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Posts Tagged ‘Mentor Texts’

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley shared their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles. If you missed it, you can read KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3) here. And you can read Ellen Leventhal’s and my mini-course in Part 1 of 3 here.

Today, Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller share their Writing Captivation Middles toolboxes, roadmaps, wisdom, and tips. You won’t want to miss it!

Before we move on, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

My friends Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz‘s latest picture book COLD TURKEY (illustrated by Chad Otis) will come into the world on November 1. However, it is available for pre-orders now. CONGRATULATIONS!

cold turkey cover

Words of Wisdom

MARVELOUS MIDDLES

by Melissa Stoller

When writing picture books, it is important to craft snappy openings that grab the reader’s attention. It is also crucial to draft satisfying endings, so the reader wants to read the story over and over. But the middle of a picture book . . . that is notoriously difficult to get just right. Here are a few tips about turning the middle of the story from muddy to marvelous!

In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, Clear Fork Publishing, 2020), Sadie listens to Nana tell stories about their ancestors as they prepare for a Shabbat dinner. I knew that Sadie’s biggest wish at the opening was tell stories just like Nana. I also knew that, at the end, Sadie would find her unique voice and tell her special stories. So in the middle, I drafted three vignette stories for Nana to tell (based on my family history). I knew I had to keep these “stories within a story” concise and full of emotion that children could relate to. Because Sadie believes that Nana is the best storyteller, these vignettes had to rise to meet the readers’ expectations. So in drafting within this particular structure, I paid close attention to this important middle of the manuscript. I tried to include lots of emotional resonance and heart! And of course, Lisa Goldberg’s stunning illustrations and her vision truly added another layer to the whole book, and especially to the vignettes in the middle.

Here are two examples:

Middles Melissa 1

Middles Melissa 2

Good luck drafting your own marvelous middles for your picture books!

WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES TOOLBOX AND ESSENTIAL STEPS

by Beth Anderson

Muddy, mediocre middles quickly quash readers’ enthusiasm for the story. To create a captivating middle you’ll need a full toolbox of writer skills. Here are the essentials as I see them—and the reminders I give myself as I revise.
• Plot the arc with a clear inciting incident and escalating tension.
• Build scenes.
• Keep your main character active.
• Pay attention to motivation and stakes—keep the emotional arc driving the story.
• Create effective transitions.
• Enhance turning points.
• Craft page turns.
• Use pacing techniques to keep the story moving.
• Weave in necessary context and make it relevant to the action—no info dumps.
• Immerse readers in the experience of the main character. This involves “Show don’t tell” and other considerations.
• Tie it all tightly with the essential, uniquely-through-you, “heart” thread.
For me, beginning, middle, and end evolve simultaneously in the writing process because you really can’t craft one well without the others. But once I’m able to eke out a middle, I have lots to work with, and I’m on my way!

EXCAVATING THE HEART OF A COMPELLING MIDDLE

by Dawn Prochovnic

Middles are what seem to come most easily to me—or more accurately, it’s the story ideas for which I have strong middles that I actually sit down and write and stick with to the end.

I have a LONG list of story ideas, and I update this list regularly as new ideas pop into my head. Many of these ideas remain just that—ideas. They seem SO GOOD on the surface, but I have difficulty figuring out how to make something of them. Other ideas really grab hold of me and insist on being written. For me, that urgency and insistence comes from the middle of the story. It’s the middle of the story that begs to be let out of my head. It’s the middle of the story that spills out of me. It’s the middle of the story that compels me to find a strong opening and satisfying ending, and it’s the middle of the story that I sometimes have to completely reimagine in order for the story to reach its full potential.

My forthcoming book, MAMA’S HOME (Familius, 2024), provides a great example of this process. The working title for the original draft of this story was CHILDHOOD BLISS. It was a slice-of-life story about a joyful, play-filled, childhood. I wrote it on scraps of paper and in notes on my phone while my youngest child (now a sophomore in college) blissfully engaged in the imaginative play area in our local children’s museum. I loved the idea of a story about everyday, child-centered activities that bring joy into a child’s life, and that collectively make for a bliss-filled childhood.

Over time, it became clear that the story would need a stronger hook in order to become a book. I loved the story enough to keep working on it, which led to different stories with essentially the same “middle.” For example, for a time, the story was entitled GRANDMA’S HOUSE IS HAPPINESS, and associated revisions incorporated the elements of connection with an active and engaged grandparent. Eventually, the focus shifted to the excitement and delight in sharing everyday, joyful activities with a parent who returns home after being away for an extended period of time. With that angle, the current title emerged, and I revised the story to incorporate the preparations for and anticipation of Mama’s return.

