Category Archives: Hannah Burke

Hannah’s Notes on Heather Vogel Frederick on Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows that they are. “ ~ Somerset Maugham

This is how Heather Vogel Frederick began her presentation on “Much Ado About Middle Grade,” which addressed how to not only write middle grade fiction, but any type of writing, through the setting, characters, and plot. First, however, it is important to write from your heart, and not just about what others want you to write about it. Also, write about what you want to know, not what you do know, it allows you – as the author – to be passionate and interested in your writing.

The setting is a vital part of a story because it can set the reader down in the world you have created. It can be anything you want it to, it just has to be described vividly for the readers to get the full effect.

To address the importance of setting, Frederick described our first writing exercise: take two or three minutes to draw a map of your childhood neighborhood. Then, go to a place on the map that you loved, circle it, and describe it for five minutes.

Next, Frederick discussed characters; readers love a book with memorable characters, which can be described in two different ways: outside/in and inside/out. Through outside/in, the exterior appearance of the character is the main description given to readers, but it can also suggest certain interior qualities. Even the name of the character can hint to his personality. We then proceeded to the second writing exercise in which we described a picture from her presentation by their outside qualities.

On the other hand, describing a character using inside/out is by describing their action and dialogue. For homework, Frederick told us to pick a few favorite books and see how they describe their characters.

Lastly, Frederick addressed the plot, which is surprisingly easy to forget. A writer’s secret weapon, used to avoid forgetting the plot, is the question : “What if?” For most stories, there is a three act structure: Act I is the call to adventure, in which the hero is introduced. Secondly, is Act II, where the hero faces obstacles, and finally there is Act III, when the character triumphs and returns with some sort of insight. Don’t take this as a formula, advised Frederick, but as a pattern.

Frederick concluded with a small bit of humor as she discussed her two fears: the fear of the blank page and fear of failure. To avoid these, Frederick likes to get a piece of duct tape and tape her butt to her chair. That way, she has no choice but to write.


Hannah’s Notes On Jeff Baker’s Qualities of Critically Acclaimed Books: How To Write for Raves

NWAS Season Five WHS Student Intern: Hannah Burke

This month Jeff Baker – book editor for The Oregonian – talked to us about what he looks for as he sorts through the 500 books he receives each weeks.

Comical yet informative, he discussed not only how he chooses which books to review, but also tips on writing a good review. With him, he brought three newspapers from the “Sunday Living” section to highlight his points on what types of writing The Oregonian reviews, as well as the length and content of each review. Possibly his most helpful advice for those who wish to write reviews: be sure to include the following questions in no more than 500 words- the length of an average review: What is the book about? Do you like it? Why do you like it? Also try to include a quote, he said, “to include the writer’s style.”

For a majority of Baker’s talk, he involved the audience with a Q&A session. Below are the most helpful questions and answers for those who want their book to be reviewed, or who are pursuing a job to review books:

How is there enough time to sort through books quickly?

According to Baker, it is important that a reviewer remembers “you can judge a book by its cover.” Look for the quality, design and title to decide which book has the possibility of being a good one. Also, you may skip a best seller every so often, but if you don’t review it when it comes out on hardback, you can review it when it comes out on paperback.

Who pitches the books?

For local authors, they can pitch their own books, but often, the publishers are the ones who pitch the books for Baker to review.

What are the benefits of getting a review in The Oregonian?

Publishers definitely become interested in an author after seeing a review in The Oregonian, and authors who Baker has reviewed say that it has definitely helped with their sales.  But, it also depends on how well the book is already known; he used the example of James Patterson, a well-known author who people will still read even if he receives a bad review. Giving a good review to a lesser-known author would have a better chance of increasing popularity.

What percentage of reviews is freelance work?

Freelance work used to be 100% of all reviews, however, due to budget cuts, most reviews from freelance writers have been reduced to wire reviews.

Do you ever review self-publishers?

Reviewing self-publishers used to be a lot more common, but due to the increasing popularity of E-publishing and E-books, it has become less. Occasionally, they are reviewed but Baker noted that an issue he has seen with self-publishers is quality. With self-publishing, Baker said, there is no quality control but don’t be discouraged: they do find some good authors who self-published.

Does creating an e-book make a difference?

Yes. Especially now, it is automatic, easy, cheap, and perfect for self-publishers and new authors. Authors have said that 40% of sales are E-books and they take up half the books Amazon sells. If you are an aspiring author, Jeff Baker recommends publishing an E-book on the internet…just remember to sell it cheap, no more than $3 to $4.

What is the difference between a person with a bestseller and an establishing writer?                 

There are two main differences: persistence and talent. Actually sitting down and writing the book takes a lot of effort and is a huge separation between a bestseller and an aspiring writer. Also, Baker has the firm belief that “if you write a good book, someone will publish it.”

How important is it to write broadly? Or should you be specific in which genre you write in?

You should focus on getting a book written above all things, but the most important part is to write what you want to write about and not just to get rich.

More write-ups on Jeff Baker’s Northwest Author Series Presentation:

360 Convos by Carole Doane (includes video clip) LINK

Writing & Riding by Oregon Equestrian LINK

Longevity Meets The Northwest Author Series by Mickey Ronningen LINK