Friday, March 28, 2014

Trade Secrets

When I started writing for children, I was quick to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Over the years, I've found the members of this not-so-secret society to be wonderfully kind and helpful.

However, it wasn't long after I became a card carrying “Skibwee”, that a strange “fella” called out to me from a darkened door jamb.

“Pssst, hey you!”


“Yeah. You a children’s writah?”

“Um… yeah.”

“You got any, uh, muddahs you want iced?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Muddahs! You don’t know about the muddahs? You must be wet behind the eaahs!”

My ears were dry, but they were listening. “You have my attention,” I said as I fingered the pepper spray in my pocket.

“Well, a lotta good children’s book charactahs got a lotta dead muddahs. You know what I’m tawkin’ about — Bambi, Cinderella, Annie, Dorothy, Snow White… Harry Pottah! And, well, I’m the one who does the job."

I rolled my eyes. “Voldemort killed Harry’s mom.”

“Voldemoht gets all the credit, but it was me… It’s ALWAYS me.”

That’s when I noticed the violin case.

He puffed himself up a little and went on. “Let’s just say, it’s a service I provide. So if you got any muddahs in a book that you want swimmin’ wit da fishes, jes’ lemme know.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I turned and moved on. Fast. My head was reeling. Good grief, he was right… So many great stories… So many dead moms.

But why?

That’s when it hit me — if an author wants to achieve maximum sympathy for a character in minimum time, a mom’s got to go. And that’s because we all instinctively know that the saddest, most awful event possible in a young child’s life is the loss of a parent.

I shook the thoughts from my head and picked up speed. Then I heard him again.

“Hey! You got a dawg in your book?”

I stopped.

“Ya know what they say — if you’re a dawg in a middle grade novel, your days are numbahd…

Anyways, talk to my cousin, Sal —

The dawgs are his job."

PROMPT: Take a fresh look at great stories with an ice cold eye. What makes them work? What are the parts that hold your attention? Make you laugh? Make you cry? Why?

And by the way, if you want to write or illustrate for children, join SCBWI (but watch out for you-know-who).

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