As a fiction writer every day, every single thing we do can ignite our next great story.
But, what if you write nonfiction? It's not as if you are living during the Civil War or the era of Henry VIII every day.
But, yet we are. Everything that we touch, see and hear has been manipulated by history.
Watching American Pickers on the History channel they found an old pinball machine which lead me to wondering "who created the first pinball machine and why."
At Thanksgiving Dinner I noticed my mom's old butter churn which lead me to thinking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and life on the Prairie.
Let's see what we can come up with from our every day lives-
Do you get my drift? Stories are everywhere- even NONFICTION. I challenge you to get a notebook and make a list of things that touch your every day life. Once your story is complete you will be ready for the ever imposing question asked by editors and agents- "Why are you the one to write this story?" Now you have your answer, it has touched your life.
Let me know how you do with this challenge,
The “P” Word
By Miranda Paul
No, I’m not referring to any cuss word or bodily functions. Or craft-related terms such as “pacing” or “plot.”
The word that’s been shocking my inner writer lately is one that often evokes a physical reaction when I’m reminded of its importance.
There, I said it.
It’s a tough one to say aloud without also slipping out a sigh or a slight roll of the eye. Am I right?
If you write children’s books—especially picture books—and you’re trying to get them traditionally published, you know how sharp the seemingly gentle and soft “P” word can really feel.
Just the other day, an excited (non-writer) friend patted me on the back and said, “Aren’t you excited? Your books come out soon, huh?”
I proceeded to reminder her that both are coming out in early 2015.
She scrunched her nose. “What’s taking them so long?”
To be honest, I’ve occasionally wanted to blurt out something similar, albeit mostly in my earlier days. (My daughter once said, "What do you mean I'll be NINE when the book comes out?!)
Now I understand that part of the picture book process involves contract negotiations, editing, illustrations, fact-checking (mine are both based on NF subjects), printing, marketing, and more.
That still doesn’t make patience an easy thing, even though I respect and understand wholeheartedly the need to slow down when it comes to good writing and the publishing process.
Right now, I’ve got a number of writer-friends struggling with the “P” word. Friends who are waiting to:
We sure do a lot of waiting, don’t we?
But all this you did know before. What you might not know are five quick strategies for getting more of the “P” word when you’ve seem to run out.
Above these, the best way to practice patience is to remember why you’re writing picture books in the first place. Let’s face it, in a world of convenience, quick apps, and self-publishing options that could have your book available for download by tonight, there’s a reason you chose to pursue THE PRINT PICTURE BOOK.
Picture books, unlike any other form of book, really, are about slowing down. They’re about craft, careful decision making, pining over each and every word. They’re not about what’s quick or convenient or trendy—at least not the ones you and your children or grandchildren cherish, I’d imagine.
If we’re in a hurry to get our books published, and we rush the process, we’re going to make mistakes that will take away some of that magic or won’t let our story’s power reach its full potential. If we plunge too quickly into self-publishing or any option we haven't really researched, or choose to “go it alone” rather than reap the benefits of a team that is provided when we traditionally publish, we assume the risk that our book won’t make it into as many laps or onto as many nightstands or library lists.
Slowing down makes our books amazing. Editors, agents, and publishers have known that the "P' word equals "power" for years. Despite the crazy emotional roller coaster writers may ride, isn’t the dream of a truly amazing book worth the wait?
Miranda Paul is the author of One Plastic Bag (Millbrook, 2015) and Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015). In addition to being an instructor for the Picture Book Academy’s newest course on grammar, she is the founder and administrator of RateYourStory.org, an online service dedicated to helping writers prepare their manuscripts for submission. She's given birth (naturally) twice, which might be partially responsible for some of the discipline and patience she applies to her writing. Read more online at: www.MirandaPaul.com.
When I start on a new manuscript, I usually only have a kernel of an idea. I might start with a title, a character, or a situation, as I did with Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg and wondered what could happen if a boy chased his dog for a bath.
I think of the first draft as the first layer and it's the toughest to write. If I keep going, I get the first layer down. Sometimes, however, that first layer just won't come. If my writing sessions drag and my enthusiasm sputters to a stop, I realize that a story that’s not fun to write, won’t be fun to read either.
