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Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for…

santaslamdunk

SANTA SLAM DUNK!

OK, maybe not what you were expecting. A little holiday humor. Let’s move on…

Those of you who participate in Picture Book Idea Month already know I moved the annual writing challenge to January instead of November. And you also know I changed the name. The new, much-easier-to-pronounce moniker is…

storystorm

Did that just blow your mind?

amypoehlerhead

I hope so!

The new logo was designed by talented illustrator S.britt (of NORMAL NORMAN fame).

Now, I hear you asking some questions.

WHY THE NAME CHANGE?

The original challenge—to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days—was named “Picture Book Idea Month” or “PiBoIdMo” for short. Everyone pronounced the awkward acronym a different way. And if you managed to say it, it didn’t make sense to others.

“STORYSTORM” is a portmanteau of story and brainstorm that is more immediately understood.

The new name signals a broader scope—any type of writer interested in being inspired in January can now join the challenge. Novelists, short story writers, non-fiction authors and even teachers and their students are welcomed. Any writer, anyone who wants to brainstorm for a month. 

The goal is for STORYSTORM participants to jot down 30 story ideas in January. Then everyone will have thirty new shiny ideas to ponder, flesh out and write in 2017.

WHY THE MONTH CHANGE?

PiBoIdMo was originally held in November because it was modeled after NaNoWriMo, which runs at that time. But November is so busy with the start of the holiday season. Starting fresh in January—a new year, new goals—will hopefully prove to be both inspiring and motivating.

IS IT STILL FREE TO PARTICIPATE?

ABSOLUTELY.

WHEN CAN I REGISTER?

After the slam-dunking of presents down the chimney is over. In other words, Boxing Day. In other, other words, December 26th.

Registration will remain open for the entire first week of January. You do not have to register, but doing so makes you eligible to win prizes—agent consultations, books, critiques, and a whole lotta fabulous stuff that even Santa can’t make possible.

So THANK YOU for being patient while I pondered these changes. More announcements soon—like the guest-blogger line-up!

But in the meantime, join our STORYSTORM Facebook group which is active year-round for friendly support and discussion.

staytuned

 

 

I awoke this morning and thought, “What a fine day for a new blog post.” Of course, I also thought, “What a fine day to go swimming” and “What a fine day to finish reading that book.” Sensing that I have packed today’s schedule, I decided that said blog post would have to be ultra-short. (I would have said “uber” short, but that word has been bogarted by some taxi service.)

So here I have pieced together quick quotes and sage snippets from the SCBWI events I attended in the spring—New England SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI.

I hope you enjoy while I do the backstroke with a soggy book.

tuesday

“A picture book is an amazing thing, a world unto itself. You can do anything in those 32 pages and that is the thing I love about it.” ~David Wiesner

“As I create, I am continually asking myself ‘why is this happening?’ You know you are desperate when you go to the ‘magic button’ solution.” ~David Wiesner

lunchlady

“Be nice. Be resilient. Set goals. Adapt & learn. Your biggest achievement is just around the corner.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

“Don’t do a $50 job like a $50 job, you’ll get $50 jobs your whole life. Do it like a $500 job and you’ll start getting those.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

mango

“It’s not necessarily ‘write what you know.’ Write what you want to know ABOUT. The passion for that subject will come through.” ~Wendy Mass

adabyronlovelace

“When it comes to the nitty gritty marketing of your book, always remember, something is better than nothing.” ~Laurie Wallmark

ellrayjakes

“A postcard is the best way to get our attention. I get 60 emails a day…it’s too much. I like the tactile nature of a postcard. I love feeling them and looking at them…if they hit anything in me, I keep them.” ~Laurie Brennan, Associate Art Director, Viking

hogprince

“Characters who make interesting mistakes are inherently interesting. The kind of mistakes your character makes defines her. How a character acts in the wake of a mistake should be unique and personal to her. Failure is fertilizer: a world of things can grow from the mistakes your character makes. Someone who is always right is BORING.” ~Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

theBFFsisters

“I wanted to write a book where my daughter could see herself—that’s me!” ~Suzy Ismail

“Writing from a multicultural perspective is no different than writing. All writing is about crossing boundaries.” ~Suzy Ismail quotes Debby Dahl Edwardson

donalynmiller

And, finally, my favorite quote…which is still making me think long and hard:

“How are you creating a literary world besides being a literary creator?” ~Donalyn Miller

 

Sylvia Liusylvialiu is co-founder of the comprehensive children’s literature resource Kidlit411 and a picture book author whose debut A MORNING WITH GRANDPA (illustrated by Christina Forshay) won Lee & Low’s prestigious New Voices Award. 

