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Archive for the ‘Picture Book Writing Courses’ Category

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!

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

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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christmas in July

 

WE ARE

 

EXTENDING THE CONTEST DEADLINE

I’ve decided to expand Holiday and Christmas in July into A SEASON OF KINDNESS AND FUN. After I posted the contest and spread the news, I realized I couldn’t have chosen a worse time. People are busy taking final vacations and getting ready to go back to school. Soon, people will be adjusting to going back to school. Plus, since we really want to give teachers a chance to participate, I believe it is imperative to extend the deadline date.

 

The new deadline is October 1, 2021!

 

Goodness and love washed over the city. Summer ReadingThings have been quiet for Weed lately, so let’s bring the heart of Christmas back . . . summer style. And remember . . . Christmas isn’t the only time of year to give or be kind. How much Christmas or holiday spirit can you and your family and friends stir up?

HOLIDAYS IN JULY if you don’t celebrate Christmas, please don’t let that keep you or your children from stirring holiday spirit in July. As you read, replace the word “Christmas” (and anything associated with Christmas) with your most important or beloved holiday (and the things you associate with that holiday) and build the activities and photos around that. Just be creative and have fun.

We have seven different ways you can win the contest (You choose 1 activity from 7 options–of course, you are welcome to do as many activities as you want.) We have lots of fabulous prizes (or should I say Christmas-in-July gifts). Ellen Leventhal, Melissa Stoller, Nancy Churnin, Tina Shepardson, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield and yours truly are offering chances to win signed books, Zoom calls, class visits, critiques, and even a picture book writing course. See the prize details at the end of this post.

WAYS TO WIN (BE CREATIVE—BONUS POINTS FOR CREATIVITY)

All of these activities could include children for some unique summertime family experiences.

Teachers, join in the fun to win prizes for your classroom. Save the activities to do with your students. 

Note: I know it’s possible that Covid restrictions might be an issue for some of the ideas. They are just ideas to get you thinking. Plus maybe you can use the ideas in the future when things are more “open.”

OPTION #1: MAKE AN ACTS-OF-KINDNESS ADVENT CALENDAR

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Because THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and Nancy Churnin’s THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS and Ellen Leventhal’s A FLOOD OF KINDNESS are all about kindness, unity, community, and hope, I believe the following is a perfect Christmas-in-July activity.

Make an Acts-of-Kindness Advent Calendar. If you have children, this would be a perfect thing to work on together. Choose a set number of good deeds to accomplish by August 25, and write each one down and place it in a numbered envelope. Then, choose one activity to do each day. Help an elderly, sickly, or disabled neighbor. Read a book to someone who needs cheering up. Make cards and mail them to someone who needs cheering up. Pull weeds from the yard of someone who is not able to do it themselves. Bring a Christmas-in-July treat to someone. Create a Christmas-in-July play, and perform at local nursing homes. They can also be simple acts such as giving someone a compliment. Helping someone unload their cart at the grocery story. Tell a joke to make someone smile. Draw a picture to make someone smile or inspire or encourage someone. Help an author or illustrator share the word about their book. Request a book at your library.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Share a list of your acts of kindness—include photos if possible. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other author’s books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your completed Acts-of-Kindness list and photos on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus link.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and Acts-of-Kindness list on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link to this blog post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter, tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #2 DO SOMETHING CHRISTMAS-LIKE IN A SUMMERTIME WAY

Do something Christmas-like in a summertime way. Decorate a tree with summer items such as weeds, sunglasses, flip-flops, pool toys, drink umbrellas, swim suits, beach toys, and on and on. Make a holiday wreath or bouquet from weeds. The more creative the better. What would your Christmas in July look like? Take photos. 

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1. Bonus points for including THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our gift-giving authors’ books in your photo.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus link.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #3 SUMMERTIME ELF ON THE SHELF OR GARDEN GNOME MISCHIEF

Bring back the Elf on the Shelf. What kind of summer related mischief might your elf get into? Take photos. Or, if you are feeling really creative, replace Elf on the Shelf with a garden gnome or gnomes.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1. Bonus points for including THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our gift-giving authors’ books in your photo.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #4 HELP A CHARITY

People had plentyThis one is related to option #1, acts of kindness. Help a Charity. People donate to shelters and food banks around the holidays, but as the months pass and summer fun begins, those gifts dwindle. Summer is a perfect time to help.

What might you and your children do to help others? A toy drive? A food drive? A pet food drive? Volunteer at an animal shelter. Sell lemonade and cookies to raise money to donate? Let us know how you helped others this summer. If you can include photos, that’s great, but it is understandable that you might not be able to.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Share a list of your acts of kindness—include photos and captions if possible. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other authors’ books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your story about helping charities (or a charity) and photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #5 HOST A CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY PARTY (MAYBE TIE IT IN WITH AN ACT OF KINDNESS OR HELPING A CHARITY)

People noticed each otherHost a Christmas in July party, which could include a gift exchange in July party. If you’re feeling creative, come up with a theme for the gifts that fits the season (think luau-inspired gifts or things you could use for a picnic or pool day). Or have a a White Elephant or Dirty Santa gift exchange. Perhaps the gifts could be Christmas items. Maybe you could even have your party guests bring donations for your Act-of-Kindness or Help-a-Charity activity. How can you use Christmas in July to help others?

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Take photos. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other authors’ books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your photos with captions and tell us about your party and gift exchange or creative donations from guests on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

Queen Interior spread

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE BY NANCY CHURNIN “The tradition of the Christmas tree continues today, just as the hospital Queen Charlotte championed continues. And so do stories about Charlotte, who wasn’t like other princesses. She didn’t like fancy balls, and sometimes (well, a lot of times) smudged her gowns. But she is remembered and honored as one of the kindest and most beloved queens.”

OPTION #6 CREATIVE PHOTOS WITH OUR BOOKS (TRAVEL PHOTOS EVEN BETTER)

If you own a copy of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our Santa-Authors’ books, take a summertime photo of the book or books. It can include your children, parents, self, pets, boats, sand snowman, or sand castle, summer foods, flowers, flip-flops, summer toys, beach toys. Weed loves traveling! If you go on a vacation, take the book with you. The more creative you get the better.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions and tell us about your summer or vacation fun on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #7 COME UP WITH YOUR OWN IDEA

Get creative. Come up with something we haven’t thought of to share your Christmas-in-July celebration. Brainstorm with friends or family, and have fun! Don’t forget to document it via photos.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions and tell us your Christmas-in-July story on your blog any time between Friday, Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

queen

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE BY NANCY CHURNIN

ABOUT OUR CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY AUTHOR-SANTAS

Pippa Chorley is the award-winning author of three picture books. She grew up in a picturesque village in England and now lives in sunny Singapore with her husband and their three children. As a child, she spent her days dreaming up magical worlds on her family dog walks. Today, Pippa can still be found composing stories on her morning walks with their springer spaniel, Jasper.

