listening to children

Recently I’ve realized that I’ve done almost nothing for children’s writers. This makes less than no sense, because in my opinion, children’s authors are super heroes. You think I’m wrong? I’m not, and I can prove it, too. Think back to your very first favorite book. I am willing to bet it was not an adult book, and it likely wasn’t a young adult book, either. My very first favorite book ever was Where The Wild Things are, by Maurice Sendack. I read that book twice a day on average. I also read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and it’s thrilling sequel, Pickles To Pittsburgh. I devoured these books and gradually discovered bigger and bigger books. Goosebumps, The Baby Sitter’s Club, Chocolate Fever, The Last of The Unicorns. If I hadn’t learned to love reading with these, I might never have bothered with Philippa Gregory, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the other adult writers I love so much.

If you write for adults, stick around. We’re going to talk about that too. Today, we are talking about developing a skill that tool me years to master; listening to children. It’s all about character building, you remember, and some of your characters just might be children. So, if you don’t have any of your own kids, borrow some.

Learning the language

Children don’t talk the same way adults do. It’s like a whole new language, or an old one depending on how you look at it. And I’m not just talking about word usage, though that is a big factor. Kids string together words in a fresher, less uniform way than adults, because they haven’t yet learned the way everyone says things. They don’t use cliche phrases or metaphors. They just say it just how they see it. This can also be hilarious.

Learning the ideas

Another thing you’ll learn when listening to children is that they have what they think are all new ideas about, oh everything! Simple things are new to them, and they have none of the structural knowledge that we as grown ups are burdened with. You give a grown up a coffee cup. Unless they spend too much time on pintrest, there are about four things we can do with that cup.

A kid, oh my goodness, a kid will look at the coffee cup and give you ways to use it that you never in your wildest dreams considered. It’s a Barbie bath, it’s a car, it’s literally anything you could possibly think of. So when you’re writing for children characters you have to keep in mind that level of creativity. You have to learn how to see the world like a child sees the world again.

Learning the topics of high importance

Another really important thing to consider when writing for a child character is that what adult considers important is nowhere near what a child considers important. Time moves so different. Remember when it felt like Christmas was never going to happen because there was just no possible way that many days could go past.

Things that are important to children are things like shiny rocks on the sidewalk or finding a $5 bill on the ground. That is a monumental event to a child. Though to be fair if I find a five dollar bill on the ground that’s a pretty monumental event but that’s another story. (A sad one about a starving artist who likes coffee shops too much.)

The point is, children see the world with more excited eyes, they know things that we as adults have entirely forgotten. So when you’re going to write children characters, you need to spend time around children to remember their level of priorities.

So take some time and spend it around small children. They don’t need to be yours. Trust me you can always find ways to borrow other people’s kids if you don’t have any nieces or nephews or friends with kids.

Look for babysitting jobs if you’re still in college or high school. People are always looking for people to watch their kids especially if your affordable, because believe me as a parent, affordable childcare is not a thing that exists.

Take a notebook and just listen to them talk and take notes. The kid will love being the center of your attention and you will be in a better position to write a child character for your next book.

Our affiliates sponsor this week is Pen Boutique if you get a chance be sure to check them out. I swear, I found half my birthday wish list there.

And don’t forget to check us out on Monday on Facebook for the literary agent of the week, and on Thursdays for the discussion of the week.

So what do you think? When you need to write about a child character what do you do to get inspired? even better what was your favorite book of the kid that sparked your love of reading?

Secondary Characters, Learn to Love Them

If you’ve never questioned my sanity, you might be after reading that title.  But I bet that I can say four names that will change your mind; Hermione Granger, Gandalf, Rue and Four/Tobias.  Secondary characters make the story.

If you’ve never really explored all the different ways to use secondary characters in your book, here are just a few things you can do with them.

