Recently in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing Category

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

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Stuck on your current WIP? Here are some things I do, plus exercises I've learned from other people.

If I'm not feeling my character for the current scene, I go back some pages and reread what I've already written to get the feel of his or her life.

I'm not an outliner, but I know my main character's problem well and have an idea of how the problem might be solved. The stories don't always end how I think they will--I believe that is true for outliners, too. In one work in progress...the kid thinks he is responsible for his mother's death. At the end, he will realize he was not in control of whether she lived or died. He also will resolve (in his heart) the issue of having disappointed her the day she died. I don't know exactly how it is all going to happen, but I keep putting him in situations where he has to face what he's done, face his grief, his regrets.

Talk to your character. In a workshop at Oregon's SCBWI conference in 2013, Agent Trish Lawrence (EMLA) shared about "nailing your teen in the corner" and finding out what's going on under the surface. Ask questions on paper and record her answers. Ask "why" questions. Go to the dark places. Try to discover core truths and inner values.

Do research about your setting or your character's hobby or interests, or problem. In a talk at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference, author Elizabeth Wein said that uncovering details often provides inspiration. Read her guest post on Authority and Authenticity. Author/illustrator Judy Schachner shared something similar at the 2014 LA conference when she showed us how she uses a journal/scrapbook to paste in pictures and quotes and ideas for her picture book character. As an illustrator as well as a writer, she also draws sketches of her character and tries things out with him.

Go some place different (anywhere, e.g. a doctor's office, a park, a store, a restaurant) and soak in the environs, then put your main character there and just start writing about him or her being there. Ask yourself, "What would he be thinking?" etc. Don't worry about your plot, etc. Just see what comes out. Several of us got things that may go into WIPs out of this exercise from a talk by author Elizabeth C. Bunce at a Kansas SCBWI workshop.

Work on another project and let this one simmer until it is bubbling to come out of you... Since I usually have a number of projects I want to work on, this works well for me.

Keep showing up to write. "Good ideas come when we show up," author Kate Messner said.* Kate has more writing tips on her blog.

Check for action in your story, especially if a middle grade novel. Editor Nancy Siscoe (Knopf) said, "Action is always better than inaction."* She added that nothing is worse than characters who never do anything.

Be courageous. Keep trying new things. While speaking on courage to write great picture books, Editor Jeannette Larson* reminded us to "do things that might scare you" and to be flexible.

At the fall 2013 SCBWI Oregon retreat, Deb Lund challenged us to "Mine Your Memories"--especially those yucky ones! What hurt you? What scared you? What secrets did you have?

Sometimes writing the next scene just doesn't seem possible. Write a later scene in the story and worry about how to connect them later.

Maybe you're worried too much about length. Don't worry about how long or short it is; just work on what happens next.

Ask yourself questions about your main character's problem. What's stopping him from reaching his goal? Or arriving at a solution? How can you make it worse before it gets better? How can you raise the stakes? Will she get what she wants? Once at a writer's event, I heard someone say "push the main character off the cliff and see what she does." ;-)

What do YOU do when you are stuck?


*at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference



Naming Your Character

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I recently read this tweet by @nikkitrionfo "I hate choosing character names. #amwriting" And I told her how at our SCBWI Oregon retreat, @doesntmattr (an editor from Scholastic) talked about with project ideas, he just uses "Bob." He replied to our tweets with "I could spend two hours trying to come up with a name. 'Bob' gets the job done."

For me, I need the character's name before I can move on in the storyline. Maybe I agree with what Anne of Green Gables says, "I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage." ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables In my opinion, who the character is is part of his or her name.

One of the resources I use is a name the baby book and lists of popular names on the internet. I look for names that sound right and often, but not always, check the meaning of names. Where and when a name was or was not popular can be important too.

For surnames, I like using the internet again to look up common last names. I might do it by city or state, ethnicity, and again meaning.

In real life, I've named dogs people names (Sadie and Quinn), but I don't recommend doing that in a story. I think it is easier for the reader if pets have more obvious pet names.

Character Naming Resources

All these have practical tips, but this article is my favorite: "8 Tips for Naming Characters" by Dan Schmidt
@toucanic

"The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters" by Brian A. Klems
@BrianKlems

"Name That Character: Top Ten Tips" has "do"s and "don't"s as well as samples from books and movies.

"I Need Help Naming My Character!" - What To Do When You Don't Know What To Name Your Character

This article "Tips for writers on naming fictional characters" has some interesting sections, such as "Terms of Endearment," "Overused Names," and "Loaded Names."

