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Posts Tagged ‘Dormancy in Nature’

kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

Words of Wisdom

MIRROR THE BEGINNING WITH THE ENDING, BUT WITH CHANGE

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT YOUR STORY’S ENDING

by Pippa Chorley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Michelle Nott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRAP THINGS UP BUT KEEP THEM WONDERING

by Dawn Prochovnic

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

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

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

This is the nest where I like to rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C’mon,” Lucy said with a smile.

“I’ll race you back to Gram’s.”

She took hold of her wagon and ran.

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

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

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

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

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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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. You can learn more about why I chose to cover this topic in Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 here. And you can read part 2 of 3 here. You can read more about the “Wisdom” team members and their books here.

Congratulations!

Cover When Water Make Mud 9781950169443

Before I move on, I’d like to do a little horn tooting and also offer a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Janie Reinart and Morgan Taylor. Their book WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A STORY REFUGEE CHILDREN has been rated the #1 new release in Children’s Africa Books on Amazon. So, where does the horn tooting come in? This is one of the last books that I edited, did art direction, designed, and published during my work with Blue Whale Press. Not a bad way to finish!

Now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

“MY WRITING GREW STRONGER DURING THOSE TEN YEARS, AND MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE INDUSTRY INCREASED EXPONENTIALLY.”

by Laura Gehl

I wrote my first picture book, One Big Pair of Underwear, when my oldest son (now almost 17!) was a baby. The book was published almost exactly a decade later. In between, I wrote a lot of other books, some of which went on to be published. Most did not. My writing grew stronger during those ten years, and my knowledge of the industry increased exponentially. Like most people, I made some embarrassing mistakes before I knew what I was doing!

Now that I have published close to thirty books and have a fabulous agent (I did not have an agent when I sold my first book), I still get rejections. And I still have manuscripts that never end up selling—even books that my agent and my critique partners love. I can’t honestly say that rejections feel much different now either. While I KNOW that each rejection is just about a certain book not being the right fit for a certain editor at a certain time, that doesn’t mean each rejection doesn’t hurt. I once received a rejection for a manuscript that had already been acquired by a different publisher, and it STILL stung. The waiting hasn’t disappeared either. But my critique partners, my agent, and the wonderful teachers/parents/kids who take the time to tell me how much they love my books all help weather the inevitable rejections and the just-as-inevitable waiting that are part of this business!

KEEP DOING THE WORK

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

My journey certainly has been and remains, long and winding. I attended my first writing conference in the summer of 2004. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, and I came to learn. The guest editor was Arthur A. Levine, of Harry Potter fame. He was kind and generous with his time, feedback, and encouragement. After the conference, I formed a critique group and joined SCBWI. With the support of these groups, I worked diligently on one of the stories I’d workshopped at the conference, and when I felt it was ready, I submitted my first manuscript to Arthur A. Levine Books, (his imprint at Scholastic, at the time.)

Arthur was again kind and encouraging, and I will always treasure the personal letter he sent back to me, gently declining my story. Over the next several years, I continued to do the work of a writer, inventing new stories, revising, and asking for critiques over and over again. As I developed an inventory of submission-ready manuscripts, I studied publishing houses and began the task of submitting. I accumulated several large file boxes filled with manuscripts in various stages of revision and correspondence from editors across the country (this was before submitting electronically was a thing.) Over time, the editorial correspondence I received shifted from form letters to personalized notes with suggestions for revision and/or ideas for other publishers that might be a better fit for my work.

One dark and stormy night in October 2007, I took my kids to a book event in our area to meet Bart King, the author of my daughter’s then-favorite book. At the event, I visited with another exhibiting author, David Michael Slater, whose books with an educational hook struck me as being similar in nature to my stories that incorporated American Sign Language. I told him about my work, and he agreed that it sounded like a strong fit for his publisher, ABDO, and he was kind enough to put me in touch with his editor. ABDO was indeed a good fit for my ready work at the time, and I published 16 books with that editor, from 2009-2012. It was a great experience.

Then I had a dry spell. A long dry spell that didn’t break until 2015 when two author friends in my local area, Elizabeth Rusch and Amber J Keyser, thought of me for an anthology they were working on called Oregon Reads Aloud. Liz reached out to invite me to participate, and I shared a freshly revised version of a story that had received several encouraging “personalized rejections” (so I knew that it was “ready,” it just needed to find the right home.) The story was accepted for the anthology, my dry spell had lifted, and my confidence was restored.

Through the process of participating in a wide variety of marketing events for Oregon Reads Aloud, I met the publishing director and marketing manager for West Margin Press (then Graphic Arts Books.) I’ve since published three picture books with the marvelous team at West Margin Press, including my book that just released in April, Lucy’s Blooms. It is my sincere hope I’ll get to work with them on another book in the future, but alas, they’ve passed on my last three submissions. Not to worry. Those stories will find a home, they just need to find the right home.

