Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Concept, Concept and more Concept...

Gracious good day my fellow Turbo Monkeys, 

Last time I wrote about how important it is to start with a great concept before you begin writing word one, 
but what is a great concept?

Because of my film background you might think I’m talking about “high concept”...but a high concept is not necessarily a blue print for a great story.

“What happens when a bored married couple's "Date Night" goes wrong?” Wacky fun!  

“Snakes on a Plane"  More wacky fun?  No...(although it might have been better as a comedy)

Both high concepts and yet considered flops.
So, high concept is not a guarantee of commercial success, but it does aid in the sell-ability of your story, and really this is why publishers and agents are in business.  
Buffy the Vampire Slayer  = “What if a cheerleader hunted vampires?”
Jaws                               =  “What if a shark stalked humans?”
Toy Story                      = “What if your kid’s toys had secret lives?”

Perfect examples of high concept stories with universal appeal, short concise pitches and a promise of potential.
A high concept is a great formula to streamline your premise, it helps, but it’s not always the indicator of success. For example...
Star Trek
Star Wars
When Harry Met Sally

Are all great concepts but not exactly “High Concept.”

A great concept, does not necessarily have to be a high concept but it should have what I call the UP UP elements.  
  1. Universal appeal - Is your theme understood by many?
    1. A primal theme of survival?
    2. A romantic theme of finding love?
    3. A nobel theme of saving a loved one?
  2. Poses a question - “What if...” “Who is...”  “Why did...”
    1. "What if your reality was just a computer game?" = Matrix
    2. "Who is Forrest Gump?" = Forrest Gump
    3. "Why did Schindler save the Jewish workers?" = Schindler's List
  3. Unique - Original or a spin on something familiar.  
    1. Human girl falls in love with glowing vampire = Twilight
    2. Ex lovers chase tornados = Twister
    3. Man is castaway on a boat with a tiger = Life of Pi
  4. Promises Potential - Potential of laughter, drama, fear, romance or $$$
The promise of potential is a bit subjective but it should be as obvious as one eastbound train and one westbound train on the same track.  

A great concept is generally pitch driven.  Three sentences or less that paint a picture in the reader’s head, states your theme, poses a question, promises potential and most of all causes “Cha Ching” to ring in their ears.
I hope this helps you form a great concept and gets your writing to a new level.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Digging Deeper . . .

by Ellen


For my blog post this week, I’ll be talking about rewriting. Not surface revision, but deep, down digging . . .      

So let me share with you some new avenues that I have discovered this time around while rewriting my novel, Justus.


Books are important for research and bettering one’s craft. For this rewrite, I read books on craft that I had not read before, and as I read, I took notes and applied these to bettering my story.

Below are two books I highly recommend.        

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.   This book is amazing. Every chapter is filled with practical information. For example, the first chapter is called, How to Hook a Reader. Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future. Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.  Later chapters unfold explaining how our brains react to story, and what compels us to want to turn the pages from one chapter to the next.    

 Make a Scene, Creating a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. My last blog post was on this book. The author explains throughout the book how important compelling characters are, and how well-written scenes make us believe we are there, in real time.  


Archaeological blogs and sites: My story takes place in Carnuntum and the surrounding mountains of Germania. In ancient times, Carnuntum was Roman occupied. For my rewrite, I found an amazing site, Carnuntum Archaeological Park . Most everything I needed for creating a more believable ancient world along the Danube River was found here . . . but it’s in German, which I’m a little rusty at. The park archaeologists do reply in English! For example, I needed to know what sort of bridge crossed the Danube near Carnuntum, stone or pontoon.  Answer, pontoon. Also, during my rewrite, I wanted my barbarian character, Roland, to fight in the arena as a gladiator. As I dug deeper into the Carnuntum site, I discovered that a coliseum second to that in Rome and Pompeii was located in Carnuntum. Problem solved. This site also provided YouTube videos of re-enactments and the history of the area.

A good site to direct you to other archaeological websites and blogs is Archaeology, Trowels and Tools.  


