Guest post: ‘Write across America’ children’s writing competition by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to welcome back multi-genre author Dal Burns to talk about his ongoing children’s competition ‘Write across America’.

Write Across America

Sponsored by DramaWorksInc., Write Across America means exactly what it says. We mean to create a network of young writers, spanning the entire United States and to so do using the technology that all youth understand. That technology includes blogs, web sites, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and even texting, and we must reach them from the platforms they best understand.

On the face of it, Write Across America is a simple writing competition; an ongoing competition. We will reward young writers in three ways: Publication of their work on our blog, cash prizes and publication in an eBook. We say that this is ongoing because when we tie off one competition, pay out the three $100 prizes and begin the editing process for the eBook, a new competition starts immediately. The competition then runs in stages and the outcomes are perpetuated as follows:

  • Students submit a story to our email, competition@write-across-america.com, in compliance with the rules
  • The story is critiqued and the critique sent to the student, perhaps with suggestions to improve the quality of the writing or the grammar. These critiques will be gentle in tone as we wish to encourage the writer to keep working
  • When a story is at a basic level, we will include it in our blog (http://write-across-america.com) and ask our readers to vote for or against the story
  • Once we have a sufficient number of entries, perhaps one hundred and twenty or so, we will tie off the blog
  • The three best vote-getters will be awarded a prize of $100 each
  • The best stories will be edited and published in an eBook tentatively titled, “Let the Young Speak”, which we will publish to the eReaders in ePub format. Royalties on all sales will be distributed to the writers, based on sales and the number of stories each writer has in a given book.
  • The competition begins again
  • As the competition grows, we will seek out more sponsors to assist with the expenses and more authors to help us with the workload of editing and publishing

The sub-text of this competition is also quite simple. We want young writers to pay attention to each other and to link into a network of writers, using the technologies that most already use. We can link these writers through our Twitter feeds, our blog and our use of social media sites. Bringing these young writers together will, we believe, form bonds that will encourage them to use technology as a means to furthering their careers as well as their social contacts.

Secondarily, we will create a different competition on Twitter. Older students will be able to submit what we call ‘Ultrashorts’ to us, to be sent out over our Twitter feed. These will be complete stories in one hundred and forty characters. A difficult challenge but one I am sure young adult writers will meet handily. Prizes and publishing opportunities are currently being considered for this competition.

Our expectation of teachers, librarians and authors is that they will be promoters and supporters of our competition. We need them to get the word to students and perhaps help them to formulate and edit their stories. By these means, we hope to encourage students to use their libraries more effectively as resources for their stories and to use librarians to help them to understand how useful a library really is to their career path.

We started our blog on October 1st and we are accepting stories. Our first stories are on the blog and readers are voting. We are underway.

We have a Twitter account, @WriteAcrossUSA, and are promoting the blog and Twitter feed through several Facebook pages. We are currently evaluating how best to use Google+.

Financially, this is easy for schools. There is no dollar cost to them. We want to use schools and libraries as a conduit to inform our young writers of our existence. Once a librarian or teacher has shown the writer the value of our competition, we do the rest. We have paid for the entire setup of the competition and have contributions from like-minded individuals to pay for the prizes and donate time and expertise to run the whole competition, from blog to eBook. If, at some point, a corporation or non-profit pays for some of the costs, we will indicate that on our blog.

We also intend to work on having well-known authors visit school libraries to talk about their work and their process in putting together a successful book. This may be down the road a way but we believe it can happen.

In conclusion, what we want to see is a series of eBooks by young writers, rapidly climbing the Kindle, Nook and iPad / iPhone sales charts. We’d love to discover the next Christopher or Christine Paolini but mostly we just want to see young writers getting together and making their mark in the world. We believe this is a worthy goal.

