Why Backstory is the Bomb from Denise Jaden. PEEK: “Just because we don’t want that backstory up front, doesn’t mean we don’t need it at all. It doesn’t mean that we can vaguely imagine a few scenarios of what could have been the history of our characters. We have to know. And for that, in most cases, we have to write it.”
A Case for Villains by Danyelle from QueryTracker.net Blog. PEEK: “No villain=no conflict=no plot=no point.”
A Character’s Controlling Belief by Mary Atkinson from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “A character’s goal is different. Goal answers the question, what does a character want? Controlling belief answers, why does she want it?”
Exploiting a Character’s First Scene by Marianna Baer from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “From the moment a new character enters a book, the reader consciously and subconsciously picks up on clues about his nature and quickly forms an opinion. If details are not thoughtfully chosen, a character’s first scene can be a missed opportunity or, more negatively, disruptively misleading.”
Tension — an Essential Element of Story by Sarah Blake Johnson from Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “Tension is an imbalance. Stories will contain many layers of tension, and these imbalances creates a desire in the characters (and in readers) for the imbalance(s) to be corrected or rebalanced. Tension creates anxiety. It catches and maintains our attention while we turn page after page…”
Where Do Character Strengths Come From? by Becca Puglisi from Cynsations. PEEK: “Fully-realized characters, like real people, aren’t formed out of the air. They’re a result of many different elements that come together to make the character who he is in the current story.”
Writing Body Language: Moving Beyond Basics by Angela Ackerman from Cynsations. PEEK: “Act out the feeling and move around. Do you hold your arms close to the body? Is your posture slumped? Are your eyes closed, or open? Keep mining until you find a movement that is fresh and unique.”
Writing Well-Rounded Secondary Characters by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “…for each cast member, an individual narrative was hinted at through beats and brushstrokes. A whisper of an internal and external journey. The implication that they were living real lives on- and off-stage.”
Games to Play While Waiting for an Idea from Tim Wynne-Jones. PEEK: “When the ideas aren’t flowing you can prime the pump. Here are some games I have discovered along the way.”
Where Ideas Really Come From by Tim Wynne-Jones. PEEK: “Over the years I’ve found all kinds of ways of answering this important question. Mostly, I lie. I say things like, Ideas come from the Idea Store. A kid once told me he had been to the Idea Store. Another liar, I suspected. Except that he could describe it in detail.”
Contests and Grants
Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award from SCBWI. PEEK: “…for a work-in-progress from an unpublished author over age 50.”
Emerging Voices Award from SCBWI. PEEK: “…to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.”
Golden Heart Award from the Romance Writers of America. PEEK: “seeks to showcase the next great generation of romance writers by recognizing outstanding manuscripts from never-before-published Romance Writers of America members.” CYN NOTE: see the YA category.
SCBWI PJ Library Jewish Stories Award from SCBWI. PEEK: “…sponsored by the PJ Library to encourage the creation of more high-quality Jewish children’s literature.”
Manuscript Awards from SCBWI. PEEK: “…for promising manuscripts submitted for individual critique at the Summer Conference.”
New Visions Award for Writers of Color from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low. PEEK: “…given for a middle grade or young adult novel by a writer of color.”
New Voices Award Writing Competition for Authors of Color from Lee & Low. PEEK: “…given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color.”
Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing from Hunger Mountain – a VCFA Journal of the Arts. PEEK: “One overall first place winner receives $1,000 and publication. Three category winners receive $100 each and publication. The categories are: Young Adult (YA); Middle Grade (MG); Picture Book or Writing for Young Children.”
Student Writer Scholarship from SCBWI. PEEK: “…conference tuition for full-time university students in an English or creative writing program.”
Martha Weston Grant from SCBWI. PEEK: “…helps authors and illustrators who want to switch children’s book genres.”
Spark Award from SCBWI. PEEK: “…recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route.”
Tribute Fund from SCBWI. PEEK: “…commemorates members of the children’s book community, their lives, and their work by funding all-expense scholarships to the SCBWI International Summer and Winter Conferences for the general membership.”
Work-in-Progress Grants from SCBWI. PEEK: “To assist children’s book writers and illustrators in the completion of a specific project currently not under contract. Given in the categories of: Picture Book Text, Chapter Books/Early Readers, Middle Grade, Young Adult Fiction, Nonfiction, Multicultural Fiction or Nonfiction.”
Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant from SCBWI. PEEK: “Critically acclaimed children’s book author Jane Yolen created this grant to honor the contribution of mid-list authors.”
Writing to Deadline by Liz Garton Scanlon. PEEK: “Yes, I capture phrases out of dreams and pound out plots while I walk and generally try to stay in a muse-induced state as frequently as a mother of two with a marriage and a mortgage can. But I still produce most effectively when someone’s expecting something from me. ”
Dialogue: A Balancing Act by Sarah Sullivan from Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “Pull out your writing how-to books and you will read that dialogue serves two purposes: 1. To reveal character and 2. To advance plot.”
Dialogue: Writing for Children and Young Adults: an interview with authors Linda Urban and Micol Ostow by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth.
Writing Dialogue by Kristen Tracy from Cynsations. PEEK: “Dialogue is meant to go back and forth. If one person refuses to pass the ball, you risk creating a section that can feel strained, or boring, or insincere.”
100 Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “…the question of whether to craft a protagonist, especially in the first-person point of view, from outside our own perspective is a personal one. It’s a matter of craft, character, and conscience. The writer who’s not able to do so in their debut novel may succeed in their fifth.”
Appropriate Cultural Appropriation by Nisi Shawl from The Internet Review of Science Fiction. PEEK: “A good deal of transcultural writing’s bad reputation is owing to authors and audiences who act like Invaders. In one unpublished story I’ve seen, the writer took a sacred song here, a tattoo there, snapped up a feast featuring roasted pig and manioc root from somewhere else and presto! South Pacific Island culture at our fingertips!” SEE ALSO Transracial Writing for the Sincere by Nisi Shawl from Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
Avoid Cultural Appropriation: Tips to Consider When Writing Different Cultures by Ixty Quintanilla from Everyday Feminism. PEEK: “Often, writers take on the ‘salad bar’ approach. This means they find an ‘interesting’ aspect of a culture, whether it be tattoos or a spiritual ceremony, and pluck it out of the entire community without any cultural context. This then creates a shallow, inaccurate, and insensitive representation of a community.”
Being Indian Is Not a Superpower by Stephen Graham Jones from Electric Lit. PEEK: “I submit that a character being Indian doesn’t need justification….”
Confessions of a Sensitivity Reader by Marjorie Ingall from Tablet. PEEK: “Trying to make children’s books more authentic and less stereotype ridden isn’t censorship.”
Conscious Style Guide: “the latest observations, opinions and community style guides–all in one place.”
Cultural Appropriate Is In Fact Indefensible by K. Tempest Bradford from NPR. PEEK: “The issue here is that Niedzviecki conflated cultural appropriation and the practice of writing characters with very different identities from yourself — and they’re not the same thing. Writing inclusive fiction might involve appropriation if it’s done badly, but that’s not a given.” SEE ALSO Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Writing from the Australian Arts Council.
Dear Fellow White Christian Writers from Shannon Hale. PEEK: “Imagine that there are Christian writers, but they can’t sell their books. Non-Christian writers are seen as being more marketable, more universal, so more and more atheists write stories about what it means to be Christian, and Christian writers are overlooked.”
Gender-Neutral Pronouns: All Your Questions Answered by Desmond Meagley and Youth Radio from Teen Vogue. PEEK: “From grammar to what to do if you mess it up.” SEE ALSO Everyone Uses Singular “They” Whether They Realize It Or Not by Geoff Nunberg from NPR.
How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Anti-Indian Bias in Children’s Books, adapted from Oyate. CYN NOTE: May be applied by writers in revision and critique, too. It’s not a paint-by-numbers situation. Nuance matters. No list of possible pros and cons can be comprehensive. But consider these criteria a place to begin.
How to Prepare to Write a Diverse Book by I.W. Gregorio from The NaNoWriMo Blog. PEEK: “Knowing how people of a certain culture speak—the cadence of their voices, their subtle nuances of syntax—can make the difference between a clunky characterization and one that sings.”
Is My Character Black Enough? by Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. PEEK: “When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probably differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different.” SEE ALSO Cautions on Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Multicultural Dialogue: Please Pass the Patate by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. PEEK: “Members of my own immigrant family speak with heavy accents and often intersperse Italian words, or Anglicized Italian, with English. If I tried to reproduce such speech in my novel, readers would have a difficult time deciphering it.”
