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Posts Tagged ‘writing picture books’

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.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

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

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

Words of Wisdom

MIRROR THE BEGINNING WITH THE ENDING, BUT WITH CHANGE

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT YOUR STORY’S ENDING

by Pippa Chorley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Michelle Nott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRAP THINGS UP BUT KEEP THEM WONDERING

by Dawn Prochovnic

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

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

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

This is the nest where I like to rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C’mon,” Lucy said with a smile.

“I’ll race you back to Gram’s.”

She took hold of her wagon and ran.

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

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

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

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

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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

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This two-part Q&A with Kathryn Otoshi was originally posted way back in 2013. I’m sure a lot has changed for Kathryn since then. But one thing I know for sure is her success continues to grow. I thought it might be fun to bring this oldie but goodie back for all you Kathryn fans. Following is the interview as it appeared in 2013.

Before I get started, I want to give a giant THANKS to Kathryn Otoshi for taking many hours out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and for sharing so much of herself with us in this interview. Today, I am happy to post Part 2 of my interview with Kathryn and even happier to first offer the bonus of Kathryn’s thoughts regarding THE TOP FIVE THINGS THAT MAKE A SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHED BOOK.

There are many definitions floating around for “Independent Publisher.” I tend to like the following: Jenkins Group, Inc., the organizers of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, define “independent” as 1) independently owned and operated; 2) operated by a foundation or university; or 3) long-time independents that became incorporated but operate autonomously and publish fewer than 50 titles a year.

Keep an eye out for future posts on independent publishing.

BONUS INTERVIEW QUESTION AND ANSWER

AKC: What are the top five things that you think make a successful independently published book?

KO:

  1. Write about a story or topic you feel strongly about — First and foremost there must be a real love and passion for the story you are writing about. I’ve always felt that the author must be absolutely fascinated with the story they are telling in order to be motivated to finish it. And also for the reader to be engaged with it as well! Another suggestion: do your research. Do your homework. If you want to connect with your readers, then start connecting with them before your book is published. Be willing to read a draft mock up to whoever your target audience is. I read to classrooms, teachers, booksellers, young kids, and parents to get their feedback on my children’s book. I found that experience invaluable. Then when your book is published, you will need to go out and do author visits. You must feel passionate about your story for you to be able to speak about it over and over, again and again and still keep it real.
  2. Strong production value — The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t apply to children’s books! With thousands of books for a reader to choose from, having a strong production value with appropriate design does indeed matter. An elegant embossment or appropriately placed foil stamp on a jacket, for example, is never lost on your readers. They might not be able to vocalize about exactly why one book might feel ‘good’ over another, but they will instinctively know that the loving details are in there. Graphic design is key. Bringing on a professional graphic designer for your book to have a strong visual appeal is necessary. If you are independently publishing a book, how your book ‘reads’ across a room or how you package it becomes a deciding factor on if your book is picked up – or not.
  3. Have a business plan and budget — While it’s true, that most of us agree that writing and illustrating is a labor of love, publishing is a business. You must factor in all aspects when you publish a book. Be willing to take off your creative hat momentarily to look at how much it will cost to properly produce your book. And how much will it cost to properly support your book in the market so that it will have the best chance for success?  Editing, designing, distributing, printing, marketing and advertising all have a price tag attached. Other questions that involve your overall budget are: how much should you list the book for?  How many copies of the book should you print for the first run? Will you print 2,000 copies of this book? Or 10,000 copies? And if it’s a success, do you have enough buffer in your budget to be able to push the print button right away?
  4. Marketing strategy and distribution is key — Almost 1/3 of my overall budget is set aside for Marketing. Consider the review copies that need to be sent out. Budgets need to be set aside for contests and awards, for conferences, travel, promotional materials, fliers, postcards, bookmarks, ads, website updates and social media. The list goes on. Decide up front how much you want to set aside to promote your book so you know how much you’ll need to budget for. And although Distribution should probably be in its own category, I put it next to Marketing here for the purpose of consolidation. But in a nutshell, having the right distributor for your company to get you into the right channels can make all the difference in the world for the success of your book. I found John Kremer’s web site very helpful in obtaining an initial list of book distributors to start the researching process.
  5. Get involved — Go out there and get involved in your book community! Do readings, go to conferences, meet booksellers, join organizations, have coffee with other authors and illustrators. Listen to your peers speak at events. While writing is by its very nature, introverted, the other part of getting your book out there is you getting yourself out there. So move away from your desk, out of your room, through the door and into the world. In today’s book market, part of sharing your story is also about sharing a part of you.

