Writing Evergreen

My highschool journalism class in Hong Kong
My highschool journalism class in Hong Kong

I taught high school journalism for six years and also was the teacher supervisor for two different school newspapers. One of the concepts I discussed with my young journalists was how to write  evergreen stories. An evergreen story is  one that can be printed almost any time. It doesn’t quickly become out of date or irrelevant.

 A story about left handed students and how they deal with being  ‘other-handed’ could run in the paper anytime, but a story about the senior girls basketball team winning their league championship would have to run the week it happened.  

My high school journalism class in Steinbach Manitoba
My high school journalism class in Manitoba

I’m realizing that when you write stories for children and young people you need to think about keeping narratives evergreen as well. Referring to certain kinds of technology for example can date your story since technology changes so rapidly. I submitted a children’s story to a writing instructor where the Dad was using his cell phone to call his wife. The instructor suggested deleting that reference. “He probably would have sent a text,” she said, ” and by the time this story is printed sending texts might have been replaced by something else.” 

Since the norm in today’s publishing world is to wait around six months for a response to a manuscript submission, by the time your book is accepted by the tenth publisher you try, it can be five years later and you want to be sure your manuscript is still relevant.  A social issue that is a hot topic when you write the book may be passé by the time it is published. A kind of slang a character uses may become politically incorrect. A reference to the performer of a song at the top of the charts currently may leave readers scratching their heads because the tune was a one hit wonder.

So unless your story is set in the past remember to keep it evergreen. 

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I Just Joined the  SCBWI

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MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Mobile tool #3: "Lists For Writers"

Mobile tool #3:

“Lists For Writers”

My favourite. ♥ This little app is the crème de la crème of on-the-go writing helpers. It’s chock (does anyone know what ‘chock’ is?) chock full of gems and available for i-‘stuff’ and android devices. Bonus–It doesn’t require internet access.

Need a name on the fly. There’s a list for that.
Or a location or occupation, and your head is blank?
There’s a list for that. And for–


  • phobias
  • hobbies
  • personality traits
  • emotions
  • conflicts
  • plot types
  • animals
  • colours
  • fantasy
  • nouns
  • rhymes
  • . . . and many more.

A silver nugget in your pocket.


Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

What is Your Story Question?

Sometimes I feel like this lady trying to keep her plates spinning when it comes to my writing. images3BHHM8R0

There are so many rules and tips and techniques to keep straight. Sometime I focus on one needy area in my writing and lose sight of another. Crash. A plate shatters on the tile.

Recently, I started watching the writing series Into The Elements taught by Donald Miller. In the first session, he reminded me of one of those elements I’d lost track of—the story question. He said that at the beginning of a story, the writer needs to raise a question or questions in the mind of the reader to arouse curiosity and give them a reason to keep reading.

I went to my bookshelf and searched book beginnings for story questions. How other authors pull me in using this technique and what questions were raised in my mind that made me want to continue reading?

untitledIn Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (one of my all-time favourite books), her first line poses a couple questions.

“Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off a bridge.”

Why did she drive off a bridge? Was it an accident or deliberate? I want to keep reading because I want to answers these questions. In fact, these questions are the key questions of the novel. She spends the next 520 pages answering my questions.

untitled (4)To take a YA example, in The Summoning, author Kelley Armstrong, opens with this line:

“Mommy forgot to warn the babysitter about the basement.”

What’s in the basement that Mommy neglected to inform the babysitter about? I want to read on to find out.

The questions aren’t always posed by the first line, but interest needs to be piqued as close to the beginning as possible. In the untitled (3)Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton writes,

“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told. The lady had said to wait, it wasn’t safe yet, they had to be as quiet as larder mice. It was a game just like hide and seek.”

What are they hiding from? Who is the lady? Morton deepens the mystery in the following paragraph.

“From behind the wooden barrels the little girl listened. Made a picture in her mind the way Papa had taught her. Men, near and far, sailors she supposed, shouted to one another. Rough loud voices, full of the sea and its salt. In the distance: bloated ships’ horns, tin whistles, splashing oars and, far above grey gulls cawing, wings flattened to absorb the ripening sunlight.”

Okay so some lady has hidden this kid on a ship—why would she do that? At the second paragraph, I’m already hooked.

I’m going back to my stories and examining their beginnings. Do I have a story question? If I don’t, I need to think this through and decide what I want the reader to ask themselves.

How about you? Do you have a story question that piques reader interest in your stories? Or do you have an example from a favourite book?


Melinda Friesen writes novels for teens and short stories. She’s currently rewriting one of her early pieces while trying to squeeze in some time to work on novel number ten. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with her husband and four children. She also blogs at www.melindafriesen.com

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Writer's Friend – The Canadian Children Book Centre

As I write this, I am two days into the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week Tour and counting my many blessings.  As one of 29 fortunate authors, illustrators, and storytellers in the English-speaking stream who are crisscrossing Canada during this event, I am visiting schools and libraries in southern Ontario.  I follow a hectic pace and use a variety of transportation modes – driving myself in my trusty rental car (thank you GPS), catching rides with generous benefactors, flagging cabs, and flying to more distant spots on my route.

