Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing is Elementary with Margo Dill (Part II)

In the photo above, Margo Dill holds a copy of her middle-grade book that takes place in the Civil War. The title of her book is Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg.
Continuing with my last post, here is the conclusion of the notes I took during the Saturday Writers meeting where Margo discussed "Everything You Need to Know About Writing You Learned in Elementary School."
Organization. Margo gave examples of how different types of writing are organized from beginning, middle, to end.
   * At the beginning of a story, catch the reader's attention to make them want to keep reading. Introduce the main character's problem. Wow the reader.
   * Some personal essays and picture books are wrtten as circle stories, such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Some stories start in the present, flashback, then end in the present.
  *  Some memoirs are divided into chapters or sections. Some non-fiction is written in chronological order or begins with a big event then continues from there. 
  * Endings should wrap up the plot and subplot in fiction. Draw non-fiction to a close without repeating the thesis or introducing new information. Be satisfying.
  *  Not every book will have a happy ending, but if it satisfies the reader's expectations and is true to the character, that's okay. Readers like order, so if you set up an expectation, stick with it. Continuity is important.
Voice. Experts say that voice is hard to define, but they know it when they read it.
   * Voice is something that can't be taught, but a writer can work to develop a unique voice. In fiction, it's the personality of the writer shining through. It is natural, flowing, interesting.
   * Voice has a lot to do with sentence fluency and word choices. Some suggestions: do more prewriting, write in first person instead of third, write with the reader in mind. The editor of Margo's book suggested she give more depth to her main character by writing personal journal entries for her.
   * Margo also gave an example of how readers prefer voice after reading books on the same topic. She mentioned two books she used when teaching about Rev. Martin Luther King. The students in her class preferred My Brother Martin, which was written by a family member of MLK, to a biography of MLK, which was written by someone who didn't know him.
Conventions. Proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc are important.
   * Conventions vary depending on the medium. She mentioned some editors use the Chicago Manual of Style while others use the AP Style Manual.
   * She was asked about her pet peeves as an editor. They include: improper use of apostrophe's, being inconsistent when using commas . . . using too many ellipses. . . and Capitalizing Words That Shouldn't Be. (Please excuse my attempt at humor to demonstrate Margo's pet peeves.)
Publication. The +1 portion of her presentation covered publication as well as editing. Some writers write for themselves and don't want to be published, which is fine. But if a writer wants to be published, Margo recommended they join a good critique group or hire a professional editor. Editing takes time and can be expensive. Don't expect to pay an editor $20 to edit a 400-page manuscript in a week. A good editor will be thorough and detailed with suggestions. To find a reputable editor, check out their credentials and get recommendations from other writers.
Hope you enjoyed reading about what Margo had to say about the elementary nature of writing. Next time I begin a story or an essay I'm going to try her potato method to dig deep and watch out for those pet peeves.
Speaking of pet peeves, one of mine is using it's as a possessive rather than its. Inquiring minds want to know: What are some of your pet peeves?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm with you on the "its vs it's." Also, "then vs than" and "their, there, and they're."

    But we all make mistakes, so I try to give people - including myself! - a break. :)

    1. Hi Madeline,
      I make my share, too.

    2. My pet peeve is the same-- using 's for a pronoun. That's third grade grammar--I know because I taught third grade. Another one is improper use of helping verbs--such as "have went" instead of "have gone." But the ultimate one is ending a sentence with "at". People in this area of Missouri do that all the time. When I taught, many of the teachers and even the principal always said "Where's it at?".

  3. Thx for posting about Margo's presentation. You said it better than I could in the limited space on
    Pet peeve? I've had it with "got" - as in "Got Milk?" which started it. No one seems to be able to say "have" anymore. And an oldie but badie: Supposedly doesn't got a "b" in it. Ha ha!

  4. Could there be such a thing as too many ellipses? I don't think so. ;)

  5. Hi Marcia,
    That's another one.

    Hi Sioux,
    Hmm . . . I wonder . . .


  6. Pet peeves? Somebody needs to tell Save A Lot that their off-brand Froot Loops should not have an apostrophe in Circus O's. It's not like General Mills named their cereal Cheerio's. Then there's that whole FROOT Loops thing.

  7. Pet peeves? Hmm . . . there are so many to Choose From!!!!! ;o)

    DOnna, Thanks for sharing Margo's talks with your readers. I've enjoyed getting to meet her editorial side.

    Congratulations, Margo, on your success!

  8. Hi Val,
    That kind of stuff drives me batty, so does the "15 Items or Less" sign.

    Hi Clara,
    You are welcome. Margo is a woman with many talents.


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  10. Donna, thanks again for sharing what I said. I liked your Humorous Take on my . . . pet peeve's. :) I'll try to do the same with yours if its possible. :) Love you! Miss you! :)

    Hi Clara--good to see you, here.

  11. Thanks for sharing your notes from Margo's talk. Most of my pet peeves are from teen conversational slang that is also mutilating their writing -- such as: "like yeah" and "like hella! and anything that starts or ends with "like." Like really?

    1. Hi Penelope Anne,

      You are welcome. Like, I agree. ;-)


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