Children's Writers eNews
November 13, 2014
"The Write Words to Read"
The Institute of Children's Literaturehttp://www.institutechildrenslit.com
Editor: Jan Fields -- email@example.com
-------------------------------------------------------------------"I'm afraid of all kinds of things. I'm afraid of failing at whatever story I'm writing – that it won't come up for me, or that I won't be able to finish it."
from the Rolling Stone interviewhttp://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/stephen-king-the-rolling-stone-interview-20141031#ixzz3IrHS2EQF
CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE
2. Online in Rx
3. At the Writer's Retreat
4. What's New at Kristi's?
6. Cool Site
8. Good News
1. The Deadline for the Kindergarten Story Contest has been extended!https://www.writersbookstore.com/sc/wbs_contest.htm
2. In the Rx
Book Proposals -- UPDATEDhttp://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/tr01/terrywhalin06.shtml
Terry Whalin kindly updated links and information in the chat from the archives, so anyone interested in book proposals should check it out. Lots of new resources.
3. Are You On The Writer's Retreat?http://www.institutechildrenslit.net/index.php
Come and check out the November discussion on writing proposals and synopsis.
And for all visitors whether registered or not, you'll find plenty of helpful information: get help for student lessons. Learn to build solid plots. Share your ups and downs with fellow writers. It's all there.
4. What's New at Kristi's?http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/
Friday, Nov. 7: "Climbing Out of a Writing Hole"
When you're behind on a writing project and so deep in a hole that you can't see daylight, here's a strategy for climbing out!
Tuesday, Nov. 11: "Dismount to Find Writing Time"
If you have trouble finding time to write--if your schedule is truly too full--something must go. Here's one way to find that time you need.
This is not a children's market, but since children's writers are often well practiced at writing very short pieces, this might be a good opportunity. Flash fiction and nonfiction. Poetry. Paid market. December 31 Deadline
6. Is Expository Derogatory?http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/
With nonfiction getting so much attention (and editor requests), it's good to understand the changes that nonfiction has gone through in the last years and how it's better and more exciting than ever.
7. WRITING SHORT MYSTERIES
Most of us have fond memories of reading children’s mystery stories when we were kids. There are few folks my age who don’t instantly recognize the name Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. For a while, mysteries ruled in series books. Today, many books have a mystery element but are nearly always mixed in with action/adventure or other genre. In mystery novels, the mash-up is common.
Now, mysteries are still listed in the guidelines of magazines as well. The mystery story format is a natural for short fiction because a mystery is a type of puzzle. It can be very long and complex (the novel) or it can be much more direct and simple (the short story) but it’ll always be a puzzle. When you boil down the plot of a short story mystery, it will look like this: Main character discovers a puzzle and works to unravel the clues to discover what is really going on. So let’s break it down to look at what a mystery must have.
A mystery short story works best when you have a single clear main character. This is because a mystery is all about the main character – what motivates him, how his mind works, his resourcefulness, his tenacity, and ultimately his success. A mystery with a generic “kid” main character is always going to feel weak. So build a main character who lingers in the memory.
The mystery main character should have some compelling characteristic that makes him perfect to be your story’s “detective” (now, you never need to call your main character a detective, but ultimately he will act like one because he is hunting clues and interpreting them – behaviors of a detective.). Usually a mystery main character will have some characteristic that cannot leave the mystery alone – boundless curiosity or a dogged tenacity. If your main character lacks those characteristics, then you’ll need to build in a motivation to keep the detective on the job – like having him solve a “crime” he’s being blamed for or giving him a “ticking clock” (a serious consequence if he doesn’t solve the mystery within a tight amount of time.) Pressure builds story tension so don’t be afraid to put your main character under pressure.
A mystery main character without motivation or pressure simply won’t care whether the problem is solved or not. And the result of not solving the problem will be weak…making the story weak. As in any short story, you must have a plot that feels important to the main character.
The heart of a mystery is a puzzle – something that looks one way but really is actually not at all how it looks. The mystery puzzle should be something that must be solved. In one mystery short story I wrote, a boy is accused of stealing trading cards from a store because the cards go missing every time the boy goes to the store. Certainly the coincidence makes him look guilty. He can’t be guilty, because he’s our main character and we’re in his viewpoint. So we know he’s not guilty. But we also know that he’s going to have to find out what’s going on.
The puzzle should not be too easy to solve. In the mystery story about the boy, the solution was fairly simple. The very heavy shopkeeper was suspicious of small boys so she always followed them around through the narrow aisles of the store. As she followed him down the aisle with the trading cards, her girth (and her swishy skirt) were sweeping the cards off the shelf and into a side shelf bin. Since she only followed small boys through the store – it looked as if the small boys were thieves.
But although the answer might be simple, the finding of the answer cannot be. The main character doesn’t know why the cards have vanished. And he’s been banned from the store. He must find another way to discover how the cards are disappearing. And his thinking must be believable for a young boy.
One thing you must not do is have someone else jump in and solve the puzzle (you can’t have the boy tell his mom so she storms the store, hunts around and finds the missing cards, deducing herself how they vanished.) The main character must solve it. It shouldn’t just resolve itself (you can’t have the shopkeeper feel her dress knock something from the shelf, and then go looking to see if she had any other askew merchandise and discover the cards…then track the boy down and apologize.). There are always ways to resolve a mystery that spoil the ending for the reader – the satisfying ending makes the main character win against the puzzle.
