POP QUIZ WEEK 4

Alright, are you ready to show off all that you have learned in our FINAL Pop Quiz? We know you’re all going to nail it and will surely show off your plotting prowess! Take this quiz to see what you learned during week three of Kidlit Summer School.

On Monday, Megan Miranda taught us to thrill our readers by…

  1. Asking ourselves “What’s the worst that can happen?”
  2. Adding even more tension.
  3. Finding moments to surprise.
  4. All of the above.

On Tuesday, Lori Degman asked questions regarding plot in rhyming stories…

  1. Does the story have a strong beginning that introduces the setting, characters or problem in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading?
  2. Does every line add to the story and move it forward?  
  3. Does the pacing (the length and rhythm of each line) match the mood of the story?
  4. All of the above.

On Wednesday, Julie Sternberg suggested using conversation-based techniques such as:

  1. Eavesdrop on your main character as (s)he tells his/her best friend what’s happened.
  2. Brainstorm your plot ideas with your writer friends, and keep brainstorming as you continue to write.
  3. Whenever a particular moment, or the plot as a whole, isn’t working, open a new document and have a conversation with yourself about why that might be.
  4. All of the above.

On Thursday, Christine Fletcher gave us tips for writing effective conflict

  1. Bring your protagonist face-to-face with the need to grow and change.
  2. Conflict has to directly impact the protagonist’s goals, fears, and/or flaws.
  3. The reader needs to know why the conflict and its outcome matter so much to the protagonist—because then, and only then, will the reader care too.
  4. All of the above.

On Friday, John Cusick showed us how to escape the murky middle of our stories by…

  1. Dropping your hero and a few pals into a new setting.
  2. Exploring what your characters are doing a week, a month, or a year from now.
  3. Writing a scene in which all of your characters attend the same party.
  4. All of the above.

On Saturday, Joyce Wan helped us learn to twist our endings through…

  1. An ending that echoes something that happened in the beginning of the story
  2. Role reversal in which a character is revealed to be someone else in the end.
  3. Challenging the perception of the reader.
  4. All of the above

How did you do? A++ right? 6 out of 6? If you’re not sure or think you missed something, that’s easy, simply go back and check out the posts from Week Four. This is an open blog test. You don’t even have to turn it in. Grade yourself and then pat yourself on the back!

Final #KidlitSummerSchool Updates, Webinars, and THANK YOUS!

KLSS 2015 BadgeHello, Summer Schoolers! Week 4 has sadly ended, but we still have a few treats left for you.  Think of it as Afterschool for all of you overachievers.

We want to bring your attention to what is to come in the week ahead, including TWO great Summer School webinars! Here we go!

Pop Quiz: Don’t forget we will post a Pop Quiz on the blog at the end of the day. (Just for fun!)

#KidlitSummerSchool Afterschool Webinars:

This coming Tuesday, August 18th, at 8pm EST we will be hosting our very special Author Roundtable webinar with with Authors John Claude Bemis (MG), Lori Degman (PB) and Yvonne Ventresca (YA) who will share their expertise on children’s books and their own personal writing journeys. Keep an eye on your email for details on registering for this webinar and how to submit your questions for the panel.

And then on Thursday, August 20th, at 8pm EST join us for our Ask the Pros webinar with Scholastic Editor Orli Zuravicky and Art Director Patti Ann Harris. This webinar has a registration fee.

Both webinars are going to be a clucking good time, filled with lots of Nerdy Chick knowledge. You will not want to miss out.

Registration closes for the Author Roundtable at 11pm EST TONIGHT!

Registration for Ask the Pros closes on Wednesday, August 19th at 11pm EST. 

Check your inbox for registration information.

For more information about the Webinars, please refer to the FAQ page in the navigation bar above.

organic_nerdy_chicks_tshirtShop til You Drop – Nerdy Chick-style
The Nerdy Chicks Rule Café Press store is now open. Be a chic chick or one cool dude. Check out the awesome Nerdy Chicks gear here…

Nerdy Chicks Rule Cafe Press

Our Nerdy Chick Drawing Contest “Drawn” to a Close

Nerdy Chick

Art by Mike Ciccotello

Our Nerdy Chicks Drawing Contest has ended, yet stay tuned for a Gallery of all of your amazing creations soon on the website!

Thanks once more to Mike Ciccotello who drew a Nerdy Chick on a coffee cup and tweeted to Kami and Sudipta, for inspiring our contest. The winners will be picked by an industry professional and be added to our cafe press store! Also, they will receive a prize pack with their own design on it.