When I submitted this version to Familius, their team wondered if I might be open to a more specific reason for Mama being away— the arrival of a new sibling. This brought additional revisions that incorporated the anticipation and preparations for a new sibling along with Mama’s return and featured activities that could be engaged in with a new sibling in tow. For this revision, I also looked for opportunities to emphasize and lean into the enduring and evolving nature of the relationship between Mama and an older child.

Throughout the revision process, the essence of the story, childhood bliss, remained intact as the story evolved into the version that will be made into a book. The story idea that took hold of me from the start and insisted on being written was the middle. It’s the part of the story that I connected with so deeply right from the start, and that kept me motivated to keep working on it until it was just right for its eventual publishing home.

ROSIE’S ROADMAP TO A CAPTIVATING ENDING

by Rosie Pova

The meat of the story is in the middle, so make sure it’s full of action, go ahead and throw in a little mid-way twist, too, and let us learn something new or something more in-depth about your character. Grab the reader’s attention by fleshing out an irresistible personality for your character, bring us along on the emotional journey with every scene, and plant little questions we’d want to find out the answers to.

Middles can be challenging, but they are also an opportunity to go all in and turn a reader into a fan.

Now, go move and shake your middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

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

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

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 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 ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

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

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

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 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 ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we believe it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. When we last left off with the Wisdom series, we talked all about writing outstanding first lines and beginnings (part1, part 2, part 3). Now it’s time to tackle middles. I struggled with words to describe a good middle and my favorite words were “captivating” “compelling” and “engaging.” They all have similar meanings. If your middle doesn’t compel readers to keep turning pages, it probably needs some tweaking or a rewrite. The same goes for engage or captivate. What will make your readers want to keep reading? With my many years as a professional critique writer and the former acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, I can tell you that you can have the best beginning and ending, but if the middle doesn’t keep the story train on the track, the story will never survive.

This month, I’m excited to share our wise authors’ many fabulous tips and examples for writing strong middles. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ middles, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Today’s post will focus on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. Ellen Leventhal and I were on the same wavelength, so we both wrote about cause and effect. Probably no surprise, but my portion is quite long, so I’ll start with Ellen’s wonderful thoughts and examples and then finish with my mini-lesson for writing middles. Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Beth Anderson’s fantastic book TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President House (illustrated by S.D. Shindler) is coming into the world on October 5!

Congratulations, Beth.

TAD LINCOLNS RESTLESS WRIGGLE FC

My friend and fellow Word Birds 2021 member Nancy Churnin has two new babies being born!

DEAR MR. DICKENS (illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe) with a birth date of October 1 and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg) with a birth date of October 5.

Congratulations, Nancy!

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

Congratulations!

My longtime critique partner and friend Hannah Holt’s fun, funny, and educational picture book A HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: With Professor Chicken (illustrated by Korwin Briggs) is now available for preorder.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Final Cover Underwear_Medium

Now for some words of writing wisdom. . . .

Words of WisdomTHE MIDDLE SHOWS US HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER GOT TO THE END

by Ellen Leventhal

Somewhere between the excitement of those glorious first lines and the relief of coming up with a satisfying ending, something has to happen. With picture books, we don’t have much time or space to bridge those two, but the middle IS the story. It’s the journey, and that’s true whether you are utilizing a traditional arc or something a little different. We still need to see the character move forward toward that end. When I teach writing to kids, I talk a lot about cause and effect. For example, in my book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, I first jotted down the following. Because there was a flood (cause) Charlotte lost her possessions, and her home was ruined.(effect) Because her home was ruined, (cause) she had to go to a shelter (effect). I did that for each scene until the cause and effect got us to the ending. It would be so much easier to say something like, “Charlotte’s house flooded, but she learned that doing kindness for others would help her heal, so she gave a boy her teddy bear.” Easy, but not a story. The middle is where we learn all about Charlotte, her emotions, obstacles, and growth. It tells us HOW she got to the end.

I don’t always approach middles that way, but when I do, I come up with different cause and effect scenarios. I think about all the different ways my character could reach the ending. How do I want my character to achieve the goal? Or not achieve her original goal? Once I choose a path, I begin to write. I work on flow and transition, always asking myself questions such as, does this work with the beginning? Does it lead to the outcome? Do I want to change the outcome? Is it child-friendly?

This is just one trick in the toolbox of writing middles, and to be honest, it doesn’t always seamlessly lead to a satisfying ending. But that’s ok because, as we all know, writing is revising.

The middle has the power to bring our character to life and truly bring us on the journey with her. It’s where we see her emotions and obstacles. It’s where the reader hopefully connects with the character. Writing the middle is not easy, but when that messy middle flawlessly brings us to our satisfying ending, it’s magic.

