it is absurd that no one trusts water--it is crazy— an old and foolish way of thinking. Like when grandmother wagged her finger up me for looking at butterflies because she believed they were fairies in disguise—fairies up to no good--"Look away, Josephine!" she'd yell.

    For me, taking a steamship across the Atlantic is romantic. I imagine dancing and music carrying the day on a steamship. I imagine everyone thumbing their noses at this country and all of its cruelty and suffering.

    I walk, day after day whether the weather is warm or chilly, ankle deep in the powder blue rollers, separating my toes to feel the foam tickle me. Early summer evenings, I swim while old people--violet silhouettes against mulberry sunsets--pull themselves tight and averted their eyes. They call me names: strange bird, tall weed, black stork. Some call me brave. One man yelled and demanded that I stop swimming before I piss off the witch.

    I don't even look when they mutter, “Doesn’t she know? Doesn’t she remember? Fata Morgana? the earthquake? the tsunami?

    “Isn’t she afraid?”

    And the answer, had they asked me, would have always been “no.” When I touch the sea I feel the most connected with something greater than myself. I never feel as though I enter the water alone. It wants to take me and I want to let it pull me free. Save me. Push me. Carry me. Wash me to the shores of New York Harbor. A new home. And my destiny.

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  53. This works because it makes me realize (in response your saying you don't really describe characters) that description of characters is such a subtle art. Of course we can all appreciate the blonde hair, blue eyes, narrow lips sorts of descriptive elements...but decisions characters make, the artifacts they keep, their style, how they move...all of that stuff builds character just as well as tell me about her cut-off denim shorts and pink cheap sunglasses. I like the character you are describing, in particular the threads of sophistication she is trying to put inher life: much too old for skipping, reflecting (ages) on dad, etc...

    ReplyDelete
  54. Avi and Gae,

    Thank you for providing this unique opportunity to receive honest feedback about my writing. Unlike many of those posting today, I
    do not have a novel in progress, nor any true WIP, but I love writing short stories or essays, focusing on a small moment, a specific experience, or a defined character. Today, I am posting an excerpt that actually comes from an exercise we did earlier in TW! camp. It’s a semi-autobiographical, but fictionalized moment, and I happen to love the partial anonymity of the character. I would love to hear your feedback on any aspect of my writing. Thank you so much for taking the time to read over it! Here goes…

    In the thick of those thick August days, when you can nearly wring the sweat out of the air in warm, salty droplets, she readied for her performance. The cicadas buzzed a one-note symphony. The sun punched its rays through her bedroom window, on a mission to drum out every shadow and patch of shade. The air conditioner rattled to attention, humming a tune that turned slick, summer skin into cooled goosebumps.

    Sliding her tanned, skinny arms into the brown, floral-patterned cotton dress her mother had discarded to the girl’s own “dress up” collection, she fastened the trail of buttons down the front of the outfit, leaving one undone at the top. She tied the thin cloth belt into a floppy bow around her waist, letting the ends tumble down to hang at her knees. Selecting a pair of patent leather mary janes, with the slightest of heels, she buckled them across her bare feet, and ran on her toes to the kitchen, her pigtail braids and belt tassels riding the wind behind her like streamers.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Tammy Petty ConradJuly 25, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    His gift for disappearing-I want to know what that's about! I love how Owen introduced himself, gives us a very strong picture.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Thank you Gae! This is one of my more stressful sections. I think I'll take your advice, save the changes from today separately, and come back to it later. Especially since I notice that the specific lines that people have liked were chopped in my am revising session.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Thank you for the feedback, Tammy!

    ReplyDelete
  58. Thank you, Jane! I appreciate the feedback. Helps me sort it all out.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Thanks Gae for the superspeed flash edit. I am super proud of myself for actually being able to post this time. : )

    ReplyDelete
  61. Thank you Avi for joining us, and sharing wisdom and insight. My students treasure your work in our library, as do I. It is an honor to share with you. My students will be jealous!

    Below is a freewrite effort toward that elusive WIP I keep threatening to animate. Thanks in advance for any thoughts, suggestions and advice.
    -----------

    His face had...a lived in look, she decided. What her teacher might call "weathered." Abby studied the curled and faded Polaroid poking from the journal pages, her finger absently worrying one of its tattered corners. So THAT is Old Dan Morgan.

    Abby pulled the picture closer until it nearly touched her nose. In the meager garage light, her eyes traced its contents. Cross-hatching webs of creases imprisoned a lipless, unsmiling mouth. Above it perched a too-small nose, its architecture nearly lost to the snapshot's sepiad decay. A careless nest of straw-colored hair sprang from atop the man's head, extending three edges of the yellowed picture frame in Einsteinian inspiration. Features all a bit unusual but unremarkable, Abby thought.

    The eyes? They were another matter. Cratered deep inside this facial landscape, the eyes gleamed from unknowable wellsprings of untapped understanding that left Abby breathless. Liberated from this otherwise flat, lifeless image captured by some nameless photographer in a moment lost to time, the eyes remained alive. They searched.

    Abby dropped the Polaroid back into the journal and slammed it shut. She would read again, but not tonight.

    ~ Matt Little

    ReplyDelete
  62. Tammy Petty ConradJuly 25, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    Can't believe it's Friday already! Avi, I just wanted so share a quick memory of when you did a Readers Theatre thing with 3 other authors at the Texas Book Festival a few years back in Austin. I was on the 3rd row and mesmorized by you and Sharon Creech and the other authors. It was so cool to hear each of you read from your own work (and I think you read from each other's too). Love me a book festival!


    My WIP, is very much in process. This isn't the beginning and I realize I haven't given any physical descriptions, but think I've given clues about her character. And it is very short to avoid overloading anyone. Looking forward to your comments.

    She plopped on her bed and gently tossed her softball up towards the ceiling, careful to avoid banging it and bringing the wrath of mom. What was she going to do about the paint and her project she wondered? The deadline would get here soon enough and she didn’t have a clue what to do. That stupid Mary Beth was so nosey. She probably told everyone all about it on the way home from school today. Susan had raced out the door when the bell rang,
    anxious to get to her mom before Mrs. Williams, but it turns out that hadn’t been necessary.

