Monthly Archives: July 2017

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: WHO ON EARTH IS TALKING? (part 9)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

As you write your children’s story a certain question (one of many) will pop into your head; who is narrating the story? Of course you are the writer, you are putting the prose on paper, but whose words are you using? From whose perspective are you telling Johnnie Rabbit’s story? The literary community call the perspective of a story the point of view, and it is so powerful it can make or break your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let us review your process and your story thus far:

You had a brilliant idea to write a children’s picture book about the adorable Johnnie Rabbit. You did an inordinate amount of background work–you researched rabbits and the market for books about them and similar animals by reading tons of books, you plotted out your story, you built character bibles for Johnnie and his supporting characters, you determined where and when the story takes place–the setting, you added the occasional dialogue between characters, and you strengthened your prose by incorporating the senses. Yet a nagging question persists; who is telling the story?

Point of View (POV)

All stories are told from a perspective–a vantage point as some writers describe it. This perspective is the point of view which indicates who is doing the narration. Point of view is a subtle and complex concept. It does not necessarily rely on first, second of third person narration, but depends on whose “head” the narrator is in when he/she tells the story. For example, you write, “Johnnie hopped over the fence onto Farmer Jones’ property as if he owned it.” Who determined that Johnnie hopped over the fence in such a manner? Maybe if Johnnie told the story we would hear him say that he was really scared and apprehensive when he did the hopping. The narrator tells us how Johnnie hopped based on her perspective. As a result, the narrator will be limited to what she sees, hears, and knows.

First, Second and Third Person Point of Views

Articulating your story from a first-person point of view involves the writer narrating the story usually as the main character by using the pronoun I. This means that she tells the story through her own point of view. This kind of narration is limited since the writer cannot go into the “heads” of other characters to know their thoughts. Children’s stories are rarely ever told using the first-person.

The second-person point of view is rare in any type of fiction. It entails the characters being referred to as you. Using a second-person narrative is difficult for adults, therefore it is never used in children’s books.

The third-person point of view involves the writer narrating the story through a certain perspective and using the pronouns she, he or they. There are variations to third-person POV such as limited, omniscient, and limited omniscient. Writing in the third-person omniscient, gives you the opportunity to play God, since you see, hear and know everything about all the characters, however, this type of writing can be onerous. The third-person limited POV is one in which the narrator knows much more about the other characters than a first-person narrator, however, she does not know everything. Most children’s books are written using this point of view.

It is important to be consistent in your prose; in other words, do not jump from one “head” to another! A good way to determine which point of view to use in your stories is to try them out by writing drafts in each category. Select the one that you are most comfortable with.

A giveaway of three Nosey Charlie Goes To Court books is currently running at Goodreads.com.  Sign up and join the fun!

 

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL (part 8)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” What is this maxim all about? It is telling us not to employ our senses to do evil. When you write children’s picture books a great way to evoke the most vivid images in the minds of readers is to infuse prose that engages the senses. While it is simple enough to get readers to read a story, it is not as simple to get them to see what you see, hear what you hear, taste what you taste, smell what you smell, and feel what you feel.

Although there are five senses, you do not need to apply them all in your text every time. You simply have to include appropriate ones to help deliver strong imagery. I was very cognizant of this when I wrote Nosey Charlie Comes To town.  In one scene I wrote: “Mama Leticia knew from experience that the crab apples would be tasty. She picked up the first fruit. . . she felt it, sniffed it, and shook it with a flurry.” As you read these words, your senses of sight, hearing, and smell spring into action. In your mind’s eye you can see the crab apple in Mama Leticia’s hand, you can smell the ripe fruit and you can even hear the seeds rattling as she shakes it! This is the kind of imagery your prose should conjure up.

Let us examine the effects of all five senses in our prose in more detail.