  • Comic relief.  It’s obvious, maybe, but it’s really useful.  No matter how serious a story is, I expect to laugh at least once.  I mean really, what can’t benefit from a laugh?  Your main character might not be the right person for that sort of thing, though.  That’s why characters like Matt from Wheel of Time work so very well.  Rand’s got too much of a stick up his ass to me funny.
  • Crazy sub plots.  These are always fun.  You can do thing with subplots that you could never do with the main plot of a story.  People getting into crazy hijinks, racing horses, falling in love in such a way it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Whatever you’d like to do that seems to weird to put in the main part of a story, you can explore with a secondary character.
  • Extra conflict.  I honestly think I could do a whole series of posts about ways to add extra conflict with secondary characters.  I might do that at some point, but for now, let me just do a quick overview.  Extra conflict comes in many forms.  You can have a rival lover, a person who just doesn’t like your character, someone who wants the same job as your main character, someone who is teasing the main character’s kid.  It can also come in the form of a friend of your main character who’s running into their own trouble that your mc now has to help with.  Or at least is affected by.
  • If your books has different cultures, a secondary character is a perfect way to explore them.  Fantasy novels are a great example.  If your main character has never run into a person from some other country, they can ask all sort of questions, thereby giving you a great chance for exposition that feels natural.  The secondary character can ask the same questions of the mc.  And thus a whole bunch of information that your reader needs is there.
  • Your secondary characters are going to see the world differently that your mc.  At least, I hope so.  I mean, I assume your characters aren’t all cookie cutters or flat representations of people.  So, you should use them to show a different point of view than the one your mc represents.  There are very few times in real life that there’s a solid right or wrong answer to a situation.  Why should there be in your story?  You can use secondary characters to explore different viewpoints.
  • Your mc is a real person.  So it stands to reason that different people are going to see your character differently.  Their lover will see them one way, their parents another.  The guy who rings them up at the check out will see them a whole different way.  If you worry that your mc is too good, without some flaws that will round them out, a secondary character who doesn’t much care for her will do the trick nicely.  It’s also nice because rather than saying the character flaw is good or bad, it just puts the fact out there, and lets the reader develop his own opinion.  You’ll also show a lot about your character based on how she treats the people around her.  How does she treat her betters, equals and inferiors?
  • Finally, a secondary character can be useful to foreshadow events that are coming in an indirect way.  They’re the perfect tools for misdirection.  While your flashing your mc about, doing all that mc stuff, your secondary character can do all sorts of things undercover.  Or, the other way around.

Your secondary characters have to be there anyway.  Unless you’re doing some sort of strange proof of concept piece where you’ve only got one character who is in a room all by himself, there are going to be people around him.  Might as well use them to their full advantage.

Writing Prompt Saturday- List character traits

So, I’ve got a thing about lists.  I really like making them, and reading them.  List the 20 best movies in the last fifty years, worst songs from the 90’s (that would be a really long list) most offensive things said by church officials.  They’re fun.

Lists are also a great way to organize thoughts and ideas when writing.  I’m going to try to incorporate at least one list every month.  This is a big writers notebook building exercise, as well a a great brainstorming technique and at least some fun.

Here, then, is our first list.  We’ll do it to 100, because that should be enough to get beyond the normal and really make you think.  List 100 character or personality traits.

Now, I think you should do this on your own, but it’s also something we can do together.  How about it?  Add ten character traits in the comment section until we get to 100.  I’ll start us off, with the first ten.

Generous, vindictive, optimistic, musical, creative, traitorous, foul smelling, faithful, grating, and finally, dependable.  What else can you think of?

This week’s affiliate sponsor is Shutterfly.  I get any pictures I have printed from them, and have never had a bad experience.  Everything I get is well priced, good quality, and gets to my home fast.  Which is good, because I’m not the patient sort. 

Market- Highlights for Kids

I don’t do a lot of children’s fiction on this site, which I consider a glaring omission on my part.  Especially this particular market.  It’s popular, high paying, and my kids used to have a subscription that they devoured every month without fail.   It almost makes up for the fact that they don’t accept e-mail submissions.  That’s right, you’ve actually got to do the whole send it in the mail with a s.a.s.e and all that.

