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ATTENTION TEACHERS, PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND WRITERS! WIN PRIZES!

Sienna wand

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Art by Brian Martin

POOF!

You are a cowgirl (or cowboy) fairy!

 

WRITING AND DRAWING CONTEST

FOR KIDS 7-11!

Holidays are coming! How would you like a gift card to help you buy gifts? Would you like two signed copies of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain to give as gifts? Or keep one for yourself and give the other away?

How to win . . .

Two signed copies of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain and a $25 Amazon gift card.

 

1. If you are 7-11 years old, draw a picture of a cowgirl or cowboy fairy.
2. And write a story about what you would do if you had cowgirl/cowboy skills and fairy powers. You are the main character or hero in this story. This story will be your adventure that results in something good happening for other people.
3. The story must be no less than 75 words and no more than 125 words.
4. The story must have a beginning, middle, and end.
5. Be sure to give your story a title (not part of word count) and to put your name as the author of the story. Sign your drawing too.
6. Honor system. You must create the story yourself and draw the picture yourself.
7. You may ask an adult to help you type the story (as you have told it) or take a picture of your handwritten story.
8. You may ask an adult to help you take a picture of your drawing.
9. You may ask an adult to help you enter the contest by posting it as a comment on this blog post by November 25, 2017.
10. You may do this as a class project. Everyone in your class will illustrate and write a story, and the class will vote to determine which story will be entered into the contest. Be sure to add to your entry your school name and location, your classroom number, your teacher’s name, and of course, the author’s name.

Cowgirl/Cowboy Fairy Abilities

As a cowgirl/cowboy fairy, you can . . .

• Ride horses.
• Use a lasso to capture anything.
• Herd cattle.
• Take care of horses, goats, donkeys, cows, pigs, and chickens.
• Fly.
• Use your wand and fairy dust to make magic.
• You can also add or create your own cowgirl/cowboy fairy powers and skills.
• Your friends may be fairies, humans, animals, or all of the above.

FOR ADULT WRITERS

Help me spread the word for this contest and your name will go in a drawing for your choice of one of the following:
• A signed copy of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Trying to Make it Rain
• A picture book critique
• A chapter book (first three chapters only) critique

GUIDELINES FOR ADULT WRITERS DRAWING

1. Share one of the five prepared tweets below.
2. Visit my page in the SCBWI BookStop and sign my guest book, which is located on the right under my photo. Be sure to have a look around. There are lots of great 2017 children’s books to view. If you signed my guest book previously, that counts – just let me know in your comment.
3. Honor system. Share news of the contest with your child’s (or children’s) teacher(s), or any teacher, and your name will go in the hat twice!
4. Comment on this post to let me know you have tweeted and signed my guest book. And your name will be entered in the drawing. Good Luck! Don’t forget to let me know if you have shared the contest with teachers, so I get your name added a second time.

PREPARED TWEETS

Children’s Writing & Illustration Contest. Great prizes! #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing Contest. Gift card, signed book, critiques. #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing & Drawing Contest. Prizes! #teachers #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

Children’s Writing & Drawing Contest. Prizes! #parents #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

POOF! You’re a cowgirl/cowboy fairy Children’s writing contest #SiennaTheCowgirlFaiy #SCBWIBookStop @alayne_kay https://tinyurl.com/ya5ra8f4

sienna-cover-1

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At a recent SCBWI conference, one editor mentioned leaving room for the illustrator. So, I asked Tara Lazar if she would share what that means to her and give some advice on how to do it.

 

HOW PICTURE BOOK WRITERS CAN LEAVE ROOM FOR THE ILLUSTRATOR
by Tara Lazar

“Leave room for the illustrator.” You hear it all the time.

But what does it mean?

I imagine the school bus, smelling like moldy socks and overripe bananas (which have an eerily similar aroma). Should you scoot over? Stop saving that seat for your bestie?

Well, kinda. The illustrator’s art is the elephant on the school bus. It’s the first thing people see when your bus…err, I mean book…rolls into the world. So it’s in your best interest to make that pachyderm shine.

So let the elephant speak for himself. Don’t shove words into his mouth. Don’t over-describe what he’s doing.

