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Posts Tagged ‘Art of Arc’

kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

Excerpts from Art of Arc

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

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

WE HAVE A BONUS!

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

Happy Book Birthday

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

Peach and Cream Photo Spring Quote Twitter Post

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

Words of Wisdom

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

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

by Alayne Kay Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR READERS INTRIGUED AND WANTING MORE?

by Kirsti Call

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST LINES THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE STORY—AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

by Laura Gehl

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST LINES PROVIDE A PEEK INTO THE WORLD OF THE STORY

by Melissa Stoller

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

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

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

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

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

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

READY, SET, GORILLA!

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

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

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

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

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

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

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

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

MORE TO COME!

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

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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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world kindness day

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

November 13, is World Kindness Day. I’m happy to share that my latest picture book, The Weed That Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, has been listed on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) recommended reading list for books about kindness. And it is in good company. I will share a few of my friends’ books that are on the list below. But, I hope you will check out all the books on the list here.

Weed cover better quality for social media

Because I was only allowed one entry, my book An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin isn’t on the list. But it is also about kindness.

Cover 9781732893566 (1) - Copy

I’m not going to get too carried away talking about kindness because I found a good place for that. The Random Acts of Kindness site has resources for educators and anyone interested in making the world a better place. They have kindness ideas, quotes, posters, videos, stories, and more.

kindness ideas

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

In addition, click here to read their inspiring blog post “Make Kindness the Norm.”

THE CONTEST

I will kick off the Random Acts of Kindness Contest by offering a couple prizes for the contest.

Art of Arc V3

writing for children webinars and courses

We will have a first place and a second place winner. The winners of the contest will win their choice of the following prizes. The first place winner will get first pick, and the second place winner will choose from the remaining prizes.

• Complimentary access to my picture book writing course Art of Arc
• The collection of my webinars currently available at this date
• A signed copy of An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin
• A copy of Who Will? Will You? (also on the SCBWI recommended reading list)

cover from bwp site

What do you need to do?

  1. For the rest of the month of November, carry out a random act of kindness.
  2. Comment on this post by sharing what you chose to do for someone else (the random act of kindness).
  3. Share this post in social media.
  4. With your comment, include where you shared the post link.
  5. 1-4 are requirements to be entered in the contest. Number five is just a favor. Please, if you have any of my books and you like them, I would be very grateful for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you might prefer.

The contest will be over at midnight central time on December 1, 2020. The first place winner will be chosen by Alayne’s choice of the best random act of kindness, and second place will be chosen via a drawing. I will announce winners within two weeks from the end of the contest.

A Flood of Kindness 51B-NZpo0rL._SX473_BO1,204,203,200_In addition to my friends’ books about kindness (at the end of this post) and those on the SCBWI reading list, I’d like to do one more random act of kindness. My friend Ellen Leventhal’s wonderful picture book A Flood of Kindness is available for pre-order and will be released in April 2021. I’ve ridden along with her as she had her writing journey for this book, and I can attest to its excellence. The book was inspired by Ellen’s personal experiences with floods in Houston, with the most devastating being the result of Hurricane Harvey.

“The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.”

So begins A Flood of Kindness, a poignant picture book that addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope. The story is written in beautifully lyrical spare prose and told from an intimate first-person point of view. Ellen has filled the story with heart and readers “feel” Charlotte’s experience as they follow her watching floodwaters rise in her home until she is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents.

I believe Blythe Russo’s fabulous art is going to bring even more emotion to the story, as we “see” what Charlotte experiences.

Some of my friends’ books about kindness.

See the SCBWI reading list for more. 

Authors: Dozens of Doughnuts Carrie Finnison, Ready, Set, Gorilla Melissa Stoller, Be Kind Pat Zietlow Miller, Finding Kindness Deborah Underwood

Author Illustrators: Hedgehog Needs a Hug Jen Betton, Hugsby Dow Phumiruk 

Illustrators: Brianne Farley, Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Jen Hill, Irene Chan

Doughnuts_front_cover_web-1-originalReady-Set-GOrilla-Cover-72dpi-originalBe_Kind-original Pat MillerHedgehog_jacket-front-sm-original jen bentoncover-10-original DowKindness-cover-original debrah underwood

 

Good luck with the contest, and remember kindness makes the world go round!

kindess believe there is good in the world

Above image compliments of Random Acts of Kindness  #worldkindnessday  #makekindnessthenorm

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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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I’ve been busy working on the next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy book and rewriting my picture book writing course, Art of Arc. That’s only part of what I’ve been up to. But what’s important here is that I haven’t written a blog post in a while, so it’s high time I wrote one.

