November Four on 400 Contest Window is Now Open!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of November, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the 14th of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

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Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the November Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on November 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!




Four on 400 September Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Middle Grade: REMY (Working Title)

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi

But the town was dirty and dying. Rémy hardly remembered it being otherwise. And what happened when more and more of the molecules afloat in this village became stained with the scum of fear?

She knelt in the dirt and lowered her face close to the ground, almost as if praying, like she’d seen Karthik’s mother do. But instead of praying, Rémy was scheming. She eyed the stones spread across the yard—hers red, Karthik’s blue—then glanced up at him. His back showed no sign of watching. Instead, he faced across the street, and she took the opportunity to give her General a shove. She sprang up from the ground, watching the General roll destructively through his array of blue stones and displace most of them.

Rémy sauntered to Karthik’s side, eyeing him to see if he’d noticed anything. But he leaned on his staff, watching his mother across the street. Missus Kapoor stood outside her front door with a screwdriver, twisting calmly at the door’s threshold. She dropped one small screw after another into the pocket of her apron, until she’d pried loose the Kindivine that had greeted every visitor to the Kapoor house since before Rémy and Karthik were born. This charm, too, went into the flowered apron, but she seemed to continue to hold it tightly, her hand remaining locked away inside that pocket as a truck rumbled past and hid her, leaving smoke in its wake.

The truck stopped in front of the Campanas’ house, where they had been lining up their belongings all morning. Those important enough to take. Cousins and granduncles worked swiftly, many hands piling these into and onto the truck, until it was precarious with the weight of their collective memories and tears. It was done in a smattering of minutes. Last, they tucked Greatmissus Campana into a small passenger roost and the truck lumbered off, a few young men hanging from its sides. A small boy Rémy didn’t know ran behind, waving and shouting.

“Karthikeya!” Their heads both snapped to where Missus Kapoor had reappeared at the door. “Time to eat!” she called.

Karthik hadn’t even looked at Rémy. But as he started across the street, she distinctly heard his voice carry back.

“I saw what you did. Expect retaliation.”

Rémy smiled at his small back, retreating across the great boundary of road.

Michelle– I can already tell this is going to be a compelling story about families being forced out of their homes and a young girl who is plotting a way to fight back. You can slow this down just a little to ground us in time and place. Because you’ve quoted Ghandi, I’m assuming this is India, but it would be helpful if there were details in the scene to confirm this–types of belongings, lingering smells of food in the air, etc. I’d also work on the first two sentences to create lines that will hook a reader. Here is a post about first lines that might help. Specifically, the “scum of fear” threw me out of the reading while I tried to understand what that meant. A few sentences down, you refer to “her General.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Why is it “hers”? Overall though, this is a great start because you’ve piqued my interest! Best of luck!

Jessica: So much to love here! You’ve done a great job setting up the tension, which makes me want to continue reading. That said, the opening jumps around a little too much for me to fully immerse myself in the story. We go from Remy worrying about her world to her playing a game and then back to the troubles in her world. I’d suggest starting with the second paragraph; flesh out the game and setting just a touch more so that we don’t have to work so hard to figure out what she means by the General and we feel we’re there with her. After that, the opening flows nicely. Well done!

Karin: I love your language and the emotion and tension you create with Rémy as well as the other characters, who are also so beautifully anchored in action. I wouldn’t change too much at all. I would consider cutting the third sentence as it’s a little too telly and pulls me out of the story. Later you can consider replacing “his” before “array” with “Karthik’s” as a little clearer. Also, I pictured the truck rumbling past and leaving them in a wake of smoke, but in the fourth paragraph I was confused because this same truck stops at the Campana’s house. Perhaps you can give us as a transition some sense of distance here; for example, “At the end of the street the truck came to an abrupt stop at the Campanas’ house…” I don’t think you need paragraph 6 (two sentences) as a set up to K saying he saw what R did because  you did a wonderful job of showing us that K wasn’t looking at but at his mother, and without these sentences his remark is even more satisfying. These are minor nitpicky details because I really loved these 400 words!

