Prizes: The Final Installment!

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It’s the post you’ve all been waiting for…. the one where we announce those awesome prizes that went along with pre-registration and registration. Well, wait no longer. The winners are announced below!


Pre-registration prizes:

CHAR DIXON won the 30 minute brainstorming session with Sudipta and Kami together! The Nerdy Chicks will talk her through her idea – at whatever level of finished it is – and help push it to the next level. Hooray for Char!

books prizeMARGARET THOMAS is the winner of this stack of books from Scholastic Press!


books prize2And JUDITH KUNZ is the winner of this stack of books from Scholastic Press!

Of course ALL of the Pre-registered students were awarded eligibility to submit a pitch to agent Susan Hawk for a chance to get feedback and all were able to watch the webinar!

In addition to Kidlit Summer School participants who pre-registered, all who completed regular registration were eligible for the following prizes:

KRISTI OLSON won the second 30 minute brainstorming session with Sudipta and Kami together! The Nerdy Chicks will talk her through her idea – at whatever level of finished it is – and help push it to the next level. Hooray for KRISTI!

BRIAN NEWLIN is the winner of signed books from headmistresses Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Yay Brian!

ELLEN RAMSEY is the winner of signed copies of books by two of our guest bloggers, Alison Formento and Shannon Wiersbitzky. Congrats Ellen!

JENNIE SIMOPOULOS won this stack of books to keep her inspired and help her study how other authors are building character!

From Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins

From Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins

MARY JANE MUIR won this stack of books!

From Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins

From Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins

And MICHELLE LEONARD won this one!

From Atheneum

From Atheneum

Congratulations to EVERYONE and thank you for participating in Kidlit Summer School! We’ve enjoyed BUILDING CHARACTER with you!

Today’s winners will be contacted through the email addresses we have on file and on the blog. Details about how to claim your prizes will be included in the emails. 🙂 If you do not receive an email from us by Wednesday, Sept 4 please contact us at nerdychickswrite(at)gmail (dot) com with PRIZE in the subject line.   

Keep on building character!

kami and s

Kami and Sudipta

Co-founders of Kidlit Summer School

(Otherwise known as principals, directors, and headmistresses!)


Round One of Prize Winners!

We’ve been busy drawing prize winners with the random number generator, and while it is going to take a little longer finish selecting these for each post and grabbing emails for all of the individual winners, we are ready to announce the winners of two of them.

First of all, three cheers for everyone with perfect attendance!

Hip-Hip Hooray!

Hip-Hip Hooray!

Hip-Hip Hooray!

According to the responses we received, FIFTY SIX of you had perfect attendance. Considering all that goes on in the summer, we are WOWED that so many of you made it to class every day!

From those fifty six, one lucky winner was selected to receive:

A box of Kidlit summer School bling including a journal, a tote bag, and a mug!

A box of Kidlit Summer School bling including a journal, a tote bag, and a mug!

The perfect attendance award grand prize winner for 2014 is



Congratulations Lori!

Like all schools, we’ll make sure everyone else who filled out the form gets a certificate! We will send these out via email in the next few days.

 The #30mdare prizes 

Rebecca Petruck is giving away five three-page critiques for this awesome prize. We were thrilled that so many of you participated in the #30mdares with Rebecca, and that so many others of you etched out time to do them on your own!!!! Thank you Rebecca for the inspiring writing prompts. The five winners of the critiques are:

Cathy Hall

Phyllis Hemann

Karen Brueggeman

Suzy Leopold

Audrey Rich

Congratulations to all of you!

Information on how to contact Rebecca will be in your inbox soon!


We’ll be announcing the next round of them by Wednesday.

Today’s winners, as well as future winners, will be contacted through the email addresses we have on file and on the blog. Details about how to claim your prizes will be included in the emails. 🙂

We look forward to announcing the rest of the prizes very soon.  Until then…. keep writing!


kami and s

Kami and Sudipta

Co-founders of Kidlit Summer School

(Otherwise known as principals, directors, and headmistresses!)

Stepping Toward Those Awesome Prizes!

You’ve read the posts! You’ve done the worksheets! You’ve attended the webinars and #30mdares! Good for you! And even if you didn’t get to ALL of those great events, you’ve already received some of the best that Kidlit Summer School has to offer! Know what would be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the cat’s pajamas?


So let’s take those first steps toward prize distribution.

