Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Picture book writing’

kid-lit writing wisdom

Today’s wisdom comes to you by Shanna Silva. In addition to sharing her wisdom, Shanna is offering a copy of her latest book A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, illustrated by Agnès Ernoult. You can find how to enter for the drawing at the end of this post. Here’s Shanna. . . .

Thanks to Alayne Christian for inviting me to be a guest blogger on Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom! Alayne asked me to write about the fusion of humor and heartwarming, which I explored in my new picture book, A Dog’s Guide to Being Human (Yeehoo Press).

A Dog's Guide to being Human

Just between us, I’m not an expert on humor. It’s subjective. If you look at how many different forms of comedy exist, there’s a full spectrum ranging from knock-knock to bawdy. Everyone gravitates to their own idea of funny.

But it’s hard to write funny if you’re not funny yourself. My adult sense of humor leans acerbic and sarcastic – not appropriate for Kid-Lit. So, I started to think about humor in children’s literature. What do kids find funny? So much! The ridiculous/improbable, bathroom/body humor (I have 3 sons, enough said), silly rhymes, messes, irreverent and the unexpected, and many more. Humor can be subtle or obvious, visual or spoken, or even implied.

To write humor for kids, I try to put myself in their mindset. We were all kids once! What books made us chuckle and why? It’s good to revisit these books and deconstruct the ha-has. My kids loved the “No, David” book by David Shannon. Mostly because there was a bare tushie picture, which they found endlessly hilarious. It was also about a kid doing all the wrong things and having no impulse control. The protagonist does all the things kids might want to try, but can’t. It’s vicarious misbehaving, and that’s why it’s funny.

I didn’t necessarily set out to write a funny story with A Dog’s Guide to Being Human but the material lent itself to humor. It’s a high concept story about a dog teaching a new baby how to be a human being. The book is from the dog’s POV, which is in itself, funny. How many times have I wondered what my dog was thinking? Sometimes I can almost see a thought bubble over his head because he’s so expressive. The takeaway is writing from an unexpected or unconventional POV can be funny.

When writing the book, I thought about the intersection between canine and human behavior. Why would a kid find these words/concepts funny? Can I picture an illustration that will further extend the joke?  Would an adult also find this funny or at least smile? There are certain universal funny things, and animal behavior can appeal to anyone.

Yehoo Press, my publisher, was wonderful in letting me be involved in the illustrator choice. My criteria were clear to me – the person has to “get” funny and be able to draw humor, which is a very specific skill set. I wanted nuanced art that showed the mutual love between a child and her pet, but that also portrayed some of the incorrigible traits of dogs.

Agnès Ernoult the illustrator, understood my words beautifully. She did an amazing job of bringing my story to life and capturing the very essence of what the book needed. And yes, she can draw funny (see below).

Human's Guide Alayne Christian blog image 1 v2

Now onto the heartwarming recipe. What makes something heartwarming? The key, for me, is relatability. What does the language/picture/thought evoke? Is it nostalgia? A memory? Recognition of a common human condition? There are certain universal feelings/experiences that should get a response from any human with a beating heart. It might be the preciousness of a child, the internal nod of “been there, done that,” knowing what will likely happen next, or even wishful thinking. For a child, this may happen on a different level than an adult reader, but the common thread is that it’s an emotional response.

Below is the opening spread from A Dog’s Guide to Being Human that reflects heartwarming.

[Note from Alayne: The text says, “My name is Smudge. I am a good boy who like treats, chasing squirrels, and playing fetch. My humans brought home a tiny baby. She has no fur. As she gets bigger, I will teach her all the things I have learned about being human.”]

Human's guide Alayne Christian blog image 2

This art has multiple layers of heartwarming for me: a new baby, an excited/welcoming dog with his tongue hanging out, a grandpa, birds in the trees, kids playing, a balloon released by a little girl, diversity of characters, a vibrant neighborhood, and pleasing colors. It looks like a pretty cool place to be, full of happy creatures and family warmth.

What do humor and heartwarming have in common? I think they’re both connective devices for people to find common ground in their experiences and feelings/thoughts. There are certain universal truths that even two people who disagree on everything can have in common. The combination of all these ingredients is a story that can temporarily take you out of your own troubles, refocus, and put a smile on your face. And isn’t that one of the things that books are for? An escape, which is very often critical to kids, and to show them how the world can be (even if it’s not their personal experience). But, that’s a whole different blog post for another time.

Human's Guide Alayne Christian blog image 3

I hope that readers of all ages enjoy A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, and find both humorous and heartwarming co-existing in the text and art. Smudge is a character born from my heart and I hope he will continue his mischief and tutorials in future books.

