I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.
This month we’re reading women’s fiction. If you asked me what genre I read the least, it would be women’s fiction. There are a lot of excellent women’s fiction writers out there (a few of my friends among them), but it’s not the type of story I typically look for. Women’s fiction and romance tend to be predictable — you may not be able to guess every turn the plot takes, but you always know the couple will end up together. I don’t see this is a fault; in these genres, it’s intentional. It’s what the reader wants. They may want to be surprised by a twist, but they expect a Happily Ever After.
But here’s the thing: having a predictable plot gave me ample room to explore the different beats of the plot. There were conflicts in each protagonist’s work life. There was a secret that threatened to ruin everything. There was an antagonist ex-fiance, a climax, a dark moment when it looked like the relationship was over, and an engagement at the end. If, like me, beat sheets make you cringe, women’s fiction is a good genre to work on breaking down the plot of a story.
Another thing about great women’s fiction: setting. The book I read was basically a love letter to Milwaukee, where it’s set. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but now I have a loose map of the city in my head, and I’d love to visit for one of their cultural festivals! Perhaps in part because there’s less room for the plot to meander, women’s fiction has ample opportunities to develop rich settings. And the way the characters describe their settings speaks volumes about who they are.
Have you read any women’s fiction recently? What writing lessons did you learn?
Sometimes, I’ll get a great idea for a story that will have me making excited, almost-feverish notes, whether it’s Saturday afternoon or four a.m. Sunday night. The idea will consume me for a few hours. But after that initial burst, the idea often loses momentum.
For me, the key is to let the idea marinate. I don’t make detailed outlines, but I’ll jot down key plot points and character traits. After I’ve done a bit of brainstorming, I need to step back and let the idea marinate in my subconscious, soaking up spices — a subplot here, a plot twist there — until the story is ready to cook. Some writers get ideas fully-formed, like someone’s handed them a box from one of those meal delivery services. I have to measure the spices myself, decide which ones to keep and which belong in another dish, and give the whole thing time to simmer.
If your ideas need to marinate, like mine, you may find it helpful to do writing prompts or exercises while you wait. Try experimenting with a new format or genre. Take a long walk and let your mind wander, or take a day trip for a change of scenery. One day you’ll go back to that idea and realize you’re ready to cook up a new story.
Do you have to let your ideas marinate? What helps you prepare to write something new?
A few of of my regular teens are really into Kendama. After school, there’s almost always at least one person practicing Kendama in the Teen Room. A few months ago, one of the teens on the advisory board asked if we could hold a Kendama tournament.
I had no idea how to run a Kendama tournament, but luckily, he did. One we picked a date for the program, he came up with the trick lists for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions, and helped me get in touch with someone in our community who’d run a tournament last year. He gave me ideas for mini-games to play in between each division competition. He volunteered as a judge, and helped me find other volunteers to judge.
The tournament was awesome. The best part wasn’t the competition itself, though; it was watching all these teens who were passionate about something come together, give each other tips, cheer each other on, and build off of one another. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was awesome to see all these amazingly talented teens showing off their skills.
Another cool thing about the tournament: about two-thirds of the competitors were teens I’d never seen before. The teens who helped plan this event were the ones who spread the word and brought new people to the library. Will all of them become regulars at teen programs? No. But maybe a few will start coming to other teen events, or hanging out in the Teen Room practicing Kendama after school.
So, if you have teens who are interested in programs around something you don’t know a lot about, see if they’d like to plan an event. You know your teens; if they can handle the responsibility, it can be truly amazing to see what they do when given the chance. And you might just learn a thing or two about their passion; I bought myself a Kendama because it looked so fun, and I plan to be able to get through the entire beginner’s trick list by the time we hold our next tournament!
Have you let your teens plan any programs at your library? How did it go?
Happy April! This month, writers all across the globe are challenging themselves to write a book in thirty days. I think of Camp NaNoWriMo (which takes place in April and July each year) as the underappreciated sibling of November’s NaNoWriMo. Writers work just as hard in Camp NaNo, but it’s far less recognized than the big event in November.
I think the lack of recognition for Camp NaNoWriMo means campers need even more cheerleading from friends and family. I’m not doing Camp NaNo (I thought about it, but I’m revising at the moment), but I know several writers who are. If a writer in your life is sweating through Camp NaNo this month, here are some things you can do to help them reach their goals.
- Cheer them on! Check in with an email or text every so often. When they reach daily/weekly goals, celebrate with them! (This can be as simple as tweeting “Great job” or sharing a funny video as a reward for reaching a goal.)
- If the writer has kids/siblings/elderly parents they take care of, offer to help with caretaker duties for a few hours.
- Make or bring them dinner. Fast drafting takes a lot of energy, and it’s really easy to lose track of time when you’re trying to write thousands of words a day. Having a night where you don’t have to think about dinner would be a huge help.
- Ask them how they’re doing. Some writers like to talk about their works in progress; others hate it. By asking an open question like, “How’s everything going?” you can invite them to discuss their work without making them feel forced to come up with a pitch on the spot.
- If they want to talk about their book, listen! If they’re stuck on something and want to talk through it, offer to be a sounding board.
There are plenty of other ways to cheer on your writing buddies, but these are the top five things my writing friends and I like to do for each other when one of us is fast-drafting.
Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo? If so, how is everything going?