WK_FloodOfKindness_Cover_2 (002) Official

SOLID MIDDLES VS FRACTURED MIDDLES

by Alayne Kay Christian

I went through the Art of Arc course to see if I could choose just a couple top tips, but there is so much that goes into writing compelling middles that it was difficult to choose. However, the fact that I dedicate two full lessons to the topics of cause and effect and episodic stories convinced me to share some already existing blog posts on these very important topics. You will find the links below. These two posts don’t only have a wealth of information, they offer worksheets and ways to test if your story is episodic. These are old posts, so any deals or giveaways are no longer valid.

EPISODIC STORIES AND CAUSE AND EFFECT

FRACTURED MIDDLES

What would a Dachshund look like without a middle? A school bus? The Eiffel Tower? Imagine just about anything without a middle, and what do you get? What if the Dachshund, school bus, or the Eiffel Tower look like if they had a weak middle? What if the middles of the Dachshund, school bus, or Eiffel Tower were disconnected from the beginning and ending of your story? In the following video, I have a little fun demonstrating solid middles vs fractured middles using crude and wacky drawings.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

CAUSE AND EFFECT RUFFLE

In the following video I do a clumsy ruffle demonstration explaining how a solid cause and effect thread vs a broken one can impact your story’s middle.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE (a little something extra)

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER v3

I love picture books that offer an emotional roller coaster ride. Since, I already have an example that I did for a few recent manuscript critiques using the book THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, I share the PDF via the following link Middles Those Shoes. This example highlights the many wonderful ups and downs this story ride offers. In addition, it points out the links in the cause and effect chain. This analysis is a good example of one way to use published books as mentor texts.

The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride are usually created by tension that results from obstacles/conflict/struggles. As I was going through Art of Arc’s lessons about writing middles, the following blurb jumped out at me. I thought it worth sharing as I end my portion of this post and start preparing my next blog post with more great words of wisdom from our blog team.

Straightforward and struggle-free stories, with no apparent consequences or sense of what might happen if the main character doesn’t succeed, will generally lose a reader’s attention. But when obstacles (conflict) create struggles and force the main character to make choices and decisions, the story is taken in new and exciting directions. This engages the reader.”

I can’t wait to share more good news and the treasure trove of wisdom about middles from our other wise authors. Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Kirsti Call, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, Rob Sanders, and Melissa Stoller.

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

REMINDER SEASON OF KINDNESS

Before I move on to the video, I want to remind everyone that your opportunity to win fabulous prizes for you, your children, or your classroom will end on October 1. The Season of Kindness guidelines can be found here. I hope you’ve been working on creating kindness, and I will be pleasantly surprised in the coming days when you share your acts of kindness in comments.

CHECK OUT THESE FABULOUS PRIZES

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity, humor, fun, kind acts, bonus book photos, and following the guidelines accurately. The top eight winners’ names will be drawn from a hat randomly, and prizes will be offered in an elimination process. So, the first name drawn from the hat will have the first pick of the 8 prizes. The next person will choose from the remaining seven prizes, and the third will pick from the remaining six prizes, and on and on.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

For this round of Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom Q & A, I asked the team why it’s important for writers to read children’s books and how one might get the most out of reading them. To read the fabulous answers from last week (Part 1 of 2) click here. Before we get started with words of wisdom. If you’d like to see Rob Sander’s inspiration for TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE, check out this clip from the Today Show. It’s very good. Congratulations, Rob!

Words of Wisdom

SPREADSHEETS AND MENTOR TEXTS!

by Beth Anderson

Since others are offering thoughts on why it’s important for authors and illustrators to read children’s books, I thought I’d share a little on how I go forward from there. One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started this journey was from critique partner Julie Rowan-Zoch. She not only told me to read LOTS of children’s books, but also to log them on a spreadsheet for later reference. On my log, I record genre, structure, NF/F, topics, and notes which can include story summary, beginnings and endings, likes/dislikes, and anything else interesting. And WA-LA! I have an amazing reference tool that grows and grows! It’s a 5 minute job that really pays off. If I need to see how an author made a complex topic simple, or used 2nd person narration, or broke the 4th wall, or tackled a bio, or used quotations, or handled 2 main characters, or superheroes, or a myriad of other things, all I need to do is search the document for key words and I’ve got some books to go to as mentor texts. Taking that a step further, when I find a book that knocks my socks off, I type up the text. (It’s truly astounding what you see when you type up the text!) I note page breaks, line breaks, word count, etc. And then use colored highlighters as I analyze and examine how that author did what they did. Transitions, context, characterization, conflict, arc, vital idea threads, backstory, voice, imagery, and on and on. I look for whatever I’m struggling with or find particularly amazing. Many times I use the same typed up text for different elements of craft as I work through different manuscripts. I’m learning from the masters! The more you dig in, the more magic you see! And then…at different points in my own manuscripts, I get out those colored highlighters and attack my own words on the page. Seeing elements of craft in others’ work, helps me identify needs in my own.

