Tuesday, December 9, 2014

He is the Gift

Christmas is a great time of year, but sometimes with all the commercialism and gift giving we forget why we really have Christmas. This video is a nice reminder.

He is the Gift

Friday, December 5, 2014

Plots Made Simple

Writing Instruction Video for Teachers and Aspiring Writers

Want to know the basics of plot? Need a simple and entertaining way to learn or teach  plot development? This short video can supplement teacher's lesson plans on plot basics. It provides step-by-step instruction and examples of plot diagram elements, including plot introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Enjoy!


The above video is also great companion resource to my video on raising plot tension.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brave Little Monster Returns

Over the past few years a lot of people have asked me where they could get a hold of my bedtime picture book Brave Little Monster. I would tell them that sometimes Scholastic makes it available through their book club in October, but that was hit and miss. Now I'm happy to say that you can purchase the paperback version of Brave Little Monster on Amazon. Yay!!!!

 To top it off, an ebook version should be available in a few days as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writing Tip: Raising Plot Tension

Writing Instruction Video

Sometimes beginning writers struggle to engage and maintain the reader's interest in their stories. Sometimes this happens because the protagonist solves plot conflicts too easily or too early in the story. Sometimes it happens because the opposite occurs, that it seems to take forever for the hero to solve the problem. This video demonstrates a writing technique that helps writers strike just the right balance in order to raise plot tension, thereby engaging and maintaining the reader's interest.


For teachers interested in using this video as part of creative writing lessons, the instruction video along with slide handouts that can be used to review the raising tension technique can be found at www.kenbakerbooks.com/raising-plot-tension.html.

The above video is also great companion resource to my Plots Made Simple video.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why Plot Focus is Important in Picture Books and Short Stories

Writing Instruction Video

As I have worked with various beginning picture book authors, a common problem that a lot of them run into is difficulty in conveying what their story is really about or going off in to many directions. Creative writing instructors in school may run into a similar problem when they assign students to write short stories. This writing instruction video on picture book plot addresses this issue.

If you enjoyed or found this writing instruction video useful, please share it with others. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can Non-Artists Write Picture Books?

Picture Book Writing Tip

Wanting to write picture books, but you  can't even draw a straight line? Don't despair. This video writing tip tells why.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Write a Great Picture Book

You have a great idea for a picture book. That’s wonderful! Having a great idea is a good start. Having some writing experience is a big plus too. But writing a great picture book takes more than just having a great idea and some writing experience. Writing a great picture book requires work. If you’re serious about writing a great picture book, it pays to do the following:

  1. Read a lot of current picture books. Believe me, picture books have changed since you were little. You have to familiarize yourself with the type, style and personality of picture books that children are reading today. Read as many picture books as you can that have been written in the past year or two.
  2. Do your research. Read different books on the ins and outs of writing a great picture book.  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown is a great resource. There are also a lot of web sites and blogs with good information too, such as www.underdown.org, www.verlakay.com and www.taralazar.com.
  3. Attend writing conferences. Local and national children's writing conferences can be excellent resources for gaining much needed insights on how to improve your writing skills and understanding what makes a great a picture book great.  Conferences are also great places to make contacts with other authors as well as editors and agents. You can find out about various conferences at www.scbwi.org/Regional-Events.aspx.
  4. Join a critique group. A critique group can give you objective advice on your stories. Once again, SCBWI is a good resource for finding out about local critique groups. Even if you’re not a member of SCBWI, the regional coordinator for your area would likely be happy to tell you about critique groups in your area (Visit www.scbwi.org).
  5. Write a lot. Don’t stop with one story. The more you write, the better your writing skills will become. Improve your writing skills even further by taking writing classes or attending writing workshops. Keep on writing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

State of the Children's Book Market

Kathy Temean posted on her blog an insightful look at the number and type of children's book contracts that the top 15 children's book publishers signed between June 2013 and June 2014 vs June 2012 and June 2013. The following are a few key takeaways that interested me most.

  • Overall, Harper Collins and Scholastic held the number 1 and 2 spot for signing the most contracts (58 & 45)
  • Sky Pony Press, a fairly new imprint not only rose to the number 6 overall position, but also signed the most picture book contracts (26) of the other publishers.
  • Scholastic signed the most middle grade contracts (26)
  • The report doesn't show who holds the top YA spot, which means that spot must be held by a publisher not in the top 15.

