Weenies Literary Concepts

Examples and ideas for using the stories with core language-arts topics. (Suggestions, corrections, and additions are welcome and encouraged. Send an email to david at davildubar.com.)

alliteration, allusions, anthropomorphism, antonyms, assonance, bias, characterization, compare and contrast, compound words, context clues, conventions of language, conventions of literature, descriptive writing, devices (literary), dialogue, figurative vs. literal language, first person , flashbacks, foreshadowing, formal language, fragments, genre, homophones, hyporbole, idioms, imagery, inferences, informal language, irony, literal vs. figurative language, metaphors, onomatopoeia, personification, plot, point of view predictive reading, sensory details, sentence fragments, setting, similes, style, sub genres, symbolism, theme, third person , tone, understatement, viewpoint, voice

(Much more to come.)

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I use alliteration sparingly. Like salt, a little goes a long way. An extended use can give a humorous effect, as in the name of the carnival sandwich stand, "Sonny's Super Sloppy Sausage Sandwiches," from "Into the Wild Blue Yonder."

Here are some other examples from the stories:

"Shaping the Fog" uses alliteration to help build the mystical feel: "fainter and fuzzier," "Pressing and pushing, pinching," "soft and sad."

"Snakeland" gives us a sense of a low-budget roadside attraction with "Percy the Python" and "stupendous serpents."

From "The Billion Legger": "slurped strand of spaghetti" paints a nice image.

I have fun using alliteration for product names, such as the Jumborific Jawbuster in "Burgers and Fries." As an exercise, have your students come up with an alliterative menu.

Interestingly enough, alliteration is fairly sparse even in the titles. Most of the books only have two or three allitertative titles. A search for them could make an interesting classroom exercise.

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Allusions can either be used for the amusement of the author and reader, as a sort of insider's game, or they can serve a literary purpose. This first set of allusions is just there for fun:

"Collared" mentions the author of Dracula and Polidori's story, "Varny the Vampire," by way of street names

In "The Blacker Cat," Uncle Roderick is a reference to "The Fall of the House of Usher."

"Morgenstern" in "Dear Author" is a wink to the fictional author of The Princess Bride.

Since "Kidzilla" is inspired by "Metamorphosis," I named the teacher Mrs. Franzski.

The title, "A Little Night Fishing," is a reference to the Mozart piece, "A Little Night Music."

The following allusions serve less as a wink to the reader, and more as a valid element. First, some examples from story titles:

"Sting, Where Is Thy Death?" alludes to a well-known line in Corinthians.

"The Unforgiving Tree" is a punning reference to The Giving Tree.

Some examples from the body of the stories:

"The Smell of Death" uses two words, "eternal vigilance," from Thomas Jefferson's famous quote. The fact that the father is talking not about liberty, but about lawn pests, adds a sense of irony.

The mention of a newt and a minnow in "Rapt Punzel" is an allusion to Newton Minow, who coined the term "vast wasteland."

The opening line of "The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies" alludes to a famous battle.

Not all illusions are intentional. I have had several readers notice that in "Lines" there are teachers named Epstein and Sutcliff. This has led them to ask whether I was a Beatles fan, since both those names play a part in the history of the group. While I am a fan, the use of those names wasn't intentional.

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The actual endowing of an object with human traits happens rarely in the stories. Personification is much more common. The strongest example of true anthropomorphism occurs in "King of the Hill," where a pile of boulders takes on human form. If you consider vampires to be persons, the leather jacket in "Collared" qualifies. And if you consider a thirst for vengeance to be solely a human trait, the title entities in "The Chipper" and "The Unforgiving Tree" could be said to have become somewhat human, though this seems to be a bit of a stretch away from the central meaning of the term.

I almost forgot to mention one other major example of anthropomorphism -- the book covers. (See if your students figure that one out.)

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"Willard's Oppositional Notebook" is basically about opposite meanings.

