Writing Tips

Writing Tips

Writing Tips for Kids: YouTube Series

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I’m starting a brand new series on my writing-themed YouTube channel called Three Questions with Kim Ventrella! The channel originally featured short interviews with amazing middle grade authors and illustrators, and it still does. But I’m adding a series focused on 5-minute writing tips for kids. I’m keeping them short so teachers working with grades 3-8 can use them to introduce lessons.

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered? Let me know!

Creating Characters

Unreliable Narrators

First Person vs. Third Person

If you would like to see more of these videos, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!

Book Raves, Books That Inspire, Writing Tips

Books That Inspire: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

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Strange in the best possible way. Full of intimate, gorgeous details. An imaginative tour de force.

kim ventrella on cuckoo song

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge makes me strive to be a better writer. It pushes the boundaries of imagination in ways that feel like a challenge: Why didn’t I allow myself as a creator to go one step further? Why was I afraid to be a bit wilder, to push the boundaries of possibility a few more inches?

As a writer, I often find myself constructing these invisible limitations. I might say, “Oh, what a wonderful concept, but who would believe it?” By which I really mean, “Am I as an author capable of making readers believe in something so beautiful and absurd?”

The answer to these questions is a resounding YES! For me, and all the creators reading this, but sometimes it takes a book like Cuckoo Song to kindle and encourage my deep creativity.

Following a mysterious accident that leaves her sopping wet, Triss awakens to a world that’s eerily off-kilter. Her memories are muddled, her sister despises her, and when she brushes her hair, out come crumbled fragments of leaves. Is she going mad? Or did her accident trigger a nightmarish chain of events? In her quest to learn the truth, Triss ventures from the shelter of her parents’ protective wings into the city’s underbelly. There she encounters strange creatures whose grand schemes could forever alter the fates of her family. From master storyteller Frances Hardinge comes the unnerving tale of one girl’s struggle to confront her darkest fears in order to triumph over a world where nothing is as it seems.

Publisher’s description of Cuckoo Song

Every story combines certain percentages of the familiar and the strange. As authors, we strive to include enough familiar elements to draw readers in and put them at ease, while still adding a twist. There’s a reason certain plot elements, visual cues or character traits have become tropes. They work. Readers connect with them. But certain stories have been told so many times, it’s difficult to find a new spin.

Cuckoo Song tackles two such classic tropes, the creepy doll story and the changeling story, but manages to upend expectations in the most delicious way. Hardinge strikes a delicate balance, crafting an off-center world through the eyes of a character who doesn’t know what to believe, or what memories she can trust. With so much mystery and abstraction, it would be easy to leave readers behind, but Hardinge grounds us in intimate detail and gorgeous figurative language.

Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball, and stuffed her skull with it.

CUCKOO SONG by frances hardinge

She tasks herself with finding empathy and reason behind every so-called monster, and this story features a lot of them. Every character, from the clearly ominous Behinders to Triss herself, presents as some form of monster, but Hardinge takes time and care to tease out hidden layers of humanity.

This story represents imagination at its most agile. As a reader and writer, I can feel the edges of my mind expanding as new dimensions of this fantasy world unfold in scrumptiously odd detail.

A Moment of Inspiration

As an author, this novel inspires me to:

  • Trust myself to bring my odd, twisted visions to life. Yes, I have often been told my stories are too dark or too strange by editors or my agent, but when did I become the one building those walls?
  • Believe there is a place for beautifully odd stories that push the boundaries of imagination and empathy, AND that I am capable of writing them (and so are you!).

More About This Blog Series

Lately, I’ve been yearning for ways to hold onto the stories I love. My memory has grown so fleeting. I can adore a story one day, and completely forget about it the next. This series, Books That Inspire, is an attempt to memorialize my favorites in some kind of tangible form. Mainly, I want to highlight how these stories inspire me as an author, to make each post less a summary and more a personal call to action.

