All posts by blackws7

About blackws7

Yvonne Blackwood is the author of Into Africa a Personal Journey (Amazon’s Best seller under Ghana in 2002); Into Africa: the Return, and Will that be Cash or Cuffs? Children's books: Nosey Charlie Comes To Town and Nosey Charlie Goes To Court. She has published several short stories in anthologies, and won the Canadian authors’ Association millennium short story contest in 2002. She has written articles for Intouch magazine, and published numerous articles in newspapers including the Toronto Star. Blackwood is a retired banker and a world traveler.

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Words! Words! Play with them! (part 11)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The English language is so complex, it is difficult to imagine anyone knowing all of its nuances. As I pursue studies in an English Major degree, I am learning more and more how complex it truly is. As you write your children’s picture books you will develop an appreciation for words and their nuances.

In the meantime, the million-dollar question is, why do we write books for children? Author, Ann Morris, summed it up succinctly when she wrote, “The stories themselves are to promote vocabulary and language skills, entertainment, learning experiences, subject matter, social skills, and any number of skills in the early reader.”  With such wide-ranging reasons, the writer must utilize certain skills in order to achieve any of these goals.

 Literary techniques

 Let us determine that your Johnnie Rabbit stories are intended to help children learn to read, to teach them about rabbits and also to entertain. How can these seemingly varied reasons be incorporated into a children’s picture book? Literary devices are important tools that authors use,  and they are numerous. Since you are writing for children, we will focus on only a few that are appropriate for this genre.

Onomatopoeia: These are words that sound the same as, or similar to the meaning of the word.  For example, in part # 8 of this series of articles, I wrote that “Charlie heard the TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP of many feet.” Children identify with sounds. Other words like “buzz” and “POP” can inject great emotion into a story.

Alliteration: Repeating the same letter or consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive or closely connected words. Children go wild when they hear or have to repeat, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Personification: This occurs any time a non-human takes on characteristics of a human in a story. You have already done so by making Johnnie Rabbit anthropomorphic, but you can take personification even further; you could allow the vegetables on farmer Jones’ property to think and speak!

A Simile: A figure of speech in which you compare two things that are very different. By so doing, you can make a description vivid for young readers. In part # 8 of theses articles I used the simile, “The farmer laughed like Bugs Bunny.”  Any child reading this sentence would quickly visualize Bugs laughing and identify with how the farmer must have laughed.

Imagery: descriptive language that paints vivid pictures in the reader’s mind and at the same time evokes the senses. This is achieved by employing adjectives, adverbs and words carefully.  A good example is a sentence in the upcoming, Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener, “As Charlie roamed about the park he smelled the delicious aroma of hot dogs cooking on a grill.”

While these literary devices and several others can be appropriately used in children’s picture books, there are a few you should avoid. Do not use flashbacks, flash-forwards, oxymorons, and satire in this genre.

Coming very soon; Charlie is at it again in Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener!

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: Lights! Camera! Action! (part 10)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

The words, Lights, Camera, Action, may be the customary cue to a film crew to start filming, but they are words we could also consider during the writing process. The power of motion is invaluable in any story, and even more so in children’s books.

 

 

 

Flashbacks

Flashbacks do not work well in children’s picture books. For this reason, you should not reveal information about events that are long past by writing that Johnnie Rabbit is thinking about such events. Instead write about the live action that is occurring in the moment.

Let us cast our minds back to the story of The Three Little Pigs to see how action was implemented. The pigs left home, they searched for a spot, they spent time building their houses. The first pig was lazy and quickly built her house of straw. The second pig was slightly less lazy and built his house of sticks. After the building project was completed, by these two pigs, they sang and danced together. We are able to visualize these actions and we can also see the third pig working ardently as he built his house of stones. Then the big bad wolf came. We followed the action; he approached the first pig and pleaded with her to let him in and when she did not comply, he huffed and puffed and blew the house down, but luckily the pig escaped. The wolf then scooted over to the second and third pigs with the same request. The story is a series of action until the end when the wolf came down the chimney and fell into the pot of scalding water.

If you have Johnnie Rabbit sitting or standing around and occasionally saying a few words to anyone who cares to listen, your story will be dull. You must get Johnnie involved with other characters. You built a character bible for both Johnnie and his supporting characters for a reason. Johnnie should interact with these characters; he should have conflicts with them, thus adding suspense and emotion to the story. In the story of The Three Little Pigs, we held our breath when the wolf asked each pig to let him in because we―the readers―knew the wolf’s intention. Emotion reached a crescendo when the wolf began to huff and puff as he tried to blow the second house down. We asked ourselves, will he be successful blowing down this house as he had done with the first? You must show Johnnie Rabbit going from one place to another to meet with other characters or show him doing things with them. Do not simply tell us about what he did, show us.

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

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.

 My author page on Amazon

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.