Today, I thought I would take a little time to share a few other things that I’ve been up to because I want to share some news, opportunities, and resources.

Teachers, librarians, parents – this one is for you.

I was just invited to be a judge for a fun writing contest for children in grades 3-5. Rosie Pova is offering the contest on her blog. This is a nationwide competition for creative writing with a theme, a twist and, of course, PRIZES! Teachers and librarians have 30 days from the contest opening date to submit the best entries that they select.

The contest began January 18 and will end at 11:59 pm February 16, 2018.

Writers, this one is for you.

I’ve signed up for my sixth year as a 12 X 12 member and my third year as a 12 X 12 critique ninja. As a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, you get the motivation and accountability you need to write picture book drafts in 2018. There are opportunities to learn from industry experts, receive advice on the craft of writing picture books from published authors, literary agents, and editors, and enjoy the fellowship of community. Registration is open until February 28.

Just so you know, a critique ninja is a person who works in the 12 X 12 forum offering critiques on posted picture book manuscripts. There is a whole team of critique ninjas – all professional critique writers.

Another one for writers.

I’ve joined Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge for, I think, my sixth year. The Storystorm challenge is to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas. The registration is over and the challenge is more than half over, but you can still get some great inspiration for finding ideas from the month-long Storystorm posts on Tara’s blog. Once upon a time, Storystorm was called PiBoIdMo or  Picture Book Idea Month.

This one is for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )  

I have bounced around the idea of trying my hand at art with this KIDLIT411 illustration contest, but I haven’t gained the courage. But YOU might want to give it a try. Excellent opportunity! The deadline is February 9.

Another one for illustrators, artists, and illustrator wannabes (like me 😉 )

I’ve been practicing art using a bunch of different books, but I also recently signed up with the Society of Visual Storytelling (SVS). Here’s a little blurb from their site. Our videos are custom made to show you how to get the skills necessary to break into the dynamic field of illustration. We have a wide range of subjects that fit any interest you may have in art. On top of our huge video library of art videos, we are now offering multi-week interactive classes where you get direct feedback from the instructor. In addition to our video content, we offer a forum where you can chat with other students and ask for help or just show off your stuff!

Now, if only I could get reliable Internet access on the road so I can watch my courses!

And one last bit of fun for writers.

If you don’t know about it, Sub Six is a Facebook support group for kid lit writers who are focusing on submitting their work. I’ve had a hard time keeping up with it, and the wonderfully smart and talented Manju Gulati Howard has volunteered to help. And boy has she helped. She does so much to inspire and encourage the group. She’s secured monthly prizes for the whole year from generous donors. And now, she has started Rejection Bingo, which is a blast. The game is in play until June 1.

 

  

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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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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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UNEARTH YOUR PROTAGONIST’S TRUE GOAL.

By Alayne Kay Christian

dig

CAN YOU DIG A LITTLE DEEPER?

In my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript, I talk a lot about consequences. What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not solve his problem or reach his goal? Why is it important to him on a personal level? This is one way to get your readers to connect with the protagonist on an emotional level. That connection makes the reader want to keep reading.

Sometimes, writers have difficulty giving their protagonist a strong goal that will carry the story and engage the reader. I often fall back to my life coaching days when I think about story characters, and I’d like to share how I relate character goals to coaching clients’ goals.

Very often, clients come to a life coach with surface goals. One of the first things I do with new clients is work to get to their deeper goals. The goals that really matter. The goals that will motivate the client and drive her to take action. If after exploring and digging, the client can’t unearth her true desires, I try a different approach. I ask the client what she doesn’t want. It seems that it is much easier for most people to identify and express what we don’t want. And this brings us back to our story writing. When searching for a strong goal, try asking yourself, “What is my main character trying to avoid? What does he NOT want?”

One more little tip along the same lines. A main character’s goal can be something he doesn’t want. And that is what I will leave you to think about today. Now for some exciting news.