The elephant picked the perfect seat. [elephant in back, bus on two wheels]

The kids made him feel welcomed. [kids crowd in first row to balance bus]

It was a smooth ride to school. [flat tires]

OK, you see what I did there?

Read those lines without the art notes:

The elephant picked the perfect seat.

The kids made him feel welcomed.

It was a smooth ride to school.

Eh, rather ordinary without those notes. But with them, it’s funny. It might even be hilarious.

A picture book comes together when the words and the text play together. And sometimes there’s a tug-of-war between them that elicits giggles and guffaws.

Leaving some things unsaid is a technique you must learn as a picture book writer.

So go ahead, DON’T WRITE!

And that, my friends and elephants, is how you write a picture book.

Alayne: Tara’s guest post prompted me to ask one of the most common questions that picture book writers ask. . . .

“I’ve been told by agents that text should be clear enough that art notes are not necessary, so how do you leave room for the illustrator without art notes?”

Here is Tara’s answer. . . .

Well, what you’ve been told by agents is true…and also not true at all.

Often at conferences and workshops geared toward new writers, presenters steer picture book writers away from art notes. That is mostly because new writers tend to use unnecessary art notes. New writers either try to dictate what their characters should look like or describe action that is perfectly clear by the text (or at least well implied). So it is sometimes easier to put the ix-nay on the ote-nay at that level.

Also, some illustrators will tell you they don’t look at the art notes. And that’s fine. Once they understand the overall story, they can tuck the notes away and think of something better.

However, if what you have written is not understandable without art notes, if the story does not make sense without art notes, YOU MUST USE ART NOTES.

Look at DUCK, DUCK, MOOSE by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen. There are only three words in that book–really, two, because DUCK is repeated. If she submitted that manuscript without art notes, there would be no story. Her story is IN THE ART, IN THE ACTION.

I have written manuscripts that use so many art notes it renders the story difficult to read. In those cases, my agent and I submit the manuscript in grid format. There’s a handy post on my blog that talks all about it. (https://taralazar.com/2012/10/03/art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/)

The art of playing tug-of-war with text and image is best demonstrated by author-illustrators. It’s a difficult skill for authors-only to master, but it is one that all the best authors use.

Alayne: For additional information, see my post on including art notes in manuscripts.

Tara Lazar head shot

 

About Tara

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.

Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love. She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.

Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). PiBoIdMo is held on this blog every November. In 2015, PiBoIdMo featured nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and has permanently lost feeling in her feet and legs. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.

Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books and an SCBWI member. She speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.

Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband and two young daughters.

7 Ate 9

Tara’s picture books available now are:

• THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
• I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK(Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
• LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
• NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
• WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
• 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)

A big THANKS to Tara for sharing her wisdom with us. To learn more about Tara and her work, visit her website at https://taralazar.com/

 

 

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Melissa bookThe Winner

The winner of Melissa Stoller’s giveaway is Jane Heitman Healy! Congratulations, Jane, you have won a signed copy of The Enchanted Snow Globe: Return to Coney Island.

 

Tara Lazar’s Upcoming Guest Post

Tara bannerI’m excited to share that next week, the one and only Tara Lazar will share some of her expertise regarding how to leave room for the picture book illustrator.

More – Lots of resources for chapter book writers

  • Do you have a chapter book idea, but don’t know where to start?
  • Do you have a chapter book idea, but feel something is missing in your first draft?
  • Do you have a chapter book that you’ve been unable to finish?

Grog bannerIf you answered “yes” to any of the above, you might want to check out my guest post on the GROG blog I Have a Chapter Book Idea – Now What? The post is full of chapter book writing resources and my own checklist for developing or editing your chapter book.

sienna-cover-1butterfly kisses cover

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Before I share Melissa’s wonderful post, there are a few things I want to announce.

The winners of my book and critique giveaways are Cathy Ogren and Kim Delude. Cathy has won a copy of Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain. Kim has won a critique on the first three chapters of her chapter book. Congratulations! Thank you to all who participated in the giveaway by commenting and sharing the link.

