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Archive for the ‘Editing Picture Books’ Category

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WHAT DOES YOUR MAIN CHARACTER BELIEVE? DISCOVERING THE TRUTH

by Alayne Kay Christian

On Wednesday, I shared a bonus post where I talked about your main character’s want vs need. If you missed it, click here. I want to expand on character’s motivation just a little bit. Another way to approach this is to ask yourself what your character believes in the beginning and what she believes in the end after she has experienced her story journey. Some people find their character’s beliefs by thinking in terms of lie and truth. What is the lie that your character believes in the beginning? And what is the truth that your character discovers in the end?

Sometimes it works to think of the lie as motivation (the fuel that moves the character forward through the story) and the truth as the story goal (the thing that creates change.)

So, following the want and need post, with the lie and truth method, there is only a small shift in the way one might look at the story they are writing. But I figure that small shift may be the thing that hits home for some writers. And once it hits home, they will find growth in their writing.

As I did in the last post, I challenge you to grab a stack of books and see if you can find stories that start with one belief (a lie) and end with a new belief (the truth). Very often, what the main character believes in the beginning of the story leads the character to the belief that transforms her by the end of the story. Just as with the want and need, knowing the truth/belief that will be revealed at the end before you start writing will be your guiding light in writing the rest of the story.

Think “before” and “after”. Who was your character when she first stepped over the inciting incident threshold into the story world? And who is she when he steps over his darkest moment into his turning point and new world?

Not all picture books have the lie and truth with a change in the character’s belief thing going on. But I urge you to analyze as many picture books as possible to see what you discover in this area. Also, consider analyzing your own stories to see if you already have it. If your story isn’t built around lie/truth/beliefs, offering that to your character might leave you surprised at the transformation you created in your own story.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME EXAMPLES

Using the same books as I did for want and need, and then adding some, I will talk about lie and truth.

NO BEARS ALLOWED by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon is a perfect example. In the beginning, Rabbit believes the lie that all bears are scary and will eat rabbits. In the end, Rabbit discovers the truth that some bears aren’t scary at all and they can actually make good friends.

NUGGET AND FANG by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Michael Slack is similar to NO BEARS ALLOWED. In the beginning, Nugget believes the lie that he can no longer be friends with his best friend Fang because sharks are toothy and scary. And they eat minnows! In the end, Nugget discovers the truth. Sometimes minnows and sharks can be friends.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED written by me and illustrated by Polina Gortman.

In the beginning, Weed believes the lie that being seen or noticed will make him feel more important than an unseen weed. But would satisfying that belief have been enough to keep the story going in an active and compelling way? Would it have transformed Weed in any way on a deeper level by the end of the story? Or would he remain the same Weed that is just a little happier for a moment until he starts feeling “unseen” again? Would that have been the best message to offer readers? Would it have been the most satisfying ending? I think not.

What if, through his story journey Weed discovers the truth. It is much more satisfying to look outside himself and see others instead. In discovering the truth, Weed doesn’t only experience a change within himself; he effects positive change all around him. Even though Weed never gets to see it, in the end, he is more important than he ever imagined. And this is what the reader gets to see and understand. So, the lie that Weed believes fuels him to move forward in the story, but the truth that he discovers through his struggle to protect his belief in the lie is the real heart of the story.

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA by me and illustrated by Joni Stringfield

In the beginning, the lie that Emily believes is the only way to feel close to her grandparents is to live closer to them, but since this isn’t possible, she must change in some way. She discovers the truth when she learns a way to feel close to her grandparents even when they are miles away from her.

PRINCESS IN TRAINING by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger

In the beginning, Princess Viola believes the lie that the only way to be a princess is to be a “proper” princess and the darling of the kingdom. But in order to experience real change she must discover the truth. The only way she can be Princess Viola is to be true to herself. There’s more than one way to be the darling of the kingdom. And once the truth is revealed, she can let go of the belief that created her struggles throughout the story.

JEREMY DRAWS A MONSTER by Peter McCarty

In the beginning, it’s not clear what Jeremy wants, but the illustration gives a sense that he wouldn’t mind going outside where all the other kids are. So, I’m going to guess that the lie he believes is that he is better off staying inside by himself. Then it seems he wants to keep the monster he draws happy. But even more important, he wants to get rid of the monster, which leads Jeremy outside. And though the story seems like it’s about imagination and fun and games, what it’s really about is Jeremy discovering the truth that there’s a world outside that just might be better than a safe and lonely room where imagination is his only friend.

'Tis the season!

The holiday season is a perfect time for penguins. An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin makes a beautiful Christmas gift for your favorite child or teacher, or to donate to your library, Toys for Tots or other “giving” opportunities and places. Below you will find a video about the true story followed by the book trailer.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic have been presented in three parts. Plus, I will be offering a bonus post, so wait there’s more! If you missed parts one and two click here for part one and here for part two.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

Words of Wisdom

MIRROR THE BEGINNING WITH THE ENDING, BUT WITH CHANGE

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Many times endings harken back to the beginnings–often with a change. This can be true even in nonfiction.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

In this book, the narrator is talking directly to Ona Judge, “Why you run away Ona Judge?” Shepard begins Ona Judge’s journey with a question. In the end, the narrator gives her a charge: “Then run, Ona Judge, run”. The character has changed.

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

In the beginning, we are introduced to a group of boys and their village on stilts on the water in the southern part of Thailand. In the end, the final image is of the boys retuning home after playing football (soccer). We return to the image of the village on stilts. The boys lives are different, but they still return home.

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

In my book, I begin by talking to the reader asking them to imagine what it might be like to go dormant. The ending ends the dormancy and begins to stir.

As a writer, can you find a way to mirror the ending with the beginning, but with a change?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT YOUR STORY’S ENDING

by Pippa Chorley

Endings are part of your main character’s emotional journey and integral to the arc of any good story. Readers want to feel satisfied at when they close the last page. They want to feel that the ending is justified. They want all the loose ends tied up neatly with a bow on top!

It can really help to know your ending ahead of writing your book so that you make your arc as strong as possible and ensure everything that happens on the journey of the main character leads directly towards the ending.

If you are struggling with your story, ask yourself a few important questions:

Does your main character have emotional closure at the end? Is your main character better off at the end of the story than they were at the start, have they learnt something along the way?

In my picture book Stuffed!, a story about the nighttime adventures and arguments of Sam’s stuffed toys, I needed to make sure that I had emotional closure for both Sam and her toys at the end of the story. It begins with the toys arguing in the night and Sam waking up to find them strewn about her bedroom floor looking lost and alone the next morning. It was important when writing the ending that I addressed both Sam’s desires to help her toys and settled the toys arguments as well. I needed all the characters pulled together at the end of the story to make it feel satisfying and tie up all loose ends. Without that my main characters and my readers would not have had the emotional closure needed for a satisfying book.

Does your ending use a repeated phrase or end with similar lines to the very beginning? Does the tone of your ending match the beginning of the story?

I was very careful when writing my new picture book Out of the Box, that the story should come full circle. It begins with great excitement at the arrival of Granny. Sam’s birthday is only three sleeps away and she is hoping for all sorts of grand, expensive presents from her Granny. When things don’t turn out quite as she expected the story takes us on an emotional and imaginative journey with Sam and eventually back to Granny again at the end. Over the course of the story Sam learns and grows but it was important to me to bring her back full circle at the end, to her Granny, equally full of excitement. If I hadn’t done that then Granny would have been obsolete, and there is so much to love about Granny the story would have suffered for it. The tone of excitement at the start matches with the tone of excitement at the end as Sam has learnt an important lesson in the story – that our imaginations can give us just as much of an adventure than a toy.

Can you add a twist at the end to make it more of a surprise?

When I wrote Counting Sheep, a picture book about a little sheep who couldn’t jump over the fence, I came up with lots of possible ideas for the ending. At storytelling sessions, when I ask children how they think the problem should be resolved they nearly always say that the other sheep could help lift him over. It’s a lovely idea and one that crossed my mind too when writing the book, but it’s also very predictable. In the end I decided to write an ending that no one else ever thinks of. It is always a surprise and always a wow, why didn’t I think of that moment, for children as a result. I am ever grateful when I read this story to children to have written a surprise ending.

Hope these examples and questions help you make your endings super satisfying! Happy writing and editing everyone J

MAKE YOUR READER WANT TO RELIVE THE STORY: NOW THAT’S AN ENDING!

by Michelle Nott

A good ending will make us want to relive a story, to close a book only to open it back up, even when we know how it will end.

As we know with picture books and reading to young children, that’s just what we want to happen, to read the story over and over again. So that ending must be good! But strong endings need to conclude an already strong story with strong characters that a child wants to experience over and over again even, and especially, when they already know the ending.

As a freelance editor, I have read lots of manuscripts. Some stories seem to be going fine and then the ending just comes and goes. No hurrah, no tears, no laugh. When that happens, I advise the writer to review what events are leading to the ending. Often, not enough has happened to logically and smoothly arrive at the ending they want. It may be a lovely or funny or inspiring last sentence, but there is a missing link between the middle and end which compromises the final emotion.

