Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Organized

This past Saturday, I spent all day revamping my office. I was so eager for the change, that I failed to think of taking before/after pics. My office now has 3 desks in it. One desk is home to the desktop computer. My husband uses that one. The other desk is for my personal life, bills, things to be filed, book catalogues, etc. My third desk is the new addition. Got it for $15 from a thrift store. I had to move all my saved collections of teaching stuff, mostly books, into boxes and put them into Shawn's new bedroom closet (I still haven't gotten a permanent teaching job). I use my new desk for my laptop and all my writing stuff. I'm still getting organized, but at least I have a plan. And this blog post is the only writing I've done all weekend.

Now that I have a place to call home (for my laptop and for my writing), all I have to do is get more organized. Then I will be able to work more efficiently on all my writing projects. I like this quote from, "Finding the motivation and discipline to write is much easier when you have a strategic writing plan." I also like to think of it this way: Finding the motivation and discipline to write is much easier when you have an organized and specific place to do so."

As the month of June unfolds, I look forward to being more organized and producing more writing. And since school will also be out, that will hopefully help a little too.

Friday, May 28, 2010


This week was our end of year standardized testing here in NC. They call it EOG for End-Of-Grade Tests. I worked as a proctor to the test administrator of a child that received one-on-one accommodations with a read aloud for math. It was very interesting. The student is a good reader, but I think having the test read aloud helped give the student a boost of confidence.

Maybe when we read our own works aloud, it can give us a boost of confidence as well. It still might be scary or nerve racking, but I guarantee you'll find something that you can change to make it better. When I read my works in progress to others, I'll pause, cross things off, and say, "I haven't fixed that part yet."

This student also spent 15 minutes going back over the test, looking at each question that had been rated a 1, 2, or 3 (and not a 4 - for knowing it was right). If I were that diligent with my revisions and knowing which parts I really needed to take a second look at, I'd be a more efficient writer. It's a good thing I have a critique group. I'm just glad we aren't tested on each other's works. ;)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse

This is one of my favorite picture books. It is one of the few I actually purchased from a bookstore. The plot is not really for the classic pb group because nobody actually solves a problem per se, but the language is superbly divine. A mother and her two boys go fishing on the lake. They want to know who she loves the most. Later in the story at bedtime, she tells one boy that she loves him the reddest because he is bold, daring, loud, exciting. And she tells the other boy that she loves him the bluest because he is calm and thoughtful and quiet. And of course red and blue make purple. The imagery in the language and the illustrations are awesome. I bought this book before I ever even HAD children!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #5.5: Picture Book Length, Differences, and Word Count

Picture Book Types, in further long is a picture book?

According to the Book Markets for Children's Writers 2010, there are three different types of children's books: Early Picture Books, Picture Books (or “Classic” Picture Books), and Story Picture Books. From what I can tell from also READING lots of pbs, here is the average breakdown for word count:

Early PBs (based on about 40 books that I have read): age 0-4 (most commonly called 2-4, 2-5, or even 3-6 age range). (think toddlers and preschoolers), words average about 370 and range from 80-650. Upon further research, I've read the average is 400-500, but no more than 700.

Classic PBs (AKA traditional)(based on about 50 picture books): age 4-8 (think K-3), AVG. word length 870 (RANGE: 450-1250). Further research for this category says average is 900-1000, but no more than 1500.

Story PBs (based on about 15 books): age 4-10, or 6-10 (draws in a few older readers via a longer story; think 1st gr.-5th gr.), AVG. word length 1550 (RANGE: 800-2000). I would place Patricia Polacco in this category.

Overall, the average pb length is 1000 words. I know some publishers won't accept anything over that amount. Just check the specific word count for each publisher. I have a story that began at 1125 words, but is now down to about 960 or so. In general, I would say to write the story first. Try to pace it as you go along and then cut back later. Don't let the word count dictate what you want to write, but definitely keep it in mind.

I read lots of info on the web that gives word length for picture books. The best research tool is really to read lots of books and see which publishers print books at which lengths. For the classic pb group, I realize that 4-8 is a pretty big age range. Something that would appeal to a 4-5 year old may not necessarily appeal to a 7-8 year old. If thinking about this gives you a headache, then maybe this will help. I think that most of the topics will be appropriate for the 4-8 range. It's the PRESENTATION of the topic that will determine whether or not a 4-5 year old will want it versus a 7-8 year old. The language, the story, the illustrations, the length of the story. It all works together. And 4-5 is also a tough age in terms of pbs. It's the overlapping age. They get lumped into the Early PB category AND the Classic PB category.

