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

But That’s How People Talk

I’ve seen dialogue from new writers that was too realistic. It included every um, uh, and other fillers that we use when we speak. It rambled. Things were mentioned that no one cares about. It didn’t make sense. When I suggested cuts and tightening, the response was, “But that’s how people talk!” Yes, it is. When we talk we can all be pretty boring at times. Our thoughts aren’t always organized. We go off tangent. We use filler words. We see something that sidetracks us. Squirrel! We forget what we were talking about. We talk over others.

But writing fiction isn’t a record of the real world. In some ways, it is better as it leaves out the dull parts. In fiction, every piece of dialogue has a purpose. It might be character development or plot related. It moves the story forward. It’s intentional. It doesn’t bore the reader. We don’t need all the greetings and good-byes in a story. Nor simple pleasant chats. We want tension and disagreements. We want age-appropriate flirting and romance. We want questions and comments that make us laugh or think or worry. “The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story.” – Anthony Trollope

Does that mean a fictional character can never stumble or go off track? Of course not. Used judiciously these are all appropriate. Um, er, and other pauses can show a character’s nervousness or uncertainty. It might indicate lying. A character going off track might be changing the subject deliberately. A character might ramble due to tiredness, or drug or alcohol influence. One character might be extra chatty. Other characters may interrupt.

Readers will stick with characters they care about. Our job as writers is to make it easy to care. If we bog down dialogue with extraneous words, it’s easy for readers to give up on the story.

“Dialogue is like a rose bush–it often improves after pruning. I recommend you rewrite your dialogue until it is as brief as you can get it. This will mean making it quite unrealistically to the point. That is fine. Your readers don’t want realistic speech, they want talk which spins the story along.” – Nigel Watts

For further information on writing dialogue for children, check out these articles: “Children’s Dialogue: They Don’t Talk Like Adults” by Jessi Rita Hoffman and  “Writing Great Middle Grade Dialogue” by Jan Fields. And for teen dialogue: “Writing Authentic Teenage Dialogue” by Ellie Blackwood (written when she was a teen) and “Creating Teen Dialogue when Writing Young Adult Fiction” by Deborah Halverson and M.T. Anderson. And, of course, listen to kids the age of your characters.

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

Springflingkidlit 2023

It’s a contest–read about it here for spring-inspired stories under 150 words! The organizers are author Ciara O’Neal and agent Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez. There are prizes to be won and a short window to submit: April 1st thru 3rd. And it’s free to enter.

This year I thought it might be fun to participate. It’s one way to get my writing out there. So the image above is a gif* that is required to go with the story.

I’m not comfortable pasting my whole story here, but will paste the opening:

A Squirrel Did It

“Noah, did you leave the bamboo gate open?” Mama asked.
“I think a squirrel did it.”
“Noah, did you dig a hole in the gravel path?” Mama asked.
“No, a squirrel did it.”
“Noah, did you put leaves in the fountain?” Mama asked.
“I bet a squirrel did it.”

The story in total is 107 words. (For the contest entry, the judges will get to see the whole story.)

Why do we want to write short? There’s always room for shorter stories, whether in magazines or in picture books. I like what the Arapahoe Library says on their “Children’s Books with Few Words” page: “Your child can feel successful when reading these books that have very few words.” The page has links to staff chosen books.

But it’s not just for those learning to read. Parents often like a few short choices. Some kids have short attention spans. But also sometimes “less is more”–fewer words can have a stronger and lasting impact.

Short can be moving, hilarious, quiet, and more.

Here are some short picture books I love:

Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer (261 words)
From Here to There by Sue Fliess (287 words)
Ghost Cat by Kevan Atteberry (200 words)
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (296)
When Pencil Met the Markers by Karen Kilpatrick (223 words)

(You can find the word count of many books at Accelerated Reader Bookfinder.)

So, I challenge you to try writing short. You might like it.

*Gif found at gifer.com

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

What’s the Weather?

Recently in my WIP I realized I hadn’t paid much attention to the weather. The novel is set in the Seattle metro area in March and weather can be very variable. We joke about it raining all the time there—and it does rain a lot—but there are often lots of gray days and wonderful bursts of sunshine with fabulous blue skies.

Why does weather matter?

It will affect my character. And not just what she is wearing. Recently, the area had unexpected snow. Schools may either be delayed or be closed—both are usually causes for celebration for kids.

Dripping rainy days can feel depressing. Maybe if your character is depressed, the weather isn’t helping. Conversely, bright sunshine can be cheering.

Thunder and lightning doesn’t happen often in western Washington, but if your story is set somewhere else, it might. And even rain can be different from place to place. In Kansas it often comes down in torrents. And the wind is definitely stronger there.

Back to attire.

