One Writer’s Journey

November 29, 2017

Picture Book Mash-Ups: Putting Two Things Together to Create Something New

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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Yesterday, I was on the treadmill scanning the publishing blogs.  That’s when I spotted Little Red RuthieA Hanukkah Tale by Gloria Koster.

Koster is an elementary school librarian.  In the course of her job, she’s seen how popular folk tales are.  She’s also seen the demands for fall and winter holiday books.  So she combined the two.

Not surprisingly, this got me thinking about a variety of possibilities.

What would happen if Little Red Riding Hood set out to visit Grandma on the Day of the Dead?  Or Goldilocks dropped in on the Three Bears on Christmas Eve?  What if the Three Billy Goats Gruff were caroling when they traipsed over the trolls bridge?

Obviously, not every mash-up is going to work.  Having Little Red Riding Hood determined to make the trip on Grandparent’s Day might create some fun possibilities but how big would the market be?  I’d want to look at numbers before taking on this story idea.  Christmas would probably have more appeal.

It might also help to look for natural connections.  Thanksgiving is pretty food based so what about a Three Bears Thanksgiving Dinner.  Blessedly the porridge would have to go.  Maybe to be replaced by everyone’s various takes on stuffing/dressing or cranberries.

You would also have to take the time to see what is out there.  I’d be absolutely shocked if no one has done the Gingerbread Man as a Christmas cookie.  But I should check before I make assumptions.  Speaking of assumptions, before trying a new twist on for size, it would be a good idea to see how many Christmas Three Bear books are out there or how many Three Bear Books in general.

Wait . . . what about Thanksgiving Three Little Pigs.  Thanksgiving as we celebrate it has nothing to do with building, but we do tend to make pigs of ourselves . . .

Pardon me.  I need to go look into a few things before starting a new draft.

–SueBE

 

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November 24, 2017

Leaving Room for the Illustrations: Picture Book Writing

One of the hardest aspects of picture book writing to grasp is leaving room for the illustrations.

In part, this means that you can leave visual details up to the illustrator. What color is Becca’s dress?  Not your problem.  What type of shoes does she wear?  Not your problem.  Back pack?  Not your (can you fill in the blank?).  Unless these details impact the story, they are up to the illustrator.

But it also means that you don’t need to turn every action or goal into a step by step process.  Instead of writing that your character climbed a tree, waded across a stream (instead of taking the bridge) and swung from wild grape vines all on the way to Grandma’s, you could say that she took a more-or-less direct route. Instead of detailing every step of her morning routine, say that getting ready for school went smoother than usual.  Leave it up to the illustrator to show her searching for her shoe under her bed and in the dog house only to discover that her little brother is using it for a doll’s bed.

When you leave room for the illustrator, you leave room for the picture book reader as well.

 

Don’t tell us that Krista got a red balloon for her birthday.  Tell us about how the sun glinted off the shiny surface.  Tell us how the string felt in her hand.  Tell us about the bump-bump-bump sound it made as she carried it down the hall to her room.

Tell us that the balloon was the best part of Krista’s birthday.  But don’t say that.  Tell us it was shaped like love.  Tell us she took it to school with her the next day.  Tell us she cried when the wind carried it away.

You’ve left room for the illustrator and the reader to picture the balloon with their eyes and in their hearts.

–SueBE

 

November 21, 2017

Mentor Texts: Guiding Yourself through Writing a Picture Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:11 am
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If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of using mentor texts.  A mentor text is a book that you use as a guide in one particular aspect of your own writing.

You might use I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde as a mentor for writing about an abstract concept for young readers.

 

Patriotic but potentially controversial?  Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers.

 

Considering a quiet book?  I’d look at Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon. Your book may be very different but this is the quiet book that, in my experience, all others are compared to.

But sometimes you chose a mentor text and it just doen’t work.  That was the case when I looked at Home by Caron Ellis as an example of how to bring one of my picture book ending home.  Ellis makes her book on varied houses work by ending it at her own home.  Get it?  She brings it home.  I know.  It sounds corny but it really works.

I’d tried something similar with my prayer book.  But no one who read the new ending liked it.  It felt disjointed.  Compared to the rest of the book, it felt narrow.  And the really funny part?  After reading my manuscript, someone recommended that I read Home.  Been there.  Done that.  Have the draft to prove it.

Mentor texts are a great way of learning what can work in a story but sometimes they are just as valuable for teaching you  that what works for one manuscript may not work for another.  My advice, keep reading.  You never know when you will read the book that will bring everything together in your mind and on the page.

–SueBE

November 9, 2017

Storyboard: One Way to Outline Your Picture Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:26 am
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When you write a picture book, you need to make certain you have enough story.  The problem is that there has to be enough to stretch over 32 pages.  And this has to be 32 pages with zing.  They can’t be scant.  They can’t be meaningless.  They have to matter.

I’ve been noodling over a new idea for just over a month now.  I know it is a story that matters.  How do I know?  People are arguing about it.  Everyone is certain that their answer is Right with a capital R.  But I have to make sure this story that matters can fit inside and fill the inside of a picture book.