 

AWARD WINNER, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA HAS BEEN RELEASED!

gong gong cover

 

Books that we authors write often feel like our babies. Books that our critique partners write can sometimes feel like nieces and nephews. Today, I would like to welcome my new little niece into the world. The winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA was written by my friend and critique partner Sylvia Liu. The fabulous illustrations were created by Christina Forshay.

Gong gong signing

Sylvia signing preorders at Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia.

gong gong book shelf

On the shelf!

REVIEW

By Alayne Kay Christian

Inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei watches Grandpa “dance slowly among the flowers in the garden.” He moves “like a giant bird stalking through the marsh.” His arms sway “like reeds.”

“What are you doing, Gong Gong?” Mei Mei asks. And this starts a dance between inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei and patient, loving Gong Gong. Every page walks the reader through this beautiful, playful relationship. Mei Mei’s creative attempts to follow her grandfather’s tai chi moves bring smiles when I read and explore all there is to see in the illustration. While I keep smiling, the end tugs at my heartstrings as the dance continues with a fun but touching role reversal.

Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay are perfect dance partners as well. Liu’s wonderful storytelling with lovely lyrical language paired with Forshay’s lively, flowing illustrations create a dance of their own. It’s a winning combination! As a mother, grandmother, author, and picture book writing teacher, I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Gong Gong spread 2

Art by Christina Forshay, used with permission from Lee & Low Books

 

MORE REVIEWS AND SOME GREAT INTERVIEWS

I considered interviewing Sylvia, but there are already some excellent interviews and other reviews out there, so I thought I would share the links to them.

Lin Gong offers a review and a great interview.

The Reading Nook Reviews gives an extensive review.

Kirkus Reviews offers their praises of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.

Publisher’s Weekly offers their views here.

Yvonne Mes interviews Sylvia with questions about winning the Lee & Low New Voices Award and much, much more.

 

Sylvia NewSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit group, Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book. Visit her online at www.enjoyingplanetearth.com.

 

Christina ForshayChristina Forshay is a full-time illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous style. Born and raised in sunny California, she was inspired to become an illustrator by her many visits to Disneyland and by watching hours of cartoons as a child. Today, she still watches cartoons for inspiration for her illustrations! Christina lives with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs in California. Visit her online at www.christinaforshay.com.

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FIRST A LITTLE INSPIRATION

EVERY DAY BIRDSAmy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of FOREST HAS A SONG and EVERY DAY BIRDS, challenged Today’s Little Ditty readers to write poems about small things— animals or objects you see everyday and don’t give much thought. I took the challenge, and I’m honored that my piece was selected as the poem that will close out Today’s Little Ditty’s month of small beauties.

little dittyToday’s Little Ditty is a great blog to follow. It offers tips and prompts for writing various forms of poetry, wonderful interviews, and fantastic examples of poetry. It’s well worth checking out.

Following is my little ditty.

 

 

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAY
by Alayne Kay Christian ©2016

As the morning light steals the night
A new day is on the horizon
I am drawn to the eastern sky

In complete silence
The bright morning star calls to me
I am one with the Universe
Of this I am never more certain than
Somewhere between night and day

scan0027

In the sharing of this poem, I wish you many moments of quiet peace.

OVERCOMING SELF-DOUBT and FREE GIVEAWAY

revimo 2016In January, I was a guest blogger for Meg Miller’s ReviMo challenge where I wrote REVISING YOUR WAY TO DREAMS COME TRUE. If you are struggling with frustration or self-doubt, you might feel renewed after reading this post. At the end, I offer a free checklist for polishing manuscripts and doing critiques and edits.

IMPROVE YOUR MANUSCRIPTS AND YOUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE READERSReFoReMo 2016

This month, I had the honor of being a faculty member on the ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month) team. In my guest post, CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN READING AND WRITING, I encourage readers to look deeper than the surface when analyzing mentor texts or your own work. In considering ways to engage readers, I offer four questions to ponder while analyzing your stories or mentor texts.

DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF PICTURE BOOK WRITING

My picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript continues to deepen writers understanding of picture books while helping them refine their work. Following are some of the latest comments from students who have completed the course.

