Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reading Interview with My Superwoman Mother on Books

Guess what time it is? Yup, that's right... time for another reading interview!! Woohoo!! So, now you've met all the members of my family including my brother, my dad and my sister. But... there is someone missing. Now, it's time to meet my amazing mother, aka Superwoman!! She is the one who is largely responsible for my love of reading and, consequently, writing.

The interview begins with an interupption by my father...

Me: So let's start with the basic questions.
Dad (in background): Your name
Me: Sure...
Mom: I feel a little nervous.
Me: Why?
Mom: I don't know...
Dad (laughing): Because you might uncover something she doesn't want to reveal...
Mom: No, that you're going to argue with me or something....

Thankfully, there was no uncovering of deep dark secrets or arguments. :) Now, to the interview!

What kinds of books do you like?

Well, I like suspense, because lots of times I can't predict what's going to happen. But I like a lot of things. Family stories, historical fiction. Probably my favourite are suspenseful things. Things that are sort of fast-paced. I like some sorts of science fiction.

The best books are books that you just keep thinking about after you put them down, because you want to know what's going to happen. Not knowing what's going to happen in a book is important to me, unless you just want something really easy to read once in a while. I like books that aren't predictable.

What genres do you stay away from?

Westerns. And your typical romance story. It just seems like such a low level of reading. Well, maybe it's not a low level of reading but it's just like... they have a formula and whatever romance novel you read it all happens the same, it's just a different place and different person. You always know what's going to happen.

What are some of your favourite authors or books?

Francine Rivers, Ted Dekker... and they're totally opposite which is funny. One book I read lately that was really good was Sarah's Key. It sort of haunted me afterwards, same with that book The Boy With the Striped Pajamas.

How do you pick out books for me and my brother?

For you, I can think of what I liked at that age and also if it's a YA book that I'm interested in, then you would probably be interested in it. Although of course there are some YA books that I would read but you wouldn't, but I know those ones. And with your brother... the authors that he's read before and liked, and I basically go off the books he's read before and books he's read very quickly. Also, his interests like math or soccer. And with your sister, it's easy, because of her interest in movies.

Do you think reading is important? Why?

Yes, because it gives you a different perspective on things. I mean, I guess you can get a different perspective watching TV but with reading a book... it's almost like with watching TV it's someone else's perspective, while with reading a book it's your own perspective. With books, you learn about other people's perspectives but you also put your on perspective on those perspectives... haha. And reading's fun... it can take you to a different place in your head. And it also puts me to sleep. All I have to do at night is read a book and then I fall asleep.

When we were little, were you determined to have us read?

I remember Dad and I talked about the values we wanted to instill in you and one of them was that you would love reading. And you do that by reading yourself and reading to your kids. I love reading kid's books as well as the other books I read. I'm known as "The Book Lady" at work.

Where do you think your love of reading comes from?

My mom. My mom read to me, and she was a reader. My dad wasn't really a reader, but my mom was. We'd read all the time before bed. I can still remember my favourite book... There's A Mouse in the House. I can even remember the cover, it had like an older, three-story house on it with a mouse in the top.

And just having books around. There's actually some statistic that if you have a certain number of books in your house then your kids will be readers. Although it's only, like, twenty books.

How would you have felt if even after you did all that, we still weren't into reading?

I would probably just... keep reading to you. It wasn't just me reading to you, it was Dad reading to you... and just us reading ourselves. All those things instill a love of reading.

You read YA sometimes. Why?

I don't read all Young Adult stuff. But I think sometimes because... I don't know if this is true or not... but I think YA writers actually have to write better in some cases because  if you want to get teenagers to read then it has to be written well. Because most aren't going to put the effort into reading a book unless it peaks their interest. So it has to be written well. Although I don't know if that's really true.

Do you have anything else to say about books?

Um... they can be a friend, when no one else is around...

Uh, I think you got that out of a book.

No, I didn't! They are like your best friends when no one else is around. And they're very quiet, actually.

Yeah, but they leave you after 200 pages...

But there's always another book. And I love the library. It's like a free bookstore.

