FIVE WRITING TIPS FOR APRIL

The Mavens

The April tip topic is Plot, Plot, Plot. Some writers love to plot, some hate to plot, and almost all writers have those “I’m stuck” moments when plotting their stories. What tips do the Mavens have for you as you PLOT, PLOT, PLOT? Let’s find out:

Laurie Lazarro Knowlton:

The biggest mistake I see when critiquing manuscripts is that the writer has all the early components of a story: The WHO: A Main Character and Sub Characters. THE WHERE: Setting, a WHAT: Problem, challenge or quest, But then they fail to follow plot basics:

Identify a strong reason for main character’s motivation. Hunger Games = saving her sister, Dorothy and The Wizard of OZ = Desire to get home

Plot has to involve the main character working through a series of tries/events to solve the problem, challenge or quest.
Each of the tries needs to increase in difficulty.
Emotion binds your main character and the reader.
No one else can solve the problem for the main character.
The main character has to grow in wisdom and strength in each of the failed tries leading the character to a believable solution.
Plot is the main body of your story using up approximately ½ to 2/3 of your text. Be sure to review your plot basics when writing!

 

Stephanie Jacob Gordon:

Every plot for me begins with a WHAT IF…?

One idea and my brain is off to the races.  OFF TO THE RACES….  A kid who loves racing what a great idea if I only knew something about horses, or racing, or liked horse stories.  But I don’t.  And Black Beauty is still a classic.  So that is not my WHAT IF.

But what if you are driving along through Ohio farm country with your writing partner and you see a bunch of pigs piled on top of each other and one of you says, “What do you think that pile of pigs is doing?”  WHAT IF…?  And the book A PILE OF PIGS is born.

For as long as I can remember, my friend Judy and I have been writing partners and conference buddies and Co-SCBWI RAs, RACs, Board Members, lecturers,teachers, editors, and anything else ones writing life provides.  So “what if” people all over the world start calling you the bad babies…  WHAT IF…?  And the book THE TWO BADD BABIES is born.

What if you need a plot? Grab your characters, look at their problems, then “what if” all possible solutions. And you, too, may soon have a book in the works.

Cheryl Zach:

Plot comes from conflict, conflict begins with a problem. If you don’t have a problem to solve, you don’t have anything to write about. Character is all important, but character without conflict is a big blob of shapeless nothing. Beautiful writing, maybe, but just an essay or character sketch in disguise. Literary novels, so called, can devolve into this if this writer is too self indulgent. The simplest way to think about plot is that it is what happens in a story or book and, baby, something better happen. (One important hint: it better be the main character who resolves the problem.)

Dawne Knobbe:

You want to give your readers some surprise. It is easy to fall into cliched plots. Make sure you put an original spin on your story. What happens and why it happens can make your plot original.

Judith Ross Enderle:

As a writer, you’ll find your best story path. Some writers do a lot of preplanning: chapter outlines, character interviews, and detailed research. Others dive right in from the moment an idea hits them. There is no right way to write. But, if you are starting out, preparation can give you confidence that you’ll be able to get from the first word to “the end.” That means figuring out ahead of time what happens to the characters in your story and that’s called plotting. A plot involves jeopardy for your characters, hard work on their part to move ahead as they struggle to solve a problem, and more jeopardy. Each move your characters take triggers additional moves and additional problems as a result of those moves. You’ll need action to generate drama, and conflict to build tension and keep the reader turning pages. So, if you plan, plan, plan you won’t have to plod, plod, plod, and you’ll be confident that you are off to a good start with your plot, plot, plot. One warning: characters get stubborn and have opinions. It IS OKAY to change your plot as the story develops. Nothing is permanent until the book is printed.

