Author: Karley Conklin

Learning to Think In Pictures

Picture-Driven Stories: Learning to Think in Pictures

“A picture book illustrator needs to tell a story with pictures. A picture book author needs to show the same story with words.”Jean Matthew Hall 

When I attended last year’s Write2Ignite conference, I went to Jean Matthew Hall’s discussion, What is a Picture Book. One of her main points was that a true picture book tells the story through both the illustrations and the words. Without either, the story would be incomplete.

When the illustrations build the story, rather than merely reflecting the words, it adds a layer of magic and delight to the book. But while it’s easy to recognize that pictures and words work together to make great stories, it’s sometimes hard to write a book designed to be accompanied by images (especially if you aren’t an illustrator). In order for pictures to help tell the story, the words have to leave enough unsaid.

As a beginning picture book writer, I struggle to leave details unsaid. My brain wants to describe everything, leaving no creative space for a future illustrator. The words feel like the heavy-lifters, so I don’t want to leave too much work for the pictures to do. I struggle with deciding what to show with my words, and what to leave for the pictures to tell.

What has helped me to look at my story drafts differently is reading picture-driven stories.

Picture-driven stories remind me that the words don’t have to do all the work. The illustrations are capable of taking on a larger role than I give them credit for.

One great example of this is Watersong by Tim McCanna. In this beautifully illustrated book, the words are entirely onomatopoeia. They are poetry, providing the sound track to the story told in the images. A fox runs through a storm, and though not a word is said about the fox, the reader is engaged by his experience.  The overall tone is heartwarming and satisfying. This is a story that had to be told in pictures; words simply could not have produced the same effect. Reading it reminded me that sometimes, simplicity in words creates the perfect atmosphere for imagination.

The opportunity pictures provide for imagination is even better seen in wordless picture books. I didn’t realize this genre existed until I began working at a library where patrons asked for help finding them. One fun example I found is Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman. (I was on a rainy-day kick this week). In this book, a young boy all alone in a big house finds a key, which leads him to explore and to find unexpected friends. Told in colorful images, the story guides the reader through the action and curiosity but leaves space for us to imagine as well. What is the boy feeling, thinking, saying? All that is left to our interpretation.

As a writer focused on words, reading a story without a single sentence in it lets me exercise a muscle I don’t usually use.

The advantage of reading books where the story is told mostly or entirely in images is that it trains my brain to think differently. They teach me to think in pictures. Suddenly, I’m not hearing my story being told; I’m seeing it. My narrative becomes a Pixar short film in my mind rather than a podcast.

Without steeping myself in the power of illustrations, it’s hard to let go of my pet narrations and descriptions. Cutting away the unnecessary details becomes easier when I’m reminded of the beauty of discovering the story visually. Wordless picture books like Rainstorm and picture-driven stories like Watersong help me to experience the capabilities of pictures. They teach me to be a better writer by showing me what I don’t need to write.

What are some of your favorite picture books? Do you think their stories are more word-driven or picture-driven?

 

writing

Writing Resources: Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams

“This book is for you–the person who wants to be published or grow in your writing craft  . . . My desire is for your writing to thrive and move into a higher gear after you read these pages.” (W. Terry Whalin, pp. 20)

Writing for publication is a skill that must be learned, and one of the best ways to learn is to go to the experts. Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams by W. Terry Whalin offers solid advice in clear, easy-to-digest sections which motivate you to work toward your goals.  At the end of each chapter, Whalin includes Dig Deeper lists of additional resources that elaborate on the subjects he discusses. He also offers questions for reflection and challenges you to take action based on what you’ve learned. Whalin aims throughout the book to help you define and achieve your goals as a writer, and in doing so, he creates an informative, encouraging text that you’ll want to keep ready at hand. 

Here’s a sneak peek of what Whalin has to say:

Fittingly enough for a book focused on achieving dreams, Whalin spends chapter two discussing the importance of making a plan for your writing. This chapter grabbed my attention the first time I read it because it makes two very convicting points.

