24 September is National Punctuation Day, and it has me worrying that my love of punctuation makes me seem … well, persnickety.
I know it’s nerdy to enjoy punctuation, but a Grammar Nazi I am not. I don’t get riled by other people’s misplaced apostrophes or their lack of an Oxford comma. I see the error, and move on.
I don’t shame people who overuse quotation marks or argue with those old-timers who insist on two spaces after a full stop. Indicating a plural with an apostrophe saddens me, but it doesn’t ignite a burning urge to deface property with a red Sharpie or muster a mob to lynch sloppy punctuators.
Poor punctuation does not spoil my day. Unless it’s my own. My typos rattle me and leave me writhing in embarrassed angst, muttering about jots and tittles and the futility of crying over misplaced pixels.
I never indulge in self-congratulatory punctuation pride. We all make mistakes, sometimes because we rush, and sometimes because autocorrect takes over.
I enjoy the elegance of a well-placed semicolon, the possibility offered by the ellipsis, and the playful quirkiness of the interrobang*. Hyphens make my brain hum.
Despite my dual-nationality, I have an engrained allegiance to double ” quotation marks to set off speech. The Commonwealth’s single ‘ quote marks don’t work for quotes inside quotes—at least not elegantly. Curly quotes (aka smart quotes) beat straight (or dumb) quotes any day.
National Punctuation Day
This is my kind of literary celebration! Established thirteen years ago by American Jeff Rubin, National Punctuation Day celebrates, “… the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and ever-mysterious ellipsis.” NPD is featured in Chase’s Calendar of Events, incorporated into schools, and receives national (US) coverage in major outlets such as Huffington Press, USA Today, and NPR.
I had trouble deciding how to do such an occasion justice. I considered…
… doing a round-up of interesting books about punctuation,
… linking to a challenging punctuation quiz,
… sharing some of my favourite punctuation pins from my Word Nerd board on Pinterest,
… listing some cool punctuation trivia,
For instance, did you know the original name of the hashtag is octothorpe?
Or that there is a dedicated Apostrophe Protection Society?
… advocating for new punctuation marks,
… or defending the use of emoticons.
I decided to keep it short and simple. The last thing I’d want is someone to accuse me of being persnickety—or obsessed.
* The Internet offers several spellings for interrobang |interobang | interabang. The first seems to be the most popular, so I changed the graphic to reflect that.
Featuring guest blogger, Karen Tyrrell
Karen, tell me about Song Bird Superhero.
Song Bird Superhero is a humorous adventure with positive messages for kids.
Kids can stop the bully … Kids can do STEM science … Kids can do anything.
“Rosella Bird’s nightly dreams are filled with flying. Too bad her waking hours are a living nightmare:
Her flying inventions crash.
Her kooky parents are overprotective.
Her singing shatters windows.
The principal bans her from the science fair.
Worst of all, she lives next door to Frank Furter, an evil boy-genius whose sights are set on seeing her fail! Rosella is the girl least likely to soar, and yet when she learns to sing something incredible takes flight. Rosella becomes Song Bird, a flying superhero who saves the day.
Can Song Bird defeat Frank Furter’s evil bullying ways?”
Why did you write a Superhero novel?
A: Readers of my Super Space Kid series (Jo-Kin Battles the It AND Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra) requested I write a superhero action adventure for girls. They wanted the main character and her side-kick to be heroic kick-ass girls. Rosella Ava Bird is a bullied girl who dreams of flying. Her side-kick, Amy Hillcrest, a super smart girl with cerebral palsy revels as a positive role model for diversity and disability, crushing stereotypes. Both girls excel with girls-can-do-anything and STEM science.
B: Song Bird is inspired by my real childhood events. I was bullied terribly in Year 6, losing my self-confidence. Each night I dreamed I could fly to escape my bully. I discovered my super powers when I sang in the choir and dabbled in science.
What are the rules of the superhero sub-genre?
A superhero battles against a super villain as he/she strives to keep the world safe. Super heroes and super villains co-exist in a supernatural world, a familiar world, but much darker than ours. The story begins with an inciting incident, when an ordinary person is initiated into being a superhero. In Song Bird Superhero it was from the accidental bite of a crimson Rosella. Rosella Ava Bird must then learn how to control her super powers. Eventually, Song Bird Superhero becomes the ultimate force of good, saving the world, and her school with her super powers.
What are challenges did you face writing Song Bird superhero?