    Susan heard the phone ring and ring. She tensed up and the ball hit the ceiling coming back down much too close to her lava lamp.

    “Carl for you,” her mom shouted.

    “Okay.”

    She retrieved the runaway ball with relief and walked down the hall and took the handset gingerly from her mom. The cord followed her as she retreated back to her room. She couldn’t actually make it to the bed before she ran out of slack, but her bean bag chair was by the door and she sat down gently to avoid the farting sound she didn’t want Carl to hear.

    “What’s up?”

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  63. Just testing to make sure I can post a comment. One of our campers is having trouble...

    ReplyDelete
  64. I remember that TLA ART performance. Great audience. Wonderful theatre.
    I don't really have anything to say about your excerpt. It's fine as far as I'm concerned. My advice is to get to the end!

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  65. I like this, but be careful of piling up too much descriptive language. It can become like a list. Pick and choose carefully. The best detail is just that, the best detail. You want it to speak out a lot of elements. You can always go on and bring other things in--it doesn't need to be all at once.

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  66. Once again, I like this and want more. And again, be careful not to give too much . . . I like to tell people the most important space on the page is the white space--what your reader fills in. I once heard Donald Hall--Poet, Laureate, picture book writer say--"The writer tries to create the perfect O--but he does not complete the circle. But, if the gap is too big, the reader can not fill it. If it is too small, there is no reason for the reader to fill it. But if it is just right, the reader fills it with his/her own experience."
    Not easy . . . but worth the trying.

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  67. Thank you, thank you! I am just starting this idea and your edits/thoughts are right on target!

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  68. I'll go along with Gae.

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  69. Dear Avi, I am so honored to get a peeking into your latest book. I loved the first line and am still smelling the stench of the school.

    Dear Gae, Thank you for the pom pom shaking! I have emerged from my writer's shell!

    My current WIP is a MG. Here's an excerpt from a hallway encounter between my MC and an unsavory classmate.

    “Hey Stone,” he growled. He never called anyone by their first name. I wondered if he called his parents Banks.

    “Whatcha doin’ in the baby wing?” He was at least a head taller than me and about six inches wider. The words Be a champion stretched across his black t-shirt. Gil had the league record in tackles. Matt had the unfortunate luck to play against him. "It’s like he’s made of bricks. You hit him and nothing. You can’t take him down."

    “I was just, uh, getting a book from the library,” I said.

    “The library is in the other direction,” Gil said.

    “Yeah, well, I’m taking the long way so I can be out of class longer.”

    He didn’t move. The hallway was silent and empty. The perfect setting for a staring contest. No one had ever beaten me at a staring contest but it was Gil. I wasn’t sure what to do. If I looked away, my winning streak would be over. Hopefully he’d let me go by
    without any further teasing. If I won, I was nervous what he might do.

    I inhaled through my nosed, flaring my nostrils, and squeezed my teeth together. I decided to play.

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  70. Seems fun to me. I can see the kids and the situation, so you've achieved your goal. That said, I confess I'm being frustrated by the shortness of these excerpts.

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  71. I love that you can "see" what I see there. I'm honored, again, for you taking the time to read it. I will definitely keep going. Thanks for the inspiration and affirmation, all!

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  72. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I am just starting with this story and I do tend to over write...something to work on.

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  73. I love this so much: "the most important space on the page is the white space--what your reader fills in..." I just tweeted it on twitter. :)

    I've just been doing that in my own WIP. Pulling back the lines that teeter over, giving too much, to leave the conclusions to my reader.

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  74. Ps. I just noticed my entry is a bit long...thanks for reading anyway. I will shorten it next time. :-)

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  75. Tammy Petty ConradJuly 25, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Thanks for your time. Now it is forward on to the end!

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  76. Avi, stop that! They will happily give you WAY longer excerpts! It's taken me this long to "train" them! :) Especially since I have NO way to protect their writing on here and don't want someone to come back later upset that someone lifted a chapter from them... but also, 30 or 40 of these excerpts, as you can see, takes a whole day! And they know that we can only offer limited information on brief out of context snippets, but I think we all learn quite a bit from it, limitations and everything! :D

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  77. Thank you, Avi. Humbling to receive your feedback and Gae's and Nova's over the past few weeks. Your note encourages me that the voice could be close. I've been combing it going on five years now...nowhere near your fourteen ;) Thank you for the encouragement because as you know when the years accumulate in a WIP encouragement from a mentor can be just the right cup of tea to help us through the night,

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  78. Avi and Gae,


    *Just reposting...I think my post may have gotten caught and lost in the middle of a post sandwich further down...thanks again for reading and reviewing!*

    Thank you for providing this unique opportunity to receive honest feedback about my writing. Unlike many of those posting today, I do not have a novel in progress, nor any true WIP, but I love writing short stories or essays, focusing on a small moment, a specific experience, or a defined character. Today, I am posting an excerpt that actually comes from an exercise we did earlier in TW! camp. It’s a semi-autobiographical, but fictionalized moment, and I happen to love the partial anonymity of the character. I would love to hear your feedback on any aspect of my writing. Thank you so much for taking the time to read over it! Here goes…

    In the thick of those thick August days, when you can nearly wring the sweat out of the air in warm, salty droplets, she readied for her performance. The cicadas buzzed a one-note symphony. The sun punched its rays through her bedroom window, on a mission to drum out every shadow and patch of shade. The air conditioner rattled to attention, humming a tune that turned slick, summer skin into cooled goosebumps.

    Sliding her tanned, skinny arms into the brown, floral-patterned cotton dress her mother had discarded to the girl’s own “dress up” collection, she fastened the trail of buttons down the front of the outfit, leaving one undone at the top. She tied the thin cloth belt into a floppy bow around her waist, letting the ends tumble down to hang at her knees. Selecting a pair of patent leather mary janes, with the slightest of heels, she buckled them across her bare feet, and ran on her toes to the kitchen, her pigtail braids and belt tassels riding the wind behind her like streamers.

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  79. I urge you not to pile on detail after detail. It's hard to absorb them all, and still get a sense of character, of story. Be selective. The best detail--an illuminating detail--is better than ten things. The point is, you obviously have a good eye (and pen) now, force you self to be selective. "Less is more."
    My own motto is, "Writers don't write writing. They write reading."
    With less effort you'll go further.

