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A Combination of Mythology and Modern Storytelling:

Greek Mythology has long been a fascination with readers of every age level. Have you ever wondered what a Greek god or goddess was like as a child? Wait until you learn about Jennifer Buchet’s debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, illustrated by Cassie Chancy. We will have a whole new understanding on what it means to have a bad hair day!

ME: Jennifer, thank you for visiting our blog today! We are so excited to hear the behind the scenes details in creating this most adorable “Tiny Medusa”!

JB: Thank you for having me! Throughout my various careers, I‘ve always been writing–everything from advertising copy to radio ads, websites to magazines and more. And since every medium has its own approach to words, I’m always learning something new! For example, the other week I heard the phrase “hedge words.” Are these bushy evergreens laden with colorful verbiage? Not exactly, but I did learn why these hedges need trimming!

ME: I am always fascinated with the background of a writer! So interesting. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JB: As picture book authors, every word counts. But that doesn’t mean our stories have to be “no frills.” Rather, each word and every sentence must move the story along. In my debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, I originally began with this opening:

Little Medusa finally got her very first snake on her birthday. She was so excited, she danced and twirled around her room.

This does set the stage, but it’s also wordy and rather bland (yucky first draft 101!). After several revisions, the opening now contains more action.

Little Medusa was delighted when she got her very first snake.

I love including sensory elements beyond what the character sees, like tasting, hearing and touching. For example, Little Medusa discovers she doesn’t like having her new serpentine friend slither through her hair (can’t really blame her!) This sets up the character’s challenge, but I knew I needed to expand on that feeling, so I added these lines:

“…she couldn’t fathom was so great about traditional Gorgon hair. 

It was itchy.

It was buggy

And it was positively scaly when Addie shed her skin.”

This is much more relatable and if the reader squirms even just a tiny bit, my job is done!

ME: You even succeed in hooking the reader with great suspense in your revised opening line. What a wonderful story line. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

JB: I allow myself to write wordy, adjective-filled, too-long, early drafts! Most of my drafts easily begin at 700w. Once I’m satisfied with the arc and character development, my inner editor comes out to play with all her highlighters. 

Bam, change passive words to present! Bam, remove adverbs! Bam, delete hedge words, AKA those pesky filler words such as “usually; very; suddenly; almost.” 

I’ve also discovered that contests have helped me become a stronger writer. Contests challenge the muse and for those with limited word counts or quirky themes, they really challenge the brain! In fact, I love them so much that last year, I co-created the non-fiction contest #SunWriteFun.This challenge included both minimal word count and a summertime theme. Reading all those entries certainly inspired me and I know the contest inspired others!

ME: I completely agree. Reading others’ writing is such great exposure to styles, structures, and just plain sensational stories. 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?

JB: In the climax of Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, my heroine makes a really big decision. Like many of us, she begins to second-guess herself. Rather than describe how she’s feeling with emotive adjectives (she was happy, sad, confused, doubtful, etc), I wrote the scene using physical actions. 

Little Medusa bounced around the room.

Until the bouncing slowed to a jump, the jump to a hop

And Little Medusa became still as a statue.

Not only did this drill down big emotions for little readers, it also provided the illustrator (the talented Cassie Chancy) with oodles of room to work with. Bonus—that last phrase ties neatly into the whole Gorgon statue-turning talent! 

ME: Oh my gosh, we are so excited to see the finished product! The illustrations are just precious! 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?

JB: If someone invented a timer for creatives that trumpeted “perfecto,” they’d be rich! Sometimes it’s hard to know when your story is just so. There are definitely fantastic checklists to use that ensure one has incorporated all the “write” elements, but I think in the end, it’s a gut reaction. You know when your story is ready to share, whether with your critique group, your agent or editor, etc.  As for finding that balance between show and tell, I believe it’s an acquired skill for most. Read a lot and write even more, for as you hone your craft, you learn when those beautiful rosy words are really just hedges needing a trim.

ME: You have made so many valid points, Jennifer! Working on the craft of writing is definitely a rewarding journey we all make time for.

Learn more about Jennifer:

Jennifer Buchet is an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kid lit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she is a regular feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books and chapter books. 

