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Writing for Children: How to Write a Children's Book, Writing for Magazines, Getting Paid for Writing, Getting Published

Do you want to learn how to write a children's book? Make money writing for children's magazines? Every Friday the Writing for Children podcast publishes from The Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1969, ICL has taught over 470,205 aspiring writers. Listen to the director of both The Institute for Writers and The Institute of Children's Literature and bestselling children's author Katie Davis host the show as she focuses on the craft of writing for children. She talks about how to write a children’s book, how to write for children’s magazines, how to get paid for your writing, and how to get published in the world of kidlit. There are listener questions, with answers from the experts at the Institute, plus hard-to-find resources, tips, and links included in every week's show notes.
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Now displaying: Category: writing
Jul 21, 2017

HOW TO TIME YOUR ENDING

In a way, every story is a story of transformation. Circumstances change. Characters experience revelations. Challenges are met and overcome. The longer the work you’re writing, the more transformations are likely to occur. In board books and many picture books, for instance, the transformation is often simply circumstance. In the very famous Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, the little rabbit experiences the changes that come with bedtime. The little rabbit undergoes no change in personality or beliefs, and nothing is really overcome. The transformation is simple because board books are often more about the sound of the language and the images than they are about any deep story. But board books can accomplish a bit more. Lift-the-Flap board books are often a type of mystery. In another famous board book, Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill, the reader joins Spot’s mother on a search for her pup. Finding the ending in these books is quite simple. Good Night Moon ends after we’ve bid everyone and everything possible a “good night.” Where’s Spot? ends with the finding of Spot.

But what about a more complicated book? How do you find the right ending for the picture book you’re presently tooling with? Again, transformation can be the key to finding the ending. How many things transform in your book? Have you revealed all of them?

Listen to the full episode for advice on ramping up to your ending.

Do you have questions about how the children's publishing industry works?

Tell us and we'll answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Before you hit send...
Submit your manuscript to our critique service and one of our instructors will give you a full critique to make your story the best it can be before you send it to that perfect agent or publisher. Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

Jun 23, 2017

CREATING CONFLICT

Every story needs conflict. The tension of resolving that conflict is what compels the audience to read all the way to the end of your book. Today we look at 7 tips for creating conflict.

1. Be certain your main character has a worthy, noble goal. No one likes a shallow greedy protagonist. Be sure it’s a realistic goal as well or your young reader won’t relate to it. So the young child who wants to make his mom a specific gift is relatable. The young child who wants to sell all his toys so he can give his big brother the bike he wants is a tad harder to believe.

2. Consider the tension of a ticking clock. Time limits for reaching a goal will create an urgency that readers find compelling.

For all seven tips, listen to the full episode.

 

Do you have questions about how the children's publishing industry works?

Tell us and we'll answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Before you hit send...
Submit your manuscript to our critique service and one of our instructors will give you a full critique to make your story the best it can be before you send it to that perfect agent or publisher. Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Jun 9, 2017

LITTLE THINGS CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE

Have you hit a roadblock with your writing? You got the story down, but something seems to be missing? Or you just know it can be better, but you don't know where to start? Today we touch on 7 things you can do to bump up your story.

1. Make your story stink! Consider the sensory detail in your work. Studies have shown that the sense of smell is one our most emotionally evocative senses. As a writer, are you just a sightseer or do your stories stink as well? Stink in an evocative way!

2. Consider your motivations. Don’t overlook the motives of minor characters. You may not ever reveal why your villain acts so villainous, but you should know. The better you have thought out the motivations of each character, the more naturally well rounded they will become.

For all seven tips, listen to the full episode.

 

Do you have questions about how the children's publishing industry works?

Tell us and we'll answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Before you hit send...
Submit your manuscript to our critique service and one of our instructors will give you a full critique to make your story the best it can be before you send it to that perfect agent or publisher. Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Jun 2, 2017

ARE YOU PROPERLY FORMATTING YOUR DIALOGUE?

Formatting dialogue in any manuscript can be perplexing. Follow these 8 guidelines so you don't get tripped up by tricky dialogue.

1. Check that all spoken dialogue is enclosed in quotation marks and that punctuation occurs inside the quotation marks. [Enclosing all punctuation within the quotes is standard style of most American publishers.]

2. Only spoken words go in quotes, thoughts do not need to be set off with quotation marks. Some writers use italics to set off thoughts.

3. The best verb for tagging your dialogue is “said.” Use other verbs when they truly add to the moment. And do not use verbs as speech tags unless they actually describe speech: sneered, snorted, or giggled, and the like are not speech tags because they are not specific ways we vocalize words.

For all eight tips, listen to the full episode.

 

Do you have questions about how the children's publishing industry works?

Tell us and we'll answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Before you hit send...
Submit your manuscript to our critique service and one of our instructors will give you a full critique to make your story the best it can be before you send it to that perfect agent or publisher. Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

May 5, 2017

REFUSED TO BE BORED AND BE A BETTER WRITER FOR IT

"If something, some topic gives me that excited feeling in my stomach, I start to research it to see if there is enough to make a good book. If there is, I write it. Anything that amazes me could wind up being the subject of a book.” —Kelly Milner Halls

Not too long ago Jan Fields wrote about this on our blog and in our newsletter. She chose Kelly Milner Halls' quote about her excitement at finding new weird topics to write about, because, as she wrote, “I think it's key to nonfiction writing. It's key to fiction writing. It’s key to writing.”

