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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Tools: Outline Content

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Because the unifying and compelling force of a plot is missing in nonfiction, one must achieve unity, coherence, and suspense in other ways.” Jane Fitz-Randolph

Outlines and patterns become the backbone to substitute for plot in order to provide a beginning, middle, and end, whether as an article, essay, or chapter.

Basic Essay Development

1. Through creative exercises an idea develops. You shape an outline, find a focus point, a clear purpose.

2. Thesis: topic for whole essay. Think of it as an umbrella top with the following points/paragraphs to be the spokes. We’ll look at different patterns next week.

3. Audience: will determine also your choice of style either for articles above or for different styles of essays such as narration, description, compare and contrast, persuasion, argument, or analysis.

4. Paragraph: For brief essays, such as an in-class student essay, 150-200 words. One to three sentences. Topic sentence-why the writer is stating the main point. Then it is followed by support. If you are writing for a particular magazine they will have a word count limit which will affect the length of your paragraph points.

5. Introductory paragraph. Key points and purpose.

6. Topic sentences-stating each point for the support information and example

Overall Essay Process: Idea-Outline-Draft-Revise-Edit

By now you have your first few article ingredients—your topic idea---the slant or purpose—and your target audience.

Now you develop your thesis and potential examples to support your premise.

Also consider your time frame if it applies. If a biography will it be developed chronologically, by highlights, or one particular aspect as a thread?

Action Steps:

1. Do a basic brainstorm. Set a timer and write without stopping for 10 minutes. Don’t do sentences or punctuation. Just write down everything you can think of that you already know or want to know. Don’t pause to think. If you hit a hole make a dash or an extra space break and move on to your next thought. If possible do this by hand instead of computer.

2. Now go back through and underline any thoughts that can be developed as a supporting topic or example. How many do you have?

3. Do you have a repeating voice or tone?

Share: What is your main focus?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Timeless: Self-Development

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“A ‘we’ approach makes the reader feel that the writer is with him, not talking at him.” Jane Fitz-Randolph

Self-development is geared towards the teen readers and older. Although they often can overlap with personality articles this focus is undergirded by empathy and a sense of  “we” are in this together. It’s not coming from an expertise telling attitude, even if as an author you have all the qualifications, but rather as someone who has walked this path and is a listening ear.

Personally I see this type of article as both compassionate and inspirational. The undergirding purpose is to understand situations and identity and then how to navigate through the difficulties and decisions. Be honest to include the potential consequences of wrong choices as well as the hope that can follow.

The range is once again very wide from dealing with emotional situations, like anger management, confrontations, like being bullied, health issues and family tensions, as well as career choices and developing skills.

As the personal essay might focus more on the external struggle towards accomplishment, self-development offers ways to heal or mend or avoid brokenness that could otherwise have life-long effects.

For example, if you related in any way to the biographical topic that represents a musician that falls into both music and multicultural categories in the earlier action list, you might want to share the different types of prejudice that a musician in this field might experience either from her peers or from audiences. Or how this has compared to your own field and the bias that can occur.

Choose a priority factor that enabled you or a colleague to navigate jealousies and /or racial discrimination.

Another vein to explore might be the ways factual information in your field can lead to artistic development.

Here is a link as to the background behind a young artist choosing to design a series of art kites.

And you can see her stunning kites at

Action Steps:

1.     Make a list of the struggles you have experienced either personally or with a close family member.

2.     Choose one that made a significant change in your life, either by an attitude perspective or by a specific course of action.

3.     Write it up as if you are sharing gone-to one with a close personal friend.

Share: What words of hope do you want to pass on from your subject field?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Timeless: Personality

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“People are always interested in other people.” Jane Fitz-Randolph

Whether historical or current there is no end of potential people to write about whether well-known or unknown.

Find the Angle.

From age two, one of my grandsons was mesmerized by a story about Michael Jordan, Salt in His Shoes, written by his mother Deloris Jordan. The story was based on a particular summer in Michael’s life when he struggled to play basketball with the big kids in the neighborhood park and how his commitment turned his despair into success. At first I only shared a few words per page here and there but day after day my grandson would still ‘read’ the story carefully turning the pages. As he grew older I read all the words and he understood the story even more. One specific insight into this gifted athlete opened up a whole new generation to recognize, love, family, perseverance, and faith through this true story.

