Happy Fourth of July!
By Nancy Churnin
In Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking 1983 work, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, he explains how people learn in different ways – musically, kinesthetically, verbally, interpersonally, intrapersonally, as well as logically. One form isn’t better than another. The important thing is to figure out a child’s best way of processing information and teaching with that in mind. Even within a smaller field such as nonfiction, we can see that there are different ways of presenting information about a similar subject.
Independence Day provides a perfect example. The Nonfiction Ninjas are all dedicated to the craft of nonfiction for children, but wow – the incredible variety in the stories they tell for July 4 should inspire writers to explore the many ways a topic can be explored and parents and educators to consider how different approaches might connect with individual kids. Pick a book and pair it up with a craft for a memory to treasure.
For the youngest children, Michelle Medlock Adams offers a board book, What is America? In simple, rhyming language, Illustrated by Amy Wummer and published by WorthyKids, it touches on symbols such as the flag and the Statue of Liberty, but concludes that the ideas of freedom and democracy are more important than symbols and monuments.
For elementary school kids ready to dig into thoughtful picture book biographies, Peggy Thomas offers two award-winners about our Founding Fathers, both published by Calkins Creek. Farmer George Plants a Nation (illustrated by Layne Johnson), draws from Washington’s letters and diaries, to focus on our first president not as a politician or even general, but as a farmer, inventor, and scientist. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation (illustrated by Stacy Innerst) shows our third president as a planter who loved to watch things grow, making a connection with how he cultivated his garden and the expansion of the new nation.
Kids will find a compelling perspective on what patriotism means in The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Skeers. This fictional story, illustrated by Ard Hoyt and published by Puffin Books, has the ring of truth because Linda draws from a mix of real and personal experiences to craft this poignant story of a boy who has to come up with a patriotism project for class. Caleb longs for help from his father, who is away at war, and his solution reminds us of the tough sacrifices made by the families of those who serve to give us the freedom that we celebrate.
Middle graders can dig with delight into Top. Secret Files: American Revolutionary Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Figures from the American Revolution from Stephanie Bearce (Prufrock Press), and learn how George Washington had his own secret agents, hired pirates to fight the British, and helped Congress smuggle weapons.
by Peggy Thomas
Many of my fellow Ninjas have had new books released, but due to the coronavirus quarantine they haven’t been properly “launched.” Today, we’re celebrating Susan Holt Kralovansky’s newest title, How Fire Ants Got their Fire, which came out in March.
It was a treat for me to see this book in print because I got to see the story grow, or should I say take shape, during critique sessions. The key parts were there from the beginning: the main character appropriately named Ky-Anne; good ‘ole Texas expressions kids are likely to adopt; and a secondary story line. Susan’s story became leaner as she moved the secondary story line to the illustrations, which gave the story even more depth.
Unlike the rest of the Ninjas, Susan illustrates her stories with mixed-media collage. Take it from me, this won’t be a quick one and done read. Your kids will want to stop and examine all the little details, from the hundreds of ants to Granny’s army boots. Check out Susie’s process in this blog post – Even Illustrators Have to Do Research.
And like a true nonfiction writer, Susie couldn’t resist sharing a few facts with her readers. Each jalapeno on the end pages is literally peppered with a spicy tidbit. In the back matter she also shares Ky-Anne’s Prizewinnin’ Chili recipe, and where the idea for this story came from.
If any of you are thinking of writing an origin story, also known as a pourquoi tale, study Susie’s How Fire Ants Got Their Fire for a succinct lead, superb pacing, and a fun blending of facts and fable.
Revisions Can Spark Joy
By Susie Kralovansky
Although it may not seem like it from the looks of my office, but I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo, her books, and her Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Condo.
While reading her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, it occurred to me that her rules for tidying could also be the perfect rules for revisions.
The revision process is not about decluttering your story or making it look nice and neat for editors. Instead, it is about revising in a way that will spark joy when reading your final draft.
1. Commit yourself to the revision process.
Writing is revising and rewriting. And revising again. And again. Keep in mind the words of a pro: “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?” – Katherine Paterson.
2. Imagine your ideal manuscript.
Paste your draft into a dummy. (If you’ve never made a dummy – take 8 sheets of paper, stack them landscape style and fold them in half. Staple along the fold.) Does your manuscript fit? Too much information? Too little? Your dummy will guide you as you make revisions.
3. Finish discarding first.
Go through your manuscript line by line. If it sparks joy (moves your story forward) keep it. If not, discard. This way, you’re not wasting time revising materials that could eventually be cut.
4. Revise by category.
Does your first page grab the reader? Do you have a satisfying ending? Will this keep your reader engaged from beginning to end?
