May 21

Picture Books – Story or Illustrations, Which Comes First?

Picture books While most authors know the answer to the title question, which comes first in picture books, the story or the illustrations, some newbies don’t.

I have a client with a three-book series. This client happens to be an amazing artist and created her story around her illustrations.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll say she visited the pyramids in Egypt.

Being an artist, she wants her readers to SEE everything she saw. She wants to incorporate as many tidbits of information about her journey into the story . . . and she wants to do it visually.

This can be great, but when you’re writing a fiction book, it’s ALL about the story. The illustrations complement the story. The illustrations enhance the story. It’s not the other way around.

It’s got to be valuable to the story to be in it.

It’s not a good idea to write text in fiction writing just to include scenery, characters, or information you want the reader to be aware of. If they’re not valuable to the story . . . if they don’t move the story forward they shouldn’t be in the story.

This is especially true with picture books, even if you’re self-publishing. You may feel you have leeway, but if you want a quality book that you’ll be proud to be the author of, you need to follow the rules of writing for children.

Your story should begin with a problem the protagonist needs to overcome. You can’t have one or two spreads of unnecessary fluff introducing and describing the characters as well as setting up backstory.

You need to quickly get the reader to care about the protagonist. You need to grab the reader and get her involved. The reader needs to quickly understand what the problem is and be motivated to see how the protagonist works to overcome it or solve it.

A story I read . . .

I recently read a manuscript and the first three spreads were written just to give information and bring irrelevant characters into the story just for the sake of bringing them back from the prior book.

While there were two exciting elements in the middle of the story, it wasn’t enough to carry the story as the last two spreads were also fluff written to ensure the reader knows exactly what the author wants him to know to wrap up the story.

Readers read between the lines, even young readers. You don’t need to spell everything out. Through the action and dialogue they’ll know what they need to know. And with picture books, the illustrations fill in the blanks.

So, going back to the title question, the story should be written first then the illustrations should be created to enhance each scene (page or spread).

Side note: If you’re writing a nonfiction book, the text could definitely explain the illustrations. But, not with fiction writing. Again, fiction writing is about bringing the reader on an engaging and page-turning journey.

While the setting can be an amazing part of a fiction story, characters need to be an actual part of the story to be in it.

Articles on writing for children3 Steps to Querying Publishers and Agents
Balance in Fiction Writing – The Major Elements
Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter and rewriter. I can turn you story into a book you’ll be proud of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Apr 30

Children’s Writing and Information Dump

Tips on writing for childrenAs a ghostwriter and editor, occasionally I get clients who give me a draft of a story that has information dump within the first few spreads of a picture book.

This is a no-no.

Information dump is when an author literally dumps a chunk of information for the reader to absorb.

Granted most new writers may not realize they’re hitting the reader with these big chunks of information. Or, the author may want to tell the reader what she thinks the reader should know, but doesn’t know how to weave the information into the story.

I think the problem is the ‘author’ wants to make sure the reader understands what’s going on. For example:

Billy and Joe had been best friends since Kindergarten. They played together every day and even had sleep overs. They were also on the same football team. Then Billy insulted Joe last year. After that, Joe didn’t want to be friends with Billy anymore. Now, it’s a new school year.

While this example isn’t too long, there are some info dumps that are paragraphs long, pages long, or in the case of picture books, spreads long.

Another possible reason for information dumping.

Another possibility is that the ‘author’ is writing the story for himself. He’s writing to see what he wants to see in the book. He’s not thinking about what a seven year old or a 10 year old will want . . . even expect in a book.

Whatever the reason, information dump at the beginning of a story leads to a very boring beginning. And, it delays the initial problem that the protagonist must overcome.

While this has touched on the beginning of a story so far, it’s not a good idea to dump clumps of information elsewhere within the story either.

Why information dumping isn’t a good idea.

Children, even adults, have short attention spans. Being told what went on is boring for the reader. She wants to see or hear what’s going on through action and dialogue. Information or backstory must be weaved into the story here and there.

For example, going back to Billy and Joe. Instead of telling the reader flat out in the beginning of the story why they’re not friends, bring it in through dialogue.

It was the first day of the new school year. Joe walked past Billy in the yard without looking at him or saying a word.

“Okay, enough already. I insulted you last year. Get over it already,” chided Billy.

