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

It’s that time of year again

Time to set up for the new year’s record keeping.

First, a folder for 2021 Writing Finances.

Next, new spreadsheets:

  • Writing Expenses*
    • Used my template and updated the year.
    • Transferred recurring expenses from last year’s writing expenses to the new spreadsheet.
    • Entered January 1st car mileage (same as year-end mileage for 2020).
  • Writing Income**
    • A simple “save as” since I have a template that has my recurring payments.

Then, updated others with new tabs for 2021:

  • Instructional spreadsheet where I enter student lessons.
  • Google drive sheet for our online critique group schedule—we have a moderator each week and keep track of which two writers are presenting a manuscript.

These processes take an hour or two.

*The categories on Writing Expenses’ spreadsheet are:

  • date
  • expense item (event, address; postage to submit manuscript, etc.)
  • agent/publisher/magazine (and those extra details, if needed, such as to whom)
  • manuscript
  • mileage driven
  • other car expenses (tolls or parking fees)
  • advertising (website hosting, domain renewal)
  • office supplies (those things you need to run a home office: paper, printer ink, etc.)
  • travel (airfare, taxis, hotel)
  • meals (while traveling–only a portion is deductible)
  • misc (where I put conference fees)

I have a worksheet for each month with a year-end sheet that pulls the totals from each month and gives me a grand total.

**The categories on Writing Income are:

  • date
  • payment from whom or what:
    • teaching
    • critiquing
    • book royalties
    • flat fees
    • magazine and online articles/stories
    • speaking
  • amount

I have my spreadsheet set up to auto total all the amounts.

Time to double check the old year’s record keeping.

For me, I have to print out the expense and income spreadsheets to make sure that every entry has an amount (money or mileage as appropriate). I always find a few errors. Once they are all corrected, the reprinted sheets are stapled together by category so when all the other tax documents come in, we’re ready to do our taxes.

Depending how accurately I’ve kept records, this probably takes a couple hours.

I find this pre-work makes my record keeping easier and quicker.

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

Storystorm 2021

This is my second year to participate with Storystorm—30 ideas in 31 days. And this time I joined the Facebook group which has already been helpful. Cindy Williams Schrauben shared how she lists her picture book ideas:

Main Character –
Problem –
Title –
Setting –

Because Susanna Leonard Hill always asks for up to three themes for “Perfect Picture Book Friday,” I decided to add Theme.

And then on Day 3, Ashley Franklin talked about feelings, so now I’ve added Emotion.

I’ve put these headings in a spreadsheet.

I know, I know. What does that have to do with coming up with story ideas? Day 1, Tara Lazar reminded us to write our ideas down. The method I used last year wasn’t so helpful—I think this will work better for me.

In fact, I think I might reorganize my ideas from last year the same way on a different worksheet. Maybe it will make one of those ideas pop. Or as Cindy suggested, something from my old list might mix or match with something on this year’s list of ideas.

Doing a challenge or activity like this can get us moving and thinking. If you haven’t registered for Storystorm, there’s still time. (And it’s not just for picture book writers.) Check it out here and make sure you subscribe to Tara’s blog to get the posts.

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

Idea Generation – Words and First Lines

Sometimes the ideas just don’t come. But one thing I know is ideas breed other ideas. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

Here are a couple ways to get your mind working:

WORD LISTS

Make up long lists of….

  • specific places.
    • where you’ve been.
    • from childhood (include dramatic places where you or someone else was worried, afraid, injured, etc.).
    • places important to you now.
    • where you’d like to be (research probably needed).
  • specific nouns.
  • active verbs.
  • specific situations or problems.
  • talents and skills.
  • habits and quirks.
  1. Pick items from three or four lists and see what happens when you put them together.
  2. Do you come up with an opening for a story? Interesting ideas for a character or a problem? A way a character could solve a problem? A setting? An antagonist?
  3. Experiment with these ideas and see where they take you. Enjoy playing around.

OPENING LINES

Make up a list of first lines without worrying whether or not you’d actually want to use them. Make them compelling and interesting.

