January 2014 Critique Corner

January Critique Week

Here they are…The January Stories!  

It’s story time at swirl and spark… let the critiquing begin! We have five story openers written by five amazing writers. Each story opener is posted separately with its own comment box. Just go to the post below this one to see Story # 1. Keep scrolling down to see each of the other stories after that. Over the next week, if your story is posted on the site, please be sure to make a comment about each of the other stories. Also, be on the lookout for comments from our blog readers, and from swirl and spark too. If you don’t have a story posted today, you can still make comments (even if you’re over the age of 18). I’m sure each of these writers would love to hear what you think!

Remember to keep the critique comments positive. Begin with something you like about the story, add a suggestion if you have one, and end with something else you like about it too. Give as much detail as you can. So scroll down and enjoy the openings of these stories. You’re definitely in for a treat!

But before we do, let’s hear it for our January swirl and spark Authors: Cecilia, Kara, Mackenzie, Riley and Jordan!!  **creates thunderous applause**   Thanks for submitting. So many writers will benefit from your reading your words!

And… one last thing… break out the virtual hot chocolate (or the real stuff if you can). It’s a chilly week for January Critique Week and sending a mug of steamy yummy-ness to you is my way of saying thank you… to our amazing writers, to those who stop by the blog to read, to those who’ve taken the time to tell other writers about the site (and critique week), and especially to those who leave comments for our writers. I appreciate all of you. Just remember to add the whipped cream!   

Okay, now you can scroll down to read. 🙂

January 2014 Critique Corner

January 2014: Story # 1

Title:               Finally Getting It

Author:           Cecilia T.

My brother wouldn’t let me into his treehouse, ‘cause it was no-girls-allowed. Him and Jimmy and Cheeser and Suzon-not-Susan were all afraid that I’d be better at doing boy things than they are, I bet.

Girls don’t do boy things not because we can’t, but because we aren’t stupid enough to, and that’s a pretty important distinction but the Super-Secret-Special-Spies or whatever they were calling themselves that day didn’t get it.

And all that was, well I wouldn’t say fine but it was in the grayish muck between okay and lame, and that was good enough to live with.

Until a couple days later when I saw them unrolling the rope ladder down to let Rosie Anderson in. The girl across the street who was obsessed with horses and even had a pony of her own called Ladybug, even though it sure wasn’t anywhere near red-with-black-polka-dots, but Rosie was dumb like that.

She was the kind of girl who wore princess dresses to school, the fancy kind with netting and fur trimming and sparkly shoes to match. Even when it wasn’t Halloween, and if I tried to pull that kind of thing I’d get laughed outta second grade but girls like Rosie got away with a lot more than girls like me did.

I stood under the tree even though I didn’t care, course not, I was just curious. I heard them initiating her into the Super-Stupid-Sorry-Excuse-of-a-Club circle, with the handshake they got from that ancient movie and the chant that made no sense, ‘cause they had their own made-up language that sounded a whole lot like Pig Latin.

January 2014 Critique Corner

January 2014: Story # 2

Title:               Half- Breeds and Other Liabilities

Author:           Kara B.           

            Whoever said Hell was a burning pit of torment never met my family. The real Hell was showing up at my annual reunion, hiding from my less-than-savory relatives, and playing nanny to a demonic five year old.

            All kids can be demonic. In the case of my family, it was literal. Though my sister, Lillian, wouldn’t fully evolve to demon status until she was twelve or thirteen, she still had the same nasty tendencies as the rest of the family. There was the occasional bone snapping, tantrum of demonic power, and draining of emotions and souls that filled her day.

            Me, not so lucky.

            She pulled on my gauges, and I swatted her hand way. She rolled off me and onto the grass. “Mihael, you have holes in your ears!”

            I wanted to rip her arms out of their sockets. Instead, I tried to be patient.

            “Those are called gauges, Lillian,” I said in my best I’m-not-about-to-disembowel-you-voice. “Pull on them and we’ll be having a very different conversation.”

             She yanked on my ears again.

            “Ouch! Daughter of the Devil!” I cussed. “Don’t make me take you home earlier.”

            Patience is not a virtue of mine.

