How to Write Irresistible Kidlit

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Cover of Writing Irresistible Kidlit by literary agent Mary Kole (http://kidlit.com)

Stars:
Genre: Writing Tips
Author: Mary Kole (Literary Agency) (Personal Website) (Kidlit.com)
Recommended? Yes. If you want to write YA or MG, I really, really, really recommend it.

I’ve read a lot of How To Become An Awesome writer type of books. I’ve also attended conferences, webnairs, and followed a lot of writer blogs, and out of all of those great tools and resources, kidlit.com has always been a favorite of mine. It’s run by literary agent Mary Kole. At my regional SCBWI conference, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar hosted by her and meet her briefly. It wasn’t the first time I heard about her book (she’d mentioned it on her website) but it’s where I finally got to order one. I really loved it, even though I’ve read all the archives of kidlit.com, I felt I learned plenty of new things or insights. The book is broken down into the important things you need to know when writing for the YA or MG marketplace.

It starts with an overview of the Kidlit Market then moves to describing the MG and YA reader’s mindset. I’d like to think I’m well educated with both, but Kole gave insights I hadn’t thought about. She then talks about the importance of a Big Idea in stories, the foundation of storytelling, how to make a great YA or MG character, how to structure plots, and she talks about advanced skills (such how imagery, voice, theme, author authority and authenticity.

In case you haven’t considered the traditional publishing route, the last chapter breaks down everything you need to know about it. The role of literary agents, the query letter, submitting your work, and a few more bonus tips and tricks. Again, I’m well versed in those areas but Kole brought a new point of view and a very interesting one since she’s a literary agent herself.

Reading this book was fun. It forced me to think about my own writing and gives exercises to help you find problems with my plot or characters. Editors, YA and MG authors, and other literary agents give bonus tips and insights throughout the book as well. Kole reinforces everything she says by showing examples from popular YA and MG books. She gives plenty of time to both sections of the kidlits.

NaNoWriMo 2012

As many of you might know, this month is National Novel Writing Month. This year is my first entering it and I think I’m doing pretty good. I read a lot of posts on how to prepare for it (Publishing Crawl has a good one). For the most part I followed them, even without thinking.

But, as you can see, I’ve already achieved the recommended 50,000 words. So, technically, I win, I guess. How did I manage this in just seven days?

First I didn’t write all of October. That was pretty rough. I don’t think I’ve ever gone an entire month without writing or revising one thing or another — well, at least, not for a long, long time. Instead, I spent all the time I would be writing reading instead. The story I’m working on now, Terrifying Tora is the working title, is a paranormal thriller. I guess. I’m not 100% sure on that. I want it to horror elements, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s horror in genre. So, I read a lot of horror stories. October, the month of Halloween, seemed like a great time to catch up on all the horror stories I wanted to read.

I love zombies. They’re my guilty pleasure, so I read Rot & Ruin, This Is Not A Test, Ashes, and a few other zombie/people-turning-into-zombie-esque-things stories. Reading such great books always makes me want to write… but I resisted the urge and picked up another book. I also read a few fantasy YAs (such as the amazing Daughter of Smoke & Bones).

Maybe it’s not fair to say I didn’t write at all in October. In September I got the idea for Terrifying Tora and started outlining the story. I worked on that outline throughout October so that I had a pretty thorough one. I knew how I wanted to start it, the main ideas I wanted to get to in each chapter, and how to end it. That’s a form of writing, right?

Honestly, out of everything, I think that outline helped me the most. I didn’t have to wonder “What next?” because I always knew. And once November hit I finally allowed myself to write, so I wrote… a lot to make up for the fact that I didn’t write at all. I also set the whole first weekend of November aside to write — I’m lucky my life isn’t as hectic as some. I barely looked at the word count and then when I finally did it was pretty high already.

The stories not finished yet, I still have a couple chapters to go but I’m getting there, thanks to NaNoWriMo.

Writing Dialogue

I’d say my biggest pet-peeve, and what will turn me off to a book the quickest, is if the dialogue isn’t right. I never really gave dialogue much thought until my freshmen year in college. I was taking Fiction Writing, and it opened my eyes up to what was good writing and what was just… writing. I never understood the difference between show v. tell until then (well, at least I had a grasp of it).

And I never actually understood what made good dialogue until then, either. I still vividly remember my professor, a man passionate about creative writing, go off on a tangent about how dialogue in novels had to be like a conversation you’d have with your friend and yet not at the same time.

How he hated “uh”s. And now, I hate them, too. If I see multiple “uh/um” in the book (outside the bedroom or getting violently harmed) then I’ll close it and walk away. I know that seems extreme, but they drive me crazy. And if there’s “uh”s then that means there’s a lot of other things wrong with the dialogue, too.

I tell this to anyone I’m doing critiques for but I don’t think I’ve ever said it as clearly as what I found looking through the tumblr accounts I follow.

Fictionfiction.tumblr.com wrote this:

A lot of people assume dialogue is easy to write because ‘It’s just a conversation! I have those all the time.’

But real conversations are, for the most part, really boring:

  • Lots of verbal tics (uh, um, like, well, I mean)
  • Lack of conflict (How was your day? Great, yours? Pretty good!)
  • Cliches and repetitive phrasing

Writing dialogue that too closely mirrors real conversation will give you lots of repetition on the page. You don’t want that. Repetition is bad. It’s boring. It sucks. It’s totally lame.

All that said, here are a few essential reads re: writing dialogue that is great and awesome.

See what I mean? Clear, concise, and helpful all at once. If you click on the link above, fictionfiction gives some links of her own on help for writing dialogue.

I hate uh, um, like, well, and I mean. Some of them can be used appropriately (well, I mean, and like) but they must be used sparingly. The other two hold no purpose whatsoever in dialogue. I also hate repetition–inside of dialogue or outside of it. If that repetition of words and/or phrases is for an obvious literary purpose then I’m fine with them. I like it when it services a purpose.

But when it doesn’t other than the fact that if a real person, really talking, would keep repeating “um” or “well” or “I mean/I know/I don’t know” then I’ll be hitting my head against the table.

I don’t care if that sounds ridiculous to some. We’re all allowed our pet-peeves and bad dialogue is mine.