Regional dialect and writing

dialect writing

Porgy

Does your story require writing in a regional dialect? I recently finished reading two books, Porgy and The Owl Service, that I believe were dependent on regional dialect to truly convey the stories and characters.

Last year, I picked up Porgy after I heard an interview on Fresh Air with one of the performers in the current stage revival of Porgy and Bess. I had never seen the musical and didn’t know the story, but the discussion about the various characters in the story intrigued me. The book thrilled me. The characters were fully developed, their needs and wants were clear and the obstacles they had to face were believable. Also, the dialect helped transport me to another world and often helped indicate the balance of power in the story, especially in situations where the blacks in Catfish Row spoke with the white police detectives.

 

 

 

dialect and writing

The Owl Service

This past month I finished The Owl Service. It was on the list of 100 books all 11-year olds should read as compiled by Philip Pullman. This book was a challenge for me! While I adore weaving ancient legend into modern life, I admit the ending was a bit over my head. I didn’t quite get it, probably because I don’t know the Welsh legends as well as I should. But I did love trying to come to grips with the Welsh dialogue. It was just as stimulating and challenging as the dialogue in Porgy. And the confusing tenses and vague word usage of the native Welsh also confused the wealthier English characters in the story. Language and dialect again revealed tension and inequalities in power.

Both novels needed that unique way of speaking to be conveyed to really transport the reader into that special world of the particular story.

I’m working on a vignette or ultra-flash fiction story about a teenager in love with a zombie. I’ve received some excellent feedback and critiques, including the fact that I need to incorporate more teenager dialect. Since there are at least two decades between me and my teenage experience, I am thinking I either need to hang out at the mall more (do teens still do that?) or watch more teen tv. The problem is I don’t really have time for either, to be honest.

If you want, or need, to incorporate dialect into your story, how do you find it? And how do you capture it?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Your Truth

Back in February, I attended the SCWBI Winter Conference. When people in my critique group, or other writers that I know online ask me how I felt about the conference, I answer that I felt both elated and deflated. I learned a lot, but I was also reminded that I had a lot more to learn.

One session that stood out for me in particular was the late Saturday juxtaposition of Elizabeth Wein’s talk on authorial responsibility followed by Ellen Hopkins and her fight against censorship.

In brief, Elizabeth Wein talked about her books and their reliance on information covered by the Official Secrets Act. She talked about carefully considering what you write and how it might impact readers. She told an anecdote about how a family listening on to her book tape was crying so bad, they were pulled over and the officer thought he had discovered a domestic violence situation. Wein wondered if she had any blame for how readers experienced her stories.

Ellen Hopkins tackled the same question but offered a different answer. “Write your truth,” she stated. She almost demanded it of the audience. She argued that if her stories, and her first book is based on her own daughter’s addiction to meth, saved just one reader then writing your truth was worth it.

These women spoke differently, acted differently. I also wondered if they asked different things of their audience (a roomful of mostly hopeful, some experienced) writers.

I’m against censorship when it’s imposed on all readers, all books, an entire society as a whole, by one small group of people with opinions.

But on the other hand, I personally make selections about what topics and stories I choose to consume. I make choices about what stories I’ll read. No violent horror for me, thanks. Or ghost stories. Not even a big fan of crime mysteries.

Listening to these two dedicated, talented storytellers state their positions made me wonder about what claim, if any, authors have over their readers reactions.

As writers we are asked to imagine the reader we are writing for. Experienced writers, publishers, agents often tell us to have a clear image of our reader in our heads: what they look like, how they spend their day, what they love, what they hate. But what happens to that reader after they read our works?

In March, I attended a meeting at Creative Mornings Pittsburgh and listened to Siobhan Viviane talk about her writing for young girls. In her opinion, her readers explore possibilities, actions and consequences, vicariously through what her books. I asked her if she ever thought about her authorial responsibility, if she should write something, just because she could write it. Since I haven’t yet read any of her books, I didn’t know if the actions of her characters would inspire girls in negative or positive ways. I wondered how/if her writing impacted young women and their beliefs or choices.

And on an even younger note, my husband kind of hates the Junie B. Jones books because Junie B. models bad language and often poor behavior choices. Is she to blame, or is Barbara Park to blame, if our son copies those actions of a character he thinks is pretty cool?

If our story helps a reader, do we get to take credit?

