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BOOK REVIEW―CLASSICS: JANE EYRE

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, one of the three Bronte author sisters, was published in 1847. It is still a fascinating story as it probably was at that time since it was very successful and well-reviewed. Classified as a Victorian novel, it provides excellent insight into life during the Victorian era. In addition, it is also a faux-autobiography written in the first-person; it is a Gothic and a coming of age novel.

The story begins with Jane as the suffering child, orphaned, and being badly treated by Mrs. Reed, her deceased uncle’s wife―conjures up memories of Cinderella. Mrs. Reed punishes Jane for defending herself against James, her brutish cousin, and locks her up in the red room, the place where her uncle breathed his last breath, the place Jane describes as “Here he lay in state.” It is a room that Jane abhors, and locking her in such a room is the last straw. “I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down; I uttered a wild, involuntary cry,” Jane confesses. She makes up her mind that day that she can no longer live under the roof of Mrs. Reed with her spoilt children.

Jane is sent away to Lowood boarding school shortly after this incident, but it appears she has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire! Poorly fed, poorly dressed, treated terribly, and humiliated by Mr. Brocklehurst, the school’s supervisor, Jane eventually befriends Helen Burns. Helen is a foil to Jane, a student one could refer to as the child-martyr who practices the “doctrine of endurance.” Jane states unequivocally, that she is no Helen Burns.

In spite of the hardships Jane endures at Lowood, she survives with a determination to earn a living of her own and be her own woman―contrary to the role of women in the Victorian era. When she completes her studies after ten years, she applies for a job as a governess. The job brings her to Thornfield Hall, and here the story moves toward the Gothic.

Tucked away miles from any other structure, the manor at Thornfield Hall is large and isolated. Jane describes the view of the property from the roof this way, “Leaning over the battlements and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds laid out like a map; the bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the gray base of the mansion; wood, dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown. . .” Jane hears eerie sounds and mirthless laughter, meets weird characters, observes prohibited spaces, and discovers there is a demon in the house. Four months after reporting for the job as a governess she meets the owner and her boss, Mr. Edward Rochester, an eccentric, wealthy, older man.

Jane’s life at Thornfield has its challenges, and readers obtain a good insight into the lives of governesses. Yet, life is certainly far better than anywhere else Jane has lived. . . until she agrees to marry. During the wedding ceremony, she is shockingly informed that her husband-to-be is married with a living wife! Jane runs away, and life becomes as tough and unbearable as it was at the boarding school.

After many twists and turns, and ups and downs, and Jane eventually inherits a fortune from a childless uncle, and does the unexpected. She follows her heart and returns to Thornfield where she marries the very man she had run away from, a man who is now a widow, blind, and has only one arm. Jane Eyre is indeed a fascinating story infused with several themes, morals, and excellent internal dialogue. It is a memorable classic.

Nosey Charlie Comes To Town and other books in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series are ideal for stocking stuffers.

www.amazon.com/author/write1

IS A PICTURE STILL WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

Photo by Linh Pham

Not so long ago, if you wrote an article, it was imperative that you included a picture or two. Why? Because as the old adage states, a picture is worth a thousand words. Besides, pictures help to emphasize the point of your article, or at least make it more interesting and appealing.

According to one social media guru, an article on social media with an image is 10 times more likely to be viewed versus one without. In fact, depending on the audience, a stand alone picture can attract more attention than an article. I recently experienced this personally when I posted a picture I had taken of a robin’s nest with three blue eggs on my front porch. The picture was posted on LinkedIn with a one-line caption, yet it received more views than any single 500-word article I had ever written!

It was Aristotle who said that “Art is the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans, and to the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likenesses.” Small wonder then that today’s article writers utilize visuals to help tell their stories.

What else is there about images why we love them so much? We love them because of our cognition and ability to pay attention, and images have the ability to attract our attention. In addition, bright colours engage attention quickly because our brains are made to respond to them. Furthermore, our sense of vision is the most active of the senses. One could say that The National Geographic Society would never have gained the prominence it has without those haunting, exotic photographs taken by the many photographers the employ.

But in the last ten years or so, the paradigm has shifted. A still photograph, it seems, is not good enough to emphasize points and attract readers to our articles. The Internet has changed the way we publish and view information. Now we utilize multi-media―a mixture of text and other media such as pictures, hyperlinks, and videos. According to Wistia, a video-hosting company, people spend on average of 2.6x more time on pages with video than without. This partly explains why video usage is growing rapidly.

Having resisted this digital media in the past, after completing the Digital Humanities course at York University last semester, I took the plunge and made a YouTube video to promote my children’s books. Why? Because authors who are keen to promote their books are utilizing videos to do so; a still picture is just not good enough anymore. It turns out that the post with the video garnered more views than any other article I have ever posted!

The essence of this story is, a picture may still be worth a thousand words, but articles with videos may be worth twice as many. Things are always changing, paradigm shifts are inevitable, and we should not be afraid to embrace technology―to some degree.

Let kids ages 4-8 unleash their creativity and colour the pictures in Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener Colouring Book with wild abandon!  Amazon.com

MY YOUTUBE VIDEO

WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS: The Struggle Between Opposing Forces (part 12)

By Yvonne Blackwood ~

In our very first article in this series I asserted that every story begins with an idea. I further emphasized in part 4 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 conflict builds up, and an end―the place where conflicts are resolved.

Conflicts

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, conflict is, “competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons.” Conflict is the soul of drama, and a key component of all fiction that is required to hold the readers interest. Without conflict there is no drama; your story will be dull and uneventful.

Types of Conflict  

Literary scholars have narrowed down the types of conflicts to five:

Man versus self

Man versus society

Man versus man

Man versus nature

Man versus supernatural

In your Johnnie Rabbit story, you will substitute Johnnie for man and determine who or what he has a conflict with. Is it farmer Jones next door (man)? Or is it against the vegetables in the garden (nature)?

The Importance of Conflict

An important question regarding fiction writing is, why is conflict so important? In some of my earlier articles I wrote that character, plot, setting and dialogue were key components of fiction writing. I must now add conflict. It is the glue that paces a story; it builds and builds to a crescendo. As conflict builds, it keeps readers reading, wanting to find out more―what happens next.  In my Nosey Charlie Goes To Court story, Charlie has a conflict with his Aunt Leticia. She has instructed him never to leave the park where they live, and he is to stay with his cousin Pete at all times. But Charlie is overly nosey; he must find out what is going on in the white building next door. He sneaks out of the park without Pete or his guardian knowing, and enters the building. A chain of events occurs after that. He is almost trampled by the many feet going in and out of the building. He slips through the first door he sees and finds himself in a courtroom! The drama escalates when someone screams RATS! Mistaking him for one of those hated creatures. The story climaxes when Charlie is locked in the courtroom unknowingly and he can’t get out.

There must be a resolution

Of course, as long as there is conflict there must also be resolution―you do not leave your young readers hanging. In part 10 I mentioned The Three Little Pigs; the conflict in that story was resolved when the big bad wolf fell into the pot of scalding water and the pigs ate him for dinner. In Cinderella, she married the handsome prince and lived happily ever after. In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, Charlie returns home safely (though scared to death) apologizes for leaving the park and Pete is assigned to stay with him at all times.

FREE BONUS GIFT, a 32-page Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener! Colouring Book  offered to eBook purchasers Nosey Charlie Chokes On A Wiener! picture book for a limited time. Books are for ages 3-8.

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: 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: 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.

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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