Now available at Amazon.com

http://www.yvonneblackwood.com

Writing Children’s Picture Books: Enrich Your Story With Dialogue (part 6)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Your Johnnie Rabbit story is progressing nicely, and you are loving his every move. Then half way into the tale you realize that the story cannot be all narration. There must be interaction between Johnnie Rabbit and other animals—family members, friends, even enemies. The missing link is dialogue. Your anthropomorphic rabbit, behaving like a human being, must speak to someone in order to make some scenes come alive.

Dialogue 

Written dialogue is very different from real dialogue.  It is important that you develop a good ear for people’s conversation and translate what you overhear into written dialogue that is smarter and funnier—dialogue that makes your character unique. You may recall in part 2 of these articles, “You Don’t Know Everything,” I suggested that you watch cartoons. The reason for this is not only to see what the trends are, but to help you grasp current speech patterns. By incorporating trendy speech patterns into your story the characters will seem more engaging and children (your readers) who watch the cartoons will relate easily to the dialogue.

In the character bible you built for Johnnie and the secondary character (part 5) you listed certain attributes that help to make them stand out. Dialogue is another way to develop your characters. So when should you use dialogue? Unfortunately, there are no specific rules about when to use it, however, if you find that you are writing long descriptions and endless narrative, infuse some dialogue and see if it makes the story better. For example, in Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, there is a scene when Charlie finally returns home after disappearing all afternoon and causing his aunt, uncle and cousin a great deal of worry. Charlie wiped tears from his puffy eyes and blew his nose. He could barely speak, but he managed to say, “Mama. . .Papa. . . Pete, I’m very sorry. I shouldn’t have left the park. Please forgive me.” Instead of employing dialogue, I could have narrated the information this way:  Charlie told Mama, Papa, and Pete that he was sorry. He acknowledged that he should not have left the park. He asked the three of them to forgive him. Which version is more engaging and appealing to a child reading the story? You be the judge. In addition, dialogue can be used to provide information and to move the plot forward. Dialogue is a significant tool in literature; do not hesitate to use it.

Summer reading for children 3-8 years old, buy at Amazon.com or .ca

 WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: IS HE A GOOD GUY OR A BAD GUY? (Part 5)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

The creative juices are flowing and you are writing as if there is no tomorrow. After all you have carefully plotted out your story. Great start. As the story progresses, Johnnie Rabbit is up to some tricks and you have an idea how to articulate it and how the matter will be resolved in the end. But somehow your rabbit character seems flat. Why is this?

Although you are writing a children’s book with few words, there is an important step every author should take at the beginning of telling a story—you should build a character bible for your main character and the secondary ones. It is the greatest way to create interesting characters, and a way for you to truly know them.

For Johnnie Rabbit to appeal to readers they don’t just want to know his name. These are some of the information readers will want to know: How old is he? How big is he? What is his colour? Where does he live? What is his weakness? Is he a chatterbox? Is he introverted?  Does he have a best friend or any friends at all? Does he have a family? What are his habits and idiosyncrasies (does he blink continuously?) When I was writing Nosey Charlie Comes To Town and he got into trouble, I had him say, “What have I done, what have I done? I only wanted to have some fun!” I found this to be catchy and made it unique to Charlie as his go-to expression which I’ll use throughout the series.

Writing down details about your protagonist serve two main purposes. (1) You know your character in great details and therefore know what he is capable of, and this will assist readers to know him well also. (2) You do not have to rack you brain to find out about Johnnie Rabbit when you write because you have the information at your finger tips. This is especially helpful if you are writing a series.

While Johnnie Rabbit is the main character of the story and we should know a lot about him, we do need to know some information about the supporting characters in the story too, especially if they reappear. These characters will have different attitudes and points of views from Johnnie Rabbit, therefore recording details about them will help you to avoid writing misinformation. Building  character bibles for both main and secondary characters is a good thing.

AVAILABLE at AMAZOM.COM

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: PLACE, PLOT, AND IDEAS (Part 4)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

Let the writing begin! You have followed the previous three steps (parts 1, 2, & 3) I have laid out and now you are ready to put pen to paper, or better still, you are ready to let the keyboard sing! What else could you possible require?

Like any other trade, a writer needs the tools of the trade—a comfortable workspace to read and write; a computer of course; a thesaurus and a dictionary—okay, I know that you can easily access these documents on your computer, but having a paper copy is a good thing for a few reasons.

Quick access book

(a) Having these books at your fingertips provide easy access so that you do not have to boot up your computer to check a single word. (b) Microsoft does not know synonyms and will sometimes give you an incorrect spelling of a word, or indicate that your spelling is incorrect when it is not. (c)When you need to find the perfect word, sometimes the computer will not provide it. The other things you need are a printer and paper. Trust me, no one writes a perfect book in one sitting. You will be doing a lot of printing and checking, and rewriting. I suggest you write two manuscripts initially (more about this later).

The next move is to write a plot of your story. Remember that every good story has a beginning—the point where you introduce your main character and grab the reader’s interest—a middle—the place where conflicts builds up, and the end—where conflicts are resolved and you leave your reader wanting more. The plot does not have to be sophisticated; it is merely a guide to keep you on the straight-and-narrow! Since we do not usually think through everything logically, sometimes you have to change parts of the story so that it makes sense.