For example, in my early reader Dragon Amy’s Flames, she wants to win a prize by hitting the bullseye at the fair. But she has a habit of burning up that and other toys whenever she feels frustrated. And so, she has to learn to control her temper. The reader sees she is trying hard and making progress calming down and staying focused in different scenarios. By this point, the reader knows she could probably do it. And so, I could have ended the story with her finally hitting the bullseye. The story had logically led to that conclusion. But instead, the next day she asks her brother if she can practice with him. He agrees but only if she controls her flames. That could have also been a logical place to end, on an image of her succeeding. But it would not have been as satisfying as how it did truly end.

I added one more moment of suspense and doubt: “Sizzle, a spark flew too high. Fizzle, a flame fell too low. And then … Amy’s scales quivered. Her skin shriveled. Her nostrils flared…ROAR [and this is when something previously would have been engulfed in flames]… and ZING!”

The last illustration shows she has hit the bullseye perfectly. Her family (and the reader) cheers.

If your ending looks and sounds like it has all the elements of a strong and satisfying ending but it’s not getting the emotion for which you’re striving, look at the lines between your middle and end. Is there a space waiting to be filled? It may just need a sentence or two. It may need an illustration note to create just enough of a pause. Maybe you could take a refrain and twist it just one more time.

As they say, “Mind the Gap!” and your story will smoothly get to where it needs to go.

WRAP THINGS UP BUT KEEP THEM WONDERING

by Dawn Prochovnic

When I reflect on story endings that are especially satisfying to me, the one constant is that I find myself thinking about the story long after it has ended. For example, when a television show has me hooked, I’m sure to be thinking about and/or talking about “last night’s episode” when I wake up the next morning. Likewise, the movies and novels that I count amongst my favorites are the ones I’m still reflecting on long after I’ve finished them.

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite ways to end a picture book is with an ending that wraps things up in a satisfying way, but that also invites the reader to ponder what happens next.

One of my first books, The Nest Where I Like to Rest, offers an example. It is a cumulative story about a mama hen who wants to rest while she waits for her nest of eggs to hatch. The story begins:

This is the nest where I like to rest.

These are the eggs I carefully laid to hatch in the nest where I like to rest.

But how can I rest with a rat near my nest?

Throughout the story, mama hen’s nest is disrupted again and again by various characters. Finally, at the end, mama hen successfully hatches her eggs. “Hooray!” you might say! But not so fast. The last line in the story reads:

But how can I rest with these chicks in my nest?

This “second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What happens next?” What will those chicks be up to? Will mama hen EVER get any rest? (parents everywhere know the answer to that!).

The ending of my most recent book, Lucy’s Blooms, provides a similar invitation for readers to consider what happens next. In the story, Lucy nurtures a garden of blooms she finds in the meadow behind Gram’s house, with a goal of entering the town’s gardening contest. Throughout the story, Lucy’s blooms grow and change, but Lucy’s love for them remains strong—even when Lucy doesn’t get what she hopes for. In the end, Lucy and her blooms return to Gram’s open and loving arms. The lines on the next-to-last spread read:

“C’mon,” Lucy said with a smile.

“I’ll race you back to Gram’s.”

She took hold of her wagon and ran.

And the last spread reads (with a fabulous illustration to match):

“A fantastic flurry of silky seeds swirled and twirled behind her.”

This “ second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What will happen to all of those silky seeds? How will Gram and Lucy spend their afternoon? Their next week? Their next summer?”

One of the things I love most about books with this type of ending is the opportunity to ask young readers these types of questions when the book is shared. Their ideas for how a story might continue beyond the last page never cease to amaze me!

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

FOLLOW MY BLOG OR KEEP A CLOSE EYE OUT FOR MY BONUS POST ON ENDINGS.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. If you missed part one, click here.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Laura Gehl, Ellen Leventhal, Vivian Kirkfield, and Rob Sanders.

Words of Wisdom

ENDING WITH A BONUS

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite types of ending is when the main conflict is resolved before the final page, allowing the last spread or two to add a twist of humor or an extra layer to the story.

For example, in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, by me and Sarah Horne, Ana is initially upset about getting a chicken as a gift from her grandmother, instead of the amusement park tickets that she had requested. This conflict is resolved when the chicken builds Ana a backyard amusement park and Ana realizes Abuela Lola knew exactly what she was doing. But the wonderful spread with Ana riding in eggshell-shaped roller coaster cars with Abuela Lola is not the end of the book! Afterward, Ana says, “Next year, I’m asking Abuela Lola for a trip to the moon!” and we see the chicken beginning to design a rocket ship.

In My Pillow Keeps Moving, by me and Christopher Weyant, a lonely man keeps accidentally purchasing a dog—first as a pillow, then as a footrest, and finally as a coat. The main conflict is resolved when the man decides to adopt the dog. But then the story continues with the dog winking at her feline friend, the man accidentally purchasing the cat as a hat, and all three becoming a happy family on the final page.

In Judge Juliette, by me and Mari Lobo, Judge Juliette has to rule on whether her family should get a dog (like her mom wants) or a cat (as her dad hopes). The main conflict is resolved when Juliette discovers she must recuse herself, since judges aren’t allowed to rule in cases involving family members. But the book ends on a funny twist when Juliette hands her courtroom and gavel over to a friend and takes on the role of lawyer instead. Juliette says she would like to make a case for getting a dog AND a cat…AND (on the final page!)…a boa constrictor.

These endings with a little extra twist are favorites for me as a reader (This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen is a great example) and as a writer. I love how this type of ending gives the reader the satisfaction of “Hooray, the conflict is resolved!” and then a bonus laugh, or an extra “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!”

WHAT KIND OF ENDING WILL SET YOUR BOOK APART FROM THE REST?

by Ellen Leventhal

There are many different types of endings, all satisfying in their own way. I love endings with a twist, a surprise, a laugh, and even with an “aww.” Of course, your conclusion needs to stay in line with the rest of the book. You wouldn’t want a serious, quiet book to end with a big guffaw. A smile, yes, but probably not a huge laugh. Humorous books can definitely have an “aww” ending, but there needs to be a lead-up to it. It’s important to keep the character of your book throughout. When a funny book ends on an “aww” note, a fun thing to do is to have a humorous page turn that would tie it all together. It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s sometimes fun. I’m currently working on two humorous books that end with a sweet solution to the problem. However, the last page turns are both wordless spreads that tell the reader that something funny is about to happen.

I knew exactly what ending I wanted in A Flood of Kindness. It ends with an “aww” moment, but it wasn’t surprising. Readers could guess it may happen, but still, when it did, it was satisfying. (At least reviews say it is, and who am I to argue?) As an aside, illustrator Blythe Russo evoked such emotion that the reader roots for this main character from the minute they see her.

Lola Can’t Leap (by Noelle Shawa and me) has a surprise ending in the fact that the main character does NOT reach her goal, but she discovers something else. And then, Noelle made it even more surprising on the last page turn with her art.

I love circular stories where the end takes the reader back to the beginning of the story. There are so many wonderful circular stories. I recently re-read Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline’s Coyote Moon, which starts with Moonrise, takes us through the night, and ends with the coyote family waiting for the moon to wake them again.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets (written by Ellen Rothberg and me, illustrated by Joel Cook) is circular in the sense that when reading aloud, children cheer “Don’t eat the bluebonnets!” throughout the book. The last line invites them to echo it one last time.

Play around and see what will set YOUR book apart. And mostly, enjoy the process. Happy Writing!

ENDINGS THAT WRAP THINGS UP IN A NICE PACKAGE OF WORDS

by Vivian Kirkfield

Early on in my writing life, I attended a conference and heard Candace Fleming speak about picture book endings – and what she said made a huge impression on me. She told us that when a reader gets to the end of the book, they should be saying one of three things: HAHAHAHA, AHA! or AWWW.

Why, you ask? Because the emotional connection between the reader and the story is so very important. And, if the reader laughs at the end because the story was funny, or is surprised because there was a twist, or if the reader’s heart is touched, the author has succeeded.

For me, when I read the last lines of a story, I love to get a chill down my spine or a warm fuzzy feeling. For me, a ‘satisfying ending’ is an ending that tugs at my heart…it’s an ending that fulfills the promise of the opening lines of the story. Here are a couple of examples:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH:

Opening Lines: Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

                          Hurry up!

                          Eyes down!

                          Don’t speak!

                          Slaves were property–like a cow, or plow, or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

Satisfying Ending: Sarah took a slow deep breath.

                              She slid out the papers.

                               She read out loud!

                               S.E. Goode

                                Cabinet Bed

                                No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

                               Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history.

                               She had built more than a piece of furniture.

                               She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

MOON MAN: Robert Goddard and the Liquid Fuel-Propelled Rocket  (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Sometimes Robert Goddard’s curiosity was so intense, it made things explode.

