May 25

Characters or Story – Which Comes First?

Which comes first, characters or story?A number of articles about writing for children, and other genres suggest knowing your characters inside and out before beginning the story. In fact, information suggests that the author build the story around the characters once they are 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.

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. Sometimes a story doesn’t begin with this intent, it just happens. This is known as the seat-of-you-pants method of writing.

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 separate page or character 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.

So, is there a right or wrong answer to the question of which comes first, characters or story? That depends on the writer.

While it may be important to know your characters, and even have a family and background established for them, even if they are not used in the story, you can also become acquainted as you go along. As your story develops you may find out if the character is fearful in certain situations, or if he is heroic. Sometimes it’s impossible to know this about a person, let alone a character, until circumstances create the possibility of the question.

It is one’s environment and circumstances that help develop his or her characteristics, fears, hopes, and so on. The same holds true for your character.

Using an example: How would a child who never saw a mouse before react to one? There’s no way to answer that question until it happens.

So, having the story help develop the character can be a useful tool. But, again, be sure to keep track of all the new features your character unveils along the way.

I usually come up with the story idea before getting into the characters. Then I let the characters unfold and develop as I go along.

How do you write? Story first or characters?

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MORE ON FICTION WRITING

How Do You Make a Good Story Worth of Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just ABC
Is Your Manuscript Ready for Submission?

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NEED HELP WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S MANUSCRIPT / STORY?

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

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

Apr 29

Are You Showing or Telling?

Showing and telling in your writing

I’ve written about showing and telling before, but it’s such an important topic that I think more information is always helpful.

Writing is an ongoing adventure…always something to learn and tweak and hone. A while ago I wrote a children’s story and found I still had a bit of showing in it, noted by writing coach and children’s author Suzanne Lieurance who gave it a critique.

I was toying with the idea of submitting my story as a picture book, but was advised it would work out better as a children’s magazine article, unless I wanted to rewrite it specifically for a PB.

Anyway, I noticed that when I write, and I think this goes for most of us, my thoughts precede my reading and writing ability – so I don’t catch my own errors. This happens because I know what I wrote and what I intend to convey. This makes it almost impossible for a writer to edit her (or his) own work. You can get close, but as the saying goes, Almost Doesn’t Cut It.

What do I mean? Well, let’s look at a simple sentence:

In a daze, Pete stumbled to his feet.

While this isn’t the exact sentence in my story, it is similar. I revised my article and reread it numerous times and didn’t notice that “in a daze” is telling, not showing. And, what’s the KEY to writing in today’s fast paced, no time to waste world? FOCUS AND TIGHT WRITING.

In fact, the fast paced reader of today is getting even more impatient and ready to move on in the blink of an eye. So, we need to take this into account in our writing and marketing.

Okay, back to the focus of the article…

So, how do we change the above sentence into a showing only sentence?

Dazed, Pete stumbled to his feet.

Really simple when you are able to actually read what is written rather than already know what you intended.

What are the important tips to take away?

1. Make sure you are part of a critique group. These groups can be super-helpful. If you’re a children’s writer, you can find one in the forum of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrations (SCBWI). There’s a yearly fee, but it’s worth the investment.

2. Belong to writing groups in the genre you write. Usually, you can ask questions and get answers.

3. If your budget can afford it, get at least one grammar editing tool. I use Grammarly and ProWritingAid. They may not specifically tell you you’re ‘telling’, but they will tell you if you’re using passive writing.

Just be careful not to depend on it solely. I’ve had both tools miss an ending dialogue punctuation on a client’s work.

For more on showing versus telling (the article has been updated):

Writing – Showing vs. Telling

4. Do not submit your work to a publisher or agent before you’ve edited it and proofed carefully. It’s important to have someone who knows how to write to review or critique your manuscript for you (if you’re not already a part of a critique group).

5. If it’s in your budget, have it professionally edited.

MORE ON WRITING

Writing Children’s Books – Genre Differences
Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory
Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just ABC

Children's ghostwriter

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

Just send me an email to: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line)

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.

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!

Writing for children tips

Adding More Dimension to Your Story’s Characters

10 Rules for Writing Children’s Stories

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Feb 22

Imagery and Your Story

The Writing World

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of writing is providing content that your reader can turn into pictures or imagery. You may know exactly what you’re trying to convey, the image you want your reader to see, but does your content translate into effective imagery for your reader?

Stephen King discusses this topic in an informative article in the August 2010 Writer magazine. Obviously, any advice from this author is valuable, but I especially like his views on imagery. A key tip that struck me is: “Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind.”

The question that follows is: how does a writer transfer what’s in her mind into the mind of the reader?

The answer is through description.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. What many writers may tend to do is offer too many details that aren’t necessary and may weigh the story down. According to Mr. King, you need to pick and choose the most important details and descriptions that will allow the reader to understand what you’re conveying, but also provide enough room for the reader to create his own unique image.