No first layer.
So I keep going and start on something else. Next time—success! I get the first layer down and I’m excited about my main character, plot, and when I reread certain parts, I can’t help laughing at the humorous words, phrases, or plot turns I’ve built into the story. Enjoying my own work keeps me going. If I like it, I’m confident editors and readers will like it too.
Then, I go back and add more layers. It's these additional layers that will transform a good manuscript into an exceptional one. Here are four elements I consider when I go back to add extra layers of interest and dimension to my manuscripts:
Sound words – Picture books are meant to be read aloud. A book with sound words will be more fun to read. Are there places in the manuscript where you can add sound words?
For example, in The Prince Won’t Go to Bed! by Dayle Ann Dodds, she wrote:
“They RUB-DUBBED through the castle,
They RUB-DUBBED through the hall,
Head to toe in bubbles,
Lord and Prince and all.”
She could have written "They scrubbed through the castle," or even worse, "They went through the castle," but instead she pumped up the language with great sound words that are fun to read aloud.
Repetition - This is another great layer that will add fun, predictability, and structure to the story. In the same book, the author created a repeating line that became more emphatic as the story progressed: "Waa! Waa! Waa! I will not go to bed!" the teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, little Prince said.
Would a repeating line add fun and dimension to your story?
Rhymed words – Some manuscripts are written in prose and some in rhyme. But many manuscripts use both. For example in Tammi Sauer’s prose book, Mostly Monsterly, her main character, Bernadette, wrote invitations to her monster classmates written in rhyme that added unexpected sparkle and fun to the story. Look at your manuscript. Is there a place where you can include bits of rhyme?
Emotional connection – Even if a story is simple, including an emotional connection can make the difference between a sale or a rejection. For example, I recently sold a counting story to Bloomsbury. Editors rejected an early simple and straightforward version. It counted up, and then counted down. This first layer wasn’t enough in a tough picture book market. So months later, I looked at it again and found a way to create an emotional connection by creating a scene at the climax with some dialogue. Now it wasn’t just a counting book, it was a story about rejection, acceptance, and friendship. This theme resonated with the editor and the illustrator, Betsy Lewin, who will add her own layers of magic.
So look at your manuscripts. What layers can you add to turn your good story into an exceptional one?
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than three dozen fiction and nonfiction books. A member of SCBWI, Lori is a frequent speaker at schools and SCBWI conferences. She also works as a writing instructor and is represented by Eden Street Literary in New York. Recent picture book titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, recently named one of Amazon's Best Picture Books of the Year, (Clarion, 2013), Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault (Random House, 2010), and In the Trees, Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009). Visit Lori’s website at www.lorimortensen.com
Storyboarding sounds scary, sort of like snowboarding or wake boarding- all takes training and can lead to someone getting hurt.
Sure, it's easy to see how someone could be injure snowboarding or wake boarding,but STORYBOARDING? Absolutely, our hearts are tied to every word that we write and when we have to cut something out, it is like cutting out a part of our heart. We are bonded with our stories.
After all it was Ernest Hemingway who said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
But we have to do it, we have to story board.
Let's get one thing straight, I am an author and only an author. I have absolutely zero artistic ability.
With many people knowing this, I was asked "Why do you storyboard, that is an illustrator's job."
That is soooo not true. There are many reasons why ALL authors should storyboard.
1. Find where an editor might make page turns. Ensure that you have great lines that leave the reader wanting more.
2. Ensure that your evocative language allows for an illustrator to do their job. Read the words that you have put on each page, are there description, settings, atmosphere that an illustrator can depict?
3. Make sure that you have enough scenes for a picture book. As a picture book writer you need at least 14 different scenes for 2 page spreads and up to 2 single pages.
Now, my storyboard may look fancy but you can make it simpler or fancier than mine.
I am a Hobby Lobby junkie and found the stand for $27, the large picture frame with a 40% coupon came out to $19.00. Put some black construction paper or magnetic board behind the glass and VOILA- a story board. Use dry erase markers and you are ready to go.
Cut your story up into sentences or write scenes on index cards or sticky notes and layout your story and capture the tale.
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