One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received came from author Candace Fleming. This advice transformed my picture book process and made my writing much stronger. What was it? Look at your book as a series of scenes.
When I’ve discussed this light-bulb moment with illustrator friends, they look perplexed. They naturally see their stories as a series of scenes—perfectly illustrated in full color, of course—and assume everyone else does too. Sadly, my author brain doesn’t work that way.
So what is a scene? Most of us are familiar with the idea of a movie scene, or a scene in a play. But if you’re not an illustrator, you may have never considered scenes in a picture book. Here are a few basics.
To determine if your scenes need work, try paginating your manuscript or making a dummy. This will help you more clearly assess them. If you have trouble figuring out where to add page breaks, your scenes may need work. Another trick is to make a list of the scenes in your story. Summarize each with a sentence. Can you boil your story down to 12-14 sentences?
Once you get the hang of seeing in scenes, you’ll look at your picture book in a whole new light. Give it a try!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of 100+ children’s books. For more about her books, mentorships, and critique services, see www.LisaAmstutz.com.
originally posted 4/3/2019
Fiction writers can keep readers on the edge of their seats and flipping pages by creating exciting and compelling page turns. They do this by making sure there’s drama and tension and suspense throughout the manuscript.
But how do nonfiction writers do that when they are dealing in facts and information? The same way – by borrowing a few fiction techniques!
1. Ask a question
Readers are curious little beings and if you pose a thoughtful question that intrigues them, they’ll keep reading to discover the answer. Tease and tantalize them into wanting to know more and they’ll be hooked! Don’t rehash what they probably already know about your topic – dig deep for a tidbit that will surprise and amaze them. And then keep doling them out!
2. And then what?
Think about page turns and use them wisely. Mention a problem or obstacle and make readers wonder IF it can be resolved. Raise the stakes. Hint at what could happen if the problem isn’t resolved.
3. Make it fun
Use descriptive and lyrical language whether you are talking about rocks or rabbits. Sprinkle in action verbs and sensory details – make each scene come alive for the reader. Try to create compelling scenes that draw a reader in and keep them interested. Great nonfiction should be as exciting and interesting as fast-paced fiction! Avoid passive language and bland verbs. Reading it aloud can help you “hear” where you can punch up the language.
4. Use the element of surprise!
Forget the nonfiction from your youth – it’s a bright new day! Steer clear of dry, textbook explanations and find a unique way to present your information and your readers will be hooked. What about a unique narrator? Or unusual format? Fun sidebars? Activities? Humor? Look at your topic sideways and upside down – find a new angle or perspective that hasn’t been done before. Be adventurous! Be daring!
5. Kindred spirits
Remember what it was about your topic that first caught YOUR attention. That passion (and sometimes obsession) will shine through your manuscript and will spark the same desire for knowledge and need to know more about your subject in your reader. Enthusiasm is catching!
originally posted 12/4/2018
Writing nonfiction requires the skills of a ninja.
You must be great at tracking your quarry, skilled at telling a story, and able to slice and dice words at a moments notice.
Today I am going to equip you with one of the Nonfiction Ninja’s best secret weapons – Primary Sources.
Primary sources are documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation and were often created during the period you are writing about. Diaries, newspapers, government documents, letters, memoirs, and oral histories are all examples of primary sources.
These days the life of a Nonfiction Ninja is a little easier because there are some amazing websites that bring the primary sources right to your Ninja Lair. You can sift through facts and files with out ever breaking a Ninja sweat.
Here are some of the best websites for primary sources dealing with American History:
100 Milestone Documents
Includes documents that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.
Eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from Vikings in Canada in 1000 AD to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
Documents related to historical and current U.S. presidencies, such as speeches, official papers, and executive orders.
American Life Histories
Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.
Full text of North American periodicals from 1740 through the 19th century.
Search and read historic newspapers published from 1690 to the present.
Scanned and redacted – images of FBI files of famous individuals and groups.
New York Public Library
30,000 images of New York City, costume, design, U.S. history, etc. from books, magazines and newspapers, as well as original photographs, prints and postcards, mostly created before 1923.
Advertisements, forms, programs, catalogs and time tables that capture the everyday activities of ordinary people.
Primary documents and personal narratives, 1960–1974
World Digital Library
Collection of print and visual resources
Originally posted 10-27-18
The writing community is the most generous bunch of people on the planet. In the last three weeks they have made available teacher's guides, virtual author visits, story time videos, activities, and more. And so have my fellow Nonfiction Ninjas.
Here is just a sampling of the educational materials you can find for our nonfiction books. We invited you to dive in and explore the real world with us. Stay Safe!!
Amazing Amphibians by Lisa Amstutz
Spring is the perfect time to explore frogs and toads with Amazing Amphibians which has 30 fun activities.
Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
A is for Apples
Find more at Lisaamstutz.com
10 Learning Activities for At Home in her Tomb by Christine Liu Perkins
For more information go to christineliuperkins.com
Activities for Dinosaur Devotions
Listen to the author read I Will Not Be Afraid
For books and videos visit michellemedlockadams.com
Learn how author / illustrator Susan Kralovansky created her newest book How Fire Ants Got Their Fire
And more at susankralovansky.com
Teacher's Guides for the picture book biographies by Nancy Churnin
And more at www.nancychurnin.com
activities, reader's theater, and teacher's guides for the books of Peggy Thomas
More at www.peggythomaswrites.com
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.