Did you know that children love to experience the story? Of course, you know this. I was dumb for asking. Children want to experience writing on their terms.
The other day, when I was visiting a first grade class, I discovered something wonderful. I was sharing with the students my ideas for a few other things that I am working on. It was so much fun. I have a story about a little boy who is a super hero. Instead of saying that he had power, I told them that he had "super duper power." You should have seen them and heard their reaction. They knew exactly what I was talking about.
If they had super powers, do you think they would want to be just a person with "super powers"? Of course not. Everyone has that thing born into them that makes them want to be above average.
Know what I did the other day? Glad you asked. I layed down on the floor and saw the world from a child's view. Try it, it is interesting. See the world from a child's eyes. Everything is a lot bigger and more impressive. When I was reading Sleepytown and read the part that says, "Flowers grow big, as big as a house." and followed it with the illustration, they gasped. It made me smile. I could not help it. I had that stupid grin spread across my face. All they were doing was reacting to an illustration that showed flowers growing over the roof-top.
You and I already know this. We know that children want to experience it all with their senses. We just need reminding some days. I keep rambling, I know it. Sorry about that. Keep writing. Keep believing in yourself. NEVER give up on the gift that is in you. Do me a favor, read Sleepytown. Let it become one of those books that you share with any parent that has a young child. That would be a great blessing.
Remember the anticipation of wanting to jump the start? Remember how you felt, when someone did? Here are some things that I have learned that have changed the way I think about writing a Picture Book. (Who knows, it might help you start your project. It might help you finish that project, picture book or not!) Below, you will find the "lucky thirteen." Why 13? It makes the list unique. ( Iwas born on the 13th and my birthday falls on Friday the 13th, but 13 is not an unlucky number. )
Questions to answer that will make a difference:
1. Zero in on the real stuff. State the idea of your book in one sentence. Some say that if you can not state it in one sentence, it is too thick. It goes from a great book on the coffee table to a really nice boat anchor.
2. Write one good sentence that states the beginning of your story.
3. State the problem in one good sentence. What will be resolved in the end?
4. Is the story trying to preach a lesson? If yes, these kinds of stories rarely get off the ground. Do you like to be preached to? (See, I told ya.)
5. Is the theme kid-friendly? Would a kid resolve the story that way? (If you as an adult are trying to solve it, rewrite.)
6. Make a list of possible things that will happen. Don't try to write paragraphs. Say it in a few words. Look for something that has not made a "rut" in the publishing world.
7. Make everything happen in a logical way. Keep it moving.
8. Brainstorm ideas of consequences. If the character does this, this will happen.
9. If you are doing a picture book, think of how the pages will turn. You want the kids to be hungry for the next page.
10. Have enough variety that an illustrator could create some amazing illustrations for the story that help make it incredible.
11. Make the main character a hero. Make him/her unique.
12. Think about who is telling the story? Is it the main character? Is it a person standing by? Is it the author?
13. Organize the words. Use only what is needed for a picture book.
Hope this helps!
Open Sez-a-me. Passwords are a pain in the sit'n down place. It can be the same way for "The Opening" of a story, book, short story, or even the wrapper on hamburger buns. (I want to know WHO gets the job of twisting the twist tie? Probably some machine that took five jobs.)
I will admit that I have sat here looking at the computer screen and wondered, "How Am I Going To Start?" Now, I do not claim to know it all. I know a little about a lot. I have been told that I am a "Jack of all trades-a master of none." It sounds cool, but it never provides a pay-check. That is, unless someone reading this wants to offer me a job!?
Most people believe that having a narrator is the worst way to start a story. They say that telling is not good. Think of it this way. Do you really like it when you are forced to sit and listen to someone go on and on and you must have "eye contact?" All the while, you are wishing they would shut up so that you could do what you are trying to do. You listen, but your mind begins to wonder. Hmmm, now if the roof fell in over their head, they would stop talking. Hmmm, I could fake a asthma attack. Not good. They would call 911 and then I would have to listen to the EMT all the way to the hospital.
Got the idea? Exactly! It always works to have the entrance and flow get right to something interesting. Give the opening so much potential that the reader must turn the page and keep reading. Wow, this blog sounded so great for a minute that I wanted to buy the book. (I know, get a grip! See how easily I entertain myself. It's all drug free!)