The Perfect Attendance Award

blue-star-thumbperfect attendance award grand prize will be given to one person who commented on FACULTY POST (these ran Monday-Saturday) here on the blog within the first 24 hours of it going up. If you think you commented on all of the guest posts, fill out the form below by Saturday, August 23.

Like all schools, we’ll make sure everyone else who fills out this form gets a certificate!

The time to enter your name has past. We’ve removed the form and are gearing up to announce the winner!

The 30mdare prizes 

Rebecca Petruck is giving away five three-page critiques for this awesome prize! Because we didn’t want issues with time zones or work schedules you could have done the dares whenever it suited you. We’ll use an honor system for the contest! Fill out the form by Saturday, August 23 if you were able to do at least 5 of the prompts.

The time to enter your name has past. We’ve removed the form and are gearing up to announce the winners!


We will use the random number generator to select a winner for these. It will take some time to sort it all out, but we’ll be announcing those soon!

wpid-wp-1405787622785.jpgGiveaways associated with guest blogger posts. These are contributed by the guest bloggers themselves and will be given away to someone who commented on that particular post. Find out more of some of these HERE.

Grand-prize giveaways for registrants: These, like stacks of books, brainstorming sessions with Kami and Sudipta, Summer School Cafe-Press bling pack will be drawn from all who put their names in the registration or pre-registration pool!

Grand-prize giveaways for pre-registrants: The winners of these prizes noted HERE will be drawn from the pool of people who pre-registered.

YOUR IDEAS for Kidlit Summer School 2015! 

Do you have great ideas for next year’s Kidlit Summer School? Leave us a comment below with your ideas about making Kidlit Summer School another fabulous experience! We are looking for positive new things we may not have even thought of yet. We may not be able to incorporate them all, but we’d love to consider them. 

Week 4 Pop Quiz

badge50Ready for your last pop quiz? Show how much you know about Week 4!  Take this quiz to see if you learned the basics during the last week of Kidlit Summer School! (Pssst: Reread these great posts. Notes are allowed!)

1. In his post, When Creating Your Characters Consult the Experts, Jerry Craft

a) says it is our job to create work that our fans will understand

b) suggests we get feedback on our work from our audience

c) tells us not to be afraid to ask for help

d) reminds us not to dismiss criticisms

e) all of the above


2. In her post, How to Write Historical Fiction Characters, Amy Carol Reeves

a) admits she’s relieved that oxygen depriving whale bone corsets are out of fashion

b) reminds us that teen girls today are pressured to maintain a certain body type just as teens from historical fiction were

c) suggests we keep the main tensions of the time period where our stories are set while highlighting a universal teen tension

d) stresses the importance making the needs of historical fiction characters relatable

e) all of the above


3. In her post My Characters Won’t Let Me Write This, Ame Dyckman

a) offers us the world’s first tixercise! (tip+exercise)

b) asks us to think about what happened in our characters’ days the day before the story started

c) advises us to look for the real characters amongst our relatives

d) uggests we identify our character’s favorite flavor of ice cream

e) all of the above


4. In her post Characters Don’t Exist in a Vacuum, Anne Marie Pace

a) reminds us that people aren’t 100% consistent, so characters shouldn’t be either

b) says that it is important to know our character’s sometimes and usually

c) suggests that the sometimes and usually can help develop plot

d) indicates that the sometimes might be an unconscious new behavior

e) all of the above


5. In her post Unsticking the Glue, Leeza Hernandez gives us tips to help battle the frustrations that hold us back from our creative genius. These tips include:

a) being kind to yourself

b) Identifying procrastination

c) Taking a time out

d) Bringing in reinforcements

e) all of the above


6. In his post Facing Fears to Create Great Characters, Zach OHora

a) admits he’d never drawn a dinosaur before taking on Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

b) shows kids he drew in dinosaur costumes instead of drawing dinosaurs

c) illustrates that he had to learn to face his fears

d) suggests that sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zones

e) all of the above



You made a 100 again didn’t you? Good for you! Since it’s the last week, we’re going to give you a REALLY BIG gold stars!



You’ve made it through four weeks of great posts, so reward yourself with some Summer School Swag. You can still get Kidlit Summer School swag from the PiBoIDMo Cafe Press shop! Neither we nor Tara profits from any of these sales, and in fact, $3.00 of every purchase goes to Reading is Fundamental. These funds will be used to purchase books for kids who need them. Thanks to Tara Lazar for making the PiBoIdMo shop available to us and thanks again to Zach OHora for creating the fabulous Kidlit Summer School logo!

