What is the first thing an agent, editor, or reader sees when they start your story? Your sentences. Cluttered prose makes for laborious reading. It’s a distraction from the plot—one that will make people put your book down.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Never use two words when one will do.” You don’t want your sentences to be overly simplistic, but you do want them to be crisp. So, what specifically can writers do to cut down words? Get out the scissors and let’s cut!
(1) Adverbs and Weak Verbs
You’ve heard about adverbs’ reputation. Why the bad rep? Because you can often replace an adverb and a weaker verb with one strong verb.
walked angrily = stomped
said loudly = shouted
While you’re at it, make sure you’re using strong, specific verbs. She glided across the stage gives a better visual of her movement than She walked across the stage.
(2) Was + Gerund
If you are writing in past tense, avoid using “was” and the ‘ing’ form of a verb such as She was smiling. Just use the past tense verb. She smiled. Instead of He was singing to himself, cut it to He sang to himself.
(3) Verb + in feeling
One thing to keep in mind is the reader infers quite a bit. You don’t always need to spell it out. So in the case of sentences like He yelled in exasperation or She sighed in relief, either the verb tells the feeling or the context of the story does. You don’t need to directly state the feeling so just use the verb.
(4) Trimming Dialogue
Dialogue is a place where you want your writing to be on point. It needs to sound like the character is speaking while moving the plot forward. Pretend you have to pay a nickel for every word of dialogue. Make those words count! A few quick trims you can make:
(5) Sense Words
No, not sensory words. Sense words. What are those? Look, feel, saw, heard, noticed…a word telling what sense the character is using. Skip those words and write what is being sensed. For example,
She saw a strange man peek into the garage window. = A strange man peeked into the garage window.
He smelled the sweet tendrils of cinnamon that curled through the air. = Sweet tendrils of cinnamon curled through the air.
Removing sense words not only makes your sentence cleaner, it also eliminates the narrative distance these words put between the reader and the story experience.
(6) Began to/Beginning to
This is a popular phrase to use while writing. Whenever you catch yourself using it, look closely at the sentence to see if it is really necessary. Oftentimes you don’t need it and you want to be especially sure you don’t get into a pattern of using this phrase repeatedly.
(7) Action “As”
Writers occasionally use the word “as” to tie together two forms of action happening within the same sentence. This is another tricky one that requires a good look since the “as” can usually be cut and the longer sentence made into two smaller ones. For example,
As he crossed the room, Marie stood and twisted the handkerchief in her hands. = He crossed the room. Marie stood and twisted the handkerchief in her hands.
He lifted the bowstring to his cheek as the bear emerged from his den. = He lifted the bowstring to his cheek. The bear emerged from his den.
Keep in mind these are tips for getting your writing crisp, not a list of “No NEVER Write This!” Writing concise sentences isn’t easy and takes practice. A good exercise is writing flash fiction, 500 words or less. Be sure to keep those scissors out and make Jefferson proud.
**BONUS - I want you to know that there is another word that can clutter up a sentence that you are writing. Can you figure out what that word is?
This blog post originally appeared on the Florida Writers Association blog on July 2, 2018.
Should you include picture notes for the illustrator in your picture book manuscript? In this video, you'll learn common practice with picture notes and what illustrators prefer.
We are excited to launch a new web series on YouTube called Picture Book Pro: Three Minute Minis. Each video will be approximately three minutes long and will cover one topic in writing, publishing, or marketing picture books.
Our first Three Minute Mini is on audience. Picture books have TWO audiences, unlike most books. To find out who they are and how to appeal to both, check out the first video in the series!
Instructive but punctuated with excitement—a rousing read-aloud work.
- Kirkus Reviews
My husband often gives me story ideas. I usually smile and say, "Great idea, honey," and go back to what I was doing. Most writers will tell you they like coming up with their own ideas, much like a three year old wants to build their own block castle. (Yes, I am the three year old here.) But one day, over a year ago, he said something that had me running for a pad and paper. "What would happen if the exclamation point was the character?" My brain started going a hundred miles per hour picturing all the fun he/she/it would have. Thus, Pling was born. Great idea, honey.
After many drafts and lots of feedback, Pling was ready to go out into the big, wide world. And I am tickled pink with the results. Both Kirkus Reviews and Reader's Favorite have given my little Pling great reviews. Reader's Favorite even awarded it a five star seal! I am so happy my little friend has been so well received and can't wait to hear the opinion of the most important readers, kids!
You can check out the reviews below.
Pling's Party Kirkus Review
An exclamation point is too exuberant to follow the rules in this picture book.
