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Category Archives: On Writing

Craft Cinema: What Would Happen If…

 

Wouldn’t it be fun to take your favorite story and write about what happens next?

Cinderella’s daughter would become a spoiled brat, and treat her step-daughter as her mother had been treated. A prince from a neighboring country would fall in love with Cindy Jr., show her the error of her ways, and the two would live happily ever after.

What about To Kill A Mockingbird? Scout would grow up to become a political activist, and work at developing half-way houses for the mentally handicapped in honor of her friend, Boo.

Several classics have gone on in sequels. Little Women and Gone With the Wind just to name two.

Hook, a sequel to Peter Pan, asks the question, “What would happen if Peter grew up?” Which is, according to IMDb, the exact question that Jake, son of the writer, James V. Hart, asked his dad. And we’re glad he did. What would happen? He’d become a modern-day pirate as a cutthroat merger and acquisitions lawyer and develop a fear of flying, of course. Genius!…

 

To read this article by Kathleen E. Kovach in its entirety, go to http://craftcinema.blogspot.com/2008/11/hook.html.

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The Long and Winding Road

The light of morning on the forest paths - Olympic Nat'l Park

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before, it always leads me here
Leads me to your door

The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
Why leave me standing here, let me know the way

Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried
And still they lead me back to the long, winding road
You left me standing here a long, long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to you door

But still they lead me back to the long and winding road
You left me standing here a long, long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here, lead me to you door
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

(McCartney, Paul. The Beatles. “The Long and Winding Road.” Let It Be. Apple Records. 1970.)

Everyone has a long and winding road. My most recent one began in the fall of 2012, when I started planning two weddings: the first for my only son, who was married September 22, 2013, the second for my middle daughter, who was married May 31, 2014. Although delighted with my growing family, I’m glad the stress is over.

But there’s more to that road than just the weddings. You see, somewhere along the way I lost my writing and I can’t quite remember where. It could have been that first meandering curve where I found myself gazing into the anticipated beauty of my children getting married, or that last sharp turn where all I cared about was putting my feet up and sleeping in the day after it was over. All I know is, scattered here and there along that path are bits and pieces of a story God called me to write over 11 years ago.

The Beatles song, “The Long and Winding Road,” is my cry to my LORD, begging Him to return me to that place which was lost before “the wild and windy night that the rain washed away.” It was a time when I felt joy in the project He gave me, joy in my writing, joy in His promise of my book. Then the wind and rains of life came, and the road became long and winding. It was not till afterwards—when I tried to regain the momentum I had prior to the fall of 2012—did I realize what I had lost.

I know I’m not alone in this discovery. Almost every writer walks down a long and winding road at least once in their life. They feel the rain splash like tears against their face and wonder why they were left standing alone. The funny thing is, they really weren’t. For all they really had to do was continue down the road because, as the song tells us, it always leads us to His door.

My prayer is you, like me, can rediscover that which was lost, that God gives you grace and stamina to continue onward to His door, and that the joy He gave you when you were first called to write is rejuvenated.

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you. ~Psalm 143:8 NLT

Practically Perfect in Every Way

Mary Poppins

As I expected: ‘Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.’ ~Mary Poppins
(from the movie “Mary Poppins,” Walt Disney Studios, 1964)


As a child, Mary Poppins was one of my favorite movies. I remember my parents taking me to see it at the Cooper Theater on South Colorado Blvd., in Denver, when the movie came out in 1964. The theater had 814 seats and a 146-degree panoramic screen known as Cinerama, measuring a massive 105 feet by 35 feet.

When the movie’s introductory music began and the curtain parted (yes, this theater actually had a curtain in front of the screen), a sensation of excitement passed over me equaled only to the anticipation I used to have on Christmas morning. I squirmed waiting for the story to build, then squealed in delight (along with hundreds of other children) as I watched Mary Poppins float down from the sky in her wonderful, perfect glory.

When the show was over, I left the theater determined to be like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.

As time went on I grew up. Mary Poppins became Julie Andrews, and practically perfect in every way was a balloon that exploded in my face. It didn’t take long for me to realize life wasn’t perfect. Thus, I laid aside perfectionism for practicality.

Or so I thought.

Enter the me of today. Here I am at 3:00 a.m. working on the HIS Writers newsletter, proofing it over and over to make sure it’s “perfect.” Sleep, what’s that? As long as whatever I’m working on is not done to the standards I’ve set for myself, the standards of “perfectionism,” I will work on them again and again and again until those standards are met.

So what’s wrong with perfectionism? Isn’t it a quality we should strive for? Especially as writers, we want our work to be the best it can be. We dot our i‘s, cross our t‘s, draft and redraft, then double check every rule we’ve learned from every seminar we’ve attended to make sure our work is as perfect as possible. But what happens when it’s not? If you’re a perfectionist like me, you pull yourself back together and do what you can do to make it as perfect as possible. Or you quit.