Satisfying Ending: Robert Goddard ushered in the era of space flight with the world’s first liquid fuel-propelled rocket. Today’s space program is built on the discoveries he made, and for some of us, that trip to Mars young Robert dreamed about up in the cherry tree may one day become a reality.

ALL ABOARD: George Stephenson and the Steam Locomotive (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Click! Clunk! Hiss!                   

Deep underground, in a maze of pitch-black tunnels, young George Stephenson hefted chunks of coal.

Satisfying Ending: The railway revolution had begun, and George Stephenson had led the charge, changing the landscape not only of England, but of the entire world.

One of the best ways to learn how to write satisfying endings is to read LOTS of them. Pick out your favorite picture books and use them as mentor texts. Examine the endings and observe how you feel when you read them. And then, go bravely into the morning or the night or whenever you do your best writing and play with those words until YOUR satisfying ending emerges!

MOVING FROM TROPES TO TREMENDOUS ENDINGS

by Rob Sanders

Sometimes to understand what something is, it’s helpful to know what it isn’t. Endings we grew up hearing or that were frequently used tropes, are a good place to look for what not to do.

That’s all folks. Bug’s Bunny may have been able to get away with his famous line to end Saturday morning cartoons, but as writers it’s not that easy. A story that just ends—without an ending—one that just stops without providing resolution or emotional climax, does not actually have an ending. Story doesn’t just end. It builds to and ending.

The End. As I always told student writers, “If you have to write THE END, then you haven’t written an ending.” The ending (even in nonfiction) is the conclusion of the plot. After the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action, the ending brings the reader home and helps to create a feeling of completeness or wholeness for the piece.

They lived happily ever after. Oh, that the life really always ended with happily ever after. While most picture books do end happily or hopefully, the ending is really the place the author can create a variety of emotional impacts. In his pyramid plot structure, Freytag called this the denouement. Some define denouement as the emotional climax of the story. This emotional impact may affect the reader in a variety of ways. It may bring a smile, a tear, a cheer, a spine-tingling chill, an ah-h-h-h, and more.

And that’s the way it was. Walter Cronkite ended his CBS evening news broadcasts every night by saying, “And that’s the way it was.” Writers sometimes are tempted to conclude a story by recapping everything that has gone before. In this situation, the writer tries to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss out on anything important that’s come before. While the intention is good and while the approach might work on occasion, it also discredits readers and their ability to think, remember, and participate in the story.

The moral of the story. I grew up with books that made sure I understood the lesson or moral once I’d finished reading. Today, “The moral of the story,” should be saved for folktales. Yes, many current picture books do have a lesson or theme, but a skillfully written manuscript reveals that lesson or theme and a wise writer trusts the reader to make inferences to uncover the lesson or theme. (By the way, it’s ok if readers arrive different at different conclusions. It’s the magic of storytelling—each reader or listener can their own ideas about the story).

So, how do you end a picture book manuscript? Remember these tips:

  1. Don’t rely on tropes.
  2. Build to an ending.
  3. Make sure the ending completes the plot.
  4. Create an emotional impact.
  5. Trust your readers.

Allow readers to make their own inferences and to draw their own conclusions.

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. Before, I move on to our wisdom, we have some good news and announcements to celebrate. You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Happy Book Birthday

Screenshot 2021-08-20 at 6.48.40 PM

Pippa Chorley’s latest picture book OUT OF THE BOX (illustrated by Danny Deeptown and published by Marshall Cavendish) will be coming into the world in mid-November. You can find some more info on KIDLIT411 here. CONGRATULATIONS!

OddBeasts_CV-1

Laura Gehl’s board book ODD BEASTS: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals (illustrated by Gareth Lucas, published by Abrams) was born on November 2. HAPPY BELATED BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Congratulations!

Who is a scientist

Laura Gehl’s book WHO IS A SCIENTIST? received a blue star review from Kirkus!

“Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.” – Kirkus Reviews

You can read the whole review here.

stitch by stitch

Rob Sanders’ recently released picture book STITCH BY STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT received a blue star review from Kirkus and a starred review from Publishers Weekly! This baby is off to a good start! CONGRATULATIONS!

“Storytelling and history, beautifully stitched together.” Kirkus Reviews

Read the whole Kirkus review here.

Read the whole PW review here.

Words of Wisdom

To kick off our series on writing effective and satisfying endings, I will share an excerpt from Art of Arc that I think is an important tip.

“From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, everything you write should relate to the ending. Every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

COMMON MISTAKES WITH ENDINGS

by Alayne Kay Christian

One thing that I often see in picture books that I edit or critique is the last lines feature a character that is not the main character. In my opinion, the main character should always be the one under the spotlight at the end of his/her story.

Another mistake that I often see is bringing a new character into the story toward the ending for no other reason than to facilitate resolving the story.

Allowing the main character to be a victim of circumstances instead of the master of his destiny or allowing the main character to be the recipient of a sheer-luck induced or happenstance resolution that comes way too easily are common issues in stories I critique.

Similar to the above, having someone else solve the main character’s problem usually diminishes and destroys your main character’s role as the hero of his story. There are stories, where the main character seeks out or asks for help. However, I prefer stories where main characters make their own choices and decisions and then take action based on those decisions. I’ve seen older or wiser character’s help guide the main character toward the direction of the final action and discovery. I’m sorry, I can’t think of any books off hand. But if you study picture books, you will find the older or wiser rescuer or guide seldom shows up, and if one does, the main character remains the star/hero of the story in the end.

Ahh, I just thought of two books that have someone help solve the problem. They are both older books, but good examples of allowing an older/wiser person to help while still keeping the main character the star.

In MADDI’S FRIGE by Lois Brandt, the mom eventually steps in to help. However, only because the main character decided to tell her mom about her problem. But in the end, the main character and her friend Maddi are the stars in the spotlight. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In THE LADY IN THE BOX by Ann McGovern, it can almost feel like the mom hijacks the story once the kids decide to tell the mom about their problem. However, the reason this works is the story always remains told from the main character’s point of view. And again, she is the star in the spotlight at the end of the story. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In both of the above examples, the story topic included a problem that was too big for a picture-book age child to handle by herself. For either character to successfully handle these tough situations would have been unrealistic.

Now, I’m going to move away from common mistakes and move on to different types of picture book endings. Many of our wise authors talk about the same topic, I’m just saying it in a different way because I think it’s valuable information.

SOME TYPES OF PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

As some of our wise authors have stated there are at least two kinds of endings. The “Aww” ending, which is usually an emotionally touching ending, and the “Aha!” ending, which usually leads the reader to a surprise or some sort of unexpected realization. Then there is the “Wow!” ending which is when the ending is so unexpected that it changes the way you view the whole story. There is sometimes a fine line between a wow ending and an aha ending. The other ending, which is also a surprise, is the funny (Ha-ha) ending where the payoff is so huge or funny that the reader can’t stop thinking about it and wants to read it over and over. All the endings are kind of closely related because they all have elements of surprise mixed with satisfaction. And they all touch the reader on an emotional level. So, that tells me that emotion, surprise, and satisfaction are key factors in creating a strong and effective ending.

The “aha” ending feels like a surprise but it also feels inevitable—but not predictable. It’s kind of like, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Or maybe even a “Wait. What?” When it comes to aha and wow endings, there is little better than giving our readers a moment where they suddenly see or understand the story in a new or clearer way. If our story ending causes the reader to pause and reevaluate the story, we’ve done a good job.

With the “aww” ending, the reader is satisfied and touched emotionally because after a “try and fail” arc struggle, the main character’s emotional needs are finally met. This doesn’t always come from the character getting what he wants. Sometimes, it’s from getting what he needs. With the aww ending, the reader usually has a sense of empathy with the character, and this empathy generally started earlier in the story via the emotional roller coaster ride, but then that final moment of empathy is where the reader gains a sense of satisfaction. “Oh good. All is well.” This kind of story ending leaves the reader feeling comforted with a strong sense of closure, which stems from the discomfort the character experiences earlier in the story (the emotional roller coaster ride).

As you’ll see many of our wise author’s mention offering a surprise twist at the end of a story. This will give the reader one last boost before closing the story. And the surprise twist is a great tool for setting up aww, aha, wow, or ha-ha endings.

Joyce Wan says, “When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun. When done well, an unpredictable twist can turn a good book into a classic and is often what makes repeated re-readings a pleasure. In subsequent readings, the reader enjoys being in the know and re-reading a book when you know what’s coming can be enjoyable in its own right too.”

CIRCLE BACK PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

by Melissa Stoller

I love writing picture book endings that circle back to the beginning of the story. The endings I craft often refer back to the opening lines, and then add something more to show that the main character has grown and changed throughout the pages of the book.

For example, in SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke)

Opening lines: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Ending lines: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart . . . Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Readers follow Scarlet as she learns to let go of perfection and find her own magical creativity.

In PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot) –

Opening lines: On the first day of school, the wind rattled and leaves swirled. Molly’s knees knocked as she buttered her toast. Would the other kids like her?

