Teachers Write 7.16.18 Mini-Lesson Monday with Anne Marie Pace

Good morning! Need a quick prompt to get your creativity fired up? Head over to Jo’s blog for your Monday morning warm-up. And then come back…because we have a great mini-lesson today!

Our guest author is Anne Marie Pace, author of the Vampirina series and other picture books, including her latest, BUSY EYED DAY. She joins us today to talk about picture book revision. This is a great lesson to share with kids when you’re talking about word choice.

We’re all familiar with the writing process.  Whatever terms you use with your students, it’s basically the same five steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, proofreading, publishing.  Revision is my favorite part of the process.  I love making sure I’ve told a strong story with a strong plot in the strongest way possible.  Part of telling that story in the strongest way possible is through very careful, even nit-picky, examination of each sentence.

Personally, I tend to write clean, so even my drafts have complete grammatically-correct sentences and few spelling and punctuation errors.  (That’s not a requirement for being a writer; it’s simply something that I’m able to do. I know lots of wonderful writers who write messy and that’s fine.) So you might assume that once I’ve ensured the story is well-told, with complete sentences in the right order, I’m done.  But I’m not.  Grammatically correct sentences are fine; but I want to give more to my readers than serviceable writing. I want each word in my picture books to be the best word I can find. We know what Mark Twain said: “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” I want rhythms that are fun to read aloud, even in prose.  I want my books to be the best I can create at that time in my writing journey—and I can do better than serviceable.

Here are some examples from some of my published and upcoming books. I’ll give you the original and revised versions and explain why I made the changes I did.

From VAMPIRINA BALLERINA

Original: If you wish to become a ballerina, you have to do more than wear a tutu and dream about dancing all day long. 

Final: If you are going to be a ballerina, you have to do more than wear a tutu and dream about dancing.

There is nothing wrong with wishing.  Wishes are hopeful and give us direction.  But here I want Vampirina to be more assertive.  Being a ballerina isn’t something you wish for, that a genie in a bottle can grant you.   Being a ballerina takes hard work, and to do it well, you must be determined to do that work.  Thus I replaced “wish” with “are going to” and it was a good change.

 

From PIGLOO

Original: Even though snow is flying everywhere, Pigloo keeps his eyes open so he’ll know when he’s found the North Pole.

Final: Snow is flying everywhere, but Pigloo keeps his eyes open so he’ll know when he’s found the North Pole.

In this case, the first sentence is grammatically correct, and for older readers the compound-complex sentence would be fine.  But the cause-and-effect in the first sentence isn’t necessary to the sentence’s meaning, and using “Snow is flying everywhere” brings importance to the snow and paints a picture.  “Even though” diminishes the image of the snow flying everywhere in a way that isn’t as effective.

From GROUNDHUG DAY

Original: “Oh, you know Bunny,” Moose said.  “He’s always scrambling this time of year.”

Final: “Oh, you know Bunny,” Moose said.  “He’s always holed up this time of year.”

Among other things, GROUNDHUG DAY is Groundhog missing Valentine’s Day because he goes back to his hole for the last six weeks of winter. But the final illustration of this book shows Bunny dyeing beautiful Easter eggs.  The visual joke is that Groundhog has emerged, but now Bunny is unavailable.  I liked the first version because it plays with the concept of eggs without being explicit; however, in the end, I realized that kids of picture book age tend to be quite literal. I didn’t want kids to think the Easter Bunny was going to scramble the contents of their Easter baskets! It’s not that there’s no place for word play in picture books—of course there is—but I felt the last joke had to stand on its own, without being explained to the child. And Bunny being “holed up” reflects Groundhog being holed up earlier in the book.

From BUSY-EYED DAY

Original: Glitter-eyed girl/Skitter-eyed squirrel

Final: Squirrel-eyed girl/Girl-eyed squirrel

I loved the rhyme of glitter and skitter, but in the end, I chose the version that implies the squirrel and girl are gazing at each other.  A girl wearing glitter sunglasses and a squirrel glancing around nervously doesn’t tell the same story as two beings taking note of the other, and the book is primarily about noticing, so the second version was more appropriate.

Original:

No more spider,/No more bug.

Two-armed mama/Gives a hug.

Final:

No more spiders/No more bugs

Loving mama gives big hugs.

At first I liked the contrast of all the “–eyed” constructs, which make up every couplet, with “two-armed.” But in the end, I decided the contrast didn’t add anything to the final story. Also Sammi has been away from her mother for some time, and it makes sense that she’d run to Mama for a hug after seeing a bug that made her nervous.

From VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH

Original: Whether or not you come out on top, finishing with grace makes you a real winner.

Final: Whether or not you come out on top, finishing with grace is what makes you a real winner.

I’m usually looking for ways to cut words, not add them, and the final version is definitely wordier.  The “is what” is unnecessary to the meaning. However, the final version reads aloud more smoothly, with better rhythm.

I hope these examples have given you something to think about in your own writing.

Your assignment: Use your work-in-progress, or go back to one of your earlier writing exercises from this week.  Find a merely serviceable sentence, and rewrite it to make it sing.   If you like, share your revision in the comments!

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28 Comments

  1. David Marsh
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Thank you Anne Marie Pace for your time this week. I really enjoyed seeing your revisions compared to the original sentences. It really helps to see both sides and an explanation for the changes. I learned a lot from just a few sentences. I decided to use my exercise from last Monday to do a sentence revision.

    Original – Friday afternoons were Gene’s favorite.

    New – Gene always looked forward to his Friday afternoon chats with Montgomery.

    This change caused me to change the whole paragraph. I felt like saying it was his favorite day didn’t quite tell the reader how important Friday was to Gene. It also helps the reader understand that Montgomery is a very close and important friend to Gene in one sentence.

    Now I’m going to finish revising that paragraph. I feel like there is a cute friendship picture book story in this exercise. Thank you again for your time!

    • Martha Willey
      Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      David,
      Like the change. Gives the sentence a lot more depth. No, make that, gives the sentence deeper meaning.

    • Posted July 16, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      David, it’s so interesting how what seems like a small change can make such a differences. One of the exciting things about writing!

  2. Kathy Halsey
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Love your variety of PBs, Anne Marie Pace! Excited for the newest, Busy-eyed Day. I write pretty clean, too, being a former English teacher. However, that sentence level set of changes can be crucial between good vs. great. I especially appreciate what you did w/”squirrel” and “girl.” YOU changed the meaning w/out changing the word count. Genius. TY for this lesson.

  3. Martha Willey
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s amazing what changing a word here or there can do. Loved the illustrations of what you did. It really drove home the point you were trying to make. Here’s a little snippet from my current WIP

    Original: I drop the McDonald’s bag on her lap.
    “You twisted the top of the bag. You know I hate that, Honor.”
    “Sorry.”
    “How am I supposed to reruse this bad with the top all twisted?”
    “Sorry.”
    She huffs at me and tosses the bag aside.

    Final: I drop the McDonald’s bag on Mom’s lap.
    “The top’s twisted. You know I hate that, Honor.”
    “Sorry.”
    “I can’t reuse this bag now.”
    She dumps the contents out and tosses the bag aside. It lands on top of the other bags with twisted tops.
    Better the bag than her neck.

    • Heather Jensen
      Posted July 16, 2018 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Martha, this makes me want to know what causes her to twist the tops of all those bags. The added image of the other bags is extremely powerful. I want to read more!

    • Posted July 16, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Martha, I love that bit of seething resentment at the end of your piece! You’ve captured the feeling so well.

  4. Heather Jensen
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Good Morning. Thank you Anne Marie Pace for your ideas on revision. While most writers love the revision process, our students struggle with it. I look forward to sharing your examples to show them how we can go sentence by sentence, word by word to revise our writing.

    Original piece of writing:
    We pile out of the car and into the house. “Can we all meet in the family room?” Dad quietly asks.

    Mom sits on the couch and we all pile around her. Family meetings usually signal the announcement of something exciting for all of us, but I could tell right away that this family meeting was different. Instead of settling into his oversized chair, Dad paced in front of the couch.

    “I have decided to quit my job,” he started, “So that I can stay home and take care of my girls.”

    Jamie lets out an excited squeal. Jasmine eyes him suspiciously. That familiar pain in my stomach flares up and I begin to worry what is coming next.

    “Why?” I tremble.

    Mom strokes my hair, “Girls, as you have noticed I have not been myself lately. I found out last week that I have cancer.”

    My lips quiver, Jamie grabs my hand, and Jasmine immediately stands up to cross her arms and scowl.

    Revised:
    “Family meeting,” Dad quietly announces as we pile out of the car.

    Mom sits on the couch and we all pile around her. Family meetings usually signal the announcement of something exciting for all of us, but I could tell right away that this family meeting was different. Dad paces in front of the coffee table. Running his hands through his thinning hair, Dad clears his throat.

    “I have decided to quit my job,” he started, “So that I can stay home and take care of my girls.”

