Picture Writing – A new approach to writing for kids and teens
By Anastasia Suen
Published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2003
About ten years ago I purchased my copy of Picture Writing – A new approach to writing for kids and teens. I assumed it would be primarily about picture books. But it is so much more!
Picture Writing is actually a self-paced course on writing in all three children’s genre (fiction, nonfiction, poetry) for all six formats (board books, picture books, beginning readers, early chapter books, middle grade books, young adult books.)
Anastasia Suen is the author of 250 children’s books. She is also a writing instructor and developmental editor for children’s authors.
I must confess that I never finished the course. I was just too new and uninformed at that time to digest the mounds of information and practice the skills. I did read and re-read the first few sections. As I scan through the material now (ten years later) I see that I highlighted some great insights from Suen.
Suen also uses memorable metaphors for the writing process. In other words, she uses “picture teaching” throughout the course.
I give Suen and Picture Writing five highlighters.
The book is written in six parts plus very useful appendixes and an index.
She offers two plans and time tables for using the book as a writing course.
Part I explains “What Is Picture Writing?” It’s acknowledging that writing is a creative process. It’s allowing stillness and thoughtfulness to be a major part of the writing process. It’s allowing both sides of my brain to do their work in the creative process.
Part II “Plot” teaches about the process of plotting in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
Part III “Character” follows that same design for the process of creating characters.
Part IV “Setting” does the same for the process of developing settings.
Part V “Putting It All Together” teaches us how to shape our fiction manuscripts, then nonfiction manuscripts, and then our poetry manuscripts.
Part VI “Look Again” details what happens after we submit our manuscripts with editors, marketing, revisions and more.
About five years ago I blogged about this book. Suen contacted me and said she was working on a revision. As of this date I haven’t seen one, but I hope it is forthcoming.
I’ll definitely buy it and try again.
Josie Jo’s Got to Know
Written by Dee Dee Parker. Illustrated by Jenny Allen.
Published by Pinfeather Press in 2005.
My sweet and gentle friend, Dee Dee Parker, wrote and published Josie Jo’s Got to Know through much heartache. Dee Dee has triumphed over many difficulties in this life. One of them was walking her daughter Brooke through the fires of cancer and into the arms of Jesus.
To honor Brooke’s curiosity and determination Dee Dee took on the task of turning her daughter’s dream of writing a picture book into reality after Brooke’s death. The result is a delightful peek at a very curious little girl.
I’m guessing the rhymed verse and the cute illustrations in Josie Jo’s Got to Know remind Dee Dee of Brooke’s childhood. The questions about raindrops and sunshine, clown noses and broccoli are gentle reminders for me to stop and thank God for my own children’s endless questions that challenged me and often made me giggle.
However, Josie Jo’s Got to Know is also a cute read for me and my grandchildren to share some lap time, and to open the door for them to bombard me with their own innocent questions.
Josie Jo’s Got to Know is definitely a sharable book to encourage parents, grandparents and their endlessly curious kids.
Thanks, Dee Dee, for inspiring me as a writer AND as a child of God with my own set of difficulties. You’re one of the most godly women I know, and a bright star on my journey toward publication.
P.S. ALL PROCEEDS FROM THE SALE OF JOSIE JO’S GOT TO KNOW BENEFIT BREAST CANCER AWARENESS, CANCER RESEARCH AND CANCER PATIENT EXPENSES.
You can buy a copy at Amazon.
The First Five Pages-A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
By Noah Lukeman
Published by Simon & Schuster in 2000 – A newer version was published in 2005.
Noah Lukeman is a literary agent and much sought after speaker on professional writing and editing.
The first few years I was learning to write for publication I kept hearing his name and stern advice at every conference or workshop to get, read, ingest and digest The First Five Pages and to sleep with it under my pillow.
I finally bought it and read it. Now I, too, am an advocate for this book.
I want to let the author describe The First Five Pages in his own words-quoted from the book’s Introduction.
“…this book’s perspective is truly that of the agent or editor.” (p.13)
“I was able to set forth definite criteria, an agenda for rejecting manuscripts. This is the core of The First Five Pages: my criteria revealed to you.” (p. 12)
“…this book differs from most books on writing in that it is not geared exclusively for the fiction or nonfiction writer, for the journalist or poet…the principles are deliberately laid out in as broad a spectrum as possible, in order to be applied to virtually any form of writing.” (p. 17)
The First Five Pages is divided into three parts.
PART I: PRELIMINARY PROBLEMS offered me new perspective on some basics that separate great writing from good writing. The five chapters are titled: Presentation (appearance, mechanics) Adjectives and Adverbs, Sound (yep – how does my writing sound when read aloud), Comparisons (metaphors and similes) and Style (what gives my writing dimension and a certain “feel.)”
PART II: DIALOGUE contains chapters on five ailments of dialogue any of which can render my manuscript ineffective and, thus, unpublishable. They include: Between the Lines (appearance on the page and what it tells the editor or agent immediately); Commonplace (mundane, every day, insignificant dialogue); Informative (dialogue used to convey information that should be shown); Melodramatic (dialogue); Hard to Follow (dialogue that is unclear or confusing for a variety of reasons.)
