How To Hit the Side of a Barn Part 2

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Donna Earnhardt is the author of Being Frank, illustrated by Andrea Castellani. When Donna isn’t homeschooling or battling the laundry, she’s writing children’s stories, poetry, songs, and mysteries. You might find her fishing the Pee Dee River, hiking in the mountains with her family, or visiting her hometown of Cordova, NC. She lives in Concord, NC, and Being Frank is her first picture book. IMG_1550

Follow Donna’s personal blog here.

PART II

If you are looking for a magic formula to make your writing “funny”, you will be looking forever. BUT… we can work hard and learn how to perfect our craft, using every word to its best potential.

Here are a few things to consider when trying to “hit the side of the barn”

  1. Ask yourself, “How do your characters respond to weird and unexpected situations?” This is fertile ground for infusing humor into the story.
  2. Is your character funny? Or are they funny only when in certain situations? How is he or she funny? What makes them tick? Use this informatioin to your advantage. Allow the reader to see the humanity in the character… and thus, the humor.
  3. What internal struggles can be shown through humor? What external struggles can be shown through humor?
  4. Leave room for the unexpected — or your predictable plot becomes an obsolete one.
  5. Is the humor appropriate for the situation your character is in? If not, is that part of the character’s flaws? Does he laugh at the wrong times? Make jokes at the wrong times?
  6. HAVE FUN when you are writing. ENJOY IT! You get to make kids laugh… don’t miss out on the fun of creating!
  7. Humor is subjective. A dear friend of mine despises fart and burp poems. I, on the other hand, find them hilarious. Don’t try to please everyone when writing funny stuff… because you won’t.
  8. Know your target audience and read, read, read! If you are writing a picture book for 3-7 year olds, don’t include jokes about puberty and dating. Read the type of books you want to write, go to conferences, and get critiques. Check out this great resource from Darcy Pattison.
  9. Study the different forms of funny. Try to identify them as you read the types of books you want to write. This will help you see the big picture and vast variety of humor in children’s books. Here are a few that I’ve identified, but definitely not all:

Witty funny, gross funny,

cheeky funny, “punny” funny,

Make you slap your brother-funny,

Hip-sarcastic-deadpan funny.

  1. IMPORTANT: Be aware of the fact that the people who are buying the books (usually the adults) are not going to enjoy the same kind of humor as the ones READING the books (usually the kids). But whatever type of humor you write, remember what the editor told me, “Don’t make the readers the “butt” of the joke.”
  2. Know that it is okay to fail. A lot of humor can come from our “failed” attempts at something. Think about all the stories we write. The characters in our stories and poems usually fail several times before they triumph. Why should we be any different? Some people are naturally gifted at humor, most folks have to work at it. “I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.” – Frank A. Clarke
  3. FUN FACT: It’s okay to look to something OLD in order to make something NEW! Check out one of my most recent poems, The Shark Who Cried Hook. It’s a new take on the old story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf!
  4. Tap into your inner 6 year old, 12 year old, and 17 year old. What made you laugh when you were a child? A teen? A young adult? Make a list for future projects.
  5. Mark Twain once wrote, “Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.” It’s a fine line – but one we must be aware of. A great example to read is, “Hug of War”.
  6. If you are interested in writing funny poetry, or even if you aren’t, head over to Kenn Nesbitt’s site and practice with some of his poetry lessons and prompts. He’s the former Children’s Poet Laureate (2013-15), so you’ll be learning from one of the best!

Langston Hughes once wrote, “”Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”  Who knows? Your “funny writing” just might be the rain that cools someone’s dry, weary land. So go out….

And hit those barns!

