Does Your Story Need a Heart Transplant? by @BonnieAdamson and #GIVEAWAY

Three case histories

Sometimes I have what I think is a great idea for a story. I plot it out, polish the text, start thumbnailing scenes and begin working on character design. And then I hit a wall. Many of the elements are there, but the story just won’t come to life. This happens most often when there’s something in the way of the characters.

Character = engagement = heart. When I haven’t fully engaged with my characters, there’s no heart and the project flatlines. In that case, the task is to give the characters some breathing room. Maybe the plot has taken over, or  there’s too much detail choking the story—or maybe I simply haven’t given the characters enough to do.

AdamsonB_post art 1

Whose story is it?

For a long time, I didn’t know who the main character was in this story. I didn’t *care* who the main character was. A fellow who has accumulated enough points to win the big prize at the rodeo, doesn’t.  Misunderstandings ensue, plus slapstick humor and a surprise at the end. I liked it. I really, really liked it. But the story wasn’t breathing on its own.

The fix

A critique partner read the manuscript to her daughter. She reported that the daughter was sad when the fellow at the beginning didn’t win the trophy. Sad??? This was only a minor plot point! What about the funny stuff and the twisty ending? What did it mean?

It meant this young listener had found the heart I wasn’t even aware was missing.  Eventually, after much whining and thrashing about,  I realized I had to commit to the trophy-less cowboy. The immediate solution was to switch from a storyteller’s voice to close third person. The opening went from something like “Have you heard the one about . . .?” [plot-centered] to “Pete never met a trophy he didn’t like.” [character-centered]

Bam.

The lesson

Find your star player and make it *all* about him.

Read your manuscript to an actual child.

AdamsonB_post art 2

The lock-up.

I thought I had this one nailed—a classic underdog-saves-the-day story with heart built right into the concept. Yay! But was saving the day enough? What if readers didn’t care about my little bumbling bee from the start? I was also having a lot of trouble coming up with a visual identity for her main rival. Worse, this seemed to be the main character’s only story. I know you’re not supposed to think in terms of sequels, but I had a character I liked who was totally boxed in by a dead-end plot.

The fix

The Miss Marple Trick. Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth solves mysteries by observing behavior she can relate to that of inhabitants of her tiny village. One day while trying for the umpteenth time to come up with a sketch for my main character’s nemesis, I suddenly thought of two girls I had known in high school. One was better at *everything* that ensures popularity in that environment. The other was not so much an underdog as simply and thoroughly eclipsed by her friend. Eureka! Once I understood the dynamics  the story became more about the relationship than saving the day, and future story possibilities opened up.

The lesson

Draw on real people you’ve known to flesh out tropes like “the class clown,” or “the homecoming queen.”

Read vintage British murder mysteries.

AdamsonB_post art 3

A thicket of details.

For this story, I did oodles of research to make sure the setting was authentic, accumulating notes upon notes about jungle habitats. I had a hook and a decent text and even some quirky character traits for the main character. But the obsession with the setting and the research had used up the energy that should have gone to showcasing the characters. My quirky crocodile didn’t have enough to do and came off as merely  part of the scenery.

The fix

Pure serendipity. In  organizing a list of portfolio pieces by project, this one happened to be followed by a wordless story that had its own problems. How about a mashup? What if the protagonist in the wordless story showed up in the jungle? Bingo! The crocodile leapt at the chance to reveal himself as a method actor, uncovering motivations I had not been aware of. The text hasn’t changed, but now there’s a much richer subtext playing out in the illustrations, and the secondary characters have gotten into the act as well.

The lesson

Energize your characters with something totally unexpected.

Have more than one idea in your portfolio.

If  *your* stories lack heart due to characters that are hidden in plain sight, boxed in by the plot, or smothered by the scenery, check out the download for exercises that will help you find the right treatment.

Meanwhile, the stories above are all off life-support and should be up and around soon. Stay tuned!

BonnieAdamson-2016 b&wBonnie Adamson is the illustrator of Bedtime Monster and the “I Wish” series of picture books for Raven Tree Press, as well as Rutabaga Boo!, written by the lovely and talented Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and due in Spring 2017 from Atheneum. Visit Bonnie at www.bonnieadamson.com.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Bonnie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area—only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Bonnie is kindly giving away a Kidlit Summer School tote bag, featuring her fabulous design. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Advertisements

Go Big Or Go Home with The Funny by @jason_kirschner and #GIVEAWAY

Not too long ago,  I was talking to a fellow author about a beautifully poetic manuscript that a friend had written. I commented that I could never have written something so lyrical. She turned to me and said “That’s not what you do. You do funny.”

