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I've been a conference addict for years, and am in awe of how much this intensive has helped my writing. I'm sending a huge thank you to Linda Bernfeld and Marcea Ustler for bringing Alexandra Penfold and Lisa Wheeler to Orlando this summer.  If any RAs are reading this--see if you can book them for a future event.  They make a fantastic team! 

I have so many incredible things to share about the Picture Book Intensive, I'll have to split it into two posts.  I should have the second one up on Friday!

Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold talked about creating characters that live on past the page that parents and children will want to read over and over. Two that she loves are Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and There are Cats in this Book.

Another great example is Mr. Duck Means Business, by Tammi Sauer. Alexandra read the book to us, and it was easy to see why the fun language and characters make this a book that kids and parents love to read it again and again…like:

Mr. Duck sputtered. He muttered. He tail-a-fluttered.

Calling duck Mr. Duck while the other characters are simply called Pig, Cow, etc.

Alexandra gave us a handout with questions to interview our picture book characters that I absolutely LOVE! I’ve used it in four manuscripts so far, and am in awe of how much I’ve learned from it. So far, my critique groups have heard three of them and love the changes—wahoo! It really brought my writing up several levels, because the questions help me think about what my characters are like outside of the book, and really help give them more motivation and focus. I blogged about it soon after the conference, and wish I could share all of the questions with you…but don’t want to take away part of her presentation. I’ll share two with you though…what is your character’s deepest secret? What do they want everyone to know?

Lisa Wheeler

The best advice she can give is that there are no set rules.

The first line is a promise to the reader. It can:

1. Introduce the character
2. Flirt with the character (like Julius Baby of the World).
3. Set the mood or tone (like Boris and Bella). A story about the death of a loved one shouldn’t be in bouncy rhyme.
4. An air of mystery (like Martha Speaks)—an intriguing opening that makes readers want to know more.
5. Give location (like Mrs. Biddlebox).
6. Can be a fresh, original opening line (like Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones).
7. Can be a mixed bag (that covers more than one of these). I think Arnie the Donut is the one she suggested for this.

Here are some picture books that have a great promise (sometimes, it’s in the opening paragraph instead of just the first line): Baron Von Baddie, Dear Tabby, Clink.

When writing a picture book, make sure you start in the right place!

The character’s name can say a lot about the character, but shouldn’t be the only memorable thing (an example of a great name is Mrs. Biddlebox). **Don’t give a fun character a generic name!

Description—leave a lot open for the illustrator, but when there is something important to the story or characterization, it can give readers a better feel.

I'll write more on Friday!
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Jul. 21st, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
Sometimes just the title is enough to interest you. I scooted over and ordered Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones from the example just because of the funny title.
Jul. 21st, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
Re: Title
I've started reading so many picture books because of their titles. I hope you enjoy Aunt Nancy and Cousin Lazybones. :)


Mindy's head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.

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