Dec 26

3 Absolute Must-Nots in Writing for Children

It seems there are still new children’s authors or wannabe authors who don’t take the time to learn about how to write for children… at least to learn the basics.

The absolute must-nots when writing for children:

The Picture Book Cliffhanger

A recent client of mine was for a picture book rewrite project with the ending missing, so there was a bit of ghosting involved. The intended age group was four to eight.

I rewrote the story and added a ‘satisfying’ ending with a takeaway only to learn the client wanted it to be a cliffhanger and didn’t want a takeaway.

Well, kind of a cliffhanger. The client wanted the ending missing.

No loose ends tied up. No satisfying ending. No full character arc. No full story arc.

This was a first for me.

Not wanting a takeaway is one thing, but not wanting a satisfying ending for a young children’s book doesn’t make sense.

The story was to leave the reader to guess what the author had in mind for the ending or create their own. 

The author’s intent was to create a series of cliffhangers motivating the reader to purchase the next picture book.

I’m not sure if the author intended to abruptly end the next book in the series, but I think so.

I tried my best to help the client understand that a young children’s book needs all the elements of a ‘good’ story, especially when seeking a traditional publishing contract.

I get that in self-publishing a lot of new authors do whatever they want (even though they should produce a quality book), but it’s a different ball game when going the traditional route.

The Perfect Story World

I don’t get too many of this type of author, but it came up in another recent project.

This scenario is when the author doesn’t want any significant conflict in the story. No real stakes involved.

-No swarm of bees to block a path the protagonist must get through.
-No ferocious fire breathing dragon blocking the entrance to a cave the protagonist must get into.
-No dangling from a cliff before being rescued.

The author also doesn’t want the characters, even the villain, to have any bad traits.

-No evil Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes nemesis).
-No evil Joker or the Penguin (Batman’s nemesis).
-No evil Lex Luthor (Superman’s nemesis).

This type of story is sugar-coated.

Instead of a roller coaster that goes up and down, where the rider has to hold on tight, this type of story is the stationary horse on the carousel, no holding on needed, no real movement involved.

You always want your story to be the one that the reader is motivated to hold onto, motivated to turn the pages. You want your story to go up and down.

Hitting the Reader Over the Head

Most of my clients have a specific goal for their story. They want to send a message to a child. They know exactly what they want the takeaway to be. 

A number of stories have the bullying theme, but interestingly that’s eased off. Now I get more requests for the inclusion theme, the standing up for yourself theme, and the being kind theme.

Some new authors think they have to hit the reader over the head with their message. They blatantly want to tell the reader how the main character grew because he was kind, or stood up for himself, or included someone different into her group.

Hitting the reader over the head with the story’s message is frowned upon. The story should convey the message subtly. The reader will pick up on it.

I hope these three absolute must-nots in kid’s writing help you on your children’s writing journey.
Need help with your story?
Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s 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 idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you'd rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S FICTION BOOK.

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May 16

Common Children’s Author Mistakes, Big and Small

I watched a webinar through Children’s Book Insider (CBI) with traditionally published children’s authors Jean Daigneau and Gloria Adams. They had some very helpful tips.

One section I found interesting was:

BIG common mistakes that authors make with children’s books.

  1. The number ONE most common big mistake is a weak plot.

So, what does a weak plot mean?

No conflict, or very little.

Basically…

The main character needs to have a problem. It can be internal or external, but it needs to be something that has consequences attached to it.

The conflict doesn’t need to be life or death; it may be that he figures out a way to stop a bully. Or, she figures out a way to get the bike she’s been wanting. It could even be that he was lonely and finds a friend.

It does need to be something that will get the young reader engaged.

It’s the conflict that will make the reader become invested in the main character’s journey. It’s the conflict that will motivate the reader to read to the end.

  1. The number two most common mistake is the lack of a story arc.

A story needs a full story arc. A beginning, a middle, and an end, and within that structure there needs to conflict that rises.

There also needs to be a satisfying resolution to that conflict.

This is commonly known as Freytag’s Pyramid.

The story starts on the left side of the pyramid. The action and conflict climbs up to the peak (the climax). Then it’s down the right side with falling action and the resolution.

  1. Another big mistake is the lack of a character arc.

The character needs to grow in some way.

He needs to change in some way as a result of his journey to overcome the obstacle blocking him from reaching his goal.

