Sep 24

Children’s Writing – Creating Your Main Character Part1

Write Memorable CharactersI read an excellent article by Jerry Jenkins who is an author of more than 186 books and a New York Times bestselling novelist. This is a writer who knows about writing.

The article was about creating memorable heroes.

Every author wants to be able to do this. So, below are the first few tips Jenkins offered (I put my own spin on these tips and made them relevant to children’s writing. And, since it’s a long post, I divided it into two-parts):

1. Name him right.

A name isn’t just a name. Giving your main character (MC) the right name matters.

I’ll use my middle-grade fantasy book, “Walking Through Walls”, as an example.

The story is set in 16th century China.

What names come to mind?

Harry, Shawn, Dale, Justin, Juan, Saheb? I don’t think so.

If you want to keep the flavor of the story true, you’ll need to use appropriate names. The MC in “Walking Through Walls” is Wang.

2. Get him out there.

You’ve got to get your MC out there in front of the audience right away.

You don’t want any confusion as to the MC. You want your reader to make a connection quick. The MC should be the first character introduced in the story.

This is especially true with young children’s books.

3. The reader should be able to picture the main character.

This may not be relevant if you’re writing a children’s picture book or even a chapter book as most of them have illustrations. But, if you’re writing a middle grade, you most likely will need to describe your MC somewhat.

Just give enough information for the reader to be able to imagine what your MC looks like.

Is he tall? Is she fair or dark? Is she thin? Does he have any unusual characteristics?

You want the reader to be able to picture him – to create her own image of him. Whatever information you leave out, the reader will fill in.

4. He’s got to have a backstory.

Okay, this isn’t relevant to picture books as they’re too short for backstory. But, with other stories, the MC needs to be realistic and this means he needs a life.

Using “Walking Through Walls” again, it’s quickly revealed that Wang has a father, mother, and sister. It’s also quickly revealed that he’s a dreamer and doesn’t like to work. And, he wants the fast track to fame and fortune.

This was done within the first couple of pages.

Other aspects of your character that might be conveyed are:

– Is he smart?
– Is he an athlete?
– Does he have lots of friends?
– What are his innate qualities?
– Is he a follower or a leader?
– What are his goals?
– What are his hobbies?
– What makes him happy, mad.
– What he’s afraid of.
– Is he outgoing or shy?
– What’s his family life like?

The list can go on and on. Use the qualities or characteristics that are relevant to your story.

5. Make him realistic.

I wrote an article a few years ago about your character being one, two, or three dimensional.

You need a three-dimensional character.

He needs good qualities, bad qualities, things he’s good at, things he not good at, and so on and so on. You need a character who is life-like.

Along with this, he needs a mutli-faceted personality. What I mean by this is, a boy will act differently with his brother, his friend, a girl he’s sweet on, his teacher, his coach, his mom, his dad, and so on.

Our personalities are able to adapt to the interactions we have. You don’t want a MC who acts the same with all secondary characters and in all situations. He needs to portray realistic feelings and reactions.

6. He’s got to be heroic.

While your MC needs to be human / flawed, he also must learn from his failures . . . from overcoming the obstacles thrown in his way.

I love the way Jennings put this, “While striving to make your main character real and human, be sure to also make him heroic or implant within him at least the potential to be heroic.”

When writing for children, especially young children, the MC must prevail. He needs to overcome his obstacles and end up smarter, stronger, wiser, happier. Whatever the growth is, it’s got to be there.

Going back to Wang, while he’s kind of a slacker, he feels a need to help his friend even though it would mean fighting against warriors. There’s more to the story to make him heroic, but just wanting to help a friend in need is enough.

Stay tuned next week for tips 7-11 to creating a memorable character.

Reference:
10 Tips to Developing Your Characters

Write your own children's bookMORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Writing Fiction for Children – 4 Simple Tips

Writing Fiction for Children – Character Believability and Conflict

The One Sentence Pitch for Your Manuscript

 

Sep 03

Writing Picture Books for Young Children – A Different Writing Style

Writing Style and Picture BooksA writing style is the way a writer writes a story. It’s the words used, sentence structure, tone used, and even the method used.

The children’s picture book writing style is unique for two main reasons:

1. You’re dealing with young children.
2. You’re often dealing with parents and teachers who will read the story to young children.

Let’s break the reasons down.

1. Simple words, simple sentences, simple ideas.

When writing for children you must remember you’re writing for children.