If you're not excited by the thing you're writing, you’ll never get the reader to be excited about it. And if you truly find the topic thrilling, you can stir up interest in topics kids never thought to wonder about. Editors, agents and published writers often talk about their passion for a project. Passion, excitement, and enthusiasm play a huge part in this business.

For three ways to avoid boring your readers, listen to the full episode. Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/050

 

What's the writing question you have but are afraid to ask?

Tell us and we'll answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Does your manuscript need a fresh set of eyes?
Submit your manuscript to our critique service and one of our instructors will give you a full critique to make your story the best it can be. Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

Mar 10, 2017

IT’S NOT JUST YOU
All writers, whether brand new or seasoned veterans, get stuck sometimes. Even those of us who outline extensively before we begin sometimes realize the plot is simply not working and a new approach is needed. But getting stuck can be paralyzing, especially for those of us who struggle with our inner critic's assurance that we're about to crash and burn at any moment. So having some solid strategies for how to handle those sticky spots will certainly come in handy. With that in mind, here are five tips for pulling yourself out of the rut when you're stuck.


OUT OF THE BOX
Sometimes getting unstuck means thinking outside the box. For instance, when you totally don't know what should happen next, Pixar studio artist Emma Coates suggests making a list of all the things that couldn't possibly happen next. When creating such a list, don't be afraid to be completely silly and outrageous as you add more and more and more things that couldn't possibly happen next. With each item you add, think about why that thing won't work…or maybe it will get your book to go in a fun new direction like the Caldecott honor book Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brogsol. This kind of thought makes you look in directions you've never considered and really forces you to examine any expectations that are keeping you stuck. Sometimes we're stuck just because we're mentally considering something impossible when it's really exactly the right way to go.

To hear all five tips to help get you unstuck, listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/042

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Polish up your manuscript before you submit. Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

 

Mar 3, 2017

EXPLAINING THE ADVANCE

As with any profession, writing comes with a lot of profession-specific jargon that turns words we’ve always known into strangers. One such term is the advance.

This is money an author receives at some point after signing a book contract but before collecting royalties. The advance can be a confusing thing for many writers.

What exactly is an advance?

Is it bad for publishing?

Do you even want one?

Do you have to pay them back if your book doesn't do as well as expected?

All of these questions have led to some weird myths about advances.

For help debunking these myths, listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/041

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Does your manuscript need a fresh pair of eyes? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

 

Feb 10, 2017

TWO-LAYERED WRITING

Sometimes we can borrow something from another art form and smuggle it over to children’s writing to be used in a slightly different way. One example of this is the “log line.” A log line in Hollywood scriptwriting terms is a kind of one-sentence summation of your script, preferably making it sound almost unbearably exciting. A log line sums up both the script's objective and subjective story. The objective story was basically what happened on the screen: A meets B and experiences the kind of instant loathing that is sure to result in true romance. The subjective story is basically what the story is about–in human terms: perhaps something like “strong emotion is the root of romance.” A good log line merges the two halves into one sentence to describe a script or film.

Cool, huh? What does it say about children’s writing? It is the nature of art–whether children’s writing, adult writing, painting, film, sculpture–that most forms have a dual nature. They have some kind of representation of reality married to what it means. In children’s writing we tend to think of that as “story” married to “lesson”–because we think of children in terms of instruction and training. Purists balk at the idea of “lesson” and insist they should just entertain. However, much of what is entertaining in adult art contains that element of “lesson”–if you take lesson and translate it to theme.

 

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/038

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Does your manuscript need a fresh pair of eyes? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Jan 20, 2017

STORY AND SETTING
One of the most common marks of a beginning writer is the “talking heads” story. What does that mean? Well, you have dialogue (usually between two characters) but no sense of place. The reader can’t picture the characters fully because he doesn’t know where they’re having this conversation––at the kitchen table? Walking together down a dusty road in the South? Squirming to find a comfortable position in airline seats? Without setting, dialogue doesn’t seem totally real.


Setting should be carefully chosen for your fiction. A story told on the beach in California will not be interchangeable with the same basic plot set on the streets of London. Setting is more than background noise. For some stories, setting is almost a character by itself since it can affect every area of the story. Your protagonist’s surroundings will influence his attitudes and responses to conflict. Setting includes geography [in what part of the world is the story located?] season [a summer story is very different from the winter story in children’s magazines] and housing [apartment? Mansion? Boarding school?].

BUILDING GOOD SETTING
Some writers draw elaborate floor plans and maps to help them write consistently about their setting. The more vividly you visualize your setting, the better you can weave it throughout your story and the more it can support your plot. If you have only a sketchy understanding of the particulars of the environment your book is set in, you’ll find yourself scotch-taping on your setting details rather than building a believable world.