Spare time is a rather elusive creature in her home, but when Jennifer does find it, she enjoys creating exotic meals, creating writing contests, crushing her family in games of Catan and searching for fey in the woodlands. Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing) slithers onto shelves May 2021.

You can swap tales & recipes with Jennifer here:

Twitter @Yangmommy

Email: Buchetbooks@gmail.com

Website: buchetbooks.wixsite.com/mysite

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The Wonder of Words Update

Goodness me – where did those three years go? In 2017 Candice, Gabrielle, Sandra, Tina, Yvona and I met through Julie Hedland’s 12 Days of Christmas and started a picture book critique group. Nine months later we started The Wonder of Words blog. I can’t believe we’ve been writing here for over two and a half years. Crazy!

This week I asked everyone to reflect on how far they’d come in their writing and reading since we started the blog. Candice, Yvona and Gabrielle’s answers are in this post and I’ll post the rest of our answers next week. I hope you enjoy our reflections.

I asked everyone these questions:

  1. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your writing evolved?
  2. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your reading evolved?
  3. What is the biggest thing you have learned over the past two and a half years?
  4. Do you have any advice for readers and/or writers of children’s literature?

Candice

With the madness of 2020, I actually had to do math to calculate back two and a half years. And you know math isn’t my strong point, haha. So, we’re comparing now, March 2021, to September 2018. The six of us had been in our critique group for nine months at that point. We’d learned a lot about each other’s strengths, interests, and I know for me, I’d learned to rely heavily on y’all’s edit suggestions. And we were just starting this Wonder of Words blogging adventure together! Sandra and I had joined the Newin19 picture book debut group, though my book ended up getting pushed back to June 2021. Since then, I’ve sold another picture book, a YA Southern mystery (also coming out this June!) and signed with a new agent who has an MG and PB out on sub for me. I’ve given summer writing classes for kiddos, sold a story to Highlights Hello, work part-time at a local indie bookstore, and gotten more involved in SCBWI by becoming a Local Liaison.

Between the debut groups, our blog, and my bookseller job, I mainly read advanced copies now. I love being able to read books before they hit the market but it does have its drawback when I’m really excited to tell someone about a book I know they will absolutely love, and then have to be like, oh, oops, it’s not out yet…

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how good it feels to help someone on their writing journey. Much of the publishing industry is out of your control if you’re going the traditional route, so it feels awesome to share books you’re excited about with others. I’ve been a judge/prize donor in a few Twitter contests these past couple of years, and I love being able to give back. Also, I learned I use ‘it’ a lot. On a self-editing level, I’m learning to look for my ‘its’ and strengthen my writing by being more precise. (Can you guess how many ‘its’ I expounded on, just in this one answer?)

My piece of advice is to find your kidlit writing community! Obviously, your personality won’t mesh with everyone you “meet” on twitter, facebook groups, or SCBWI critiques, and that’s okay. You will find a community of like-minded writers.

Yvona

I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She has great advice and I highly recommend it to other writers.  I’m still reading a lot of picture books – two recent ones I love are Green on Green and Blue on Blue both by Dianne White. My favorite authors keep changing. You can keep up with some of my reading on the My Reads page of my website: www.yvonafast.com.

I’m drawn to lyrical language and I love nature, and that is the direction my writing has taken. I have been writing more and more poetry. I’ve published 3 poetry chapbooks since 2017. I hope to have two new books coming out in 2021. I currently have six children’s books that I hope are submission-ready; another eight that are in the revision process; and five that are unfinished.

I have taken more classes too, but sometimes, between classes and critique groups, the writing time gets eaten up! I think from all the classes I have taken – and they were all good – I would most highly recommend Renee La Tulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab.

I’m in more critique groups now than I was then … perhaps too many. I’m learning to sift through the comments and advice I get, but also to trust my gut.

My advice for writers is – be patient. That is advice to myself too. I still believe it will come – if you keep writing, revising and submitting, you WILL have a book deal one day.

And be kind. Both to yourself and to others. Illness, caregiving, responsibilities will intrude on writing time, you just have to make peace with that.