- To create an original superhero with new superhero powers, appealing to children. Song Bird gains her superpowers from singing, science and self-belief.
- Explain Song Bird’s super powers by Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths in a fun easy-to-understand way.
- To create a relatable evil opponent, Frank Furter as the evil boy genius. Kids immediately identify Frank as the nasty school bully, who calls them names and trips them over.
What are the Top Tips in writing a superhero adventure for children?
a. Create an appealing superhero. Make sure your hero saves someone/ something in the very first scene to create empathy from the reader. Add lots of FUN humour. Give your superhero and her side-kick positive heroic qualities to inspire kids. Readers want to connect with the characters emotionally, not just observe their physical amazingness. That means giving them a full range of emotions and an interior life, people they care about, obstacles and goals.
b. Create super cool and interesting superpowers. But not so complex that we can’t quickly grasp what your character can do. Readers of this genre expect characters to do amazing and unusual things, but they don’t want to have to take a crash-course in physics before they can understand what’s happening.
c. Create a FUN super villain that we LOVE to hate. Make them as powerful as the superhero, adding to the conflict and tension. What powers does the villain possess? How do the villain and the hero interact?
d. Explain the superhero’s super powers by STEM science. Research scientific explanations on how superpowers work. Use simple yet engaging language to explain these powers.
e. Create a super world where the superhero and his nemesis exist. What are the rules to this world? Ask yourself: How is your super world the same and different to a real world?
f. Create FUN names for your characters. ie Rosella Ava Bird AKA Song Bird, Ms Bamboozle the school principal, Frank Furter the villain and Perry Poopa, his evil side-kick.
FREE Teacher Resources and kids’ activities for Song Bird!
Includes STEM science, creative writing, flying history, art, craft, maths, literacy, drama, social skills and bully prevention. Download HERE.
Song Bird Superhero by Karen Tyrrell is now available on Amazon HERE.
Song Bird Book Giveaway
Let’s celebrate the release of Song Bird Superhero by Karen Tyrrell on Amazon. Comment below to win a signed “Limited Edition” copy of Song Bird Superhero. Giveaway closes on October 20. Good luck!
Answer this question: Why do you want to win a copy of Song Bird Superhero?
Thanks Karen! All the best with Song Bird Superhero!
Ever had to create a series outlines for kidlit books? That’s the subject of today’s post, and it’s what I’ve been busy working on since my last one.
I’ve been writing hard since the CYA Conference a month ago. When I say writing hard, I don’t mean in the word count sense. I’ve been strategising, plotting, and weaving!
Conference Follow Up
I had a ball at CYA this year.
- It was the first time I volunteered, which was a fun experience. Such a great team.
- I entered my WIP Winifred Weatherby Saves the Century in the Middle Grade competition and it won second place.
- The cash prize was nice, but what really excited me was the request for a full from the judge, an editor at a major AU publishing house. Looks like it’s time to move Winnie from the back burner to the hot plate …
As much as I love the writing and business sessions at CYA, what I appreciate most at this stage of my writing career is the opportunity to meet publishing professionals face-to-face. As always, I take advantage of CYA’s editor sessions. I pitched a couple of my manuscripts to four Australian editors and got lots of encouraging feedback and a few requests.
One editor who liked The Temple of Lost Time asked for a series outline. She rightly pointed out that taking on a series is a big commitment for a publisher. They need proof that the story can be sustained before they’ll think about taking it on.
I’ve never done a formal series outline before, and the Internet is curiously silent about how to do it for middle grade books. What I’ve learned over the past five weeks mostly through trial and error is this: outlining a series is hard work, but it’s valuable work.
Time to Rethink My System
As a plotting pantser (or pantsing plotter, not sure which. A plantser?), the scaffolding for my story is erected before I start writing the first draft, and I build as I go. I have a mud map in my head about what happens when. I keep an ever-expanding notebook of ideas and to-dos in OneNote. This system has worked brilliantly for stand-alone stories, but a series needs more cohesion.
A series outline forces the writer to build cohesion into the plan. The weft of plot is woven onto the warp of theme. Or maybe a better way of saying it is the outline lets your discover the warp of theme. Either way, it’s really helpful work, but it’s challenging.