Just tell your story how it needs to be told. Think about the age of reader. At least decide in which category your ms belongs. Typically in the revising and editing stages, a story will cut 100-300 words.

Aside from the whole word count issue, this is the MAIN difference:

Early PBs typically don't have a real plot. The character doesn't really solve any problems. They are "slice-of-life" pieces, day-to-day vignettes. A classic example is the Give a Mouse a Cookie series. Remember the preschool age child. I personally believe this group to be harder to break into even though you see more of these in bookstores. The reason I think this is a harder age group to get published for is because a lot of parents read to their children at this age and start thinking they can write books, too.

By the time the child is ready to hear the Classic PBs, some of those parents may not read as many books to their children, or may skip straight to chapter books. Classic PBs must have a problem that the child character solves on his or her own. This is the type of picture book most often found in school and public LIBRARIES, another huge purchaser of picture books, not just parents browsing through a bookstore. So, there is still hope for us, yet!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What Applies to Life Often Applies to Writing

Thursday's post was meant to be for Friday. Well, so is today's. You see, Saturday we had my son's 6th birthday party. Six of ten friends made it. It was a good turn out. I planned just the right amount of games and food and fun. They played with balls, bikes, and sidewalk chalk while others were still arriving. Shortly thereafter, we ate a few snacks of fruit (pineapple, strawberries, and grapes), vegetables (cucumber, carrots, and celery), tortilla chips with salsa, Doritos with cheese dip, Ruffles with French Onion dip, Cheetos, and cheddar cheese cubes. Then we played outside "recess" games for about 30 minutes. They played Red Light, Green Light; Shark Tag; Duck, Duck, Goose; What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?; and a relay race. After they were good and hot and sweaty, we came inside for cake and ice cream. Then presents. By this time, the structure was out the window and I wondered if Shawn even knew who gave him what. He did, of course. Virtually no photos were taken at this point. Then came goody bags and...the PINATA! The pinata lasted a good while. It was exciting to see how hard those kids could whack something with a big stick. When the candy was collected, the party was over, and they trickled out of our home with smiles and thank you's. Shawn said, "Thank you for coming!"

In writing, we can say, "Thank you for reading!" after our story has been thoughtfully planned, carefully crafted, and enjoyed by all in the process. I tend to do a lot of pre-writing when I write. It helps me plan for a better party. When all the characters, the action, the plot, and the resolution are planned out and put together in a fun way, the story is a success!

I didn't really plan this post out, I just thought of it yesterday after the party. So I hope it was interesting enough to read and enjoy. And thanks for reading it!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Writing Blog Entries

On reviewing a couple of other writing blogs, I grabbed hold of the Muse when it struck me and came up with a solid plan for my own. If you notice, the subtitle has changed to: On Writing, On Picture Books, On Life. This is the guide I will use for my weekly posts.

On Mondays, I will write about writing. This will cover craft, skills, marketing, publishing, research, inspiration, statistics, or whatever I come across that is related to writing.

On Wednesdays, I'll publish posts specific to picture books. I may give lists, a book review, a writing exercise, or links to author interviews (which may well be about writing craft as well), among other things that relate to this awesome genre.

On Fridays, I'll tell you about my life, what I've accomplished, where I'm at and what I'm working on. Or even how to fit writing and life together. And I'll try to give inspiration for your own life.

So, check back on Monday for Bootcamp Wisdom Skill #6.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Progress with Proposal

Yesterday was my 18th wedding anniversary! I made a huge writing accomplishment, too. I finally revised my nonfiction book. I also worked on the proposal for the series. I got one of the book summaries more solidified and typed a couple of paragraphs in elsewhere. I guess my style is SLOW. Some of it is procrastination. Some of it is that I just work slow. Some of it is that I have so many projects going on at once that I often have a hard time focusing on ONE! But, I'm also a goal-setter and I WILL get them all done - eventually. Anyway, just wanted to let ya'll know that I AM still working on it, even though I haven't described what it is. Hey, we gotta have a few secrets, right?

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #5


I know this information is everywhere on the web, but the more we see it, the more it sinks in and we actually understand it. This info is also available at the CBI clubhouse. But, here is the condensed version from the conference in Charlotte.

Magazine fiction: 100-1200 words. Ages 2-22.
These are short stories with very few pictures. Never go a single word over the guidelines!

Board books: 0-200 words. Ages 0-2.
Most are written by illustrators or written in-house. Often have pop-ups, sounds, and teach concepts. Very difficult to break into. SOME board books are actually picture books disguised in the board book format (which Laura Backes believes to be a horrid abomination).

Early picture books: 0-500 words. Ages 2-5.
"Text and illustration on each page. Very simple stories based on familiar situations. Lots of action, humor, comforting words and routines (bedtime, etc.)"

