Monday, November 27, 2023

CWHV November 2023 First Pages

We were thrilled to have Sean McCarthy, agent and owner of the Sean McCarthy Literary Agency: Meredith Mundy, Editorial Director of Abrams Appleseed and the Abrams Preschool Program; and Beth Terrill, Editor, NorthSouth Books give their professional advice on our CWHV First Pages Conference.

Comments ranged from nice alliteration, liked the use of onomatopoeia, too many shifts in perspective, voice feels didactic and many comments on rhyme and character. There were also comments about conflict, narrative action, transitions, wrong format for age and /or subject, concept and 100 more opinions.

We broke for a delicious Panera lunch.

After the First Pages were concluded, Sean ran a workshop on pacing. Below are the topics: Pacing, Meet the Characters, Anticipation and Escalation of Conflict, Character Driven Action, Crisis and Resolution, Lasting Memory and Transformation. Sean discussed all of these in more detail.

We closed out the afternoon with a Faculty Q &A with Sean, Meredith, and Beth.

We want to thank our attendees for their continued support of the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley and for our faculty, Sean McCarthy, Meredith Mundy, and Beth Terrill for spending the day teaching us how to make our first page stronger, clearer and more inviting. Last but no least, we want to thank our hard working committee members for another successful conference.


Friday, October 27, 2023

Elements of a Successful Picture Book Defined

Even though picture books don’t have a lot of words, and the structure may seem simple, it surprisingly is not. There’s a lot more structure to a picture book than it appears. A successful picture book where the character has a problem should have these key elements or beats: a defined problem that the character has to solve, the rule of three tries and fails, character and emotional growth, a surprising and satisfying ending.

Using examples from a sample writing, Tracy’s post explains these beats in more detail.

Below is the link to a post written by Tracy Marchini, agent and author, on picture book structure.

Note: Not all picture books are character driven problem books, some are lists, or mood books, or inspirational, or humorous while others are concept books.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Workshops for Tugging on Your Reader's Heartstrings

Having characters pull on your heartstrings make them more relatable, more dimensional. When you’re revising and you’ve checked off all the boxes on your manuscript, plot, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, character, etc., and you’ve done this many times, but you still feel there is something missing. The answer could be there is no emotional arc or strong emotions for the reader triggered by any character.

Who do you want the reader to love or hate? Is there a character you want the reader to root for or feel sympathy for?

If you’re stumped on how to draw out the reader’s emotions and you’ve read more books on craft, maybe it’s time to splurge on targeted writing workshops. There are tons of workshops and conferences, many are promoted on social media or do a google search.

Once you’ve decided on a conference or workshops, check the workshop’s schedule to see how many workshops are being offered that day, are they mostly question and answer panels, lecture format, are there hands-on writing exercises, is there too much free time, etc.

Highlights Foundation is reputable and offers dozens of different workshops. The subject choices are many, prices affordable, lodging and food are included. Workshops can be in person, virtual or on-demand. I highly recommend them and have attended many.


The link below is for an on-demand course on writing for the emotional impact.


This link is for an article on the three basic emotions and how to create them in your characters.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Six Tips to Improve Your Novel's Pacing

In novel writing, pacing is a critical tool in your writer’s box of tricks. If the pacing is too slow, it drags out the action, interferes or eliminates any tension or suspense you were trying to build and makes a story boring.

Some things that might slow down your pacing:

1. Superfluous dialogue: Common examples would be when one character meets another character and a lot of words and time are wasted on the “hellos, how are you, blah, blah,” or the good byes. Cut to the point of the conversation.  “Did the jury reach a verdict?”  “Did the doctor call?”

2. Long descriptions on setting: We need to know the specifics, but not every minutia of the setting. Telling us the Victorian house was surrounded by Lilac bushes and the sweet smell filled the front rooms gives  us specific details. Victorian house, Lilac bushes and it introduces a smell. Telling us when and where the Lilac bushes were bought, their height and width, how often they bloom or are fertilized is not vital  information unless that somehow reveals character or will play in to the plot.

3. Info dumps: Be sparing and discriminating when telling the backstory or reminiscing. Too many paragraphs or pages of information can be boring and slows down the story’s pace. Try to weave in the crucial details throughout the story.

4. Not enough plot: This can cause the writer to meander and use fillers getting the writer further away from the plot. The answer could be more subplots. This will also help your characterization by giving them more depth and making them more three dimensional.