This lets the reader know what’s happening without knocking him over the head or dumping clumps of information. It brings the reader into the action and conversation. It’s effective writing.

While you may not be able to get every bit of information into the story that you think should be there, it doesn’t matter. Your reader will read between the lines. .

So, think twice before dumping that information on your reader.

Articles on writing for childrenBuilding a Writing Career Takes Practice and Focus
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Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Jan 22

Balance in Fiction Writing – The Major Elements

Writing elements needed for balanced writingThere are five major elements to a fiction story and it’s the combination of these elements that make the story complete, interesting, and considered good writing.  Too much of one or not enough of another can affect the readers ability to connect with the story. So, what are the major elements of a story?

The Major Elements of a Story

1.    Protagonist
2.    Setting
3.    Plot
4.    Point of view
5.    Theme

Let’s break them down:

The Protagonist: Introduce the main character. Using your imagination you can make him unique. He can have particular mannerisms or quirks, or even distinct physical attributes. You can also make him likeable or unsavory, but remember you will need the reader to be able to create a connection to him. It’s this connection that will prompt the reader to continue reading on. Your protagonist needs to be real…believable.

The Setting: This will establish the time and place the story takes place. The setting can create a feeling and mood – if you’re writing about swashbuckling pirates, your reader will be in a certain mind set. The same holds true for any other setting you choose. It will be intrinsic to the plot/conflict and will help establish vivid imagery for the reader.

The Plot: This is the meat of the story – the forward movement, the conflict or struggle that drives the protagonist toward his goal. This involves any danger, suspense, romance, or other reader grabbing occurrence. The conflict can be emotional (an internal struggle – a tormented soul) or physical (from an external/outside force – good against evil).

Point of View: This establishes whose point of view the story is being told. It’s important to make this clear. Even if you have two main characters, there needs to be one who is primary in order to keep clarity within the story.

The Theme: This establishes what is important to the story. It usually evolves along with the story and the protagonist’s progression. If Jesus is your protagonist, establishing and promoting Christianity might be the theme. It might be the story’s view on life and the people/characters the protagonist encounters. It is the idea the author wants the reader to take away with him/her.

Utilizing each of these elements can create a unique, fascinating, and memorable story.

Just like the ingredients in a cooking recipe, writing has its own set of ingredients that produce a wonderful end product. A pinch here, a dab there – you hold the unique recipe to your story.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

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Aim for Writing Success

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Jan 15

Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Create believable charactersIt’s noted that you should let the reader see your protagonist’s characteristics within the first few pages. This enables the reader to quickly identify with him. This connection will determine whether the reader turns the next page.

Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, your protagonist will have ordinary strengths (possibly extraordinary, but within the realm of reality); he will also have weaknesses. These qualities need to be conveyed early on.

Here are 12 characteristics that may pertain to a protagonist or main character (MC):

1. Intelligent: Is your MC smart? If so how smart: is he a genius, did he finish college, does he gets all As in school?

2. Handy or Crafty: Maybe your MC isn’t great at academics, but is he handy, musically inclined, or crafty?

2. Arrogant: Does your character think he’s better or smarter than others?  Does he let others know it? If so, how?

3. Trustworthy: Is your MC the kind of individual that others feel they can trust?

4. Determined: Does your MC know what he wants and strives to obtain his goal?

5. Greedy: Is your MC the kind of person who wants everything he doesn’t have? Is he the type of person who wants much more than he actually needs? Does he make it obvious?

6. Dependable: Is your MC the kind of individual that others know they can count on?

7. Brave: Does your MC do what he has to even if he’s frightened? Is he known for his bravery?

8. Cowardly: Is your MC afraid of his own shadow? Does he try to avoid any kind of confrontation or adventure?

9. Caring: Does your MC demonstrate kind and caring qualities? Does his family and friends think of him as a caring individual?

10. Selfish: Does your MC think of only himself? Is he known for this unsavory quality?

11. Strong: Does your MC have great physical strength? Is he strong emotionally?

12. Weak: Is your MC weak either physically or emotionally or both?

These are just some of the characteristics you can give to your protagonist. There are many others though, such as: shrewd, cheap, a liar, a thief, a go getter, beautiful, awkward, loyal, kind, lazy, introvert, extrovert, and cruel.

It’s up to you as the creator to give your protagonist a set of characteristics that will allow him to connect to the reader – whether the reader loves him or hates him there must be a connection. This connection is what will cause the reader to keep turning the pages.