Maybe the character becomes kinder, happier, more confident, smarter, physically stronger, emotionally stronger, more creative, less fearsome. You get the gist.

He shouldn’t be the same person as he was at the beginning of the journey.

When you look at the character at the beginning of the story and then at the end, he needs to be different. There needs to be some kind of growth.

Some of the SMALLER mistakes or problems authors make are:

  1. Double tags.

Here’s an example:

Pete threw his fist in the air. “If he does that again, I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said.

This is a double tag.

It’s already established that Pete is the one talking because he’s noted throwing his fist in the air. The “he said” shouldn’t be included.

If you know the reader will understand who’s talking, you don’t add a dialogue tag.

  1. Picture books and illustrations.

If you’re writing a picture book, take the illustrations into account.

Write with them in mind. Leave enough room for the illustrator to be creative and bring the story to another level.

  1. Illustrator notes.

It may be tempting to try to direct the illustrator with a lot of illustrator notes, but don’t do it.

Unless it’s something that the illustrator wouldn’t know, but needs to know, don’t mention it.

An example of this:

Maybe your protagonist has a dog and you want it to be a specific breed of dog and a specific color. This is something you can note as the illustrator certainly wouldn’t know about it.

  1. Candy-coating the story.

A number of my clients don’t want anything bad to happen to the characters in the story. This is especially true of picture books.

But it’s tough to have conflict if nothing bad can happen to the characters.

The best stories, even if fantasy, have realism in them.

  1. Unsatisfying ending.

The ending of your story is important to get right.

All loose ends must be tied up. And, especially in picture books and writing for young children, the ending must be satisfying.

The reader should go away feeling good about the story.

Another important aspect of the ending is to NOT tell the reader what the message of the story is.

The take-away value of the story should be subtly conveyed through the story itself. Don’t hit the reader over the head with it

Winding this up…

A good story needs it all. It needs conflict with rising action and resolution. It needs character growth with a subtle message.

The best way to incorporate all this into your story is to read a lot of traditionally published books in the genre you’re writing. Pay attention to what makes those books work.

Children's ghostwriter

Let me take a look at your notes, outline, or draft. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. I can turn your story into a book that you’ll be proud to be author of.

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

Let’s get your story in publishable and marketable shape today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

Apr 18

3 Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Contributed by Suzanne Lieurance

A few mistakes in your fiction can often make the difference between a very good manuscript and a not-so-good one that is rejected by publishers.

Below are just three of the most common mistakes in fiction that I see day after day as a writing instructor and writing coach:

1) Overuse of participle phrases to begin a sentence.

A participle phrase usually begins with a word that ends in the letters “ing.”

There is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a participle phrase.

But when you do it too often, it begins to draw attention to itself and distract the reader from the action of the story.

Like this:

Reaching behind her, Mary grabbed her backpack and ran straight for the woods. Pushing branches and tangled vines out of her way, she was able to find the foot path. But a snake was stretched out across it. Turning around quickly and searching for another way through the forest, she suddenly heard someone call out her name.

Notice how clunky that sounds.

When you finish writing a story, go back over it and circle all the sentences that begin with a participle phrase.

If you have several of these phrases on each and every page, change most of them.

Like this:

Mary reached behind her and grabbed her backpack, then she ran straight for the woods. She pushed branches and tangled vines out of her way until she was able to find the foot path. But a snake was stretched out across it, so she turned quickly and searched for another way through the forest. Suddenly, she heard someone call out her name.

2) Dislocating or projecting body parts.

Yes, many writers actually do this in their stories.

The most common example of this is when characters’ eyes leave their bodies.

Here’s what I mean:

I was angry at my brother. I shot my eyes across the room at him and gave him a dirty look.

Yikes!

Was the poor brother left holding those eyeballs, or were they just stuck on the front of his shirt or something?

3) Dialogue that is punctuated incorrectly.

The most common example is when characters laugh words.

They simply can’t do this.

Try it yourself.

Can you laugh and speak at the same time?

Not really.

Yet, when you use a comma to separate the dialogue tag from the dialogue itself, you are indicating the words were laughed.

Here’s an example:

“I’d never try that in a million years,” laughed Denise.

To avoid this mistake, simply use a period after the dialogue, creating two separate sentences.

Like this:

“I’d never try that in a million years.” Denise laughed.