Gabrielle: Your prose is lovely, and the feeling is dark, which I love. I think, too, you’ve done good work developing character and voice in page one. I agree, however, that it jumps around a lot–without the descriptive part of the narrative that we need to root us a little better. We meet too many people, too quickly, without seeing/sensing them or the space they occupy. It’s unusual, I think, to have the feeling and the pull of a narrative so well done, but be missing that (usually easier) piece. If you give us a few lines of sensory setting description, and/or physical character description, trickled in,  as the characters move through, it will space the scene out a little and help us see it as it happens. Do that, and I think this will be gold.

MYC: Using Metaphor

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss pre-writing and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about revising your world building. This week, Gita Trelease and Gabrielle Byrne talk about how to create powerful metaphors.

Metaphor and simile are among the richest, most useful tools in any writer’s kit. The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek metapherein: meta, meaning “across, over” and pherein, meaning “carry, or bear.”  The word describes what a metaphor does: it carries meaning from one place to another.

A writer uses metaphor and simile to do the same thing, that is, by “carrying meaning” from one thing to another, a metaphor brings together two seemingly dissimilar things as a way of deepening the reader’s understanding. Ideally, the comparisons are surprising and help the reader see something they hadn’t seen before.

Simile uses “like” or “as” to highlight one aspect of similarity: “Pip’s uncle was like a burning-down house, angry and about to collapse.” Or, “Pip’s uncle was as angry as a burning-down house.” Here, I’m saying that Pip’s uncle was angry in the same way a raging house fire is angry, but that’s all I’m saying. A simile is specific and limited, because sometimes you just want to talk about one aspect of the two things you’re comparing.

Metaphor, though, sets up an identity for the reader (and often the writer) to explore. Using metaphor, I would say, “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house.” Pip’s uncle = burning-down house. He is the whole flaming thing, not just a part of it. And once I’ve set that identity up, I can go further if I want, extending the metaphor: “Pip’s uncle was a burning-down house. And if you’d forgotten something inside, you weren’t never going back in to get it.”  I could even keep going, describing the burning house, how the fire started, what was destroyed—all the while still describing Pip’s uncle.

At the root, metaphor and simile are both powerful tools in the author’s arsenal, but both are just comparisons. So what makes them so powerful then, you might ask. My explanation is that writing a book is a little like a bachelor party.

Um, sorry Gabby, you lost me.

So, you know that bit when all the guys pile in the window and pretend-kidnap the groom and tie him to a chair and take him out and lead him from one place to another and the whole thing is a blast for everyone? Yeah, that. That’s what authors do. We go in and stealthily bind the reader to our story like a bachelor to his party chair. One loop for the characters they love, another for exciting plot lines, one for beautiful prose, and metaphors? Metaphors make great knots. They connect the physical and the emotional, or the emotional and the spiritual, using details that plumb the story’s heart. They tie the reader to the character in deep ways that can’t be easily undone.

Her hair rose in the wind, black ribbons that whipped the air, her anger holding back the storm.

  • Physical (black hair)
  • Emotional (she’s mad about something)
  • Spiritual (okay it’s a stretch, but the storm)

The best metaphors (IMHO) always draw from at least two of these areas. Added to this is that there are certain categories of things, that are intrinsically bound to our human hearts. Their very nature is emotional. Using one of these categories in your metaphor makes the knot that much stronger. I talked a little about these in the MYC post on fantasy world building (weather, food, housing, and religion/spirituality). On top of these universal categories, you may also have some “Bonus character quality” categories that are deeply powerful, because they act as reminders to the reader of the essence of the character/s in that scene. For example, a cook is going to use lots of food metaphors, but a soldier might use lots of battle/blood/loss metaphors. A seamstress might describe things using lots of sewing metaphors:

The sparks in his dark eyes gleamed, silver threads tugging her forward and meant just for her.

  • Physical (dark eyes)
  • Emotional (passion)
  • Bonus Quality (she’s a seamstress)

These character-specific metaphors can also work by comparing something that’s happening to one character, to a quality in another:

The needle of her intent sharpened against Billy’s guileless smile.