STUDYING ALREADY PUBLISHED BOOKS CAN HELP MAKE YOUR STORY SING!

by Vivian Kirkfield

My love affair with picture books began on my mother’s lap as she turned the pages of THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. The year was 1949 – I was two years old – and with every new book, I discovered a magical world. Stories like BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, THE CARROT SEED, and GOODNIGHT MOON, spirited me to places I had never been and introduced me to characters I had never met. Although written more than 70 years ago, those stories and other classics can still provide today’s writers with tips on structure, character development, plot, pacing, and the importance of opening lines and satisfying endings. Of course, it’s also crucial to read current books published in the last five years, as well as all of the Newberry and Caldecott winners.

Read first for enjoyment. Let the words and the story surround you like a beautiful melody. Then read the book again and pay attention – how did the author draw you in – what engaged you. Deconstruct the text (some people like typing out the words) and examine the opening lines, the page turns, the ending. My bookshelves are overflowing and I can’t always buy all the books I’d like to, but libraries are a fabulous resource, as well as YouTube where you can find many books being read aloud, especially the older classics and the popular award-winning newer ones. Even the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature can be helpful in providing opening lines and a bit of the flavor of the book. There are also Facebook groups and blogs and challenges like ReFoReMo.com (Reading for Research Month) where you can find discussions and information on using picture books as mentor texts.

And here’s a tip on using mentor texts in a clever way that a writer friend, Judy Cooper, shared with me: Find your favorite picture book in the genre you are writing (nonfiction, rhyme, fractured fairytale, or whatever) – the one you absolutely love. Then copy out YOUR own manuscript onto little post-it notes and stick one on each corresponding page of the already published book that you love – your opening lines go on the first page of the published book, and so on. Do you have enough scenes, page-turns? Does YOUR story have a good rhythm to it. Does it engage you like the published book did? If the answer to any of those questions is no – please don’t give up – remember what Stephen King said, “Writing is rewriting” – and studying already published books can help you make your story sing!

ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO DEVELOP AS A WRITER IS TO READ, READ, READ

by Ellen Leventhal

My first thought about why I read children’s books is, “Why wouldn’t I?” I love them! Reading children’s books has always been part of my life as both a child and an adult. That may sound strange, but it really isn’t. As a teacher I read them as part of my job, and as I writer, I read them as part of my job. A fun part, but still part of the job. I consider reading children’s books a type of professional development. I want to continue to improve my craft, and one of the best ways to do this is to read, read, read.

I read middle grade novels for the joy of reading, since I don’t write them (at least at this moment). I mostly write picture books, and I am working on a chapter book, so I approach them a bit differently. I start by reading them through to allow myself to feel the story without dissecting it. Then I think about something I’m having some difficulty with and look at how other authors handle it. Did they slow down the action to ramp up the emotion? Did they use figurative language to make it more lyrical? What did they do to add a twist at the end? I sometimes type out the text and study the page turns, etc. I find this helps me with my pacing.

But honestly, I read children’s books to surround myself with something I love and something I love to share. And when I face the blank page and begin to wonder if I can do this, I look at my stack of books and they give me the spark I need to get started.

READING IS ONE OF THE EASIEST WAYS TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

When I teach writing workshops at schools, libraries, and professional conferences, the most important advice I give to aspiring writers of all ages is that reading is the easiest way to become a better writer. When young writers press for more information on why the above statement is true, we talk about how reading exercises the muscles in the brain and how a stronger brain is capable of writing stronger stories. We also talk about how reading helps expand our vocabulary and trains our brains to recognize and replicate the structural aspects of effective writing. We talk about how reading other authors’ books can help writers come up with their own ideas. And we talk about how nonfiction books for young readers are a particularly good resource for those (adults included) who want to learn something new, because children’s literature is especially good at presenting complex information in comprehensible ways. We also talk about how reading a good book can be relaxing, which might be just what your brain needs to help you come up with good ideas. And, we talk about the Pleasure Reading Award I earned for reading the most books in Mr. Snook’s fifth grade class and how I’m certain that all of that reading significantly contributed to my eventual successes as a writer.