On this page, Random Name Generator at www.behindthename.com, indicate how many given names and gender and provide an optional surname. You can choose ethnicity/language, plus extras such as Mythology, Ancient, Biblical, and labels like Fairy, Goth, Hillbilly.

There's also a Last Name Generator, but it isn't as flexible or fun.

How do YOU name your characters?

Considering Self-Publishing?

Pommes_à_cidre.jpgI've know authors who have done it well and many others who have not. You've heard that a bad apple can spoil a whole barrel--often in the self-publishing realm it's the opposite. Finding the one good apple may be difficult.

The first impression for a self-published book is the cover. If the cover is not professional, it won't matter about the rest of the book. There's a snarky site called LOUSY BOOK COVERS that has a tag line that says "Just because you CAN design your own cover doesn't mean you SHOULD." The site shows what it claims--embarrassingly poor covers.

In the traditional publishing world, Art Directors often go through multiple cover designs for one book before everyone involved (including the marketing department) is happy. I suggest that authors self-publishing get honest opinions on their covers from booksellers, librarians, other authors, illustrators, etc.

When I open a book and see a typo, a misspelling or grammar error on the first page, it makes me doubt the overall quality of the book. Traditional publishers use copy editors as well as editors who work on content. If you want to self-publish, or the new term "indie publish," please consider finding someone who can copy edit your book.

The biggest deal is content. I've found stories/books with these kinds of flaws:

Not Being Realistic
• It couldn't happen like that
• It doesn't make sense
• Where did that skill/ability/tool come from?

Main Character Not In Charge
• She is swayed by the winds of circumstances
• He doesn't make any decisions

Problematic Word Choices
• Overuse of adverbs
• Week adjectives
• Weedy words
• Misplaced modifying clauses
• Passive verbs

Overwriting
• Intricate details of clothing probably don't add much, unless it relates to the plot in a specific way
• Taking forever to get to the point of a scene
• Burying action with description
• Overdone dialogue tags/attributions
• Too many characters

And none of those issues deal with the overall storyline. Traditional editors and freelance editors help with both. If you're self-publishing, you'll probably want to hire a freelance editor.

The other thing I see is people who write books but don't really understand the market. It could be a children's book that either talks down to kids or covers information that children aren't interested. One self-published writer told a friend of mine that she didn't see why a children's book had to be "all about the kids." Um, because that's who your audience is?

Here's an article called "Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know" by David Carnoy.

So, say you write a great book, get it edited by a professional editor, get it copy edited, have a great cover, now what? Marketing!

It's not easy. Several sources I saw listed an average of 100-150 books per year in sales for indie authors. Here's one link.

Getting reviews is difficult. The Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton, wrote an article on why: "An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed." Now he's opened a contest called "A challenge to self-publishers." Deadline is December 15, 2014 and it is only open to printed books.

Self-published authors can pay for a review at Kirkus--that's not paying for a positive review, but paying for the chance to BE reviewed.

Getting into bookstores can be difficult. Here are some helpful articles:
"Getting your self-published book on the shelf (i.e. Bookstore Dating 101)"
"How to get your Self-Published Books into Bookstores"
"How To Sell Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores"

Selling books at conferences may not be allowed by the hosting organization. For SCBWI, a book must have earned PAL status.

Awards can help sales! Did you know there are specific awards administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association for indie published books? Go here to read about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. SCBWI has a Spark Award that recognizes excellence in a children's book published through a non-traditional publishing route. James Minter posted an article called "Writing: 50 Book Awards Open to Self-publishers"

I'll end with a link to this article by someone who has done it: "Chris Eboch on Self-Publishing and Middle Grade Novels: Should You or Shouldn't You?"



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When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

Guest post by Jan Fields

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detective.jpgA résumé that you send on first contact with a publisher (especially an educational publisher) is not the same kind of résumé you would use to find a job as a teacher or other position. The writer's résumé is basically a map of writing experience and any useful knowledge/experience/expertise in your brain because that's where the gems that interest the publisher lie. Approach your résumé by asking yourself, why does the publisher want to see my résumé? What's in it for him/her? The publisher approaches your résumé like a detective: "what do I see here that I could make use of?"

You're selling your KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE, INTERESTS, and SKILLS.

So what kinds of things will you need to include? One very "normal" résumé item is education. Much of the time, the scope of your education doesn't matter, but occasionally an editor will look specifically for someone with a certain level of education (this is especially true with assessment writing or when a publisher is looking for a specific kind of expert.) Or a publisher may look for someone who'll look good in their catalogue because of education level. Education is almost always a bonus, but (most of the time) it's not a deal breaker.