Trained as a primary school teacher, Pippa loves to write stories that make children giggle and think outside the box. Her newly released picture book, STUFFED! (illustrated by Danny Deeptown) empowers children to use their imaginations and problem solve with courage and kindness. Watch out for Pippa’s next picture book OUT OF THE BOX, which is due to be released at the end of 2021 and is sure to be ‘out of this world’! To learn more about Pippa and her books visit pippachorleystories.com.

Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. She was the co-founder of Blue Whale Press and the acquisitions editor and art director for three years. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Her published works include the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series, and picture books BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN, and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED. Her fourth picture book, FAITH BENEATH THE BRIDGE is planned for release in the fall of 2021. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart. To learn more about Alayne visit alaynekaychristianauthor.com. 

nancyheadshotNancy Churnin is the award-winning author of ten picture books about people who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. Among her awards: a Junior Library Guild selection, Kirkus Star, multiple National Council for the Social Studies Notables, multiple Silver Eureka Awards, multiple inclusions on A Mighty Girl list, Sydney Taylor Notable, Towner Award nominee, Sakura Medal finalist, Notable Book for a Global Society, Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award and the South Asia Book Award. DEAR MR. DICKENS and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF Henrietta Szold, FOUNDER OF HADASSAH will be out in October 2021. A native New Yorker, Nancy lives in North Texas with her family, which includes a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats. To learn more about Nancy visit nancychurnin.com/

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

 

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to Ellenleventhal.com.

WALKOUTCover-pdfTina.outside.head2020

Tina Shepardson An award-winning teacher for 33 years, Tina shared thousands of books with children. Her picture book, Walkout, released in 2020, with Clear Fork Publishing. A chapter book, Canines Unleashed, is set to release in 2022. Tina is a Children’s Book Academy graduate and an active member of 12×12 and SCBWI. Now a full-time author, find her in Upstate New York with her family, enjoying the latest snowstorm with her akitas, and writing more books. Learn more at tinashepardson.com.

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island (Clear Fork Publishing); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. (Clear Fork). Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks. To learn more about Melissa and her books visit MelissaStoller.com.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. Vivian’s books are available at Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores, as well as Bookshop.org and Amazon. If you order from her local indie, Toadstool Bookstore in Nashua, you can get a signed copy. If you order from anywhere else and would like a signed bookplate, please email her at: viviankirkfield@gmail.com. To learn more about Vivian and all of her books visit viviankirkfield.com.

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.

HAVE FUN!!!!

 

 

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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 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

For this round of Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom Q & A, I asked the team why it’s important for writers to read children’s books and how one might get the most out of reading them.

I thought it would be good to start this post with the definition of mentor texts. The Iowa Reading Research Center defines mentor texts as “. . . written pieces that serve as an example of good writing for student writers. The texts are read for the purpose of studying the author’s craft, or the way the author uses words and structures the writing. The goal is to provide students a model they could emulate in crafting their own piece.”

Because I once again have the wordiest answer, I will start with my answer to the question. However, before I get started, I’d like to wish a couple of Laura Gehl’s newly released board books, SOCCER BABY and BASEBALL BABY, a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And I’m excited to share that my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS has won another literary award! Congratulations to illustrator Polina Gortman and me, of course : – )

Happy Book BirthdayBaseball soccer baby

Congratulations!

AWARD WINNER FOR HOLIDAY BOOKS TWITTER

Words of Wisdom

IN THE END, YOU’LL END UP BEING A DIFFERENT WRITER THAN YOU WERE BEFORE YOU STARTED DIGGING DEEPER

by Alayne Kay Christian

When I first started studying the art of children’s writing, veteran authors advised repeatedly, “read, read, read.” And so I read. I would bring home 50 picture books from the library (usually biweekly) loaded in my bag with wheels. What I didn’t understand, until I had read hundreds of picture books, was reading them wasn’t enough. What I really needed to do was analyze them. But how could I analyze them, if I didn’t know what I was looking for? So, my next step was to take writing courses specific to picture book writing. In those courses, I got a sense of story arc (narrative arcs and character arcs). When I started doing professional critiques, the “sense” of arc that I had learned from courses gave me enough instinct to know when something was off with the plot of the picture book I was critiquing. But I didn’t always know how to explain the problems to the author of the manuscript. So, I worked to find the answers and explain the issues. I continued to work to understand arc and plot deeper. I read craft books, I did searches on the Internet when something wasn’t clear to me, I took more courses, and I continued reading picture books. That’s when I discovered that the only way I was really going to learn what I wanted to know was to dissect the stories I read. And that’s exactly what I did. In the process of trying to help others, I helped myself as an author. I came to understand fully what makes a powerful beginning, what makes an engaging or compelling middle, and what makes a satisfying ending. I learned the importance of knowing your character’s motivation, want, and need. I discovered the power of solid cause and effect and growing tension. I love seeing how authors leave room for illustrators and how they both tell part of the story. I discovered the importance of pacing and so much more. Once, I understood how to build stories, and I had helped a hundred or so writers understand the same via my critiques, I wrote my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Write and Analyze Picture Books and Manuscripts. Does the fact that I’m a retired acquisitions editor and I offer professional critiques, a bit of mentoring, and a writing course mean that I no longer need mentor texts? Absolutely not. There is still much more to picture book writing besides the plot. Today, I analyze picture books for word choice, voice, and execution of the idea or theme (usually looking for why it stands out). I pay attention to unique characters and character building. I study the huge variety of storytelling structures. I read humor and dream of one day writing something funny. I read heart-tuggers that connect me emotionally to the character and story (That’s the kind of story I tend to write.) I look for “why” I enjoy a book or “why” I sometimes wonder how a book ever ended up published (meaning I didn’t enjoy it). I’m always looking for something, and I’m always learning. I love studying books for language—especially lyrical stories—love them! I could go on forever about the treasures found when you start looking deeply into a story instead of just reading it. But I won’t.

Analyzing or dissecting mentor texts will stretch you as a writer. You’ll be more willing to take risks and try new things. You’ll start wondering things like, what if I used that format instead? What if I tried that cool or clever strategy? The puzzle pieces of what makes a sellable picture book will start slipping into place. And in the end, you will be a different writer than you were before you started digging deeper.