Thanks for reading my thoughts. I hope they’re helpful in some way to creators and readers.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from The Boss:

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

Bruce Springsteen

About Shanna

head shot shanna silva copyShanna Silva is an author and Broadway Producer. She’s written three children’s books: A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, Passover Scavenger Hunt and Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups. In addition, she’s the author of over 45 hi/lo books for emerging readers. Sometimes, she writes for grown-ups, too. To learn more about Shanna and her books, click here.

To purchase A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, click here!

To enter the drawing for a chance to win a copy of A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, all you have to do is leave a comment. The deadline to enter is October 10, 2022.

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

BONUS LINKS TO ARTICLES ON WRITING FUNNY PICTURE BOOKS

Adding Humor to Children’s Stories. A presentation by John Bladek-PHD

Writing for Kids: How to Write Funny Stories by Allison Tate

Writing Humorous Picture Books by Laurie J. Edwards

Funny Books for Kids by Babies to Bookworms Blog

ReFoReMo Day 20: Author Cindy Williams Schrauben Packs a Punch with Humorous Picture Books

ReFoReMo Day 12: Author Todd Tarpley Explores Humor

Funny AND Female: A Research Project by a Hoity-Toity Otter (and not Abi Cushman)

Layers in Humorous Picture Books by Laura Lavoie

Writing Funny Picture Books by Darcy Pattison

The following is for chapter books, but some of it can be applied to picture books.

Funny Writing for the Unfunny by Cyndi Marko #ChaBooCha

BUT WAIT THERE’S EVEN MORE!

TO ACCESS OUR FREE COURSE WITH ALL OUR KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS, CLICK HERE!

 

Read Full Post »

and the winner is!

Congratulations to giveaway winner Angel Gantnier! She has chosen complimentary enrollment in my picture book writing course Art of Arc.

From the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team to you and yours . . . 

and a Happy New Year!

See you in 2022!

Read Full Post »

Beth Anderson

The last “wisdom” post for 2021 has been posted. But I’m excited to share that most of the team will be returning to share more wisdom in 2022. If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know that we have already shared a wealth of wisdom and a treasure trove of tips. If you have read (or you do read) all the posts, you will see that combined, they amount to a full course in picture writing, and then some. I want to offer my gratitude to all the generous authors who contributed to this collection of wisdom posts. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! And I want to thank you, our blog readers, for taking time to follow us and sometimes give us lovely comments that let us know our work is all worthwhile. It means a lot.

In return for our wise authors’ generosity, I hope you will consider supporting them and me by spreading the word about our books and services, buying the books (great Christmas gifts), and sharing our posts. And then, the ultimate gift to an author is always reviews. Please, if you’ve read our books, post reviews. Following is a list of our team members linked to our websites so you can learn more about our books and services. Following the list you will find just a sampling of our many books. I believe most of us have many more that aren’t shared in this post.

In the spirit of giving and to honor the message of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS, I’ve decided to offer a holiday gift to one lucky winner of my giveaway drawing. Following our three collages of our books, you will find the information about the giveaway. And then, finally, you will find links to all of our posts at the end of this post.

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

Untitled design (3)

Untitled design (4)

Than

GIVEAWAY!

Enter for a chance to win your choice of

Complimentary enrollment in Art of Arc

Complimentary access to my webinars

A thirty-minute first impressions critique Zoom call with Alayne

A copy of any one of Alayne’s books (In U.S. only. I can offer a PDF otherwise.)

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLDEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make It Rain

HOW TO ENTER

  • Follow my blog.
  • Share any one of our wisdom posts on social media.
  • Comment on this post telling us that you have followed and shared and that you want to be included in the drawing.
  • The deadline to enter is December 17th, and the winner will be announced on December 18. Unfortunately, any book giveaway won’t arrive before Christmas.

In case you missed the news . . .

Analyze with Alayne 3 11 wk course

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

WRITING SATISFYING AND EFFECTIVE ENDINGS (part 1, part 2, part 3, bonus post 1, bonus post two)

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

Read Full Post »

Analyze with Alayne 3 11 wk course

CURRENTLY, THIS COURSE IS ONLY INTENDED FOR PICTURE BOOK FICTION, WRITTEN IN CLASSIC STORYTELLING STRUCTURE, WRITTEN IN PROSE, AND NO LONGER THAN 800 WORDS. Note: if 800 words, I may encourage you to cut words and tighten the story to get it closer to 500 words. If you are in doubt about the story you want to work on, I’d be happy to look at the manuscript you have in mind for the course before you sign up.