In "The Wizard's Mandolin," the ending hinges on the musical antonyms sharp and flat.

Since descriptions are often made by way of saying what wasn't there, you can create an exercise by taking examples of this and asking the students to rewrite using an antonym. For example, in "The Genie of the Necklace," we have, "The creature glared at her without speaking." Have your students make a list of word or phrases that could replace "without speaking." Ask them if they feel the change would improve the sentence. Here's a short list of other examples:

From "Bobbing for Dummies,": ... bobbing was definitely not boring.

From "Just Like Me": She knew, without checking, that Ann was tucked in next to her again.

From "Dear Author": Kids still mock me, but not constantly.

From "The Touch": Laura watched, not understanding...

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Buzzy Skantz's annoying passion for assonance in"Into the Wild Blue Yonder" makes his fate much more tolerable for the reader.

Assonance is often used in stories where characters are casting spells or curses, such as the one in "As You Say."

In both "Bed Tings" and "Anything You Want," the twists rely on assonance-based confusion (tree vs. three in one case, and fish vs. wish in the other).

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Even the most skilled fiction writer probably can't produce work that is totally free of bias. Nor should that be a requirement. (On the other hand, a story that exists solely to promote a cause will probably not be fun to read.) While my goal is to entertain my reader, some of my biases can be gleaned from my stories. It should be obvious from "Petro-Fied" that I'm not a fan of gas guzzlers, and anyone who has read "In the Land of the Lawn Weenies" should be able to guess my feelings on yardwork and perfect lawns. Readers who are familiar with a lot of my work should be able to guess that I've had some bad experiences with gym teachers. (On the other hand, I've known some great ones.) But it would also be a mistake to assume that every opinion of every character in a story also belongs to the author.

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You can characterize through dialogue, actions, thoughts, narration, or a combination of these elements. Characterization can be lengthy, or brief. Here are some examples:

In "The Green Man," the narrator tells the reader: I'd always tried to face things that scared me. He then recounts an anecdote from his childhood, which paints him as brave, but not fearless. His thoughts, and especially his overactive imagination, add depth to this, and make his actions more rewarding to the reader than if he'd been portrayed as a fearless chacracter.

Charlie, and his hatred for centipedes, is mostly characterized through his actions in "The Billion Legger."

Jane, one of the saddest characters in any of the stories, is immediately characterized through her actions in the opening of "The Substitute." She scurries, she flushes, she sinks down in her seat. Note that, while the reader learns some of her thoughts, she doesn't speak at all until the end of the story.

In "Sweet Soap," dialogue is used not just to characterize Barnaby and Myra, but to characterize their relationship.

While we've all heard it is better to show something than to tell it to the reader, we can characterize nicely with a combination. In this sentence from "Cat Got Your Nose?" the reader is told something about Emily, and then shown an example: But Emily was stunningly clever, and knew it was much easier to hit a target you could see.

A special note about bad boys and girls:
Since many of the stories involve an unpleasant fate for the narrator, and since we don't want to feed nice kids to pirhanas, the sacrificial characters are often shown to be unlikable.

In "The Ride of a Lifetime" , Zack starts out as a bit whiny and selfish. But, as his frustration grows, he becomes mean and aggressive. This culminates when he calls the other kids "stupid losers" and pushes a little kid.

In "Walk the Dog," Priscilla's words, actions, and thoughts paint her as selfish and self-absorbed from the start.

In "Fairy in a Jar" the narrator condems himself in the reader's eyes when he muses: In a way, I understood how that kid at the playground must have felt last week when I punched him in the gut.

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compare and contrast

Given the brevity and variety of the stories, there are many opportunities to compare and contrast various elements. Considering the importance of this aspect of language arts, this might eventually become a separate section. For now, some suggestions. (For your convenience, pairs will come from a single book, except where noted.)

An easy way to find potential pairs is to use the Weenies Topical Index to find stories about the same topic. For example, "At the Wrist" and "Your Worst Nightmare" both involve revenge and an attack by a creature, yet one is scary and one is funny.

