Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Get Ready!

Beginning today through Friday, I'm thrilled to announce that Suzanne Lieurance will be a guest blogger!

Suzanne Lieurance is a former classroom teacher, now a fulltime children’s author, freelance writer, and The Working Writer’s Coach. She teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding, Connecticut, and is the founder and director of the National Writing for Children Center.

Lieurance is the author of 20 published books and has written articles for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and ezines like Family-Fun, Kansas City Weddings, Instructor Magazine, New Moon for Girls, Children’s Writer, and many others. She hosts a talk show about children’s books, called Book Bites for Kids, every weekday afternoon on Blog Talk Radio: Book Bites For Kids.


Suzanne Lieurance
The Working Writer's Coach
Working Writers Coach
Suzanne Lieurance website

If you want to write stories for children that will sell to today's magazine and book markets, you need to know the basics about writing for children before you get started. Here are a few tips for writing children's stories that will sell:

1) Tell the story from a single point of view. Children tend to relate to the POV character in a story. This is the person they will root for. Make it clear right from the start whose story is being told. Even if you have two main characters (twins, for example), you need to pick just one of these kids to be your POV character. And, it should go without saying, when writing for children, make sure your POV character IS a kid - even if Grandma has a big part in your story.

It isn't difficult to maintain a single point of view once you get the hang of it. Just remember - if you are showing everything from your main character's point of view, then he or she has to be present for everything that happens. I see stories all the time where the POV character suddenly leaves the room. Yikes! If your POV character wasn't there to see or hear what went on, then we can't see or hear it either.

2) Include plenty of conflict. Your POV character needs to face some big problem right at the start of the story. Then, he or she needs to struggle and struggle with this problem as he/she tries to solve it. That is, things need to keep getting worse and worse until finally the POV character is able to solve the problem (or at least resolve it) and change or grow somehow in the process. Without a story problem you have what editors like to call an incident and editors don't publish incidents. They publish stories.

3) Have the Main Character Solve The Story Problem Himself. I know what you're thinking. Parents and other well-meaning adults DO step in all the time to save the day for kids. So why can't they do it in stories for children? The answer to that is - because children don't want to read stories like that. Stories for children have strong children (or children who eventually become strong throughout the course of the story) as characters. This empowers the children who read these stories. They figure, if the POV character can solve his own problems then maybe they can too.

4) Write Dialogue That Sounds Real. Listen to any child or teenager and you'll find out that much of what kids and teens say (at least to each other) tends to sound like a series of grunts. So don't have the child or teen in your story use words like shall, or never use contractions. If you do, the dialogue will sound too formal and your work will not have a child's or teen's voice.

5) Include a Narrative hook for the Reader. I know what you're thinking, What is a narrative hook? Well, that's simple. It's just an opening sentence or two that hooks the reader and makes him or her want to continue reading to find out what happens.

6) Keep the Time frame Short. Yes, Harry Potter takes place over several years. But, the story also takes place through several books. Most children's writers start out writing stories for children's magazines or they want to write picture books for very young children. Either way, the timeframe in these stories should be rather short - a couple of hours or a day or two. If your story takes place over a couple of weeks or (gulp!) a couple of years, then you need to shorten the timeframe.

7) Punctuate Dialogue Properly. Get a grammar book to learn how to punctuate dialogue properly. But, most importantly, remember to change paragraphs each time the speaker changes. I read manuscripts all the time where three or four characters are speaking, yet the paragraph never changes. Just imagine how confusing that is to the child who is trying to read the story!

8) Cut Most of the Adjectives, Adverbs, and Other Unnecessary Words in Your Stories. Do you really need to say someone whispered quietly Or shouted loudly Or, my favorite - she nodded her head? What else could she nod? Or, she shrugged her shoulders - she certainly wouldn't shrug her foot!

9) Show, Don't Tell the Story. Read a good story and chances are there is a lot of action and dialogue (showing) with minimal stretches of straight narrative (telling). Too much narrative and the story sounds like a summary. Readers don't want a summary. They want scenes with action and dialogue that make them feel they are actually experiencing action and dialogue.

10) Research the markets BEFORE you submit your story. A story that is appropriate for one children's magazine might not be appropriate for another. You'll have the best chance of selling your stories if you send them to the appropriate publications. Read several back issues of any children's magazine that you wish to write for to get a feel for the types of stories they tend to publish. Also, follow the submission guidelines for these publications. You'll find submission guidelines on the publisher's website or in a market guide at your local book store.

If you take the time to learn the basics of writing for children, you'll be one step closer to become a published children's writer.

Tomorrow I'll write about GET SET - How to Build Your Writing Resume Even BEFORE You Start Your Career.


Mayra Calvani said...

Great tips! Thanks!

Diana Black said...

Thanks, Mary, for hosting Ms. Lieurance. And many, many thanks, Suzanne, for the great writing tips.

If you had it to do all over again (from the millions of things that need to be done!), with regard to writing and/or promotion, where would you focus most of your attention?

Diana Black
Atlanta, GA

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Diana,

Is your question about writing and/or promotion for me? If so, here's my answer to that question:

It used to be that people wrote a book and then they became famous. Today it is a little different. People need to create an online presence at the very least (so they are semi-famous) before they begin their writing career, in my opinion, then they will have more luck attracting a publisher.

That's why I incorporate both writing and promotional activities into ALL of my coaching programs.

Thanks for asking.

Mary Cunningham said...

Mayra, thanks for your comment!

Diana, it's my honor to host Suzanne, and good question.

Suzanne, I couldn't agree more about promotion, before and after you're published.

I always think back to the author who just had her first book in a two-book series published.

She was busy promoting it when someone asked why she wasn't busy writing book two. She replied, "Because, unless book one sells, there won't be a need for book two."

Fortunately, with the Internet, there are a multitude of great promotional sites including Book Bites for Kids! :-) It takes time, but well worth the effort.

Margot Finke said...

Suzanne, terrific writing information - as usual!!

And thanks Mary for having Suzanne as a guest Blogger. Suzanne's Book Bites for Kids and C.W.C.C classes are always informative and fun. If you want to learn the writing ropes, becoming a C.W.C.C member is a big step in the right direction.

Margot Finke
"Rattlesnake Jam"

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks, Margot! Good advice. And, you've been know to dispense some pretty good writing tips yourself!

Stop back again tomorrow!

Word said...

Hi Mary and Suzanne,

Those are all outstanding tips for getting started in writing! Oh if only I would have read those prior to writing my first manuscript.

I think I broke every single rule, with the exception of ... wait, no, I broke the pov thing too. I can laugh about it now, but man I really thought I had something good with that first book.

But, ya gotta start somewhere.

Anyway, loved your post and can't wait to see what's on board for tomorrow.

Best Wishes,


Mary Cunningham said...

Don't feel alone, Word. I've broken every single rule at least twice.

My first ms was sent back with, "Too much telling, not enough showing," and I'm thinking, What the heck does THAT mean??

Glad you're enjoying the series. Will look for you tomorrow!

Zebee said...

Mary, Thanks for hosting Suzanne for this mini series. Suzanne, as always you writing is full of great tips and suggestions.

Joy aka Zebee or is it the other way around?

Mary Cunningham said...

You're most welcome, zebee! Stop back tomorrow.