            Lillian’s look implied she did not believe I’d follow up on my threat.

            “My money is on the kid.” My shoulders tensed at the laughter in the voice.

            Great, spectators.

            My sister, Kenzie, was smiling as I managed to wrench my neck from under Lillian’s grasp. Maybe she boiled a kitten or something.

January 2014 Critique Corner

January 2014: Story # 3

Title:                   Star Story        

Author:               Mackenzie N.        

Star was a very cared for dog. she got 2 full meals a day and a good amount of exercise time. after she had been with the owner for a while. the old owner had got sick. so the dog did not get as much care. so the owner gave star to a vet to take care of star while she was sick. and when she got better to come and pick her up. As weeks went on the owner had never came back to pick her up. then finally they got a report that the owner had died and sence star could understand human words she got sad when she heard that her owner had died. also she did not understand any other owner except for her old owners sister: kate and avery or her old owners brothers: jason carter and corey. and sence none of the brothers or sisters came she never had another owner . although star lived for many many years for as many as 12 years with 2 surgeries and she died by having to be put down . one last thing star was a golden retriever. 

January 2014 Critique Corner

January 2014: Story # 4

Title:                     Untitled

Author:                 Riley

It’s been a while since Callie and I have sat like this. We’re on the porch, and she’s holding my hand, and my head is in her lap. My tears are staining her skirt, and she’s probably looking down at me wondering what happened.

But I can’t tell her. I can’t bring myself to whispers the words that will no doubt fall into existence and then exist, because words like the ones I’m thinking have a lot of power in this world. Sentences like the one that has circled my brain for days on end tend to make mountains crumble into piles of stones and oceans evaporate into nothing.

He’s gone, he left, I don’t know what to do—

I don’t know how to say it so that Callie won’t melt into an ocean of her own tears. My world has already slid off of its axis, and she’s the anchor that is holding there, before it’ll fall off completely.

But the word slip out of my mouth, and we sit on my porch in the sunlight while the clouds bring rain through our minds.

January 2014 Critique Corner

January 2014: Story # 5

Title:                      Untitled         

Author:                  Jordan M.

She walks into the room and immediately, all eyes are on her. She can feel the stares, hear the whispers.

She purses her lips tightly, metaphorically throwing away the key.


She walks through without a sound, and turns around when she reaches the exit.

He’s watching her, but it’s not like she hadn’t known he would.

She watches him and he watches her and she can’t look away from his green eyes.

His eyes follow her as she walks away and she doesn’t look back.

January 2014 Critique Corner

Calling all Critters!

It’s almost here! January Critique Week. Next Wednesday, I’ll be posting the beginnings of several great stories…all written by writers ages 18 years or younger.

It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the Swirl and Spark community to improve their skills at crafting a great story opener. Besides, reading someone else’s words, and reading what other writers and readers have to say about them is a great motivator too.

Even if you are not one of the awesome writers who have submitted their work, you too can benefit from the critiques. I encourage anyone who stops by the blog next week to read the story openers and give your feedback.  I’m sure the authors would appreciate any and all constructive comments!

So, like I said…Calling all Critters out there~  If you like to read, and especially if you like to write, please join in on the fun… even if you’re over the age of 18. Swirl and Spark is a place for kids and teens who like to write and want to improve their craft and I know there are so many writers out there who can help make that happen. If you have a tip for them or some words of encouragement, we’d love to read it.

Also, if any of you are still thinking about submitting your work, please do! There are still several open spots. Just go to the Critique Corner tab for instructions. They’re pretty simple!

Thank you to all the writers so far who have submitted their work. You’re amazing and talented and I can’t  wait to post your openers on the blog!

As for me, I’ve already been inspired by the great writing I’ve seen to revise the opening paragraph of my middle grade novel. I thought it was pretty good before. It just wasn’t amazing. But I’m working on it! Maybe one of these days I’ll share mine with all of you!

So until then, Happy Wednesday! I’m ready to snuggle under a blanket, drink some tea and critique the stories I’ve gotten so far for January Critique Week. 🙂


Act it Out!

Is a story still a story when you act it out? Is a play still considered a story?

Of course it is!