Be interesting to a broad range Audience.

Although the vocabulary in Salt in His Shoes fit more for fourth grade and older the detailed illustrations pulled in the younger readers and the emotional storyline pulled in the adults. Regardless of your immediate intended audience look for the themes that are universal and ageless and their truths will cross age, race, and culture. Life matters.

Be Authentic. The research needs to be solid. If you include interviews be sure to get permission. If you are doing historical research and find conflicting material give the reasons for the discrepancy and why it is an issue.

Find fresh material or Application. Many years after World War ll many movies, novels and life stories were written about the behind scenes espionage, life changes, and hidden atrocities that occurred. Ordinary people worked hard incognito to save others. Women played a much more dangerous role in many battles that were not acknowledged or revealed at the time due to danger for them and their work. What factors will connect to your specific audience and age group?

How might the British women’s contribution of code and cypher breaking at Bletchley Park and the Native American Navajo Code Talkers be of interest today skill and study wise? Or the recently released movie Hidden Figures that unveils the three women math geniuses that played such an important role in NASA. Why did it take so long to release their stories?

Look at your own curiosity questions and see if there are any behind the scenes people to acknowledge.

Action Steps:

1.     Using the above italic outline write down any potential ideas.

2.     Choose the two most interesting to focus your purpose.

3.     Outline what sources you already have and where you need to do research.

4.     Write up a sample outline for an interview to fill in either in person or from research material.

Share: Who has been an influential person to you in this topic you are sharing and why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Timeless: How-To

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

On the surface a how-to seems almost self-explanatory but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget a key detail. This is rich territory for any age but especially for ages five and up as these subjects combine details and information with curiosity and possible future inspiration.

How-to pieces go beyond arts and craft projects to exercise, finances, organization skills, doing chores, and sharing talents.

Keep it truthful. Keep it simple. Keep it accurate. Keep it doable.

Truthful. Make a connection with your reader. Are you sharing from a love of your information? Did you totally mess up the first time you tried to make this topic yourself and have a funny story to tell? Is it something important to know how to do but can also be dangerous if done incorrectly—like a teenager learning to change a tire? Don’t make light of any complications, but be sure to give solutions. Share=Connection.

Simple. Precise. Concise. Step-by-step instructions. Take time to explain a word that might be unfamiliar or confusing. Don’t make assumptions. Give a detailed list of requirements both in material and time and potential cost.

Accurate. Point out the potential glitches. Is there stage where they will need help? For the very young enable them to understand waiting time. Are there any potential dangers that older teens or adults need to be aware of? Food allergies or something can become slippery. Protect eyes or need gloves?

Doable. Personalize again. How much fun? How many more times? What possible projects can come next or expand or new ideas to follow up on. Make other possible connections.

How to Build a Kite can connect to arts and crafts, a family outing, a party, building skills, types of tools, and supplies.
How to Fly a Kite can connect to skills needed and festivals and history and types.
How to Know Where to Fly a Kite can lead to a study of wind and environment.

How-to can also be woven into narrative stories either from the viewpoint of a fictional character, a personal memory of your first time trying it out, or as an interview.

The goal is for readers to be excited to try it for themselves and not just see a list that they hold and say, “Do I have to?”

Action Steps:
1.     Make a list of any how-to side subjects that might connect with your article from last week.

2.     Then choose one and see how many parts or angles you could develop.

3.     Choose two and write them up: one as a brief sidebar, and one as a whole article itself.

4.     Look up some possible magazine markets to submit to. Remember that magazines sometimes work a year ahead, so submitting an article in the fall for the following summer, or vice versa, is not unusual.

Share: The title of your article.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Timeless: Informational

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

The range for this style is almost indefinable. Any potential topic fits from all subjects and genres. Since basically all articles and essays include information here the focus becomes purpose and intent. We have all experienced the information overflow that causes our minds to glaze over.  So to keep interest one focus key is the central purpose, which then connects the tone and point of view. Will it be severe, dramatic, humorous, functional, or enlightening?

The facts need to support the purpose in tone as well. And again they need to be age appropriate. A toddler understands basic warnings such as don't run or don’t touch or don’t move. Older readers will want to know the why and what of the danger to confirm the warning words.