Zachariah OHora: Facing Fears to Create Great Characters

t wrecksTyrannosaurus Wrecks!

When I first heard about this project I was super excited to work with Chad (creative director at Abrams) and Sudipta.

That excitement quickly turned to fear when I realized I’d never really drawn dinosaurs before.

Not even as a kid.

Plus there seemed to be a whole lot of dinosaurs I’d never heard of.


I think there were like five dinos when I was a kid and half of them don’t even exist anymore, er, I mean, they ALL don’t exist anymore, but uh…you get the point.

I realized I couldn’t just fudge through with a vague lizard creature.
So I started where all ignorant people do, with a Google search.

Fear turned to terror as I collected images. NO WAY WAS I GOING TO PULL THIS OFF!!!

Then I had an idea. One that might appear brilliant enough to fool everyone into NOT noticing I can’t draw dinosaurs. What if it was kids DRESSED as dinos instead?

TrexColorpalette 1

This seemed like the perfect solution as it allowed me a good deal of creative license.

TrexStudy 2

(Left: One of the first sketches for T Wrecks Boy. Right: Then I thought since he was always wrecking stuff perhaps he couldn’t see out of his mask)

TrexStudy 3

Then Abrams politely showed me a book that already had my “brilliant” idea in it that came out two years earlier.

Illustrator gulps.
Illustrator whines.
Illustrator wrecks!

Illustrator practices and practices drawing dinosaurs!

Until finally the characters ended up having some human qualities but were most definitely dinosaurs!


Fortunately everyone was happy with the new version and that’s what you see in the book.
Fear of failure forced me to get my proper dinosaur education on. And best of all Sudipta was happy with them too.

Sometimes in a collaboration you have to go way out of your comfort zone.
And that’s a good thing.

zauthorphotoZachariah OHora is an illustrator and author of a number of children’s books. His debut STOP SNORING, BERNARD! was awarded the Society of Illustrators Founder’s Award and was chosen as the PA One Book for 2012. His book NO FITS NILSON! was awarded a Kirkus star and was the Huffington Post Book of the Year for 2013. He is also the creator of the awesome Kidlit Summer School banner and badge! He lives and works in the tiny village of Narberth, PA with his wife, two sons, and two cats.

We think this post Zach wrote earlier this year for Nerdy Chicks Rule is the perfect last guest author post for Kidlit Summer School. We all must step out of our comfort zones to create great characters, and we all have to practice. Your commitment to spending time working on your writing this summer — to practice — already demonstrates that you will face those fears. Congratulations!

Remember to come back for the pop quiz tomorrow! (Pssst…. Zach sent us another cool new drawing that we’ll share with you early next week!)

Shannon Wiersbitzky: Do Your Characters Skip or Splash?

Shannon_Wiersbitzky_Author_Photo_2012I’m a big fan of people watching. Many of us are. Whether walking down a crowded sidewalk, or sitting at a café, it can be fun to see the variety of individuals that pass by. Some are noticeable for a specific characteristic, beautiful eyes, or a smile, maybe a unique outfit. Others might be loud and obnoxious, filling a lovely night with noise and you hope they walk faster.

Your novels provide your readers with a different way to people watch. In most stories, as in life, there are a variety of characters. Some are absolutely critical to the plot, no scene is complete without them. Others are less of a focus, coming in and out only to help move the story along at critical junctures. Then there are those that are more akin to bystanders. The people we meet on occasion and perhaps share a passing hello, but don’t really get to know. Those who add dimension to the world we’ve created.

The truth is, characters come in all shapes and sizes. In their most simple form, however, I tend to think of them as either flat or round. Both are good. Both can be interesting. Both add value to your story. The world, like a good manuscript, needs a mix to be its best.

So what does it mean to be flat?

photoImagine a skipping stone, the kind that fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. It’s surface soft and smooth. When you throw it, it glides over the water, touching here and there, dancing over the surface.

Flat characters remind me of these stones. They are likely not your primary characters. They might be secondary or tertiary. Flat doesn’t mean they’re weak. In fact, flat characters can be strong. They’re simply one dimensional, featuring a singular strong attribute. Maybe a sense of humor, a biting sarcasm, or a zany sense of fashion. These characters don’t change. They are who they are and we love them (or hate them) for that. Think of the children who DON’T win in Charlie and Chocolate Factory, we know a singular trait about them, and that is enough.

photo (1)Now imagine a big rock. The kind that has some heft to it. You might even need two hands to hurl it toward the water. And when it hits, you hear a deep thunk, and watch the water splash. This is how I imagine a round character.