    Jamie lets out an excited squeal. Jasmine eyes him suspiciously. That familiar pain in my stomach flares up. The worry slowly settles into my bones.

    “Why?” I tremble.

    Mom strokes my hair. “Girls,” she starts. “As you have noticed I have not been myself lately.” She stands up slowly and sits on the coffee table, so that she is facing each of us. Dad’s hands rest on her shoulders. Tears threaten to spill out of her eyes. “I found out last week that I have cancer.”

    Jasmine immediately stands up to cross her arms and scowl.
    Jamie grabs my hand, head swiveling her head from me to Mom, watching our reactions.

    My lips quiver. I swallow the bile that rushes into the back of my throat.

    I squeeze Jamie’s hand and force a reassuring smile to my face.

    “We have a plan,” Dad starts.

    • Martha Willey
      Posted July 16, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Heather,
      Like the revision and love the last line about having a plan. A lot of hope and determination in that one line. Thanks for sharing.

    • Posted July 16, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Heather, you’ve brought out so much more of the emotion with your revision. It really shows how thinking about each sentence and word makes a difference.

  5. Karla B Santoro
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    This is my favorite kind of lesson. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Gloria Johnson
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this lesson. I am using something I wrote for Monday warm-ups with Jo today.
    I see this as a great example to share with my students about writing choices.

    Original: Sweat started running in my eyes, but nothing was going to stop me.

    Working: Sweat dripped into my eyes. OR Drops of sweat stung my eyes. OR Sweat stung my eyes.

    Final? Sweat stung my eyes as I climbed on the hay wagon.

  7. Rose Cappelli
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anne Marie! Thanks so much for your wonderful examples. It’s amazing how changing one word can make all the difference. Your example from VAMPIRINA BALLERINA was just what I needed to help me with my WIP.

    Original: Selina collected cardboard cats, owned a pet tarantula, and dreamed of amazing adventures.
    Revision: Selina collected cardboard cats, owned a pet tarantula named Tina, and planned amazing adventures.

    Thanks for the inspiration! (You might remember me from a workshop you taught at Highlights a few years ago).

    • Posted July 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Rose, it’s interesting how changing “dreamed” to “planned” brings out a sense of determination from your character.

    • Anne Marie Pace
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Hi Rose!!

  8. Posted July 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m writing a family story from 100 years ago. On one level it has to do with women’s rights, but it also has to do with changing people’s minds and how people can disagree in a civilized way. It’s about my great grandparents, but I’m having my grandmother (their daughter) narrate the story.

    Original lead:

    First, I should tell you that I was not the most obedient child. Oh, I knew right from wrong, but most of the time I felt that I was right, and the rest of the world was wrong. I think I got that from my parents. You see, they were both always right, even when they didn’t agree.

    Revised lead:

    Leo and Lillian loved each other very much, but they didn’t always agree. In fact, they often had opposite views on the big issues of their time. My name is Marion. This is a true story of my parents and one of their most memorable disputes.

  9. Posted July 16, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I really appreciated this exercise. It’s so helpful to think about each sentence in the revision process. Thanks for a great post and the reminder to be very deliberate about word choices.

    Original:

    My bike leaned up against the garage wall, next to the snow shovels. It was covered with dust and sawdust. The tires were totally flat. I got the back one pumped up using Dad’s bike pump, but the other one stayed squishy. I asked Dad for help.

    “Could be the tube. Let’s check it out.”

    Revised version:

    I hadn’t even looked at my bike for months. When I went to the garage to see if it was still there, I found it leaning against the wall next to the snow shovels. The shiny red metal was coated with a thin layer of dust. The tires were totally flat. With Dad’s bike pump, I managed to fix the back one. The front one stayed squishy.

    Dad’s eyes opened wide when I asked him for help. He jumped up right away. “Could be the tube. Let’s check it out.”

    “It’s okay if you’re busy.” I didn’t want him to think I was actually going to ride it. I still wasn’t sure. On my bike, the only protection between me and the dangers of the road was my helmet. Bikes didn’t even have seatbelts.

  10. Anne Marie Pace
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m enjoying reading everyone’s revisions!

  11. Tracy
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    This assignment goes right to the core of my anxiety with writing. I feel there’s an ideal wording that would best convey my thoughts, but these words are just out of my grasp. This, of course, changes the moment I press ‘send’ or ‘share’. In this case, as I prepare to press ‘Post Comment’ here, I realize I should have recorded all the evolution of this comment to drive home my lack of confidence in choosing my words.