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR MARCH

The Mavens

  The Mavens are back with more writing tips, this time on birthing characters. What would a story be without characters? Not a story. Characters include not only people, but some story characters are animals, inanimate objects, and fantasy figures like ogres, fairies, wizards and more. So here are our character tips:

Laurie Knowlton:

After you’ve written the basics, hair, eyes, gender, ethnicity, family, age, INTERESTING characters need to be ACTIVE, VOCAL, FLAWED, and QUIRKY.
Interesting: Your main character needs to do something out of the ordinary to catch the reader’s attention. “Out of the Ordinary” = beginning of the story incident.
Active: A perfectly content main character is BORING… Active characters that need, want, desire something are motivated characters.
Vocal: Dialogue shows us, without telling us. Dialogue moves the story forward, by giving us tid-bits of information that develops the story line.
Flawed: Your protagonist is a nobody without strengths that move them forward and flaws that produce friction. Will or won’t the MC succeed based on their strengths and weaknesses?
Quirky: What is the one quirky thing about your character that makes them unique? Do they have a pet frog they take everywhere with them? Do they dance when they are waiting in lines? Do interrupt other characters always sending the conversation in a different direction? Do they always smell like what they’ve eaten? Do they twitch every time they get next to the opposite sex?
Add interesting, active, vocal, flawed, quirky traits to your character study and your character will be one that your readers want to get to know!

Cheryl Zach:

Since for me, characters and story ideas come hand in hand, that’s usually the same as asking, ‘Where do you get your ideas?,’ the answer is pretty much everywhere. Some of my YA books, such a RUNAWAY, came straight from news stories–of course, I changed the ideas right away, but that’s where they started, and then I had to wonder, who was this teen girl, this teen boy, who was caught up in this situation? A couple of books came from episodes that happened at the high school where I taught before I stopped to write full time–again, the real life was altered drastically, but that was the germ of the idea. Sometimes it was something that happened to my children. (My daughter, after I began publishing, would preface her conversations with: Now, you can’t put this in a book!)

Most often, it was something that happened to me, when I was a kid, again often changed, a little or a lot. Right now I’m working on a story about a military family–very pertinent to today’s news. I was a military brat, and I know a lot about that life style. I have to update it, of course. You always do, unless you want to make the book a historical. <grin>  Anything a decade ago or more is historical for kids. And of course everything about a historical setting–clothing, houses, furniture, food, lighting, transportation, all details big and small, must also be accurate and be included without being obvious about it. Remember that your characters would take it all for granted.

Sometimes characters come out of thin air, and you’re not sure where they come from. Benny, of the BENNY AND THE NO GOOD TEACHER and other Benny books, floated into my head when I was sitting at a writing conference. I know he owes a lot to my son and my brother, actually, but mostly, he is himself. Developing characters, now that’s a whole other topic.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon:

For me, giving birth to my characters has been only slightly easier than it was giving birth to my children. But in one way both had two somethings in common. No, one was not the spinal that took away the pain. Believe me, there will be pain. The two things both share in this –no matter how hard you push–characters and babies don’t emerge until they are ready, and no matter how tired you get, they won’t leave you alone until you deal with them. Oh, and here’s a third thing they have in common: years from now you will look at your children and your characters and you’ll be glad you birthed them.

Dawne Knobbe:

Characters are complex. After you have sketched out your character, take him or her out into the real world and decide how he would react in different situations you find yourself in.

Judith Ross Enderle:

Characters often sneak up on you and once on scene demand their story be told. Listen carefully to what they have to say. If you ignore them, you will be pestered. Once you acknowledge their presence, then get to know them. Ask questions about everything: life situation, best and worst traits, current big and little problems, friends and family, details like favorite foods, colors, favorite sayings, hobbies, all the bits that make the character as unique as you are. Don’t limit this information-gathering to your protagonist, but also birth the story antagonist and even the minor characters so you know how they will act and react in the scenes that move the story plot forward. Is all this work worth it? Ask any author who’s received a letter from a reader wondering if you personally know the main character. Absolutely! Because then you’ll know you’ve done your job birthing real characters.

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR FEBRUARY

The Mavens

This month’s tips topic is: GENRES AND MORE You’ll see some advice repeated in these tips because it’s important. We’ve tried to cover all definitions of genre. Please let us know how you like our tips as well as sending along any tip topics you’d like to see covered.  Thanks!

