Dragonfly Words

How long should your novel be?

August 5, 2010
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I just found this great post by Sarah Webb on how many words a book should be. She, in turn, got some great info from kidlit.com. The general breakdown is as follows:

• Board Book — 100 words max
• Early Picturebook — 500 words max
• Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
• Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
• Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
• Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
• Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
• YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

You can also check out Chuck Sambuchino’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Looks like I’m closer to my target word count than I thought I was. Guess that means there will be some serious editing in the near future.

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More on Creating Characters

August 2, 2010
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The next best thing to attending the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference is reading the conference blog. One blog post caught my attention today. It is an interview with Carolyn Mackler on Creating Characters That Come to Life. In the interview, Mackler stresses the importance of:

  • Thinking about your characters quirks – what makes them special? Does your character twirl his/her hair when nervous? Does he/she trip a lot? Is your character prone to worrying?
  • Reading your books/story out loud so you can hear your characters – the way a character speaks says a lot about who the character is
  • Research – talk to real life people who share traits similar to your character’s. If you’re writing a nurse, talk to a nurse.
  • Imagine what your character’s closet looks like.

The third point was probably my favorite. Usually I try to imagine what a character’s bedroom looks like, but a closet is even better. While a bedroom is private space, people do occasionally wander into them. A closet, though, is completely private space. Are the clothes organized by season and/or color? Does your character use hangers or is everything piled on the floor? Perhaps a secret alter is hidden away in the closet, or a stalker collage? Maybe it is so crammed with things that the door barely opens, like that wonderful scene in Mary Poppins when everything comes spewing out of the closet as the door slams shut (or did I imagine that scene). A closet can reveal so much about a character, bringing that character from words on a page to a living, dynamic being that your readers can engage with.

What questions do you ask about your character to gain insight into his/her life?


News for Kids

July 28, 2010
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In my attempts to enter the minds of kids, I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing children news sources, which are surprisingly abundant. One recent find was an article in National Geographic Kids, Beelzebufo: A Giant of a Find. Talk about great inspiration. After all, what’s cooler than a frog the size of a beach ball?

In other news, a bear in New Hampshire ‘rescued’ a stuffed bear being held captive by humans. Read about it here.

Finally, a boat made out of plastic crossed the Atlantic.

You’ve gotta love the inspiration you can get from bizarre happenings in the world.


Overweight Characters in Children’s Books

January 6, 2010
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Is it wrong to make my overweight characters evil and mean? Is this playing into stereotypes? Is this too much of a cliché? Does this teach children to view overweight people negatively? So often with writing it becomes difficult to see past the works of those whose footsteps we walk in so that we can forge our own path. I worry that I will inadvertently play into the stereotypes created by my predecessors, and that my work will suffer as a result.

Certainly obesity is something that shouldn’t be encouraged in children, but children who are overweight, or those with body issues, may become more self-conscious about their weight if characters physically similar to them are villanized in stories. Equally, the kids who would pick on overweight children may feel their behavior is justified through the negative portrayal of overweight characters in books.

The Harry Potter series instantly jumps to mind when I think about negative portrayals of overweight people. Dudley is fat, unintelligent, and a bully. Malfoy, on the other hand, while evil, is intelligent and conniving. He is also thin.

There are many other children’s books that also portray overweight characters in a negative light. Of course, overweight characters are equally portrayed as jovial, yet simple. Rarely do you see a normal, run-of-the-mill overweight character. Rarely do you see an overweight hero (one of the refreshing things about Disney-Pixar’s UP).

But would we want to write an overweight hero? Aren’t we trying to encourage weight loss and exercise? Do we want children to associate being overweight with being dimwitted and/or mean? Or are we inadvertently excluding an increasing population or readers? According to the CDC, 17% of children in 2006 were obese. This is double the amount found in 1980. With these numbers rising, maybe we should not treat obesity in such a negative way. Certainly we can show an overweight character struggling with their weight, or facing obstacles they would not face were they more fit (again to reference UP : Russell faced obstacles brought on by his lack of fitness), but to make every overweight character less than the fit characters may not be the best message to send children.


Books on Writing ~ The Procrastinator’s Tool

December 26, 2009
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Books on writing – you walk into the bookstore and there sit shelves and shelves of books, all promising to make you a better writer. Sitting for hours on the floor of the bookstore, you feel like you are accomplishing something as you peruse the content of book after book. Then you decide on one or two and as you pay for them, a warm feeling washes over you. This book will be the one that works. This book will provide you with the secrets you need to succeed.

Weeks go by and you have yet to finish reading the book, or finish much of anything else. Slowly you begin to realize that this book was not the cure to your writer’s block. It did not provide you with the secret to quitting work so that you could find the time to write. It did little more than provide you with a couple weeks worth of a false sense of accomplishment.

Not all writing books, though, are created equal. For Christmas, I got a new writing book. Whereas the others were how-to writing books full of inspirational stories and writing prompts, this one is nothing more than a reference. As an aspiring children’s book writer (grades 5/6), I felt that Mogilner & Mogilner’s Children’s Writer’s Word Book, 2e would be different than the other books. This book does not claim to provide some secret to success. Rather, it is a thesarus set up to help writers choose appropriate words for young audiences. Writing for adults, any word that naturally comes to my mind should be at the appropriate reading level. Writing for children, though, its hard to say. Looking back on my childhood, I like to think that I knew all the words then that I know now. But deep down, I know that this is not the case.

This book also provides information about what subjects children learn in school at various ages. I must say I was extremely relieved to see that environmentalism (the underlying theme of my novel), was cited not only as one of the big topics from 5th grade on, but also as a topic that will continue to be published for years to come.

In addition to this book, I have also found Karen Weisner’s First Draft in 30 Days to be equally useful. While I have always resisted outlining, her outlining techniques have really helped me to work out some tricky plot points, such as how to end my novel and who the protagonist will be. I was also able to work in some really good subplots. Now all I have to do is sit down and turn those outlines into stellar prose!

Books on writing may be the procrastinator’s best friend, but there are a few gems out there that can really aid one’s writing.