September is Chapter Book Challenge Lite month (a.k.a. ChaBooCha Lite). This is another chance for writers to challenge themselves, and to give themselves a deadline for writing a book. The goal is to write the first draft of an early reader, chapter book, middle grade book or YA novel within a month. Want to join the fun? Sign up here.

 

I am pleased to have my friend, Spork sister, and fellow Chapter Book Challenge member Melissa Stoller as a guest blogger today. She is offering a chance to win your choice of a copy of her book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, or a chapter book critique (first three chapters), or a picture book critique. All you have to do is comment. Be sure that your name is on the comment.

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK

by Melissa Stoller

My debut chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, released from Clear Fork Publishing shortly after Alayne’s chapter book, SIENNA THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN. I enjoyed following Alayne’s posts about the differences between picture books and chapter books here and here. And I blogged about writing chapter books as well here and here.

Melissa with book

When Alayne asked me to comment further about this topic, I wondered what I could add that would be new and fresh. I decided that a Top Ten List would do the trick. So here goes:

TOP TEN FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO WRITE A CHAPTER BOOK VERSUS A PICTURE BOOK:

  1. Length of the Book – In a chapter book, the author has room for more words. I tried to keep each of the ten chapters of my book to approximately five hundred words each. That was a general rule I used for my own planning purposes but I think it helped to keep each chapter on track. And in picture books, I aim for the sweet spot of approximately five hundred words. So just by doing the math, it is apparent that I would tell a story much differently in 500 words rather than 5000 words. I liked the longer format a chapter book afforded me to tell this story.
  2. Age of the Characters – My main characters are nine-year-old twins. Generally, young readers enjoy reading about characters who are a bit older than they are. The book is geared to children ages 5-8, with the main characters falling just above that mark. This older age of the main characters fits in perfectly with a chapter book structure.
  3. Age of the Reader – In a chapter book, the reader can be a bit older and may be more sophisticated than the reader of a picture book. The sweet spot for picture books is generally 3-5 years old. The sweet spot for chapter books is generally 5-8 year olds. These ages tend to fluctuate and the lines get blurry, but that’s how I categorize them in my mind. Writing for each age group has its rewards, you just have to know your audience.
  4. Number of Characters – The common wisdom is that the fewer the characters the better in a picture book. Picture book writers generally stick to a few characters so that the plot is tightly woven. In a chapter book, that general number of characters can expand. In my book, the main characters are twins. Plus, I include their grandmother and her dog Molly, and then Jessie and her two sisters Anna and Pauline, and finally Jack. They all had some character development (some more than others) and I had the time and word count to include relevant details and dialogue to shape them. In a picture book, there just isn’t the word count, the attention span of the young reader, or the availability of plot to include so many characters.
  5. Complexity of the Plot – A picture book usually focuses tightly on one problem or issue, and one or two characters who are somehow growing or changing. That is enough for the young reader who is the target audience for the picture book. In contrast, a chapter book’s plot can be more complex, and can have more sub-plots, twists, and turns.
  6. Dependence on Illustrations – Whereas the magic in a picture book comes from the meeting of the text and the illustrations, in a chapter book the magic usually comes mostly from the text. The chapter book illustrator enhances the story and helps bring the story to life, but usually there are only a few full-page and/or spot illustrations per chapter. The book is not dependent on illustration as a picture book is (hence the difference in title between a picture book and a chapter book).
  7. Dialogue – A picture book usually doesn’t have excessive dialogue because there is a potential for the characters to just seem like “talking heads.” Of course there are exceptions and there can be dialogue-heavy PBs, but generally I try to keep PB dialogue to a minimum. In contrast, chapter books are filled with more dialogue and description as they present a well-rounded view of the characters and plot.
  8. Enough Material for Ten Chapters – A typical chapter book is broken down into ten chapters. Ask yourself these questions: do you have enough story to fill in these chapters? Does your story arc have a complete and satisfying beginning, middle, and ending? Or could you condense the story into approximately 500 words that will be enriched by illustrations? Also, try to make sure that each chapter has a mini story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, and the transition to the next chapter contains a small cliff-hanger to help the reader maintain interest.
  9. Writing Time – Because chapter books are longer and the plots are more complex, the author can spend more time with the characters and plot (of course writing picture books and chapter books both take tremendous time in the brainstorming, writing, and re-writing phases). In my case, I love my chapter book characters and this story line so I’m happy to have more time with them. I enjoyed fleshing out their emotions, their characteristics, details about their appearance and dress, their dialogue, and their adventures.
  10. Series Potential – I know that an author is not supposed to be concerned with series potential when writing a picture book or a chapter book. However, I must admit that when writing THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION, I did think about, well . . . a collection! I envisioned twins shaking many snow globes in their grandmother’s collection, and each time they did, they would be transported to a different time period and location. When writing a picture book, I might think, wow, this could really lend itself to a sequel. In fact, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is my debut picture book being published by Clear Fork Publishing in 2018, and I’m hard at work writing the sequel. But I would not envision designing a whole picture book series.