Native American YA Literature Panel, moderated by Elizabeth Bird, at The New York Public Library from The Narrative Breakdown. PEEK: “… authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac and their editors, Cheryl Klein and Stacy Whitman, discuss the particular pleasures and challenges of writing, editing, and publishing Native American young adult literature.” SEE ALSO Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians from School Library Journal. PEEK: “At a conference held at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in the early 1990s, James Ransome was asked why he had not illustrated any books with American Indian characters. His response, in short, was something to the effect of, ‘I haven’t held their babies.’”
What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like by Lisa Shapiro from Vulture. PEEK: “…to improve the literary quality of a book by steering the author away from one-dimensional portraits or cliches.” SEE ALSO The Role of Cultural Experts and Sensitivity Readers by Stacy Whitman from The Open Book at Lee & Low. SEE ALSO Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Some Thoughts on a Big Word: “Myth” by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Speak with Us, Not for Us by Grace Lin from The Horn Book. PEEK: “What diversity needs is not white authors to write heroes of a minority race, but rather for them to redefine the white hero. We need authors to create white characters who are (or are learning to become) socially aware and who fight alongside people of color, without being saviors, and we need authors who know how to do the same.”
There’s No Secret to Writing About People Who Do Not Look Like You by Brandon Taylor from Literary Hub.
White Fragility by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White.
Writing About Slavery/Teaching About Slavery by P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. PEEK: “This document helps us in our grappling to describe and analyze the intricacies and occurrences of domination, coercion, resistance, and survival under slavery. It complicates the assumptions embedded in language that have been passed down and normalized.”
Writing Across Identity Elements: Why Kayla, not Eartha and Other Stuff I Think About by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The FERAL series’ question is: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ My answer isn’t: ‘Let’s check in with the all-white heroes to find out.’ (Although white co-protagonists are certainly included in the mix.)”
Writing Bilingual Books by Elizabeth O. Dulemba from Cynsations.
Writing Race: A Checklist for Writers from Mitali Perkins. CYN NOTE: Short, clear list to get writers thinking.
Writing the Other: “Learn to write characters very different from you sensitively and convincingly.”
Writing, Tonto and the Wise-Cracking Sidekick Who’s First to Die by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Authorial sensibility is crucial. It’s also tricky, sinking deep into our subconscious. We can only be so aware of it. But we can develop a more inclusive, more socially aware sensibility with nurturing.”
Deepening Your Novel with Imagery, Symbolism, and Figurative Language by Martina from Adventures in Children’s Publishing. PEEK: “For me, it’s a combination of the above, but it’s also that indefinable magic that suddenly makes symbols and images appear in the writing without my knowledge, the overarching, structural metaphors and symbols that bring disparate elements together and illuminate what the story is about.”
Metaphor from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: “…let’s back up a little and talk about metaphor’s mom and dad and her somewhat complicated family tree, beginning with the literary term figure of speech.”
The Metaphoric Matrix (Case Study: Kate DiCamillo) by Elizabeth White from Cynsations. PEEK: “The story is always smarter than I am.”
First Drafts by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “Michelangelo was very eloquent about his approach to sculpting. He said, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.’ Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Very pretty. Lucky bunch, those sculptors.”
Fantasy Writing by Joseph Bruchac from Cynsations. PEEK: ” I did an immense amount of research. That research was not just into the entire werewolf mythos–in folklore, film and print–but also into such esoteric fields as firearms, spy lore, Russian rock and roll and contemporary Russian teenage slang.”
Fantasy Writing by Janet Lee Carey from Cynsations. PEEK: “I create a “cuts” file and keep notes on the cuts. Sometimes I use snippets from cuts, finding those little gems and placing them just so in a new scene during the final revision.”
Fantasy Writing from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: “It is not my intent to hold up all the Potter books, based on literary merit, as the kind of
work to which all of us should necessarily aspire, but I do think the first book at least showed a true genius for story and that is the one I’m discussing today. For the purposes of this paper I turn away from worship of literary art at its pinnacle and bow humbly before the first billionaire author ever.”
Horror Writing: Monsters and Metaphors by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “After deciding to include werewolves in my world, I began researching shape-shifters in the body of literature and stories from around the world. What I found was that it was often the predator who most challenged humans with regard to food and territory that was cast in the role of the monster and, consequently, hunted to (near) extinction. Consider the wolf in Europe, the big cats of Asia.”
Mystery Writing from Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: Making The Impossible Possible by Marnie Brooks.
