Joyce is going to give us writing tips on how she wrote her new book, Dread the FRED.
Dread the FRED is a creative nonfiction book about a group of students grades seven through twelve in a small, rural, poor school district in the Missouri Ozarks. The book tells the story of how that tiny school won a national robotics championship captured Joy’s attention and would not let go. Joyce had to find out the story behind the incredible win.
ABOUT THE WRITING OF Dread the FRED – with Joyce Ragland
Originally I wrote for a YA audience but after six weeks in print, lots of adults are buying the book too.
Dread the FRED is about a group of students in a small, rural, poor school district in the Missouri Ozarks, light years away from the wealthy schools that dominate BEST robotics competitions. I graduated from the high school, which has fewer than 300 students and of those, sixty per cent are considered poor – they get free or reduced cost breakfast and lunch at school. How that tiny school won a national championship intrigued me – captured my attention and would not let go. I had to find out the story behind that accomplishment and started by interviewing everyone I could about the events of the FRED year – students, teachers, school administrators, community residents and parents.
It turned out, the story was way more complex than anything I envisioned, as one dramatic event after another was uncovered.
After a year of research, I began writing in standard narrative nonfiction format telling the story. I took my drafts to critique groups and learned the writing was dry to the point of being *shudder* boring.
Next, I sought advice from big name experts, including literary agents and editors with large publishing companies. One big name editor suggested that I fictionalize the story. I tried, but didn’t feel like that was doing the right thing for the students. I sought out another editor, recommended by an author of mega-selling books. The editor gave crucial advice, to stop trying to tell everyone’s story, but instead, select one or two main characters and tell the story from their point of view.
That worked. I chose one male, and one female and wrote the book as creative nonfiction, because it is impossible to quote actual conversations after the fact. And, I did consult the two key students several times to make sure that key events were accurate. I also included photographs for each chapter because describing the building of the robot and the mock corporation needed visuals.
Joyce’s tips today are about writing nonfiction when the people involved are still alive:
1. Do extensive research. For the FRED book, I interviewed students, teachers, school administrators, community residents and parents.
2. Get each person you interview to sign a permission slip for you to quote them or to paraphrase what she or he said.
3. When you have all the information you can find, sort out the most important facts, and make a timeline of important events.
4. Decide on the best voice for the story. Should the writer just tell the story? For Dread the FRED, I chose one boy and one girl and told the story from their points of view. The boy was the main one to build the robot. The girl was the main person to do the mock corporation.
5. Get advice from a critique group. Revise. Get advice from other writers, revise again and again until you have the best manuscript possible.
You can find out more about Joyce here.
If you have a question for Joyce, feel free to ask it in the comments section of this blog.