Isn't September lovely? Schools are back in session, the season is beginning to change, and it feels like September is a month that just invites you to take a breath. If you're anything like me, you might take that breath and bask in September's "Septembery-ness" and promptly forget what you were doing. Maybe that forgetfulness turns into something really nasty, like the dreaded writer's block!
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT SWEATING IT!
KRISTI IS HERE!
The truly multifaceted Kirsti Call shared some fantastic tips for breaking the block and getting back to work one year ago on the Children's Book Academy Blog.
Happy Block Breaking!
This entry originally ran on September 16, 2015
One of the best things about homeschooling is that I get to teach my kids how to write! But I have a hard time understanding my reluctant writers. How can they stare at a blank page for SO long without filling it with wonderful words? But we’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s hard to get the words on the page. Here are 3 strategies that I use for my kids and myself when we’re struggling
1. Write about something you LOVE. I discovered this trick last year when I couldn’t get my 9 year to write anything. Finally I said: “Write about chickens or Greek Mythology!” And my little backyard chicken farmer and Greek mythology enthusiast wrote quickly, and easily and from the heart. When her daddy threatened to kill the roosters we had raised, Sydney was outraged. So she wrote a five paragraph persuasive essay. I’ve never seen her write so well. She wrote it with so much passion, that she couldn’t even read it to her dad without crying. Her words worked their magic and the roosters are now at a farm happily living out their lives.
2. Write Stream of Consciousness. Sometimes when we write what we are thinking, and let go of worrying about the perfect word combination, we come up with the most wonderful combination of words....or not. I give my kids permission to write: “I don’t know what to write” over and over again if they want to and somehow, that’s never happened. Even if that does happen, there are words on the page.
3. Set a Timer. At our house, when I set the timer for 10 minutes, somehow people get words on the page and usually they have more to write after the time is up. And if all else fails, watch this chicken video. It's a well known fact at our house that chickens inspire ideas. What helps you overcome writer’s block?
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013 with Character Publishing. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her watching her backyard chickens or writing, of course. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
Tribulation amidst the Jubilation – A Peek at the Revision Process After Acquisition, Part 1 - by Marsha Diane Arnold
Oh, the jubilation that occurs once a manuscript has finally sold. There are praises and congratulations all around. But the story (pun intended) does not stop there. Depending on your manuscript, your editor, and your illustrator, a bit more tribulation awaits the jubilant writer.
But we are not Twinkies, dear writers. We don’t come two to a pack. We are individuals. So the amount of revision, if any, and how it is handled, will vary depending on our story, our editor, and our illustrator.
Let’s peek at the changes made after acquisition in some of my recent books, published or to be published between 2015 and 2017.
After Lost. Found. sold (Neal Porter Books 2015), I had almost no interaction with my superstar editor and illustrator. Maybe it was because my editor and I thought my manuscript was pretty near perfect. Others seemed to agree, as it received three starred reviews. But another reason for little interaction might have been that, when sold, the word count was only 22. Not much to change there. In the end, two “losts” and two “founds” were deleted, making the word count 18. The cuts were made, without my input, but losing them worked perfectly with the illustrations.
Of course, the manuscript had lots of art notes; those were closely followed as well. But my illustrator Matthew Cordell added a few images that provided extra mischievousness and fun to some scenes.
With my next four manuscripts, the editors shared a lot with me as the stories went through their steps to become books. This made me happy and excited (jubilation!). But it also brought a bit of tribulation (and work!)
A Welcome Song for Baby was sold to Tamarind Books, Random House, UK. Having an ocean between us didn’t cause too much of a challenge, but because I’d written my story for an American audience, word changes were needed (Mama became Mummy) and animal species and seasons needed to be looked at again.
There was also quite a bit of back and forth about commas, periods, and other matters that might seem minor to those without writing proclivities.
For example, the second page of the book now reads “Daddy builds a cradle, Grandpa paints a room.” In the original text, there was a period between “cradle” and “Grandpa.” I thought it slowed down my main character’s observations, showing she is thinking about what everyone else is doing and leading to her question,“What will I do, I wonder, to welcome the new baby?” Also, originally the “I” was italicized, but in the final book it lost its slant. In both these cases, I bowed to my editor.