Writing (Sort Of) Timeless Contemporary Fiction by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “An early manuscript reader of both commented that, despite the 17 years between publication dates, there was no jarring evidence of the time jump on the page. I’m hopeful that she’s right and interested in reflecting on how that happened.”
Graphic Format Literature
SEE Children’s and Young Adult Graphic Literature from Cynthia Leitich Smith. CYN NOTE: Includes recommended craft books and links as well as resources about the format more generally.
Eight Tips for Writing Comedy by Anna Staniszewski. PEEK: “If one character says, ‘The world is ending!’ and another character says, “No it isn’t,” the scene doesn’t leave you many places to go. Chances are it’s going to wind up being an argument, which can get boring really fast. But if the second character’s response is, ‘I knew the chicken people would finally come!’ — well, that gives you more to work with, doesn’t it?”
Writing Humor for Kids by Ron Bates from Cynsations. PEEK: “Make a character likable and funny and the reader will laugh because they expect to laugh. More importantly, they want to laugh.”
Writing Humor: When Words Collide by Lisa Doan from Cynsations. PEEK: “As humor writers, we can imagine what (person I know) was thinking – we built the internal world that led to the thinking. And because of that, we can construct future (bizarre thing) did/saids that will be consistent with the character’s internal world, while at the same time inconsistent with societal norms.”
How Do We Know The Truth – For Sure? by Susan Kuklin from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. PEEK: “Writing both narratives and giving them equal weight turned out to have an unexpected benefit. The readers now had opposing material for debates. And they did. In the classroom and privately. With passion and conviction.”
The Nonfiction Author-Illustrator Relationship by Sneed B. Collard III at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.
The Nonfiction Family Tree, Book Lists by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. PEEK: “Because as students try to make sense of the wide world of nonfiction, it helps to have general categories that are easy to understand. Then, as children become more sophisticated readers and thinkers, they can explore the exceptions.”
Creating Picture Books: How-to Guides, Free Templates and Resources by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
Page Turns in Picture Books by Tracy Marchini from Cynsations. PEEK: “I’ve been thinking a lot about page turns in picture books recently, and all of the amazing things they can do, including: show the passage of time; create humor; and dictate pacing.
Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish: One Writer’s Method from Dori Chaconas.
Writing Picture Books for Children by Patrice Sherman. Includes basics, types, formatting, critiques, agents, exercises, and more.
Less is More by Kelly Bingham from Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “Your best poetry is going to take shape when you figure out which details to select and which ones to leave out.”
Novel in Verse from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: ” Trust that if you write your novel in verse form, arranging the words prettily on the page, all your protests will not stop people from judging it as they would poetry. On the other hand! I know exactly what this writer meant when she said, ‘I didn’t mean for my book to be poetry.’ Because it isn’t… quite.”
Writing Verse Novels by Caroline Starr Rose from Cynsations. PEEK: ” I kept a quilt in mind, treating each poem like its own square of fabric. Each patch had to be able to function separately while at the same time contribute to the whole.”
Point of View
Eye for a God’s Eye: The Bold Choice of the Omniscient Point of View in Fiction for Young Adults by Gwenda Bond at Shaken and Stirred (PDF file).
Writing Process…Writing Practice from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “Practice is about getting better. It’s about doing, analyzing, and critiquing. But it’s also about reflecting. What am I doing to sabotage my story? How can I write this sentence, this paragraph, this chapter better?”
Writing Stories “Loosely Inspired By” Real Life by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The only remnant of real-life dialogue that survived my experience was a couple of incredibly awkward, babbly, and inappropriate lines uttered by me and even those have been wholly revised.”
Hands-on Research and Getting Out of Your Character’s Way by E.M. Kokie from Cynsations. PEEK: “I left with all these sensory details, insights into how shooting could be fun and cause a sense of competition or accomplishment, and bruises in several places.”
Research is for the Background by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.
Analyzing Feedback by Karen Kane from Cynsations. PEEK: “Once I started thinking in terms of ‘mastery-oriented mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed-mindset,’ I began to feel empowered. I saw that other people don’t have the ‘right’ way—just their own way. And I, too, could figure out my own way, in my life and in my stories.”
That Last Revision: Ruthless Bites by Kelly Bennett from Cynsations. PEEK: “If you think it will be tough to bite into your 50,000 word novel manuscript this way, imagine applying Hillerman’s ‘Ruthless Bites’ polishing method to a 700 word picture book manuscript!”