So there you have it . . . ten factors to consider when deciding whether your story is more suitable to a picture book or a chapter book. And of course, these are my top ten factors . . . you might have your own distinct top ten. Whatever you decide, make sure you set yourself up for success: work closely with your critique partners; hone your craft by participating in writing classes such as The Children’s Book Academy Chapter Book Alchemist, and writing communities such as the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, The Chapter Book Challenge, The Debut Picture Book Study Group, KidLit411, and many others; join the SCBWI and your local SCBWI chapter; and immerse yourself in the world of children’s books. Reading, writing, and being part of the KidLit community has truly inspired my work – and it’s been so much fun as well! Melissa book

I look forward to reading your books, and I know that whatever format you choose, it will be the best one for you.

_ _ _

Thanks, Alayne! I loved being featured on your blog. And I’m excited to read more of your upcoming chapter books and picture books!

_ _ _

Alayne: Thank you, Melissa! I look forward to reading more of your work as well.

 

Melissa head shot  About Melissa:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the debut chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, July 2017); the debut picture book SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, March, 2018); and THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE (Clear Fork, April 2018).  She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, an Assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, and a volunteer with SCBWI-MetroNY. Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, travelling, and adding treasures to her collections. Find Melissa online at www.MelissaStoller.com, MelissaBergerStoller (Facebook),  @MelissaStoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram).

 

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SHOULD MY PICTURE BOOK BE A CHAPTER BOOK?

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming chapter book SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN – coming April 2017! This is the first book in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. Didn’t Brian Martin do a fantastic job?

sienna-cover-1

In this story, Sienna is not your normal cowgirl. She’s half-human and half-fairy. But Sienna wants nothing to do with fairies. When her ma sends her to fairy camp instead of cowgirl camp, she ain’t none too happy. Not only must she deal with cliquish fairies who reject her spunky spirit and outspoken ways, she must also noodle out how to help Mother Nature end the Texas drought. Can Sienna balance cowgirling with some tried ‘n’ true fairy skills to both fit in and make it rain? This is a story about perseverance, friendship, teamwork, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others.

This book and the second book in the series AUNT ROSE’S FLOWER GIRL started as picture books. So, how did they become chapter books? It all started in 2012. I was invited by the Institute of Children’s Literature’s (ICL) faculty to participate in their advanced program, Writing and Selling Children’s Books. About that time, I visited my then five-year-old granddaughter in Chicago.

“What if you could fly?” my granddaughter asked.

I responded, “I’d come to see you more often. What if you could fly?”

“I’d fly up to that ceiling fan and take a ride,” she said.

Boing! Idea time! I thought, There must be a picture book in there somewhere. So I started brainstorming. My first version was titled THE GIRL WHO COULD FLY, and it included a protagonist that took a ride on a ceiling fan. Then I changed the title to THE GIRL WHO SAVED TEXAS. My ICL instructor wasn’t really sold on the fairy angle I had developed, but she did say that she’d like to see me Texas the character up. That thought led her to suggesting that I make the protagonist a cowgirl fairy. I ran with those ideas and fell in love with Sienna.

In 2013, I took my SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN picture book manuscript to the North Texas SCBWI conference. And I was lucky enough to have the first page read on stage and commented on by Lin Oliver. I could see by her smile that she liked the voice. But in her comments, she wondered if the story was too old for the picture book audience. I later found a few minutes of one-on-one time with Lin, and she encouraged me to consider expanding the story into a chapter book.

