In a huge nod to the old adage, “Better Late than Never,” I am so pleased to introduce our October 12 x 12 Featured Author Lori Degman. Especially when part of the reason why the post is late is because her son got married the last weekend of September! So first, congratulations Lori!
Lori is also not only a 12 x 12 featured author, but a two-time participant in 12 x 12. Who better to advise participants on writing than someone who is a participant herself? I’ve had the good fortune to meet Lori twice at the past two LA-SCBWI conferences, and her energy, enthusiasm and vivaciousness is absolutely contagious. So it did not surprise me one bit to find all of those traits in her book ONE ZANY ZOO, which oozes fun and humor. I’m anxiously awaiting her next book, COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! But while we are waiting and trying to be patient about it, I give you ONE ZANY AUTHOR talking about plotting picture books. Please welcome Lori!
Oh, and one lucky 12 x 12 participant will win a PB critique from Lori this month. So set those pens to paper or fingers to keyboard!
When I asked Julie for some topic ideas for this post, she suggested I discuss Plot, because it is one of the areas I cover in my critiques. I am not a “Plot Whisperer” – by any means – but I think it could be helpful to tell you the elements I feel are essential to a good story.
When critiquing plot for others or when editing my own picture book manuscripts, I ask myself these questions:
1. Does the story have a strong beginning that introduces the setting, characters or problem in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading? Does it start at a point of action or change? This will draw the reader into the story. In my original manuscript for 1 Zany zoo, the story took place during show & tell at school, where the main character is talking about his zany adventures at the zoo. My editor suggested we start the story at the zoo, in present time, to jump right into the action. Great idea!
2. Does every sentence add to the story or move it along? Go through your manuscript and make sure every sentence is essential and moves the story forward. Also, look for words or phrases that could be replaced by more interesting, colorful or active words. With editors wanting lower word counts, it’s even more important to choose your words carefully.
3. Does the main character(s) make failed attempts (typically three) to solve the problem? By making multiple attempts, you’re building tension, which will keep the reader invested in the story and make the solution more satisfying. Also, make sure your main character solves his/her own problem. There’s nothing worse than having an adult ride to the rescue and save the day!
4. Is the ending satisfying? I don’t’ mean, “Did the character learn a lesson” – in fact, you should be careful not to make any lesson too obvious or preachy. I mean, did the ending make you laugh or cry or wonder? Was it memorable? Each of my stories has a twist ending that catches the reader by surprise and makes them laugh (hopefully). I also write endings that go full circle and bring the story back to the beginning.
5. Is the story age appropriate and entertaining? Ask yourself if the topic is something your target audience will relate to or want to read about. Picture books are meant to be read over and over again and, if your story’s not entertaining for both the child and adult, then it will sit on the shelf – if it makes it out of the editors slush pile.
6. For all you fellow rhymers – ask yourself: Is this story best told through rhyme or would it be better told in prose? Are the rhyme and meter limiting the story or taking it in the wrong direction? If you’re not sure, write it both ways and see what happens.
As I said earlier, I am not a “plot expert” – this is just how I approach writing and editing stories. I hope it will be helpful to you and I’m pretty sure if you keep these things in mind, you’ll have a better story when you’re done!
Thanks so much for letting me guest post on your amazing blog, Julie! I LOVE 12×12 – even though, these days, I’m more like a 3×12.
Don’t worry Lori! I’m more like a 3 x 12 too! Thank you so much for being here!
Lori Degman is a teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students by day and a writer of picture books by night, weekend and school holiday. Her debut picture book, 1 Zany Zoo, illustrated by Colin Jack, was the winner of the Cheerios New Author Contest and was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. 1 Zany Zoo received the Mom’s Choice Award for Picture Book Humor and is included on the inaugural “Illinois Reads” book list, sponsored by the Illinois Reading Council. Her second picture book, Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, illustrated by Deborah Zemke, will be released by Creston Books in May, 2014. She is represented by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. You can learn more about her on her website, LoriDegman.com.Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Author, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Lori Degman, Works in Progress, Writer, Writing