Feb 02

The Hardest Part of Writing is Actually Starting

The getting started blues.

The hardest part of writing will most likely be different for different writers.

Many though have a hard time getting started.

These writers know they want to write a story.

They may have a character in mind or an idea for a storyline.

The problem is getting started.

To actually sit and write a beginning, middle, and an end, has these writers afraid or if not afraid, then stumped. This leads to procrastination.

So, how do you overcome the ‘getting started’ blues?

One simple possibility is to just start writing.

Once words and sentences begin to appear on your screen, it opens up to paragraphs, chapters, and so on. This is the seat-of-your-pants method of writing.

The story unfolds before you.

A possible draw back to this method is that you could get stuck.

Your story may be flying along and then suddenly, BAM. It hits a mountain. You’re not sure how to get over or around it to continue on with the story.

At this point, you’ll need to think about creating an outline to move forward.

Another excellent method to get started with your story is to create an outline at the get go–plot your story.

Before I go on, let me explain what a story plot is.

According to “How to Write a Children’s Book” from The Institute of Children’s Literature, “A plot is really nothing more mysterious than a plan for a story—a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The direction a plot takes may be simple and straightforward, as in a short story for preschoolers. Or it may be complex . . . when intended for young adult readers.”

A solid plot unfolds with your protagonist facing a challenge (conflict), taking action to overcome it, and growing in someway as a result of achieving his goal.

Okay, let’s get back to the topic. Suppose you’re writing for younger children.

Think of your main character.

How old is he? (What age group are you targeting – what is the reader’s age? Your protagonist should be at the top age of the readers you’re targeting. So, if your reader will be 5-8, your protagonist should be 8.)

What’s your main character like? Or, what’s she like?

What problem will he have?

Is the problem age appropriate?

What conflicts or obstacles are blocking your protagonist from reaching her goal? You must have conflict in your story.

List the events and how they will unfold.

And, decide how the story will end.

Using the outline method, you create a GPS for your story. It takes the guess work out of writing a story. This takes the pressure off.

It’s like painting with dots. The picture is outlined – you just fill in the dots.

While you can deviate a bit from your outline, you know where you need to get back on track and exactly where you need to end up.

Some writers believe this is the best method to create solid stories, stories that have a shot at getting traditionally published.

The outline method definitely provides a sense of security.

As a pantser, when I rewrote an ancient Chinese folktale, Walking Through Walls, I had a roadmap of where I was going. While I changed the story drastically for today’s children’s market, I knew the basics of the story. This was very helpful.

Also, even though I may start chapter books by the seat-of-my-pants, I usually end up creating chapter outlines as I go along.

Writing 1000 words and less for a picture book can allow a writer to be a pantser, but when you’re writing 20,000 – 40,000 words, it gets tricky.

So, whether you want to let your story write itself (pantser) and hope you don’t get stuck along the way, or whether you create an outline first, the most important thing is to just start writing.

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Sep 08

Writing and Mountain Climbing

How is writing like mountain climbing?

“Because the creation of a novel is akin to a mad scramble up a mountainside layered with loose pebbles, any handhold or solid ground you can find will be a blessing.”
~ Walter Mosley

The article where I got this quote from (link below) deals with Mosley’s writing style which doesn’t include character sheets or any other form of mapping out your character’s ‘life’ prior to writing your novel.

I love the quote above. As Mosley explained, as you’re writing, your character develops before your eyes. There will be situations or events in the story that you didn’t plan on in the beginning and your character will need to deal with it. If it’s a new experience, how can you tell how he’ll react?

We’d all like to believe (or write) that our protagonist will act nobly in every new situation, but that doesn’t always happen. It’s the same with people in real life.

You or your character will not know how you’ll react in a situation you never experienced before.

It’s kind of the same with your story itself.

Pantsing Your Way

As you’re writing, the story often takes on a life of itself as do the characters. It’s kind of amazing when this happens.

This type of writing is by-the-seat-of-your-pants and usually called pantsing.

The quote above was referencing this type of writing and why creating structured, highly detailed character sheets isn’t worth it. Stories change as you write them. And, if it doesn’t, it will definitely in edits and rewrites. You may take your characters and storyline in an entirely different direction.