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  80. Michelle HaseltineJuly 25, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    I am so excited for this opportunity! I've just started writing & I feel like I'm still getting to know my characters. Here's an interaction between her and her mom...

    It’s the same first day of school bowl filled with the same first day of school cereal and the first day of school strawberries. I take a big first day of school bite with a gigantic, fake smile. Mom rolls her eyes and says, “Ellie, it will be ok. I promise.” She promises! How does she know? How could she possibly know? She never changed schools as much as us!

    “It’s just not fair, Mom…” I whisper., "I know what you're going to say: this will make me stronger. I’m building mus-cles and learning lessons...blah, blah, blah…” I groan. Mom laughs and tousles my hair. “MOO-OOM! Not my hair! I’m in the sixth grade now!”
    “Oh Ellie! I know it’s hard. But you’re only thinking of everything that could go wrong. What about what could go right?”
    I scrunch up my forehead, completely confused and ask, “What do you mean?” Always wanting me to figure things out for myself, mom shrugs and walks away.





    Thanks for your time! It's quite an honor!! Michelle

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  81. Thanks so much, Avi. I agree - no laundry list!

    Something more like this? (Starting w/ 2nd paragraph)?
    -------
    Abby pulled the picture closer until it nearly touched her nose. In the meager garage light, her eyes traced a care-mapped face that was unusual, sure, but otherwise unremarkable...

    ...save for the eyes. Liberated from time and sepia decay, they gleamed at Abby from cratered depths of unknowable and untapped understanding. The eyes remained alive. They searched.

    Breathlessly, Abby slid the snapshot back into the journal and slammed it shut. She would read again, but not tonight.

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  82. Think how crucial the opening sentence of a book story is. The opening of the window. The opening of a door. The hook. The abracadabra sentence. Lots of clichés for it--but I suspect they are all accurate. Why not, "Its the first day of my new school. My twelfth new school." (Or whatever number)
    Or some such. Keep it direct

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  83. Avi,
    Thank you so much for the personal response and great feedback. I am grateful to see it through another writer's perspective, and take your words to heart. I appreciate these ideas and will use them as guidance for the next pieces. Thanks for giving your time today to share your talents!

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  84. Avi and Gae,


    Thanks for giving us this opportunity! It's so nice to get feedback on our work.


    This is from something I've just started working on (meaning, since last week...). I've never been good at describing characters--it's always seemed a little forced and stilted to me. Here goes nothing:


    ~~


    The crickets had already begun their symphony when I stepped out
    into the summer dusk, leash in hand. My promise to Mom was that I would walk Lily every day, rain or shine, all because I had decided to quit my post-high school, pre-college summer job early and she
    thought I need to fill my day with “productive ventures.”

    I really had no choice about the job. Could anyone in their right and true minds truly survive at a place like The Sub Shack? The slimy lettuce, the rude customers with their phones glued to their
    faces, the sleazy Mr. Nash and his Bluetooth headset. I don’t know how I managed to make it there for a month before I stormed out, throwing my grimy apron on the counter and declaring to Nash “I quit; I’m not coming back. Ever.”

    I walked with Lily past glass screen doors and windows of the
    houses on our typical route, trying not to look like I was staring at my reflection but in reality doing just that. I was hoping to one day soon look the part of an adult, but instead I seemed to be permanently stuck with the appearance of a kid, despite supposedly
    being “on the cusp of adulthood” (Mom’s description, not mine). Despite my efforts, my shoulder-length brown hair still looked the same as it did when I ten, my body was still shapeless and uninspiring, and I couldn't seem to shake up my typical summer uniform of t-shirts and shorts. I was baffled at my
    peers and their sudden transformations into people I might see on TV or in magazines; how did they do that, and why couldn't I? They all seemed to know the right outfits to wear and how to do their hair and makeup, which, in my mind, turned them into Real People.

    Real People had jobs and went to college. I, on the other hand, read for hours in the hammock instead.

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  85. I like this. Frankly, if you have engaged the reader (in this case, me) you've done your job. Keep going.

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  86. Better, but who are your readers? Will they understand "sepia decay"? Why not just faded? I'm of the simple language, deeper thought school.

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  87. beautiful! I love that I can hear Harmony say her name.....it's lovely and then to be caught with another unique name with meaning, Blessen. I'm so glad I got to read this in July. It feels like July. Please write more.

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  88. Okay. Good point. I need to stop reading Blood Meridian and crack open Crispin again. Thanks again for your help! I can already see that your new novel will be a page-turner!

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  89. I can see this place. I think the characters are solid. A laundry mat has such a sense of smell and heat to it. I'm kinda looking for that. But, I know this place. It's in a town that's all a bad part of town.

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  90. Elizabeth, I really like the voice of this..."Dot" is a name my grandmother was called...."mind you" is a senior citizen way of expanding a thought.

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  91. Avi (and Gae),

    Oh, wow, I am so excited. Thank you for participating in Friday Feedback. Thank you, also, for producing such great literature for young adults.

    The following is an excerpt from my WIP - a medieval fantasy for YA. Last week, I posted a small section reflecting the beginning of the story for one of my characters - a young princess that will eventually be queen . . . if she can overcome the obstacles in her path.

    Today, I would like to post the first few paragraphs from the other character's perspective - a peasant boy who falls in with the enemy as a way of escape. Thanks for any feedback you may be able to give me!

    I was 14 and restless.

    The road stretched in front of me, going nowhere, going everywhere. A breeze had picked up tufts of still dust and was drifting it, back and forth, collecting in the weeds. The road was well-used, which was good,because otherwise, the bushes and stands of grass would have taken over and grown in, closing off any connection to anywhere else.

    I was sitting on what was left of a stone wall. Behind me was the hovel of my parent’s former home. It had been a squat, one-story building with dirt floors and a thick, large hearth in the center of the main room. Ivy had grown up around the walls, but the
    stones of the chimney still sat, solid and dense, mortar and memories holding it in place.

    My mother had kept the small building in place with pride. Her hands had always been busy, crafting the art of our survival, keeping my father and I from going hungry, or cold, or from sinking too far into the hard work of living.

