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Posts Tagged ‘Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets’

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

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. To learn more about why I chose to cover this topic, read Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 click here. To learn more about the “Wisdom” team and their books click here. And now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO UNDERSTAND THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS YOU GO THROUGH

by Ellen Leventhal

Yes, it is definitely a long and winding road to publication. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that the twisting and turning of that road doesn’t stop after one or two books. At least for me, it doesn’t. I’m still dealing with twists, turns, small bumps, and large hurdles. And like all of publishing, the movement along the road is SLOW. But honestly, there is no other road I’d rather be traveling now.

Everyone’s journey is different, and mine is a bit odd. My first published book was a result of Ellen Rothberg and me winning a picture book writing contest. We didn’t know a lot about writing PBs, so we took classes and revised with the publisher/editor a ridiculous number of times until we all thought it was ready. And we won! The prize was publication, and that’s how the first version of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets was born. After that, I was hooked. Ellen and I wrote a few more together, but unfortunately, that publisher decided they didn’t want to do kidlit anymore. Those last two books (which I still love) faded into the sunset. However, another publisher wanted the bluebonnet book, so we sliced and diced to bring it up to date, and that, along with new illustrations, became the Ten Year Anniversary edition. I published another book with that same publisher, and then…another contest! This didn’t lead directly to publication, but because I was in the finals of Picture Book Contest, I signed with a wonderful agent who sold my recently released book in six month. Story over? Far from it. That agent was project by project at the time, and she didn’t connect to my other work. So although I sold another book on my own (signed in 2021…pub date 2023), I am back looking for agents. Or more publishers at open houses. I’m not sure. When Imposter Syndrome sits on my shoulder and invades my very being, I can fall into a dark place, but I don’t. When more rejections fill my inbox each day, I can give up. But I don’t. And the saving grace for all of that is this incredible kidlit community. It’s important to have people in your life who understand the trials and tribulations your go through and critique partners who will be honest and help you. I am lucky to have all that to help me persist and stay positive. So the road to publication for me has been twisty, and it still is. But as I said, it’s exactly the road I want to travel now.

YOU CAN’T REACH YOUR GOAL BY SITTING STILL. YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING AND LEARNING AND PUTTING ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER

by Pippa Chorley

I have to admit that I am still very much travelling along the road to being a full-fledged writer and I still hesitate at times over being called an ‘author’. It can be hard for imposter syndrome not to creep in when you haven’t quite fulfilled all of your dreams. My road feels particularly long as I have been writing stories and poetry since I was seven. At the age of 17 I drafted my first ever picture book and at the age of 20 I drafted my first ever novel, a YA. Both of these have sat on my computer ever since but I still couldn’t help but write more and more and more. I just love it!

Finally, 3 years ago when my daughter (child number 3) went to nursery I decided to take my passion more seriously and joined SCWBI and a local critique group. I took some old picture book manuscripts along and very quickly one of the members introduced me to a publisher she felt would like my writing. I was extremely lucky that she was right and they offered me a three book deal. I was thrilled and it has been incredibly exciting to finally step onto the road I have always dreamed of walking down.

That said, my journey is not over by a long shot. I have yet to find an agent and I would still love to one day publish my YA novel and chapter books written over the years. There is still much to do, much to learn, more twists and turns to navigate. As we all know, the kidlit writing industry is particularly tough and takes more staying power that others to keep picking up your pen because rejection is everywhere. I have had numerous rejections since querying and it can be disheartening and discouraging but if you love writing as much as I do, then keep going, because you can’t reach your goal by sitting still, you have to keep moving and learning and putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the only way and together, we can help each other get there. I say that because without the support network of other amazing writers it would be easy to stop, but they keep you going and moving forward.

I UNDERSTAND THAT A MANUSCRIPT HAS TO BE RIGHT FOR AN EDITOR AND THAT THERE’S MUCH MORE TO CONSIDER THAN MY STORY

by Beth Anderson

I’ll try to make what could be a lengthy saga short by focusing on the timeline. I decided to go for it, to go after my “someday,” in fall 2013. I researched the industry, joined SCBWI and a critique group, and sought out writing groups online to guide me. All those pieces were immeasurably essential as I embarked on this journey. Spurred on by naiveté and the power of goal-setting, I thought I’d be subbing to agents and editors after a few months. [oh, silly me!] As I learned more from fellow creators and online courses, I realized that wasn’t realistic.

After examining options, I decided I wanted to pursue an agent first. I began subbing to agents in mid 2014 and racking up rejections. By the end of 2015, I was wondering at what point I should move on to a more worthwhile investment of my time and energy. But since I’d found some encouragement along the way, I felt I owed it to myself to double down my efforts, pushing myself into the discomfort zone, commit at a higher level. A month and a half later in early 2016, I signed with my agent. Having a knowledgeable partner made all the difference. Eight months later, I had my first offer. And in September 2018, I held my first book in my hands, five years after I began the journey.

Now, I have three books released and five more on the way. I learn more with each one, even the manuscripts that will never go anywhere. I still get plenty of rejections, but now it doesn’t hurt because I know that a rejection means I put it out there. I understand that a manuscript has to be right for an editor and that there’s much more to consider than my story. I’m fortunate to be retired and able to invest all the time I want in this endeavor. I’m continually amazed by all those who hold down jobs and raise kids while pursuing publishing. I think it’s important to not be too hard on yourself and be patient. But at the same time, I believe you have to put in your 10,000 hours and plunge in with an attitude of openness, push yourself by venturing past your comfort zone, dive into opportunities, and trust professionals. The road IS long. And winding. Full of bumps. And potholes. But if you take the kid lit community along, it’s an amazing ride!