For advanced readers, compare one of the shorter stories in any of the books with one of the longer ones. What is abbreviated or left out in the shortest stories? Do the longer ones have more description? What elements are essentail to a story? How would you lenghten the short ones or cut the long ones?

In general, stories in different viewpoints are good for comparing and contrasting. For example, "The Last Halloween" and "The Dead Won't Hurt You" both involve characters who are trying to face their fears, and who end up facing a real threat. Compare the way their fears and actions are portrayed, based on the viewpoint of the stories. "Predators" and "Picking Up" both withhold information from the reader until the ending. One story is told in first-person viewpoint while the other is in third. How does this make a difference? If you have both books in the classroom compare "Chirp" with "Predators."

"Fairy in a Jar" and "Sun Damage" (from different collections) both involve a character who has a captive creature. Compare their first reactions, their thought and actions, and their fates.

[More to come. I welcome your suggestions.]

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compound words

Colors work well for creative compound descriptions. For example, savor the sound of the "bloodred foxes" in "The Taste of Terror"

You can coin your own terms with compounds, as in the "twelve-gah tumble" experienced by Jermaine in "Rattled Nerves."

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context clues for vocabulary words

Here's a list of words with good context clues:

armada "Galactic Zap"
mediocre "The Wizard's Mandolin"
predators "King of the Hill"
vital "Fairy in a Jar"
[More to come. I welcome your suggestions.]

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conventions of language

To convincingly create nonsense terms, as in a story such as "Family Time," requires a good grounding in the conventions of language.

The linguistic concepts mentioned in "Murgopana" can help students realize that every language has specific ways (often through prefixes or affixes) of conveying aspects such as gender, count, size, and proportion. Some languages differentiate aspects of language that aren't treated that way in English.

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conventions of literature

The opening of a fairly tale, whether real, or a parody such as "The Princess and the Pea Brain" is instantly recongizable, even when it strays from the "once upon a time" wording.

In a fantasy, there is often something that triggers the magic. A lucky shot into a trash can does the trick in "Head of the Class." Snapping the leg of a crystal horse does it in "The Touch."

The distinction between a short story and a vignette is based on more than just length. A vingette is a single scene meant to create an impression. With one or two exceptions (possibly "Mrs. Barunki"), even the shortest of the Weenies stories has more than one scene, and exists to do more than merely create an impression.

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descriptive writing

(Also see sections on similes and metaphors.)

Some tricks of the trade:

Note the contrast of "bad" and "nice" (and heavy but not really) in this description from "Bird Shot": He was a heavy kid -- but not really fat -- with a bad haircut and a nice shirt.

In "Just Like Me" a description is made via comparison with a familiar object.
A moment later, her mom retunred with a package that was about twice the size of a shoe box.

In "The Tunnel of Terror," the depth of the darkness is given through both simile and metaphor: Rachel entered a darkness so deep, it was as if the wolrd had never know suc a thing as vision. The room was beyond blackness, a cave within a cave, wrapped in layers of velvet. Earlier in the same story, a door is described much more simply, by way of a single observation: Rachel could see burshstrokes in the flat black paint.

In "Touch the Bottom," there's an extended description of a creature as the narrator approaches it from a distance. Note how the details begin in a vague way, just as they would appear from afar, and grow more specific as the narrator gets closer to the creature.

A sample of descriptive phrases

From "Wandering Stu": Billy ran into the house, crying hard enough to drown his sneakers.

From "The Evil Tree": He looked like a soldier, but he wasn't wearing a uniform.

From "Not Another Word," a good example of a concise description using parallel structure: I could smell damp earth on his clothes and stale blood on his breath.

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devices (literary)

Each of the major devices has its own entry, so this section will serve as a catch-all for those that don't require a full section.

