by Bryan Patrick Avery
Life? Or Death? There is no more compelling scenario in magic then one in which a magician’s failure could lead to harm or certain death. The escape artist, handcuffed and chained before being lowered into a tank of water, must find her way out or risk drowning. The infamous bullet catch has proven deadly for more than one magician whose skill, or luck, failed him. Still, the prospect of impending doom makes audiences sit forward in their chairs, unable to look away.
The same is true in the world of storytelling. Readers are captivated by stories where the characters are in grave danger. This month, we’ll look at two books where the main characters must succeed or else pay the ultimate price. First up, the tale of an escaped slave who must escape a horrific natural disaster during the time of the Roman Empire.
“I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79” is the tenth book in Lauren Tarshis’ bestselling I Survived series. It is the story of a young boy name Marcus, who is a slave in ancient Rome. After the death of his master, Marcus’s father (Tata) is sold and Marcus is taken to Pompeii to serve a cruel new master. No one suspects that, soon, the entire city will be destroyed. When Marcus is reunited with his father, he believes that everything will, at last, be okay.
Marcus and his father are able to escape and climb high up the mountain called Vesuvius. That is where they discover that something is terribly wrong. Tata insists they return to Pompeii to warn the townspeople, an act that could lead to their capture and even death. Still, they go. It is during this return trip that the mountain unleashes its full wrath, leaving Marcus (and the reader) to wonder if there is any hope of escape.
The danger, of course, is not enough to keep the reader turning the page. Marcus and Tata are compelling, sympathetic characters. Early in the book, Marcus helps an older beggar woman whom the other townspeople simply ignored. It’s what Blake Snyder would call a “Save the Cat” moment (great book, by the way) and builds an instant connection between Marcus and the reader. By the time Vesuvius erupts, we’re rooting for him, first to escape slavery, then to escape death. This drives us to turn page after page to find out what happens.
Another of example of a character facing a life or death situation can be found in Nikki Shannon Smith’s “Noelle at Sea: A Titanic Survival Story”. Part of the Girls Survive series, this book follows a young biracial girl who travels with her family on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. The reader is able to build an instant connection with Noelle when she befriends a girl named Pauline who is traveling in steerage. Noelle asks her mom to help Pauline get dressed for dinner and even gives Pauline one of her own dresses. For a while, the trip seems to be perfect. Then, things take a turn.
Noelle sneaks into first class with her new friend which lands her in trouble with her parents. Then, she wakes up to discover that the unsinkable Titanic is, in fact, sinking. As her family attempts to escape the sinking ship, Noelle, realizes that she cannot leave Pauline behind. She flees into the bowels of the ship to rescue her friend. We can't help but turn page after page as Noelle attempts to save her friend, and herself from a horrible fate in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. The danger grows with each page turn and we begin to wonder whether Noelle, her family, and her friend, will escape to safety. It is a compelling page turner with an emotional hook that grabs the reader and won’t let go.
If you’re interested in writing a page turner that readers just can’t put down, consider raising the stakes on your characters. And remember, it doesn’t have to be literal death that your character is facing. Figurative death can be just as compelling as well.
Well, that’s all for now. Happy writing. Have a magical month.
by Melissa Stoller
Does the following scenario sound familiar? You write a story. You think, “Wow! This is a fantastic story! I can’t believe my first draft is this good.” Then you read it again the next day. And think, “Wow. This story needs help!” Most manuscripts are truly solidified in the editing process. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you dig into your manuscript revisions.
My process for revising picture books can be modified for chapter books, middle grade, and young adult manuscripts as well. As I dig into revisions, I delve into big picture edits, smaller picture issues, and a checklist of considerations.
First, I contend with big picture issues. Is the structure of the story sound? Does it have a strong plot? A memorable character with hopefully endearing and identifying characteristics? Is there a clearly defined story arc with a beginning, middle and end? Does the MC have sufficiently challenging and escalating obstacles to overcome? Does the MC use his or her own agency to overcome those obstacles? Is there enough “heart” in the story? Is the ending satisfying and is there perhaps a nice twist at the end? Throughout the writing and editing process, I also consider whether the idea is sound and marketable as a children’s book.
I also look at smaller picture issues such as: sentence length and structure, grammar, syntax, word choice, wordplay, and figurative language.
Finally, I run through a checklist after all the points above have been visited:
Does the story have a strong opening and ending line?
For picture books specifically, does each scene move the story along? Can the scenes be fully illustrated?
Do the words show and not tell?
Regarding overall word count, is the story within the correct parameters for the genre?
Does the revision require “killing darlings,” meaning cutting words, ideas, scenes, or even characters from the manuscript?
Does the story have a strong hook and can I write a marketable pitch?
* * *
Good luck with your process of brainstorming ideas, writing, and revising. Happy creating!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming picture books include Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2019). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.
Guest Post from former student Jackia Azúa Kramer and video review of Miri Leshem's meta book on making books called Scribble and Author from Blogfishy Mira Reisberg
Howdy friends, I love my students and love continuing to help them after they are published. So I have two treats for you today. First up is a video review of Miri Leshem Pelly's Scribble and Author (it's only 5 mins) followed by a Guest Post from the equally wonderful Jackie Azua Kramer.
I hope you love this book as much as I do. If you can, please buy it from your local independent bookstore and ask your library to get it in too. If not, click here for an Amazon link The same goes for Jackie's books. Read on for the link and more as Jackie shares some sage advice for writers.
Before You Write FREE Your Mind by Jackie Azua
Many writers believe in B.I.C., otherwise, known as ‘butt in chair’. A writer MUST physically write every day. For me, just imagining that stark, white, unyielding page daring me to write something new, interesting and compelling, makes my blood run cold. Oh, I’m feeling faint.
Allow me to get a bit hippy-dippy...I write metaphysically. When I start to write I never consider the page blank. I’ve been writing in my head long before I sit down at the keyboard. I call it writing in my ‘writerly mind’. Here’s a rough idea of what happens before the pen hits the paper, if you will.
1. I invite the muse in. How? I go and LIVE my life. Hang out with friends. Go to museums and movies. Cook and clean. Travel. Play in the natural world. Read. My senses are primed and open to that spark of an idea.
2. Now the bones of a story are rattling around in my mind. The story is ever present, as I shower, do laundry, go walking. I dare say, I even lose track of time entertained in my writerly mind. When I wake up in the morning, and before I fall asleep, the story is taking shape.
3. Like a movie playing on a loop, I envision the beginning and the end of the story. I’m not worried about the middle. What’s most important is I know how I want the reader to FEEL.
4. I begin to describe to someone (anyone who’ll listen, and often my hubby) what I’m doing. Conversation often crystallizes my own thinking far more effectively than solitary reflection.
Here’s what--when I put the first words down, there’s no need for perfection. I know they may change, however, I’m now able to say “hello” and welcome that same blank page. So, before you write, FREE YOUR MIND.
Once again, do try and buy Jackie's books at your local independent bookstore but if this is too difficult, you can find them here at this link. And here's a quick peek at Jackie's latest book
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, & CBA Director Mira Reisberg PhD who is handing her Mondays over to awesome former now trad. pubbed students to widen their audience.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.