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  92. We are winding down folks, though if anyone is late I will reply. There is some good stuff here, but as you always know, writing well is very hard work. Again, my mantra: Writers don't write writing. They write reading. Your writing is FOR readers. Always think of them.

    The best teachers are your favorite books. authors. Don't be afraid of imitating. You can't. The more you read the better your writing.

    I like to think of writing (all art for that matter) as making sense of chaos. And there is a lot of chaos in the world today.

    If you like my approach I suggest you go to my web-site,

    www.avi-writer.com. There, under Wordcraft, I have been posting short bits about writing for more than a couple of years. Not rules. Just ideas based on my own writing experience.
    See. Listen. Think. Write.
    Thanks for sharing with me. It always takes courage.
    Avi

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  93. I haven't shared any of my own writing yet, but have enjoyed reading the writing and responses of others'. I'm learning a lot; thank you Gae and Avi! So in the spirit of Kat's post on Kate's blog, here goes!

    Friends with everyone. That is how she entered seventh grade and how she'd be known graduating from high school. Although, in hindsight, she was probably more a part of the in crowd than she realized. She was invited to parties, friendly with kids from other schools. But those Hurld kids stuck out from the others. She longed to be one of them. And so she became one. Talked to them in classes. Sat with them at lunch. Gravitated toward them at CCD and softball. Blended in. It seemed easy enough, but was it?

    Jessica entered junior high as nervous and excited as anyone. This was the big time. Were her clothes too babyish? Would she know anyone in her classes? Would she stand out in the crowd? She hoped not. She couldn’t imagine anything worse. She wore glasses, thick ones, but the frames were stylish so they weren’t quite so obvious. As she maneuvered through the halls she was keenly aware of those around her. New faces. Who to make contact with and who to avoid? Coming down the stairs toward her was a girl with bucked teeth so bad it hampered her speech. Jessica tried not to make eye contact but at the same time felt bad. Surely this girl had been teased in elementary school. Junior high was a fresh start for everyone. Or was it?

    As Jessica continued up the stairs, hoping she was headed in the right direction, she spied a girl with long, shiny brown hair. Her hair was feathered perfectly. Jessica guessed it took her hours. Her own hair was long and she worked hard to style her bangs, but she was not happy with the results. Jessica hadn’t had much practice styling her own hair. The girl was surrounded by boys, much older looking that the boys she hung out with. She assumed this girl was in the ninth grade. Jessica moved quickly past, again working to avoid eye-contact.

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  94. I assume this is the opening of a novel. Your concept as you give it is fine, and you set the scene. Okay, but you do it in a passive way. We don't know who "I" is, the where or when. Some tension. Some hint as to what might be wrong in this situation.
    I once described my (then) young son as liking narrative that consisted of three explosions connected by a chase.
    Our young readers don't give you much time--or words--to engage.
    As a reader once wrote to me," The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was boring at first but by the second page it got good."

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  95. You obviously know the character, the moment, and the scene. That is convincing. But I want to feel that I am entering a story. What if you took your own sentence, "Junior high was a fresh start for everyone. Or was it?" and opened your story with that, and go from there. That way you are asking your reader to engage with you. Try it.

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  96. I am not posting a snippet today--nothing ready that I haven't already posted. I just had to stop by to say "thank you", though. I've learned so much just by reading today's critiques that will stay with me as I move forward in my story. WOW! a treasure of advice!

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  97. Thank you so much for the opportunity for some feedback! This is from the beginning of a middle grade novel I am revising. I'm hoping it shows a bit about my main character.


    Gripping the fake rock tight, Jade let out long, slow breath. So far, so good. None of the other campers had noticed how scared she was on the way up the climbing wall. A skilled actor could make it seem like she was having fun, even if she wasn’t. Now all she had to do was keep up her act on the way back down. And make it to the bottom without breaking a leg for real.

    Two and a half stories below, Eden jiggled the rope. “Sometime today?”

    “I’m admiring the view.” As Jade gazed at the beach, she smiled. And sucked in another lungful of air. Everyone looked so small. A
    counselor clanged a bell and kids climbed out of paddle boats, throwing off life jackets in a mad rush to the lodge.

    Eden gave a big huff. Harnesses clinked as the other climbers packed up their gear.

    Don’t worry about Eden. Take it slow. But she couldn’t make herself move. The ground seemed so far away. If she ever starred in an action-adventure, she’d definitely need a stunt double. Of course, she wouldn’t even be up here if her parents hadn’t sent her to Camp Adventure instead of Be-A-Star Theatre Camp. For almost two weeks, she’d managed to avoid the climbing the wall. But today, the counselors said she couldn’t leave without the full outdoor experience. Even worse, they made her partner up with adventure girl Eden, who wasn’t afraid of anything. It was impossible to say no without looking like a total baby.

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  98. Lisa StringfellowJuly 25, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    I have enjoyed today's post and am exciting I can participate in the conversation. I feel like I struggle with character description at times. The excerpt from Catch You Later, Traitor gives us so much insight into Pete and his friendship with Kat in such a short space.

    Below is an excerpt from my WIP, a middle grade contemporary fantasy. I've been working on creating emotion, but character description is still something I'd need to work on with my MC.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Most of the storefronts were still closed, but as she walked down the street, a few began to open their shutters and doors. The salty smell of the sea hung in the still damp air. A numbness filled Kela. It was as if her island had been turned upside down and shaken. Vendors straightened awnings and swept up what the wind and rain had dumped on their doorsteps. Mr. Bannister’s back bent more than usual as he piled wet cardboard into a wheelbarrow in front of his fruit market. Mangoes, papayas, ackees, and other produce sat crowded into plastic bags, waiting for fresh, dry boxes.

    He saw her and called, “Marnin’, Kela. Such a mess, eh?”

    “Sure is, Mr. Bannister. Sorry for your troubles. Can I help?”

    “Ah, no. Lissy is in the back and will be right back. She’ll help me manage.” He took off the green flat cap he always wore and mopped his sparsely haired scalp with the kerchief that had been hanging from his pocket. He looked at Kela and said kindly, “You’re welcome to go on back and visit. I know she’d like to see you.”

