Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Show/Hide, Etc.

If you’re not using this tool in your word processor when things go wonky with a Word document, you’re missing out.

I recently had a student send me her article. She was so frustrated with the text jumping from one page to the next. It left a huge white space at the end of one page. And no matter what she did, she couldn’t fix it. Turns out she had a Section Break (Next Page) creating havoc.

How did I know?

I turned on Show/Hide (¶). It’s on my Home toolbar menu represented by the paragraph mark ¶. If you can’t find it, use the Help on your word processor and search for it. In some word processors, Help is represented by a question mark. I’m using the most recent version of MS Word.

What does Show/Hide do?

It shows hidden characters created by the system. A single space, such as the spaces between my words, is a raised dot ·. End of paragraph is ¶. (Mine are blue to contrast with my text—yours may be a different color.) Show/hide displays the column breaks, section breaks, and page breaks, too. It lets you see what’s going on behind the text.

For this student, it also showed me that she was using five spaces instead of an indent at the start of paragraphs. If one uses the tab to indent a paragraph, most word processors “learn” that is what is wanted and all new paragraphs will be indented automatically saving the writer time and effort. Note: Indent on your menu moves the left margin of an entire paragraph to the right. Tab only goes to your first tab which is usually one-half inch.

I’ve used Show/Hide and found places where I had multiple spaces when only one was needed. A Find and Replace can take care of that issue. (Under the Edit menu. Find space space, Replace All space). No more duplicate spaces.

How to fix an unwanted break

Usually your cursor can be put after the full expression of the break (at the right) and then you backspace which will delete it.

Sometimes, it’s resistant. Then, I’ve copied the text around it, including the pesky break, and pasted it into a new document by using Paste Special. (Under the Edit menu.) When the window pops up with options, choose Unformatted Text. This will paste it in without any extra formatting. Copy that and repaste over the same section in your original document.

If all else fails, copy the entire document and Paste Special, Unformatted Text in a new document. You will lose headers, but you can go back and copy the original header and paste into the new document. You also may lose double-spacing, and blank lines at the beginning of your manuscript, but those are easily fixed.

How to add a break

Say you’ve reached the end of your article and you want to add the bibliography to your document. Instead of using return/enter until you reach a new page (which, if you make any changes earlier in the document, won’t leave the vertical spacing correct) use Insert Break. My version of Word shows Insert next to Home. I click on it and can choose Page Break. Or on the very top menu line, I can chose Insert and then Page Break. The same method works at the end of a chapter in a novel so the new one starts on a new page. Your word processor may have this option elsewhere, but most offer it. Again, use Help if you can’t find it.

One last important tool

The rulers. I always have this on. The top one—a horizontal ruler—lets me see what is happening with my margins and tabs. The one on the left, shows me where I am vertically on the page. It also shows the top and bottom margins. I find it under View, either as a checkbox or as the word Ruler which I check by clicking on it.

Yes, word processors can be frustrating. But if you learn to use the tools that are offered, they can be a big help.

Additional Notes:

  • You can always search youtube.com for a how to. For example, this is a recent video on Show/Hide: https://youtu.be/XK9lw-2Rrmg
  • Google docs does not have the same options that a Word document has. It’s compatible with Word. I do not recommend opening a document in Google docs if you are planning to make comments and send back to the original writer. Instead download it, and open in Word.
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Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

One Day Virtual Write-In

Our 8 member writing group has once or twice yearly writing retreats. We enjoy time together, eat together, and get lots of work done. We make it affordable by staying at someone’s house (or cabin) with everyone bringing food. We share in cooking and cleanup. This year our scheduled retreat was in May. Obviously Covid-19 canceled that.

We rescheduled for July. This time instead of totally cancelling, we agreed on a substitute–a virtual write-in. If it goes well, we will probably repeat.

I thought our schedule might be of interest to others.

ONE DAY VIRTUAL WRITE-IN SCHEDULE

8:30am              meet via Zoom
– PJs welcome.
– Bring a cup of coffee or tea, maybe a pastry or an egg, or some fruit.
– While we eat, we chat.
– Each one shares what project they will be working on this morning.

12noon            meet via Zoom
– Chat for a half hour.
– Then eat your own lunch and return to work.

4:00pm            meet via Zoom
– Talk about your day’s progress.
– Play game.

Children’s book question game:

  • All of us prepare a few children’s book related questions ahead of time.
  • Whoever raises their hand first and answers correctly gets a point. If no one guesses, the asker gets a point.
  • On to the next person until everyone has had a chance to ask three questions. (Prepare a few more in case someone uses yours!)
  • The winner gets a big hurrah from all of us.