Note the use of repetition in "Mr. Lambini's Haunted House." The frequent use of the phrase, "Cindy wasn't scared," establishes a rhythm and helps set up the ending. Toward the ending of "In the Land of the Lawn Weenies," there's repeated use of "I ran." Again, it helps establish a rhythm.

Descriptions are often clustered in groups of three, using parallel structure. At the end of "The Ratty Old Bumbershoot" , we have the description, "... a damp pile of clothes, a soaked pair of muddy shoes, and a wet, ruined comic book."

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You can follow the dialogue with more than just the name of the speaker. In this line from "Tied Up," we also learn the location of the speaker."Come on, Tucker," Coach Wagner called from his spot near first base. Note that this also presented an opportunity to tell the reader the name of the narrator.

In "Overdue onto Others," Edith's sudden popularity is shown mostly through a short section of dialogue. This paints a much better picture than stating that she was popular.

"Mr. Lambini's Haunted House" opens with six lines of unattributed dialogue, which helps draw in the reader.

A fair number of the stories start with a line of dialogue. This is a great way to grab the reader. I tell students to think what happens when they are walking down the hall in school and hear someone talking. They will usually slow down to listen, especially if the line is at all interesting or intriguing. It's the same for fiction. "Cat Napped" is a good example of this, opening with the line, "LET ME GO, YOU WRETCHED BEAST!" For a very concise example, look at "MutAnts," which opensi with, "Die!"

I tend to avoid excessive use of anything other than "said." My characters don't chortle, expound, burst, resound, etc. They say or ask. They might exclaim or mutter a bit. A few other verbs might slip in, on occassion, but I try to restrain myself. This is a stylistic choice. I also avoid adverbs. I'd rather show that a character is angry than tell this to the reader by way of a phrase such as John said, angrily.

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figurative vs. literal language

A nice way to come up with story ideas is to take a figurative phrase, such as, "I was walking on air," and give it a literal interpetation. In "As You Say," the transformation of figurative expressions to literal existence functions as a terrible curse.

Though the phrase "Your Worst Nightmare" is usually used figuratively, it functions as the literal title of the story.

In "On the Road," the figurative idea of a trip that seems endless is brought, by way of fantasy, into a literal experience.

As mentioned in the entry on foreshadowing, the narrator of "In One Ear," is unaware he is speaking literally when he tells the reader I was really growing attached to them.

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Several of the stories are told as a flashback. "As You Say" and "Your Worst Nightmare" both open near the end, and then go back to tell the tale. But the more typical flashback, where the narrative is interrupted by a scene from the past, is rare in these stories. By their nature, these stories are straighforward tales. Flashbacks are much more common in my novels.

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In "Petro-Fied," the second sentence foreshadows the ending.

"Class Trip" is littered with hints about the true nature of the students. Their actions, their thoughts, and even the name of the school point toward the ending.

From "In One Ear," the narrator is unaware he is foreshadowing his fate when he tells the reader, I was really growing attached to them.

The ending of "The Slide" is foreshadowed by the recycling sign.

In "Braces," the girl in the waiting room foreshadow's Shelly's fate.

The description of the the hornets as having a drooping body, like some sort of half-dead insect, in the opening of "Sting, Where Is Thy Death?" foreshadows the ending.

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formal and informal language

Pretty much every first person story in the collections uses informal language. Even in third-person narratives, the dialogue is informal. Some apsects of formal language -- especially the avoidance of contractions -- would make the stories feel stilted. The very few examples of formal language found here are all from the dialogue of adult characters speaking in formal situations.

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Though not a part of formal writing, fragments are a useful tool in creative writing. (I suspect my frequent use of them skews the reading-level calculations down a bit.) They can add a sense of urgency, or help emphasize a precise moment of action. You can find fragments them in many of the stories. Here are some examples.

From "Wandering Stu", the prepositional part of a sentence is used as a fragment: It was fun. For a while.

"The Tank" ends with a pair of parallel fragments. Ask the students whether full sentences would give the ending a different feel.