I could go on and on about the wisdom of reading children’s books, but the truth of the matter is, the main reason I do so is because I sincerely enjoy it. I especially love picture books, which likely comes as no surprise, since that is what I most often write. When my kids were little, we read stacks and stacks of picture books together, on topics carefully curated to their particular interests, coupled with whatever authors/publishers/themes I was researching at the time. My library system allows up to 99 books to be checked out by a single patron. Pre-pandemic it was not unusual for me to have upwards of 80 borrowed picture books in my home at any given time!

READING MENTOR TEXTS HELPS TO EXPLORE WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T WORK FOR THE BOOKS YOU WANT TO WRITE

by Michelle Nott

I read children’s books, anything from picture books to MG, for many reasons.

First, picture books are an extraordinary combination of poetry and art which are two of my favorite things! Even if a book is not written in verse, the author has still chosen each word, literary device, and structure in a very intentional way. When I read picture books, I’m not only paying close attention to what authors write, but what they don’t. The white space is so important to create pause and reflection. It’s a true skill to understand how leaving words out can allow the text to say even more. Also, spare text leaves space for artists to use their talents to enhance the overall experience of picture books. For me, studying the balance between text and image is essential to creating memorable picture books and a true pleasure as well.

I also write middle grade, and so read a fair number of novels for that age group as well. Again, it starts from a place of enjoyment. I used to teach middle school and absolutely loved this age group. But, it’s been a long time since I was that age or taught that age and my own daughters are older now, so reading current middle grade is important to keep up with the interests and dilemmas of this important age. It also reinforces how many issues around friends, self-discovery, family, and school are universal and timeless. Studying pacing and structure from various texts (prose and verse) and knowing what types of stories are available, helps me also to explore what works, what doesn’t, and what I can uniquely bring to the world of middle grade literature.

READING MENTOR TEXTS INSPIRES, MOTIVATES, AND INFORMS

by Rosie Pova

If you’re in the business of children’s writing, you better be current on your children’s books reading.

For me, one of the reasons I read kidlit is so that I know what the market looks like. Is it saturated with too many books with the same animal/theme/style of writing?

If I’m working on a story, I need to know where it could be placed and how good of a chance it has to “make it” in the marketplace. How does it measure up to what’s already out there? How and why would it stand out? Has it already been done in the same or similar way? The answers to these questions help me course-correct in order to avoid future rejections and have publishing professionals tell me “it’s already been done” or “it didn’t stand out” whereas I could’ve done my timely research.

Another reason I read picture books is to get inspiration about the type of stories I want to have in my body of work. Sometimes the tone or feeling of a book grab me, other times, it’s the takeaway, or something particular about the character, the brilliance or absurdity of the title, the humor, an unexpected angle etc. I get clarity and get excited!

This gives me great motivation to write a story that would have a similar feel to it or evoke that kind of reaction in the reader, like it did in me. In other words, I use reading to give myself a general prompt. Some of my best stories have come to be that way.

Reading my colleagues’ work also gives me validation, makes me feel like what I do matters and there’s an audience for my work.

Those little gems are also great teachers on the craft! I could keep going with the reasons, but I will stop here and just say, we, as writers, must read. It’s that simple.

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING KID-LIT WISDOM POSTS LISTED BELOW

TO READ Part 1 OF WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS (MENTOR TEXTS) AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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FIRST A LITTLE INSPIRATION

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

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

Following is my little ditty.

 

 

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAY
by Alayne Kay Christian ©2016

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

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

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

OVERCOMING SELF-DOUBT and FREE GIVEAWAY

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

IMPROVE YOUR MANUSCRIPTS AND YOUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE READERSReFoReMo 2016

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

DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF PICTURE BOOK WRITING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

art of arc extra

 

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announcementsWhile I was off pondering future blog posts, taking a break from critiques, and editing picture book manuscripts, I discovered a great picture book writing course. To be fair, I wrote a picture book writing course! Today’s post will share some exciting news about my critique partners and friends. But I’m also EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE the launch of ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript – An independent study writing course. My Mama brought me up to be polite, so I’ll share the news about my friends first. We have had so much good news in the writing community this year that I can’t share it all in one post. My apologies to my friends who are not in this round of announcements.

olivers grumbles

My critique partner Yvonne Mes has two newly released picture books.

Oliver’s Grumbles – illustrated by Giuseppe Poli

Meet Sydney Nolan – illustrated by Sandra Eterovic

meet sydney

My critique partner Renee LaTulippe  authored poems in the recently released

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom!

nature poetry

snappsyMy critique partner Julie Falatko’s debut picture book Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)  will be released in February 2016. It is illustrated by Tim Miller.