Interest is the precise lure, to be supported by the presentation, and undergirded with facts. Even a wealth of facts is possible if presented in an engaging manner. For younger readers a story narrative can help guide new information. Older readers will want evidence as well, but slanted specifically to the main interest or main reason they are reading this particular article.

Don’t overload and don’t use terminology that can’t become relative to the reader. Limit to the primary focus. Ground the reader in the subject before expanding the concepts and vocabulary.

Say for example I wanted to do some article on kites. Will I focus on (entertainment) the fun it is to watch others fly them on the beach, (historical or geographical) where kite flying originated, (science) wind currents,  (occupations) festivals for kites, and the list goes on.

In a few weeks we’ll look at outlines and methods of focusing a potential essay or article but for right now begin to sift out main components of information you want to base your subject on.

Action Steps:

1. From the category you chose last week take your four main points and make a list of all the key foundations of information that are either the most interesting or the most critical or both for each of them.

2. Keep a list of the parts that don’t fit right now.

3. Choose one particular aspect and do a brainstorm of everything you already know. For example: what do you know about beaver homes?

4. Make a rough draft list of potential details.

5. Next to each mark whether you have an example or story or details to share or do you need to do more research?


Share: What topic point have you chosen to work on for an information article?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Timeless Styles

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Topic =why plus what plus who plus how

Last week, for your article in progress, you have now chosen a potential style, a purpose, an audience, an age, and perhaps a voice. Now we’ll look at a few different style approaches over the next few weeks.

Basically there are four main types of books: biography, history, science, and how-to. They often overlap but the underlying core purpose will designate the foundation category.

The top timeless requests for magazine are: how to, informational, interesting personality, and self-development. Depending on your subject you may be able to get a feel for audience interest by taking sections of a proposed book and write articles from the chapters or as a blog. It’s a good way to test the waters as you plan.

For example, suppose you are fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and although there are several books written about him, you feel some of them are out-dated and old-fashioned in presentation and you’d like to inspire a new generation.

Would your potential biography be chronological, or specific highlights, or one key aspect, such as determination or honesty?

From your research and interest you want to choose which slant you want to share about your subject and how to shape it. What pattern looks the most interesting?

If you were writing a book on transportation, would you only include all transportation with wheels or only bicycles or only a particular kind of bicycle? How could that fit into a story about the history of bicycles?

For the next four weeks we’ll look at the specific magazine article styles. Choose four main points to consider for your topic as you do the action step below.

Also begin now to consider and experiment with your tone of choice. Articles and essays sometimes land under the same categories, but they do have a subtle difference that is defined by your primary purpose and audience again. Articles lean towards information delivery and an objective voice. Essays are often more subjective in attitude and explorative in presentation.

Action Steps:

            Viking Children’s Books listed their interest in these topics in the edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2017.
            “NONFICTION All levels: biography, concept, history, multicultural, music/dance, nature/environment, science and sports.”

1. Under which category do you think your subject would fit best? Why?

2. Suppose you have a biographical topic that represents a musician that falls into both music and multicultural. Which category do you think should be the primary focus?

3. Look up their catalogue and see if they already have books on your person, and/or someone similar in topic. Or a series? Is there a pattern? A missing space you could fill?

4. If you have a particular magazine you are interesting in submitting to, read several issues and note whether they lean towards an article style or an essay style of tone and voice.

Share: What primary category has your attention? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Target

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Information is useful, it is palatable, it is fascinating. And it is compelling to the reader.” Jane Yolen

Target= Why plus what plus who.

Jane Yolen also adds that all the information needs to become recognition.

As a result of brainstorming and initial research you now have some ideas you’d like to explore as potential articles or chapters. Now begins a tighter focus to connect with your intended audience and make the information you’d like to share recognizable to them specifically—even though you may be dealing with a completely new concept for your age category.

The age now determines your vocabulary, your style of presentation, which examples will be most effective, and how much research to share. Also if you have a particular market that you plan to submit to, you will need to gauge the length as well but not on your first draft.

Subject and style: abstract versus concrete, objective versus opinion, vocabulary level, subtle or precise are all target aspects to consider once you know the overall effect you choose.

One vocabulary detail to remember is that children don’t usually begin to think in abstract terms before age ten so until then metaphors might be very confusing and too abstract. But a simile might work especially for the very young who want to understand everything.

For example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, combines many concepts throughout his story: numbers, food, days of the week, growing size, a chrysalis and metamorphosis.