Sometimes I shake my head in wonder at God’s sense of humor. Why in the world would He even consider asking a perfectionist to become a writer? But the Bible says in our weakness Christ is made strong. How well I know this verse! It is etched into my mind like writing on a stone tablet. But knowing and KNOWING are two different things. Yes, I know I’m not perfect nor ever will be. And yes, I know there is only ONE who is perfect, and He is my LORD. Yet I so easily fall into the enemy’s trap and listen to his lies that perfectionism, not failure, is what really makes God happy. And so, like a hamster knowing nothing different, I climb back onto my wheel and run till I’m exhausted.

If not perfectionism, what do you struggle with? What lies do you allow the enemy to whisper in your ear? What untruths of his, stop or slow you down from becoming the man or woman of God you’ve been called to be?

Praise be to God, our heavenly Father, who stands in the gap for us and gives us grace! Who brings us out of the wilderness of our own failings and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Who places a robe on our back and puts His ring on our finger, calling us into an inheritance greater than we will (or can) ever know or understand.

My prayer for you is that God brings you out of whatever wilderness you are in. That He refreshes you with the water of His Holy Spirit and gives you strength to move forward. That He lifts you up on the wings of eagles and, once again, gives you faith, hope, and vision. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NASB)

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Letting Go and Letting God

Letting GoDon’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect His will really is. ~Romans 12:2 NLT

 

It’s your baby. You birthed it, fed it, stayed up late at night with it, watched it grow. Then you sent it out into the world of publishing only to watch it slowly die. Now the decision is obvious: you have to let it go.

Letting go of ambition and letting God take control of our writing is difficult. After all, for most of us writing has become our identity—and who wants anyone, even God, to mess with that? But letting go and letting God is the very thing we must do if we wish to succeed in this business. I don’t mean “succeed” in the sense of financial gain or notoriety; what I’m referring to is success in the sense of becoming secure in the writer God made us to be—even if that means we don’t write the next bestseller or are never picked up by an agent or publishing house.

Is letting go easy? Heavens no! Take it from me, a control freak. Letting go is like pulling teeth without Novocain. But when all is said and done, when the “bad tooth” is out, letting go takes on a whole different meaning.

LORD, why is it so hard to let go? Why do we hang on to so many things You’ve tried to pry from our fingers? Whether it be our work in progress or something personal in our life, control sometimes feels like a safety net when it’s actually a pit of doom. Help us, LORD, as we write, to let go of our own desires and hang on to what’s precious in Your sight. Help us let go of our “baby” when you say it’s time to let go. And give us the discernment to know when what we’re writing is from our own selfish ambition or from You. I praise You, O LORD, for calling me to be a writer. May all glory be given to You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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Reading Levels Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore

I was inspired by the presentation of Chris Richards, editor at Written World Communications and president of Mile High Scribes (ACFW South Denver Chapter), at the August 12th HIS Writers (ACFW North Denver Chapter) monthly meeting, to delve deeper into the literacy problem in the U.S. today. As I did, it occurred to me why Young Adult (YA) fiction not only appeals to youth, but to older teens and adults as well.

scholastic-logoFor instance, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is ranked by Scholastic as having an Interest Level of 6th – 8th grade (MG), which is equivalent to an age level of 11-13 years, Lexile Framework of 810L, a Grade Level Equivalency of 7.0, a Guided Reading Level of Z, and a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) of 7. (For more information on these terms, go to http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/leveled-reading-systems-explained.)

In an article written by Doug Barry, Scholastic was quoted as saying,
hungergamescover

…as of July 19, [Scholastic] had over 50 million copies of
Collins’ books (23 million copies of
The Hunger Games, 14 million of Catching Fire, and 13 million of Mockingjay) circulating around the U.S., having their covers folded back, their pages filled with beach sand, and their bindings generally abused by careless readers. (Barry)

But does that mean the popularity of this book series is limited to middle grade? Absolutely not! In fact, if you do a Google search you will find many parents feel the interest level of 6th – 8th grade (age level 11-13 years) is marked too low due to the graphic content of the series.

The popularity of The Hunger Games series is proof that a 7.0 reading level appeals to older teens and adults as well as middle graders. There are 2,400+ reviews for the series found on Amazon.com, which came from adults 18 and over, considering you must have a valid credit card to set up an Amazon account and only those who have valid Amazon accounts are allowed to post reviews. And according to another article written by The Atlantic Wire in their Entertainment section,

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has amazon-logosurpassed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as the best-selling books of all time—print and e-books combined—on Amazon.com, and The Hunger Games is also the most-borrowed book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. (Doll)

So what’s my point in all this? My point is…

KNOW YOUR READER’S READING LEVEL!

