Monday, August 9, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Two Middle Grades to Make You Laugh

I was a fairly serious kid and an intense and brooding adolescent. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t till I could laugh at myself that I was able to create humorous scenes in my own writing.

Maybe because I’ve had to work so hard to learn to write humor that I’m an awe of writers who seemingly do so naturally. Although maybe they have had to work as hard as me too—but hide it well.

Today I’m sharing two humorous and fun MG books. Both of these are sequels, and often sequels are not an improvement on the first book. But this is not true here.  I hope you enjoy these picks!

The first is Lord and Lady Bunny—Almost Royalty! by Polly Horvath

Synopsis from Amazon:

This hilarious sequel to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire! is a bunny-rific "tail" that even includes a guest appearance by J. K. Rowling a.k.a. "Oldwhatshername".

Madeleine wants nothing more than to save money for college, but her impractical, ex-hippie parents are broke. When the family unexpectedly inherits a sweet shoppe in England that has the potential to earn serious profit, they see an answer to all their problems. . . . Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—formerly of the detecting persuasion—are looking for new professions, and Mrs. Bunny decides she would like to be Queen. Soon they, too, are headed across the pond. Brought to you by National Book Award-winning author Polly Horvath and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Sophie Blackall, the adventures of Madeleine and the Bunnys are zanier than ever.

My thoughts:

I reviewed the first of Horvath’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny books two months ago. I liked this one even better, but then I have a soft spot for anything set across the pond. Not only does “Oldwhatshername” make an appearance and give the bunnies some interesting advice, but Horvath has a cameo as well. The puns and silliness are even better than the first book. Madeleine’s parents discover sugar—and her mom temporarily becomes Cruise Mildred, who likes to shop. The bunnies rub noses with snobby hedgehogs and a rabbit Shakespeare group. Horvath, as always, takes lots of pokes at modern life. I especially enjoyed the English royalty and suburban mom jokes!

And then there's The Willoughbys Return by Lois Lowry:

Synopsis from Amazon:

It's been 30 years and with rising temperatures melting icy mountain tops the previously frozen Willoughbys have thawed out and are about to return! From living legend and Newbery medalist Lois Lowry comes a hilarious sequel to New York Times bestseller The Willoughbys—soon to be an animated film starring Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, and Sean Cullen on Netflix!

Although they grew up as wretched orphans, the Willoughby siblings also became heirs to the the Melanoff candy company fortune. Everything has turned out just splendidly, except for one problem: Richie Willoughby, son of Timothy Willoughby, is an only child and is quite lonely.
Winifred and Winston Poore have long admired the toys of their neighbor Richie Willoughby and finally befriend the mysterious boy next door. But just as Richie finally begins to make friends, selling sweets is made illegal, and the family's fortune is put in jeopardy. To make matters worse, Richie's horrible Willoughby grandparents—frozen atop a Swiss mountain thirty years ago—have thawed, remain in perfect health, and are making their way home again.

What is the point of being the reclusive son of a billionaire when your father is no longer a billionaire? What is the future without candy in it? And is there any escaping the odiousness of the Willoughbys? These are the profound questions with which Newbery medalist and ignominious author Lois Lowry grapples in
The Willoughbys Return.

Lowry has an amazing range. The first book I read by her was A Summer to Die when I was in elementary school. Then there’s The Giver, a dystopian classic.

But Lois is not just a serious writer, she knows how to make fun of herself and classic children lit. The first Willoughby book roasted kidlit’s love affair with orphans and babies being left on doorsteps. In The Willoughbys Return, she has the running joke about how poverty is glorified in kid lit, like in Little Women. The Poore mother is always “Marming”—offering Marme-like advice, which no one takes seriously. The joke continues with plays on words in the character names: Richie is rich and the Poores are poor. The Willoughby parents are still persnickety despite being frozen for 30 years, and their lack of understanding of modern life (What’s Google?) made me chuckle throughout.  

What books have made you laugh lately?

 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

ISWG: Writing Backwards


I’ve had a lot of craft books that have inspired me over the years. I’ve read great things about characters, plots, scenes. But I'd never found a book on creating a character arc/internal plot.

Oh, is this something I need help with. I have the tendency to create Mary Sues for my protagonist, and the few times I’ve tried to create a character that needed to grow more—no one liked them!

I’ve heard lots of advice online on how to create a character arc. I read that I just needed to focus on the main plot and add the internal plot in later or not to really worry about it. If you write the book, the internal arc will come.

But that wasn’t working for me.

Then a friend loaned me Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. It’s the first book that spelled out how to create a character arc in a way that made sense to me.

The story is what creates beautiful writing...not the other way around. Lisa Cron

What I learned from Story Genuis:

1. The main story is the character arc. Lisa Cron goes into a lot of brain science to back up this claim in the book, but basically we read stories to vicariously experience someone’s life struggle. The character arc is the plot.

2. Write an “origin scene” for your character’s misbelief. I knew the importance of creating a misbelief, but I didn’t know how to make it organic to the story. Once I wrote my character's origin story, her struggle became so much more real to me.

3. Details begat details. After writing your character’s origin story, you write the scenes from that scene to the start of your present story. I ended up with at least 4-5 scenes that happened before the book starts. And even though not all of them will make it into the novel, what I learned about my main character will.

4. If a scene is not working, ask yourself whether the events challenge your character’s misbelief. This was an issue for me before. I’d often create lots of action-packed scenes, but they often had nothing to do with the character’s misbelief and  weren’t very compelling. 

5. Interiority comes easier when you filter everything through the lens of the character’s misbelief. As I kept asking myself Lisa’s scene questions as I wrote, tension and internal conflict seemed to come automatically.

6.   If you get stuck, go back to the backstory. I use Cron’s technique of writing backstory scenes whenever I get stuck. I’ve written some scenes for my other characters just to get to know them. I don’t like writing character history or charts, but writing scenes helps me understand them on a deeper level.

A couple caveats: I don’t think Cron’s book is the best book for new writers. It doesn’t go over the basics. For me, this was okay, because I really needed to work on character arc. Also, her examples are from chick lit, so if you write something else (like me), you’ll have to apply these ideas to your genre. But I think her principles work for every genre.

What craft books have inspired you lately?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

August 4 question - What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!