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Peggy's Pages Blog 

Inspiration from the ‘Seeds of Success’ Conference

Last month I attended the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference, Seeds of Success, in St. Charles. From the perspective of a picture book writer, I think it was one of the best conferences that I’ve attended. Here are just a few of the helpful and inspiring nuggets that I took home from the conference speakers.

Jodell Sadler, agent for children’s writers and illustrators, Sadler Children’s Literary Agency, talked about writing picture books.

She shared with us Twenty Tools for Writing Picture Books.
Among the ten verbal pacing tools were:
Repetition—Repetition rallies the reader, and can be used to highlight the emotional growth of your main character.
Rhythm—Rhythm is the ‘sound’ of the story; use words, repetition and onomatopoeia to create rhythm; use short and long sentences.

She also gave us ten visual pacing tools, which included:
White Space—Find emotional hot spots and see how you can pull back on words to let white space fill in with visual clues.
Poetry—Use literary devices to go beyond rhyme

She told us, “A good picture book is written with attention to musicality and language.”
Check Jodell’s website for information about her online class, Pacing Picture Books to Wow!

Steve Sheinkin, author of non-fiction books for children, told us that when you write non-fiction you should "begin with a mystery."
Start making a ‘witness’ list—begin by reading, and work toward primary sources.
Keep a really good list of where you find your information.
Keep following leads, and question credibility.

Finally, cut yourself off—and write!

Nancy Gallt, agent for children’s writers and illustrators, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency, told us what she looks for in submissions.

Some of those were:
a story that transports her
a book that makes her feel inspired
childlike concerns
honest voice
strong plots with internal consistency and a fully imagined world

She advised us to research the agency and the publishing world, and to proof-read our manuscript before submitting it.
Regarding picture books in verse, she said: “Writers of picture books in verse are poets first.”

Cecily White, middle grade and young adult author, talked about the different stages in development, and the differences between middle grade and young adult books.

Among other things, she said—
In middle grade books there is a more hopeful ending.
Love in middle grade is undefined, and is more activity based—they do things together.
Middle grade characters reflect the ‘ideal selves’ of the readers.

If you write for this age group you need to ‘think like a gatekeeper’—parents, teachers or other adults who oversee what the middle grade child is reading.

Debbie Gonzales, curriculum specialist, talked about the common core and what teachers want.

Some of those things are:
knowledge of topic
a story that is plotted to perfection
a well-researched book
a creative approach to the theme

She said that the writer should make an emotional connection—with your reader, and with your story.

Keep your eye on the Missouri SCBWI website for future programs. The 2015 Fall conference will be at the beginning of November—details will be on the website closer to the date.  Read More 
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What Writers Learn from Reading Picture Books

Most people who read picture books to children enjoy the simple language and uncomplicated story lines. It’s ‘cute.’ It’s ‘simple.’ So writing them must be easy, right? You probably don’t want to say that to someone who writes picture books!

Advice that published authors, editors and agents give to struggling picture book writers is invaluable.
‘Use the five senses’ to bring the reader into the story.
Use dialogue and action to move the story along.
And the number one piece of advice to writers—‘Show, Don’t Tell.’

But how exactly do we do that? One way to learn is by reading other picture books. From the classics to those recently published and award-winning picture books! Read them all! But especially read recently published picture books. Within their pages you’ll see how other authors successfully make use of different writing techniques.

When you read picture books, read them out loud.

In an "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/jane-yolen-americas-hans-_b_5398407.html">interview in the Huffington Post on May 28, 2014 Jane Yolen says: “…I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we have to please both.”
When asked what the editing process is like for her when working on a picture book she said, “Reading it aloud over and over.” Click the link above to read the entire interview.

Read many picture books to hone your ear for sentence structure, vocabulary, pacing, rhythm, and page turns. Listen for language. The language needs to sound good when read aloud.
When you’re done reading, type out the text to see how the words look without illustrations

Here are some links with advice about writing a picture book. You can find more by doing an online search for ‘advice on writing picture books.’

Harold Underdown’s website, The Purple Crayon, has links to articles about writing picture books.

Read a post by Emma Dryden about Why Playing It Safe May Be the Most Dangerous Game of All.

Read Christie Wright Wild’s blogpost for another perspective on how to study picture books.

Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme? Read Tara Lazar’s blog post for some of the reasons.

If you're a picture book writer looking for information or inspiration, and you live in the St. Louis area, please join me this Saturday, June 28th, at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Center on Mexico Road at a meeting of the Saturday Writers. I'll be doing a presentation on The Nuts & Bolts of Writing a Picture Book, followed by Revision & Marketing. Saturday Writers is a group of ‘writers encouraging writers,’ and is a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild.  Read More 
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Picture Book Idea Month Coming Your Way!

It’s Tuesday, October 29th! Only two more days until November! So what’s the big deal? November is PiBiIdMo— Picture Book Idea Month!

