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Quotes Wednesday

It was not generally realized that what children mostly wanted was to be left alone.

By InstaScribe

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Visual Friday: Catch Them Early

Catch Them Early

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Writing for Children and Teenagers (Revised Edition) by Lee Wyndham (Part 2)

A book is a recipe and has many components- essentials and condiments that make it yum. I won’t delve into all the essentials I found in this book but only the ideas that stand out for me and could help you.

One essential is plot. Wyndham gives us a few pointers in what she calls a Plot recipe, the sauce that makes your book good food for thought. It’s nothing but a list of questions:

  • Who is your character?
  • Who/what is your antagonist?
  • Who are the other people in the story?
  • What does the main protagonist want?
  • How important is it for him to get what he wants?
  • How does the antagonist prevent him from getting it?
  • What does the protagonist do about the obstacle?
  • What are the results of the initial action?
  • Where does the struggle lead him?
  • What is the climax?

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Asking yourself these questions can be frightening, especially when all you are doing is shooting words on to a page, but having this dialogue with yourself gives your writing a bit of direction. You may not go where you want to go, but talking to your story opens doors.

Another tricky source of writer’s block is Dialogue. What’s the best way to write it? Better to rephrase that- what’s the best way to hear it? If you spend an entire day transcribing conversations you overhear, you will find a lot of incoherence. Believe me I’ve tried this once. When you rewrite those conversations, you pick those sentences which show more than tell.

Dialogue is a clue to the character and of course what happens next. Don’t forget the he said and she said; no taglines and the reader gets very confused after a while, not to mention the young reader. Learning to write dialogue requires a good ear. Watch plays, Lee Wyndham  says. Today she would say: Watch movies.

We may light candles for world peace but every story requires conflict. Important problems could be:

  • Man against nature (children adore the weather!)
  • Man against himself (children won’t get that)
  • Man against man (this is engaging)

How to revise

Stephen King’s revision rules have stayed with me. Wyndham lays out a plan to get back what was lost “from transcription to type”.

  1. Once you’re done with your novel, write your next one (easier said than done). The cooling off period helps you not to fall in love with your work or to hate it too much.
  2. Read your work quick, in silence and without pausing.
  3. You are the reader now. What do you feel? Is the story (not your story anymore- the Author is Dead) good? Is the protagonist’s goal worth the trouble? Would you call the story plot worthy?
  4. Fix it.

To read Writing for Children and Teenagers as a guide to writing today is unfair. It is a valuable guide to writing, no doubt, but writing and publication have changed. “Do not invest your own money for the publication of your book,” Wyndham says. How prehistoric is that?

Also any editors who chew their pencils, please comment on this blog! You are greatly missed.

In spite of references to white elephant typewriters and reference methods besides Google (yes there is a world of archives out there that writers should use), a good section of the book is relevant to NaNoWrimers and writers everywhere. Read with an eye to take in the most important stuff –a writer selectively tailors her experience of the world into a story.

Skip the examples and antiquities, and Writing for Children and Teenagers may just be a great find.


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Writing for Children and Teenagers (Revised Edition) by Lee Wyndham (Part 1)

I would call this book Writing for children and Teenagers and just about anyone.

When you browse through this book as a book reviewer should, you come across the 10 commandments for writers somewhere at the end. Rings of a blog post. In fact, this entire book feels like reading a blog on writing. Although it is dedicated to writing for the juvenile audience, a large part of the book is about the process of writing in general.

writing for children and teenagers

The examples Lee Wyndham uses are a far, far cry from contemporary children’s writing. Does Black Beauty ring a bell or Heidi? (though I must say I love Heidi). You would probably need a revised edition with Potterama to enlighten you about writing for young children and young adults today.

Lyndham is in control of her subject (strangely I couldn’t find her in a Wiki entry). She is the author of nearly 50 books, 200 short stories, many articles in magazines. She has taught writing for children and teenagers. She writes from another day and age-the age of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper but as you go through the book you realize that what an author needs is not really intelligent software like Scrivener.

You need an organized mind.

And we are talking about a seriously organized writer here.

This is a writer who believes in The Work Book. One way of completing work is setting out your own deadlines (you can note down when you start a work and when you finish). Think Chapter, she says. She prophetically mentions the 2000 words per day challenge.

Isn’t that what NaNoWrimo is about? Getting the words on the page and being organized on a daily basis. You go for work every day, you meet targets every day, you walk the dog every day, then why not write 2000 words a day?

She makes the challenge much easier by focusing on the chapter. Writing twenty chapters is easier than forging an excruciating  50,000 words.

Writing for children and teenagers

Kids Reading Books

Kids Reading Books

Writing for young people is serious business. You could just be on the Forbes list of the wealthy or get arrested for writing about a school shooting.