One of the most important and inspiring movements in kidlit today is diversity, so I’ve asked Sylvia to talk to us today about creating authentic stories with relatable, diverse characters. Get those pencils ready because you will want to write after you read this interview!

MorningWithGrandpa_cover

Sylvia, what does the movement “We Need Diverse Books” mean to you?

For me, We Need Diverse Books means that every child can easily find stories and books that are mirrors and windows. Mirrors that reflect their own stories and circumstances and windows that show other people’s stories. This means that previously underrepresented groups need to be better represented at every level of children’s books. On the supply side, we need more diverse creators and more diverse gatekeepers (agents, editors, booksellers, librarians, reviewers). On the demand side, we need a reading public that buys and demands more diverse books. To achieve these isn’t a matter of wishful thinking or good intentions, because the societal inequalities that created the lack of supply and demand ultimately need to be addressed. For example, publishing and the creative arts are professions that are still very much based in apprenticeships—i.e., you need to have enough money to take unpaid internships when you’re starting out, or to take creative risks.

What led to you entering Lee & Low’s “New Voices” contest?

I have known about the New Voices Award ever since it began in 2000 because I have been following Lee & Low for over twenty years (my college and law school friend is related to the company’s founder). Over the last five or six years that I’ve been writing picture books seriously, I have always had the award in the back of my mind. Most of my stories are not specifically geared towards multicultural or diverse topics, so I didn’t submit any until 2013, when I wrote A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. After I wrote it, I thought it would be a good fit because it told a universal story about a grandparent and grandchild’s fun and funny relationship but with specific cultural references.

taichi

“When writing a diverse story, you should not just insert a character of a certain ethnicity or race. It is about so much more.” Can you expand upon this concept?

You’re right. It’s about telling a story from deep within a point of view or culture that requires intimate knowledge or experience to that culture. It’s more than changing a name to Maria or Mei Mei. It’s inhabiting that character’s world and showing and sharing the details of that world that make it specific to the culture, ethnicity, or world view. I do believe authors are capable of writing from different perspectives and cultures other than their own, but if they do, they need to approach the story with respect and research.

whatistaichi

Going forward, what are your hopes for diversity in children’s publishing?

In the ideal world, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We would have all different kinds of stories written by all different kinds of people, reflecting the multiplicity of experiences–social, cultural, racial, ethnic, economic, gender, ability, and more. But in the short term, as I mentioned before, I hope that gatekeepers (editors, agents, reviewers, book sellers, librarians, parents) take seriously the emerging commitment to diversity–promoting and giving voice to people of color, LGBTQ people, and other underrepresented people in the industry through hiring, contracts, reviews, and book sales.

taichiisnt

Sylvia, any final thoughts?

Remember that only you–a specific person on this planet with a particular worldview, background, culture, family, sense of humor, and self–can tell your stories. Don’t be afraid to share your stories with your truths and perspectives, and don’t deprive the world of them.

What an inspiring statement, Sylvia! I hope this sparks new ideas for our blog readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your “new voice” with us…and for having Lee & Low share your “New Voices” picture book!

One copy will be given away within the next two weeks. Just leave one comment below to enter. (US addresses only, please.)

Good luck!

This morning I thought I was still at the NJ-SCBWI Summer Conference because I stumbled downstairs expecting to find fresh-baked coffee cake and a fruit platter. Instead, I found a slumbering adolescent who never got up for middle school and missed the bus. Hence, I was rudely thrust back into the life of a mom. Sigh. So I decided to ignore my life for a while and write this post. Relive the glory days!

ampitheatre15

This would make a great WHERE’S WALDO? spread.

The weekend was chock full of good friends, like author extraordinaire Tammi Sauer, whom I’ve known for SEVEN YEARS but had never met in person. I wanted to make a good impression upon her, so I picked her up from the airport…and then proceeded to get hopelessly lost in Newark. We did spy a ’57 Chevy during one of our dozen-or-so U-turns, so perhaps all was not lost.