    “I can’t, but thank you,” Kela replied quickly. “I might try to come back later.” She was already planning a different way home though. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Lissy or want to see her. They had been friends for years and she used to help her with the chores in her grandfather’s shop all of the time. So much had changed though and Kela didn’t know how to act around Lissy anymore. It was just easier to be by herself. She gave Mr. Bannister a little wave before walking on. As he went back to clearing his cluttered sidewalk, Kela smiled wryly. It seemed that everyone was picking up the pieces today, not only her.

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  99. It's hard to respond to this--it's fine as it is--but since it seems to come from the middle of a story--out of context--I'm not sure how to react. I don't know the where, the time, much less the who. Something has happened--something big--but I don't know what.

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  100. Scared shitless. That is what intimidation used to feel like. Catching Dad's wrath after a loss. Long rides home, thick with disappointed silence, and shame. Steely glares the only contact for days. Only Dad had that ability. Otherwise, roaming the halls at school, or bent under center on the field, I was the intimidator. I was the chieftain. I was the quarterback. It was conquer or die.

    But I had been conquered. I was living a slow death.

    When Jamison invited me to thee coffee house to hear his sister perform, I assumed it was some musical piece, and I went to be polite. To kill time. To escape the malaise. Or at least to alter it a bit. Then she took the microphone, and slammed me to the ground.

    Taylisha's intimidation didn't come through silence. It didn't come through menacing stares. Her power was through her words. And she didn't scare me away. I had been living away for too long, mentally and emotionally disconnected. From myself. Her words roused me from a trance.

    A stirring began; a pulse. A vision that my story might not have ended, but that this derailment might be a fortuitous shove on to a different track. She was undoubtedly sharing her prose with the unknown crowd, but her words penetrated my core, as if scripted specifically for me. She was calling me out. Calling me up.

    When she finished her poem, I rose from my seat, tears streaming down my face, broken, and released.

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  101. Hooray for Friday Feedback! I love this discussion about knowing our characters! I feel like I know my characters well but also that I get to know them better as I tell their story...it's kind of like I have to write their story to really know who they are. Catch You Later, Traitor sounds great! I love that they are playing baseball with their textbooks as bases. So fun and I'm definitely curious to hear what's going on with Pete's parents. Here is a piece of what I'm drafting this summer...there's actually quite a bit of getting to know my character here now that I reread it! Thanks for the feedback!

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

    "Do something for yourself today." Her words linger in my head. The only thing I do for myself is save the money I'm making for college so I can get myself the hell out of Ruby Pond. The last thing I want to do is end up like Araceli, a drop-out, broke and crashing with mom when her boyfriend is fed up with her freeloading. The second to last thing I want to do is end up like Mom, divorced and exhausted, barely able to keep the house and going to interview after interview but never able to get a better job than working at a local assisted living residence cleaning up after elderly people and making sure they get to Bingo on time. I’m not actually sure which is worse or if they’re simply different degrees of awfulness.

    What if I actually did something for myself? I could buy a new shower towel because mine is ratty and faded with strings loose and unraveling. Or new socks that don't slip down under my heel all the time. Or a real haircut instead of mom trimming my bangs in the kitchen.

    I shake my head, clamping my imagination down, knowing it all has to wait. Dreaming isn't worth the ache in my heart right now. I make a deal with myself: one more year of working nonstop and saving, one more year with a crappy towel, stupid socks and a horrible haircut and then I can reinvent myself when I finally go away to college and break free of this place.

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  102. Thank you!

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  103. You mention something that is important: that one comes to know your characters as you work on your book--and it can take time. Should take time. When I work on a book for a year or longer, I love it when I discover something about the character, something that can even change the plot of the book. And that does take time. In fact, part of my process is to hold off writing the end of a book, until I rewrite the first ninety percent X times, and only then plunge into the ending, with a knowledge of the character that emerges from their reality, not mine.
    Here, in your excerpt, be careful of falling back into the familiar--or better expressed, the familiar in a familiar way. As a writer the hardest task is to make the common uncommon.

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  104. To be honest, I'm not sure I understand this excerpt. Again, as I have said elsewhere, it is rather like stepping into the middle of a conversation. That is not a criticism but simply that I am not sure of the subject, the context, or even what and who is being talked about.
    It could be brilliant given what comes before. But here I have no before.
    You must give readers clues to solve the mystery of your characters.

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  105. Elizabeth WilsonJuly 25, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    Thank you, Linda. I researched popular names in the time periods I wanted my characters to have been born in. I am feeling a little at a loss at how to take this story in the direction I think I want it to go.

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  106. Elizabeth WilsonJuly 25, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Thank you, Brian.

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  107. What an AWESOME Friday Feedback! It's incredibly gracious of you, Avi, to spend time with us today on Gae's blog. Thank you so much! Your books have been huge with my own children and my students over the years, so again, thank you,

    This bit comes from the beginning chapter of my YA wip I've been working on for three years now. Gae has seen a few glimpses of my work and is always so helpful. I look forward to any thoughts you have as well.

    “Jamie! I’m running to the store to grab some milk,” I yell to my brother.

    “Wouldn’t it be better to drive?” he asks me as he slinks into the kitchen. What a smart-aleck. I really hate it when he does that. He sounds just like Dad. I swear the two of them are one in the same. I look at him and stick out my tongue, grab my purse, keys, and sunglasses before heading out the door.

    “Forget something?” Jamie says as he follows me out to my car.

    I turn around and he hands me my phone. I take it, mumbling something that sounds like “thank you” as I quickly check my Facebook to make sure he didn’t hack me before I get into my car. I love my brother, but he can be a textbook pain in the butt.

    My car is an older Volvo that used to be my Aunt Maggie’s. She gave it to me as an early graduation gift, but I insisted on paying her for it. She wouldn’t take my money, so I upgraded her television viewing pleasure to include digital cable and a DVR. It’s something I worked out with my Uncle Rob. Aunt Maggie thinks their cable was “repackaged” with a free upgrade. I smile every time she talks about the shows she records and watches on her DVR. It makes me feel good to do something nice for her, even if she doesn’t know I’m doing it. I know I’ll have to spill the beans about what I’m doing eventually; I mean a free trial upgrade doesn’t last forever.