To close, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Cuckoo Song:

“Trista’s eyes stung with dust, and joy, and the cobweb tears that she was beginning to accept. Her lungs and mind were full of life – life as it was, not as anyone said it should be.
This second is mine, and this, and this, and this….”


About the Author

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

*A portion of purchases made through Bookshop.org affiliate links goes to support indie bookstores everywhere and yours truly!

Book News, Writer Interviews, Writing Tips

The Story Behind: Hello, Future Me (Part 2)

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HELLO, FUTURE ME tells the story of eleven-year-old June, a girl who tries to stop her parents’ divorce using her super planning skills, magic and a little help from her future self. Too bad magic has a way of going horribly, and hilariously, awry. June’s rollercoaster of emotions mirrors the turbulent path this story took from first draft to final product. In this edition of “The Story Behind,” I’ll focus on the writing journey that led to the publication of HELLO, FUTURE ME.

Sometimes, life stinks and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we keep going. And, hopefully, the stuff that seemed so terrible at first will start to feel a little less terrible over time..”

— June Day, from HELLO, FUTURE ME

This quote from June can definitely apply to writing. We all know the old saying: 90% of writing is revision. It’s true. We start with a crude sculpture and slowly mold it into something subtle, moving, magnificent. At least that’s the idea. But the revision process isn’t always that straightforward. Sometimes it’s not so much about whittling something crude down to a more refined form. It’s about building sculpture after sculpture until you finally realize the shape you’re trying to achieve, then starting from scratch with a fresh block of clay.

That’s what happened with HELLO, FUTURE ME. I wrote three complete versions of the story, each starting from a blank document, each informed and hopefully improved by the last. When I sat down for the third time, I had such a clear vision of what I wanted to write (the form I wanted the clay to take) that I wrote the draft in seven days. Now, I’m a fast writer, but that’s my fastest ever.

Why so many drafts? Why start from scratch when you could simply shave layers off your first attempt? Why would anyone put themselves through all that heartache?

Answer…they wouldn’t. Unless it just so happened to be their process, which they have learned to love and embrace over time, like me. Basically, I have no choice.

I can only truly understand a story when I experience it in narrative form, through writing it. Yes, I can create a beautiful outline with all the right beats and emotional touch-points. But when I sit down to write, it rarely stays the same. The characters veer off in new, more interesting directions, and I choose to follow them. I follow them because the paths I discover through prose are often more organic and emotionally honest than anything I could come up with in outlining mode. For me, the act of drafting gives me access to the wiser, more creative part of my brain, and so it pays to veer wildly off the path and see where it takes me.

That said, stories need shape and structure. That’s why my first one or two drafts (either partial or complete) often turn into narrative experiments. They allow me to feel the structure out using the most imaginative parts of my brain, but they don’t always lead to working stories. So I take what I’ve learned, all the wondrous discoveries, I open a fresh document and I put those discoveries into a brand new draft with both a clear vision and a working structure.

It makes sense to me. I’m not prescribing this method to anyone by any means. Even for me, every novel is different. Sometimes my wild first draft does end up largely staying the same through to the final version. But sometimes, like with HELLO, it’s a much more interesting and twisting ride.

Finding your voice.

One of the hardest parts of writing is finding your main character’s voice. In this case, it took three drafts before I found the real June Day, with her hopeful, determined, oh-so-totally enthusiastic outlook. In the end, she was the easiest character I’ve ever written, because she sounds exactly like me!

Well, she’s the voice in my head, mixed with some light Buffy-speak, plus about a zillion ounces of sugar and coffee. HELLO, FUTURE ME is also the only book I’ve published in first person, so it was especially important to find a funny, endearing, authentic voice. Wait…did I just call myself funny and endearing…um…technically, yes 🙂

It was especially fun writing three different versions of June: present, past and future. Future June was probably the most fun, because she’s so snarky and full of herself. Sigh. At times, it did feel like there were three versions of me, all chatting via IM, all getting super annoyed with each other.

What can I say? It’s the life of the writer.

If you have questions about the writing process, why not drop me a line in the comments? Or find me on social media and let’s chat!

Author photo

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.