If our story hurts a reader, do we have to assume the blame?

Can you have it one way but not the other? If you accept one way, are you also accepting the other?

I’m truly asking. I don’t know the answer, or if there is an answer.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Word Count

One of my favorite parts of NaNoWriMo is the word count widget. I love feeding my daily total into the widget and seeing the graph jump up, seeing the daily words increase, seeing the decrease in words per day to finish on time.

I lost my first NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but won in both 2012 and 2013. I think that seeing the word count on a daily basis and setting a reasonable goal to accomplish each day makes me a more productive writer. It helps me finish drafts.

So when I wanted to tackle the big idea I had for a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a young adult novel, I asked my wonderful husband to help me create my own word count widget in Numbers. It helped me get to 50,000 in the first draft of that project.

word count

Starting off right

I’m at the beginning of a new project now, a middle grade fiction story that I’m preparing for a writing retreat with an editor at the end of April. Of course I pulled out my homemade word count tool and started entering my daily achievements.

As you can see, it was slow starting but I’ve made up some of the difference and I am currently on pace. There will be days when I’m busy and won’t hit my daily goal of 1667 words a day, but as long as I can keep track of my progress and really see for myself how the word count is building, I’ll keep plugging away and won’t get discouraged.

I think running may have something to do with why the word count tool helps me complete a project. I’ve gotten used to daily workouts contributing to the success of a larger goal. I know that it’s important to put the work in every day and that keeping track of what you’ve done – and not done- helps with accountability and feelings of success.

Do you work towards a daily word count? Does that make you a more effective writer or does it feel like you’re imposing an artificial goal on your current project?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Characters are Fictional

The skeleton of a story.

The skeleton of a story.

I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure you’ve read it, I think everyone has. I really enjoyed the book, I almost loved it. I wanted to love it. But here’s what stopped me. At the very, very beginning of the book John Green asks us to remember the characters are fictional and the story is made up.

I wish he hadn’t done that.

I know why he did it, or I think I know why he did it, after I finished the entire story. It makes sense when you think about what he put his characters through in his story. But for readers like me, being reminded that the characters are fictional isn’t what I want. I want to believe in them, for the short time that I am living in their world. I want to be driven to go to the library with my friend and hunt through stacks of National Geographic magazines looking for photo credits for Robert Kincaid.

But being reminded of the characters are fictional definitely had me reading parts of this book as a writer, not just as a reader. It was very clear what the main character in the story wanted, and how she was in a knot. I was curious how the author would build the story, which is different than being curious about what the character would do. I never used to read like this. I would let my mind travel the path the author laid before me. Now I think about character arc and narrative structure and the internal struggle and the external struggle and the new normal. I feel like I’m dissecting dead things in a lab when that happens.

Was I reading passively before? Am I reading actively now? Is one more valuable or useful than the other?

An interesting point in The Fault in Our Stars stimulated some discussion with my husband and I’m still pondering the concept. One of the characters questions the idea that you need pain to feel joy because knowing how broccoli tastes has no impact on the wonderful taste of chocolate.

In the same author’s note at the beginning of the book, Green also asserts that remembering characters are fictional doesn’t mean they don’t matter. That even made-up stories have value, and that’s a foundational concept for our species.

I already believed that made-up stories mattered. I think some part of me, the part that most adults call childish or naive, always thinks that even the most outlandish stories are probably true sometime and somewhere. I just don’t want authors sticking their fingers in my face and saying, “remember, this is made up. Now try to love these people like they are real while you remember that.”

Just let me suspend my disbelief, for a little while! Let me drift along with your characters!

But I also want to write stories and write them well enough, that my special readers can’t help but love my characters as much as I do. So maybe I do need to start reading like a writer. Somehow I can’t help but feel a little sad at the thought of that. Is there any way to have it both ways?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Clips

writing clips

“Jane D.O.E.” is included in Issue 65

I’m happy to announce a few new writing clips in my portfolio. Writer’s Weekly, a fantastic source of information and publications for freelance writers recently published my story about learning InDesign to boost my income and increase my client work.

Next, Children’s Writer, a newsletter produced by the Institute of Children’s Literature, published my article Procrastination into Productivity by way of Pinterest. Sometimes I think procrastination is just based on your perspective, but this article offers real tips for fiction writers looking for inspiration.