Thank you for all of your entries! You are certainly some amazingly talented Chicks!

Perfeblue-star-thumbct Attendance Award: Did you leave a comment on every author post within the first twenty four hours that it was posted? If you did, you are eligible for the perfect attendance award! If you qualify, just leave a comment right here on THIS blog post. Start your comment with the words “Perfect Attendance” (So we can easily pick you out from others commenting about Summer School.) One name will be drawn from all of the contenders to win the Perfect Attendance Prize. 

What about the other prizes? The #30mdare prize? The individual post prizes? The pre-registration prize? The grand prizes? All of the other great stuff? We will have details about all of the other prizes and how they will be awarded in a separate post on the blog this week. That’s something to look forward to! 

smiling-gold-star-thumbLastly, a sincere thank you to each of you for joining us these past four weeks.  #KidLitSummerSchool is for YOU and we hope that you have enjoyed yourself, met a few friends, and learned a craft-tip or two. We’re proud of you! You get a gold star!
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Thanks also to our awesome faculty of bloggers and all of our webinar participants.  It really was a fantastic summer, right?!
Now go forth, you plotting geniuses.
The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education

Joyce Wan: Give Your Tale a Twist and GIVEAWAY

Are you finding the ending of your picture book story to be a little ho-hum? Or, is everything wrapped up a little too neat and tidy? One of the strongest ways to end a picture book is to surprise a reader. Kids love a surprise ending (and adults do, too). When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun. When done well, an unpredictable twist can turn a good book into a classic and is often what makes repeated re-readings a pleasure. In subsequent readings, the reader enjoys being in the know and re-reading a book when you know what’s coming can be enjoyable in its own right too. I’ve always been a big fan of plot twists in books and movies of any genre for as long as I can remember. When I wrote my latest picture book The Whale In My Swimming Pool, I knew I wanted to include a twist at the end to delight and surprise readers. With a solid hook in mind, I came up with the ending before I even wrote my first draft, crafting the story backwards from the twist.

Creating a twist ending involves knowing what your audience expects or takes for granted. What’s the predictable ending? Then, figure out how to turn it inside out or extend the story just a little beyond the last sentence with an unpredictable turn of events even if it’s only shown in the final illustration. In funny stories, a twist ending can feel like a punch line to a joke.

There are many ways to create a twist ending (some twist endings are as unique as the stories themselves) but here are some specific approaches to try:

Circle Storyimogene
Just when readers think the problem has been resolved, the ending echoes something that happened in the beginning of the story. An example of this is used in Imogene’s Antlers by David Small, which is about a girl who wakes up one morning with huge antlers growing out of her head. By the end of the book, she wakes up to find her antlers have disappeared, only to be replaced by a full set of peacock tail feathers. I used this technique at the end of The Whale in My Swimming Pool when the little boy in my story goes home to take a nap, after resolving his whale of a predicament, only to find a bear in his bed.

Role Reversal
missnelson
A character is revealed to be someone else in the end. An example of this is Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard (illustrated by James Marshall), when it’s revealed at the end the book (through the illustration) that the ugly, mean substitute teacher, Miss Viola Swamp, was in fact Miss Nelson in disguise and the ruse was a tricky way to get her class to behave.

Challenging Perceptionsmonster
A reader’s assumption of what is true is reversed. An example of this is The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone (illustrated by Michael Smollin) when lovable Grover begs the reader throughout the story not to turn the page as there is a monster at the end of the book. It’s revealed at the end that the monster is none other than Grover himself. The book plays on the fact that readers assume that all monsters are scary and bad with Grover himself building up on that assumption throughout the entire book.

A few things to keep in mind when developing a story with a twist ending:

It’s a good idea to have a twist ending in mind from the start so that you can set up the sequence of events that leads you right to the surprise at the end.  Also, it’s the only effective way of diverting attention away from it all the way through the story. If you’re a pantser, you may have to go back to fix any inconsistencies and to make sure everything lines up the way they should so that the ending makes sense.

A twist ending should be somewhat open-ended and will introduce WhaleInMySwimmingPool-covernew questions or themes. It leaves readers thinking and talking about it long after they have finished reading. At the end of The Whale In My Swimming Pool, readers are left wondering a) where did this bear come from b) how will the little boy get the bear out of his bed and c) what’s going on that’s causing all these wild animals to descend on this boy’s home. As an author, it has inspired lively discussions at book readings and school visits and is a great way to foster a child’s imagination.

