Nancy's Books

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 2

            Tips on revision, continued:

My thought processes rely heavily on verbs that don’t show action: is, are, was, were…. In revision, I eliminate many of the non-action verbs and replace them with other verbs that paint a specific picture (pedaled, skipped, barked). Action verbs don’t need modifiers, so fewer words are needed to describe the scene.
Add rhythm. Alliteration (fog floated) makes the prose livelier. Onamonapia (bumpty-bump) adds a beat that sounds like poetry when read aloud. Rhythm is how the words connect, a rise and fall of the phrases and sentences.
Less dialog. Picture books don’t rely heavily on dialog. Usually, dialog is no more than 1/3 of the text, often much less. Rather than conversations, use action scenes that can be illustrated with the narrator relating the action. The targeted audience is young children who prefer fast action to character conversation, which often slows the action. Of course, this is a general rule. Some books have no dialog, and some are all dialog.
Let the illustrations tell part of the story. Picture book writers have to think visually. When I write a first draft, I include scenes that describe illustrations. In revision, I study each word, phrase, and sentence; then, delete everything down to the bare action. Sometimes I cut so much, I have to add it again to make the story understandable. Picture books are short and the stories are to the point.
Every page in the book must show action and the pace is usually fast. After writing the first draft, I divide the manuscript into 13 scenes. Each scene must show action. If not, more revision is required.
Next week, I’ll add more tips.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative is strongly committed to supporting our authors’ work. Our current rates for work are as follows:—$150 for a Story of the Week, with $400 each for the annual Top Five Stories of the Week.
—$150 to $350 for 500 to 2,000 word manuscripts.
—$350 to $1,000 for 2,000 to 15,000 word manuscripts.
—Rates for book-length works vary, depending on the length and nature of the work.
—$50 minimum for each accepted poem and audio piece. ($25 for poetry reprints.)
—$200 each for the annual Top Five Poems of the Week.FIRESIDE
Submission guidelines at http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/360

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Picture Book Revision, part 1

           Whew! The first draft is finished looks more like a lump of coal than a polished gem, but coal is good. The revision process starts now. Here are some “coal” hard facts:

The manuscript needs structure with a tight arc that clearly defines the beginning, middle, and ending. Many picture books suffer from an ending that’s too short or a beginning that’s too long. Writers accomplish this with a setup of three obstacles the character must face, each obstacle increasing in difficulty and leading toward a climax. Ideally, the beginning is about 20% of the manuscript, the middle is 60%, and the ending is 20%.
Here’s a burning question I always ask myself: Does the character accomplish what s/he sets out to do and without intervention by an adult? If not, rethink the plot.
Condensed writing. Keep the story less than 600 words, under 500 words is preferable with many publishers. The key to tight writing is to cut, cut, cut words. If the words don’t promote the plot or develop the character, axe them. Every word must help tell the story. Chop words that don’t paint pictures: it, there, just, that.
Allow illustrations to work for you. Since I’m not a writer, I have to constantly think about what can be shown with art. Facial expressions, color of clothes, etc. Think visually.
Burning question number 2: Have I communicated a particular idea? If so, it doesn’t need to be repeated, unless I’m using a repetition phrase intentionally for the purpose of rhythm and storytelling.
In my next blog, I’ll continue with more tips on how to polish that lump into a gem.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
HIGHLIGHTS MAGAZINE. Highlights for Children is a general-interest, advertising-free magazine for children up to age 12. Stories for younger readers (ages 3 to 7) should have 500 words or fewer and should not seem babyish to older readers. Stories for older readers (ages 8 to 12) should have 800 words or fewer and should be appealing to younger readers if read aloud. Frequent needs include humor, mystery, sports, holiday and adventure stories; retellings of traditional tales; stories with urban settings; and stories that feature world cultures. Payment $150 and up. Rebuses should have 120 words or fewer. Pays $100 and up. Nonfiction pays $150 and up.

Submission guidelines at https://www2.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I’ve struggled with this first draft, writing and rewriting the ending, far longer than expected. Each version is a learning experience in which Muse and Inner Critic debate what works and what doesn’t, so I don’t consider the rewrites a waste of time or energy. Each time I string words together, the experience becomes a building block for success. The more I write, the stronger my writing becomes. I’ll take bits and pieces from each version and weave together, tear apart, reweave until Muse and Inner Critic are both happy with the results. Applying what I learn about writing one book will carry over to improved writing on my next project. Writing stronger with stronger writing hones skills (Muse speaking here).

