Today, I have invited Mira Reisberg, Ph.D., to post a guest blog on the site. She is a goldmine of information and experience, but I’ll let you read her bio to learn more. Please be sure and support her by checking out her blog.
BIO: Mira Reisberg is an award-winning children’s book creative, a former kid lit university professor and a former literary agent. She is also the Director of the Children’s Book Academy and has taught many now successful authors and illustrators. Her next highly interactive course, the Chapter Book Alchemist, co-taught by former comedian and award-winning chapter book author Hillary Homzie, promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits! Click here to find out more The course includes optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary (with a free Scrivener course) and Golden Ticket opportunities to submit directly to agents and editors!
And without further ado…Mira’s Blog:
Fresh Beginnings in Picture Books, Chapter Books, and Middle Grade Novels
Welcome to 2015! I always like to start the year fresh and serene, leaving any of the drama from last year behind. But in writing children’s books, you need to “get the drama out of your life and into your work.” And children’s book beginnings need LOTS of drama to hook
your reader. Here’s what you’ll generally need for a plot-driven book:
- An appealing, or intriguing, main character that will make us either care or want to know more about them.
- If more than two main characters, make them radically different so that there’s lots of room for conflict or misunderstanding.
- A problem that the main character has to solve or a passionate desire for something that the main character has to get but can’t for some reason(s).
Generally you don’t need to mention setting in the very beginning
unless it’s an inherently fascinating place like a robot junkyard or set in outer space, which can be seen in the pictures.
Let’s take a quick peek at some fresh beginnings in a picture book, a chapter book and a middle-grade novel. Yuyi Morales’ picture book Niño Wrestles the World begins with illustrations and descriptions of monsters including La Momia de Guanajuato (The Mummy of Guanajuato) and El Extra Terrestre before we meet Niño playing with his toys. Then the action starts with Niño putting on his luchador (Mexican wrestler) mask, and cue omniscient narrator saying, “Señoras y Señores. Put your hands together for the fantastic, spectacular, one-of-a-kind….(page turn) NIÑO! So superb are his talents that out-of-this-world contenders line up to challenge him. Here comes the first.”
A massive speech bubble declares “ARGGGWWGGGG!”
The suspense is palpable as we’re hooked into young Niño’s problem of needing to wrestle these monsters. The fabulous illustrations also entice the reader to continue.
The Fat Lady Sings
Sam Snood, Super Snoop
Bok Bok SHHH!
We meet the protagonist, Gordon Blue and his sidekick and family as well as the setting (Fowladelphia) through labeled visuals. These chapter titles and visuals demonstrate the book’s fun nature, hooking us in right away.
As the age range overlaps for early middle grades and older chapter books, they can be difficult to distinguish. So, I’m going to only talk about an older middle grade here. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
hooks the reader with a “Binding Contract” prescribing reasons why the reader MAY read the book, such as to avoid cleaning their bedroom or doing homework. The contract states: “although the story may concern an ancient and powerful secret, I deny any knowledge of this so-called secret” and ends with this footnote, “*Normally I would ask that you sign in blood but lately I have found that ketchup works just as well–and it is much less painful.”
Here the reader is promised a big adventure, lots of humor, an intriguing “voice,” and perhaps the possibility of becoming part of a secret society, learning ancient and powerful insider secret knowledge.
These elements make great fresh beginnings–humor, the prospect of adventure, mystery, and/or drama, and exquisite and/or intriguing writing or word play. There is much more that could be added like contradiction and unreliable narrators but for now, generally, if you use any of these ingredients, you’ll have a juicy fresh start to your plot-driven story. So, what are your fresh beginnings for 2015?