57chevy

’57 Chevy! Yes, I snapped this while we were stopped.

And then, we got cut off by a rumbling, muffler-roaring Racini. RACINI, PEOPLE! Only in Jersey.

Racini! (Not the full license plate.)

Of course, there were also the usual suspects present: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Kami Kinard, Marcie Colleen, Ame Dyckman, Adam Lehrhaupt, our fearless RA Leeza Hernandez, and newly-signed talents like Jason Kirschner, Colleen Rowan Kosinski and Kelly Calabrese. (For those of you with bets in the pool, Ame’s hair shone bright blue this year, bordering on periwinkle, stylishly accented with a coral red bow.)

sudiptamarciekelly

Sudipta, Marcie & Kelly. Yes, they can go by first names only.

Katya Szewczuk from KidlitTV let us know that her last name is pronounced “Shove Chuck.” Sadly, Chuck Palahniuk was not in attendance. What a fight club that would have been! (P.S. Isn’t Katya adorable? I call her Ame Dyckman Jr.)

katyaszewczuk15

Carrie Charley Brown, Kirsti Call, Lori Degman and Robin Newman were there, too…but the Witherspoon Grill couldn’t get us a table for 10. For shame! But they did get us a bottle of Prosecco. Next time, it should be on the house.

prosecco15

Me, Kelly, Marcie, Kami, Sudipta and Tammi

My editor from Sterling, the smart and lovely Meredith Mundy, made an appearance with a stack of NORMAL NORMAN cover designs from which to choose. Tammi, an author of eight Sterling titles, offered her expert opinion, too. And guess what? We all agreed on two favorites. (Now do we eeny-meeny-miney-mo?)

normalcovers

NORMAN!

I only saw critique partners Corey Rosen-Schwartz and Mike Allegra briefly. I waved to Mike from my post at the registration table. Then he promptly dissolved into the crowd. This became a new picture book idea. Thanks, Mike!

So I bet you’re like ENOUGH ALREADY, TARA. GET TO THE NUGGETS.

Opening Keynote by Denise Fleming

denisefleming15Denise encouraged us to find out what age we really are. No, this isn’t a plug for how-old.net. Go back to your childhood and discover the age of your true voice. Denise never aged past Kindergarten. Me, I’m perpetually 8.

So that’s what you write. Dig down to emerge as a child, forever locked in a state of wonder.

Denise told us an impromptu paper-making class inspired her to choose this art form as her picture book medium. She evolved from precise watercolor paintings to a more loose, bold, colorful style. HER STYLE. Her illustrations set her apart. She asked us to ponder what makes us each unique. You’ve got to offer something different and not be like everyone else. Stand out, don’t blend in.

Oh, by the way, Denise thinks you’re pretty.

tammisauer15Workshop One:
Writing Picture Books that Sell! by Tammi Sauer

With 23 contracts in 10 years, you’ve got to listen to and respect Tammi’s advice. She presented her top 12 tips for picture books, citing from her titles as examples. The quirkiest thing I found out is that she loves to use the name “Louise.”

Tammi recommends reading A LOT of picture books. You will begin to absorb information about their structure and format without even realizing! This knowledge will then seep into your manuscripts.

Tammi also wants us to write titles that POP. Up the tension in your stories and use words that SING.

Me? My name sings. I shall hereforthto be known as Tra-la-la Lazar.

tralala

Workshop Two:
Writing Mainstream (BUT COOL!) Picture Books by Ame Dyckman and Adam Lehrhaupt

This dynamic duo demonstrated a lot of energy, pizzazz and “special sauce.” No, we’re not talking about McD’s. Their “cream of creativity” is a mixture of unique elements that add up to writing a hook-y, mainstream winner. Slather on your own writing style, stir in heart and humor, and you will concoct a winning picture book recipe.

But remember, that’s just the sauce—an accent. Your picture book still needs meat! Pick popular subjects, relatable situations and age-appropriate “big picture” messages to make your story its most delish.

ameadam15

jenmalone15Workshop Three:
Thinking Outside the Box to Market Your Book with Jen Malone

I call this presentation “How to Sell Your Book Without Being Creepy.” As natural introverts, we writers don’t like going outside to deal with “people and weather.” We abhor the uncomfortable, used-car-like sales pitch. We don’t want to plaster the interwebs with “BUY MY BOOK!” Ick.