In addition, the Zoom “room” will be open all day.

  • If someone wants to chat with someone for a bit, they could get on and see if anyone else is on.
  • Or text someone and ask them to meet.

We may decide to meet back after dinner and share some work for critique, or wait for our next Zoom critique meeting.

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Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

The Breaks of Paragraphing

When my daughter was in seventh grade, the English paper she’d written was a wall of black text. Not a single paragraph break. I made a point of explaining “one topic per paragraph,” etc. I’ve had adult students who didn’t understand the idea any better than she did, with some going the complete opposite direction and having

a

paragraph

break

for

every

single

sentence.

So, what are the rules? Well, they’re “…more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” (Pirates of the Caribbean – see the movie clip here: https://youtu.be/k9ojK9Q_ARE) Especially for fiction.

Author Fred D. White says, “Remember that paragraphing is more an element of individual style than of grammar. You are in charge of what a paragraph should do or what shape it should take.”

However, paragraphing breaks with dialogue (or action) makes it easier for readers to tell who is speaking/acting.

Start a new paragraph with each speaker (or person acting). Fiction Editor Beth Hill says, “Consider a paragraph as a frame for a specific amount or section of information. In fiction this may be description, dialogue, action, exposition or any combination of these elements. The paragraph acts as a boundary or fence for related items.” (Emphasis mine.)

That frame/fence image is so helpful. When one character speaks, acts with and within his setting, etc., we usually keep it inside one box or paragraph. We get a new paragraph, when a second characters adds to the conversation with her thoughts or asks questions. And again, a new one when the first character answers. This helps create white space which makes for easier reading.

Example:
Joe stepped up to the counter and asked the woman serving coffee, “How’s it going today, Sarai?”
            “Busy.” She brushed her thick black hair back from her face. “The usual?”
            “Please.” Joe scanned the room. “You seen Monty?”
            Sarai paused before reaching for a disposable cup. She opened her mouth, but Joe stopped her.
          “Hold on. When you can’t answer right away, it’s a dead giveaway you’re phrasing how to lie to me.” His eyes narrowed. “I don’t like being lied to.”

We also start new paragraphs…

  • when a character’s speech is lengthy – Say Joe in my example above is sometimes longwinded. Special punctuation would let us know he is continuing to speak in the next paragraph. (No closing quote at the end of the first paragraph of dialogue.)
  • to show a physical change in location or time or both. When paragraphs of description are needed, think one paragraph per topic. For example, if a character is walking in the dark woods, in this fence of paragraphing is the description of the woods. But when she comes across the house, that would be another box opened before the reader’s eyes.
  • when the subject under discussion changes – Remember the movie UP? Dug, the dog is talking along, when something catches his eye. He says, “Squirrel!” which interrupts what he was saying.
  • for emphasis – Dug’s “Squirrel!” is again an example. “Sometimes starting a new paragraph or allowing a single sentence to stand on its own is a great way to emphasize a key point, get a laugh, or otherwise control the pace of the story to your advantage.” – David Cathcart
  • when a new character enters the scene.
  • when something unexpected happens – E.g. a horn honk, the clash of the garbage truck, the lights go out, etc.

That’s a lot for a simple indented new line to do. To sum up, these guidelines aren’t hard rules, but mostly a pattern that when followed provides clarity. If paragraphing breaks are hard for you, take a story you like and type out a few pages for practice.

Here’s an exception to the break guidelines. We don’t start a new paragraph for each person when we are summarizing the action. E.g. The final bell rang. Rachel and Milo stuffed their math books into their backpacks and dashed out the classroom door. They caught up with their friends at the bus. Rachel gave Anaya a high five.

Paragraphs also serve other purposes.

Paragraphs affect pacing. Paragraph and sentence lengths can either slow or speed the action. Long paragraphs slow—short ones speed. So, you use the former for when things are calm, but the latter in the midst of action. Here’s an interesting thought from Leah McClellan: “In a novel, as the action winds down and the scene ends, longer sentences, longer paragraphs, and more description let readers catch their breath.”

Paragraphs can show moods, too. “Shorter staccato paragraphs can convey that a character is tense, worried, short-tempered or taciturn. Longer paragraphs can indicate a character is in a good mood, long-winded, relaxed or prone to deep and rambling thought,” author Jennifer Ellis says.

Back to my seventh-grade daughter. She learned paragraphing techniques and ended up in advanced placement English in high school. Writing in paragraphs is natural for her now. With some practice, it can be so for you too.