His through narrative line is hunger, which he announces in the title and continues through each page. Even without knowing vocabulary words a one-year old understands being hungry.

Eric Carle walks the tiny caterpillar through a week of eating and growing larger every day. “On Tuesday he ate through two pears but he was still hungry.”  By centering the young reader with a day-to-day reality he becomes ready for the science that is too abstract for terms yet but concrete.

“He built a small house called a cocoon around himself.” A new word is introduced alongside the reality of being wrapped up. A chrysalis is visual on the page. Again a toddler will connect with the idea and image.

“He stayed inside for more than two weeks.” Carle gives information that may not be understandable yet but stays true to the development of metamorphosis. When the now big caterpillar ate his way out of the cocoon, “he was a beautiful butterfly.”

The same undergirding concept of hunger and caterpillars would work all the way up to a college level audience by adding increasing information, language, and appropriate science theory. 

The target question is still what overall effect do you want your readers to leave with? Will this be a sense of the wonder that undergirds science, an example to explore an art project, or a how-to project to examine?

Action Steps:
1.Choose your age target’s vocabulary level and main examples to use to connect with them.

2. Make a list of the information you intend to share. What will their age group recognize immediately and what will need explanation?

3. Make a list of potential metaphors or similes.

Share: Which metaphor or simile makes you smile?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Topic Research

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Creative research is made up of four parts: intuitive guesses, detective work, chutzpah, and just plain luck.” Jane Yolen

Out of your research can come more ideas for biographies, history, travel, special events, occasions, and unexpected questions, both related to your primary focus and as additional subjects to set aside for later consideration.

Perhaps your initial intention is to write a magazine article, but the more you research the more interested you become and begin to explore the idea for a book. As you sweep-read for initial research, write down those odd gleanings as they pop up. Keep a separate list folder for the curiosities that don’t seem to fit anywhere but do catch your interest.

For your immediate topic/article, choose a record keeping method that works in tune with your personal process of thinking. Some writers need visual aids: perhaps a map with small sticky images or photos. Others prefer detailed outlines or tables and graphs. Don’t make the research stage difficult and confusing but easy access. Headings, color codes, tabs, and icons, can help separate categories.

A combination of at-hand and online folders will keep duplicate copies in case anything goes missing, but be sure to use the same categories to avoid confusion. Consider trying out both a virtual binder system and an online technology one to see which you find most effective.

Action Steps:
Set-up your immediate topic files, then keep all the extra material under another heading for future reference or for a potential second book.

1. Write down the broad strokes of a wide overview of your topic.

2. Keep a diary of where major incidents or details happen.

3. Also record the references when you use library material, especially when borrowed.

4. Note when your sources are primary or secondary.

5. Set goals and time management for your research as well as your writing, so the writing gets your priority.

Share: Did you discover a surprise in your research? How?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Overview Nonfiction: Topic

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Practice makes perfect, as one saying goes, so, as we continue to discuss nonfiction attributes, the next blog sections are designed for writing your own article alongside our general conversation.

Topic= why plus what.

Based on your own why concepts of curiosity and connection, choose one topic from the brainstorming this past week in your subject list. Will it be from a passion you still have or an interest in why you originally discarded a topic and now wonder about it?

First brainstorm some preliminary “what to share” possibilities to mull over. Next week we’ll look at some research suggestions. Right now daydream.

Prepare your initial purpose, or what you think are the primary questions you want to consider. Brainstorm possible themes within your topic. What type of attitudes might readers find interesting or be resistant to?  Which point of view do you feel most comfortable with and which would be a challenge?

The purpose here is toward communicating new knowledge. Children have enormous curiosity. Concepts are as important as facts, especially for the very young. Wonder is the motivation for all ages.

Focus on the heart of your topic, your potential audience age, the questions you need to research for clarity, confirmation of truth, vocabulary, and the impression you desire to share.

Action Steps:
Begin to ask the questions now.

1. Who is your intended target audience?

2. What will be the reader expectations that you need to include?

3. What overall effect do you want your readers to leave with?

a. Hope? What kind: emotional, physical, spiritual?
b. Solutions? What kind: cost, time, and/or relational?
c. Entertainment: Why? Long term—short term?

Share: What information communication did you choose as a primary focus and for what age? Why?

Read deep, marcy

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