Each of these mistakes is easy to correct.

But now that you’re aware of them they should be easy to avoid in the first place!

Try it!

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, author, and writing coach.

For more writing tips and resources for writers, visit writebythesea.com, and don’t forget to get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge.

This article was first published at: https://www.writersonthemove.com/2020/02/3-mistakes-to-avoid-when-writing-fiction.html

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s 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 idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

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Be a Successful Writer Even if You Don’t Think You Have Enough Time

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Oct 28

Are All Children’s Stories Meant to Become Books?

Not all kids' stories are meant for books.
Writing well over 300 stories, between ghostwriting and rewriting, I’ve only seen one story that couldn’t be tweaked, nudged, shaken, or even deconstructed and reconstructed into a publishable story.

The concept and author of that one book were, well, not quite all there. Dealing with so many clients, I’m surprised I only had one so far.

Aside from that though, most stories or drafts can be magically turned into something an author will be proud to be author of.

A big problem I see is that new authors sometimes don’t know what a publishable story is.

But, wait a minute …

Let me clarify what I mean about a publishable book because today any story can become published, whether it’s poorly written or a well written story.

When I use the term “publishable,” I’m talking about a book that meets the standard children’s U.S. publishing guidelines.

Three of the top mistakes I see that would warrant taking another stab at your story or demolishing it and starting over are:

1. The point-of-view

You’re writing a picture book or chapter book and have more than one point-of-view (POV).

This can happen when you have two or more main characters in your story or it can happen is you have head-hopping in your story.

Let’s go back a step and define POV.

Every story has to be told from someone’s perspective. In other words, who is the story about.

It’s essential in young children’s writing that you clearly define who the protagonist (main character) is. And, there should only be one.

Jerry Jenkins, author of over 190 books, says he avoids slipping into an omniscient viewpoint “by imagining my Point of View or Perspective Character as my camera—I’m limited to writing only what my character ‘camera’ sees, hears, and knows.”

So, POV is a critical element of your story. Check to make sure you have only one POV and its that of the protagonist.

Head-hopping is slipping from one character’s POV to another, within the same paragraph or even same sentence.

In the example below, Tommy is the protagonist:

Tommy dug his cleats in. He raised the bat to his shoulder. A second later he watched the ball heading toward him . . . like a torpedo out of it tube. Without blinking he swung the bat. CRRAACCK. Stunned, he dropped the bat and ran. Did . . . did I just hit the ball.

“Pete,” said Jim with a nudge, “you see that. I didn’t think he’d hit that ball—it came so fast.” Jim threw a pretend pitch. “Look at him running those bases.”

The second paragraph in the example, just above, is a no-no. It’s bringing Jim’s perspective into the story since Tommy couldn’t see or hear him.

Tommy is the protagonist and must know what’s going on in the story or it can’t be in the story.

This could be rewritten though:

Tommy dug his cleats in. He raised the bat to his shoulder. A second later he watched the ball heading toward him . . . like a torpedo out of it tube. Without blinking he swung the bat. CRRAACCK. Stunned, he dropped the bat and ran. Did . . . did I just hit the ball.

When Tommy raced to home plate, he heard Jim yelling, “I didn’t think he’d hit that ball—it came so fast.”

Now it’s all with Tommy’s point-of-view.

2. Adults save the day.

Children want to read about children. They want the protagonist to solve his own problem.

While parents or other adults in a story can be a support system, their involvement needs to be minimal. The young protagonist needs to come up with the solution to her problem.

In “Stephanie’s Ponytail” by Robert Munsch, Stephanie wants to be unique. Here’s how the story starts:

“One day Stephanie went to her mom and said, ‘None of the kids in my class have a ponytail. I want a nice ponytail coming right out the back.’”

The problem though is the day after Stephanie comes in with that particular ponytail, all the girls in her class have it. So, each day she asks her mother to create another specific kind of ponytail. The day after each new ponytail, the class copies her.

At the end, Stephanie comes up with a clever, and funny, idea that cures the class of copying her.

While the mother in involved in the story, it’s Stephanie who comes up with all the ideas. And, it’s Stephanie who solves the problem.

3. Jumping in without learning how to swim first.

You’ve wanted to write a children’s book for years. You have tons of ideas and you’ve even written a couple down. It’s gotten to a point where you can’t wait any longer and you put one of your ideas into a story.