It may sound silly, but it’s easy forget this and end up writing for yourself. Always remember your audience will be young children.

Reason one is broken into two categories:

A. Your sentences are too long and complex for the young reader. Or, the words you’re using are too advanced for the young reader.

I’ve been guilty of this one. I’ll write the story using longer sentences than I should and using words that are too advanced for the target reader. This is a no-no.

Children, especially young children need things kept simple: simple words, simple sentence structure and length, and simple story line.

As a simple (and exaggerated) example:

BAD: Freddie couldn’t comprehend the complexity of the situation.

BETTER: Freddie didn’t understand.

The ‘better’ example above reduces the length of the sentence and simplifies it also. Children will quickly understand what’s being said. And, if parents/teachers are involved, they won’t be stumbling over a complex sentence.

Simple is better with young children.

There’s a great book to help with the use of age appropriate words when writing for children, “The Children’s Writer’s Word Book” by Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner.

B. In addition to simple words and simple sentences, you need to think about the scenarios you’re creating. You don’t want to give young children bad or dangerous ideas, like sneaking out at night, or running away from parents when in an amusement park, or running into the street.

This doesn’t pertain to young adults and even some upper middle grade. In these genres, the reader is able to grasp just about as much as an adult.

But, for picture books you need to keep it on the simpler side.

2. Parents and teachers may be involved.

Parents and teachers often read picture books to children. You certainly don’t want them stumbling over long sentences. And, their audience is very young children who will usually have very short attention spans.

Think of a one or two-year-old who can’t get away fast enough or who’s squirming all over his mom trying to grab the teddy bear that’s sitting on the shelf.

Next, think of the kids in pre-school and kindergarten. Granted they have a better attention span than the toddler, but not by much.

Make the picture book kid-friendly. Simple words, simple sentences, and simple story line.

You also need to consider the parent who is reading their child a bedtime story. Make the story flow. Keep it simple. Make it engage the reader as well as their audience.

How to test your story.

To help get a handle on your story, to help determine if it’s simple enough, Mary Kole from Kidlit advises to read the story out loud. It’s so much different than just reading it. (1)

Reading aloud, you won’t just glaze over the words, you’ll have to read each one to say them. You’ll get a better sense of how it sounds and flows.

An even better test, if possible, have someone read it out loud for you. Maybe a family member or friend or critique partner. This is even better than reading it yourself because that person won’t be familiar with the story. You’ll be able to catch all the snags in the story that can cause pausing or stumbling.

(1) Picture Book Writing Style

Children's ghostwriter

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

Articles on writing for children

Writing With Clarity
5 Top Fiction Writing No-Nos
The Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?

Jun 25

Storytelling vs. Writing a Story

Writing tips and strategiesIs there a difference between storytelling and writing a story?

Yes, there is.

A children’s publisher commented on the difference between storytelling and writing. She explained that storytelling involves visual aids, whereas writing does not.

Granted, children’s picture books do provide illustrations in the form of visual aids, but they are not the same as storytelling’s visual aids.

Storytelling

Storytelling allows for the use of visual aids, which includes facial expressions. There is also voice tone, word pronunciation, along with word or phrase stressing that help aid in conveying sadness, anger, fear, and an array of other emotional sediments. This is also known as voice inflection.

Along with facial expressions and voice inflection, the storyteller can also take advantage of movement. Imagine telling a group of children a spooky story that has the protagonist tiptoeing around a corner to see what’s there. As a storyteller you can actually tiptoe, hunched over; and exaggerating the movement enhances the suspense. Visual aids are easy to use and are powerhouses of expressions.

Another example might be if you are telling a pirate story to a young boy. You can use toy props, such as a toy sword or pirate’s hat, while limping with a pretend wooden leg. These visuals enhance the story experience for the child without the storyteller having to create the imagery with words.

Writing a Story

Writing on the other hand depends solely on the writer’s interpretation of what the facial expressions, voice, mannerisms, image, and body movement of the characters might be. And, that interpretation must be conveyed through words that preferably ‘show’ rather than ‘tell.’

If you think about it, storytelling is much easier than writing a story. But, most of us authors are writers, not storytellers, and as writers we need to convey emotions and activity through showing.

In the storytelling examples above, how might you write the scene as an author?

For the first scenario of a spooky story, one example might be:

Lucas grabbed his little brother’s hand and pulled him close. “Shhh. Don’t make any noise. It might hear us.” They crept along the wall, barely breathing, until they reached the . . .