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Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

Modifiers can be simple words or phrases or clauses. I think phrases and clauses trip up more writers except perhaps for nonnative English speakers.

A misplaced modifier isn’t close enough to what it is modifying. It’s too far away from the subject.

Example 1: She opened the door, frowning at him.
The door isn’t frowning—she is.
– It would be clearer like this: Frowning at him, she opened the door.
– If you want to indicate she frowned after she opened the door, there are several options: Opening the door, she frowned at him. OR She opened the door and frowned at him.

Sometimes a simple one-word misplaced modifier can make the meaning incorrect or confusing.

Example 2: In the drawer, I found a gold woman’s wedding ring.
The woman isn’t gold. In fact there is no woman.
– Correct: In the drawer, I found a woman’s gold wedding ring.

An ambiguous modifier can make the meaning unclear. Careful placement is required.

Example 3: Only Mark wanted to go to the store in town.
So, everyone else wanted to stay home. Right?
– But maybe it should be: Mark only wanted to go to the store in town.
He didn’t want to stop and get gas, too.
– But perhaps that wasn’t the writer’s intention: Mark wanted to go to the only store in town.

Each placement gives a different picture, doesn’t it? Commonly ambiguous modifiers include: almost, even, hardly, just, merely, nearly.

A dangling modifier has nothing in the sentence to modify. The intended subject is missing.

Example 4: Opening the cupboard door, it was full of mismatched teacups and saucers.
Who is opening the door? We don’t know.
– One possibility for correction would be to make it two separate sentences: He opened the cupboard door. Inside were mismatched teacups and saucers.
– Another possibility is adding who is doing the action: Opening the cupboard door, he poked around the mismatched teacups and saucers.
Notice I didn’t say: He opened the cupboard door and saw mismatched teacups and saucers. Describing what someone sees is not nearly so interesting as what they are doing with the objects.

A dangler often makes it appear that the wrong object is doing the impossible.

Example 5: Running upstairs, the carpet was dirty.
I’ve heard of carpet runners, but never actually saw a carpet run.
– Correct: The upstairs carpet was dirty.
– Also correct: I ran upstairs and picked my way across the dirty carpet.

I like this comment from examples.yourdictionary.com: “Modifiers are one of the most beautiful elements of the English language. They paint our prose and add starlight to our stanzas. Just make sure your modifiers are standing as close as possible to the word or words they’re describing. Otherwise, they may appear to be dressing up another portion of the sentence.”

If you want to test your recognition of dangling and misplaced modifiers, take this quiz. http://www.grammargrounds.com/misplaced-and-dangling-modifiers-quiz.html I like how the answers show which ones are misplaced and which ones are dangling.

And if you want to laugh at illustrations of misplaced modifiers, check out this slideshow: https://www.slideshare.net/Scribendi_Editing/12-hilarious-misplaced-modifier-examples.

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Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Picture Book Fails

Authors and publicists send me picture books for review. I always warn them that I’m a recommender. That means if I don’t like the book, it won’t be on my site.

Right now I have a stack of five that make me wonder, what were you thinking?

One talks about and shows characters painting the other characters. Just what a preschool/kindergarten teacher wants in a classroom—a paint free-for-all. And don’t parents have enough trouble with siblings painting/drawing on/coloring each other as it is?

The four others use song lyrics from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I thought it sounded like a cute idea. Until I got the ARCs.

  • One book screamed cultural appropriation. Those words may have been acceptable in 1977, but not now.
  • Another was an antiestablishment song. Let’s teach our toddlers to resist their parents. I don’t think so. Especially when the illustrations put the babies in a dangerous situation.
  • A third was about tomorrow being better, which gave me a lot of hope. Yet some of the lyrics just don’t work for children, so it ended up with a thumbs down.
  • The best of the bunch is a great song, but I’ve always felt the lyrics have strong sexual connotations. The illustrations have toned that down by making the singer a girl’s dog. That works if the adult readers don’t know or never hear the song. But otherwise?

Were the song lyric books meant to be for the grandparents and great-grandparents who lived during the ‘60s and ‘70s? Although there is no back matter. I’d think a collection of the songs with information about the singers would be more appropriate. At least I’d find that interesting.

Perhaps, these publishers needed to ask themselves, “What will a child get out of this story?” Or “What will this encourage children to do?” Or “Is this age appropriate?”

What does this mean for us as picture book creators?

  • Remember who your audience is. Make sure your words and pictures fit the age range.
  • Think about the takeaway. Is it one you’d want your little one to get?
  • Consider how a child might act the story out.
  • Get feedback from other writers.
  • Make sure you read great picture books being published now.
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