We have lots of great wisdom on this topic, and it’s time to make way for those answers. I do want to say that many moons ago, I discovered that our wise author Marcie Flinchum Atkins knows her way around a mentor text, and you can find some of her posts here and here. At the end of this post, Marcie offers some excellent tips and tools for using mentor texts. Also, our wise author Kirsti Call is the co-founder and of Reading for Research Month (a.k.a. REFOREMO) along with Carrie Charley Brown. They not only offer this very focused annual challenge. They also offer posts year round that walk us through a variety of books with hints regarding what they might teach us as writers. In addition, look around their site for lots of resources. Finally, if you join their Facebook page, they have lots of files that list great mentor text books by categories.

Some of our authors, Vivian Kirkfield for example, participate in Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays. Participating in this activity will expose you to lots of different books, plus Susanna offers a list of books by themes (scroll down on linked page). Following are some other links that will lead you to mentor text info from Marcie and Reforemo.

http://www.reforemo.com/2019/09/mentor-text-talk-with-author-marcie.html

https://www.marcieatkins.com/tag/reforemo/

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2015/03/show-me-way-mentor-texts-as-lights-into.html

10 REASONS TO READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS

(ESPECIALLY PICTURE BOOKS)

(AND DEFINITELY PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES)

by Rob Sanders

1. To learn something new.
2. To soak in the story.
3. To examine the structure.
4. To observe the page turns.
5. To analyze what makes the story work.
6. To dissect the craft.
7. To enjoy the illustrations.
8. To investigate the word choices.
9. To evaluate the back matter.
10. Because you can’t not read them!

GET INSPIRED TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE!

by Laura Gehl

I read children’s books to marvel at thoughtful page turns, to laugh at witty spreads, to appreciate the interplay between text and art, to let various rhythms and cadences wash over me, to get refrains stuck in my head, to admire different text structures, to soak in new information, to feel characters tug at my heartstrings, to think, “I wish I had written that,” and…most of all…to get inspired to sit down and write!

READING PICTURE BOOKS ALOUD HELPS ME DELIGHT IN STORYTELLING AND LUSCIOUS SOUNDS

Kirsti Call

I read picture books to learn about what works and what doesn’t, to appreciate the poetry of sparse text, to feel and to heal. Reading picture books aloud with children helps me delight in storytelling and luscious sounds. And of course reading picture books inspires me to create my own stories, putting words together in ways that (hopefully) evoke laughter, love and connection.

WHY I LOVE READING CHILDREN’S BOOKS

By Melissa Stoller

As a children’s book writer, it’s vital for me to read children’s books. I write chapter books and picture books, so those are the book genres that I mainly read. I like to read children’s books for several reasons. First, it’s important to keep up to date with all the new books. I love reading newly published picture books so I can stay current about topics and what is selling at the moment. Second, I can apply the knowledge I gain from reading children’s books to my writing process. I use books as “mentor texts,” meaning they teach me about writing in some way. For example, if I’m writing a non-fiction book about sea life, I will read every current similar book I can find to see how other authors handled the subject. Or, if I’m trying to add more “heart” into my fiction picture book manuscript, I will read books that I know pull at the heartstrings. I also notice how the author chose specific words and language patterns, handled pacing, left room for the illustrator, and other craft points. Third, I use current children’s books as “comparative titles” that can help me pitch my manuscripts and place them in the marketplace, comparing my manuscript to a recently-published title, and also showing how my manuscript is different. Finally, the most important reason that I read picture books and chapter books is that I LOVE them! I enjoy reading children’s books almost as much as I like writing them! A perfect afternoon would be spent curling up with a cup of mint tea, a gluten-free muffin, and a stack of wonderful children’s books!

READING KID LIT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A CHILD AGAIN, WHICH IS HOW WE NEED TO FEEL TO WRITE BOOKS ABOUT AND FOR CHILDREN

Pippa Chorley

Every Wednesday morning, we start our critique session with a table piled high with books; childhood favourites, classic picture books, brand new purchases, library searches and recommendations. It’s one of my favourite parts of the week. I always feel like a kid in a sweet shop!

It gets our conversation bubbling immediately, what we like, what we don’t like, what we find clever, beautiful, funny, endearing, or even why we don’t like something or think it could have ended differently. It opens up conversations about craft and style, and it also gets our own creative juices flowing. It helps us generate new ideas or writing styles and helps us critique our wobbly new manuscripts at a much higher level and gives us courage to try new things. Sometimes it even sparks a whole new idea for a manuscript too!

I think the reason why we read children’s picture books as authors is endless and unquestionably important. But, for me personally, why I love it so much, is because it brings me and my fellow critique partners together weekly through a shared love of children’s writing. And most importantly, it makes me feel like a child again. Which is just what we need to feel when we are writing books about them and especially for them!

IF WE’RE GOING TO WRITE BOOKS, WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE BEST

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

If we are going to create stories, we must also admire stories. If we are going to write books, we must learn from the best. One of the most accessible ways to learn about what the greatest writers are doing is to utilize your library card. I make a habit of keeping my holds and checkouts at the library maxed out. At least once a week, I take a big stack of picture books and read and analyze them.

One of my favorite ways to determine which ones I want to study in depth is to read through the stack of books. I make three stacks:

1) Not for me.

2) These are great, but not my style.

3) THIS is the kind of writing I want to do.

Pile #3 is the one that I take more extensive notes on. It’s the type of books I type up to see how it looks on the page, examine the structure, and bask in the language.

For more posts about reading mentor texts, you can check out the many mentor texts posts on my blog.

For a more extensive post on how I organize and keep track of my reading, you can check out this bullet journaling post.

One other tip: If I’m feeling stuck or mired in muck about my own writing, often reading stellar books can bring me back. It usually takes me only about 20 minutes of immersive reading to realize I really DO want this writing life, and I really want to create stories.

Next week, we will get more great tips and stories from Beth Anderson, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, Dawn Babb Prochovnic, Michelle Nott, and Rosie Pova.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 2 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 3 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

TO READ MORE ABOUT THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM AND THEIR BOOKS click here.

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KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION (USUALLY) DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT (Part 1 of 3)

kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. One of the reasons I wanted us to cover this topic is because every once in a while, you’ll see blog posts from an author who tells you the very first manuscript they sent out was acquired overnight—as though it’s the easiest thing one can do. That is not the norm nor is it reality. I also wanted emerging writers as well as those who have been at it for a long, long time to see similarities and differences in each writer’s experience. My wish for you and all our readers this round is that you might be inspired or pick up just one bit of wisdom that will help you in your journey. But also, that you adjust your expectations, so that if you find yourself on a long and winding road, you’re not disappointed or discouraged. And if you are one of the lucky ones who gets a contract overnight, you will be surprised and appreciate the moment even more than you might have.

Because it has been a long road for the “Wisdom” authors, we all had a lot to say. So, this topic will be shared in three parts over the next three weeks.

I’ve seen some similarities in answers, but everyone’s path has been a little different. I’m going to start with my own answer because it brings up a topic that didn’t pop up in any of the other answers.

Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate Rob Sanders has a book birthday coming on May 4 with  TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’d like to also congratulate the illustrators of my picture books for winning the Story Monsters Approved Award. Polina Gortman illustrated THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed. And Milanka Reardon illustrated AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin.

Congratulations!

Two Grooms on a Cake

AWARD WINNER FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!Winner for (1)

Words of Wisdom

WHEN YOU SAY “YES” TO ONE THING, YOU ARE SAYING “NO” TO ANOTHER

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m guessing, as with most team members, it would take an entire book to share my long journey. I’ll do my best to keep this short. My first picture book BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was released way back in 2009. It won some awards and got great reviews, so I thought for sure, this kid-lit writing thing was going to be a breeze. I was wrong. I spent the next several years taking children’s book writing courses, attending SCBWI conferences and workshops, and getting involved in the online writing community. In 2013, I was on top of the world when I signed with an agent (my choice out of three agent offers—wasn’t I something?). I knew for sure that I was going to conquer the kid lit world now! Well, once again, I was wrong. In 2015, I parted ways with the agent. That set my confidence back for a couple of years. I did very little submitting, but I did continued to write, study children’s book writing, and work to grow my online presence. I also started a professional critique service and wrote an independent-study picture book writing course, Art of Arc. I also started working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12, which I did for three years. In 2016 I signed with a small publisher and in 2017, my chapter book series Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy was launched. I continued to study children’s book writing and submit. Also in 2017, I helped my husband relaunch Blue Whale Press where I was the acquisitions editor and creative director. In addition to that, I spent the year going back and forth with an agent who I thought was going to sign me for sure. Once again, I was wrong. We even had what I thought was “the call.” But it turned out to be a “let you down easy” call. She loved one of my stories, but didn’t fully connect with the others I offered. That set me back for a while. But I had so much going on with Blue Whale Press and my other writing related work that I didn’t have time to fall into negative thinking. In 2019, I started offering affordable children’s writing webinars. But even with all of the above, I also continued to study, write, and submit. 2020 was an exciting year for me when finally; my next two picture books were published. I am so proud of AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and my latest Sienna book COWBOY TROUBLE. I’m so excited that THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS recently won the Story Monsters Approved award for books that make a difference. And THE OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN won an award in the nonfiction picture book category.

It took thirteen years of hard work, but more than anything, perseverance, to get (soon to be) four published picture books and two chapter books into the world. I tried to include what I consider to be major parts of my journey to demonstrate that it’s not necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding our way through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.

I don’t regret my path for a minute because I love all the gifts I have given writers and illustrators over the years with my critiques, courses, work with Blue Whale Press and so on. I’ve found that for me, relaxing into where life takes me usually leads me to where I need to be. But a word of warning . . . when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to another. In my case, I said a lot of “no” to writing and submitting by saying “yes” to helping others. Where might I have been had I been more focused? That is not a question of regret. It is a question that I pose to you as writers. Following is a little worksheet to help you see your “yes” and “no” choices more clearly. I hope some of you find it helpful. The worksheet was initially part of a much longer post I wrote on the topic. Click here to read it

say yes say no

SHEER LUCK? SOMETIMES. SHEER GRIT? MOST OF THE TIME.

by Kirsti Call

It happened backwards for me. I wrote my first couple of stories, joined a critique group, submitted THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL about three months into my writing journey. Character Publishing gave me an offer almost immediately, and my first book came out in 2013. Then for 6 years I wrote and revised and submitted and submitted and submitted again. I FINALLY got my first agent who subsequently sold 4 books for me. Sheer luck led to my first book. Sheer grit led to others.

ALL THE TIME I PUT INTO LIVING LIFE, AND WRITING STORIES, LED ME TO STRENGTHEN MY CRAFT AND FIND MY WRITING VOICE

by Melissa Stoller

My journey to publication was indeed a “long and winding road.” I had started writing when my oldest daughter was a baby and I loved reading picture books to her and making up bedtime stories. Before that, I practiced as an attorney, taught legal research and writing to law students, and worked as a career counselor at a law school. When I received many rejections to my initial book queries, I turned my attention to writing parenting articles and doing freelance editing. But eventually, I returned to my dream of writing for children (and by that point, I had three children and lots more time doing field research into the KidLit world). In fact, I had joined the SCBWI in 1997 (!) and my first book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, was published in 2017! I am forever grateful to Callie Metler and Clear Fork Publishing for helping me turn my writing dreams into reality. My advice to aspiring writers is to keep pursuing your goals. Your writing journey may detour down some curving roads, like mine did, and your path to publication may not be straight. But all the time I put into living life, and writing stories, led me to strengthen my craft and find my writing voice. So, buckle up, get on whatever type of road best fits your career, and say ready, set, GO!

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP AND YOUR FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD!

by Rob Sanders

My journey to publishing started back in college. I paid my way through college and graduate school by writing religious educational materials. A few years later, I wound up working for the company for which I’d been writing, eventually becoming an editor and product designer there. But none of those materials were things kids would ever find in their public or school libraries or local bookstores. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I decided to pursue my dream of writing picture books. Two years later I made my first sale through a paid critique at SCBWI LA. A year later, I landed an agent. Selling my second book proved to be as difficult as selling the first and that pattern continues. Each of my manuscripts has to stand on its own merits and find its own home. I often remind myself of the advice my agent gave me when we first started working together: Keep your chin up and your fingers on the keyboard!

FIVE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS IN ANY PROJECT

Vivian Kirkfield

Whenever I do presentations about the path to publication, I talk about how becoming a picture book author was a lot like making a pizza. Whether I’m speaking with six-year-old school kids or sixty-year-old aspiring authors, I share the 5 P’s…5 ingredients that are necessary for success in any project: PASSION, PREPARATION, PRACTICE, PATIENCE, and PERSISTENCE. It’s a process and it takes time. I started my writing journey at the end of 2011 – we signed my first book deal at the end of 2015 – and that book launched in 2019. I had sent out a few submissions to editors on my own, but I knew I wanted an agent because I knew I didn’t want to focus on where to send my manuscripts…I wanted to focus on writing them. However, the path is different for each one of us – and what is right for one person might not be right for another. What is needed, however, whether you have an agent or not, is positivity. Oh…there’s another P…I guess you can tell I’m a picture book writer with all of that alliteration.😅 I remain positive because I know that the rejections…and YES, I do get lots of rejections…are not personal. I try to remember that this is a business…and the publisher/editor must make a profit from the books they produce. Otherwise, they have to close their doors. And if they don’t choose my manuscript, it’s because they don’t think they will make money. I also try to keep in mind that sometimes, publishers are wrong. So, when I get a rejection, I remind myself that I am in good company with J.K Rowling and Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King and many others: https://wildmindcreative.com/bookmarketing/6-famous-authors-who-once-faced-rejection.