Characters Create Themselves

Letting the characters develop as you write gives you much more freedom over who and what they are or can become.

I’m a pantser because I find it easier to have the story start itself, but if I’m writing a picture book series or a children’s chapter book or a middle grade, I do keep character sheets. This is especially important with all series.

I would find myself often looking up the quirks and characteristics I created for a particular character in earlier books in a series I was writing. Then inspiration or necessity or desperation kicked in and I created character sheets for each character as I went along. It does save time in the long run.

Simple Outlines Work

I also do sometimes create an outline for chapter, middle grade and young adult books as I’m going along in a story to give me a guideline. I usually don’t start out with one because I let the story develop the beginning for me.

You might call it the muse kicking in or the story taking charge, but whichever it is, it’s appreciated.

But, once I pause along the way (it could be in chapter 4, 5, or 6) and wonder what happens next, I do work on where I want the story to go from that point.

I don’t add much detail to the outline, just a general direction.

This works for me.

What about you? How do you write?

Source for quote:
(Literary Hub article) https://lithub.com/walter-mosley-on-discovering-who-your-books-characters-really-are/
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Jul 07

Writing Elements – Is One More Important than Another?

There’s a lot of information on the elements of writing.

You have characters, setting, point-of-view, style, theme, plot, and even literary devices.

But you also have things like readability, consequences, and uniqueness.

Could you choose which of these elements is the most important?

It’s tough, isn’t it?

Well, I recently read an article titled, What Is the Most Important Element when writing a Story? and the answer became simple.

The most important element to writing fiction is the WHY.

You can have all the above mentioned elements in your story, but if the why is missing, the story will fall flat. The reader won’t bother turning the pages.

So, what’s the WHY?

The why is usually the inciting incident.

It’s the reason you wrote the story and the reason the reader will bother reading it.

According to Studiobinder, “The inciting incident should have a snowball effect. Let the story grow from the one thing that goes wrong (or right) like a snowball would if it rolled down a hill.” (1)

The Lucky Baseball: My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp is a middle grade story that has a significant inciting incident.

The protagonist is a nice boy of Japanese descent. At the outbreak of WWII, he and his family are taken to an internment camp. The protagonist’s life is turned upside down.

Readers are immediately grabbed and want to know what happens to the boy.

Keep in mind that the inciting incident doesn’t have to be a bomb going off and destroying the protagonist’s home and family. It could be something simple that snowballs into something huge.

Sleepless in Seattle is one of my favorite movies, but the inciting incident doesn’t really seem to be of much consequence at the moment. Tom Hank’s character talks on the phone to a radio show psychologist about how difficult it is to cope with the loss of his wife.

While it’s a touching scene, it’s the aftermath of that call that creates the snowball effect.

Women, including Meg Ryan’s character, hear the conversation on the radio and immediately all want to be the woman who heals Tom Hank’s character’s broken heart.

This turns the protagonist’s life upside down.

According to another article, What is the Most Important Element When Writing a Story?, “As a novelist, you have to hone in on the event that brings the story into being and why your reader should care. That why is the question at the heart of every novel. The why is one of the first things readers look for when we pick up a book.” (2)

While every element in writing is important in that when combined, they create a synergy that can create a powerful and memorable story, it’s the why that’s at the heart of every story.

References:

(1) https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/inciting-incident-examples/

(2) https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-most-important-element-when-writing-a-story-And-are-characters-more-important-than-anything-else-What-do-you-look-for-in-a-good-book

(3) https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/the-7-essential-elements-of-a-bestselling-novel

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Whether you need editing, rewriting, or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

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Jun 25

Storytelling vs. Writing a Story

Writing a story or storytelling?

Is 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!

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WANT TO BE A CHILDREN’S WRITER?

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Check out my 190 page ebook that gives you all the basics of HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK (including finding a publisher or agent, and marketing your books)

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Jun 18

6 Tips to What Makes a Good Story

7 writing elements to writing a good storyContributed by Aaron Shepard

Good writers often break rules—but they know they’re doing it! Here are some good rules to know.

Theme

A theme is something important the story tries to tell us—something that might help us in our own lives. Not every story has a theme, but it’s best if it does.

Don’t get too preachy. Let the theme grow out of the story, so readers feel they’ve learned it for themselves. You shouldn’t have to say what the moral is.

