Category Archives: Anita says…

Planning a picture book

Last week in my ‘Anita says…‘ writing tips regular blog I talked about Planning a novel. This week I thought I would talk about planning a picture book. As you know I had two new books out on the 17th of this month but how do I actually go about planning ALL the picture books I have had published?

Spring and Summer books2

A good picture book is not just written it is constructed. Every word counts. When I plot a picture book I think carefully about the beginning, middle and end. My first task is to jot down a brief sentence or two of what I want to happen in each of these three sections. These are my key points. It is important to me to know how the story is going to end before I start writing so I know exactly where the story is going.

My next task is to think carefully about the structure of the book. There are 32 pages in a picture book:

Picture book page breakdown

As you can see this is briefly broken down as:

Page 1 – Front cover

Page 2 and 3 – End papers. These are the pages that appear immediately after you turn over the front cover. Sometimes they include themed illustrations.

Page 4 – Prelims and dedication. It includes information about the publisher, the printer, the ISBN number, copyright notices and sometimes the author or illustrator’s dedication.

Page 5 – Title page. This features the title, series, author, illustrator and publisher’s logo.

Pages 6 – 29 – The story. 12 double-page spreads. Pick up a picture book and count them.

Pages 30 – 31 – End papers

Page 32 – Back cover. The blurb, price, ISBN number and bar code.

The part you have to write is twelve double-page spreads. Sometimes they can be slightly different formats but usually they are 12 double-page spreads. Most songs, nursery rhymes and fairy tales are built upon the rhythm of this magical number three. Take a look at how a familiar fairy-tale such as, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  fits to this picture book structure.

Picture book page breakdown with Goldilocks example

Notice how there are three bears, three scenes – porridge, chairs and going to sleep on the bed. The Power of three is an important tool when writing children’s books, especially picture books. In the case of picture books THREE really is the magic number that young children can identify with. Think about it… the rhythm of the day has three parts – morning, noon and night – there are three main meals in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rhythm of growing has three stages: baby, child and teen.

When I plan a picture book I always try to think of the plot, which goes into the middle section of the book, in three parts too. I also try to keep in mind Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure and the story arc. I outlined both of these ideas in my blog post on The Art of Plotting.

Just as for a novel the stakes have to get higher and higher. I keep these in mind and think carefully what I would like on each of the twelve spreads. I use this planning sheet to help me as part of the rough sketch phase of my planning. Again I just jot down a few words for each section.

My picture book plannerWhen the plan is in place and I am happy with it, I start to write the picture book. My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to try and use this format. I hope you find it helpful. Of course if you use other methods of planning I would really be interested to find out more. Please let me know.

Planning a novel

Planning and plotting are not the same things. to find out my views and writing tips for plotting take a look at:

Yes it is true that a plan will ultimately show you the possibilities , potential and pitfalls in your story but in contrast to plotting, planning helps to clarify direction and method. Having a plan helps you focus and in the long run saves a lot of time and effort. Good planning means you have done some of the work before you actually start writing.

There are lots of different ways you can go about planning your novel.

1. Rough Sketch

This includes anything from rough sketches on a napkin or the back of an envelope to a causal list of how you imagine the story to go. This is planning at its most basic and can open up the thinking process to lead to so much more.

planning - rough sketch

2. Synopsis

A synopsis is a more orderly story line ‘telling’ the story in brief to help you on your path. this is also useful when approaching agents and editors when it is complete with characters and the ending. I have written other posts about writing a synopsis here:

planning - path

3. Chapter breakdown

This is a more detailed progression of your story showing the progression chapter by chapter. in this way you can ensure each chapter has its own beginning, middle and end. It also helps to keep track of the main plot and any sub plots.

Plot and sub plot Plan

4. Key Points

Using key points you can outline the bursts of action and tension that form the backbone of the plot. This offers a useful framework that you can use as you are writing to fill in the gaps.

planning - backbone

5. Timeline

A diary is like a diary of the novel, showing the chronological events in the correct order. this helps to keep things in a logical sequence and help avoid any major pitfalls. I have written about the pitfalls of writing in my blog post: Writing Pitfalls.

planning - diary

A timeline is particularly useful when timing and events are crucial to the story arc. It will help if the story takes place over several weeks, months or years to keep track of what has happened and also if the story is taking place over a very short period of time where every minute and second counts.

