15 Aug

Laurel Snyder: Class of 2k8

This is part of a year-long series about those intrepid newcomers, The Class of 2k8. To help marketing efforts for debut novelists, these 28 novelists have banded together to create a group marketing effort.

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Laurel Snyder LOVES Revising!

snyder

Well, to begin with, I should say that I LOVE revising. For me the real work of writing begins the minute I type the words “The End” (and yeah, I really do that). Because for me, the plotting stuff, the outlining and the narrative arc and the creation of some kind of “adventure” or “climax” is just what I do to justify getting to write the details.

Because I LOVE to write the details—the conversations and the descriptions of food, and what people are wearing. The settings and the jokes. The odd quirks. But I only get to pay attention to all of that fun stuff once I know the story will resolve itself. (I should say here that my background is in poetry, andthat until I began writing for kids a few years back I never had to deal with boring things like plot, so I tend to dread it. It just takes so looooong!)

So I tend to kind of RACE through a first draft, superfast and really sloppy. Like I’m basting a dress together with large loose stitches, or building the frame of a house. I make sure all the days fall into place, that my characters manage to DO something, and that the end will work. And then, when I revise (after asking a very nice friend—or my amazing agent—to read it and assure me it doesn’t totally suck), I get to go back and care.

I go back through—making several passes—and clean everything up. Sometimes I find a blank page that just says something like, “Page-long conversation about bugs and dead grandmothers goes here” or I’ll find a block of text that I’ve typed in red with a note that says, “This is dumb but I don’t know what to do here. Can you fix it?”

And by YOU I mean ME. Because these are notes that my draft 1 self made to my draft 2, 3, or 4 self. Revision for me is about getting to have a fresh pair of eyes when I return to the beginning and start over. Revision (and I do make many many passes) feels like a do-over each time. Each time the thing gets better, cleaner, tighter. And I know this may sound crazy, but often I don’t remember writing the thing. My draft 2 self will even get mad at my draft 1 self for leaving me with such a mess!

The problem I tend to have is that I often get waylaid at a midpoint, and then start over again, which means that the beginning of the book will sometimes get read twice as much as the end. This can result in a book that’s off-kilter, with a tight, funny beginning and an ending that feels rushed.

Of course, when that happens, my editor suggests, sweetly, that I just cut off the second half, and start over again.

And THAT is a kind of revising I could do without.

2k8 Stories

Look for these other 2k8 Stories:

March: Jody Feldman
April: Zu Vincent
April: M.P. Barker
May: Sarah Prineas
June: Daphne Grab
July: N.A. Nelson
August: Laurel Snyder
September: Nancy Viau
October: Ellen Booraem
October: P.J. Hoover
October: Courtney Sheinmel

14 Aug

N.A. Nelson: Class of 2k8

This is part of a year-long series about those intrepid newcomers, The Class of 2k8. To help marketing efforts for debut novelists, these 28 novelists have banded together to create a group marketing effort.

Bringing the Boy Home nelson, HarperCollins, July

N.A. NELSON’S WORKSPACE

I’ve always torn things out of magazines. Always. If something grabs me — an article, a picture, a recipe…I tear it out. (That’s actually how I got my dream engagement/wedding ring, but that’s another story entirely.)

IN HIGH SCHOOL

In high school, I would hang these grab-me-in-the-gut things in my locker or — as you can see from the picture below — in my bedroom. No big surprise…all teenagers do that, right? We surround ourselves with things that define or inspire us — hunky guys and celebrity babes.

(my surprise sixteenth birthday party!)
___________________________________________________________________

IN COLLEGE:

In college it was pretty much the same thing. My dorm room was a blank slate just waiting for me to put my stamp on it. So I did: James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Benetton ads and boyfriend pictures (the monkey unfortunately, not the lifeguard). I marked my spot.

MY WRITING ROOM AS A 36 YEAR-OLD

Then came life after college. Time to grow up. No more plastic snap-together nightstands. No more bean bags. No more movie posters. And certainly no more magazine tear-outs taped to the walls. Right?

WRONG!

Yep, I still rip pages from newspapers and magazines and I still pin them to my wall. Some of the things up there inspire me. Some serve as reminders. And some I think are just. plain. cool.

I’ll always do this; my whole family does. My children tape up toys they like, my husband prefers photos of snowboarders and surfers launching off mountains and waves. Our dog has a photo of a nice T-bone steak above her food dish. Well, okay, I admit that last part about the dog isn’t true, but if she knew how to use a tape dispenser, it might be.

Anyway, a friend informed me that what we’re doing is similar to the vision boards people make to help them create the life they want to live. I believe it. One thing I pasted up came true. So I took it down and replaced it with something else — an article titled “36 Hours in Seville.” Uh-huh. That’s right; I’ve always wanted to visit Spain and it just so happens that last week, this Seville article showed up in the Sunday New York Times newspaper. So I tore it out and hung it up and well…

…we’ll see. In the meantime, I offer you this challenge in the form of a paraphrased Capital One credit card ad — “What’s on your wall?”