And the official stuff (as the saying goes):

  • Students submitting stories to the blog must be under eighteen years of age
  • There is no limit to the number of entries a student may submit, though there are no resubmissions of an accepted story, for subsequent competitions
  • Each story must be no more than 600 words long and can be on any subject
  • Each emailed submission will be critiqued and the critique sent to the student. The submission email address will be competition@write-across-america.com
  • Suitable short stories will be posted on our blog, http://write-across-america.com
  • Readers of the blog stories will be allowed to comment and vote for stories. Each comment will be vetted by the editors prior to posting
  • Stories from the blog deemed to be of suitable quality and subject matter will be published in an eBook of short stories.  Students may have more than one story accepted for the eBook
  • Royalty payments will be made on books sales, commensurate with the number of stories included from each author. This eBook will be available for purchase at Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook
  • The three most-voted for stories in the blog series will be awarded a cash prize of $100 each
  • After the three prizes are awarded and the eBook published, the competition will start again
  • The timing of the publication of the eBook and the awarding of the cash prizes will be determined by the editors and will depend solely on the number of stories that are submitted and the votes cast. The more stories and votes submitted, the quicker a new round will begin
  • Once the 600-word competition has been firmly established, a second competition will be initiated. Designed for the older student, the stories submitted cannot be longer than 140 characters. A character in this instance includes numbers, letters, punctuation marks and spaces. The competition will be given the name, Ultra-shorts. These stories will be initially published on Twitter and the Write-Across-America blog and may be published in eBook format at a later date. Prizes will be awarded for the most-voted stories through tweets and the blog. More details on this competition will be available soon
  • Email any enquiries to competition@write-across-america.com.

What a wonderful opportunity (shame I’m far too old and no longer study (officially, anyway))… thank you Dal! You can watch a wonderful video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROJXpPIsuu4) with Dal (and his English accent! :)) explaining the basics and read Dal’s other guest post and interview on this blog.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at morgen@morgenbailey.com with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with erotic thriller, romantic suspense and self-help author Toni Weymouth – the two hundred and forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

Guest post: Writing science-fiction by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writing science fiction by Dal Burns.

Alien Race is my first sci-fi piece to be published. It has a rather odd story attached to it. A friend and I were having a drink together and talking about writing in general. She decided on a bet; $100 that I couldn’t write a 20,000-word story in two weeks if she were to give me the final sentence. I thought about it. 20,000 words for $100? Seemed about right for a writer, so I agreed. She gave me the last sentence; “We were going home.”

The subject matter was mine to decide upon. I went home and started to think about the words, ‘We were going home’. I spent two days staring at a blank screen on my computer. Although the word ‘home’ is powerful in any story, how was I to build a new story on that one word?

When writing, I often use incidents from my own life. I have traveled a lot and spent many years on the road, gathering stories and adventures. This story could be dragged out of one of those adventures but that didn’t seem right. I needed to get away from my life entirely and look for something beyond my experience. That meant leaving Earth. As simply as that, I had decided to write a sci-fi story.

Rather than taking the story into space and leaving it there, I thought it would be interesting to link the Earth with the story in some fashion. This would give the reader a basis for getting involved. Glancing over at my bookshelf, I saw “Lucy, The Beginnings of Mankind.” There was my hook. I had to start in the distant past and move the story into the future and off the planet. So the story had to feature a person who was rooted in the past, while living in the distant future. Thus was created Ed Davidson. This was to be a man who looked for artifacts on Earth in a future time and who found something linking the past and the future. Simple; an alien artifact turns up at a dig site, some several million years old.

Now I had a plot developing. An artifact means aliens were on earth millions of years ago. This prompts the reader to wonder why and we have them interested. Nothing too technical or fancy needed. A good, simple story of a man curious to find out more about our past, by looking outward into space.

Now I needed the plot of the story. Davidson is an off-world archaeologist seeking the unattainable. Alien artifacts. He needs a rival. Someone who will get into Ed’s way, frequently.  That turns out to be Jag Danis (a deliberately ‘jagged’ sort of name), a mine boss who doesn’t want any alien artifacts getting in the way of his mining operations on distant worlds. Between them, they scour new worlds looking for wealth and evidence of alien life. Here we have the age-old conflict between two men who are competing with each other. One is seeking wealth and power, the other seeking knowledge. They will, of course, find themselves on a collision course as their desires clash. To introduce a bit more tension, Danis never plays fair. An old plot contrivance that works off-world as well as on.

Now that the main plot was organized, the sub-text of the story needed to be found. Aliens are endlessly fascinating to sci-fi reader, so they had to be included. As we are dealing with aliens who visited Earth millions of years previously and are more advanced, I thought it simple to give them the ability to move through time. In order to stay away from current thinking about the impossibility of time travel, I had them move their consciousness through time. Not something a physicist can easily dismiss. This may also give the reader pause for thought. Could humans have a conscious soul or a consciousness that transcends the boundaries of physical laws?