Here’s what the Mavens have to say: 

Judy Enderle: Imagine a gigantic library with only two signs: Fiction and Nonfiction. How will you find the book you want? Wait! There’s a librarian putting up more signs: genre signs!  Genre means the type of story you are writing (or love reading) or the category where your book fits. Fiction genres include mystery, romance, thriller, humor, historical, science fiction, and more. Nonfiction is divided into topics that include nature, sciences, biography, how-to, etc.

But you want a book for your seven-year-old? Follow that librarian! There’s a special section for young readers. Along with genres and topics, the signs there also indicate categories or specific formats: picture books, early readers, middle grade, and YA.

See how helpful genres, topics, and categories are? See how helpful librarians are!

Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton: Let these three questions help you: 

What comes naturally to you? I could never write horror. It scares me to death. Even Indiana Jones type stories keep me up at night. I am truly a five-year-old at heart. I’m always excited to discover something new. The most important things in life to me are family, friends, and nature. I love the settings that encompass those parameters. If you look at the developmental stages of a five-year-old child, they are into discovering their family, their ever-growing circle of friends, and their world. Therefore, picture books work best for me.

What age is your inner voice? Look at the vocabulary and length of sentences you write. Is your written language developmentally accurate? Is your character able to tackler age-appropriate problems for the genre? I have a client who consistently wants to write picture books, but who writers with the voice of a middle grader. I have told her many times, “This is a great story that needs to be written with a better-developed plot requiring the length and details that will do the story justice.” Recently she began working on a middle grade story. She said, I feel set free. I was afraid to tackle a longer piece. Now that I am doing it, I feel like my main character has been set free from a straitjacket.”

What genre do you read? If you want to write picture books, you must read picture books. (Yes you are allowed to read grownup books) but you must read, read, read the genre you wish to write. How else are you going to learn the right feel for pacing, word counts, plot structures that appropriate for the protagonist of your chosen genre?

Ultimately, my best advice is to: Write what you know and love, NOT what you think will sell.

Cheryl Zach: Obvious but true: don’t try to write in a genre you don’t enjoy reading. I remember when Harry Potter was at its peak and I was critiquing manuscripts at a conference. I saw more manuscripts than you would believe from brand new writers who had never read fantasy, didn’t even know if they liked fantasy, certainly were not familiar with the genre, just wanted to be instantly rich, famous, and wildly successful–which is like trying to fly to the moon on a paper airplane. Read widely and write in the genres you love–it will show! Not to mention, the more you write and and read and study and hone your craft, the better writer you’ll become.

Dawne Knobbe: One thing to keep in mind when you are deciding on a genre is that Young Adult is not a genre of fiction. Like adult fiction, YA can be written in any genre. So if you want to write YA, you must narrow it down. Here are few to ponder: mystery, thriller, adventure, fantasy. Always best to write in the genre you like to read.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon: Good luck! If you are like me, you don’t get to choose. Some writers do have a genre they write in exclusively. I don’t. I love writing picture books. I love writing middle grade novels. I love writing short chapter books, poetry, young adult (started out doing YA romances, a very popular genre). I hated writing for TV, but not because of the writing. I loved writing the scripts and being the story editor for our television show. I hated being the editor of a kid’s club magazine. I loved writing for a kids’ airline magazine. (I love writing and gathering material.)

I loved writing for Hamilton High School newspaper, The Federalist–the very important gossip column and the popular music scene articles. Okay, I hear you laughing. I even loved writing a few spec TV sitcom scripts no one will ever see. Genre is as temporary as the last gust of wind for me. I flow with the blow. Did I say I love writing To Do lists that I never ever Get Done? Did I say I Love Writing in many genres?

 

 

 

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JANUARY

by FIVE FABULOUS MAVENS

          It’s a new year, so for 2018 we are offering something new on our blog. At the end of each month we’ll post five tips on one particular writing-related subject, one tip from each of the Mavens. Our first topic is WRITERS’ NETWORKS.