Have someone read your story aloud. Is your writing sparkling? Did your reader get stuck or stumble?
5. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” – William Faulkner. This is the hardest part - hanging on to those elements you love. They may have special meaning but will probably have your agent or editor rolling their eyes.
Remember, you’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. And, you only want to keep the good stuff that makes you and your manuscript shine – with joy.
Repost from 5/2019
It’s a sad fact of the writing life that no project is ever perfect the moment you get it down on paper. Some first drafts are better than others, but we all know it takes multiple revisions to create that final product. There’s a long road from inspiration to publishing—usually with a few detours along the way.
Because it takes editing and revision to create a final manuscript worthy of print, you’d think there would be some agreed upon set of rules for editing. But there’s not. If you Google “types of editing” you’ll find a lot of different answers. There are some common terms, but not everyone agrees on how to define them. It’s just confusing.
My take on all this can be summed up in two statements. One, it really doesn’t matter what you call it. Editing is just working out the bugs and making sure your piece is “practically perfect in every way.” Two, you’re going to need another pair of eyes to help you through the process—preferably more than one pair.
Let’s start with the other pairs of eyes. We’ll get back to the “working out the bugs” stuff in a minute.
You’re going to need a critique group. No matter how well you write, you need a group of writers who write at or above the level you do and can give you honest feedback on your work. That said, a good critique group is hard to find. It took me years.
A critique group should provide you with an HONEST evaluation of your work. That’s important. So many would-be authors just want a forum in which to have others read their work and tell them how wonderful it is. No one likes to hear the negatives about their “baby,” but it’s an essential part of the editing process. You can’t fix it if no one ever tells you what the bumps are.
In its best form a critique group should be a place to learn new skills, hone your current work in progress, and share information. When you find the right combination, you’ll know it. Hold on to it. A good critique group can, and should, make you a better writer. It’s worth the effort it will take you to find one.
As for that pesky editing stage—it doesn’t actually stop until a publisher prints the first run. If you’re one of those authors who resists changing anything or taking constructive criticism, you’re in the wrong business. And if you’re considering self-publishing, just know the ENTIRE editing monkey is on your back. You’re responsible for the whole thing.
Whether it’s your critique group, an editor from a publishing house, or you have to hire someone—it helps to know some editing terms. As mentioned earlier, the waters are a little murky about exactly what these terms mean, but here are a few about which there is general agreement.
Copy editing: A copy editor looks for errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. They make corrections as needed.
Line editing: A line editor looks at your book line by line. They study your sentence structure and word choice to make sure your sentences convey just the right meaning. They look for run-on sentences, fragments, and clichés. And they’ll help you clarify what you meant to say, eliminate unnecessary words or jargon, and generally make sure the sentence sounds right to the reader.
Developmental editing: A developmental editor looks at the “big picture” of your book’s organization and structure. They look at pacing, characters, plot, subplots, dialogue, point of view, order, flow, and consistency. They’ll let you know if you’re leaving out important information the reader needs. They’ll also let you know if there is something that needs to be cut. Developmental editors help you see your work as readers see it.
Content editing: (also called substantive editing) Content editing falls somewhere between developmental editing and line editing, although the term is often used interchangeably with both. Content editing involves tightening and clarifying each sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter. It focuses on making sure the manuscript fits the tone needed for the target audience and stays true to the author’s voice. A content editor doesn’t move whole chapters around, but they may suggest you rearrange scenes or paragraphs within a chapter to improve flow and understanding.
Proofreading: A proofreader is much the same as a copy editor. The difference is a proofreader works with the final formatted proof of your book. In addition to the things a copy editor might be looking for, they look for typos, inconsistent headings or page numbers, line and page breaks, and the placement of tables and other visuals. It’s the proofreader’s job to catch any mistakes the copy editor missed as well as any problems with formatting.
The beauty of a good critique group is that they can potentially provide all types of editing for you. Different people in your group will likely excel in different types of editing which will benefit you in the long run. You, in turn, can provide editing help for your fellow writers and learn while you do it. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” relationship.
That said, if you insist on doing the Lone Ranger thing, don’t expect someone to provide these types of services for free. It behooves you to know what kind of editing you need (see definitions above) so you can discuss this with whomever you hire to make sure you’re both on the same page. That way there will be no unrealistic expectations on your part. If you are self-publishing, ALL the editing will be your responsibility. If you are publishing through a traditional publisher, some parts of the editorial process will be provided by the house. Still, it’s worth remembering, you have a greater chance of being published if you present a polished product from the outset.
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.