You type or write away and finally you have your story and it seems great.

Picture books can be 10 pages, right? You ‘kind of’ draw, so you can create your own illustrations, right? You have a couple of rhymes here and there, so that’s good, right?

While you may have a great story idea, standard picture books are usually 32 pages. Unless you’re a professional illustrator you shouldn’t create your own illustrations. And, either you’re written a rhyming story or not.

There are lots of other elements that you need to be aware or before jumping in to write a publishable book. You really should learn at least the basics of writing for children.

So, there you have it, three top children’s writing mistakes.

If I were to give a number 4, it would be that you have toooo much showing in the story.

If I were to give a number 5, it would be that you’re trying to knock the young reader over his head with the moral of the story.

Hope these tips help you when you sit down to write your story.

References:

HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK
POV with Jerry Jenkins

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 250+ page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.

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Sep 09

Creating Story Characters? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Guest Post by Linda Wilson

Many characters inhabited the early drafts of my WIP: a MG mystery. Like many of my characters’ counterparts—kids—I assigned each character a “friend,” following the example I’d seen so often of kids going around in “packs.”

What fun I had! The snappy dialogue! The endless opportunities to showcase what was on everybody’s mind! And oh, the ballooning plot–sensational! Until along came an editor who, with utmost gentleness and understanding, gave me a reality check.

Each Set of Friends Morphed into One Character

Whoa! Cut! My editor suggested I settle on one character for each set rather than have two: one sidekick for the main character, not two. One antagonist, not two. One little brother, not a little brother and his friend. I edited out the “doubles,” the “extras”, and though it was painful eliminating the “friend” appeal I had created, it did clean up the story—a lot. But there was still work to be done.

Each Character Must have a Role

In narrowing down the number of characters in my story, a few things happened.

– Though my MC’s sidekick lacked other girlfriends, their relationship became stronger.
– There were fewer distractions; that held true for the antagonist and the little brother, too.
– And then . . . I was told that the little brother would have to go. She knew this would be difficult for me. I loved this character dearly. I had rounded him out so well and he was funny. But that wasn’t enough.
– So, I gave him a role. In the beginning he plays a prank on the main character. For the rest of the story, he faded back into the background. Still not enough, she said.

Each Character Must have Follow-Through

Now it’s your turn to make sure your characters have roles throughout your entire story. You do that by creating a story arc not only for your main character, but for each one of your characters.

To use the bigger role I assigned to my little brother character as an example:
– When he first appears, he brings up the mystery.
– Early in the book, he plays a prank on the main character, which is directly related to the plot.
– A little later, he teases her about the prank.
– Still later, he takes part in one of the main character’s adventures.

And two things were added to top it off near the end:
– He possesses a secret of his own that he brags about to the main character and her sidekick, which is eventually revealed, and . . .
– He receives a surprise of his own.

Writing instructors describe the creation of characters’ story arcs in different ways. The one that has stuck with me is to view your characters’ story arcs as strings of pearls that run throughout your story.

One way you can accomplish this is to highlight your characters’ actions with different color highlighters to make sure they are not forgotten in any section of your book. While creating the story arcs for my characters, I found the dog in my story had disappeared for about thirty-five pages. I went through that section and added him in where he fit, and when he was gone from the story, showed an explanation for his whereabouts. This must be done for each character. And, for recurring items such as a key, a flashlight or a locked door, items I had to check and re-check to make sure mention of them was accurate.

A Word about Multiple Points of View

Editors say that new writers should shy away from attempting multiple points of view. They say it takes experience and skill to pull this off. A good example applies to an adult novel from Audible I recently listened to, which was told in two sisters’ alternating POV’s. There were problems. First, their names were similar, perhaps because they were sisters. I had difficulty jumping from one to other and felt confused about who was who.

The other problem was that unfortunately, I didn’t care about the sisters. The author hadn’t, in my opinion, spent enough time allowing me to get to know each of them. I almost didn’t finish the book because it became tedious rather than enjoyable.

One of my writing instructors dislikes multiple points of view because of this problem. She believes in having one main character that you as the reader can get to know, love and “get into her head” so that you experience what she experiences throughout the book.

Personally, I find novels told in multiple POV’s refreshing. I’ve enjoyed sinking myself into more than one character. But I agree with my instructor: it has to be done right. And as a beginner, I don’t plan to venture there until I have a lot more experience under my belt. But I do plan on highlighting my characters’ arcs and making sure they have ongoing roles tied to the plot.