So what’s an author to do? Jen presented unique, creative ways to market by simply being you. Look outside your own book community to find opportunities for connections. Offer others what they want and they might just offer what YOU WANT—an introduction to a new audience. Jen has been doing work with the Girl Scouts and a famous bakery to reach her target audience, tween girls. (And, there are CUPCAKES involved. Win, win, stuff yer face.)

Workshop Four:
7 Revision Tips to Take your PB from WAAH to WOW! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Marcie Colleen

Don’t let the high-heels distract you. These two PB experts offer furlongs of fabulous advice. (Furlongs? I gotta stop the alliteration.)

They emphasized reviewing your picture book to ensure visual variety. This refers to textual elements as well as compositional ones. Think story AND layout. Think page turns. Think scene changes. Dump anything that’s repetitive or passive without purpose.

sudiptamarcie15

Workshop Five:
Is Your PB Worthy? by Marie Lamba

marielamba15Oh, how I regret not getting a photo of Marie hugging her presentation easel. Adorbs.

Marie, an author and agent, bubbles with enthusiasm for picture books. She brought some of her all-time favorites to share and exclaimed, “Isn’t that HILARIOUS?” while doubled over in laughter.

We all want that—a reader who loves our book five, ten, even 20 years after first reading it. So how do we get that?

Be different. Don’t just write the first idea that comes to mind. Write five ideas. Then another five. Use the tenth one. Applying this tip from Donald Maass means you’ll arrive upon something no one has done.

Marie also shared the top 10 mistakes she sees in picture book submissions. For example, she doesn’t want to see “just a schtick.” (Don’t you LOVE Yiddish words?)

Your picture book can be ridiculous, but quirky humor isn’t enough. She cited her own manuscript about a girl who wears gloves on her feet and pretends she’s a monkey. It’s cute and funny, but it’s not enough. Marie didn’t have a story, she had a schtick. Your manuscript needs a plot to matter.

Other common errors include rhyming NO MATTER WHAT and writing a slice-of-life vignette—a set-up instead of a story.

hunderdown15Sunday Morning Keynote:
Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Children’s/YA Market by Harold Underdown

Harold! You have to love him. (You have to follow his Purple Crayon website!) He’s bursting with kidlit experience and wisdom.

First, he told us some great news: the children’s publishing market rose 20% last year!

Hard copy books are not disappearing and ebooks are not replacing them. In fact, the ebook market has hit a plateau and represents only 15% of the children’s market, but that number leans heavily toward YA. Picture books are preffered in hard copy by a wide margin.

Bookstores (both online and brick-and-mortar) are now the biggest sales channel (40%), as opposed to schools and libraries in years past.

Know that diverse books are hot and that writers and publishers are taking this issue seriously.

YA remains a boom area, MG is very healthy and PBs are experiencing renewed interest. Some are even calling this time “the golden age of picture books.”

However, Howard emphasized that you should always do your best work and not focus on what’s hot. This is what will get you published.

Workshop Six:
Marrying the Right Manuscript with the Right Publisher by Steve Meltzer

stevemeltzer15Steve is a welcomed, popular mainstay at NJ-SCBWI. He emphasized doing your research when searching for a publisher. It’s important to seek out comparable titles published within the last three years, those that are of a similar subject and format, but not famous or mega-selling. No one’s gonna believe your series is the next Harry Potter. Query with a reasonable comp, not an outrageous claim.

Workshop Seven:
The Changing Face of Humor in Picture Books by Steve Meltzer

Do I even have to talk about this? Steve and I disagree. I respect his opinion immensely, but I think a popular recent title missed the mark and had opportunity for so much more humor than it presented. He nudged me on the lunch line, “It’s a great book.” I topped my salad with bleu cheese and thought about it.

johncusick15Closing Keynote:
How to Be a Writer Without Losing Your Mind by John Cusick

John Cusick said much about life as a writer and agent, how he uses an Iron Man figurine on his desk to distinguish agent-time from writer-time, and how to balance our life roles.

He reminded us that our job is to “sit down and start.” Don’t worry about writing the whole book. Write a little bit for now. (This resonated with me. I tend to panic about writing AN ENTIRE NOVEL when I should really just put one word in front of the other.)

