Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Voice – What Is It?

VoiceThe challenges went well, though I did let some of my weekly goals lapse a bit. I never did get back to my novel or my nonfiction book. I would like to share how the challenges fit together and furthered my quest for perfect stories.

Jan. 12 to 18 was Meg Miller’s ReviMo ( and the first full week of the forum for 12×12 in 2014 ( Combining these two was such a natural fit, it was a little scary.

Start the Year Off Write 2014 (www.shannonabercrombie/my-blog/) has been a blast. And I love how the prompts provided by the guest bloggers have made for some fresh ideas. I highly recommend any writing prompts you can find.

This week, I’ve had a dastardly chest cold and have not been as productive as I’d like.

The one thing I seem to need to work on the most is my picture voice. “What is voice,” you ask. Ah, that is the $64,000 Question. Voice is what I lost with my cold. Haha.

Ask even a veteran writer, editor, or agent what voice is and you will get, first, a blank stare. Then you get a statement like “I don’t know, but I know a good voice when I hear one.” Then you’ll get attempts at explaining it through examples. Seriously.

The closest the dictionary comes to an explanation is “a range of sounds distinctive to one person.” That’s a start, I guess. But it’s so much more than that. And I’ll let you know when I find mine.

The general public seems to have the idea that writing picture books is easy. Get an idea. Write it down. Fine, but good luck getting children to listen to it or read it. I’m full of ideas. Heck, I’m even full of imagination and humor, but putting that on a page is one of the most difficult undertakings ever. My humor tends to come out cynical and more than a little off the wall. Okay, off the wall might work, but kids won’t get the cynicism.

So, how do we solve this myriad of problems. Mostly by word choice. I’m not, in any way, suggesting that we need to talk down to kids. In fact, I never once talked down to my children. What I am suggesting is that you have to engage your audience. (I’m not convinced that children have shorter attention spans. They’re just interested in different things than adults. Some adults have NO attention spans.) If you can engage children with six-syllable words (discombobulated comes to mind), all the more power to you.

The most important thing: show don’t tell. One of my current sentences reads:

Made no sense the sandwich delivery guy never came inside with the bags.

Okay, that’s a little telling. How about:

When the delivery guy arrived, Robbie woofed his best play bark. Why did the guy drop the sandwiches and run? Silly guy.

Better, but I almost doubled the number of words, so there must be a better way. But that’s what I’m talking about. It’s a constant search for the right combination of words to get the point across while your audience is still awake. And if you think that’s easy, …

Here’s to finding your voice!

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Running Start on 2014



So, after reflecting on 2013, my next step was to start making a plan for 2014. As with a lot of ideas that goal-oriented, it’s often advisable to break down the tasks into smaller increments and concentrate on one action at a time. Goals should be identifiable, quantifiable, and attainable.

Let me outline the goals I set for this past week and where they led me.

  1. Read and critique works of others. Check.
    • Read and reviewed a manuscript for a member of my online critique group.
    • Finished and reviewed Sarah Sullivan’s All That’s Missing. Highly recommended.
  2. Sign up for 12×12 in 2014 ( Check.
    • Signed up for gold level and participated a lot on Facebook group.
  3. Begin other challenges. Check.
  4. Revise a chapter a day for novel. No.
    • Well, that was overly ambitious, but I did get through three chapters.
  5. Advance on all current picture books and start thinking about new ones. Check.
    • Two canine-related and the rhymey one
  6. Progress on nonfiction book. No.
    • Note to self: Only 24 hours in a day.
  7. Work on getting registration ready for regional conference in March. Check.
  8. ADDED: Pay attention to new opportunities.       Check.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of details, but, again, there are only 24 hours in a day. Keeping track of all of this is helping me modify the goals for next week and make more plans. Hopefully, there’s some information in here that can be of help to other writers.

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Getting Down to Business

HappyNewYearWhere to start? Where to start?

As “they” say, it’s always best to start at the beginning.  And so, what the heck IS the beginning, considering I’m in the middle of a hundred different things?

I think “It was a dark and stormy night” is out.

So is “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

Even “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” is taken. Drat!

So, following the advice of several experts, including the incomparable Katie Davis(, I decided first to take stock of my writer-related accomplishments of 2013. Hey, even I am impressed after writing it all down. No wonder I’m tired. (And this doesn’t even take into account that I had a bout of shingles in August.

  • In January, I began a major revision to my middle grade novel, my baby that I’ve been working on for years. I’m happy to say the first pass through is completely finished and now I’m adding scenes and polishing.
  • In March, Sue Peters and I took over as co-regional advisors for Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia SCBWI. I feel like I’ll find my sea legs by the time our term is up. It’s a big job. I did get the privilege of conducting a meet and greet in West Virginia. What a wonderful, talented group of people. Part of that was a sneak peek at Sarah Sullivan’s amazing debut novel, All That’s Missing.
  • In August, Sue Peters and I attended and worked at the LA conference of the SCBWI. If you ever get the chance to attend, do it! This community will blow you socks off. Support up the wazoo. So much information I can’t possibly absorb it all.
  • Also in August (Can you tell August was a big month?), I purchased a suite of book review websites, Also still finding my sea legs on this.
  • In November, I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and came away with well more than 30 good ideas. And they’re still generating. Four of them are now rough manuscripts.
  • I read and reviewed 87 books, according to Goodreads.
  • I also continue work on a middle grade nonfiction book. I find having more than one project often keeps me from getting bored and lets some projects simmer when I get stuck.

So, what does all this mean?

  1. I can accomplish a lot if I keep myself organized.
  2. I’m learning a lot and always improving my skills.
  3. Goals, plans, and keeping organized are very, very important.
  4. 2014 is gonna be great!