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Fine Writing Tips

Nov 06, 2012

Debra McArthur has been a writer for as long as she can remember. “In elementary school, I liked to write stories and poems,” she recalls. “In college, I even declared a major in writing.” But when she started her career, rather than write, Debra taught English. “I assigned my students lots of writing,” she says. “While they wrote, I wrote, but they were mostly things I wrote for myself.”

Eventually, Debra took a course in writing for children, and saw some of her stories published in magazines. Her first books were nonfiction history and biographies, but she had an idea to write a novel about Territorial Kansas set in 1855. Debra’s book, A Voice for Kanzas, features 13-year-old Lucy Tomkins who moves from Pennsylvania to newly settled Kansas, where tensions brew between people who were proslavery, and those against, like Lucy’s dad.

Debra says that her characters feel like real people to her. “I want to listen to her, have her tell me how she feels,” she explains. “When I began to read, I devoured books of all kinds, but I especially loved books in series like Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins. When I found characters I liked, I wanted to go back to the library again and again to find more books about them. The characters felt like friends to me. I think that led me to create characters that my readers would want to have as friends.”

Besides creating characters readers care about, Debra thinks writers should write a lot. “Just like music or gymnastics, good writing takes practice,” she says. As you begin to master the craft of building worlds (setting) or developing characters, you’ll next begin to develop your skills at the finer points like writing good dialogue and pacing your story to create suspense. You can find books about the craft of writing, and they can help, but you can only become better with practice.”

Go to The Studio for lots of helpful writing tips from Debra, like how to revise your work, how to “read like a writer,” and why you should share your work with others.