“Hi, my name is…”
I just went through a student assignment where most character names ended in the E sound. Some were spelled with a Y; others with IE. Not only does it get confusing with the same endings, but Gracie, Vicky, Lorie, Murphy, Bobby are also the same number of syllables. At least they started with different letters.
Varying your character names will help your reader keep track of who’s who.
But don’t just think about beginnings and endings, or number of syllables.
Think about different cultures and ethnicities.
Look at this fact: “The proportion of non-Hispanic white children in the U.S. has declined from 61 percent of all children in 2000 to 51 percent in 2016.” More from the same source here.
What about where you live? Or where you are setting your story? Who are the people there? When my daughter’s family moved to southern Georgia, my white grandchildren were the minority among a sea of black children. Where we raised our girls there was a significant Asian population. We spent a year in a town in New Jersey that had a large Jewish population. Where we live now there many people from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
I’m not suggesting you appropriate anyone’s culture, but surely in your main character’s classroom or among his/her friends, not everyone will look/be just like your character.
Don’t forget religious influences.
Names may be inspired by parents’ faith or customs. Biblical names are often popular in our country. Although the US has often been called a Christian nation, that has changed too. Read some of the statistics here from 2016. And again it varies state by state. As the above link states: “No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi.”
Popular culture can contribute to unusual names.
This site has 100 unusual or surprising baby names of 2018. Some come from TV; while others are from history; and others are names of fruit. Those children may be off to school in four or five years.
Here’s a fun resource: popular baby names by birth year.
Place names are popular.
I’ve met both boy and girl Londons. There’s Paris and Brooklyn. Austin and Hudson. Here’s a list of over 100 place names.
Consider the meaning of names.
This can be helpful in creating character traits or the ironic opposite. My name means graceful lily. I’ve never felt particularly graceful or flowerlike, but I learned the meaning when I was a kid. Your child/teen main character probably knows the meaning of his/her name, too.
Scifi and fantasy often have made-up names.
And some authors seem to go overboard into making them hard to pronounce. Sometimes names just have unique spellings. Here’s an article about fantasy name generators. Science fiction writers don’t have to feel left out–here’s one for scifi character names.
Names that almost weren’t.
Some names become household words. For fun and inspiration look at these twelve who almost were something less.
I know the holiday season is over, but I’m sure you remember this story. Santa’s reindeer won’t let poor Rudolph play any reindeer games. “Then one foggy Christmas eve…” those hypocrite reindeer suddenly liked Rudolph because he was useful. (Summary my own.)
I often see this theme in bully short stories in my student lessons. The picked upon main character saves the bullies, saves the day, or does something so great that now the bullies like him. Have you had that happen in real life? Me? Not so much. Neither have children. What’s that phrase? Haters will hate.
Bullies usually pick on isolated kids–the new kid, the different kid, the loner. Why is that? Because those isolated kids don’t have others to stand up for them. No support group in this situation. It’s like a pack of wolves against a lone rabbit. Scary! And because those bullies have issues of their own. Though sometimes mob mentality is in play too.
Good bully stories focus on how the main character deals with being bullied. (Without immediately going to parents or teachers. Even though we tell kids to go for help, we also know that bullies often plan retribution.)
-Some are tough and don’t react no matter what.
-Others fight back.
And what else?
New bully stories need to have something fresh about them.
There are lots of bully stories out there. Look at this one library’s Pinterest board of titles for young readers. Here’s a list aimed at tween and teen girls from a mighty girl. I’m sure we could find tons more.
Resources for writing about bullies:
“Advice & Tips On Creating & Writing Bullies”
“How do I write a believable, violent, and manipulative school bully?”
“Avoiding the avoid the cliched bully”
“Character Type: Bully”
Do you have other thoughts on this issue? Share them in the comments section.
Writing nonfiction for magazines is a good way to break into print. Editors get less article submissions than they do fiction.
Often editors tell you what they are looking for. For example, Highlights for Children posts their current needs on submittable. Their info was updated in November. Jack and Jill submission guidelines state: “We are especially interested in features or Q&As with regular kids (or groups of kids) in the Jack and Jill age group who are engaged in unusual, challenging, or interesting activities.” Root and Star is looking for nonfiction about water for their July/August 2019 issue (deadline end of March).
You may be familiar with big name magazines, but how do you find the smaller or lesser known ones? Via online sources such as Evelyn B. Christensen’s site. Or this resource, Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers that comes out annually. Check out libraries and bookstores to see physical copies of print magazines as well. Then you can search online for these magazines’ submission guidelines.
You’ve chosen a market, and even a topic, now what? Research. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t solely use internet sources. Editors will appreciate that you’ve used books, magazines, interviews, etc.
- Wikipedia is only useful in giving you an overview that may or may not be accurate, and when you use it to follow up with the sources listed at the bottom of an article.
- As you take notes, record where you got the information. You’ll send the bibliography of your sources with your article. There are now apps and software that can keep track of this information for you. This site lists some options.
- Using quotes in an article can really bring it to life. Copy these verbatim as you research.
- Be prepared that your research might take you in a different direction from your plan.
- Go deep with research and you may find some fascinating facts that will make your article pop.
Here’s a great resource on finding credible sources.
Before you write your article, ask yourself, “What is the main point I want to get across to my reader?” With that in mind you will create a more focused piece.
Next, get organized. Create a simple outline. It can be as basic as:
• Section one (be specific to your topic!)
• Section two
• Section three
Now write your first draft.