Do make sure that your story is not so dependent on its twist that it doesn’t have anything else to say as it will feel terribly contrived in plot for the sake of The Surprise.

You also don’t want the reader to feel cheated or tricked. Rather, you want the twist to make the reader feel as if that’s the best way for the story to have ended.

Picture books with a good twist ending will increase a manuscript’s value dramatically and grab an editor’s attention. It will extend the story beyond the story, begging readers to imagine what happens next. Who knows, it might even set you up for a sequel! What are some of your favorite picture books with a twist ending?

joycewan-headshot-2015 (1)

Joyce Wan is an award-winning author-illustrator of many popular books for children, including You Are My Cupcake, We Belong Together, and The Whale In My Swimming Pool, which was a Junior Library Guild Spring 2015 selection. When she’s not working on books, she teaches courses at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. Visit her online at www.wanart.com.

 

Joyce is giving away a signed hardcover copy of her 

image1 (1)picture book The Whale In My Swimming Pool AND an adorable signed print (shown to the right). If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Christine’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

John Cusick: Escaping the Awful Middle and GIVEAWAY

Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag

I don’t know about you, but I find it’s much easier to start something than finish it. When I begin a new draft it’s all sunshine and rainbows. The ideas just come unbidden, new characters leap onto the page like circus tumblers, and conflicts pop up unbidden.

Cusick_GirlParts_CoverThen I get about halfway through the story and bam: suddenly the fun’s over. I’m not sure where I’m going or what happens next. Maybe the story has begun to feel stale, or the tensions I’ve created aren’t enough to sustain my interest. The middle is where our author-brains begin to fatigue, and as a result, this is where many of us get stuck.

There are a few remedies, I think, for that middle-of-the-novel slog, tricks for jumpstarting your story when your characters are as lost as you are.

TIP 1: FIELDTRIP
In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery. Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting. Have your detective chase a lead to Beliz, or your hero seek the counsel of a distant oracle. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, halfway through the novel Elizabeth Bennet leaves home to tour the Derbyshire countryside, a journey which ultimately brings her closer (emotionally and literally) to Mr. Darcy. A new location can keep the story fresh and open up new avenues you’d never have discovered if you’d stayed at home.

Writing Exercise: Drop your hero and a few pals into a new setting. What new conflicts await them there? Does the change of place change the way the hero behaves or thinks?

TIP 2: QUANTUM LEAP
A change in time can be as effective as a change of location. In John Irving’s The World According to Garp, an early scene features a horrific car crash involving most of the major characters. The reader turns the page and…whoa. We’ve jumped ahead in time and the exact outcome of the crash is unknown (until much later). The leap forward creates a terrific cliffhanger, and pulls the reader deeper into the story. The effect is more compelling and exciting than if we were shown the aftermath of the crash immediately.

Writing Exercise: Explore what your characters are doing a week, a month, or a year from now.

JCusick_CMB_CoverTIP 3: PARTY TIME!
Ever run into an ex at a party? Things can get…interesting. If you’re not sure what happens next in your story, try bringing your whole cast together for a big group scene. Nothing stirs up tensions and conflict like getting a bunch of characters with differing agendas into the same room. Dostoevsky is famous for his large, chaotic dinner scenes. In Crime & Punishment Raskolnikov attends a funeral dinner thrown by Katrina, only to have Sonia, Luzhin, and most of the main characters show up. The result is a disastrous series of arguments that propel the story into its next phase.

Writing Exercise: Write a scene in which all of your characters attend the same party. What goes wrong? Who argues with whom? What secrets are revealed?

Keeping your story feeling fresh and vibrant is as much for your readers’ benefit as it is your own. It’s easy to get bogged down halfway through a draft, with all that writing still left to do and possibly no clear end in sight. Fatigue often means boredom, and if you’re not excited by your story, chances are your readers will be bored too. So shake things up, surprise yourself, and you’ll get through it. I promise.

JCusick_HeadshotJohn MCusick is an agent with Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management, representing picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. He is also the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY (Candlewick Press), as well as a regular speaker at writers conferences. His clients include New York Times Bestselling Author Tommy Wallach (WE ALL LOOKED UP, Simon & Schuster), Courtney Alameda (SHUTTER, Feiwel & Friends) and Hannah Moskowitz (A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD, Chronicle Books) You can find him online at and on Twitter @johnmcusick.