For more ideas on how to build good setting, listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/035

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Does your manuscript need a fresh pair of eyes? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Jan 13, 2017

THE LEAP OF FICTION
Writers are often inspired by events from real life. But to use that inspiration we must view real life as a launch point and then join it to plot. We look at the life event and then we leap far from it, carrying along only those scraps we need for the actual story. Stories aren't  recitations of what actually happened––that’s what articles are for––stories are for revealing truth.

Showing us reality beyond reality. Stories have a heart filled with personal growth and discovery. Life can be lively, but to make it a story you need to take a leap.

When Katherine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia, for which she won the Newbery medal, she was inspired by a real life event. She said, ”I wrote Bridge because our son David's best friend, an eight-year-old named Lisa Hill, was struck and killed by lightning. I wrote the book to try to make sense out of a tragedy that seemed senseless."

Paterson didn't write the story of David and Lisa, tragic though the real life story was––she wrote a completely different story about Jesse and Leslie, a story born from the feelings she had about the real life event. The actual event sparked the story but the story didn't happen until the author made the leap from real life to a totally new thing––story.

 

For more ideas on how real life can inspire your stories, listen to the full episode.

Read more in our show notes: http://writingforchildren.com/034

 

You've got questions. We've got answers.

Let us answer your writing questions on the podcast. Go to this link and leave your question: http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak.

 

Does your manuscript need a fresh pair of eyes? Get a critique from an ICL instructor.
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 9, 2016

NEVER ADD THE ADVERB JUST BECAUSE ‘SAID’ FEELS BORING

Why is Harry Potter full of adverbs? Mostly to make the tag lines feel interesting to the writer. That’s pretty much the same reason adverbs clutter up the tag lines of many examples of beginning writing. Let’s face it, tag lines just feel boring. They aren’t particularly active and they feel redundant…he said, she said, he said, she said. As writers, we hate the idea that anything we write is boring so we look for ways to jazz it  up. And adverbs feel like one way, but without care, adverbs can become a little silly.


“I could eat you up!” he snapped bitingly.


“Get away from me!” he yelled loudly.


One excellent cure for the tagline blahs is to alternate a little narrative action for the tag lines; this gets more movement into the scene, increases our sense of being there, and adds sentence variety. Another cure is to cut tags if the speaker is extremely clear and you want to create a brisker pace. A balance between simple tag lines (using said or asked), the rare unusual tag verb (whispered or bellowed, but never queried or continued, keep it simple enough to add without distracting), narrative action, and simply untagged speech will quickly cure the tag line blahs. Then you can add your adverbs to tag lines only when you know they’re the perfect  word for the job.

“If you need an adverb,” he said decisively. “Then use an adverb!”

When is it okay to use an adverb? Listen to the episode and find out!

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/016

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Sep 2, 2016

HOW EVIL ARE ADVERBS?

Have you heard yet that adverbs are evil? Writers often mention their critique groups cutting out all their lovely adverbs. And you can also find writing books vilifying adverbs as an archaic evil creeping into modern prose. So, are adverbs evil? And if so, how do you make sure to kill them all?

WHAT IS AN ADVERB ANYWAY?

When you think of adverbs, you probably picture those –ly lovelies that shore up the dialogue tags:

“You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” she said cuttingly.
“I love pillows,” he said softly.
“I invented the light bulb!” Edison said brightly.

But adverbs can be single words without an –ly also, and they can even be phrases. The key to whether something is an adverb is whether it adds more information to the verb.

She walks fast. [The adverb is "fast"]
Mark throws with precision. [The adverb is “with precision”]
Jack eats often. [The adverb is “often”]

So an adverb serves an informational purpose in a sentence; that’s good, right? So why are writers afraid of them? Sure, J.K.Rowling sprinkles them like spring rain through all of her Harry Potter books, but many editors frown on them. Why is that? Aren’t they a perfectly good part of speech? Don’t they serve a purpose?

Actually adverbs can be a very good thing.

Find out why in this episode.

Read more in our show notes plus get clickable links at http://writingforchildren.com/015

 

Don’t forget to leave your questions!

The faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature answers the podcast questions. You can leave your question at http://www.writingforchildren.com/speak. If it’s featured on the show, you’ll receive an awesome embroidered ICL all cotton baseball cap

What’s Working in Your Manuscript, What’s Not, and How to Fix It:
Go to https://www.instituteforwriters.com/critique-service/

Jun 5, 2016

The Writing for Children podcast has launched!

Here is what you’ll get out of this show every Friday:

 

It’s short, easy to consume, yet jam-packed with content If you’re writing for children. Doesn’t matter if the children you’re writing for are pre-k, elementary school age, middle grade, or YA, this is a great show for you to listen to. We’ll be focusing on craft. Some of the episodes we’ve already done

 

Some of the ones we have in store for you are Episode 001-Write a Children's Book What's Your Idea, 006-Holiday and Seasonal Material and coming up, 009-Creating Characters for Young Children, 010-Unusual Story Forms. 

We also have downloadable show notes every week with the transcript, plus, linked tips and hard to find resources.

 

We even answer your writer questions in our weekly listener question of the week segment, answered by the Institute of Children’s literature faculty.

 

We’d love it if you’d subscribe and leave your review, too.

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