2k8 Stories

Look for these other 2k8 Stories:

March: Jody Feldman
April: Zu Vincent
April: M.P. Barker
May: Sarah Prineas
June: Daphne Grab
July: N.A. Nelson
August: Laurel Snyder
September: Nancy Viau
October: Ellen Booraem
October: P.J. Hoover
October: Courtney Sheinmel

14 Aug

Playing with Words for Picture Books

When you have a full text of a picture book, it’s time to PLAY! After all, this is just a story for kids, right? Here are two ways to play with your story. You’ll be amazed at what you find out about the story when you do this:

Cut in Picture Book Text in Half

Count the number of words in the original. Write the story with EXACTLY half as many words as the original. Write it again with EXACTLY twice as many words. Notice what happens when you compress or expand a story.

When you edited out half the words, what’s left? Is the story gutted? Or just the descriptions? Did you manage to salvage the story at all?

Some things you might discover:

  • You don’t need a character, a scene, a piece of dialogue.
  • You cut out prepositional phrases in favor of adjectives.
  • You cut adjectives and adverbs in favor of stronger, more exact nouns and verbs.
  • The story is stronger when it’s shorter.
  • The story lacks the emotional punch when it’s shorter.
  • Cutting totally changes the story (for better or worse).

Usually, cutting a story in half is cutting too much, something is lost: action, characterization, language play. But usually, the story is stronger in many ways, too, because you were forced to evaluate every single word. Picture books allow for no fat!

The next draft of your picture book will probably be somewhere between your original draft and the half-length draft. Work with the text and story, trying to keep the writing as tight as possible, but still tell the story and tell it in the best way.

Work with the draft -editing, cutting and rearranging -until you are satisfied, then come back for the rest of this painful lesson.

Next, do Micro-cuts.

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

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How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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13 Aug

Options for Picture Book Characters

Picture book characters can make or break the story. We usually think of kids or at least humans as the main character, but there are other options.

PICTURE BOOK CHARACTERS

  1. Humans 10 Little Fingers, 10 Little Toes. All the babies in this book are realistic babies.
  2. Inanimate Objects
    • Objects as characters: Pumpkin Heads by Wendell Minor pictures a variety of pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns, and never really has a main character.
    • Abstract characters: Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni is illustrated with irregular blobs which represent family members. It’s the ultimate in non-representational art.
  3. Animals as Characters Two options here — are the characters really animals, or are they treated as humans in ananimal skin?

    • As Kids: The key is to observe children closely and make the animals act like humans. My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann, features animals who act as a human.
    • As Animals: Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre is a nonfiction picturebook, but with a literary bent, featuring vultures who really act as vultures.
  4. Mixing Humans with either an Inanimate Objects/Animals
    The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison. A wooden man interacts with a variety of humans, who all treat him as a person.

Think about the options you have in characters and why you might want to use one oranother in a story. How would the story of My Friend, Rabbit be different if the animals wereacting as real animals?

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

Besides the main character, you’ll want to write in supporting characters.
Variety of characters. Keep in mind that a wide cast of supporting characters adds to the story: family, school friends, best friends, bullies, etc.

Make them stand out. Build in variety, contrasts, and conflicts by adding the right characters.

Limit number of characters. For picture books keep the total number of characters fairly small, but don’t be afraid to stretch when the story demands it. Or find ways to keep the characters manageable; for example, in my story, 19 Girls and Me, only a few of the 19 girls are actually named, but just saying there are 19 creates the classroom atmosphere.

ACTION POINTS

Character Variety. Read picture books this time, in search of unique main characters andsupporting characters. Which ones appeal to you? Why? What kinds of contrasts do you findamong the characters?

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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12 Aug

Picture Book Settings

Picturebook Settings

The setting of a picture book is important because it determines much of the illustrations. Picture Book Settings
When writing for kids, you walk a fine line between what is familiar v. exotic. Kids like the familiarity of neighborhoods, homes and schools. Yet, they also need to have their world expanded and literature is a great way to do that. Try to stretch the setting, yet keep something familiar.

Examples of Picture Book Settings

  • Where the The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, starts at home, sends the character out for a fantastic visit, then bring him back to the comfort of home again.
  • Think of the Caldecott-Honor picture book, King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Audrey Wood, which uses the familiar ritual of a nightly bath, but turns it into something exotic.
  • Or, turn something exotic into something familiar, as in Rachel and Obadiah, by Brinton Turkle, which treats a Quaker family and a historical family as just a normal family.