Genre- children’s fiction and puzzles.  They often do different themes, so be sure to check the full guidelines here, which you really should do anyway.

Word count- Varies by type of submission, 500 for smaller readers and 800 for more advanced, as the magazine caters to both.

Sub date-  They take submissions all year round.

Wait time- Non specified, but as you’ll be doing all this the old fashioned way, be prepared for at least six weeks.

Payout- $150 for short fiction.

Any luck with this market?  Let is know in the comments below, and I’ll put you on our monthly brag board.

This week’s affiliate is Shutterfly.  They’re having all sorts of sales right now for Easter, including magnets and postcards.  Might as well get some pictures done before your kids tear up the lawn in search of candy.

Check This Out- By Regina

This week’s check this out is for anyone who considers their writing a business.  Which is to say, my target audience.  By Regina is all about the business side of running a blog, creating a product (your writing) and getting that product to the right people.  It’s all about branding, and thinking like a business person.

Remember, you have to think of your writing in two parts.  First it’s your baby, you’re obsession, your work of art.  Then, it’s a product that you want to share with the world.  That’s a jolt, I’m not going to lie.  When I got paid for Favorite, I was a little in shock.  I’d created something right out of my own head, poured it onto paper, typed it into a computer, and sold it.

Regina calls our brand of business people creativeprenuers.  Pretty sure she made that word up, and it is awesome.  I highly advise reading the blog post 12 ways creativeprenuers are like small children.  It caused me to laugh so hard on the bus all the creepy people scooted away.  Bonus!

When I’m not feeling very energetic or creative, I read Regina’s blog.  She’s just so full of energy that reading her is like taking a b12.  I usually read her blog with a notepad next to me, and by the time I’m done, it’s covered in stuff like “must do this right now!” and “Why aren’t I already doing this?”

You, as my own dear readers, are going to benefit from this, by the way, since the big push of her blog is building a better blog.    Here are just a few things I’ve learned from ByRegina.

  • Utilize bullet points, because they’re fun to read. (Like this one)
  • Work on the images on your blog.  Hence the lovely new pictures for my columns.
  • Love your brand.  You’ll see more of this over the next few months.

There are a lot of other cool ideas I’ve gotten from the site, but to share them would ruin two or three big surprises I’ve got for you all later in the year.  (Hint: I’m planning something big for August to celebrate the first year anniversary of Paper Beats World.  Very hush hush, you know.)

This week, pour a cup of coffee, grab your writing notebook, and check out ByRegina.

The Writing Life- Reading to Learn

There is a ton of things that go into being a good writer, as we’ve discussed here. You’re not just writing, or just editing, or just revising. You’re also learning all the time. This business changes all the time, and you’ve got to keep on top f things. The good thing is, you’re keeping on top of something really fun, reading. That’s right, you’re best tool in writing is to read and read and read.

You’ve got to read in your field and out of it. You’ve got to read short stories and long novels. Read good books and bad. Banned books and socially acceptable ones. There is so much to be learned from reading.

When Reading Good Books

Soak up grammar rules. A lot of our rules are confusing and hard to remember. But if you’re accustomed to looking at our language for long periods of time, really hearing it in your head as you read, you’ll find yourself knowing when it’s right and when it’s wrong. You might not know the rule something’s breaking when it’s wrong, but you will know that it is wrong.

By the way, if you are interested in learning some grammar, read Elements of Style. It’s short, but madly useful.

You’ll also develop an ear for good storytelling. You know when you read something, and it resonates, because it’s honest, or because a part of your heart just jumps out at it? You learn to spot that, and with luck, you can learn to write it.

Another reason you want to read, especially your own genre, is to know what other people are doing. It’s not to mimic what they’re doing. It’s to know. You can’t know if you’re doing the same thing as everyone’s doing if you have no idea. You can’t know what’s already been done a million times, and what might actually be cutting edge. After all, everything is new if you’re not reading those kinds of books.