  1. If you need a starting point, look at famous opening lines and reimagine them.
    • You can search online and find many. Here’s one source: https://www.boredpanda.com/famous-books-first-lines/
      • Imagine how your character, if you have one already, might say something similar.
      • Imagine how a specific animal might say it.
      • Put it in picture book language.
      • Make something serious funny or vice versa.
      • Have fun—there are no rules.
  2. When you’ve got a good number, read through them again.
  3. Ask yourself questions such as…
    • Which ones catch my attention?
    • Which ones make me laugh?
    • Which ones make me want to know more?
    • Which ones make me sad?
    • Which are boring?
  4. Pick a couple of favorite opening lines. Can you expand them into a paragraph or more? If you find ideas are flowing, keep going to see how far it takes you.
  5. Set the list and the paragraphs aside.
  6. If any ideas keep “haunting” you, consider how to make them a complete project.
  7. Look at the list again at a later date. Do the same lines grab you or do different ones? If different lines grab you, expand those.
  8. Look at the paragraphs again at a later date. Does more scene unfold in your mind? Write and see where you go.

I ended up writing a whole novel inspired by a writing exercise. Others have inspired picture books. Yet, others sent me back to the writing desk to works-in-progress. And at the very least, they got me putting words on a page.

As Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the tap is turned on.”

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

Trust Your Reader

In a recent student lesson, the writer was sharing the same information over and over in her short story. It was similar to saying as you’re getting your purse, “Honey, I’m going to the store” and when you put on your coat, “I’m going to the store, Honey.” And yet a third time when you opened the front door, “I’m off to the store now.” Most of us would get it the first time. And be annoyed by the repetition. Trust your reader to get what you write, too. Don’t annoy them.

Ruth E. Walker says, “Don’t poke your reader in the eye.” Yes, that’s how I felt reading that story.

Historical and fantasy author D.B. Jackson says, “Trusting your reader means, in essence, not slowing your narrative to explain things that don’t need explaining. It means trusting that you have done a good enough job showing your readers elements of plot, character, and setting that you don’t need to tell them as well.”

“More to the point, by explaining too much, by using those markers, I was denying my readers one of the great joys of reading:  That feeling of epiphany that comes when we figure things out along with the characters we’re following.” – David B. Coe

Besides repetitive information, what other warning signs show we aren’t trusting our readers?

  • The phrase “as if.”
    Example: He sagged and braced himself on the table, as if he had no energy to stand up. The first part of the sentence shows; the second tells. (I realize, I’ve used this one!)
  • Stating in dialogue and writing an action where both get the same information across.
    Example: “I don’t have any energy to stand up.” I sagged and braced myself against the table.
  • Overexplaining in dialogue. As you know Bob.
    Example: “Stacey, I’m just so upset. How could my father leave us like that? It’s been two weeks and he says he’s not coming back. It’s not fair to me or my little brother. And to choose that bimbo over Mom? It’s just wrong.”
    The main character’s best friend Stacey would already know the dad had left and why and that our main character is upset. The above is an info dump for the reader.
    More natural: “How could he do this to us, Stacey?” I held back a sob. “It’s like we’re not his kids anymore.”
  • Adverbs with “said” or “asked,” or explaining tone of voice.
    Examples: “Run!” he said urgently. “I’m sorry,” she said with compassion. “Please don’t go,” she said in a pleading voice.
    Each of those pieces of dialogue would stand on their own.
  • Introducing or qualifying with words like “no doubt” and “obviously.”
    Example: Ranger ran back to me and dropped the ball at my feet. “Good boy!” Obviously, he understood the game of fetch now.

Janice Hardy says, “It’s hard to know when it’s too much, but the tendency is to over explain, not under. When you find yourself thinking, ‘Will they get that? look back for the clues that will allow the reader to get it. If you find them, don’t worry about it. If you don’t, then add a few.”

So, where have you found yourself not trusting the reader? Please share in comments.

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

5 Tips for Writing Great Young Adult Stories

Guest post by Desiree Villena

From publishing phenomena like Hunger Games to The Hate U Give, there’s no doubt that young adult is one of the most exciting genres to write in right now, as YA authors tackle serious issues such as diversity, sexuality, racism, and identity in new and fearlessly engaging ways. So, if you, too, want to write powerful stories for teens to connect to, you’re in the right place.