Many Seattle area residents wear waterproof jackets with hoods instead of worrying about umbrellas. People may wear rubber boots—in fact, I remember seeing some pretty cute little kid ones. (And at the nudist park in Issaquah that might be all some are wearing!) I never did wear rubber boots, so the hems of my jeans often were damp. And sometimes muddy. Each of these weather-related clothing experiences offers a chance for sensory details to use for your character.

When the sun comes out Seattleites often break out shorts, sandals, and sunglasses.

How else can weather affect my story?

In midMarch we had plum and cherry trees that bloomed with white and pink blossoms. Yellow forsythia, dark pink quince, and many different colored camellias come to mind for bushes. Flowering bulbs might be crocus, daffodils, tulips, and/or hyacinths. Your character may or may not notice these but for many of us those splashes of color are a welcome sign of spring.

And don’t forget sunrise and sunset times. Right now where I live (another degree north of Seattle) we’re getting about 11 hours of daylight, but late December and early January it’s barely over 8 hours. Ughh!

What else happens in spring?

Birds return or are more active as they build nests and lay eggs. Chirp, cheep, caw are very common sounds my character might hear. And the honking of migrating Canadian geese flying north.

If your character lives in a rural area, they might hear the baaing of new lambs, the bawling of calves, or the bleating of kids. One of my favorite sounds of spring in the Seattle metro area was  the Pacific tree frogs croaking.

The slug eggs hatch and the older slugs that have been buried in leaves and detritus come out and leave sparkling slime trails. Slugs live in and near forest vegetation, so an apartment dweller in Seattle is not going to step out their door and see one, but someone who lives amongst cedars and firs will. And there’s more than one type of slug. Banana slug, anyone?

What are you smelling?

This can be weather related too.

Spring brings all kinds of scents to our noses. Scotch broom is pretty in spring but I hate the smell and it is an allergy trigger. And many trees are releasing pollen, too. Does your character have allergies?

When the ground is very dry and it rains, there’s a special earthy scent called petrichor. Sometimes people say, “it smells like rain.” Scientists say we recognize the ozone in the air and expect rain to follow. Some may recognize that snow is likely due to olfactory experiences as well.

How much of this information do I use?

Probably not all of it. It also depends on your character and their situations. But if your character goes outside, it’s important to use some details to ground your reader. And how do you know what will benefit your story if you don’t have any sense of these specifics yourself?

One word of caution–work the facts in in bits and pieces instead of writing big chunks of description.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Hiring Someone to Build Your Website

You’ve decided to hire someone. Now what?

First, read this article about costs: “How Much Does an Author Website Cost in 2022?” It will give you an idea of what fees you may expect. (Note: article written by a website designer.)

If hiring an individual, I’m presuming you’ve decided on a website builder and a host. If not, see this post.

How to Find a Designer

  • Ask Around
    • Ask authors (illustrators) you know, “Who designed your website? Did you like them? Would you work with them again?”
    • Ask on list serves, Facebook groups, or in writing groups for recommendations.
  • Find a Web Designer Company (who understands the needs of creators)
    • Websy Daisy – I found this company by asking the above questions. They create  custom WordPress websites for authors, artists, and creators. The sampling of sites they’ve created look fantastic. No price is listed. You have to fill out the form and then they’ll get back to you. They do not fix or maintain sites they did not create. I noticed on one author’s site that there was a favicon (the image you see in a website browser like the Facebook icon).
  • Join the Author’s Guild and use their website service. Annual dues vary. You can start with a free website. Plus there are other benefits of membership.

Thoughts to Consider

  • Make sure the person/company understands author or illustrator website needs.
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for references or to check reviews.
  • Talk with them over the phone or via Zoom to see if you click.
  • Do they build custom sites or use templates?
  • How much control you’ll have. Read this article: “The Hidden Costs of Building an Author Website”—it’s an old post, but has good information.
  • Will your website have a “website designed by” or “website by” notice that shares the company/or individual designer’s name? (Free WordPress themes include a notification “xxx theme powered by WordPress.”)
  • How many web pages they include, if it’s a set fee. And what additional pages will cost.
  • Will they continue to do maintenance on your site and how much will that cost?
  • Or, will they train you to update the site yourself? Do they provide tutorials? Or is it individual training? Is this included in the fee or separate?
  • Can you afford their fees?

Questions to Ask an Individual Designer

In addition to the maintenance and training questions above, ask:

  • Do you have familiarity with WordPress (or whatever builder you want to use) sites?
  • Have you used this host?
  • Will you do the initial set up of the site?
  • Will you give me advice on themes? (Choosing a theme can be overwhelming. And you may find it helpful if someone is willing to give you some choices to start with and/or give you feedback on themes you’ve chosen.)
  • Can you make custom changes with html or CSS? (Themes often have limited choices, but this is additional coding for further choices.)
  • What are your fees? (It could be a flat fee, an hourly fee, a page fee, etc.) What does that include? (5 pages or ?) Or, I have a budget of $xxx—what can I get for that?
  • Will you give me an itemized invoice?
  • How and when do you want payment? (If you don’t personally know this person, they will probably want some money upfront.)
  • How do you want me to send you the text, images, and URLs for my site? (Or you can have them find images and URLs, but that will increase your cost.)
  • What’s your time schedule for delivery of the website?
  • After your initial design, can I still request changes before the website is final? (You may not like placement of images, font size/color, etc.)