Endings need to provide closure and reflect a truth about life. So far, I haven’t been able to create a humorous ending, according to Inner Critic. A warm feeling of contentment doesn’t seem to work for this story, either. I’m leaning toward a cliffhanger, in which the reader defines the ending. Some readers will think one way; others with “see” it another way. It’s open to interpretation. I want to take the reader to a place they didn’t expect to go as they finish the book. That makes the reading journey more exciting, rewarding, and fun. But how do I do that? By focusing on cliffhanger endings only and writing a number of them. By letting Muse direct me with an imagination for the delightful, suspenseful, or strange. By letting Inner Critic opt for memorable and noteworthy.
I don’t want to settle for an acceptable ending. The ending is my last contact with the readers so it can’t be ho-hum.
As I played with different ending variations, I thought about a predictable ending, and from that, ventured the opposite direction (Way to go, Muse!). An unpredictable turn of events that allows the reader to determine what will happen next is my ending of choice for this book. Is this my final decision? Probably not. As I revise the manuscript, any portion is susceptible to change. (Inner Critic, are you back again?)
Surprise the reader. That’s the key to a successful ending. Easier said (Muse) than done (Inner Critic).
My motto: Breathe. Just breathe.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Narrative Magazine. The Spring Contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers. They are looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. First Prize is $2,500, Second Prize is $1,000, Third Prize is $500, and up to ten finalists will receive $100 each. All entries will be considered for publication. Click here for more information. 


Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

Sunday, May 7, 2017

First Draft, part 3

            With pen in hand, I wrote the first draft of my latest manuscript on paper. Sometimes I think better, and Muse is more cooperative, if I write in longhand, rather than type on a keyboard. The feel of the pen making long strokes across the lines and the sensation of shaping each letter takes me back to my youth when I wrote everything by this method. What better way to reconnect with childhood than experience a common activity that all children understand; after all, our stories are about connecting with the inner child. 

            My sweet Muse is an inspirational goddess, pure creative karma. That busybody loves everything I write, even if it’s hogwash. I feel so blessed having Muse for a number of reasons:

1.      Ideas offer creative energy. Ideas feed upon ideas, creating notions and concepts that expand story plot and offer numerous routes to explore.

2.    Ideas knock down writer’s block.

3.      Ideas discourage procrastination.

4.      An I-can-write-this attitude empowers and carries me from the beginning to The end.

            When I finished writing the first draft, I began keying it into the computer. By the time I wrote the third paragraph, Inner Critic called out, You call that publishable?

            I wrote a few more sentences, read through them, and made changes as I referred to the written draft.

            See? Isn’t that better? the perfectionist chirped.

            Yes, Inner Critic improved the manuscript. Each time it commented, I asked myself, What can I do to make this better? The method worked and the Inner Critic quietened. I still have a long journey to travel with the story, and I’m fine-tuning the ending. (Thanks, Inner Critic!)

            Inner Critic and Muse play tug-of-war with all my writing. I need the creativity and the critical judgment. Both are a writer’s best friends. Embrace them. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers will resume in September.
 
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
101 Stories of Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World

We all have a tendency to get in a rut. We start to say no to new things, and that can only lead to a narrower and narrower life. When we try new things, we end up feeling energized and pleased with ourselves. There is tremendous power in saying "yes" to new things, new places, and new experiences. It makes you feel more dynamic, younger, and more of a participant in the world. You're not distancing yourself from change any more. Step outside your comfort zone!

Tell us your own stories about stepping outside your comfort zone and how that changed your life.

Submission guidelines at

http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/story-guidelines



Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

First Draft, part 2

I’m making progress on my manuscript. In fact, the first draft stands on its own in black and white. Or does it? When I wrote The end, which are the two words I always delete prior to submission, Inner Critic decided the ending doesn’t work because it needs some surprise or twist. At this point I don’t have it. That means unless I can devise some clever ending, publication simply is not going to happen. (Inner Critic’s usual negative chatter shouts loud and clear.)

