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Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Rothberg’

kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

Words of Wisdom

ENDING WITH A BONUS

by Laura Gehl

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ellen Leventhal

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDINGS THAT WRAP THINGS UP IN A NICE PACKAGE OF WORDS

by Vivian Kirkfield

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

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

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

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH:

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

                          Hurry up!

                          Eyes down!

                          Don’t speak!

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

Satisfying Ending: Sarah took a slow deep breath.

                              She slid out the papers.

                               She read out loud!

                               S.E. Goode

                                Cabinet Bed

                                No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

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

                               She had built more than a piece of furniture.

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Lines: Click! Clunk! Hiss!                   

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

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

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

MOVING FROM TROPES TO TREMENDOUS ENDINGS

by Rob Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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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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