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***STORYSTORM REGISTRATION IS CLOSED. You can still join in the challenge by reading the daily posts and jotting down ideas, but you will not be eligible to win STORYSTORM prizes.***
Oh, Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…
That’s right, Picture Book Idea Month has been blown away by STORYSTORM! Need to know why? Check here.
STORYSTORM is a month of brainstorming new story ideas. This event is open to any writer seeking inspiration, support and community.
How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…
- Register here by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.
- Registering makes you eligible for prizes.
- Visit this blog daily (taralazar.com) for inspirational essays by guest bloggers—professional authors, illustrators and experts in creativity.
- Instead of visiting the blog directly, you can receive the daily posts via email by clicking the “Follow Tara’s Blog” button in the left column—look under my photo for it.
- After you have read the daily inspiration, jot down a daily story idea in a journal, computer, anywhere you like to write. Some days you might have no ideas, but some days you might have five or more.
- At the end of the month, if you have at least 30 ideas, sign the STORYSTORM pledge and qualify for prizes.
- Prizes include professional consults, signed books, original art, writerly gadgets and gizmos.
Remember, do not share your ideas publicly. They are YOURS. No need to prove that you have them at the end of the month. The pledge you will sign is on the honor system.
Are you in? Awesome. Pick up your Official Participant badge below and affix it to any social media account you wish. (Right click to save to your computer, then upload it anywhere.)
May I suggest a STORYSTORM journal to keep those ideas safe?
Go to the CafePress STORYSTORM Store here: cafepress.com/storystorm.
All proceeds ($3 per sale—only if you use our URL) will be donated to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), to help put books into the hands of underprivileged children. Please remember to enter the store via cafepress.com/storystorm. If you search CafePress instead, we do not receive the funds.
Other merchandise will go on sale once the event begins, but you can order your journal now.
The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. You need friends for the journey!
The group is completely optional, but it remains a year-round source of writing information and support, mostly focused on picture books, I admit, because that is where this all began.
Registration will remain open through JANUARY 7TH.
What are you waiting for? Register and go celebrate! I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day.
Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for…
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…
Did that just blow your mind?
I hope so!
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?
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.
When I first thought of the title of this blog post, it was to be about all the books I have received from publishers the last few months—all the books I did not have time to properly write about, but I still wanted to acknowledge.
Then, after this week’s events, another meaning struck me.
Nathan Bransford already said it: Now we write.
There are stories inside you which will help ease the terrible confusion of the moment. Stories widen our world view, they introduce us to the struggles and triumphs of others, they increase our empathy and understanding. They lighten our hearts. They open our minds. We cannot see those stories now, deep within you. You have an obligation to summon them forth.
But I want to further the discussion. There are other things we can do besides read and write.
Volunteer for a cause in which you believe deeply. Volunteer for a cause that you want to know more about. Step up. Be a role model, a pillar of your community. Start small and aim big. Encourage others. Instill hope and stand for something good and decent in this world. There is no greater call to service than right now, however you feel about this week’s outcome.
We can all make a difference.
(Recommended for kids: BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson.)
You heard right, PiBoIdMo, your beloved Picture Book Idea Month, is growing up and making some moves.
First–it will take place in JANUARY 2017 instead of NOVEMBER 2016.
Next–it will have a NEW NAME.
Finally–the focus will become broader, welcoming all kinds of writers and creative folk, from students to professionals.
MORE INFO SOON!!!
For years I mistakenly thought that writing was just about words. About particularly poignant sentences. Flourishes of the language. Creating a passage so magnificent, it makes the reader stop and ponder the meaning of life.
Of course, it isn’t just about words. It’s about all the words, together. It’s about the story.
So in pursuit of the best story this week, I had to kill darlings. We’ve all heard the phrase before, but what does it actually mean? What are we bludgeoning to death?
In short, “darlings” are pieces of writing that do not further your story. They are superfluous lines only there because you want to admire their shine and glow. Ooh, sparkly!
The reader should not be jolted out of the story by the beauty of your words. The point is to draw the reader further in, not shove them out.
So what do these little darlings look like?
Sorry, not Kristy McNichol.
These darlings may drag a scene on too long. The point has already been made, but you stick it to the reader one last time in such a witty way. Sorry, kill it.
Sometimes we get so caught up in fun devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and onomatopoeia that we end up with gobbledygook rather than glory. Sorry, kill it.
On occasion, we write jokes that fall flat. Sure, we laugh hysterically but to everyone else they go SPLAT, right in the kisser. Sorry, kill it.
You know that character who magically appears, says one important thing and then leaves? Why? Where’d she go? Is she ever coming back? No? Well then, murder must be committed.
And if we’re writing a story based upon real events, we can feel inclined to include things that actually happened, even if they don’t necessarily add anything but word count. Kill, kill, kill.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “Single Effect” theory suggests that everything in a short story should contribute to an overall emotional theme. Everything you put into the story, he said, should be carefully selected to elicit the desired effect.
And since we’re writing what can be considered super-short stories, we need to be even more diligent about leading the reader down a specific path. Veering off means higher word count—which can kill the story’s publication potential. Sacrifice some darlings and save the whole village!
Finally, don’t be sad about killing your darlings. When you have to kill one or two, just refer to these gifs. They’ll make you feel better. (I know they helped me.)
by Tammi Sauer
Psst. Hey, you there. Yes, you. Do you want to wow an editor with your next picture book manuscript? Great!
It only takes one thing. Come up with the next Fancy Nancy, Olivia, or Skippyjon Jones. Editors are wading through their slush and/or agented submissions in the hopes of finding an irresistible, can’t-put-down, character-driven manuscript. They want manuscripts that make them feel something and a great character can do just that.
Examples of strong characters in picture books:
OLIVIA by Ian Falconer
Olivia is a feisty little piglet who has too much energy for her own good.
FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor
Nancy is very into fanciness whereas her family is not.
SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner
Skippyjon Jones is a little kitty with a big imagination.
A PET FOR PETUNIA by Paul Schmid
An exuberant Petunia wants, wants, wants a pet she really shouldn’t have.
DINOSAUR VS. BEDTIME by Bob Shea
The seemingly unstoppable Dinosaur is very much into his own bad self.
CLARK THE SHARK by Bruce Hale
Clark has super-sized enthusiasm which leads to all kinds of mayhem.
Developing a unique and engaging character like the ones listed above, however, is a huge challenge.
When I’m working on a new picture book manuscript, I remind myself that if people don’t care about my main character, they won’t care about my story.
I always keep A.R.F. in mind.
A stands for Active.
I want my main character to be doing something. No one wants to read about a kid who just sits on the couch all day with a bag of Doritos.
R stands for Relatable.
I want my main character to connect with readers. I want readers to think, “Yeah, I know what that feels like.”
F stands for Flawed.
I want my main character to have some sort of flaw. Nobody longs to read about little miss perfect. Yawn. Perfect is boring. A flawed character is much more interesting. A bonus? A flaw often increases the story’s tension and makes the character more endearing and root-worthy to readers.
In my latest book, GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN (Disney*Hyperion), illustrated by Lynn Munsinger(!!!), Ginny Louise is the new kid at school.
But Truman Elementary is no ordinary school. This is made clear at the very beginning of the book:
The Truman Elementary Troublemakers were a bad bunch.
Especially these three: Cap’n Catastrophe, Destructo Dude, and Make-My-Day May.
Day after day, these scoundrels made waves.
They dodged danger.
And in the classroom?
You don’t even want to know what went on.
Ginny Louise is Active. She happily goes about her school day. She paints, she sings, she learns things. All the while, she is oblivious to the fact that everything she does drives the Truman Elementary Troublemakers bonkers.
Ginny Louise is Relatable. She doesn’t fit in with her classmates in the classroom or out on the playground. (Readers can empathize with her because everyone has experienced the feeling of not fitting in at one time or another.)
Ginny Louise is Flawed. She only hears what she wants to hear. This results in all kinds of miscommunication.
By the book’s end, this active, relatable, flawed character turns things around at Truman Elementary. Well. For the most part. 🙂
GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN debuts TODAY! Next summer, Ginny Louise and the rest of the gang return for more mayhem in GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL FIELD DAY.
And now it’s a great giveaway for GINNY LOUISE!
Leave a comment naming your favorite PB character and you will be entered to win a signed, first-edition copy of GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN!
One comment per person, please.
A random winner will be selected in two weeks.
Tammi Sauer is a former teacher and library media specialist. She has sold 23 picture books to major publishing houses. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. Me Want Pet! was recently released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. And Nugget and Fang, along with Tammi herself, appeared on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was seen by millions of kids across the nation. Tammi’s books Ginny Louise and the School Showdown (Disney*Hyperion), Your Alien (Sterling), and Roar! (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman) debut in 2015.
Kidlit Creativity Camp
with Deb Lund
September 15-18, 2015
Letchworth State Park
Glen Iris Inn
Genesee Falls, New York
Tara, I’m so excited for our Kidlit Creativity Camp play date in September! I’ve already started packing my creative play toys…
Springs, sprockets, my word purse, pictures, improv prompts, puppets, gadgets, gimmicks, doodles, dance shoes, dice, anti-inner-critic spray, troublemaking dares, a jillion idea generators, and assorted missing pieces for revision puzzles. I might have to pay for an extra bag on the plane—especially when I add all the Whidbey Island (no woo-woo) wishing stones and magic wands! (Yes, you get to take them home with you.)
In case that sounds like too much silliness, it’s not. In case someone might be thinking it’s only for picture book creators, it’s not. In case it appears too elementary (pun intended), it’s not. Our days together will have all the usual craft activities like critiques, writing time, individual attention, and encouragement, but we’ll spice it up with the creativity coaching you probably don’t even know you need and the playfulness that you already know you’ve been missing.
Play is a neglected necessity for creative people.
We think we don’t have time—that we must directly and diligently work toward an outcome. Purposeful play is a prerequisite to product. Play helps you connect the unconnected. It actually speeds up the creative process, expands possibilities, and makes your work more meaningful and joyful.
I totally get how play can seem unproductive, even though the opposite can be true. The need to play, like the need to dream, is one of those things I know intellectually and might still instinctively choose work habits that have evolved from years of built-up misinformation and plain old wrong beliefs.
As writers, we can have an excellent work ethic, but if purposeful play isn’t part of that work, we’re working too hard! I’m tired of working too hard and not getting anywhere—aren’t you? Wouldn’t you like to exchange some hard work for more results?
Creativity requires play.
I know Tara knows that as well as I do—probably better. We’ve played together in online classes, in blog posts, and in our jammies on Skype. And now, finally, we get to play together in person (jammies optional)!
Creativity needs a safe space (especially if you’re in your jammies).
Ever feel like throwing a tantrum because it seems like there are far more obstacles in the way of your writing dream than you could ever dream up to throw at your characters? That’s not bad! It means you’re in the right place for a transformation—in your writing and in your writing life. At camp, you can take off your mask or try on others! (I’ll provide the masks.) We’ll explore, regroup, energize, and connect!
No judgment allowed. We’ll be replacing that with curiosity.
Our safe circle will allow you to face your fears, address your doubts, and claim your creativity. But please sign up now! We’re capping enrollment at 24, and reserved rooms and lower rates are in place only until July 1.
Creativity takes time.
The Kidlit Creativity Camp can help you make the best use of your time. You deserve the opportunity to create new habits, to make time for your dreams, to get support in making your writing be the best it can be, and to be part of the supportive, creative playful community that we’ll create together at Kidlit Creativity Camp.
I’ll see you at our September play date.
Wear your play clothes.
I hope you’ll join me for Deb’s amazing camp and retreat. I signed up immediately after she announced it because I know what a great coach and teacher she is!
And now for YOUR prize (as if the camp isn’t enough)! Deb is giving away a deck of her fabulous Fiction Magic cards to one lucky blog commenter!
And if Deb fills the retreat, all attendees will receive a deck as well.
A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.
***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!
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”!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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!)
by Ryan Sias
I met Tara a few years ago at an SCBWI event; her enthusiasm for books is infectious. What I love about picture books is how they spark children’s imaginations. In between working on books, I do these free weekly creative projects for kids under the name Sias Studios.
Sias Studios‘ free weekly emails are designed to promote creative thinking and foster children’s imaginations. Our original art projects encourage kids to invent their own stories and make art without boundaries. We provide a springboard for you child to dive into artistic discovery!
Our silly and fun material engages children to create a positive art experience. Suggested for ages four to eleven—or anyone who is a kid at heart! Just print and color!
When you sign up to the mailing list at SiasStudios.com, we will email you our free weekly art projects. The emails will contain a downloadable PDF—just hit the button and print from your home computer. It’s easy, creative, and fun!
We suggest you do these activities along with your child. Show them how fun it is to brainstorm and create their own stories, and encourage them to keep asking questions.
Ryan, what gave you the idea to start this fun program?
The concept came from a combination of ideas. First, I love drawing with my nieces and nephews, it’s always silly and crazy. They live in other states so I don’t get to do it as often as I like. Next was the fact schools are always cutting art classes, and I worry that kids are not developing their creativity. I wanted to do something for every kid that was super-wacky fun, something that encourages art brainstorming.
Then while on a walk the idea hit me. I should combine these ideas into one project!
That afternoon I sent some art projects to my nieces and then thought why not open this up to everyone?!
What has been your favorite project thus far?
The newest project is always my favorite because its new. I love creating wacky characters, so the trill of that is exciting. My favorite one is Waffle Dude; the idea just tickles me.
Ryan Sias has been making kids laugh and helping them learn for over two decades. A twenty-year veteran of animation, film, and television, he has directed projects for Barney and Chuck E. Cheese, and created story art for Sesame Street, Pinky Dinky Doo for Nick Jr., and Maya & Miguel for PBS.
Ryan’s illustrated picture book “Are You Eating Something Red?” was selected by the Museum of Modern Art to be included in the MOMA Store’s children’s catalogue. His latest book “Zoe & Robot: Let’s Pretend” is available on Amazon. Ryan’s comics have appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine and Mad Magazine.
Ryan also makes appearances at schools and libraries. His “Story Laboratory” workshop teaches drawing and storytelling in an entertaining and collaborative presentation. Contact Sias Studios for information on booking your own “Story Laboratory“!