6. Character biographies

I have written about character biographies before. Take a look at my previous blog post on Characterisation. A character biography can include anything from a couple of lines of description to a full biography. I like writing biographies of my characters. it really helps me to get in to their head. I include: age, appearance, background, dreams, education, family, fears, joys, likes and dislikes, positive traits and negative traits as well as reactions in particular situations relevant to the story.

character biography

I find it a great way of not only ensuring I keep their physical descriptions correct throughout the novel but also to ensure they act true to their character so when they learn and grow it is more evident.

7. Elevator pitch

Describing your book in one sentence is always a great thing to tr. not only does it help when pitching your novel but it can help clarify your mind and keep you on track.

plnning - elevator

This is also a way of identifying the theme of your novel. I have talked about theme in my blog post on Think About Theme.

My Top Ten Tips

With over 100 children’s books published by a wide range of traditional publishers, I thought I might share with you today my top ten tips for becoming a children’s book writer:

My top ten tips

Join Writers’ groups

These can be local or online writers’ groups. By joining writers’ groups you will be able to network, learn about the publishing world, obtain feedback on your work and make friends with similar interests. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have a large network of online and local critique groups.

Read a lot of recent children’s books

Take notice of what you like and what seems to work. Study the writing. You’re reading for research first, pleasure second. Actively look for recent releases. Ask your librarian. Send for publisher’s catalogues or pick them up from book fairs. It is important to keep up with the market and what’s being published. If a book with a similar story line has been published in the last few years, your story is unlikely to be published, no matter how good it is.

Know the different types of children’s books

Take into consideration the various age groups when writing your own books. Think about the word lengths, language, style, etc.

Write the type of children’s books you enjoy the most.

If you enjoy the books you are more likely going to write something someone else enjoys too.

Write every day if possible

Practice makes you a better writer.

Take courses on writing for children

There are lots of writing courses specifically aimed at writing for children out there. Take a look at the SCBWI masterclasses or those offered by NAWG. 

Enter competitions specifically for writing for children

There are a lot of competitions for aspiring children’s book writers. Check the rules and the closing dates. Some of the competitions specifically for children’s writers I am aware of are:

Extend your CV

Seek ways of filling your writer’s CV with publishing credits, such as writing articles and short stories. Contact your local newspaper about writing a column or regular slot or write fillers for magazines.

Send your manuscript out to publishers and agents.

Get a copy of the latest Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook and find out who takes unsolicited manuscripts for the age-range you are writing for. Check if they take emails submissions or prefer them to be posted. Usually they want the first three chapters, one page synopsis and a covering letter. It is very important the book is finished.

Have FUN!

 

 

The Art of Plotting

Here are a few pointers about plotting I have come across over my time of writing for children.

climb a mountain

  • Every scene must serve more than one purpose. This could be developing your characters, giving brief background information, creating atmosphere, world building or clarifying motivation. If it does not move the plot forward then cut it.
  • Always consider the motivation of your protagonist. Think about their actions and why they are doing them. They should not be doing things just because your plot demands it. if this is the case you need to have a serious rethink.
  • The protagonist’s motivation should change and deepen over the course of the plot they discover new facts and truths that change the way they view and interact with their world.
  • By the end of the novel the character should be changed by their experiences. this might be for he better but it can also be for the worse. Make sure it is a realistic emotional journey. The protagonist should learn and grow during the process. This growth usually conveys the theme of the story.
  • Ensure all the scenes progress logical with no giant leaps. it is amazing how easy it is for logic to become muddled to suit the plot. You can see it in many TV series all the time. It is frustrating to the reader. Always think in terms of what is happening, why has it happened, what are the results of this either directly or indirectly and how will this effect what happens next.

The basic sequence of plot stages is: arrival of conflict, initial success of the main character, reversals, final victory, and outcome. The success-reversal sequence may repeat. I find Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure useful when writing fiction – this includes novels and picture books.

Michael Hauge's plot structure

The plot is built around a conflict involving the main character—for instance, with another character, or with circumstances, or within themselves. Conflict often takes the form of a problem the main character must resolve. The character should succeed or fail at least in part through their own efforts.

