Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Hale’

funny-pictures-cat-is-stuck-in-your-christmas-treeStuck-itis, it’s that terrible condition that all authors face when they get stuck halfway through their story. We’ve all experienced it, and sometimes the effects can be crippling for a writer. Friend of the blog, author Bruce Hale, shared these four tips for helping an author get rid of stuck-iris in his recent newsletter. Bruce graciously gave me permission to share those tips with our readers today.

Dear Writer Guy,

I usually get story ideas all the time and start writing them.
However, I usually get stuck in the middle of the story and
don’t know where to go from there. Do you have any tips for
writer’s block or story stuck-itis?

Yours truly,
Julie in Texas

Dear Julie,

Usually, I find my story bogs down when I’ve lost track of what
the character wants or I haven’t given her a meaningful enough
goal to carry her through the whole tale.  If the character is
actively trying to solve a problem, your story will keep moving

Of course, it’s one thing to say this and another thing to
accomplish it.  Here are a few techniques you might try to get

o Character journaling: Write journal entries as if you were that
main character.  Sometimes in the free flow of writing, a new idea
will shake loose.

o Interview your character: Write this in Q&A format, with you
posing questions and your character answering.  Ask what she’s
feeling, what she wants – anything that will help you get past the
stuck place.  The answers might surprise you.

o Brainstorming: It’s vital to do plenty of this before you
begin writing.  Sometimes I’ve gotten stuck because I
didn’t allow the story idea enough time to gestate before I
tried to push it out into the world.  Play with the idea before
writing.  Let it grow organically.

o Dream seeding: Writing is a head game. (And some of us are head
cases because of this!)  Let your unconscious mind lend a hand.
Before you go to sleep, hold the key story question in your mind,
whether it’s, “What happens next?” “What does
she want?” or, “How does he get out of this

And if all that fails, try putting your story aside and working on
something else for a week.  The brain break may do you good.

If you’d like more writing tips, find out more about Bruce or subscribe to his newsletter check out the following links:

Thanks, Bruce, for letting us share your wisdom today.
Happy Writing,
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk

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Revising your manuscript can be a difficult task. Where to begin? What to look for? What to cut?

In his recent newsletter, author Bruce Hale featured some great tips on revision. I asked Bruce if we could share those tips with our readers and he agreed.


So you’ve finished that first draft and let your story marinate in
its own juices for a while, and now it’s time for revision.  Only
question is: where to start?

With a picture book, that’s not too terribly daunting.  But with a
longer novel, you’d be well served to devise a strategy before
plunging into those narrative thickets that can swallow the unwary
writer.  I suspect everyone has his or her own favored approach to
revision.  Here’s the one I’ve found most useful…

First time through, the hardest thing is to *just* read your story
and take notes.  No line edits, no grammar corrections, no
paragraph revisions — just reading.  But if you want to be able to
see the whole forest, instead of the individual trees, this
approach is vital.

By all means, take copious notes.  “Tighten the opening on page
43;” “wonky sentence on page 12, first paragraph;” “fix the plot
logic in Chapter 18.”  These are all helpful.  And they prepare the
way for…

Once you’ve waded through your story and taken copious notes,
congratulate yourself.  It’s not as bad as you thought, right?  (We
hope.)  With this optimistic thought, it’s time to roll up the
sleeves and plunge into wholehearted revision.

The first time through, work on larger issues: plot holes,
character inconsistencies, gaps in story logic, slow scenes that
need to be trimmed, and so forth.  You can always do the fine
polishing later.

Revise sequentially if you can, rather than skipping around.  For
any sections that require you to write new material, use the same
method you would in a first draft: write it fast and sloppy.  After
all, you can always fix it in the NEXT revision.

Taking the time to read your work aloud may seem redundant at this
point, but it’s necessary.  You won’t believe how many errors
you’ll catch.  Homonyms, awkward phrasing, missing words, echoes
(unintentionally repeated words) — all these will pop out at you
like Halloween skeletons at a haunted house.