Kirschner_diagramIt was a bit of a revelation. I really love and admire those almost songlike 100-word-or-less manuscripts that are super popular right now. But that’s not what I do  well. I do funny. And once I leaned in to that, it became much easier and more fun to write. It should have been obvious. I’ve worked on late night comedy shows for almost two decades—not as a writer but as a designer. But that sensibility seeps into your consciousness. You tend to look at things a little sideways to find the funny in it.

So given my skewed view of the world,  I try to write things that make me laugh and hope that kids will laugh along with me.  For me, it’s virtually guaranteed because, as my wife will tell you, I am essentially an 8-year-old boy.

But I understand that funny isn’t easy. To that end I’ve been working for several months on a prototype of a machine that helps infuse comedy into a manuscript.  I call it the Fun-E-Tron 6950 and it gives you access to my favorite seven satire supplies.

Word Choice

Certain words just sound funny.  Like “persnickity”. I love that word. Ooh..or “bumfuzzle.” Why would anyone ever write “confuse” when they could write “bumfuzzle.” I would always rather write “blubber” than “cry”.  I also like the word “squeegee” but you never see one in a picture book.

Exaggeration

It’s not real life—it’s picture books. When your 5-year-old character is having a hissy fit (more great words) and screams, have her blow the roof off the joint. Literally. The rules of physics don’t apply here. Don’t build a sorta tall sandcastle—build a tower that touches the clouds. Go big or go home.

Understatement

You can also go the other way. If your character does blow the roof off her house and it crumbles to bits, it gets even funnier if the text reads something understated like “She might have caused a bit of damage.”

Visual Gags/Slapstick

Obviously both of these will rely heavily on your best friend, The Illustrator, but it all starts in your script. It’s up to you to set up situations where “physical comedy” can take place. Someone somewhere wrote scripts for The Three Stooges. (I bet in real life, Moe was a pussycat.) And even though The Stooges were the ones that executed the comedy, a scenario was written down in a script for them to follow. Likewise, an illustrator can execute what you’ve initiated for them. The same goes for visual gags— large guys named “Tiny” for instance. Gets me every time.

Puns 

OMG, do I love puns. Jokes that play on the fact that different words sound the same are perfect for picture books. My son loves them too but he’d never admit it publicly. Once, in the market, I made a joke about nacho cheese being “not your cheese” (say it fast) and he laughed for hours. I love that moment when we’re reading together and we come across a pun. Sometimes I can actually see the wheels turning in his head until he gets it and lets out a loud guffaw (yet another great word.) Once he understands it, he feels like he’s in on the joke and that’s a great feeling. Be punny.

Repetition

Repeating similar scenarios throughout your book is a great way to infuse some humor.  In comedy, there’s usually a rule of threes. Repeating a line or event three times can build a scenario where you can either meet expectations on that third go-round or defy expectations which can be hilarious. Another great use of repetition is the “callback” where an earlier phrase or event can be used as a punchline later in the book. A good callback is the best.

Fart Jokes

Not much of an explanation needed here. Farts are funny to anyone less than eight years old or anyone with a Y chromosome.

Kirschner_bookcoverMy challenge to you is to take a look at your latest manuscript and see how many of these tools you’re using. Then adjust the dials on the different comedy contraptions available to you depending on the story you’re trying to tell. Use some or all of them—if you think you can handle it. Some of them will require a great illustrator to help execute them but there’s no reason you can’t provide the setup in your script. Use them wisely and be funny. And the next time you see someone holding cheese that’s not theirs you walk right up and tell them “That’s nacho cheese.” (Callback. Nailed it.)

KirschnerJ_headshotJason Kirschner is a set designer for television with credits that include Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman.  He’s also the author and illustrator of Mr. Particular: The World’s Choosiest Champion from Sterling which you can now find in bookstores everywhere. See more of Jason’s work at jasonkirschner.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking HERE.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Jason’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area—only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Jason is kindly giving away a copy of Mr Particular. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Writing with Heart and Soul by Kelly Starling Lyons

KLSS_Lyons_bookcover_001Before I became a children’s book author, I wrote newspaper and magazine articles. I looked forward to feedback from editors that would help my stories shine. But one day, I received a note that made my shoulders slump in shame. “This has no soul.” I don’t remember what the story was. But I remember that critique.

