How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Writing Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur Author... and How to Avoid Them

Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Organized

This past Saturday, I spent all day revamping my office. I was so eager for the change, that I failed to think of taking before/after pics. My office now has 3 desks in it. One desk is home to the desktop computer. My husband uses that one. The other desk is for my personal life, bills, things to be filed, book catalogues, etc. My third desk is the new addition. Got it for $15 from a thrift store. I had to move all my saved collections of teaching stuff, mostly books, into boxes and put them into Shawn's new bedroom closet (I still haven't gotten a permanent teaching job). I use my new desk for my laptop and all my writing stuff. I'm still getting organized, but at least I have a plan. And this blog post is the only writing I've done all weekend.

Now that I have a place to call home (for my laptop and for my writing), all I have to do is get more organized. Then I will be able to work more efficiently on all my writing projects. I like this quote I found online, "Finding the motivation and discipline to write is much easier when you have a strategic writing plan." I also like to think of it this way. Finding the motivation and discipline to write is much easier when you have an organized and specific place to do so.

As the month of June unfolds, I look forward to being more organized and producing more writing. And since school will also be out, that will hopefully help a little too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Testing

This week was our end of year standardized testing here in NC. They call it EOG for End-Of-Grade Tests. I worked as a proctor to the test administrator of a child that received one-on-one accommodations with a read aloud for math. It was very interesting. The student is a good reader, but I think having the test read aloud helped give the student a boost of confidence.

Maybe when we read our own works aloud, it can give us a boost of confidence as well. It still might be scary or nerve racking, but I guarantee you'll find something that you can change to make it better. When I read my works in progress to others, I'll pause, cross things off, and say, "I haven't fixed that part yet."

This student also spent 15 minutes going back over the test, looking at each question that had been rated a 1, 2, or 3 (and not a 4 - for knowing it was right). If I were that diligent with my revisions and knowing which parts I really needed to take a second look at, I'd be a more efficient writer. It's a good thing I have a critique group. I'm just glad we aren't tested on each other's works. ;)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse

This is one of my favorite picture books. It is one of the few I actually purchased from a bookstore. The plot is not really for the classic pb group because nobody actually solves a problem per se, but the language is superbly divine. A mother and her two boys go fishing on the lake. They want to know who she loves the most. Later in the story at bedtime, she tells one boy that she loves him the reddest because he is bold, daring, loud, exciting. And she tells the other boy that she loves him the bluest because he is calm and thoughtful and quiet. And of course red and blue make purple. The imagery in the language and the illustrations are awesome. I bought this book before I ever even HAD children!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Picture Book Length, Differences, and Word Count


How long is a picture book? According to Book Markets for Children's Writers 2010, there are three different types of children's books:

  1. Early Picture Books
  2. Picture Books (also known as “Classic or Traditional” Picture Books)
  3. Story Picture Books

From what I can tell from personally reading well over 100 picture books, here is the average breakdown for word count.

Picture book length, differences, and word count || average picture book word count | early picture books | classic picture books | story picture books

Early Picture Books

  • Age 0-4, sometimes 3-6
  • Babies, toddlers and preschoolers
  • Word count RANGE: 50-700
  • Word count AVERAGE: 400
  • Examples: Sandra Boynton, Eric Carle, Margaret Wise Brown, Deborah Diesen, Bob Shea, Laura Numeroff

Classic Picture Books

  • Age 4-8 
  • Pre-K through 3rd grade
  • Word count RANGE: 450-1250
  • Word count AVERAGE: 850
  • Examples: Jane Yolen, Tara Lazar, Rob Sanders, Tiffany Strelitz Haber, Victoria Kann, Lisa Wheeler

Story Picture Books

  • Age 6-10 
  • 1st grade through 5th grade
  • Word count RANGE: 800-2000
  • Word count AVERAGE: 1500
  • Examples: Patricia Polacco, Fairy Tales, Nancy Farmer, Enid Blyton, Diane Stanley


Overall, the average picture book length is 1000 words or less. 


Some publishers won't accept anything over that amount. Just check the specific word count for each publisher. Some publishers won't even list a word count. I have a story that began at 1125 words. Over time, I got it down to 950. Now it's down to 300 words. In general, I would say write the story first. Try to pace it as you go along and then cut back later.

Don't let the word count dictate what you want to write, but definitely keep it in mind.

The best research tool is to read lots of books and see which publishers print books at which lengths. For the classic picture book group, I realize that 4-8 is a pretty big age range. Something that would appeal to a 4-5 year old may not necessarily appeal to a 7-8 year old. If thinking about this gives you a headache, then maybe this will help.

Most of the topics will be appropriate for the 4-8 range. It's the presentation of the topic that will determine whether or not a 4-5 year old will want it versus a 7-8 year old. The language, the story, the illustrations, the length of the story. It all works together.