Author Linda WilsonLinda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at http://lindawilsonauthor.com.

This article was first published at:
http://www.writersonthemove.com/2018/04/avoid-these-common-mistakes-in-creating.html

Be a children's writerBeing 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 170+ page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of FICTION WRITING FOR CHILDREN. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.

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Oct 02

Fiction Writing – 5 Top No-Nos

Watch out for these fiction writing No-Nos

Fiction writers who are good at what they do, enjoy what they do. They like creating something from nothing . . . well from an idea. They enjoy the craft and the process.

But, with that said, there are 5 top mistakes these writers make.

1. You make the beginning of your story all roses.

While we’d all love to live in a peaceful, happy land, readers need something to sink their teeth into, especially at the beginning of the story.

The beginning of your story is the hook. It’s where you GRAB the reader and make her have to turn the page and want to know what’s going to happen to the protagonist.

Here are a couple of examples of ‘hooking’ beginnings:

“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened away.”
“The Talented Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker.

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”
“Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo

These two examples of children’s writing give you a good idea of what it takes to ‘hook’ the reader.

2. The dialog is weak, fluffy.

Having weak dialog can kill your story. You need your characters to have passion . . . to have life.

You want dialog that is strong and tight. You want the emotion (the conflict, the tension, the passion) to come through the words. And, you want to say it in as few words and as realistically as possible.

You want the reader to feel what the character is feeling at that moment.

If Bob is angry in the story, show it through his dialog:

“WHAT! Who said you could take that?!”
“Hey! What are you doing?!”
“No! You can’t. Now get lost.”
“Get your hands off of me!”

The tight, strong dialog goes for exchanges also:

“Hey! What are you doing?!” Bob yelled.

Gia spun around. “Oh, ugh, nothing.” Her eyes darted to the door then back to Bob.

3. The story is predictable.

You’ve got to have some surprises in the story. If you don’t, it will make for a rather dull, predictable story.

For this aspect of your story, think questions.

– Why is the character in that situation?
– How did he get there?
– What must she be feeling, seeing?
– How can see get out of it?
– What might happen next?

Try to come up with four or five options as to what might happen next.

In an article at Writer’s Digest, the author advises to “Close your eyes and watch your scene unfold. Let the characters improvise. What are some outlandish things that could result? If something looks interesting, find a way to justify it.” (1)

Let your imagination run wild.

4. Your characters are one-dimensional.

For readers to become engaged in a story, they have to develop a connection with the protagonist and other characters. In order for this to happen, the characters must be multi-dimensional.

Characters need to be believable and unique. You don’t want them to be predictable or a stereotype.

According to “Breathing Life into Your Characters” by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D., “The essential components for creating successful characters with emotional and psychological depth—feelings, passion, desires, psychology, and vision—reside within [the writer].”

So, think about it. What conditions or characteristics does your character have?

– Does he have a personality disorder?
– Does he have phobias?
– Is she dysfunctional?
– Is she a troublemaker or bully?
– Is he anxious?
– Does she have an eating disorder?
– Is she fearful?
– Is she a risk taker, fearless?

And, keep in mind that the more stressful an ‘inciting incident’ or event, the more reaction and/or adjustment there will be.

For example: If a child lost a pet, it wouldn’t be as severe as losing a parent.
If a woman became separated from her husband, it wouldn’t be as severe as having her husband suddenly die.

So, using your experiences and innate characteristics, along with research, you can create multi-faceted characters.

5. You dump information into the story.

This is more of a mistake that new writers may make. I had a client who created the entire first paragraph of her middle-grade story with ‘information dump.’

She had the protagonist talking to a stuffed animal, in a pretend interview. She gave backstory and other details she wanted to convey to the reader through the interview. She didn’t realize that this information needed to be layered or weaved into the story, not dumped in one big truck load.

You might also use a prologue to give backstory.

While there are other things to watch for in fiction writing, these are five of the top no-nos.

Reference:
(1) 5 Biggest Fiction Writing Mistakes and Fixes

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s 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 idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

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Apr 03

Writing – Let Tom Swift Guide You

The old Tom Swift Books

Guest Post by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Ever heard of Tom Swifties?

