Best in Show

Vivian Kirkfield on Showing versus Telling Strategies

Happy New Year Everyone! So excited to have Vivian Kirkfield here with us today! She has quite an exciting 2019 lined up with 3 new picture book releases as well as a trip to SCBWI’s Australia conference in February as a guest speaker. She is such an inspiration to us all and I am honored to have her share her strategies for Showing versus Telling in story writing.

TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

VK: When I read a book, I want to care about the characters. That’s what keeps me turning the pages. And I think it is no different for kids. We need to make our readers feel something, right? That’s how we know they are connecting to our characters and our stories. So that when they turn to the last page, they utter an AHHH…or an AWWW…or a HAHAHA.

And to get your readers to connect with your character and your story, you need to have action, each scene in which your character is doing something or reacting to something that was done to her…this action moves the story forward. Plus, your story needs to be alive with details, so the reader can visualize what is happening.  Those are the sensory elements…the descriptive words and strong verbs that put the reader in the setting and in the scene.

pippa's passoverIn PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE, there is action galore. The story begins with Pippa Mouse getting ready for the holiday. I’ll put the verbs in bold.

“Hurry, scurry, Pippa Mouse,

Washing, scrubbing, cleaning house.”

Even the rhythmic beat of the rhyming text gives us the sense of her movement. And I don’t just say she is busy…the words show very specific actions on her part.

“Hustle, bustle, lots to do.

Pippa stirs a chicken stew.

Sets the table – all looks great.

Where’s the special Seder plate?”

“Pippa searches in a bin,

finds her missing rolling pin.

Pippa opens up a box,

filled with eighteen holey socks.”

And the words provide drama as well:

“Pippa climbs upon a chair,

stretches up – the cupboard’s bare!

Teeter-totter – hold on tight!

Weeble-wobble – what a fright!”

Throughout the rest of the story, Pippa is on the move…searching for her plate and interacting with the other animals.

But in addition to action, we get sensory details to help the readers feel they are in the scene.  Like the refrain, which occurs each time she questions one of the other animals:

“Quiver, quaver, shiver, shake!

Owls make Pippa cringe and quake.”

And when she approaches the Cat, we understand how frightened she is, but she knows she needs to become the Cat’s friend in order to get information:

“Pippa, though afraid to stir,

gently strokes the velvet fur.”

She also questions the Snake who is slither-sliding by the lake. Oooh…slither-sliding…poor Pippa Mouse. And she approaches Owl who sits in leafy shade in a quiet woodland glade…sounds a bit ominous, right? With those small details, the reader gets a sense of the danger that Pippa must face. With those small details, the reader connects with Pippa and cheers her on…and that is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more   showing/descriptive language?

VK: Whether I am writing my first rough draft or polishing an old manuscript, I keep Thesaurus.com at the ready. We have a gazillion words in the English language, but sometimes, we get stuck on using the same words, over and over. To punch up your story and give it more depth and get away from simply TELLING what is happening, it’s important to use descriptive language and fresh vocabulary.

There are also books that specifically address the Show vs. Tell issue:

The Emotion Thesaurus

Show Don’t Tell

Show Don’t Tell: How to Describe Your Character’s Emotions

There are also books available that contains many examples of simile (comparing two things and using the words like or as) and metaphor (comparing two things WITHOUT using the words like or as) which are two devices that enrich the language of your story:

I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like

Metaphors Be With You

If you don’t like accumulating books or your bookshelves cannot take one more addition, I think many of these are available in eBook versions.

I also use mentor texts quite a lot. I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of picture books. But I still go to the library to find ones that use strong descriptive language….and metaphor…and simile.

four otters cover amazonWhen I was writing FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK, I wanted to help children connect with the animals and the setting of that pristine mountain river. I wanted to help children identify with the endangered creatures to hopefully create a bond so that they would appreciate the need to preserve and protect them. But a dragonfly? How could I do that?

The book opens with one willow flycatcher whistling as dawn breaks…and then:

“TWO dragonflies dance,

ballerinas above a liquid stage”

Yes, the dragonflies are ballerinas…dancing above the water. (and this was a metaphor because I don’t use the words like or as…similes and metaphor help create pictures in a child’s mind because you are comparing something to something else that they know) Children have a familiarity with ballerinas…many little girls and boys take ballet lessons.

And later when the day is almost over (and check out the verbs that I’ve put in bold – this story also benefits from strong action words)

“A brisk wind pushes the storm clouds,

revealing the setting sun.

NINE yellow mud turtles stretch out their necks,

sunbathers soaking up the last rays

before leaving their log.”