There are many forms of storytelling, and plays are certainly one of them. In fact, it’s one of my favorites.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret. I first started writing- at age of 9… by writing plays! I wrote plays to perform with my cousins after Christmas dinner. I wrote plays to perform outside with the neighborhood kids. I wrote plays to perform with my brother and sisters about our favorite TV shows.  If I had a bunch of kids, a sheet of clean, white paper and a pencil, I was a happy girl! Of course I always gave myself the lead role. I mean that’s one of the perks of being the script writer. You get the best parts. 🙂

I never considered myself a writer back then. I just knew that it was fun to write down lines and act out stories. I didn’t realize that the plays I would go on to write throughout the next few years-just for fun, would be the building blocks to learning how to write creatively-to make up stories.

Plays have all the same basic elements of a written story. They have a sympathetic character who has a problem, (whether or not he knows it right away), a flaw that he has to overcome to solve the problem, and something or someone who tries stops him from getting what he really wants. The only difference is that we watch the events of the story unfold instead of reading them.

Writing a play is a great way to practice writing. In a future post I’ll go into more detail about how to format a script, but until then the most important thing you need to do is this: write a good story! I’m a big believer that any form of writing can help you develop your skills. Playwriting is an amazing way to get your imagination swirling with ideas. We already know it’s fun to write stories, but imagine all the fun you can have acting out one of your stories with your friends! So whether you’re 8 or 18, give it a try. Who knows what great stuff you’ll come up with?

So now that I’ve told you how I got my start writing, I’d love to hear about one of your first stories. How old were you when you wrote it? What was it about? Do you still have it, tucked away somewhere secret?  Tell us all about it in the comment section. I bet many of you have some good ones to share. J

I hope this idea helps you in some small way…Now I’m off to work on my own story.  I’m revising the rough draft of my novel for 8-12 year olds—well this is actually my seventh draft. Today I’m focusing on a scene between my main character and her new best friend. They’ve developed a close bond, but something has happened to make them question their friendship. Has that ever happened to you? I bet it has. It happens to a lot of friends. That’s why I have to work very hard to make it feel as real as it can for my readers—make them root for the two friends and cheer when they work it all out…if they work it all out!

Oh, and I wanted to remind you to take another peek at Critique Corner. We’re holding our next critique round on January 29th. That’s soon! I’m accepting stories right now and up until Sunday, January 26th.  They can be completed stories or just the beginning of a longer piece of writing like a novel or short story- up to 250 words. I’ve already received several great ones but I’d love to post many more. Tell your friends. Tell your teacher so she can tell her students. It’s a great way to hear what other writers think of your work…and it’s motivating to see your words up on the site!

Good luck with your writing this week! I’ll be checking the box below for your comments and my email for your stories.  So don’t be timid. Take a chance. Put your stories out there! We’d all love to read them. 🙂

Writing Craft

Do You Have Rhythm?

Some people have rhythm. And some people don’t. And I’m sorry to say, I’m one of those people who don’t. I try to have rhythm. Really, I do. I hear a great song on the radio when I’m driving so I tap my hand on the steering wheel or bob my head back and forth. Sometimes I even dance along with my kids and nieces and nephews during our family dances parties.  I mean so what if the dance parties are for the kids? Who can resist dancing to old Hannah Montana songs or Cotton- Eyed Joe?

And so I dance and sing along to my favorite songs, even without rhythm. And that makes me very happy. 🙂

But there’s one place where I do have rhythm—in my writing. In fact, rhythm is important to any good piece of writing. It can help your words flow in an easy pattern.

Here are a few tips for writing with rhythm:

1.Vary your sentence length

In each paragraph, use both long sentences and short sentences. This makes the paragraph easier to read and gives it a smoother flow. In the following sample, notice both the long and short sentences.

My sixth grade class has gathered in the amphitheater, all five hundred of us squished together shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My ponytail even feels hot. The sound we’ve been waiting for thunders through the speakers. The Piedmont Challenge theme song. I bite my pinky nail. The signal should be coming next.

In this sample, not only do the sentence lengths make the passage easier to read, they help to convey what’s happening in the story. The first sentence is quite long. The main character seems calm, like she’s simply telling the reader where she is.  As the story unfolds though, the author uses shorter sentences. You can almost feel the main character getting more and more nervous as the song plays and she gets ready for the signal to come.

