As we all know, in addition to reading for sheer enjoyment, another is to learn about others, their cultures, and traditions. Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, does all of these! Annette shares how the seeds for this piece were planted years ago when her children were young, their Grandma visited, and all of them would go to the apple orchard. We are excited to share her journey of showing a beloved family tradition! In late May, Annette will be back to share her second picture book: Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, which releases this summer!
ME: Annette, thank you for visiting our blog today. NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, will be out in the world very soon. We are very excited for you!
AS: Thank you for inviting me on your blog. I love the theme Best in Show!
ME: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?
AS: When I begin writing a story, I try not to limit myself with too many rules. I start with a base story structure, but I don’t worry about creating magic in the first draft. This rarely happens. Then I go back and start the revision process, stripping down and simplifying the text. I like to see that the bones are solid.
Next comes the sparkle that brings the story to life. Since I am not an illustrator, I need to leave room for the artist to tell their end of the story as well. This means selecting each word strategically. Picture books have so few words and each one counts.
Here are some examples from NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books, March 2021).
Action A sign next to my desk reads: Let Verbs do the Heavy Lifting.
Max followed along.
This does not tell the reader much about Max.
Let’s try a more active and expressive verb:
Max stomped along.
Now we see there is something that Max is not happy about.
Scene Unless it matters to the storyline, certain elements of the scene should be left up to the illustrator. If the writer has done their job well, the illustrator will know how to portray the scene.
Each year when the leaves turned colors…
The reader (and illustrator) know it is fall.
Sensory Elements Considering all the senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch – when writing helps bring the story alive.
Gravel crunched under the tires.
The branches created a cozy space.
These lines tug at the readers’ senses.
ME: That is a great process and I love the sign about letting the verbs do the heavy lifting! Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
I create a character profile for each character in my story. Examples of things I might note: Do they have a unique hobby? What kind of a friend are they? Are they a morning person?
By getting to know my characters inside out I instinctively understand how they will react to certain situations. Their consistent actions and voice make them real, relatable, and reliable to readers.
placing words intentionally is another way to show what is happening in the story.
Let’s take a look at some examples from OBI’S MUD BATH (Spork Books, Summer 2021).
Once again, the friends
yanked and yanked,
huffed and puffed,
and little by little
the tire loosened,
until FLUMP it was off.
In the example above, breaking out the words slows the action and sets the pace. You can see the effort that the characters are putting into this.
And then, just when he thought he couldn’t go any further…
By using an ellipsis, anticipation is created, and readers will want to turn the page to see what happens next.
Another trick is to read the story aloud. I tape myself reading and listen to others reading the story to catch things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Does it sound as I intended? Does it generate emotional reactions? If the answers are yes, it’s a win!
ME: Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?
In OBI’S MUD BATH, I altered my wording to paint a more vivid picture for the reader.
“Could that be mud?”
Without warning a snake uncurled, slithering up to Obi.
“Could that be a puddle of mud?”
But mud didn’t slither and hiss.
In the first line, adding the word “puddle” made the image more specific in the reader’s mind’s eye. In the second line, I stopped “telling” and instead “showed” that it was a snake.
ME: You make such good points about the revising process, especially reading our manuscripts aloud. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?
Great question! I create a physical dummy after a few rounds of editing my work. This gives me a visual perspective. I see if the problem is stated upfront and if the who-what-when-where-why are all addressed. I get a sense of the flow and pacing of the story. Is there too much copy, dialogue, or detail on certain pages? Does the narrative arc land properly? Does the ending add a twist, and is it satisfying?
I will then edit again and submit it to my critique group. These are ‘my people’ who know their craft and provide honest feedback. I always find their input helpful. I’ve learned that if everyone is pointing out something similar, there is a reason.
Then, I put the story away. I do not rush to submit. Looking at it with a “fresh eye” is extremely valuable and telling. Rereading after a period of time, I find things jump out at me. Final edits are made. At this stage, I listen to my inner voice and start to submit!
ME: Thank you, you have given us so many tools and examples to help us with our writing!
Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books), illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, releases March 2021.Her second picture book, Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, releases in the summer of 2021.
Learn more about Annette:
Annette is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. A registered dietitian and expert baker, she created the decadent Uglie Muffin. Shhh, the recipe is a secret! Annette lives in New York with her husband and two kids.