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genre and sub genres

In speculative fiction (the term I feel comprises all of the Weenies stories) the borderlines of genre are fuzzy and dynamic. For classroom purposes, the main distinction would be between science fiction, which deals with the possible, and fantasy, which deals with the impossible. The majority of the stories can be classified as either fantasy or horror (see below). Some of the stories that involve technology, such as "Phone Ahead" or "Game Over," have the trappings of science fiction, but are actually fantasy, since the events couldn't be explained by science. Though "The Substitute" takes place in a science class and has no fantasy elements, it also doesn't involve any futuristic technology. I would consider it psychological horror. For examples of science fiction, look at "Galactic Zap" or "Picking Up."

Horror can be considered either a genre itself or a sub genre of fantasy. Note that not all stories about monsters are horror stories, as can be seen with "Frankendance"

Time travel is a sub genre of both science fiction, as seen in "Time Out," where the mechanism is a time machine, and fantasy, as seen in "Yesterday Tomorrow", where the travel is created by mneans of a broken clock.

Paranormal romance is not a part of the Weenies universe, though the concept is parodied in "Attack of the Vampire Weenies"

While the attempt to place each story in a specific genre and sub genre could prove frustrating or futile, the exercise of studying their elements is valuable experience.

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The concept is taken to extremes in "Gee! Ography"

While admittedly a bit of a stretch, the title "MutAnts" is a homophone for "mute ants."

Slightly imperfect homophones, such as "peace" and "peas" allow for humerous disaster in "Anything You Want"

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The stories contain millions of examples of hyperbole. Here are just a few:

From "Get out of Gym for Free": I figured the gym teacher would be tough, but he looked like he was about to bite someone's head off and spit it onto the floor. Maybe after sucking out the eyeballs.

From "Mr. HooHaa!": Half the kids started crying. One tried to crawl under the couch, and another curled into such a tight ball, I was afraid he'd disappear.

From "My Science Project": He was so big, I could feel a change in the gravitational field when he approached.

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One nice thing about idioms is that, by virtue of their familiarity, they provide a nice structure for parody, as in the title, "Cat Got Your Nose?" A darker look at an idiom can be found in "Warm Rain." The very fact that an idiom has a non-literal meaning allows writers to create twists by taking them literally, as is done with the title "What's Eating the Vegans?"

The literal meaning of an idiom can provide the entire concept for a story, as in "Let's Have a Big Hand for Gerald."

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Many examples can be found in the sections on similes and metaphors. I've listed more examples here.

In "Flyers" we see that ... a sheet of yellow paper sailed against her leg and stayed there, flapping like a trapped bird.

I went back to the same well for another bird in "Finders Losers," where a tot-finder sticker flapping in the breeze causes a character to say, "It looks like a trapped bird." In this case, the image isn't given through narration, but through dialogue. Either way, it paints a picture.

The ending of "Crizzles" presents a haunting image (and a spoiler). Danny kept laughing as the flesh melted from his face like wax on a candle. And his eyes, even as they slid away to reveal what lay beneath, looked hungry. Very hungry.

In "Ten Pounds of Chocolate", we see a panther who also is a house cat. At one point a memorable image is painted by using a reference to a common symbol: Then he clawed at the door, his waving tail forming question marks in the air.

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inferences (predictive reading)

Given how many of the stories have twist endings or an understated finish, endings are a rich area for making inferences. Here are just a handful of examples of stories where readers need to make an inference to fully appreciate what they've read.

"Take a Whack at This" gives the reader both obvious (the kids screaming) and subtle (the mother relaxing) information from which to draw an inference about the ending, even though the action happens off screen.

In "Mrs. Barunki" , one of the shortest stories in any of the collections, the twist hangs upon a single word. Students who make the correct inference will see Mrs. Barunki's parting speech in a new light.

The last line of "Fairy in a Jar" is: I don't think I'll ever sleep again. Is the character implying something more permanent than insomnia?