2. Read Your Sentences Aloud

How do your sentences sound? Sometimes the key to creating a nice flow of sentences is simply hearing how they sound. Do they sound choppy? Maybe you’re using to many short sentences all in a row. Do you lose interest in what you’ve written? Maybe your sentences are too long. Separate them into smaller ones. If you try to put to much information into one sentence, an important point may get lost. 

3.Match Rhythm to the Mood

If you’re trying to describe a setting—a  countryside filled with beautiful flowers and cascading waterfalls–longer, more elaborate sentences will work well. But, if you’re writing an intense scene in a mystery novel, short sentences with bursts of quick, simple words will work better.  

Here’s an example: 

The main character, Connor has just missed his curfew time of 10:00pm. He walks through the front door, to find his Father waiting in the kitchen. He panics, knowing he’s about to get into trouble. Notice the long sentences he uses as he tries to explain why he was late.

                 ”Dad, I know I missed curfew again but I have a really good reason. See when the movie was over, I was about to walk to the car, you know to drive straight home so I wouldn’t be late again, but then some of the guys challenged me to a game of air hockey and you know I’m the King of Air Hockey so I knew you’d understand if I was a few minutes late because you really like air hockey too!”

                His dad holds up a hand to silence Connor. “Enough. I don’t want to hear your excuse!”

Notice the short response Connor’s angry dad gives.  And see how effective matching the rhythm of your sentences to their mood can be!

Rhythm often happens automatically. But it can happen even more effectively when you pay close attention to it. So give it a try. Add some rhythm to your writing. You’ll be amazed at how much better it will flow. And then go on and sing or dance to your favorite song. Even if you don’t have any rhythm at all! 🙂


Holidays, Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

What better way to ring in 2014 than to write something new? Today and in the early days of the New Year, I challenge you to push yourself… to create a story different from your usual stuff. If you normally write stories about real things that have happened to you in the past (like your vacation), why not write about a made up invention? If you usually write about sports, why not research one of our former presidents and write about the activities he participated in as a boy? If you like to write about animals, why not write a mystery? Maybe even a mystery that involves your pet? Writing the puzzle of your very own mystery story is tough—but a great way to get your ideas swirling!

For the older writers out there, you could do the same thing. If you usually set your stories in a high school, why not write your characters into a different setting? Like maybe a spa or the restaurant where they work. How about a big city? Research a place you’d love to go. Immerse yourself in that culture, whether it’s Paris, NYC, or the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Then find a way for your character to travel there. Who knows what a new setting could do for your characters and your story?

The New Year brings with it an amazing opportunity to start fresh. We can pack away the old ways of doing things (if they aren’t working, of course) and give something new a try! With each story we write, we improve. So this year, if you like to write, keep writing! Keep working on that great idea. Make the time to turn it into a story—even if it turns into a short story or merely a section of a story. The important thing is to get those thoughts down on paper before you forget about them!

Even if those stories get tucked away in a drawer in your bedroom or a file on your laptop, whatever you do, keep them! They’re important. Someday you’ll want to read them. Reading the old stories you’ve written is the best way to see how far you’ve come as a writer in the past year! And besides, there may be parts of those stories that you want to use again in your next even better story!

So in the spirit of the New Year, I’d like to leave you with 7 words:








In your free time, turn these words into a short story. Be sure to include a problem and a solution. Make your characters memorable and make their problem BIG! Remember, the bigger the stakes the better the story.

Have fun with this! I’d love to read the stories you come up with and post them on the website. 

And remember, go check out the Critique Corner tab. We’re having our next critique round on January 29th. The stories can be about these 7 words but they don’t have to be. I’m accepting stories right now and up until January 27th. I’m sure there are many readers who’d love to read what you’re working on… and I bet you’d love to get some feedback too. 🙂 So go on. You can do it. Break out your notebook or laptop or tablet. Let 2014 be the year you become a better writer. That’s my wish for all of us!

So cheers…Let’s turn those sparks of imagination into our best stories yet! Happy New Year!!

*hugs* Jackie