If you like guidelines, here are some good ones:

  1. One rule I think works is Don’t write Down. Never underestimate your young audience. If you don’t want to underestimate them, you must know them. How much do you know about children? Do you spend time with them or read a bit of child psychology?
  2. Being age-specific when you write is also important. So what you write for a six year old will not work for a 13 year old. A 13 year old needs more drama and action while an older teen would need a stronger plot, sub plots and characterization. A toddler can only handle a single plot.
  3. Even vocabulary matters. Use vocabulary that fits into a prescribed word list, especially for younger children.
  4. Sensory feelings are very important in a children’s book as children are new to the world and feel everything with a freshness that we can not even remember.
  5. Themes are relevant- though this book is outdated in many ways, its relevance lies in the fact that it throws up many questions. What kind of ideas would work today? What do kids relate to in different parts of the world? The editor never knows what will work until she sees it.
  6. Do you need to be an illustrator to write a children’s book? Well, no and it would be prudent not to send your amateur art work to accompany your story as that could actually spoil the chances of your story getting accepted.

Wyndham has thought things through- I wondered what she would do if she had access to the technology we have today.  Every idea is noted. Every characterization is jotted down. The world is a potential story minefield and she believes in using everything.

Have you ever wondered about how much you give away while doing social media? How little you store? Writers have to hold on to so much if they must produce anything remotely plot-worthy.

Hold on to this thought until we revisit this book with a Plot Recipe in Part 2 of this review.


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Kindle Kids’ Book Creator: How-to

Kindle Kids’ Book Creator is a free downloadable tool that a few simple steps later can turn illustrated children’s books into Kindle books. This tool works like a charm for authors or publishers who want to create a Kindle book from scratch with illustrations. A print ready file in PDF format can also be converted to Kindle format with just a couple of clicks.

Texts can be added to the pages and the Text Pop-Up option makes it easier to read on mobile devices. Once the book is completed, you can preview how the book would look across different Kindle devices. The .mobi file can then be published on Kindle Direct Publishing.

KKBC is a simple tool you don’ need any technical expertise to operate. Nevertheless, let’s try to create a children’s book using this tool.

  1. KKBC can be downloaded from here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A3IWA2TQYMZ5J6&ref_=kdp_BS_tool
    This tool is available for the latest versions of Mac and Windows.
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  1. Click on the download button and save the .exe file at a desired location. Double click on the .exe file and install the tool on your system. The installation process is like almost every other installation process you have come across – keep clicking on ‘Next’ buttons until you get a ‘Finish’.
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  1. Double click on the shortcut created on your desktop to open KKBC. Here, you will find two options – Open an Existing Book and Create a New Kids’ Book. If you want to open an existing book, it should be in .opf or .mobi format. You can also create a book from scratch.
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  1. KKBC will give you a quick introduction to the software and how it works. But, if you are a rebel and don’t like taking instructions from a machine, you can click on ‘Continue’ and start using the software (and use this post instead for instructions!).
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  1. After you have fed your ego by clicking ‘Continue’ without reading the instructions, you get to enter the metadata for the book. You can also choose the language of your book. For now, only nine languages – German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Chinese – are listed here. And no, Amazon does not have anything against your language. They have probably just listed the most popular languages in the e-book industry. You can choose the location to save the final product and click on ‘Continue’.
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  1. Here you can choose the orientation of your book and how you want the pages to be displayed on Kindle. Click on ‘Continue’.
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  2. If your book is in print ready PDF format and the cover of the book is the first page of the PDF file, you can import the whole book on Kindle Kids’ Book Creator and make changes to the book if needed. If you are creating the book from scratch, you need to import a cover and click on ‘Start Adding Pages’.
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  1. Now you can start creating a book by adding pages. There’s also an option to delete the pages if you don’t like the way it looks – to err is human.
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  1. You can click on ‘Add Page’ and select an image which is in .jpg, .tif, or .png format.
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  2. If you have chosen to display two pages at a time, your page will look something like the image below. If not, the image will be spread across the page.
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  3. You can add text to the page by clicking on the ‘Add Text’ button. You can either chose from the given fonts or add a different font. The text box can be resized and moved as per your convenience. You can also add Pop-Up to the text but click on the ‘Add Pop-Up’ button. The text Pop-Up feature lets Kindle readers double-tap text on the page to display a magnified view of the text. Text pop-ups make your book easier to read on mobile devices.
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  4. When you click on ‘Add Page’ button after creating the first page, it gives you an option to add the page at different positions like at the beginning of the book, at the end of the book, before the current page, after the current page and between the two sides of the page. This can be useful if you don’t want to add the pages according to the order of pages or if you have missed a page in between.
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  5. You can also add a blank page at any position. Blank pages can be useful if you want to add text.
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  6. If you understand and write the language of computers, you can choose to edit CSS and the HTML code.
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  7. Once the book is complete, you can preview the book.
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  8. The preview lets you see how the book will be viewed on various Kindle Fire devices. As of now, you can’t preview how it will look on various Kindle apps, but Amazon plans to add the app preview in the future.
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  9. After carefully previewing the book and making the necessary changes, you can save the book for publishing.
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  10. The book will be saved in .mobi format and the metadata in .opf format.
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  11. If you wish to publish your book on KDP, you can do so by visiting kdp.amazon.com and uploading the .mobi file. The book created using KKBC will work on Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, Kindle Fire, Kindle for iPad app, Kindle for iPhone app and Kindle Android app.
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Kindle Kids’ Book Creator is a simple software that can be used by Children’s book authors and publishers. Thanks to the software, authors and publishers don’t need to understand the complexities of HTML/CSS to publish their content on Kindle.