When Reading Bad Books

And you should read bad books. (Maybe not Twilight, though. Just saying.) I make a point of picking up random books in the horror and fantasy genres. Some are great, some are really bad. I learn a lot from the bad books. For instance, I learn what doesn’t work. When I read a bad book, and I say, “Wow, that blows,” I then take it a step further than that. Why does it suck? Is the story line poor? Is the dialog bad? Do the characters fall flat? These are things to avoid.

I also like to ask myself, why did this get published, if it’s so bad. There’s a book that’s going to be made into a movie this year, that a lot of people really liked. I did not. But it’s being made into a movie anyway. So, I ask myself why. There’s something in this bad story that was so good that it was published even though it was really bad. What might happen if I learned how to do that, and put it in a good book? I’ll tell you what, best seller!

There’s also a big dose of optimism in a bad book. After all, if this trash got published, surely I’ll be eventually. You too, I bet. I mean, Twilight was published, after all. So was Ann Rice. Just all of her books. They were bad, and I thought they were bad when I was a creepy goth chick in high school.

If you learn nothing else from this blog, learn to fit reading into your everyday life. I read every night, at least a half an hour. I read in the bath, and on the way to work. I love my tablet because I’ve always got a handful of books with me. My love of reading is something that has always been with me, and it’s something that I share with every person in my life. If I’ve got nothing else to talk about, I talk about books. Someday, people are going to be talking about mine.

What book have you read that you’ve learned the most from?

This week’s affiliate sponsor is Shutterfly. I got a great calendar for my mother in law last Christmas, and it’s how I get all of my pictures published. They’re fast, great quality, and really inexpensive. Especially if you collect Coke caps. I generally get my prints for the price of shipping.  Oh, and if you click on this link, you can get a special deal.

This April in Blogging U.: The Return of Writing 101!

What a great motivation and way to join in the online writing community. Will you be trying it too? News

This April, we’ll be offering Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit. Writing 101 is a write-every-day challenge designed to help you create a writing habit and push you as a writer, while publishing posts that mesh with your blog’s focus.

What is Writing 101?

Writing 101 is a four-week course that runs from Monday, April 6, to Friday, May 1, 2015. Each weekday, you’ll get an assignment that includes a writing prompt and an optional “twist”; prompts are your topic inspiration for the day, while twists push you to experiment with writing techniques and tools.

Who else is really building their writing habit?… I wake up multiple times each night to check the time and see if it’s time to get up and write because I’m so excited. I’ve never felt this way before! I think I’m in lurve.
Molly, Knocked Up Knocked Over

You can mix assignments however you like: Respond to…

View original post 218 more words

Idiosyncracies, how to use them and why your character needs them

This is an often overlooked and sometimes misunderstood part of creating a character. Too often we talk about a characters strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, favorite brand of coffee, that sort of thing. We don’t talk a lot about characters idiosyncrasies, though, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. When you think about it, isn’t that a big part of what you think of when you think about a real person?

So, just so we’re all aware, an idiosyncrasy is a behavior or way of thought particular to a specific person. Often this is associated with something weird or unexpected in someone’s personality. There are a lot of examples, but the first one that comes to mind for me is from the show Burn Notice. The main character is a smart, fearless super spy. Or as he says, he used to be a spy. He eats yogurt. I don’t mean like sometimes for breakfast. I mean he is often seen with yogurt. People bring him yogurt as a gift, steal his yogurt as a threat. He’s done at least one job for yogurt. He’s a super deadly man, who has worked for yogurt.

To clarify a bit further, an idiosyncrasy is not a character flaw. If a character is scared of spiders, that is a flaw. If a character is scared of spiders, so he takes off his shoe to kill them every time he sees one instead of just stepping on them, that is an idiosyncrasy.

An idiosyncrasy is also not a strength, or a normal hobby. Your character likes books. That is a strength. Your character speaks three languages. That is a strength. Your character has gone out of her way to collect fairy tales in French. That is an idiosyncrasy. Extra marks if she can’t actually speak French.

With this being little more than a weird character trait, some might say, why even bother with it at all?