After lots of research and tinkering, I decided to include the following elements in my series outline:
- A series premise (one to two sentences)
- A list of the titles in reading order
- World-building notes (I wrote about 600 words for a three-book Gaslamp fantasy series, ~60K each)
- Mini-synopses for each book (two to three short paragraphs)
- A table of Story Elements [External and internal goals, setting, MDQ (Major Dramatic Question), genre-specific elements]
- A table of Characters [I based my list loosely on the Hero’s Journey because it’s a quest book]
The tables display how the elements and characters develop across the series. This was really helpful for me. It also lets you see who might be superfluous or who’s getting too much airtime or if there’s a thread that hasn’t been tied up.
If the series outline is for your personal use, go ahead: flesh it out as much as you want. But if you’re sending it to an agent or editor, pare it back. It has to be inviting, and there’s no turn off bigger than a tome of unnecessary text.
I honed in on the main story and ignored all my tasty subplots. It’s tempting to over-explain, but don’t. You want editors to read the outline and get the gist of your story in a couple of pages. You’ll probably be sending a sample of the MS, so let it do the talking about your style and level of complexity in your story.
Over to You
What do you think about my series outline? Would you include anything else? Or omit anything I’ve suggested?
Here’s where I gleaned some ideas:
Here’s Ali’s Kidlit Series Outline Template (PDF) for you to use. Leave a comment or get in touch with the contact form on my About pages if you’d like a Word version .
All images are CC.0, Public Domain
Spilling Ink has had a facial! A new colour palette, a new header image, and some jazzy fonts. There’s nothing like a make-over to make you feel fresh and pretty.
Art Work Attribution
The new header image is the creation of German artist Mystic Art Design, and amazingly, it is designated Creative Commons CC0, Public Domain! I was thrilled to find such a lovely work that captures the whimsy and wonder of children’s literature. I did contact the artist to find out his or her name, but it seems they prefer anonymity.
I’ve carried the theme across to all my major social media platforms! I’ve taken advantage of the email option that goes with my custom domain, so now instead of Ali (at) hotmail (dot) com, it’s me (at) ali-stegert (dot) com. This branding refresher was in preparation for the CYA Writers’ Conference in Brisbane, where memorable business cards are an asset.
What do you think? Have I managed to convey whimsy and a love of children’s literature?
According to Amazon, Gaslamp fantasy is “historical fantasy set in a magical version of the Nineteenth Century.” While its first cousin Steampunk emphasizes mechanics, science and steam power, Gaslamp plays with magical possibilities. Check out my exposé of the genre on Spilling Ink.
This anthology includes spinoffs of Dickens and references to real people of the Victorian era. Queen Vicki herself gets a cameo in at least two stories. One of her prime ministers, Benjamin Disraeli, stars in The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown while William Morris, textile designer, poet, translator and social activist, takes the stage in the story For the Briar Rose. This is definitely one of those books that whets your thirst for more information. I have a brand new fascination with both Morris and Disraeli and can’t wait to see where these rabbit holes lead me!
I listened to the audio version of this book. It’s one I wish I had read instead. Three of the stories are epistolary, which sometimes doesn’t lend itself to audio. The performance by narrator Kelly Lintz was fine, but it’s a book to dip into again and again. I will probably end up buying a physical copy for my shelves.
The list below includes what I felt were the standout stories:
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells
by Delia Sherman (Epistolary – entries in a young Victoria’s diaries as she learns magic)
by Veronica Schanoes (Some very interesting social history here.)
The Vital Importance of the Superficial
by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stervener (Epistolary, and superbly done.)
A Few Twigs He Left Behind
by Gregory Maguire (A fascinating epilogue of Scrooge)
Maguire’s offering in particular left me hankering for more of his writing (which surprised me because Wicked (the book) was not a big winner with me). I will also seek out works by Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. Book one of the Tremontaine series has been ordered…
A Funny Little Aside…
I saw a newsworthy post on Facebook about Australian illustrator Kathleen Jennings, whom I met a couple of months ago at a SCBWI meeting in Brisbane. I have since followed her blog and have become a fan of her gorgeous artwork. She does amazing paper cuts, water colours and pen and ink pieces. She’s a very talented woman—and super-interesting, too.
So a couple of days ago on FB, I saw that her art was selected for a prestigious New York City art show, Point of Vision: Celebrating Women Artists in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I contacted her to ask if it would be okay to share her news and maybe a photo from her feed with the SCBWI ANZ network. She said yes, but the photos weren’t hers; they belonged to Ellen Kushner.
“No problem,” I said (ignorantly). “I’ll see what I can do.”