Pling, a smiling exclamation point with an expressive face, must follow an unnamed narrator’s one rule: “He can only be in a book two times.” But dramatic events all around him just seem to call for Pling, from a sudden rainstorm to Baby Goat’s wonderful birthday party, which keeps erupting into action: “Presents! Disco light! Broken chairs! Roller skates! Ice cream! Chewed-up hats! Hot dogs! Confetti!” When the narrator decides that disobedient Pling’s services are no longer necessary, the party becomes glum and lifeless, with dispirited periods rather than exclamation points: “So much fun. All the fun you could have.” Finally, Pling is recalled to end things on a happy note—“but no getting carried away.” Children learning about punctuation can get a good sense of how to use the exclamation point through the contrasting situations that do and don’t call for emphasis. Haughee’s lesson goes down easy, with plenty of creative anarchy for kids to enjoy and sentences that beg to be vigorously read aloud. The skillful digital and acrylic illustrations by Holm are appropriately vibrant, fun, and varied.
Instructive but punctuated with excitement—a rousing read-aloud work.
See the review on Kirkus here.
Pling's Party Reader's Favorite Review
Meet Pling, an exclamation mark in the storybook Pling's Party by Arielle Haughee. Pling makes things exciting for readers but the rule he must follow is that he can only be in a story twice. Let us read the story and start working with Pling.
One day three goats were playing outside in the grass and it started to rain. The goats were brought inside and they decided to have a party to celebrate Baby Goat's birthday. They baked a yummy cake and decorated it with pink icing on every layer and by then Pling had already appeared in the story more than twice. The goats decided to play music. Baby Goat shook her tambourine, Middle Goat tapped the xylophone, and Big Goat pounded a ten-foot drum. The rest of the animals in the party joined them and played other instruments. Everyone played musical chairs after that and it was a rocking party. The rain stopped and the goats went back outside.
Meet Pling is a fun read and introduces young readers to an exclamation mark and they will learn how to identify it as they go through the story. Readers can practice reading and learn where to emphasize and also learn the difference in how a sentence is read when a period is used and when an exclamation mark is used. Sharon Lane Holm's illustrations are adorable and fun and they make the story and Pling entertaining and charming. Arielle Haughee's approach to teaching children about an exclamation mark is unique and fresh and tutors and parents can use this story in classrooms and at home to teach their children about the exclamation mark and its role in a sentence.
See the review on Reader's Favorite here.
There is a multitude of talented illustrators out there. You just need to know where to look. Besides knowing exactly where to find these amazing people, there are other considerations you need to take into account before diving right in. The first question you need to answer is...do you even need to find one?
Read on to discover the answer as well as many different places you can go to find an illustrator.
Do You Need to Find an Illustrator?
The very first consideration to make is if you are the one who needs to find the illustrator. If you plan on submitting your story to a publisher, large or small, they will be the ones choosing the illustrator. If you will be indie / self publishing, you will be able to select your artistic partner in your endeavor.
A frequent question that pops up when I mention this is: will I get to have a say in the art if I have a publisher? The truthful answer is most likely not. Presses have an art director whose job is to make sure the art and the words flow together. Some smaller presses may let you have some input, but it will vary from press to press. So if you want to choose your illustrator, you will need to indie publish.
Make Sure You Find Illustrators, Not Artists
There is a difference between someone who is an artist and someone who is an illustrator. An artist is anyone who makes art. An illustrator, however, has studied art for children as well as the process of creating a story utilizing page turns in a book. It is a specific skill set, much like a handyman can work on general things in your house, but an electrician has a specific knowledge and skill set. The handyman may be able to rewire your entire house, but they would likely not be able to do nearly as good of a job as an electrician. So be sure you are searching for illustrators and not artists.
Consider the Tone of Your Story
Before you begin your search, you need to examine your manuscript and consider what type of art will best match your story. Once you start looking at illustrators' portfolios, you may get swept away in the fun and choose art you like and forget about your story.
When I was looking for an illustrator for Grumbler, I knew I wanted art that was humorous but also conveyed a sense of love. When I found Marina Veselinovic's profile, I knew it was a match. So reflect on your story. What is the tone? If you have a serious topic, you'll want a more somber style of art. A fun, upbeat tone would likely match something more whimsical. Be sure your art matches your story so the book will be a cohesive whole.