Also, no one cares if you stop writing. YOU MUST be the motivator.

Have a writing friend you can complain to…and let them know that this is their purpose. (Not their sole purpose, of course. We all need to kvetch and we need a kvetch catcher.)

Bottom line, it’s irrational and childish to make things up for a living. It’s crazy-making. So embrace it. Be crazy. It’s crazy that anything can be this good!

“Don’t worry about being normal because what you do is extraordinary,” John said.

I couldn’t agree more. How about you?

I grew up with a funny guy.

walterdad

(No, Walter Matthau isn’t my dad, but I don’t have a digital photo of my father and he looks just like Mr. Wilson from “Dennis the Menace.” So this will have to do.)

Anyway, he’s the one who passed along his sharp, dry humor to me. He was actually a Chemical Patent Attorney for a large petroleum company and used to speak about opening a law firm together when I grew up. Only being a Chemical Patent Attorney is quite possibly the career of my nightmares. I suppose his job is why he’s so funny—it didn’t provide gas for humor so he had to create his own laughs. (It did provide gas, though.)

A simple man, he has means but always preferred to live in a small apartment or condo. When I asked him why he didn’t buy something larger, he quipped, “Why? You can only be in one room at a time.”

mcmansion

Smart, Pops.

So I began thinking about this concept recently…as it applies to picture books, of course. You know I suffer from PBOTB (Picture Books on the Brain, not Picture Book Off-Track Betting). Here’s what I came up with:

“You can only be on one spread at a time.”

Aha!!!

So what does this mean?

When you’re finished with your tale, cut it in pieces.

You may already be aware of my layout templates:

selfends

Look at each spread of your story individually and ask yourself some questions:

  • Does it move the story forward?
  • Does it provide a page-turn surprise?
  • Does it provide ample opportunity for illustrative interpretation or an illustrative subtext?
  • Is it interesting and entertaining? Does the reader want to linger?
  • Is it active?
  • Does it have too much text?
  • Does the scene change from the previous page?

Remember, you can only be on one spread at a time. Make each one MATTER.

Maybe you’d like to comment with your interpretation of this witty Pops-inspired picture book phrase…? Please do!

SD_01

And now, the winner of my March giveaway–Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell’s SPECIAL DELIVERY!

DIANA DELOSH!

Congratulations, Diana, I’ll be emailing you!

Now I usually end with something witty, so I called my dad for comment. He says being a children’s book author is quite possibly the career of his nightmares. And with that, he’s ready for a nap…albeit a scary one.

It’s come to my attention that we need a collective noun for children’s book writers and authors.

I am therefore inviting your input.

If you’d like to suggest one for writers and a different one for authors, please feel free. (Can’t forget illustrators!) Leave as many collective nouns as you’d like. Of course, you get points for cleverness. I’ll pull them together in a future post so we can vote on them. And then, perhaps, when we see a gathering of these wonderful folks, we’ll know what to call them.

For those of you who didn't grow up on 80's music, this is A Flock of Seagulls.

For those of you who didn’t grow up on 80’s music, this is A Flock of Seagulls.

by Darcy Pattison

You’ve written a picture book manuscript and now you want to know if it’s ready to send out. Here are seven crucial questions to answer.

Overall:
The first three questions focus on the overall story.

1. Topic: Is the story kid appropriate, kid appealing?

2. Language: Is the story age appropriate? Have you used interesting, fun language? Have you allowed places for kids to join in, such as a refrain to repeat?

3. Illustrations: Have you left space for the illustrator? Don’t describe every visual, but leave that to the illustrator. However, DO add things you touch, smell, taste and hear.

bearsnoreson

From BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman

The next four questions focus on the structure and how well the story will lay out in a 32-page format

Instructions for these questions:  Divide your manuscript into a minimum of fourteen sections, with each section a scene in the story. The fourteen sections will roughly be equal to the number of double page spreads in a 32-page picture book. (If you have fewer than fourteen sections, it’s probably a magazine piece, not a picturebook.) Now, consider each section and answer these questions.

4. Does each section have an action to illustrate?

5. Does each section make you want to turn the page?

6. Does each section advance the story? If you take out a page, does it destroy the story?

7. Does the plot have a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end?

If you answered, “Yes” on all these questions, then submit your story with confidence.