Be cautious though, if you are giving your protagonist unsavory qualities at the beginning, be sure to include at least one redeeming quality otherwise your audience may not find that connection and decide not to read on.

And, remember, you can always have the protagonist change characteristics through the momentum of the story. He can start out as a coward and through various occurrences within the story he can evolve into a hero, or whatever you choose. That’s the amazing thing about being a writer – you create something from nothing. You give your character breathe and dimension.

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Let's talk about your children's writing project

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700.

Jan 01

New Year Wishes and Gifts

New Year's Wishes

Today is the first day of the rest of your life and the beginning of a new year – make it all it can be!

Karen Cioffi, Children’s Ghostwriter

To show my appreciation to my readers and subscribers, here are two useful gifts to help you achieve your goals in the New Year! Just click the link:

Achieve Your Goals with 3 Must-Have Psychological Assets

A Simple System to Achieve Your Goals

Dec 30

2016 Coming to a Close – 2017 Just Before Us, Bright and Shiny

The new year brings amazing things . . .

The New Year brings amazing things: opportunity for a fresh start, renewed hope, possibilities, and even new beginnings.

Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover.”

Make 2017 a year of action rather than procrastination.

To end 2016 and latch onto 2017, Below are 11 quotes I love and find inspirational. Hope you do too.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
~ Lyndon B. Johnson

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” ~ Wayne Gretzky

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”  ~ Dale Carnegie

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” ~ Will Rogers

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
~ Christopher Columbus

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” ~ Stephen Covey

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” ~ Warren Buffet

“If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. ~ C.S. Lewis

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ~ John C. Maxwell

HOPE THESE QUOTES HELP YOU THROUGHOUT THE NEW YEAR!

Dec 11

6 Tips to Make the Most Out of Writing Workshops

Getting the most out of writing workshopsGuest post by writing coach Suzanne Lieurance

Six Simple Ways to Make the Most of Any Writing Workshop or Writing Class

If you’ve recently signed up for a writing workshop or writing class, in the hopes of becoming a better writer, then follow these simple steps to make the most of that experience:

1) Read! Read! Read!

Before the very first class or workshop, survey ALL the class materials so you will get an idea of what to expect.

Most good writing classes (and workshops) will provide students with a wealth of helpful materials. But these materials won’t do you any good if you don’t bother to look at them. In fact, if you have time before the workshop starts, read as many of the materials as you can. You might not fully understand what you are reading. That’s okay. Learning is recursive – which means your understanding will increase each time you study or reread the information.

If you don’t have time to read the materials before the class begins, then at least look over all the materials beforehand. Also, besides the required course materials, if there are suggested additional materials, get those too. And read them!

Also, read the kinds of things you wish to write. If you want to write stories for children, READ stories for children. If you want to write culinary mysteries for adults, READ culinary mysteries for adults, etc.

SPECIAL NOTE: Also, realize this. If you don’t enjoy reading, then you probably won’t enjoy the work it takes to become a successful (by that I mean, published) writer. Published writers are like sponges – anxious to soak up any information about their craft that they can.

2) Carefully read the directions for each and every assignment and follow the directions TO THE LETTER.

I’m surprised that so many people pay for a writing course (like the one I taught for the Institute of Children’s Literature), yet a large number of these people don’t follow the directions for each assignment.

In some cases, it’s painfully evident that they didn’t even bother to READ the directions. What they need to understand is this – usually each assignment or lesson in a writing course or workshop was designed with specific objectives in mind. If the student doesn’t bother to read and follow the directions for each assignment, then the instructor has little chance of helping the student meet those objectives.

3) Avoid defending your work to your instructor.

Generally, students pay an instructor because he (or she) has some expertise and experience in writing, which usually includes many publishing credits. In fact, you should ALWAYS look for an instructor who has publishing credits. But then listen to what that instructor has to say about your writing, then follow his advice without trying to defend your work if it goes against what he has suggested.

Your instructor knows what he is talking about. For example, many times I tell students that in stories for children, adults should play very minor roles, and the child or teen in the story should always solve his own problem without a parent or other well-meaning adult stepping in to save the day. Many students want to argue that adults save the day for kids all the time in real life, so it should be okay that Aunt Martha calling at the last minute to offer little Janie the money she needs for summer camp is the perfect resolution for their story.

