Prompts & Inspirations + Contest!

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I’ve decided to revive my Prompts and Inspirations posts, dust them off, and give them a good shake. “Why?” you might be asking. Because my good friend, Vivian Kirkfield, is hosting a WRITING CONTEST over at her blog, and having come up with a formula for her contest, I was encouraged to post my formula here.

Do you remember when I entered Susanna Hill’s Halloweenie contest? I complained at having to scrunch my story into 100 words. Had the contest been to write a story for children using my best 500 words, I would have thought, no problem. But 100 words… Impossible! However, nose to the proverbial grindstone, I grabbed a cup of minty tea (with honey), sat at my computer, and pulled out a story.

On to Vivian’s challenge! Is her contest to write a children’s story in 100 words?

Not even close.

And don’t guess a more generous number.

Seuss-3Vivian’s inspiration for this contest came after reading that the great Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was given a challenge by Bennett Cerf, one of the publishing giants of Random House. The Challenge was for Dr. Seuss to write a story using 50 unique words. Granted Green Eggs and Ham comes in at a whopping 775 words, but he wrote that timeless classic using only 50 frequently repeated words.

Vivian’s challenge cranks the difficulty up a few notches. I wonder if Theodore Geisel were alive today, what masterful and amusing story he would write with such limitations as these. Are you ready for this?

Write a story in 50 words flat for kids ages 12 or under. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious, and the title doesn’t count toward the word count. You can find the contest details here at Vivian’s blog.

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Prizes? Oh, yes! Vivian has outdone herself, and I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to hop over to her blog to find out what the winners will receive.

THE MAKINGS OF A STORY. Whether writing a picture book or novel, the writer begins by bringing the main character on stage and offering a look into his/her ordinary world. Something happens, better known as the inciting event. This event  is often disturbing to the main character and causes him/her to make a change. The Main character decides to make the change. Enter the new special world from which there is no turning back. He/she faces several trials and challenges and fails them all. The low point comes when the main character feels all is lost. In a moment of inspiration, he/she rises to the challenge once more. More trials and challenges come as he/she grows stronger. The turning point comes when our main character must defend what he/she values most. Enter the climax. Evil + main character + what main character values most come together. The main character triumphs and the story closes with the denouement, showing how the main character will live better because of the changes.

“But how am I going to get all of that wrapped up in 50 words?” you ask.

MY 50-WORD STORY FORMULA

For 50 words, you’ll have to abbreviate my instructions above. Here’s how I do it.

Break the 50 words into four lines of about 12-13 words each.

1. Introduce the MC and problem.

2. Offer details and insights into the problem.

3. Either add another layer to the problem or lead up to a resolution.

4. This is where you bring the story home with a clever twist!

 

I hope you’ll follow my blog to read my 50-word story. I’ll be posting soon!

Mentor Text Study Questions – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI’m coming into the final week of ReFoReMo month. (Read For Research Month for picture book writers and illustrators.) Each day we receive five new mentor texts to check out at the library, study, analyze, question, etc… If only my library (anyone’s library) had the five new picture books available on our daily reading list.

So what are some of the questions I ask myself when I’m reading (researching) a mentor text?

1. What is the central question, and does everything in the story try to answer that question?

Yes. Every story must have a central question. A rule I learned the hard way. After having a trusted friend and writer look over a manuscript a while back. The comment she made was that my story, though filled with great action, humor, and well crafted characters, was a bit like tangled Christmas lights. (Gadz!) Once I posted my central story question beside my computer and kept one eye on it and the other eye on my manuscript as I edited, I was amazed at how quickly my word count shrunk and how my story gained focus. One of those Ah Ha moments I treasure like crazy.

What other questions do I ask while researching mentor texts?

2. What is the main character’s motivation for doing what they did or for reacting as they did? (no motivation = who cares)

3. Why something happens the way it does in the story. The Story arc. 

4. Are the main character’s failed attempts escalating to the point that my main character falls to his/her lowest point?

5.  Will the intended audience care? 

6. What do I think of the end? Why do I think the author chose to end the story that way? 

7. Is the ending satisfying? What were my feelings about the outcome of the problem? 

A. Was the ending predictable?

B. Was the ending inevitable?

C. Was the ending a plausible surprise/twist? 

D. Was I disappointed by the ending? 

Even if you don’t write picture books, mentor texts benefit writers.

Do you read mentor texts? Are there questions you ask while you’re studying those texts? I’d love to hear from you.

Tighten your manuscript – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AYou’ve heard these, I’ve heard these, and up-and-coming writers are sure to hear these comments about their work…

But those are my best words.

Kill my what? No! Not my darlings!

But I worked hard perfecting that lovely, poetic flow of flowery adjectives.

What’s wrong with adverbs?

Take out that “telling” sentence? But what if the reader doesn’t grasp the showing sentence?

My love of writing centers around picture books. Therefore, I don’t have the luxury of writing without eyeing the word count at the bottom of my screen. I take a deep breath as the number crawls to 550. Gad’s I’m at 750, and I haven’t reached my story’s climax! In my critique groups, I find it easy to help others trim words. Since I don’t have a relationship to any of their carefully structured sentences, I can highlight every adjective, adverb, and telling sentence, offer stronger verbs, offer suggestions, etc…

Here is what I look for…

Signs of a passive “telling” voice. I don’t want to read that Mary is happy, I want to see her hands clapping and her feet lifting off the ground.

In picture books, descriptive passages are word hogs and can often be deleted and turned over to the capable hands of the illustrator. Unless the color of Sarah’s shoes are important to the story, don’t write — Sarah slipped on her pink, sparkly shoes with the purple, satin bows. That sentence weighs in at 12 words. Let’s shorten it for a picture book: Sarah slipped on her shoes. Woo Hoo!  5 words.

We’ve all been told to delete adverbs. And after years of writing, most writers reach the point when, after proofreading, they rejoice at not finding any. Adverbs are a sure sign we haven’t chosen the strongest verbs to “show” the action.

Mark quickly ran to the corner.  Mark dashed to the corner.

It’s easy to string a series of adjectives together when the best choice is to use one or none.

Sarah pulled on her sky-blue, loosely knit, chunky, cowl-neck sweater.

In a picture book, the writer needs to leave the bulk of description to the illustrator and write: Sarah pulled on her sweater.

Lemons are yellow, so unless the lemons in your story are purple for a reason, leave out the adjectives.

Does your picture book open with lots of back story? Have you offered the reader a long look into your main character’s past? While this information is good to know. Correction: While this information is good for YOU to know, your reader can be spared. I recently read a picture book manuscript in which the first 500 words toured me through the main character’s house, offered me a look at his town, outlined his hobbies, pointed out the places his friends lived and, I’m not kidding you, went on to say, and now my story begins… Needless to say, the deletion of those first 500 words brought the word count down.

A picture book of 500 words or less requires the writer to put every word on trial and trim unnecessary words with the thought of receiving $20 per deleted word. (Make that $50.) Constantly question if every sentence reveals something about character or plot. At the top of my computer screen, I tape a slip of paper with the central question of my story. Everything I write must answer that question.

I’m off to tighten my word count.

Happy writing.