One of the best ways to tell is to storyboard it.  For those of you who have never worked up a storyboard, it is a worksheet, or board, that allows you to mock-up a picture book so that you can see the entire thing on one page.  I don’t like working on something as small as a sheet of printer paper.  My storyboard is a piece of cardboard that was used to cover a mirror in shipment.

Why bother with a storyboard?  The great thing about using a story board is that I can see right away if I have enough scenes.  Will my idea fill a whole picture book?

So I start by writing a sentence or a phrase for each scene.  I do this on post it notes.  Once I have my post-it scenes in hand, I set about arranging them on the various spreads.

Some people prefer to do this on a worksheet.  I like this post-it note approach because I can re-arrange things as needed. To an extent, the order of my scenes are sequential.  This happened on X date.  This followed on Y date.  And this was on Z. But that just covers the historic spreads.  The modern ones are going to take some fiddling.  Post-its and my giant board let me move, cut apart, put on one two-page spread, and just generally fiddle.

When I’m done, I have an outline and I’m ready to write.  Not that the writing will necessarily be easy but at least I know when I’m done I’ll have a story that is long enough, and worth of, a picture book.

–SueBE

May 24, 2017

Picture Book Writing: It Started with a Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Yesterday I was piddling around doing something else, talking to my teen when a phrase popped into my head.  “Yeti yoga.”

“Sasquatch swimming, what’s your point?”

“I’m not sure.  What would yeti hope to get out of yoga?”

Fortunately he’s grown up with Writer Mom so this didn’t particularly phase him.  I wasn’t sure what if anything would happen with this but it seemed like a fun title so I jotted it down and got back to work on the outline and chapter one of Advertising Overload. I turned those in after dinner and did some yard work.  It wasn’t until I turned off my computer and got in the shower that ideas started popping into my head.

Main Character: Gigi.  Daughter of two explorers.  Home schooled, naturally.

Setting: Himalayas, also naturally.

I knew what specific yoga positions yeti would practice (triangle, downward dog and a high lunge) as well as why (the normal reason, relaxation, and reducing your profile during high winds).  Now to work it into a story.

By the time I got out of the shower I had my chorus, my story problem and several scenes worked out.  Of course I’d already shut the computer off so I quickly drafted the book on a pad of Post-It Notes.  The benefit of a Post-It draft is that it is easy to see how many scenes you have, judge balance and see what, if anything, needs to be shifted.  Normally I do this by putting the POst-Its on the story board but not this time.  It’s still in its hiding place on top of my filing cabinets.

By morning it was obvious that my ending didn’t quite work but I also knew how to fix it.  So I wrote up another post-it and added it to the pile.  It feels kind of odd to be rewriting without actually having a full typed draft of the manuscript, but I’ll take it!  Before I do take the time to type everything out, I’m going to check the balance and make sure the pacing works.

Last but not least, I need to decide if the title gives too much away.  I suspect that it does but it can also easily become a second, shorter, chorus within the text.  I’ve never done this many “drafts” on a picture book while it is still in the Post-It stage but I kind of like it and may very well try it again.

–SueBE

May 18, 2017

The Dot Test: Rising Tension

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:35 am
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I’ve been contempleting one of my new manuscripts, working on a rewrite.  This particular picture book has a fun concept and interesting characters.  I say “interesting” because one of them is more interesting than she is sympathetic although she does change and grow.

But in addition to this you also have to have a story arc and part of that arc is rising tension.  One of these easiest ways to test this in a picture book is with the dot test.  I first read bout this test in a post at Adventures in Agenting.

Here is how you test a picture book.

Draw a line across your page.  Make a dot at the left end of the line and label it 1.  That is the level of tension in your first spread – spread because it is a picture book.  Otherwise it would be chapter.

Anywho, read the first spread and then read spread #2.  Is the tension higher?  If so, make another dot to the right and slightly higher than the first.  If the tension is the same, the two dots will be parallel.  If the tension drops, Dot #2 will be lower than Dot #1.

Spread by spread, read through your manuscript and judge each spread compared to the one just before it.

Ideally, your spreads will plot out something like your traditional story arc.  You need to have a climb toward the climax with tension dropping off several times immediately following an attempt by the hero to solve his story problem. A story that continually climbs in tension but never drops off even slightly, may seem tiring and burn the reader out before they finish.  A story that plots out as a horizontal line isn’t climbing towards a climax.

How does my story test out.  It climbs and then holds steady and then climbs again.  Way too much time spent with no climb or drop.  At least I know where to focus my efforts!

–SueBE

 

May 16, 2017

Picture Book Mentorship

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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Do you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with your picture books?  You’ve read all there is to read about writing picture books.  Your critique group likes your work but you still can’t find a publisher or an agent.  What are you doing wrong?

One of the best ways to get past this point is to work with a mentor.  A mentor is an more advanced author who works closely with you to help you develop your talent.  The good news for picture book writers is that the Kansas/Missouri Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has an annual mentorship, and the mentor for 2018 is picture book author Ann Ingalls.

In addition to being a friend, Ann is a top-notch picture book author.  Her titles include J Is for Jazz (Bright Connections Media 2014), The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend (HMH 2010), and Fairy Floss (Little Bee Books 2017).  Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to be a critique group with Ann knows what a fantastic opportunity this is.  Ann is an insightful writer with the skills needed to help someone see the potential in their story.