Where to Find Illustrators on Websites
The internet is an awesome resource for finding illustrators. You could get lost for hours looking at art. (I certainly do!) Here are the top websites to find illustrators online as well as some notes about each:
Where to Find Illustrators on Social Media
Illustrators are on all varieties of social media, but the best place to find them is on Instagram since it is a picture-based platform. I like to follow accounts that share illustrations from lots of different artists so I can click on profiles and see more art. Here are the top accounts that feature lots of artists:
Where to Find Illustrators In-Person
Let's not overlook good old fashioned networking. Meeting in person gives you the chance to feel out if the two of you will have a good working relationship. (Check out this post by Sharon Lane Holm called What Illustrators Want Picture Book Authors to Know for a glimpse from their side.)
Local writing groups are a great place to find illustrators, particularly if they are for children's writing. Search Meetup or Facebook for events near you. I've met illustrators in person that weren't right for my current project, but I saved their information for future ones.
Finding an illustrator is one of the most fun parts of making a picture book. Enjoy the search and visualizing your words turned into pictures. You will be one step closer to having your story come to life!
This is a common question for first time novel writers, heck even experienced authors wonder this from time to time. You know what you've written needs some work but you aren't sure how to go about it. Worry not! I will be writing a three-part blog series to help you tackle the process of revision and polish up your manuscript.
What is Revision?
Let me start by saying what revision is not: it is not fixing every single issue all in one go. It is completely overwhelming to try and correct the gazillion things you spot in your work. So relax. Revision is done in rounds. The amount of rounds and length of each will vary from project to project.
Revision is also not editing. These two terms are often used interchangeably when they are in fact separate tasks. Sometimes first time authors will picture themselves with a red pen after they finish their first draft, adding a comma here and there as needed. They may think this is the only thing that needs to be done upon draft completion. Not true.
Revision is often described as the "real work" in writing. It is the molding of a bunch of messy words into a true story. It is implementing character arc, narrative pacing, descriptive language, and other elements into your story that are absent from the initial attempt. Revision is not fixing grammar and conventions. That is editing. Editing is done after revision takes place and usually by a qualified editor.
Where Do I Start with Revision?
The answer to this question is not what you may think. You start revision by actually stepping away from your manuscript. That's right. Put your hands up and step away from the computer. You will need to let your work breathe for six weeks. Why? This will give you the chance to get some much needed perspective. When you first finish, you will be too close to your work to see your mistakes. Take the time to write some poetry, read a book, or squeeze in a short story. When it is time to go back, you'll have fresh eyes for your work.
Revision Part One: Taking Stock
Before you roll up your sleeves and dive in, the first thing you need to do is take stock of what you have. You need to do a full inventory in order to figure out what to fix. You will be taking notes for this part, so grab a notebook or open a fresh doc on your computer. Your first task is to reread your entire manuscript from start to finish...without making any changes. That's right. Yes, it will bother you at certain points. But your job is to write down notes for each chapter about what needs to be done, similar to a surgeon getting x-rays, MRIs, and other images done before making any cuts.
The rationale behind this is that there will be larger issues that go across the book or entire sections that may need to be cut. If you dive right in to chapter one, you may be wasting your time when you later realize the whole chapter needs to be omitted. It will also be too late to weave in a subplot you realize you need for the climax when you are at the end of the book. So reread, take notes, and digest your work as a whole. Examine your character arcs, pacing, and overall narrative structure. What changes do you need to make?
This will get you ready for part two...making your revision plan. Check out my post Developing a Revision Plan for next steps!
Want to get even more info about revision? Check out some of my guest posts:
Five Common Revision Problems and How to Fix Them
What an Editor Won't Do: The Myth of the Magical Editor
A guest post by Jessica Baker
To start, what is a cozy mystery?
Cozy mysteries are lighter than traditional detective fiction. The genre was popularized by Agatha Christie, who created classics like And Then There Were None, the Miss Marple series, and of course, Poirot. Malice Domestic, an annual mystery convention, even named an award after her.
Cozy mysteries, often called “cozies,” lack the graphic violence and excessive gore that darker detective fiction have. There’s no explicit sex scenes. Cursing, if there is any, is kept to an absolute minimum. Children and animals shouldn’t be harmed. Some cozies are suspenseful, but they aren’t usually the kind of stories that give you nightmares after reading them. Romantic elements may be present and many are geared towards women. A lot of cozy authors also write romance because there are similarities between the genres. Some are historical, some have magic, and some are just set in the modern-day.
Cozies should be an escape from reality. They aren’t as heavy as other fiction and aren’t usually geared around current events. As a result, they are generally lighter to read when life gets too overwhelming. They provide puzzles for the reader to work through and end on a positive note where the killer is always caught.
