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Childrens author explains what goes into a story

Lori Ries leads Mary Woodward students through the full process, from plot to publishing
by: Barbara Sherman, BOUNTY OF BOOKS — Taking a break in front of a banner made by students to welcome her to Mary Woodward, Tigard children’s author Lori Ries holds up several of her stories that have been published, including the one on the far right in Korean.

TIGARD - Most kids love to read stories, but many don't get to meet a real children's author and learn how a book is put together from writing through publishing.

Lori Ries is a published author of children's stories who is also a parent at Mary Woodward Elementary, and she recently went to the school to teach students about writing stories.

'How do you come up with ideas?' she asked. 'Radio waves are in the air. The waves are all around us - so are ideas.

'Things you touch, see, feel - they give us ideas. How do you turn an idea into a story? The first thing I do is write down my idea in my notebook.'

Ries explained that the idea for her first book, 'Super Sam,' came from watching a boy by a lake who was pretending he was a super hero.'

She wrote the story and submitted it to an editor, who agreed to find an illustrator and publish the book.

Ries now has five books published using different illustrators, and more are in the works. Her books include 'Pickles,' 'Punk Wig' and 'Fix It, Sam.'

'I love all my illustrators,' Ries said.

But other people are involved in the process too, including a book designer.

'The book designer steps in so if there is a bedroom in the book, the designer draws a bedroom map and the location of everything,' Ries said. 'Every single page in the book with the bedroom will show the same room. Then they do a word map, which shows what will be on every single page in the book.

'Later, the book designer makes notes and tells the illustrator what changes to make, like putting a bear on the bed, and what colors to use.

Finally, Ries showed the kids how color is added to the pages. First she showed a simple illustration with no color. She added a clear, transparent page and then a yellow page, followed by a red page, a blue page and finally a black page until the illustration looked like it will appear on the page.

'That's cool,' a boy said.

'They print the book and send me two copies to see if anything else should be changed before all the copies are made,' Ries said.

She explained that other countries purchase the rights and showed the kids a copy of 'Super Sam' in Korean.

The kids, who were seated in small groups at tables, then got to try creating their own stories. Ries handed out three color pictures from magazines on each table and asked the kids to put them in an order that made a story.

'Now I'm going to be really mean and switch one picture on each table,' she said. 'What just happened? We changed it? Is your first story done? No, it's simply changed and adapted. Your brain can adapt. Remember, ideas are everywhere.'

Ries asked the students to name the elements of a story, which include a setting, a time and a place plus sights, sounds and smells.

The students were given a few minutes to write down the description of a place, and Ries asked for volunteers to read what they wrote.

One student described a beach with wind, blue sky and white clouds overhead, while another wrote about a city with lots of cars and the smell of pollution, and a third wrote about a desert with rattlesnakes on the prowl.

Then Ries discussed character development, pointing out that 'no one is all good or bad.'

She added, 'Characters have both qualities - weaknesses get them into trouble, and strengths will get them out of trouble. Now we have characters and a setting - what else do we need?'

Ries described a plot, asking, 'Why do we keep turning pages? We want to know what happens. For a strong story, you need an interesting character with goals who encounters serious obstacles and has internal struggles. Then there's a climax - will the goal be reached?'

Ries, who started writing professionally in 2002, had her first book, 'Super Sam,' published in 2004, and she is currently working on new books.