The conference gave me the confidence that I needed to submit the picture book manuscript. Three agents offered me representation. One agent was actually interested in shopping it as a picture book. I didn’t discuss it with the second agent because I chose the third agent to represent me. This agent agreed that it would be wise to turn the Sienna story into a chapter book. We worked together for about a year and then we parted ways amicably. As time went by, not being able to attract a new agent caused my confidence to wane. I spent a year floundering and nearly another year halfheartedly submitting.

In 2016, I went to a weekend workshop with a highly-respected literary agency where we presented our work in a roundtable forum. The senior agent who led the group loved Sienna’s voice and asked me to send her the whole manuscript. Yes! Perhaps my beloved Sienna would be published after all. But after months of nothing but crickets, I nudged the agent. Finally, I heard back with a form letter rejection – not one clue as to why it wasn’t right for her. I had a brief setback, but instead of letting it get me down, I immediately started submitting again. Two months later, I had a contract for the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series with Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.

So, why were the Sienna picture book stories better suited for the chapter book audience? The characters were too old for a picture book. As much as I wanted to limit Sienna’s age in my mind to a spunky eight-year-old girl, she wanted to be older. Her voice was older. Her actions were older. And since the story was written in first person (Sienna narrator), the storytelling voice was better suited for an older audience. Another reason a chapter book was a good idea is because I was able to expand on the story and further develop this fantastic character. These are only a few reasons why a picture book manuscript or picture book idea might work better as a chapter book.

Do you have any picture books that really should be a chapter book? It might be worth thinking about.

Check out Is Your Idea a Picture Book, Chapter Book or Middle Grade Novel? By Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg on Tara Lazar’s blog.

Anastasia Suen answers the question “Should I write a picture book or a chapter book?” on her blog.

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This post was originally part of Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog seried WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Marcie had asked the contributors to this series the following question: How do you keep yourself motivated? We all like to have written, but find it hard to stay motivated to write.

Following is my response to the question.

Some words my thesaurus gives for “motivated” are inspired, stimulated and encouraged. Some antonyms for those words are demotivated, uninspired, depressed and discouraged.

When it comes to writing, do you ever feel demotivated? Discouraged? Uninspired? Depressed or frustrated? What might be behind those feelings? Following are ten obstacles to consider when you lack the motivation to write. I have listed a few ways to combat each obstacle. Can you find some other ways of your own?

1. Fear
List the beliefs, thoughts, events, situations etc. that are behind the fear and find a way around those obstacles.

2. Lack of Knowledge
Take classes; read; ask questions; participate in writing community discussions; attend conferences; join a critique group; read blogs; join a group like Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, or kidlit411, or Sub Six, or WOW nonficpic, and many more.

3. Lack of Ideas
Join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo; start an idea file; live life thinking like a writer – eventually you’ll hardly go through a day without hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that sparks an idea; ask other writers how they get ideas. This is a common question in author interviews, so read interviews.

4. Rejections
Read “We’re All in This Together” posts on rejection (post #1 and post #2) and my post on TWELVE METHODS FOR COPING WITH REJECTIONS.

5. Other People’s Successes
Instead of letting the green-eyed monster frustrate, discourage or depress you, do something nice. Congratulate the other writers. Buy their books. Share their success on your blog or elsewhere. Let their success inspire you. Believe the same is possible for you.

6. Feeling Overwhelmed or Overloaded
Take a break by doing enjoyable things that you have not allowed yourself to do for a long time. Cut yourself some slack and prioritize. Are all those “shoulds” spinning around your head really that important? See time management link in #10 this post. Journal, meditate, vent to someone that you know truly understands.

7. Distractions
Set limits on social media and other computer distractions. Find a place and time to write that is void of distractions. Are you a distracted mom? See Marcie’s “Mom’s Write” series.