Plot

Plot is most often about a conflict or struggle that the main character goes through. The conflict can be with another character, or with the way things are, or with something inside the character, like needs or feelings.

The main character should win or lose at least partly on their own, and not just be rescued by someone or something else. Most often, the character learns or grows as they try to solve their problem. What the character learns is the theme.

The conflict should get more and more tense or exciting. The tension should reach a high point or “climax” near the end of the story, then ease off.

The basic steps of a plot are: conflict begins, things go right, things go WRONG, final victory (or defeat), and wrap-up. The right-wrong steps can repeat.

A novel can have several conflicts, but a short story should have only one.

Story Structure

At the beginning, jump right into the action. At the end, wind up the story quickly.

Decide about writing the story either in “first person” or in “third person.” Third-person pronouns are “he,” “she,” and “it”—so writing in third person means telling a story as if it’s all about other people. The first-person pronoun is “I”—so writing in first person means telling a story as if it happened to you.

Even if you write in third person, try to tell the story through the eyes of just one character—most likely the main character. Don’t tell anything that the character wouldn’t know. This is called “point of view.” If you must tell something else, create a whole separate section with the point of view of another character.

Decide about writing either in “present tense” or in “past tense.” Writing in past tense means writing as if the story already happened. That is how most stories are written. Writing in present tense means writing as if the story is happening right now. Stick to one tense or the other!

Characters

Before you start writing, know your characters well.

Your main character should be someone readers can feel something in common with, or at least care about.

You don’t have to describe a character completely. It’s enough to say one or two things about how a character looks or moves or speaks.

A main character should have at least one flaw or weakness. Perfect characters are not very interesting. They’re also harder to feel something in common with or care about. And they don’t have anything to learn. In the same way, there should be at least one thing good about a “bad guy.”

Setting

Set your story in a place and time that will be interesting or familiar.

Style and Tone

Use language that feels right for your story.

Wherever you can, use actions and speech to let readers know what’s happening. Show, don’t tell.

Give speech in direct quotes like “Go away!” instead of indirect quotes like “She told him to go away.”

You don’t have to write fancy to write well. It almost never hurts to use simple words and simple sentences. That way, your writing is easy to read and understand.

Always use the best possible word—the one that is closest to your meaning, sounds best, and creates the clearest image. If you can’t think of the right one, use a thesaurus.

Carefully check each word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph. Is it the best you can write? Is it in the right place? Do you need it at all? If not, take it out!

The strongest children’s stories have well-developed themes, engaging plots, suitable structure, memorable characters, well-chosen settings, and attractive style. For best results, build strength in all areas.

Originally published at:
http://www.aaronshep.com/youngauthor/elements.html

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Jan 15

Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Is your character fully dimensional?It’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 15 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?

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

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

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

6. 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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Athletic: Is your character into sports? Does he excel at it?

15. Artistic or musical: Does he draw or paint? Does he play a musical instrument?

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, irresponsible, 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 breath and dimension.

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Jun 26

The Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?

Elements in writing.Writing can be thought of as a recipe, a handful of plot, a quarter cup of setting, a half cup of dialogue, and a half cup of action and forward movement. Then you also need to add just the right amount of theme, character, setting, and style. Stir it all together and bake for several months (might be longer, depending on your oven), and that’s it.

Ah, if it were only that simple.

Today, there are a number of rules to writing that didn’t plague writers years ago when the world was slower and people actually had time to sit and read at a leisurely pace. Writers had the luxury of setting scenes in detail and didn’t have to worry about ‘telling’ too much.

Now, publishers want your story to begin with a BAM. Grab the reader right away or you’ll lose her. And, it’s important that setting and telling are limited. In addition, don’t forget to magically weave backstory for your characters seamlessly into the mix.

So, what is the right balance of writing elements that will create a successful story?

Well, there really isn’t a pat formula. Each story will call for its own particular amounts of elements, and each publisher will have her own set of rules that the author must adhere to. But there are certain basics that all stories must contain.

The five basic elements of a story are:

Plot: The arrangement of circumstances and/or events in the story, including conflicts and resolution.

Character: Without the main character and supporting characters the plot is useless. It is the character’s struggle to overcome the conflicts or obstacles in his path that gives the plot life.

