To Be or Not To Be

By Gloria Reichert

Show. Don’t tell.

Writers often hear this excellent advice, but following it poses some challenges. Authors can heed this advice to some degree by choosing to use active verbs instead of passive forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, etc).

Active verbs make our writing more descriptive and concise. They enliven it with concrete details. They make it more readable, and they help appeal to the senses. Active verbs move our scenes forward. A well-chosen active verb can eliminate the need for an adverb.

For example, one could write the following sentence using the passive verb “was.”

Robby’s room was messy.

This sentence summarizes the situation. Or one could use active verbs to show how Robby’s room looked.

Robby’s red T-shirt draped the chair by his desk. Socks of various colors tried to escape from the open dresser drawer. Potato chips crumbs littered the floor and formed a trail to the Legos scattered underneath the window. Rumpled sheets and blankets covered the unmade bed. An empty milk glass stood on the nightstand surrounded by chocolate chip cookie crumbs. 

Using active verbs creates a more vivid picture of Robby’s room and also gives some insight into his character traits.

Or consider the following sentence which tells us about Suzie using a passive verb.

Suzie was happy.

Using active verbs shows the reader her happiness and add more emotional intensity to the scene.

Suzie’s face glowed with a radiant smile. Her eyes sparkled. She hummed a lively tune as she skipped down the sidewalk. A small burst of laughter escaped at the sight of two puppies playing in the neighbor’s yard.

Now try your hand at changing these telling sentences into showing ones by using active verbs.

Bobby was lonely.

Ann was surprised.

Gwen was nervous.

Whether or not to use an active or passive verb depends on the writer’s intended purpose. Active verbs emphasize the person or object performing the action. Passive verbs emphasize the person or object receiving the action.

So if you want stronger writing that packs more punch, read over one of your manuscripts and highlight every passive verb. Then go back though the manuscript and replace each passive verb with an active one. Bet you will be pleased with the results.

Show. Don’t tell. Accomplished!


Meet Children’s Book Illustrator Ken Min

By Gloria Adams

Ken is an illustrator and animation storyboard artist for commercials and animated TV shows. His picture book debut, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji received the picture book honor for Literature from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). His illustration work has been recognized numerous times by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles (SILA). Other books Ken has illustrated include Ah-Choo! by Lana Wayne Koehler and Gloria G. Adams, What Does It Mean To Be an Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, Love is Love by Michael Genhart, and Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J.Pla. Ken makes his home in Burbank, California.

What inspired you to illustrate picture books?

I used to work in book stores early on. The children’s section was the one area no one wanted to have to clean up or straighten at the end of the day because it was always a mess and chaotic. Note to readers and parents: Please be sure to pick up after yourself or child when visiting the book store. It’s only polite. One time, it was my turn and while cleaning up, I really started to take notice of all the different books we had. Just really noticing the breadth and variety of art styles. At this time, I had probably just graduated from art school and was looking to see where I fit in, in regard to the art world. This was definitely one area that caught my interest. Of course, it took another 10 years before I really got serious about it, but that’s another story.

Who are some authors and illustrators that you admire?

There are so many. But as far as who influenced my artistic style- it would have to be Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle and the Provensens, Alice & Martin. I just admired their clean lines and shapes as well as their sense of color. Someone more recent would be Jon Klassen, Annette Marnat and Christian Robinson.

What’s your favorite medium in which to create?

If you had asked me maybe 3 years ago, I would probably have said that I like to sketch with a pencil (blue), paper and an eraser. But now I really enjoy working digitally. (the ‘undo’ button really eases my anxiety and stress level) And with the variety of digital brush line styles, I can mimic line qualities that really please me.

What’s on your bucket list for your career as an illustrator?

Still trying to crack the “author” part of author/illustrator.

If you weren’t an artist, what else would you like to do for a living?

My mother used to tell me that when I was little, I was crazy about dinosaurs and that I wanted to be a dinosaur doctor. (not that dinosaurs have much use for doctors nowadays.)

What kinds of books do you like to read?

In general, mostly works of fiction. (my favorite book is “The Great Gatsby”). But I also read art books (for the pictures), comics (both books and strips), and I get recommendations of MG and YA books from friends to read.

What book or book illustrator has influenced you the most?

I’m assuming you are referring to children’s literature (for the record, my favorite book is The Great Gatsby. Did I mention that already?? :P) I do admire the whimsy of the Pooh books, and when I try to write, I like to read certain books to get my mind in the right head space. So books like Extra Yarn and City Dog, Country Frog often help me find my voice. 

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?

Can I say Fitzgerald?!? (do you sense a pattern?!?) Makes one wonder what kind of children’s book Scott would have written if he put his mind to it…and a dinner with him probably would not involve much food, just drinks. Lots of it!

Thinking about children’s book authors, I might say Ezra Jack Keats. He is a huge inspiration on my art styling and it would be nice to talk to him about his work and to thank him. Also, I’m very fortunate to live in an area with lots of fellow illustrators and authors around, so now and then we will get together for a bite. And those are such enjoyable and lively times.

What did you do when you worked at Nickelodeon?

I worked as a storyboard artist at Nickelodeon and more recently at Warner Bros in TV animation. Storyboarding is visualizing your movie/TV show/game before you roll the camera or begin animation. It's part of the pre-production process. As with writing, you might fashion an outline first so you know the steps you will take in your story.

It's the same with storyboarding. Think of it as drawing out a comic (book) to "see" where the events of your story take place, where the action is directed, who is in the shot, how the story progresses in an orderly fashion. It's also where you can try different shots & set ups and determine the best course of action for your story before you commit a lot of your resources to the finished product.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to new/aspiring illustrators?

 Work at your craft and be patient. It will happen if you give it time.

Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Definitely a plotter.

Guilty Food Pleasure?  I’m definitely a PIE guy.

Favorite Hobby? Who has time for hobbies with stuff to draw! Ha ha 

Dog or Cat person? meow

Do you do your best work in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening? Late mornings, for sure, I’m at my “freshest”. Then I roll into the afternoons and probably lose steam by the evening. I guess I have that “business person” work ethic. I’m not necessarily a ‘nite owl’ or a vampire. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Most of my friends do their best work in the wee hours.