Maybe you’re too young to be familiar with the classic Tom Swift adventures for boys. Or maybe you’re a girl who never read a Tom Swift book nor cares to.

Tom Swifties are one-line jokes lampooning the style of Victor Appleton, the author of the original Tom Swift books. People started making jokes about his overuse of adverbs and the unnecessary taglines he wrote into his dialogue. Like the Polish jokes, they were so much fun that that a whole series of them became available for the pun-loving. The author of these classics, of course, laughed all the way to the bank. But that’s a lesson for one of my marketing seminars, not this article on writing.

Tom Swifties were then. This is now. I haven’t dared to go to the new books in the series but I assume that this outdated writing has been eliminated from them.

You’ll want to minimize tags and adverbs in your writing, too!

An example from one of the Swift books will suffice to let you know what to watch for.

(Thank you to Roy Peter Clark for the example.)

“‘Look!’ suddenly exclaimed Ned. “There’s the agent now! I’m going to speak to him!” impulsively declared Ned.’

Even authors who swear that adverbs are always very, very good things to use and are reluctant to give up their clever taglines can see how, well . . . .awful this is. In fact, I have to reassure people the quotation is real! Some of the writing that comes to the desks of agents and editors looks almost as bad. Here’s how you can make sure yours doesn’t:

1. Use taglines only when one is necessary for the reader to know who is speaking.

2. Almost always choose “he said” or “she said” over anything too cute, exuberant or wordy like “declared” and “exclaimed.”

3. Cut the “ly” words ruthlessly, not only in dialogue tags but everywhere. You will find specific techniques for strengthening your writing in the process of eliminating adverbs in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. This book will also give you some computer tricks for making these edits easy.

The Frugal Editor is available for sale on Amazon.com. Until you get the book, you don’t have to know the reasons or the techniques for making the “ly” and tagline edits easy. As Nike is fond of saying, “Just do it!”
—–

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. The former is the winner of USA Book News “Best Professional Book” award and the Book Publicists of Southern California’s coveted Irwin Award. Learn more at http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid
Storytelling – Don’t Let the Reader Become Disengaged
Writing for Children – Character Believability and Conflict

Need Help With Your Story

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter and rewriter. I can turn your story into an engaging and publishable book – one 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

Mar 20

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Fiction writing mistakes to avoid

There’s a great article in The Writer, April 2012 issue (1). If you’re able to get your hands on a copy or find it online, it’s worth the read.

Delving into this article, I did some additional research and came up with eight elements that are probably the most common fiction writing mistakes.

1. You start your story too soon.

The very first on the list of writing mistakes to avoid is beginning your story too soon.

To give you a rough idea of what this means, suppose you start the story with the protagonist waking up. She brushes her teeth then gets dressed. After that she makes herself breakfast (coffee and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almonds). Suppose again that this beginning scene takes a paragraph or two. Then she get a phone call. The coffee mug drops out of her hands. Her knees go weak.

Are bells and whistles going off here?

Do you think an acquisitions editor will bother reading to the good part where the protagonist gets that phone call that shakes her world?

Nope!

Start the story at the phone call. Start your story where the action begins.

This goes for self-publishers as well. You may not have to get past the publishers’ gatekeepers, but you do want to be recognized as a good writer. You don’t want the reader to say, “What the heck do I care about her morning routine.”

For more on the gatekeeper, check out:
How Do You Make a Good Story Worthy of Getting Past the Gatekeeper?

2. The plot can’t be found. Where’s the plot? There’s got to be a plot.

Every story needs a plot. It’s the reason why the story is being told.

Literary Devices says, plot “describes the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence.” (2)

Think of the plot as the foundation of a pyramid. It’s the base of the story. It’s the basis for the other elements, such as the characters and settings to be.

There are five basic elements to a plot:

– At the bottom left point of the pyramid is the introduction, which is called the exposition. You can think of it as a landing.

– Going up the left side of the pyramid will be rising action and enhanced conflict.

– At the peak of the pyramid is the climax.

– Going down the right side is a decline or falling in the action.

– At the bottom right side is the resolution. At this point, the story, all the conflicts and loose ends, are all tied up. (Hopefully, the protagonist is triumphant!)

Keep in mind the resolution evolves from the falling action and could take a while. Or, it can be sudden, like when Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff.