COMING IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS PART 2 AND PART 3

Next week, Ellen Leventhal and Pippa Chorley talk about their journeys, which both include dealing with imposter syndrome. And Beth Anderson shares her thoughts on what it takes to be successful as an author. Finally on May 8th, we’ll wrap up our thoughts on the path to publication with Laura Gehl who talks about how time only serves to make you a better author. Dawn Babb Prochovnic looks at the importance of continuing the work in spite of obstacles. Michelle Nott talks about trends and also demonstrates that it pays to never give up on old stories. Rosie Pova talks about how persistence pays off. Marcie Flinchum Atkins talks about enjoying the rituals of writing and having friends who “get” the writer’s experience.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

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Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel have interviewed me for their blog KidLit Takaways. Thank you, ladies! In the interview, I share some picture books with good arcs and break them down to show the various plot points. I also offer a 25% discount off my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Because their blog’s theme is “Bite-size bits of wisdom & inspiration for writers on the go!” we weren’t able to include everything from the interview, so I offer some of the outtakes below.

How did you come up with the idea for your online writing class, Art of Arc?

After critiquing hundreds of picture book manuscripts, I saw the same issues repeatedly. As my professional critiques include mini lessons, I found myself recreating the same lessons but customizing them for each story I critiqued. There had to be an easier, more efficient way to do this. And a course was born.

The reason I created a course that focuses on the classic arc is because 90% of the stories I critique are built around that structure. Many successful published picture books are built around an arc on some level. It is the number one structure in picture books. Therefore, I believe this course fulfills a need that has not been available until now. Many courses are taught using the classic arc, but none goes into the detail that this course provides.

Define “story arc.”

Story arc (sometimes called narrative arc) refers to the plot’s development, and character arc refers to the character’s development. Sometimes this can get confusing, with kind of a which came first the chicken or egg type of conundrum. However, usually with picture books, neither comes first because they develop simultaneously as the story progresses. Your character can’t develop unless your plot creates events that instigate your protagonist’s growth or change. Your plot can’t develop unless your character reacts to the plot events through action that moves the story forward, hence developing the plot.

The character arc is the structure that shows how the character develops (grows/changes/or learns) over time. Without a change, the story would be flat, and the reader would not have much to relate to. Usually, the main character starts out with some sort of conflict that he tries to work through, and he is eventually forced to make a choice that leads to his change in thinking or growth. Sometimes the change in thinking is acceptance. Character arc is sometimes confused with character motivation (the thing that makes him take action).

Motivation is the “why” of the protagonist’s action.

The arc is the “how” of the change and growth that occurred because of the action he took.

So, motivation is the driver. It is the energy that moves the protagonist to react or act. His growth is the result of the actions that he took.

Arc determines the ups and downs that set the pace of your story. A good arc is key to engaging readers from beginning to end. There are many picture books based on a similar idea or theme. The arc helps to differentiate one of those same-topic picture books from the other. The narrative arc (also called story arc) is related to the external events and the character arc is about the protagonist’s inner journey, hence the importance of some sort of growth in the character by the end of the story. But still the two arcs form a symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other. The situations and challenges that your characters face are part of the story arc. The choices your character makes and the action he takes that lead to growth and change all fall into the character arc zone.

The main plot points of the story arc include the exposition, ordinary life, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Not all picture books show the ordinary life. Many start at the inciting incident.

The beginning of the story usually provides the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. And the protagonist and his problem/goal are introduced.

Describe the class curriculum and learning objectives.

The focus of the course is the storytelling structure that uses a classic arc. The purpose of this course is to deepen writers’ understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and to introduce them to many other picture book structures. The course also addresses a number of common issues I have found in the manuscripts I critique.

The objective of the course is . . .

• To give a strong foundation in storytelling that is built around the traditional story arc
• To teach picture book writers some techniques and structures that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger
• To provide writers with the knowledge and tools to assist in analyzing their own work prior to investing in professional critiques
• To guide writers through a manuscript self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely
• To show writers how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance their stories in a way that takes them to a higher level
• To shed light on writing elements previously learned in less-detailed courses
• To expand writers’ ability to revise and polish their manuscripts
• To expand writers’ ability to develop a strong plot

The curriculum is based on the following lessons:

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

LESSON SIX: THE MIDDLE – FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE PROBLEM OR REACH GOAL

LESSON SEVEN: DARKEST MOMENT, INNER AND OUTER CLIMAX, ENDING

LESSON EIGHT: SHOWING VERSUS TELLING

LESSON NINE: USING ELEMENTS OF FICTION IN NONFICTION

LESSON TEN: OTHER COMMON ISSUES

BONUS MATERIALS AND WRITING RESOURCES

Describe your background in writing?

I’ve written my whole life. First, I wrote for creative pleasure. Then I wrote in various jobs. I wrote newsletters, processes, and procedures. I wrote greeting cards for a small business my sister and I had. When my granddaughter was born, my interests turned to children’s book writing. I started my children’s writing journey and education with the Institute of Children’s Literature, moved on to their advanced course, and then I started taking courses from authors, editors, and other writing schools. In addition, I went to SCBWI conferences and workshops as well as other writing workshops and webinars. There is a partial list of the courses I’ve taken on my website.

And in critiquing?

I’ve been critiquing for ten years. It started with critique groups. Then as I progressed with my knowledge, I felt the need to help other writers, so I started critiquing people’s manuscripts out of generosity. In the process, I learned things I hadn’t learned in the courses I had taken. Issues that I sensed were concern worthy piqued my curiosity and drove me to research. I was especially interested in understanding plot and arc on a deeper level because I saw so many stories that were missing cause and effect or had no arc or a weak arc. The more I critiqued, the more people would tell me how much I helped them understand and strengthen their story. So, I decided I must be pretty good at this critique thing. After writing hundreds of picture book critiques, I opened my professional critique service in January 2014. In 2016, I was invited by Julie Hedlund to be a Critique Ninja for 12 X 12. This will be my third year as a Critique Ninja. I still give critiques away to help other writers. For paid critiques, I mostly critique manuscripts for my students and alumni because I know that I can refer back to lessons that they should revisit to help them strengthen their manuscripts. My students get a deep discount on critique fees.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make regarding story arc?

There are so many! I could write a book, but I will give a few of the top ones that have major impact on the story.

I see a lot of episodic stories. I explain episodic stories on my blog.

Many stories have a lack of growing tension or lack of variety in action.

It’s common to read stories where it’s not clear who the protagonist is. When I query the author, we often find who they think the protagonist is does not convey in their story. This is usually a sign of an episodic story or a weak or nonexistent arc.