For picture book writers it’s kind of like group therapy. During November we’re challenged to write 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. Not a complete manuscript—just an idea. If you can do it, you’ll put writers’ block to shame! Just think about it. You’ll end up with 30 ideas that could spark the beginnings of 30 new picture books! If twelve of those pan out, that’s enough for a rough draft of a picture book for each month of the year. If only one works out, that’s more than you had to begin with.

To make it even better, you’ll have the support of professionals and struggling authors alike. For every day in November, you’ll get inspiration from picture book authors, like Jane Yolen! And more from illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals who will offer advice and inspiration.

If that’s not enough, when you sign up you’re eligible for prizes. Registered participants will be entered to win some great stuff, like a manuscript consultation with a picture book agent. And when you check out the daily featured bloggers and leave a comment, you could win prizes that some of them offer.

Ideas come at any time—while at work, doing the laundry, driving kids to after-school activities, feeding the baby or just when your eyelids are about to close at night. Sometimes the only challenge is to get to a pencil and paper and write them down. There’s no obligation, and no one will call you on it if you don’t get your 30 ideas. So why not give it a try? You might even find it hard to stop at 30!

Now that you’re fired up, go to Tara Lazar’s blogsite to sign up! Then get a head start with the pre-PiBo blog posts already there. By the time the last trick-or-treater leaves your door, you’ll already be on a roll! Registration is open until November 7th.  Read More 
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Frozen Tag—freezing parts of your book to take a better look

Do you remember playing frozen tag when you were a kid? If you were ‘IT’ anyone that you tagged would have to stand ‘frozen' in the position that they were in when you tagged them until someone else tagged them again.

Sometimes I play ‘frozen tag’ in my writing. I ‘freeze’ words or sentences, or even whole paragraphs. I do this by changing the color of those words or sentences to white or a light gray. It essentially removes them from my view, so that I can see how the story would read without them.

Then I ask myself: “Do I really need those extra words? Will the story make sense without them, or are they absolutely necessary? Do they add something to the story, like humor, emotion, or some detail that helps the reader see the character, setting, or something else, in his mind?

Or do those extra words take the reader away from the story, even for a moment?

Remember, I write picture books! If you’re a novel writer, your frozen sections will probably be much longer!

Picture book authors usually have a ‘picture’ in their minds of what the scenes in their book will look like, which can make it hard to leave those details out. But we need to remember to leave space for the illustrator’s creativity as well. If we do that, we’re often delightfully surprised!

If you’re sure that the ‘frozen’ words in your manuscript need to be left in the story, then you can un-freeze them by changing the color back to black. You might also want to consider if there’s a way to ‘show’ the same thing in fewer words.

But if you’re satisfied that your story holds up without those frozen sections, just highlight them and hit the ‘delete’ key!  Read More 
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Connecting the Dots

Do you remember doing connect-the-dots pictures when you were small? It was usually with numbers, but sometimes it was the alphabet. There were a few squiggles on the page that were a part of the picture and you drew a line from number one to two and so on, until you reached the last number and completed the picture.

Dot-to-dot wasn’t really my favorite art activity as a child. It was kind of neat to find out what the picture was at the end, but it wasn’t very rounded out. You drew straight lines between the numbers, so there were no curves where curves should be. I suppose it might have been more interesting if you liked modern art.

I started to compare connect-the-dots to writing a picture book. It would be great if you could just connect the parts of a story and come out with a great finished book—going from character to setting to plot and resolution. But without the curves—rich language, attention to detail, action, dialogue, rhythm, repetition, and especially emotional connection—it falls flat.

I’m thinking that connecting the dots of the story are like my first draft. In my revisions, I add the curves. Maybe if you like modern art, dot-to-dot could work for you. But for me, I’ll take the curves.

Check back next week and help celebrate Poetry Month with author interviews and book give-aways. See you here!  Read More 
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More Writing Prompts for November!

The more I see, the more I find!

Well known writing teacher and author, Darcy Pattison, has declared November 30 Days to a Stronger Scene month! Another choice for ways to get those juices flowing, starting tomorrow, November 1st.

Darcy has created a facebook page for a discussion of creating scenes. Here's now it goes.
First, write a scene of a story. Then, think about scenes and how they work. Add to the discussion on her facebook blog, or on Darcy's webpage. Then read other posts and Darcy's fiction notes to stretch your understanding of story scenes.

Find the discussion on Facebook at: http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blog/fiction_notes_believe_in_your_story?ref=mf
or go to Darcy's website and check out her Fiction Notes at: http://www.darcypattison.com/.

And if you're looking for something more on pictue books, check the link to 31 Days of Writing the Picture Book, from August 2008, at: http://networkedblogs.com/9QD9x.

November is almost here, so get down and write!  Read More 
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