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Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Cheers,
Kim Tomsic

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Top Ten Editing Techniques to Revise your Writing

Bonus advice...don't do your own illustrations!
Top Ten Techniques to Revise your Writing©
By Kim Tomsic

I recently met with a group of children’s book writers for a brain storming session on revision techniques.

Here’s what we came up with:

1.      Choose strong verbs to make your sentences active NOT passive.

2.      USE CONSONANTS TO NAIL HUMOR. Comedy writers say consonants are funnier than vowels, so revise word choice where needed. Corndog is funnier than ice cream, upchuck is funnier than vomit.

3.       WATCH OUT FOR “STARTS”. Avoid having your character “start” or “begin” something. Don’t have him start walking down the street or begin making dinner. Think like Nike™—just do it!  The exception: “Started” works when the character begins to do something, but then stops, i.e. “I started to close the door, but the stranger caught it with his foot.”

4.      SHOWING MAKES FOR MORE INTERESTING PROSE. Duh! As writers, we’ve heard this a gazillion times—show don’t tell. But we still make the mistake of telling. Not to worry, that’s what revisions are for! When editing your manuscript, weigh every sentence in your story. Does it show or does it tell? I have an amazing example borrowed from Matt de la Pena’s book We Were Here. In the book the main character is smack in the middle of a first kiss. Instead of giving the reader a “tell” line like, “I was nervous” or “I felt awkward” the author shows how the character felt by writing,

“On the outside I tried to make like everything was super smooth and calm and my palms were dry as hell, but inside my mind was thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts like: How long do I keep my mouth open? And when do I turn my face? And how much tongue do I use? And where do I put my hands? And how are we supposed to breathe?”(255).

5.      LISTEN TO THE VOICE. Ask yourself if each line meets the voice you intend to convey. Read it aloud and think of your audience. If you get bored with the sound of your prose, your audience will grow bored, too. Next, have somebody else read your story aloud and listen to the words with fresh ears (especially picture book writers). You may hear the reader emphasize words you did not intend to highlight, or you may hear the story exactly as you anticipated.

6.      DO THE EXTRA WORK. If you know your writing weaknesses, search your manuscript for those problem areas. Read books in your genre. Use tools—author John McPhee advises writers to skip the thesaurus and use the dictionary when looking for better words. He says the dictionary gives the subtle nuances around the meaning of words and can inspire better choices. 

7.      Keep a rules book, especially if your story has magic. And let your readers in on the rules, so they understand the stakes. Also make a timeline for your story to keep things in sync. I remember one author saying his copy editor found he had eight weeks in his October!

8.      Make a check list to see if your story contains satisfying plot elements.

¨   Does your character have a want (and does reader want to root for MC)?
¨   Is there an inciting incident?
¨   Does your story have real stakes and tension?
¨   Does your main character (m.c.) make things happen, instead of having a bunch of things happen to him?
¨   Do you have a compelling antagonist vs. a gratuitous antagonist?
¨   Do you have interesting subplots?
¨   Does your m.c. make a big decisions that propels him through a couple of “doorways” ? A doorway, in my eyes, is a point of no return—imagine toothpaste squeezing out of a tube, once you squeeze it out, you can’t put it back in. Some giant examples include: killing someone, announcing a kids secret over the school’s loudspeakers, burning down a building…those are all things you can’t undo…you can’t unkill (in most books), you can’t untell, you can’t unburn. **Please note—the doorways happen when your main character makes a decision, NOT when something happens to your main character.
¨  Do you have a second doorway? I hope so!
¨   Do you have a black moment when your main character almost gives up or feels at his low?
¨   Do you have a showdown moment and/or a climax?
¨   Does your main character change by the end of the story?
¨   Did you tie up loose ends?

9.       JOIN A CRITIQUING GROUP. Get involved in a critiquing group and listen to at least some of the advice. Be a good receiver and a good reviewer. We get so close to our work, it's hard to hear it clearly after a while. The more you critique somebody's work, the more you're able to see the flaws that need fixing in your own manuscript.

