Sunday, August 5, 2018

Candace Fleming: Six Quick Fixes for Your Nonfiction Picture Books

Candace Fleming
Candace Fleming is the author of many wonderful nonfiction books for young readers about a wide range of subjects, from the family Romanov to giant squids.

She talked to us about six things she does when she's approaching her own revisio
ns.

There are six steps she takes:

1) What's the vital idea? If you cannot express what the vital idea of your picture book is, then you need to rethink it. She has an idea before she writes, one that comes from the research. But if she can't express it after the first draft, she knows she has more thinking to do.

Does everything in the manuscript speak to the vital idea? If it does not, it has to go. She's amazed by what can go from a first draft of a manuscript when viewed through this lens. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your story really about? What's your concept? What's the idea? What is the "something more"? For example: giant squid are fascinating. But what does she really want to say to kids about them? She wants readers to know they're mysterious and elusive. Scientists estimate there are 100,000 giant squid--school-bus-size creatures. And we rarely ever see them. Good facts can be bad storytelling. 
2) Have you remembered your fence? PB writers have a fence. We have a form that we have to stick to. Here's a reminder: My fence is 32 pages. But it really means we have 26 pages. The story really starts on page 5, on the right-hand side. How will your first page look in that little space? Does it promise the ending on the first paragraph? Then, ta-da! You have a page turn. It's the single most important thing in a PB. Some stories need a bit of setup—that's the first few pages (6-7, 8-9). She knows that if her story doesn't start by page 10, she needs to rethink it. Page 32 is the last page of her PB. That is the Ahhh page, where she gets a little extra something, a moment of satisfaction. (She calls it the haunt. It makes you want to come back. It makes you want to think. It makes you want to know more.

3) Look at every single word. She circles all the verbs and adjectives to see if there is a better one. There almost always is. Every word choice must speak to the vital idea. She makes lists of words, trying to find ones that are authentic to her story and her voice.  

4) Attempt to get all 5 senses into your book. ("Taste is a bitch.") Actively searching for it forces you to think about your nonfiction in different ways. Remember, we are not fact-tellers. We are storytellers. We have to tell true stories.

5) Count the number of words in your sentences. This helps her vary her sentence structure and use fragments. This makes her more aware of what she's doing—and that's really what revision is about. 

6) End when it ends. When your story is done, exit quickly. Don't say goodbye. Don't wave. Don't blow a kiss. Get out of there!
 



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