A little backstory before I go on: I’ve recently stepped into a new marketing and communications role, so I contacting “Ellen” to seek permission to use the photos was par-for-the-course. I searched for and found Ellen on Facebook and sent her a request. As you do (?)
The next morning on my drive to work, I was listening to my audio version of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, and a new story started. The Vital Importance of the Superficial by … Ellen Kushner.
Hang on, I thought. Ellen Kushner, like … the lady I messaged last night?
Yep. Oh man. How weird is that? (How weird am I!?)
Anyway, enough with the weirdness. Check out Kathleen’s website. She regularly posts her art and thoughts. Congratulations to her for her achievement of a showing in NYC.
Here are a couple of the covers Kathleen did for Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine Series. Aren’t they gorgeous? I’ve downloaded book one for a little sample.
Genre choices are the most important decisions you need to make. –Shawn Coyne
Distinguishing sub-genres is important when you’re trying to pin down the genre of your own work. On the importance of genre choices, Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, says:
“Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up your book… Deciding what Genre(s) your story will inhabit will also tell you exactly what you need to do to satisfy your potential audience’s expectations. Genre will tell you the crucial conventions and obligatory scenes you must have in your novel. …If you fail to abide by your Genre’s requirements, you will not write a story that works.” (45-46, emphasis mine)
Anybody can slap together a readable story. But to write a story that is satisfying (and, Coyne would add, commercially successful) an author has to know their genre and stick to its conventions. Miss one element and your readers will notice even if only on a subconscious level.
Writers must know mandatory scenes of their genre:
- If a detective novel starts with anything other than a dead body, it will flop.
- If a superhero doesn’t battle an equally super villain, the story will fizzle.
- Skip the torture-laden face-off between the antagonist and the hero in a thriller and readers won’t be thrilled—they’ll be miffed
- A Gothic romance better have an ingenue, a sprawling manor (or equally impressive architecture) and a rampant lunatic or it just won’t work.
Writers must know the conventions of their genre. For example, murder mysteries include the following conventions:
- A dead body
- A sleuth of some permutation
- A cast of extras, including a prime suspect, a ‘Watson,’ a witness, etc.
- Clues and ‘red herrings.
It would be handy if every genre and sub-genre had its own bible of conventions and obligatory scenes. Until that happens, writers are advised to read widely. The more intimately you know a genre, the better the feel you will have for its requirements.
Here are a couple of wonderful resources I’ve dipped into through the years–or that I’ve found and earmarked for future use. I hope you find these books and online resources helpful.
- The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shaun Coyne and Stephen Pressfield
- TV Tropes is another good resource. Self-described as the ‘all-devouring pop culture wiki,’ it covers a lot more than TV
- Joanna Penn’s interview of genre-crossing author Libbie Hawker on writing Genre and Literary Fiction
- Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Narrowing this list down was really hard. I’ve included a few titles from the masters…
- Best Fantasy Books (website) breaks down sub-genres, analysing things like level of magic, grand ideas, plot complexity, and more
- A Tough Guide to Fantasyland (book) by Dianna Wynne Jones is described as, “…both a hilarious send-up of the clichés of the genre and an indispensable guide for writers.”
- What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank by Krista D Ball
- The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference (book) by Terry Brooks et al
- The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (book) by A Manguel and G Guadalupi
- Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy: How to Create Out-of-this-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card
- Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitch’s Guide to Romance Novels (book) by Sarah Wendell
- Everything of Interest to a Romance Writer (website)
- Historical Research Companion of Everything of Interest to a Romance Writer (book) by Melissa Johnson
- The Sherlock Holmes Book (DK Books) includes flowcharts of Holmes’s process of deduction
- The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing a Modern Whodunnit (book) by William Tappley
- The Crime Writer’s Reference Guide (book) by Martin Roth
- Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea by Terry Breverton includes historical and fantastical information…
Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susan Alleyn
KateTattersall.com is a website dedicated to a YA series about a Victorian girl spy. Author RS Flemming offers an mind-blowing range of information about the Victorian era and more. I returned to the site a number of times while writing my Gaslamp Fantasy.
Superhero | Comics
- The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios. This cool resource is helpful for crafting villains and heroes that fly (rather than flop).
Maybe you have a favourite genre resource! If so, do tell! Please leave a comment.
Book Covers from GoodReads, Fair Use
Cuppa-Sunshine Photo Montage by Mystic Art Design, CC0, Public Domain