So now I had all the elements necessary. Looking at the story, it really boils down to several simple themes that could be in any story. Davidson is on the classic hero’s journey. Danis is the villain, trying to stop him. On one level they are fighting each other. On another level they represent the eternal struggle of humankind. Wealth versus knowledge. Greed versus virtue.  Finally, the aliens represent the force beyond both of them, attempting to guide the course of events, without becoming the ‘deus ex machina’ we need to avoid at all costs.

As with all good stories, I wanted a solid and satisfying resolution. Allowing Davidson to return to Earth in an attempt to complete his hero’s journey, despite Danis’ best efforts to thwart him, added to the conflict and tension of the story. As with many of my writings, what I want may not be what I get. I always allow the story to unfold in its own way and refuse to be my own ‘deus ex machina’. What actually happened in Alien Race was a bit of a surprise to me but seems to be satisfactory to the readers of my story.

If one wishes to be an Asimov, it will take rather a lot more work to complete a book or a novella than I am capable of delivering. Nonetheless, I find that the universal themes used in most books are also present in science-fiction, albeit with a healthy dose of science or pseudo-science mixed in to make the theme fit into the category of science-fiction. The combination is a compelling one. It allows the reader to become involved in the age-old stories of our cultures while imagining a universe filled with amazing and generally improbable technologies. To me, this is a great mix for a reader who wishes to escape mundane reality, while still understanding the culture, background and context of the story.

Thank you Dal!

Dal is a 4th-generation entertainer first put on stage at age eight, by his father. He has been involved in TV, movies, radio, recording studios, rock band, theatre etc. He has written for radio ads, theatre programs, screenplays and radio plays (he says they were fun!) theatre plays (2 of which were produced and quite successful). Dal wrote his first story at seventeen, after a mentor suggested he enter a writing competition. He said the suggestion was made because he was rather well known in his village (In the wilds of Northumberland) as the local storyteller. After that he didn’t write again until in his thirties, when working with a theatre company.

Dal has written four books and is working on a fifth, which is an illustrated children’s book, with co-author Kari Wishingrad and illustrators Sona & Jacob. That book will be released this year with the title “The Neighbor’s Cat”. He is also working on three new books; another children’s illustrated book, a YA story about an alternate universe and a YA story about two horses. Although Dal has never visited an alternate universe, he thinks he owns Bella, a Peruvian Paso mare. Bella knows better. Dal’s websites include http://dalburnswrites.com and http://dramaworksinc.com. He can also be found on Twitter (http://twitter.com/dalburns) and Facebook (as Dal Burns).

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with Ann Pietrangelo – the two hundred and first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks at Smashwords.

Guest post: Writing for Radio and Theatre by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writing for radio and theatre, by Dal Burns.

‘Writing for Radio and Theatre’

I began writing for radio while working for a local Theatre group.  I had worked my way into writing articles in the play programs and they were happy with what I was producing. After listening to the radio ads produced by the local station, I knew I could do better and sat down to write.  I found it takes real discipline to write an ad that can be narrated in either twenty-nine or fifty-nine seconds. A lot depends on the narrator and the speed at which they normally speak in an ad. I timed my own narrations at different speeds and it soon became clear what words were easy to speak at speed and which ones caused me to require the Heimlich maneuver.

Most ads are poorly-written. Trying to generate excitement by using buzz-words and an excited tone of voice is so tired, so I decided to use the best medium for getting out a message. A little touch of humor and the use of subtle picture words is where I headed. Funnily enough (no pun intended) that worked.

Here’s my formula. Don’t preach. Use a little humor and seek for the picture words that will get your point across. It takes quite a bit of banging on doors to get work at local stations but it’s worthwhile as once you are in the door, the different style you employ helps the station to sell more ads. A writer who can generate good ad copy is worth a lot.

Once known at the local stations, I tried my hand at radio plays. This type of play relies on a combination of sound effects and picture words.  I always had my plays broadcast or recorded in front of a live audience. This brings an ambiance and life to the play that is simply not possible in a regular studio recording.

