Blood on the Forehead: What I Know About Writingby M. E. Kerr
Award-winning novelist M. E. Kerr shares for the first time the stories behindand excerpt fromfive of her novels and five short stories and offers young people dozens of sensible writing tips that can be used immediately by any aspiring writer of fiction. A professional writer who has earned her living solely as an author from the year after she graduated college to the present, Ms. Kerrwith her usual mix of sparkling with and common sensetalks about how she gets her ideas and, more important, how she uses them to create her stories.
Whether you are writing your next school assignment or thinking about writing as career, Blood on the Forehead gives you a fascinating insight into the way one highly successful author approaches her own work.For decades, Marijane Meaker has delighted readers of all ages. Shes written under the names Vin Packer, M. J. Meaker, and Mary James. But as M. E. Kerr, writer of books for young adults, she has won perhaps her greatest audience.In Blood on the Forehead M. E. Kerr shares both the stories behind and excerpts from five of her novels and five short stories for young adults, as well as tips about what writers need to remember in order to write fiction successfully (e.g., Courtesy #10 to extend to your reader: Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life.). With her usual mix of sparkling wit and common sense, Kerrs personal journey through the writing process is sure to buoy the spirits of any reader faced with the next writing assignment.
M.E. Kerr is a winner of the American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the 2000 ALAN award from theNational Council of Teachers of English. She lives in East Hampton, New York, and remembers clearly the hometown boy who chose not to fight when all the other young men, including her brother, were marching off to war.
Read an Excerpt
If I were to look up from my computer now, I would see a favorite quotation in a frame over my desk, attributed to Gene Fowler:
Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.
In Blood on the Forehead I share what I know about writing short stories and novels.
A short story gives you a glimpse of something, while a novel lets you have a good, long look. But whichever you choose to write, there are certain courtesies the writer should extend to the reader:
1. Don't cheat the reader. Don't write a story that leaves out an important fact that should have been mentioned at the very beginning -- for example, that the main character is an elk. (Surprise, surprise!)
2. Take the trouble to give your characters interesting names. "Mary Smith" isn't a good choice.
3. Don't tell a story in heavy dialect or slang. Your reader shouldn't have to plow through it to "hear" you.
4. Grab your reader right away. "'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." . . . It sounds like the start of a Stephen King novel, but it's actually the beginning of a classic children's book, Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White.
5. Grace your work with a provocative or appropriate title. John Steinbeck claimed he wasn't a title man, that he didn't care what his book was called. A good thing, because when The Grapes of Wrath was published in Japan, it was translated as The Angry Raisins.
6. An idea is not a story. Focus onthe conflict, and remember that you're not finished until you've given your reader at least a hint of how your character will change, or how the problem will be solved.
7. Be as direct as possible. It took me a long time to realize that it's easier for the reader if I put down events in the order they take place. Flashbacks stop the momentum, and often force the reader to go back and reread.
8. Don't expect the reader to stick with you if you veer away from the story. Every scene should advance the plot. Keep on track.
9. Show your reader; don't tell him. Don't just say a boy is a bully. Describe him as he belittles a defenseless victim. Write a mean scene.
10. Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life.
Easy reading is hard writing. Nobody sees the blood on the forehead, just the smile on your face after there's an A+ at the top of your composition, or your name is under the title of a published book. While everyone, at one time or another, is made to write something, few people are self-starters, and even fewer go on to become professional writers. I once had a creative writing teacher who told the class, "If there is any way you can keep yourself from being a writer, do it!" (This man had published several books. He wasn't just a writer. He earned his living teaching.)
I thought his pronouncement was cruel and arrogant. I was struggling to produce short stories for his class. I wrote and rewrote these stories, and half the time he returned them with his blunt comments scrawled across the bottom of the last page.
Don't unload on me! I want a story, not a summary of your life!
I hear your characters but I don't see them!
Why do I have to wait five pages for you to get around to beginning your story?
Many years and many novels later, I finally understood what he was all about.
If you are a writer, you won't be able to keep yourself from being one.
You may have to drive a truck, wait tables, join the army, or teach, as this man did, but somewhere you will have a story started, lines of a song or a poem written down, a novel or one act of a play under way, and you'll keep working at it while you earn your living.
If you are a writer, you'll be tough enough to stay with it, no matter what.
Criticism goes with the territory. You will never like getting it, and you may never warm to the person giving it, but you'll learn from some of it . . . and some of it you'll learn to ignore.
Nine times out of ten, if you're a writer, your childhood made you strong in ways you didn't realize when you were young. You have things to be thankful for that you once believed would do you in: someone's cruelty, someone's death, someone's rejection, someone's inability to love you, or someone's prejudice.
One great thing about writing is that in a very gratifying way you're eventually paid back for all the bad things that ever happened to you. The worse they are, the more gold you have for your "golden tale."
When bad things happen to good people, good writers become alchemists. If you don't know what that word means, look it up. If you're going to be a writer, someday you'll remember finding that word in the dictionary . . . and finding, along with it, a name for the magic inside you that will eventually turn things around.
Because of it, losers become winners. Nerds and dorks become heroes.
I am a lover of rock music, and I live in a community where many rock stars live or visit. Some of them I have interviewed. Hands down, all of them tell me their teenage years were miserable. They weren't popular or they weren't good students. They were ugly or they were poor. They were shy or they were bullied. Most of them are yesterday's losers.
Today they write the songs.
This book is dedicated to the kids who hope someday to write the songs, whether they're novels, poems, plays, essays, or the kind of songs you sing. It's also dedicated to their teachers, very often the first ones to recognize their talents and to cheer them on.
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