Here are two samples. Which one do you like best? Why does the one you pick work?
WARNING: I typed this correctly, but in the saving process it does not keep the format. oops!
As he leaned over the railing and dropped a pebble into the water, Max noticed a small box drifting with the current."What in the world is that?"The box caught on a rock and tumbled across a shallow area of stones. Then, upon reaching a deeper section, it began to drift once agaian. Mac felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He jerked to look behind him. It felt like icy fingers moving across his sun-brazed skin.The box continued to drift furthur away from the bridge. Mac considered leaving the box and walking on to school, but a flash of light drew his attention back to the box. His heart began to beat faster. His hands began to sweat. Somehow, he needed to get down that bank and rescue the box from the water.
I stared at the marble floor."You're warning me that the chip can not be removed without damaging my brain?""Steven, it's too risky. You could die.""I want this thing out of me. Every day, a little more of me fades and this, THING, gains more control. I do not want to live like this. I refuse to become some machine.""I understand!"Professor Gray scratched the back of his neck and turned toward the window. The trees swayed in the evening breeze. A man stood on the other side of the street. His eyes were staring up at the building."Time is running out, Steven. He followed you here. He will watch until you leave and follow you to your apartment."
Which do you like best? See how quickly the main character is faced with a problem.
In both examples, the day was normal until...something made it change.
Dreams Remain Dreams Until Someone Slams the Door and You Wake Up. This is a funny post that I did a lng time ago. Please, read it with humor and realize that it is one of those things that I wrote when I was tired, I think.
I really wonder how many people there are who have searched and searched for years and years to find a publisher and keep running into a blank wall. After a while, the rejections can really wear on your nerves, if you have any left. If you are like most, you search and search on the net only to see those immortal words: "Like most large publishing companies, we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts."
You know what? If I were rich, I would do something about that. I would love to open a huge company and hire a team of incredible people to give others a chance. I might be "triping" on something that makes me sound weird as they come, but why can't there be a team large enough to actually accept more unpublished author stuff and review it.
I would want a team of people in each area and have them read stuff and then take the time to at least make some comments on the writing. It would even be fun to offer writing classes. It would be a blast to invite writers to see the publishing process. There are too many people needing a job, not to have some way of doing more.
I would have a team of kids to read children's book submissions and get their take on the "kid-friendly" aspect. They do it for toys, why not books. I would want to have some really sharp kids give some advice on what they would like to see in the books. Kids have a great view of a kid's world.
If I had millions, I would want to get a huge piece of land and build this huge people-enjoying-life friendly environment. I am not talking about another Disney World. I am talking about a world of learning, enjoyment, family fun, friendship, and everything. NO ROLLER COASTERS. I DO LOVE THEM.
It would be this incredible place where you have a street to walk down with shops on the left and right. Over there would be an ice cream place that sells the very best ice cream. Over here, there would be the most amazing toy store that really cares about being amazing. Then, maybe next door would be a cupcake shop, next to it a candy store, then a book store, a movie theater, unique places to eat, and all kinds of stuff that would make it the most incredible place in the world to visit.
It would be this unbelievable entertainment, family-fun, take your date, make friendships, create memories, and all-out-amazing place. It would have special themes for different areas. The lighting would be amazing. Just visiting would be an adventure.
Can you tell that I have thought this through? Alas, I am broke. If I could only win the lottery. I would make a lot of people happy, and myself.
I guess I am just a dreamer, but that is what writers do, right?
Ever been told that you are full of it. I mean, full of too many words in your book or story. I have some observations about it.
I have always had a love for English, Literature, and all things Shakespeare. In high school, I would check out books of Shakespeare's plays and sit and read them. While some people were reading novels, I was reading Shakespeare. Weird, huh? That is me.
Okay, enough with the "fireside-chat," I was going to say something important. In English class we always tell the students to correct the daily oral language exercises by making the sentence shorter. I understand it to always be that way in writing. You should always say it in fewer words.
That is why manuscripts have to be cut, clipped, mowed, and improved. The cutting makes them clearer. It is kinda like pruning a tree so that it has a more pleasing shape. (Forgive the informal writing here. I am treating you like my friend. You are my friend, right?)