I prided myself on being a writer who put her all into her work. But my editor was right. Technically, the story did the job. I included the who, what, where, when, why and how. My beginning worked. I wrapped the story up with a bow. But my piece didn’t make you feel. It had “no soul“ – no beating heart.

When I think about how to describe heart, I hear my favorite songs. I love ballads. Full of emotion, they make you smile or tear up in remembrance, catch your breath or sigh. As you listen or sing along, you feel everything that’s happening. You connect to the songs, because they speak to something deep inside.

How do you create stories with heart and soul? You start by putting yourself in your characters’ shoes and using your words to make music that will linger. Remember the joy of singing with abandon as a child. We didn’t worry about being on key or who was listening. We let it all out. Give yourself permission to feel everything. Use your senses. Show with your words. Go where the story takes you and bring your reader there too.

Creating stories with heart can be tough. Early drafts of my historical fiction picture book, Hope’s Gift (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), were so focused on accuracy that the pulse was missing. I forgot to make readers long for freedom with Hope, feel her pain, root for her and her family. My editor reminded me that stories fall flat without feelings. She told me to put the history aside for a moment and just focus on Hope’s emotions. She’s enslaved. Her father has run away to help liberate their people. He gives Hope a conch shell and a promise that freedom is coming. All she has left are that gift, her mother and brother and her faith.

As I revised, Hope and her family became real. I pictured her looking into her papa’s tear-stained face as he said goodbye. I imagined her clutching the conch shell he gave her, listening to the swooshing and hearing the echo of his words: “Nothing can keep freedom from coming.” I saw her comforting her little brother Henry like I used to comfort my younger brother Kevin when something made him cry or shudder. I immersed myself in her emotional journey of sorrow, hope, disappointment and joy. The characters lived not just on the page, but in my mind.

Another way to create heart and soul in stories is by studying those who do it well. Check out the work of gifted authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Angela Johnson, Sharon G. Flake and Carole Boston Weatherford to name a few. Read their work for the joy of their stories first. Then, analyze their books and glean tips to help your characters spring to life.

A last tip is to consider your own reaction. If you’re not welling up as you write, feeling a knot in your chest or your heart pounding, readers may not either. Look for internal cues that you’re making music that will resonate and play on.

kellyheadshot (1)Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. Her books include chapter book, NEATE: Eddie’s Ordeal; CCBC Choices-honored picture book, One Million Men and Me; Ellen’s Broom, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book, Junior Library Guild and Bank Street Best selection and Tea Cakes for Tosh and Hope’s Gift, Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Her latest picture book is One More Dino on the Floor. Learn more about Kelly at kellystarlinglyons.com. And follow her on Facebook by clicking HERE.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Kelly’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Finding a Shetland Pony in a Pile of Poop by @rcpjallen plus a #Giveaway

CAllen post

One of my grandma’s favorite sayings when an imminent disaster on our Indiana farm turned into a hilarious moment was, “Well, I just found a Shetland pony in that pile of poop.” Everyone would laugh. I didn’t, because I was too busy looking for the pony! It wasn’t until much later in life that I understood her metaphors, and eventually, how they would help me in my writing.

Let’s face it, we all poop. (If you don’t, please seek medical attention immediately!)  When I’m contemplating a humorous scene, poop is a metaphor for anything problematic or “not usually funny.”  For instance, a funeral, a physical or mental condition, bad grades, getting grounded, bullies, and a million other issues can all be poop.  The idea of ‘finding the Shetland pony’ takes us to the hilarious result – something that happened through the unexpected, through a person, place or thing that is not usually funny.

The poop and pony lesson here is that the potential for humor is in everything. It doesn’t have to start out as funny. Actually, a very funny situation can begin as something not funny at all.

lamar
For an example, come with me into my first book, How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.  In this story, Lamar likes a girl named Makeda.  When he goes to her house to visit, Makeda’s grandma is always on the porch.  Makeda has warned Lamar that her grandma is senile.

Senility is not funny. Lamar visits Makeda again, and Grandma has a bowl of peanuts in her lap.  She offers some to Lamar, and he eats them — a lot of them — totally forgetting, or ignoring what Makeda had told him about Grandma’s senility.  Here’s the ensuing conversation between Makeda and Lamar.

 

“Are you eating peanuts from Grandma’s bowl?”