My critique partner Dev Petty’s debut picture book I Dont’ Want to be a Frog was released this year. The illustrator is Mike Boldt. I don't want to be a frog

My friend and Sub Six member

Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book There was an old dragon

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight was released in August. It’s illustrated by Ben Mantle.

I just registered for my fifth round of Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) Since I am sharing friend’s books, Tara has been on fire! She had two books released this year and has several coming out next year. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL MY FRIENDS!

Piboidmo banner 2015Bear Book final cover 

AND NOW FOR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

art of arc extra

I’m happy to announce the launch of ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript. This is a self-study course that will deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and introduce you to other picture book structures. Understanding story and character arcs will help give your stories order and the tension that will energize them from the beginning to the end. This energy will not only drive your protagonist forward – it will also drive readers to turn pages and keep reading. The course offers worksheets that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger. You will gain the knowledge and receive the tools to assist you in analyzing your own work prior to investing in professional critiques. It guides you through a manuscript-self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely. It also shows how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance your stories in a way that will take them to a higher level. The tools provided are perfect for analyzing mentor texts, too! All the above and much, much more for less than the cost of one professional critique! Detailed information about the course, the very low introductory price, and my qualifications to teach this course can be found on my website.  You can find a few testimonials below.

TESTIMONIALS

ART OF ARC is one of the most comprehensive writing classes I’ve ever taken. It breaks down complex aspects of story structure in a clear manner that helped me to understand every element of picture books, from hook to satisfying ending. The worksheets helped me to dissect my stories and see what they were missing and how they needed to be rearranged, making the revision process a lot less painful. If you want to learn how to develop a great story arc with a hook, page-turners, tension, dark moment, climax, and satisfying ending – this class is for you! Alayne even includes links for writing resources.

– Donna C.

Children’s Book Writer

Alayne has outdone herself with this course; I don’t know HOW she does it. Things I thought I understood about writing picture books are now crystal clear!! Alayne somehow manages to make it simple and easy to understand yet delves deeper into the workings of a picture book than I ever have before, and I’ve studied picture book writing quite a bit!  Great information, wonderfully laid out to lead you systematically through analyzing and improving your manuscript. Almost every lesson gives really helpful examples. I loved this course! I’ll continue using it to polish my manuscripts in the future.

– Meg M.

Children’s Book Writer

Fresh. Straight forward. Thought provoking. Idea generating. WOW! It clarified and enhanced my understanding of things I’ve learned prior to the course. You’ve explained things I’ve heard before in a way that is clicking better now. I feel I have a better eye for story arcs, extraneous information that bogs stories down, lack of forward movement, how authors keep or do not keep tension in their books, etc.

– ART OF ARC Beta Students

Detailed information about the course, the very low introductory price, and my qualifications to teach this course can be found on my website.

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ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is author, teacher, and mentor text maven, Marcie Flinchum Atkins. Thank you, Marcie, for sharing your story with us.

A Case of the Why Nots

How I Built (and am still building) My Platform

By Marcie Flinchum Atkins

The buzz about platform always intrigued me. What is a platform? What would/could my platform be? I read lots of books on platform before even attempting it. You see, many years ago, when blogging was newish, I had a blog where I reviewed children’s books. But it ate away at my writing time because I had to read all of those books and then review them. I loved it, but I knew my new platform couldn’t be that. People were already doing that. I had nothing new to add to the conversation.

I knew I didn’t want to start a new blog until I knew how I was going to focus it. But I also knew that I wanted to develop a blog and a website BEFORE I had a book deal because I knew that once I did, I’d be too busy to learn all of these skills.

I’m an obsessive list maker.

I made a list of things I was passionate about:

  • Using mentor texts to teach kids how to write
  • Making time to write
  • Organizing

Unfortunately, they weren’t really related and they were for two different audiences—teachers and writers. While I knew there would be some overlap (people like ME were both teachers AND writers), I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I knew I could blog about those things.

I wanted to put things on my blog that I was already using in some other capacity. In other words, I didn’t want to create MORE work for myself. I wanted to share things I was already doing.

I was writing mentor text lessons for my favorite books. Why not share them for other teachers to use?

I was doing tons of crazy organizing stuff for my writing life. Why not share them with other writers?

I was using many spare moments between my full-time job and being a mom to write, nearly everyday. Why not share my tips with other mom writers? Making Time to Write  and Mom’s Write  were born.

Later, I started adding one more thing. Mentor texts for writers. For years, I’ve been using the techniques I did with students in my own writing life. Some writers I knew had never even heard of the term “mentor texts.” Why not share my tips with other writers?

All of those WHY NOT’s became my platform.