When I began to write Nosey Charlie Comes To Town, I already had half of the plot worked out based on my original idea. The story was going to be about a family of squirrels living in a park in a city, and it was going to revolve around the fall season because I saw the crab apple trees laden with fruits in the fall. So what? What would be the conflict? How would it be resolved? These details were unknown. This is where imagination took over and as the creative juices flowed, all kinds of ideas came to the fore and I was able to complete mt plot.

Nosey Charlie Goes To Court is now available at Amazon.com.

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: BUY, BORROW, BUT DO NOT STEAL! (Part 3)

By Yvonne Blackwood

Now that you have a great idea for your children’s book—the tale of Johnnie Rabbit—and you have researched both the subject and the market, you are ready to write.

Johnnie Rabbit

Wait! Not so fast. Assuming that this writing event is not just a one-time exercise, you need to prepare a bit more.

 Buy, Borrow, but do not steal!

It is imperative that you join the public library or renew your membership if it has lapsed. Why? Because you need to buy some children’s books, but to avoid spending a fortune you should borrow some also. When I was preparing to write Nosey Charlie Comes to Town, I would borrow seven or eight books at a time, read them, return them, and borrow another set until I was fully versed it how they are written. Reviewing children’s books on the internet serves a purpose by giving you a cursory view of the books, however, if you are serious about writing in this genre you must familiarize yourself with several aspects of the books that the internet cannot provide realistically.

Sizes and Page Count

Children’s books come in several sizes, from small 5 X 5 to over 11 inches. They also have various page count. It was only while doing my research that I learned that children’s books for ages 3-8 usually have 24, 32, or 48 pages. Knowing the number of pages your book will contain is important because it will dictate the number of words you can write and the number of illustrations the book can have.

Page Lay-out

All children’s picture books are not created equally. You should be aware that each has a different lay-out. Some books have text and illustrations on alternate pages, others have illustrations on every page with text above, below, or to the side of the illustrations, and some even have text written in the illustrations.

 Pricing is important

By examining books bought or borrowed you will observe that prices vary, that hard cover books tend to be more expensive, and that soft cover books fall within similar ranges. The last thing any author wants to do is to overprice her/his book because of lack of knowledge.

 Age Range

Your inspection of the children’s book section of the library will make it clear very quickly that the children’s picture book is a wide category, and that it is broken down further into ages 1-3 and 3-8. The first group can only handle board books. These have thick pages made from cardboard or chipboard, have brightly coloured pictures and little text with about a dozen pages. Since you have a tale to tell in your Johnnie Rabbit story, the age group you will serve is ages 3-8, and the word count should be maximum 1500. These matters you can only learn by physically examining books.

Next article: Writing is a lonely vocation: Join a writers group

Coming very soon, my second book in the Nosey Charlie series Nosey Charlie Goes To Court! 

Nosey Charlie Goes To Court

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nosey Charlie Comes To Town

www.yvonneblackwood.com

 

 

 

 

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING (Part 2)

I have a great idea!

 

You have decided on a fabulous idea. You are going to write a children’s story about Johnnie Rabbit, and he is going to be anthropomorphic. Although you have seen rabbits in the backyard and at the petting zoo, you really do not know much about them, except that the meat is eaten because you have seen it at the supermarket. How are you going to write a convincing story about a rabbit and not seem stupid? You must research, and do it diligently.

 

Research

Research is a major part of writing for children. You must research your subject and the market place. First, the subject. What are rabbits? What do they eat? Are they herbivores or carnivores? Where do they live? (You don’t want write in your story that Johnnie Rabbit lives in a sty!) How large do they become? What are their habits? Gathering this important information not only provides meat for your story, it gives it authenticity and makes your character real even if Johnnie Rabbit is fictional.

When I decided to write my children’s story, Nosey Charlie Comes To Town, the only thing I knew about squirrels is that they are always hiding nuts. I had no idea what they ate—it could not be just nuts! —although I have observed a determined little squirrel who regularly visits my backyard and tries every trick in the book, including lying vertically against the fence, in order to eat the seeds in the bird feeder. My research taught me that their diet consists of nuts, fruits, and seeds. This information was handily incorporated into the story and will certainly be used again and again in other episodes of The Nosey Charlie Adventures.

Second, you must research the children’s book market. Are there books about rabbits and similar animals? How many are there? Tapping into Amazon.com and Google will give you a good idea. You should also check how recent the last book on the subject was published. Are rabbits a popular subject in the children’s book genre? Read pop culture magazines and watch recent cartoons to get a sense of trends and speech patterns. Once you are satisfied with the answers to these questions, and it appears that there is a market for your rabbit story, get set to take step # 3.

Next article: Buy, Borrow, but  don’t steal!

www.yvonneblackwood.com

Nosey Charlie Comes To Town