    I get in my car and crank up my tunes. I don’t know how people can drive without music. I can tell my dad was the last one to borrow my car because the radio was turned off. He’s the only person I know who actually prefers to drive—or ride—in a car with no music. It drives me crazy! I drive to the store and find a parking spot right up front. I say a little “thank you” to the parking lot angel, and as I get out and walk inside I can hear my little sister saying something like: the closest parking spot isn’t always the best spot. I quickly disregard this notion. As far as I’m concerned, the closest parking spot to the door is always the best spot.

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  108. Brian, I responded to Avi's comment but not your excerpt before, so am now. It's very intriguing with some truly lovely and unique writing. Watch tense switches one or two places and I am on the fence as to whether she sounds like a girl. I was surprised when I got to her name Josephine but then that could just be because you're male and I was expecting a boy... wonder if others might chime in on this. Also wondering about the term piss off in 1918? But both the writing and the unfolding story are very wonderful and very intriguing!

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  109. OMG, I love this! This line is fantastic: "Then she took the microphone, and slammed me to the ground." I love this whole thing, but this line. This line. Is brilliant. Also, I want more.

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  110. Did you really tell AVI to "Stop that!"?!?! Wow. You are big time now, Gae. Big. Time.

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  111. Aliza, I see what Avi is talking about and thought I might play with a superspeed flash edit... the thing is, you have some absolutely lovely writing in here and it's almost overwhelming for the reader's senses to keep up with and see... even a little pulling back may help...

    In the thick of those thick August days, when you can nearly wring the sweat out of the air in warm, salty droplets, she readied for her performance.

    The cicadas buzzed a one-note symphony. The sun punched its rays through her bedroom window. The air conditioner rattled to attention, turning slick, summer skin into cooled goosebumps.

    Sliding her tanned, skinny arms into the floral-patterned dress her mother had discarded as “dress up," she fastened the trail of buttons down the front, leaving one undone at the top. She tied the thin cloth belt into a floppy bow, letting the ends tumble down to her knees. She buckled a pair of Mary Janes onto her bare feet, and ran on her toes to the kitchen, her braids and belt riding the wind behind her like streamers.

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  112. Avi and Gae,

    As so many others have already said, Thank You for taking the time to spend a day with us and sharing your thoughts and suggestions. What a marvelous gift to all of us to learn from you and to benefit from your years of writing experience!

    Here's my excerpt for today's character exploration:

    Ryu sensed the changing light through the thin inner lids of his eyes even before he was fully awake. He took a deep breath and stretched, cautiously uncurling and straightening out his tail until he could feel the muscles ripple under his scales from his head right down to the very end of his tail's sharp, pointy tip. If he opened his lids now and looked, he would certainly be a nice dark shade of blue-black...just as he was intended to be. That raging red-orange from yesterday would be gone, and those uncertain pops of yellow on his back ridges would have settled into the quiet, steady bruise-color of sleep.

    Wouldn't they?

    Ryu huffed out a smallish sigh and wrapped his tail back up around and under his snout, lids firmly closed. If he opened his lids now and looked, even if his color was back to the lovely blue-black of "before", he would still have to remember. And remembering would surely set him off all over again. Better to wait a bit longer before opening his lids and seeing again that yes, he was, for real and for sure, all alone here on the back of the bookshelf.

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  113. leigh, very intriguing writing from the perspective of a lizard... (dragon?). I'm stealing a line from Avi: I'm interested. I like it. So the best advice I have is to keep going. :)

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  114. Hi, Micki,

    This is a nice little passage... we get a good sense of her personality and it tells us about her... and I love your signature humor poking through there at the end. One of the things i'm working hard on in my writing is to remember that not every single little move or step of "doing something" needs to be shown, because the reader will read some of it in... and it can end up feeling like a "and then I did this, and then I did this" list... something for you to watch as well here. So in these paras for example, even taking out a few tidbits of partial actions may make it read less so...

    “Wouldn’t it be better to drive?” he asks as he slinks into the kitchen. What a smart-aleck. I really hate it when he does that. He sounds just like Dad. I swear the two of them are one in the same. I stick out my tongue, grab my purse, keys, and sunglasses before heading out the door.

    “Forget something?” Jamie follows me out.

    I turn around and he hands me my phone. I mumble something that sounds like “thank you” and quickly check my Facebook to make sure he didn’t hack me before I get into my car. I love my brother, but he can be a textbook pain in the butt.

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  115. maybe just write... even the crap (we all write crap) and let the story take YOU in the direction IT wants to go! ;)

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  116. Andrea-
    The harnesses clinking is a great detail. I was up on a climbing apparatus with my kids and nephew a few weeks ago and that clinking sound came right back to me. I also love the insight to Jade we get from her desire to have a stunt double.


    If I was revising, I might clean up the last paragraph a little - just take out extra bits that your readers don't necessarily need in order to get to the impact statements (e.g.: Even worse, she was partnered with Eden, who wasn't afraid of anything.)


    i love your feisty Jade who is fighting her fear while trying to keep her image up!
    Terry

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  117. This piece gives such a clear and insightful depth to Larry and his life with Dot. It makes me smile, not at Larry, but with the recognition of aging and changing. Thank you for sharing it!

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  118. Matt, I agree with Avi, but will be even bolder in saying I want you to go back and pick through these unique creative sentences and simplify! Choose only a few descriptives and let me understand what he is seeing rather than trying to figure out the flowery (if really great in a vacuum) writing! For example, what Avi mentioned: sepia'ed vs. faded, and for me "care-mapped." Creative but it stopped me from seeing and made me have to work instead. One or two lovely unique descriptions will always shine more through simple clear surroundings rather than overwhelming ones... would love you to come back with your Crispin'ed version. And, really, your Matt version. :)

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  119. Hah, funny last line. :) And what Avi said... you're just getting rolling so keep going! Do scroll up or down and find my comment to Micki about overwriting each little detail of action. Plus, over adverbing (when the adverbs distract rather than adding...) So maybe:

    She retrieved the runaway ball, walked down the hall and took the handset from her mom. The phone cord ran out of slack before she made it back to her bed. Her bean bag chair was by the door, so she sat down gently to avoid the farting sound she didn’t want Carl to hear.