No magic formula exists for writing a manuscript that will capture an editor’s “ear,” but picture books have guidelines. Endings are especially difficult because they have to tie up loose ends and create a satisfying ending. If the reader figures out from the beginning how the ending will unfold, the enchantment of the storytelling is lost.
What I need at this moment is a story-ending machine. I feed it my beginning and middle and Kazam! out pops the effective, sustaining ending. Unfortunately, the big box stores don’t carry this product. Outta luck.
I’m playing with different endings. Something unexpected that surprises readers, or humors them, or leave them with a warm feeling of contentment, or a cliffhanger, a situation in which the ending is left to the interpretation of the reader.  (Thanks, Muse, for these ideas.)
Which will it be? By next week, I’ll know (I hope. Shhhhh, Inner Critic!) and fill you in on the process.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers

Empty Sink Publishing is looking for professional-quality fiction and creative non-fiction submissions that stretch the mind, defy convention, and offer a new perspective on life.  


Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The First Draft

The hardest part of writing, for this writer, is the dreaded first draft. I’m anxious to develop the story that I believe has a ton of possibilities; yet, I know the initial enthusiasm will soon wane from an eagerness to an interest and then, in a turn of directions, to a doubt. Why? Because writing the story is harder, much harder, than visualizing the concept. In my mind, the story plays out in words and images, but transposing the words and images into a rhythmic prose form is a lesson in humility. A series of rewriting is required. Always.

I’ve just finished my first draft, and I’m pleased. It’s perfect. The first draft is perfect because it’s written. That means I’ve reached my first goal with this story. The fact that my first draft is terribly written is something I accept. First drafts are supposed to be terrible, and since mine is definitely in that category, it’s perfect. That’s a warped sense of judgment, but it works for me.

I sit here with a first draft that demands a ton of work. My muse murmurs: The story will improve with figurative language. My inner critic, ever the naysayer, whispers: The only figuring for this story is to wad it. Two points if you hit the round file.

Muse and Inner Critic battle.

Time to turn them off and just write.

Next week, I’ll have more on my first draft experience and those two polar opposites, Muse and Inner Critic. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Teen Ink has no staff writers; we depend completely on YOU to send writing, art and photos. There is no charge to submit or be published and anything you submit will be considered for Teen Ink's magazine, book series and website.


Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Timeless Tales exclusively publishes retellings of fairy tales and myths. We only accept submissions that are retellings of the fairytale or myth listed as our theme. We don't accept original fairy tales or stories outside of our current theme.

 Deadline: May 5 ​

Submission guidelines at http://www.timelesstalesmagazine.com/submissions

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com

 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

How Long Does It Take to Write a Picture Book?

The number one question I’m asked about writing: How long does it take to write a picture book?  

Of all the writing questions I’m asked, that one is the hardest to answer. In a measurement of time, do I include the conceptual preparation, that phase when I consider countless obstacles the character can encounter? Or do I begin with the first time I place pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? From the origin of the idea to the first written word of the manuscript may consume weeks, maybe months. The character lingers, like the sweet aroma of a cake baking, in the oven of my mind. As the idea jells (or curdles), I sometimes write notes on the character, plot, and single phrases; I sometimes let them hang out and tantalize my senses, with scenes etching into my brain before I begin stringing words on paper. 

I’ve been keeping notes on one particular character that has been marching around my thinker for a few weeks. Today, I took action and began writing the manuscript. So is this day one or day fifty-seven?  

After rewriting the first draft, a second, a third…at some point, whenever it is fairly polished, I’ll send it to my critique partner. I’ll polish again and place it aside for a month or so. During that time, I’ll think about it occasionally, cognitively making changes, as I work on another manuscript. Do I count those days? 

I don’t keep track of my time; however, some authors do. They log their time on each project and can answer the question posed here in actual days/hours/minutes. I’m not that time-task oriented. My mind tends to wander off track too often to keep a time log; instead, I have to admit: I don’t know the answer. But this I know: The time it takes to write a picture book varies with every book and every author.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Canvas Teen Literary Journal was established and 2013 and publishes quarterly in print, ebook, web, video, and audio formats. It is seeking work by writers aged 13 to 19 and accepts fiction, novel excerpts, poetry, plays, nonfiction, new media and experimental cross-genre work. Canvas asks that all submissions be previously unpublished but it will make exceptions for work that was published in a school literary journal or a personal website.

Submission guidelines at http://canvasliteraryjournal.com/submit/  

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

GIRLWORKS: The “magazine for smart girls” aged 11-15 years. Focus on all issues facing girls. Articles: 400-800 words.


Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at www.nancykellyallen.com