Some questions I asked when I was initially plotting out Murder on the Flying Scotsman were:
Who is the main character? Who is with them? Who is the killer? Who is the victim?
What is the murder weapon?
When does this take place? The murder weapons available vary in different time periods.
Where does this take place? Is it a locked room mystery or does it take place in a small town?
Why was the victim killed? Why does the main character investigate?
How was the victim killed?
The main character, usually female, is an amateur sleuth after something forces them to look for the real killer. They are always curious about the murder that takes place and the smarter they are, the more engaged the reader will be in the story.
Sometimes he or she might become a professional detective in later books or may date a police officer, but the main character usually has some other career that translates into their investigations. The job is usually something like baker, librarian, or seamstress. In my book, Lady Thea is a socialite and it affects how she behaves and what she knows about murders.
Cozies are more often character-driven and the series usually has the same main character, even if the books aren’t directly related in an overall arc. This means that many cozies don’t necessarily have to be read in order.
Suspects and Red Herrings
Generally, the first person accused of the murder in a new cozy series is a close friend or relative of the to-be detective. Sometimes the sleuth themselves might be accused. They might be the only suspect that the police have and the sleuth makes it their mission to prove otherwise. The evidence gathered and the motive might lead to that accused person, and the protagonist may think that they’re guilty. Those are usually the red herrings since they fit so perfectly that they couldn’t possibly have done it.
Cozies often take place in small towns or have a closed pool of suspects. If you think about Murder on the Orient Express, the list of people who had the opportunity to commit the murder was limited to who was on the train. In And Then There Were None, only someone on the island could have committed the murder.
When should the murder take place in the story?
Since a cozy mystery is not a suspense, it’s not necessary to wait until the end to have the first murder. It might be the first thing that happens in the story, especially if that is the catalyst for the entire plot of the book. Most people prefer that the murder takes place in the first few chapters. After all, that’s what they came for.
When planning the murder and the killer, it should be something that can be traced back to the beginning. The murderer shouldn’t come out of the blue. They should always have an actual motive, even though the motive isn’t always apparent at the beginning. They don’t have to be someone who is front and center in the protagonist’s life, but they should appear early in the book and usually, the reader shouldn’t have too much cause to suspect them.
Clues that point to the identity of the real murderer should be scattered throughout the whole mystery. Half the fun of cozies is solving the murders with the amateur detective.
A guest post by Selys Rivera
What would most people say is the most popular topic for poetry? From my experience, it’s love. Specifically, romantic love.
When I think about poetry, the poets who come to mind are known for their romantic poems. I’m not even talking about the Romantics studied in high school who lived centuries ago. I’m thinking before, during, and after.
My mind recalls the entire book of Song of Solomon in the Bible. I’m thinking Shakespearean sonnets, too. There’s also John Keats, Emily Dickenson, William Blake, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, Tyler Knott Gregson, Sandra Cisneros, Rupi Kaur, and Amanda Lovelace…
…to name a few!
While many of these poets wrote about other topics, their romantic poems stand out the most to me. I don’t know about other people, but I can recall poems about romantic love much faster than anything else. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116.” Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty.” Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” Sometimes I’m even remembering poetry collections that had an impact on me and shaped my view of romance, like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Gregson’s Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series, and Kaur’s Milk and Honey.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that there’s so much more to life than just romantic love. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons is how important it is to recognize and express gratitude towards other areas of love in our lives.
Many of these same poets wrote about other kinds of love that are just as good as their romantic poetry. Blake explored love for God and humanity. Keats reflected on loving life. Hughes and Angelou shared about their love for family members. Whitman, Kaur, and Lovelace dove into self-love. Alvarez and Cisneros analyzed the complicated love/hate relationship between English and Spanish or their Latin culture and Americanization.
Now, not all of these poets or poems are about love in a positive light. Some are negative too, which is expected in a yin and yang world. Nevertheless, something inside me clicked when I started to see poems about love and heartbreak in a non-romantic way.
I’ve been writing poetry since, at the very least, my early high school years. Surprisingly enough, I’ve never considered myself a poet as I used to write poems infrequently. When I started my current romantic relationship, though, I found myself writing poem after poem, some even coming out as a final draft almost immediately.
Once I started connecting the dots between poems I read, versus those I wrote, inspiration hit hard. During difficult times, like the death of my grandmother, I wrote poetry. When I passed life milestones, like a meaningful full-time job in a career I’m passionate about, I wrote poetry. While I went through spiritual existential crises, I wrote poetry. And as I learned more and more about myself, I wrote poetry.