Gabrielle

After having three picture book manuscripts written to what I considered “polished” I sent them to a professional critiquer.  I discovered one manuscript simply had no heart, so I pushed it back to the revision pile.  About that time, I found an awesome mentoring group that has helped me get a first draft written and now I am in the revision mode.  It has motivated me to concentrate on middle-grade for the moment.

Oh my gosh – how has my reading developed?  I decided to embrace the illustrious words of one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, who said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  Now I don’t just read whenever I can, I schedule reading as part of my writing day. 

In terms of what I have learnt, there is so much information out there.  In the beginning, I would sign up for everything but gradually, I realized I was on writer’s overload, so I scaled back to focus on one thing at a time.  Right now I am concentrating on my middle-grade manuscript.

My advice is to figure out what works for you and don’t be afraid to ask for help in any area of your writing!  And find a phenomenal critique group or partner.  They are golden!

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Moving Through Black History

Throughout history, people have been on the move for a better life.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford asked all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every American President has designated February as Black History Month.

Black history is full of movement. In the late 1800s and 1900s, six million African Americans left the rural south for cities in the north and west. This period has been called the Great Migration. As Lesa Cline-Ransome so eloquently puts it, these families are “running from and running to at the same time.” Running from hardship – and dreaming of a better life in their new home.

As an immigrant, I’m familiar with the emotions of leaving one home for another. Here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago:

GRADES

First grade in Warsaw,
Then Tel-Aviv.
Third grade in Haifa,
new place to live.

Fourth grade – Chicago,
another new land.
Kids talk to me, but
I don’t understand.

Fifth grade, once more
another new school –
In Philadelphia,
they call me a fool.

In eighth grade we move
to upstate New York.
They say, “You ain’t Jewish
because you eat pork.”

So many changes,
many new places.
So many people,
always new faces.

My work-in-progress, They Came to Vote, is about a black family moving to the Timbuctoo settlement in the northern Adirondack mountains, where abolitionist and philanthropist Gerrit Smith gave land to black homesteaders. This helped them become self-sufficient, allowed black men to vote, and kept them safe from racist atrocities and bounty hunters who kidnapped blacks and sold them back into slavery.

Two other books for young readers about black families relocating are The Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome (Holiday House, 2020, 48 p.) and Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town by A. LaFaye and Nicole Tadgell (Albert Whitman, 2019, 32 p.)

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In the Overground Railroad, lyrical language and bold art depict the story of one family leaving the oppressive South for a new life in the North. Family, friends, and everything that was familiar was left behind. On the train, Ruthie reads the autobiography of Frederick Douglass to her mom. His journey north to escape slavery gives her courage and hope.

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Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town introduces the Exodusters and explores a part of pioneer history that needs to be better known. Dede and her family work hard to buy their way out of sharecropping. After a long day’s work on the farm, Papa builds furniture and Mama sews dresses. Little Dede shines shoes at the railroad station. Soft tones and fluid lines in the illustrations convey the family’s hope for a new life in Kansas.

Both of these historical fiction picture books introduce an important piece of American history that is often overlooked. Both share courage and hope as Dede and Ruthie with their families flee the oppressive sharecropping system of post-civil war American South. Teachers and parents can use these as a springboard to learning.

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A Multigenerational Story of Tradition, Renewal, and Hope:

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. 

Thump! Plop!  

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.

Before:

“Could that be mud?” 

Without warning a snake uncurled, slithering up to Obi.

After:

“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:

Photo by Andrew Werner

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.

You can find Annette online on TwitterFacebook, or annetteschottenfeld.com.

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Building your writer’s inventory with writing prompts and visual prompts

Over the past few months, while hunkered down due to the pandemic, I finally found the time and inspiration to work on that middle grade novel I knew was hiding in me.  I have to confess though, there were moments, sometimes hours at a time, where I sat at the computer, fingers poised over the keyboard waiting for the words to fall out.  When those hours turned to days, I turned to searching out writing prompts for motivation. 

