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How to Reel in a Children's Book Editor with Your Writing
"Musings" for September 2005
by Margot Finke
If you want to reel in an editor, think fishing strategy.
- Know where the editor fish swim.
- Prepare the appropriate bait.
- Assemble a variety of hooks.
- Practice spreading chum.'
- Make sure your line is strong.
- Hook the editor fish early.
- Play the line out -- craftiness counts.
- Land your editor fish -- (don't let him/her get away at the last moment)
Your First Paragraph: This is your chance to hook the editor fish' early.
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If a few sentences of instant appeal do not come to mind, leave your first paragraph until later. Rummage for the distinctive words you need when your story is finished, and your plot and characters are as familiar as the taste of your favorite food. Think dramatic moment, wild humor, or even angst ridden inner turmoil. Consider making your first paragraph a splendid link into the heart of your main character, or perhaps, a powerful hint about future actions.
Your First Page: Fling in some morsels of chum, and bait a small hook.
What is chum? For big game fishermen, chum is bloody fish entrails, red meat, and other offal. This is thrown into the water to bring sharks and large fish closer to their boat. Get it? For writers, chum becomes the clues, hints, innuendo, characters, gossip, and whatever else we use to draw in readers. Make your first page a reading frenzy. Include the time, the place, and the names of your main characters. Now, plan something dramatic, significant or funny, for your second page. Then, in the last paragraph on your first page, leave a clue to whatever is about to happen. This is your hook, baited, and ready to lure the editor into turning the page.
Trawl Chum on Every Page: This is where you play out your line, use different hooks, and try assorted bait.
The chum you scatter throughout your chapters depends on the type of story you are writing. The basic idea, is what you write on one page should lure readers into reading what you've written on the following page. Not only that, you must have fine writing, characters that kids will root for, and a plot that keeps reader interest to the last page. Flabby writing will get you eaten by an editor shark!
The style of your hooks depends on the type of book you are writing. A mystery or an adventure demands a strong and dramatic hook at the end of each chapter -- your main character faces disaster, is about to make a vital choice, or is on the brink of peril. Devising hooks for the end of your chapters has a lot to do with pacing. You must plan ahead. An end-of-chapter hook is always the moment before something physically or emotionally earth shattering happens. If your readers want to know the outcome, they must read on.
Keep the tension at a heart-pounding level, by regularly offering snippets of pertinent information, hints and clues. These are the small hooks you must keep baited throughout your chapters. Your readers don't want to be told about what happens. They want to be a part of the story: to see, feel, and hear the action as it happens. Splash around the dialogue: it is a wonderful tool for defining characters and setting a pace that crackles.
Emotional or Fun Stories:
Poignant stories also need end-of-chapter hooks. A tale about school and bullies, the story of a dying parent or friend, a funny romp at a holiday camp: these books all need lots of the right bait, on the right sized hooks, to reel in an editor. Ending your chapters with a question, a fear, a dread, or moment of panic, works extremely well. Readers identify with these emotions, and they hate for them to go unanswered. If the chapter that follows your hook provides satisfactory answers, your reader will keep reading. As the author, you make a tacit agreement with your reader to provide a satisfying conclusion to the story. Break this agreement at your peril!
Character development is vital in all children's books. Kids want to feel that they know the characters. Make sure you weave in background, past mistakes, and the relationship between siblings and parents. Your POV's (point of view) inner thoughts can offer important insights. Allow your main character some faults, plus the ability and courage to grow out of them. Offer a secondary plot line. Keep tabs on where your plot and characters are going. Don't allow your reader to feel up a creek without a paddle. Dialogue is vital to any story -- fresh, on the money, and dynamic. Attention to small details pays off.
Your Last Chapter -- You Must Deliver! -- you get to land the editor-fish.
You've made it thus far -- DON'T BLOW IT! Craft a first paragraph that keeps readers guessing (mystery/ adventure), or unsure about what your main POV will decide (poignant or other story). Then, tie up those loose ends ASAP - unresolved loose ends will allow the editor fish to escape. Check that your solution or ending is logical, and based on the main areas of the plot. Is that last minute confession too bizarre to be reasonable? Would your heroine really decide to settle a dispute that way?
If your grammar or punctuation is not what it should be, now is the time to enlist help. Have your trusted critique members check out your manuscript for G and P errors, as well as anything else that might make an editor fish shy away - weak plot, character problems, wordiness, or a particular word or phrase that constantly pops up, to name a few.
That complete, you are now ready to catch an editor fish. Bait your query hook!
Uh-oh. . . Sorry, that's a whole other "Musings" column.
Happy Writing MatesI
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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