I made a list of things I knew I needed to learn more about:

  • Metadata and SEO
  • Using WordPress and particular plug-ins
  • Mailchimp and newsletter writing
  • Creating an e-book
  • Setting up sales on my website
  • Making video
  • Twitter

Each month, I spent time learning a new skill. I felt overwhelmed, but I did learn new skills.

Over that learning time, I did several things with my platform:

Word Choice Cover Screenshot

Mentor Text Ebook Cover Screenshot

Mentor Texts for Writers Book 1 Cover

 

This all sounds like I spent all of my time on platform. I promise I spent very little. I chipped away at all of these things over a few years. Eventually they added up. They are still adding up.

Have I figured out this whole platform thing? Nope.

I am still VERY passionate about organizing and making time to write, but I have very little NEW wisdom to pass along. If I come across something interesting or a new tip, I will do an occasional post about it. But all of my tips are archived on my blog. I imagine, just like my career, my website and blog will evolve along with me.

But the good news is that I’m not bored with my website yet. There are times when I simply do not have enough time to blog, but I have yet to run out of ideas. I followed my passions—things I was interested in and knew a little something about. Then I thought about how I could make those things available to my audience. Why not share those passions with others?

Marcie Pic Nov 2013About Marcie

Marcie Flinchum Atkins teaches fourth grade by day and writes in the wee hours of the morning. Her book-nerdiness shows through because she is a certified school librarian and also holds an MA and MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University. She blogs about making time to write and how to use books as mentor texts at: www.marcieatkins.com.

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Summer SparksThis week my guest post CAUSE AND EFFECT is being featured in the Summer Sparks challenge hosted by Tracey Cox. There is some great information, so I hope you will give it a look.

Also, here is the link to the top viewed post on my blog this year. USING CHARACTER-DRIVEN PICTURE BOOKS AS MENTOR TEXTS TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN WRITING, by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I want to share that I have been taking an excellent course on chapter book writing. Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write for  Middle Grade and Chapter Book Course is a 14 week experience that will help anyone turn their writing dream into a reality. Offering several worksheets per lesson and providing thorough information on each chapter book element, Emma methodically walks her students from the beginning of their book to the end. I highly recommend this course.

Finally, in case you missed it, I have started a picture book manuscript critique service.

Next week my ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series will feature guest blogger Vivian Kirkfield. She will offer her thoughts on “getting in the backdoor” with your manuscript.

Happy writing!

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sub six series 2

When submitting a manuscript, you want to submit your best work. One way to make your story shine is by learning from others. Marcie Flinchum Atkins shows us how to study other authors’ picture books to improve our craft. Thanks, Marcie, for this lesson in using character-driven picture books as mentor texts. Click on the images of the printables to get PDFs.

Using Character-Driven Picture Books as Mentor Texts to Improve Your Own Writing

By Marcie Flinchum Atkins

What is a Mentor Text?

A mentor text is a stellar text that is used as an example of good writing technique. If you study a mentor text, not just reading it as a reader, but reading it as a writer, you can improve your own writing. It’s like learning from the experts.

Professional athletes watch the techniques of others in their field. Artists look at the paintings of others artists and study HOW they created that work of art. Writers should be no different. We can read for pleasure, and we should. But reading with a writer’s eye is critical in improving at your craft.

The Most Important Thing

We can read and read and study phenomenal books for kids, but if we never apply what we’ve learned to our writing, then it’s not much help. Let me give you an example, when I teach kids about using sensory words in their writing, we spend time looking for how authors incorporate sensory language into their writing to help the reader really feel like they are experiencing the story. However, the most important piece of this lesson is giving kids time to actually try it out. After we’ve learned about it, we take a piece of writing that they are already working on and we try to find places to add sensory details. This is the application part.

As a writer for children, we need to do this too. If you are having trouble creating endings for your picture books (I have this problem), the first thing to do is to study a lot of different ways to end it by looking at real books. But the MOST IMPORTANT thing is to TRY IT OUT in your own manuscript. You may have to try many different ones before you nail it, but you must try it.

Character-Driven Picture Books
In this particular “Mentor Texts for Writers” session we are going to take a closer look at character-driven picture books.

What is a character-driven picture book?

The focus of the picture book is on the character and, in most cases, something unique that that character has/does/is.

If you want a great definition and examples of character-driven picture books see Pam Calvert’s website: WOVEN WITH PIXIE DUST.

Why Character-Driven Picture Books?

I read a lot about what agents and editors want because I’m still looking for an agent and/or an editor. Something that I keep seeing over and over again in their wish lists is CHARACTER-DRIVEN PICTURE BOOKS.

I have some character-driven picture books in my work-in-progress stack, but I know they are not quite there yet. So I set out to study them—what makes them character-driven and what were some of the common characteristics.