MORE ABOUT KATHRYN AND WRITING ILLUSTRATING

AKC: How many awards have your collective works received?

KO: Collectively over 20, I’d say.

Teacher’s Choice Award, the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor, and the Flicker Tale Award.

AKC: Which came first, the desire to illustrate picture books or the desire to write?

KO: My desire to simply tell a story rises above my desire to illustrate or write a children’s picture book.  If I absolutely had to make a decision between the two though, I’d probably choose writing…but whew – it would be a very close call.

AKC: Out of all the books you have illustrated, do you have a favorite? How about those you have written?

KO: I suppose I had fun illustrating ONE the most. In general, I’m a representational illustrator. So for my book ONE, where all the blobs of color are symbolic, this was very unique style for me, but also the most freeing. Originally, One started as a story about differences – physical differences. I thought, “What if I created a story about children with totally different colored faces?” Instead of using white, black, brown skin tones, etc – I could use completely different colors like green, purple, blue and orange!  Gradually in my quest to make One as simple as a story possible and boiling it down to its core essence – I ended up making the children’s faces into splotches of colors instead. It was a risk because of the abstraction, but I think that by doing so, I got more leeway to touch upon complex themes and subject matters.

AKC: Where did you get the idea or inspiration for your books?

KO: Mostly from life. “What Emily Saw” is about a day of discovery through the eyes of a little girl. But it’s also based on my own childhood memories. There’s a page spread in there where there’s a hill that transforms into the back of a dinosaur. That’s what I used to imagine when I was growing up! That the hills were the backs of sleeping dinos!

AKC: What advice would you give to writers?

KO: I would say…keep it authentic. And being passionate about your story.  It needs to be meaningful to you if it’s going to mean something to someone else. Everything is key to making a children’s book work because everything is so honed down: the text, the illustrations all the way to the graphic design and production of the book. Even the size of the book and the style of the font have a big influence on the overall look and feel of the book. A children’s book is so limited in text, you have to ask yourself  – What  is each page saying? Is it leading toward my theme? The core ingredients to making a children’s book really solid is to ask yourself a lot of questions about what is working and what is not. Is it really saying what I want it to say in the least amount of words possible? Then before the book is released, it is crucial to read the story to children, parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians – the book lovers in general. They are your audience. Stories are meant to be shared, after all.

AKC: What advice would you give to illustrators?

Before starting the illustration, ask yourself the question: What am I trying to say here? And then ask yourself, What else can I tell the reader that wasn’t in the text? The illustrations are just as important as the text in a children’s picture book. And the pictures should say what the text does not. If your story starts out as “Morris was a lonely mole” …the illustrator has this wonderful opportunity to show us how lonely Morris really is! Is he so lonely, there are cobwebs on his doorknob? Are there briar branches blocking his pathway? A welcome mat that is new and shiny, and never been used? Pictures are a glorious way to engage young readers. Children see and understand images before they ever learn to read. If we get children interested in reading children’s books at an early age, they will become readers for a lifetime. How wonderful! I’m thrilled to be a part of that process.

So for me, it’s making the page come alive. I’m still learning how to do this, by the way. It takes all my experience about composition, leading the eye to where you want it to go, using gesture, POV, lighting, values…and finally the x-factor — your own style, which will summon the page and bring your characters to life.

Through a story, if you are able to create something that influences a young reader in some positive way, however minor – to me, that is true success.

 AKC: Do you have any projects in the works that you are able to tell us about?

KO: I am currently working on a chapter book called “Peter Dobb and the Wondrous Pod” and then two more picture books. I’m coming up with ideas for a graphic novel to pitch in a year. Just recently, I’ve started working on a short screenplay which deals with love, loss and memory.

Please read INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN OTOSHI, PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR AND SUCCESSFUL INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER – PART ONE for Kathryn’s bio with photo, a list of her published books with links, and a link to KO Kids Books.

This concludes my interview with Kathryn Otoshi.  I hope you have found it as informative as I have. With one final thank you to Kathryn, we are done.

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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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AAS Q&A 4HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT? 