Missed Opportunities by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. PEEK: “The good thing about fiction is a missed opportunity isn’t really missed. We get do-overs all the time. We get the gift of revision.”
Revising a Rough Draft by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “The beginning chapter or chapters I might go over fifteen or twenty times. It’s ridiculous. I know it is, but I can’t help myself. I need to do that to get them to be the best I can make them.”
Revision Strategies – A Chapter Worksheet by Dee Garretson from Project Mayhem: From the Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. PEEK: “Once I have a draft I’m fairly happy about, I go back and revise by chapters, trying to ensure each chapter holds together as a unit itself and adds to the story as a whole.”
Stages of Revision by Natalie Whipple at Between Fact and Fiction. PEEK: “The plot is your base—your story relies on this as a firm foundation. If you have weak areas, you risk readers putting down your book. Because of that, my first revisions always revolve around tightening the plot.”
Writers Helping Writers: “filled with innovative tools, resources and writing help that will help you write more productively while helping you to elevate your storytelling.” CYN NOTE: Check out the “thesaurus” series for writers (see image).
Let’s Get It On: Sex Scenes in Young Adult Novels by Marianna Baer from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “Once I stepped back and looked at YA novels I think handle sex beautifully, I realized I needed to come back to that – the craft. Because, in the end, good craft will set us free.”
Tips for Non-corny Romance Scenes by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. PEEK: “Because teens lack the words and experience to express themselves well in romantic situations, they try to read each other’s body language and become hyper-conscious of their own bodies. Mine that!”
Writing Teen Love, Romance, Passion! by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Which of course means talking about awkwardness, three-dimensionality, and emotional resonance.”
Writing a YA Kiss That Makes Readers Squeal with Joy by Kate Branden from Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “It’s their singular experience, at this particular moment in time, with this particular person, that makes this kiss unique, interesting, and resonant.”
Sequels: Rules for Writing Second Installments by Brent Hartinger from The Writer’s Digest. PEEK: “Resolving lingering plotlines and character arcs from the first project is the least important part of a sequel. What you want are new plotlines and new character arcs.”
Deepening Character with Setting by Kimberley Griffiths Little from Cynsations. PEEK: “In a book that takes you to a place you’ve never been before…. When the author brings that place–that location–alive, setting often become its own character. You can practically feel the setting, taste it, touch it, hear it, and smell it. When a book does that, the reader is truly transported to a new world and is able to get inside the main character in a whole new way and on many different levels.”
Time Period Settings by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. PEEK: “The event or period really has to be central to the events of your own novel. In other words, there has to be a dang good reason for you to be setting your book in another time.”
Creating Compelling Consequences for Characters by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. PEEK: “We can all sit around and agree that trouble and tension are the fuel of the story engine. You can’t get very far without them. But when it comes to actually executing them and letting your character suffer? Many writers are simply too nice.”
The Perfect Plot by Linda Joy Singleton from Cynsations. PEEK: “Characters and plot are a marriage; each plot-turn should be motivated by what your characters wants. Don’t only plot by listing an outline of events. Plot your characters’ inner journeys, too; give even minor characters motivation—something they want—to enhance plotting.”
Structure by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “In terms of structure, these localized desires need to feed into the larger themes. If they do, then the localized action will add to the larger action.”
Thoughts on Scene Structure from Lena Coakley. PEEK: “Now, I had been writing a long time—an embarrassingly long time—before I figured out that a scene needs structure in the same way that a complete novel does.”
If I Had a Hammer, I’d Hammer This Message Into You from Editorial Anonymous. PEEK: “People (of any age) do not appreciate the funnel-to-gullet method of learning a lesson.”
Writing to Answer Your Central Question by Barbara O’Neal from Writer Unboxed. PEEK: “What it took was not shirking away from taking another step into my central question, allowing the writing to carry me deeper.”
Voice from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: ” I am fascinated by the idea that before character, plot and setting I am inventing an implied
author, who is part of the fiction and who stands between me and my work. I wonder about her. Is she nice? What does she think of me? Is she the one that refused to write the book that never came to be?”
Voice: Writing Lean, Spare or Lush, Rich by Padma Venkatraman from Cynsations. PEEK: “Write an important scene or two in another character’s voice. This will not only help you enhance your understanding of this character, it will also give you a greater appreciation for your main character’s voice.”