While it’s not published yet, I’m thrilled to hear that Family Fun magazine is buying an essay I submitted back in January! It’s scheduled to come out in the June/July 2014 issue and offers kids and parents a great boredom buster idea. Stay tuned.

I also completed an assignment for AppleSeeds for an their September 2014 issue on skyscrapers. I am not an engineer and have no construction experience, but I do have a lot of experience explaining complex ideas to nine year olds, so this article was right up my alley.

These new writing clips really enhance my samples and focus in on topics that are important to me. I try to update my writing clips list on my website monthly, but I’ve been so busy writing lately that I’ve fallen behind!

And I don’t think I ever formally announced that my flash fiction story “Jane D.O.E.” received an Honorable Mention from Leading Edge Literary Magazine. This award was extra-special because one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors, Orson Scott Card, was also published in Leading Edge. I think that makes me cool by association. I started “Jane D.O.E.” in the years before I had three children. It waited in my stacks of old stories until the time was right for me to revise, revise, revise and then re-submit this futuristic re-telling of the classic novel Jane Eyre.

Do you have old stories laying around, waiting for your fresh eyes and enhanced skills? What would you like to do with them?

Do you have any new writing clips you’d like to announce?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

What’s Wrong with Cookies?

Have I gone too far? What’s wrong with cookies?

apple

The original temptation

Every Friday, our daycare hosts Cookie Friday. Kids who are old enough to eat and enjoy cookies know all about it and rush into the atrium to grab a cookie and munch it down on the way home. Sometimes they grab two cookies. Or three. Every Friday.

But two weeks ago I stopped in the office and suggested the daycare staff switch things up and offer Fruity Friday.

A handful of grapes, apple slices, a ripe red strawberry…doesn’t that sound delicious? And a lot healthier, right?

I think it’s a good idea but I wonder if I’ve gone too far. What’s wrong with cookies? Nothing if you only eat them every once in awhile. But I learned from a recent webinar from Action for Healthy Kids that small treats add up. For instance, “when a student receives just one mint per day…Over the course of the school year, that adds up to over 2 1⁄2 cups of additional sugar and 3,600 extra calories.”

The suggestion to change Cookie Friday to Fruity Friday is just part of my overall trend to support healthier choices for kids in all parts of my community. Earlier this winter I emailed our community soccer league about offering healthier snacks for sale in the snack bar. Why should our boys and girls follow excellent physical activity by consuming awful junk food like sugary Hugs drinks and ice cream bars?

And of course last week was the first ever Healthy Food Challenge at our elementary school. It was a huge hit in terms of participation and kids even showed me how they added fruits and vegetables to their lunches so they could vote. But I still saw lots of kids eating lunches from school and home that had no fruits or vegetables at all.

I believe good habits start early. And I think Fruit Friday is the foundation of a better habit than Cookie Friday. But I know some parents will disagree.

So what’s your opinion? Are you all for fruit? Or do you think what’s wrong with cookies? 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Why Farm to Table is Great for Kids and Families

 

Farm to table Pittsburgh

March 21-22, 2014

This weekend is the 8th annual Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh! I am really excited to be involved in this year’s event again. The theme for this year is Food Sources and the conference again offers lots of excellent activities for children. The conference has always been family friendly, but a new feature of this year’s conference is the special Kids’ Track of programs! Both Friday and Saturday there will be programs and speakers just for kids and families. The Kids’ Track is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of eating healthy, local food. And if you’re not already convinced to bring your kids downtown, remember that kids under 12 are free!

We are so lucky to have this event in Pittsburgh. I recently spoke at the Parenting Expo here in Pittsburgh and discussed how helping children experience food with all of their senses increases their comfort level with foods and can help them learn to try new foods. Growing foods, shopping at farmer’s markets, attending events like Farm to Table and seeing gorgeous photos of fresh foods being grown, even meeting our local farmers, are all positive ways to help children develop a willingness to try new foods.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Kids’ Track on both days. On Friday, I’ll be hosting a special Tasting Party for kids, and on Saturday I’ll be hosting the Super Fun Local Food Challenge School Assembly! Both of these programs are available as school classroom workshops or assemblies and work with the Social Studies standards for Pennsylvania schools.

Of course in addition to these programs there’s the Local Food Tasting on Friday night and the Saturday Networking Breakfast. Both events are hugely popular. By the time I got to the Saturday breakfast last year all of the food was gone – it was so good no one left a crumb!