    This anxiety caused issues in college until one professor (seemingly at the end of his rope with my delayed essays) told me to just give him whatever I had as a grade is better than no grade. After going over my papers, he said that I had handed in some of the best writing he had seen in a while. Of course, my reactions were; (a) he must have a very low bar and (b) (as I am a good mix of UK and southern US) he’s obviously just being nice.

    I’m not sure how to overcome this fear of getting it wrong or not getting it done as well as it could have been done.

    • Anne Marie Pace
      Posted July 16, 2018 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      If it makes you feel better, I’m working on the same novel I’ve been writing for over 16 years. SIXTEEN. Fear is part of this business, this craft, and somehow you just have to find a way through it. Believe your professor. Really. What would be to his advantage about exaggerating? xo

      • Tracy
        Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much, Anne. I suppose things come to us when the time is right. We just need to be brave and write no matter what.

    • Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Your story of anxiety with writing resonated with me. I had a horrible experience in a high school composition class and didn’t voluntarily write anything for a long time. Teachers Write and SOL Tuesday hosted at twowritingteachers.org showed me that my words mattered. So, I think that your participation here is going to be an important part of your journey as a writer. I hope that you will post some of your writing:)

      • Tracy
        Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Jen, thank you! I believe you are certainly on to something. The more I put my writing out there, the more I will be okay with putting it out there. I’m sure this will also help me be better informed when my students don’t want to weite.

  12. Kay
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this exercise! I have written a legend from the Tongas Islands. It is based off a real legend that Tongans dance to and no one has written it down that I know of. I am going to try and publish it with pictures.

    Original: In the scattered islands of Polynesia, there are many legends and myths. These stories are told and retold from grandparent to parent, to child. From the island of Tonga, there is a story about how Tonga received their first King. This story is called Tangaloa, and he is the great God of the Sky.

    Revised Version: Far out in the wide sea, there are many scattered islands of Polynesia. One such island is called Tonga, and this story is how Tangaloa, the great God of the Sky became Tonga’s first king many many years ago.

    What do you think? Starting a short story can be hard!

    • Jen
      Posted July 16, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      What a fascinating idea for a story! I’m curious about how Tangaloa became the first king!

  13. Posted July 16, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Mrs.____ was the social studies teacher listed on my schedule, but you couldn’t actually say that she taught social studies. Every Monday we had a packet of work waiting on our desks. We were supposed to work on the packet during class, but most everyone dumped the packet into their backpacks and spent the period talking (quietly, of course), listening to music (thank goodness for earbuds!), playing with smartphones, or sleeping. Occasionally she made us watch a video, but for the most part, it was social hour instead of social studies.

    Mrs. ______ was the social studies teacher listed on my schedule, but she didn’t really teach social studies. Every Monday, she dumped a packet of papers on our desks for us to work on during class. No one worked on the packets. Instead, we talked quietly, listened to music, played with smartphones, or slept. Occasionally we watched a video, but social studies was mostly social hour.

  14. Andy Starowicz
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Ms. Pace!

    Loved the post and lesson. My first draft is full of errors, sentence fragments, misspellings, and punctuation chaos. The strange part is that I used to be more careful (every time that I saw a red squiggly line, I hit spell check), but I wanted to get away from that because I was losing my flow (and sometimes even my ideas). Now, when I’m trying to prove the point to my sixth graders that the first draft can be the sloppy copy, I show them my first draft.:)

    Here goes my attempt with the activity:
    ORIGINAL:
    Catching every fast ball without a mitt,
    giving every pitcher a nasty fit,
    he’s Moses Fleetwood Walker,
    Syracuse Star’s greatest baller.
    NEW:
    Catching every pitch without a mitt,
    giving each pitcher a nasty fit,
    he is Moses Fleetwood Walker,
    Erie Canal’s greatest baller.

    I am pleased with the revisions. I like the flow of the first line, and I’m not sure how many kids even know where Syracuse is located, but they definitely know the Erie Canal, which was popular during Walker’s time playing in the big leagues.

    THANK YOU for this revision activity! I’m off to do more revisions.

  15. Susan MacKay-Logue
    Posted July 16, 2018 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Anne Marie, thank you so much for your timely lesson. I have been working on a scene about my school entrance interview, and I spent the day revising and then editing. Word choice was a must, but I also added a section where my mother spoke to me in Italian, which I think brought the whole scene together. Thanks again for a great lesson, I can’t wait to use it with my kiddos in the fall. Here is the finished product, if you are interested. It’s a little long.
    https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/35983906/posts/1926612482

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