The Process:

1) Look for books in the area where you need work. In this case, character-driven picture books.

How did I find the picture books I wanted to study?

Trust me, I don’t have the time the go to the library and scan the shelves. I do a little bit of online research and I ordered them on my library’s online catalog.

Book Cover Mosaic

I did scan my kids’ bookshelves. I asked my friend Google: “character-driven picture books.” This led me to a few.

Amazon.com Amazon has this awesome feature that shows you what other books people bought who bought the same book you searched for. Sometimes it’s not helpful, but most of the time, it’s a goldmine.

Screenshot of Amazon

I narrowed my study to ONLY books that were written and illustrated by two different people because I’m a writer only. There are a ton of great character-driven picture books by author/illustrators (OLIVIA by Ian Falconer and MR. TIGER GOES WILD are just two great examples from author/illustrators). But so much of their books are revealed through the pictures, so I knew if I wanted to study writing technique, I’d need to look at books written and illustrated by different people.

2) Read those books.

First I read them just to read them—mostly to myself or to my own kids. I made some notes about things I noticed about them as a genre.

Things that I noticed:

  • Many of the character driven books are author/illustrator books
  • Girl characters outweigh boy characters by a LOT (note to self: hole in the market). There are some boy characters, but many of them upon reading them are not about the character, they are all about action. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Some of them have turned into franchises or multiple book deals and branching into other areas. For example, Fancy Nancy has multiple books and now is in beginning readers. Pinkalicious has brought about Purplicious and many others.
  • Many of them are stand alone titles and are really good all by themselves.

3) Pick a handful of the ones you thought worked really well. You probably will not LOVE all of them. But really delve deeper into the ones that you wouldn’t mind reading again and again.

I have provided a printable form as a guide for some of the things you might want to notice.

screenshot of character analysis chart blank

Screenshot of Explanation Slide

Here’s one that I filled out for LITTLE HOOT by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Screenshot of Little Hoot analysis

4) The form I created is only ONE way you could study your favorite texts. Here are some more ideas:

Photo of Ribbit with sticky notes

5) Apply what you learned to your own writing

REMEMBER: This is the most important part. There are a number of ways you could apply it to your own writing, but a lot of it depends on where you are in your writing.

  • BRAINSTORMING. If you are just thinking about a new book but haven’t drafted it yet, this is a great time to brainstorm more about your character.
  • ANALYSIS OF A CURRENT DRAFT. If you have been noodling around with a character-driven picture book draft(s), and you can’t put your finger on what’s working or not working, it might be time to analyze your draft to see where you can improve.

I’ve created a printable for you to insert your own idea or analyze your own draft.

Screenshot of brainstorming chart blank

If you want some suggestions for character-driven picture books (written by different authors and illustrators), here is a list.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BIG MEAN MIKE by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon

DESMOND AND THE NAUGHTYBUGS by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Anik McGrory

FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

LADYBUG GIRL by David Soman, illustrated by Jacky Davis

LITTLE HOOT by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

MY NAME IS NOT ISABELLA by Jennifer Fosberry, illustrations by Mike Litwin

PART-TIME PRINCESS by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cambria Evans

PINKALICIOUS by Victoria Kann, illustrated by Elizabeth Kann

PRINCESS IN TRAINING by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger

PRINCESS PEEPERS by Pam Calvert, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning

THE RECESS QUEEN by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Laura Hauliska-Beith

RIBBIT! By Rodrigo Folgueira, illustrated by Poly Bernatene

SPOON by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

TALLULAH’S TUTU by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

VAMPIRINA BALLERINA by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by Le Uyen Pham

THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by Christine Davenier

If you’d like a printable PDF of this list click here.

I’d love to know how this exercise worked for you. Leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail (MARCIE [AT] MARCIEATKINS [DOT] COM).

What are your favorite character-driven picture books? I want to study more of them (preferably ones written and illustrated by different people). Leave a comment below to tell us your favorite character-driven picture book.

Want More Information on Mentor Texts?

If you want more information about how I use mentor texts in my classroom, you can visit my website and/or sign up for my teacher useletter. I also do workshops on teaching with mentor texts in the classroom.

If you want more information about using mentor texts as a writer, you should watch the webinar I did with the WOW Nonfiction Picture Book group. I also created a resource page to go along with that webinar with links and printables.

Bio:

marcie 15 for web small

Marcie Flinchum Atkins teaches fourth graders how to write by day and writes her own books for kids in the wee hours of the morning. She can also be found wrangling her own kids and reading books with them. She blogs about making time to write and using mentor texts at www.marcieatkins.com. Marcie holds a MA and MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University.

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