I love when I read something that makes me exclaim, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
Often when the “wow” subsides, the “why” chimes in.
Why didn’t I know that before, I wonder, since most of the time these facts are details about people and events from a part of history that I did learn about as a child.
For instance, I recently read that Susan B. Anthony’s entry into women’s rights activism came from her frustration at getting paid significantly less as a female teacher ($2.50 per month) than male teachers were paid ($10 per month) in the 1840s/50s.
“It’s okay to borrow from literature,” an L.A. Times editor told me and a room full of journalists at a recent workshop on word craft. Well, the reverse is also true. I attended that workshop for my job as a reporter but in the subsequent days have found myself utilizing Steve Padilla’s tips as I revise picture book manuscripts. Details like length and vocabulary level may differ in my writing spheres, but the principles of good writing cut across formats. So I thought I’d share some of Steve’s best tips here that you can make use of in your children’s writing, or any other kind of writing.
1. Focus on verbs Print your story out and circle all the verbs. Look at each one and decide if it’s a) active, and b) specific/vivid. My high school yearbook adviser drilled active vs. passive into me as a teenager, so I rarely use forms of “to be,” but I’ve noticed in revisions that many of my verbs are still boring/generic.
An example:The man was eaten by a lion. (passive)
A lion ate the man. (active)
A lion devoured the man in two gulps. (active, vivid, specific)
You know how a lot of people have been binge-watching TV shows like “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? Well, I’ve been binge-reading books by Shana Corey.
That’s because she writes about “old-time gals with gumption.”
Who doesn’t love an old-time gal with gumption?
Okay, maybe kids who love truck books and the like, but the description applies to many of my beloved children’s book characters, like Anne Shirley. Continue reading