Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'm So Conflicted . . . .

In real life, conflict is something you probably want to avoid, but in fiction writing, the more conflict the better.  New writers often hear, “conflict is story.”  But why is it so important?  And how can you achieve conflict that feels decisive rather than angsty?

Most people don’t read a whole story if they already know how it is going to end.  It’s like when you go to a baseball game and the score is so uneven by the seventh inning that half the crowd, having had their fill of nachos and soda, decides to leave.  But have you ever noticed that that never happens in little league?  The parents are so emotionally invested in the players that no matter if their kid fell down during his last three at bats, they are going to stay.  Who knows?  This bat, he might hit a home run.  You can do the same thing by getting the reader emotionally invested in your characters.  Help them to connect with your hero by making him feel like a real person, emotional scars and all.  Then when you put that character up against impossible odds, or give him a moral choice with no easy answers, the reader vicariously faces that situation too.  And who knows?  He might think of a genius way out of it.  This is why we love a good underdog story.

To focus the conflict, give the character a goal, then let plot events and other characters stand in her way.  The character can even stumble over her own internal flaws.  Have her be able to say, “I could get what I want, if only I wasn’t so proud/stubborn/scared/lazy/broken.”  Then, instead of saying it, use plot events to show the reader how this is true.   The trick is to have the goal matter.  If the character were to fail and there would be no significant consequences, then the conflict becomes watery, and the reader ceases to care whether or not she succeeds.  That doesn't mean you have to put the character’s life on the line every time, or that your character has to save the entire world.  As long as the stakes truly matter to your character, they could be something as small as earning bragging rights, salvaging a friendship or maintaining the moral high ground.   

Everything in your story – including character, plot, setting and dialogue – gets tied together with conflict.  Learn how to keep these elements moving together to create a cohesive whole in Creative Writing: Beginner’s Fiction, a five-session class that focuses on structuring scenes for emotional impact.  Class starts on March 16, so sign up soon by calling (817) 272-2581 or register here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

STEM Education

As the Coordinator for the Kids and Teens Camps, I just wanted to take a moment to talk about STEM education.  We focus our camps to encourage kids to learn about careers in Science, Engineering, Technology And Math.  These may be areas that many students do not consider relevant to their lives -- until they see how they can use a cell phone to make a robotic elephant walk, or have a glimpse of the combustion engine of the future, or Google up a flight simulator.

Kids will get to do all of these things during our upcoming Saturday camps (starting this weekend -- you still have time to sign your camper up.)  In the summer, we will explore even more cutting edge technology with camps that focus on everything from 3-D Printers to 3-D Video Games.

When kids participate in hands-on activities, they are more likely to build on these positive experiences and embrace science and technology in school, leading to higher grades and a more enriching experience all around.  This gives them a wider pool of opportunities for success in the future workforce.

A number of our upcoming summer camps are tailored specifically towards encouraging girls to get excited about STEM topics by exploring the scientific side of things they are already interested in.  For instance our Selfie Photoshop camp teaches how to use photo editing software, and our Girl's Rock! camp uses jewelry making with natural materials as a gateway into the world of geology.

I hope to see you all this Saturday for:

Anime Character Drawing (Grades 7-8)
LEGO Robotic Elephant (Grades 4-6)
LEGO Sports Car Camp (Grades 4-6)
LEGO Flight Camp (Grades 1-3)

Or this summer, when we will be offering over 50 camps tailored to kids and teens grades 1-12.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Kids and Teens Spotlight: Lego Robotics

This February, 4th through 6th graders will build a robot that really moves in a camp that will meet on Saturday mornings (Feb 7 – 28).  Campers in the LEGO Robotic Elephant Camp will program the model to walk, pick up an object and make a trumpeting noise.  Campers will engage in real-life problem solving and learn teamwork.  We still have spots available.
LEGO Robotics has been exciting kids since the MIT Media Lab programmed the first Brick computer back in 1994.   Come and experience the latest generation of that technology!