That’s right! The turtles are sunbathers (another metaphor), stretching out their necks to soak up the sun. Kids know what it is like to go to the beach or sit out in the hot sun. They can imagine that scene so much more clearly…so much more personally, I think, just because of the language I used. I also employed alliteration, a favorite technique in picture book writing where the starting sound of the words in a phrase are the same:

Stretch out their necks, sunbathers soaking up the last rays before leaving the log

TS:  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?

sweet dreams cover template revisedVK: In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Sarah Goode builds one of the first cabinet beds, a precursor to the Murphy beds that became so popular more than 30 years later. But, when she tries to patent it, her application is denied. Sarah doesn’t give up. I could have said: Sarah filled out a new application and hurried down to the post office to mail it away. But I wanted the reader to understand how important this was to Sarah. Every day that went by meant someone else could steal her idea. And so, I wrote:

“Carefully she changed a word here and a sentence there, explaining more about her unique mechanism, the idea that had come to her so long ago. Slipping the paperwork and a bit of her heart into the envelope, Sarah sealed her fate and sent it off. “

A bit of her heart went into the envelope, right? And she didn’t only seal the envelope…she sealed her fate. Just a few words that create more than a picture in the reader’s mind…they create a feeling and a connection with Sarah. And I think that is what happens when you show vs. tell.

TS: 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?

VK: How do I know when I’ve got the balance between show and tell just right? Honestly, I don’t. I work on the story about it sounds and feels right. And I give it to critique buddies and then revise as per their feedback. And then give it to another set of critique buddies. But these are a few of the things that I do in my process of writing.

  • So What? Years ago, at a conference, I listened to a presentation that made a big impression on me. The speaker said that we have to ask one important question – so what? Why is this a story that children will want to read? In fact, why is it a story that children should read?  Are the stakes high enough that it deserves to be read? That it matters? And, are there universal truths that will strike a chord with the reader? So, I read my story and ask the question: so what? Why should a kid care about my story?
  • Another thing that I do is refine the opening line. For me, the opening line is the key to my manuscript. Like a house key, it opens the door for the readers to walk into the story. I work very hard at capturing the reader’s attention with my opening line.
  • I also enjoy creating a satisfying ending that almost always circles around and echoes the beginning.
  • I read my story aloud. Many times. If possible, I have someone else read it aloud and I listen.  I record myself on my phone or computer and listen. If I can listen to my story dozens of times and still enjoy hearing it, I think I have found a good balance. If I can listen to my story and feel a connection to the characters, I think I have found a good balance. And if I can read my story and get to the end and say AHHH or AWWW or HAHAHA, I am absolutely positively sure I have found a good balance.

And so will you all.

ABOUT VIVIAN:

Writer for children – reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She’s got a bucket list that contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she is not looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books that she hopes will encourage young kids to become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). She lives in the quaint New Hampshire town of Amherst where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. You can visit Vivian on her website, Picture books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge every March. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and just about any place people are playing with picture books.

You can connect with Vivian through the following: 

Vivian’s Website: Picture Book Help Kids Soar

Vivian’s Facebook Page: Facebook.com/vivian.kirkfield

Vivian’s Twitter Page: Twitter/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Pinterest Page: Pinterest/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Instagram Page: Instagram/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Linkedin Page:  Linkedin/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Books and Writing Challenges:

Closing Remarks:

Thank you again Vivian for spending time with us today. We greatly appreciate your knowledge and wish you a fantastic journey this year!

See you all on our next blog post February 2nd !!

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Alliteration by Gabrielle Schoeffield

I confess, my fascination with words qualifies as a first-rate fetish.   It’s only natural I should challenge myself to share the wonder of words and writing from A to Z.

Today, I’d like to share what I have found (and love) about alliteration.  Alliteration is in the air, in awe inspiring abundance much like the autumn leaves.

Alliteration, by definition, is “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables.” There are so many examples of this in everyday life.  Business’s like Dunkin Donuts, Chuck E. Cheese, Bed, Bath, and Beyond are perfect examples, as are famous people like Jesse Jackson, Kim Kardashian, and Doris Day.   Even Super Heroes get in on the alliteration action (did you see that one?) with their real names.

Captain America real name isBucky Barnes.  The Hulks real name is Bruce Banner. Spider-Man goes by Peter Parker.  Superman’s real name (Clark Kent) has the same sound (although it doesn’t start with the same letter), but his girlfriend Lois Lane does.

Alliteration can also be found in poetry, music and literature.  William Shakespeare clearly had a handle on the topic when he wrote “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Romeo and Juliet).  Edgar Allen Poe opened his poem The Raven with “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…”  But my favorite poetic alliteration comes from Paul McCartney’s song, Let it Be. Inspired by a dream about his late mother, Paul wrote the song that includes my favorite alliteration, “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

In my research of the topic, I was amazed at the lack of picture books written in the alliterative form.  I did manage to come across books at my local library.