SIGHT

 The sense of sight is the easiest to portray. You do so with a few choice adjectives, words that describe colours, locations, size etc. In your Johnnie Rabbit story, you can simply write that the turnips were white with purple cheeks or Johnnie wore a red bow tie, and your readers can already see what you are writing about.

HEARING

 For readers to hear what you want them to hear you must employ strong verbs. For example: Instead of writing “Johnnie heard the thunder,” say “The thunder clapped and Johnnie Rabbit sprinted to his hole for cover.” Another method that is effective with children is to use the literary device of onomatopoeia. In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, instead of writing a long sentence about many people coming and going into the courthouse, I wrote, “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” You can also use a simile—another literary device. “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.” When you use similes be mindful that your readers are children and use analogies that refer to things they know.

 TASTE

 The sense of taste is probably the most difficult to articulate on paper in a way that is impactful. It is simple to say, “Johnnie Rabbit ate a delicious lunch,” but that is not strong enough to awaken the sense of taste. This is where the popular writing expression “show, don’t tell” comes in. Say instead, “Johnnie plopped the juicy carrots into his mouth, his taste buds exploded, and he smacked his lips.”

SMELL

There are numerous adjectives you can use to write about smells—good smells and bad ones. You should have no difficulty applying some strong ones to your prose. For example: “When Johnnie rooted up the rotten cabbage, it stunk like a dead rat.” When you read this sentence you immediately want to cover your nose.

FEELING

The sense of feeling can relate to a physical touch or an emotional feeling. The former is easier to write about because it is action oriented. “The boy slapped Johnnie on the side of his head.” You and I feel that slap the moment we read about it. To evoke emotional feelings in the readers, you have to again apply the “show, don’t tell,” method.  “Johnnie’s father moaned and writhed all night, the pain was so great.”

While you want to adhere to the adage “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” in the crafting of children’s picture books you must evoke strong imagery in your readers’ minds, and in order to do so it is necessary to appropriately apply the senses.

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WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: WHERE AND WHEN IS IT HAPPENING? (part 7)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. A children’s story must take place somewhere and at sometime. That being said, let us segue into a key component of any story whether it is fiction or non-fiction—it must have a setting.

 

A rustic setting of place

What is setting really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary setting is “the manner, position, or direction in which something is set; the time, place, and circumstances in which something occurs or develops.” You will note that this definition covers a lot of ground, but important ground that will make your story either seem real or fake.

In your story, Johnnie Rabbit is up to his tricks. The questions your readers will want answered are: Where are the escapades taking place? Is he in his neighbour’s garden or running around in a park? When is he doing his tricks—day or night? Is he doing them in the winter or spring? When farmer Brown chases him, does Johnnie run north or east?

Without placing the story in an appropriate setting, your young readers will not be able to visualize the scenes. While Johnnie Rabbit and his friends are important to the story, the setting can be just as vital. Imagine the Goldilocks story without the house of the three bears in the woods. Where would all that interaction take place?

 How much setting is required?

The right amount of setting based on the context of the story is also important. For example: In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, the second book in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series, the title gives readers an idea of setting from the beginning. The story is going to deal with something in a court. My young readers are not led astray or disappointed! There are a few scenes set inside a courthouse with a judge dressed in a robe and wig to boot! In addition to the court scenes there are other settings showing how and why Charlie came to be in the courthouse. Of course, you are writing a picture book. The artwork will provide answers to some of these question, however, you and the illustrator must first grasp the situation.

Injecting context

Context is the ingredient that seasons the story, and you spice it by setting up scenes. I injected character into the courthouse by stating that it has gleaming white tiles on the walls, that the hallway is wide, and the courtroom is filled with dark wooden benches. Even without looking at the illustrations, a young reader could visualize the room, and although Charlie could not be seen in the courtroom  pictures, I know readers are able to imagine him hiding under a bench.

Writing picture books does not require a lot of description; good illustrations cover most of this, but placing the story in a proper setting is crucial for young imaginative readers.

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