You will receive

  • The Art of Arc course
  • All Alayne’s videos and webinars
  • Weekly to biweekly zoom recordings with Alayne’s feedback for your story and your classmates’ stories
  • Feedback from your classmates via a private Facebook group

Our analysis and your revisions will be based on the classic story/character arc structure. Though the course has much good material for you to read and consider on your own, our focus will be writing the beginning, middle, and ending. We will also cover some of the most common problems I see in manuscripts that I read or critique.

SUMMARY OF COURSE STRUCTURE AND SCHEDULE

Following is a short summary of how the course will be structured and scheduled. It will not be necessary for you to be available for live meetings, but you will need to get your assignments in on time. Detailed instructions will be supplied with the course materials. Schedule may vary slightly in unexpected circumstances.

Week One

  • You will read lesson eight (Showing vs Telling)
  • and read the first portion of lesson 10 (Other Common Issues)
  • You will do homework.

Week Two

  • You will read lessons one (Beginnings and Endings)
  • and read lesson two (After the Hook)
  • You will do the homework.
  • You will read supplemental blog posts and watch a webinar

Week Three

  • You will polish the beginning of your manuscript and submit it to Alayne by Friday

Week Four

  • You will read lesson three (Story (Plot) Structure Overview)
  • and read lesson four (Cause and Effect)
  • and read lesson five (Episodic Stories)
  • You will do the homework and watch some videos
  • A video (or link) with a Alayne’s feedback for week three (your beginning) will be sent to your email by Sunday

Week Five

  • You will read lesson six (The Middle – First, Second, and Third Attempts to Solve Problem) and do the homework
  • You will read additional supplemental blog posts and watch a webinar

Week Six

  • You will polish your manuscript’s middle
  • You will revise your beginning
  • and submit the work to Alayne by Friday

Week Seven

  • You will read lesson seven (Darkest Moment, Climax, and Ending) and do homework
  • You will read additional supplemental blog post, and possibly watch a webinar.
  • A video (or link) with Alayne’s feedback for week six (your revised beginning and polished middle) will be sent to your email by Sunday

Week Eight

  • You will polish your manuscript ending
  • You will revise your beginning and middle
  • and submit work to Alayne by Friday

Week Nine

  • You get a breather
  • A video (or link) with Alayne’s feedback for week eight will be sent to your email by Sunday

Week Ten

  • You will do a final polish of your full manuscript
  • and submit it to Alayne by Friday

Week Eleven

  • You will receive your final feedback recording from Alayne by Sunday
  • Alayne will be available via the private Facebook group to answer final questions until the following Sunday

Click the links to learn more about Art of Arc, Alayne’s critiques, and Alayne’s webinars.

Alayne’s bio:

Alayne Kay Christian is a multi-award-winning children’s book author and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. She is the former acquisitions editor and art director for Blue Whale Press. 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. Alayne spent fifteen years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature. 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

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

Alayne’s fourth picture book, FAITH BENEATH THE BRIDGE is planned for release in the fall of 2022. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing and book designs share her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart.

A COURSE AND CRITIQUE IN ONE FOR ONLY $155.00!

Enrollment will be open until December 17. Classes will begin January 10, 2022. 

If you already have the Art of Arc course, your cost will be $100.

If interested, please contact Alayne or leave a comment. A review of your manuscript will be required before enrollment.

Read Full Post »

All books Christmas

CHRISTMAS GIFT AND STOCKING STUFFER IDEAS ABOVE!

I promised a bonus post for writing effective endings. So, here it is. If you missed the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team’s free three-part mini-course, click on the following links Part 1, part 2, part 3.

Bonus Post

YOU JUST MIGHT GET WHAT YOU NEED

by Alayne Kay Christian

As authors, teachers, and critique writers, we talk a lot about what the main character wants. We ask, “What is his goal or desire?” And sometimes, we think about what he needs that drives the story. I challenge you to grab a stack of books and see if you can find stories that have both a want and a need. Very often, what the main character thinks he wants in the beginning of the story isn’t what he needs to transform by the end of the story. But his “want” is what motivates him to take action and move forward in the story. And most often, the main character nor the reader really knows what that need is until the turning point in the story. But as a writer, it is super helpful to know the need before you start writing your story. Knowing the need that will be revealed in the end will be your guiding light in writing the rest of the story.