Suggested Reading for Familiar v. Exotic

Visit your local library or a bookstore and study the settings of children’s picture books. Here are titles to get you started.

Exotic

Combination of Familiar and Exotic

  • 19 Girls and Me by Darcy Pattison (school and imaginative play that takes the kids to exotic spots)
  • Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French (wombat interacts with humans)

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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11 Aug

Shakespeare Helps You Write a Better Picture Book

When you’re thinking about writing a picture book, the structure if important. With about fourteen double-page spreads, it’s time to turn to Shakespeare for some help.

Sonnets and Picture Books

I think you can compare picture book structure to the structure of poetry. For example, sonnets have 14 lines, picture books can have 14 double-page spreads. So, taking a sonnet as an example of structure, you can imitate one of these sonnet structures

  1. The Italian Sonnet consists of an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines)
    • Octave
      • Spreads 1-4 Set up character
      • Spreads 5-8 Problem stated
    • Sestet
      • Spreads 9-11 Character tries to solve the problem.
      • Spreads 12-14 The payoff

    Or, think of it as the beginning, middle, end, payoff. Or problem, attempts to solve, failure and re-commitment to try, payoff.
    Notice that in this structure, there is a pivot point–things change drastically–between spreads 8 and 9. There are two minor pivots, too, between 4-5 and 11-12. These are good places for a twist to turn the plot in a different direction.

  2. The Shakespearean Sonnet Three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a couplet.
    • Spreads 1-4 Problem stated
    • Spreads 5-8 Attempts to solve problem
    • Spreads 9-12 Problem solved
    • Spreads 13-14 The payoff

    The main pivot point is between 12 and 13; minor pivot points occur between 4-5, 8-9. Check the structure of your story and its pivot points to see if it is the strongest it can be.

ACTION POINTS

Consider if this structure would work for your picture book. If it’s close, see if you can adjust the text and page breaks for this structure. If it doesn’t work with this structure, then go to the next lesson.

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

Available on

07 Aug

Check Your Picture Book’s Story Arc

You’ve written your picture book text and it divides nicely into about fourteen sections, so your first draft is looking good. Now, focus on the narrative arc.

Narrative Arc Formula

Here’s an easy formula to fill in for your narrative arc:

This is a story about ______________________________

Who more than anything else wants __________________
(Alternate: Who more than anything else fears_________________)

But can’t get it because of these complications:
(Alternate: But has to face it because of these complications:)

UNTIL (climax/resolution) _______________________________________.

Of Course, It’s Just a Formula

Of course, this is a formula for a story that actually has a plot, not a mood story or a concept story or a nonfiction story. We’ll talk about those this month. But for now, this is a good formula for a story with a plot.

Of course, any formula like this is useful only up to a point, but it does a good job of checking the overall structure of your story. It can point out useful things:

  • Does the main character solve the problem? (No fair bringing in parents, adults, older siblings, etc.)
  • Do the complications get worse and worse, building to a climax?
  • Does the character actually want/fear something?
  • Have you provided the most interesting, least cliched complications possible? (Or at least done the cliched things in the most interesting vocabulary possible?)

Order the Ebook

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Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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06 Aug

Picture Books: Those Confusing 32 Pages

I got this comment and thought it needed to be a separate post:

Tamar Asks: 32 pages? Not clear

Hi,
Thank you for your posts. They have been very helpful.
It isn’t clear to me from your posting of a 32 page book being standard, how many pages of text that translates into for the author.
Or does it just mean that an author should aim for a book that she tells the publisher is going to be 32 pages, and they break it up. Or does she break it up herself.
Thank you and looking forward to your response.
Tamar

Darcy Answers: 32 pages of finished book, 5 (or less) pages of manuscript text

Thanks for the question!

Book. There will be short segments of text on each page (or double-page spread).

Manuscript. If you translate that to standard manuscript pages, that’s 5 pages or less of text. When you send in the mss to a publisher, you send it in standard manuscript format (5 pages or so). When the text is laid out for the picture book, the editor, art director and illustrator will divide it into the segments that go on each page.
You will see me suggest that you divide your text into 14-28 segments, anticipating how it will be laid out in a picture book. That is strictly to help the author revise and polish the text. When you send in the mss, it should be in standard mss format.

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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06 Aug

Did you Write a Picture Book or Something Else?

First write your picture book. Now, you need to check if the story is really a picture book text. Here’s where the hard work begins!

Did you write a picture book?

Once I have a story in hand that I think might make a picture book, the real work begins. Now, I must evaluate how well the story fits the structure of picture books and how illustratable the story is.