The full reports can be found on Kathy's site by visiting these links: Part 1,  Part 2 and Part 3.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 4

Pull Readers in Early


Too often beginning writers delay the introduction of their story’s plot or conflict. Delaying that introduction can cause readers to quickly lose interest and not bother reading any further. A great picture book pulls the reader quickly into the story by introducing early on the problem faced by the main character – typically on the first spread and preferably on the very first line.

I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen is a perfect example of this. In the very first sentence we learn the bear’s problem. His hat is gone. The second sentence builds on the conflict telling us the bear wants it back. This immediate introduction to the story’s plot pulls readers in quickly and has them turning page after page until they know how the problem ultimately gets resolved.

Of course, even worse than not introducing the conflict of the story early, is not introducing it at all. A great picture book needs an engaging plot and it needs to be introduced as early as possible.

Time is running out to register for the Picture Book writing workshop I'll be teaching at the WIFYR conference June 16-20.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 3



Use Voice to Make Your Picture Book Come Alive

Many editors and picture book authors will tell you that the single most distinguishing feature between a great picture book and an okay picture book is “voice”. The problem is that “voice” is hard to define. Some think of voice simply as character dialogue, but voice is much more than that.

For me, voice is what gives your story personality. It’s the way your language usage and style create the mood for your picture book and stimulates emotions in your reader.  It's the rhythm of your story. It's the way you structure your sentences. It might be how you leverage simile, metaphor, rhyme, repetition or contrasts. All of those things add up to the personality of your story and determine whether or not your picture book has the fresh, unique voice that an editor might be looking for.

The books PIGGY PIE and OWL MOON do a good job of illustrating how these elements work together to create two strong, yet very different examples of distinctive voice.

You can learn more about developing distinctive voice in your stories at the Picture Book Writing workshop I’ll be teaching at the WIFYR conference in June.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 2

Donkey
great picture book characters are like parfaits

Great Picture Book Characters are Like Parfaits

great picture book characters are like parfaits
Flat, one-dimensional characters will doom a picture book. Similar to being larger-than-life, the main character in your picture book needs to be dynamic. By the end of the story, great picture book characters experience growth. Of course, for a character to actually experience growth it follows that the character must have shortcomings or flaws. A perfect character is a boring character.

It might seem obvious, but multidimensional characters need to have multiple characteristics or aspects of their personality to give them depth. Or as Shrek might say, great picture book characters are onions. Onions have layers. Great picture book characters have layers. Or if you prefer to be in the Donkey camp, you could also say that great picture book characters are like parfaits. Especially if you’re talking about parfaits with layers of melted chocolate, vanilla pudding, bananas, chocolate cookie bits and whipped cream on top. With all those delicious layers you can’t go wrong. Bottom-line, whether you prefer onions or parfaits, your picture book’s main characters need layers to make them more dynamic, interesting and irresistible.

Creating multidimensional, parfait like characters will be another topic of discussion at the Picture Book Writing workshop I’ll be teaching at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference from June 16-20.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 1

Larger than Life Characters

Characters can make or break a picture book. Donald Maass, literary agent and author of WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, talks about the importance for novels to have larger-than-life-characters. These are characters that act in unusual, unexpected, or dramatic ways. These are characters that do or say things that we wish we could do, but don't ever dare  to do or we are not able to do.

Larger-than-life-characters are not only important for novels, but they’re important for picture books too. Think PETE THE CAT, OLIVIA, CURIOUS GEORGE, and NO, DAVID. The characters in these stories are what make children want to read them over and over again. Want to write a great picture book? Start with a larger-than-life-character at its heart. The characteristics of larger-than-life-characters might include wit, spontaneity, compassion, daring, quirkiness, perseverance, cunning, humor, likeability, and so on.

Developing larger-than-life-characters is just one of many things I’ll be discussing from June 16-20 in the Picture Book Writing workshop I’ll be teaching at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference in Sandy, Utah. There are still a few slots open if you're interested.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

I never knew there was such a thing until my wife just told me. But today is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. I just had to blog about this momentous occasion. Chocolate chip cookies happen to be one of my favorite food groups. They're almost right up there with ice cream. Why aren't there bigger celebrations for this wonderful holiday? There should be parades. Balloon floats. Fireworks. Cookie barbecues. Paid holidays. Do your part, enjoy a chocolate chip cookie today with someone you love. :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Want to learn how to write picture books?

Want to learn how to write picture books? I'll be teaching a week-long workshop at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference in June. It's hands-down, the best writer's conference in Utah, and one of the best in the U.S.  In addition  to my morning PB workshop, as well as other writing workshops, there will be afternoon presentations from editors, literary agents, and bestselling authors.


