Mar 29, 2013

Difficulty Naming Characters

I hear many writers say they struggle when naming their main character.  They say, "I need a name that matches the personality of the character." Let me explain.

Recent copies of baby-naming books have included a section titled, "What to name your son if you want him to be the President," followed by a list of names you could probably guess:  William, Robert, John, etc... So you see, we even have preconceived thoughts about people by just hearing their name.  If we hear "William" we might think political or wealthy or intelligent.  The same goes for Robert and John.  These facts sometimes determine why people choose the names they do.

Other writers like to research names for their meaning.  For example, Jessica means wealthy (ha!), so some writers would only use that name to portray someone of wealth.

In the past, I have written stories, only to change the main character's name about five times.  Each time I'd have thoughts like, "No, this name is too mature for the young character" or "This name is overused."  The cycle would go round and round until finally, I landed on a name I loved.

Do you struggle with naming your character(s)?

Mar 28, 2013

Using a Pen Name

Pen names are a very hot topic among debut writers.  Join any critique group and you are sure to see the questions:  "Should I use a pen name?" or "Why do people use pen names?"  Both of which offer a lot of opinions.

I always thought that a pen name was to be used because the writer felt they would be ridiculed for writing their book.  Maybe they wanted to write about a topic that was taboo, so they hid behind a pen name to avoid that ridicule.  Though, let's face it, most of those who use pen names rarely remain anonymous.

On the other hand, some people use pen names because they like to write in various genres and they don't want readers to have preconceived thoughts about their writings.  Can you imagine seeing Dr. Seuss' name on a thriller novel?  Probably not.  Why?  The reason is because when we see the name Dr. Seuss, we (probably) have preconceived thoughts about him.  We (probably) ask, "What did Dr. Seuss know about writing thriller novels?  He wrote about cute Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch that grew to love Christmas."  That's one reason why someone like Dr. Seuss might want to use a pen name.

Another consideration is the placement of your published novel on the shelf at the bookstore.  For example, let's say your name is Edith Meyerman, and your debut novel I'm in Love with a Werewolf has just hit the shelves.  It's stacked neatly on the shelf, and along comes a young woman, browsing the books.  Her eyes land upon your book for about, oh, .5 seconds, but then her eyes see another book.  Why, yes, she sees Twilight written by Stephenie Meyer, so she grabs it instead.  After all, that's what all of her friends have read.  In this case, it looks like having a last name similar to another very famous author might not be so great.

There are probably other reasons for using pen names.  What is your opinion?

Mar 27, 2013

Text versus Illustrations

One of the biggest challenges of writing picture books is knowing which details belong in text and which details belong in the illustrations.

If you search the art of picture book writing, you will read many articles that urge writers to eliminate adjectives.  Why?  Perhaps the visual details are entirely up to the editor.  Is it possible the editor will say, "Hey, look, I know you wrote that Bobby's bicycle is blue, but let's leave those details up to the illustrator."?

Many picture book writers constantly look for ways to eliminate unnecessary words from their manuscripts.  Such as quickly, big, fast, etc.  Depending on the target age range, many writers try to keep the word count below 500 words.  Some even prefer to keep it under 350 (wow!).

The problem with relying too much on illustrations is that books should teach the reader new words.  After all, we do want their vocabulary to expand.  If the reader doesn't know the word, they can examine the illustration closely and possibly figure it out for themselves.

When you write picture books, do you include many adjectives, or do you depend on illustrations to cover those details?

Mar 26, 2013

Poop, Pee and Boogers

Pooping, peeing, passing gas and picking boogers. Yep, those are all actions that children think are hilarious, especially in books with illustrations.

As writers, we want children to enjoy reading, to learn by reading, and to do all these things with our books in their hands, but don't we have to satisfy the parents first?  After all, they are the ones buying the book.  Let's think about this in story format, shall we?

Sammy loved to visit the bookstore. His mom took him every Saturday morning.

One day, Sammy noticed a new, shiny book on the shelf.  Sammy looked closely at the book and giggled.  He grabbed the book and ran to show his mom.

"Mom, can I have this book?  I want it. Look!  That boy is picking his nose! Heee heee!"

Sammy's mom looked at the book and said, ".........."

So, what did she say?  I'm asking you.  Will parents buy a book that features a character doing something a bit gross, but completely human?

Mar 25, 2013

Humans versus Animals

The first book I can remember featuring a human-like animal was one of the Curious George books.  Once, The Man in the Yellow Hat took George to the aquarium.  There, he was so curious he climbed the wall and ventured onto the penguin exhibit.  Then, when they went to the beach, he climbed on the lifeguard stand and fed all the crackers to the seagulls.

When I think about it, I'm fascinated that children never question the use of a human-like animal in books.  We never hear of a parent sitting down to read a book and the child saying, "Wait mom.  Wait.  You mean to tell me this animal can talk?  Mom!  Animals can't talk!"  No, children just accept the creativity and go with the flow.  Any other day of the week a child can see another child riding a bicycle, but when a monkey rides a bicycle, wow!  That's cool.

Recently I bought three Curious George books, only to discover that George never talks.  Nope!  He wonders, but never once does the text mention that George said anything.  Though he doesn't talk, it's still entertaining to see George do the silly and mischievous things that a child would do.

When you write children's stories, do you prefer anthropomorphic characters?  Do you mix it up with human and animal characters?  Why?

Mar 21, 2013

Hello World!

Hi! I’m Jessica, and this is my writing blog.

What? What’d you say? What’s a writing blog? Oh, let me explain.

You see, I like to write. In particular I like to write children’s picture books. Well, maybe for now I should just say children’s stories, since I am unpublished. I hope that is soon to change.

Here, I will blog mostly about my writing techniques, challenges of writing, cool things I’ve read and anything else I find interesting (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details of my wounded toenail which is still not back to normal).

Although I enjoy writing stories for children, I enjoy reading thriller novels just as much. I am a fool for anything jaw-dropping.

Thanks for joining me here.