BONUS! TEN-YEAR BOOK JOURNEY STORY BY MELISSA STEWART

As I was putting this post together, I discovered a post about Melissa Stewarts new book SUMMERTIME SLEEPERS: Animals that Estivate, which shows the timeline for the ten years it took to bring this book to publication. It is a perfect example of the sometimes long and winding road to publication. To read the post click here.

PART 3 COMING MAY 8

Next week, 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 PART 1 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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On Friday, I announced changes for Blue Whale Press and me. I also announced a new series coming to my blog. I’m going to repeat it here, but also fully introduce you to the KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM team. So here goes . . . I’m resurrecting my “All About” blog series (All About Submissions and All About Platforms) combined with Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s “We’re All In This Together” series—with Marcie’s permission of course. Thanks, Marcie! And boy do we have some fantastic multi-published authors to tackle our old topics and lots of new ones. We’ll be sharing our wisdom and stories about the world of kid lit writing and publishing. And because of all our combined years of kid lit writing experience, we will be giving the series a new name. KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM (Over 170 years of combined experience as authors!)

We believe that kid-lit writers have lots of questions about writing, agents, publishing, editors, submissions, platforms, and more. Our intention is that Kid Lit Writing Wisdom will be a very helpful resource. Do you have a question?

IF YOU HAVE WRITING OR PUBLISHING QUESTIONS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE THE TEAM ADDRESS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

Please allow me to introduce the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team.

All of our team members (except for one) have new picture books coming out or already released this year. We are either members of 2021 Word Birds or Twenty One-derful Picture Books in 2021 or both. Bios and more follow the list.

Beth Anderson
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Kirsti Call
Pippa Chorley
Alayne Kay Christian
Laura Gehl
Vivian Kirkfield
Ellen Leventhal
Michelle Nott
Rosie Pova
Dawn Prochovnic
Rob Sanders
Melissa Stoller

 

Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way. Learn more about Beth at bethandersonwriter.com Signed copies of Beth’s books can be found here.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins is a teacher-librarian by day and a children’s book writer in the wee hours of the morning. She holds an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature (Millbrook Press, 2019) is her most recent book. Marcie also serves as the nonfiction coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI region. She muses about mentor texts and making time to write at marcieatkins.com. She’s on Twitter and Instagram as @MarcieFAtkins.

 

Kirsti Call is the co-hosts of the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She’s a critique ninja and elf for 12×12, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a Rate Your Story judge. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti is a therapist trained life coach for creatives. Her picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) moooved onto shelves last fall. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Learn more about Kirsti by visiting kirsticall.com.

 

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.

 

 

Laura Gehl is the author of more than two dozen board books, picture books, and early readers, including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, My Pillow Keeps Moving, Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer, and the Baby Scientist series. Her work has won awards, appeared on state and national reading lists, and been translated into numerous languages. For information about new books and free downloadable teacher’s guides, please visit lauragehl.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.

 

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.

 

Michelle Nott is a freelance editor, published poet, and children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction, in prose and verse. She has authored two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames. Her debut picture book, Teddy Let’s Go!, is forthcoming from Enchanted Lion Press (Fall 2021). Michelle grew up in the U.S. and has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. She holds American and French citizenship and is bilingual, English and French. Her extensive travel around the U.S., Europe and Africa fuels her imagination and appreciation for story and world cultures. To learn more about Michelle visit authormichellenott.com.

 

Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children’s author, poet, speaker, and writing coach. She’s a Writing Instructor for the Dallas Independent School District through The Writer’s Garret, an instructor with Writing Workshops Dallas, teaching online picture book courses to children’s writers, and also serves as a judge for Rate Your Story.

Rosie speaks on many women’s topics as well and has appeared on radio and print media.

Her upcoming picture book, Sunday Rain, celebrates imagination, the love of books, and new friendships. Her other upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in spring of 2022. Visit Rosie at rosiejpova.com.

 

Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Lucy’s Blooms (forthcoming, 2021), Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist. She is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at dawnprochovnic.com.

 

Rob Sanders is a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. He is known for his funny and fierce fiction and nonfiction picture books and is recognized as one of the pioneers in the arena of LGBTQ+ literary nonfiction picture books.

This year Rob will release TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING (Little Bee Books) and STITCH-BY-STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT (Magination Press). His 2020 releases included THE FIGHTING INFANTRYMAN: THE STORY OF ALBERT D. J. CASHIER, TRANSGENDER CIVIL WAR SOLIDER (Little Bee Books), MAYOR PETE: THE STORY OF PETE BUTTIGIEG (Henry Holt & Co.) and BLING BLAINE: THROW GLITTER, NOT SHADE (Sterling). Rob is co-regional advisor for SCBWI Florida and a frequent speaker, teacher, and critiquer.

A native of Springfield, Missouri, he has lived in Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee. After earning a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Religious Education, Rob worked for fifteen years in children’s religious educational publishing as a writer, educational consultant, trainer, editor, editorial group manager, and product developer.

In 2006, Rob moved to Florida and began working as an elementary school teacher. Soon he was serving as a district writing trainer and resource teacher. But he spent most of his career teaching fourth graders about books and words and reading and writing. Rob took retirement in December 2020 and now is writing full time. To learn more about Rob visit robsanderswrites.com/.

He is represented by Rubin Pfeffer.

 

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.

IF YOU HAVE WRITING OR PUBLISHING QUESTIONS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE THE TEAM ADDRESS, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR QUESTION IN A COMMENT.

We’ll be back soon with our first words of wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

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Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

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 www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

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