Sometimes in writing workshops, kids ask me what I do about writer's block. I tell them I eat Oreos. They love that. I recently received the following letter: We had so much fun with you! My teacher bought some Oreos and it really works. We love eating Oreos during writing time.We had so much fun with you. I love kids.
P.S. That teacher, by the way, is Mr. White, whom I paid tribute to as the teacher in How to Steal a Dog.
This silver ring given to me by my best friend in third grade.
It was called a friendship ring. I wear it on my middle finger now, so as a third-grader, it was huge. I couldn't wear it for a long time. (And btw, I was in the third grade FIFTY-THREE years ago!)
The friend who gave it to me was named Sara. Wherever you are now, Sara, here are the memories I have:
Her mother had a long, bushy gray ponytail that was awesome.
Her family raised rabbits, who were always having more rabbits. As a third grader, what is more fun than playing with baby rabbits?
But then one time something was wrong with a rabbit, so her pony-tailed mother whacked it upside the head with a shovel. We had a solemn, hand-holding, Jesus-loving funeral that was wonderfully dramatic. We sang a hymn, but I don't remember which one.
One time her father was taking an air-conditioner out of the window and it fell on him and an AMBULANCE came. Oh, the drama!
Sara and I played in some woods that had a path that ran alongside a steep gulley. You had to use a rope swing to get to the other side. If you didn't get enough speed on the swing, Lord help you, cause then you got stuck hanging over the gulley/ravine/bottomless pit and you were doomed. Sara used to recite, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me, etc." I used to always say, "Sara, say that valley of death thing."
We dug up plants in the woods and put them in Dixie cups and tried to sell them at a booth on the side of the road. Business wasn't very good.
We lived on an oyster shell road in Kenner, Louisiana (the equivalent of a gravel road other places). A block from the levee. There were drainage ditches filled with water in front of our houses. Once a week, folks put their garbage cans out by the road. Sara rode her bike with me on the back as I kicked the garbage cans into the ditches. Yes, I was that kind of child.
We did that bike thing on the day of my dancing recital. My hair was in pin curls. Sara took a corner too sharp and the bike flipped over and I fell in the water-filled ditch. Karma.
We used to go door to door asking neighbors if they wanted to see our Betty Boop impression, which consisted of us singing, "I'm Betty Boop. Boop boop be doop." No one was very impressed. (I think we tried to charge money for it, but I'm thinking maybe nobody paid.)
My favorite book was a book of fairy tales called Shirley Temple's Storybook.
The book was in the back seat of my father's car when a mechanic drove the car to the shop and had an accident. (No one was hurt.) The book was filled with shards of glass. Sara and I showed that glass-filled book to EVERYONE. Oh, the drama! (No one was very impressed.) Sara's family had a huge, oilcloth-covered table in their kitchen. Her mother introduced me to the best breakfast known to mankind: POWDERED SUGAR TOAST. But I stubbornly refused to put butter on my toast, as recommended by her mother. So, um, all the powdered sugar fell off.
So now, when I look at that ring, I have lots of great memories.
so, when writing a short story [or children's book], you have to know
everything behind it - everything that led up to there, everything about
those characters. But you don't have the leisure to talk about it at
length. You only see that very upper tip, as with an island compared to
the mountain that lies underneath it.
It's imperative that you know the background of your story and your characters.
But you don't need to - in fact, you probably shouldn't - write about it.
It should be "invisibly present" - like a rippling undercurrent beneath the still waters.
you accomplish that is a matter of personal taste. Some writers do
exercises like interviewing their characters or making lists of the
characters' favorite foods and hobbies and what's in their backpacks.
I just think a lot.
So by the time I sit down to write, I know my characters inside and out.
I know what happened the day before the story started.
White space is areas of a manuscipt with no words.
Books for young readers need white space.
Areas with no white space often indicate the following problems:
Long sections of narrative
Long sections of interior monologue
Paragraphs that are too long
Scenes that go on for too long
All of the above can be problems because they are likely to slow pace (and bore young readers).
Here's a nifty exercise: Hold your whole manuscript and use your thumb to literally flip through it. Pay attention to the white space. But more importantly, pay attention to the areas without white space. Take a look at those areas.
Maybe you need to add more white space.
Cut some narrative or interior monologue. Revise to shorten paragraphs. Delete unneeded or repetitious scenes. Add dialogue.
I love recurring story devices - something that is used repeatedly throughout the story. These can serve some or all of the following purposes:
Help tie the story together
Help develop character
Show the inner thoughts of the character
Add to the overall style or theme
Give cohesiveness to the story
Help move the story along
Give the reader something to anticipate
I've written ten books and I've used a recurring story device in five of them! Moonpie and Ivy: The
main character writes postcards to her mother (who has abandoned her). I
ended every other chapter with the postcard. I've had teachers tell me
that when they read that book to their students, the kids loved the
postcards. They looked forward to them. The postcards helped the main character express her feelings, which changed and evolved as the story unfolded. Some examples: Dear Mama: I hate you. Love, PearlDear Mama: Ivy asked me to stay here and be her daughter and I said yes. Goodbye. Love, Pearl Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia The
characters were studying for a spelling bee by using the dictionary. I
used letters of the alphabet throughout the book. For example, "By the
time we got to 'L'..." This was a great device to help
move the story along and helped the reader keep track of where we are in
the story as they studied for the spelling bee. Taking Care of Moses The main character draws pictures at the end of every other chapter. These helped show the character's feelings. How to Steal a Dog The
main character keeps a journal that starts out as a "how-to" manual but
turns into an expression of her feelings about what she has done. This
served to show the evolution of her guilt over her actions and her need
to do the right thing. The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis The
main character's grandmother teaches him a new word each week. He
recalls the vocabulary words throughout the story and uses them as they
apply to a particular scene. This serves as a thread throughout and
helps develop the character.