While this passage doesn’t have the advantage of the storyteller’s visual aids, it does convey a feeling of suspense and fear.

In regard to a pirate story, as an author you might write:

Captain Sebastian grabbed his sword and heaved it above his head. “Take the ship, men.”

The pirates seized the ropes and swung onto the ship. Swords and knives clanking, they overtook their enemy in under an hour.

This short passage clearly conveys a pirate scene with Captain Sebastian leading his men into a battle aboard another ship. No visual aids, but it does get its message across.

You might also note that while trying to write your story through showing, you need to watch for weak verbs, adjectives, and a host of other no-nos. In the sentence above, the words, “barely breathing” would probably need to be changed if it reached a publisher’s hands. Why? Because “ly” and “ing” words are also frowned upon.

So, knowing the difference, if you had your choice, which would you prefer to be, a storyteller or a writer?

I’d be a writer!

Writing for children tips

The Author Website – Do You Really Need One?
Picture Books – Story or Illustrations, Which Comes First?
Writing – Showing vs. Telling

WANT TO BE A CHILDREN’S WRITER?

Being a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

Check out my 180 page ebook that gives you all the basics of WRITING FICTION FOR CHILDREN (finding a publisher or agent, and marketing your books)

Writing Children's Fiction

Jun 11

Ghostwriting Children’s Books – 5 Ways to Know if You’re Any Good

Chidlren's ghostwriterSome writers can at times wonder if they’re ‘good enough’. Are they fulfilling their clients’ expectations? They may occasionally doubt their writing skills and ability. I think it goes with the territory.

They may take on a project they’ve never done before. Yep, doubts surface.

They see peers getting credits from major magazines or getting book after book traditionally published. Yep doubts will undoubtable surface.

Hey, writers are human, right?

But what about ghostwriting. You’re not submitting traditionally yourself, so you don’t have the rejection or acceptance feedback.

So how do you know if you’re good at being a children’s ghostwriter or other type of ghostwriter?

Well, there are at least five to tell.

1. The proof is in the pudding, right?

This is a perfect analogy for whether you’re good at what you do.

One clear way to tell if you’re effective at what you do is by the reactions of your clients.

Are your clients unhappy? Are they satisfied? Are they pleased? Are they happy? Are they overjoyed? Are they thrilled to tears?

Now, not all clients may cry at the masterpiece you create, but you want every one of your clients to be ‘very happy to overjoyed’ at the very least.

You can tell if you’re successful by how your clients react to the finished product.

2. Do any of your clients come back (repeat clients)?

It’s true that because of the expense of having a book ghosted, not all clients can afford to hire-out more than one book. But, have you had any clients request a second project with you?

If you have, you can be assured you’re doing something right.

3. Do you have clients with a series?

This is kind of like #2 above, but it’s an even stronger indication that you’re producing the goods.

Clients who invest in a series with you believe in you and your ability. If they didn’t love what you created with Book One, they would never move forward in a series project. So, if you’re looking for a Ghostwriting Stamp of Approval, this is it.

4. Are you getting testimonials?

I’m adding this here, but it not necessarily a clear indication of your qualifications. The reason is most ghosting clients don’t want to share that they’ve hired a ghostwriter.

If you’re fortunate to get some testimonials, that’s fantastic. The reason is because it’s not only personal validation of your qualifications, it’s public validation.

Testimonials are also a great marketing tool. People are influenced by what others think of your work.

5. Have any of your clients traditionally published? Have they won awards?

This is the icing on the cake.

Have any of your clients submitted to traditional publishers and agents? If so, have they gotten a contract?

As a ghostwriter you cannot use this as a promotional tool, but it definitely is another personal stamp of approval.

So, if you’re wondering if you’ve got the stuff to be a children’s ghostwriter, use these five questions to put your mind at ease.

Articles on writing for childrenChildren’s Writing and Publishing Process – The Traditional Path
Children, the Environment, and Story Telling
Submitting Manuscript Queries – Be Specific and Professional

Let's talk about your children's writing projectLet 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

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
What’s Your Writing Forte?
3 Steps to Querying Publishers and Agents

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

The One Sentence Pitch for Your Manuscript
How Do You Build a Successful Writing Career? (3 Tips)
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.

MORE WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Working with a Children’s Ghostwriter – The Process
Book Marketing – The Foundation
How to Write a Story

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