To accomplish this task Mr. King says to “Leave in details that impress you the most strongly: leave in the details you see the most clearly; leave everything else out.”

The strategy in this is to look carefully at what you want to convey. Picture an image in your mind and focus on the key aspects, the aspects that give you a clear picture of what it is. Then, write what you see. Again, this may not be easy to do, but Mr. King suggests that there is another vision tool to use, which he calls “a third eye” of imagination and memory.

What we see is translated to our brain. Once there we need to interpret that image and transcribe it into content that will provide the reader with a strong gist of what it is, but also allow the reader to fill in her own details. And, those details should convey what you’re targeting.

For example: The house stood dark and dreary.

While this simple sentence provides imagery that should enable the reader to create a picture, there are probably not enough details for the basic image you might be going for. What color is the house? Is it in disrepair? Is it a new or old house, big or small?

A possible alternative to the above example that adds a little more detail, but not too much is: Cracked shingles hung on the dingy grey house.

To further emphasis its disrepair, you might add: Chipped paint and missing caulking on the windows gave the house an eerie feeling.

Another example of imagery is from my children’s middle grade fantasy book, Walking Through Walls: Wang bound the last bunch of wheat stalks as the sun beat down on the field. Sweat poured from the back of his neck drenching the cotton shirt he wore.

The two sentences provide sufficient imagery for the reader to understand the situation, while not giving too many details. If you notice, the content doesn’t mention the color of his shirt, or if Wang knelled on the ground or hunched over the bundle. It’s also missing a number of other details that aren’t necessary and would weigh the story down.

Interestingly, along with concise details, your characters’ names might also add imagery to your story. When you read my character’s name, Wang, what image comes to mind?

You might think of your story’s imagery as an outline or sketch, rather than a colored and finely detailed painting. The basic idea is there for your reader to enhance with her own imagination and memory.

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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!

Writing for children tips

Storytelling – Don’t Let the Reader Become Disengaged

Point of View and Children’s Storytelling

Writing – It’s Not Wise to Revise Too Soon

Feb 22

Theme and Your Story

Your story is like a puzzle. It takes a number of elements working together to make a memorable story. One of those elements is the ‘theme.’

Theme can be a frightening topic. Do you have a theme in mind before striking the first key? Or, do you write your first draft and then decide what the theme is? Do you have a problem deciding what the theme is, even after you’re in revisions?

In an article, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Theme,” in the Writer’s Chronicle, May 2010, Eileen Pollack discusses theme:

The concrete elements of any story constitute its plot—Character A, in Village B, is torn by a specific conflict that gives rise to a series of concrete actions through which she relieves that stress. The more general question raised in the reader’s mind by this specific character acting out this specific plot constitutes the story’s aboutness—or, dare I say, it’s theme.

This description of the elements of a story holds true for any fiction work, including children’s stories. The elements, woven together with theme as the foundation, is what makes the reader continue on, turning the pages . . . it’s what makes the reader care. According to Pollack, “Theme is the writer’s answer to the reader’s rude, So what?” And, if the theme is poignant, and captures what some or many people actually do, allowing the reader to recognize the situation and actions, the reader will be engaged. Hopefully, the reader will be able to take the theme, however subtle it is, away with them.

For those worried about the theme affecting the story’s natural flow, Pollack advises deciding on your theme after your first draft. Once you have your theme in hand, go over your story again and again. You can now let the theme subtly permeate your story. Pollack goes on to say, “The most powerful use of theme is the way it allows you to fill in your character’s inner lives.”

Former literary agent Mary Kole, in her blog at Kidlit.com, also sheds light on the worrisome theme:

When you revise, think about what your work is saying. You’ve got to have a reason for writing it. There should be distinct themes and ideas that you could point to as the center of your book. [. . .] Once you know what these are — and you usually won’t until you’ve started revising — you can use them as a lens. [. . .] A theme for your work should color everything in it, subtly, especially the descriptions.

So, there you have, after you’ve written your story and are working on revisions, if you haven’t gotten it yet, your theme should become evident. Using it as a “lens” and filtering each paragraph through it, you should be able to convey the theme to the reader.

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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 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.

Write a children's book

The Author Website – 5 Top Tips to Optimization

Amazon Author Central Page and Book Page – Make the Most of Them

Feb 21

10 Rules for Writing Children’s Stories

Tips and tricks to children's writingI write for young children and I’ve also written marketing and health articles. Writing in multiple genres, I can tell you that writing for children can be much more challenging.

When writing for children, there are guidelines to keep in mind to help your story avoid the editor’s trash pile.

Here is a list of 10 rules to refer to when writing for young children (these rules pertain to traditional publishing and self-publishing):

1. This is probably the most important item: be sure that your story does not suggest dangerous or inappropriate behavior.