This is the revision where you can really focus on the sound and
rhythm of your writing.  Listen for those areas that sound clunky
and don’t really roll off the tongue — that’s your cue to break out
the belt sander and make things smooooth.

Once the story is as good as you can make it, and you’ve read aloud
to catch hidden glitches, it’s time to turn the microscope on your
dialog.  First, make sure each character speaks differently.  Have
them use different idioms, word choice and catch phrases —
otherwise, they’ll all sound like each other (or like you).

Top-notch authors like Elmore Leonard vary their character dialog
so deftly, they don’t even need attributions (he said/she said).
It’s that clear who’s speaking.  In real life, we all have our own
ways of putting things.  So just make sure your fictional
characters possess that same distinction.

Before I send my story off to agent or editor, I usually try to let
it sit for a week or so, then do one last read-through, to make
sure all my changes fit, and to smooth out any remaining rough
edges.  This is an ideal time to search for words you overuse.
(And we *all* overuse certain pet words.)

For example, I know that I tend to drop in “just” and “only” too
often, and I tend to have too many characters shrugging and
nodding.  A quick search for these words shows me where I’ve
overdone it, and a quick fix guards against too much sameness in
the manuscript.

For more great writing tips be sure to check out Bruce’s website here. If you’d like to receive the monthly newsletter, you may sign up here.

Happy Revising,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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What does it take to get published today?

Author Bruce Hale is conducting a tele-seminar with agent Donald Maass to discuss this topic this week. Donald will share information from his book,  The Breakout Novelist:  Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers.  As an agent for multiple New York Times bestsellers, he possesses a unique inside perspective on what it takes to get published and succeed in a big way.

The one-hour interview, will cover:

  • The number-one story mistake that unpublished writers make;
  • How the changing climate of publishing affects your chances of getting published;
  • How to add “micro-tension” to your story to hook editors;
  • Submission mistakes that can torpedo your story’s chances;
  • How to make your story world so fresh that editors can’t resist;
  • Tips for crafting characters that jump from the page, and more!
Date: Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011
Time: 12 noon Pacific/2 p.m. Central/3 p.m. Eastern
Duration: 1 hour
Cost: $19.99
For more information or to sign up for the seminar visit the following link.
Happy Writing,
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk

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I recently met Bruce Hale author of the Chet Gecko series at an event here is San Diego.

I noticed that he was wearing a large gecko pin on his lapel and complemented him on the pin. Bruce responded by telling me that when you write a story about a gecko you can expect to receive a lot of geckos as gifts. I have found this to be true for my own book “Grandma’s Pear Tree” as well. In a recent post I shared about the my beautiful pear I received at a school visit at San Rafael School.

So I began thinking, if I get gifts related to the title of my book, maybe I should really consider the title of my next book. Here are a few titles I came up with:

  • Billy’s Really Big Gold Nugget
  • The Mystery in the Diamond Mine
  • Mommy’s New Used Car (I don’t want to be greedy)
  • The Really Big Book Deal (I could get books or a book deal with this one and either one would be great)

So I am sending a challenge out to you. What other book titles can you think of?

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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This week we will begin a new feature on Writing on the Sidewalk- The Author Spotlight.  I would love to say that this will be a regular weekly or monthly feature, but we probably procrastinate too much for that.

Bruce Hale is a multi-talented author and speaker, his information on humor in writing and revision have been featured here in previous posts.

Here is a little of Bruce’s Bio:

Raised by wolves just outside Los Angeles, Bruce Hale began his career as a writer while living in Tokyo, and continued it when he moved to Hawaii in 1983. Before entering the world of children’s books, he worked as a magazine editor, surveyor, corporate lackey, gardener, actor, and deejay.

Bruce has written and illustrated over 25 books for kids. His Underwhere series includes Prince of Underwhere and Pirates of Underwhere. His Chet Gecko Mysteries series includes: The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, The Big Nap, The Malted Falcon, Hiss Me Deadly, and others.

What was your road to publication?