One great technique in a comic play is to have the actors break character once in a while and speak to the other actors. One of my favorites is to have one actor ‘steal’ another actor’s line. This generally leads to a short argument, before the engineer breaks in and gets the show back on track.

The long history behind radio plays makes them an ideal resource for research. As most people have never heard a radio play, it’s easy enough to take the basic idea behind an old play and bring it up to date with new words and ideas. Case in point would be the old Richard Diamond series from the 1940’s. Diamond was one hard-boiled and whip-smart private eye.

This was too much to resist, so I took Richard and married him to a 1950’s style of British comedy and suddenly he was a major goofball with a very cool-dude voice. From there, it was simple to write a script that highlighted Diamond’s strengths and weaknesses. Several examples were:

“Hi, I’m Richard Diamond, private eye but my best friends call me diamond dick, swinging detective…I wonder why?” and “I was sitting in my office the other day when a man came through the door (crashing sound). I wish he’d opened the door first!” Speaking of his secretary, “Now there’s a gal who carries a pair of 38’s, and a gun, wherever she goes.”

Corny as all get out and yet the studio audience howled with laughter and the local critics loved the show.

Theatre plays are another animal entirely. Theatre is the actor’s medium, much more so than the writer’s. Once the curtain goes up, it’s the actor’s play. They are in control of the process of bringing your words to life.

It’s said there are only three types of play:

  • American: Man gets girl. Man loses girl and spends the rest of the play getting her back
  • French: Man gets girl and spends the rest of the play trying to get away from her
  • Russian: Two people, who neither want nor get each other, spend two hours complaining about it

Forget about them. As the writer, you have three tasks:

  • A plot line that is coherent
  • An emotional dilemma for each actor that is slowly revealed during the play
  • A sharply defined resolution to the play

I’m adding two more essential elements:

  • The picture words
  • Blocking

The plot’s the easy part. Movies and books can provide the framework of a play. Plays, though, require a great deal of emotion in the plot, to keep the limited action on stage from becoming dull and static.

Emotional dilemmas are vital. The dilemma each actor is given will enable them to make a rich and interesting character. It really is the actor’s food and drink on the stage. It drives the words they speak and movements they make. The script is designed to make the actor’s dilemma more and more difficult to hide as the plot progresses. The plot must force the actor to reveal their hidden dilemma slowly and with much resistance.

The resolution is not really about the plot. It’s about allowing the actors to resolve their emotional dilemmas. That’s the payoff for the audience. It’s their emotional release. All audience members have dilemmas. To present them with the same dilemma on stage and then provide a resolution is cathartic for an audience member and it sells tickets!

Picture words. Your script must contain words that evoke pictures in the actor’s mind as that is how the actor relays the emotion and plot of the play. Without them, the actor is lifeless. If you don’t see pictures when you write the words, the actor won’t be able to communicate those words to the audience. It’s that simple.

Blocking. Forget about it. Don’t write a single word of blocking into your play. It shackles the director and the actors. Let dialog drive action on the stage. Make them get up, sit down or pace the stage because the words they speak force them to. Not because you block the play for them.

This is great, thank you Dal!


Dal is a fourth-generation entertainer first put on stage at age eight, by his father. He has been involved in TV, movies, radio, recording studios, rock band, theatre etc. He has written for radio ads, theatre programs, screenplays and radio plays (he says they were fun!) theatre plays (two of which were produced and quite successful). Dal wrote his first story at seventeen, after a mentor suggested he enter a writing competition. He said the suggestion was made because he was rather well known in his village (in the wilds of Northumberland) as the local storyteller. After that he didn’t write again until in his thirties, when working with a theatre company.

Dal has written four books and is working on a fifth, which is an illustrated children’s book, with co-author Kari Wishingrad and illustrators Sona & Jacob. That book will be released this year with the title “The Neighbor’s Cat”. He is also working on three new books; another children’s illustrated book, a YA story about an alternate universe and a YA story about two horses. Although Dal has never visited an alternate universe, he thinks he owns Bella, a Peruvian Paso mare. Bella knows better. Dal’s websites include http://dalburnswrites.com and http://dramaworksinc.com. He can also be found on Twitter and Facebook and leading the ongoing children’s writing competition ‘Write Across America‘. You can also read Dal’s interview with me here.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).