The Power of “3”

by Pam Zollman

When you write a short story or picture book, think in terms of “3.”  This makes planning and writing your story so much easier. Your story will be divided into three parts: beginning, middle and end. Your hero will need three obstacles to overcome. Your story will be approximately three pages long double-spaced, which equals about 750 words, just right for most children’s magazines and picture books.

Page one is the beginning. This is where you introduce the main character, set the scene, state the goal, and set up the conflict.

Page two (or more, depending on story length) is the middle. Your main character is presented with three obstacles he must overcome to reach his goal.

Page three (or so depending on story length) is the end. The climax of the story makes the hero choose a resolution, which may be hard and self-sacrificing, but will ultimately be the best one. The hero reaches his goal and all loose ends are tied up.

Be creative with how your character solves his problem. Make it something that will cause the reader to think, something that the reader might be able to apply to his own life. No obvious morals or lessons are allowed. Fiction is read for pleasure; all lessons should be implied. The reader can figure it out. The happy ending can also be implied, that if things stay on course all will work out okay.

This is a very simplified way of writing a fiction story for a magazine. Use it as a guide, a suggestion only, not as a rule. It’s not the only way to write a story, but it’s one that has worked for me.

Pam Zollman has published over 40 books for children, as well as numerous magazine stories. She has also been an editor and contest judge for Highlights for Children magazine.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) athttp://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Finding Your Child Voice

by Diane Robinson

When writing children literature, finding your own child voice is the only way to create realistic characters, believable dialogue, and succinct narrative that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them involved in your story.

Students often ask, “How do writers find their child voice?”

My answer is, before you can find your child voice, you must think like a child. To think like a child, you must play like a child, even if it is only in your mind.

Seems like a relatively simple thing to do, right?  But as adults, we often let go of (or lose completely) our childlike attitudes and behaviors or tuck them away in a memory box.

So, open the box. Remember. Put on a costume and dance around the room, go to a park and cruise down the slide, visit a classroom, read children’s literature, or hang out with some kids and just observe. Soon enough, your own childhood memories will come flooding back about what it was like to be that age, what was important, what wasn’t important, how you acted and how you talked, what the world sounded like, felt like, and tasted like. 

Once your own inner child is awakened, you will be able to immerse yourself into your character’s head with more freedom, with more pizzazz.

Another good exercise to get into child-mode thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions and write various approaches to express them with originality. Then, break the sentences down again and again until the emotions and situations are expressed simply, with the innocence of a child’s heart.

 Here are some examples of my child voice that I’ve used in my own stories:

Excited:  He felt as if a herd of jumping bugs were doing cartwheels in his stomach.

Sad: My heart fell sideways and stayed lying down all day.

Descriptive dialogue: “I know grandma can fly. She has that flabby, flapping skin under her arms that turns into her after-dark wings.”

Descriptive narrative: The wind pricked him, jabbed at him, finally becoming so mean with all its yelling and howling that he decided the wind just wasn’t worth playing with any longer.

So if you find yourself dancing and twirling around the kitchen, doing cartwheels across the yard, or finger painting like a four-year-old and somebody says you’re acting immature, take it as a compliment and start writing.

*Diane Robinson is an award-winning children’s chapter book author and a writing tutor at Creative Writing Institute

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) athttp://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Not Child’s Play

by Farheen Gani

“Maybe I write for kids because I’m just a kid at heart.” says Pam Zollman when questioned about her love for writing children’s books. She wrote her first poem at the age of seven, but this award-winning author has travelled a long way. From reporting for a daily, to being a technical editor, she has dabbled in many forms of writing. It was only after the birth of her sons did she discover her true love and, around 40 books later, she is raring to go.

Make no mistake though, she warns. Children’s writing isn’t as easy. “If children don’t understand what you’re talking about, they will put your book down. Adults are more willing to give a writer a chance,” she explains.

In this interview, she shares many insights such as this and more …

  1. Which do you think is more difficult to write: a picture book, early reader, or chapter book?

I think that each type of book has its own inherent set of problems. But, probably the picture book is the hardest to write. So many people read one, see how “simple” it is, and decide that they can do it, too. In today’s market, editors are asking for picture books to be 500 words or less…and tell a whole story! Tough to do, but obviously not impossible. Early readers are also hard to write because you need to write them with a limited vocabulary and word count and still tell a story that will keep the young reader interested. 

  1. How do you select the age group you are writing for?

I have found that I write naturally at a 3rd grade reading level and my inner child is about 10 or 11, sometimes 12, so I love writing for that age group. Sometimes I decide ahead of time that I want to write a picture book or a middle-grade novel. Sometimes it isn’t until after I’m deep into the story that I realize that I need to rethink how I’m presenting the story and that I need to make it younger or older. 

  1. Are there any themes/ issues close to your heart?

I tend to write what I call “school stories.” These are small stories about kids dealing with problems at home and at school. Many of these have relationship issues at the heart of the story. The hurting child is always close to my heart – but that’s what we’re supposed to do to our characters. Make them loveable and then hurt them so that the reader cares what happens to them. 

