Writing Good Friendships

One of the hit shows this summer was Netflix’s Stranger Things. Set in the 80s, I reminisced about some of my childhood and enjoyed seeing feathered bangs, walkie-talkies, and Eggo waffles. Categorized as a drama/horror/mystery/romance/sci-fi, the show has something for everyone, but the kids are what kept me wanting to keep watching. I later learned the cast was required to watch Goonies, a classic 80s film with great friendships. Here’s a list of some of the relationship traits that I think are also important for anyone writing children’s novels: WARNING: If you haven’t watched Stranger Things or Goonies, there are spoilers. A Shared Goal Stranger Things began with four boys sitting around a board game. With their dramatic antics, you knew the boys loved the game, but also valued their friendship as one gave in so another could win. Then when that boy went missing, their goal was to find him. In Goonies, the four younger boys in the film banded together to try to save their homes. Conflict with “People” in charge In Stranger Things, a secret government organization and a creature from a parallel dimension try to stop them. During their hunt for treasure, the boys in Goonies run into the hideout of the fugitive Fratelli family. A New “Kid” Stranger Things gets quickly stranger when the boys find a silent, scared girl who says their friend is in the “upside-down.” In Goonies, the neglected and abused Fratelli brother, Sloth, helps the kids escape. A Test of Loyalty The girl, Eleven, keeps secrets from the boys in Stranger Things, which divides the boys’ loyalty, but Eleven overcomes her fears to help the four be reunited. A key scene in Goonies, is when all the kids and some older teens have the chance to escape from the underground tunnels, but they choose to stick with Micky and save their homes. There are many more aspects to developing good friendships among kids, but I think any TV show, movie, or book that has these four traits is sure to be a success. If you’d like to read some books with strong friendships, check these out: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton Holes by Louis Sachar Wonder by R. J.... read more

Reading for Research

The first advice I received about being a children’s author was to read, read, read. It seemed like a daunting task. If I spent so much time reading, how would I ever find time to write? I’m one of those word-by-word readers, the kind that read as slow as they would if they were reading aloud. But I took up the challenge, finding some books I enjoyed and reading long into the night. This summer, though, I changed pace. Instead of focusing on children’s fiction, I opted for some books on research and development—child development, that is. The Whole-Brain Child is a book I’d recommend for anyone who has interaction with kids. It isn’t a usual psychology book and even has comics illustrating the different pros and cons of discipline methods. My favorite phrase now is “connect to redirect.” Instead of commanding a child to change her behavior, we can help her talk about her emotions and empower her to take charge of her actions. Of course, the amount of responsibility varies with age. I love how this book explains the “why” behind behaviors in children and adults. Another excellent book is The Connected Child. Written for parents who foster and adopt, this book encourages parents to recognize their own childhood hurts and relate to the unique circumstances of their new children. The authors express connection and trust is needed first, then negative behaviors can be corrected. This means rough days are to be expected, but with time and continuity there is hope for the parent-child bond to grow. These books have helped me in my writing in many ways: They give me a reference for a wide range of behaviors in children. They show me the positive and negative effects of how adults respond to them. The Whole-Brain Child gives me parenting scenarios and explains the way our brains process things. The Connected Child helps me understand the challenges in diverse families. My current novel has a child in the foster care system and another recently reunited with his mother. Without these two books I would not be able to write in-depth about these children’s emotions and growth. Hope you consider reading... read more

Kick-Starting Your Writing

If you’re like me, you have never been on a motorcycle. The idea is intriguing, but it was hard enough for me to learn to ride a bike. Add in seeing a few motorcycle accidents and watching a friend get pinned under one, my desire to rev that engine is now next to nil. Then, I read something like this: “I had a dream about a motorcycle,” said Harry, remembering suddenly. “It was flying.” Uncle Vernon nearly crashed into the car in front. He turned right around in his seat and yelled at Harry, his face like a gigantic beet with a mustache: “MOTORCYCLES DON’T FLY!” Dudley and Piers sniggered. “I know they don’t,” said Harry. “It was only a dream.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone What if motorcycles could fly? Or pigs could talk? Or chickens could dance? I’ve seen all these things happen in the pages of books. But how do people get these ideas to begin with? (I was going to make an amazing analogy of how writing is like a motorcycle, but after doing my research—a very important aspect of good writing—I’ve learned it’s more complicated then just kicking the engine. Actually, if you’re literally kicking the engine, you might damage the motorcycle and/or your foot.) But back to writing, something I know a little about… Every writer is unique, but here are a few things I do when I want inspiration for a new book: My local café – I can’t work in quiet solitude for long or I fall asleep. So I go to a coffee house, get a pastry and coffee, and sit in a corner with my computer. Alternate news sources – Whether or not the stories are true, they’re chopped full of strange ideas—the flat earth theory, sentient insects, black goo, Planet X. Even if you don’t write sci-fi, these headlines might stretch your brain enough to find the perfect idea for your new novel. Staring into space – Once I have an idea, I have to look away from my computer. I keep my fingers posed over my keyboard and type my thoughts. It might be days or weeks later, but I eventually get an idea I want to expand upon. Whether or not you do what I do, the point is to keep thinking and writing. You can scribble notes on a napkin or draw in a journal or make an outline on your... read more