At Blaydon Public School, Toronto
At Blaydon Public School in Toronto

In the end, I will see almost 1700 students during 22 sessions being delivered at 12 separate locations in cities and towns like Goderich, Wiarton, Mount Forest, Kitchener, Toronto and Ottawa.  At each turn, I spread the word to enthusiastic students – reading is a celebration, writing is fun, and non-fiction rules (sorry fiction writers, but someone has to stand up for my genre).

Among my many blessings on this tour, The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) tops the list. The CCBC orchestrates this annual event.  By any standard the tour is an awesome feat of synchronization thanks to a number of key CCBC people, but especially Book Week Program Coordinator, Shannon Barnes Howe.  She is the wizard behind the magic, and Shannon has been pulling rabbits out a hat for the past year to make it all happen.

logoBut CCBC is more than the Canadian Children’s Book Week Tour. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) is a national, not-for-profit organization founded in 1976.  Unlike organizations such as the Writers’ Union and the Manitoba Writer’s Guild which offer exclusive support to writers, the CCBC has a wider reach.  The CCBC encourages, promotes and supports the reading, writing, illustrating and publishing of Canadian books for young readers.  Because it connects those that produce and publish children’s books with the people who purchase and read them, it is as much a friend to writers, illustrators and publishers as it is to teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents.

In addition to The Canadian Children’s Book Week Tour, the CCBC offers a range of other supports for writer-members:

  • Publications like Get Published: The Writing for Children Kit that offer practical advice about writing and publishing
  • An online directory of authors, illustrators and storytellers that profiles individuals and their availability for school and library visits
  • Online resources such as links to blogs, workshops, bookstores, publishers, and grant or funding opportunities
  • Current listings of Canadian book publishers who are accepting unsolicited manuscripts and/or artwork
  • A program which recognizes the achievements of Canadian authors and illustrators through five book awards, among them the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Normal Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.
  • Best Books for Kids, a semi-annual guide to the best new Canadian children’s books, magazines, audio and video
  • Canadian Children’s Booknews, a quarterly magazine, packed with advice columns, profiles about authors and illustrators, industry news, and reviews of latest book releases.

coverTo give you a taste of the offerings in Booknews, the Spring 2014 edition ran the theme Read to Remember and in addition to 35 reviews of new books included the following articles:

Remembering Not to Forget by Linda Cranfield, award winning author of In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem.

Writers, Editors, Blueberries, Raspberries: Three authors who edit explain how they manage two roles by Sylvia McNicoll, also an award winning author

World War I – a round-up of 23 new and classic fiction and non-fiction works on the theme

Finding the Humanity, Telling the Story: Sharon Mckay’s Fiction Explores War by Gillian O’Reilly, Booknews editor

originalFor me, Best Books and Booknews have been most valuable. They provide me with information about current trends in the publishing industry and the ways books are being used.  By reading reviews of other authors’ works, I have a sense of what topics are hot, what formats work well, and what publishers are seeking.  I leave their pages inspired, brimming with ideas and ready to take on the challenge of crafting something worthy enough to make a future edition of CCBC’s Best Books.

Membership to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre is a modest $60 for individuals, $30 for Seniors (65+), and $30 for students.  For more information, please check out CCBC’s website http://www.bookcentre.ca/

Other blogs that might interest you:

Your Mission? Write a Statement

The Kid Inside

Great Beginnings: The Five Line Test

Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is a former teacher and the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. Science, history and true adventure are his favourite subjects.  His version of nirvana is writing about a topic that combines all three. For photos from his TD Canadian Children’s Book Tour, check Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/larryverstraete/

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

I’ve Joined The SCBWI

I recently joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve been working on setting up my personal profile and exploring the website to see what it has to offer.

My membership allows me access to the bi-monthly bulletin, a thirty-six page magazine with helpful content aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s books.  The May/June issue featured articles about using verbs effectively in your writing, understanding the difference between editions and printings of books, how to choose a lawyer to help you with your first book contract, writing an i book, writing rich descriptions, and a new writer success story. As a member I also have access to an archive containing all the previous issues of the bulletin. 

When I login as a member I can download  the nearly 300 page SCBWI book for 2014 that provides  detailed up to date information about hundreds of children’s book and magazine publishers in both North American and international markets.  The book also has sections on preparing and submitting manuscripts, publicizing your work, directories of agents, editors, reviewers, contests and courses. 

Joining the international Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators also automatically enrolls me as a member of my regional association of the society which in my case is Canada West. On their website I can learn about writing conferences, new published work and critique groups in western Canada as well as have access to current and back issues of the regional association newsletter called Western Tale Spinner. 

The SCBWI website has a home page that is regularly updated with publishing news, author stories, blogs and contest and conference information.

A recent news item I read with interest followed an SCBWI Twitter conversation about the need for children’s books that are more diverse when it comes to representing minorities.

It isn’t always easy to decide which professional groups an aspiring children’s writer should subscribe too. So far I think my SCBWI membership will provide good value for the money I’ve invested. I’ll see if I still feel the same way at the end of my first subscription year. In the meantime I’ll keep you posted with news about how the SCBWI is helping me in my quest to become a published children’s author. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……

The Future of Books

Larry’s Party


MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?



MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.
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