Not sure about any of the answers? Children’s book author Darcy Pattison and children’s book author/illustrator Leslie Helakoski will co-lead a unique workshop, PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz at Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA on April 23-26, 2015. Join them and learn how to make your story rise above the fierce competition.

Anna Staniszewskiby Anna Staniszewski

As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.

1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.

2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.

3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.

4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!

For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!

.

prank list cover 2Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

You may be wondering–what ever happened to Tara? It’s been almost a month since she blogged. (Or you may not. You may be relieved your inbox has been devoid of my blivel. I made that word up, in case you’re wondering. A portmanteau of blog and drivel.)

Well, I’ve been traveling! I’ve actually changed out of my pajamas several times in the last few weeks!

Not so pristine white board.

Not so pristine whiteboard.

At the end of March I drove down to MD/DE/WV SCBWI’s Annual Conference to present my workshop “From Concept to Dummy for Picture Book Writers”. About 70 writers attended–it was a full house in our little room. The attendees got a taste of my imbalance. Yes, my mental imbalance, but also my MS imbalance. Luckily I didn’t topple the whiteboard. I did, however, have one sinking moment when I thought I used a permanent Sharpie on the pristine white surface. It reminded me of NJ-SCBWI 2008 when I volunteered to hang signs on the aging plaster of the Princeton Theological Seminary, only to take chunks of wall with me when I removed the signs. Be forewarned, I cause mayhem and destruction at SCBWI events.

I think many will agree that the best part of the workshop was when we read the beginnings of successful picture books to discern the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN in each opening line. Incorporating these details makes your reader ask WHY and eagerly turn the page to find out.

Many new writers mistakenly begin stories with, “My name is Jamie and I’m six years old.”  This tells a reader nothing about the story to come. And more importantly, an editor who reads this plain first line will most likely stop there. YIKES. Not what you want. You have to break out of that slush pile with a line that captures the editor immediately.

After reading a dozen picture book openings, with me screaming WHY? WHHHHHYYYYY? and bending over in feigned painful anticipation, shaking my fists at the sky, I challenged the participants to rewrite their opening lines. Everyone was quite thrilled to get their own Tara WHHHHHYYYYY? in response to their improved introductions.

Writer Sarah Maynard summarized my workshop with bullet points, to which I’ve added my thoughts from the event:

  • You have 30 seconds to grab their attention. MAKE IT GOOD!
    Like a resume to obtain a job, you have limited time to make an impression with an agent or editor. They can have hundreds of manuscripts to read each week, so they give each one only a few moments to grab them. Punch that opening, make them want to continue reading.
  • “Writing a picture book is 99% staring and 1% writing.”
    There is A LOT of thinking involved in writing a picture book. Don’t worry if you’re not actually putting words on paper every day. Think about how to resolve problems in your story. Stare at your manuscript. Your subconscious will most likely be working on a solution and it will pop out while you’re doing mundane chores, like emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, or taking a shower.

Tara_PieChart

  • Learn who YOU are as a WRITER.
    A lot of authors, including me, espouse advice that may not work for you. Discover how YOU work best and stick with it. For instance, routine doesn’t jive with me, although it works for a lot of other people. I used to force myself into routine only to get frustrated, losing my creative mojo. Only you know how to thrive in your creative mode. It’s very personal. Don’t take advice that doesn’t serve you well. (It may be useful to note here that I’ve shunned routine my entire life.)
  • If it’s not apparent by words you’ve written, add an art note.
    One attendee told me I was the first person to speak positively about art notes. Yeah, I think they get a bad rap. They’re absolutely ESSENTIAL to use if it’s not apparent what’s happening by your words alone. If the text says your character is smiling but you actually want them to frown, you need an art note to convey that. Of course, you should not use them to direct the entire shabang, but to ensure there are no misunderstandings. Which brings me to the last point…
  • Don’t make an agent or editor guess!
    I find that some new writers like to surprise the reader on the second or third page of a manuscript. This means the beginning is not entirely clear and the reader must guess what is happening. Well, what if your reader guesses wrong? Then they become hopelessly confused at the reveal and probably discard your manuscript. You don’t want an agent or editor to have to guess what is happening in your tale. Make it CRYSTAL either by the text or the addition of art notes. It can be as simple as “[art: the character is a bear]” to make everyone understand.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Maryland—the hospitality of the chapter went above and beyond. We had a lovely faculty dinner at the Craftsman-style log cabin home of former RA Edie Hemingway. Is there anything more writerly than that (I mean, c’mon, HEMINGWAY)? Edie has a charming home with a writing hut tucked into the woods.