You must be wondering if KKBC can be used to create graphic novels and comics. Amazon has a similar product for graphic novels and comics called Kindle Comic Creator and it comes with Kindle Panel View among other features that are not supported by KKBC.

Like every great software, KKBC comes with some limitations. For example, EPUB formats cannot be imported to KKBC. This can be an issue for a lot of authors as EPUB is a widely used format for e-books. Also, a file larger than 650 MB cannot be created using KKBC. This, however, may not be an issue unless you are planning to create an illustrated encyclopedia for children.

The biggest limitation of KKBC is that the .mobi file output is only compatible with Kindle readers or apps. Converting the .mobi file to .epub using Calibre won’t work either. The .mobi file can’t be used anywhere other than KDP. In other words, Amazon has ensured that the output file is not compatible with any non-Amazon platforms or devices. This is hardly unexpected!

 


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What will the books look like in future? Hopefully not like videos!

I am a lover of the written word. I don’t much care about the exact format. I do like when I can flip through a print book. When reading a book in print, there is often a visual memory of where a particular topic, incident or character is  mentioned. And of course, one doesn’t have to worry about the battery dying.

But at the same time there are things I enjoy more when reading an e-book. Firstly, the fact I can buy it instantly. If I read about a book and decide I must read it, I don’t have to wait to go to a book-store or for an online store to deliver it. One click is all it takes and voila I am immersed in the book. I also like that I don’t have to plan which books to carry or leave behind while travelling.  Another great asset is that if I don’t understand what a word means- I can find out instantly with very less distraction. No need to go searching for my dictionary.  I have realized that even when you think you know the approximate meaning of a word, or can guess it from the context, the enjoyment you derive from knowing the exact meaning is substantial. While reading print-books, however, I  usually skip looking the word up in the dictionary. I don’t want to interrupt my reading unless it is absolutely necessary.

As long as we are talking about written words, I am not an extremist in the e-book versus print book debate. The place I do get a bit squeamish is when the talk turns to so-called ‘enhanced’ books. Experiments in this area have just started, so we may not yet have a crisp definition of when a book stops being a simple e-book and starts becoming enhanced. But I will assume that as soon as the book starts incorporating things beyond words and images, it begins to fall in the category of enhanced books. This I believe includes embedding or linking to audio-video resources within the content of the book.

When done in the appropriate context, I like the idea of combining media with books.  Images are an integral part of print books and have been forever. And now,  e-books present even more opportunities to include audio and visual effects. For example, if a book is about music, or public speaking and pronunciation, it makes perfect sense that the reader should have access to relevant audio.  But consider this. When reading a great piece of fiction, I find it difficult to visualise when a landscape is described in words. In an enhanced book I might do a  long press on the paragraph and an image or video depicting the landscape would pop up. Or  an actual photo or video of the place being described is presented. Unlike finding the meaning of a word instantaneously, that does not interest me.  I want all the advantages of great writing, and with that the enjoyment of using one’s imagination. Unlike operating a household appliance, reading fiction is not about doing things in the easiest and quickest way. A great book challenges all of your senses.  When fully involved in a book and its author,  characters, even the language, descriptions, unfamiliar phrases, I want to feel my imagination soar, and my spirits lifted.

Another aspect of enhanced books is the children’s market. This genre is getting a lot of attention from the proponents of enhanced books.  Picture books are how most children learn to read.  Given how quickly children are taking to tablets and apps, it probably makes sense to enhance children’s books. Anything to get a child to read! And yet – if done indiscriminately, it can attract the children to books without providing them any of the advantages associated with reading. I recently read about this research, which points out how too much stimulation in books actually can distract a child and in so doing the books are not improving the child’s reading comprehension at all. If children are more attracted towards animation and videos, it still doesn’t make sense to convert books into videos in the name of enhancement. We might as well just produce videos.

My guess is the love affair with enhanced e-books will go through the same euphoric period that every new technology goes through. Dreams will be sold, lots of experiments will take place and a large number of those will look foolish in retrospect. But finally, we will settle down to the things that makes the most sense. I just hope that when the dust settles, I am still left to figure out the landscape from the words I am reading, and books do not start looking like videos with same-language subtitles. For me, the written word is precious and timeless! Let’s enhance them when suitable, but let’s not lose them!

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