I started out by self-publishing picture books, which ended up being sort of a master class in children’s books. I learned with every book in the 5-book “Moki” series.  The whole time I was working on those, I was also submitting stories to major publishers and collecting rejection letters — lots of rejection letters.  This went on for 8 1/2 years, until I finally met an agent who liked my Chet Gecko story and helped me land a 3-book contract at Harcourt.

Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

When I write mysteries, I plot my stories.  Usually the first 2/3 of the story and the ending are plotted, and I leave a chunk of the book unplanned, so I can be surprised during the writing process.  But right now, I working on the first draft of a book that had only a vague concept at the start and is being revealed to me day by day.

Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

I can’t talk about that new book (it’s too soon), but I did just sign a contract with Dial Books for a picture book called, EVIL BABY.  It’s about a baby with dreams of world domination.

Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

I work out of a home office, with a view of the oaks outside our house, stacks of books, and a sweet mutt that wanders in and out.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Either jazz singer or animator.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I’m a wild dancer and perhaps the only non-beef-eating rancher in California.

In your Chet Gecko series you make quite a few references to Film noir dramas, are you a huge fan?

Absolutely.  I grew up on those old black-and-white movies, and in fact it was one of the ways my dad and I bonded.

Can you share your thoughts on humor in writing?

Humor writers are like Rodney Dangerfield — usually, we don’t get no respect.  But I agree with the late Sid Fleischman, who used to say that “humor is the oxygen of children’s literature.”

We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

While I do my fair share of procrastinating at the start of a story and when I feel stuck, I’m usually pretty good at putting butt in chair every day I’m home and getting at least some writing done.

In addition to writing Bruce is also a great speaker. I was privileged to hear him speak at one of our local San Diego SCBWI meetings. Be sure to check out Bruce’s site for speaking information plus more more of his great writing information and tips.

Thanks Bruce for sharing with us.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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This is the second post in my series about revision. Today we feature the wisdom of author Bruce Hale. Bruce is the author of over 20 books for kids, including the Chet Gecko Mysteries and Underwhere. He is also an accomplished speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences. I had an opportunity to hear Bruce speak at our local San Diego SCBWI meeting and I was truly inspired.

The following information is an excerpt from his March 2009 newletter:


Story revision can seem unending.  You tweak a character’s
motivation, and then her actions need to change.  You get the plot
all ironed out, and then the dialog sounds flat.

It’s a lot of work.  But as Hemingway said, “writing is rewriting.”

Make revisions easier by taking them in stages.  The first time
through, do an “afro-pick” revision.  Remember those afro picks
that were so popular back in the ’70s?  (No?  Before your time?)
With their widely-spaced teeth, they were ideal for fluffing your
curls and removing leaves and twigs from your hair.

Similarly, your afro-pick revision concentrates on the big chunks —
inconsistent character motivation, plot holes, overall flow — not
the smaller details.

I’ve discussed this first stage of revision in an earlier issue, so
today, let’s examine how to handle your story’s second pass.

This time through, break out the pocket comb.  You’re still not
zeroing in on the nit-picky stuff like spelling and grammar, but
you’ve moved one step closer, focusing on issues of voice and

Here’s how you do it…

First, read your story aloud.  Yes, even if the cat gives you
strange looks.  As you read, underline in red any words or phrases
that trip you up, without slowing down to fix them just then. And
jot down any extra words that naturally pop out.  (This makes your
story more conversational.)

While reading, circle bits that you particularly like.  This helps
identify where your voice is strongest.  Later, you can go back and
replicate that distinctive voice in areas where it’s weaker.

The pocket comb revision is a good place to tune up your dialog.
We addressed dialog in-depth in the Fall 2008 issues of this
newsletter, but here are a few things to look for…

“You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.
“Keep going until you’re finished,” he said harshly.
(Both lines would be stronger without the “in astonishment” or
“harshly.”  Use vivid verbs instead – “gasped” and “snapped.”

Awkward attributions
“Is it the only one?” she inquired.
“So you came back,” he chuckled.
“Do tell,” she smiled.
(Remember, you can’t chuckle something or smile something, but you
can say it. When in doubt, stick to “said.”)