Ending lines: That season, the girls planted trees of friendship. And built bridges of hope. Together. In Peace Park and beyond. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Readers follow three girls of different faith traditions through the seasons of a school year, as they discover friendship and celebrate their differences.

And in READY, SET, GORILLA! (illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew) –

Opening lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Ending lines: They all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Readers follow Gorilla as he learns that having friends and playing fairly makes him a winner.

As you create your own picture books, experiment with different types of endings and see what resonates with you. Happy writing!

A SATISFYING STORY ENDING IS UNEXPECTED YET INEVITABLE

by Kirsti Call

Jane Yolen taught me that a satisfying ending is unexpected yet inevitable.  Here are three endings from books I’ve written–always with Jane’s advice in mind.

  1. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD‘s ending is surprising, yet makes sense. Mootilda’s bad mood has es-cowlated all day, until she chooses to think about her friends instead of herself.  The final spread shows her with the sign:  “Cow-nseling, expert in the field.”  Mootilda sits with her pen, notebook,a box of tissues, and Crow on a couch across from her.  He begins his session with, “I’m in a bad mood.”  This ending also mirrors the beginning of Mootilda’s journey when she says, “I’m in a bad mooood!”
  2. COW SAYS MEOW has a circular ending where the end hearkens back to the beginning, and encourages the reader to read the book again.

OPENING line: “Cow says… Meow.”

CLOSING line: “Cow says…Pssst. Can I meow again?”

3. COLD TURKEY ends with the opposite of the beginning. You guessed it, he starts out cold, and the last line is: “TOASTY TURKEY!”

Circular, surprise and opposite endings are only a few of the numberless ways we can create satisfying endings.  So, don’t be afraid to try out multiple endings for your story–read, re-read, write, re-write and find the solution that gives you that satisfied feeling of closure. You’ll find it’s almost always something unexpected….yet inevitable.

GIVE THE READER SOMETHING TO TAKE AWAY

by Beth Anderson

Endings and beginnings are equally difficult. And they’re intricately dependent upon each other. Endings need to circle back to the beginning in some way—as an “answer” to the story question posed, or the “bridge” that takes the story into the future. As a person who writes historical stories, the decision of where to start and stop is crucial. Just as identifying that inciting incident is essential, knowing when your emotional arc is complete is, too.

  • Endings can’t be too abrupt. Or drone on and on.
  • Endings must be clear, but not sappy or didactic.
  • They should elicit an emotional reaction, linger, resonate.
  • The take-away must be just that—something a child can carry in their mind or heart or funny-bone.

When I work on revising an ending, I copy and paste the section into another document and redo, redo, redo. Small tweaks, rephrasing, rearranging. Over and over and over until I work through to that just right piece that will bring satisfaction and go a step further to carry something forward. I like to think of the process of writing as mining—digging deep into story and also into self to find that special take or “heart” to shape, polish, and thread through. Your ending is the resulting “gem.”

I like endings that provide an invitation for a child to rethink themselves.

In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I used the “conventional you,” addressing the reader, in both beginning and end. The last page says: “Next time you sound out a word, think of Ben and Noah. Thay wud bee pleez’d beecuz that iz egzaktlee wut thay wonted!” It’s sort of “congratulations, you’re a great thinker, too”—a chance to rethink self.

Another way I think of endings is laying a thought or idea in the lap of the reader.

The end of Lizzie Demands a Seat! plants the seed for carrying social justice action forward.

Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses ties back to the the beginning question, “What good was an extraordinary nose?” and Kelly’s desire for a “power” that would make him special. At the end he discovers that his special power is inside, then… “James Kelly gazed at the waiting passengers. He would bet each person had something special inside. He could almost smell it.” (the last sentence is also in the opening) This is an invitation for a child to think about what makes him or her special, but also a “lay it in their lap” ending.

The end ties up the story with a bow, a gift for the reader to carry forward.

At the end of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle, people around Tad finally see the goodness in the “problem” child when his relentless, pandemonium-producing wriggle benefits others. This ending is an affirmation of the capableness and goodness of children. A gift.

Endings are hard. But…a good ending makes a story sing!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, and Rob Sanders.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley shared their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles. If you missed it, you can read KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3) here. And you can read Ellen Leventhal’s and my mini-course in Part 1 of 3 here.

Today, Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller share their Writing Captivation Middles toolboxes, roadmaps, wisdom, and tips. You won’t want to miss it!

Before we move on, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

My friends Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz‘s latest picture book COLD TURKEY (illustrated by Chad Otis) will come into the world on November 1. However, it is available for pre-orders now. CONGRATULATIONS!

cold turkey cover

Words of Wisdom

MARVELOUS MIDDLES

by Melissa Stoller

When writing picture books, it is important to craft snappy openings that grab the reader’s attention. It is also crucial to draft satisfying endings, so the reader wants to read the story over and over. But the middle of a picture book . . . that is notoriously difficult to get just right. Here are a few tips about turning the middle of the story from muddy to marvelous!

In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, Clear Fork Publishing, 2020), Sadie listens to Nana tell stories about their ancestors as they prepare for a Shabbat dinner. I knew that Sadie’s biggest wish at the opening was tell stories just like Nana. I also knew that, at the end, Sadie would find her unique voice and tell her special stories. So in the middle, I drafted three vignette stories for Nana to tell (based on my family history). I knew I had to keep these “stories within a story” concise and full of emotion that children could relate to. Because Sadie believes that Nana is the best storyteller, these vignettes had to rise to meet the readers’ expectations. So in drafting within this particular structure, I paid close attention to this important middle of the manuscript. I tried to include lots of emotional resonance and heart! And of course, Lisa Goldberg’s stunning illustrations and her vision truly added another layer to the whole book, and especially to the vignettes in the middle.

Here are two examples:

Middles Melissa 1

Middles Melissa 2

Good luck drafting your own marvelous middles for your picture books!

WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES TOOLBOX AND ESSENTIAL STEPS

by Beth Anderson

Muddy, mediocre middles quickly quash readers’ enthusiasm for the story. To create a captivating middle you’ll need a full toolbox of writer skills. Here are the essentials as I see them—and the reminders I give myself as I revise.
• Plot the arc with a clear inciting incident and escalating tension.
• Build scenes.
• Keep your main character active.
• Pay attention to motivation and stakes—keep the emotional arc driving the story.
• Create effective transitions.
• Enhance turning points.
• Craft page turns.
• Use pacing techniques to keep the story moving.
• Weave in necessary context and make it relevant to the action—no info dumps.
• Immerse readers in the experience of the main character. This involves “Show don’t tell” and other considerations.
• Tie it all tightly with the essential, uniquely-through-you, “heart” thread.
For me, beginning, middle, and end evolve simultaneously in the writing process because you really can’t craft one well without the others. But once I’m able to eke out a middle, I have lots to work with, and I’m on my way!

EXCAVATING THE HEART OF A COMPELLING MIDDLE

by Dawn Prochovnic

Middles are what seem to come most easily to me—or more accurately, it’s the story ideas for which I have strong middles that I actually sit down and write and stick with to the end.

I have a LONG list of story ideas, and I update this list regularly as new ideas pop into my head. Many of these ideas remain just that—ideas. They seem SO GOOD on the surface, but I have difficulty figuring out how to make something of them. Other ideas really grab hold of me and insist on being written. For me, that urgency and insistence comes from the middle of the story. It’s the middle of the story that begs to be let out of my head. It’s the middle of the story that spills out of me. It’s the middle of the story that compels me to find a strong opening and satisfying ending, and it’s the middle of the story that I sometimes have to completely reimagine in order for the story to reach its full potential.

My forthcoming book, MAMA’S HOME (Familius, 2024), provides a great example of this process. The working title for the original draft of this story was CHILDHOOD BLISS. It was a slice-of-life story about a joyful, play-filled, childhood. I wrote it on scraps of paper and in notes on my phone while my youngest child (now a sophomore in college) blissfully engaged in the imaginative play area in our local children’s museum. I loved the idea of a story about everyday, child-centered activities that bring joy into a child’s life, and that collectively make for a bliss-filled childhood.

Over time, it became clear that the story would need a stronger hook in order to become a book. I loved the story enough to keep working on it, which led to different stories with essentially the same “middle.” For example, for a time, the story was entitled GRANDMA’S HOUSE IS HAPPINESS, and associated revisions incorporated the elements of connection with an active and engaged grandparent. Eventually, the focus shifted to the excitement and delight in sharing everyday, joyful activities with a parent who returns home after being away for an extended period of time. With that angle, the current title emerged, and I revised the story to incorporate the preparations for and anticipation of Mama’s return.

When I submitted this version to Familius, their team wondered if I might be open to a more specific reason for Mama being away— the arrival of a new sibling. This brought additional revisions that incorporated the anticipation and preparations for a new sibling along with Mama’s return and featured activities that could be engaged in with a new sibling in tow. For this revision, I also looked for opportunities to emphasize and lean into the enduring and evolving nature of the relationship between Mama and an older child.