The local librarian says that EASY BOOK'S sentences should not be any longer than ten words. Some books that are meant for the next group should contain no more than fourteen words per sentence. At our school, most teachers agree that Jr. High students should read sentences of no more than twenty words.
Writing can be considered in the same light as public speaking, "Keep it simple." We do not like "wordy" speakers, so be careful becoming a "wordy" writer. I bet some of you think that of my "blogs." I can go on and on sometimes. In those cases, it must be said, no matter how long it takes. I just went against what I said above. Here I go, again.
I can get on my "soapbox" and go on an on. Once, when I was teaching fifth grade, I found myself on my soapbox and far away from the subject. I said, "How did I get here?" A student then raised his hand and began to tell me how I said one thing and it led to another and so on and so on. I had to laugh. How true, how true!
Just realize that change will happen. Do not hold onto your manuscript like it is some sacred cow. No one is going to worship it. No one is going to morn the cuts, when they are gone. Sadly to say, no one will notice their passing. It is almost like having a funeral without a body.
If at some time you find that I did not take my own advice and was wordy. Please, forgive!
I have been painting for many years. I started out with oils and then moved into acrylics. I hated the way it took "years" for oils to dry. I would take oil paintings and place them in the car so that the heat would dry the paint. It worked.
I discovered something amazing. If you turn the painting upside down, walk away, and then turn and look at it, you see it in a new light. You can see what is not balanced and straight. It works. Why? You look at the painting so much that you get immune to seeing mistakes. Having the painting upside down forces you to see it in a new light.
Try this with your story. Chart the action. I am a visual person and often draw pictures to help me think. Sometimes, I start with the opening and chart the action of the story in order to see how it flows. I go from opening and move on up to the amazing-climax, then, I slowly come down to the ending. (I put amazing-climax just for fun.)
Speaking as a writer for children, try letting a child read it. Find a child that is on the reading level of your story. Listen to how the child reads it. Watch the face. See how the expressions are part of the story. It will change your writing. Let the child ask questions. They have a unique view that an adult can not grasp fully.
The other day, I went to a local elementary school for Read Across America. I read to around 120 first graders. They had a blast. I did, too. I read my story SleepyTown and shared the illustrations. Listening to them laugh at the right moments made my heart leap in my chest.
Before leaving, I showed them titles of works-in-progress and told them a little "tidbit" about it. When I came to a certain title, they gasped. I can not tell you how I felt. it made me get so excited about that story and made me want to bury myself knee-deep in writer's mud. I wanted to whip-out my notebook and work on the story right then and there. It made me realize how important two things really are to an idea: 1. Express the story in ONE good sentence. 2. Have a great attention getting title.
Whatever cranks your tractor! Go for it! You are a writer. You are an illustrator. You are a jewel. You are light. Shine people, shine!
WARNING: I sometimes display a "weird and sick" sense of humor. It depends on several things. First, Have I had chocolate? Secondly, Am I tired? and Lastly, Did I just slam my finger in the door of my car? I do take writing seriously. Sometimes, I make comments because I am frustrated. I vent. Please, do not take anything that I post personally. Writing is a Fantastic Journey that I love.
First, to anyone "new" to the fantastical world of writing, a "query" is a question. Basically, you want to know if the Publisher, Agent, Editor, Janitor, or Whomever is taking submissions or "pleas" at this time.
It is a kinder word for "Your work will be so near a SLUSH PILE." (Disclaimer: I do not hate Publishers nor anyone associated with them. They do what they have to do. I do not hate, even if my disliking sounds like hate sometimes. We are comanded to "love," but we do not have to "like.")
Honest truth: Publishers and the like ONLY do what they must do to keep from being buried under a pile of paper that would smother anything living.
Okay, back to the blog subject. (Notice the play on words with "honest truth." Okay, okay, humor me.)
(Disclaimer: I am not making fun of anyone from any state or any country in the list below. The "truth is truth." I am not making fun of any "race," not even Nascar. I am also not making fun of religion or personal beliefs. Any resemblence to anyone living or dead in my list is a shame, but coincidental.)
Things you should never put in a "query" letter and/or cover page.