10.  Add tools to your toolbox: 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Two 2013 Scholarships Available: One for Children's Book Writer and One for Children's Book Illustrator



Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Can Receive a Free Opportunity:
Attention children’s book writers and illustrators—would you like a free chance to attend a conference and meet agents, editors and Newbery Award winning authors? Only two weeks remain to apply for the VICKIE FERGUSON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP. Scholarship recipients will receive fully paid tuition to the 2013 RMC SCBWI Letters and Lines Fall Conference, plus a manuscript or portfolio review (as indicated on the free application). The scholarship will be awarded to one writer as well as one illustrator—please apply if you’re actively committed to your craft.  Application deadline is June 22, 2013. 
To apply, please click link for application: [2013VF_ScholarshipApplication.pdf]

More about the conference: The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is excited to host the annual Letters and Lines Conference at a new location; this year we will be at the Denver Marriott West in Golden, Colorado on September 28 and September 29. This weekend conference will include two unforgettable days packed with valuable learning and networking opportunities.  Attendees will find many opportunities to connect on a personal level with our speakers during break-out sessions, intensives, individual critiques, pitch sessions, query workshops, first page readings, and more. If some of these terms are foreign to you, it’s all the more reason to attend. You’ll not only learn how to elevate your work, but you’ll also learn the business side of your craft.  This year’s lists of distinguished speakers include:
Linda Sue Park
  • Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park
  • Arianne Lewin, executive editor, G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Kelly Barrales-Saylor, editorial director, Albert Whitman & Company
  • Wendy Loggia, executive editor, Delacorte/Random House
  • Brianne Johnson, agent, Writers House
  • Terrie Wolf, agent, AKA Literary Management
  • Bitsy Kemper, author and PR Queen!
  • Illustrator Michael Garland
Take a look at last year’s scholarship recipient: click here
You must be a member of the SCBWI in order to apply for the scholarship. Members get a gazillion benefits (a.k.a. a bunch). JOIN NOW.

Thank you Vickie Ferguson. The Vickie Ferguson Memorial Scholarship honors the memory of Vickie Ferguson, long-time member of RMC-SCBWI, who passed away in May 2005. Vickie was dedicated to her writing. This scholarship seeks to support those writers and illustrators who are committed to their craft and are actively writing and/or illustrating.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Fresh Perspective on How to Write a Query Letter

I’ve seen a lot of “Query Letter” posts, but none like the one Chuck from Writer's Digest features on his blog at Writers Unboxed. His article focuses specifically on writing that last paragraph—the bio section—of the query letter, and he gives a fresh perspective on the “do’s and don’ts”. It’s definitely worth a read:

HERE’S A QUICK LOOK AT THE COMPOSITION OF A QUERY:

There are many many many…many blog posts on how to write a query (I’ve listed several links at the bottom of this post) But if you’re craving a quick rundown, here we go:

I.                    Firstly, personalize your letter—Dear, Jen. NOT Dear, Agent.

II.                 Secondly, limit your query to one page. Have white space so it looks reader-friendly; and break it down to three simple paragraphs—the hook, the book, and the cook.

A.     Paragraph One (the hook):
Your first line can tell the agent why you queried them: Thank you for speaking at Big Sur in the Rockies. I blah blah blah w/you. Or: I enjoyed your interview on such-and-such blog and …
The next line is where you include your hook, title, genre and the word count of your book.  Please consider my 70,000 word count YA novel THE UNACCOUNTED. It's teenage Jason Bourne meets The Prisoner of Zenda.
(In addition to saying if your book is YA or Middle Grade, include if it is fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, science fiction etc. as relevant).

B.     Paragraph Two (the book):
Write a paragraph about your manuscript that reads like jacket flap copy (present an exciting glimpse of the story without giving up the ending). A jacket flap describes the story in such a gripping way that book store browsers slap down some cash to buy the book. Agents may use this copy to help present your book to a publishing house, so create a compelling and tight paragraph.

A.     Paragraph Three (the cook):
This is your biography, and nobody explains the “how’s” better than Chuck, so please visit his blog.

III.              Thirdly, be professional, know the business, be courteous, and close with your name and contact information. 

Good Luck!!! 
Bonus info:
The above “hook” was an actual pitch by David Lipsky and Darin Strauss's for THE UNACCOUNTED and this title will be available in bookstores winter 2013. 
More on "high concept" hooks, please visit my link about high concept hooks and pitches. 

 More discussion on queries can be found:

How to write a query links:
Query Shark (this is a great blog where writers can receive feedback)