I nod because I’ve got a mouth full of them.

“Didn’t I tell you she was senile?”

I nod again.

“Those peanuts used to be chocolate covered. Grandma sucks the chocolate off, then spits the nuts back in the bowl.  We try to stop her, but she keeps doing it.  How many have you eaten?”

 Hello, Shetland pony!

The idea is to create a well-developed storyline out of a poopy situation. And then, add a humorous punch at the end. Your question may be, “Where can I find these opportunities for humor?”

crystal allen
They are everywhere! Here are a few places to consider:

  1. 1. An incident from your childhood, or someone else’s; (Don’t mention real names, or you’ll become poop to them!)
  2. 2. Joke or riddle books;
  3. 3. “What if” ideas

Yep, it’s that easy! So, try taking my grandma’s famous farm advice, and remember – “Where there’s poop, there’s ponies!”

 

AllenC_headshotCrystal Allen is the author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy, The Laura Line, and The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – Spirit Week Showdown, all published by Balzer and Bray.  Her next book, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – The Wall of Fame Game, will launch on January 30, 2017. Crystal lives in Sugar Land, Texas with her husband, Reggie, two sons, Phillip and Joshua, and very loveable dog, Angel. You can follow Crystal at https://twitter.com/rcpjallen and visit her website http://crystalallenbooks.com/

 

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Crystal’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

GIVEAWAY! Crystal is giving away a copy of  The Laura Line, and of The Magnificent Mya Tibbs – Spirit Week Showdown. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Slapstick and Subtlety: Yes, Please by @cordellmatthew

One of the greatest misconceptions about children’s picture books is that these are books with pictures that are meant for children. This is simply not true. I would agree that, obviously, a significant amount of eyes and ears and hands (some might say noses and even tongues) that are devouring these books belong to children. But, in truth, picture book readership is also significantly adult. Librarians, teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, big brothers and sisters, neighbors, good Samaritans, adults who love picture books (like me)… Well, you get the, uh… picture. (oof) So, if a picture book writer is in no way considering the adult in the picture book reading scenario, then that writer is doing his or herself and the adult picture book readers of the world a disservice.

This presents one of the most challenging aspects of crafting a successful picture book: writing and illustrating a book that can satisfy two vastly different minds. A child and an adult. If the story and art are unbalanced and tip too far in one direction, then the whole thing is thrown off. If a picture book is detested by an adult—by perhaps skewing TOO much for the child—then chances are, that book will not be acquired by the adult gatekeeper (if you will) in the picture book reading scenario. It will not be bought or checked out or read (certainly not re-read), dooming it from the get-go. On the other hand, you may have a book an adult is wild about in some adult-y way. But If the book is too sophisticated—skewing too far for the adult—then it will go over the child’s head and will be pushed aside, forgotten, or… worse. (Hell hath no fury like a disregarded kid.)

There are many things to consider when making a book that is appreciated by adult and child, but let’s pick one and tease that out a bit. Humor. I feel like—generally speaking… you know… not selling anyone short—kids often respond to humor that is presented in broad strokes. Slapstick comedy. Slipping on banana peels, farts, getting kicked in the butt, pratfalls, etc. (um… all things I’ve plugged into my books at some point or another.) But if you ask me, a cover-to-cover book of this is doomed to fail. Ask me sometime about my abandoned manuscript involving a lactose intolerant unicorn. Yes, some adults share these same humorous sensibilities (or some might say lack thereof), but a lot of adults are savvy to a more subtle brand of humor: witty, dry, and even a dash of sarcasm here and there could do wonders to even out the scale. A lot of that very well might go over the heads of our kiddos—particularly the younger set—but the older kids may get it and if it’s done right, it won’t matter if the young ones don’t pick up on every single joke. So, how do we do it right? We do it all.

I’d like to use my picture book, ANOTHER BROTHER, to provide some examples of how weaving together big and less big moments of humor might lead us all down the same path to some laughs.

TJ15-3-11 JKT 150L CTP.indd

To set the stage a little, the book is about family of sheep that starts small: Two parents and one child. But things escalate quickly, turning this family into parents with—get this—13 children! I mean… already funny, right?? (And already, with a kinda blink-and-you-missed-it grown-up joke. Remember when “cloning” first entered serious conversation with Dolly the sheep?)

In opening things up, I establish how important only-child Davy is to Mom and Dad. There’s a bit of humor here, but it’s mostly setting the stage info, so the humor is kept subtle and dry. (tender ballad, wooly masterpiece=sock, etc.)