1. I ain't never had no book published before. How about making this my first. I want to make my mama proud. None of us ever gradiated high school and it would mean a lot to git a book published.
2. It is my turn to have a book published. I have waited long enough. My horoscope said that something good was going to happen to me today. I feel that "karma" is leaning my way.
3. I am tired of someone behind a desk, that never gets out in the sun, rejecting my work. My mama likes it.
4. I am looking for someone to believe in me and something told me that YOU are the one.
5. I don't want to sound negative, but you are going to burn if you do not publish me. I have been praying that you would be the right choice for me. God told me to send this to you.
6. I was told at the office that I was good at telling stories, then someone said, "Fred, you should write a book. So, I did." (If your name is Fred, nothing bad is intended. Accept the 30 seconds of fame or change your name.)
7. Hey, dude! I am going to be the next J.K Rawlings. You should represent me as my agent. In fact, I thought of Harry Potter first. I just did not write it down, you know, dog.
8. I am sending you this "guery" letter to ...
9. Why my book is just like Gone With the Wind only better. That Mitchel woman could learn a few things from me. Heck, my book would make a "way-better" movie.
10. Also, notice that I took the time to draw flowers around the page to design my own border. If you ever need an illustrator for a book, let me know.
11. NEVER, and I do mean NEVER...rent a Brinks Truck to deliver your manuscript or query letter. It is not good to have it signed for, a thumb print required, an eye imprint, or even have a GPS chip embedded into the paper.
Be professional! Just be professional. Think! You want to be treated in a professional manner, right. Do them the same honor.
As some of you know, because you have read my bio, I worked at the local Public Library for ten years. I had a blast being around books. Of course, I wanted to work in the Children's Department, but they made me work the Circulation Desk. I did visit the Children's Department often.
If you have not done this, visit your local library. Talk to the Children's Librarian. She knows what children are reading these days. Walk around the room and see what books she has out on tables and special displays.
Stand back and watch children as they enter. Watch what they like to do. Then, browse the shelves and see the most visited areas. You can tell which areas have the most use.
Ask the librarian the following questions:
1. What books are children checking out over and over?
2. What book is asked for more than any other, but you can not keep it in the library?
3. What books are you reading to children in story-time?
4. What are your top ten books? Why did you select them?
5. What do you think is needed in the Children's Book World today?
6. If you were the author of a children's book, what kind would it be and why?
7. What advice would you give a person that wanted to write for children?
8. Then, ask the librarian to read something of yours and tell you what she thinks.
I will never forget something that Lanelle said to me. READ CHILDREN'S BOOKS. (She meant "READ" children's books. She was going for that deep-down reading with the heart.)
What do you think? Got anything to add. I would love to hear from our librarians, too.
Fleas, Flies, and Fodder You just might be that individual with a set time to write, or you might be the guy that writes on the subway, in the car, during break, while sitting on the toilet, or anywhere else you find yourself with a minute or two.
Something has happend to time. They say it is the same, but it seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I remember when a person had the time to sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors' children fight next door. I remember when adults actually sat and talked about the "good 'ole days." Children would sit close and listen to every word that dropped from grandmother's lips.
Let's face it, if we are going to find time to write we have to be willing to sacrifice something. It is like Indian Jones. We rush into the "temple of writing for children" and see the sacred pen on the pedistal. We quickly look around, searching for something to swap for the pen, and grab a handful of "sand-of-time." We spill half of the sand while trying to place it in a small sack. Then, we carefully try to figure out how much sand can be safely exchanged for time with the sacred pen. We slam down the bag of sand, grab the pen, and rush to our writing place only to find that someone took the chair.
If you are like me, it takes me a little while to warm up to writing. I have to sit a little while and clear my mind of bills, family, appointments, and all things that go bump in the night.
Keep yourself focused on the prize and make yourself write for a couple of hours each day. You will find it very hard to produce anything in less time. You have to crank your own tractor and get it going. The writing "fairy" is not going to come in and sprinkle you with magical writing dust.
It would be a lot easier to write, if you had a nice air conditioned room with a built in stereo. It would really be nice to have voice command technology so that you could say, "CD On!" and it would play your favorite music as you write. Another plus would be to have sound-proof walls to block out all those anoying noises from the neighbors, traffic, and the chef in the kitchen preparing your lunch.