  1. Do you try to incorporate a message in each of your books?

If I wrote a good story, then the message/lesson is already there, coming naturally from the character and conflicts he or she has to overcome to achieve his/her goal or solve the problem. No one likes to be lectured. If you want to learn something specifically, then you turn to nonfiction. 

Don’t misunderstand. While I think fiction is written for its escape elements and pure, simple enjoyment, I also know that kids are learning things from my stories. It might be how to cope with a bully or it might be different types of insects or dealing with younger brothers.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) athttp://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Five Ways to Succeed as a Middle Grade Writer

by Angela Gunn

More of a market than a genre, Middle Grade (MG) readers love a great book. As they struggle to figure out their place in the world, this age group (8–12) wants stories they can identify with, which also explain and open up a whole new way of seeing the world. If you want to write meaningful stories for voracious readers, here are five ways to succeed as an MG writer:

1. Read Middle Grade books

Familiarize yourself with published and successful MG books to help you figure out what is age appropriate for this market. A solid understanding of your intended reader is the key to your succesThey might be kids, but they aren’t stupid

2. While Middle Graders are not yet young adults, they’re no longer little children either. Forget writing in a complicated style. Keep your readers interested with age appropriate sentence structure and a smattering of new vocabulary to keep them learning.

3. No romance, sex or swear words.

Don’t forget that MG books tend to be purchased by parents, schools and libraries. This is not the ideal audience for your latest romantic novel. The same applies for stories with sex, swear words, graphic violence or hopeless endings.

4. Write for Middle Grade boys

While no editor will turn down a brilliant story for MG girls, there is currently a gap to fill with stories for MG boys. If you’ve got one, get writing!

5. Don’t rely on fads or gimmicks to sell your books

If you want to write the kind of MG book that adults still tell their friends about, stories that focus on universal truths will fare better over the years than books based on current fads or gimmicks. Do your homework well and you can find success with the Middle Grade market, and in the process, you might even find an audience that will never forget the day they picked up your book. Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Defining the Young Adult Genre

by Victoria Pakizer

Young adult literature is named after its target audience: young adults. These stories have an adolescent protagonist, written with young adults as the primary audience. They focus on tangible story elements like character, plot, and setting rather than theme and style. Plots explore problems that adolescents face, such as young love gone wrong. These issues are never devalued and always treated seriously.

This genre is usually found outside the children and middle grade section and never included in them. Separating the genres places a barrier between them, stating that these are not books written for children, but for adults.

One reason for the separation is controversial content. Many young adult books contain swearing, drugs, sex, and violence. Some argue the content is inappropriate for books targeted at younger audiences, while others say young adult literature should explore such topics because it’s what adolescents struggle with.

Another controversy surrounding the genre is defining it. Some people claim it’s not a real category, but a marketing tool. Part of this stems from the wide variety offered. Current bestsellers include The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, a book about two cancer patients falling in love, and Divergent by Veronica Roth, a series about a dystopian universe. Some people argue that Rick Riordan’s bestselling series, Percy Jackson, is young adult, but others say it’s middle grade. People argue that classics like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye count as young adult literature.

Despite all the controversy, young adult is a thriving genre. Currently, five of ten bestsellers on Amazon.com are young adult literature. This year alone, adaptations of young adult books, such as The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and Mockingjay: Part 1 among others, are all coming to theatres near you. The genre is here to stay.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Writing Tips

Author Unknown

1. If you don’t take your writing time seriously, don’t expect anyone else to.
2. Analyze other writings and learn to endorse them into your own style. Reading is an absolute must if you want your writing to grow.
3. Professional writers have the skin of a rhinoceros. There is no place for thin-skinned and timorous writers. Accept all constructive feedback and don’t it personally. Treat all critiques like gold. Put a big note near your computer – CRITICISM = OPPORTUNITY.
4. Educate yourself with writing courses, seminars, writer’s workshops, networking, and conferences. The actual writing is only a small part of the big picture.
5. Know today’s market, timing and submissions – that’s what it’s all about.
6. Submit something every week. When one item reaps a rejection slip, have the next market all picked out and submit it again the very next day. Remember one thing – persistence, persistence, persistence.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

International Short Story Contest Closes Aug. 9, 2014 – No fee!

Creative Writing Institute opens International Short Story Contest

* 1st prize – $200 USD or a FREE Writing Course with a Personal Tutor, valued at $260.
* 2nd prize – $100 USD or a Credit of $150 toward a Writing Course.
* 3rd prize – $50 USD or a Credit of $100 toward a Writing Course.
* All winners and 7 honorable mentions will be published in our 2014 Anthology, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

* Fee: None

* When does it start? NOW!
* When does it end? Aug. 9, 2014 Midnight, EST

This is a themed contest. Word limit: between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Your story may be any genre, but these exact words must appear (together) in the story:

I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?

Read ALL the guidelines at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

Note: dozens of entries are discarded every year because writers don’t follow the rules!