Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Show Your Readers the Way

The other day I talked about the difference between showing versus telling, and why showing your readers your story’s world is so important. Often writers on the verge of understanding the concept of showing versus telling will sometimes successfully show with their writing, but then they ruin it with a follow-up telling phrase. It’s like they realize that they need to show, but they either don’t trust their writing skill at showing or they don’t trust that their reader will get it.

For example, if I write, “I close my eyes and bury my whole head into the folds of my arms. The entire class is staring at me. I want to die.” This is showing and leaves the reader to figure out what the character is feeling. But too often a new writer will follow-up this phrase with a telling statement like, “I am so embarrassed.” This mix of showing versus telling is patronizing to the reader. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, I’ve given you clues to figure out what going on in my hero’s head, but I don’t think you’re smart enough to figure it out.” This hurts your story and turns the reader off.

When it comes to showing instead of telling, you have to trust your writing and your readers. As I said in my post of the other day, let your writing show us everything about your characters and setting. If you want to transport your reader into the pages of your book, you have to “show” them the way.

In addition to showing, what are some other ways to transport your readers into your story?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Show Don’t Tell – Make Your Story Come Alive

One of the most important things for new writers to learn, and almost the hardest to learn as well, is to show instead of tell. Your writing needs to show us what happens, not tell us what happens. For example, don’t describe the kind of person your character is or how your character feels, let the reader discover character traits and feelings through actions, thoughts, body language, and speech. So, if your character is annoyed, don’t tell us he’s annoyed, show us he’s annoyed by what he says or in his facial expression. The same thing with setting, don’t describe your setting, show us your setting by using the five senses. If it’s raining, you don’t say it’s raining. You say the downpour soaked my clothes. You don’t say it’s cold. You say, he shivered or he brushed the snow out his hair.

The way to tell if you’re showing, instead of telling, is if your reader has to figure out for himself what your reader is thinking, feeling, or doing. If you spell everything out for your readers, you’re telling. The point is that your writing needs to show us everything about your world. The reader doesn’t want to be told about your world, he wants to live it and feel it. Showing lets that happen.

Later this week I’ll have a little more to say about showing versus telling. In the meantime, tell me why you think showing versus telling is so important.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Authors Have a Life Too

I think some people picture an author’s life as being full of glamor, fame, and living an exotic lifestyle, I don’t know how it is with all authors, but I think most of us live pretty normal lives. That’s true even for the few best-selling authors that I know.  Some might have a few more conferences, book signings, and school visits than others, but other than that we deal with the same issues as everyone else.

For example, yesterday I spent a frustrating hour on the phone with the customer support people for our cell phone trying to get my phone to work right, and I received a fun letter from the IRS wanting more money from me. But I was also able to workout at the gym, give my youngest daughter a ride to school, spend the day working at my “real job” (freelance writing), coach my middle daughter’s soccer team practice, study for an online class, and help cook and eat barbecue with my family. It might not have been very glamorous, but overall it was a great day.

If you want an insight into some other authors’ lives, check out the King’s English Bookshop blog, where you’ll find interviews with the children’s book authors that will be presenting at the upcoming 2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop this June.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Strong Story Beginnings – Hooking and reeling the reader in

Whether you’re writing a picture book, early reader or a YA novel, the opening sentences and paragraphs of your story are perhaps the most important parts of your book. If you don’t grab your readers’ interest in those opening lines, you’ll lose them. Many editors won’t read past the first two paragraphs if it doesn’t pull them in. The bottom line is you have to have a strong opening for your story to succeed.

A lot of factors can work together to create a strong opening; a fresh voice, a feel-like-you’re-there setting, and an intriguing conflict. Many might argue which of these is more important than the others in regards to story beginnings, but if you don’t introduce conflict in the first few sentences or paragraphs, you’ll have a hard time holding your reader’s interest. You need to let the reader know right up front what problem or problems your hero is facing or has to deal with. That doesn’t mean that you have to reveal the whole plot at this point, it means you introduce some important aspect of the conflict that the plot builds on.

Look at some of your favorite stories and see how early the conflict is introduced. Is that what pulls you in? What else about a story’s beginning pulls you in? What do you think makes for a strong opening?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Editing – An Essential Evil

When you write a book, it often becomes your precious little baby. You think your prose and verse are so perfect, but then reality hits when your critique group finds all sorts of problems or weak spots. For many writers, especially new ones, the critique process can be devastating. I actually enjoy this process. When I critique someone’s work, I’m brutally honest and I want my fellow critics to be equally harsh. It’s only by uncovering the problems and weaknesses in a story that enable it to become the best that it can be. But if I truly believe this, why was I so surprised that my editor for Old MacDonald had a Dragon wanted so many edits? After going through so many rounds of revisions on my own and with my critique groups, I guess I assumed it had already reached near perfection and there would only be a few minor line edits. But no, some of my favorite parts were on the chopping block. So, I had to decide whether to fight to keep them or see things from my editor’s perspective and make the necessary changes. It ended up being a combination of both, and because I listened to my editor and tried to understand why she wanted the changes, the book will be much better now than it would have been.

The whole process reminded me of when I received the first edits from my editor for Brave Little Monster. It was my first published book and I was very willing to please, but it was kind of hard when the editor wanted to remove one of three main action sequences from the book. Still, I made the change. However, once the change was made, the editor realized that the book was now too short. So, she asked me create a new sequence. It felt like starting from scratch. But from that request emerged the creation of the “Hungry Dance”, which I believe ended up being one of the best parts, if not the best part of that book.

So, no matter how painful the editing process can be, it’s not only a necessary evil, it’s essential to taking your book to the highest levels it can reach.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Key to Publishing Success: Persistence

At the many writers conferences that I've attended and presented, aspiring authors always want to discover the keys to publishing success. The answers are always varied, but typically include never stop writing, never stop reading, never stop studying the craft, and never stop networking. Simply put, never stop.

Persistence is often the key that matters most.While there are a few overnight successes, most authors don't find success until after years and years of hard work. I first started writing about 22 years ago. It took me 10 years and the writing of a few novels and a dozen or so picture books before I received my first publishing contract, which was for the picture book, Brave Little Monster. I considered that a great success and hoped it would lead to many more book contracts. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. It took a little over 10 more years and a lot more hard work to get my next contract, which is for the picture book Old MacDonald had a Dragon (Coming Fall 2012).

I plan on having many more books published. I don't know how long it will take for my next success, but I do know it'll never happen if I stop trying before I get there. So in the words of Churchill, the key to publishing success is "never, never, never give up."