Once Upon a Time….

In what might be considered another life, I volunteered as a writing coach for elementary and middle school students at my children’s schools. For the younger students, I ran a Writing Club. We’d meet once a week and work on stories and writing exercises. They’d write their stories, and I’d act as editor to help them see how to make them better.

It was exposure to the ‘grown-up world’ where kids who liked to make up stories got to see what that could mean if you did it in real life. Some years we ended the year creating a magazine to pass out that showcased the students’ work. And we always entered the local Student Writers Showcase, usually bringing home winners in more than a few categories. The day the winners were announced, students from all over the city attended workshops run by different kinds of writers, even songwriters (this was in Nashville, TN after all), and heard a well-known writer speak.

And they’d fill these lines with words to put the pictures from their heads inside their friends’.

My older students, particularly in grades 7 and 8, produced a newspaper, 4 to 8 issues a year, writing the sorts of sports, music, and school activity stories their classmates would like. These students were also encouraged to participate in the Student Writers Showcase.

My motivation was – to be honest – partly guilt. I had my own children in these schools, each with innate writing ability, and they had me as guide and editor. It seemed unfair that other students at our school might not have that advantage. I offered my services to teachers and principals of the two schools. They were happy to accept.

I’m not a teacher. In fact, I’d say I’m not even a good substitute for one. But I know writing; I love writing. I can coach the thing I love. So I would find or devise word and writing exercises for the kids. I’d answer questions and explain what it was like to have real deadlines and editors and how you got a book published. I encouraged them to write the stories they wanted, and pushed to get them to be able to share their stories by using words that would transfer the picture in their heads into the heads of their classmates.

I didn’t focus on deep grammar, sentence diagrams, or conjugating verbs. Instead I went with things like word choices, active tenses, flow and continuity. They learned to uses their senses and then describe what they detected with them. They learned it was okay to use fragments and run-on sentences. Sometimes. They learned about dialogue and paragraphs, about how to choose what to put in and what to leave out. They learned that some editors, teachers, and even readers don’t want to read bad language and how if you want these people to read your story, you’ve got to stretch to think of other words to use. They learned they could write about anything. They could write in any genre or style. They could write fact or fiction, poetry or prose or song. They could even write plays.

I like to think most of the kids enjoyed it – they were only supposed to be in the Writing Club if they wanted to write. I like to think I helped some of them become better writers, and I know a couple at least have taken on careers that make use of their good writing skills.

Re-energizing this blog means re-dedicating myself to sharing writing craft. Over time I’ll post some of the exercises and workshop ideas I used in Writing Club. Maybe they’ll help some writers out there – or some writing coaches. If you’d like to get an idea of some things we did, check out one of my previous posts:

Tip ~ INKAS ~ #1 April 24, 2019 In “INKAS”

‘ta

It’s been a Long, Long Time

It would be nice to blame my long absence on COVID-19. After all, everyone understands how it has disrupted lifetimes, styles, pursuits. The world is not what was at the time of my last post.

However, the hiatus has been a symptom of something more. Cultural and political change in this country (the US) have given many of us pause for thought. In fact, for a lot of thought. In times of peril we move to aid in fixing what has gone wrong. Crisis demands our attention and other, even lifelong, pursuits languish. So it is with writing. When your voice is needed, or when you’re required to use it in different venues than usual, the usual suffers.

Well, the crises are not exactly over. Our society is still in turmoil and unrest. There is no real telling when – or even if – it will settle down. While I fully intend to continue to raise my social action voice as needed, I am also returning to my work, perhaps to undertake things in a different way. We each seek out our new version of normal. For me it is a return to projects I had planned as well as sharing the passion of my life. Despite the occasional hiatus, I can’t not write. And, I can’t not share what I discover about writing. So, I return.

For starters, I am re-energizing this blog and will soon be putting myself on a regular posting schedule. The goal will be two per week, on different topics. I will be posting more writing hints and discussions of the noveling process, as well as sharing some of my works-in-progress. And by connecting my blog, social media, and other pages, I hope to stir new discussion and introduce interested readers to my version of the writing life.

Feel free to ask questions, or to offer suggestions, even before the next post goes up.

‘ta

TIP ~ INKAS ~ #2

Moving on to the next group of INKAS, we’re going to look at Children’s Story and Children’s Story with Illustrations.

 

ChildStryNu

 

It was kind of fun, if a little strange, discussing writing children’s stories with kids in grades 3 through 5. Generally, they took it under pretty solemn consideration. Even young writers thought it was serious business! Especially when it came to the idea listed under No. 6, that a children’s story can teach a lesson.

But, starting from the top, because I was working with lower grade school children, I had to keep them considering stories for children younger than they are. Commercially, children’s book are classified in age groups like these:

  • Board books & concept books ……. birth to 4     word count: 0 – 100 words
  • Picture books ….. 3 to 8     word count: currently 500 – 600 words or even less
  • Picture story books ….. 5 to 8 (a hard sell)     word count: 500 – 1000 words, but crossing over 750 is an automatic ‘no’ for a lot of publishers
  • Chapter books ….. 6 to 7 & 8 to 10     word count: 5000 – 20,000 for 6/7 years and older & 20,000 – 35,000 for 8/10 years old
  • Middle grade novels ….. 8 to 12     word count: 30,000 – 45,000 for contemporary stories; science fiction/fantasy can run somewhat longer
  • Tween novels ….. 10 to 14     word count: 40,000 – 55,000 for contemporary; science fiction/fantasy, somewhat longer
  • Older YA novels ….. 15 to 18 &up     word count: 40,000+   (shorter would be a novella)

Not quite a children’s category, but something to know about, is the New Adult category. This is writing for young people age 17 to mid-20s, and has the same word count parameters as the Older YA novels. 

You should also be aware that many adults enjoy reading children’s category fiction, from about Middle grade novels on up.


Source and reference: I refer you to this blog post at Write for Kids for some details on writing for each of these categories, especially if you are new to the children’s writing business.

Children’s stories should always use vocabulary that children are familiar with, but there is nothing wrong with introducing new words. The trick is to provide enough story context – including the use of illustrations – to help the child figure out the the meaning.

Children’s stories have all the traits of stories in general – action, description, dialogue; being about something a child is interested in; and having a proper beginning, middle, and end while being long enough to tell the tale and still fall within word count guidelines.  One of the reasons writing for children is not as easy as some think!

One thing about Children’s stories is that they often teach a lesson, frequently using humor. But be wary. The lesson should be in the takeaway, not in a preaching moment in the story. The solution to the problem should be found by the protagonist, so that the reader can identify with the success. After all, everybody wants to be a hero.

All of these things apply for Children’s Story with Illustrations as well, with just a few additions, as this INKA shows.

 

ChildStryIllusNu

 

#5 is especially important, as a lot of children’s writers have a desire to illustrate their own story. You don’t always have that opportunity, because most publishers will want to sign a known professional whose work they feel they can count on to suit your book. You might have the opportunity to express what types of illustrations you had in mind as you wrote. If you are a professional artist yourself, or a very good undiscovered one, you may be able to convince a publisher to give you a look. Because the two things work together, sometimes the illustrations are used to convey things the actual writing does not.

Every writer has stories to tell – why else would they write? The question here is, do you have a story to tell to children, maybe a story that will help them become the best sort of person they can be? Or just a story to introduce them to life on this (or another) planet?

These INKAS are only an introduction to writing for children, but maybe that introduction is all you need to start.