Throughout the revision process, the essence of the story, childhood bliss, remained intact as the story evolved into the version that will be made into a book. The story idea that took hold of me from the start and insisted on being written was the middle. It’s the part of the story that I connected with so deeply right from the start, and that kept me motivated to keep working on it until it was just right for its eventual publishing home.

ROSIE’S ROADMAP TO A CAPTIVATING ENDING

by Rosie Pova

The meat of the story is in the middle, so make sure it’s full of action, go ahead and throw in a little mid-way twist, too, and let us learn something new or something more in-depth about your character. Grab the reader’s attention by fleshing out an irresistible personality for your character, bring us along on the emotional journey with every scene, and plant little questions we’d want to find out the answers to.

Middles can be challenging, but they are also an opportunity to go all in and turn a reader into a fan.

Now, go move and shake your middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we believe it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. When we last left off with the Wisdom series, we talked all about writing outstanding first lines and beginnings (part1, part 2, part 3). Now it’s time to tackle middles. I struggled with words to describe a good middle and my favorite words were “captivating” “compelling” and “engaging.” They all have similar meanings. If your middle doesn’t compel readers to keep turning pages, it probably needs some tweaking or a rewrite. The same goes for engage or captivate. What will make your readers want to keep reading? With my many years as a professional critique writer and the former acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, I can tell you that you can have the best beginning and ending, but if the middle doesn’t keep the story train on the track, the story will never survive.

This month, I’m excited to share our wise authors’ many fabulous tips and examples for writing strong middles. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ middles, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Today’s post will focus on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. Ellen Leventhal and I were on the same wavelength, so we both wrote about cause and effect. Probably no surprise, but my portion is quite long, so I’ll start with Ellen’s wonderful thoughts and examples and then finish with my mini-lesson for writing middles. Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Beth Anderson’s fantastic book TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President House (illustrated by S.D. Shindler) is coming into the world on October 5!

Congratulations, Beth.

TAD LINCOLNS RESTLESS WRIGGLE FC

My friend and fellow Word Birds 2021 member Nancy Churnin has two new babies being born!

DEAR MR. DICKENS (illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe) with a birth date of October 1 and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg) with a birth date of October 5.

Congratulations, Nancy!

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Congratulations!

My longtime critique partner and friend Hannah Holt’s fun, funny, and educational picture book A HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: With Professor Chicken (illustrated by Korwin Briggs) is now available for preorder.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Final Cover Underwear_Medium

Now for some words of writing wisdom. . . .

Words of WisdomTHE MIDDLE SHOWS US HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER GOT TO THE END

by Ellen Leventhal

Somewhere between the excitement of those glorious first lines and the relief of coming up with a satisfying ending, something has to happen. With picture books, we don’t have much time or space to bridge those two, but the middle IS the story. It’s the journey, and that’s true whether you are utilizing a traditional arc or something a little different. We still need to see the character move forward toward that end. When I teach writing to kids, I talk a lot about cause and effect. For example, in my book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, I first jotted down the following. Because there was a flood (cause) Charlotte lost her possessions, and her home was ruined.(effect) Because her home was ruined, (cause) she had to go to a shelter (effect). I did that for each scene until the cause and effect got us to the ending. It would be so much easier to say something like, “Charlotte’s house flooded, but she learned that doing kindness for others would help her heal, so she gave a boy her teddy bear.” Easy, but not a story. The middle is where we learn all about Charlotte, her emotions, obstacles, and growth. It tells us HOW she got to the end.

I don’t always approach middles that way, but when I do, I come up with different cause and effect scenarios. I think about all the different ways my character could reach the ending. How do I want my character to achieve the goal? Or not achieve her original goal? Once I choose a path, I begin to write. I work on flow and transition, always asking myself questions such as, does this work with the beginning? Does it lead to the outcome? Do I want to change the outcome? Is it child-friendly?

This is just one trick in the toolbox of writing middles, and to be honest, it doesn’t always seamlessly lead to a satisfying ending. But that’s ok because, as we all know, writing is revising.

The middle has the power to bring our character to life and truly bring us on the journey with her. It’s where we see her emotions and obstacles. It’s where the reader hopefully connects with the character. Writing the middle is not easy, but when that messy middle flawlessly brings us to our satisfying ending, it’s magic.

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SOLID MIDDLES VS FRACTURED MIDDLES

by Alayne Kay Christian

I went through the Art of Arc course to see if I could choose just a couple top tips, but there is so much that goes into writing compelling middles that it was difficult to choose. However, the fact that I dedicate two full lessons to the topics of cause and effect and episodic stories convinced me to share some already existing blog posts on these very important topics. You will find the links below. These two posts don’t only have a wealth of information, they offer worksheets and ways to test if your story is episodic. These are old posts, so any deals or giveaways are no longer valid.

EPISODIC STORIES AND CAUSE AND EFFECT

FRACTURED MIDDLES

What would a Dachshund look like without a middle? A school bus? The Eiffel Tower? Imagine just about anything without a middle, and what do you get? What if the Dachshund, school bus, or the Eiffel Tower look like if they had a weak middle? What if the middles of the Dachshund, school bus, or Eiffel Tower were disconnected from the beginning and ending of your story? In the following video, I have a little fun demonstrating solid middles vs fractured middles using crude and wacky drawings.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

CAUSE AND EFFECT RUFFLE

In the following video I do a clumsy ruffle demonstration explaining how a solid cause and effect thread vs a broken one can impact your story’s middle.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE (a little something extra)

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER v3

I love picture books that offer an emotional roller coaster ride. Since, I already have an example that I did for a few recent manuscript critiques using the book THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, I share the PDF via the following link Middles Those Shoes. This example highlights the many wonderful ups and downs this story ride offers. In addition, it points out the links in the cause and effect chain. This analysis is a good example of one way to use published books as mentor texts.

The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride are usually created by tension that results from obstacles/conflict/struggles. As I was going through Art of Arc’s lessons about writing middles, the following blurb jumped out at me. I thought it worth sharing as I end my portion of this post and start preparing my next blog post with more great words of wisdom from our blog team.

Straightforward and struggle-free stories, with no apparent consequences or sense of what might happen if the main character doesn’t succeed, will generally lose a reader’s attention. But when obstacles (conflict) create struggles and force the main character to make choices and decisions, the story is taken in new and exciting directions. This engages the reader.”

I can’t wait to share more good news and the treasure trove of wisdom about middles from our other wise authors. Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Kirsti Call, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, Rob Sanders, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

REMINDER SEASON OF KINDNESS

Before I move on to the video, I want to remind everyone that your opportunity to win fabulous prizes for you, your children, or your classroom will end on October 1. The Season of Kindness guidelines can be found here. I hope you’ve been working on creating kindness, and I will be pleasantly surprised in the coming days when you share your acts of kindness in comments.

CHECK OUT THESE FABULOUS PRIZES

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity, humor, fun, kind acts, bonus book photos, and following the guidelines accurately. The top eight winners’ names will be drawn from a hat randomly, and prizes will be offered in an elimination process. So, the first name drawn from the hat will have the first pick of the 8 prizes. The next person will choose from the remaining seven prizes, and the third will pick from the remaining six prizes, and on and on.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in Part 1, Part 2, and now Part 3 on this topic. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and just in case you missed it, you can read part one here and part two here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

HOW TO CUT AN ORIGINAL 304-WORD BEGINNING TO 76 WORDS

by Michelle Nott

Often when we sit down to write a new story, our beginnings are like Fred Flintstone’s feet scurrying fast underneath his car before it really gets going. But what the reader needs is not all the revving up, but the final kick that sets your story in motion.

As you begin to write, let your mind spin, write everything down. Then, once your manuscript is complete (not necessarily done, however), go back to the first words, paragraphs, pages, and see where your story really gets going. It may sound painful but go ahead and delete whatever doesn’t really jump-start your story.

What should be left is:

A hook – a detail about the setting, an interesting fact about your character, a catchy phrase, anything that will literally grab your reader’s interest and make them to want to read more.

An inciting incident – the hook will lose its grip on your reader if something doesn’t happen to your character. This moment should motivate your reader to want to see how events play out.

Here is an example from my upcoming picture book, TEDDY LET’S GO!

The absolute very first draft went like this… (and you don’t have to read it all to see it was entirely too long!)

“Many, many winters ago, a little girl was born. Her grandmother sat by her hospital window. She looked at the tiny hairs on the baby’s head and started to thread a needle. She touched the baby’s cheek and cut some shapes out of cotton fabric. She giggled seeing the little baby’s tongue slipping through her tiny lips and snipped a piece of red felt. The baby’s eyes were often shut, so Grandma picked some wide-open eyes from her craft box. She sat for hours threading, stitching, cutting. With every paw sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.

Then, with the strength of stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label.

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma’.