Round characters are more fully fleshed out. They’re complex and instead of just one attribute, we know all sorts of things about them. We might know their hopes, their dreams, what makes them happy, or scared, or what means the most to them. In essence, we know them the same way we know a good friend. Now think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again, but this time think of Charlie and Willy Wonka. Both are very round.

photo (2)My son is interested in rocks, and we came upon this beauty while on vacation. It made me think of round characters. So many layers! While character change is a function of the plot, not of the character, it is often the round characters who do experience change in a story. Probably because they tend to be the center of our stories.

As you assess your novel and edit, or even as you outline. Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Which characters are flat? Which are round?
    • List them out and note the aspects of them that we know through the writing.
    • Are there aspects of the characters which are still in your head but not on the page? Why?
    • Have you intentionally made them flat or round? Or have they simply ended up that way? Be deliberate!
  2. Is your main character round or flat?
    • This can be intriguing to analyze. Sometimes we find that the person we think is our main character in an early draft, isn’t at all. We’ve spent far more time rounding out another character. And that might tell you something.
  3. For flats: What is their one-dimension? Their one attribute?
    • Is it a look?
    • A way of speech?
    • An attitude?
    • A desire?
  4. For rounds: What do we do know about them from the outside? The inside?
    • You should absolutely describe a character’s look. At least enough so that a reader can fill in the blanks and imagine them.
    • Perhaps even more critical though, is to describe a character’s inner self. Who they are when no one is looking.
  5. What distinguishes their voice in the story?
    • In my two novels, Delia’s voice is very clear. She has a way of talking that is wholly her. I could hear her distinctly.
    • Can you hear your character speaking to you?
  6. How does their name hint at their characteristic(s)?
    • In my new WIP, I have a young character named Twig. From that alone, can you picture him? A well-chosen name can help frame a character from the start.

Walk along a beach or a river and you’ll find all sorts of stones. Flat and round. And you need the same in your writing. So skip and splash, my writer friends, and enjoy the journey.

Shannon Wiersbitzky

Shannon Wiersbitzky


Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a believer that anyone can change the world. Her first novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, was nominated for the William Allen White Children’s Book Award. What Flowers Remember, which released in May, tackles the subject of Alzheimer’s.

Not registered for Kidlit Summer School yet? No worries! Click here to REGISTER.

Edith Cohn: How to Enrich Your Character’s Arc with Magic or Talents

Hi there! I’m Edith Cohn, author of SPIRIT’S KEY, and I’m going to share some thoughts about how to enrich your main character’s arc with magic. By magic I mean an ability, power or talent. This ability can be fantastical, paranormal or even quite real. After all, isn’t there a bit of magic in someone with a talent for the violin, someone who can draw or cook amazing food? So if you are writing a contemporary novel, you may still find this useful. Just substitute the word “magic” for “talent.”

Second, you’ll need to have already decided on what your main character’s magic is going to be in order to get the most out of this. If your main character doesn’t have a special ability, consider giving him or her one! Everyone has passions. And giving your character a special ability can go a long way toward creating a memorable character.  Once you’ve decided on your character’s magic, ask yourself the questions below.

The-GiverI’m going to use THE GIVER by Lois Lowry as an example because it is such a fine piece of fiction. Also I’m hoping most of you have read it so that the examples will make sense. There are spoilers, I’m afraid, so if you haven’t read it, you’ve been warned.

1. What are the magic’s fun and games? What are its consequences and obstacles?

My favorite books are the ones that explore the pluses and minuses of a magic or talent—the ones that strike a balance between “fun and games” and “consequences.” If you leave out the “fun” you deny the reader and your character the pleasure of the magic you’ve created. If you leave out the “consequences” you deny your character a struggle, and great fiction lies in creating great tension. You need both for magic to feel real. Even a common talent like playing the violin comes with hours of practice time, bloody fingers, and a sore chin in order to achieve the pleasure of beautiful music, attention or fame. Real or fantastical, your character’s magic should not come too easily.

Don’t forget the fun and games! It can be the best part of a book.

Don’t forget the fun and games! It can be the best part of a book.

In THE GIVER, Jonas becomes the holder of memories for his community. In the beginning, he’s given “fun,” exhilarating memories such as sledding in the snow and a loving memory of a family celebrating Christmas around a tree with twinkling lights. Later he is given extremely painful memories such as war and death. This balance adds a great level of complexity to the story and highlights the story’s theme that you can’t have real love and pleasure without pain. I would argue you can’t have magic that feels real in a novel without both the fun and games for your character to enjoy and the consequences they must battle.