Sure, this kind of thing happens in real life. But, in stories for kids or teens, editors want the child to solve his own problem. Don’t waste precious time (yours or the instructor’s) arguing about something like this. Your understanding of WHY you should do what your instructor is asking you to do (or not do) will increase over time and study. Do what your instructor suggests, without defending your reason for going against his directions, and you’ll move ahead at a faster pace.

4) Learn to research all sorts of topics. In other words.

Don’t depend on instructors, editors, publishers, or anyone else to provide you with ALL the information you need in order to become a published writer.

Your instructor will probably give you research tips and marketing information, of course. But most published writers are self-directed learners. By that I mean, when they don’t KNOW something, they figure out HOW and WHERE to get the needed information themselves (more about how to do this, next).

5) Find other writers to network with and even hang out with, and read publications for writers.

Join a local writers’ group or at least sign up for one online (at yahoogroups.com you’ll find all sorts of groups for writers). Try to find a group that includes at least a few published writers. Generally, writers like to be helpful. They will usually share marketing tips, writing resources, etc. and will help you to more fully understand what you learn in a writing workshop or writing class.

Also, talk to some of the other writers in these groups to find out how they write. Then use some of their tips to improve your own writing, writing habits, etc. Hang out with the published writers and you’ll soon learn that they probably do a LOT of rewriting before they sell any of their work.

Read publications for writers to gain current marketing news and tips, and to find out how other writers became successful.

All these things will help give you the confidence to keep writing (and to keep practicing what you learn in your writing workshop or writing course) until you manage to get something published.

6) Don’t expect writing to be easy.

And, don’t assume that if it isn’t it must mean you don’t have enough talent to succeed as a writer, so you might as well drop out of the workshop or writing class.

Actually, most successful writers will tell you that talent isn’t the most important quality for success. The ability to follow directions (which will eventually come from an editor or editors) and the willingness to continue writing and rewriting, until at least some of the many rejection letters you get in the mail turn into acceptance letters, are much more important qualities for success as a writer. If you realize this BEFORE you start any writing workshop or writing course, you will be more likely to stick with it, even when the work gets difficult.

Suzanne Lieurance is an award-winning author and an experienced writing coach. For more writing tips and resources delivered to your e-mailbox every weekday morning, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge from Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer’s Coach.

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Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Nov 13

How to Write a Story

Writing a storyToday I have a guest post by a successful writer and writing coach, Suzanne Lieurance. She talks about what it takes to ‘write a story.’

How to Write a Story
By Suzanne Lieurance

Do you long to write stories but just can’t seem to get started?

That’s probably because you don’t understand the elements needed for any good story. Learn these elements and the writing process will be much easier.

Every good story needs:

1. An interesting main character with a problem to solve. Your main character needs to want something and want it so much he is willing to overcome all sorts of obstacles to get it. This character is your protagonist; the person readers will root for as he faces conflicts and complications.

2. An interesting setting. A good story needs to be set in a definite time and place and readers need to feel they are right there in this time and place with your characters. Use a variety of vivid sensory details to transport your readers to the time and place you’ve chosen as the setting for your story. But weave these details into the action as much as possible.

3. Conflict. Something or someone who gets in the way of the main character in his quest to get what he wants. The main character who creates this conflict is your antagonist. Keep in mind that this person shouldn’t be ALL bad. He should be flawed, of course, but if he’s all bad he won’t seem like a real person, he’ll be more like a caricature.

4. A series of complications. Things should keep getting worse and worse for the main character in his quest to get what he wants. These complications will create the dramatic tension and rising action for your story so readers will want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

5. A culminating event that creates change. Something dramatic needs to occur that will change everything for your main chararacter. This event is the climax of your story or the solution. Your main character will either finally get what he is after or he will understand why it is not possible to get what he wants and he will have to make some sort of peace with that. Either way, your main character will no longer be the same person he was at the beginning of the story. He will have changed or grown somehow as a result of the conflicts and complications he faced. This change (or changes) will lead to a natural resolution as the ending for your tale.

Now, before you get started writing your own story, take some time to examine a few simple stories more closely for each of these elements. Fairy tales are good stories to use for this purpose.

For more writing tips and resources delivered to your e-mailbox every weekday morning, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge from Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer’s Coach.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Traditional Publishing and the Author Platform – Be Realistic
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Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn you story into a publishable and saleable book.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700