How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Common Writing Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur Author... and How to Avoid Them

Friday, February 14, 2014

PB 14:14 Day One: It's Here!

The big day has finally arrived! I've been planning this little blog hop event for 2 years. Happy Valentine's Day! And happy PB 14:14! It's time to share the love. Book love. Craft love. Writer love. Let's get busy, shall we? Oh, and if you haven't registered yet, you still can. It's not too late, but come midnight tonight, it will be too late.

To kick off this Cosmic Cupid event, I have a couple of great guest bloggers here to inspire you. Tara Lazar, author of The Monstore, and founder of PiBoIdMo, is chatting it up with fellow author, Deb Lund, who wrote the lovely dinosaur trilogy, Dinosailing, All Aboard the Dino Train, and Dinosoaring.

A few things to remember: After Deb and Tara get us all fired up, I'll share my blog post, then the linky will follow where you can sign your blog post onto the list so we can all share in the wealth of knowledge from each other. I can't wait to see what everyone else has picked out. Be sure to add your link by midnight of each day. Make sure that the link you add is the link to the specific blog post and not the link to your entire blog. Just in case some of us wait until the last minute, take some time each day to review the previous links from all the other blog hoppers. First round of winners will be announced on Friday February 21. There will be one random winner to win a picture book from either Deb Lund or Susanna Leonard Hill. A second winner will win a critique from either Alayne Kay Christian, Lori Degman, or Kristy Dempsey. We'll have a second day of guest blogging inspiration and continue our learning adventure together. Good luck!

Ladies, take it away!

[UPDATE: If you're here to read all 14 days of cosmic awesomeness, here are the links to the other pages. Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14. BONUS: THE FINAL LIST, organized by the Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books.]

Fly on the Wall with Monster Authors Tara Lazar & Deb Lund

PART ONE

DL: Tara, remember that day when we were comparing our clutter on Skype? The collections of tea mugs and piles of books and papers? I don’t know how we got from clutter to “high concept” books—which I usually think of more for novels—but you’re right. Picture books can be high concept, too.

The writing can be perfect. Stories can have characters who could walk right out of the book, playful prose or poetry, have a great arc and perfect ending, and still flop. Why?

TL: For me, it always circles back to the concept. Is the topic of the story something kids really like?  Or is it meh?


Construction trucks, ballerinas, aliens, monsters, fluffy bunnies, scaly dinosaurs, skateboards, princesses, bubble gum---these are all things that kids gravitate toward. Imagine the cover of your future book and stick it in a virtual bookstore surrounded by hundreds of other picture books. Will a child tug on his mother’s sleeve and say, “Mommy, I want the book about the toothbrush!”? Or will he sidle up to the book about the race car?

DL: I love that question, Tara! How about a toothbrush that IS a race car? I could list multiple actual books from that list you just made off the top of your head, Tara. Like, um, monsters and machines. But, really. You come up with such amazing ideas. Was it always that easy for you?

TL: The mistake I made for many years was writing a story the moment an idea hit me. I didn’t pause to think about whether it was a GOOD idea or even a GREAT one. Now I take the time to develop the concept. But I tend to start with a topic that excites kids.

What do you do when you get a story idea, Deb? Besides procrastinate by cleaning up all the empty tea mugs? (Oh, wait, those are MY dirty mugs.)



DL: Do tea mugs need cleaning? Oops.

I have loads of stories on my computer that will never go anywhere because of that same process of jumping in without thinking through the concept. Actually, though, that first draft is one place I don’t procrastinate—well, once I get started!

But, as I madly spew out that first draft, I often see it needs more, so I look for another layer. Another connection. I make sure it has something more. Monsters AND machines. Oh. I said that already. Dinosaurs AND a sailboat (or a train or plane). Which is the same strategy you used in Monstore.


            

What else makes a picture book high concept? It’s all well and fine to be clever with connections, but stories that stand out also take kids on a journey of discovery. How can writers do that? I know part of it is figuring out how to stir emotions and provoke empathy, but what else? That alone is quite a feat for 32 pages.

TL: I agree that beyond a clever idea, children must empathize with the main character’s plight. The emotion conveyed must be something with which they can identify, something they themselves have experienced--losing a favorite toy (boy, my daughter just went through that today, lots of bawling), being lonely, feeling left out, or really, really wanting something very, very badly.

Do you ever examine picture books and dissect their details--figure out what makes them successful?

DL: Yup. I call it Learning from the Masters. Think about it. There are elements you can extract from the books you read—and you must be reading books if you want to write them! It’s okay to “borrow” those elements, to see where they take you. In fact, I’ve taught classes where we practice borrowing elements from existing picture books. I call the class Piggyback Picture Books.



For instance, if you like the format of a book, let’s say the circular pattern of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, or the cumulative aspect of The Napping House, or the question and answer format of my now out-of-print Tell Me My Story, Mama, use that format to write your own story. How about the art or voice of Olivia, the rhythm of Brave Potatoes, or the fancy concept in Fancy Nancy? Owl Babies has that universal theme of parents coming back after leaving. What could you do with that? Or rewrite folk song lyrics to create a book like I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! How can your words interact with art? Check out Not a Box. If you like a certain voice, try it on for yourself. If a setting tugs at you, try a different story with a similar setting. Theme, characters, plot… What elements stand out for you in the books you love? How can you use those same elements and make them stand out even more? We learn how to talk by imitating. We can learn to write the same way. It’s not plagiarism. It’s like a well-planned prompt. I challenge you all to give it a try.

Hey, Tara, maybe this is a good place to pause. You know, where we say, “To Be Continued…”

TL: Only if you add your mug shot, too.