First,

Whalin asks us to consider what our Time Wasters are, listing among them emails, family interruptions, and even writing opportunities. He explains, “Whether you have several hours a day or a full day to accomplish your writing goals, it is easy to fill those hours with ‘good things’ that do not help you move toward the fulfillment of those goals” (pp. 32). As an expert procrastinator, this line stung me a little. Whenever I sit down to write, there are a million other to-dos floating through the back of my mind. All of them seem more important, or at least equally important to the task at hand. But at the end of the day, time set aside for writing needs to be set aside for writing. If we want to accomplish our goals, we have to be willing to make them a priority. And that means sometimes, it’s okay to say no to other opportunities, even good opportunities. Our writing is worth devoting our full attention to, even if it requires a little sacrifice.

Second,

Whalin reminds us to make consistent short-term goals. Big-hairy goals, as a professor of mine used to call them, are great. Necessary, even. Dreaming big inspires our writing, helping us to believe in the possibilities. Short-term goals, however, make those big-hairy dreams achievable. Whalin explains that the key to being productive is to continually set smaller goals and follow through with them. Every small milestone brings you a step closer to your destination. While writing a 500 page novel can be daunting to consider, writing 5 pages a day is a manageable plan. And over time, the consistent effort of 5 pages a day will create the finished novel that was so intimidating at the beginning.

These tidbits of wisdom barley scratch the surface of all you’ll find in this book. Every chapter brings with it more applicable information, getting deeper as you go through.

So How Would I Rate This?

I give Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams 5 out of 5 jumping goldfish. 

This book is designed to be put into practice. Whalin’s conversational tone, real-life examples, and calls to action make the book engaging, and the advice is easy to understand and apply.  Reading each chapter left me with the same feeling I get when I leave a writer’s conference: I just can’t wait to get started. I hope you’ll add a copy to your shelf, and if you do, I hope you learn as much from this book as I did. 

One final question before you go. What is one short-term goal you have for your writing, or that you’d like to set for your writing today?

 

Whalin, W. Terry. Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams: Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success. WTW Press, 2009.

 

Finding Your Writing Voice

Find Your Writing Voice Through Guide Poets

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw

As writers, we tend to strive for originality. We don’t want our work to be a copy of someone else’s; we want to write words that are unique. But what if I was to tell you that you should imitate other writers? Would you believe me if I said that mimicry can help you write more authentically? The fact is, every one of us has authors who influence the way we write, and by studying those authors, we learn how to grow in the areas we care about most. Guide poets can lead the way as you find your writing voice.

So What is A Guide Poet?

A guide poet, put simply, is a writer whose voice resonates with your own. Think of your guide poet as a kindred spirit. In their works, you’ll find a style that matches the tone of your words or a way of thinking that speaks to you. Their writing will sound like something you would say. This isn’t just an author you like; it’s an author you understand and who you feel understands you, although you’ve never met.

How to Find Your Guide Poets

Choosing guide poets is a bit like choosing friends: it’s a mix of chance and intentionality. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start with your nightstand-The collection of books you keep ready at hand are a great indicator of your current interests. Make a stack of the books you always have nearby; the books you list off as your favorites and the ones you reread often. Even though not all of your favorite authors are guide poets, chances are your guide poets will be found among your favorite authors.
  2. Evaluate your collection— Look at each of the books in your stack and consider why you’re drawn to them. Do you like them just because they’re fun to read or you learned from them? Or, do they connect with you on a deeper level? If you find yourself underlining whole passages of a text or thinking “I wish I’d written that,” then you may have found a writing guide.
  3. Pick your guides–Ultimately, who your guide poets are boils down to who you want them to be. If you feel like you connect with a bunch of different writers, focus on the ones you’d most like to emulate. Find the ones who best match the goals you have for yourself and make them your models.