The 4-5 age range is also a tough age in terms of picture books because it's the overlapping age. They get lumped into both the Early Picture Book category and the Classic Picture Book category.

Just tell your story how it needs to be told. Think about the age of reader. At least decide in which category your manuscript belongs. Typically in the revising and editing stages, a story will be cut by a minimum of 100-300 words.

Aside from the whole word count issue, this is one of the MAIN differences:

Oftentimes, Early Picture Books typically don't have a real plot. The character doesn't really solve any problems. They are "slice-of-life" pieces, day-to-day vignettes. A classic example is the Give a Mouse a Cookie series. Remember the preschooler. This group may be harder to break into, even though you see more of these in bookstores, because a lot of parents read to their children at this age and start thinking they can write books, too.

By the time the child is ready to hear the Classic Picture Books, some of those parents may not read as many books to their children, or may skip straight to chapter books. Classic Picture Books must have a problem that the child character solves on his or her own. This is the type of picture book most often found in school and public LIBRARIES, another huge purchaser of picture books, not just parents browsing through a bookstore.

Update:

Average picture book length recommended by most editors is 500 words. A few have secretly declared that the actual "sweet spot" is closer to 750. Just write your story, and then trim and perfect it. It will be however many words it needs to be, so long as you truly trim all the excess away. Above all else, DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN WORD COUNT.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What Applies to Life Often Applies to Writing


Thursday's post was meant to be for Friday. Well, so is today's. You see, Saturday we had my son's 6th birthday party. Six of ten friends made it. It was a good turn out. I planned just the right amount of games and food and fun. They played with balls, bikes, and sidewalk chalk while others were still arriving. Shortly thereafter, we ate a few snacks of fruit (pineapple, strawberries, and grapes), vegetables (cucumber, carrots, and celery), tortilla chips with salsa, Doritos with cheese dip, Ruffles with French Onion dip, Cheetos, and cheddar cheese cubes. Then we played outside "recess" games for about 30 minutes. They played Red Light, Green Light; Shark Tag; Duck, Duck, Goose; What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?; and a relay race. After they were good and hot and sweaty, we came inside for cake and ice cream. Then presents. By this time, the structure was out the window and I wondered if Shawn even knew who gave him what. He did, of course. Virtually no photos were taken at this point. Then came goody bags and...the PINATA! The pinata lasted a good while. It was exciting to see how hard those kids could whack something with a big stick. When the candy was collected, the party was over, and they trickled out of our home with smiles and thank you's. Shawn said, "Thank you for coming!"

In writing, we can say, "Thank you for reading!" after our story has been thoughtfully planned, carefully crafted, and enjoyed by all in the process. I tend to do a lot of pre-writing when I write. It helps me plan for a better party. When all the characters, the action, the plot, and the resolution are planned out and put together in a fun way, the story is a success!

I didn't really plan this post out, I just thought of it yesterday after the party. So I hope it was interesting enough to read and enjoy. And thanks for reading it!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Writing Blog Entries

On reviewing a couple of other writing blogs, I grabbed hold of the Muse when it struck me and came up with a solid plan for my own. If you notice, the subtitle has changed to: On Writing, On Picture Books, On Life. This is the guide I will use for my weekly posts.

On Mondays, I will write about writing. This will cover craft, skills, marketing, publishing, research, inspiration, statistics, or whatever I come across that is related to writing.

On Wednesdays, I'll publish posts specific to picture books. I may give lists, a book review, a writing exercise, or links to author interviews (which may well be about writing craft as well), among other things that relate to this awesome genre.

On Fridays, I'll tell you about my life, what I've accomplished, where I'm at and what I'm working on. Or even how to fit writing and life together. And I'll try to give inspiration for your own life.

So, check back on Monday for Bootcamp Wisdom Skill #6.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Progress with Proposal

Yesterday was my 18th wedding anniversary! I made a huge writing accomplishment, too. I finally revised my nonfiction book. I also worked on the proposal for the series. I got one of the book summaries more solidified and typed a couple of paragraphs in elsewhere. I guess my style is SLOW. Some of it is procrastination. Some of it is that I just work slow. Some of it is that I have so many projects going on at once that I often have a hard time focusing on ONE! But, I'm also a goal-setter and I WILL get them all done - eventually. Anyway, just wanted to let ya'll know that I AM still working on it, even though I haven't described what it is. Hey, we gotta have a few secrets, right?

CHILDREN'S FICTION CATEGORIES

I know this information is everywhere on the web, but the more we see it, the more it sinks in and we actually understand it.

Children's Fiction Categories || age ranges of children's books | picture books through young adult | book categories | children's age groups

Board books: 0-200 words. Ages 0-2.

