Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

Taglines and Beats

camcorder-1294289_1280.pngA tagline indicates who is speaking. It's the part outside of the quotes around the dialogue. The attribution of who spoke. e.g. he said. A tagline is in the same sentence as what is spoken. e.g. "Will you help me?" she asked. or "Stop the car," Josh said. For the most part writers use "said" and "asked" because they are unobtrusive. An occasional whisper, yell, shout, call, etc. is fine. Overuse of more unusual words are a mark of an amateur. Adverbs aren't commonly used because the dialogue should be written well enough to not need it.

Beats are physical action lines that accompany dialogue. They also identify who is speaking, but are in a separate sentence. However, beats do so much more for the story than that. Beats help readers experience the action and the emotions of the characters. They can help with setting and mood. These kinds of beats often include some kind of sensory detail. They can help with passing of time and pacing.

Let's show these different aspects of beats starting with some plain dialogue. I'm not positive I can do them separately, but I'll try. ;-) (Please ignore that I can't indent paragraphs on this blog.)

"I'm not going," Matt said.
"Why not?" his sister asked.
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right. What's burning?"

We know we have male and female siblings. We don't know where they are, what they are doing, or what they are arguing about.

Beats for action

Matt shut the door. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister raised her eyebrows.
Matt leaned against the doorjamb. "Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

Action alone is all right, but adding emotion will be better.

Beats for emotion

Matt slammed the door shut. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister frowned.
Matt smacked his fist into the doorjamb. "Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid." She rolled her eyes.
"That's right." But he rubbed his sore hand. "What's burning?"

I think it's more interesting with indication of emotions.

Beats for setting

Matt shut the kitchen door behind himself. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister hopped down from the counter where she'd been perched.
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

Now we know where we are--a kitchen. And because of our setting, what's burning is probably some kind of food. (And yes, I put an action back in.)

Beats for mood

"I'm not going." A swirl of fog followed Matt inside.
"Why not?" His sister shivered.
"Because it's stupid." He looked over his shoulder as if he expected someone to be behind him.
Her bare arms goosebumped, but not from cold. "And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." Matt lowered his voice to a whisper. "What's burning?"

Quite a different feel, eh? And I don't think it's food that's burning, do you?

Beats for passage of time

"I'm not going," Matt said.
His sister finished the sentence she was writing before asking, "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He pulled out a chair and sat across from her. She turned a page in her English book and started on the next essay question. Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

It's hard to separate passage of time and pacing. We know some time passes twice here. The pacing slowed because of the three things that happened between Matt's last two pieces of dialogue.

Beats for pacing

"I'm not going," Matt said.
His sister finished the sentence she was writing before asking, "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He pulled out a chair and sat across from her. She turned a page in her English book and started on the next essay question. Matt checked the clock on the wall. 5:23. The second hand jumped forward one minute. 5:24. Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

See how there's even more going on between his last two pieces of dialogue? It's slowed the pace. Adding in actual times slowed the pacing even more. It gives that portion a relaxed feel. You wouldn't want to do that when a character is in danger.

Looking at these examples as a whole, I added changes in facial features, body language, stronger action verbs, sense of place including items in that place, mood, and sensory details (fog, goosebumps, smell of something burning.) This means the characters aren't just standing in front of a white board. Way better than simply she said/he said. Of course, in a longer piece you'll use a mixture of taglines and beats to put the reader on scene with your characters.


Successful Cover Letters

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I've had students ask to see sample cover letters for magazine submissions, so thought I'd share several of mine here.

Here's one I wrote for an article that appeared in the magazine KidTime in October 2006. (I've redacted some personal information.)


date

Editor name
KidTime
Street address
City, state and zip

Ms. Lastname,

"What is it? An overgrown chestnut? A porcupine egg? A beaver ball? No, although the last two are nicknames for it. What you're seeing is a larch needle ball." That's my opening for an article on the naturally occurring phenomena of larch needle balls. The article might be appropriate for your November theme of "Harvest Time."

My information comes from an interview and larch ball hunting trip with an experienced collector. In addition, I've corresponded with Montana Forest Service and Glacier National Park personnel, Montana scientists, and Seeley-Swan Valley residents. As far as I've been able to ascertain, nothing is in print about this unusual subject except an article I wrote focusing on the collector for Real People ("That's Incredi-ball" January/February '97).

I've also had articles published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Child Life, and others.

Besides the article I've enclosed eight color transparencies along with descriptions. Of course, I've included a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.

Sincerely,


Obviously, that was a postal mail submission. Here's an email submission of a short story that sold.


