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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Picture Books Mini Workshop: Part Three: Language

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“One can see the importance of reading the words aloud from a picture book: it is more important how the words will sound when heard, than seen when read.” Uri Shulevitz

Language always matters, but for this age words need to be chosen with precise purpose. Shulevitz points out that as an audience of mostly non-readers, they will see the pictures and hear the words.

Choices to consider:

1.     Simplify the form.
2.     What’s the exact problem?
3.     Is the emotion clear?
4.     Is the story line straightforward?
5.     Rhyme can either help or be a roadblock.  Ask yourself, “Why do I want to use this?” How could it strengthen the story or weaken the story?
6.     Consider potential of Rhythm—poetry without rhyme but with meter.
7.     Develop the sound of words by reading poetry and picture books aloud.  One quote given somewhere says that before writing a book an author should read at least 100 in their genre.
8.     Music helps shape your prose as well. Listen for melodic lines and patterns to borrow, such as liturgy or a rap.
9.     If you use Repetition it must serve the story. Look for simplicity here as well.

Action Steps: Build a Sensory Vocabulary           

Start a reference Journal

1. In a workshop I once took with author Ethel Herr, she suggested choosing a different sense per day and paying close attention to just it. So on Monday notice everything you smell. On Tuesday touch, Wednesday taste, Thursday hear, Friday see.

            2. Then next to each word on each list expand. Again, did something smell rotten? Was it rotten like an egg, a sewer, or a dead fish? What distinguishes each ‘rotten’ smell? Repeat for any words that you want more depth to.

            Suggestion. Next to your list above have another column with words that babies to five year olds can identify with. The two year old in my family is not shy about saying ‘yucky’, which to him can be a truly bad odor, like garbage, as well as a delicious soup simmering on the stove. If he doesn’t like the smell—it’s yucky.

            3. Add to this reference journal any time you notice a characteristic that enhances emotional connections.

Share: Which sense do you rarely notice?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Picture Books Mini Workshop: Part Two: Characteristics

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

There are so many excellent picture book authors that a long list would still not be able to name all of them. Below are a few of those who have written in the three categories mentioned last week so you can study the work of one particular author, if you would like. Or you may already have a favorite author. Choose one to study and see what voice they carry throughout all their picture books. Or do they?

Bryan, Ashley.
Carle, Eric.
Lyon, George Ella. Dreamplace
Root, Phyllis.
Sis, Peter. Starry Messenger
Wells, Rosemary.

As you study them watch for the following details.

Picture Book Characteristics

  •             Text needs to stand-alone. However full meaning needs illustration.
  •             Language needs to be concrete.
  •             Story has some kind of conflict. Remember a conflict for this age might appear very simple but to them it is a problem. A timeless example is a child’s reluctance to go to bed as so softly addressed in Goodnight Moon.
  •             Light sentences for beginning readers.  For example, no description and basic specific words.
  •             Short sentences.
  •             Distinct beginning, middle, and end.
  •             End has a twist. There are some exceptions but generally the twist or surprise is why the story will sustain repeated reading.
  •             Brief or no transition.
  •             Repetitive words if they help the story.
  •             Limited setting. Illustrations will show.
  •             Simple problem.
  •             Short time frame.
  •             External conflict rather than internal—very important.
  •             Simple characters—usually only one defining characteristic such as curious.
  •             Keep audience in mind.
  •             Some sort of action.
  •             Important to keep to essence of story.

Plot Patterns

Here are a few patterns to consider as well that engage this audience.

1.     The ending is set up on very first page. Story goes up, story goes down.

2.     Circular story.  In Papa’s Bedtime Story, it opens with a baby being rocked to sleep and moves around the house and farm to see all the baby animals nestling down. The circle comes back to a mouse family in the house and through their doorway across the room is the baby from the first frame.
3.     For a series there may be small mini plots with over-arching plot such as the sister stories Zelda and Ivy.

Other patterns to consider include the structure of tone such as a “once upon a time” or modern.

Patterns include rhythms of words such as short, snappy, or long flowing.

One writer said that picture books are closest to acting while another writer compared them as closest to film making.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose one of the books you enjoyed the most and one that you didn’t connect with. Using the list above write down how each book measured up to each characteristic.

2.     If any parts were missing, how would you fill them in?

3.     Now apply the same list to your own work in progress. Or if you haven’t yet, draft a picture book of your own.

Share: What have you noticed so far that surprised you?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Picture Books Mini Workshop: Part One: Types

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Look at picture books as scenes in a play.” Phyllis Root

We don’t always think of genre in picture books, however even the youngest versions still have different types and a wide range of interests.

1.     A storybook is a pre-schoolers’ version of a novel.

2.     A concept is 1/2 way between essay and advertisement; it explores an idea.

3.     An information book is like a young child’s encyclopedia.

How do you decide which one you are drawn to write? If you have a strong imagination and love to tell stories, then a storybook is a good place to start. If you are interested in explaining ideas and are a little philosophical, then try a concept book. If you are a curious collector and lover of facts and enjoy exploring the world around you, then information books might be a fun fit.


To a young child everything is new. They love the books that connect especially to their world. I have lost the reference note as to where this list originally came from but it is an excellent reminder to identify with the voice and emotional perspectives of toddlers and pre-school ages.

