Friday, February 14, 2014





  • an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. 
  • a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. 


  • offset or compare the value of (one thing) with another.

Balance is not a word that is foreign to any of us.  Whether you are talking about a life vs career balance, or a literal yoga balance, we all get it.

  • Don't fall 
  • Stay focused 
  • Don't let anyone else fall.  

And you'll be fine!

Balance can be found in nature. 

Balance can be created from nature. 

These are awesome, I know.  I'm totally going to try rock balancing once it warms up around here

Balance can be  used as a way to pass the time in your Australian private school (you should click on this one, it's a little ridiculous, but I kind of wish I had been part of it.) 

Let's face it, balancing can be exhausting and terrifying...
where is this guy's mother?

...but if we do it right, it can create a calming, peaceful effect on us and those around us. 

So what, you rightfully ask, does this have to do with children's stories?
Well, intelligent friend of mine, I am glad you brought that up!

Point #1

Visual Balance

There are several things that can be done as an author and illustrator to improve your reader's experience. Not least of which is balance.

The appearance of your pages must give some semblance of balance.  Let's think waaaaayyyy back to the yoga guy (five sentences up). There is a center and a balance to this photo that is relaxing, calming.  For those of you following along, you'll remember I have mentioned the reader's experience before. Well, here it is again. (must be important.)

There is a classic children's book that shall remain nameless, but includes a small choo choo that may or may not make it over the mountain unless some help arrives quickly.

I often wonder if the author of this great story composed his own pages, or if they were composed by his publisher. For those of you who are not familiar, or aware of my subtleties as to which book I'm referring to, each page is comprised of great images of kids and candy and trains. It is one emotional roller coaster after another for small kids.

     Will they make it over the hill? 

           Will the kids get their food and good candy to eat?

Ahhhhh! The suspense! My three year old brain is going to explode!

Yet it contains one major downfall, each page starts a sentence and each page makes you turn the page to finish the sentence. Start sentence, turn page, finish sentence.

Once upon a time there were three...(turn page) bears.

There is no time to linger and absorb the pictures, or let little minds ask questions or point out the things that excite them. Nope, must finish the sentence and plow through the book as fast as possible!  In my house this leads to a lot of, "Wait Mom, just go back, I just have to show you one thing!"Mary had a little lamb who's fleece.... (turn page)  was white as snow.

Now I don't care if your story is about how Mother Nature allows wolves to befriend (read: eat) little bunnies. The actual meaning of the words has very little to do with my point here.  Take for example, a page like the one below. You can see how your eye is drawn to certain portions of the picture. The sentence starts and ends. Your eye moves across the page before you even know what the words say - there is a natural movement. This is no accident folks.  This is art.  Beautiful art none... (turn page)   -the-less.

Although it's safe to assume that most authors are not illustrating their own stuff, I'd like to think it's a collaborative proces. So, for this team, a few things to keep in mind:
  • color balance
  • words vs. images
  • symmetry

Point #2

Cut out all the extra stuff!

The best way to achieve life balance is to evaluate what is most important to you and get rid
of all the stuff that isn't. I have to admit, I'm not very good at this.  When I start to feel like I have a little extra time, I immediately fill it up, and usually with long term projects.  This means that two months later, I'm again feeling like a plate spinner, desperately trying to get rid of something and put down some of those proverbial plates. 

So if you too are feeling overwhelmed, clean up your life, gain some relaxation time. Set down some of those plates on the table in front of you. Get your family or friends together and eat a meal off of those plates. Hopefully there wasn't food on the plates when you were spinning them, that could get messy. You don't want egg on your face.  But then again I guess life is messy at times so maybe putting down a plate before you are ready to put down a plate will make a mess... this analogy is going downhill very quickly so I am abandoning it. I am setting down my plate balancing plate.

The same goes for your writing. Cleaning up a story is one of the hardest things to do. The editing process (which we will talk more about later) is one of the hardest and most important things you can do for your book. This is true of children's books, novels, screen plays, etc.  The extra stuff will cause you (and others) to loose site of your point very quickly. Extra details do not always help and extra words can be your worst enemy.  

When I figure out a formula for eliminating all the junk from a story, I promise to share, but until then... it's a process.  A long process.  