Students should be able to guess why Myrna wants to sit in a chair at the end of "Sweet Soap"

Endings aren't the only rich vein of inference opportunities in these stories. Plot elements are often hinted at with clues of various sorts.

In "Braces," the date on the diploma is the key to understanding the story.

In "Predators," ask the students to think about the significance of "43" in the online name "DarkFan43."

The scars on the pet-shop owner's hands are significant in "Pretty Polly"

Even titles can be used for inferences.

Does "The Shortcut" refer to more than just the quickest way home?

Why is the title of "Not Another Word" ironic?

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Given that these stories provide much more than a minimum daily dose of irony, it seemed reasonable to break the section down into the various common platforms for irony that show up most often.

The point of no return

In many of the stories, a character almost decides to get out of a bad situation before it's too late. When doom strikes, the reader can appreciate the dramatic irony. Here are some of the stories where this occurs: "Reel," "The Slide," "The Boy Who Wouldn't Talk," "Alexander Watches a Play," and "Family Time."


Similar to the previous examples, where characters think about getting out of a bad situation, characters often think about being merciful. This moment of hesitation is reflected when the tables are turned and the character is at risk. Examples of this include "The Tank," "Sun Damage," and "All the Rage."

Fitting means of doom

Unpleasant fates are not uncommon in these stories, but they are generally fitting. In some cases, the fit is especially ironic. Examples include "Slugs," "Just Desserts," "Invasion of the Road Weenies," and "A Cure for the Uncommon Vampire."

Truer words were never spoken

Characters often comment on their own fate. Consider the final words of "The La Brea Toy Pits": "A pasta maker," she said. "I'd give anything for one of these. Ironically, she gives everything.

In "Baby Talk," there's subtle irony when the narrator describes her inarticulate response in an eloquent way: I was a bit less articulate in my response.

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From "Inquire Within," an extended metaphor: She tried to stand, but her legs had turned into thick, limp ropes. She tries to scream for help, but her tongue had become a useless scrap of cloth.

From "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board": Behind them, the last of the sunlight melted away in puddles of red and purple against the sky.

From "Big Kids": Hands swept down and grabbed the bullies the way I'd grab a root beer from the cooler in the corner store.

From "Everyone's a Winner": ...the cotton-candy air of the traveling carnival.

From "The Vampire's Rat": (describing a swarm of rats) It reminded me of a thick, fluffy carpet.

From "Slugs", a simile with a touch of personification: He quivered like a nervous tower of Jell-O.

From "Smunkies" comes a metaphorical ending: I think it's our turn in the jar.

From "The Ratty Old Bumbershoot": Woodrow glanced at the lawn, where the grass was already turning into a land of miniature lakes.

From "Wish Away": It appeared at midnight in his room, with the sound of a handful of mud thrown against his window.

From "In One Ear" : I was bobbing in a warm ocean of sound.

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shika-shika-shika-sshhhh from "Rattled Nerves"

Plock from "The Slide"

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In "Braces" , Shelley eventually becomes just like the girl she meets the first time she enters the waiting room, and meets somone who is juts like the girl she once was.

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From "Cloudy with a Chance of Message": Behind her, the teakettle blew out a steamy cloud and whistled a high-pitched laugh.

From "Bed Tings": The branch I was standing on tore from the tree with a splintering scream.

From "The Touch": Even the stuff being sold looked bored.

From "Rattled Nerves": The ground beneath him pulsed as the roots shivered in anticipation.

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These stories are very much plot driven. In most cases, a character wants something. The desire might be specific. In "The Language of Beasts," Diana wants to understand what animals are saying. In "Invasion of the Road Weenies", the main character wants to find out why joggers never smile. The desire might be more general. In "Eat a Bug," Laura just wants to stop feeling isolated. The character might have a problem to solve. The problem could be of the character's own making, as in "Fairy in a Jar," or the character might just stumble acorss trouble, as in "Elf Improvement."