This is only one of our LEGO based classes.  For 4th through 6th graders more interested in fast cars than robotics, we will also have LEGO Sports Car Camp, where campers will learn how real cars are engineered, along with the history of sports cars. 
For the younger kiddos (1st – 3rd graders,) we will have LEGO Flight Camp.   Get ready for takeoff
You can also check on line for a full list of our LEGO summer camps, which will include building a working instrument in LEGO EV3 Electric Guitar (grades 4-6) and mastering math the fun way in All Aboard the LEGO Math Train! (grades 1-3).
Space is limited, so register soon.   Call 817.272.2581, or visit us on the web at

Since their beginning, LEGOs have always  been a gateway to creativity.  Here are a few ways you can pair them at home with modern technology:

Build Using Virtual LEGOs -- Build with Chrome allows you to rotate an on screen base plate and make your creation from different colored/shaped virtual bricks.

Make a Brickfilm -- Stop motion animation using LEGOs has become a genre unto itself.  Some of them spoof popular movies, such as Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Others  tell unique stories.

Create a LEGO mosaic -- You can use the LEGO Photo App to  transform any photo into an on-screen mosaic.  Then, find an appropriate-sized base plate and build it in the real world!

We hope you are as excited about LEGOs as we are!  See you at camp in February!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Getting to the Heart of Your Characters

When you start a new novel or short story, sometimes it can be hard to tell your reader the right things about your characters to make them care enough to keep reading, without bogging everything down with an overwhelming amount of detail.  Sometimes, it can be helpful to work out a few things before you start.  Think about your character’s defining moment in the story.  What is the biggest dilemma they will face?  What one thought or piece of dialogue encapsulates the character’s role within your narrative?  Write out this scene first, then you will be able to pull from it to plant seeds (a.k.a. foreshadowing) of this idea or conflict from the very beginning.

Think about defining moments in your own life, when you have had to make hard choices that put you on a certain path or set half-formed moral boundaries down in stone.  What you found out about yourself may have surprised you.  A 2006 article from the Harvard Business Review explains the difference between an ethical dilemma and a defining moment:  “An ethical decision typically involves choosing between two options: one we know to be right and another we know to be wrong.  A defining moment, however, challenges us in a deeper way by asking us to choose between two or more ideals in which we deeply believe.”  Just because your characters are fictional, that doesn’t mean they should get off any easier.

While a defining moment can come at a number of different points in your story (and in a longer work, your character may face more than one), most plot arcs lead toward a dark moment, or black spot, where the reader should believe that your character may fail.  You can amp up the tension by combining the black spot with a defining moment.  Give your character the opportunity to have what they think they wanted for the entire story, or to achieve the story goal.  They can’t have both.  What are they willing to sacrifice?

Want more ideas on creating three dimensional characters, right from the start of your novel?  Sign up for Novel Preparation: What to Do Before You Start To Write, a five-session class that will also cover techniques for outlining and creating consistent worlds for your characters to inhabit.  Class starts on January 26, so sign up soon by calling (817) 272-2581 or register here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kids and Teens Spotlight: Keep your Eye On Anime

This February, 7th and 8th graders will get to learn hands-on how to draw anime characters in a class that will meet on Saturday mornings (Feb 7 – 28).  The weather outside in February is usually miserable, so find a warm spot indoors where you can develop your drawing, coloring and inking techniques, and learn how to create characters with emotional depth.  Learn how unique facial features and body language can convey emotion.

The eyes are the most important feature when revealing a character’s personality.  The more round and open the eyes are drawn, the more innocent and/or emotional the character will appear.  Hard angles and narrow eyes can give the character a more sinister edge, especially if the eyebrows slash upward instead of arching.  Remember that irises aren’t all one flat color, and that eyes reflect light and need highlights that correspond to the light sources.   To get a feel for how the same eyes change when reacting to different emotions, you could study body language books – or come to camp and have the instructor help you convey your character’s emotions visually.

Space is limited, so register soon.   Call 817.272.2581, or visit us on the web at


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