Tag Archives: writing advice

Writing for Kids: 5 tools for success

Join SCBWI. If you don’t know what that is, it stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s the professional organization for people who write or illustrate books for children. Here’s a link to their site. They are a national organization and there are regional groups. There are two big conferences yearly (one in NY one in LA) and many regional conferences. They can help you find a critique partner. You can support and be supported by other writers. There are so many benefits to joining SCBWI I could write a whole blog post about it (but I’m not going to). The membership fee isn’t that much, for what you get back. Just do it. Join.

Write. I mean, that seems obvious, right? But it’s not. You finished your manuscript? Cool. You’re sending it to agents now? Fabulous. Perhaps your agent is sending your manuscript out to editors? Awesome. Or maybe you’re waiting for your novel to come out? Amazing. But writers write. So… write the next thing. It’s what we do. It’s just what’s next. Do it. Write the next thing.

Read. I know you have a full time job. I know you’ve got <fill in the #> kids. I understand. Really, I do. But writers need to read. Do you write picture books? You’d better be reading picture books. Like, lots of them. Are you working on a mystery? Have you read mysteries? Do you love writing for teenagers? Please tell me you’re deep into reading YAs. You think you might have a chapter book series in you? There are lots of chapter book series for you to cut your teeth on. Do it. Read, read, read.

Hang out with kids. If you’re writing for kids, you need to talk to them and listen to them. You need to hear what their concerns are and how they talk. You need to see the world through their eyes. Your writing will be better and sound more authentic if you hang out with some kids. Do it. Don’t be creepy or anything. Just find some kids and hang out.

Take a walk*. According to a recent article in Psychology Today and another in Fortune magazine, taking a walk can aid in creative thinking. Can’t figure out how to end your story? Take a walk. Fresh out of picture book ideas? Take a walk. Wondering what your main character really wants? Take a walk. Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall. Doesn’t matter. Go for a walk.

*for those physically unable to walk, take a mental break from your task at hand and go for a virtual walk.

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Authors on Craft: Jodi McKay on Voice

Let your VOICE be heard!

Discussing the concept of voice with the voices in my head.

“How can I let my voice be heard?”

“Will it make a difference?”

“What the hell is voice?”

You can nail down voice with a bit of practice and it does make a big difference in your writing, but first let’s talk about what voice is.

An Author’s Voice is writing that is unique to the writer. It allows readers to understand what type of writer you are because the the tone, word choices, rhythm, structure, the personality of the stories are consistent from book to book.

Think of Dr. Seuss’s books for a minute. They each have a similar lyrical style with silly characters, quirky words, and (for the most part) upbeat moods. His voice is loud and clear which makes his books easily recognizable. Readers who like that style will come back for more because they know they will not be disappointed and that makes a difference in a reader’s life, especially a young reader.

“I totally want to be the next Mo Willems.”

No you don’t, you want to be the next you. Sheesh, aren’t you listening? Clearly you need some practice with finding your author voice. Try these exercises:

  1. Describe your personality. How do these traits inform your writing?
  2. Ask other people to read your work to see if there are patterns in the way you write.
  3. Read a ton of books. Which ones do you like? Why? Which ones don’t you like? Why? How does your style of writing compare?
  4. Write a lot! As you are writing take a second to assess how it feels. Do you like what you are writing? Why? Do you feel good when you are writing or does it feel like work?

“I need more coffee for this.”

Fine, but then we need to move on to Character Voice.

“I’m back. Speaking of character voice, I have this character who is a real jerk. Does that mean that I’m a jerk because it’s essentially coming from me?”

Good question. Sometimes you are a jerk, but that’s not why your character is. A character’s voice is simply a view point portrayed with word choice, attitude, and rhythm. These show the character’s age, personality, beliefs, education, and feelings and makes the character believable. These do not have to be a reflection of the author.