Inappropriate formality
“I would not do that if I were you.” (Change this to a contraction,
unless the speaker is pompous.)
“Have you contemplated the consequences?” (Use simpler words.)

Avoid unnecessary exposition wherever possible. If you can trim or
eliminate background descriptions to bring us closer to the action,
do it.  A good rule of thumb: Give the reader only as much
information as she needs to figure out what’s going on at the moment.

And remember, awkward exposition crops up in dialog, too.  It’s
called “feather-duster narration,” after the scenes in bad plays
where the maid chats on the phone, filling in the audience as she

“Hello?  No, Master Faversham isn’t here.  He’s gone with Lady
Bucknell-Thwaite to the races, where he hopes to meet his sister
Fanny who ran off with a jockey over five years ago…  No, Miss
Terwilliger isn’t here, either.  She’s off in the woods no doubt,
pining over her forbidden love for the vicar’s son.”

True, it’s one of the oldest bits of writing advice.  But it bears

When you tell us readers what you want us to know, you don’t trust
our intelligence.  When you show us, you let us draw the conclusion
for ourselves.

Martha was a real tightwad.  Of all the people in that town, she
was the one most concerned with money.  Which was funny, because
she had so much of it.  People always treated her politely, maybe
because they thought she might remember them in her will.

Martha squinted at the receipt.  “Are you sure you counted my
“Yes’m,” said the clerk.
“All ten of them?”
“I did, ma’am.”
Martha broke out her pocket calculator, while the rest of the folks
in line waited without comment.  She did some quick figures,
grunted, and marched out of the store.
“Every danged time,” said the clerk to her friend.

And now it’s time to put the pocket comb away.  Next issue, we’ll
look at the third phase of revision — you guessed it — the nit pick
comb.  Until then, may all your edits be swift and painless.

This is a great way to think of revision. I am currently at the “afro-pick” stage of my revision. I am moving things around adding and dropping characters and events and it is nice to know I don’t have to worry about the grammar, spelling or dialog until the pocket comb and nit pick phases.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

P.S. Special thanks to Bruce for letting me share his wisdom, be sure to check out his books, tips and website. SLS

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Q: How can you catch a young readers attention?

A: Humor.

It’s a well known fact if you want to grab an audience you must make them laugh. Author Bruce Hale has some great tips for injecting humor into your writing. Bruce is the award-winning author of the Chet Gecko Mysteries (for ages 8-10), with titles that include: “Dial M for Mongoose”, and “The Possum Always Rings Twice”, and many more. Bruce suggests to insert humor in your writing you must use the rule of threes. How does this work?

Here is an excerpt from Bruce’s recent newsletter:

…Humor, whether written or oral, is all about setting up
expectations and then subverting them.  We laugh when surprised.

One of the easiest ways to create this surprise is with a list,
usually a list of three items.  The first two seem to logically fit
together, like, “Tall, dark…,” thus creating an expectation. When
you add a third item that doesn’t fit, like, “and bristling with
nostril hair,” the incongruity produces humor.

Of course, you’ve got to choose the *right* incongruous third item.
“Tall, dark, and happy” may seem to follow the pattern, but the
surprise isn’t strong enough, so it’s not funny.  “Tall, dark, and
totally whacko” is stronger.  “Totally whacko” has a very different
tone from “tall, dark” — plus, it’s got that hard k sound, which
comics love.

The best way to benefit from the Rule of Threes is to experiment
with it.  You may have to brainstorm quite a few alternatives for
that third list item to get one that works.  But that’s only
natural.  After all, many humor writers also believe in the Rule of
Nine, which states that for every ten jokes you come up with, nine
will suck.

So play the odds.  Trust the Rule of Nine and experiment with the
Rule of Threes, and bring more chuckles into your stories.

Even serious stories can use a dose of well placed humor it helps break the tension, and gives your readers a little break. Bruce has a site full of helpful tips including an article on how humor can help a story. If you’re looking for a way to inject a little levity into your story, I would recommend you check it out.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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