I wish The Art of the Arc course existed a year ago. It would have saved me a lot of time. It gathers a lot of information that new picture book writers need all in one place. Alayne provides so many examples and even includes a few that don’t follow the classic arc. I found the reminders about what the reader should be experiencing at different points in the story especially helpful.

I appreciated how the worksheets made me take apart my own manuscripts so I have a better understanding of why some aspect isn’t working. I’m going to continue using the worksheets to guide my revisions. The Facebook group doing a monthly study of a picture book should help solidify what I’ve learned. Thank you, Alayne! – Mary Worley – Children’s Writer and Former Librarian

Alayne’s Art of Arc self-paced course not only teaches a writer about story structure but explains the specific parts of a story, in depth, and the importance of why each must be related, relevant, and remain connected. What I learned through her examples and exercises are the specific ways to break down a story using task analysis. This process helps me determine if the reader is “imagining and feeling” the story I want to tell reflected through my writing. As a writer who starts as a pantser, Alayne provided the organization I needed to analyze my own writing. – Keila V. Dawson, Author, THE KING CAKE BABY, Pelican Publishing Co., January 31, 2015

Alayne distills and clarifies picture book wisdom in a conversational tone. Her writing has earned a place on my reference shelf. Mike Karg – Children’s Book Writer

Art of the Arc teaches you to methodically analyze your manuscript or mentor text, and in doing so, pulls you back as the author to see your story through more objective eyes, able to evaluate it piece by piece. The course is well organized and contains a virtual plethora of resources. – Beth Anderson – Freelance Writer

This course was so helpful in showing me the areas where my manuscripts were not moving and how to fix that. Studying picture books suggested in the course focused this for me. The great thing is now I’ll be able to use this as I’m writing and, I hope, cut down on revision time. I highly recommend this comprehensive course. – Carol Crane – Children’s Writer

When asked, “How does this course compare to other courses you have taken?” One Art of Arc graduate said, “I haven’t taken other courses. The best comparison is Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I love the depth and specificity of both. As with her book, your materials are worthy of re-reads.”

The following are not testimonials, but a few wonderful comments from the ART OF ARC Facebook group.

I just want to thank you, Alayne Kay Christian for putting together such a comprehensive course. I am only on lesson two, but I have already learned so much. The cost of this course is some of the best money I ever spent on learning the picture book craft. My mind is racing with all the possibilities for improving my manuscripts and writing new and better ones. I am truly blown away with how much work you put into this and how generous you are to share it with the world. Thank you!

I agree! And the ability to be in this group, ask questions and give answers is invaluable, too! Thanks, Alayne Kay Christian!

Click here to learn more about ART OF ARC and to read many more testimonials.

art of arc extra

 

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th (1)JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS WITH THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

I offered my first THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN CHALLENGE in 2012. Each year since, I have modified my original post and reposted it. Before I share the modified version, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog 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 THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN. . . .

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.

THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

Over the next couple of weeks, take some time to reflect on 2015 and list 31 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 2015. Even if you are unable to list 31 achievements, come back and celebrate with us by bragging a little about your year.

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 2016.

Below I share ten of my thirty-one achievements.

  1. I started 2015 with my first SCBWI annual winter conference in New York where I met many of my friends in person for the first time, including four out of six of my Penguin Posse critique partners.
  2. I developed a highly detailed picture book writing course. This was a long and challenging process that I must celebrate by sharing. I consider it a huge achievement. Yay!
  3. I completed Renee LaTulippe’s fantastic course  The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry
  4. I attended the excellent SCBWI workshop, Tammi’s Top Picture Book Writing Secrets with Tammi Sauer and Janee Trasler
  5. I started art classes.
  6. I completed Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s and Kami Kinard’s Kid Lit Summer School: The Plot Thickens
  7. I helped as many fellow writers as possible with their manuscripts.
  8. I learned to practice one of my favorite survival skills, which is write from the heart – submit with detachment.
  9. I completed my 4th 12 X 12 writing challenge and my 5th PiBoIdMo challenge.
  10. I ended 2015 with a very successful launch of 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).

I’m already planning for next year. I recently signed up for the 2016 Big Sur at Cape Cod, Andrea Brown Literary workshop. This is doubly exciting for me because I will be meeting up with some of my Penguin Posse sisters once again.

Best wishes in 2016!

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