I find that the darkest moment and inner and outer climax are either weak or missing.

There is often a lack of motivation or stakes that drive the protagonist to take action. This and a lack of obstacles (or try and fail scenes) result in a story with very little to no emotional core. The lack of stakes and obstacles prevent the rise in action and the tension that keep the reader engaged.

I see many weak beginnings that don’t hook me as a reader. They don’t create questions in my mind that make me want to keep reading. They don’t set up any expectations that make me want to keep reading.

And then there are weak endings. Just a few examples: The story is resolved too easily. Someone else steps in and saves the protagonist. It might be predictable. There are loose ends left dangling.

Tell us about your writing career.

I covered this pretty much in my answer about my background in writing. I will add that my picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was my first published book. And it won the Mom’s Choice Gold Medal and the Independent Publisher’s Silver Medal. My first chapter book Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain was released last year. It is the first in a series with three other Sienna books that are scheduled to follow. I have started giving chapter book critiques, and gosh darn it, if I’m not pretty good at those, too 😉

Can you share any success stories from your students?

While some of my clients have signed with agents or sold books to publishers, I don’t believe that it is entirely a result of taking Art of Arc or any one course. I believe that it usually takes a combination of courses (where the author gleans a bit from each one). And then there are critique groups, professional critiques, conferences, and craft books, and on and on. It’s also important to give credit to the determination and the blood, sweat, and tears that authors put into their work. In my opinion, reaching success as a writer usually takes a village. I’m happy that Art of Arc can play a role in the growth of many writers’ knowledge. I will share a few recent comments about the course below.

Michael Samulak said, “I don’t have a ‘success’ story in the traditional sense, but I can at least support the ‘village’ idea and say that the course has helped me with my writing and approach. I recently was able to finish a story that I am currently submitting to agents. I realized how much of my writing up to the ARC has been ideas more than a complete story.”

One of my students, Karla Valenti has signed with Essie White and her picture book Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence has been acquired by Sourcebooks. This is the first book in the My Super Science Heroes picture book series. Following is what Karla shared with me about how Art of Arc impacted her writing.

“So I took your course after I had taken a few other PB courses. What I loved about it was that it (1) reinforced a lot of what I already knew (hooks, story structure, conflict, showing vs. telling, etc) but it provided supplemental material to study, (2) there was a lot of new content that was really useful and that I’d never read before (e.g. episodic stories and using elements of fiction in NF), and (3) you have assembled a truly fantastic list of resources!!

In the end, the exercise of working through all of these materials, truly helped cement (and ultimately internalize) key elements of picture book storytelling which have undoubtedly made me a better writer.

As for how this helped me in my career, the course gave me a number of tools I could use to improve upon my stories as well as the confidence to know that I was on the right track as a writer. It also helped me become better at reviewing my work and critiquing the work of others. This last part continues to be a huge benefit as I find no substitute for reading picture books (published or otherwise) and trying to understand what makes them resonate.

On a personal note, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to also learn from you through your manuscript critiques. It is clear you have a solid understanding of effective and meaningful storytelling, and your insights have been invaluable in helping me develop my own work.”
For those who might be interested, there are many more testimonials on my website.

Other suggestions for picture book writers.

Read, read, read. Read picture books. Read books on writing.

Analyze picture books written with a classic arc. One good way to do this is to write out all the plot points in simple sentences. I find when writing critiques that sometimes getting away from the wonderful writing and distilling the story down to simple, bland steps of the protagonist’s actions, challenges, and turning points, I can see the actual structure better.

You can find more information on Art of Arc on my website. To learn how to get your 25% discount, be sure to visit KidLit Takeaways.

 

 

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giftPRIZE ANNOUNCEMENT

In my last post MY GIFT – YOUR GIFT, I asked people to share inspirational quotes or short stories as gifts to others. In return, those who participated were included in a drawing to win complimentary admission to my picture book writing course Art of Arc. I also offered two Art of Arc students or alumni complimentary picture book critiques. I’ve decided to give a bonus gift, so three people have won the course and two have won critiques. Congratulations to the following winners!

COMPLIMENTARY ART OF ARC COURSE

Ann Magee

Julie Bergmann Lacombe

Chris M. Regier

COMPLIMENTARY CRITIQUE

Gabrielle Schoeffield

Linda Schueler

 

A fun drawing by Teresa Robeson from her blog ONE GOOD THING.

A fun drawing by Teresa Robeson from her blog ONE GOOD THING. Click on the image to see more of her work.

 

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JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS 

I first offered a version of this post in 2012. It was titled THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN. Each year since, I’ve modified my original post and reposted it. Before I share the 2016 modified version, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog and me throughout the year. I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May the New Year bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Now for JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. . . .

A common question in life coaching is, “What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?” The answer goes something like this: Imagine you are driving a car through life with a psychotherapist as your driving instructor. The psychotherapist will spend a lot of time instructing you to look through your rearview mirror at where you have been. A “life coach” driving instructor will encourage you to look out your windshield at where you are going.

A NEGATIVE DRAIN

Today, I am going to swim against the life coaching current and ask you to look back at where you have been. New Year’s resolutions often have roots in the past. We look back, with a certain amount of regret, at what we failed to accomplish in the outgoing year. Focusing on our shortcomings, we resolve to make up for them in the New Year; usually with bigger and better plans than before. Although setting these goals can leave you feeling hopeful, looking back with self-judgment can sap your confidence and drain your spirit.

ENERGIZE YOUR SPIRIT

Instead of looking back at your shortcomings with regret, look back at your successes with confidence and gratitude. Looking back and acknowledging your accomplishments will give you the opportunity to celebrate your successes and energize your spirit as you look forward to your new year.

YOUR LIST

Over the next couple of weeks, take some time to reflect on 2016 and list the things that you accomplished throughout the year. I hope you will celebrate your successes by coming back and sharing some of your discoveries in the comments section of this post or share them on your own blog. The most important part of this challenge is recognizing the positive, energizing events of 2016.

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR LIST

  • How did you grow personally, professionally or as a writer?
  • Did you have a positive impact on others?
  • What writing skills did you learn or strengthen?
  • Did you improve organizational skills?
  • Did you find the secret to time management?
  • Did you complete any writing challenges?
  • Did you join any groups?
  • What personal strengths did you gain?
  • What goals did you achieve?
  • What unplanned accomplishments did you achieve?
  • What character qualities did you strengthen?
  • Have you improved your communication skills?
  • Have you gotten better at saying no to others, to yourself, or to activities that drain you?
  • What acts of kindness did you share?
  • What special, memory building moment did you have with family, friends, writing groups, by yourself and so on?
  • Did you submit any of your writing? If you want to challenge yourself to submit more in 2016 join my Sub Six private manuscript submission support group on Facebook.
  • Did any submissions get accepted for publication?
  • Did you get any rejections with encouraging notes?
  • Did you find a positive way to accept rejections?