Attn: Conny

Kiah's mom has just announced they are moving away. Anger bursts out of Kiah like lava spouting out of a volcano. She says she'll stay and just live with friends. But when Kiah thinks about her friends, none of them seem a good fit. But it isn't until she figures out the real reason they are moving that Kiah decides to make the best of it and makes up with her mother.

This short story "No Way" is especially appropriate for the older age range of your audience. The length is 1433 words and I can offer you first rights. I've pasted in the story below.

My writing credits include over 160 magazine short stories and articles for children and adults. I've been published in such magazines as Highlights for Children, Cricket, Jack and Jill, and many others. My recent book projects include three picture books for Unibooks (Korea) and seven e-readers for Compass Media.

Sincerely,


So what do these letters have in common? A brief description of the article or story and my writing credits. I'd usually say the title and word count as well, but see that I didn't even do so with the article. If you don't have writing credits, you leave that out. You'll see in one case I addressed the theme the magazine had for a specific issue, and in the other I mentioned the story would fit the "older range" of their audience.

It's pretty simple. Some samples you'll see tell even less about the story. But the basics I usually include are:

• Specific editor's name (or title specified in the magazine's writer's guidelines)
• Magazine name and address for postal mail
• A teaser for the story or article
• What you are submitting - e.g. article or short story
• Title and word count
• If appropriate, why you chose the magazine
• Rights available, if appropriate
• Any applicable background info - e.g. what gives you authority to write the piece and/or writing credits
• For postal mail, SASE for reply or return of manuscript

Letters are single spaced with a blank line between paragraphs. My physical letters have my name and contact information in a footer. It can also follow your name below the signature. And, of course, you want your letter to be free of any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.


Diverse Books

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I have 271 book recommendation posts on my blog--some of those include multiple books. When I started the blog ten years ago, there wasn't such a big push for diversity as there is now. Recently, I was curious how many of my entries were about diverse books. Doing some research, I discovered 49 of the entries had books with diverse characters who were integral to the story. (That's about 18 percent.) The books were not necessarily fully focused on diversity, but at least presented an important character who was nonwhite or other "abled." (If you want to see what books are included, search my blog for diversity or go to this link where I've done the search for you.) If I'd looked at the fantasy books, many of them would fit the diversity category too, as fantasy books often deal with characters who are different from the mainstream of their culture, but I don't think those books are usually counted as diverse.

I didn't set out to read "diverse" books specifically. Fortunately, I was raised to believe people are people despite skin color, cultural differences, etc., which means when I hear of a good book, or pick up a book, I'm not automatically offended because the main character is not like me on the outside. What I see as I read is that these characters are so like me on the inside. Which is why it is so important for "white" kids, "abled" kids, poor, middle class, and rich kids to read these books. They need to see we are more alike than we are different!

On the other hand, according to the 2015 Census, about 62% of Americans are white only, 17% are Hispanic or Latino only, 13% are black only, 6% are Asian only, 1% are Native American or Alaskan, and 2.5% are two or more races. (Note: Arabs are classified as "white" for censuses.) And these statistics don't include "differently abled." But even with these skewed figures, it'd be hoped that good books are written by/about 40% nonwhite "abled" people. Because people who fit these "other" categories deserve to see themselves represented in story too.

The reality is we're not there yet. Look closely at the above infographic. You might find this source post from September 2016 of interest. And here's an interesting post on CCBC on how books are counted.

WNDB_Button.pngWhat can I as a white writer do? Deliberately support those writers who write diverse books by blogging about those books, buying them, sharing about them, etc. And support diversity organizations. I just came across this list: 2016 LINKY (Diversity Children's Books Reviews). It can be a source for me to find books. Plus, I can let people know about it through twitter, etc. And, of course there's the We Need Diverse Books organization. This site has links to awards for specific types of diverse books. Again, it's another source to find books that I can share. SCBWI has a page on their site that focuses on diversity, plus has two diversity grants. Several of these diversity sites want you to notify them if you know of books, awards, etc. not on their lists. That's something any of us can do.

FYI, Multicultural Children's Book Day is coming up on January 27th. You can download a free kindness kit here.
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Online Resources for Children's Writers and Illustrators

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There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of writing and/or illustrating sites on the web, and many good ones. Here is a sampling to get you started for 2017.

Categories
AE - agents and/or editors
F - fiction
I - illustration
MG - middle grade
O - organizations
PB - picture books
YA - young adult



Agent Query AE
http://www.agentquery.com/

American Library Association O
http://www.ala.org/
Check here for information on awards. They have a section of author and illustrator websites, too.

Art of Storyboarding at Temple of the Seven Golden Camels I
http://sevencamels.blogspot.com

American Booksellers Association/ABC Children's Group O
http://www.bookweb.org/membership/ABC

Bent on Books AE
http://jennybent.blogspot.com/

Children's Book Insider
http://cbiclubhouse.com/clubhouse/

Children's Books
http://childrensbooks.about.com/

Children's Book Council O
http://www.cbcbooks.org/

Cynsations
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/

DearEditor.com
http://deareditor.com/

The Drawing Board for Illustrators I
http://www.thedrawingboardforillustrators.com/

Edit Minion
http://editminion.com/

Fiction Notes F
http://www.darcypattison.com/

Fiction University F
http://blog.janicehardy.com/

From the Mixed-Up Files... of Middle-Grade Authors MG
http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/

Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/

Guide to Literary Agents AE
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

Helping Writers Become Authors
https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

The Horn Book
http://www.hbook.com/

InkyGirl
http://inkygirl.com/

Institute of Children's Literature
https://www.instituteforwriters.com/about/institute-of-childrens-literature/

JacketFlap
http://www.jacketflap.com/

Jane Friedman
https://janefriedman.com/

Kidlit 411
http://www.kidlit411.com/

Literary Rambles
http://www.literaryrambles.com/

Literature and Latte - Scrivener
https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Manuscript Wish List AE
http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

Monster List of Picture Book Agents AE PB
http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/p/monster-list-of-picture-book-agents.html

Picture Book Month PB
http://picturebookmonth.com/

Publisher's Marketplace AE
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/

Resources for Writers - including "Writing for Children's Magazines" and "Educational Markets for Children's Writers
http://evelynchristensen.com/writers.html

SCBWI's Blueboard - for members and nonmembers
http://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators O
www.scbwi.org

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar F
http://io9.gizmodo.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

The Write Conversation
http://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com/

Write for Kids
http://www.write4kids.com/

Write to Done
http://writetodone.com/

Writer Beware
http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/

Writer UnBoxed
http://writerunboxed.com/

Writing and Illustrating
https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/

Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books: The Purple Crayon
http://www.underdown.org/

YA Books Central YA
http://www.yabookscentral.com/

If you have others you like, feel free to add in the comments. (If you can't see the comment box, click on the title above and scroll to the bottom of the resulting page.)


Rhyming Picture Books

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You hear it all the time, "don't write your picture book in rhyme." That's because many writers don't do it well. The story suffers to fit the rhyme; rhyme is forced; rhythm is off; there is no story.

I thought it would be fun to look at the openings of some recent rhymers.


HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez

Once upon a menacing time
two chicks knew a fox was at large.
Their Ma had been taken
and Pa was quite shaken
so Hensel and Gretel took charge.

First line does not rhyme, 2nd and 5th rhyme and 3rd and 4th rhyme. It sets up a pattern that the reader will expect. The same pattern is on the next spread. There's a fun twist in the old "once up a time" by adding the word "menacing." Again, we see a problem, and it feels humorous, so we expect humor to follow.


SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK) by Julie Falatko

Snappsy the alligator wasn't feeling
like himself.
His feet felt draggy.
His skin felt baggy.
His tail wouldn't swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn't SNAP.

Only two lines actually rhymed. Although the last two were "near rhyme" which some editors will not allow. But look how we see the Snappsy has a problem. Kids relate to not feeling that great. SNAP in all caps sets us up to expect fun language, and of course, there's obvious humor.


A DARK, DARK CAVE by Eric Hoffman

The pale moon glows
as a cold wind blows
through a dark, dark cave.

Those words are split across multiple pages. The pattern of rhyming two lines and ending with a dark, dark cave continues. This sets a mood. The reader is set up for something a bit spooky or mysterious in only 14 words.


In all three of these examples the writers are leaving out what the illustrators can put in.

They also used language that is kidlike. And there is rhythm. But most importantly there is story. Intriguing story. Picture book author Josh Funk says, "Story is most important. Rhyme, frankly, is least. More important, but sometimes less emphasized (pun intended), is Rhythm." For further reading go to Lesson #9 "Rhyming is all about Rhythm" in Josh Funk's Guide to Writing Picture Books.



Taglines and Beats

Successful Cover Letters

Diverse Books

Online Resources for Children's Writers and Illustrators

Rhyming Picture Books

Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

Public Speaking Phobia

Authors in the Classroom

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 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?