8. Writing for the Wrong Reasons
Ask yourself why you are writing. If it is to become famous or make lots of money, those reasons might not be enough to motivate you after you’ve received a few rejections. They might not be enough to motivate you away from distractions. There has to be something in it that makes you want to write no matter what. Even if no one ever reads it, you are compelled to write. What makes you love writing? According to my Webster’s Dictionary, the definition for motivate is “To provide with a motive.” The definition of motive is “Something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.” What is your motive for writing?

9. Beating a Dead Horse
After sending the same story to your critique group twenty times, you might feel like you are beating a dead horse. After getting twenty rejections for the same manuscript, you might feel like you are beating dead horse. When going around in circles editing the same old five stories, you might feel like you are beating five dead horses. Try putting the dead horses away for a while and start writing five fresh stories.

10. No Time
Look at your time realistically. Are you trying to fit a 72-hour day into 12 hours? If so, you have too much on your plate and something must go. What will it be? When considering this, the first place to look is time wasters. Check out these time management tools.

Your turn: What keeps you motivated when things in your writing life get tough?

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12X12 NINJAOne of the many benefits of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 group is the Manuscript Makeover section in the 12 x 12 forum. Members post their picture book manuscripts in the forum and critique ninjas pop in and offer critiques. Last month, I had the pleasure of being a critique ninja. I’ll be returning in September for another month as ninja. There are many talented writers in 12 x 12, and I read lots of stories – some fun, some funny, some touching – all creative. I found a pattern in many of the stories I read. They had elements of episodic storytelling.

 

Following, I provide a brief overview of episodic storytelling in an abbreviated lesson from my online picture book manuscript writing and analyzing course Art of Arc.

 

Rising Chaos

 

A while back, in response to a critique I had done for a chapter book, the author responded, in part, with the following:

 

“For me, rising action means adding story problems! Rising chaos!”

 

That’s one way I would describe an episodic story. While the story might be entertaining dogand move forward, it meanders. An episodic story reminds me a bit of the expression, “The tail wagging the dog.” For a while, the story is taken over by some fun and entertaining scene(s), but eventually it has to get back to the story as a whole – the one with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. The entertainment is the tail – the dog is the main character who is being wagged by the tail – and as a result, your reader is also being wagged by the tail.

 

The story takes the reader down a meandering path that is disconnected from the other parts of the story. Perhaps the path is loosely connected because the protagonist is involved and there is some sort of loose connection to the character’s problem. But the question to consider is, how connected is each scene to the scene that came before and the scene that follows?

 

The goal in a picture book with a classic arc is to have scenes flow seamlessly, building off each other until they are so blended you don’t even notice the changes that lead up to the end.

 

In an episodic story, the scenes often feel disconnected.

 

The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.

Whackamole

In the picture book manuscripts I critique, I often find main characters taking action, going from one place (or one thing) to another with no real reason. It’s a little bit like the main character is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. To the reader, it feels like the main character is spending all his time reacting to any obstacle that pops up. He has no real plan or reason for his actions – no real direction. Episodic stories lack focus and direction. Many times circumstances or other characters drive the direction the story takes, and the main character seems to go along for the ride. We see no change or growth in the scenes or in the story. One way that change and growth are revealed is through decisions.

 


SOME WAYS TO TEST YOUR PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT FOR EPISODIC ELEMENTS

 

DOES IT MATTER WHERE EACH SCENE APPEARS IN THE STORY?

 

With storylines built via cause and effect, scenes rely on each other to tell the story and to build tension. What if you moved your scenes around? Would the plot change? If it doesn’t matter where a particular scene happens in the story, it is likely episodic.

 

ARE SCENE GOALS RELATED TO THE STORY GOAL (larger plotline)?

 

Although scenes stand alone, they also need to be steps in the story plot. How does each scene advance the story (related to the plot as a whole)? Does the resolution or discovery made at the end of one scene set things up for the next? Or stated differently, does the next scene start with something that stemmed from the prior scene – an event, a decision, an action – and then move on to something new that leads to the next scene?

 

IS THE RISING ACTION, RISING CHAOS?

 

Are the main character’s challenges independent problems that create a meaningless (as related to the big story problem) obstacle course for the main character?  How can the challenges all be connected to the common thread of the story? Resist causing unnecessary trouble for the main character. Even when the trouble is entertaining, fun, and exciting, if it doesn’t have “whole story” purpose, it is probably episodic.