For tips on celebrating your achievements see CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS BIG AND SMALL. Be sure to scroll down to the section about the achievement jar, so you can celebrate all through 2017.

Below I share some my 2016 achievements.

  1. I signed a four-book deal for my chapter book series SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY with Clear Fork Publishing. In the process, I met some great new friends and my fantastic editor Callie Metler-Smith.
  2. I attended the Big Sur Cape Cod workshop and spent time with my lovely friends Sylvia Liu, Victoria Warneck, and Teresa Robeson.
  3. I continued to help other writers via my Art of Arc course and critiques. And other writers helped me with some great critiques and brainstorming.
  4. I completed the Nonfiction Archaeology course.
  5. I made my first serious attempts at writing two different nonfiction picture books. And I found the courage to submit them!
  6. I celebrated many, many friends’ successes – book contracts, book releases, agent representation and so on. Go Kid lit Community!
  7. I took care of myself during rough times and celebrated my fun times with joy.
  8. I continued to practice one of my favorite author survival skills, which is write from the heart – submit with detachment. I also encouraged others with positive and inspirational quotes on Facebook and Twitter.
  9. I completed my 5th 12 X 12 writing challenge and had the pleasure of working as a 12 x 12 Critique Ninja.
  10. I ended 2016 by gifting my picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript (deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc) and some picture book critiques.

Now it’s your turn. Celebrate with us by sharing your accomplishments.

Best wishes in 2017! Wait, there’s more. This would have been my sixth year of participating in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) challenge, but there have been some changes. My sixth year will have to wait until January 2017, and I will be participating in STORYSTORM instead. To read about the changes and how to register click on the following badge. Thirty story ideas in thirty days, with inspiration, great faculty, and prizes, too!

storystorm-badge

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I want to end the year with a little gift giving. I’m offering two winners complimentary admission to my picture book writing course Art of Arc. In addition, I’m offering two Art of Arc students or alumni complimentary picture book critiques. The winners will be determined by a drawing.

love-sweet-love.

How do you enter in the drawing?

By giving the gift of inspirational and touching words to your blog readers and my blog readers. Please read through to the end of the post for all the instructions. Leave a comment, sharing your favorite quote, short poem, or essay (100 words or less for each) related to any of the following topics:

 

Giving/Generosity
Peace
Love
Gratitude
Believe
Magical/Miracles

 

mlk

 

Your entry does not have to include the above words. It only needs to convey the heart of any one of the words. Don’t forget to include attribution if the work you share is not your own. And if the work is yours, be sure to add your name at the end.

miracles

In addition, your entry should be posted on your blog with a link back to this post between Sunday, December 4 and Sunday, December 25. Please include a link to your blog post in your comment.

great-love

The winners will be announced on December 27. I will be traveling at that time, which means if for some reason I have problems with an Internet connection, the winner announcement may be delayed.

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”               – Henri Nouwen

Happy Holidays!

heart

Some of the quotes in this post were found at brainyquote.com

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roller-coasterA LITTLE OF THIS

This year has been one wild and crazy ride for me, and it seems it’s time to share just a little bit. The year began by purging my house of a lifetime collection of possessions, and by the time my husband and I were done in April, about two thirds of all we owned had been donated or sold. We also sold our house with no intention of moving into a traditional home or apartment. We moved onto our 35-foot sailboat. My husband retired in May, and our next step was to start our RV hunt, which did not go as smoothly as anticipated. Actually from the time we moved onto the boat, it seemed we had one challenge after another. But I won’t bore you with the details. Maybe another time. In July, we settled into our 43-foot RV just across the way from our boat. A beautiful setting. Yet, the challenges continued. We believe this month will be the last month of getting the creases out, and we can finally settle down and start traveling in November.

Did all this have an impact on my life as a writer? Oh yes. Big time! And even now that I’m finding my way in this new lifestyle, there are still challenges like inconsistent Internet, which drives me crazy. But, getting up each morning and looking out at the lake with our boat’s mast waving hello sooths my soul and all is well. I must also say that I’ve never seen so many beautiful sunsets in such a short time. Life is good.

In the midst of my madness, I was invited to write a guest post on maintaining your health as a writer. It took me a while to get around to it but it is finally here!

balance-writing-lifeThis month, I’m honored to share that Colleen Story is featuring my guest post HOW TO BALANCE AN OUT-OF-CONTROL WRITING LIFE on her blog and in her newsletter, WRITING AND WELLNESS: Putting the Power of You Behind Your Best Creative Life. I hope you’ll take a little time to read it and ponder the balance or lack of balance in your writing life. Thanks to Colleen for inviting me to be her guest.

A LITTLE OF THAT

Writer friends often express their struggles with rejection and the temptation to throw in the towel. So, I’ve been trying to post inspirational quotes here and there. I share a few of them below.

If you are thinking about or feeling like giving up, don’t do it! Hold your ground. “Victory is not won in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later win a little more.”

– Louis L’Amour

“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game’s winning shot . . . and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why . . . I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

“Perseverance is not a long race: it is many short races one after another.”

– Walter Elliott

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

– Japanese Proverb

I like the following quote because it not only applies to us as writers, but it applies to the stories we write as well. Think about it. . . . “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

– Frank A. Clark

This brings me to . . .

WHY ARE CHARACTER ARCS IMPORTANT?

In most picture books, the main character doesn’t just wander through the plot. They move through with purpose. They overcome challenges. And most importantly, the plot changes them. They learn from the events and challenges that the arc builds, and this is how they arrive at a satisfying conclusion/resolution. The tension and emotional core that the arc creates show the reader that the story is worth reading. It makes the reader care about the character and shows them why the story matters.

Art of Arc V3Whether fiction or nonfiction, if you’ve been told your story needs more arc, or it needs more tension, or it needs more heart, or it needs more focus, my Art of Arc picture book writing course will help you find what your stories need to take them to the next level. And it only costs as much as one professional critique.

Enjoy putting more balance in your writing life!

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12X12 NINJAOne of the many benefits of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 group is the Manuscript Makeover section in the 12 x 12 forum. Members post their picture book manuscripts in the forum and critique ninjas pop in and offer critiques. Last month, I had the pleasure of being a critique ninja. I’ll be returning in September for another month as ninja. There are many talented writers in 12 x 12, and I read lots of stories – some fun, some funny, some touching – all creative. I found a pattern in many of the stories I read. They had elements of episodic storytelling.

 

Following, I provide a brief overview of episodic storytelling in an abbreviated lesson from my online picture book manuscript writing and analyzing course Art of Arc.