The comparisons can work alone (the sea was a cold embrace), or you can deepen them further with added details (the sea was a cold embrace, heartless and unforgiving). It can be fun to play with reader expectation at this level too, as in this simile:

Her teeth were like Desperado pearls, and I figured they were just as stolen.

Last but not least, the way an author uses metaphor can set up a tone for the whole book. A dark, psychological thriller might use dark and eerie metaphors:

She waited, holding her breath until she was certain the men had gone. Her feet pressed against the cold tile as a single beam of moonlight arched across the kitchen floor, a slow, silent bird diving toward dawn.   

While a quirky, funnier story might go with quirky, funny metaphors:

The new girl had a pancake face, wide and doughy, but sure to make a person happy by the time breakfast was over.

Playing with metaphor is a great way to get more energy and depth into your story. If you use them to explore your characters and your world, you’ll be sure to lift the whole manuscript to another level.

We hope you’ll come back next for next Wednesday’s MYC post to learn about Writing With Sensitivity.

Gabrielle Byrne’s debut MG fantasy, RISE OF THE DRAGON MOON, is due out in Winter, 2019 with Imprint/Macmillan. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton. Learn more about her at

Gita Trelease writes YA fantasy. She was born in Sweden and has lived in France, Italy, and the United States. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and Maine Coon, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. Also, wigs. She is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.




Are There Genres in Picture Books?

We always talk about genres in novels, but what about in picture books? Are there any? Are they the same as for novels? Is it even helpful categorizing picture books into genres? It seems to me that picture books can definitely fall into the adventure, mystery, sci-fi, horror (monster books), and fantasy genres, even though we don’t usually do this. Instead, we think of them falling into either character-driven or concept picture books. Then, of course, there’s nonfiction like biographies, and fairy tales, fables and folktales. Of course, there’s the ever-popular fractured fairy tale, which are fun twists on traditional fairy tales, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Gliding Hood, and Good Night Baddies.

But there’s also an emergence of other picture book genres that are wowing young readers.

  • The first are what I call Wonder Picture Books. They’re usually beautifully illustrated with rich poetic language, often for a new baby or young child. Adults love them as much as children, maybe even more so! Some examples include: The Wonderful Things You’ll Be, All the World, and On the Night You Were Born.

Mindful Concept Picture Books are similar to wonder books but written for slightly older children. The text is sparse but the feelings are deep and sensory. Books in this category include The Quiet Book, Say Zoop! (which also falls into the meta category below), Water Can Be…, and I Wish You More…

“Meta” Picture Books: They ask the reader to think outside the book and question what a book is. Often readers are pulled into the action with the use of second person and even asked to physically interact with the book like in Press Here and Tap the Magic Tree. This has been the breakthrough picture book category of the past few years. Other books in this category include We are In a Book (Elephant and Piggy Series) and The Book of Mistakes.

The Don’t Books: Maybe, the recent surge in Don’t Books took off with Don’t Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus. Nothing thrills children like a bossy picture book because they’re usually the ones being bossed around. Examples include: You Don’t Want a Unicorn, I am Not Book I am not a Chair, You will not like this Book, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Be Quiet.

The Mash-Up Picture Books combine two popular things and mash them together. Kids love these, too, because they’re unexpected, and they break the rules and that’s pretty exciting stuff. Plus, they are usually packed with a big splat of humor. Examples include: Dragons Love Tacos, Dear Santasaurus, Pirosaurs, and Dinotrux.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know your thoughts on picture book genres!

KARIN LEFRANC is from nowhere and everywhere. She lived in Sweden, Lebanon, South Africa and the UK but now lives in the US in a small Connecticut town which boasts the largest tree in the state. She’s an admitted tree hugger, who has on occasion, even been spotted kissing a tree or two.  Her debut picture book I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS was published in 2015 by Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing picture books, she’s time traveling to the 6th century in her middle-grade novel. You can find her on Twitter.