Most are written by illustrators or written in-house. Often have pop-ups, sounds, and teach concepts. Very difficult to break into. SOME board books are actually picture books disguised in the board book format, but many believe it shouldn't be that way.

Early picture books: 0-500 words. Ages 2-5.

There is text and illustration on each page of an early picture book. They tell a very simple story, usually based on familiar situations. Lots of action and humor, with familiar routines such as bedtime, losing teeth, first day of school, holidays, etc.

Classic picture books: 200-1500 words. (Average is 800). Ages 4-8.

Many genres: fantasy, historical, realistic, talking animals, humorous, even nonfiction. Meant to be read aloud, so vocabulary is not controlled. Big words are okay (the adult can carry the meaning along with the rest of the context of the story and also the pictures). Text often lyrical and rhythmic, with very little description. "The illustrations add another level of meaning to the story; the text and pictures work together to tell the whole story." This also happens to be MY FAVORITE category!

Story picture books: 800-3000 words. (Average is about 1500). Ages 5-10.

Relatively new genre, in some respects. Some would argue that it's an older genre. Illustrations still important, but usually does not add another level to story. The illustrations merely reflect what has already been written. No art notes necessary. Meant for older readers to read to themselves. Very hard market to break into.

Easy readers: 100-2000 words. Ages 5-8, roughly.

For emergent readers. Color pictures throughout but have a more grown-up feel to the books. Most publishers have 3 different levels. More timeless than any other book group. Lots of short, grammatical sentences with action and dialogue. The book we were assigned to read was Amelia Bedelia. And I had actually never read it before!

Chapter books: 6,000-15,000 words. (Average is 10,000). Ages 7-10.

Books are 64-96 pages. Also known as transitional books. Short chapters with 4-5 pages for each. Usually 1-3 black-and-white ill. per chapter.

Middle grade books (aka MG novels): 20,000-35,000 words. Ages 8-12.

Books are 84-150 pages, usu. 125. Usually no illustrations, but sometimes will include a few pieces of black and white spot art throughout the book. Characters are very much into friends and family.

Upper middle grade: 25,000-40,000 words. Ages 10-14.

Books are 100-150 pages. Fairly new category. Written like a YA, but with younger characters.

Young Adult books (aka YA novels): 40,000-60,000 words. Ages 13-17.

Books are 150 pages or more. Characters are usually 13-17 years old. Most popular theme is coming-of-age. The most necessary element is the character's desire to grow up and leave home, for whatever reason. It is often an emotional growth, not necessarily with the character actually leaving home.

Keep on keepin' on...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #4: STORY LINE and the THREE-ACT STRUCTURE

Linda Arms White used to write screen plays and now she uses the "Three-Act Structure" to write all her books.

How to Write a 3-Act Structure || storyline | writing craft | problems and conflict in stories

Here are 5 books to study the 3-act structure:

  1. Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
  2. How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King
  3. The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
  4. Screenplay by Syd Field
  5. The Screenwriter's Workbook by Syd Field


Linda has harnessed the power of screenwriting and realized its strength when applied to writing picture books, or any book of fiction, really. Screenwriting is set in scenes. Well, what is a picture book? A story with illustratable scenes!

The basic structure goes something like this in its simplest form:


  1. Beginning is Act I, or the setup
  2. Middle is Act II, or the development
  3. Ending is Act III, or the resolution


The problem is introduced in the setup, or Act I. The beginning of the story must include what she likes to call the CATALYST. A character encounters a problem (whether active or passive, more on this in a minute) and gives us a central question. What will the character do about the problem?

A turning point (T.P. I) occurs between Act I and Act II. It is a twist in the story, something to take the plot into a new direction, and often changes the focus of the action. I had the most trouble with this at the conference. I am used to plotting out an outline of my stories as part of my prewriting. But to pinpoint one action to label the T.P. was a challenge for me. Now I'm having a hard time reading books and NOT looking for one. Of course the first reading is still for pleasure. But afterwards, while thinking about the story, I start analyzing it. During Act II, complications continue, and the conflict gets thicker.

T.P. II bridges the gap from Act II to Act III. This second turning point speeds up the action and leads into the resolution of the problem. She calls the climax the big finish, where all the loose ends are neatly tied up and the problem has been solved. Then, say no more.

It's basically another way to think about: Someone Wanted But So Then.

When a character wants something, has a goal, a quest, or something of that nature, and then has a hard time attaining it because a problem arose, I call that an active problem. No matter what the problem is, the character still wants to reach the goal.

When a character inadvertently happens upon a problem, I like to call that a passive problem. If a character isn't specifically wanting something in particular, but her goal is to get rid of the problem and to return to life as normal, that's a passive problem.

Just something to think about when you're thinking about your characters and the problems they face.

Does the MC in your current WIP have a an active problem or a passive problem?

Keep on keepin' on...
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