Your character’s want is usually something he is seeking externally. And while the need is usually shown in the end as something external/physical, it stems from something internal. This is where what I call the turning point comes in. He has a realization, change in thinking, change of heart—whatever it might be—that causes him to think differently about his approach to things. Then he takes action on that new way of thinking. Once the character gets what he needs, he is a changed person who likely views his problem/goal or the world around him a little differently from that point on.

Think “before” and “after.” Who was your character when he first stepped over the inciting incident threshold into the story world? And who is he when he steps over his darkest moment into his turning point and new world? How has he changed in the end?

Sometimes it works to think of “want” as motivation (the fuel that moves the character forward through the story) and the “need” as the true story goal (the thing that creates change.)

Not all picture books have this “want” “need” thing going on. But I urge you to analyze as many picture books as possible to see what you discover in this area. Also, consider analyzing your own stories to see if you already have it. If your story only has a “want,” might it strengthen your story to give your character a need as well?

FOLLOWING ARE SOME EXAMPLES

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED written by Alayne Kay Christian and illustrated by Polina Gortman.

In the beginning, Weed wants nothing more than to be seen or noticed. But would achieving that in the end have transformed him in any way on a deeper level? Or would he remain the same Weed that is just a little happier for a moment until he starts feeling “unseen” again? Would that have been the best message to offer readers? Would it have been the most satisfying ending? I think not.

What if, what Weed needs is to look outside himself and see others instead? In doing so, Weed doesn’t only experience a change within himself; he effects positive change all around him. So, his want fuels him to move forward in the story, but the need that he discovers through his struggle to get what he wants is the real heart of the story.

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA written by Alayne Kay Christian and illustrated by Joni Stringfield

In the beginning, Emily wants to live closer to her grandparents, but since this isn’t possible, she must change in some way. She needs a way to feel close to her grandparents even when they are miles away from her.

PRINCESS IN TRAINING by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger

In the beginning, Princess Viola wants to be a proper princess and the darling of the kingdom. But what she needs in order to experience real change in the end is to be true to herself. And once this need is revealed, her want is satisfied as well (but not exactly how she expected it).

MOSTLY MONSTERLY by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott Magoon

In the beginning, Bernadette wants to make friends and fit in. But what she needs is to be true to herself in a way that also gets her what she wants. And once this need is revealed, her want is satisfied as well.

JEREMY DRAWS A MONSTER by Peter McCarty

In the beginning, it’s not clear what Jeremy wants, but the illustration gives a sense that he wouldn’t mind going outside where all the other kids are. Then it seems he wants to keep the monster he draws happy. But, even more important, to get rid of the monster. And though the story seems like it’s about imagination and fun and games, what it’s really about is Jeremy’s need to leave his apartment/room and make friends. And everything that happens in the story, eventually leads Jeremy to what he needs.

SAM AND EVA by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

In the beginning, Sam wants to draw solo. Eva wants to draw with him. But until they get what they need, which is to cooperate as a team, drawing isn’t quite what they wish for.

'Tis the season!

Even though, THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLDEDO CHRISTMAS WEED is a great book all year round, I learned that people tend to buy it at Christmastime, which means I only benefit from sales once a year (if I’m lucky). It’s currently on sale at Amazon for 43% off. Following is a two-minute YouTube video about the inspiring true story of the Toledo Christmas Weed, which is followed by the book trailer. A lovely Christmas gift for your favorite child or teacher, or to donate to your library. I give books to Toys for Tots. How many copies could you buy to donate at this great sale price?

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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. Before, I move on to our wisdom, we have some good news and announcements to celebrate. You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Happy Book Birthday

Screenshot 2021-08-20 at 6.48.40 PM

Pippa Chorley’s latest picture book OUT OF THE BOX (illustrated by Danny Deeptown and published by Marshall Cavendish) will be coming into the world in mid-November. You can find some more info on KIDLIT411 here. CONGRATULATIONS!

OddBeasts_CV-1

Laura Gehl’s board book ODD BEASTS: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals (illustrated by Gareth Lucas, published by Abrams) was born on November 2. HAPPY BELATED BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Congratulations!

Who is a scientist

Laura Gehl’s book WHO IS A SCIENTIST? received a blue star review from Kirkus!

“Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.” – Kirkus Reviews

You can read the whole review here.

stitch by stitch

Rob Sanders’ recently released picture book STITCH BY STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT received a blue star review from Kirkus and a starred review from Publishers Weekly! This baby is off to a good start! CONGRATULATIONS!

“Storytelling and history, beautifully stitched together.” Kirkus Reviews

Read the whole Kirkus review here.

Read the whole PW review here.

Words of Wisdom

To kick off our series on writing effective and satisfying endings, I will share an excerpt from Art of Arc that I think is an important tip.