Thanks, Mom! Isn't she great? :)

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Write A Short Story

I haven't written a ton of short stories, but I've written more than a few. One of my short stories was published in a teen writers' magazine (What If? Magazine) and another short story of mine won 3rd place in a local short story contest.

Short stories are very, very useful. They are perfect for entering contests or submitting to magazines, or posting on sites like or TeenInk. They also help you with your writing. I think it's always good to write stuff that might be more of a challenge. It helps you grow in your writing. Also, if you win a contest or get into a magazine, you build up your "writing resume" if you will. So, if you don't think so already, I'll just tell you: get on with writing those short stories!

However... short stories are also a huge pain. I'm sure most writers like sticking to writing their novels, where they have all the time in the world to work on characters, plot, etc. I think that's one big reason why short stories are such a pain to write: you have limited time.

Over the years, through writing and reading some good short stories, I've learned a bit about writing them and I'm here to help you, with my limited expertise!!

Step #1: Read short stories.

There are some really excellent short stories out there. Actually, this one teen writers magazine I know of, The Claremont Review  has some really awesome short stories. (Anyone 13-19 can submit stories, and I found out recently that it does accept international submissions... the website is here). I'm sure if you search around in your area you can find a Writer's Guild or organization that makes short story collections. Please, please look for good short stories though. You'll know them when you read them.

Step #2: The idea.

I think one of the most difficult parts about writing a short story is the idea. How can you think of an idea that's so contained, that's so limited? Well, I've found there's a few good ways to do it.

1. Use whims of ideas

You know how when you get an idea just randomly like... I don't know... "it would be cool to write a story about the relationship between a brother and a sister". Then you think of how you could make that idea into an entire book. Well, while you're coming up with all these whims of ideas, sift through them and ask yourself: could I make this into a short story instead?

2. Use a scene from your novel

Some scenes in novels can work well just on their own as a short story, with a bit of tweaking. Go through your novel and try to think what scenes might work well as a short story.

3. Think of a topic or message you want to focus on

For our lame provincial English exam, we have to do a "writing task" for the final part. Usually I do a short story. But the exam always has a theme, and we have to do our writing task on that theme. The theme for one of my exams was "Choices" another, "Responsibility". I find sometimes it's easier to think of an idea when you have to stick to a certain topic.

Step #3: The story

I watched some video once on short story-writing advice. One thing they said I didn't agree with, and that was that it's OK to use "telling" in short stories. I would say don't do that, because you could end up writing a really terrible short story if you don't do it right. Also, I think it shows you're a better writer when you avoid "telling".

I think some people (uh, okay, I think I) have trouble writing short stories because you don't have much time or space to tell your story. If you keep in mind a few simple things, it's much easier to write your story.

You don't have to have more than one problem

You know how in a story, you're supposed to have Hurdle #1 for your characters, then Hurdle #2, #3, to infinity? Well, in a short story you can't have that. There is one hurdle. However, this doesn't mean your short story has to be lame and boring because the character only tries once and the hurdle has been jumped.

In a short story you can focus a lot more on that single hurdle

Sure, you only have one problem. But go in depth with it. You don't have to spend a lot of time on plot development or a whole lot of character or relationship development like you do in novels, so you can focus more on one problem. Get your short story characters down and dirty with that one problem. Show how the problem affects different characters, maybe. There's a lot more that you can do with only one hurdle than you think. But don't just do a sort of fable thing (like that story, uh, Tortoise and the Hare or something?) where it's Problem-Character Overcomes Problem-Character Learns Lesson. Go deeper.

Step #4: The end

And when you're done, you can dance!
oh wait... there's editing too...

Um... so I don't think I'm really qualified to talk about endings. I'm really quite terrible at them. I guess I would say... don't finish the story too late. Sometimes I think writers tend to go on with their story when it isn't necessary because everything is already been resolved. Oh, that's another thing...

You don't have to resolve everything

Just like a normal novel, not everything has to be resolved. I would say especially in short stories. When you're focusing on one problem or one message, you just have to choose what exactly you want to be resolved about that problem.

Like I said, I'm not really an expert on short stories but I thought I'd share what I've learned... feel free to share your own advice/opinions!

In your experience, what have you learned about writing short stories?


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