What a relief to be done! We left the hospital. Grandma gave me a final squeeze and packaged me up for Christmas. I peered out of a corner of the wrapping paper. The sun came and went several times. Lots of people came to visit and stood around a big tree with bright lights and colors. I could see Grandma’s mouth wide-open laughing. I could see a baby’s mouth wide-open crying. A bigger girl sat under the stockings. Her mouth was closed. She was combing her doll’s hair. Who will unwrap me? Grandma’s voice came closer, then I felt like I was flying. From my view, the baby was no bigger than I was. A lady whispered to her, “Look at this. It’s your first Christmas present. Let Mommy open it for you.”

That’s how it started…and how the crying ended. I lay down next to the baby. She rubbed her nose against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

A much later draft that caught the attention and interest of my agent and editor went like this… (a much tighter version of 76 words from the original 304!)

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear. Then she wrapped me up. And I floated.

The smell of pine drifted through my paper. I drifted from one pair of hands to another.

My head spun. My tummy clogged up with cotton. I pushed through the packaging.

“Teddy,” she said, “for you.”

[ILLO: A patch on the bear reads, “Specially hand-made by Grandma.”]

A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

By cutting out all the “revving up,” the story is more interesting, and the reader gets hooked much quicker. But all that preliminary spinning is often necessary for you, as the writer, to understand your characters and to be able to write the best version of their story. So, write as much as you need when you start, all the while knowing that you will go back and tighten in a way that serves your story best.

As for the final version of Teddy Let’s Go, it is slightly improved yet again. And that, you’ll be able to read as soon as it releases in 2022.

HOW TO USE MENTOR TEXTS TO GUIDE YOU WHILE WRITING BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I usually study beginnings before I write a beginning. This is where I turn to mentor texts. When I’m studying comp titles for a particular book I’m working on, I often keep a spreadsheet of things I want to keep track of. For more of how I keep track of mentor texts on spreadsheets, you can read my post here.

When I look at beginnings, I look at how the author bookended the first and last lines. When they are right next to each other on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to see how they fit together or diverge. I also notice what the author included on that first page. What are the things they wanted the reader to know right away? What did they leave out? Then I look at how they fashioned the beginning lines. What is the construct of those lines?

Then I look at my own work. I might try on first lines in various styles. I try out various starting points for the story. I sometimes even set a timer and write as many first lines as I can. Are there any gems? Are there ways I can combine? I realize it might take me lots of tries to get my first lines just right.

BEGINNINGS ARE A HUGE CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET THERE, THE STORY IS TRANSFORMED

by Beth Anderson

Thanks for this great topic – beginnings are such a challenge! Here are my thoughts….

Beginnings are difficult, require LOTS of work, and can make or break a story for an editor and readers. They have to be strong—they have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Pressure! I have to push myself to just dive in and know that I’ll be working on that beginning later – after I know the arc, the heart thread I want to resonate, and where I end up. Beginnings and endings are integrally related. Here are my essential elements for beginnings with the kind of stories I tell (narrative NF and historical fiction) and some examples from my books.

> The hook: kid friendly invitation to readers that sets up the story question to be answered at the end, often it sparks an emotional response in the reader. Readers are pulled in by that question and read to find out the answer. In “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses we get the superhero kid hook and, literally, a question. The opening of An Inconvenient Alphabet addresses the reader and offers the promise of something puzzling—a battle with the alphabet.

> The essentials: What do you need to know about the character and setting? (nothing extra!) The main character and their goal/want/need should be up front. The setting can be implied by illustrations with specifics added later—we don’t need to start with dates and places, but we need a sense of time and place. While you want to ground the reader, you don’t want anything that’s not essential to bog it down. Fill in needed back story and context as needed later, interwoven with action. Examples: I open with Tad Lincoln’s wriggle from birth, clearly involuntary; Prudence Wright’s (2/1/22) spark of independence; a bit about Ben Franklin and Noah Webster (but without names) and the American Revolution as rejecting the rule of England to set up the context and conflict.

> “Plant” seeds: What items or ideas will you need to support for later? What idea do you want to resonate at the end? I had to set up “Smelly” Kelly smelling water and recognizing the odor of elephants, and also the heroism “heart” of the story. On the first spread, Prudence Wright is visually connected with the antagonist that comes later. Sometimes the illustration on the title page or an epigraph (quote) with an illustration, as in the case of Tad Lincoln’s story, strengthen the opening by providing essential information and/or a few seeds.

> Action ASAP: What’s your inciting incident? How can you get to the action, the problem, the emotional response immediately? Often when sharing manuscripts, a critique partner will point to the spot where we first see characters in motion and conflict, and say, “This is where your story really starts.” There’s nothing better than beginning with action. That’s what pulls a young reader in, though that’s often a challenge. It’s harder to get the essentials, the seeds, and the hook embedded immediately in the action. But…I think it’s the most powerful. In Lizzie Demands a Seat!, the first spread has Lizzie in motion, heels clicking, in a hurry, purposeful. Also streetcar, horses, NYC, the pieces of setting we need right away. We get the heat, the stress of being late, and BOOM inciting incident. The shocking unfairness of what happened is obvious – kids recognize unfairness. Then after that emotional hit, we get more context to fully understand society of the time—incentive to keep reading.

Beginnings are a HUGE challenge, but when you finally get there, the story is transformed. The test is to see if you can keep crafting it until you’re there. I think it takes a lot of practice, ongoing learning, to learn how to embed all this information in a short, powerful opening. How can you embed key points without devoting a sentence to each of those pieces? How can you interweave the essentials within the action? The best way to learn about beginnings is to analyze those you consider effective. Good luck!

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in both Part 1 and Part 2. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and you can read part one here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

WELCOME READERS BY GIVING A PEEK INTO THE STORY WITH GREAT FIRST PAGES

by Ellen Leventhal

I love the topic of tips for writing outstanding beginnings. For me, this ties into last month’s topic about why it’s important for kid lit writers to read a lot of books in their genre. I read picture books with a different eye each time I pick them up, and recently I have been focused on beginnings and endings because they are both so important.

The first few lines matter for several reasons.

Beginnings of books invite the reader in. It’s the place to welcome your readers, so you want to make it welcoming and give a hint of what’s to come.

As picture book writers, we don’t have “the real estate” to give a lot of background. We have a lot to say in only 32 pages! (actually more like 28 pages). We need to give the readers a peek into the book. Is it humorous? Serious? Light hearted? In a picture book with a traditional arc, we need to introduce the character, what that character wants, and what is standing in the way right off the bat.

But we also can’t just jump in to something that doesn’t make sense to the reader so there needs to be some background in the first few lines. We walk a very thin line!

Remember, all of that information doesn’t all have to be in the first line, but it definitely needs to be close to the beginning. And the lines need to be crafted to make the reader want to read on. I recently re-read Jacqueline Woodson’s EACH KINDNESS. Her fist page just tells us it’s snowy…hmm. However, the description of the snow was just a few words, but they kept me engaged and hinted at something that drew me into the story. (HOW you say things matter) By the second page, we know what the story is about. One more page turn, and we know what the conflict is. BOOM! So was ALL this info in the first two or three lines? No, but pretty close, and it worked! Each page beckoned me to turn the page, and there were not a lot of words on each page.

Even concept books should set up the tone and theme from the very beginning. Parents picking up a book for their little ones, have many options. They want something to grab them. Think about CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert. The first time I read “A told B and B told C I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” I was hooked! I knew what it was about, I loved how unique it was, and it stood out from other alphabet books.

So how do writers do all this? It’s hard! I look up to many writer friends who are experts at awesome first lines.

For me, getting those first lines just right (and are they ever just right?) often takes loads of revision. I write my story first, knowing it’s going to go through multiple revisions before I’m even close to being happy with the beginning. I “wordsmith” the beginning as I go along, checking to make sure that the beginning, middle, and end still make sense together. I actually have a list of great first lines I’ve thought of. Of course, a list of first lines doesn’t make a story, but maybe someday they’ll appear in one. You never know!

Here are a few of my first lines that did make it into print.

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS:
The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.

LOLA CAN’T LEAP:
Lola came from a long line of leapers. She wanted to leap too, but… (second page sets up the conflict)

DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Co-written with Ellen Rothberg)
Sue Ellen had a mind of her own. When the other cows mooed, Sue Ellen Whistled. When the other cows strolled, Sue Ellen danced. And when Max put a sign in the South Pasture, Sue Ellen stomped her foot. (First two pages…the words on the sign sets up the conflict)

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

QUOTABLE QUOTES ON BEGINNINGS: ADVICE FROM SOME OF THE GREATS OF WRITING (plus a little extra from me)

By Rob Sanders

To inspire myself when writing and revising, I often look to advice from some of the greats of writing. After all, I’m not the first person who has walked down the road of writing a story. And I’m certainly not the first who has tried to determine the best way to begin a story in hopes of capturing the attention of my audience. That struggle began millions of years ago when our ancestors orally shared tales around roaring fires.