Elaine Kiely Kearns, Children’s Writer

www.kidlit411.com

That is a really good question and I think that it may be a little different for everyone you ask. For me, though, I feel that my manuscript is complete when it has gone through the following stages:

1.) I have written and rewritten my draft at least three times by myself.

2.) I have had the manuscript critiqued by the members of my group.

3.) Based on that feedback, I have revised the manuscript again.

4.) Then, I send the manuscript off to my freelance editor for critiquing and general feedback based on its strength and marketability.

5.) I revise again based on her feedback.

6.) After another pass to the freelance editor, I send it back again to my critique group.

7.) Usually by then the suggestions from the group are minor. Only then do I feel it is ready to be subbed around to agents and editors.

This procedure is lengthy, and it requires lots of revision hours and patience! It has worked for me so far though, I have received great feedback from agents, and a few have even requested additional manuscripts. I also recommend reading Ann Whitford Paul’s book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. I use that book to get me through the drafting process and initial revisions. If you’re a picture book author, that book is a MUST!

Thanks for having me visit your blog today, Alayne!

Cindy Williams Schrauben, Children’s Writer

This is one of the hardest question of all – for me, anyway. It is one that has taken me quite some time to reconcile. In fact, I still struggle with it at times. Feeling comfortable with the answer has required some self-imposed rules and “tough love.” I marvel when I look back at some of my early stories – stories that I loved. YUCK! Not only has my writing improved, but I can see that they simply weren’t ready. It is extremely difficult to be objective with your own work unless you are diligent. If you have a story that you have worked on over a long period of time, take a look back at an early draft – you’ll see what I mean.

So, here are a few simple, common sense guidelines that I have set for myself.

#1 – Write – follow all the rules for first drafts, revising, editing, etc.

#2 – Let it sit for at least a week, preferably longer – you’re too close to your story to see it clearly. You need distance to develop a fresh, objective eye.

#3 – Revise

#4 – Share – recruit new eyes

Share your work with other writers – ALWAYS. Relatives, friends, your kids? Sorry, they don’t count. Remember you should be true to your own work, but critiques almost always have some merit. If you get a critique that is tough to digest, read it over quickly – swear, cry, whatever you need to do – and then let it sit for a couple days. If you are anything like me, you will realize when you revisit it that there is wisdom there after all.

#5 – Revise, using the critique and your own best judgment. Be true to yourself while weighing the opinions of others.

#6 – When you can’t stand to look at it another minute – STOP – don’t submit –  let it sit, again.

#7 – Start all Over

Revise, print, read aloud 100 times, evaluate title, share, let it sit.

This step might be repeated many times over a period of weeks, months or even years – give it as long as it takes. If you just can’t stand to look at it anymore, let it rest for a while – a long while. Never send off a story just because you are sick of looking at it. Chances are, it’s not ready.

#8 – When you LOVE it again and feel confident – DO IT! Congratulate yourself and don’t look back.

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

Most of what I would have shared has been shared by the other team members. One thing I would like to mention doesn’t exactly have to do with how to know when your manuscript is ready to submit. But it is about when you know “you” are ready to submit. If you only have one polished manuscript, it would be smart to wait to submit. It is common for agents and editors to request more work if they like the manuscript you have submitted. Therefore, it is wise to have at least three (preferably more) polished manuscripts before you begin submitting.

Since the team did such a great job of answering this question, I spent my time researching what other people have to say on the subject. Following are some links for more excellent tips regarding being ready to submit.

Is Your Manuscript Ready for Submission?

8 Essential Steps Before Submitting Your Manuscript, by Karen Cioffi

http://www.karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com/2009/11/is-your-manuscript-ready-for-submission.html#.Uu0Ry_ldUjo

10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission, by Ingrid Sundberg

http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/10-tests-to-prove-your-manuscript-is-ready-for-submission/

Ready or Not, Here I Sub, by Tara Lazar

http://taralazar.com/2008/09/08/ready-or-not-here-i-sub/

Is Your Manuscript Ready to be Submitted to a Children’s Book Publisher? from Write4Kids

http://www.write4kids.com/blog/business-of-publishing/is-your-manuscript-ready-to-be-submitted-to-a-childrens-book-publisher/

Is Your Manuscript Ready to Submit, by Mary Keeley

http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/is-your-manuscript-ready-to-submit/

CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE OF HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT?

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