 How Your Guides Help You Find Your Voice

Once you find authors whose voices resonate with your own, who you feel connected to and want to learn from, it’s time to consider how they can help you find your voice. There are two main ways these writers can help.

First, Defining Your Voice:

Guide poets can help you decide what you want your voice to sound like. Your writing voice is the underlying tone and message that weaves through everything you put on the page. It’s the flavor that makes your writing distinct, and it stems from both the way you write and the reason you write. Guide poets help you define your voice by helping you recognize the aspects of writing you are most focused on.

When you read the work of the authors who influence you, take note of why you connect with them. Do you love the way they write characters? Is their message something you care about too? Make a list of the different characteristics you admire in their work and then compare it to your own writing. As you begin to find overlap between your style and goals and theirs, you can start to put into words the characteristics of your voice.

For example, studying my guide poets (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Joyce, and Annie Dillard) helped me realize that one of my main goals in writing is to take small, simple parts of life and show the value and wonder to be found in them. I realized I love books with lots of description, color, and light, and so these were aspects that I wanted to focus on in my projects.

Second, Developing Your Voice:

Guide poets can also help you develop your voice through imitation. By mimicking the aspects of your guide poet’s style which resonate with you, you can test out different parts of your voice. You aren’t giving up your uniqueness, but rather using similar authors to learn the skills you need to grow. In taking on the style of another, we can’t help but make it our own. That’s why a thousand different poems can be written in the same form without becoming the same poem. The guide poets simply become a shell, an outline, that we fill with our own color and design.

Here’s a simple exercise to try.  Give yourself 30 minutes to write as much as you can in the voice of one of your guide poets. By putting on their style for a moment, you’ll exercise your creative muscles in the areas you desire to develop.

 

At the end of the day, God has gifted each of us differently. Your story is distinct from all others; your voice is unique to you. The influence of others doesn’t take away our ability to find our own tune, but rather enhances our ability by offering us a chance to sing in harmony.  When we learn from guide poets,  we take what is offered to us and make it into something new.  In them, we find both mentors that guide us as we find our voices and friends who make the journey easier to travel.

So who are some of the guide poets in your writing journey?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

Book Nook: By Way of Introduction

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. —Natalie Goldberg

Hello everyone,

My name is Karley Conklin, and I’m a new blogger for Write2Ignite.

I’ve been able to attend Write2Ignite on four different occasions, and I must say, it’s been one of the best parts of my writing journey. The first time I participated in the conference, I was a timid high school senior, with no experience and no idea what to expect. Despite my fears, the conference planted in me a grain of confidence. As I introduced myself to editors and agents, I began to see myself as more than just a dreamer. Professionals in the publishing world were offering me consistent encouragement and affirmation, and I left the event feeling certain I was called to write.

Since then, I’ve graduated college with an Interdisciplinary Literature and Christian Studies degree—which is to say that my writing has sadly fallen to the back-burner. Though I’ve yet to publish the middle-grade novel I wrote four years ago, I’ve still managed to keep my creativity simmering, through editing, through smaller writing projects, and most of all, through reading.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a lit major (and now part-time librarian) would be an advocate for reading as much you can. Even though I’m biased, I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn to write well. In every book, we find examples of what works and what doesn’t. We find lessons in the flow of language, the nature of plot and setting, and the magic of character development. Reading allows us to observe the art we hope to master, and observation is a powerful tool.

My blog posts in the upcoming months will focus on sharing with you the best books on writing I can find. Mixed in with these textbooks of the trade, I’ll add reviews of children’s literature to encourage you to keep honing your observational skills.

I look forward to learning and growing with you all and hope that you’ll share your thoughts with our Write2Ignite community.

Since you now know all about me, I’d love to hear a little about you. What’s one of your favorite books, one that has inspired you or challenged your thinking?

(Mine would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, but more on her later.)

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. Her fondness for books borderlines obsession, as she engages in not only writing and editing, but also in book-binding. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

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