Writing prompts can jump start your writing, get you out of a slump or just be inspiration for a story. I see them as a way to organize, create even, a scene I can add to my manuscript later. For my current middle grade manuscript, I leaned heavily on random generators I found on the internet.  They covered a wide range of subjects including words, names, worlds, outfits, sentences, and decisions.  There are websites that will send you a word prompt a day. A simple google search will put you in contact with a myriad of choices.

As a picture book writer, I found visual prompts to be the most helpful and a big advantage as all I had to do was have my camera always at the ready.  Characters for stories can be found everywhere, whether it is on vacation, in the garden, or your own kitchen, inspiration abounds.  I captured many of them through the lens.

On vacation, a walk on the beach netted me story ideas.  One such walk, I was introduced to a dinosaur that became a short story idea. 

This guy was waiting to greet me as I stepped out the back door one morning.   

After a spring storm, I was delighted to find my irises drinking in the raindrops.

An interesting one was the dinosaur I discovered hiding in my frying pan as I was about to cook dinner.

Another story was inspired by the Spudz Family.  I was so enthralled by them, that I did a complete family photo shoot.  They were cooperative and excited to be in a future picture book.

And the inspiration for my current middle grade work in progress? 

I can only tell you it will be out of this world!

Thanks so much for stopping by!  Write On!

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~ A Pitch Challenge to Remember ~

Thank you to all the authors and author/illustrators who stopped by the Wonder of Words Blog and left your delightful pitches in the latest round of the Pitch it to Me Challenge. It has been great fun reading about your stories! If there is one thing I’ve (re)learned after narrowing down my choices and asking for the input of my lovely critique partners, it is that the task of picking manuscripts that fit an editor’s needs is HIGHLY subjective. We all had different favorites depending on our interests.

But now I’m getting off topic and into left field, so let’s get back to the point. The winner! Actually, there is more than one winner. I made the rules so I can change them. I would love to see manuscripts (and sample art, if you are an illustrator) from:

  • Dedra Davis
  • Sarah Rebecca Hovorka
  • Merrill Woodriff
  • Anita Crawford Clark
  • Abbi Lee

Check out the submissions guidelines at: https://www.gnomeroadpublishing.com/submissions and then send me your work! Easy-peasy!

The Little Gnome imprint will be opening to submissions January 1, 2021. If I didn’t pick your manuscript, or if there is another manuscript you think would be a good fit, please feel free to send it in after that time. And if you haven’t already, sign up for the Gnome Road Publishing newsletter to learn more about the people working behind the scenes and to stay informed of our happenings and wish list changes.

Many thanks to you all. Wishing our WONDERful readers a happy New Year ahead!

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Covid, Quarantine, Cookies and a Quest

Thanks for stopping by!

The past few months have been history-making and challenging. For more than 9 months, we’ve been living in the midst of a pandemic. Everything has changed. There are no concerts, theater performances or poetry readings – except on zoom. We’re staying apart from friends and family. We need something to cheer us, to take us into a different world – and what’s better than a good book? Between the covers we enter a world where we learn, meet the characters, and empathize with them.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. We just had a national election – and chose a woman of color for the Vice Presidential position. With differing perspectives, our United States has become very divisive, making the months of campaigning and debates stressful for many.

One of the most powerful and moving picture books about voting is Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter ; illustrated by Shane W. Evans. (Schwartz & Wade, 2015.) Through the eyes of an old woman climbing a hill to vote at her polling place, the reader is introduced to the history of voting in America from the fifteenth amendment that gave African American men the right to vote to the present.

Between the pandemic, the election, and daily troubles of life, we experience waves of fear, waves of disappointment, waves of exhaustion, waves of unease, waves of joy, waves of hope. Books can help us make sense of our changing world.

Walkout by Tina Shepardson; illustrated by Terry Sirrell. (Spork, 2020) shows young readers what it means to take action, to take a stand, to make your voice heard. This important book looks with sensitivity at what it means to stand up for your beliefs.

With all this going on, I have been preoccupied, and found it hard to focus or find time to write. Instead, I’ve turned to cooking healthy meals – and baking cookies. And the pounds pile on…

Healthy food has long been a passion of mine. For many years I’ve written a weekly food column for my local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that encompasses everything from collards to cookies. And who doesn’t like cookies?

