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Writing Books for Children: The Details Count
"Musings" for October 2004

by Margot Finke

An out-of-the-box plot, plus a group of wonderfully drawn characters, is no guarantee a publisher will accept your book. An acceptance signifies you have also kept track of the many small details in your chapters, successfully linking them to your plot and characters. Overlooking the all-important details can derail your chances of publication.

Details That Derail Your Plot

  • Remember to follow up on the clues you salt in each chapter regarding future action and drama, or your reader will feel cheated.
  • Keep your characters in the action or planning further action. Characters who drift about aimlessly do not hook readers.
  • Make sure the plot climax is worthy of your great buildup.
  • Check that all loose ends are tied up before you reach THE END.
  • Take a step-by-step look to verify that your plot is feasible, workable, and has all the key elements in place.

Details That Derail Your Characters

  • Don't have Janice in a lovely blue dress on page 10, and then a page further on, while at the same function, have someone tell her she looks divine in that little black number.
  • If you put characters in one place, don't have them appear somewhere else, without showing how they got there.
  • Keep track of where characters are during long conversations. If they move around, note where they end up. If you want James looking sadly out the window, remember to move from near the door, where he stood during most of the conversation.
  • In dialogue, it is not necessary to repeatedly use characters' names. In real life no one constantly uses a person's name.
  • Use dialogue that sounds like the character, and fits the time frame and mood.

Details That Derail Your Writing

Many of the following details could be listed as blind spots. We all have them; be it a penchant for one particular adjective, or the unconscious use of the word just on every page -- often more than once!

  • Spell names the same way throughout.
  • Use exclamation marks only with dialogue.
  • Watch out for words underlined in red by your word processor – check your spelling.
  • Dig out Find/Replace (Control F or Apple F). Look for those words that crop up, time after time, on every page. VERY, NICE, BUT, LIKE, GOT, THAT etc. Prune them out. They will not be missed.
  • Are you using one particular adjective over and over? Is everything lovely or great? Find/Replace is an excellent tool for bringing these repetitive words to light. Word Thesaurus (Shift F7), or any Thesaurus you have handy, will help you find vibrant and evocative replacements for these clunkers.
  • Are the verbs you use ho-hum? Craft your plot on the back of strong and powerful verbs. Have your characters show actions and reactions, rather than telling about them. Do this with verbs that will carry the weight of your plot.
  • Don't be an adverb addict. A few well-placed adverbs are perfectly acceptable. However, many adverbs are there only to prop up weak verbs. When verbs have muscles, adverbs are unnecessary.
  • Waffling on with long descriptive passages is the path to rejection. Remember, focus on what is important, and get to the point.

Follow these rules, and you can offer an impressive plot, and characters that jump off the page. There will be no overlooked details derailing your chances of a contract.

On my website, read the Self Editing Tip Sheet & Powerful Writing Tips

The Purple Crayon offers a wider look at how to get started writing children's books.. Read some of the articles: be sure to see in Getting Started: The Basics of Children's Writing and Illustrating

Happy Writing Mates.

Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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