Pam Halter & Kim Sponaugle Part 2

Pam Halter headshot

Pam Halter has been a children’s book author since 1995. She has published two picture books, Beatrice Loses Her Doll and Beatrice’s New Clothes (Concordia, 2001) . She was selected to attend the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy, May 2010, received Writer of the Year in 2014 at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, and won the Reader’s Choice Award in a short story contest hosted by Realm Makers and Brimstone Fiction in 2015. Pam also is a children’s book freelance editor and the children’s book editor for Fruitbearer Kids. http://www.pamhalter.com

 

Kim Sponaugle head shotKim Sponaugle is a graduate of The Art Institute of Philadelphia and began working for David C. Cook Publishing designing children’s curriculum and products. But she soon found her heart’s vocation in children’s illustration. In 2001, Kim illustrated her first picture book series Beatrice Loses Her Doll and Beatrice’s New Clothes with Concordia Publishing House. In 2007, Kim started Picture Kitchen Studio and has had the pleasure of interacting and working with both traditional publishers and self-published authors. She has illustrated more than 60 picture books is also a children’s book cover designer. http://www.picturekitchenstudio.com

Now, as promised last week we are sharing here our advice for anyone who is considering self-publishing a children’s picture book.

* Make sure you hire a good freelance editor. It’s not easy to write for kids. You have to take a 10,000 word kind of story and tell it in 700-800 words.

* Spend time with kids. You can’t write a story that will hold their attention if you don’t know what they like.

* Read LOTS of current picture books (public libraries are great for this). See what’s out there already. Figure out how you can tell the same old story in a fresh way. Get ideas for fresh and wonderful artwork.

* Spend the money for GREAT illustrations. Pictures are every bit as important as the story for a children’s book. Don’t skimp on them. If you don’t have enough money, wait to publish your story until you do. You won’t regret it.Storytime 3

* Read your story out loud. Have someone read it out loud to you. Picture books are meant to be read out loud. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

* When you’re sure it’s ready, read it to a group of children. Kids are blatantly honest. My 7-year-old grandson thinks Willoughby is a wimp. Ha! But I’m not upset or worried. I know my story isn’t for every child.

* Writing/illustrating is mostly a solitary activity. Find or form a writers or artists group. There’s nothing like hanging out with creative people to help your writing and illustrating. It’s also good to have others you trust to bounce ideas off.

Willoughby cover - frontRemember that Kim and I are planning to offer mentoring workshops and weekends for picture book authors and illustrators. We’re hoping to start this fall.  Subscribe to my blog or Kim’s blog for updates.

www.pamhalter.com

www.picturekitchenstudio.com

Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch is available through Amazon and at Fruitearer.com

How to Write Short Stories

51tt3quw5zlHow to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career (Kindle Edition) by James Scott Bell. Published by Compendium Press in 2016.

In high school and college I enjoyed reading short stories immensely. I still do. I like taking on projects that I can complete in a short time, and then move on to the next. Maybe that’s why I enjoy short stories and shorter books like YAs and MGs. I’ve always had difficulty getting through great literary works of 500, 600, 800 pages.

So, as a writer I’ve wanted to try writing short stories. One BIG problem, though. I’ve been unable to get a handle on what exactly IS a short story? What is its structure? Other than its length, why is it a short story?

So, I couldn’t resist buying and plunging into James Scott Bell’s short book How to Write Short Stories… Again, I read most of it—the first seven chapters—in one sitting. The last five chapters are famous and successful short stories. I enjoyed reading them. But they also helped cement for me Bell’s definition and explanation in the first seven chapters.

The goal of this book is to “give you a key that will make it easier for you” to successfully write short stories. Bell emphasizes that this will can accomplish two things: 1. Stretch your writing muscles and build endurance (like wind sprints) to improve everything you write. 2. Provide quick sources of small income and get you needed exposure for your longer works.

Bell reviews the history of the short story and discusses some of America’s most famous story-tellers in this genre. He also devotes two chapters to publishing for Kindle readers and maximizing your marketing efforts with short stories.

Bell succinctly gives the distinctives of successful short stories—what separates them from other literature. He discusses length and structure, and that little something that makes short stories pack a wallop. BINGO! That is what I wanted to know.

I highly recommend How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career. I bought my Kindle copy at Amazon. It’s available at other online book providers, too.

Rhyming Picture Books The Write Way

51wewkwlxglRhyming Picture Books The Write Way by Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard is the second book in the Children’s Writer Insider Guides that I have read. It follows the same short and sweet format as Picture Books The Write Way. I like that. The ten short chapters are all focused on ten common problems writers have when writing rhyming picture books.

An Introduction, then ten chisled chapters helped me examine specifics about the rhyming picture book manuscripts that I am working on (either creating or selling.)

Also, every chapter is loaded with links to helpful websites and to author pages for the picture book examples Salas and Bullard use. I’m taking my Kindle with me to the local children’s library so I can read as many of these examples as I can find.

Aside: I have another list gleaned from Tara Lazar’s website Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). A list of NEW picture books. In Rhyming Picture Books The Write Way Salas and Bullard continually remind the reader (AKA ME) to read current picture books if I want to write in a way that appeals to current readers.

Okay, I’ll stop rambling now. Here is the long-awaited list of chapters in Rhyming Picture Books The Write Way:

  • Are You Targeting the Right Audience?
  • Is Your Manuscript Too Wordy?
  • Is Your Meter Imperfect?
  • Can You Do Even More With Meter?
  • Do You Use Rich Poetic Elements?
  • Have You Thought About a Refrain?
  • Is There More There Than Just Rhyme?
  • Is Your Message Heavy Handed?
  • Does Your Verse Sound Natural?
  • Have You Considered Nonfiction?

lisa-lauraSalas and Bullard give clear and specific ways to challenge my manuscript and correct whatever problems I find. For example, the chapter on Poetic Elements clearly explains rhyme, fresh rhyme, near rhyme, sensible rhyme, internal rhyme. Then provide examples of picture books (with links) that do the job well.

Thanks for reading here at On My (Kindle) Shelf. I hope some of the writing books that are helping me will also help you. Are they?

Hmmmm…

That question begs an answer from YOU, dear reader/writer. So, can you leave a comment here telling me if any of my summaries have helped, and which ones?

Or send me a msg on FB please at Jean Matthew Hall Author. And follow me there, please?

I’m trying to do this marketing/PR/networking/social media thing the best way possible. However, I think I’m still on the first page of that chapter of my life.

Blessings!

Jean

 

Picture Books the Write Way

41mlw2twmol-_sx331_bo1204203200_ A Children’s Writer Insider Guide from Mentors For Rent – Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas.

Picture Books the Write Way by Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas is one of my newest books On My Kindle Shelf. It contains about 40 pages that answer 10 questions that will strengthen my (or your) picture book manuscript.

40 pages is just the right size for me to read, chew on, and apply to a manuscript in an evening.

I’ve been writing picture book manuscripts for several years and seeing steady improvement in my skills. This little volume (Picture Books the Write Way) helped me to shore up some areas where my current manuscript was weak. One of the 10 chapters gave me a key to fixing a major problem with the same manuscript.

Picture Books the Write Way enabled me to focus on some basic areas where I was getting a little sloppy. It helped me to remember the things I’ve been learning about writing picture books.

The 10 questions answered succinctly are:

  • “Is It a Short Story Insead?”
  • “Does It Lack a Fresh Take?”
  • “Is It Too Long?”
  • “Is It Unfocused?”
  • “Will Young Kids Fail to Relate?”
  • “Is It Too Nostalgic?”
  • “Is It Too Quiet?”
  • “Are There Illustration Issues?”
  • “Is Your Meter Imperfect?”

Picture Books the Write Way also contains a useful Revision Checklist.

I highly recommend this little volume and the Mentors For Rent website. It’s more than worth the really small price tag. Mentors For Rent have several little volumes available on Kindle.

I’m getting ready to read Rhyming Picture Books the Write Way. I’ll let you know what I think.

Thanks, Lisa and Laura!mfrheader_3tm

Ten things to do by Linda Ashman

la-cropped-as500kb-300x294Many thanks to author Linda Ashman for permission to “borrow” this page from her website.  Linda is the author of more than thirty-five delightful picture books and the creator of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Her books have been included on the “best of the year” lists of The New York Times, Parenting and Child magazines, the New York Public Library, Bank Street College of Education, and the International Reading Association. She leads writing workshops and gives presentations about writing and children’s books at conferences and schools.

Thanks for the great advice, Linda!

Ten things to do if you want to write picture books:

  1. Join SCBWI. And find out what’s happening with your local chapter.
  2. Read craft books. You might start with (ahem) The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books and Ann Paul’s Writing Picture Books.
  3. Read picture books—lots of them. You’ll find recommendations at our group blog, PictureBookBuilders, and many more in The Nuts and Bolts Guide.
  4. Read children’s poetry. Notice the sound, the rhythm, and the way a story can be told or a world created with very few well-chosen words.
  5. Write. Obvious, I know, but somehow it’s easy to let other things take precedence.
  6. Revise, revise, revise. Think you’re done? Revise some more.
  7. Make a dummy or storyboard. Nothing better demonstrates the unique structure of a picture book or shows more clearly if your text is working in this format.
  8. Think visually. Imagine your story as a movie, and leave out anything that doesn’t move the action forward.
  9. Cultivate patience—with your writing (don’t rush!) and with the publishing industry (nothing happens quickly).
  10. Hang in there. Rejection is part of the business. It’s good to have a supportive critique group and/or at least one sympathetic friend.

http://lindaashman.com/how-to-write-picture-books/more-resources/

Called to Write-Part 1

called-to-writeCalled to Write: 7 Principles to Become a Writer on Mission

By Edna Ellison and Linda Gilden, published in 2014

Called to Write: 7 Principles to Become a Writer on Mission identifies seven key competencies required to become a writer on mission for God. Each competency is explained in its own informational chapter. Then readers are challenged in a “how to implement” section for each skill.

I found this volume to be a quick read, but I’ve been practicing writing for publication for almost thirteen years now.

 

(My goodness! Has it been THAT long?)

I think Called to Write is a great book for Christians who are fairly new to writing for publication.  Both Linda and Edna are experienced authors and writing coaches. Their advice is solid.

On My Kindle Shelf

I have more than one book shelf, you know. One is tangible—I love its ready accessibility and it’s physical beauty.

But the other—my Kindle Shelf—is so mobile and convenient that I love it, too.

Several of the books on my Kindle are for writers. I’ll chat about three of them which are by the same Christian author, Ed Cyzewski.

All three are quick reads that lead to some serious thinking.

faith-bloggerChronologically the first book is Become a Better Faith Blogger. The title pretty much sums up the purpose of this little book. Cyzewski share ten tips about becoming a better blogger while living out your faith. He offers inspiration, practical ideas and advice borrowing from ten notable people of faith who have successful blogs.

The biggest drawback of this little book is that it was copyrighted in 2012, and blogging has come a changed enormously since 2012.

 

 

The second volume is Pray, Write, Grow published in 2015. This book “offers life-giving practices that will help you grow in both prayer and writing and shows you how the two can work together…” Cyzewski’s premise is:

“If you want to improve your prayer life, try writing.pray-write-grow

If you want to improve your writing life, try praying.

The two require many of the same practices, disciplines, and virtues.”

That sounds simple. But Cyzewski’s words were provocative to me. I highlighted numerous passages that spoke to me regarding both my prayer practices (especially the practice of being silent before the LORD) and my writing practices.

 

 

contemplativeIn The Contemplative Writer Cyzewski weaves the practices of prayer, meditation and writing together. He emphasizes the calling of writing and the persistent, regular practice of writing as communication with one’s self and with God. He offers a “life preserver of sorts to writers of faith who perhaps feel like they are drowning. He defines contemplative prayer as resting in God and offers suggestions for making that happen.

This perspective was thought provoking for me. It made me mindful of using writing as a way to focus on my spiritual condition, improve my spiritual relationship to God, and use my writing as a gift of gratitude back to God.

Each book is a quick read—60 to 90 minutes—but offer plenty of things to think about for a long time.

On My Shelf Again

img_20170205_114710445_hdrThe books that belong On My Shelf have been packed in boxes and out of sight and reach for more than a month. And my “shelf” didn’t even exist. For this writer that’s kind of like trying to type or word process my words with both hands tied behind my back.

True, I can find almost any tidbit of information I want on the Internet. But, I miss my books!

I miss touching them, flipping through the pages, “accidentally” finding nuggets of gold as I scan the pages. I miss scanning their titles as they stand at attention (or, sometimes, at ease or even sound asleep!) On My Shelf. 

However, I am making progress.

Two weeks ago my NEW shelves arrived! I admired their brown cardboard containers as they acclimated to the environment of my office.

img_20170211_141226159_hdrA few days ago my son and grandson came to set those shelves free. Halelujah! Of course, the job was not without complications. What should have taken an hour to accomplish ate up three, almost four hours of their time.

But now My Shelf stands dutifully waiting to be filled.

Over the past few evenings I’ve been ripping into boxes and liberating my books. Just a few more boxes to go.

I’m an organizer. It’s in my DNA. It was joyous and satisfying last night to not only unpack my books, but to put them in the best possible order On My Shelf.

  • My Bibles (more than a few)
  • My Bible reference books and study guides
  • My books for personal and spiritual growth
  • My books about writing
  • A very short stack of anthologies that contain stories I have written (Yay!)
  • Picture books
  • Other children’s books and YAs (I love to encourage other writers by purchasing their books.)
  • A menagerie of reference books ( I know—use the Internet.)
  • Books on leadership
  • Classic fiction books and poetry
  • Notebooks from writer’s conferences and workshops I’ve attended
  • Books and notebooks for courses I have taught at church

See what I mean? I’m enamored with pages dotted with ink.

img_20170214_210822468As I read the titles it was so much like seeing old friends that I haven’t talked to in a while. Reading each title brought back some of the great things I’ve learned from those books. I remembered how those authors inspired, and continue to inspire, me. Some of these books dramatically changed my life.

Those thoughts led me to thank God for those people I’ve never met face-to-face. But I’ve met them on the pages of their books. I’ve seen inside their souls and minds. I’ve felt our kinship, or, our incompatibility sometimes.

Someday I pray that someone will step back from his or her Shelf and see my name on a few book spines. Someday I pray that someone will have similar thoughts of me and the impact my words have had on their lives.

Impact.

Encouragement.

Influence.

In a positive and godly direction.

The Way Back – Part 6 “Finale”

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I did it. It was scary at first, but I finally dove in.

 

Since last Friday I’ve been tossing weird “What if…” ideas around in my head. Nothing developed from them.

So, I cheated. Just a little.

On my laptop I keep EVERYTHING I write or try to write. I have a folder for each year. Inside those folders are sub-folders for manuscripts, publisher, shards (leftover scraps of phrases, sentences, paragraphs) and quotes, thoughts and ideas that I never developed. I also have a folder for poetry and children’s poetry – mostly containing incomplete works.

I usually start a writing session by warming up on poetry. I may try to create some new poem, or work on a poem that has been on my hard drive for years. Either way, working on poetry gets my writing muscles ready.

Like I said, I cheated. Just a little.

So, I scanned through my junk, thoughts, and ideas folders. I found a few things I had saved from years back. One was a brief conversation I had with my grandson about nine or ten years ago. (I know—I told you I keep everything!)

That little 50 words of conversation birthed the “new” idea I’ve been working on.

I tried framing that idea into poetry. The result is a trilogy of poems that I think have promise for some children’s magazine. I HOPE so! I’ll keep polishing them.

My second attempt was to recreate that conversation as a fiction story for a children’s magazine. That idea definitely needs a great deal of work. But I began that work in spite of my trepidation.

I dove in. I dog-paddled my way around the pool.

Since last Friday I’ve committed to a writing schedule that I think will work for me. I’m committed to one hour of “writing” each morning and one hour each evening.court-friends

It’s a start, right?

I have to admit the water feels great. Refreshing.

So, how did YOUR new idea work out last weekend?