2. How is your character’s magic unique compared to others who have magic? How is it the same?

Even if you are writing the sort of fantasy where your main character is a ‘type’ like a wizard and there are plenty of other wizards, it’s helpful to consider how your character is unique or how the magic ties to his or her personality. Not every piano player is the same. Not every ghost or goblin is the same either. In THE GIVER, Jonas is one of the few in his community with pale eyes. Giving your character a physical difference can be a great way to highlight him or her. Jonas can also see color whereas others in his community cannot. Both of these differences are connected to Jonas’s vision, and symbolize how in gaining his magic he will come to see his community with fresh eyes. Jonas is the same as others in his community because he has had an upbringing in Sameness—one without prejudice, fear or hunger. Jonas feels a part of the world Lowry created, yet different from it also.

  1. How will the magic help your character grow or change?

Main characters should grow, change or learn something by a book’s end. And the more your character’s magic can be tied to his or her character arc the more integrated it will feel. Once Jonas receives enough memories, his eyes are opened to the truth about his world of Sameness, and he can’t help but change dramatically because of this. He feels pain and love for the first time and decides his community needs these deep emotions to have a rich life.

  1. In Spirit’s Key, Spirit is a girl psychic who can see the ghost of her pet dog. Her magic enhances her character arc of dealing with her dog’s death. She improves her world by making a difference for other dogs in her community.

    In Spirit’s Key, Spirit is a girl psychic who can see the ghost of her pet dog. Her magic enhances her character arc of dealing with her dog’s death. She improves her world by making a difference for other dogs in her community.

    How does your character use his or her magic to get what he or she wants? 

All characters must want something. They must have a goal. If a character’s magic or talent helps him or her achieve this want then the magic will seem less like set decoration and more like something necessary, useful and integrated into the world. Jonas wants his family and friends to experience the love and pain that he experiences. He also wants to save a baby named Gabriel who is in danger of being released (executed). Jonas enacts a plan to escape with Gabriel so that his memories will be shared with others. He uses his memories/ magic to keep Gabriel happy and warm on the journey and to hide from searchers. He uses his newfound knowledge and memories to make a brave decision to leave. His goal is to save baby Gabriel and improve his community.

  1. How will your character use his or her magic to improve his or her world or community? 

I find the most satisfying books are ones where the world or community is somehow made better by the main character’s actions and through the use of his or her talents or magic. The end of THE GIVER is left somewhat open, but the hopeful interpretation (and the one I like the best )is that Jonas’s decision to leave saves baby Gabriel and ultimately makes his community a better place. Either way, Jonas has used his ability/ magic to change his community forever.

Edith_Cohn-9744-2Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up exploring the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-filled hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her debut middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming in September from FSG/Macmillan. You can find out more about her on her website:

Edith is offering a Spirit’s Key swag pack as a prize–available for immediate shipping. She will also send a signed copy of the book to the winner once it’s released in September. Comment on her blog post to be eligible to win!

Not registered for Kidlit Summer School yet? No worries! Click here to REGISTER.


Kelly Light: Drawing on what you know. Drawing on who you know. Drawing out the character….through drawing.

kelly lightWhen I was little my life was filled with characters. I brushed my teeth in the morning with the Snoopy electric toothbrush before enjoying a treat from the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine while drawing and sharpening my pencil with my Snoopy Dog House electric pencil sharpener while seeing my Mom pack my Peanuts lunchbox and fill my Snoopy Thermos with the red cup on top.

I would wander downstairs where the TV was, don my mouse ears, personalized t shirt and big button that proclaimed I was a member of the 1975 incarnation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

After school, I would lose myself in laughter watching Bugs Bunny in all of the Looney Tunes.

How crazy is it that I wound up drawing each of them for their respective companies’ licensed properties? I came to my former career as a character artist armed with an intimate knowledge of who each of these characters are.

The big three: Bugs, Mickey, Snoopy.

Bugs – the smart ass, the Dean Martin of cartoon characters, cool, calm and snarky

Mickey – the eternal optimist, good guy, pal to all

Snoopy – the Renaissance man, the bon vivant, the eccentric, the unexpected dog about town

Each have clear, distinct personalities. Characters you know better than you know most people.

Characters that happen to be drawings.

Let me type that again….. Drawings.

Drawn in such a way that you need only see them and you can hear their voices.

I don’t have to show you them. You know them so well, you can see them in your head.

They feel real to us.

This is what I do. This is what I draw. This is who I am and why I find myself fortunate to be making many children’s books. The book market finally met me at my place – character driven work.

My bio reads that I was “Schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny Pages…”  – you now know, that’s the truth.  What is also the truth is that, it took me weeks just to write my bio. It takes me a long time to write – anything.

I have a confession to make. The book that is coming out next month, “Louise Loves Art” only had one line written down for a year.

But I had hundreds of pages drawn.  I had sheets and sheets of character development and spread after spread drawn and re-drawn.

But only one line of text.

“I love art, it’s my imagination on the outside.”  That’s the line. It’s a good line. It’s the first line of the book. It’s the tag line, the quotable line, the mantra and the mission statement.

louise loves art


It’s also how I write. I get my imagination out on paper. By drawing. Character first.

When I think of a character, I snap into the role of “Casting Director”. That’s how I think of a book, it’s a production… a movie in my head. I am a one woman film crew, director, producer, writer, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, editor and casting director.

I start by going through all of the people I know, personally and I also think of celebrities. I watch old movies. I think of archetypes. I google and make pages of “audition” casting call sheets. I collect head shots and bios.

Who do I see in this role? I ask myself, “What gender? What animal? What age? How do I see this character? Are they small? Are they round? Are they huge? Are they angular? Are they soft? What do they like to wear?(costume matters -just like with people, not everyone wears a bow tie or hats. Some women can’t wear heels- others live in them. This is part of who they are) What would be in their bedroom? (I like that question a lot when you are creating kid characters)What does their world look like? What are the character traits that you can give them visually, that give clues to who the character is- internally.


Back to the big three. Bugs is long and lean, like his voice sounds. Stretched way beyond bunny proportions. That way he can be slouchy with a posture always weighted on one hip…casually leaning…that posture says “I am easy going and you are not gonna rock my dream boat….ehhh What’s up Doc?”

Mickey, is round. Built upon circles. Three circles and a bean, circles in his hands and and in his feet. The way he’s drawn just makes you happy. He is pleasantly designed on purpose for the most likability.

Snoopy, most of the time, his eyes are closed. He is above it all. He’s drawn with body shape of a real dog but his face is all sideways glance, all knowing. It never surprises us that he can fly a plane or be a tennis pro, ice skate or pull together a Thanksgiving meal on a ping pong table.

This is a way to help “DRAW” out who your character is. Draw who you think they are. Create your character, your actor. Draw how they feel when you think of them. Start drawing expressions, reactions, emotions before you ever write a word. Know who they are then when you put them into your story, you already know how they will react. What upsets them? What thrills them? What phobia or quirk do they have? Give them their personality. Make them real to you and they will feel more real to your reader.

kelly6Here’s Louise:

Louise is a 7 year old girl. She loves to draw. She is consumed with the need to create and share her drawings. She wears comfy clothes with an arty flair. She is not clothing obsessed but she wants the world to know she is an artist. She cuts her own bangs. She cuts her little brother’s bangs. Her hair is the kind of straight, shiny bobbed hair that allows her ears to pop through. In her bedroom she has an old metal bed with a popcorn chenille bedspread. Her world is old fashioned. Handmade. She draws – which is the basis of all art. It’s the act of craft – so her world feels crafted- craftsman influenced. She wears big, red, glasses that slip down and around and go crooked on her face.  She needs them to see every line, every curve. Her glasses are the device to make her “seeing” noticeable. Artists are observers of life all around them. So I gave Louise a lot of traits to be noticed by kids. How she holds a pencil. How she sticks her tongue out when she’s drawing. All of this is to make her feel real to them so they feel like they know her.

louise loves art

A lot of this goes on in my head and on my paper and may never make it into the book. It was time well spent since the Louise books have been turned into a series. I have other characters for her to meet in school art class, other little artists. I will go through this process with each character I come up with.  When I finally get to the point where I am ready to write the words, all I have to do is look at them and I hear their voices.

louise loves art

I am giving a few character design workshops at SCBWI’s this year. It is so much fun to talk about all of this that two hours fly right by. I could talk about cartoon characters forever..but this post has to end somewhere. I was messaging back and forth with author Tara Lazar not long ago and I told her how the writing has been harder for me and she was saying how she can’t draw a straight line. I said, I suppose, it’s all a matter of the muscles you flex the most. “Tara, You are an author, I am a “drawthor”.”  I hope all of you writers try to draw character sheets as well as the illustrators here in Summer School. I believe everyone can draw and if you are doing it for yourself- just let go and have fun. No art director or editor is going to see these.

