Further Reading — Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Asian woman reading at a tableIf you write picture books — or, really, any other kind of book — and you haven’t read Ann Whitford Paul’s excellent overview of the writing craft, then I highly recommend you get yourself to a bookstore or library and get yourself a copy!

It is packed with information, from her advice that before you start writing, you need to read, read, read, to creating characters, plotting and the basic three-act structure that most stories follow, making your writing as strong as it can be — it provides a complete breakdown of the process of writing a picture book.

Not only does she explain all the building blocks that go together to create a picture book, but she includes examples and best of all, many writing exercises at the end of each chapter that allow you to work through the steps and try for yourself whatever she has taught. When I was a kid in 4-H, we knew that we needed to “learn to do by doing” — Ann Whitford Paul knows that, too.

And, as I’ve said, much of the book can help writers for other age groups as well, although it’s geared for picture book writers. It’s really a course in writing contained in one affordable book.

Here’s the basic information about the book to help you find it:

9781582975566_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication

Author: Ann Whitford Paul

Publisher: Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009

ISBN:  9781582975566 (paperback)

Here’s a detailed review of the book from a top-notch children’s book editor, Harold Underdown (if you write for kids, and you’re not familiar with his site, this is one to bookmark!)

Here’s the Writer’s Digest page about the book, with the full table of contents and even an excerpt to read.

And here’s Ann Whitford Paul’s website (note that there’s a section of writing tips).

Happy reading! Happy writing!

Than or Then? A Grammar Owl Post

The Grammar Owl is clicking his beak and flexing his wings. He’s excited to be starting another year of posts about grammar and word usage questions.

Something both the Owl and I have noticed is that many people have trouble knowing when to use the word “then” and when to use “than.” It seems as though they see the words as twins, and can’t tell the difference. Which word is which?

We often see sentences like “I’d rather have ice cream then sour pickles.” They mean they prefer eating ice cream to eating sour pickles, but by using then, they’re actually (inadvertently) saying, “I’d rather eat ice cream first and have the sour pickles afterwards.”

But how does a person know to say “I’d rather have ice cream than sour pickles” instead?

It turns out that then and than aren’t identical twins. They’re more like fraternal twins. There is definitely a similarity, but if you know what to look for, you can tell them apart. Here’s the trick:

Than is used for comparisons. In the example above, we’re showing which food we prefer. We’re comparing the two. You can easily remember the connection of than and comparison because thAn is spelled with an A and so is compArison. “I like ice cream more than sour pickles.” Not “more then.”

Then is never used for comparisons. Then generally refers to time in some way. If it answers the question “When?” you use the word “then.” “I’ll go for a walk then reward myself with ice cream.” That isn’t a comparison. It is explaining when I will have the ice cream: after the walk.

Then is also used as a partner to “if.” “If I go for a walk, then I can have some ice cream.” In that case I’m not talking about the time I’ll have the ice cream, I’m talking about the condition I have to fulfill before I can justify the ice cream.

Comparison? A! THAN’s what to say.

If and when? Then use THEN.

I hope this has helped clarify when to use THAN and when to use THEN.

The Grammar Owl and I would love to answer your grammar and word use questions. Either pop us an email at mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com, replacing (at) with the @ symbol and (dot) with a . and removing the spaces. OR simply ask your question in the comments below.

The Importance of Reading to Writers

Study booksReading is crucially important — for kids, for adults, for writers. In my second-Friday-of-each-month series this year, I’m going to talk about the importance of reading for writers.

Most of us are used to reading for pleasure, and that’s important. We’re also used to reading to get information, such as when we read the paper, or research something online.

Reading to help hone our writing skills takes a different mind-set. We’re reading to try to analyze and understand how and perhaps why the writer of the book we are reading achieved the effect he or she did.

It’s slower, more thoughtful, more considered reading than is reading for pleasure. And it can help us enormously, if we develop the skills needed to do it effectively.

In the next several months, I’ll be posting about the skills, the tools, the process of reading to hone our craft. I’ll give lists of questions to ask yourself as you read. I’ll look at how we figure out what would be best to read, with all the books that are out there.

On the fourth Friday of each month, I’ll be recommending a writing craft book that will help you hone your skills further.

Here’s to a year of learning through reading.

For today, though, find a book you love or that inspires you and steep yourself in it over the weekend. We all need times when we let books speak to whatever we are feeling. Then imagine your book being someone’s go-to book, whether that is for comfort, or joy, or inspiration, or strength.

That is one of the joys of being a writer — of being able to offer that to a reader. That is something we all yearn for, and work toward, as writers. May we all someday know the joy of touching a reader’s heart in the way that person needed at that time.

Beth in script for blog