Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Why Twitter?

twitter.jpgTwitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Periscope. There are so many options in social media that it can be hard to choose which one(s) to use. If you aren't on Twitter, don't know why you as a writer might want to use it, or don't know what to do with the Twitter account you have, perhaps this post will be helpful.

First, what is Twitter?

An internet discussion/social network where messages are 140 characters long. Some refer to this as microblogging. You can say what you want, whenever you want, and your followers can read it whenever they want. Messages are referred to as "tweets." Messages can include links to a website or blog, photos or videos, gifs, and polls.

My Reasons for Using Twitter

I started using Twitter to connect with other kidlit writers and to get better acquainted with editors and agents. It's a good place for those purposes, both which are really about connection.

Find People to Follow

Following someone is how you get to read messages in Twitter. Your Twitter feed, your timeline, is made up of messages posted by anyone you follow, plus messages you send. It's how you listen in on the conversation. It's how you join public conversations or start conversations. Messages are in chronological order in your feed with the most recent messages on top.

I started by following some writer friends. Then followed some people my friends followed. Since then I add people I meet, read about, read their books, hear speak, or find through retweets, or through Twitter suggestions. I may or may not follow those who follow me.

If I don't know anything about a person, I read his/her bio and some sample tweets. Sometimes I follow someone and later unfollow them as their tweets bother me (it could be language, or too much self-promotion, or too much discussion of politics.)

Because I now have an adult ebook out from Clean Reads, I have a Twitter handle for that pen name @SMFordwriter, too. I've found that the children's literature community--just as they are in person--are more open to conversation, helping each other, sharing, etc.--than the adult literature community.

The Conversation: What Do You Say on Twitter?

Answer questions. Here's an example that @KSonnack posted yesterday: "I need some book recs. #1: for an 8yo who just moved to a new city and is having trouble adjusting. Go!"

Follow links to articles, then comment or retweet the original tweet. (Retweeting means sending the tweet out again from your user name.)

Share articles. This from August 11th: "The 11th hour villain. I agree with this concept. http://www.starpowercomic.com/the-eleventh-hour-villain/ ...

Use the heart to "like" what someone says.

Comment on or retweet tweets. Such as: @Corinneduyvis on September 2nd: "Hugely important part of writing for me: my plot notebook. I take pen, paper, and just talk my way through scenes and problems."

Share good news, links to blog posts, writer quotes, and book recommendations.

Ask questions.

Celebrate others' good news and sympathize with bad.

Conversations: Private

You can also have private conversations by using DM (direct message) through Twitter. This only works for people who follow you. You can DM a single person or a group. More info here.

Searching Twitter

Twitter is searchable and the main tool to use is a hashtag. Hashtags can be anything anyone creates using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or words with no spaces, but common ones start becoming known, such as #amwriting or #writingtips or #writingchallenge or #kidlit. Some are just initials or abbreviations that have become great tools.

Some of the most useful writer hashtags for submitting are #MSWL (manuscript wish list), #PitMad (pitch madness), and #PitchWars (a contest).


  • #MSWL also has a website--both the hashtag and the website offer editors and agents to post "what they are looking for." This is amazing!

  • #PitMad is a chance for writers to pitch manuscripts during quarterly events. Basic information can be found here. One of the most important things about it is that tweeters must also indicate the genre of the manuscript with another hashtag, such as #PB #MG #YA.

  • #PitchWars is a "a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine." See full details for 2016 here. What a deal!


These latter two give you a chance to see if your pitches are working. Do they garner any attention or not? You can often offer different versions to try pitches out.

Search for a specific editor or agent--one you'd like to know more about--by name. You may find links to interviews or blog posts by this person. You may find comments about the agent or editor. If the agent or editor has an account, you can read his/her tweets. Seeing a "I hate squirrels" tweet would let you know not to send a squirrel story to that specific person.

Twitter Lists

One of the tools on Twitter is the ability to assign those you are following to lists. I normally add someone to a list when I follow them. That means if I want to see what Picture Book writers are saying today, I can just see the posts of the people I've put on my PB list. (Would need to use Tweetdeck or HootSuite). Lists can be public or private.

Setting Up Twitter

When you sign up for an account, you create a user name or handle--mine is @SusanUhlig, my pen name for my children's writing. The @ symbol is the common way to indicate a Twitter handle. Once you have someone's user name, you can view their page by typing in your browser twitter.com/username. So in my case it would be twitter.com/susanuhlig. Once you go to my page, you'll see Sue (Susan Uhlig) followed by @susanuhlig.

Actions you need to take asap are upload an avatar--usually a picture of you--and create a bio. You don't have a lot of characters, so keep it short and pertinent. Mine says: "Children's Book (PB, readers, MG, YA) & Mag Writer. Writing helps/book recs on my site ('cuz I always have an opinion). SCBWI Oregon. ICL Instructor." You can see I used some of my bio space for affiliations. I also get to list my location and my website in addition to my bio. Another fun option is adding a header photo, but that can come later. However, often people won't follow those who do not have an avatar.

Of course, Twitter itself has articles and FAQs that can help you get started.

Once you are set up, you can join the conversation. If you find you are spending way too much time on Twitter, set a timer for how long you want to be on and when it goes off, close that Twitter window.

Making Use of Twitter

You can also set up a Twitter widget on your website that will show a specified number of your most recent tweets. It's one way to have frequently changing content on your site. (How you do this depends on your website software.)

Someone once asked me if I could explain Twitter in 140 characters. As you can see, I can't. But I can sure tweet this post.


What Should I Describe?

whiteboard-303145_1280.pngWriting a novel for middle grade or YA? What should you describe? What should you leave out?

Let's first start with WHAT TO INCLUDE.

When a manuscript doesn't have enough description, it's like the characters are standing in front of a white board. They are talking, but the reader doesn't know where, or when, or what the characters are doing. If movies resonate more with you, think about a show where the actors are in front of the blue screen and no CGI has yet been done. In other words, you want to give the readers a sense of setting.

A simple start for setting is to mention the place the character is in, going to, leaving, etc.

Example: I walked into the kitchen.

What does a kid care about in that kitchen? It depends. Are they hungry? Or going in to do a chore? Or just looking for someone else? Show what it is by using some sensory details. Adding sensory details to the above example, achieves varied results depending on your goal and the character's circumstances.

Sensory Examples:


  • I walked into the kitchen and jerked open the fridge. Nothing to eat, but a dried up piece of veggie pizza.

  • In the kitchen, I leaned over the pot on the stove and removed the lid. My stomach growled at the released odor of beef, potatoes and carrots. Stew. Yumm!

  • I trudged into the kitchen and groaned at the heaped sink of dirty dishes. Why do I have to do all these?

  • Skating into the kitchen, I found Mom removing the case off a PC. Oh, no! Who'd roped her into fixing their computer now? So much for getting her to drive me to the skate park.

Notice I changed the verb "walked" in several cased to make it more fitting for the scene I had in mind, which reminds me, choose specific verbs that add to the scene. It can show something about your character's attitude or mood, hobby or typical way of moving, family, and more. I also used specific nouns by mentioning what was found in each of these scenarios.

Show what the character is doing. Characters who are only talking aren't as interesting as characters who are doing something while they talk. Say the kids are in the school cafeteria. Is your character pushing into line to get hot lunch? At the salad bar picking up each piece of lettuce carefully before putting it on a plate? Opening a lunch box or paper sack? Shoving in huge bites of food so as to be done quickly and get to the playground? Flirting? Doing homework? Eating the sunflower butter sandwich provided for those without lunch money or lunch credits? Smearing the ketchup on their tray with an index finger? Whatever kids are doing while talking will make the conversation more interesting. Plus the reader won't realize you are slipping in a bits of description with this method.

Even when a character is alone and thinking, he or she if usually doing something: chewing on fingernails, pulling loose threads or hair, swinging a leg, tapping something, picking at a zit, plucking eyebrows, petting a cat or dog, doodling, cleaning a fish tank, listening to music, etc.

"But my character is motionless." That happens, but the senses of smell, taste, touch, temperature, sight and hearing don't stop. Try sitting totally still and take note of what you do. At this moment, besides my fingers on the keyboard, I'm hearing a fan. I can't keep my left foot still, so my flip flop is working its way off as I bounce the foot. I've sniffed (allergies). My ear itches. Characters should experience what's around them to become alive.

Be specific and make details do extra duty. What is unique to this character? She plays baseball. He loves jigsaw puzzles. Show those things with a few well-chosen details. What is unique to this character's bedroom or park or wherever? My baseball playing girl might have posters of famous baseball players on the walls of her bedroom. She might have a mitt or batt on a shelf and a uniform hanging on the back of the door. My jigsaw puzzle boy might have a card table in the family room that always has a puzzle in process. He might have puzzles glued and framed on the walls of his bedroom or a shelf with boxes and boxes of puzzles. A messy personality will deal differently with these items than a naturally neat person. You can hint a different aspects of personality with how a character treats his or her own possessions. Does something in the bedroom contradict other things we know about the character? Or point to something coming later in the plot?

WHAT TO LEAVE OUT

Excessive character description. Most of the time the reader doesn't really care what the main character looks like. They want to know more about the internal workings and the actions of the character.

Not sure how much description of your character to include? Read the introductions of main characters in books similar to what you're writing. See how much is said and how much is left to the imagination. When reading stories in first person, I notice main characters are more likely to describe someone else than themselves.

The boring parts readers skip:


  • Things that an elementary aged kid or teen would not find interesting. If it has no relevance to someone that age, why mention it?

  • Blocks of description especially of ordinary places and ordinary items that don't have any special relevance. Include what is different or unusual instead.

  • Too much description. Readers want to get to the action (especially in middle grade stories).

MORE RESOURCES

"Writing the Middle Grade Novel" by Kristi Holl

Point 4 in "Six Steps to Make Your Children's Story Sparkle" by Laura Backes

"4 Keys to Writing Un-put-downable Middle Grade Adventure" by Richard Ungar

"The 3 golden rules of writing a young adult novel" by Robert Wood

"The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life" by Anne Marble


Magazine Story or Picture Book?

picture-108539_1280.jpgIs it a magazine story or a picture book? How do you know? Consider these factors.

Readability

How does the story read aloud? Can you see a kid wanting the story read over and over and over? Will an adult be willing to do that reading? This is about the language of the story. It's not whether it is written in verse, but whether the language is fun to read aloud. Often phrases will be memorable. There may be a rhythm. There may be repetitive language, almost like a chorus in a song, although much shorter. Does the language itself add to the story? Do words roll off of the tongue or are they difficult to read aloud?

Page Turns

Next consider whether page turns are going to be important in building the tension or the humor of the story. With magazine stories page turn doesn't usually hold any significance. Picture books are totally different. Page turns can enhance the drama, create an expected pattern, affect the pace of the story. Page turns can set up a surprise or twist. This is where creating a dummy is helpful.

Illustrations

Then think about the illustratability of the story. Will one image suffice or will it need many images to complete the story? Will the reader get all they need from the words? Or will art work fill in details the words leave out? Magazine stories often have a fair amount of description. Picture books don't. Use a dummy to check for illustration possibilities.

How to Make a Picture Book Dummy

Making a picture book dummy is helpful when looking at both page turns and where the story is illustratable. Print out your text and cut it up where you think the natural page breaks would be for a 32 page picture book. Take 8 sheets of paper and fold in half like a book. The story can start on page 3, 4 or 5. As you lay out the words can you envision changing images for each spread? Or are the characters static? Can you see more story being told through the pictures? If you can't see different active images for each spread and the story being enhanced by those images, you probably have a magazine story.

Now look at pacing. Is there anticipation as you turn the pages? If you break lines in different places, can you change the pace? Does a page turn create a surprise or an expected pattern? Does speeding or slowing the pace change the emotions?

To conclude...

Magazine story - more description, images a bonus, page turns unnecessary, read aloud does not invite audience participation.
Picture book - description mostly left to the illustrator, images complete the story, page turns necessary for telling the story, great read aloud that often invites participation.

Nonfiction Writing

blackboard-583692_1920.jpgIf you've considered writing nonfiction, but aren't sure where to start, my first recommendation is to find some magazines that have articles you enjoy. Focus on the magazines where the articles are similar to what you'd like to write. Read lots of those articles. You'll learn so much seeing what other writers have done well. You'll know what style and tone those magazines prefer. Writing for magazines is a good place to get some writing credits, too.

How to Find Topics

Consider the skills you already know that children or teens might be interested in. Could you turn your experience into a "how to" article?

Or think about an unusual place you visited or lived. Is there something there that kids don't commonly know? If you find something fascinating, there's a good chance young people will too.

A third option is to think about something you wish you knew more about. Researching can lead to article ideas.

Don't forget theme lists. Many magazines share the topic where they want articles. Maybe one of those topics is perfect for you.

Helpful Resources to Start

"Children's Nonfiction: a Niche Worth Pursuing" by Sue Bradford Edwards

"A Crafty Way to Break into Children's Writing" by Mary Cox

"Six Tips to Help You Break into the Children's Magazine Markets with Your Non-Fiction for Kids!" by Suzanne Lieurance
Note: Tip 6. says "lesson known." It should be "lessor known."

Resources on Researching Nonfiction

"Writing Nonfiction" by Ann Bausum

"10 Easy (ha-ha) Steps For Nonfiction Research" by Kristen Fulton

"NonFiction Picture Books: Research Required" by Darcy Pattison

Revising

Of course as with any writing, you'll need to do revisions. One of my tips for those who write an article without an outline is to make an outline after the first draft. Look at each paragraph and write a one to three word summary of the paragraph. Does your mini-outline make sense? Does it follow a logical progression? If not, use this mini-outline to rearrange paragraphs, balance out the information you're presenting, and move the article along. It can help you see holes and redundancy too.

Resources for Different Areas of Nonfiction Writing

"From Spark to Story: one writer's take on the joys and challenges of picture-book biographies" by Tanya Lee Stone

"Finding the Micro-Niche in Science Writing" by Darcy Pattison

"How to Propose, Research, and Write a Children's Nonfiction Nature Book" by Steve Swinburne

Other Resources for Writing Nonfiction

"Three Keys to Writing Nonfiction for Children" - a podcast by Katie Davis
(I also answer a question about rhythm and meter at the end of this podcast.)

"Seven Tips for Writing Children's Nonfiction" by Brandon Marie Miller

"Ending It All"--it isn't written specifically about children's articles, yet it has some very helpful points.

"Focus on Nonfiction with Agent Ken Wright & Three Authors"

Nonfiction Blogs and Ezines

Educational Markets for Children's Writers by Evelyn Christensen

I.N.K. - Interesting Nonfiction for Kids
In this blog, 26 respected nonfiction children's book writers shared research and writing techniques. It's no longer updated, but search for specific topics.

Nonfiction Monday - Rounding up the best nonfiction for children and teens
A blog by Anastasia Suen

STEM Friday = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books
A blog by Anastasia Suen

Tips for Writing for the Education Market by Evelyn Christensen

Writing for Children's Magazines by Evelyn Christensen

Writing for the Education Market

Nonfiction Groups

Nonfiction for Kids Listserv
Members discuss the craft, marketing and publishing of nonfiction for children. You'll need to join.

NonFiction Writer's Facebook group Join.

NFforKids on Goodreads - a public group


I know there are more wonderful resources out there. Anyone wanting to share more, can add a note in the comments.


Do It Myself!

Remember the "do it myself!" toddler stage?wagon-988818_1920.jpg No, she doesn't want help getting dressed. He doesn't want to be pulled in the wagon; he wants to pull it. Ditto, stroller and pushing it. No, she doesn't want to hold your hand. And, yes, he'd rather feed himself despite the mess.

If a child never expresses that desire to learn, to do, to be independent, we'd be worried.

So what happens to us in adulthood? Why do we want our hands held? Why don't we want to do it ourselves?

I was reminded of this recently. I was washing my hands in the restroom at a writer's conference when a gal came in and said something like this, "Why didn't they indicate that she only does picture books? I'm a YA writer and that session was a total waste." When she noticed my faculty name badge, she got embarrassed and left abruptly.

What I wanted to say to her was, "Why didn't you do your homework? The conference website listed faculty bios. The online schedule and the schedule in our conference packets listed who was speaking when on what topic. Didn't you read all that?" I'll admit as faculty, I hadn't paid much attention to the other speakers beforehand. But that day I'd listened and had learned the editor had "a focus on early childhood-from board books to picture books and beginning readers." (Quote from her bio.) The YA writer could have chosen one of the other three breakouts instead of choosing to waste her time.

As an instructor of adults who want to write for children, I see adults who want hand-holding or special treatment. They don't follow the directions for an assignment and when challenged give excuses about how busy they are. Sometimes when we ask a student to redo a lesson, we hear comments such as, "I just want to graduate the course." I want to say, but don't, "So, why did you take the course? To learn to write for children? Or to get a meaningless certificate." If we graduate students without making them do the work, then our teaching, and the course is useless. Hmm, it takes a toddler a lot longer to dress herself than if a parent does it, but she ends up with satisfaction that she did it herself. And the more she practices, the better she gets. I often wonder where the pride in a job well done has gone missing for many adults.

I've also organized a lot of conferences and other events for children's writers and illustrators. Just like there can be deadlines on submitting to editors or agents, we'll have deadlines for early bird discounts, submitting homework or manuscripts, etc. We know everyone is busy, so we send out reminders of those deadlines. But inevitably a number of people miss deadlines and get upset at the organizers, who are volunteers. Keeping track of deadlines is part of the attendees' job--their homework.

Over and over at conferences one will hear attendees asking an editor or agent what type of manuscript they want to see. Often with a laugh the answer is "a well-written manuscript." Yes, the person will usually go on to say what genres appeal the most, etc. But in some ways, what attendees are asking is, "What's the magic to get published?" There isn't any. Just like there's no magic in a baby learning to walk. He tries and fails and tries again. But one day he succeeds and oh, the joy.

Seeing our writing improve because we worked hard can be satisfying. Knowing we did our best to be prepared means we don't have those "if only I'd..." regrets. Doing our homework can help us have intelligent conversations with faculty members. Which reminds me. I have a conference coming up, I'd better get off and do my homework!


Why Twitter?

What Should I Describe?

Magazine Story or Picture Book?

Nonfiction Writing

Do It Myself!

Swift Fiction - The Short Story in Focus

What Stops Me Reading!

Distancing Your Reader

Resizing Photos for Use on Websites

Overwriting

Are List Serves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Reducing Word Count

MS Wish List

How to Stand Out

NAMING CHARACTERS - FROM MARY'S NOTEBOOK

Kids Reading Books and Saying What They Think

Retreat!

Selling Photos to Magazines

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

Missing Students

The Right Number of Characters

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

Naming Your Character

Considering Self-Publishing?

When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

Say What?

Write Well When the Muse Is Sleeping

Writing Process Blog Tour

Truth in Fiction

Plodding or Plotting

Raise the stakes, honey!

One Size Does NOT Fit All

BACK UP!

175 Proof

He Thought to Himself and Other Excesses

Confessions of a Writer Easily Distracted

Is That Right?

Writing Business Expenses

Subjective

The Hero's Journey for Magazine Writers

Altitude and Attitude - Adult or Child?

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

Kidz Only! Adults Keep Out!

A Dark Side of Social Media

Do you struggle with grammar?

Can children and teens can get their work published?

Patience Required

I'm a Work-in-Progress

Illustrator Resources

Inspiration from Kate DiCamillo

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Writing and Life Balance

How To Start Querying an Agent

WEBSITE Q&A

Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction

Heartbroken?

Perfecting Dialogue Punctuation

Ouch! Thin Skin!

Agents Telling What They Want

School Visits, the Extended Version

Going Back to School

One of 75 finalists

Make It Work for You

Down with Discouragement!

Do as I Say

Professional Problem Maker

4 Ways to Make Your Characters "Talk Different"

Picture Book Month

Work-for-Hire Resources

Work-for-Hire Wisdom

Work-for-Hire also known as WFH

Picture Perfect Picture Books

Picture Book Resources

Author Talks versus Workshops

My Favorite Online Resources

Technicalities - More Thoughts on Public Speaking

Do as I Say

Theme List Tactics

What Would Sue Do?

Attribution or Action?

Don't Throw in the Towel

Do You Remember?

Dragged to the Podium

Double Identity - Pen Names

Before You Sign: Contract Resources

Welcome, Diane Bailey, Work-for-hire Champion

Ready, Set, Goal

An Editor's Day

How'd You Get That Gig?

On the Hunt for Ideas

Bloggers Supporting Other Bloggers

Shadowing a Submission

Give up or press on?

Turning Ideas Into Stories - Workshop

After the Critique

Keeping Track

The Synopsis Shrink

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part three

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part two

Mind Your Cs and Qs - part one

Standard Manuscript Format

CUT IN THE CRITIQUE

Critique Methods

Market Research Resources - Agents

THE SANDWICH OF CRITIQUE

CRITIQUE GROUPS: GO FOR IT!

Organizations and Groups

Writing a Novel? Where Does It Fit?

Meeting Editors and Agents - In Person

Meet Editors and Agents - Online

Book It! - Recording What You Read

Theme and Premise

Self-Editing Tips

The Story Ladder or Novel Timeline

Showing Versus Telling

Read, Read, Read

The Power of a Good First Line

Hooking your Reader

Listen to the Voices

DIALOGUE TIPS

Viewpoint in Children's Fiction

Making Friends: Character Development

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Genre Resources

Children's Book Genres

Why Write?