John is giving away signed copies of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of John’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Christine Fletcher: Writing Effective Conflict and GIVEAWAY

One of the first things you learn in writing fiction is that you have to have conflict. Lots and lots of conflict. Without conflict, in fact, you don’t have a story at all.

But there’s a difference between just-any-old-conflict and effective conflict. Effective conflict ramps up the tension and stakes. It moves the story forward and keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Ineffective conflict, on the other hand, leaves readers unmoved.

CFletcher_TallulahFalls_CvrIf you’ve ever sat bored during a car chase or a shootout scene in a movie, you know what I mean. Why were you bored? Probably because you knew the director wasn’t going to kill off the protagonist halfway through the film. True enough. But probably also because the conflict, spectacular though it may have been (cars hurtling through the air! flames shooting all directions!), didn’t impact the story in any new or significant way. The bad guys wanted to kill the good guy…but you already knew that. The good guy didn’t want to get killed…but you knew that, too. In terms of the story, nothing was happening. The only things truly at stake were the poor movie props. That kind of action leaves the viewer with a bad case of the “so-whats”.

In our novels, “so what” isn’t exactly the reader experience we’re going for. But to build effective conflict, first we need to know what purpose conflict serves in our stories. For that, lets look at a definition of story from Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron:

A story is about how the things that happen affect the protagonist.

The “things that happen” are the events that make up the plot. But notice something really important: The plot is not the story. Rather, the purpose of plot is to cause the protagonist to grow and change in such a way that he can never go back to the person he was before. How and why the protagonist changes—that’s what your story is really about.

So what does this have to do with conflict?

Let me ask you this: How easy is it for people to examine their beliefs and habits, their actions and attitudes, and realize: “Wow—all this time I’ve been wrong, and I need to change!” Happens all the time, right?

Hahaha! Of course it doesn’t. Most of us have to be backed into a corner with no way out before it dawns on us that maybe we’re wrong. And even then, we often resist making actual changes in how we think or what we do. Change—genuine internal change—doesn’t happen spontaneously. Not in real life, and not in fiction.

CFletcher_TenCents_CvrThe job of all that conflict in your plot is to force your protagonist into that corner, bringing her face-to-face with her need to change. To do its job—to be effective—conflict has to:

  • Hit your protagonist where he lives. If it doesn’t touch on what he wants and/or what he fears, then it won’t mean much to him. And if the conflict doesn’t mean anything to the protagonist, it won’t mean anything to the reader, either. It’s just noise on the page.
  • Have a consequence that matters. Consequences can be either positive (something the protagonist needs or wants), or negative (something the protagonist fears.) Whatever it is, it has to be something your protagonist cares deeply about.

So for every conflict, no matter how small, ask yourself: what’s at stake here for my protagonist? What does she stand to lose…or gain? Will the outcome get her closer to her goal? Or set her back so impossibly far, she’ll never succeed? Does the conflict force him in some way to confront the fears and flaws that are holding him back? Most of all, why does it matter to your protagonist? What does it mean to him emotionally?

For example, say your protagonist’s goal is to be chosen for the school math team, even though she hates math. In order to be considered, she has to pass a qualifying test. If she fails the test, the consequence is that she’s out of the running. Why does it matter to her? Because if she fails, she’ll disappoint her mathematician father, whose approval she desperately craves. If she can’t get on that team, he’ll think she’s even more of a nobody than he does already.

To understand what a conflict means to your protagonist, don’t be afraid to explore deep. Conflicts and their consequences don’t have to be life-and-death. But in order to do their job—to cause your protagonist to grow and change—they have to directly impact her goals, fears, and/or flaws. And they have to matter so much to your protagonist that they matter to the reader, too. Because the bottom line is this: No matter how big, well written or cleverly plotted the conflict is, we won’t care unless we can connect emotionally with what’s at stake. Make us care, and we’ll be on the edge of our seats rooting for your protagonist from first page to last.

Let’s Recap

  • The job of conflict in your plot is to bring your protagonist face-to-face with the need to grow and change.
  • To do this, conflict has to directly impact the protagonist’s goals, fears, and/or flaws.
  • The reader needs to know why the conflict and its outcome matter so much to the protagonist—because then, and only then, will the reader care too.

 

Fletcher

Christine Fletcher is the author of Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance, which YALSA named a 2009 Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. She’ll follow a compelling story into just about any YA genre: contemporary, historical, sci fi, and most recently, steampunk. You can find her on Twitter @cm_fletcher or on her website.