    Just quickly playing with it. Sometimes the uninteresting movements aren't needed and the reader still gets the full picture more quickly in her head. :)

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  120. :) (Avi wont be back here next week [unless he wants to be! He's welcome!!] and I will, so there's that. ;) )

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  121. agree! fun, and good character development! Keep going, Jessica!

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  122. I commented on this above!

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  123. I wonder if this isn't her opening, Avi... part of your frustration... not knowing if these are first chapters or not! So sorry! I asked them to put up sections that have character descriptions. I have a feeling this isn't Michelle's opening...

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  124. Michelle, I like this and think you do have some good character development going on. I like the petulant but caring interaction going on between Ellie and Mom. Silly things: the Moo-oom threw me off. Do you intend it to be a drawn out Mom or sound like a cow noise, because to me it is? Also, in the opening sentences, I need those first-day-of-school s hyphenated. I had trouble understanding what I was reading at first! Keep going!

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  125. I'm loathe to do anything except leave Avi's "you've engaged me" comment shining here on its own for you. And so I will. :)

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  126. again,Avi, apologies... i think this ISN'T her opening, but soon after the opening... my bad for confusing you and not making clearer that they are not always posting openings. I still think that your comment about the passive feeling stands and think it has to do with Meghann using the past perfect (rather than simple past) tense. Is there a reason Meghann? I think the simple switch from past perfect to past might help this lovely section a lot:

    I was 14 and restless.

    The road stretched in front of me, going nowhere, going everywhere. A breeze picked up tufts of still dust, drifted it back and forth, collecting in the weeds. The road was well-used, which was good,because otherwise, the bushes and stands of grass would have taken over and grown in, closing off any connection to elsewhere.

    I sat on what was left of a stone wall. Behind me stood the hovel of my parent’s former home. It was a squat, one-story building with dirt floors and a thick, large hearth in the center of the main room. Ivy grew up around the walls, but the stones of the chimney still sat, solid and dense, mortar and memories holding it in place. . .

    ?? some lovely writing here! Keep going.

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  127. Avi, you have given tremendous advice today. And have been so generous with your time. Such an honor to have you here. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way! Hope you'll come back again!


    xox gae

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  128. I love that Avi may have helped you find your start. Your way in. I'm excited to see where this goes.

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  129. Thanks, Sonja! For me too, a treasure of good advice!

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  130. Gah, I tried to make it all the way through but there are a LOT of excerpts and it's late. Will come back either tomorrow or Sunday. MUST get some sleep! xox gae

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  131. Thanks so much, Gae, for the encouragement. Not really sure how to simplify and make it mine. I am admittedly much more attached to my first version, flowers and all. I love writing that way though I totally get the "write reading" admonition. for me, it just may be a different variation to Kat Yeh's "letting it go" theme.

    I will try again, and if something noteworthy surfaces, I will definitely share. :)

    ~Matt

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  132. Thank you so much, Gae! I'm checking out your comment below!

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  133. Thank you, Gae, for the wonderful feedback. I'm grateful and lucky to be able to learn from you. The revision is beautiful. I learned a lot today. Thank you so much for your time and the absolute heart you put into this process.

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  134. Sorry to be unclear, Matt. I think your writing is intense and lovely flowery the way it is but hard for the reader to see. So what I'm suggesting is that you keep your same very words but be more selective. Choose some that convey, and scale back. When I get back on my laptop I'll show you but I think it was Aliza's excerpt I did a bit of an edit to, where I left her gorgeous writing. (About a child putting on a dress) but scaled it back here and there. Too hard to see from cellphone, but will double check later and reply again!)

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  135. Michelle HaseltineJuly 26, 2014 at 5:35 AM

    It's not my opening, but I appreciate the read and the thoughtful feedback!!

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  136. A agree with Gae, less is more.

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  137. Hah, it was Eliza's right above yours... but I'm going to do a superspeed flash edit to yours. Leave YOUR words, your voice, but scale it back so the reader can see... or so I hope. BRB.

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  138. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 26, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    Yes, keep going.

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  139. Your description of Josue reminds me so strongly of one of my our special need preschoolers. He was always so clean and carefully dressed, hair gelled and smelling very masculine for a 3 year old. He tried so hard to communicate with us and was so lost and sad initially. But I felt I could see his parents pride and hope in his appearance each day - as if begging us to love him as they did. I could barely see him without my heart fluttering with affection.

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  140. Okay, here you go. Bear in mind this is quick. The goal is to keep your unique descriptions but make them easier for the reader to feel not struggle through. Curious as to thoughts...

    His face had...a lived in look, she decided. What her teacher might call "weathered." Abby studied the faded Polaroid poking from the journal pages, her finger absently picking at one of its tattered corners. So THAT is Old Dan Morgan.

    She moved the picture closer and stared harder in the meager light. Creases held taut his narrow, unsmiling mouth (is it really lipless? because if not, that is one of those descriptions that pops a reader out making him or her try to figure out what that means/looks like). Above it perched a too-small nose, its architecture nearly lost to the snapshot's decay. A careless nest of straw-colored Einsteinian hair sprang from his head. Features somehow both unusual and unremarkable, Abby thought.

    His eyes, though, they were another matter. Cratered deep,they gleamed with untapped understanding, seemed to search, to leap alive, from the otherwise lifeless photograph.

    Abby dropped the Polaroid back into the journal and slammed it shut. She would read again, but not tonight.

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  141. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 26, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    I agree Micki. Given what we've seen of Greg's MC already, this scene is pivotal for him. Yes, that's a great line. Looking forward to reading more.

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  142. I love this too. A lot. Simple and skilled so that the reader easily feels the scene AND learns a lot about both characters. And while Terry is exactly right -- that last para where you're really building tension should be as brief and succinct as possible -- I think that detail about Eden and how Jade views Eden is important. So what to do? How bout move it simply here:

    Two and a half stories below, Adventure Girl Eden jiggled the rope. “Sometime today?”

    “I’m admiring the view.”



    Play with it... at any rate, it's compelling. Keep going!

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  143. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 26, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    Lisa, I really like the descriptions of this post-storm setting. The dialogue is good too. You'll probably end up revising quite a bit, but for now keep going!

