Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing a Hook for Kids

How do you write the perfect hook for kids and teenagers?   There is no magic formula, but there are two sets of information that I like to think about:  form and content.

What will your perfect hook look like?  Some popular hooks include:
  • A Question
  • Dialogue
  • Sound
  • Shocking Numbers or Statistics
  • Emotions

When I was in college I had a teacher tell me that if I wanted to get a teenager's attention, I only had to relate what I was saying to money, food, or dating.  It doesn't seem to matter if it's a class discussion or a book--money, food, and dating hold most teens' attention.  I've found a few other topics that most kids find universally interesting.  They include humor, trouble, danger, adventure, body sounds and odors (especially flatulence, burping, vomit, etc.), and insecurities.  Most kids also like to see inept adults and kids with a few adult tendencies

Remember the hook should throw your article, story, or book into meaty action you want the kids to remember.  No back story here!  Your hook should be more riveting than the first five minutes of a show on the Disney Channel and more engaging than your reader's current Best Friend Forever.  Those are, after all, your competition. 

Do you have a favorite hook?  What types of content do you think kids like best?  I'd love to know!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When a Runner Lifts Weights (Writing in Multiple Genres)

Photo by Alex Cheek from Sydney, Australia
I like to run.  I also like to write.  Lifting weights really isn't my thing; however, I learned that something interesting happens when a runner lifts weights: you become a better runner.

Writing in a new genre is like lifting weights.  When I first began writing I wrote what was easiest for me: science articles.  I love writing science articles for children.  There are enough fascinating and bizarre subjects that children are eager to read about that I could be happy writing science articles for the rest of my life!  Then I started writing science-related picture books.

I discovered a new and exciting world of possibilities.  A few years later, I tried something else new.  I started writing fiction picture books, and more exciting worlds entered my little universe.  More years have passed.  Last week I was feeling particularly brave and decided to try writing a middle grade novel.  Why not?  I couldn't think of a good reason.  I've even found at least one benefit.  At times it's like lifting weights.  (Other times it's just fun and exciting.  Period.)  Trying to write in other genres has made me a better writer in my preferred genres (picture books and articles). 

Maybe someday I'll even be a great novelist.  After all, if you lift weights long enough, you can get pretty good.

Do you write in more than one genre?  Does it feel like exercise?  I'd love to know!


Many thanks to Murees at Daily Drama of an Aspiring Writer for passing on the Stylish Blogger award to me!  I am truly honored!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Writers Should Keep A Personal Journal

Do you journal?  If not, perhaps you should.  Consider these reasons for writing in a personal journal:

1-Your audience is yourself.  This gives you a different kind of freedom than any other medium.

2-A Journal is a great Writer's Block Remedy.  Use Stream of Consciousness exercises to keep the pen moving--just write anything that enters your thoughts.

3-You can safely detail all the gory drama of rejection letters (and the lack of rejection letters that has the same meaning!).

4-Journals are portable (unless, of course, you journal on the computer...see end discussion!).

5-You can record incoherent phrases and incomplete sentences that won't mean anything to anyone but you.  Two or three word ideas for stories, refrains that pop into your head while you were showering, or names for characters can be jotted down any time you can steal a moment.

6-You can include pictures and diagrams.  Character sketches, pedigree charts, and signs on the street can be added as central entries or doodles in the margin.

As you can tell from #4 and #6, I am a fan of old-fashioned, pen and paper journaling.  I have two journals:  my personal journal and my writing notebook.  The notebook is a spiral bound notebook for ideas and portable writing.  The personal journal is an art sketchbook that I use for writing anything else.

Journals have been around for centuries.  Do you use a journal?  Is it paper or computer?  I'd love to know!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Best Picture Book Ever

As if I could really pick just one!  In honor of Megan's Favorite Picture Book Blogfest, however, I am honoring one of my childhood treats:  Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  Hopefully you won't consider it cliché to love a book so very popular.  After a brief ride through my memories I will share a lesson for writing picture books from the history of Where The Wild Things Are.  

A whirring helicopter noise best describes the sound I think of when I remember discovering Where The Wild Things Are the first time at a school book fair when I was six years old.  I was hunting for the one book my parents would buy, and it seemed to jump off the shelf.  Hundreds of kids buzzing around books with their parents faded out like a movie fading out a noisy street and zooming in on a quiet conversation.  That book spoke to me.  I was a wild thing.  I must belong in that book.  I started reading and had to have it.  I ran to show my parents.  I still have that book. 

It is remarkable that a book written in 1963 remains just as popular now as when it was published.  In 2009 The Morgan Library hosted a display for Where The Wild Things Are and Maurice Sendak.  This little history chapter holds a vital lesson for picture book authors.  It seems that Where The Wild Things Are went through three major revisions.  These were not just line edits.  The first draft included horses.  Sendak made himself put it down because he felt like it was being forced.  When he returned to it, he composed a draft in verse.  He described this as "all bad."  The third draft ultimately became the version I love.  

Many things could be said about Sendak and his books.  His patience in re-writing one of my favorite picture books is an example for all writers.  Perhaps I'll post about him again one day for more lessons!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Announcements, Announcements, Announcements!

Today I have three announcements that I'm very excited to share.

Announcement #1:
My article for children, "Colors of Danger," was accepted and published in this month's edition of Guardian Angel Kids ezineHere is a direct link to the article.  Yay!

Announcement #2:
Another article I wrote for children, "Animal Air Conditioning," was accepted by Viatouch Teacher Articles!  It should be available in 2-3 months.  I'll keep you posted.  Yay again!

Announcement #3:
I'm starting a list of writing celebrations in the sidebar.  It has lots of purposes.  Celebrations remind me how exciting it is to have my writing accepted and published by others.  It makes me happy when I feel frustrated by rejections and the waiting process.  It lets my new bloggy friends see some of my writing.  It motivates me to query and submit more often.  And, it's a lot of fun!