As writers, we try to inspire. In my column, I try to motivate people to prepare healthy meals with products from our local farms. We’re on a quest: we want our words to touch lives. The world needs us to do that.

November is the month of gratitude. December ushers in the winter holidays. Even in times of pandemic, this is the time we think about family connection.

Sadie’s Shabbat Stories by Melissa Stoller; illustrated by Lisa Goldberg (Spork, 2020) is all about family ties and traditions. Telling stories about family heirlooms is a beautiful way to make family connections and learn your family’s history. No matter what our heritage, everyone has stories that are important and inspirational.

Melissa Berger Stoller brings the reader inside the special relationship between Sadie and grandma. Sadie learns to tell her own stories, bringing the past and future together. This book is especially important now, when many children cannot spend time with grandparents due to quarantine restrictions.

After the holidays comes a whole new year. What will it bring?

What are your hopes for the year to come? What brings you joy?

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A story within a story…

Thanks so much for stopping by! Let’s chat about literary devices!

Over the last twelve weeks, I have feverishly written the first draft of my new novel.  Right now, I am pleased to say it is the crappiest first draft I have ever written-but at least it is written!  When all is said and done, I hope to have a best-selling middle grade space opera.  At the very least I will be happy to have a published novel.

As my journey progresses, I have been reading, researching, and learning about a variety of genres and writing styles.  One literary device I want to incorporate is frame story.

Literarydevices.net defines frame story as “a story set within a story, narrative, or movie, told by the main or the supporting character. A character starts telling a story to other characters, or he sits down to write a story, telling the details to the audience. This technique is also called a “frame narrative,” and is employed in storytelling and narration.  It may be referred to as an embedded narrative as well.

A perfect example of this device is the 1986 novel, FORREST GUMP by Winston Groom.  It tells the life story of Gump (the narrator).  With the help of Hollywood, Forest Gump has endeared himself to movie goers when the movie version was released in the United States in 1994.

The Chronicles of Narnia is another example of frame story.  The 7-book series, written by  C. S. Lewis, “narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the Narnian world.”  Titles included in the series are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.

This device provides the reader with a main story that leads to further stories.  Chronicles of Narnia begins with siblings moving to the country during the war when London was in danger of being bombed for their safety and survival.  It would have been a different beginning in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe if the children had already gone through the wardrobe to find themselves in Narnia.  This device allows for the writer to give more character information to the reader without it being “an information dump”.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is my favorite example of frame story.  The series follows Roland Deschain’s journey as he goes in search of the dark tower.  I can only surmise why he feels he must find it (and I don’t want to research it too much as not to spoil it for myself!).

I am currently enjoying the works in order (and have found a website that suggests all Stephen King’s works that may be intertwined with the Dark Tower series).  Since I am in the middle of the third Dark Tower book, I am going to read  The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition (1990) and The Talisman (1984) before moving on to  The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997).

For more information on a variety of literary devices, visit https://literarydevices.net/ .

Thanks so much for stopping by.  I hope you enjoyed learning (or revisiting) frame narratives.

One last comment before I sign off.  One of our favorite places is the beach on Chincoteague.  One day, this past summer, I happened upon this, and immediately envisioned The Dark Tower.  It was the inspiration for me to start my own quest (much like Roland) to read the entire Dark Tower series. 

Until next time, Write On!

Until we meet again, Write On!

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Showing Through Heart, Sensory Details, and Wordplay: Featuring Gabi Snyder

When writing for a variety of ages, showing looks different. For younger audiences, often simple language is used while for older audiences more detailed language is selected. The reader’s experience is shaped depending on the topic. Sit back and enjoy this marvelous interview with the very talented and experienced Gabi Snyder who has two beautiful picture books that do just this! Talk about Best In Show! Tails are wagging everywhere over her debut picture book:

TS: We are so thrilled to have you with us today. I really enjoyed your virtual launch with Robin Rosenthal. Your audience had a terrific snapshot into what you both contributed in creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE. The story is so clever and the wording so precise. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?