If You Were Alliteration written by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Sara Gray, explains by example what alliteration is and then gives an example.  “If you were alliteration, you would be the same sound repeated at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase or a sentence.” Ms. Shaskan used “Ulysses the Unicorn spots a UFO as he makes a U-turn on his unicycle” as her example. The illustrations are colorful and delightful.  Beyond the definition and examples of alliteration, the author has included a game to play, a glossary of terms and where you can go to learn more about alliteration.  You’ll have to check out the book for the instructions for the game!

Walter Was Worried was written by and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Not only is this delightful book written in alliteration, the illustrations include the emotion the characters were feeling “when the sky grew dark”.  You will have to check this one out.

Of the few books I found on alliteration, Betty’s Burgled Bakery, written and illustrated by Travis Nichols is clearly my favorite!  It fits in the “graphic novel” category although it is a picture book.  When Betty arrives at work to find everything missing, she calls the “gumshoo zoo” detective agency to report “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!”  To find out how the case is solved, you’ll just have to read the book!

I am lucky to have been blessed with a lifelong love of learning, blessed with friends who fancy writing as much as I do and the opportunity to share my stories with you all.  Thanks for stopping by!

Best in Show

Strategies for Showing Versus Telling

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our fourth blog post! What an honor it is to be able to interview authors on their strategies for showing readers their stories through the most amazing selection of words. Ever WONDER how they accomplish this? Best In Show blog posts will showcase authors sharing their strategies for captivating the audience through showing, not telling. In addition, I will share some tips for building the love of reading in an era where technology largely competes for a child’s attention. I hope you find the information useful whether you are writing your next book, presentation, or looking for ways to encourage a child in your life to read, read, read!!

Our WONDER OF WORDS guest today is picture and chapter book author, Ariel Bernstein (www.arielbernsteinbooks.com). I had the pleasure and honor of working with and learning from Ariel in a critique group in 2015-2016 and saw her talent for showing versus telling right away. It has been such a joy to watch her career as an author blossom. My students Skyped with her last fall and learned so much.

TS: Hi Ariel, Congratulations on the recent release of your new chapter book series WARREN & DRAGON (Viking Children’s, 2018). Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Where do your story ideas originate from?

AB: It’s hard to pinpoint exact places where story ideas originate from! Often when an interesting idea pops into my head, or I see something interesting happen in real life, I will write it down. Later on, I’ll try and see if I can turn the idea into an actual story. For example, during one winter I heard a kid say, “I want the cold to go somewhere else.” I thought that could become a funny story of a kid trying to convince winter to go away. I wrote the picture book and although it never sold, I enjoyed the experience of writing it.

TS: When revising manuscripts, how do you identify which areas need more showing and less telling?

AB: Sometimes it’s hard for me to have a good perspective on my own writing. I get feedback from other writers who give me critiques, and if they think I need to show more and tell less, I listen!

TS: Are there specific strategies you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

AS: I try not to use much descriptive language with a picture book as the illustrations will show almost everything. With the chapter book, sometimes during revisions I’ll see that a scene moves too quickly, so to slow it down I will try and add descriptions of people and places.

TS: How do you know when you’ve finally got it just right?

AS: It’s hard to answer this because if you wait a while and look back at a manuscript, there’s always a chance you’ll want to change something! But after listening to feedback from critique partners and revising a number of times, it comes down to instinct that my manuscript is ready to be sent to my agent. And then she might have suggestions for revisions! And if an editor acquires it, there might be even more revising.

TS: Do you have any tips or suggestions for how writers can be more aware of painting that full picture for the reader and listeners?

AS: This isn’t new advice, but it’s the perfect one – read, read, and read some more! Read like a writer – figure out how a book you enjoy draws you in (is it the interesting characters? The setting? The voice?), how it keeps your attention (the chapter endings? The quick pace? An engaging plot?), and how the ending leaves you feeling satisfied (are all loose ends tied up? Is there a twist ending? Does it make you want to re-read the book?). Be aware of these things when writing and revising your own work.

TS: My students love Owl, Monkey, Warren and Dragon. Your characters are relatable to readers of all ages. They remind us what it is like to behave and express emotions and that is a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing you gift of words with us and we look forward to many more books!

warren and dragon.jpgowl and balloon.jpg

You can find Ariel’s books at:

www.arielbernsteinbooks.com

Facebook: fb.me/ArielBBooks

Twitter: @ArielBBooks

Instagram: @arielbbooks

Tips For Creating Lifelong Readers:

Reading is a whole lot easier when kids learn early in life how much fun it can be. Here are five easy tips as everyone settles into those Back To School routines:

-Read bedtime stories to your kids every night: let them choose the story

-Always ask questions as you go: helps keep kids engaged

-Read and repeat: this helps build confidence

-Read more pages and fewer screens: have more books available than phones

-Visit your local library: this can be such a fun family outing

Thank you for joining us today and enjoy our next post by Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield on November 3rd!!