PART III: THE BIGGER PICTURE covers nine aspects of writing that absolutely determine whether or not my manuscript makes it out of the slush pile and into the “possibility” pile.
The chapter titles are words you’ve heard and read before, but Lukeman’s treatment of each adds clarity to confused writers like me. The titles are: Showing Versus Telling; Viewpoint and Narration; Characterization; Hooks; Subtlery; Tone; Focus; Setting; Pacing and Progression.
They are self-explanatory, I think.
Oh! The First Five Pages includes a detailed Index. I love it!
I know I keep giving these books on the craft of writing 5 out of 5 highlighters. But they deserve it in my opinion. So, here we go again with 5 out of 5 for The First Five Pages.
One last thing – on Lukeman’s website you can read a lengthy excerpt from The First Five Pages and from each of his other books on craft. Sort of a free test-drive!
Nature’s Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art and Verse
By Patricia Thomas
Illustrated by Craig Orback
In July, 2012, I attended a one day workshop hosted by my writing buddy Pam Zollman and The Writer’s Plot in Greenville, South Carolina. I met a couple of picture book icons that day – Harold Underdown and Patricia Thomas. I asked her if she’d be my mentor. I now know the question was totally inappropriate at that time, but I identified with her style and voice and wanted to learn HOW she brought it all together.
I still do.
Nature’s Paintbox is a lovely read-aloud that has influenced my own style of writing encouraging words for children and the adults who love them.
Before I met Patricia I had decided that most successful picture books are poetry of one kind or another. Silly or serious, sad or sublime they begin and end with poetry to me. Nature’s Paintbox helped to cement that idea into my head.
The 32 beautifully illustrated pages provide lovely backdrops to Patricia’s poetic word pictures about each of the four seasons in mid-America. Her words are not rhymed verse so popular in books for very young children. They are poetic allusions, descriptions and memories woven together with a variety of literary devices.
Craig Orback created beautiful illustrations that harmonize wonderfully with the word pictures Patricia spun in this book.
If you’ve ever critiqued one of my manuscripts you’ll recognize that I, too, am in love with the subtle weaving of many literary devices into one poetic cloth called a picture book. I can thank Patricia Thomas for helping me congeal that aspect of my writing voice. She combines rhythm, rhyme, interior rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, syncopation, pause and picturesque words to paint her story on the canvas of my mind.
I don’t know for sure whether I love that style because of Patricia Thomas’s books, or if I love her books because of that style. Many thanks, Patricia.
Here’s a sampling of her intentional rambling about winter:
Berries on a bush;
Cardinals on a branch;
a red mailbox flag
winking a cheery hello,
its caps of snow;
a snowman’s carrot nose,
a holly wreath
with a red velvet bow;
I think Nature’s Paintbox is poetry and art entwined.
The Perfect Pet written and illustrated by Samantha Bell
Published by Sylvan Dell Publishing (now named Arbor Dale Publishing)
When my daughter was about twelve years old she wanted a pet—a special pet—an exotic pet. So she and her Dad starting researching things like chinchillas, flying squirrels and hairless rats.
Thank goodness none of those came to live at our house. Our daughter finally settled on a Toy Fox Terrier and loved it dearly. Whew! We really dodged a bullet on that one!
You’ve probably searched for the perfect pet for your kids, too, at some point.
One of the beautiful picture books ON MY SHELF is entitled The Perfect Pet. It was written and illustrated by my sweet friend, Samantha Bell. She is a very talented, gentle, godly friend.
The Perfect Pet is the story of a child going through the process of selecting the perfect pet. Sounds simple, huh? Not so much. This child and mom actually use the process of elimination as they go through the Kingdom Animalia to the correct species. But, wait. Is this the very best pet for this particular child? Or is there something better out there?
The rhyming text is bouncy and cute. It familiarizes children with several terms in the classification system in a cute way.
It’s one of my favorites, though, mostly because of Samantha’s adorable artwork.
If you’re homeschooling or simply reinforcing what your kids are learning at school your elementary aged kids will love this book. The publisher has included lots of interesting back matter. And Sylvan Dell (now Arbor Dale) provides lots of online activities for young readers to enjoy. Your kids probably won’t even realize they are learning anything!
Blessings, Samantha. I know you’re busy working on new books right now. You always are.
Stein on Writing, written by Sol Stein
Published by St. Martin Griffin in 1995
Stein on Writing is perhaps THE book on professional writing. I suppose it’s been reviewed or summarized millions of times – and that is not just a literary cliché. At every writers conference I attend some speaker(s) refer to it.
For me it is a book I’ll read again and again, and refer to in-between reads.
The subtitle sums it up: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Centry Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies.
Stein on Writing is comprehensive. It covers or touches on every possible aspect of writing literary works for publication, I believe. It’s seven sections are:
Stein on Writing is detailed. I read this book about four years into writing for publication. Much of it went over my head at that time. But, even those sections became trigger points for me. When I would be reading a book on a particular aspect of writing, or participating in a workshop the “new” things I was learning would jump back to my memory of reading about it in Stein on Writing.
