Love and Skill

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. ~John Ruskin

Love of the story and of the craft itself, together with the learned skill of writing can be a powerful commodity. One without the other can lead to poor results, which can then lead to misery, depression and, worse of all, hatred for what we are doing.

A writer must love what they are doing, or why write in the first place? However, a writer must be open to the fact that there’s always something more to learn. Fashions change, procedures change, and we must be vigilant so that we know when these changes take place.

Visualise yourself holding a copy of your published book. Isn’t the sweat and tears worth that moment becoming a reality? To me, it is.

This quote was taken from my desk calendar at work. I think it’s fitting that it appeared today. It comes as a reminder for what is ahead of me, because tonight I plan to get my paperwork ready for the big edit of Cat’s Eyes. On Saturday, I will start the actual editing process. My goal is one chapter a week, but secretly I’m hoping to do two chapters in that time frame.

Do you have the love and skill to see it through to the end?

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Institute of Children's Literature

How to write for children and teens – Institute of Children’s Literature – it’s a long name but it pretty much says it all. I need to go back and look further into the website but from what I’ve seen there are some good writing tips (and not only for children’s writers, all writers will benefit from the information on the site) to be found there.

Breaking the Restraints

A problem some writers have, is freeing their mind of restraints. Writing is a time to try new things. Just because you wouldn’t go mountain climbing, or scuba driving, or jump from a plane doesn’t mean your character wouldn’t do these things. Just because you wouldn’t murder someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the perfect murder story. And just because you know nothing of being a spy, or a magician, or an astronaut…doesn’t mean your characters can’t be experts at these things.

The key is research. Do the research and learn the terminology, and you can easily bluff your readers into believing you know what you’re talking about, and the feelings associated with it.

Some writers go that extra step with freeing themselves of restraints, and create eyebrows that talk (as in Grim Tuesday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 2)). When you can do this, and it works, you know you’ve stepped out of the box and into the true writing arena. The box is safe and warm, so to take a risk by creating something quite unusual must be a bit scary. I’m not sure that I’m up to that test yet, but some writers find it easy. I admire them.

What’s the most “out of the box” thing you’ve written? How did you feel when you wrote the story? And…is it something you’d do again?

What is a Chapter Book?

I’ve had several people over the past two months ask me what a chapter book is, so I’m going to talk about that today. 🙂

A chapter book for children is the proper terminology for a children’s novel for the ages of 8 to 12. It’s usually between 25,000 and 40,000 words, yet the high end of the scale isn’t recommended for an unpublished author as it means publishing costs are more expensive and the publisher is more likely to think twice before taking a chance on you.

Each chapter is up to about ten double spaced pages, which make for nice, concise scenes. The scenes should be in chronological order, with little or no flashbacks. Each sentence should contain one thought only, whereas adult writing can often combine two thoughts. Word useage should NOT be dumbed down. If an author does this, they will find themselves rejected more times than you can count. And if their manuscript was published, the readers will not return to read a second book written by the author. Use the best word at all times, no matter what it is. The subject can literally be about anything, if done in the right way. Never, ever preach and publishers seem to like a clear learning experience for the main character.

It’s not easier to write a children’s book, it’s not easy to write any book, but it is quicker because of the word count. Yet, before you stop what you’re doing…consider this…children’s books are cheaper to buy, which means you don’t get as much from the sale of each book. This also means that you have to write more books to get the same amount of money you’d earn from an adult novel. Many writers tend to forget this side of things.

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

Have you heard of the KISS technique? No, it doesn’t mean you go around giving everyone a big sloppy kiss in the hope of getting published. It means to keep your writing simple.

KISS = Keep it simple stupid

Some writers feel they have to use big, impressive words to be successful but, often, by doing this you are talking down to your audience. Or, you might be saying “look at how intelligent I am”.

People hate that. It’s a quick way of turning readers away.

Keeping your writing simple means that you use the right words, and the least amount of words, to get the message across. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using big words altogether. Readers like to learn new words, sure, and if you use them sparingly there will not be a problem…but if they need a dictionary to decipher a word from every page of your book then you are doing the wrong thing. You are slowing down the pace and confusing your audience. You are stopping the reader from enjoying your story and you are stopping yourself from becoming successful.

So, keep it simple…er, well you know the drill. 😉

Child Development

As a writer of children’s stories, I think it’s important to understand how a child develops. Yes, we’ve all been through it but can you remember how you thought when you were five? I can’t.

A writing friend, Scarborough, gave me these two links:

General Developmental Sequence – This site shows the typical activities and achievements for a child aged between two and five.

Erik Erikson’s Personality Theories – This is an in-depth look at personalities of children and culture. About a third of the way down the page is a table that was interesting.

I don’t intend to look into this side of my writing in any great length, but to achieve realism I believe we have to have a five year old doing what a five year old would do. Yes, there are exceptions but we need to know what we are doing in order to be accepted.

If you lose credibility, you lose the reader forever.

Links to Children's Writers Communities and Websites

Australian Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators – I’m not sure how useful this site will be but as it concentrates on the Australian sector of children’s writers I have to include it here.

Children’s Book Council of Australia – This looks like an informative site with links to publishers etc and basic information about getting published.

YAWrite – This is a critique group. I’m told this is a group for adults (over 18) who write for children and they take all age groups from picture books right through to young adult.

Children love Characters

When writing for children it is important to remember that children love characters. With this in mind, it is equally important to create realistic characters that will reach out and grab the reader and take them on an adventure of a life time.

The good children in your stories must be likeable. They must have personalities that children can relate too. They must become the readers best friend.

However, don’t forget the bad children in the story too. It’s just as important to have an antagonist that the children can hate. It’s even better if that antagonist reminds them of a horrible boy or girl at school. That way they can pretend to be the protagonist and can get sweet revenge. By the time they finish reading the story, the child will feel satisfied and happy with the ending.

Once you have the connection between reader and character, the child will want to revisit your world and go on more adventures with their best friend. This will open the door for more books, books that the publishers will be eager to get printed and on the book shelves because to them it’s more money in their pocket. To you, it’s another book sold.

Chapter Book Fantasy Stories

A writer must always be prepared to do research. No matter what the genre. Because if your reader discovers errors in your facts, you will lose their respect and their readership. An author cannot afford to have this happen.

If you’ve followed my progress over the years, you would have seen that I’ve researched all sorts of things – martial arts, poisonous plants, medieval times, weaponry, medical terms, feudal system, scientific facts and heaps more. All these things had some level of importance in a story I was writing at the time and I doubt my research will ever be over.

At the moment I’ve turned my attention to writing children’s chapter books. This has sparked an interest in me that had previously disappeared completely. Yes, this is a good thing. 🙂

I found myself thinking about how popular Chapter Book Fantasy Stories are. As you can see from the list, it seems quite popular. Children want to believe in magic (hey, I want to believe in magic) so why wouldn’t they be drawn to stories filled with wonderous things. The prospect of lighting up a child’s eyes with a story that fills their imagination inspires me. I love the thought of that.

Right now, at this very moment, the decision to write a chapter book feels right. Maybe the writing I’ve done up till now has all been in preparation for the journey I’m about to embark on.