In my opinion a story for children should open with conflict. Aristotle said the most important thing in any story is the sequence of events. Each event has a cause and effect, and each is connected in the plot. According to Aristotle there are six stages of plot development:

  • The opening
  • The arrival of conflict
  • The early achievement
  • The twist and the change
  • The denouement
  • The final outcome

The conflict should result in increasing dramatic tension, which peaks or ‘climaxes’ towards the end, then resolves. A novel may have several conflicts, but a short story or picture book should have only one. Think about the story arc.

Story Arc

In this way, a story can be broken down into six elements:

  • Balance – all is well at home, nothing interesting is going on
  • Disharmony – the mood changes for good or bad
  • Inciting incident – just when things were looking better a change of mood provokes a change to something ‘other’
  • Problem – there is now an even more serious dilemma that needs solving
  • Resolution – the story can be brought to a conclusion
  • Outcome – the purpose of the story unfolds

Move the plot forward with events and action, rather than with internal musings and I know I’ve said it before but show, don’t tell. It may be a rocky climb to the top of your story arc but when you get there the view’s are worth it.

top of mountain

You can see some of my other posts on plot here:

Re-evaluate your plot

Plot

The Art of Story

Electronic Piracy in Publishing

Following on from the pirate theme at John Condon’s book launch and blogging about the launch last week see: John Condon’s book launch, I was reminded of a very informative and fascinating talk I went to a while back at the Society of Authors. It was all about the online piracy of books. This mainly concerns educational books but, I did see some fiction up there too.

copyright

At the meeting I found out there are three types of sites that will put up digital copies of books for download. These are peer-to-peer sites, document sharing sites and file hosting sites. At the risk of boring you, I will go into a little more detail.

P2P
This is not a Playstation site. P2P stands for peer-to-peer. The books, pdf’s, etc are not physically on a website but on somebody else’s computer and are distributed via email, or such like. It is difficult to stop this type of piracy. The websites will list files they have available. To find a more detailed explanation of what P2P is, check out wikipedia Peer-to-peer.

It is a very similar system to the music website Spotify, which allows users to share their favourite tunes for free. Some sites which index a lot of torrent educational book files include: http://www.thepiratebay.org/ and http://www.isohunt.com/. You can check if your books are featured on these sites by using the search function.

Nicholas Tims warned us to be careful of false positive hits (sponsored links) on some P2P sites, such as http://www.freshwap.com/ and http://www.torrentpump.com/.

Battle_of_Copyright_symbol

Document-sharing
These again are all legal, law-abiding websites. They also react promptly to requests to have your work removed. Such sites include: http://www.scribd.com/http://www.issu.com/ and http://www.docstoc.com/.

They describe themselves as having:

“Millions of documents and books at your fingertips! Read, print, download, and send them to your mobile devices instantly. Or upload your PDF, Word, and PowerPoint docs to share them with the world’s largest community of readers.”

These sites are different from P2P websites as, it is possible to view and read the books available on the site.

File hosting
Again, these are legal websites. they normally react quickly to takedown requests. You must provide them with correct and detailed informationa dn they do not engage in correspondence.

Some of the biggest include: http://www.rapidshare.com/ and http://www.mediafire.com/. They are different from the other two in that the files are hosted by the Interent service and are specifically designed to store static content.

What can you do?
To find out if your books appearing on such sites, you can set up a ‘Google Alert’ on your book titles and on your name. I have talked about this before in my post: Can’t find it but, it will appear here when I do!!! Honest!

You can also check if your publishers are a member of the Publisher’s Association where it is possible to check on the copy right infringement portal to see sites which respond well to take down requests and those that don’t.

Pirate_Flag

Social Publishing sites

There are also websites such as Scribd that scan and make textbooks available on the world wide web. Scribd is a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. They do not ask the author’s permission to put their books online. For authors who write for royalties from the amount of books they have sold, this means they are losing money. This is not just a concern for Eduational Publishing but for fiction as well.

These sites eventually remove unlicensed content from the web but they have to be petitioned to do so. There is a Copyright Infringement Takedown Notification on the Scribd website and they provide a Takedown Notification Template for authors.

But, surely they should have not put the books available for free download on line in the first place. They should be the ones seeking permissions and paying for licenses not teh authors having to fight for the right to get paid for their hard work.