Some of these questions may be appropriate for a company as well, but usually they’ll have information laid out for you ahead of time.

Getting Started with an Individual Designer

  1. Agree on fees and what that includes.
  2. Sign up for your host. You can share your login and password with your designer or create a new login and password for them to use. The latter is the safest method.
  3. Register your domain name with your host or transfer control to your host if you already have a domain name.

What Information Should I Expect from an Individual Designer?

  • Login and password to the website builder, e.g. WordPress.
  • A statement or invoice for use on your taxes.
  • Contact information.

What Additional Information Should You Request?

  • Guidance as we plan the website together. (For example, on one website I built, I suggested the author send me additional images to accompany text.)
  • If they customize your free or purchased theme, I personally would want the html codes for the colors they use. For example, on my site the yellow of my name is #ffd859 and the green of my background is #377a46. Why would I want to know this? To create borders, new headers, or icons, etc. with the exact same colors or if I want to change the color scheme or find a color that compliments.

Whether you choose an individual designer or a company, going in with knowledge ahead of time will be very helpful. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! Especially if you don’t understand something.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Choosing a Platform and Host for Your Website

First, you don’t have to know html to build a website. There are many website builders that create the html for you.

Second, a disclaimer. If the information below feels overwhelming, either hire someone to help you build a site and teach you how to maintain it, or hire someone who will build and maintain your site. In either of those cases, I strongly recommend WordPress.org as your platform because you’ll be able to find many others to help if your original person can no longer assist. (More on this later.)

Third, definitions. The platform is the software that runs the website—the website builder. For example, WordPress sites (the software that builds the site) do not have to be hosted on WordPress.com. The host is usually where your site live—it’s also called a CMS—content management system. They probably hold your domain name renewal as well, though someone one else can do that (a domain registrar). Hosting sites may have their own software, but it won’t be as easy to transfer to another host. Many of these will let you play around with a trial site for free.

This article, “How to Choose the Best Website Builder in 2023” is a good place to start. But you may also want to talk to friends about their experiences. I personally have used various WordPress sites on various hosts, and Weebly and Wix, each on a different site. I looked at Godaddy’s builder on a friend’s site and could not see an option to add a link to a box or image.

Let me add my comments on their feedback in the above article.

  1. WordPress.org – many people know how to use this software and it’s very flexible.
  2. Web.com – blogging functionality being limited would be a “no” for me.
  3. Wix – fairly easy to use; complicated to move your site to another software system.
  4. HubSpot – good for simple site, but does have WordPress plugin option.
  5. WooCommerce – is aimed at selling—not usually what an author or illustrator is primarily doing on their website.
  6. Gator – no free trial.
  7. Hostinger – not easy to change templates; can’t schedule blog posts.
  8. Domain.com – no free website builder; does not migrate well to another site.
  9. BigCommerce – again aimed at selling; more expensive.
  10. Shopify – a third aimed at selling; requires their own payment platform.
  11. WordPress.com – more limited than using WordPress.org elsewhere.
  12. Squarespace – a fourth aimed at selling.
  13. Weebly (now owned by Squarespace, so I found difficulty getting help) – again limited to what it offers.
  14. DreamHost – uses WordPress, but will require hosting elsewhere, so what is it they do?
  15. GoDaddy – limited set of features.

The article’s conclusion, and my own, is WordPress.org. If you just want a one or two page website where a lot doesn’t change, any of the non-commerce sites would probably be adequate.

So next up is choosing a host, which is where a monthly or annual cost is charged.

PCmag recommends Bluehost and WP Engine, “The Best Web Hosting Services for 2023.” Forbes has a list of ten, “10 Best Web Hosting Services (February 2023).” This site shares nine, “The Top 9 Best Web Hosting Providers.” Bluehost is mentioned in all three articles. WP engine in the first and the last. SiteGround, which I use, is mentioned in the last. (It was top-rated when I found it last year.)

I personally would compare prices and make sure they each support a WordPress website builder. Some will provide your domain for free, although there will still probably be an annual renewal fee. (Your domain is your url. Mine is susanuhlig.com.)

See what you think of the host’s website and how easy it appears to get support. Many offer searchable knowledge bases, online support, support chats, demos, a help desk, etc. If you can’t find this kind of information easily, that’s not a good sign.

Do they have any free WordPress tutorials? If so, that will be a helpful resource. My host does, and I’ve used them to lead me step-by-step through setting up a new site and migrating an existing site.

Looking at reviews, cost, and support should help you come to a decision on which host to use.