The main character must do something. For instance, it is not a mystery if Bonny Bunny notices that all the spring violets are missing, but only gives it a passing thought as she hops down the bunny trail. Then she notices none of her friends are home, but only gives it a passing thought as she hops down the bunny trail. Then she notices that the forest market is out of carrots! But she only hops sadly down the bunny trail until she reaches the Morning Meadow where – surprise, all her friends have a birthday party for her with a big vase of violets as a centerpiece and carrot lemonade for a beverage! It would be a sweet little episodic tale, but not a mystery because dear Bonny didn’t do a speck of work to solve the puzzles presented – she just noticed them and moved on. You could describe it as “mysterious” in the cover letter, but I would avoid saying “mystery” when you have no one trying to solve the puzzles. Calling a story a “mystery” sets up expectations in the mind of the editor and if you’re actually going to give him/her a totally different kind of story, it’s better not to call it a mystery.
Now, the main character needs to have a real chance of solving the mystery. This normally involved clues. Clues are anything that helps the main character figure out what is really going on. A clue might be something the main character sees or something he is told. A clue might also be the results of an experiment the main character attempts in order to solve the mystery. For instance, in the mystery about the trading cards, the main character thought (at first) that simply staying away from the store for a few days would resolve the problem. When the cards continued to disappear, the owner would have to admit the boy wasn’t the thief – but nothing disappeared when he didn’t go into the store. That was a clue. Another clue came about when he learned all of his friends were walking the extra three blocks to go to another store because the woman at the local store was too scary – scowling and snapping at them as they opened the store door made them turn around and go right back out! Ah, another clue.
Clues are a delicate balance. You don’t want the reader to know the answer too easily because you don’t want your reader to think the main character is stupid. If the main character fails to solve the puzzle with really obvious clues, he’s not going to look worthy of his happy ending. So the clues must require thought to make the logical jump to the solution. And the jump does need to be logical. At the end, you don’t want to leave any “but what about the…?” elements.
When the solution becomes clear because of the work and cleverness of the main character, the result is a satisfying and enjoyable ending. Ultimately, that’s what makes a perfect mystery.
Some “mysteries” have been so overdone that editors just don’t want to see variations on them anymore. So, if you’ve done one of these – maybe you should think about going back to the drawing board:
The mysterious noise in the night that seems like a ghost/monster, but turns out to be the family cat (or squirrels in the attic or a raccoon in the trash.)
The mysterious missing friends that turn out to be at a surprise party for the main character. I’ve personally read this plot dozens of times in print in various children’s magazines, but not lately. Editors have finally grown weary of it.
The mystery that turns out not to be a mystery at all – the main character totally misinterpreted the “clues” and invented a mystery where none existed -- ending up looking like an idiot. This one is even worse if you need a wise adult to set him straight at the end – this kind of story isn’t satisfying at all to young readers. (Now, if someone was playing a prank on the main character and any sensible person would have interpreted the clues his way and if you can prevent him from “losing” at the end…there are variants on this that can work.)
So good luck with your mysteries – and keep us guessing!
8. Good News
Suzanne Costigan: I’d like to announce that my contemporary, issues-based, YA novel, Empty Cup, is being released on November 23rd through Rebelight Publishing Inc <http://www.rebelight.com/> More than anything, Raven wishes for a knight to rescue her from a life of abuse. On her seventeenth birthday, her mom’s boyfriend assaults her. Mom blames Raven and kicks her out into a bitter winter night. As Raven struggles with the aftermath of betrayal, her knight appears in the form of a concerned teacher. But people are not always what they seem.
Marianne Mitchell: My middle grade book THE GHOST IN THE WOOD just won first place in the Arizona Authors Association Literary Contest for 2014. It's available in both print and ebook format from Amazon.com. Woo-Hoo!
Robin Linzer: My YA novel, One Wish, is available on Amazon.com -- One Wish is about a normal boy who opens a puzzle box that hasn't been solved in over 600 years. When he solves it, a genie pops out, granting him one wish.
Debra Kempf Shumaker: I'm pleased to say that my article, "An Owl In Your Pocket," is in the November/December issue of Fun For Kidz. This started out as Assignment 9 in my Writing for Children and Teenagers ICL class many years ago!
Kelly Carey: Highlights for Children just purchased my fiction story Growing a Holiday, a story of how two girls create the traditions and celebration needed to make Arbor Day a real holiday.
Claudia Cangilla McAdam: My THE CHRISTMAS TREE CRIED, which hit local bestseller status in the Denver area, is now available as an Amazon Kindle eBook at Amazon.com <http://Amazon.com> . It's a fictional story based on how the Christmas tree for the Blue Room in the White House is chosen.
Maria Bostian: My first picture book, WHAT SHOULD DAISY DO, should be out by the end of December. It is published by Ambassador International and is a tale about what happens when Pete the Pig invites Daisy the Dalmatian to play with matches and lighters.
What's Your Good News? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
-- be sure to put "good news" in the subject line since I get a lot of book announcements due to the review work I do. So I don't want your good news to slip through the cracks.
9. For All Subscribers
Many of our enews issues are being blocked from getting to all of our subscribers. It can be difficult to convince your email provider that you truly want to receive this enews. Therefore we've created a list of directions to make it easier for you find the exact steps to ensure the enews always makes it to your inbox.
Please, check out this link http://institutechildrenslit.com/email_whitelist_instructions.htm
for specific directions to ensure you get every issue of the Children's Writers eNews.
To Unsubscribe from the email version of Children's Writers eNews, go to http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/email_updates_unsubscribe.shtml
NOTE: I can add you, remove you, or change your address manually and will be happy to do so.
To have your address changed, email email@example.com
and do the following:
1. TELL ME that it's a change of address for the enews. I handle a lot of things so if you don't tell me what you want me to do, I may not do it.
2. TELL ME your OLD address as well as the NEW one. I cannot search by your name. I need the old address.
3. DO NOT send me a mass mailing that you sent to everyone in your address book that just tells me your new email. I won't know what you want me to do or if it's really for me at all. And I'll probably just delete it.