3. The protagonist’s conflict isn’t strong enough.

Let’s go back to Thelma and Louise. Once Louise shot the man who attempted to rape Thelma, they chose to run rather than call the police and face the consequences. After that the stakes and rising action kept on coming. Events kept piling up to the point of ‘do or die.’ At least in their eyes.

Suppose they had called the police. They’d be arrested and go to trial. The story would be about them fighting a murder conviction.

If the second scenario was used, the story wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting and ‘heart tugging.’ The reader wouldn’t have had the same emotional connection with the main characters.

Bottom line, make your protagonist squirm. Put the pressure on. Don’t play it safe.

4. The point-of-view (POV) isn’t clear.

Whose point of view is the story being told from? Is it omniscient? Is it third-person?

The POV helps the reader make a connection to the protagonist. Your story needs one POV. Choose the one you’re comfortable with and the one you think will resonate best with your readers and keep it focused.

If you mix up your POV, your reader will most likely become confused.

There are four basic points-of-view in writing: (1) first person, (2) second person, (3) third person, (4) omniscient.

To clarify these POVs, here are examples:

First person: I should go for a walk. (The protagonist is telling the story himself.)
Second person: You should go for a walk. (The narrator includes the reader in the story.)
Third person:  Joe should go for a walk. (The narrator tells the story.)
Omniscient: Joe decided to go to the gym. Mary also decided to go to the gym. They ran into each other at the gym. (This may be a bit crude, but you get the idea, the reader is privy to everyone’s thoughts and actions.)

According to an excerpt from “Elements of Fiction: Characters and Point of View” by Orson Scott Card, with omniscient “you can show the reader every character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and desires; you can let the reader see any moment of the past or future.”

In regard to which POV to choose, Robert J. Sawyer puts it best, “The rule is simple: pick one character, and follow the entire scene through his or her eyes only.” (3)

Remember, clarity rules in all writing, so choose the one that will allow the reader to easily know who’s telling the story.

5. Not all scenes are active.

What keeps a reader reading?

Action. Whether it’s physical (the protagonist is running from a barrage of bullets), mental (he’s figuring out a mathematical problem that will bring him closer to resolution), or emotional (the journey or obstacle is causing emotional upheaval), every scene needs to let the reader think the protagonist is trying to answer the current question or overcome the current problem.

6. You’re not taking the time needed to do it right.

While you may want to get your story finished. You need to take your time. When writing my middle-grade fantasy, Walking Through Walls, I took two years. And, I’m antsy – if it could be done yesterday that’d be great. But, some things take time.

First, if you’re an outliner, you need to create your outline.

Next up is your first draft, but this is just the beginning.

You need to read that draft for clarity, tightening (including dialogue), enhancing plot and characters. This will lead to another draft and probably another.

7. You still have loose ends.

This one has to do with subplots or even things you might have mentioned within your 80-100,000 word novel. All loose ends must be tied up.

I’ll use “Walking Through Walls” as example of this. When the protagonist, Wang, reached what he was looking for, a mystical temple, a black bird was circling above his head. The bird was again mentioned in two other scenes.

Why was the same bird in at least three scenes? Even if the bird had been specifically mentioned once, there should be a reason.

In another scene, the Master Eternal, who Wang was learning from, told him, “Today you begin a new life. Take an axe with a purple tip.”

Why did he have to take one with a purple tip? If it wasn’t significant why was it mentioned?

If it’s mentioned in the story, it must be relevant to the story, and any questions or loose ends pertaining to it must be answered / resolved.

8. There’s no take-away value. The theme can’t be found.

After you’re finished with the initial revisions and edits, you need to determine if your theme is clear. If you didn’t have one when you started, see what take-away there is in the story.

If you’re not familiar with ‘theme,’ it’s what gives your story meaning. It’s what the reader can relate to in his own life. According to an article at Writer’s Digest, “Theme is the relevance of your story to life.” (4)

For more on theme, you can check out:
Theme and Your Story

References:

(1) The Writer, April 2012, “9 Writing Mistakes.”
(2) http://literarydevices.net/plot/
(3) http://www.sfwriter.com/ow07.htm
(4) http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/exploring-theme-a-key-component-to-successful-writing

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Submitting Manuscript Queries – Be Specific and Professional
5 Must-Know Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller (and most other fiction stories)
Characters or Story – Which Comes First?

Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn your 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.