Example: The protagonist (main character) sneaks out of the house while his parents are sleeping.

This is a no-no!

2. Make sure your story has age appropriate words, dialogue, and action.

3. The protagonist should have an age appropriate problem or dilemma to solve at the beginning of the story, in the first paragraph if possible. Let the action/conflict rise. Then have the protagonist, through thought process and problem solving skills, solve it on his/her own. If an adult is involved, keep the input and help at a bare minimal.

Kid’s love action and problem solving!

4. The story should have a single point of view (POV). To write with a single point of view means that if your protagonist can’t see, hear, touch or feel it, it doesn’t exist.

Example: “Mary crossed her eyes behind Joe’s back.” If Joe is the protagonist this can’t happen because Joe wouldn’t be able to see it.

5. Sentence structure: Keep sentences short and as with all writing, keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. And, watch your punctuation and grammar.

6. Write your story by showing through action and dialogue rather than telling.

If you can’t seem to get the right words to show a scene, try using dialogue instead; it’s an easy alternative.

7. You also need to keep your writing tight. This means don’t say something with 10 words if you can do it with 5. Get rid of unnecessary words.

8. Watch the time frame for the story. Try to keep it within several hours or one day for very young children. For the older crowd (7-8) keep it short also, but the time frame can extend a week, a month, and depending on the storyline, you can probably get away with a school year. Just follow the current traditional publishing guidelines.

9. Along with the protagonist’s solution to the conflict, he/she should grow in some way as a result.

10. Use a thesaurus and book of similes. Finding just the right word or simile can make the difference between a good story and a great story.

Using these techniques will help you create effective children’s stories. Another important tool to use in your writing tool belt is joining a children’s writing critique group. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always use another set of eyes.

It you’re a beginning writer and unpublished, you should join a group that has published and unpublished members. Having published and experienced writers in the group will help you hone your craft.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting, ghostwriting, or coaching, 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!

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.

Articles on writing for childrenCritiques are Essential for Writers

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Jan 22

Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just A,B,C

Writing for ChildrenI have been writing since childhood: poems, short stories, even songs. I never thought of publishing my work or making it a career until around 2006.

Not knowing any better, I thought it would be easy.

I felt comfortable writing and always seemed to be able to think of something to write about.

Then I started the process of actually writing children’s books with the intent of having them published. This opened another world, one filled with road blocks and rejection letters and a lot of hard work.

While I did minor in English Literature in college it had been many years prior and it was not the background specifically needed in writing for children.

To write for children you need to know techniques such as the Core of Threes and having the protagonist solve the problem, not the parent or grandparent. You have to know showing is a must, but telling must be limited. You need to have the right sentence structure along with good grammar and punctuation. Your dialogue must be age appropriate and you must watch out for blind spots in your writing. You need to understand and utilize words such as tighten, good voice, focus, point of view, hook…it goes on and on and on.

And, you need to know what children’s editors are looking for.

So, how do you learn all the information needed to write for children, especially if you don’t want to get a degree in children’s literature or are unable to enroll in a school specifically geared toward this subject?

The answer is the internet. Sounds easy, right?

Well, think again.

I’ve taken several college courses long distance and I can tell you that learning a subject in a classroom is much easier.

And learning on your own, using the internet is even more difficult and very time consuming.

First, there are thousands of sites and blogs that have information you need. Just use common sense and be a little careful as you want to make sure the information you’re reading is valid. The time spent searching this needed information is so great it can very easily keep you from actually writing.

So, what can you do to ease into writing for children?

1. Your first order of business is to join a writer’s group where there are new and seasoned people in the business of writing who are willing and able to help. This is also a good place to network.

2. You also need to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – you can get great tips and advice there.

3. Next, you should join a children’s writing critique group.

4. If you are able, you should make it a priority to attend a children’s writing conference – online and/or offline.

5. There are also a number of sites that offer free videos, webinars, teleseminars, and teleconferences,  take advantage of as many as you can.

6. Also, check out online courses from Gotham Writers Workshop and/or the Institute of Children’s Literature.

7. Another source is editors, publishers and agents’ blogs. Often, you will get great tips and information.

8. Don’t forget about children’s writers’ blogs, like this one. They have tons of valuable tips to writing for children.

9. Read, read, read. Read about children’s writing and read children’s books. Well, don’t just read them, study them, learn from them. Try to figure out what makes them work.

10. Persevere. It’s not always the best writers who succeed, it’s the writers who persevere.

There are also a couple of helpful books such as “The Little, Brown Essential Handbook,” and “The Children’s Writer’s Word Book.”

The world of children’s writing can feel overwhelming, but it can also be very rewarding.

Remember to pace yourself. Create a time management plan and prioritize. With hard work and perseverance you’ll be writing stories soon enough.

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 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.