Advice from the Society of Authors is to be vigiliant and to search for titles online on a regualr basis. If you find anything suspicious it should be reported to the publishers. The Publishers Association has set up a Piracy Portal to share information about copyright infringement. There is also a Copyright Infringement Portal, which targets websites offering infringing copies for free download, and will soon evolve to also target peer-to-peer sharing via torrents.

Writers’ forums

As you all know by now I write for Writers’ Forum a national writing magazine. I have two columns each month, one about authors and their research and the other about writing for children. Each is approximately 1200-1500 words.

Today on my blog though I thought I would write about my thoughts on writers’ forums that is somewhere where people can get together online to discuss writing. There are hundreds of professional and aspiring writers out there and basically we are all in the same boat submitting our manuscripts to agents and editors, with similar wishes and desires for success.

Forums bring people together to chat and talk about their writing. There are different forums for different types of writing. I used to belong to a lot of yahoo Groups when I first started out but I found I outgrew them and Yahoo groups do not not run in the same way anymore, if at all. Nowadays most forums seem to be on Facebook, or run through a society’s websites such as SCBWI and NIBWEB. It is part of your virtual network. I have posted about Virtual networking before, See: Virtual networking

blog-forums

I try to limit myself to three forums so I do not get too many distractions from my work. On these forums, people often asked the same sort of questions But, these were sometimes questions that I may have been pondering over for weeks and just wasn’t brave enough to ask myself.

Sometimes little debates linked to writing go on with everyone adding their point of view. These can be fascinating. Sometimes I listen in or add my own snippet. It is important to contribute to forums to get the most out of them, although I am sure there are plenty of ‘lurkers’. One thing for certain is they definitely counteract the feeling of being alone.

forum 2

It is also important to keep it positive. If someone says something controversial my advice is – keep quiet. Remember some of the members may be very highly-regarded authors or editors and you want to make a good impression.

And probably most importantly, when you post to a forum every single member gets to read what you have written so keep it relevant. If you want to ask a specific person a question it might be a good idea to do it more privately through email.

If you belong to any forums, which are different to the ones, mentioned above, whether they are for children’s writers or writing for adults why not add a comment. I’d be interested to know a little about them and how they have helped you.

What makes me want to keep reading?

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking increasingly about this question. I am the type of person that if I get bored with a book I will not carry on. I have a very short attention span and my mind wanders very easily into my own little worlds. I have read several books where I have been told, if you get past chapter five it is great you can’t put it down, because I have stopped reading during chapter two.

Room by Emma Donoghue and Timeline by Michael Crichton are two of these books. I have started again with these books and forced myself to read on and consequently really enjoyed the books and have since, read them again. So did I give up too soon? Why did I stop reading in the first place (especially as both of these books have such brilliant concepts)?

After a lot of thought, I think that there was too much backstory for me from the onset. I know as authors we should release the thread slowly, but these books for me, in the first few chapters, were too slow. The stories felt as if they were going nowhere. Even the dialogue did not seem to me to propel the story forward. In fact, dare I say it of two best-selling authors but the beginnings were rather self-indulgent. I didn’t get the cliff-hanger or unanswered question at the end of the chapter to make me want to read on. I have posted about writing cliff-hangers before: End Each Chapter With a Cliffhanger

I’ve heard it a thousand times on creative writing courses and I know I’ve said it myself and have more than likely written it in one of my blogs before but honestly if it doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out. I will block quote that:

If it doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out.

When I come to edit a chapter book, I always re-read each chapter (which is usually a scene) separately and ask myself these questions at the end:

  • Does the chapter trigger my curiosity?
  • Has the chapter developed the characters and/or the plot?
  • Is this something I would read if I only had a few minutes to spare?
  • Would it effect the story if the whole scene was cut?

These questions really help me to focus my mind.

I love reading books, which make me want to skip parts to find out the answers before I carry on from where I left off. It is frustrating when a book ends and it says… to be continued. I actually feel really cross at the author. This is what happened to me with Teri Terry’s first book in her Slated series.

But this technique did make me buy the next book in the trilogy as soon as it was released and they are still one of my favourite all-time series of books. I have also bought and read every other book she has written – so they’ve got to be good. I think Teri Terry’s books really hits it on nail – so here is my epiphany I wanted to share with you all:

To make me want to keep reading you have to make me care about the characters from the start and keep on making me want to find out what happens to them.

It really is that simple. I hope this helps you when writing and editing your own books.