At some point, I took a step back and realized I was on to something. A poetry collection started to form in my mind. One about love, but not in the traditional sense alone. One that would show readers about healthy romantic love and how much more there is to love than romance.
Toni Morrison’s famous quote came to mind: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” (Morrison, n.d.)
That’s exactly what I aimed to do in the hopes of joining the conversation and dialogue with other poets across lifetimes, centuries, and generations. I, too, have had something to say about love and how important it is to celebrate all other areas within it too, like family, friends, pets, culture, hobbies, life, spirituality, ourselves, and more.
With each poem, my heart seemed to fill with more and more love, affection, compassion, and tenderness. Eventually, it overflowed with healing tears dropping on my notebook or keyboard as I wrote and wrote. Finally, the emotional wave crashed and receded on the shores of my soul, awaking me from my writing reverie and revealing my very first poetry collection in its wake.
*Morrison, T. (n.d.) If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Quote Catalog. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://quotecatalog.com/quote/toni-morrison-if-there’s-a-bo-O1M69R7/
Originally from Puerto Rico, Selys Rivera considers herself a God-loving and social justice obsessed chica. With an undergraduate degree in English Writing and a graduate degree in Social Work, she marries her two passions by writing to inspire others and voice issues she's passionate about. She is also the author of Rise in Love: A Poetry Chapbook and Social Justice Advocacy 101: How to Become a Social Justice Advocate from A to Z. To read more of her work, please visit her website at www.worthareadtoo.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter @SelysRivera to stay connected.
Being a creative is a challenge. Trying to use your creative talents with others can be even more of a challenge. A good working relationship is key for a project's success, and this is especially true for authors and illustrators who team up. This week, career illustrator Sharon Lane Holm gives us a window into the illustrator's perspective.
What Illustrators Want Authors to Know
By Sharon Lane Holm
Trust me. We both want the same thing—to share a wonderful story with great
illustrations. We both want to sparkle and stand out above all the rest.
Trust me. Please try to not micro manage. Creative freedom is the best thing you can give to your illustrator. Allow yourself to be open to their ideas.
Trust me. You created a great story! As an illustrator it is my job to interpret your
words visually. I tell your story with my illustrations. Both art and
words must be able to stand alone and tell the same story, without each other.
Trust me. My artistic interpretation may differ from yours. An illustrator has so many different ideas and will come up with something you may never have imagined. Let me show you another way to make us to shine.
Trust me. I am a professional, just like you. We will both agree on a fair and reasonable contract beforehand so there will be no surprises. I will always do my best work. I would never expect anything less of myself.
Trust me. We may never actually meet. But professionally we are a team. We are in this together. I so appreciate being a part of our team. I hope you will feel the same way.
Trust me. I love what I do. I create and draw and color outside the lines. I can draw a
story. I can draw your story.
We have a talented guest writer this week, professional photographer Stephana Ferrell, owner of The Inspired Storytellers. Stephana recently took the photos of the watercolor art for our upcoming book Joyride. She has some great tips on how to photograph art for children's picture books.
Five Tips for Photographing Art for Picture Books
Congratulations on being so close to publishing! You've got colorful illustrations in hand and there is one step between where you are and approving a layout- getting your tangible prints into digital form. There are two industry standards to making this happen, and this article will cover ways to ensure success when photographing your illustrations. Let's get into it!
Tip One: Even Out Your Lighting
Lighting must be evenly spread across the surface of the illustration (not pointed down as this can cause reflections or hot spots). It’s best to use a light source that is close to daylight or “white” color (4500-5500 Kelvin), so incandescent and fluorescent lights should be avoided.
Tip Two: Keep Your Position Consistent
Camera distance and angle should be as consistent as possible between pages to ensure you aren’t impacting the scale of your illustrations. Use a tripod when possible or observe your positioning and ensure you keep it the same.
Tip Three: Watch Out for Dust
Clean your lens (and sensor, if it applies) before taking the pictures. I like to test the cleanliness of the lens by taking a picture of a white wall or a blue sky. Dust and other spots that you need to address will easily show themselves.
Tip Four: Get Rid of Camera Shake
Tip Five: Editing is Key
Editing is just as important as the images you create. Keep in mind which pages will end up being full spreads and crop your images to the right bleed size, ensuring anything that needs to line up does. The final printing color profile also needs to be considered while when making any tweaks to your image files. Ensure your screen is calibrated. Contrast, Exposure, and Tone/Saturation changes you make on screen may not render the same way when it goes to print.
Now that you have all of this information as your guide, you are ready to get those illustrations into digital form. Here's a quick recap to follow as you're photographing: