Monday, August 19, 2013

Guest Author Donna Galanti: 6 Things I Learned from My Editor in Writing a Children’s Book

By Donna Galanti, @DonnaGalanti

Please help me welcome Donna Galanti to the blog today to share a few tips about writing children's books. Though honestly, a lot of these can be applied to any novel and any age, so it's good stuff even if you don't write for children.

Donna Galanti is an International Thriller Writers Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She evaluates manuscript submissions as a first-reader for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, and writes middle grade and young adult. Her middle grade adventure fantasy is currently out on submission. Connect with her through her website: Donna has worked on several creative projects with developmental editor Kathryn Craft of Writing-Partner to find the power in her stories.

Take it away Donna...

Writing. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s a solitary game. We spend so much time writing alone, but to get published it benefits us to become part of a winning team made up of peers, mentors, and professionals.

A professional developmental editor can help you see the power in your story as well as improve your own self-editing. Here are some techniques that my editor has taught me about writing children’s fiction.

1. Voice and Opening

Watch for “breaking the fourth wall” like in Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family where the characters speak directly to the camera.

For example: “If you’re a kid reading this who thinks lightning is awesome, think again. Lightning can get you, and the story I’m about to tell you will change your world.”

In fiction writing this is called breaking the frame of the novel, and it gained popularity in children’s books from these types of television shows. In fiction, this style of oral storytelling can reveal an author feeling around for the voice in his story.

Tip: Rewrite this “breaking the fourth wall” section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told.

For example: “The creek raced along from the rain like a roaring monster. I wanted to go outside in the storm, but that would never happen if my grandfather had a say. He would never even let me near a window when there was lightning.”

2. Let it Resonate

Put the word conveying your most important concept at the end of the sentence or paragraph. The space after the period lets this word resonate for a deeper impact on the reader.

Compare: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland out back.

To: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but the storm had turned the yard into a muddy wasteland.

Oooh. “Muddy wasteland.” It resonates, doesn’t it?

Tip: Look for paragraphs or sentences where the important concept or heightened emotion is hidden in the middle then rearrange your sentences and/or words for the most powerful effect.

3. Choosing Your Point-of-View

First person: Choosing which point of view to write in changes the entire flavor of a book. Writing in the first person can be challenging as it requires you to carry one voice across the scope of a novel, but there are benefits to writing children’s books in the first person. You can create internal exposition allowing the reader to see the main character’s thoughts and keep us close to the character. It can also be a useful tool to hide things from the reader and increase suspense.This is often popular in young adult novels by authors like A.S. King and John Green.

Third person:Writing in third person can be limiting. It doesn’t present the opportunity to give us all of the main character’s thoughts, but it allows for an arena of secrets. The story can unfold from different angles adding heightened suspense because the characters aren’t aware of things the reader knows. This is more popular in middle grade such as the Harry Potter series.

Tip: Incorporating dialogue and body language subtext can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

4. Check “Kid” Language

This is especially important if writing in the first person as we see the world through the main character’s eyes. Question the use of poetic language versus what a child would say.

If your novel is written in the first person and your 10-year old protagonist watches a storm and notes “lightning seared the sky” then question using the word “sear”. Would a child that age use it? Probably not. Uncertain if you’re using the right vocabulary and language for your audience? I recommend the Children's Writer's Word Book by Alijandra Mogliner as a guide.

Tips: Watch for the use of trendy kid language. For example: “That’s fat. Cool. Rad. Dweeb. Chicks.” It could make your novel outdated in the future.

Also, question the use of adding technology, movies, books or other current trends that could date your work later. Think you need to add technology in a book for teens? Not so, unless it’s crucial to the plot. Read popular books in your genre and you may be surprised. Many seem timeless and for a reason. One of my favorite young adult authors, Joan Bauer, writes timelessly in her novels Rules of the Road and Hope Was Here, a Newbery Honor Book.

5. Choosing Imagery

Pick an image system and build on it while watching for overuse of multiple modifiers. Select which images are important to the scene, character development, and plot.

Compare: Artemio’s cloak hung down to his cracked, black leather boots.

To: Artemio’s cloak hung down to his cracked, leather boots.

If Artemio is a well-worn traveler then“cracked”and “leather”might feel important, but what does “black” add? Not much. It’s the author’s job to spotlight what’s important so the reader isn’t distracted with too many visuals that can remove him from the story.

Tip: Watch for repetitive imagery and build on it rather than using the same descriptive words over and over, keeping in mind that every image should relate to the plot.

For example, if a grove of trees looks like a graveyard of tombstones to a character then build on the “dead” and “stone” imagery of the trees throughout the story. Don’t use different images and have your character see the trees as comical wizards later on as it conflicts with the image theme.

6. Know Your Genre

Writing in the style of multiple genres across your book can demonstrate a prose ADD. Know the elements of your genre–whether picture book, middle grade, or young adult–and exhibit them in the opening pages. Read bestsellers and award-winning books (Michael L. Printz, Caldecott, Newbery medal winners) in your genre to reinforce its elements.

For example, if writing middle grade leave out the romance and aim for less reflective thought. Young adult readers wonder more about the world around them and their place in it, versus middle grade readers who tend to live life more in the moment. Whatever the age level you write for in children’s books, the main character should be solving the conflict and making decisions–not an adult.

Tips: Revive memories of being the age of your characters. Draw a picture of the neighborhood you grew up in, pin pointing details. Remember what you saw, what you felt, and how you reacted to events there and write them down.

Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Go back and read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.

Eavesdrop on kids at the mall or park and take notes on their conversation.

Have a kid in your target audience read your manuscript and point out language and actions that don’t ring true to them.

About A Human Element

One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.

Praise for A Human Element:
“Be afraid. Be very afraid. And be utterly absorbed by this riveting debut that had me reading till the wee hours of the night. A thriller star is born. Don’t miss A Human Element.” – M.J. Rose, international bestselling author

A Human Element is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author

“Lyrical and creepy, Donna Galanti’s A Human Element tugs on our heartstrings and plucks the gut-strings of horror. This debut thriller author is a true storyteller, highly reminiscent of Dean Koontz.” -Dakota Banks, award-winning author

Purchase A Human Element here:
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

Connect with Donna here:
Twitter, Facebook, Website


  1. Hi Janice, thanks so much for having me back on today! I hope in sharing what I've learned here that it can help others in their writing!

  2. Imagery, POV, and resonance... thank you! I don't write MG, but those work for me.

  3. Rachel, thanks! I think much of this can cross over to other genres too especially using a consistent image system. Yes, my editor, drilled into me RESONANCE. I write with it in mind now. :)

  4. Donna, this is great stuff for any author. I particularly liked resonance... need to keep an eye out for that in my next draft!

  5. Breaking the fourth wall seems to be a growing MG trend these days, at least based on the books I've been reading lately.

    I hope you're right about third person being more popular in middle grade. I prefer third person myself, but it seems as though every new MG book I pickup is first person.

  6. Hi Leslie, thanks! Yes, fortunately resonance is an easy technique to start seeing in your work to incorporate - easier than others, that is!

    Ken, the POV section is a guide of course and echoed by agents I know. However, yes indeed there are 1st person MG books and 3rd person YA books that are popular and good reads.

    One of my fave YA series written in 2rd person is the Ranger's Apprentice as we get inside so many more character heads and its more suspenseful. I think there a few things to keep in mind when deciding on POV such as:
    1. Which POV will help tell your story best?
    2. Knowing your genre and reading in it.
    3. Finding best seller books that are similar to what you are writing in the same genre and same POV, and deconstructing it to see why it worked and was successful.
    4. Trends can change - and faster than we can write! So go back to # 1-3. :)

  7. Ken, I typed too fast above, obviously that 2rd person is meant to be 3rd person. Or did I just invent a new POV? 2rd person! Maybe that's when the POV you're using is not working. :)

  8. This is some good information, very helpful tips. Thanks so much for sharing :-)

  9. Great tips, thanks for sharing, especially the one about breaking the fourth wall. I'd not heard that term before, but am familiar with the concept.

  10. Hi San, yes - this breaking the wall is popular in some books such as the Percy Jackson series. If done right it can work, but can be a challenge for new writers mimicking bestselling authors and trying to find their voice. Re-writing an opening like this deep from the character's POV can strengthen your own writing and confidence as a writer.

    Again, this is just one view and a guide based on information gleaned from chatting with authors and agents I know and working with a developmental editor.

  11. Excellent thoughts, Donna. Reinforces that good writers become great by rewriting.