To find out more, visit the KS/MO web site.  The lucky winner will definitely grow if they take advantage of this opportunity. As it says on the web site:  “If you apply, plan to study the picture book market, see what is out there, pay attention to what works and doesn’t in that marketplace, and spend loads of time with your rear in a chair and fingers poised above the keyboard while waiting for inspiration.  All the while, the goal will be to make your book submission ready for agents and editors.”

The deadline is June 30, 2017.

–SueBE

April 25, 2017

Fact vs Fiction When You’re Making Things Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:03 am
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Just how fictitious is too fictitious?  That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself as I research a new picture book.  It isn’t fantasy in the unicorns and elves sense.  There is no magic.  But there are animals doing things that animals simply do not do.

Without giving it all away, I have animal and human co-workers, specifically human and penguin co-workers. They are employed on a joint project in the Antarctic.

Obviously not realistic but how fanciful do I want to get?  I want my penguins to act like penguins which is going to require reading up on penguin behavior and watching scads of videos.  Oh, the horror.

But not every penguin behaves like every other penguin. So what kinds of penguins do I choose?

Obviously, I have to pick an Antarctic penguin which rules out Galapagos penguins.  But it still meant that I had to chose between King, Emperor, Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni and Rockhopper.

There were several criteria that I could use to choose.  I could pick a penguin with specific characteristics.  Some penguins nurture both chicks vs simply the one that hatches first.  Others are more social.  Some are noisier than others.  They vary in what they eat, where they live and how long they mate.  Yeah, that last one never really featured in the decision process. This is, after all, a picture book and not that kind of picture book.  Enemies are pretty consistent — adult penguins have to watch out for leopard seals and chicks are preyed on by skua.

I finally decided to select the penguin that researchers would be most likely to encounter.  This meant comparing maps of penguin nesting locations with maps of human activity and habitation.  There really wasn’t as much overlap as you might think.

Penguin type – check.  Now I’m ready to start watching those penguin videos and working to weave penguin fact into my highly fictitious penguin story.  Fact definitely blends with fiction in unique ways when you are writing a picture book.

–SueBE

 

 

 

April 18, 2017

Poetry Terms: A Few Key Words You Need to Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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April is National Poetry Month.  Whether you are a serious poet or just someone who dabbles like I occassionally do, this Writer’s Digest post includes thirty-seven key terms that will help you know what everyone else is talking about. Of course, if you are a serious poet, you probably know most of them.

Rhyme, rhythm, and stanza I already knew but another term I’ve frequently seen, but never seen defined, is chapbook. If you write for children, that sounds a lot like chapter book, a type of book for newly confident readers who can handle chapters but still need fairly direct, straightforward text.

In poetry, a chapbook is a small book of approximately 24 to 50 pages.  Not what the “chap” stands for but when I looked deeper into it I found that they are also called brochures or pamphlets.  Traditionally they were stitched but they can also be stapled and generally have a paper stock cover.   They are often themed and have kind of a DIY feel so if you have the urge to try self-publishing something you might want to study up on chapbooks. You can read more about chapbooks here and here.

A lot of other poetry terms, including anapest and dactyl,  have to do with stressed and unstressed syllables. Then there are the terms that have to do with sounds other than rhyme — assonance and consonance, for example.

If you only dabble, you may not feel the need to know all of these terms but if you write picture books it is important to know about word play and how to make your story a fun read-aloud experience.  That means poetry.  You may not need each and every one of these words to know if your piece “works” but an editor or other critiquer may use one of these terms to explain why your rhythym is off.

This list made it obvious that I have a whole lot to learn. I have to say that I knew only about 25% of the terms but now I have a good source for new things, including chapbooks, that I want to learn more about.

–SueBE

March 31, 2017

Counting Books: Thinking out of the box

Just a few days ago, I reviewed Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book about Building by Kurt Cyrus.  It was a marvelous lesson in out-of-the-box thinking.

When I picked up the book, I expected something along the lines of one brick, two bricks . . . up through ten. But Cyrus gives the reader anything but the expected one through ten progression.  There are even numbers, specifically two, four, six, and counting by fives but never one through ten.  It is a book about building perhaps even more so than it is a book about counting.

I haven’t been planning to write a counting book, but now I find myself wondering how I might do it.  A book of count downs?  I wonder if that’s been done.  That could be a lot of fun dealing with space launches and race starts.

Squares?  1, 4, 9, 16, etc.   Hmm. I’m not sure how that one would work.

I’ll have to noodle this over while I’m on the treadmill.  I do have an idea for an alphabet book about trains.  Yes there are already train books but I’ve got a plan that would make this one different.  I hope it is unique enough to be “out of the box.”

At this point there are so many counting and alphabet books as well as books about shapes and colors that you have to come up with something creative to get a positive response.  Why buy your book when they can buy one illustrated by Dr. Seuss or featuring a favorite character.  Especially if you are considering a counting book, take a look at Billions of Bricks and see how your book stacks up next to the competition.

–SueBE

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