Check out the website for more info http://www.wifyr.com/.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Don't Boys Read

A children’s author friend of mine is writing an article for a local newspaper about getting boys to read. In her research for the article, she posed a few questions on a forum of local published children’s authors that I participate in. Below are my responses to her questions.

1. A lot of people who work with kids will tell you that it's harder to get young boys to read than it is to get young girls to.  If you agree, why is this the case?

I agree, and I believe one of the main reasons is that so often at school (even at home) books are pushed onto boys that just are not interesting to them. Every boy is different, and every boy will have different tastes, but most boys want books that are fast-paced, exciting, adventurous or humorous, which typically does not fall into the same category as the more literary types of books that they are assigned at school. If all the books they are made aware of are books that bore them to tears, they will have the sentiment that all books are boring.

In some cases boys will find books that do appeal to them, only to have teachers or parents turn their nose up at those books or tell the boy that those books are trash, a waste of time or aren’t real books. At times, those who can play a role in inspiring a boy to read, unknowingly turn the boy off of reading by their attitude towards the books a boy wants to read, whether it be fantasy, comic books/graphic novels, or whatever.

2. How do you get boys to read?

The best way to get a boy to read is to read to them when they are very young. After that, it’s to let them choose the books they want to read – give them options and help them find books that might be of interest to them. An indirect way to get boys to read is for them to see male role models reading and enjoying reading. Sometimes boys might get the feeling that reading is not cool, but seeing a positive role model reading helps dispel that notion.

3. What titles would you recommend?
It’s a little over a year old, but on my blog I have a list 70 books to help get boys reading. You can take a look at it at New Books to Get Boys Reading.



I have also written few posts in the past on getting children to read. Check them out below;

# 1 Way to Get Children to Read
# 2 Way to Get Children to Read
# 3 Way to Get Children to Read
# 4 Way to Get Children to Read
# 5 Way to Get Children to Read


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What I’ve Learned About Writing a Picture Book

Guest post from Cindy Stagg
When I left teaching to raise a family, I decided that I would write a picture book. Easy, right? Tell a cute little story, get someone else to illustrate it, and voil√°! You’re a beloved children’s author! It’s such a seemingly simple plan.

I wrote a few stories that I thought were pure gold. I bought The Writer’s Market Guide and sent my manuscripts off to publishers and agents whom I was sure would race to their phones to call me personally. I also started attending writing conferences and workshops, where I quickly learned why my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook.

Here’s the thing: writing a picture book is like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It takes a great deal of hard work and plenty of finesse. You have to make the pictures and the words work together to tell a complete story, and you have to do it within a confined space. Sometimes, you’ll even find yourself doing it on your back! Whenever someone says to me, “Yeah, I think I’ll write a picture book one day,” I sort of laugh to myself, knowing they have no idea what they’re in for.

When I first started attending workshops and conferences (including WIFYR) it was like taking a drink from a fire hose. There was so much information -- some of it even conflicting: It should be no more than a thousand words. It should be at least a thousand words. Make sure it has a good hook. It shouldn’t have a moral message. The character should solve her own problems. Make sure it speaks to children, but winks at adults. Make your main character appealing. Write a gripping beginning. The end of your story is crucial.

Whew!

Since then, I’ve learned to contain the information and knowledge I’ve gleaned into a manageable fountain. I’ve worked hard over the years to find out what it takes to write a good picture book. I’ve taken notes from Ken Baker, Rick Walton, and Candace Fleming. I’ve written, rewritten, and storyboarded. Most importantly, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of picture books. The ones I’ve liked, I’ve tried to emulate. The ones I didn’t, I tried to figure out why.

What it comes down to is this: if you want to write a picture book, and I mean a good picture book, you’re going to have to work for it. Read lots of books and know your market. Attend conferences like Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, where Ken will be teaching this summer. Then, take everything you’re learning, and write. Write every day, because it’s the only way to improve.


Cindy will be assisting at this year's Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference, including assisting Ken as he teaches the picture book workshop. Cindy has always loved writing stories. Growing up in Arizona, she won essay contests and published stories in the school newspaper. She became a teacher because that was the more “practical” thing to do. Then one day, she was offered a job as an automotive writer (she’s also always been a car nut), and Cindy fell in love with writing all over again! “WIFYR has given me confidence in my ability and helped me create a network of friends and colleagues who have given me invaluable feedback,” says Cindy. She is excited to be assisting at WIFYR this year.

Also, watch for the upcoming interview with Ken Baker on the WIFYR blog.