Oh wait...I'm a writer.
#1 - The deadline is approaching for my writing contest. Remember to post your entry to be considered for the great prizes!
#2 - Be sure to stop back on Monday, Jan. 30th for a very special interview with folk tales author Kate Coombs! Kate's new book, Hans My Hedgehog, was just released this week by Antheneum Books for Young Readers. You won't want to miss it!
Now, to the "focus" - and today's Perfect Picture Book.
I chose to write today's focus post about diction. Last week, we had a flood of submissions at Rate Your Story. There were more great stories (rated with a 1, 2, and 3) than any other week since the free critique site began in October. Now, I don't always read every submission, but with 20 coming in in the space of 5 days, I did my fair share. What impressed me about several manuscripts was how many authors paid attention to word choice:
Removing unnecessary dialogue tags
I think diction can also apply to words you don't say.
Using "skinny words," not "fat words"
These phrases are straight from seven-time PB author Nancy Sweetland, who explains: dog is a fat word. Scottish Terrier is skinnier. "Went" is a fat word. "Ran" is skinnier, but still a little chunky. Raced is a skinny word. Or darted. Or dashed. Get the point?
Words sound great when read aloud together
Last week, I posted about rhyme and the importance of reading it aloud. But prose writers have to consider the same thing! If something is a tongue-twister, is it supposed to be? Is that a funny scene? Is it OK if the reader pauses and re-reads?
Words are fresh, sparse, and not redundant
Once you've written a draft, print it out and circle the verbs. Can you freshen them? Then, be sparse to help avoid redundancy–"Then he lay down in bed and closed his eyes and went to sleep" could easily be "He lay in bed...Goodnight!" Lastly, do a find/replace to see if you've got repeated words!
The word choice matches the tone of the scene
This week, I got a critique back from my wonderful SCBWI mentor Lisa Moser, and in it she pointed out a word/phrase that didn't quite fit in a lovely scene I'd written between a boy and his Grandpa . It was too contemporary, too casual, and didn't have enough depth. Now, it's perfect.
Do you have diction tips? Be sure to share!
Now, on to this week's PERFECT PICTURE BOOK. It's one that...you've guessed it...has perfect diction. The author is actually a former critique buddy of mine, and I saw it go through several overhauls as she very diligently made sure every word was the right word.
And I'm proud to say...it's perfect!
Title: Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten
Author: Lynne Marie
Illustrator: Anne Kennedy
Publisher: Scholastic, May 2011
Category: Kindergarten/First Day of School, Making Friends, Self-Esteem and Confidence
First Line: "Spike stared out the window toward the bus stop and quivered." (LOVE the pun!)
Why I Like This Book: Well, first of all it's a great story for kids about being yourself, making friends, and finding confidence. Sentences like "Spike spiked," and the repetition of the bus going "Clink, Clank, Clunk! Bing, Bang, THUMP!" keep kids actively listening.
But this book is more than a great story. Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten is a SHINING MODEL for all pre-pubbed picture book writers who want to break into the market. Study it - every word is perfect. The pacing is perfect. The dialogue is good, and there aren't unnecessary tags.
Furthermore, it's a breakout PB for Lynne Marie. Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten is a great example where aspiring writers can see what kind of discipline it takes for a new writer to land a contract - and have hope that it's not impossible! Lynne Marie wasn't relying on celeb. status, a portfolio of credits, or a serious "in" to get this considered and eventually published. Her fantastic, disciplined writing and REVISING SKILLS did that...and she worked very hard for years to get the manuscript right!
Additional Resources: Lynne Marie has a Facebook page dedicated to this book! Check it out here.
Did you love this book? Want to read it now? Got ideas for making every word count? Comments are open below.