GS: Great question! I think the answer depends in large part on what type of story you’re writing and who your intended reader is. When writing picture books for the very young, you may want to keep your text super simple and rely on the illustrations to convey most of the action and imagery. For example, the text in my debut picture book TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal and recently out from Abrams Appleseed, is very simple. The first two spreads read:

One dog stands alone.

Two dogs on a trike.

As we move through the story, a new dog is added with each new form of transportation. A sneaky cat follows the dogs, but the cat is not mentioned in the text. So when reading the story with a child, the child might notice something (the cat following) that the adult (the reader), seems unaware of. That can add a fun twist to reading! 

If I’m writing for an older picture book audience, I might add more imagery and strong active verbs, but it will depend on the story I’m trying to tell. In my second picture book, LISTEN (illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and out in spring 2021 from S&S/Wiseman), the focus is on listening and mindfulness. The story begins with the noise of a busy morning and draws the reader closer as it encourages listening to quieter and quieter sounds. So when drafting and revising LISTEN, choosing the perfect sensory details was vital. At the start of the story, I use sound words like “BEEP! WOOF! ERNT-ERNT! VROOM!” to convey the overwhelming noise the child faces when she steps out into the world. In contrast, later in the story, as we move to quieter sounds, I include the more lyrical lines, “brush-rush-hush/Wind through trees/Listen.”

TS: You raise so many great points. And these examples are priceless. As writers, we have to be so present as to what benefits the topic and reader most. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?    

GS: One strategy I like to use is thinking about how the story can appeal to every sense. Often, with a picture book, the illustrations convey many if not all of the visual details. So, unless it’s central to the plot, I’ll probably leave out visual details like the color of shirt a character is wearing. Instead, I’ll focus my text on appealing to other senses. I’ll consider whether I might incorporate sound words, especially onomatopoeia. And I’ll ask, can I add smells, tastes, and sensations? All of those sensory details paint a more vivid picture for the reader and bring them closer to the action. 

TS: You are right! I share this thought process with my students regularly. 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?

GS: Here are a few spreads from the first draft of LISTEN:

Listen…

…to learn.

…to understand.

…to feel.

Listen for new words, new sounds, new songs.

I revised to add more specific, vivid imagery. Here’s how those lines read in the final version:

Listen past the crunch of gravel and the scrape of chalk.

Can you hear new words? Listen to each sound.

Some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like

looong and leisurely.

Listen.

TS: Wow! The language following your revision is gorgeous. The sensory details take the reader on such a great experience! And this is no easy feat! It takes time to revise even just one section. I can’t wait to read LISTEN!!! 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?

GS: I recently attended the SCBWI Summer Spectacular (virtual conference), and listening to all the amazing panels, I was struck by how many creatives mentioned the importance of finding the “heart” or “essential truth” in your manuscript. I also noted that a few creatives mentioned the importance of putting yourself back into your child mind and remembering what’s real and true for a child. I think the balance of show versus tell will often be easier to find if you’ve first zoned in on the heart of your story, a heart that is real and true for a child. Further, if you’re writing a picture book, the text should feel incomplete without the illustrations. In other words, you should leave much of the showing to the illustrator. The illustrator is your co-creator and gets to tell at least half of the story! 

I also find that reading my story aloud helps me get the rhythm and pacing right. It can be even more helpful to have someone else read the story aloud to you so you can hear where they stumble over your words or phrasing. Even having your computer read aloud can help! As you ‘relisten to the complete text, think about the continuity of your imagery and language. If, for example, your manuscript is a humorous story about dogs, maybe you’ve included some silly dog-related puns. If so, you might consider whether there’s a way to push the dog wordplay even further. 

And, of course, it can be extremely helpful to gain feedback from trusted critique partners. Finally, if you’re stuck or uncertain about any aspect of your manuscript, put it away for a week – or even a month. Coming back to your manuscript after time away will allow you to approach it with a fresh perspective. Happy revising! 

Gabi’s Bio:

Gabi’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, released May 19, 2020 from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, is due in spring 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman.

Gabi studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family. Learn more at gabisnyder.com.

Learn more about Gabi and her latest books at:

Website: gabisnyder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gabi_A_Snyder

IG: https://www.instagram.com/gabi_snyder_writer/