5. Too much time inside your character's head: When we read pages and pages of your character's thoughts and feelings, there is no action. It's important to know what your character is thinking and feeling in order to learn their motivation, but be mindful of how long the reader is inside their head.

6. Timing: When we spend time on a scene or specific detail, we are telling the readers, this is significant. We are shining a light on it, pay attention to it. Be aware of this when you are editing, cut those long scenes of description or even dialogue if it’s not essential to the plot of character development.

Your story’s pacing is the right amount of dialogue, information, action and plotting.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Tips for Picture Book Writers

Awhile ago, I spent a few days with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann in Honesdale. They were the instructors for the Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop that focused on picture books. We had lectures, assignments, sharing, manuscript critiques and enjoyed a writing camaraderie that is only found when you spend several days with like minded people. I left inspired with itchy writing muscles and couldn’t wait to get home to attack my picture book manuscripts.

Below is a list of the basic dos and don’ts when writing picture books:

1. Your story starts on page 5 of a 32 page picture book. Your beginning tells your ending. Make a book dummy.

2. Does it sing? Do the words have a cadence, a rhythm? Do they flow out of your mouth? If not, revise until it sounds better. Use wonderful, rich language.

3. Read your story out loud. Cut unnecessary words, repetitive phrases or words, clich├ęs and adverbs.

4. Don’t overuse dialogue. Talking heads don’t make exciting pictures, unless your POV is two person conversational.

5. Do your scenes have action? Do they advance the plot? If not, cut or revise them.

6. The character needs to solve the problem. Keep the parents and adults in left field or better yet, leave them home.

7. No predictable ending. Have a twist or nice surprise for the reader that is also satisfying.

8. Keep the story singularly focused. Remove any loose ideas or tangents.

9. Does your story have a bigger message? What is the take-away? But don’t be preachy.

10. Make the character someone that a child can relate to. Will the child want to listen to your story more than once? Is the story funny?

Of course, your best resource for writing picture books is not a tip list, but a book on craft. I suggest reading WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.


Thursday, June 29, 2023

CWHV June 2023 Query and Self-Editing Workshops

The Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley was delighted to have Sara Schonfeld, Associate Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Publishing, lead a workshop on self-editing like an editor and how to strengthen your query letter. Sara was warm, friendly, approachable and knowledgeable. Below is a brief summary of our workshops.

Some of Sara’s tips for self-editing was a reverse outline, write down what happened in the story and what is it doing for the story. When editing ask yourself questions, does each scene advance the character or plot?

Think about your main character: what are the themes, relationships, growth, motivation.

After Sara’s PowerPoint presentation, our writing exercise was to edit several pages of our manuscript focusing on specific areas.

Tips for strengthening your query included what to look for when researching your comp titles, how to find examples of comp titles, answering the five basic questions (what, when, who, how and why) and following the four basic structural parts of a query letter.

Sara reviewed proper query protocols when submitting multiple query letters to editors or agents.

Some common mistakes in writing query letters were too much world building, too much information, too long and others.

Our writing exercise was to rewrite our query letter. Sara read many query letters to the group and gave constructive feedback. Even if your query wasn't read, listening to Sara's comments were still valuable.

We want to thank Sara for spending the afternoon with us and teaching us about self-editing and making our queries stronger. Also, we want to thank our hard working attendees and the CWHV staff.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Consider Adding a Bully

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and at all stages of your life.

The bully could be the 7-year-old punching the 6-year-old on the bus, a skinny street-girl who talks smack to you and threatens to beat you up after school, a group of nice girls who ditch someone by changing the location of planned outings or the tall girls who pat you on the head in the hallway calling you “my size Barbie.”

It could be a teacher, parent or boss who is verbally, physically or emotionally abusive. It could be the angry customer who screams at you about everything. The person in the car behind you honking, banging on the steering wheel and yelling because you’re not driving fast enough. (We call it road rage as if giving it an adult term makes it more acceptable.)

What they all have in common is bullying does emotional damage to your self-esteem and in the worst cases, physically harms you. They make your life miserable.

You may be asking when would I need or want a bully? How about in your story? Does your story need more tension, more obstacles or more subplots? Consider adding a bully. The bully could be your antagonist’s sidekick or a secondary character that delight in tormenting your main character, also known as “a toy breaker.”

Think about the bullies in your life. Here’s your chance to punish or confront them on paper. Go for it. No holds barred. The possibilities are endless.