The key thing in all of these stories, with the exception of one or two of the very shortest, is that something happens. It doesn't have to be the end of the world (though that does seem to happen in these stories with alarming frequency). Whatever happens, whether the characters get what they want or not, the actions and reactions have to feel satisfactory to the reader. Really, for me, that's a full description of plot. Something happens. People react with some form of action (they can't just sip tea and ponder their plight). The action has consequences. End of story.

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sensory details

I try to bring in the all senses when I write, without overloading the reader with description. Here are some examples I feel do the trick:

From "Everyone's a Winner": The shout of the barker rang over the thousand other noises filling the cotton-candy air of the traveling carnival.

From "Petro-Fied": I heard the grolw from next door while we were sitting at the dinner table. It sounded like a prehistoric beast. I could even feel the slightest bit of vibration where my feet rested on the floor.

From "Warm Rain": The air felt cooler by the water -- which meant that instead of feeling like I was inside a pot of boiling water, I just felt like I was standing too close to one.

From "Braces": It smelled more like an antique shop than a denist's office.

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sentence fragments

discussion goes here

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In most of the stories, settings are defined but not detailed. (Some of my novels give much more attention to setting, especially True Talents, which is set in Philadelphia, and Dunk, which is set on the boardwalk at Wildwood, NJ.) For example, "Sand Sharks" takes place at a beach, but it could be any beach. There are some exceptions.

In "The Evil Tree," the tree is part of the plot and part of the setting.

"The Soda Fountain" is as much about the place as the characters.

"A Nice Clean Place" has a unique setting.

The ride in "The Tunnel of Terror" is described in detail.

But, as discussed in the section on style, detailed descriptions aren't often found in these stories.

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From"Walk the Dog": Mrs. Grutcheon clapped her hands together like she as killing a mosquito.

From "Don't Ever Let It Touch the Ground": His fingers, cold as a marble headstone in winter, touched my jaw.

From "A Tiny Little Piece": The bandages felt dry and crackly, like fallen leaves.

From "Flyers": ... a sheet of yellow paper sailed against her leg and stayed there, flapping like a snagged bird.

From "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board": Julie wrapped her arms around herself as if trying to hold onto her decision.

From "Snakeland": Jason followed his parents into a building, where the warm, damp air fell over him like a wool blanket.

From "Join the Party": He passed through his won neighborhood, traveling as unnoticed as a gum wrapper blowing across the pavement.

From "The Billion Legger": The centipede slipped under Charlie's desk, vanishing like a slurped strand of spaghetti.

From "Frankendance": By the end of the dance, the whole gym would smell like the inside of an empty clam chowder can that had been sitting in the sun.

From "The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies": Their noses were dripping like tapped maple trees.

From "Not Another Word": His face was nearly as pale as the makeup he'd removed.

From "The Ride of a Lifetime": The steel rails of the world's fastest, highest, and newest roller coaster burst from the center of the park, twisting and looping like a robot's intesines.

From "Warm Rain": Everyone was running around the parking lot like this was the World Series of musical chairs and the music had just stopped.

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Note the half-dead tree at the start of "Ghost in the Well." The ghost, herself, is supsended between life and death.

In "Cat Got Your Nose?" the woman who lives with far too many cats is named "Ms. Reaker."

The last line of "The Touch" is The ringing stopped. This symbolizes Laura's disappearance.

The Humongo symbolizes conspicuous consumption in "Petro-Fied."

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In truth, I should not be discussing my own style. It's hard to observe yourself objectively. And style is something best described by those who study and analyze literature. But, in the interest of telling what I think I'm doing, here goes. My style tends to lean toward sparse descriptions, lots of dialogue, lots of action, a fairly sophisticated vocabulary, frequent humor, and a generous use of fragments. I tend to err on the side of leaving too much to the imagination. I don't dawdle on the way to the ending, or linger after the outcome becomes inevitable. I do employ a variety of tones, though I suspect my style can be spotted in even the most atypical of my stories.