Subjects include: “animals, everyday excitements such as trucks, stoves, marching bands, relationships with siblings, parents, grandparents, and monsters who spill milk and keep children awake at night. Three year olds are interested in the bathroom, spilling, making a mess, and making fun of adults.”

Be prepared for the unexpected ideas as well. I had taken my grandsons for a walk and parked the stroller’s emergency brake as I went to help my older one. And suddenly heard the two-year old gasp loudly. I quickly turned around and saw him mesmerized by the sight of the waterfall, that I had forgotten he had never seen before. For days afterwards he wanted to see pictures of waterfalls. I know if I ever write a story for him there must be a waterfall somewhere in the setting.

When you can find your own place in the story and your interests as well, then the more depth and originality you will be able to convey. Plus your own personal curiosity will sustain you throughout the whole process.

Action Steps:

Note that the action movement should go from left to right. Think in scenes rather than lines as you read.

1.     Make a library visit to the picture book area and pick out a random number. Then, without reading any content, scroll through and see if you can identify them according to the categories above. Upon what details did you make your decision?

2.     Read at least two or three in each category. What differences do you notice in presentation both verbally and visually?

3.     Choose one category that interests you the most and find five or six books to take home for study over the next few weeks. This week make a mini chart and note the similarities and differences among them.

Share: What is one of your favorite picture books? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Voice—Development Part Three

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Discipline is the key to all that follows, the bedrock of productive writing.” Kenneth Atchity

Three: Set Specific Goals

Goals are a working tool that will change many times as the months go on. They can be fluid to the story, but stay concrete towards the overall schedule. This is where we take all the various parts that attach to writing and spread them out. What can be done in tandem? What is sequential? What part need greater blocks of time-which can be done in short bursts. It’s the long view.

Goals are meant to be an aid and not a taskmaster. If they become overwhelming then redesign them into a more conservation format. Or if they are too easily attained, then consider making them a little tighter.

Goals should be:

Second—Measurable (think quantity)
Third—Attainable (think action)
Fifth—Time-bound (think deadline)

Michael Hyatt sets up “Work Objectives” to identify—focus—agree—prioritize—accountability. Then set the deadlines within each segment. 

Here are some possible action steps to consider applying to your project. Personalize them as needed.

Action Steps:

Choose One Priority Questions: Ask
1.     What are the specific steps I need to take to make this happen?
2.     Which of these steps can I do without any additional knowledge? Which ones need research-a class- etc.?
3.     Examine a time frame. What goal for the next year. Break it down into monthly-weekly-daily goals.
4.     Set realistic goals. Re-examine. Have you built in some gap time? Are there seasons of the year that you have more time/less tim?  How could this impact your schedule?

Setting Goals For Writing
            Set yourself some reading goals as well as writing goals
1.     Look for three books in your area of interest from three different authors to read over the next two months
2.     Pick up a cheap second hand copy of a book you really like to read and mark-up as a study of character development/plot twists/ sensory details/action etc.
3.     Read constantly—it all connects

Identify goal. Identify major obstacles to goal. Identify what skills and knowledge are needed-cost. Create a plan and then work backward. Ex. Rough draft a novel in one year.
            Set yourself clear writing goals
1.     1st three chapters by date…
2.     Polished first chapter by…
3.     Zero rough draft by…

Process Your Feedback

Choose whatever method will work the easiest for you. You want to be able to check your progress but the process should not take over your schedule or your writing time. Here are two possible versions.

1. Daily log: work accomplished, work undone, work not visible, working relationships, potential problem, 1st thing to do next, brief comments re your feelings/attitudes.

2. Project Log: clarify notes, changes, what worked what flopped, what needed more time, participants, season of year-anything that could change next time. Quantities/Dates

3. Supplies/Records Log: This helps keep track of research notes, appendix material, reference books, library references, possible marketing connections, organizations and any correspondence.

Share: What is your first priority? What deadline have you set to accomplish it?

Read deep, marcy

Next Session: Picture Books

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Voice—Development Part Two

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The recognition of one’s genuine material seems to involve a fall from the phony grace of good intentions and elevated expectations.” Patricia Hampl

Two: Grow Notebook Material

Develop a notebook, or notebooks, system that works for you to keep track of subjects and ideas throughout your writing, reading, and daily life. This is more than a journal. However you design your note taking I suggest two versions—a handwritten notebook and a computerized app. Each will feed a different part of your imagination and creative thinking.

Sources include: reading in multiple genres and ages, life experience, social values, family, friends, questions, quotes, Scripture, art, observations, creative exercises, overheard conversations, music and nature, for example. All become material to draw from. Write down anything that stabs your heart and don’t worry if it seems random. Some ideas take years to grow.

The key here is to notice the ideas and material from your heart and soul that otherwise might get swept away in busyness. Over time you may discover that you are aiming in a general genre direction or a specific voice age or a recurring theme.

(Leonardo's Notebook)

Action Steps:

1.     Decide if you want one notebook with several divisions, or a few smaller notebooks that keep reading and writing separate? Consider which system you are most likely to give up trying to keep and list the reason why.

2.     Choose the simplest version of the one you least like and write in it everyday for a week a source that inspired you positively and a thought or observation that bothered you that day.

3.     Do you think your reason is still a factor or have you changed your mind? When might you want to use this system, if ever?

1)                   From the source list above which creative fuel sparks ideas for you? Which is a source you hadn’t considered?

2)                   Which is your favorite method of tracking ideas? Why?

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