Here are 5 tips to help you write a great YA story.

1. Get the age of your character right

The first thing to know is that the children’s book industry takes their genres pretty seriously. Children’s book genres are meant to delineate age-appropriate fiction for people to read as they grow up, and the age of your protagonist is one of those defining characteristics.

In YA fiction, nearly all protagonists are teenagers, which makes sense — teens want to read about other teens doing things. This means your protagonist should ideally be between the ages of 14 and 18. Once your protagonist passes the age of 19, you’re flirting with New Adult territory, which is another genre altogether.

It’s important to first get the age of your character right because it will determine a load of things that will really make or break a YA novel, such as plot and theme. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Identify powerful themes to carry your book

Whether you’re writing a dystopian YA novel (a la Hunger Games), a fantasy YA novel (a la Percy Jackson), a romance YA novel (a la The Fault in Our Stars), or any other kind of YA novel, one thing will remain universal: your themes.

Themes are of the utmost importance in YA fiction. Generally, they’re specific to YA fiction’s age range and revolve around self-discovery. Here are a few of the common ones you’ll find in the genre:

  • Identity
  • Sexuality
  • Family conflicts
  • Self-discovery
  • Coming of age
  • First love

How you approach and explore each theme is where your plot will come into play. And don’t fret about whether or not your content is “too dark” for teens — you’d be surprised at how much they can handle. What they really want is to see characters and life experiences they can connect to. Speaking of which…

3. Focus on writing three-dimensional, memorable characters

You’ll hear the word “authenticity” tossed around a lot when it comes to writing YA fiction. Whether or not you actually achieve authenticity will come down to the strength of your characters.

Naturally, the first step towards authenticity (outside of getting your character’s name right) is to avoid stereotyping. That’s right. Give those dumb jocks and mean girls a break, and write them instead with depth. Just because you’re writing teen characters doesn’t mean your characters should be any less complex, three-dimensional, and multi-layered than adult characters. If you’ve ever met (or been) a teenager, you’ll know that their inner lives are just as profound and intense as any adult’s — if not more so.

Don’t worry if you don’t get the characters right in the first try. Sometimes it’ll take until your revision process for the characters to speak to you.

For inspiration, turn to the books you loved as a teenager. Which protagonists were you drawn to? Which spoke to you? Try to deconstruct them to understand how the author made them so memorable. Notice how they were developed, what their character arcs were — and how the author translated their voices onto paper.

But don’t just stop at your childhood. Take a look at current YA to see what kind of characters the teens love nowadays. Great characters are timeless — and chances are, you’ll find a lot of similarities when it comes to the way that great authors in any era develop them.

4. Find the perfect voice

Think about the most distinctive YA protagonists you’ve read. What made them stand out to you?

Most likely a big part of it was the protagonist’s voice. Executed effectively, voice can make characters come to life like nothing else. As you’re figuring out your own protagonist’s voice, pay attention to:

  • Sentence structure
  • Word choice
  • Vocabulary
  • Syntax

And don’t forget to pick the right point of view (POV)! Many YA novels these days are written from the first-person viewpoint, but that doesn’t mean that you should discount the strengths of the third-person POV entirely. (Harry Potter, anyone?) Play around with it — when it sticks and the voice rings true to you, you’ll know.

5. Don’t write to trends

Don’t give into the temptation to write to trends. Many an author will spot a trend (say, wizarding boarding schools) and think that they surely, too, have a higher chance of getting published if they also write a book about wizarding boarding schools. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s pretty much impossible to guarantee your book is “on trend” while you’re writing it. As Electric Literature says, trends move fast — and publishing, unfortunately, doesn’t. The truth is it’s very likely the trend will probably be over by the time you finish your book and try to query it to disinterested literary agents. Which means you’re stuck with a book you wrote simply for the sake of the fad.

At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to: you should write your YA novel because you want to write it, not because you think something “trendy” will be easier to publish. And if you do write what you love, who knows? You might be the one to start a new trend yourself.