From Dawne Knobbe: Start a private Facebook group page with your writer friends to share industry information. You can post upcoming events, editors who are open to submissions, writing tips, etc. It’s easy. Here is how to get started:

How to Create a Facebook Group

  •      Find “Add Group” From your “home page” on Facebook go to the Groups section on the left side menu and find “Add Group”
  •     Click “Create New Group”
  •     Name Your Group
  •     Add Members
  •     Choose Privacy Setting
  •     Click “Create”
  •     Choose an Icon
  •    Complete “About” Section

From Judy Enderle:  JOIN SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators  This world-wide organization is dedicated to the creation and promotion of children’s literature. Membership is open to published and unpublished authors and illustrators and others interested in writing and illustrating books and other material for young readers. Visit www.scbwi.org to learn about all they have to offer.

From Cheryl Zach: Conferences are great for networking, as are any events where writers gather. If you’re shy–and many writers are introverts–going to a workshop or discussion group or any event with a predetermined subject to discuss will help break the ice. Put your area of interest–picture books, YA, nonfiction, etc.–on your name tag. This will make it easy for another attendee to start a conversation with you. Remember to smile. And remember that it’s bad manners to rush an editor or agent and try to give them a long verbal version of your current WIP. If they’re open to a short pitch, they will indicate it. Otherwise just smile, make a comment about their presentation, thank them for coming. . . And keep their email for queries if they noted they are open to those. If it’s hard for you to get out to group events, there are online groups you can join, publishing news you can read. SCBWI and other writing groups have discussion boards and local newsletters.

From Stephanie Jacob Gordon: TWO not ONE GREAT IDEA

Writers need a computer or a pencil or pen and paper and a good light to see by and a drink and snacks (OK, I really like snacks when I write). But along with my snacks, I need Judy. You see, we have been writing partners for 39 years. Judy keeps me going, motivated, and nagged to death when I am not writing. But you may not have a writing partner (you may not have mine), so you write alone, lonely, without someone to tell you if you are any good at writing, someone to  encourage you to keep at it, or someone to tell you to give it up and get into plumbing and make some real money. What are you going to do?

Excellent question. I have two answers. Two because they are connected and number two probably will connect to most of the suggestions in this month’s tip list.

#1) TAKE A CLASS. Any writing class in whatever genre will help somewhat, but a class in writing for children, taught by a successful author, successful editor, or successful agent is a good place to begin. Not only will you learn some very important stuff to further your writing ability and career, but you will also meet writers. I met Judy in Eve Bunting’s class through UCLA. Will you meet your forever writing partner? Maybe, maybe not. But you will meet many like-minded people who are, like you, actively pursuing how to write for young readers. You will all be in the same place, at the same time, and be able to progress together. And you will make a friend or two or ten, like Judy and I did in Eve’s class.

#2) FORM A CRITIQUE GROUP. In fact no matter where you meet other children’s book writers, think critique group. Do they want one? Do they have one? Would they like to start one with you? Will they have room in theirs for you to join? When I met Judy I was new to Malibu, but she was already in a local group and I joined her group. When Eve’s class was over, all eleven of us started a group and we traveled to each other’s homes for our every-two-weeks meeting. Judy and I traveled farthest, but we had each other to talk to and slowly became best friends. YAY for writer’s classes! One of our group dropped out due to a work commitment, but the ten of us left became friends and all of us are published! Some of us are pretty well-known writers, too (sorry, not a name dropper, but I do know some amazing writers). From Stephanie, who is lucky to be Judy’s writing partner and 1/2 of Jeffie Ross Gordon . . .thanks to Eve’s class.

From Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton: OTHER EYES

Your writer’s instinct, along with your agent and your editor, have let you know that you are off track somewhere in the manuscript you’ve been slaving over. But where? And if you know where, how do you approach a fix? This is where “other eyes” might come into play. Over time, you’ll learn which writer friends connect with you and your work. Make an agreement to be “eyes and ears” for each other when you are stuck on your story, when there’s a hole in the plot that seems to keep getting deeper rather than filling up, when you are ready to make confetti out of your manuscript. You can do this via computer so friends don’t have to live nearby. Be respectful of each other’s time. Some friends may have time to answer and others may not. It can take many heads  and many hearts to birth a good book. And when you write acknowledgments for your book, don’t forget the “eyes and ears. (Laurie is deep in manuscript revision right now; she is the author of this month’s blog post. So this tip is ghostwritten by another Maven.)

 

 

 

5 Tips for Rewriting After a Critique

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

So, you finished a manuscript and you have taken the manuscript to a critique group.