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For me, theme is an inessential element of a story. I'm writing to entertain, not to provide a lesson. Having said that, I should add that I have no objection to a theme creeping into a story, or even propelling it. The most common theme in these stories is "be careful what you wish for." This would be followed by "bad stuff happens to mean people," "bad stuff happens to nice people," "life is unfair," and "life is fair." Here are some other themes. (Note -- some of these themes can also be found in the main index.)

Face your fears
"Mr. HooHaa!"
"The Green Man"

Curiosity killed the cat
"The Evil Tree"

If a deal seems to be too good to be true...
"Everyone's a Winner"
"Ten Pounds of Chocolate"

Crime doesn't pay
"Overdue onto Others"

Don't judge others
"Fourth and Inches"

Smarties finish first
"My Science Project"

It's a good idea to follow directions
"Turkey Calls"

Know when to stop
"Smart Little Suckers"

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The stories present a variety of tones. While I generally have a tone in mind when I start to turn an idea into a story, it is not uncommon for the tone to change during the writing process. While tone can have infinite variations, I'll just list some broad categories here. (As in any case of literary analysis, allow for the possibility that I am mistaken about the sound of my own work. A story that strikes me as mystical might strike another reader as nostalgic, or even somber.)

"Dear Author"
"At the Wrist"


"Fairy in a Jar"

"Shaping the Fog"

"The Touch"


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Understatement is especially effective when the events the narrator observes are bizarre or over the top, as in "Throwaways."

I often use understatement for the last line of a story. In "Get out of Gym for Free", after surviving a brawl and before subjecting himself to a looming chemical fire, the narrator tells us, It was going to be a long day.

Part of the charm of "Kidzilla" comes from the narrator's understated reaction to his transformation, and to the various sorts of damage he is capable of causing.

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Two traditional viewpoints dominate the stories -- first person, and third-person limited. In most of my third-person stories, the reader sees everything through the eyes of one character. All the characters speak and act, but only the viewpoint character relates what he thinks and feels.

A handful of the stories are written using an omniscient viewpoint. They fall into two categories; stories where I want an ancient or timeless feel, such as "The Pyramid Man" or "The Wizard's Mandolin", and fractured fairy tales, such as "Rapt Punzel" or "The Princess and the Pea Brain." The one exception to this is the contemporary story, "The Cat Almost Gets a Bath," which just seemed to need to be told omnisciently. Given that we eventually learn what the cat is thinking, that seems to have been a reasonable choice.

Viewpoint presents special problems in stories where the main character doesn't survive. In third-person limited stories, such as "Every Autumn" or "The Ratty Old Bumbershoot", I handle this by slipping, for a paragraph or two, into either another limited viewpoint (in the first example) or an omniscient passage, as in the second example. This technique also works when essential information for the reader takes place away from the viewpoint character. In "Ten Pounds of Chocolate", Amy never learns the truth about the candy, but the reader does. In first-person stories, the narration has to stop when the character loses consicouness. It's possible to switch to third person, but that feels abrupt and would jolt the reader. (It's easier to do this in a novel, where chapter breaks help smooth the transition.}

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(Note -- this is a discussion of the voice of the narrator, as opposed to other meanings of "voice" such as the way it is applied to analyzing poetry.)

Stories in traditional forms give a good example of how voice can vary. "Dragon Around" has the voice of a traditional fairy tale, mingled with a bit of modern humor.

Stories where a character undergoes a major transformation present a challenge and opportunity for writers. Note the changing voice in "Smart Little Suckers." At his height, the character "contemplated the enigma of an upper limit to intelligence," and at his lowest point, he screamed, "Momeee!" and thought about "bad bugs."

The matter-of-fact voice of the character in "Kidzilla" is the key to making this tale feel whimsical.

In "The Battle Ax", the character's transformation is shown both by his actions and his voice.

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"Ghost in the Well." "I finally found someone to drop in and keep me company."

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