There were also points that took multiple emails back and forth to arrive at mutual happiness. The text near the climax now reads,
“Now I hum a hurry, hurry bee song as we wait...”
That small phrase went through quite a bit of conversation across the ocean. My original text read, "Slurping sticky lemonade in summer hotness, I hum a hurry, hurry bee song.”
At one point my editor cut the line completely. No, Not my darling! I thought, then offered up my point-of-view.
“’Keeping the “hurry, hurry bee song’ allows for a repetition of the bees from the beginning of the summer section, which is a nice reflection, and more importantly shows that Emma is anxious for Baby to arrive. May we change to this:
“Now I hum a hurry, hurry bee song as Mummy and I wait...”
My editor suggested, “Now I hum a hurry, hurry bee song as we wait” as it flowed “slightly more smoothly.” Of course he was absolutely right. In my hurry to save part of my darling, I’d failed to see this. Thanks to my editor, we now had perfection, at least in our eyes.
That’s enough revision tribulation for us this month. Next month, I’ll continue with peeks that allow us to see what makes a better book and a better writer – those revisions after acquisition.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning author with over a million books sold. Her newest book, Waiting for Snow, will arrive on the scene November 1st. Stop by this blog again next month to see what revisions were made after acquisition for this and other of her books.
by Bryan Patrick Avery
In the world of performing magic, nothing can be as rewarding (or as risky) as including a volunteer in your act. Careful attention must be paid to the act of selecting a volunteer from the audience. Choose wisely, and the trick becomes even more magical. Choose poorly, and the effect may not come off as well as you hoped or may even be completely ruined. The same can be true when selecting characters to help tell your story.
I think every writer experiences a moment where a particular character raises their hand and practically begs to be included in the story. It’s our job, just as a magician would do, to determine whether or not they’ll add to the story or detract from it. A great set of supporting characters can help give the story texture, provide organic conflict and even help reveal the qualities of the main character.
A great example of this can be found in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. We meet Harry, living a (mostly) normal life with his aunt, uncle and cousin when he discovers that he is, in fact, a wizard and not normal at all. He is shipped off to a school for wizards (Hogwarts), thrust into a world he knows nothing about, and must face extraordinary challenges just to survive. He is befriended by two students at Hogwarts, Hermione and Ron.
Ron and Hermione are the perfect companions, from a storytelling perspective, because they help move Harry, and the story, forward in a way that feels natural to the reader. Hermione is brilliant, and not shy about sharing what she knows. She able to explain the world of wizards to Harry and, therefore, the reader without the story feeling like it’s bogged down in exposition.
Ron helps in another, also important way. His sometimes fearful or cautious ways helps the reader to see and appreciate Harry’s bravery. Though Ron is clearly more comfortable as a wizard, we have no trouble believing that it is Harry who must save the day.
Another great example of a truly magical cast of characters can be found in Penny Warner’s Agatha Award-winning series, The Code Buster’s Club. Though the story action centers around Dakota “Cody” Jones, the other members of the Club all bring unique perspectives to each story. While Cody is a gifted with languages, Quinn is a video game master, M.E. is a handwriting expert, and Luke is into extreme sports. While they all share a passion for codes and puzzles, Penny has given each character unique skills and characteristics which come into play as they solve mysteries. This adds to depth of the stories and helps pull the reader into the story.
Characterization in picture books is critical. With fewer words to tell the story, the characters must come alive in the illustrations. One of my recent favorites is “The Wrong Side of the Bed” by Lisa M. Bakos, illustrated by Anna Raff. It tells the story of a young girl named Lucy who has woken up in the wrong side of the bed. From the prickly porcupine who wants to snuggle in her bed to the crocodile who borrows her toothbrush, every character Lucy encounters contributes to her one bunny slipper bad day. The story is humorous, and Anna Raff’s illustrations give the characters personalities all their own (there’s nothing like a penguin pillow fight).
Often, the hardest decision when writing a story is deciding what characters make sense for your story. There’s never one way to decide but I’ll leave you with a piece of advice I once heard about selecting volunteers for a magic trick. These hold true for characters as well.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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