ediewritinghut

Far better than my writing space—my unmade bed!

unmadebedworkspace

As I crawl back into my pajamas, I’ll be getting another blog post ready. This time, about my trip to Reading is Fundamental and the donation that my publisher and PiBoIdMo participants made possible, enriching the lives of children with BOOKS!

WRITE ON!

***UPDATE 3/28/14: “Fiction Magic” is now fully funded! Thanks to everyone who contributed. You still have 9 more days to get some fabulous pledge packages, too!***

Sometimes writers need a good kick in the pants.

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal writing coach by your side every day to get you moving? She could whip the sheets off you each morning, bugle reveille in your ear, even toast  you an Eggo while you shower.

Eh, who am I kidding? Writers don’t shower!

Anyway…

Author Deb Lund brought together her 20+ years of teaching experience in a magical way—with 54 surprising writing prompts, tips and tricks for you to apply to your work-in-progress whenever you’re feeling stuck. It’s like having that writing coach right there with you, only a lot less annoying. It’s “Fiction Magic”!

Fiction Magic Title screenshotMagicalDebLund

For years, Deb taught 4th- and 5th-grade students how to write, and she wanted to make it cool for them, so she developed these cards. Her real “aha” moment came when she realized that she could teach adults the same way she taught children, using the same FUN strategies. ABRACADABRA! These “magical” cards act as triggers to pull something out of your head that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to coax out.

At the Oregon Silver Falls SCBWI Writing Retreat, star agent Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency attended Deb’s session and then exclaimed, “I want all my writers to have your cards!” Yep, she was that impressed. The only problem? Deb’s cards were a prototype that cost her $200 to produce. How could she make them for a dozen writers? A hundred? A THOUSAND?

Enter Kickstarter. Deb’s Fiction Magic campaign is on right now and it’s 94% funded already! But with just 10 days to go, she needs your help. And believe me, you want her help, too!

Let’s do a few tricks right now, shall we? Whip out your WIP and see if these magical remedies help!

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AGREE TO A BAD DEAL
Your characters must make some bad choices along the way. They may even have to negotiate for something they need or want with people they loathe. Characters may know they’re agreeing to bad deals but feel they have no choice. Or the deals appear good, but fall apart later. Or time factors make the deals even more ominous. Make the stakes of bad deals so high it’s difficult for your characters to back out of them.

When you feel stressed by all that’s on your plate, be gentle with yourself. Let your characters agree to bad deals, but the only agreement you need to make with yourself right now is to write, no matter how bad the writing may seem.

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REVEAL A SECRET
Secrets can be powerful tools or sources of trouble. Or both. What information could your characters unwittingly slip out to the wrong people? Characters could be in danger because of secrets. Other characters could reveal secrets that affect your lead characters, whether the secrets were theirs or not. In trying to cover up secrets or escaping from those trying to conceal secrets, what could go wrong? Who will be angry? Hurt? Feeling betrayed? Put in life or death situations?

Do you keep your dreams secret? Sometimes they need protection, but when you’re ready and the time is right, reveal them to others who believe in you.

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THROW IN AN OBSTACLE
If you’re lucky, you’ll pick this card over and over, because this is Key. Your characters are on quests. Delay them. Interrupt their journeys. Who or what could step in to make your characters stop in their tracks? The interruptions may be people, objects, circumstances, thoughts, feelings… Send your characters merrily down the road, and then run them into roadblocks. Keep tossing them unending hardship. Warm up your pitching arm and let it rip. Throw after throw after throw.

As a writer, you have plenty obstacles. For each one you throw at your character, remove one from your writing life! Where will you start?

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fictionmagic

There are 51 more Fiction Magic tricks for you to try. But only if you help Deb reach her goal.

Check out her Kickstarter and create your own magic! (Even if that includes the bugle call. But that’s not for me. I am NOT a morning person!)

kickstarter

 

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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Summer/Fall 2018

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