Think of Stephen King’s, Carrie. Carrie is a 16-year-old girl whose naiveté and timid personality were a result of the unstable, overzealous, and tyrannical parenting style of her mother. Those are two disparate character voices, neither of which have anything to do with who Stephen King is as a person.

“Ooh, what if Stephen King really has telekinesis like Carrie?”

Focus, please. Again, the characters do not have to be an extension of the author. They do, however, need to be believable. The words King gave to his characters, especially that crazy-ass mother in Carrie, made them seem real and they evoked feelings that caused the reader (me) to want to keep reading. It’s important to really get to know your character before you start writing so that your story feels authentic otherwise readers will be pulled out of the story as soon as they feel like the character is unrealistic.

“You’re going to make me to do more writing exercises aren’t you?”

Here, have some chocolate and stop complaining. This is important. Getting voice down is essential to having your work stand out from the rest. It is your way of speaking to the masses and possibly creating change. You never know if one of your characters will be the catalyst for a child’s view on discrimination or a person’s willingness to change. Do the work, the readers deserve no less than the best!

Try this get-to-know-your-character chart. It’s a fun way to, um, get to know your characters.

“All right, I’m going to do it! I’m going to let my voice be heard and I’m going to listen closer to the voices of my fellow writers.”

What do you all think? How will you let your voice be heard?

13879203_10210761791699981_1471649385510257844_nJodi McKay is the author of the very voicey picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS (Albert A. Whitman Books, 2016), illustrated by Denise Holmes. You can find Jodi online at JodiMcKayBooks.com and @JLMcKay1

 

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On Reading & Writing: When a Monster Calls in a Hotel Room

I was in Virginia at a writing conference this past weekend, doing critiques, meeting with authors, and being on a panel of agents, with the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI. There are so many things I can talk about regarding the conference: how well it was run; why I think everyone who writes for kids should be an SCBWI member, what a lovely group of writers I met; the fantastic opportunity of watching Kwame Alexander and Judith Viorst in conversation; how lucky I feel to be a part of the children’s literature community, as a publishing professional and a writer. Really, I could continue this list for a very long time.

61guqyj17pl-_sx394_bo1204203200_But I want to talk about reading, and being a writer, and something that happened in my hotel room on Saturday night, after my long day of meetings and conversations with writers. I was so very tired. After dinner I went up to my room and got in my pajamas and took my book and crawled into bed. I’m in an MFA program right now, and one of the books I was assigned to read this week was A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness. For a variety of reasons it probably isn’t something I would have thought to pick up on my own. But it’s remarkably well written. It’s beautiful to look at. The level of craft in this novel is phenomenal. Now let me tell you the thing that happened.

I had to put the book down. I had to put it down because it made me cry. I don’t mean that I teared up but kept reading, like when Beth March or Fred Weasley died. Nobody had died, but I got to a point in the story where I was moved so much that I was crying. Crying, not tearing up or something. I had to put the book down so I could pull myself together. Of course I picked it up again, and finished it, and teared up a few times along the way. But when I had to put the book down? Well, that was something else.

I’m sharing this because that’s what I’m looking for when I look for new clients, and that’s what I strive to achieve as a writer myself. Not necessarily making people cry, but making people feel. That can be LOLs, tears, fear, compassion, connection…feeling. A fellow writer and friend of mine (hi Meghan!) says, “You know me, I’m all about the feels,” regarding what she’s looking for as a reader. And I wholeheartedly concur!

So, how do we achieve that, as writers? I think Lin Oliver, author, Executive Director of SCBWI, as well as one of SCBWI’s founders, really said it best at this past weekend’s conference. Lin quite succinctly said, “Be fierce. Create from the depths of what you feel.” Again, I concur. I believe that when we allow ourselves to be present to our feelings, and as artists we mine those feelings, that the results—our creations—can achieve the ability to authentically evoke feelings in others. Being present to the essence of funny. Being present to the finality of our own mortality. Being present to our grief or relief or fear or love or whatever. Being fierce.

So go do that, fellow writers! Be fierce.

 

 

 

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