I’ll have an exhibitor table again and I’ll offer an encore to last year’s very popular Pizza on a Stick Tasting Party. My boys love coming to Farm to Table and roaming the tables, trying everything from local honey to local cheese, pickled vegetables, fresh milk, apples and more. This year I have decided to get one of those mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of these tasty fungi!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 Farm to Table Conference. Bring the kids, stop by and say hello!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

March Madness and the Healthy Food Challenge

It’s the perfect time of year for a healthy food challenge! March is National Nutrition Month and it’s also March Madness. So on a run, a time when I often get my best ideas, I decided it would be really cool to combine these two great activities into a Healthy Food Challenge!

healthy food

Healthy Food Challenge Bracket

Luckily our elementary school has a principal who supports healthy eating, I have a great working relationship with our PTO and the new Kids of STEEL club is a hit, and our new Food Services Director is setting a tone of cooperation with parents. So many factors came together just right for this activity.

Healthy Food Challenge:

I worked with food services to determine which eight fruits and vegetables would be available every day in the cafeteria. Then I created the match-ups, randomly setting up eight fruit opponents on one side and eight veggie opponents on the other.

vegetables for kids

The Veggie Conference

fruit for kids

The Fruit Conference

We sent the brackets home in advance so kids could fill them out and turn them in. I entered all the picks into a spreadsheet to track the winners. This took a lot of time! Over 200 kids turned in brackets, that’s about 1/3 of our school population.

The first round happened today. I walked around the cafeteria for each of our three lunch periods and asked kids what fruit or veggie they wanted to vote for. They could only vote for fruits or veggies they had tasted that day at lunch.

I must admit, I was surprised how many kids claimed they had not eaten any fruits or veggies for lunch that day. Some tried to claim fruit snacks were a fruit. Not a chance. One kid tried to tell me pistachios were a fruit. As much as I love pistachios and prefer them to fruit snacks, I still had to tell her no. But I told her to keep eating pistachios.

That’s why the title Healthy Food Challenge is perfect. We are challenging the kids to get more healthy foods into their daily diets.

Winners will be chosen from the most accurate brackets. We’re also pulling a few brackets from all the entries to give away some small random prizes.

My motivation to try some fun, healthy activities at school came from listening to a webinar hosted for parents by Action for Healthy Kids. I was really excited to learn tips and techniques for working with schools to increase nutritious foods and more physical activity in the school day, especially after some unfortunately negative experiences with a “wellness committee” that didn’t do much in our district when my oldest son was in kindergarten and first grade.

We have a great district and a great school. I think there’s a lot of potential here. And our principal really supports our Kids of STEEL running program. Unfortunately I’ve also received an automated call from him asking families to support a school fundraiser where teachers work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s. That activity drives me nuts.

I still have a lot to learn about increasing wellness at our school. Luckily there are more webinars from Action for Healthy Kids coming up. I have a dream of the school having a community garden before my youngest, who isn’t even in kindergarten yet, graduates sixth grade. I’m excited to learn more about why taking away recess time as punishment is bad for academic achievement.

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Process Blog Tour

Last week I was invited to participate in a writing process blog tour by my friend Vanessa Bernard. Please check out her exciting writing!

As part of the blog tour I need to answer four questions about my writing process. Here we go:

1) What am I working on? For clients, I’m doing an annual report, a monthly newsletter, and a year-long marketing campaign. For myself I’m finishing a flash fiction story for a contest and trying to get my young adult novel whipped into shape (still) to submit to agents.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? My work for clients might include a little more humor than they would think to add. My fiction work usually includes strong mothers and characters who enjoy running.

3) Why do I write what I do? I write for clients to strengthen my professional skills and to make money to fund my fiction writing activities. I write fiction for the 14 year girl I once was.

4) How does my writing process work? An idea about a unique character in an awkward situation hits me while I am running. Or showering. Or sleeping. I jot it down on scrap paper or into a voice memo on my iPhone. I return to my laptop and capture it furiously while trying to tell my kids to “just wait a minute, Mom’s almost done. We’ll have dinner soon!”

There you have it. Next week you should visit my writing friends Melissa Firman at writer.reader.mom and Ceil K. at That’s All She Wrote for their perspectives on the writing process.

And now I’m heading out for a run!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Just change your perspective.

procrastination

See things differently.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

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