Nancy's Books

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Let’s Talk Picture Books, Part 2

Show, don’t tell. In picture books, illustrations show the action so the writer needs to use words to convey emotions and reveal the action, rather than describing what is happening. If the illustrations show the action, little description is needed. Example: Jasper is riding a bicycle in the illustration. Description of the bicycle and Jasper can be eliminated from the narrative and dialog.

Action verbs are our friends. These verbs-slither, crawl, jump, throw-focus on the action rather than description. Avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs because they describe what is happening. The mantra for picture book writers is “Think visually.” Unless we create art for our books, which I don’t, it can be a difficult task for writers to think of the action in terms of pictures as opposed to narrative description and to omit the parts an illustrator will include. Consider moving the plot forward with action via dialog, strong verbs, and character behavior.
Word choice is key to a picture book and, for me, the most fun in writing. I usually just get the bones of the story in place from beginning to end—the hard part. Once I’m over that hurdle, it’s playtime. I love taking a plain, unemotional, flat sentence and turning it on its dull little head, bounce it around, and see what falls into place. Alliteration, rhythm, similes, and metaphors are word play writers use to be creative with language designed for a particular audience. Tickle the words; tease them; poke and prod them. Enjoy the process. If you’re having fun, you’ll more likely to finish the manuscript and write more.
Next week, we’ll talk more picture books.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Figment. An online writing community from HarperCollins Publishing for writers 13 years old and older to share young adult fiction, short stories, and poetry, give and receive feedback, and enter contests.
Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Dialogual is a new magazine seeking submissions year-round on dialogue-only prose.
We seek works on all genres, except erotica. Under 300 words. However, we do not take anything that has been accepted before, or that has appeared on blogs or similar sites. In other words, we want fresh material.
Send your snappiest, wittiest, funniest talks.
Or the ones you think will make us wonder, ponder and think about life.
It can be fiction or non-fiction.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let’s Talk Picture Books, Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve written about picture books, primarily because I’ve been so busy writing chapter books. I have a new picture book scheduled for publication in 2016 so let’s talk.

For the last few years, the picture book market has been down, but it is definitely on the rise. The word count is low, less than 500 for many of the books, but there are always exceptions. THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT is about 1,000 words, which is long for today’s market; yet it has become a best seller. Does that mean the trend for higher word counts is upon us? Trends come and go so who knows.
Some picture books are all narrative with no dialog, such as LOOK UP, the biography of Henrietta Leavitt astronomer. Some are all dialog and no other narrative, as in DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS. Usually, picture books are a blend of both narrative and dialog. In many, dialog is about one-third and narrative two-thirds. Dialog is useful in creating the character and developing the plot. It also serves as a way to keep the word count low. The dialog, “Stop!” uses fewer words than “She told her sister to stop.”
What trends have you noticed in picture books?
Next, week, we’ll talk more.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Creative Kids magazine is the nation’s largest magazine by and for kids with games, stories, and opinions all by and for kids ages 8–14.

Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

RROFIHE TROPHY. NO-FEE SHORT STORY CONTEST. For an unpublished short story. Minimum word count 3,500; maximum to 5,000 words. Winner receives $500, trophy, announcement and publication on Deadline October 15, 2015.
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Write What You Know...Or Don't Know

We’ve all heard it, the adage Write what you know. I’ve often wondered what that means. For young writers, too young to do research, I encourage them to write about family, friendship, pets, etc.—writing about what they know.

What about everyone else? Writing what we know bases our fiction in facts and gives a realistic feel to the story, which is a good thing for the reader. The Write-what-you-know principle for aspiring writers can be limiting, too. I’ve seen some writers who are hesitant to change scene injected into a fiction story because it didn’t happen that way in real life. This restriction allows a writer to write only autobiographical information. While that may work for a scene or two in a fiction story, it limits the imagination and creativity of the author. This often happens when the writer attempts to tell a story in honor of someone admired. My suggestion is to use the information as inspiration and write the story with the idea of engaging the reader in storytelling as opposed to recreating the actual event.
Take liberties with actual events that happen in everyday life and build on it to create a world that draws in the reader. Life experiences—working in the medical field, teaching, and other life know-hows—provide valuable insight into characters and plots. Mine your experiences for potential stories but tell in in a way that expands your options. Tell the story that excites you and use your experiences to tell it in the most imaginative, creative way.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Edited and produced by the students in the Writing & Publishing Program at Walnut Hill, The Blue Pencil Online publishes verse, short fiction, and playwriting in English by young writers (ages 12-18) around the world.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: THE JOY OF LESS. Submit your poem or prose about the theme: Having More by Simplifying Our Lives. We have noticed at Chicken Soup for the Soul that we have received hundreds of stories over the years about people happily simplifying their lives, cutting back on material possessions, and reducing their time commitments so they can focus on what is important to them and their families. Share your own stories or resolutions about the joy of less! Deadline October 30, 2015. Pays $200 and ten copies for up to 1,200 words.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Writing Style

Have you ever read so many books by a writer that you recognize the style immediately. Dr. Seuss, for instance, had a specific style.

In The Cat in the Hat, the mood was fun, happy, playful. The word choice evoked lighthearted zeal.
"They are tame. Oh so tame!
They have come here to play.
They will give you some fun
On this wet, wet, wet day."
Bill Martin Jr. could not read as a child. He called his writing style “jazzy” and wrote “to a melody,” meaning that his words had a particular rhythm. Many of his books had a predictable text, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
Writing style is the way an author chooses to write to the audience. It reveals the writer’s word choice, sentence structure, and tone, all of which varies with every writer. Style is the WAY a piece is written as opposed to WHAT is written.
When you will begin writing your book, consider the style. Will the text be condensed to a few words on each page or filled with imagery and details? Will it be told in a lyrical fashion, as Bill Martin Jr. and Dr. Seuss did, straightforward text as with many nonfiction books, or maybe with a touch of humor infused into a serious piece? Will it be told in first or third person?
As you write stories, your style will emerge. The way you use written language by creating dialog and constructing sentences and paragraphs, touches of humor, playfulness in word choice all contribute to your literary individuality—your writing style.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Adroit Journal. A  literary magazine run entirely by high school and college students. Adroint publishes poetry, fiction, flash fiction, art/photography, and cross-genre works with separate submissions for "adults" and those "under the age of 21."
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Young Rider is a bi-monthly magazine written for children and teens who own horses or who take lessons at riding schools. Pays $150 for features of 800 to 1,000 words.