Some seem to think that beginnings (and maybe writing in general) are easy. Lewis Carrol must have known a few folks like that when he said:

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Carroll

Carroll knew the process of writing was more complex than that, right? We have to remember the complexity of our craft, too. So, let’s back up and begin at the beginning. What is a beginning?

“The beginning is the promise of the end.” -Henry Ward Beecher

The beginning does not exist in isolation. It must be linked to what comes after it—the middle—and the beginning and the middle must lead to a satisfying conclusion. But be warned. You won’t nail the beginning in the beginning.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott says it’s okay for my first efforts to be less-than stellar, that’s good enough for me. But I’m still left wondering what a beginning needs to accomplish. A beginning often (or nearly always) begins with the character, the character’s desire, the character’s problem, or the character’s situation.

“First find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” -Ray Bradbury

To write about a character we have to know as much as possible about that character. We need to know what motivates the character, what makes them who they are. We need to know the story behind the story.

“Everything must have a beginning . . . and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” -Mary Shelley

But be cautious—it seems that the biggest problem with beginnings is that they often get lost in back story. While back story is essential to the writer it is usually nonessential to the reader. Find the back story, then edit out as much as possible. Speaking of editing and revision, the beginning will change and grow and develop as the story does.

“By the time I’m nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times.” -Roald Dahl

Often it is only after you’ve finished a story (is a story ever finished?) that the beginning becomes clear.

“I write the beginning last.” -Richard Peck

Here’s the thing—we writers often overthink things. Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time with in our own heads or because we spend so much time in front of a monitor or because we work again and again and again to find the just-right word. Sometimes, we can think so much that we don’t write. So, the best advice for beginnings might come from a race car driver.

“To finish first, you must first finish.” -Rick Mears

Or we could revise that a bit to say, “To finish, you must first begin.” Better yet, we might let a motivational speaker inspire us and our beginnings.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -Zig Ziglar

You have greatness inside you. You have stories inside you. You have beginnings inside you. Now, go on—begin!

OPENING LINES ARE HOW AN AUTHOR MAKES A STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION ON THE READER

by Vivian Kirkfield

I was always taught that first impressions are really important. You wear a new outfit on the first day of school. You give a firm handshake at a job interview. And in a manuscript, the opening lines are how the author makes a strong first impression on the reader. Opening lines are a doorway into the story – they give the reader a taste of what’s to come and they often set up the promise that will be fulfilled with the satisfying ending. I’m a big fan of concrete examples and so I’ll share a few of my favorite opening lines from some of my own stories – and also the closing lines that mirror them:

The Boys Who Dreamed of Flying: Opening Line: “At a time when most of the world believed human flight was impossible, one boy thought differently.”

Closing Line: “And it all started with Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers, as different as could be, who worked together to take the first step in that starry direction.”

Black Forest or Bust: Opening Line: “Something had to be done. And Bertha Benz was tired of waiting for her husband to do it.”

Closing Line: “And in July of 2016, exactly 125 years after a determined young woman tiptoed past her sleeping husband to take her children on a visit to their grandmother’s house, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, in recognition of her invaluable contribution to the development and design of the modern automobile.”

Raye Draws Her Own Lines: Opening Line: “When Raye Montague was seven years old, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.”

Closing Line: “The tour director had been right all those long years ago. Raye didn’t need to worry about becoming an engineer…she just went out and did it!”

Making Their Voices Heard: Opening Line: “Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be.”

Closing Line: “On the outside, these two stars couldn’t have looked more different. But on the inside, they both understood that sometimes even stars need a little help to shine.”

One of my favorite ways to get opening line inspiration for a new nonfiction picture book bio is to read some of my favorites…classics or current ones. I study how those authors crafted their opening lines. Then I go to my research and look for something that jumps out at me. It’s not a scientific way of doing it…but somehow, it works.

A MINI-LESSON IN WRITING GREAT BEGINNINGS

by Rosie Pova

For me a great beginning should not only accomplish several important things all at once, but also do so smoothly and organically.

1. Introduce the main character so the reader knows immediately who to root for

Whenever I critique manuscripts, I often see stories that open with a secondary character speaking or “entering” the scene first, and that causes confusion. If I, as the reader, get on board and ready to see the world through the eyes of the first character I encounter only to find that that was not the star of the story, that creates disconnect as my focus was misplaced.

2. Give a sense of the character’s personality

This is where the reader forms a first impression about the main character and they must engage the audience with something interesting, unique, fresh, intriguing etc. about themselves.

3. Establish the premise.

This is very important — it’s the “promise” the story makes to the reader and it’s also what we would come back to to measure up against and see whether that promise has been fulfilled by the resolution.

4. Establish the tone.

There should be no confusion about that.

5. Evoke a strong desire to keep reading and find out more.

Say too much, and you might lose the reader. Say too little, and you might confuse the reader. Make it just right!

So, if your beginning hits all the marks above, you’re golden!

A FEW MORE FIRST LINES FROM MY BOOKS

by Alayne Kay Christian

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, illustrated by Milanka Reardon

“On an island off the coast of Brazil, a black blob bobbed on the beach. The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam. It squeaked. Joao squinted and moved closer.

Slippery.

            Heavy.

                        Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled. It could not stand.”

These first lines let you know who, what, and where.

Where: The story occurs on an island off the coast of the Brazil.

Who: João and a dying penguin (you learn the penguin’s name on the next page)

What: João discovers a dying penguin.

It also sets the tone or demonstrates the voice. It creates questions that make the reader want to turn the page. What will João do next? What will happen to the poor little penguin? The next pages connect the reader emotionally to both João and the penguin.  

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRSITMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, illustrated by Polina Gortman

“When Weed was a seed, it tumbled on a breeze and snuggled in a crack, smack-dab in the middle of a busy traffic island.

Spring rains showered, and Weed sprouted.

Summer sun warmed. Weed grew.

Cars zoomed. People zipped and scurried—always in a hurry.

But no one noticed Weed.”

We know this story is about a weed that wants to be noticed. We can tell the story is set in a big city. And we get a sense of the voice/tone. We are left wondering what will happen to weed. We build a slight emotional connection (especially anyone who can relate to longing to be “seen” in a big world too busy and unaware to see). In this book, the illustrations help tell the story and raise more interest when the reader sees that weed isn’t the only one going unnoticed. What about the homeless man and his dog who are seeking kindness?

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, illustrated by Joni Stingfield

“Emily loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They let her eat sweets, stay up late, and jump on the bed. She could skip her bath, make lots of noise, and run in the house.

Grandma and Grandpa played with her, read her stories, and let her help in the garden.

Emily loved her time with Grandma and Grandpa except for one thing. . . .”

With these first lines the ellipsis is used as discussed in Part 1 on writing outstanding beginnings. This leaves the reader wondering what that “one thing” is, and it compels the reader to turn the page and keep reading–it pulls the reader forward into the story. 

SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: COWBOY TROUBLE, illustrated by Blake Marsee

“I was happier than a snake sunning on a woodpile when Aunt Rose asked me to be in her elegant wedding. I was sadder than a rodeo clown on a rainy day when I learned flower girls wear dresses and fancy shoes.”

This is the first paragraph of a chapter book. This book is book 2 in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. So, there is a prologue written in the form of a letter from Sienna. Therefore, the reader has a sense of who, what, where and tone before they read this first paragraph. This first paragraph, informs the reader that this is a story about a girl who has a problem. Her Aunt Rose wants her to be in her elegant wedding, but that means wearing a dress and fancy shoes!

The last page in the chapter reveals Sienna’s fears. “I’d look mighty silly in a dress. I’d trip over my own feet in them fancy shoes. And I ain’t much good at manners neither.” We learn she is struggling with those fears but also the fear of of hurting Aunt Rose’s feelings and making her sad if she refuses to be a flower girl.

So, by the end of the chapter, the readers have been informed enough to pull them forward into the story.

MORE TO COME!

Next week Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, and Michelle Nott will share their wisdom, tips, and even some worksheets for writing outstanding first lines. 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we feel it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. So, it seems the best place to start is the beginning. When I was acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, if the first lines of a manuscript didn’t capture me, the story usually didn’t engage me. I always say, if the first lines don’t hook the agent or editor you’ve submitted to, what will make them think they will capture readers?

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips and examples. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. You’ll notice that some of our wise authors talk about the ending of the story as much as the beginning. There is good reason for this. In my picture book writing course Art of Arc, I interrupt the lessons on writing beginnings to talk about endings. Following are a few excerpts from Art of Arc to explain why it’s smart to think about endings when writing your beginning. You’ll also find more on the subject of endings in some of the wise-authors’ answers in this post and the two to come.

Excerpts from Art of Arc

“You might think that endings would be the final lesson presented in a course on writing and analyzing picture books, but another common problem that I have found in writing critiques is there is often a disconnect between the beginning of the story and the end. The ending has so much to do with the beginning and the rest of the story that it is important to start thinking about it at the beginning.”

“. . . From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses
I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing.

