Friday, January 27, 2012

Focus Friday: Diction (and Perfect Picture Books)


First, business.  
Then pleasure.  

Oh wait...I'm a writer.  

Same thing.

#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'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's perfect!

Title:  Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten
Author:  Lynne Marie
Illustrator:  Anne Kennedy
Publisher:  Scholastic, May 2011
Age: 4-6
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.


Joanna said...

Love that this post came, again, with so many tips for us. I shall have to put this one on my TBR list when I get to an English library! Reading your thoughts reminds me that we mustn't be in a hurry to send our manuscripts out. I often see writers within weeks of writing a picture book, sending it off to agents/publishers... I think it is rare that the essential revision and editing can be done so swiftly. A manuscript often needs to sit a little between stages of revision, too!

Cathy Mealey said...

I can't wait to read this PPBF! I appreciate your recommendation and I do have a soft spot for cute hedgehogs.

Here's my tip: Try plugging your draft into to create your own unique 'word cloud.' The cloud puts frequently used words into a larger font so you can easily see words that should be replaced with 'skinnier' ones!

Christie Wright Wild said...

I spent a little over two years on one of my pb mss. I think it's finally "perfect." And now I finally get to send it out into the world.

Patricia T. said...

What a delightful book for kids starting school. Lots of humor to ease the anxiety. Great bed time book that will be read many times. Also like the back information about how hard the author worked on revisions and how it has paid off for her. Great selection.

Unknown said...

How cute! I'm going to pick this up for my soon to be Kindergartener and so I can take some notes. Thanks for review Miranda :)

Julie Hedlund said...

Great story and a super selection. Groundhogs, hedgehogs... lots of hogs out there in the PB world! :-)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Great post on diction - so many good points! - and I'm so glad you chose this book. I'm a fan of Lynn's and I love that hedgehog :) Thank you for pointing out what a great choice it is for writers! said...

Thanks so much for the tips Miranda. I'll make sure I read this hedgehog pb before I go on submission with my 2 yr old pb.

This Kid Reviews Books said...

The hedgehog looks cute! I love the idea of the book! I love the puns (A LOT)!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I appreciate your tips, the other comments and the book. I think it's true about not rushing out your work.

Natalie said...

So true! When we are writing 500 words or less--every word must be perfect.

And how cool to be published by Scholastic right out of the gate! It looks adorable :)I will have to look for this title at our library.

Loni Edwards said...

This looks like a wonderful book. I love your post with all of the great tips. Thank you. I can't wait to find this at the library next time!

msdiamondhill said...

it seems a great picture book. and thanks for all your tips.

Jennifer Rumberger said...

This sounds like a great book, especially for a new author. Thanks for the tips and a great example!

Vivian Kirkfield said...

I don't know which I loved more...your story selection (I'm always looking for great books that help young kids with their anxiety about going to school) or your PB writing tips. Thank you so much for both!!!!

Yanting Gueh said...

I can't wait to check this book out from my library. Diction is so important and I love your analysis on fat vs skinny words!

patientdreamer said...

Love your PPB it sounds so cute and I must look for it in the library so I can check it against my MS before I send them out.... Thanks also for your tips. Hopefully by the end of the week I will be able to print this post out so I can refer back to them.

Penny Parker Klostermann said...

How fun is this? I can't wait to read it. Nice choice.

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