TJ15-3-11 P01-40 150L CTP.indd

 

As the story and pages turn, Davy gets a brother. The humor and language is paralleled but amped up more for slapstick-y kid laffs! (pukes, farts, etc.) Looking at this page, there’s something else I’d like to point out. Sometimes it’s better to let the pictures do the heavy lifting when it comes to slapstick. It can make it a bit more… tasteful?

TJ15-3-11 P01-40 150L CTP.indd

 

As the story progresses and the family grows (and quickly it does), there is a wildly climactic and mostly wordless spread of the multitude of things the now 12 brothers are doing to annoy Davy. You see, they copy him endlessly. I tried to combine both subtle moments of humor here with over-the-top/knock-you-over-the-head ones.

 

 

TJ15-3-11 P01-40 150L CTP.indd

 

CordellM_another_brother_5

 

CordellM_another_brother_6

 

CordellM_another_brother_7

 

CordellM_another_brother_8

Moving on, Davy’s brothers mature somewhat and decide to start doing their own things. Ergo: they leave him completely and sadly alone. This brings me to one of my favorite moments in the book. Davy misses the company of his brothers and is trying to reconnect in various ways. He wants to do and like the same things they do, but nothing is lining up. For instance, their distinct preferences in television.

TJ15-3-11 P01-40 150L CTP.indd

 

The inspiration here being those kids’ shows out there that are well-meaning but are out and out CREEPY. (Think TELETUBBIES.) I’d thought kids would pick up on this, but at school visits (depending on the audience and time of day) the kids are usually quiet on this spread. I do, however, always hear some light snickering from the adults in the room.

And finally (spoiler alert!) things are resolved when Davy gets a sister who adores him and copies his every move. On the end page, we’ve got a nice tapestry of sweetness and humor—of both slapstick and subtle varieties.

TJ15-3-11 P01-40 150L CTP.indd

Picture book humor is not “go big or go home.” I think we’d be selling kids short by thinking that and also neglecting the adults who will be in on the experience. But it certainly can’t be “play it cool, hipster” either. (I just made up that expression.) Perhaps if we, picture book makers, can go into it with both eyes open, we might be off on the right foot. Just watch out for that banana peel.

TAKEAWAYS:

• Write picture books not just for kids, but also for the adults who love and read them too.

• Vary the way humor is used in your book, so both kids and grown-ups can be satisfied.

• Always be funny. Even if just a little bit.

CordellM_headshotMatthew Cordell has illustrated many books for children including Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, a Washington Post best book of 2015. He is the author and illustrator of several picture books including Trouble Gum, Another Brother, Wish, and Hello! Hello!, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book. Matthew lives outside of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children. Visit him online at matthewcordell.com, find him on Twitter @cordellmatthew or on Facebook facebook.com/cordellmatthew

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Matthew’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Unexpected Character Traits Bring In The Funny by @lauriewallmark and GIVEAWAY

Whether your novel is humorous or serious, a bit of levity can add to a child’s reading enjoyment. Let your characters help you inject humor into the story, by giving them unexpected traits, such as:

  • unusual talents
  • competing personality features
  • a unique self-image
  • peculiar behaviors
  • idiosyncratic speaking patterns.  

Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses (Candlewick Press, 2013) is a mentor text on how to bring out the funny through the use of unexpected character traits.

Wallmark_FloraBookIn Flora and Ulysses, Ulysses has talents that are, shall we say, more than a little unusual. Though he’s only a squirrel, Ulysses can fly, type, and write poetry. As a reader, you certainly don’t expect to see a squirrel sitting at a typewriter, his bushy tale waving behind, let alone with his tiny “fingers” poised over the keyboard. The unexpectedness of such an unusual character is automatically funny.

Throughout the novel, Ulysses provides comedic moments through the juxtaposition of competing personality features—his human side and his base animal instincts. When Ulysses becomes frightened by the waitress at the doughnut shop, he tries to calm himself down, as a person would. But eventually, his innate squirrelness takes over, and he attempts to escape. The ensuing mayhem provides several laugh out loud moments, especially when he lands in the waitress’s huge hair. Your characters don’t have to be human-like animals to be funny. All you have to do is give your human characters contrasting personality traits that are at odds with each other.