With 20 picture books and nearly as many years of experience, there are parts of me that still feel a bit like a newbie in this business. Maybe that’s because I’ve not yet been able to secure an agent (I will keep trying.) Maybe it’s because the publishing industry is hard to break into (over and over again.) Maybe it’s because each book takes a different route to publication, so the path is in fact a bit new each time.

With that said, here are my tips and takeaways: Keep doing the work. Read. Write. Revise. Seek feedback. Revise again. Build a body of ready work. Attend book events. Support others in their work. Make friends. Seek out and accept opportunities that align with your interests. Strive to better understand the market. Submit your work, as it becomes ready. Repeat.

TRENDS COME AND GO

by Michelle Nott

I was first inspired to write children’ stories while living in Belgium. My little girls’ bookshelf was mainly stocked with stories written in French. They were brilliant books, but we had decided to raise our children bilingually. And so I dusted off my Creative Writing degree and got writing … and thinking about turning these bedtime stories into actual books. Luckily, I found SCBWI Belgium (now SCBWI Benelux) to guide me. A couple months into my first critique group, a friend said she thought her editor would like one of my manuscripts. I queried her and after a round of revisions, she offered to publish my first early reader book. But it would take four years to have it in my hands. Once that book came out, she acquired my second early reader that took another four years to see the light of day. In the meantime, I queried agents with picture book and middle grade manuscripts. One of my first picture book stories received many kind rejections, mainly “it’s lovely, but too quiet.” At the time, most agents and editors were asking for action-packed plot-driven stories. Mine was not. But it’s important to remember that trends come and go, and to write the story you are to write. Finally, I sent a middle grade manuscript to an agent who replied that she liked my writing, but asked if I also wrote picture books. I sent her that quiet manuscript,… and she loved it! And then an editor and an illustrator at Enchanted Lion Books loved it. And now I’m thrilled that this book, Teddy Let’s Go!, written when my oldest daughter was in Kindergarten, will be published in time for me to hand it to her on her way to university!

PERSISTENCE CAN CERTAINLY GET YOU TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE

by Rosie Pova

My journey to publication was definitely long and full of heartbreaks along the way. Given the fact that English is not my native language, and I had no clue how publishing worked, no wonder it took me 13 years to get my first yes from a traditional publisher. I had so much to learn, so much to catch up on as an immigrant, and so much to experience before I found my footing.

But when that yes came, two more came with it as well, so I received three publishing contracts all at once! That was certainly an exciting victory!

Up to that point, I had been submitting to both agents and publishers. But even though I did get an agent before, the book she signed me with didn’t sell.

Fast-forward to today, I have five traditionally published books (four out, one upcoming), and my newly released one, Sunday Rain, was recently featured in The New York Times which is an absolute dream come true!

Overnight success in publishing is rare. But persistence can certainly get you to where you want to be.

And yes, I still get rejections. All the time. And that’s perfectly normal. In fact, those rejections are necessary, because that’s how our work finds the exact right home it’s meant for.

“I HAVE TO LOVE WHAT I’M WORKING ON, I HAVE TO ENJOY MY WRITING RITUALS, AND I HAVE TO RELY ON FRIENDS WHO ARE ON THE SAME JOURNEY.”

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

It took me many years of writing very diligently to have my first book published. I first published work-for-hire nonfiction for the educational market. My first trade picture book WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE was picked up in a call for submissions from Millbrook Press. I already had something to submit that had been getting good feedback, but ultimately kept getting rejected.

I write everyday (I score high on “discipline” in Clifton Strength’s Finders) because it helps me stay connected to my work. If I don’t write, I often feel like things are “off.” I have several projects in circulation—often in different genres and for different age groups. When one project isn’t going quite right, I can work on another project. I always have something percolating or waiting to be worked on. To stay positive, I keep a spot in my bullet journal for celebrations. They often don’t include “book deal.” But they do include things like: finished middle grade novel revision, finished fast draft of chapter book, received positive feedback from editor, participated in panel at XX conference. These celebrations remind me that the journey is important too. When it feels like a long wait for a book deal, these small victories remind me that I’m making progress.

I definitely get rejections—a lot of them. I try to frame rejections in different ways. Sometimes I get rejected because the publisher has already bought something similar. Other times I get rejected because the publisher just didn’t connect with it. If I get feedback from various places that sounds similar or points to the same thing, then I know it’s time to pull back and take another look. In those cases, rejections can make me a better writer. But they definitely don’t make the writing life easy. That’s why, for me, I have to enjoy the journey I’m on. I have to love what I’m working on, I have to enjoy my writing rituals, and I have to rely on friends who are on the same journey.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here and TO READ PART 2 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.

A LITTLE BONUS FEATURE–THE BOOK TRAILER FOR WHEN WATER MAKES MUD

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