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

COMMON MISTAKES WITH ENDINGS

by Alayne Kay Christian

One thing that I often see in picture books that I edit or critique is the last lines feature a character that is not the main character. In my opinion, the main character should always be the one under the spotlight at the end of his/her story.

Another mistake that I often see is bringing a new character into the story toward the ending for no other reason than to facilitate resolving the story.

Allowing the main character to be a victim of circumstances instead of the master of his destiny or allowing the main character to be the recipient of a sheer-luck induced or happenstance resolution that comes way too easily are common issues in stories I critique.

Similar to the above, having someone else solve the main character’s problem usually diminishes and destroys your main character’s role as the hero of his story. There are stories, where the main character seeks out or asks for help. However, I prefer stories where main characters make their own choices and decisions and then take action based on those decisions. I’ve seen older or wiser character’s help guide the main character toward the direction of the final action and discovery. I’m sorry, I can’t think of any books off hand. But if you study picture books, you will find the older or wiser rescuer or guide seldom shows up, and if one does, the main character remains the star/hero of the story in the end.

Ahh, I just thought of two books that have someone help solve the problem. They are both older books, but good examples of allowing an older/wiser person to help while still keeping the main character the star.

In MADDI’S FRIGE by Lois Brandt, the mom eventually steps in to help. However, only because the main character decided to tell her mom about her problem. But in the end, the main character and her friend Maddi are the stars in the spotlight. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In THE LADY IN THE BOX by Ann McGovern, it can almost feel like the mom hijacks the story once the kids decide to tell the mom about their problem. However, the reason this works is the story always remains told from the main character’s point of view. And again, she is the star in the spotlight at the end of the story. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In both of the above examples, the story topic included a problem that was too big for a picture-book age child to handle by herself. For either character to successfully handle these tough situations would have been unrealistic.

Now, I’m going to move away from common mistakes and move on to different types of picture book endings. Many of our wise authors talk about the same topic, I’m just saying it in a different way because I think it’s valuable information.

SOME TYPES OF PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

As some of our wise authors have stated there are at least two kinds of endings. The “Aww” ending, which is usually an emotionally touching ending, and the “Aha!” ending, which usually leads the reader to a surprise or some sort of unexpected realization. Then there is the “Wow!” ending which is when the ending is so unexpected that it changes the way you view the whole story. There is sometimes a fine line between a wow ending and an aha ending. The other ending, which is also a surprise, is the funny (Ha-ha) ending where the payoff is so huge or funny that the reader can’t stop thinking about it and wants to read it over and over. All the endings are kind of closely related because they all have elements of surprise mixed with satisfaction. And they all touch the reader on an emotional level. So, that tells me that emotion, surprise, and satisfaction are key factors in creating a strong and effective ending.

The “aha” ending feels like a surprise but it also feels inevitable—but not predictable. It’s kind of like, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Or maybe even a “Wait. What?” When it comes to aha and wow endings, there is little better than giving our readers a moment where they suddenly see or understand the story in a new or clearer way. If our story ending causes the reader to pause and reevaluate the story, we’ve done a good job.

With the “aww” ending, the reader is satisfied and touched emotionally because after a “try and fail” arc struggle, the main character’s emotional needs are finally met. This doesn’t always come from the character getting what he wants. Sometimes, it’s from getting what he needs. With the aww ending, the reader usually has a sense of empathy with the character, and this empathy generally started earlier in the story via the emotional roller coaster ride, but then that final moment of empathy is where the reader gains a sense of satisfaction. “Oh good. All is well.” This kind of story ending leaves the reader feeling comforted with a strong sense of closure, which stems from the discomfort the character experiences earlier in the story (the emotional roller coaster ride).

As you’ll see many of our wise author’s mention offering a surprise twist at the end of a story. This will give the reader one last boost before closing the story. And the surprise twist is a great tool for setting up aww, aha, wow, or ha-ha endings.

Joyce Wan says, “When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun. When done well, an unpredictable twist can turn a good book into a classic and is often what makes repeated re-readings a pleasure. In subsequent readings, the reader enjoys being in the know and re-reading a book when you know what’s coming can be enjoyable in its own right too.”

CIRCLE BACK PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

by Melissa Stoller

I love writing picture book endings that circle back to the beginning of the story. The endings I craft often refer back to the opening lines, and then add something more to show that the main character has grown and changed throughout the pages of the book.

For example, in SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke)

Opening lines: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

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

Readers follow Scarlet as she learns to let go of perfection and find her own magical creativity.

In PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot) –

Opening lines: On the first day of school, the wind rattled and leaves swirled. Molly’s knees knocked as she buttered her toast. Would the other kids like her?

Ending lines: That season, the girls planted trees of friendship. And built bridges of hope. Together. In Peace Park and beyond. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Readers follow three girls of different faith traditions through the seasons of a school year, as they discover friendship and celebrate their differences.

And in READY, SET, GORILLA! (illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew) –

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

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

Readers follow Gorilla as he learns that having friends and playing fairly makes him a winner.

As you create your own picture books, experiment with different types of endings and see what resonates with you. Happy writing!

A SATISFYING STORY ENDING IS UNEXPECTED YET INEVITABLE

by Kirsti Call

Jane Yolen taught me that a satisfying ending is unexpected yet inevitable.  Here are three endings from books I’ve written–always with Jane’s advice in mind.

  1. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD‘s ending is surprising, yet makes sense. Mootilda’s bad mood has es-cowlated all day, until she chooses to think about her friends instead of herself.  The final spread shows her with the sign:  “Cow-nseling, expert in the field.”  Mootilda sits with her pen, notebook,a box of tissues, and Crow on a couch across from her.  He begins his session with, “I’m in a bad mood.”  This ending also mirrors the beginning of Mootilda’s journey when she says, “I’m in a bad mooood!”
  2. COW SAYS MEOW has a circular ending where the end hearkens back to the beginning, and encourages the reader to read the book again.

OPENING line: “Cow says… Meow.”

CLOSING line: “Cow says…Pssst. Can I meow again?”

3. COLD TURKEY ends with the opposite of the beginning. You guessed it, he starts out cold, and the last line is: “TOASTY TURKEY!”

Circular, surprise and opposite endings are only a few of the numberless ways we can create satisfying endings.  So, don’t be afraid to try out multiple endings for your story–read, re-read, write, re-write and find the solution that gives you that satisfied feeling of closure. You’ll find it’s almost always something unexpected….yet inevitable.

GIVE THE READER SOMETHING TO TAKE AWAY

by Beth Anderson

Endings and beginnings are equally difficult. And they’re intricately dependent upon each other. Endings need to circle back to the beginning in some way—as an “answer” to the story question posed, or the “bridge” that takes the story into the future. As a person who writes historical stories, the decision of where to start and stop is crucial. Just as identifying that inciting incident is essential, knowing when your emotional arc is complete is, too.

  • Endings can’t be too abrupt. Or drone on and on.
  • Endings must be clear, but not sappy or didactic.
  • They should elicit an emotional reaction, linger, resonate.
  • The take-away must be just that—something a child can carry in their mind or heart or funny-bone.

When I work on revising an ending, I copy and paste the section into another document and redo, redo, redo. Small tweaks, rephrasing, rearranging. Over and over and over until I work through to that just right piece that will bring satisfaction and go a step further to carry something forward. I like to think of the process of writing as mining—digging deep into story and also into self to find that special take or “heart” to shape, polish, and thread through. Your ending is the resulting “gem.”

I like endings that provide an invitation for a child to rethink themselves.

In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I used the “conventional you,” addressing the reader, in both beginning and end. The last page says: “Next time you sound out a word, think of Ben and Noah. Thay wud bee pleez’d beecuz that iz egzaktlee wut thay wonted!” It’s sort of “congratulations, you’re a great thinker, too”—a chance to rethink self.

Another way I think of endings is laying a thought or idea in the lap of the reader.

The end of Lizzie Demands a Seat! plants the seed for carrying social justice action forward.

Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses ties back to the the beginning question, “What good was an extraordinary nose?” and Kelly’s desire for a “power” that would make him special. At the end he discovers that his special power is inside, then… “James Kelly gazed at the waiting passengers. He would bet each person had something special inside. He could almost smell it.” (the last sentence is also in the opening) This is an invitation for a child to think about what makes him or her special, but also a “lay it in their lap” ending.

The end ties up the story with a bow, a gift for the reader to carry forward.

At the end of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle, people around Tad finally see the goodness in the “problem” child when his relentless, pandemonium-producing wriggle benefits others. This ending is an affirmation of the capableness and goodness of children. A gift.

Endings are hard. But…a good ending makes a story sing!

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, Pippa Chorley, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, and Rob Sanders.

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

On Sunday, I shared my personal story and the inspiration for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Yesterday, I shared the homemade book that I made for my granddaughter’s third birthday. This was the very first version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I also shared a little bit about the path to publication and an update on my granddaughter. 