The other main character, Flora, is humorous in a different way than Ulysses. In her case, it’s not that she has bizarre human talents, but rather she has a unique self-image for a child. She has branded herself as a cynic, so will let nothing about humans surprise her. Here again, the humor comes from the unexpected—a child with the world-weary views of a cynic. The combination of her adult-like cynicism with her childish companion, a doll in a shoebox, provides the same sort of juxtaposition humor as above.

Another secondary character, Flora’s friend William, has peculiar behaviors, in that he presents like a miniature adult, in both speech and action. The contrast between William’s actual and apparent age leads to humor. This type of character, with his unexpected behaviors, provides a perfect crucible to generate humorous situations.

A character’s idiosyncratic speaking patterns can help create a funny scene. In William’s case, his non-standard dialogue is taken to an extreme. While most children would say something like, “I scratched my knee,” not William. He has to elaborate and exaggerate every explanation with his own unexpected way of speaking. William’s over-explanations, so unchildlike, create a thread of humor that runs through the entire book.

Be brave. The more outrageous you are with your unexpected characterizations, the funnier it will be. In addition, it’s your characters’ quirks will endear them to your reader.

Takeaways:

  • You can add humor to any novel by giving your characters unexpected traits.
  • You can apply this technique to any character, not just your main one.
  • The more outrageous the character trait, the funnier.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Laurie Wallmark writes picture books and middle-grades, poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing, Laurie teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College. Her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her next book, Dare and Do : The Story of Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books) will be out Spring 2017.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Laurie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Laurie is kindly giving away a signed copy of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Embarrassed by Jo Whittemore

Whittemore_ConfodentiallyYoursWhen I was in elementary school, all the 4th-6th graders took part in a musical extravaganza called The Legend Train, where different narrators would ride around on this wooden train, pulled by the strongest 6th grader in the world (considering he was able to cart narrators of various sizes all around the auditorium).

One of the stories we told was the Battle of New Orleans (between the British and Americans). As is historically accurate, my fellow 5th graders and I were American soldiers, and we re-enacted the battle scene against some 6th graders, crouched behind an invisible barricade.

We held our invisible rifles and fired at the British, making those fake shooting sounds that children of the 80s are awesome at.

One of the other 5th graders said something funny, and we all started laughing. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was lying on my stomach that was to blame, but mid-laugh, I released a butt battle cry.

You know…a fart.

I hoped I was the only one to hear it since everyone else was laughing so loud, but no such luck.

Whittemore_FPFaceOffThe laughter turned into, “Aw dude!”, “Gross!” and my fellow soldiers retreated when no British musket could have made them. Because of the ensuing chaos, my teacher decided it was time we switch to a different act of the play.

So the Battle of New Orleans ended not with American grit and gumption, but with a fart.

Why am I telling you this story? It’s funny. And it’s real, which makes it even funnier. See, I could hide forever in shame OR I could embrace the event and share it with others so we could all get a good laugh out of it. When you can laugh at yourself, mean people can’t get to you and nice people want to be part of the fun by either sharing THEIR stories or adding to yours.

Here’s a more recent example. I’m a rather socially awkward person (which is why I’m telling strangers of my gassy childhood), so recently when trying to introduce myself to someone outside the writing world, I panicked. Let’s see how I handled it:

 

Whittemore_Twitter

 

Note that I described the situation in a humorous fashion, and what happened? Two people shared funny stories of their own.

I’ll bet embarrassing things have happened to you in the past. (To the one person saying “No,” you just wait. There’s a bird plotting to poop on you. I’d start carrying an umbrella).

When you have one of these mortifying moments, ask yourself, “How could I tell this story in a funny way?” That’s one of the first steps to being a great humor writer.

As a matter of fact, why not do that right now? Time for a writing exercise!

Think of an embarrassing moment from your past, think of how you could tell that story in an amusing way, and write it down. Share it with a loved one (or your writing group…or even me!) and see what happens. I bet you’ll get some laughs and feel better about the situation afterward.

My final advice for you:

  • Let life happen. It will, whether you want it to or not.
  • Be aware. What makes a story realistic are the details that come from living in the moment.
  • Find the humor in life and pass it on. So that future generations will know to eat less beans.

 

WhittemoreJ_HeadshotJo Whittemore is the author of the tween humor novels Front Page Face-Off, Odd Girl In, D is for Drama, Colonial Madness, and the Confidentially Yours series. She also penned The Silverskin Legacy fantasy trilogy. Find her online at jowhittemore.com

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Jo’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.