Those of you writing, or thinking about writing, a children’s or young adult book ought to read The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein. As the Amazon review says, it’s a “master class in writing children’s and young adult novels…”
Klein, and executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic uses extensive samples from Marcelo In The Real World, a book she worked on, to demonstrate how to fix matters of plot, tone and style for the book you’re writing.
The Magic Words focuses on three kid book categories: chapter books, middle-grade novels and young adult novels, using examples and reader exercises to make her points, and demonstrates essential differences in the sub-genres.
Klein’s basic guidelines:
A) The book will be centrally interested in the life, experience, and growth of its young protagonist.
B) The protagonist will contribute to the action, consistently doing things or making choices that move the narrative forward.
C) The novel will be narrated with relative immediacy to the protagonist’s youthful perspective, and not with the distance of, say, an adult looking back at his preteen years.
D) In more literary novels, the protagonist will be different at the end of the novel than he was at the beginning, and usually for the better.
The Magic Words is one of the most useful books on writing I’ve ever read.
I discovered a great resource called QueryShark. There’s nothing I’ve found that’s quite like it. The blogger is Janet Reid, an agent with New Leaf Media. Her blog is http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/, but the site I found most useful is http://queryshark.blogspot.com/.
There she practices the old-school, “this sucks,” style of critique. Writers who want to improve their query letters send in a draft, and she offers sometimes sharply-worded advice on how to make it better… or start over. She welcomes new queries, but you have to follow her rules, and be prepared for public humiliation. But, as writers, we know all about that, right?
I’ve read almost the entire archive and it is just plain fascinating to see how many writers improve their queries after a few back-and-forths. If Ms. Reid is truly enthused–which happens rarely– she’ll ask for pages, but be advised: her preferred clients are usually in the narrative non-fiction and fiction categories, not YA or Middle Grade genres. But she’ll read and comment on your query no matter what the genre.
Prepare yourselves with liberal doses of Tuff Skin.
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After two-plus years of clinging to a title that I should have known wasn’t working 18 months ago, I finally let go of it.
It wasn’t just that the title didn’t fit: the whole concept began to feel shoehorned in to another, very different story. I got feedback on that from the very first (thanks, Mel Gilden!), but you know how hard it is to kill all your darlings.
The story originated in a dream, which I think made it harder to give it up. Something sacred about my dreams, I suppose. But, as tends to happen, the story took another direction, one that was very different from the kind of fantasy world I’d begun with.
The new title fits because my hero, Alex, needs things to be normal, and things are getting less and less that way.
Please enjoy the first ten pages. Let me know what you think.
Based on feedback and the PCCWW workshop, I’ve rewritten my first ten pages of The Story Store. You can read them here. Let me know what you think.
…or the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers’ Workshop. It’s a two half-day, one full day intensive, where we critique and get critiques on our work.
A gorgeous location on Monterey Bay, south of Santa Cruz. For some reason I am the only male writer among about 15 women.
One of the unique things about this workshop is the inclusion of five teenage and pre-teen writers, who offer articulate and very useful takes on what they like–and don’t–like about middle grade and young adult fiction. And (judging from their short writing samples), they are accomplished writers.
i am jealous.
I’m heading for Santa Cruz at the end of the month to take a three-day writing workshop, put on by the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop. It was recommended by a long-time writer friend, Sheryl Scarborough, who’s attended and been on staff. Attendees get a chance to have their work reviewed by an agent and an editor, as well as hearing peer critiques.
I’ve sent in most of The Story Store, and am reading others’ sample chapters. Looking forward to it. I’ll FB or blog or something while I’m there, time permitting. It looks like a full schedule.
I’ve added another chapter to my work-in-progress, KillGirl.
I went to a writers conference in LA and met a freelance editor, Laura Garwood. She agreed to give The Story Store a read. What follows (here and in subsequent posts) are her observations, abbreviated for length.
Thank you so much for entrusting me with The Story Store. I sincerely enjoyed reading it, and felt invested in Alex and his family. I also felt carried along in the suspense and action. I do have some suggestions for you, however, as you revise. A lot of my comments and suggestions have less to do with throwing away what’s already on the page and more to do with building some more structure and details into it.
You have done a good job of maintaining just one point of view in each section, which is important. However, I think we need to beef up Sara’s point of view, mostly in the beginning. We get a lot of Alex’s chapters, and very few of Sara’s there. We thus end up not knowing her nearly as well as Alex, her backstory could use some strengthening. She is supposed to do a lot of drugs, but we don’t particularly see her doing that or see her under the influence.
She was very good, and inspired me to begin draft #6. More to follow.
While querying agents and publishers about The Story Store, I got started on a new book, KillGirl. You can read the first chapter here. Deborah is 15 when she becomes an assassin.
I’ve written about 10K words for the book, and about 20K words of notes. Obsessive? Maybe a little…