In today’s video, I read the published version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I hope you enjoy it. My next video will demonstrate ways teachers, parents, and adults reading to children can help the kids remain engaged by interactive sounds and motions. 

Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Also, if you want a copy in time for a Grandparents’ Day gift, there is still time to buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Book Depository (with free shipping around the world) and more.

I offer some projects and activities for kids to do to feel close to their loved ones on one of my old websites here.

For teachers:

I’ve found when doing school visits around Grandparents’ Day that prior to reading the book, kids like to share about their grandparents. It’s a good way to bring understanding to the kids that some kids have the same situation as them and others have very different from their situation. Some kids have grandparents in other parts of the country, some have grandparents in other countries, some have parents somewhat nearby, some have grandparents just down the street or next door, some have grandparents who live with them, and some have grandparents who are in nursing homes, hospitals, or have died. To save time, you can have more of a survey type thing where kids raise their hands if the question you ask matches their situation with their grandparent.

 

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in Part 1, Part 2, and now Part 3 on this topic. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and just in case you missed it, you can read part one here and part two here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

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

Words of Wisdom

HOW TO CUT AN ORIGINAL 304-WORD BEGINNING TO 76 WORDS

by Michelle Nott

Often when we sit down to write a new story, our beginnings are like Fred Flintstone’s feet scurrying fast underneath his car before it really gets going. But what the reader needs is not all the revving up, but the final kick that sets your story in motion.

As you begin to write, let your mind spin, write everything down. Then, once your manuscript is complete (not necessarily done, however), go back to the first words, paragraphs, pages, and see where your story really gets going. It may sound painful but go ahead and delete whatever doesn’t really jump-start your story.

What should be left is:

A hook – a detail about the setting, an interesting fact about your character, a catchy phrase, anything that will literally grab your reader’s interest and make them to want to read more.

An inciting incident – the hook will lose its grip on your reader if something doesn’t happen to your character. This moment should motivate your reader to want to see how events play out.

Here is an example from my upcoming picture book, TEDDY LET’S GO!

The absolute very first draft went like this… (and you don’t have to read it all to see it was entirely too long!)

“Many, many winters ago, a little girl was born. Her grandmother sat by her hospital window. She looked at the tiny hairs on the baby’s head and started to thread a needle. She touched the baby’s cheek and cut some shapes out of cotton fabric. She giggled seeing the little baby’s tongue slipping through her tiny lips and snipped a piece of red felt. The baby’s eyes were often shut, so Grandma picked some wide-open eyes from her craft box. She sat for hours threading, stitching, cutting. With every paw sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.

Then, with the strength of stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label.

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma’.

What a relief to be done! We left the hospital. Grandma gave me a final squeeze and packaged me up for Christmas. I peered out of a corner of the wrapping paper. The sun came and went several times. Lots of people came to visit and stood around a big tree with bright lights and colors. I could see Grandma’s mouth wide-open laughing. I could see a baby’s mouth wide-open crying. A bigger girl sat under the stockings. Her mouth was closed. She was combing her doll’s hair. Who will unwrap me? Grandma’s voice came closer, then I felt like I was flying. From my view, the baby was no bigger than I was. A lady whispered to her, “Look at this. It’s your first Christmas present. Let Mommy open it for you.”

That’s how it started…and how the crying ended. I lay down next to the baby. She rubbed her nose against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

A much later draft that caught the attention and interest of my agent and editor went like this… (a much tighter version of 76 words from the original 304!)

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear. Then she wrapped me up. And I floated.

The smell of pine drifted through my paper. I drifted from one pair of hands to another.

My head spun. My tummy clogged up with cotton. I pushed through the packaging.

“Teddy,” she said, “for you.”

[ILLO: A patch on the bear reads, “Specially hand-made by Grandma.”]

A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

By cutting out all the “revving up,” the story is more interesting, and the reader gets hooked much quicker. But all that preliminary spinning is often necessary for you, as the writer, to understand your characters and to be able to write the best version of their story. So, write as much as you need when you start, all the while knowing that you will go back and tighten in a way that serves your story best.

As for the final version of Teddy Let’s Go, it is slightly improved yet again. And that, you’ll be able to read as soon as it releases in 2022.

HOW TO USE MENTOR TEXTS TO GUIDE YOU WHILE WRITING BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I usually study beginnings before I write a beginning. This is where I turn to mentor texts. When I’m studying comp titles for a particular book I’m working on, I often keep a spreadsheet of things I want to keep track of. For more of how I keep track of mentor texts on spreadsheets, you can read my post here.