“Louise Loves Art” comes out Sept 9!! I am off on a book tour across the country. Chicago, Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco, Philly and in NYC. If you are in any of the towns I am visiting, please come say hi!! You can check the dates on my website soon :

Kelly Light grew up down the shore surrounded by giant roadside dinosaurs, cotton candy colors and skee ball sounds. Schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny pages, she picked up a pencil and started drawing and never stopped. Now living in New York, She is the author and illustrator of the picture book Louise Loves Art coming out 9/9/14 as well as the illustrator of the two chapter books series, The Quirks and Elvis and the Underdogs, the upcoming Don’t Blink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi. Find her on the web at

Kelly is giving away a fine print from : “Louise Loves Art”. It is the image with the line “I love art…” !  Leave a comment to be eligible to win. 🙂

Registered for Summer School? Check out Kelly’s drawing exercise in the exercise book.

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*And don’t forget the #30mdare tonight at 9:00 pm EST!

Alison Ashley Formento: Growing a Character (Flaw) Tree

formento_aIt’s no secret that I love nature. My published picture books feature our natural world and nature inspires my novel writing, too. Yes, BIC or “butt-in-chair” focus is required when finishing and revising a story, but early mental writing occurs when I walk, especially among the trees—to work out story problems and more fully develop my characters.

Nature is imperfect, chaotic, wild, and wonderful. So are some of my favorite novel characters*, too: Scout, Scarlett, Elphaba, Harry Potter, Miles Halter, Lee Fiora, Theo Decker, Bernadette, or Alma Whittaker. Voice and plot are essential to drive a story forward, but character flaws, whether appalling or appealing, keeps me invested in a story. How well a character overcome their flaws or uses them to complete their journey keeps readers turning pages.

Even Superman has a flaw.

Even Superman has a flaw.

What are some of the flaws in your main character?

  • Is your main character too trusting a la Snow White?
  • Deathly allergic to Kryptonite?
  • Perhaps your MC is fearless to the point of making risky decisions, or afraid of trying anything new.
  • Or is your MC a golden, ethereal being, too perfect to be real?


Seeds to Leaves: Character Flaw Tree  (Click here to download the character flaw tree diagram for this exercise: Character Flaw Tree Exercise)

 It’s time to dig in and focus on flaws—these are the growth rings in your writing, which will help bring believability and life to your character. The growth of a tree echoes our own growth and this is visual has helped me work on my characters, too. For demonstration purposes, this visual chart will focus on the main character (MC), but this can be useful to create for all of the major characters in your story. I’m not an illustrator, but you can use this sample or easily draw your own tree, from seeds to leaves.

Is your character a too

Is your character too trusting like Snow White?

Seed sparks: List physical traits of your MC. (beneath tree roots at bottom of page) What’s the spark that defines your character? Describe your character in one sentence. Is there a spark or oddity in your character’s physicality or behavior? Every being, even those completely at ease with themselves, has at least one thing they perceive as a flaw. Is this flaw a hidden something that only your MC is aware of, or noticeable to other characters in the story?

Roots of reason: The dirt. Roots keep a tree upright and a strong foundation will make your MC thrive. But roots need dirt, too. What’s the dirt in your character’s life? Family, home life, and close relationships (or lack thereof) are the roots of your main character’s story. “Grow” the roots of your character tree by writing in the names of family and friends that make up the dirt of their story. These relationships, even the most loving and honest, will have some kind of flaw, or many flaws. Spread and expand the roots to add in these details.

photoTrunk of truth: Name your character’s main goal/desire/overall want in this story. The heart of your character lives within their trunk. This trunk (main goal/desire/want) is essential for your entire story to grow and thrive. The goal must be clear, but no trunk is perfect. What inner obstacles affect your character’s main goal?

Branching out: List major subplots on the branches of your tree.

Does your character make risky decisions?

Does your character make risky decisions?

Limbs on your tree sway and creak and your story changes your character, too. Wind and rain weather a tree. How do subplots affect the flaws of your MC? Does your MC overcome certain flaws or are new ones revealed?

Insects, squirrels, birds, and other creatures change trees, too. What about new characters? Are character flaws radically affected by people who enter your story?

