February 12, 2020In Touch with Reality

If someone handed you a counterfeit twenty dollar bill, would you know?

Today all you need is a special pen to mark and identify a fake bill. Years ago the government trained special agents to be able to spot counterfeit bills. It was done by having them study real money so intensely that they could spot a phoney bill instantly when they saw it. Because those agents knew what the real thing looked like, they could spot the phoney version. Perhaps if the criminals studied the real thing more, they could make better fakes.

Illusion is based on reality. No matter if you are writing or drawing, your characters, settings and storylines must feel real to the reader. It doesn't matter if the story is fantasy or non-fiction. It doesn't matter if the art style is cartoony or realistic. Everything has to be solid. The "rules" of your story's world need to be consistent. Your characters will have personalities and traits that need to stay consistent throughout the story. If you don't do this, your story won't be believable and you will lose the illusion ... and readers, too, no doubt.

That means you need to be paying close attention to the real world by daily observing real life. The reality you live and work in every day. If you don't understand real life, you won't be able to "capture" it in your storytelling. You won't be able to create that illusion.

I believe the modern day vernacular for that is being "woke".

When you create a picture book, you will be describing characters and senarios in your story that need to feel real to your readers. Readers need to feel some connection to the characters ... they can love 'em or hate 'em. But if they don't feel anything, they won't be interested. You haven't done your job.

Maybe observing life is the wrong term ... experiencing life might be better.

If, as a child, you awoke in the middle of a stormy night with shadows dancing on the wall and the closet door creaked open and to this day you remember the terror you felt and how your heart pounded ... that was an experience! You remember it because of the strong emotional reaction it evoked. If you ever wrote a senario like that in a story, you could draw on those emotions you felt as a child. And if you do a skillful job of describing that experience, a child reading your story, in a warm well-lit room sitting safely by their mom or dad, would probably experience some of those same scary emotions ... you created a believable illusion ... you connected with a reader! Good job!

Now allow me to tell you a guaranteed way to fail miserably at making a children's book ... and how to perhaps turn it around ...

Your Aunt Jo's silly cat nearly destroyed her kitchen last week. There was no real harm done and it all got put back in order. But the way it all came about was so funny! A few nights later you're out to dinner with friends and you decide to tell the funny tale. You'll probably get some good hearty laughs and telling it and hearing it will be quite enjoyable for you and your audience. But your audience is people you know. They possibly might know your Aunt Jo and what a neat freak she is, which makes the tale all the more funny. This audience has a connection with you and you're probably going to be able to deliver a quick telling and get a good reaction and lots of laughs.

So one of your well-meaning pals says, What a funny story! That would make a great children's book! And you pooh-pooh the idea out loud, but inside you're a bit flattered, and ... well ... the seed has been sown! Watch out literary world!

You type it all up into a manuscript, making sure you tell it just like you told it at dinner that fateful night. It's funny! It's perfect! Throw some postage on it, stick it in the mail box, and just wait patiently for that lucky editor who discovered you to get that advance check out to you.

But instead you get one of those dreaded rejection form letters. That editor must not have really read it. 'Cause it's funny! It's perfect! So you find another publisher and send it off again. And get another rejection letter.

I don't know how many times you might send it out again and again, and get rejected again and again ... depends on your patience level and how many weeks and months of your life you're willing to sacrifice. You don't understand it ... it's a funny story ... didn't your friends roll with laughter? What is the problem?

The problem might be that you told it just like you told it at dinner that night. Your friends laughed loud and heartily because they know and love you. They might actually know your Aunt Jo, and perhaps even the cat. But that doesn't mean too much. The connection they have with you is enough. You are so charming after all, and they really like hanging out with you. They will be laughing at your funny stories just because you're so darn cute when you tell them.

But editors don't really care how cute you are. They want a story that readers will connect with. Connected readers turn into book sales. But those potential readers don't know you or your Aunt Jo from fish in the sea or birds in the air. If they want to see funny cats, YouTube and Facebook can deliver plenty. They don't feel any connection at all to you or your story. So why would an editor spend money on it and you?

Let's have a go at a re-write ... see you next week ...

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  • Dixie says:
    2020-02-12, 17:24:55
    Can't wait to read the rewrite.

    Thanks for keeping my attention.
    I'll turn you into an author, Dixie!- Sherry A Mitcham
  • BILL says:
    2020-02-12, 11:39:25
    GREAT LESSON