2000114154_0c2c82f176_oAs a writer of fiction, you need to be aware that understanding reading levels isn’t just for children’s books anymore. With illiteracy at an all time high, it is important to realize more than 20% of adults struggle with reading levels no higher than fifth grade (5.0), 14 percent (30 million) of adults in the U.S. are functioning at Below Basic (defined simply as “not having adequate reading skills for daily life”), and 44 million adults in the U.S. can’t read well enough to read a simple story to a child. This means they cannot:

  • Understand the instructions on a medicine container
  • Read stories to their children
  • Read a newspaper article or a map
  • Read correspondence from their bank or any government agency
  • Fill out an application for work
  • Read the safety instructions for operating machinery
  • Compete effectively for today’s jobs

Studies show that low literacy is not the problem of immigrants, the elderly, high-school oneoutoffivedropouts, or people whose first language is not English. Low literacy is a problem that knows no age, education, economic boundaries, or national origins. Most people with low literacy skills were born in this country or have English as their first language.

When people pick up something they cannot understand, they put it down. So it is your job, as a writer, to make sure you know your target market and their reading/comprehension level. 

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability is integrated into Microsoft Word, so there’s no excuse for a writer to be unaware of the readability level of their fiction piece. To turn this option on, do the following (you only need to do this once):

For Word 2003

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
  2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
  3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
  4. On the Standard toolbar, click Spelling and Grammar.

When Microsoft Word finishes checking spelling and grammar, it displays
information about the reading level of the document.

For Word 2007 and 2010readability-statistics

  1. Select File > Options from the toolbar at the top of the screen.
  2. Click the Proofing tab from the list to the left.
  3. Check the box next to: Check grammar with spelling.
  4. Check the box next to: Show readability statistics.
  5. Click OK.

When you finish spell check (F7), the [Flesch-Kincaid ] readability level will now appear as well. NOTE: Word doesn’t score above grade 12. Any grade above 12 will be reported as Grade 12.

So how exactly is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Readability level determined? Here’s the formula:

  1. Calculate the average number of words used per sentence.
  2. Calculate the average number of syllables per word.
  3. Multiply the average number of words by 0.39 and add it to the average number of syllables per word multiplied by 11.8.
  4. Subtract 15.59 from the result.

The specific mathematical formula is:

readableFKRA = (0.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59

Where,

FKRA = Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age

ASL = Average Sentence Length (i.e., the number of words divided by the number
of sentences)

ASW = Average number of Syllable per Word (i.e., the number of syllables divided
by the number of words)

Analyzing the results is a simple exercise. For instance, a score of 5.3 indicates a fifth grader in their third month of that grade would be able to read the document. The score makes it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts for the students.

shutterstock_69000412Other Readability Assessment Tools
Other readability assessment tools include Lexile Framework, Dale-Chall, Spache, Fry Graph, Raygor Graph, Gunning FOG, DRA, Powers-Sumner-Kearl, Coleman-Liau Index, and SMOG Index.

For more readability calculators and text tools, go to http://www.readabilityformulas.com/search/pages/Free_Readability_Calculators.

If you don’t want to wait until after you’re done writing to discover the readability level of your fiction piece, a good book to have that references words introduced by grade level (K – 6) is Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogliner (Writer’s Digest Books). Another resource is the K12 Reader website at http://www.k12reader.com/.

Everyone's A Reader logo2Interested in writing a high-low book (high interest, low reading level)? ACFWs Colorado
Springs chapter, Worship Write Witness, is conducting an “Everyone’s A Reader” novella contest (15-25,000 word YA novella or a 25-35,000 word adult novella–YA needs to be written at a 2nd-3rd grade level; Adult needs to be at a 3rd-4th grade level) to help address this very issue. The winning novella will be submitted to Harpstring, an imprint of Written World Communications, with the possibility of a contract if accepted by their review board. For more information, go to http://worshipwritewitness.acfwcolorado.com/writing_contest_2013.html.

_________________________
Sources:
Barry, Doug. “The Hunger Games Trilogy Has Now Outsold All the Harry Potter Books.”Jezebel. N.p., 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. <http://jezebel.com/5936436/the-hunger-games-trilogy-has-now-outsold-all-the-harry-potter-books>.

Doll, Jenn. “‘The Hunger Games’ Breaks the Potter Book Barrier on Amazon.” The Atlantic Wire. N.p., 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. <http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/08/hunger-games-breaks-potter-book-barrier-amazon/55914/>.
http://www.readabilityformulas.com/
http://www.impact-information.com/impactinfo/literacy.htm
http://jezebel.com/5936436/the-hunger-games-trilogy-has-now-outsold-all-the-harry-potter-books
http://www.scholastic.com
http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/book-selection-tips/assess-dra-reading-levels
https://lexile.desk.com/customer/portal/articles/379871-what-is-a-lexile-measure
http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/grade-equivalent/
http://www.renlearn.com/
http://www.readinga-z.com/readinga-z-levels/level-correlation-chart/
https://hosted233.renlearn.com/265945/help/ar/InterestLevels.htm
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=12177361
http://www.k12reader.com/
http://www.readabilityformulas.com/free-readability-calculators.php
http://www.amazon.com

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