You do know that the above paragraph is a joke, right?
I hope so. In truth, we have to work around so many things, but the most important thing is that we work. You deserve it. I deserve it. We deserve it.
If a man can write a story by the light of a tiny little light bulb in a cold cell, we can find time to write in our situations. Great songs have been written on napkins at restaurants with waiters buzzing from table to table. Great speeches have been written on the back of envelopes and inspired thousands. Some people have even jotted a note on the back of their hand with an ink pen and gone on to develop it into something amazing.
What is all of this blog saying?
Write! Just write. Even if no one will ever see it, write. Put something on paper. Draw a picture. Do something creative. You have it in you! I have it in me. We need to write!
You know how it feels. You pour everything that you have into a story, book, idea, illustrations, or some other creative area only to have it fall to the ground, when you try to make it fly.
I am going to share some things that I have slowly come to realize make or break what we do. I will admit that it hurts to rip your own baby apart. Wait, I would not literally rip a baby apart. I am talking about the creative process.
Before handing your writing off to a friend, neighbor, family member, or publisher, give your writing an honest view with the following checklist in mind. It hurts. It hurts worse than a barbed-wire girdle.
The dreaded checklist:
1. Does the story hook the reader at the beginning and real them in? Be honest. If the story starts out boring. It is boring. You can not sprinkle powdered sugar on it later and make it any better.
2. Does the story have some kind of problem that the reader can actually relate to and make it their own? Remember the movie ShortCircuit? Remember the famous words, "Number five alive?" Is the story alive. Does the main character exhibit emotions that the reader can understand? Make sure there is enough things happening to keep the reader reading.
3. Does the story seem believable? Is it set at a time that is actually enjoyable and understandable? Was the setting believable along with the plot? Did it fit?Does everything keep the story moving to its end?
Think about Special Features on a DVD...Ever wondered why they cut out those deleated scenes? They do not move the story along. There are reasons they are considered "deleated scenes." As for flashbacks, I do not like them "Sam I Am." I would not like them with Green Eggs and Ham neither. I hate the switch from one to the other. Maybe I am the only one that gets lost. Does the story move fast enough to keep the reader interested? Remember those movies that are carried along by the special effects? Does your story have an interesting plot?
4. Does the story make the reader experience the setting? Is it easy to keep up with the locations and time in the story? Do you know who does what and where?
5. Do the characters in your story seem believable? Can children connect with them? Do children believe they are real? Did you give descriptions that children would understand? Would every child want to be the main character in your story? Children want someone to look up to. Does the story appeal to the senses? Children love to see, feel, taste, touch , and hear the story. Do you tickle their senses? Could it be better?
6. Do your characters use words that children would understand and relate to in the story? Did you bore the reader with miles of dialogue? Remember how hard it is to walk and talk at the same time? Does the dialogue add to the story? Is it better for having dialogue? Is it easy to tell who is speaking?
7. Does the story stay with a good and clear point of view? Is it easy to follow?
8. Were all of the descriptions sensory? Is the writing full of words that make the reader taste the bitter milk, smell the burnt toast, and relax in the velvet chair? Did you step out of your box and open up to the world that children love to visit?
9. Is the wording age appropriate? Does it fit who you said it would fit? Does it support the schol curriculum. This is very important today in education and reading. Teachers love to see books that support what they are teaching. (Visit your local school's web site and see what they teach in the way of reading and language and spelling.)
10. Did you work on grammar and spelling? Teachers love to see books that display good grammar and spelling. Children learn by what they read and see, too. (I remember years ago hearing teachers compain about a VERY popular series of children's books. They said that the grammar was horrid. It did not keep them from being big sellers, but teachers did not like them.)
If you are really brave, ask someone to read the story to you. Listen to how someone who does not already know it, reads. It is an eye opener.
With all of this said, I do not in any way or form consider myself to know it all. I am great at giving advice, but I am terrible at taking it.
Thank You for taking to time to stop by and read. It is nice to know that I do have someone interested in what I have to say. I wish I had hundreds of publishers and agents knocking at my door. I would answer.