All of our featured 12 x 12 in 2012 authors are special, but November’s — Linda Arms White — is even more so because she has been a mentor to me, in every sense of the word, throughout my children’s book writing career.
Linda is a fellow Coloradan and a member of our regional SCBWI chapter, where I first met her. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the mentorship program, where Linda worked with me for six whole months. During that time, I put the finishing touches on one manuscript, completed a major revision on another and outlined and wrote the first draft of yet another. She taught me about the Three Act Structure, Rule of Threes and “sprinkling the magic.” There’s never been a time since then when I’ve had a question or needed help that she hasn’t responded right away.
Besides being a wonderful mentor, Linda, as an award-winning author, is a phenomenal writer. Since most of you have probably not had the benefit of Linda sprinkling her pb-writing dust on your manuscripts, I’ve brought her to you in this post, where she shares her thoughts on writing timeless books. PLUS, one lucky participant will win a critique from Linda. Trust me when I say they are incredible! Now, please welcome Linda!
I’ve often been told my picture books have a timeless quality to them. I love hearing that. It’s not something I’ve planned and only recently have I stopped to evaluate what can give a book that timeless quality. Books that become classics certainly have it. In them, the depth and richness of every story element gets to the core of the story and leaves an emotional connection and lasting appeal that pulls individual readers back time and again and draws new readers years after publication.
How do you achieve timelessness? That is dependent on several elements working together.
Theme is the subject of the story. It might be love, fear, sibling rivalry, life and death, growing up, honesty, parents aren’t perfect, etc. Whatever the subject, timeless stories leave the reader with strong feelings and thoughts. The writer has reached the heart of the subject and therefore of the reader. Lasting themes are universal ones. They affect us all, always have, always will. Books about bullying and gay marriage are certainly needed and being published today, but they showcase today’s themes. It would be unlikely for one of those to become a timeless classic. A timeless theme speaks the truth to the ages, not just today.
Plot is the series of events that carry out the action of the theme. Each of the plot points that move the story ahead must resonate with the reader. The writer carefully chooses each for the way they make the character act and react, add story tension, for the power they add to the whole, and especially the way they move the reader. Those great plot points combined into a story result in a whole that evokes strong emotion from the reader. I know I’m on the right track when I can’t read the ending of my story without breaking down myself. The ending must be unexpected, never predictable, and have emotional impact without being sappy. While crafting a series of rich plot points takes intense planning, once finished the plot flows seamlessly and looks like a simple, straightforward work. If people only knew.
Out of the Character’s fears, likes, dislikes, problems, embarrassments, living conditions, etc. comes the plot. A satisfying character is unique with an intriguing voice, personality, and/or way of thinking. He must be like the person you meet who stays on your mind for days because of some sadness, freshness, quirkiness, or way of expressing themselves. That indelibly memorable character, no matter when they live or are read about, will leave us with new thoughts about the human condition.
Setting – A timeless story can happen in any time and any place as long as the details – cobblestone streets, dialect, panning for gold are handled like seasoning rather than main dishes. The picturesque, filthy, tattered or splendid setting plays a big role in the story. It roots the reader and gives the memorable character a visual and authentic world to live in. It takes only a few words sprinkled there and there to make the reader sure she can see it, smell it, touch it, and hear the grass blow in the wind.
Writing Style is what pulls at the rest of the elements together. It’s the way the author links her words. Choose the precise verbs that give layers to the sentence and depth to the story, creating the correct tone for each particular story. It’s as much about leaving out the right words as leaving them in. Delete most of the slang of the time as that will eventually date the story. Same with technology. Use only what truly relates to the essence of the story. Using a few representative elements in the proper place can define both time and region. There’s no doubt when a story takes place if a character says, “It’s the bee’s knees.”
A timeless story weaves these well done elements together seamlessly and, above all, tells the author’s unguarded truth so well that the reader never doubts the story really happened and just as it was told. That’s the book that will be on the shelves for generations.
Christopher Award winning author, LINDA ARMS WHITE has published both fiction and nonfiction for children and adults, including TOO MANY PUMPKINS, COMES A WIND, I COULD DO THAT: ESTHER MORRIS GETS WOMEN THE VOTE, and TOO MANY TURKEYS. Her books have been recognized with such awards as the prestigious Christopher Award, ABA Pick of the List Book, Children’s Choice Book, Amazon.com’s 10 most recommended Halloween Books, New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Children’s book, Children’s Literature Choice featured book, Oppenhiem Toy Foundation Gold Book Award, Booklinks Lasting Connections Book, Booklist Notable Book, American Library Association Junior Library Guild selection and Amelia Bloomer Project book, CCBC choice book (University of Wisconsin), and Storytelling World Awards Honor.
White addresses conferences, workshops, schools and libraries. As co-owner of Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp, Linda travels the country helping writers of books for children improve their skills.
She and her husband are the parents of four grown children, grandparents of four, and live in a rustic lodge they designed and built in the Colorado mountains.
Participants – to enter to win a critique from Linda, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of November for one point. On November 30th, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog. If you completed a picture book draft in November, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point. I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on December 2nd.
Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Autumn, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Author, Autumn, Comes a Wind, Critiques, Giveaway, I Could Do That!, Julie Hedlund, Linda Arms White, Picture Books, SCBWI, Timeless Books, Too Many Pumpkins, Too Many Turkeys, Writing