Monday, October 31, 2016

#PiBoIdMo - Finding the Seeds of Stories

November is Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). The goal is to come up with a new picture book idea every day. Impossible? You'll find lots of idea starters and writing prompts on the PiBoIdMo site and elsewhere.

Here are some more options for brainstorming ideas. (The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.)

Take some time to relax and think about each question. Delve deep into your memories. Take lots of notes, even if you’re not sure yet whether you want to pursue an idea. You can put each idea on a separate index card, or fill a notebook, or start a file folder with scraps of paper. Do whatever works for you.

Find story and article ideas based on your childhood experiences, fears, dreams, etc.:

·         What’s the scariest thing that happened to you as a child? The most exciting? The funniest?

·         What’s the most fun you ever had as a child? What were your favorite activities?

·         What was the hardest thing you had to do as a child?

·         What interested you as a child?

·         When you were a child, what did you wish would happen?

Find story and article ideas based on the experiences of your children, grandchildren, students, or other young people you know:

·         What interests them?

·         What frightens them?

·         What do they enjoy?

·         What challenges do they face?

·         What do their lives involve – school, sports, family, religion, clubs?

Other questions to consider:

What hobbies or interests do you have that might interest children?

What jobs or experiences have you had that could be a good starting point for an nonfiction book or story?

Do you know about other cultures, or a particular time period?

What genres do you like? Would it be fun to write in that genre?

What genres did you like as a child? Did you love mysteries, ghost stories, fantasies, or science fiction? What were your favorite books? Why?

Look for inspiration in other stories, books, or TV shows. Can you take the premise and write a completely different story? Do you want to write something similar (a clever mystery, a holiday story, or whatever)? Do you want to retell a folktale or fable as a modern version, or with a cultural twist?

What do you see in the news? Is there a timely topic that could make a good article? If you read about kids doing something special, could you turn it into a profile for a children’s magazine? (This wouldn't work as well for a picture book, but I’m being flexible with the concept here.)

How might that news story work as fiction? Could you base a short story or novel on a true story about someone surviving danger or overcoming great odds?

Even the phonebook can provide inspiration. Check the Yellow Pages: Could you interview an automotive painter, animal trainer, or architect for a nonfiction book? What would life be like for a child to have parents in that field?

Wherever you look for ideas, search for things that are scary, exciting or funny – strong emotion makes a strong story.

Don’t preach. Kids don’t want to read about children learning lessons. All stories have themes, but when someone asks you about a mystery you read, you’re probably not going to say, “It was a story about how crime doesn’t pay.” Rather, you’ll talk about the exciting plot, the fascinating characters, perhaps even the unusual setting. A story’s message should be subtle.


Now start brainstorming and have fun!

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Getting Ready for #NaNoWriMo and #PiBoIdMo

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), thousands of people work on writing a rough draft of a novel in a month of November. For those of you who write for younger children, November is also Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). There the goal is to come up with a new picture book idea every day. These challenges may sound intimidating, but they are widely popular.

Why? Well, taking on an intensive challenge for a month has several advantages. The most obvious is that it very quickly gives you material to develop. You can get a jump start on a new novel, or brainstorm a few dozen picture books ideas to pursue (though not all will be worth developing).

The time pressure forces you to put aside your editor and critic hats and instead focus on getting words on paper. This helps some people avoid the insecurity that can come with starting a new project, or the temptation to endlessly edit the first few chapters instead of moving forward. For picture book writers, having a lot of new ideas allows you to choose the best one, so you don’t waste time on a mediocre idea.

It encourages you to schedule writing time – plenty of it, every week. It’s easier to give up TV, reading, and other hobbies for a single month. It’s also easier to get family members to adjust their schedule to yours if you are requesting a favor for a month, not forever. (You may even discover that your family, and the world, can function with less of your attention than you thought. Even if you can’t devote the same amount of time to writing after November, maybe you can carve out some time every week.)

Finally, both challenges have a strong sense of community. You can network with other writers, encourage each other, and find inspiring blog posts or helpful tips to keep you moving for your project.

Are You in?

If you want to be ready to write a novel in November, it’s best to start brainstorming and planning in advance. My next few posts will discuss finding and developing ideas. In November I'll have a couple of posts on PiBoIdMo. For NaNo writers, you can bookmark this site and stop by to check out the writing tips on everything from developing characters to building to a strong climax. (Scroll down to see the labels on the right-hand side.) Then check back in March for editing tips during National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo).

The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.

Finding Ideas

Ideas are everywhere, including in our own lives. Of course, even the most exciting events may lack important story qualities such as character growth and strong plots. (Those qualities are covered in detail in You Can Write for Children.) Still, personal and family experiences can provide the raw material to be molded into publishable stories and articles.

Amy Houts wrote Down on the Farm, about a girl on a farm vacation who wants to ride a horse but must do chores first. Houts was inspired by her own experiences, though not by a specific episode. “I was one of those horse-crazy girls,” she says. “I knew how a girl could long to ride a horse.”

Sometimes the smallest nugget can inspire a story. Susan Uhlig says, “My teen daughters and friends went on a mission trip to do a building project. The man overseeing the project was disappointed that there were no boys. I played the writer game of ‘what if?’ What if the man wouldn’t let the team stay because they were all girls? That developed into a short story very easily – what he would say, my main character girl would do, how the problem would be solved, etc.” The story sold to Brio.

Personally, I sold a story to Highlights based on the experience of finding frogs all over my neighborhood after a rainstorm. They also bought a historical story about the Mayan ballgame. That story, and my Mayan historical novel The Well of Sacrifice, were inspired by visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico and Central America.

Realistic, Not Real

Sometimes real life translates well into fiction – though a twist may make it more fun for children. Leslie Helakoski says, “My picture book, Big Chickens, is about all the things I was afraid of when young and I’d go into the woods with my brothers and sisters. I just turned us all into chickens and played with the language.”

Caroline Hatton drew on school and home memories of growing up in Paris for her middle-grade novel, VĂ©ro and Philippe. Yet she did not simply write a memoir. “I wanted to write about a pet snail because I kept one in a shoebox in my family’s apartment in Paris. But in my real life, my big brother left me and my pet snail alone – not much of a story, is it? So in the book, I made the brother threaten to eat the snail, as escargot.”
Characters and outcomes may also change, Hatton points out. “My brother rigged a thing to scare me in the middle of the night. But in the book, I swapped roles, and it’s the little sister who does it to her big brother. Sharing this with kids makes them howl with the pleasure of revenge.”

Houts adds, “Most of the time I have to twist the reality of an experience so my story can include all the elements of good storytelling: a contrast of characters; a goal the main character strongly desires to reach; and believable obstacles the main character needs to overcome to reach her goal. Time needs to be cut down to a day or two [for a picture book]. That condenses the action and makes the story more focused.”

Author Renee Heiss says, “Use your life story as the skeleton, and then flesh it out with period details, colorful dialogue, and tons of sensory imagery to place your young readers into the time period and setting. It’s not enough to tell what happened; you must show your readers your story and immerse them into your life as if they were a sibling growing up with you.”

Asking friends and family members to share stories can provide ideas, while allowing you to turn the story into your own creation. Uhlig didn’t witness the mission trip firsthand. “That freed me up to create problem, action, dialogue, etc. without being stuck on what really happened,” she says.

You can “borrow” stories from history and the news as well. I found an interesting tidbit in a history of Washington State. A teenage boy had met bank robbers in the woods, and for some reason he told nobody about them. Why? This question, and my imagined answers to it, became my YA survival suspense Bandits Peak.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Monday, October 17, 2016

#NaNoWriMo and #PiBoIdMo - Developing Your Idea

Last week, I discussed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo), both of which take place over the month of November. If you plan to participate, it helps to do some prep!

Here are some tips for developing your idea. (If you are doing NaNoWriMo, try to do this before you start writing in November. For PiBoIdMo, bookmark this post or print it out so you can use it as you brainstorm ideas next month.)

(The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.)

Developing an Idea

If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story should have three parts: beginning, middle, and end (plus title and possibly bonus material). This can be a bit confusing though. Doesn’t every story have a beginning, middle, and end? It has to start somewhere and end at some point, and other stuff is in the middle. Beginning, middle, and end!

Technically, yes, but certain things should happen at those points.

1.   The beginning introduces a character with a problem or a goal.

2.  During the middle of the story, that character tries to solve the problem or reach the goal. He probably fails a few times and has to try something else. Or he may make progress through several steps along the way. He should not solve the problem on the first try, however.

3.  At the end, the main character solves the problem himself or reaches his goal through his own efforts.

You may find exceptions to these standard story rules, but it’s best to stick with the basics until you know and understand them. They are standard because they work!

Cute, but no conflict
Teachers working with beginning writers often see stories with no conflict – no problem or goal. The story is more of a “slice of life.” Things may happen, possibly even sweet or funny things, but the story does not seem to have a clear beginning, middle, and end; it lacks structure. Without conflict, the story is not that interesting.

You can have two basic types of conflict. An external conflict is something in the physical world. It could be a problem with another person, such as a bully at school, an annoying sibling, a criminal, or a fantastical being such as a troll or demon. External conflict would also include problems such as needing to travel a long distance in bad weather.

The other type of conflict is internal. This could be anything from fear of the dark to selfishness. It’s a problem within the main character that she has to overcome or come to terms with.

An internal conflict is often expressed in an external way. If a child is afraid of the dark, we need to see that fear in action. If she’s selfish, we need to see how selfishness is causing her problems. Note that the problems need to affect the child, not simply the adults around her. If a parent is annoyed or frustrated by a child’s behavior, that’s the parent’s problem, not the child’s. The child’s goal may be the opposite of the parent’s; the child may want to stay the same, while the parent wants the child to change.

For stories with internal conflict, the main character may or may not solve the external problem. The child who is afraid of the dark might get over that fear, or she might learn to live with it by keeping a flashlight by her bed. The child who is selfish and doesn’t want to share his toys might fail to achieve that goal. Instead, he might learn the benefits of sharing.

However the problem is resolved, remember that the child main character should drive the solution. No adults stepping in to solve the problem! In the case where a child and a parent have different goals, it won’t be satisfying to young readers if the parent “wins” by punishing the child. The child must see the benefit of changing and make a decision to do so.


A Story in Four Parts

If “beginning, middle, and end” doesn’t really help you, here’s another way to think of story structure. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work. (This is really the same as beginning, middle, and end, with the end broken into two parts, but the terms may be clearer.)

The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but it doesn’t actually involve a problem.

For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?

Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes he feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start. (This became the four-book Haunted series.)

Tips:

·   Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.

·   The longer the story, the higher the stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

·   Ask why the goal is important to the character. Why does this particular individual desperately want to succeed in this challenge?

·   Ask why this goal is difficult. If reaching the goal is too easy, there is little tension and the story is too short. The goal should be possible, but just barely. It might even seem impossible. The reader should believe that the main character could fail. 

·   Even if your main problem is external, try giving the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.


·   Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, or internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Online Workshop: Writing Stories for Children #KidLit

Starts Soon - Sigh Up Now!

You Can Write Stories for Children
a writing class with Chris Eboch

START DATE: Monday, October 17, 2016

DURATION: 8 weeks (four classes)

WHERE: Online – work from home at your own pace

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to understand the business of writing for children, including the requirements for different genres, age ranges, and markets. You also need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books or middle grade mysteries or edgy teen novels. In this hands-on workshop, we’ll explore how. You'll leave with a story in progress and ideas for future development.

Your enthusiasm is contagious, and the sheer amount of knowledge you possess is fantastic. Your advice was always spot on. The links to various articles and blogs was and will continue to be extremely useful.
~ Nancy Partridge

I have to tell you that your workshop was the one I got the most useful information from. It was quite informative and introduced me to several trains of thought that were new to me. ~ Donna J. Barland

Thank you for putting together such a helpful workshop.  Of the entire weekend, I think I learned the most from listening to you. Thanks again for such a great workshop. ~ Linda Reedy

Thanks for your terrific workshop yesterday at the SCBWI conference. I loved your thoughts on pacing, cliffhangers, etc. You certainly added to my positive experience! ~ Alyssa Kirk

Just a quick note to say thanks for your class this past weekend.  Your class on Monday afternoon was my favorite.  You gave us very specific things we could incorporate into our own work.  That’s the kind of info I was looking for when I signed up for the conference. ~ Pamela Haskin

Chris is hands-down one of the best author-speakers we’ve ever had. I don’t think she uttered a word about her own life story as many do; she was all about teaching a vital and often forgotten aspect in our writing. The comments on her were full of grateful praise. ~ Robin Koontz, SCBWI Oregon retreat leader
  

WEEKS AT A GLANCE:

Week 1-2: The World of Writing for Children

We’ll start with an overview of the markets. These include books, magazines, and more. Learn the specific requirements when writing for different age ranges. This will help you decide where you feel comfortable – or give you many areas to explore!

Assignment 1: Read 5 to 10 picture books or stories for children or review two recent novels. Brainstorm 5 to 10 ideas using the material provided.

Week 3-4: From Idea to Story

Writing for children has many things in common with any good writing, and some things that are special. We’ll explore the essential elements of appealing to children. Participants will learn how to develop their ideas:

Identify a market
Choose a target age
Match the story length and reading level to the target age
Develop characters
Create a plot with conflict and a three-part structure
Focus on young characters who have control

Assignment 2: Choose one of your ideas and identify the appropriate target age group and several possible markets. Start developing your characters and planning a strong plot.

Week 5-6: Develop and Share Your Story

Share your story in progress (or a pitch/outline for a novel) and receive feedback from the instructor and the class.

Assignment 3: Pitch your story. Based on feedback, draft a complete picture book or short story, or plan a novel.

Week 7-8: The Next Steps

We’ll cover editing techniques, submitting your work, and your questions. Expect to leave this workshop with a story in progress, and a list of ideas for future development.

Assignment 4: If you choose, turn in your final story or novel outline. Develop a plan for next steps (finishing, editing, querying/submitting/self-publishing your work etc.).

COST: $99, which includes weekly assignments and individual feedback from the instructor. This class will be conducted through a Discussion Board, with the opportunity for students to ask questions and post homework samples.

BUY NOWYou Can Write Stories for Children! by Chris Eboch (8 weeks/4 classes, starting 10/17/2016) Limit: 15 students. Early registration is recommended. 

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR: Chris Eboch is the author of over 30 books for children. Her novel for ages nine and up include The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. Chris’s writing craft books include Advanced Plotting and You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! bloghttp://chriseboch.blogspot.com/.

Chris has her MA degree in Professional Writing and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She taught through the Institute of Children’s Literature for 10 years and has led dozens of popular writing workshops around the world.

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. “Kris Bock” novels are action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com.