DL: Okay. In our next installment. Ready? Set?


TL & DL:  TO BE CONTINUED…

WOW!!! Thanks so much, Tara and Deb! That's exactly what we're doing here. Giving piggy-backing a try. Except this is the pre-stage, studying it first, before we actually write our own stories using the Top Ten Elements that we're studying here. So here's my book study. And I'm so glad to share the love!

Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Publisher: Aladdin
Year: 2013
Words: 542

I could have chosen this awesome book, which my kids and I simply ADORE, for any number of the Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books. I could choose character (and maybe some of you already did). I could choose wordplay. I could choose rhyme. I could choose beginnings and endings. It does such an awesome job with ALL of those elements. But, I chose Element #8: Patterns.

Here's why this book is a great mentor text to study patterns. 

On the very first page, both opening sentences have patterns of three, divided by commas.

"[1] At the back of Frankensweet's Candy Shoppe, [2] under the last box of sour gum balls, [3] there's a trap door.

[1] Knock five times fast, [2] hand over a bag of squirmy worms, [3] and you can crawl inside . . .

THE MONSTORE."

Amazing! Let's continue, shall we?

The book goes on to say that the store only sells the most useful monsters. And again, powers of three, which is a great type of pattern, but we'll see other types too!

On the second full spread, the explanation is thus, accompanied by three bold illustrations: 
"The kind that love crab-leg casserole. The kind that glow in the dark. And the kind that frighten pesky little sisters away."

And when Zack wants a refund, the clerk's reply uses THREES. "Sorry. No returns. No exchanges."

But Tara doesn't JUST use the power of threes for patterns in her book, she also uses the pattern of rhyme. No, this is not a rhyming book, but rhyme is used so skillfully within it. The clerk continues speaking to Zack, "Add another. Monsters make bigger scares in pairs."

Manfred and Mookie are both "broken." Zack wants a refund, again. But the clerk repeats himself (yet another example of patterns - repetition), "Sorry. No returns. No exchanges." 

And here's another repetition of using rhyme, but it's a different rhyme, "Add another. A monster threesome is more gruesome than a twosome." (My son and I LOVE to say that line!)

Another example of three's: "No more sneaky sister snooping, sleepwalking, or snatching his stuff." AND they all start with S's.

More three's:
The monster's names: "Manfred, Mookie, and Mojo." Notice how they all start with M's.

Zack goes back to the store for a third time demanding a refund. But the clerk points to the sign:
"No returns. No exchanges. No exceptions."

"So Zack kept buying...and trying...and buying..."

Here's a little word play. It's not technically a pattern, but I'll throw it in for good measure:
  • On one page, "CREAK", and another page, "EEK!" (onomatopoeia - and they RHYME)
  • "monsterly mischief" - "glitzy, glittery" - "pretty hideous" - "monstrosity" - "crab-leg casserole" - "tiara terror" "fiendishly fast" - "monsters marched" - "bedroom belonged" - "monster of an idea" (there's a pattern - many of them are 2 words with alliteration)

Another page with three's:
"All of them. Every single one. An entire mob of monsters!"

And the final pattern is that of beginnings and endings, which I won't completely spoil for you. But when I DO share the book for that element, I WILL spoil the ending. The ending of Tara's book circles back around to the beginning and she continues to use her powerful pattern of three's - THREE times on the very last page.

So, hopefully this was a learning experience for you. We don't have to share the whole story or the plot. Just the parts of the book that illustrate the element we're teaching through that book. However, I do recommend buying The Monstore.

Now, add your link to the list. Make sure it links back to the specific post. Can't wait to read everyone else's posts! And happy Valentine's Day!

Hop over to the rest of the entries and read more examples of mentor texts by studying the Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books. Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, and Day "Winners": THE FINAL LIST.






13 comments:

  1. Love the conversation between Deb and Tara! And wow, Christie, your analysis of The Monstore was very detailed and thorough. It looks like I got my work cut out for me in this blog hop challenge. I will try my best. It will definitely be a learning experience for me.

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  2. I hope it will be a learning experience for ALL of us! lol

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  3. This was a rich conversation between Deb and Tara. Wow, learned so much from "listening in." Thanks for posting, and your post on The Monstore was right on. Bought the book recently for my grand, and she loved it. It ALMOST made her wish she had a little brother to 'bother back' with a few careful monster purchases.

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  4. Day one is closed. 7 people wrote and posted their blog. I know who you are. Congrats!

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  5. Tara is always a guest to read thoroughly. I like what she did with Monstore and look forward to a chance of reading it. Thanks for the opportunity of joining your blog challenge Christie, I can see I have a great deal to learn and some wonderful people to learn from.

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  6. This post was very insightful. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  7. I'm loving following along! I've read all the posts that are linked! Good stuff :-)

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  8. Tara and Deb, I enjoyed your public chat on concept books - fun approach to sharing your knowledge. I look forward to your next conversation. Christie, excellent observation on THE MONSTORE and patterns. Now I am off to read the other posts. Thanks!

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  9. Great post by two great authors! Thanks to all of you!

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  10. Thanks for this great and inspiring post. Picture books are so powerful and it's really hard to write a good one. Write on!

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  11. Great ideas and thanks for the blog hop. It's a great way to get around and get some good info.

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  12. Sorry I can't play this year, but I'll join in the party through the posts. Thanks for hosting Christie.

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  13. Hope the rest of you ladies are able to join in next year. Mark your calendars and bring a friend!

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I love comments just as much as the next gal, so go ahead and tell us what's on your mind. Thanks for being here!