 

Each of the main character’s challenges should involve the following:

 

  • Overcoming the obstacle for that portion of the story.
  • Have significance to the bigger story. Remember, the main character has a big story goal and then smaller goals as the story builds. The smaller goals should not be too far removed from the big goal.

 

IS THERE A GOAL DRIVING THE SCENE?

 

Why is the main character in this scene? Why is he taking action? Is he taking intentional action or is he just reacting with no goal in mind?

 

DO THE SCENES INFORM THE READER?

 

  • What will the reader learn about the story (as a whole)?
  • What will the reader learn about the main character?
  • Do these events and actions move the plot forward in a way that makes the reader care about the main character, become curious, want to know more?
  • What is the purpose of the scene?

 

At the end of this post you will find a couple of links that will lead to excellent posts on episodic writing. Although they are not about picture book writing, they still help clarify what an episodic story is and why it can be problematic. Although some people write episodic stories intentionally, I believe there is no room for episodic storytelling in picture books. Young children do not have the attention span to follow the chaos that is created in such a story.

 

Let me be clear about the above statement. I am talking about classic stories. There are picture books that may seem episodic, and at times that’s okay. Concept picture books are a good example. The reason these books can be episodic is because they are built around a theme or concept. Take a look at THE BELLY BOOK by Fran Manushkin or EVERYBODY SLEEPS (BUT NOT FRED) by Josh Schneider. Many of the events in these books could have happened at any point within the book (or story). But these books are not built around a classic arc. Every story you write will NOT need to be analyzed for episodic elements. However, if the story you are writing is built around a classic arc with rising action and cause and effect, watch for episodic elements.

 

In the Art of Arc Course, I list some books in the cause and effect section that have somewhat episodic segments, but they are still built around cause and effect. NO DAVID, by David Shannon and WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, by Ellen Javernick are a couple. Although many of the segments could appear anywhere in the book, these segments each have their own cause and effect.

 

In NO DAVID, David’s actions lead to a reaction from his mother. But eventually the sum of the events lead to a reaction from David and that event leads to the final reaction from his mother.

 

In WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, each time that question is asked the reader sees the effect.

 

In BECAUSE I STUBBED MY TOE, by Shawn Byous you will find a perfect example of how important the order of events can be. Everything that happens in this story is a result of the boy stubbing his toe, but it is also the result of the event that came before it. This is a true cause and effect book.

Copyright Alayne Kay Christian 2016

LINKS TO ARTICLES ON EPISODIC WRITING

 

Plotting Problems – Episodic Writing

By Marg McAlister

http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/plottingproblems.html

 

From Moody Writing

Episodic Storytelling is a problem

http://moodywriting.blogspot.com/2012/11/episodic-storytelling-is-problem.html

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT, EPISODIC STORIES, art of arc extraOR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS contact me and ask about the new TRY IT plan where you can try the first five Art of Arc lessons for $35.00 – purchased with no obligation to buy the remainder of the course. You may contact me using the “contact” tab at the top of this page, or via my Art of Arc webpage.

 

An outline of the first five lessons follows:

 

WELCOME SECTION

 

The welcome section includes a nine-page supplement demonstrating sixteen different picture book structures with diagrams, descriptions, and book titles.

 

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What drives your protagonist?
  • Beginnings and hooks.
  • Who, what, where, when, why?
  • Story promise, reader’s expectations, and story questions.
  • Page-turners.
  • How the whole story connects to the ending.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginnings and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

 

  • Setting the hook.
  • Creating a connection with the reader.
  • Inciting incident.
  • Ways to keep the reader reading.
  • More on page-turners.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginning and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

 

  • Story arc (plot development)
  • Character arc (character development)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Small, scene goals
  • Tension
  • Feelings
  • Character turning points

 

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

 

  • What is cause and effect and why is it important
  • Diagrams
  • Writing exercises
  • Worksheets
  • Examples
  • Bonus supplement with links to additional info

 

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

 

  • What is an episodic story?
  • What causes a story to be episodic?
  • Worksheets and tips for testing your story for episodic elements
  • Links to additional info

 

 

 

 

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