Today's #FirstDraftFriday guest author is S. K. Wenger, whose debut picture book is hot off the presses and who is sure to get you inspired to do some writing of your own!
BONUS! S. K. is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post.
S. K. Wenger’s debut picture book, CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!, illustrated by Jojo Ensslin, came out last month from Albert Whitman & Co.!
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Let's hear a little about CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! and what inspired S. K. to sit down and write the first draft of it?
Inspiration for Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! came from a fun discussion one day in my classroom. While watching Jack Horner's Ted Talk video about the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, my biology students were amused by an image of a genetically engineered chicken with a long neck and tail that might come from tapping into dormant/remnant dinosaur DNA. Some students bought into this idea. Others didn't. A lively debate followed, and the idea for Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! was born.
What was that process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?
The first time I sat down to write Chicken Frank’s story, I only got through 1/3 of the way before I hit a wall. I knew Chicken Frank was different, and identified as a dinosaur, but I didn’t know how he would go about getting other animals to believe him. Then I struggled with the ending. Some earlier readers thought it should be true to life and that his distant relative, Alligator Ike, should want to eat him as a predator. Other readers liked the idea of the characters embracing their family ties. I explored both options, as well as others. The more I wrote and the more I researched about chickens, alligators, dinosaurs, and evolution, the more details and humor I was able to add. I enjoyed the process and kept a strong hold on to my belief that the right editor was waiting somewhere.
How did the manuscript change from that first draft to what it is today?
The first drafts of Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! were written in a narrative style which began by showing who Chicken Frank was through his actions and what made him different from other chickens. This style and its humor caught the attention of editor Christina Pulles at Albert Whitman. However, the publisher had a different vision for the story which would complement the other humorous STEM titles on their list. Once I had a clear vision of what that was, I rewrote the story into a fast-paced comic-book style that is driven by dialogue. Another big change was when Frank’s DNA test occurred. Originally, Frank did a DNA test in the middle of the book, but it ended up on page one after the team at Albert Whitman began giving input. I found the editorial process fascinating and invigorating. I’m so pleased with how Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! turned out.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? And how does that affect your drafting of a story?
I’m a pantser. When I’m struck with an image, or a feeling, or an idea, I sit down and write until about the middle of the story. Then I stop and put it aside while I figure out the story’s overall theme, what the character wants, and what kind of obstacles will get in the way. I suppose at this point, the “panster” steps aside and lets the “plotter” take over until the panster needs to come back and make sure the voice and emotional weight of the story still shine. In a way, I go back and forth between the two methods for writing, but I always start with a spark of inspiration.
Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?
Yes. If I’m not seeing a specific scene in my head where I’m stepping into character and writing what I feel or see, then I won’t be able to write anything that’s worth keeping. However, even if I don’t feel inspired to draft a story, I do try to jot down ideas regarding what I want the story to be about, or what I want the reader to feel so that the seeds for the story can be planted deep enough to draw me back.
What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?
The hardest part is usually crafting a strong ending that will leave a reader satisfied, yet also wrapping up a story in a way that makes a reader want to pick it up again. I have great critique partners that really push me on my endings. They don’t let me settle for an ending that feels “good enough,” and with their push, I’m always surprised by where I end up.
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
Free-writing in a notebook works for me and allowing myself to jump from one idea to another as they come. What I’ve discovered is that often, the first few pages I write are exploratory for character, plot, and theme. Even if the text from those first pages doesn’t end up in the final text, it is crucial and necessary for the development of fully rounded characters that take part in a deeply layered story. Free-writing is my play time. I like to see what surprises lay waiting beneath the surface.
Well, readers, I hope you're ready to play and be surprised because #FirstDraftFriday has officially begun!
To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript (800 words or less) from S. K., you must do the following by 8 pm ET today (Nov. 5, 2021):
Complete a full picture book draft
Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password). NOTE: You may get notifications as others leave comments (unfortunately, this is how Wix works), feel free to hit "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any notification you receive if they bother you! You will still be signed up for the giveaway.
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 8 pm ET tonight.