Your “Happily-Ever-After-Hopes were:
1. That everyone would love your manuscript.
2. That it was ready to send out to a publisher.

But, even though the critique group saw great merit in the story, they also saw flaws. Bummer!

Three examples of flaws could be:
1.Your story is flat. (That usually means-your plot is lacking. A plot is a series of events where the main character goes about trying to solve the story question. This usually happens with the main character trying to solve the problem with a series attempts without success.
2. You’re telling the story, you’re not showing the story. (Telling vs. showing. Telling is just that, you are a narrator telling a story. Showing means you let your characters show their thoughts and feeling through dialogue and actions.)
3. All your characters are the same. (Each character should have a purpose in moving the story forward. Each character should have their own quirks and ways of expressing themselves.)

So now that you have input, what do you do?

Sit on it. Let the new information roll around in your head.
Decide what input is valuable to your story. What rings true? If someone said something that you don’t think rings true for your story and your character, then put it aside. But if you hear the same type of comment more than once, I suggest you act on it
Go to mentor text. Read, read, read! This helps you to see how other authors moved through a story and accomplished a credible, satisfying story.

Re-acquaint yourself with the right way to:
A. Build a Plot B. Show Don’t Tell C. Write Believable Characters

Go back to your: A. Reference books B. Your favorite author’s How-To web pages,
C. Read/Listen to the How-To Web pages and You-Tube professionals.

THEN begin rewriting. Write, and then sleep on it. The next day, re-read and then ask yourself: A. Did I accomplish what I set out to fix? B. Is it strong enough? C. How could the wording be more sensorial?

Rewrite. Sleep on it. Then ask yourself the same questions. Repeat until you are satisfied with your story. Then take it back to your critique group. Keep working until you get the story that you will be proud to have out there!

You can do it! Good writing happens when rewriting.

WE WISH YOU . . .

The Mavens

a fabulous holiday season. May the new year be happy, healthy, and fulfilling in many ways.  Write on and may your words fall like stunning snowflakes on the pages to bring joy to all who read your work. 

Judy, Steph, Laurie, Cheryl, and Dawne  

 

 

 

Mining the Nuggets

Cheryl Zach

If you’ve read my posts before, you know I’m a big advocate of writers’ conferences as good places to acquire information, about writing and illustrating skills, about up to date market information, and much else useful to a professional. You can also network, see old friends and make new ones. And they’re fun!

This past weekend I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators MidSouth Writers’ Conference, held outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll share a few nuggets of interest with you.

The opening keynote was given by Laurent Linn, an author/illustrator and art director and general Nice Guy. He started his career working in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop and later won an Emmy as Creative Director of the Sesame Street Muppets, went on to work as AD at publishing houses, illustrate and write–his newest work is an illustrated YA novel, Draw the Line. Laurent shared some nuggets of wisdom, including the thought that you should start your book with a promise of what’s to come, but laid on with a feather, not a hammer. . . He noted that we are story tellers, and story tellers must share their stories.

And haven’t we all moaned about work and family obligations that keep us from our creative pursuits–the novel not finished, the portfolio that’s too thin? Time passes relentlessly. Laurent cited a quote from Walt Disney: “The way to get started is to stop talking and start doing.” I loved it–have to tell myself that more often.

He also noted in passing that we all feel like frauds, at times, and that’s not a feeling that goes away. Not something that every writer or artist will admit, but certainly comforting. Bravo, Laurent.

P.S. I didn’t have the chance to learn a lot on marketing, but did hear that the YA market is a ‘bit saturated,” no surprise there as I knew that demand had cooled, but sales are still possible. And there are no current trends in young adult novels. More editors were looking for middle grade than YA, also no surprise, as MG usually remains steady.

What Can Be Done to Help Midlist Authors?

I have a question for you.

I’ve heard from some more recently published writers that they feel (perhaps) increased pressure and less support from publishers than once existed. They feel that if their sales numbers don’t increase quickly –and we all know that nowadays authors and illustrators are expected to do a lot of PR on their own, maintain online presence, etc.–that they will be dropped in favor of another new author’s first book. This is good for some eager new author, but he or she will face the same predicament very soon, so in the long run, it’s not so good. And the new writer who shoots to the top of the best seller list with a first book is very rare, though publishers, and certainly writers, too, always hope for such a lightning strike.