Classic picture books: 200-2000 words. (Average is 1000). Ages 4-8.
Many genres: fantasy, historical, realistic, talking animals, humorous, even nonfiction. Meant to be read aloud, so vocabulary is not controlled. Big words are okay (the adult can carry the meaning along with the rest of the context of the story and also the pictures). Text often lyrical and rhythmic, with very little description. "The illustrations add another level of meaning to the story; the text and pictures work together to tell the whole story." Also happens to be MY FAVORITE genre of all!!!

Story picture books: 800-3000 words. (Average is about 1500). Ages 5-10.
Relatively new genre. Illustrations still important, but usually does not add another level to story. Meant for older readers to read to self.

Easy readers: 100-2000 words. Ages 5-8, roughly.
For emergent readers. Color pictures throughout but have a more grown-up feel to the books. Most publishers have 3 different levels. More timeless than any other book group. Lots of short, grammatical sentences with action and dialogue. The book we were assigned to read was Amelia Bedelia. And I had actually never read it before!

Chapter books: 6,000-15,000 words. (Average is 10,000). Ages 7-10.
Books are 64-96 pages. Also known as transitional books. Short chapters with 4-5 pages for each. Usually 1-3 black-and-white ill. per chapter.

Middle grade books (aka MG novels): 20,000-35,000 words. Ages 8-12.
Books are 84-150 pages, usu. 125. Usually no illustrations, but sometimes a few b&w throughout book. Characters very much into friends and family.

Upper middle grade: 25,000-40,000 words. Ages 10-14.
Books are 100-150 pages. Fairly new category. Written like a YA, but with younger characters.

Young Adult books (aka YA novels): 40,000-60,000 words. Ages 12+.
Books are 150 pages or more. Characters are usually 13-17 years old. Most popular theme is coming-of-age. The most necessary element is the character's desire to grow up and leave home, for whatever reason. It is often an emotional growth, not necessarily with the character actually leaving home.

There you have it, folks.

Next post: a more detailed look at my own study of picture books and how they fit into the CATEGORY spectrum.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL #4


Sorry I didn't make a post on Friday. I typically don't write very much on weekends, either. So, next time, I'll just say: Next Post...

I don't want to completely give away the "formula" that Linda Arms White uses, but she calls it the "Three-Act Structure." She used to write screen plays and has listed 5 books to study: Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King, The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, Screenplay by Syd Field and The Screenwriter's Workbook by Syd Field.

She has harnessed the power of screenwriting and realized its strength when applied to writing picture books, or any book of fiction really. Screenwriting is set in scenes. Well, what is a picture book? A story with illustratable scenes!

The basic structure goes something like this in its simplest form:

Beginning is Act I, or the setup
Middle is Act II, or the development
Ending is Act III, or the resolution

The problem is introduced in the setup, or Act I. The beginning of the story must include what she likes to call the CATALYST. A character encounters a problem (whether active or passive, more on this in a minute) and gives us a central question. What will the character do about the problem?

A turning point (T.P. I) occurs between Act I and Act II. It is a twist in the story, something to take the plot into a new direction, and often changes the focus of the action. I had the most trouble with this at the conference. I am used to plotting out an outline of my stories as part of my prewriting. But to pinpoint one action to label the T.P. was a challenge for me. Now I'm having a hard time reading books and NOT looking for one. Of course the first reading is still for pleasure. But afterwards, while thinking about the story, I start analyzing it. During Act II, complications continue, and the conflict gets thicker.

T.P. II bridges the gap from Act II to Act III. This second turning point speeds up the action and leads into the resolution of the problem. She calls the climax the big finish, where all the loose ends are neatly tied up and the problem has been solved. Then, say no more.

I know it's a lot to take in. And if you don't really get, that's okay. It's basically another way to think about:
If you get the chance to attend the Bootcamp in person, Linda and Laura will address this Three-Act Structure in more detail and give plenty of explanation and examples. It's worth it, even if it's just to give your brain another way to think about plot.

So, to tie in yesterday's topic of conflict with today's topic of story line, I'll try to explain what I mean by active and passive problems, which I believe I touched on yesterday (er...Thursday). When a character wants something, has a goal, a quest, or something of that nature, and then has a hard time attaining it because a problem arose, I call that an active problem. No matter what the problem is, the character still wants to reach the goal. When a character inadvertantly happens upon a problem, I like to call that a passive problem, as in my hiccup story. She wasn't specifically wanting anything in particular, but her goal was to get rid of the problem and to return to life as normal. Just something to think about when you're thinking about your characters and the problems they face.

Next topic: Children's Fiction Categories