Christine is giving away a signed hardcover copy of her historical YA Ten Cents A Dance. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Christine’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Julie Sternberg: Let’s Talk This Through and GIVEAWAY

I spend a lot of time trying to trick myself into believing that writing is easy—that if I would just sit down and open my laptop, words would fly across the page. It helps to say to myself, All you have to do is tell a story. That’s it. Just take a seat and tell a story.

JSternberg_Freindship_CoverWe know how to tell stories. We’ve told them since we were kids, in countless conversations with friends and more-than-friends and sisters and brothers and parents and teachers and neighbors. “You are never going to believe this,” we’ve said, and then we’re off. We’ve listened to plenty of stories, too, and we know good ones from bad.

Because conversation feels so much easier than writing, I use it in various ways as I figure out what should happen in my story. (That’s how I like to think about plot: just, what happens in my story. That’s it. Nothing to be afraid of here.) I can’t move forward without my primary characters and at lease one pivotal problem, so I come up with those first. Then I try this technique, suggested by my friend and mentor Amy Hest: I sit somewhere quiet and pretend that my main character and her best friend are nearby. My main character is chattering away, telling her friend everything that’s happened (either in a particular scene or over the course of the whole book). Sometimes I think, That can’t be possibly be true, and my main character backtracks a little and tweaks what she’s said, then continues. Eventually, I start taking notes.

JSternberg_Covers

I talk to real, live people, too, and probably not often enough. It’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in the solitude of writing and forget how useful it can be to brainstorm plot ideas with others. In my writing group we usually submit draft pages, but sometimes I’ll ask if we can discuss what should be happening in my story instead. Those sessions can feel life-saving.

Finally, each and every time I struggle with a particular moment in the story (this happens embarrassingly often), I open a new document and start a written conversation with myself. These conversations go something like this (except they’re a lot harder to read than what I’m about to type, because I’m not allowed to pause or edit, and I often skip the punctuation):

Okay, what’s the problem? Why isn’t this working?

I think maybe Sadie’s too angry given the circumstances. It doesn’t feel real. 

So she has to dial it back, right?

Or maybe something worse needs to have happened. Like, let’s say, x instead of y. If x had happened, it’d make perfect sense for her to say what she did. Or she could even say ‘Z’ instead. Yeah, Z is better.”

JSternberg_IllustrationOnce I reach the “Yeah, Z is better” point, then I can close out of my just-talking-to-myself document, make the change in the manuscript, and revise my sense of what’s going to happen next.

In essence, I often use a “there’s no such thing as talker’s block” approach to avoiding writer’s block—including when it comes to plot. I suggest these three conversation-based techniques:

  • Eavesdrop on your main character as (s)he tells his/her best friend what’s happened. If it feels too strange to imagine them sitting in the room with you, then have your main character write the story out in a letter to the best friend. (Letters are a great way for drawing out a character’s voice. I highly recommend having your character write a letter or two.)
  • Don’t forget to brainstorm your plot ideas with your writer friends, and keep brainstorming as you continue to write.
  • Whenever a particular moment, or the plot as a whole, isn’t working, open a new document and have a conversation with yourself about why that might be. It’s surprisingly helpful.

Good luck!
Julie_Sternberg 115_2Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie; its sequels Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a CupcakeThe Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine series; and the picture book Bedtime at Bessie and Lil’s. She is also the creator of Play, Memory, a podcast about stories from childhood. Formerly a public interest lawyer, she is a graduate of the New School’s MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. You can learn more about Julie at juliesternberg.com.

Julie is giving away a signed copy of LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Julie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

 

Lori Degman: Plot, Shmot! Right? Not Quite! and GIVEAWAY

Because I write in rhyme, most of the time (but not always), the Nerdy Chicks asked me to discuss plot in rhyming picture books.

Whether you’re writing in prose or rhyme – plot matters!  You can be an excellent poet and write awesome poems with perfect rhyme and meter, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to write a rhyming picture book.  Because what rhyming picture books have, that most poems do not, is a plot.  So, even if you have perfect meter and amazing rhymes, if you don’t have a plot – you don’t have a story.

When critiquing other author’s rhyming picture book manuscripts, or when editing my own, I ask myself these three questions about plot:

LDegman_CDoodleOops_Cvr1. Does the story have a strong beginning that introduces the setting, characters or problem in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading?  

When writing in rhyme, it’s so important that the first few stanzas be perfect, in meter, rhyme and content.  The meter and rhyme need to be flawless and you want the reader to get hooked by the story, so they’re not even thinking about the rhyme.