 

Rising Chaos

 

A while back, in response to a critique I had done for a chapter book, the author responded, in part, with the following:

 

“For me, rising action means adding story problems! Rising chaos!”

 

That’s one way I would describe an episodic story. While the story might be entertaining dogand move forward, it meanders. An episodic story reminds me a bit of the expression, “The tail wagging the dog.” For a while, the story is taken over by some fun and entertaining scene(s), but eventually it has to get back to the story as a whole – the one with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. The entertainment is the tail – the dog is the main character who is being wagged by the tail – and as a result, your reader is also being wagged by the tail.

 

The story takes the reader down a meandering path that is disconnected from the other parts of the story. Perhaps the path is loosely connected because the protagonist is involved and there is some sort of loose connection to the character’s problem. But the question to consider is, how connected is each scene to the scene that came before and the scene that follows?

 

The goal in a picture book with a classic arc is to have scenes flow seamlessly, building off each other until they are so blended you don’t even notice the changes that lead up to the end.

 

In an episodic story, the scenes often feel disconnected.

 

The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.

Whackamole

In the picture book manuscripts I critique, I often find main characters taking action, going from one place (or one thing) to another with no real reason. It’s a little bit like the main character is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. To the reader, it feels like the main character is spending all his time reacting to any obstacle that pops up. He has no real plan or reason for his actions – no real direction. Episodic stories lack focus and direction. Many times circumstances or other characters drive the direction the story takes, and the main character seems to go along for the ride. We see no change or growth in the scenes or in the story. One way that change and growth are revealed is through decisions.

 


SOME WAYS TO TEST YOUR PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT FOR EPISODIC ELEMENTS

 

DOES IT MATTER WHERE EACH SCENE APPEARS IN THE STORY?

 

With storylines built via cause and effect, scenes rely on each other to tell the story and to build tension. What if you moved your scenes around? Would the plot change? If it doesn’t matter where a particular scene happens in the story, it is likely episodic.

 

ARE SCENE GOALS RELATED TO THE STORY GOAL (larger plotline)?

 

Although scenes stand alone, they also need to be steps in the story plot. How does each scene advance the story (related to the plot as a whole)? Does the resolution or discovery made at the end of one scene set things up for the next? Or stated differently, does the next scene start with something that stemmed from the prior scene – an event, a decision, an action – and then move on to something new that leads to the next scene?

 

IS THE RISING ACTION, RISING CHAOS?

 

Are the main character’s challenges independent problems that create a meaningless (as related to the big story problem) obstacle course for the main character?  How can the challenges all be connected to the common thread of the story? Resist causing unnecessary trouble for the main character. Even when the trouble is entertaining, fun, and exciting, if it doesn’t have “whole story” purpose, it is probably episodic.

 

Each of the main character’s challenges should involve the following:

 

  • Overcoming the obstacle for that portion of the story.
  • Have significance to the bigger story. Remember, the main character has a big story goal and then smaller goals as the story builds. The smaller goals should not be too far removed from the big goal.

 

IS THERE A GOAL DRIVING THE SCENE?

 

Why is the main character in this scene? Why is he taking action? Is he taking intentional action or is he just reacting with no goal in mind?

 

DO THE SCENES INFORM THE READER?

 

  • What will the reader learn about the story (as a whole)?
  • What will the reader learn about the main character?
  • Do these events and actions move the plot forward in a way that makes the reader care about the main character, become curious, want to know more?
  • What is the purpose of the scene?

 

At the end of this post you will find a couple of links that will lead to excellent posts on episodic writing. Although they are not about picture book writing, they still help clarify what an episodic story is and why it can be problematic. Although some people write episodic stories intentionally, I believe there is no room for episodic storytelling in picture books. Young children do not have the attention span to follow the chaos that is created in such a story.

 

Let me be clear about the above statement. I am talking about classic stories. There are picture books that may seem episodic, and at times that’s okay. Concept picture books are a good example. The reason these books can be episodic is because they are built around a theme or concept. Take a look at THE BELLY BOOK by Fran Manushkin or EVERYBODY SLEEPS (BUT NOT FRED) by Josh Schneider. Many of the events in these books could have happened at any point within the book (or story). But these books are not built around a classic arc. Every story you write will NOT need to be analyzed for episodic elements. However, if the story you are writing is built around a classic arc with rising action and cause and effect, watch for episodic elements.

 

In the Art of Arc Course, I list some books in the cause and effect section that have somewhat episodic segments, but they are still built around cause and effect. NO DAVID, by David Shannon and WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, by Ellen Javernick are a couple. Although many of the segments could appear anywhere in the book, these segments each have their own cause and effect.

 

In NO DAVID, David’s actions lead to a reaction from his mother. But eventually the sum of the events lead to a reaction from David and that event leads to the final reaction from his mother.

 

In WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, each time that question is asked the reader sees the effect.

 

In BECAUSE I STUBBED MY TOE, by Shawn Byous you will find a perfect example of how important the order of events can be. Everything that happens in this story is a result of the boy stubbing his toe, but it is also the result of the event that came before it. This is a true cause and effect book.

Copyright Alayne Kay Christian 2016

LINKS TO ARTICLES ON EPISODIC WRITING

 

Plotting Problems – Episodic Writing

By Marg McAlister

http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/plottingproblems.html

 

From Moody Writing

Episodic Storytelling is a problem

http://moodywriting.blogspot.com/2012/11/episodic-storytelling-is-problem.html

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT, EPISODIC STORIES, art of arc extraOR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS contact me and ask about the new TRY IT plan where you can try the first five Art of Arc lessons for $35.00 – purchased with no obligation to buy the remainder of the course. You may contact me using the “contact” tab at the top of this page, or via my Art of Arc webpage.

 

An outline of the first five lessons follows:

 

WELCOME SECTION

 

The welcome section includes a nine-page supplement demonstrating sixteen different picture book structures with diagrams, descriptions, and book titles.

 

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What drives your protagonist?
  • Beginnings and hooks.
  • Who, what, where, when, why?
  • Story promise, reader’s expectations, and story questions.
  • Page-turners.
  • How the whole story connects to the ending.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginnings and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

 

  • Setting the hook.
  • Creating a connection with the reader.
  • Inciting incident.
  • Ways to keep the reader reading.
  • More on page-turners.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginning and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

 

  • Story arc (plot development)
  • Character arc (character development)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Small, scene goals
  • Tension
  • Feelings
  • Character turning points

 

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

 

  • What is cause and effect and why is it important
  • Diagrams
  • Writing exercises
  • Worksheets
  • Examples
  • Bonus supplement with links to additional info

 

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

 

  • What is an episodic story?
  • What causes a story to be episodic?
  • Worksheets and tips for testing your story for episodic elements
  • Links to additional info

 

 

 

 

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