Setting: This element includes the physical backdrop of the story, the time period and location.

Atmosphere or Tone: The mood, including the setting, characters and their clothing, weather, and other elements within the story, determines the tone of the story.

Style: The author’s way of expressing herself is the style. Sentence structure, diction, choice of words, point of view, imagery, and symbols are all means of conveying a story that is unique to the author.

In regard to the amounts or balance of each element, the objective is to create a story that continually moves forward toward a satisfying conclusion while holding the reader’s attention. You can have a plot driven story or a character driven story. You can also have a story with a lot of dialogue, but you need to be sure the story is focused, coherent, and engaging.

Often, as you self-edit your own work, you won’t be able to see if the elements are just right; you should have it critiqued and have an editor take a look at it to see if you’re on the mark. And, then after all that, it will be up to the publisher’s acquisition editor to give the final say on whether you have just the right balance of writing elements for a successful story.

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Oct 26

Getting to Know Your Characters

Getting to Know Your Characters

I recently read a post about writing for children. It focused on the story’s characters.

Basically, the post advised to create and know your characters inside and out before beginning the story. In fact, it suggested that the author build the story around the characters once they were fully developed. While this is good advice, and many experienced authors recommend this technique, there are some authors who occasionally watch their characters unveil themselves right before their eyes.

The Seat of the Pants Writing Method

This is such an interesting method of writing. Your character introduces himself and gradually reveals bits and pieces, and blossoms as the story moves along.  I’m currently working on a middle grade science fiction manuscript that is using this style. I didn’t intentionally start the story this way…it just happened.

You do need to be careful with this method though, you may lose track of all the bits and pieces that make up the character. So, a good way to keep track of those quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features is to note them on a page or card as they become unveiled. You wouldn’t want your character to have brown eyes in one chapter and blue eyes in another – unless of course, it’s a science fiction or paranormal and part of the storyline.

Actually, in this particular story of mine I used the ‘seat-of-the-pants’ method of writing for the characters and the story. I had no idea what the story would be about until I began writing it. I’m about half finished with it, and I have no clue where it will go from the point it’s at now, but it’ll be interesting to find out.

It’s true that many authors prefer the outlined method of writing, and I actually do also. Although, it seems once in a while a story and the characters can lead the author through an entire manuscript without the benefit of a structured outline. I find this fascinating . . . watching characters evolve and a story unfold. It’s almost like magic…characters, a story, and even worlds appear from thin air. It is magic!

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

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Feb 22

Character Sheets – Adding Dimension to Your Protagonist

Character Sheets

Connecting with a reader entails a couple of things, one of which is to have a fully developed protagonist. A crucial aspect of creating a real character is his/her interactions with the other characters in the story, and his/her reactions to external influences. These reactions to external surroundings or occurrences add layers to your protagonist.

To be able to write with this type of clarity and dimension for your protagonist, you need to know every detail of your protagonist’s character. Even if you learn tidbits here and there as the story progresses, those new bits and pieces of the characters traits will need to be remembered and possibly used again. An excellent way to keep track of your protagonist’s characteristics is to create a character sheet.

Using Character Sheets

Make note on your character sheet of every reaction and interaction your character has with another character. As with actual life, we interact differently with different people in our lives. A boy will not react to a friend the same way he does a brother. He will not react the same to a sister as he does a brother. The same holds true for all other relationships. All these different interactions help create a fully dimensional protagonist.

As you’re creating your story’s characters’ dynamics, keep in mind that all characters play a part in creating a realistic story, even in fantasy and sci-fi. What this means is that your protagonist needs a responsive partner or team member (character) when interacting, otherwise the interaction will feel one-sided and flat.

Create Character Continuity

In order to create a continuity of character traits for all characters, each character needs a character sheet. While for some this may seem tedious, it is well worth the effort. You may be three quarters through the book and can’t remember how character A interacted with character D. You won’t want to have to search through the story to find this little tidbit of information.

Also, keep in mind that each character will have his/her own motivation for actions and reactions. This is part of their character traits and should be listed on their character sheet.

Remember, every action, reaction and interaction created in your story will not only develop the protagonist, but also the other characters in the story.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

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