Here’s an example of a bad start, from an early draft of Cock-a-Doodle Oops!.  The story began:

Early one morning, (without any warning),
Rooster delivered a speech,
“I’ve saved up my money to go someplace sunny.
I’m taking a trip to the beach.”

Though the meter and rhyme were fine, I realized the reader needed to know why Rooster leaving for vacation created a problem.  What was at stake?  So I added this to precede it, and it became the first stanza of the book:

Farmer McPeeper was such a deep sleeper,
not even an earthquake could shake him.
A poke or a pinch wouldn’t budge him an inch,
‘cause only his rooster could wake him.

Now, Rooster’s decision to leave town has obvious consequences, which will make the reader want to turn the page.

2. Does every line add to the story and move it forward?  

When writing in rhyme, it’s so easy for the rhyme to take the story in the wrong direction or to add elements to the story that don’t move it forward.  With such a low word count – and with the limitations created by the meter, every line must be vital to the story.

In Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, when Rooster came back with a sore throat and couldn’t crow, I let the rhyme dictate what happened next (and the meter’s pretty bad too – gulp):

“You can’t let us down. You must wake Farmer Brown. 
We worked hard to keep the farm running.
We plowed and we hoed.  We reaped and we sowed.
While you lay on the beach all day sunning! 

This stanza introduces new elements that don’t help the story (working the farm, plowing and hoeing . . .) and takes the reader out of the present action (refers back to Rooster being at the beach).  So, instead I wrote a stanza that responds directly to the problem and heightens the tension:

“It’s hopeless,” said Goat.  “If he’s got a sore throat,
his crow will be too soft hear.
Since Rooster can’t do it and each of us blew it,
He’ll probably sleep for a year!”


LDegman_1ZanyZoo_Cvr3. Does the pacing (the length and rhythm of each line) match the mood of the story?

When writing a rhyming picture book, plot is more than just the story arc – you also have to think about pacing.  Sure, you need a strong beginning, a climactic middle and a satisfying ending, but the way you pace it helps create the mood of the story.  Here are three examples of how pacing impacts your story:

  • The number of lines in each stanza can impact the tone of the story and/or improve the read-aloud-ability.  Here’s an example from 1 Zany Zoo:

While you stood here waiting
with nothing to do,
I snuck through the gate
and into the zoo.

Changing this to a two-line stanza not only improves how it reads (less choppy) but it also makes it sound more like natural dialogue and prevents an unnatural pause in the middle of a sentence.

While you stood here waiting with nothing to do,
I snuck through the gate and into the zoo.

  • The rhythm and line length can set the tone for the story.  In this first example, a boy is giving an excuse to his teacher about what happened to his homework, so he’s speaking in long sentences told in a hurried, almost breathless voice:

A monster ate my homework, Ma’am; I swear to you, it’s true!
It swallowed it with one big GULP; it didn’t even chew!

This example is from a story in which the students and teachers are chasing an escaped chick through the school.  I used shorter phrases to support the panic and action of the chick running through the school:

Counting chicks when one escapes.
“There it goes!” The teacher gapes.
Children scramble. “Hurry, grab him.”
Teacher hollers, “Someone nab him!”

  • Don’t be afraid to break up a stanza to control the pacing and create the experience you want the reader to have.  For example, the last line of Cock-a-doodle Oops! is a big BA-DUM-BUM punch line.  So, when I formatted it on my manuscript, it looked like this:

He joined them outside and pulled Rooster aside.
“Your crow had a bit of a screech.
I see that you’re sick and I’ve got just the trick.
What you need is . . .

a week at the beach!”

So, to sum things up:

In rhyme or prose, everyone knows
It helps a lot to work on plot!

EXERCISE
Choose a rhyming story you’ve written, or write a new one, and ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Does the story have a strong beginning that introduces the setting, characters or problem in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading?
  2. Does every line add to the story and move it forward?
  3. Does the pacing (the length and rhythm of each line) match the mood of the story?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then make the changes necessary to change those answers to “yes”!

Lori DegmanLori Degman is teacher of the deaf and an award winning picture book author. She has two books: 1 Zany Zoo, Simon & Schuster (Cheerios New Author Contest winner);Cock-a-Doodle Oops, Creston Books (2015 ILA Honor Book); and Norbert’s Big Dream, Sleeping Bear Press, coming July, 2016.  You can find her at: Loridegman.com on Facebook Lori Grusin Degman or Twitter @LoriDegman.

Lori is giving away signed copies of her books 1 ZANY ZOO and COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Lori’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.