In the end, you will be a better writer.  Guaranteed.

Keep asking yourself why - why did my character do that? Why do I need that sentence? Why did he run and hide if he wasn't scared? 
If you can't answer intelligently, then my guess is that whatever it is, is worth cutting and will make your story stronger in the end. Sometimes that's a sentence, sometimes an entire paragraph, sometimes an entire side plot.  

You will find your story to be more balanced (and improve the reader's experience) when you: 
  • Stick to your point
  • Stay true  to your characters 
  • Leave out unecessary fluff

Good luck and happy writing! 

... and reading, hopefully for all of you non-writers reading this blog, you are gaining a greater appreciation for what you are reading as well.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's All About Presentation

This                         or                            this? 

I know I wouldn't want to eat #1 if #2 was an option. 

This                        or                       this? 

I don't care if #2 is a single cookie, I'd pick that over #1 any day.

This                            or                               this? 

 I suppose this one depends on if you are at a job interview to be a lawyer or... a peacock?

It's all about presentation.

My four year old said (read: yelled) to me this morning, "Mom! you forgot my backpack. And my water bottle!" I calmly informed her that we had not discussed bringing her backpack today (because she had nothing to carry) and why in heaven's name would I assume she needed her water bottle?
To which she responded, "Because you're my maaaa-ahm" dripping with as much attitude and consternation as a four-year-old can possibly muster.

This lead to a discussion that I like to call:
It's all about presentation.

If she would have said "Mom, my backpack is at home and I really wanted it today." I may have responded with something like, "oh sweetie, that is too bad. We'll remember to bring it tomorrow." In short, it would have gone way better and not invoked mild forms of irrational rage where all I wanted to do was yell " NUH UH, YOU FORGOT YOUR STUPID, UGLY BACKPACK!!!" which clearly, would have gotten me nowhere.

(This is not the actual ugly backpack.)

skill #437: 
As a conversator, (the party of the first part) never start by blaming 
the conversatee (the party of the second part) for something they had no 
way of knowing they did wrong.

You've all been here - maybe not with four-year-olds who are learning basic communication skills, but it happens all the time.  Your boss, holding a custard filled doughnut, comes over to your desk in the morning and says, 
        "Hey what you said in the meeting yesterday about (insert seemingly brilliant idea here), yeah, that's never going to work and you shouldn't spend any more time on it. You should really run these things by me before embarrassing yourself like that."
And then takes a bite of the doughnut.

But if he would have brought two doughnuts and said,
        "You clearly put a lot of time into that (seemingly brilliant idea) however I'm not sure this is the best time to implement it.  Let's put it on the back burner for now and meet later this afternoon to discuss any other ideas you may have.  Here have a doughnut." He then hands you the doughnut and together you each take a bite of your yummy, yummy breakfast.

See? Even if you know he's lying through his teeth and he hates your stupid backpack, I mean idea, and is just trying to smooth things over so you don't quit. It's still much better because: 
It's all about presentation.

In life and in books.

Creating a consistent message across your book pages goes a long way when adults are deciding which kid books to pick up for the first second, and third time. 

Let me say that again: Adults decide which kid books to read. It sucks, I know. When it comes to first impressions, adults are now and always will be, your main audience.

If there are too many or too few words on a page, or worse - the words are hard to see in a dimly lit room at bedtime, (I'm talking to you Margaret Wise Brown) you are inadvertently creating a negative reading experience. If you pictures don't enhance your story or after six (out of seven) pages the princes is still trying to decide which dress to wear, you are creating a negative reading experience. Although it should go without saying, that is the last thing you want when creating the book. 
If your book is creating a negative experience, your book is not ready to be published.   Please take the extra time and make it better.  

Some things that matter:
  • An interesting, relevant title
  • Cover layout
  • Page layout (busyness of illustrations vs text)
  • Text color and size
  • Illustration content should enhance text
Unfortunately there is not one right way to do any of the things on this list, but there are many, many wrong ways. 

To all you parents searching for good books, and all you writers hoping to make their search a little easier, I wish you luck. 

May you only get and give pretty presents from here on out. 
And when you make spaghetti, a little green garnish and some French bread goes a long way. 

Thanks for reading