Does that make sense?
I am re-reading the book at this time and it is proving to be even more instructive, more valuable to me now than the first time through. I now have quite a bit more experience and Stein’s advice makes a lot more sense to me now.
Stein on Writing is foundational. It seems to me that Stein touches on everything we should be aware of when writing for publication.
Stein on Writing is practical. Tips, shortcuts and practical examples of good writing fill the pages. This is information I can put to use in my own manuscripts.
The chapter titled, “Liposuctioning Flab” probably stuck with me best. It’s on cutting every word that isn’t critical to the story. It’s becoming something I do well.
If you can purchase only one book about the craft of writing THIS is the one. Even if you only write little picture books for kids, like me.
YEP! Five highlighters AT LEAST!
Short and sweet and spot-on advice. Thanks, Tara.
By Donna W. Earnhardt. Illustrated by Andrea Castellani.
Published by Flashlight Press in 2012
Being Frank is another debut picture book. It’s the brain-child of my sweet friend, Donna W. Earnhardt. She, like Tameka, was also a Mudskipper. We did some serious critiquing and had a lot of fun in that critique group.
Are you seeing yet how important it is to participate in an honest critique group?
Being Frank is a delightfully funny story about a boy named “Frank” who learns the painful way that being totally “frank” isn’t always the best policy. The story reinforces the truth that the truth is always best, but sometimes the truth needs to be a little sugar-coated.
I love the way Donna named her characters silly but significant names in this book. The characters include friends like Dotty and Carol; adults like his teacher Ms. Zaroma and his principal Mr. Wiggins; Mom and Frank’s wise old toenail-clipping Grandpa. Can you guess why their names are significant? No? Read the book!
The elementary-aged kids in your life will love watching Frank learn a valuable lesson while they have a good laugh.
Oh! Did I mention that Being Frank has been translated into other languages and was a teacher favorite in England?
Little books often travel to faraway places.
Thanks for an adorable story that teaches a complicated social skill, Donna! I’m proud to be your writing buddy.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
By Jack M. Bickham
Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1992.
I’ll bet you’re saying, “1992!! That book is too old to do me any good.” I disagree.
I first read The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes in 2005. I was brand new to writing for publication. I’d been at it about a year and wasn’t having much success. You see, I made a FEW of the mistakes Bickham talks about in this book.
As promised, Bickham BRIEFLY covers the top mistakes new writers make. For me it was a goldmine. Though I didn’t understand a lot of the material in the book at that time, it gave me a foundation – a reference point – for the skills I would need to develop. For me that was great.
I really like to know not only where I’m headed, but how I am going to get there.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes gave me a glimpse of my destination as a writer and the steps I would need to take in order to get there.
Now that I’ve been writing for publication twelve – yes, that’s 12 – years I know a little more than I did in 2005. I still have LOTS to learn. So, I find The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes helps me brush up, gives me a quick review of the skills I’m working on. This sort of kick-starts my memories of the stuff I’ve been learning from other books, conferences, workshops, courses, critiques, and reading books in my genre.
This little book will have a place ON MY SHELF for years to come.
I give it five highlighters.
By Tameka Fryer Brown. Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb.
Published by Abrams in 2010.
Tameka Fryer Brown was one of my fellow-Mudskippers. We were jubilant to celebrate her first published picture book with her, Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day.
I love the happy rhythm of the poetry in this book, and that the illustrations complement it beautifully with bright colors, bold strokes and lots of movement.
Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day celebrates family and friendship in a noisy, busy urban neighborhood. The neighbors share games, music, friendly debates in the barber shop and a variety of ethnic dishes on Neighbor’s Day. It’s a bouncy, upbeat book that kindergartners and first graders love.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print
By Renni Browne and Dave King, Illustrated by George Booth
Published by Quill: Harper Collins in 1993.
In 2004, I was in an amazing critique group called the Mudskippers (For a 5 minute video about nature’s mudskippers click here.) As a group we Mudskippers read together and discussed a little book that has proven to be an invaluable resource for me year after year. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.
At only 200 pocket-sized pages it seems slight. But every line of every page is packed with useful information.
I give this book 5 out of 5 highlighters.
Browne and King’s twelve chapters cover with clarity and precision key areas that every fiction writer needs to hone.
Incredible techniques for writing and critiquing fill every chapter.
Reading and re-reading Self-Editing made me aware of subtle characteristics that make writing great instead of good, and how to both identify and use those characteristics to elevate my writing to a higher level – a publishable level.
Probably the most useful thing I absorbed from Browne and King’s Self-Editing is something I use every time I write, revise, re-write or critique.
RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.
Assume that your reader is intelligent and can figure some things out for her/himself.
I have a long way to go as a writer. But Self-Editing has brought me a long way from my first attempts. I believe that putting into practice the fundamentals in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has transformed much of my writing from ordinary to something special.
And that something special is what agents, editors and readers are looking for.