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  144. I really like the feel and voice of this piece, Lisa... easier to just let these small excerpts wash over me since I'm used to how FF works (and doesn't work -- am used to its limitations... :) I think you have some wonderful, picture-painting descriptions in here and my biggest frustration is the common one I find here: you use more description and more adverbs than you need given the skill of the surrounding writing and dialogue and there are a few close word repetitions that distract. Pulling back just a tad makes a difference... here's an edit... see if you even can see what I've done (it's so minimal), or merely feel the piece shining a bit more:

    Most of the storefronts were still closed, but as she walked down the street, a few began to open their shutters and doors. The smell of the sea hung in the air. A numbness filled Kela. It was as if her island had been turned upside down and shaken. Vendors straightened awnings and swept up what the wind and rain had dumped on their doorsteps. Mr. Bannister’s back bent more than usual as he piled wet cardboard into a wheelbarrow in front of his fruit market. Mangoes, papayas, ackees, and other produce sat crowded into plastic bags, waiting for fresh, dry boxes.

    He saw her and called, “Marnin’, Kela. Such a mess, eh?”

    “Sure is, Mr. Bannister. Sorry for your troubles. Can I help?”

    “Ah, no. Lissy is in the back and will be right out. She’ll help me manage.” He took off the green flat cap he always wore and mopped his sparsely-haired scalp with the kerchief. He looked at Kela and said, “You’re welcome to go on back and visit. I know she’d like to see you.”

    “I can’t, but thank you,” Kela said, already planning another way home. “I might try to come back later.”


    It wasn’t that she didn’t like Lissy or want to see her. They had been friends for years and she used to help her with the chores in her grandfather’s shop all of the time. So much had changed though, and Kela didn’t know how to act around Lissy anymore. It was easier to be by herself. She gave Mr. Bannister a little wave before walking on. As he went back to clearing his cluttered sidewalk, Kela smiled. It seemed everyone was picking up the pieces today.



    Food for thought only.

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  145. I see how this excerpt in particular is a difficult one to step into. A lot is introduced in terms of emotion, references to backstory (and current story) and characters... again, I am at an advantage being well-prepared for the limitations of Friday Feedback. And I agree with Micki and Wendy that there is lots of great powerful stuff here. And, as I've said before, in places, for me, maybe too much. Maybe over-dramatic in places which can take away from the drama. Maybe less is more. I also doubt some of the teenage boy vocabulary, even if some of it is in his thought process. Maybe scaling back a bit would make it even more powerful and more authentic, because I think it's really, really good. For the heck of it, since I'm on a roll with them, I'll do a superquick superspeed flash edit as mere food for thought and you can see what you think... brb (again)

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  146. Scared shitless. That is what intimidation used to feel like. Catching Dad's wrath after a loss. Long rides home, thick with disappointed silence, and shame. Steely glares the only contact for days. Only Dad had that ability. Otherwise, roaming the halls at school, or bent under center on the field, I was the intimidator. I was the chieftain. I was the quarterback. It was conquer or die.

    But I had been conquered now. By a girl at a mic.

    When Jamison invited me to the coffeehouse to hear his sister perform, I assumed it was music, and I went to be polite. To kill time. To escape boredom. Or at least to alter it a bit. Then she took the microphone, and slammed me to the ground.

    Taylisha's power didn't come through silence or menacing stares. It came through her words. And she didn't scare me away. I had already been disconnected. From everyone, and from myself. Her words pulled me from my trance.

    I felt stirred, felt my pulse. The thought that my story might not be over. That this derailment might be a shove on to a different track. Her words hit me in my core, as if she wrote them for me. She was calling me out.

    When she finished her poem, I couldn't help myself. I stood, fighting tears. I know it's crazy. But, I felt broken, and released.



    Teen boy. Football player. Badass. This might not be right, but find and hold on to that truth and that voice. :)

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  147. Ah, Jen & Avi, I see what Avi means here... the writing is adept, the scene clear and yet some of it feels maybe a little too familiar... cliche. We know what words/descriptions will come.

    Examples:

    The only thing I do for myself is save the money I'm making for college so I can get myself the hell out of Ruby Pond.

    ... end up like Mom, divorced and exhausted, barely able to keep the house and going to interview after interview but never able to get a better job...

    And yet, in the next part of that sentence, with the Bingo, I think you do that other thing he talks about -- describing successfully the familiar in an unfamiliar way. So maybe the answer can be to pull back some. Let the unfamiliar do ALL the work (and give the reader credit for getting it). So you might have something like this:

    "Do something for yourself today." Her words linger in my head. Because, yeah, the last thing I want to do is end up like Araceli, a drop-out, broke and crashing with mom, when her boyfriend is fed up with her freeloading.

    And, the second to last thing I want to do is end up like Mom, divorced and exhausted, working at a local assisted living residence cleaning up after old people, making sure they get to Bingo on time.

    ?? Does that work better? Food for thought.

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  148. Okay, all you shiny lovely campers, I think either Avi or I, or both, have commented on each of your excerpts. If not, it means we have unintentionally missed it! Please flag me down. Great stuff here. Very inspiring to see you all working so hard. It keeps ME on track. Keep going! Share reflections with Jen tomorrow and start next week strong. :)

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  149. And THIS is why I love TW and Friday feedback! Thank you for the insights, and the ideas of how to tighten this up and strengthen the voice. I am blessed and honored by you taking the time to think through this excerpt and help me to improve the writing, and the writer in the process.

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  150. Like raising kids, writing well sometimes takes a village. ;) <3

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  151. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  152. Thanks for your suggestions, Gae!

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  153. Thank you, everyone!

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  154. Thank you both for a fabulous post! (sorry I'm late to the conversation) I guess I'm going to have to change my WIP MC's name (Kat), since this is the second TW post I've read today that has a character named Kat! I thought I chose an unique name. I think the name itself tells a lot about a character, don't you? This question may be a little off topic, but I wondered how you (Avi and/or Gae) approach choosing a name for your main character? Maybe I should save the question for Q&A Wednesday?

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  155. Oh, and Happy Birthday, Gae :)

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  156. Elizabeth WilsonJuly 27, 2014 at 5:28 PM

    Thank you.

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  157. Tammy Petty ConradJuly 28, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    Thanks, very useful!!

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