Leaves of love: Leaves change with the seasons and your MC changes, too, often based on love. Love (or “like” for younger characters) exists in some form in every novel and it changes as your character changes and progresses through their journey. New love, lost love, found love, unrequited love, puppy love—love affects characters.

Is your character a golden

Is your character too perfect to be real?

Nature walks, character flaw trees, and research are all part of what I do in writing my books. You’ve heard of some of the characters* I mentioned earlier, and if you haven’t, these names are easily found on-line and are samples of fabulously flawed characters. I’d like to think that the title character in my YA Twigs is as fabulously flawed as any on this list.

Here’s to happy reading, and happy writing chaotic and wonderful multi-flawed characters of your own.



778HAlison Ashley Formento is author of the award-winning picture book series This Tree Counts!This Tree, 1, 2, 3These Bees Count!These Seas Count!,and These Rocks Count! Her young adult novel Twigs was named a Hottest Teen Reads. Alison has written for several national publications including The New York TimesWriter, and Parenting. She loves to visit schools to share her writing-research journey.


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A.C. Gaughen: Crafting a Unique Voice

Voice is essential; it’s the thing that keeps us thinking about a book for long after its done.  It’s that thing that editors always say hooks them, the one indescribable quality they’re looking for.

LT Hi Res (1)Well, I’m here to describe it to you.  My character Scar (SCARLET and LADY THIEF) has a really unique voice—she misuses tenses, she rarely uses adverbs, and she has a very earthbound way of describing things.  She thinks of the boy she’s in love with as having wheat hair and ocean eyes—things she has physically seen and has positive associations with.

Which brings me to my first point—those are three things I can list out.  They are specific, they are finite.  They are:



Why should you have rules?  First, it’s really helpful when you’re in the middle of the story and your plot has just jumped a fairly literal shark and you feel like you’ve totally lost your sense of your character to have something to refer to.  Like I said, they’re specific and finite—they are your stakes in the ground for your story.  They anchor everything else.

How many rules?  I suggest thinking of three.  More is too many, and if you have less than three, it may not be enough to hold.

More importantly, how to make these rules?  Well, that leads us to:

2. Point of Reference

I have one friend that, in virtually every conversation we have, a reference to the movie Super Troopers pops up.  That’s part of the way we talk to each other, but it’s more than that.  It defines our sense of humor.  It makes a statement about an experience we’ve both had.  It even establishes us as friends to other people—and sometimes at the risk of excluding them.  One joke says all that.

Now, obviously this is going to change based on your characters likes, dislikes, interests, and your general world building.  For example, a character in a contemporary novel who is obsessed with sushi and death metal would have a different definition of how to have fun than a shy character who likes architecture and rare tea.  Because they define “fun” differently, those references start slipping in.  It’s a head-banging good time, or maybe as thrilling as a first flush Darjeeling.  Define your references, and it will inform your character and your character’s voice.

But that’s not all the rules should accomplish, because they should also:

3. Reflect Plot

revolutionJennifer Donnelly’s REVOLUTION is one of the most exquisite examples of well crafted prose that I’ve seen in a long time, because on the very first page, if you’re paying attention, you can tell what the novel is about.  The first couple lines, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, deejay. Like Cooper van Epp. Standing in his room—the entire fifth floor of a Hicks Street brownstone—trying to beat-match John Lee Hooker with some piece of trip-hop horror.”  Read it aloud—there’s a physical, musical beat to it.  Trip hop horror.  There’s disdain and information (clearly she thinks of herself as someone who can “do”)—but that beat!

I won’t ruin anything for you, but obviously music plays a huge part in the novel.  And it’s right there in the words themselves.  That to me is the height of craft and voice—being so intentional that you NEVER have to tell, because you’re always showing.

Music is a great example, but there are others.  Is your book about horror?  Think about how to reflect creepiness and atmosphere in your word choices.  Is your main conflict internal, the main character fighting against their basic urges?  Think about how that would affect the way a character speaks, even in their own head.

These are my three most basic tips: come up with three rules, be intentional and thoughtful about where your character’s point of reference lies, and use your language to meaningfully highlight and reflect plot.  These three basic steps will take you a long way in crafting a unique voice that is fleshed out and feels alive to your reader.

Plus, it’s really fun to play with.

Happy writing!


DSC_0223 A. C. Gaughen is the author of Scarlet. She serves as the Director of Girls’ Leadership for Boston GLOW, a non-profit organization that creates opportunities to encourage and engage teen girls in the greater Boston area. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland and a Masters in Education from Harvard University. You can find out more about her at and follow her on Twitter at