Edit until there are 14-28 text segments.
I usually begin by dividing my story into text segments, somewhere between 14-28;each segment represents what I think should go on a page or a double-spread page. 14 segments will give the illustrator enough text for double-page spreads for the standard 32 pages. 28 will give an illustration on each single page. If you have somewhere in between, it’s OK, because it means there is enough for the illustrator to work with and you can safely leave the page divisions to the illustrator. (NOTE: The divisions and any story dummy I do later is strictly for myself to edit the story and when I send it the manuscript, I don’t include these pages breaks.)

I usually begin by dividing my story into text segments, somewhere between 14-28;each segment represents what I think should go on a page or a double-spread page.

14 segments will give the illustrator enough text for double-page spreads for the standard 32 pages. 28 will give an illustration on each single page. If you have somewhere in between, it’s OK, because it means there is enough for the illustrator to work with and you can safely leave the page divisions to the illustrator. (NOTE: The divisions and any story dummy I do later is strictly for myself to edit the story and when I send it the manuscript, I don’t include these pages breaks.)

Right away, you may discover that your story has too few or too many pages. Revise until you are at least close to the count needed. There is some flexibility in layout–the illustrator may include a wordless spread, or may decide to put two of your sections onto one page–but you must be close.

EVALUATE EACH TEXT SEGMENT

Once the page count is close, it’s time to evaluate how well the story fits into the story book structure. Each text segment must do the following:

  1. Advance the story. Something needs to happen! Action, reaction.
  2. Provide an action for the illustrations. Overall, the story must move from setting to setting, so the illustrations can be varied. Of course, you can return to a setting, or the rhythm of the story may return to a setting several times. But each repetition must provide a new action or new details for the illustrator. The deadliest stories — and the least likely to be published — have talking heads. No action, just people talking. Inject some action into your story and choose the strongest verbs possible.
  3. Make the reader want to turn the page.
    The reader should want to know what happens next. There are other ways to play with the page turns, but we’ll get to that later.
    Inevitably, there are weak pages that need work. Keep reworking the story until it meets the requirements of picture book structure and the need for illustration
    possibilities.


What if the story just doesn’t fit these requirements?

Then, you probably wrote a magazine short story for kids. Look for magazines that are written for kids to find a home for your story. You can also look at each requirements for special genres of picture books, to see if your story fits one of them.

Can you turn a magazine story into a picture book? Sometimes. It usually means more complications for the character to overcome, or additional complexity without becoming too complex. Think about complications or difficulties the character might face and think in terms of actions that can be illustrated. Keep rewriting until there are about 14 sections, as described above.

ACTION POINTS

Evaluate your story. Did you write a picture book or a magazine piece? If it’s not a picture book yet, brainstorm ideas to add to the story to make it more of a picture book. Did you write too long? You may be a novelist! If you feel cheated out of some of the scenes you wanted to include, consider whether the story might work as a easy reader or short chapter story.

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

Available on

05 Aug

The Dual Audience for Picture Books

After you’ve written the first draft of the picture book, let it cool off a week. While it’s cooling off, I’ll cover a few other things about audience and dealing with illustrations. Then, we’ll get to the fun part, revising the picture book.

The Child as the Audience

Remember that the audience for picture books is a child, so the story should be of interest to them. Unless it is a folk or fairy tale, characters are usually children. Rarely do adult characters or inanimate objects as characters make successful picture books.

Yes, I know about SpongeBob and Veggie Tales. But those stories really shouldn’t work. Really. A talking tomato? A sponge with an attitude? Only the most skilled writers can pull this off and usually not in a picture book. It takes video, with it’s moving features and accompanying voice to characterize inanimate things well.

Doubleday editor, Francoise Bui says, “It’s preferable to have a young child as protagonist, or an animal. It needs to be someone who the child reader can relate to.”

THE ADULT AS THE AUDIENCE

However, adults are the gatekeepers for childrens’ access to picture books. For the youngest child, an adult reads to them and you must remember this as you write.

Adult/child relationship. Australian writer Mem Fox says it’s important to keep in mind “the child in the lap,” in other words, the relationship between the adult and the child as you write the story. For example, include something that will make the child turn to the adult and give them a hug.

Can the adult stand to read this 100 times? Favorite books are often requested nightly by a child, so you must consider if the adult can stand it “one more time.” As you write, pay attention to how easily the words flow.

Adult needs/uses for children’s literature. Remember that often the adult is a teacher, who uses picture books to fulfill something in the education curriculum. This shouldn’t be the major concern, but if you can tie it into a curriculum need, it will help sell your picture book. For example, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman is used in social studies for map work, and in Language Arts to teach letter writing. Download the Lesson Plans (pdf download) for my picture books to see other ways they are used.

ACTION POINTS

Child in the Lap. Find five books which you consider perfect for the dual audience of adults and children. Try to find something for toddlers, preschoolers and school age kids. What differences are there as kids get older?

Find this Helpful? Read the Complete Series as an Ebook:

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Available Now!

The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

Available on

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