Happy Book Birthday

Listen_coverMost of the people in this group are from my groups for 2021 picture book releases: 2021 Word Birds and Twenty One-derful Picture Books. Before I move on, I’d like to congratulate one of our Twenty One-derful group members Gabi Snyder. Her picture book LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will be coming into the world on July 13. Happy Early Birthday baby LISTEN!

Peach and Cream Photo Spring Quote Twitter Post

Also, friends have made me aware that I failed to let the world know about my latest Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Book: COWBOY TROUBLE. So, I thought this would be a good time to let everyone know it is there and would make an excellent summer reading book. You and your children can read the first three chapters on You Tube (see below). The “cowboy trouble” begins in chapter three. I also share the book trailer for anyone who is interested.

Words of Wisdom

Since, as usual, my answer is the most wordy, I will lead with it.

THE FIRST LINES OF A BOOK ARE THE DOOR TO YOUR STORY. THE WORDS INVITE THE READER TO STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD AND ENTER THE STORY WORLD.

by Alayne Kay Christian

I decided to take the easy way out and pull some excerpts from my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Unfortunately, it ended up being a hard way to go because I struggled to choose just a few words to share from the course. I thought it might be fun to introduce some of the reasons a strong beginning is so important. So here goes. . . .

Have you ever seen carnival barkers in old movies? “Step right up!” they shout to people passing by. They describe attractions. They emphasize variety; advertise novelty, oddity, beauty, challenge, and fun. Their barks are intended to create curiosity, generate excitement, and entice listeners to buy tickets to entertainment. Sometimes, they conduct short shows for free, where they introduce performers and describe acts. Their promises of entertainment are all intended to entice and incite the passersby to come on in!

In the old days, or in old movies, a newspaper boy shouted things like, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Bonnie and Clyde shot dead!” The purpose of this? All to create excitement and curiosity that would entice people to buy an extra edition of the newspaper.

Without the red carpet and fanfare on Oscar night, would the event be nearly as exciting, inviting, or enticing?

In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, would the beginning have been nearly as engaging without the yellow brick road, the fantastic send-off song, and Dorothy’s cheerful dance down the road? Not to mention, the switch from black and white images to color. What if Dorothy had just said, “Okay—I’ll go find the wizard.” and then shuffled along aimlessly in silence through a black and white setting, sans the road? Would we have been as eager to follow her into the story?

The barkers, the newsboys, the red carpet, and the yellow brick road all pave the way for an event, an experience, a journey, an adventure, or whatever it might be, to unfold. The first lines in our books pave the way for our idea/story/plot and our protagonist’s and readers’ journey to unfold. The whole objective of first lines is to capture readers’ attention and make them want more. We want to entice and incite them to come on in, buy into the experience, and commit to taking the journey with our protagonist. This is often referred to as the hook.

A good hook creates questions and curiosity. It makes a promise that says, “This is what the story is about.” It also sets expectations and maybe even evokes emotions. Wow! That’s a lot to accomplish in a picture book page or two. This is true, but writers do it all the time, proving that it can be done. . . .

. . . In picture books, we often incite the reader’s interest with words such as the following, “but,” “until,” “one day,” and we use the three little dots . . . called the ellipsis. Interestingly enough, these words and punctuation that incite the reader to turn the page usually lead to the inciting incident—the event that energizes the story’s progression. This event moves your protagonist into the action of the story. It also pulls him out of his ordinary world into a new world where change can occur—the door to our story.

Why are these words (“but,” “one day,” “until” and so on) or the ellipsis used so frequently? They work to keep the reader reading. How? They create a pause or a moment of silence that gives the reader an opportunity to think, imagine, guess, ask questions, and experience emotions. It makes them stop and pay closer attention. Using these techniques hint at what’s to come, which in turn creates curiosity. Sometimes they are the arrow that points to the heart of the story. Using these techniques are great ways to hook a reader. They all suggest there is something coming, and they create anticipation. It could lead to an answer, reveal a secret, hint at danger, present the unexpected, and so on. All of the above hook the reader. When the reader is hooked, she is pulled into the story far enough that she wants to read more.

I’d love to share more, but we have many great words of wisdom waiting for you, so let’s move on.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR READERS INTRIGUED AND WANTING MORE?

by Kirsti Call

Richard Peck said: “You’re only as good as your opening line.” How do we keep our readers intrigued and wanting more?

Ask a question. Asking a question gets readers thinking. Not a Box immediately asks: “Why are you sitting in a box?” We want to turn the page to find out the answer. The Day the Babies Crawled Away questions: “Remember the day the babies crawled away?” This piques our interest. We want to know what happened on that fateful day. Did the babies survive? Where did they go?

Take People by Surprise. Mustache Baby declares: “When Baby Billy was born, his family noticed something odd: He had a mustache.” A baby with a mustache? We have to read on. Leonardo the Terrible Monster tells us: “Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.” A monster who isn’t scary? I can’t wait to turn the page.

Use word play. Being Frank starts with: “Frank was always frank” and Bridget’s Beret is similar: “Bridget was drawn to drawing.” There’s nothing better than the clever use of words to get people wanting more.

Using questions, surprise, wonder, opinion and word play makes the first sentences of our stories irresistible.

FIRST LINES THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE STORY—AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite techniques when I am writing is to use a first line that will be echoed throughout the book.

For example, the first line of Juniper Kai: Super Spy reads, “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy.” This line comes back in the middle, when Juniper is feeling left out: “It didn’t matter if she had nobody to play with. Because Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone.” Then the line comes back a third time at the end: “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone. Sometimes. But sometimes a spy needs a good co-agent. And Juniper Kai knew she was born to be…a spy-tacular big sister.”

Another example is in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday. Like the title, the first line reads, “I got a chicken for my birthday.” This line is repeated throughout the book: ”I got a chicken for my birthday. And the chicken has a list.” “I got a chicken for my birthday. And now the chicken stole my dog.” The line then comes back at the end. “I got a chicken for my birthday. And it was the Best. Present. Ever.”

The reason I like this technique so much is that you can see your character growing and changing by the way that repeated line is used at the end compared with at the beginning. In Juniper Kai: Super Spy, Juniper goes from being a lonely only child to wondering what secret her parents are hiding, to being an eager big sister. In I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, Ana goes from feeling perplexed (and a bit annoyed) by the strange birthday gift from her grandmother, to even more perplexed (and more annoyed) as the chicken begins recruiting her pets to build something huge in the backyard, to feeling absolutely thrilled (and realizing that her grandmother knew exactly what she was doing all along).

I also love this technique when I see it in other people’s writing! Any book that starts and ends with a similar line tends to leave me smiling and satisfied!

FIRST LINES PROVIDE A PEEK INTO THE WORLD OF THE STORY

by Melissa Stoller

First lines in a picture book set the tone and the mood for the story. Like an invitation that might provide an initial glimpse into the theme of a party, a first line can provide a peek into the world of a story. When I draft the first few lines, I try to give the reader an idea of what will come next, what the character might want, and a little bit about the setting, if possible. Of course, I write, rewrite, revise, and tweak as the story evolves. The first line that I start with is usually not the first line that is printed. Also, when I finish writing the story, I go back to ensure that the ending works with the beginning. I love to have first and last lines that complement each other, that show growth of the main character, and that leave the reader with that special something that makes them want to read the story over and over.

Here are examples of first and last lines from two of my picture books:

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

First line: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Last line: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart, Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Throughout the story, Scarlet realizes that she wants to rely on her own magical creativity instead of the magic of the paintbrush.

READY, SET, GORILLA!

First lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Last lines: The friends all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted . . . Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Over the course of the story, Gorilla realizes that playing fair, good sportsmanship, and being a good friend make him a winner.

Happy writing and editing as you draft the best first lines for your stories!

FIRST LINES IN EARLY DRAFTS ARE OFTEN A TYPE OF WARM UP WRITING UNTIL YOU FIND THE PERFECT WORDS

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

The beginning of a story is still very much a draft until I write and then polish the ending. Eventually, I return to the beginning and rework it until I’m satisfied that it aligns with (and is worthy of) the ending I have carefully crafted. Sometimes I discover that the “beginning” is actually several sentences into the story I have written, which means I have to cut some (often many) of my beloved words. To make this process easier on myself, I usually create a document called “darlings I had to cut” that I can copy and paste these tender words into, so I can bare to part with them in the working draft of my story. I rarely, if ever, go back and retrieve these “darlings,” but saving them “just in case,” allows me the creative freedom to vigorously revise, so the story can start right where it needs to, and without all of the unnecessary “throat clearing” that often shows up at the beginning of my earlier drafts.

I will also mention that Richard Peck offered his wisdom on this topic (as it relates to writing novels, but widely applicable), in this 2006 article for The Horn Book: In the Beginning: What Makes a Good Beginning? 

MORE TO COME!

There will be two more posts (July 10 and July 17) on this topic with lots of great information coming from the following wise authors: Vivian Kirkfield, Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, and Rob Sanders. 

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