 In my rewrite, my main character changed dramatically. He grew externally and internally through the new scenes I created. His old name no longer fit, so I decided he needed a new one, a more solid name . . . an actual name of a Roman soldier. I searched the roster of the Gemina XIV, a legion stationed where my story begins, in Carnuntum. I found a soldier with a name that fit my character, Gaius Antonius Justus. My character became Justus.

Toxic Parents by Susan Forward, Ph.D.  This is a New York Times Bestseller on dysfunctional parents. My main character, Justus, has a toxic parent, his father, who riddles him with guilt and self-doubt. With Toxic Parent, I was able to develop this conflict between father and son on a higher level with true-life examples. I’ve found that books on psychology are great sources for developing characters.


If you are stumped by something historical, here are two ways to discover the answer.

Write to a university professor: In my rewrite, Justus is given a sword by Roland, the German warrior chief. I needed a special sword, one that was revered by the warriors of this time. I came across a professor in Germany who is an expert on swords made from a blue-like steel with ripple-like watermarks, called Damascus steel. I emailed him my question . . .  Were there swords like these among the German barbarians? He replied yes, and shared more information with me. Needless to say, I was very happy.

YouTube: My book needed new chapters on sword fighting and wrestling. Before the rewrite, I had fallen into the old trap of “telling and not showing.” So how do you learn sword fighting, like a legionnaire or a German warrior, or wrestling, or shooting a bow and arrow properly? You watch YouTube.  I took notes, studying Viking and Roman reenactments over and over, not to mention all the clips on martial arts. YouTube is a great resource for authors!


A critique group can make any story stronger. Other sets of eyes evaluate and see things that you may have not. The Monkeys have helped me numerous times, picking up on funky sentence structure, scenes that don’t work, and unnecessary description, which I have a tendency to add. Just one member saying “I don’t get this” makes me take a more critical look at my work, digging deeper and deeper into my story.    

So, I hope if you are “digging deeper” into your story, the ending will be a beautiful book!

And remember, as Roald Dahl said, Good Writing is Essentially Rewriting   

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fear and Writing

by Amy

When my son was five, his kindergarten teacher planned a beautiful graduation ceremony, where each child stood up and told the assembled parents what they wanted to be when they grew up. Standing with his classmates in the school gym, my son suddenly realized he did not like being in front of a crowd, no sir, he did not! As his turn to speak drew near, he retreated—first by pulling his shirt collar above his face. Then by turning his back to the audience. When he finally crawled under his chair, bottom facing the audience, we rescued him to the playground.

Fear. We’ve all felt it. On more than one occasion I myself have wanted to crawl under a chair, butt facing the planning and zoning commission. And I was nearly paralyzed with fear when I took my son, alone, for a week vacation to a remote village in Mexico where I barely spoke the language. Fear can be good—reminding us to be careful—but it can also be crippling. It can even affect our writing.

It keeps us from joining a critique group, from attending conferences, from submitting to agents or editors. It might even keep us from ever putting pen to paper in the first place. So how do we deal with it?
"...when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” --Rosa Parks

Mrs. Parks was right. It seems awfully simplistic, but I’ve found that setting clear goals for my writing is the best thing for staving off fear. Every step we take in our lives involves a decision. Decisions are hard and the longer we fret over them, the more painful and scary they become.
Decisions = Fear

My dad used to say, “You don’t want to have one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock.” After years of standing blank-faced in front of him, imagining some poor soul spread-eagled over a lake, I realized what that means. The worst thing you can do with a decision is not make it. Get in the boat. Or stay on the dock. Either choice will most likely be fine, so long as you pour one-hundred percent of your energy into it. Just make the decision. Don’t wait too long. Don’t look back.

So when it comes to your writing, decide what you want and plot a course.:

     -If you're just trying your hand at a book, write it. If it doesn't turn out like you'd hoped, you don’t have to show anyone.
     -Does it simply give you pleasure to write stories, maybe to share with your kids or grandkids? Great—you don’t have to chase publication for that, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
     -If you’d like to be published, there are ways to pursue that. Read, study, hone your craft, write, revise, submit, repeat. Those are the steps. They’re laid out for us. We don't have to figure them out; we just have to follow them. And following directions isn't scary at all.