For one thing, it makes your character more human. We’ll go back to Michael Weston for a minute. He’s not always a very likable or relatable character. He’s often doing terrible things or being a terrible person. His obsession with yogurt is humanizing. It’s also funny.

Idiosyncrasies can also suggest sub plots, or add to a main plot. Let’s take, for example, A Series of Unfortunate Events. One of the main characters, Violet, wears a hair ribbon when she’s making an invention. This hair ribbon has been used to incriminate her in a crime. People have used it to impersonate her. Once getting her ribbon back helped her feel more like herself so that she was able to think of an amazing invention to save her siblings.

Here’s another thing that Violet’s hair ribbon did for me, as a reader. I have long hair, and I can’t think of anything if it’s all around my face. I have to have my hair pulled back if I’m to get anything done from dishes to writing. This made Violet a very relatable character for me. Though I actually had more in common with Klause. #glassesproblems.

Finally, I’d like to revisit Michael Weston. He with his yogurt fetish. That was a clever thing to put into his character, because it does so much. The last thing it does for him is give him a spot of humor, which helps balance out his character. Without that, he’s sort of a narrow minded hard ass who has repeatedly put his friends and family in danger on the road to his goals.

Look at your character, and think about what sort of weird idiosyncrasy you can give them. My personal example was to give my main character Lenore a love of dogs. She’s a very professional, stern, get shit done sort of person, until she sees a puppy then she goes all over girly.

What do you think? What’s your favorite idiosyncrasy from a famous literary or movie character?

Writing Prompt Saturday- Write An Abecedarian Poem

This post contains an affiliate link at the bottom

For those of us who have little ones, this is a poetry form that you can share with your kids. Especially if you’re kids are little enough that they’re still learning there alphabet.

Like so many other poetic forms, this poetry form started in Greece.  Ah, Greece, you’ve given us awesome food, great poetry, and an amazing collection of mythological stories.  Thank you.

An abecedarian poem will have 26 lines, because each line starts with a letter of the alphabet, going in order from A to Z.

As always, I love poetry that has rules, making your carve your creativity around natural borders like a road carved around a mountain. I think it makes you think beyond your first idea.

Here’s a great example of an abecedarian poem. It’s only an excerpt, though, because the whole text is rather long. Here’s a link to the whole thing.

Nonsense Alphabet
Edward Lear, 1812 – 1888

A was an ant
Who seldom stood still,
And who made a nice house
In the side of a hill.

Nice little ant!

B was a book
With a binding of blue,
And pictures and stories
For me and for you.

Nice little book!

C was a cat
Who ran after a rat;
But his courage did fail
When she seized on his tail.

Crafty old cat!
So try your hand at an an abecedarian poem this weekend.

What do you think about abecedarian poetry?  Did you try writing one?  Let us know in the comments below!

Also, if you get a chance, check out Pen Boutique.  Absolutely some of the best looking pens I’ve seen, and I spend way too much time looking at pens online.

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Markets- Wergle Flomp Humor poetry contest

I really do love poetry in all forms.  My love affair started when I was a little girl in the most irreverent of ways, with Shel Silverstein.  If you’ve never read Where The Sidewalk Ends, A Light In The Attic or Falling Up, go read them right now.  If you read those when you were little, go read Everything On It, and get ready to cry a lot.

And so, it is in this spirit that I am so proud to tell you about the Wergle Flomp Humor poetry contest.  Just as it sounds, this is a contest devoted to poetry that makes people laugh.

Genre- Humorous poetry

Word Count- Any length is acceptable

Sub Date- April 1.  Sorry about that, I usually try to get these to you earlier, but I only just heard about it, and it was too good to pass up.

Wait Time- Non specific.

Payout- Top prize is $1,000, but there are lesser prizes as well.

And, if you’re looking to make money on your blog, don’t forget to check out Share A Sale.

Don’t forget that every Monday, I post a new literary agent on our Paper Beats World Facebook page.

Any luck with this market?  What do you think?

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