Another "normal" résumé item is job experience, but most of the time, the jobs you've held won't be of interest to a publisher. However, if you have educational or classroom experience, or experience working with children in another setting, this will be of interest. It will suggest that any school scenes or similar moments in the book will be based on much more recent experience than your memories of your own childhood. For example, if you're pitching a fiction series that takes place in the classroom to an educational publisher, you BETTER have classroom experience as a teacher, room mom or other volunteer or the publisher will pass because they will worry that your books won't mirror modern classroom settings.

Even experience with children's Sunday School or Girl Scout leader suggests you are familiar with children TODAY and won't be writing with only your memories of what childhood was like when you were a kid. And if your experience is unusual, you never know what a publisher will cherry pick THAT part of the résumé and ask for a proposal on it. For example, I once volunteered to help with a creative problem solving competition. I mentioned that in passing to an educational publisher and was asked if I'd consider sending a proposal connected to that experience.

Focus on skills & experience

Any area where you are already an expert will shave time off the learning curve, so if you're a licensed diver, or you've taken a flying course, or you can rock climb, or whatever - put it in. BUT be careful NOT to include things that you don't want to write about. If you're a licensed pilot but don't ever want to write books related to flying, you might not want to mention being a pilot because editors will ask. So add in any unusual expertise, experience or interest. You honestly never know what will spur interest and result in an assignment offer.

Make the Résumé look LIGHT

The easier your résumé is to consume, the more likely an editor is to examine every item on it. Keep in mind, this is a different document than the one you would send when seeking a job. You don't need to give addresses and dates and extensive information about each place where you've worked. The removal of all that extraneous detail will help you to make your résumé look like something a publisher could easily look over on even the most stressful day. So don't overburden the document. Don't try to look too academic. The look you're going for is clean, light, and easily consumed. If you don't have a website, but you're regularly submitting to publishers who ask for résumés -- consider getting a website. It's a great place to put the more extensive details you didn't put on the submitted résumé. And it's a great place to load more writing samples. The kinds of editors who ask for résumés are also the kind who check out websites -- so having a clean, professional website to back up your résumé is always a bonus.


JAN'S BIO

Since my first magazine publication in the 1980s, I have been steadily writing for money in some form. Today I have over twenty books in print and still more in the pipeline - books for children and adults. I've also written for magazines, educational publishers and even a toy company! Writing is the only thing I've ever done really well that didn't eventually become more like work than fun.

Read more here. And see her own résumé here.

Say What?

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Once a friend and I were discussing how people say "you." Where she grew up, in the Ozarks, it was "youns" for one person and for more "younses." When my brother-in-law and family lived in Greenville, SC, they explained that "you all" or "y'all" is said to one person and to more than one is "all y'all."

Going heavy on that type of dialect in a story can make for difficult reading. However, it got me thinking about regional differences that could add flavor without dialect.

In Denver, my neighbor called a grocery cart, a grocery buggy. Buggy makes me think baby...

Some brand names change by region, too--same product, different name. i.e. Best Foods/Hellmann's Mayonnaise. Although be aware--there can be trademark issues with using brand names.

Traveling in upper New York near the Hudson River many years ago, we stopped at a restaurant and I ordered a "deluxe" hamburger. The waitress didn't understand what I wanted, so I explained I wanted lettuce and tomato. She said, "Oh, California style!" As a native Oregonian I was tempted to say, "No, California style would be avocado and sprouts!"

During a Kansas critique group, I read that my characters jumped onto each other creating a pile of kids and I called it a "pig pile." The Midwest natives explained they call it a "dog pile." My image of a pile of baby piglets changed to that of something not so pleasant from a dog.

Once I mentioned to someone how I saw my first fireflies in Kansas. She was shocked to discover they don't exist west of the Rockies. Though not sure how strict that border is as we never saw them in Colorado either...

Sitting at a banquet table with writers several of us poured milk in our hot tea. We'd all learned the habit in England. Speaking of tea, I've always ordered iced tea with those simple words. I learned in Joplin, Missouri that most people order "sweet tea," so there I must specify "unsweet."

I've retrained myself not to ask what flavors of "pop" someone has, but instead to call it "soda." I've heard some areas refer to all flavors of carbonated sweet drinks as "coke."

Clothing matters, too. Another brother-in-law, a long time resident of Montana, traveled to Alabama on business. The man picking him up at the airport had never met him but unerringly picked him out of the crowd because of his cowboy hat and heavy coat.

If you've never lived or visited another place, you may not be aware of your regionalisms. So take a gander (look, look see) at the Dictionary of American Regional English and check out what I think a "bear claw" is! (Listed in 100 Sample Entries.) You also might want to follow @darewords on twitter. It's fun and educational.

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?