Writing Contests and More!

Here’s a list of upcoming opportunities for writers. I also included a little explanation about why I like them. 31 March (Deadline) SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant It’s a simple submission process, so why not? Open to all SCBWI members. If you receive the grant, your manuscript could be viewed by multiple publishing houses. 24-25 April FicFest This is a new contest, but if you want help going through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, this is the type of contest for you. If your manuscript is chosen, teams of writers will help you edit for 8 whole weeks before agents will see your query and first pages. 9 June #PitMad This is a Twitter pitch party, one of many, and happens quarterly. All that’s required is a simple 140 character pitch that you tweet during a certain window of time. Agents will respond if they’re interested in seeing more. 1-3 July #pg70pit I entered this contest last year and was one of the finalists. Even though I didn’t receive any agent requests, I did receive feedback and encouragement from the contest makers. This contest drops agents into the middle of your story, pg. 70, which gives them a different perspective than the usual first pages. com/2016/02/03/pg70pit-is-back/ 3 August #PitchWars This contest is similar to FicFest, but has been around for awhile. It attracts the attention of a wide variety of established and new agents. I was one of the finalists in 2015. I had an awesome mentor who helped me polish my work over a 2 month period. Two agents did request to see my manuscript, but they later declined representation. But I will never regret entering this contest, because… I have a polished manuscript and query to submit to agents. (I didn’t realize how little I knew about submissions until this contest!) My mentor is still available whenever I need him, and has asked me to beta read some of his work, too. I have contact on social media with 125 fellow writers from the contest. Over 40 of them now have agents (less than 4 months later) and three already have book deals! Every week someone else in our group receives good news, so it’s encouraging to know one day soon, it could be me! Keep checking the website for updates and more details as the submission date approaches. If you do only one contest this year, I suggest #PitchWars. That means you have... read more

Some Advice on Synopsis Writing

When I finished the ending to my first novel, it was a wonderful feeling. I knew I needed to go back and polish some things, but it was great to finally be done. In my naivety, I thought the hard part was over. What I didn’t know was all the writing I would have to do to hunt for an agent. After I wrote multiple versions of pitches and query letters, all of which sounded great one day and then awful the next, then I moved on to writing a synopsis. It sounded pretty easy—just a quick run-down of what happens in the book. That’s when I realized the simple story I thought I had was an intricate monster of subplots, all of which could not be ignored. In the midst of this headache, I decided to take a break and start my next novel. I thought it might be helpful if I did a little planning this time. What if I started with the pitch, and then wrote the query followed by a short synopsis? To my surprise, this is what a lot of authors do when brainstorming for their work. I used the Snowflake Method, which takes you through sentence summaries up to page summaries for storyline and characters. Things do change when you actually sit down to write, but I was glad to have a skeleton of a synopsis to refer back to when I finished. So if you haven’t written your novel yet, check out the Snowflake Method: But if you are in the uncharted seas of synopsis writing for your finished novel, check out these tips: Take time to learn what’s best for you—this means trying out multiple ways of synopsis writing. Some people like to write short summaries for each chapter and cut it down from there. This didn’t work for me. I ended up with six pages and no idea what to cut. So I learned it’s better for me to focus on my pitch, my main theme/character goal, and expand from there. Here are a few different sites that might help you decide: Limit the number of characters you name—you really only need to name your main character and the antagonist. Too many names can be confusing in a short summary, so use descriptors for the supporting characters—his mother, the ultimate warlord, the cute neighborhood girl, etc. Only name other characters if they are recurring throughout the story... read more

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