In the not so distant past it was expected that midlist authors would grow a career more slowly and steadily, with a reasonable amount of publishing house support. (Midlist means just what it sounds like–anyone not a total beginner but not at the very top of the profession, either.) Most writers and artists spend their careers in midlist, and often earn honors and a well respected name in the process, even if not necessarily known worldwide.

If this attitude of publishers has changed, and if pressure is more intense now, I’m wondering what can be done to help authors. And I’d like to hear from you, and what you’ve heard from your friends or garnered from your own experiences.

The Strangest Things Happen on the Way to My Desk

This is February’s post, so look out your window and imagine rain or snow pelting down, especially if your in the North West. I meant to write this post on time, just like I plan monthly  to dedicate myself to writing, to make it a priority. I realized the other day that I may not have been putting fingers to keys, but in my brain I was still gathering information. Tidbits of real life that will enrich my writing. Unusual flaws and traits I experienced in the real characters I have met recently. And in times of boredom, I realize I often pull my stories and characters  to the for front of my mind and think about where they have gone and where they should go. So, I am making no more excuses. I think I have been wearing my observation hat quite well. Here are a few of the things I have slipped into my writer’s gear bag recently.

When he gets nervous he drums his thighs. Two fingers on each hand tapping his jeans in rapid succession. He’s a security guard, but used to be a plumber. He sharpens knives on the side.  He quits drumming and pulls out his hunting knife to show off the smooth flat blade. “Sliced open a lot of things with this,” he says.  “It’s so sharp I could fillet a bear before he he to the ground.”

She smokes the shortest marlboro reds one after the other. Her pink plastic cup doesn’t hide her margarita as well as she thinks. Tequila from yesterday wafts from her pores to mix with todays blend. She drums her cup with four fingers eyeing the man with the knife.

 

At 7 she is crow-like. Can’t resist shiny things on the ground. A nickel, a nail, a piece of glass if the sun makes it shimmer. She grasps them tightly in her pocket. Hidden treasure to worry till her fingers bleed.

He looks over-confident as he saunters over. His gait is wide and bowed like a cowboys. Like he thinks he is cool. It is actually caused by partial paralysis from back surgery. His gate gets wider as his spin disintegrates.

He never lets the small scar on his wrist heal. Picks at it as soon as it seals. A reminder of something?

As soon as anyone asks her a question her eyes dart to her father’s. A half nod from him and she will speak. If he narrows his  eyes, she remains silent.

He plucks his eyebrows until they are close to hairless and red and swollen. It’s 85 degrees outside and his ski hat doesn’t cover the damage. This is meth addict behavior. (Who Knew)

Please share any gems you have observed recently too:)

GETTING TO KNOW YOU . . . (sing on)


by Judith Enderle
Birthing characters can be challenging.Iin a book, each one must have a reason to be there and each character—whether protagonist or antagonist—must be unique. So how do you do that?

(Right at this point I’m tempted to say: “If you find out, let me know.) But I know how. It’s the doing that is the challenge.

Here are a few details that help me get to know my characters (please expand these lists as you birth your book characters):
Traits: like temperament, intelligence and knowledge, determination
Appearance: height, weight, coloring, health
Family: number of siblings, is your character oldest, youngest, or in the middle? Living situation. Parents and relatives. Economic status.
Personal: secrets, brags, embarrassing moments
Friends: longest, newest, best, many or few?
What matters most to your character? What is your character worried about?

Sometimes interviewing the characters helps you find the details you need.
You’ll need the most information about the protagonist and the antagonist, but get to know the secondary players so their actions and reactions make sense as the story unfolds.

Last, but not least: don’t forget the little things: good and bad habits, tics, favorite words and phrases, great smiles, evil eyes, favorite piece of clothing, nicknames . . . This can be the longest list of all.

Guaranteed, your writing will be easier if you know your characters so well you’d recognize them if they moved next door.

Happy Spring!