Sure, there might be some niggles of fear when our cursor hovers over that ‘send’ button, launching our first submittal to Dream Agent Extraordinaire. I still get them…over four million ‘sends’ later. But that’s okay.
The beautiful thing about fear is that overcoming it helps us grow. Sometimes we realize what scared us isn’t so scary after all. My son is now an aspiring Improv actor who’s been on stage in front of hundreds of people. Other times, overcoming fear helps us expand our comfort zone--or at least, define it. I probably won’t take my son to another isolated area alone, but I’d definitely consider Europe. Oh, heck yes I would! Who wants to go with us? Don't be afraid!

"Because fear kills everything," Mo had once told her. "Your mind, your heart, your imagination."--Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

Be brave, Monkeys!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Building a Fantasy World

by Sarah 

I'm mostly-kind-of-almost finished with VALIANT, a YA retelling of a The Brave Little Tailor. For the past year, I've been living in– and creating!– a fantasy world that I hope readers will want to enter. I want it to be so real, so vivid, that someone will feel homesick once the story's finished. 

I'm still learning this worldbuilding thing, but I did gather a few tools along the way. There are tons of websites with worksheets that help you expand your world's culture(s). (Google 'worldbuilding.') However, I found I needed the most help with naming and visualizing my world. So I'd to share what I used for: 

Character names
See Kristen's excellent post! (Or ask Craig. I wrote a few weeks before giving my MC a name– and it was finally Craig who suggested Saville.) 

Place Names
Wikipedia is your friend! It wasn't until I'd gotten through most of the story that I realized the river in VALIANT felt like the Krivija, a river I loved in Bosnia. But I also based the river on the Danube. So I looked up the Danube in Wikipedia. The article provided a ton of place names that I could adjust and use. I can't tell you how many times I've sifted through Wikipedia for place– or character– names. 

The process reminds me of looking through a thesaurus. You may not know what you're looking for, but you'll know it when you see it. 

Fantasy Language 
VALIANT needed a few words in the giants' language. I felt completely overwhelmed until I found Definitions. I'd type in a word like 'little' or 'traitor,' click 'Translations' on the right, and then see the word translated into about twenty different languages. (I LOVE this website!) Often, I'd find a word that sounded almost right. Then I'd play with sounds and syllables it was just what it should be. 

A word of caution: be sure to keep the sound or feel similar. You probably wouldn't want to claim that Hindi and German-sounding words come from the same language. 

It isn't easy finding a playlist for a fantasy. But never fear! Use Pandora. For those of you who aren't familiar with the website, you can create a station by suggesting songs that you like and then rating songs that the website plays. It takes a little time, but it's worth it. And it has access to movie soundtracks, which was perfect. After a little tweaking I created a station of soundtracks and composers that matched the feel of VALIANT. (It's a combo of Lord of the Rings, Last of the Mohicans, Gladiator, Braveheart, etc...)

Rambling ahead:

May I add that while I don't daydream about Oprah mentioning my book, I DO fantasize about Peter Jackson making it into a film? Two reasons: 1) He'd film it in New Zealand, and I'd have to visit at least once to squeal over the sets, and 2) I want to hear what Howard Shore would do with the giants' songs. I don't know how they sound– just how they make the listeners feel. But I bet Shore could figure that out.... 

Annnnd... back to our regularly scheduled programing:

After a while, I needed faces for my main characters. I knew roughly what they looked like, but I wanted pictures. And I knew Lord Verras did NOT resemble any member of One Direction. I needed more than a Google Image search. So I went to London's National Gallery website and searched the paintings by century. It was like searching a crowd for a friend's face. 

I thought about sharing the portraits here, but I don't think they'd work. For me, the search was as much about the emotion in the portrait as the face itself. Still, I discovered such interesting things about my people! For instance, I knew one character was chubby but I didn't know he was swarthy until I saw his portrait. 

I know there are a million other resources out there. I'd love to hear from you: What have you used as you write fantasy? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

YA Girl: Episode 1

by Kristen Crowley Held

Greetings Monkey Tribe!

A non-writer asked me recently if my characters talk to me, which inspired me to create YA Girl: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Life of a YA Writer.

Today I give you Episode 1:

YA Girl Episode One
by: tenheld

So, um, anyone else have an MC who talks to them?