When I look at beginnings, I look at how the author bookended the first and last lines. When they are right next to each other on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to see how they fit together or diverge. I also notice what the author included on that first page. What are the things they wanted the reader to know right away? What did they leave out? Then I look at how they fashioned the beginning lines. What is the construct of those lines?

Then I look at my own work. I might try on first lines in various styles. I try out various starting points for the story. I sometimes even set a timer and write as many first lines as I can. Are there any gems? Are there ways I can combine? I realize it might take me lots of tries to get my first lines just right.

BEGINNINGS ARE A HUGE CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET THERE, THE STORY IS TRANSFORMED

by Beth Anderson

Thanks for this great topic – beginnings are such a challenge! Here are my thoughts….

Beginnings are difficult, require LOTS of work, and can make or break a story for an editor and readers. They have to be strong—they have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Pressure! I have to push myself to just dive in and know that I’ll be working on that beginning later – after I know the arc, the heart thread I want to resonate, and where I end up. Beginnings and endings are integrally related. Here are my essential elements for beginnings with the kind of stories I tell (narrative NF and historical fiction) and some examples from my books.

> The hook: kid friendly invitation to readers that sets up the story question to be answered at the end, often it sparks an emotional response in the reader. Readers are pulled in by that question and read to find out the answer. In “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses we get the superhero kid hook and, literally, a question. The opening of An Inconvenient Alphabet addresses the reader and offers the promise of something puzzling—a battle with the alphabet.

> The essentials: What do you need to know about the character and setting? (nothing extra!) The main character and their goal/want/need should be up front. The setting can be implied by illustrations with specifics added later—we don’t need to start with dates and places, but we need a sense of time and place. While you want to ground the reader, you don’t want anything that’s not essential to bog it down. Fill in needed back story and context as needed later, interwoven with action. Examples: I open with Tad Lincoln’s wriggle from birth, clearly involuntary; Prudence Wright’s (2/1/22) spark of independence; a bit about Ben Franklin and Noah Webster (but without names) and the American Revolution as rejecting the rule of England to set up the context and conflict.

> “Plant” seeds: What items or ideas will you need to support for later? What idea do you want to resonate at the end? I had to set up “Smelly” Kelly smelling water and recognizing the odor of elephants, and also the heroism “heart” of the story. On the first spread, Prudence Wright is visually connected with the antagonist that comes later. Sometimes the illustration on the title page or an epigraph (quote) with an illustration, as in the case of Tad Lincoln’s story, strengthen the opening by providing essential information and/or a few seeds.

> Action ASAP: What’s your inciting incident? How can you get to the action, the problem, the emotional response immediately? Often when sharing manuscripts, a critique partner will point to the spot where we first see characters in motion and conflict, and say, “This is where your story really starts.” There’s nothing better than beginning with action. That’s what pulls a young reader in, though that’s often a challenge. It’s harder to get the essentials, the seeds, and the hook embedded immediately in the action. But…I think it’s the most powerful. In Lizzie Demands a Seat!, the first spread has Lizzie in motion, heels clicking, in a hurry, purposeful. Also streetcar, horses, NYC, the pieces of setting we need right away. We get the heat, the stress of being late, and BOOM inciting incident. The shocking unfairness of what happened is obvious – kids recognize unfairness. Then after that emotional hit, we get more context to fully understand society of the time—incentive to keep reading.

Beginnings are a HUGE challenge, but when you finally get there, the story is transformed. The test is to see if you can keep crafting it until you’re there. I think it takes a lot of practice, ongoing learning, to learn how to embed all this information in a short, powerful opening. How can you embed key points without devoting a sentence to each of those pieces? How can you interweave the essentials within the action? The best way to learn about beginnings is to analyze those you consider effective. Good luck!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Mentors for Rent

Balanced Advice About Writing for Children and Young Adults

Blog - Anitra Rowe Schulte

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Ellen Leventhal | Writing Outside the Lines

Children's Writer and Educator

KidLit411

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Susanna Leonard Hill

Children's Author

johnell dewitt

nomad, writer, reader and aspiring author

Teresa Robeson 何顥思

books * science * nature * art * cultural identity * food

Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Penny Parker Klostermann

children's author

Blogzone

Practical tips to help your writing dreams come true...

Caroline Frye

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Noodling with Words

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

365 Picture Books

A picture book every day

Julie Hedlund - Write Up My Life

On Living the Dream and Telling the Tale

VIVIAN KIRKFIELD - Writer for Children

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Carol Munro / Just Write Words

Can't write it yourself? Call Just Write Words.

Jo Hart - Author

A writing blog