When finished, make sure each paragraph (or two) fits the topic of the outlined section. (It’s okay to adjust your outline, but paragraphs should have a mini-theme. Some magazines even use headers for sections and your simple outline can become those headers.)
Check the beginning. Is your title intriguing in some way? Does the opening draw a reader in? It could ask a question, be a short anecdote, make a provocative statement, etc.
Is the middle meaty? Full of good details? Interesting? More than what is general public knowledge.
Check the end. Does your article have a satisfying conclusion or just dribble to a stop? Sometimes, articles conclude with a statement that makes the piece feel it has come full circle–or in other words, the end ties back to the beginning.
Prepare your bibliography. There are many online resources on how to write one, but this website has links to how to include almost anything.
After setting your article aside for a week or two, come back and revise. If you have a critique group or beta readers, share and revise again.
Prepare to send…
Double check that:
• your article fits the required word count of the magazine.
• the accuracy of your quotes.
• the magazine’s deadline hasn’t passed.
• how to submit (electronically, through a form, via postal mail).
• write a query or cover letter, if necessary, and proofread carefully.
• read your article through one more time, checking for grammar and spelling errors.
• proof your bibliography.
Send. And make up a list of possible other places to send the article to if you get a rejection. (This may require further revisions or slanting.)
If you get an acceptance, celebrate! You’re a soon-to-be published (or republished) author.
Some favorite articles/blog posts/essays about writing I’ve read recently along with appropriate quotes for each section.
WRITING IN GENERAL
“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.” – Melinda Haynes
“25 Truths About the Work of Writing” by Greer Macallister
25 Truths About the Work of Writing
“3 Principles for Finding Time to Write” by Jane Friedman
3 Principles for Finding Time to Write
“Use your social media to create long-term connections with readers and authors alike. Engage with followers in an organic way without constantly peddling your wares.” – Saritza Hernandez
“Is Tweeting a Must for Authors?” by Dear Editor aka Deborah Halverson http://deareditor.com/2018/10/re-is-tweeting-a-must-for-authors/
Children’s Book Authors Are Selling More Than Books. They’re Taking a Stand.
by Maria Russo
“A picture book must have lots of potential for illustration. If nothing much changes visually in the story, then it may not be a good fit for a picture book.” – Kim Norman
Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski-“How Do You Know If You’ve Written a Picture Book?”
Darcy Pattison & Leslie Helakoski: How Do You Know If You’ve Written a Picture Book?
Word Banks for Picture Books – “At a Loss for Words? Try Making a Word Bank by: Barb Rosenstock for Sherri Jones Rivers” https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2018/10/at-loss-for-words-try-making-word-bank.html
“Make your novel readable. Make it pleasant to read. This doesn’t mean flowery passages; it means strong, simple, natural sentences.” – Laurence D’Orsay
“The Process of Novel Writing: Transitions” by Jan Fields at the Institute for Writers – a newsletter you may want to subscribe to
“Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension” by Becca Puglisi
Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension
Do you have some favorite articles to share? Please put them in the comments.
I’ve done it myself and seen other writers do it too–have characters look up, down, around, at someone or something, etc. Many, many, many times. And changing the words from look to gaze, stare, watch, or what other synonym you can find, doesn’t improve the writing much. On a discussion board a writer said, “Just did a search of ‘look’ on my main story, and I’ve used it 600 times across 200 pages.” That’s three per page! Unfortunately, the writer didn’t get much helpful advice. (You can read the conversation here if you’re interested.)
Deborah Halverson of DearEditor.com taught me, “Stop looking.” Instead we can show setting, character, etc. by using other actions.
What is something your main character does habitually? Or what nervous habit does he have? A character might play with the zipper pull of his jacket (indicates something about what he is wearing, jingle her keys or coins (which gives us a nice sensory detail), or twist his long hair and tuck it up under a beany (character description plus clothing item).
What can a character do besides look at what’s around them? React in some way. She might bark a cough in the dusty air (sensory and setting detail), run his thumbnail over the rough spot on the surface of the table (sensory and setting, plus possibly revealing the character’s attention to detail), or sniff at the fragrance of cinnamon and apple from the pie cooling on the counter (sensory that might indicate hunger and makes my mouth water versus someone simply looking at a pie cooling on the counter).
Writing a novel should not include stage direction. I suspect in screenplays that minor aspects such as “looking” are left to the actor to figure out. Your readers will figure this out, too. For example: My dog just asked to go out. I looked at her. I looked at the lock on the slider door to unlock it. When I opened the door to let her out, I looked outside. When I closed the door, I looked at the lock to lock it. Argghh. It’s all true, but painful reading. Instead I might write something like this: My dog whined to go out. I unlocked the slider and opened it for her. Cold air rushed into the house from the gray fall morning. I used some sensory details, so it is more interesting. You know I looked outside because I told you what it looked like, but I didn’t use the word look. I didn’t need to.
Avoid the mundane in our writing. When a character talks to someone, unless we point out that they can’t or aren’t doing so, they are probably looking at the other person. The assumption doesn’t need to be reinforced. It’s ordinary. And even if the character isn’t, is it important enough to say so? Similarly, in my last example, a reader will assume that the dog and I walked to the door without me stating it.
Does that mean a writer should never use the word look? Of course not. But like in many areas of our writing, we don’t want to be lazy. Use it where needed. But you’ll probably find on close examination (during revisions) that the verb isn’t needed near as many times as you have used it.