Leeza Hernandez: Plotting With Spidergrams and GIVEAWAY

Keep your plotting on track from picture books to chapter books using at-a-glance diagrams.

Having settled into a groove with my picture book process I found myself venturing into unchartered territory with a chapter book project. The idea had been noodling around (with countless embarrassing ‘first’ drafts) for a few years but it’s always ended up back in the drawer with the book going nowhere and me feeling utterly out of my depth.

I’m used to working with less than a 500-word count and had no idea how to handle THOUSANDS of words—let alone think about plots, sub plots, chapters, multiple characters, cliff hangers and such. I needed to figure out how to break this project down so I didn’t feel like I was drowning.

“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on that first one.”
—Mark Twain.”

That’s when I stumbled upon the spidergram—a diagram using a central circle with extenders connecting to an outer ring of circles that you fill out with goals and actionable tasks.BlankSpidergram_LH_use
My first spidergrams were for a different topic to writing, but they worked so well in helping me see what needed to be done and the actions I needed to take to get to my goals, I thought that spidergrams might be a good way to help conquer the challenges of planning my chapter book, too, including a general ‘book overview’ to-do list.


As a result, not only do I have a better handle on a book consisting of multiple chapters with various moving parts without feeling overwhelmed, but I’ve also developed additional spidergrams to help with character development. They’ve even worked their way into my picture-book planning process.



For picture books, planning is simple. I work with a 32-page storyboard first and list keywords to map out where certain plot points need to happen. (Pssst … if you’ve taken classes with Sudipta before, you’ll be familiar with this method of breaking down your picture book!)


The storyboard gives me a rough page count for each section of the story—from opening to middle to ending. (Tip: the first few pages called front matter are allocated to title, copyright and dedication, leaving the story to start on pages 4-5.) The plan also includes:

  • Establishing the main character, setting and conflict/goal
  • Charting attempts/fails to solve/achieve the MC’s conflict/goal
  • Building tension to the story climax/turning point
  • Concluding with: an expected-unexpected ending; bringing the story full circle; adding a twist; or keeping an open ending for a sequel

With this grid, I can check for balance, flaws or other areas that need addressing—too much set up at the beginning, not enough pages to wrap it all up, and so forth. After I’ve got a handle on the structure, I develop a spidergram—working outwards from the center and clockwise from the top (front matter).

  • Central circle = Overview of Project [book title & number of pages]
  • First set of extended circles = pages/section [can be changed as story develops]
  • Second set of extenders = keywords relating to major plot points in story line
  • Additional extenders = notes/ideas/afterthoughts/alternative story directions


The spidergram shown above was for Cat Napped! A 32-page picture book for pre-K to Kindergartners told in less than 80 words. A large component of the story was told visually, but I still had to figure out how the story would unfold before getting into sketches. Planning in this way was crucial for me to stay on track with the plot.


For chapter books, the process is similar, but instead of using the 32-page grid for an overview of charting major plot points use a spidergram.


In the example above, see how the first ring of circles extending from the center refer to chapter numbers instead of page counts, sections or spreads. When all the basic keywords/notes are in place continue the breakdown in more detail using a separate spidergram for each chapter.

Seeing as there’s far more detail required in chapter books to picture books, opt to work on larger sheets of paper, or use a dry-erase board. Different colored highlighters can help cross-connect relationships, sub plots etc., or cut out circles and add to a push-pin board connecting with string. Be as creative as you like, go wild and have fun!

Using a spidergram as a visual breakdown and guide for your plotline can help you see where you’re going as you write … One. Step. At. A. Time.

leeza 2015Leeza Hernandez is a picture book illustrator-author who spends her creative time noodling around with story ideas and printmaking in her studio. She is Regional Advisor for New Jersey SCBWI and her latest illustrated book and third in the Homework series Eat Your U.S. History Homework (Charlesbridge) releases in October. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @leezaworks or visit her on the web at leezaworks.com

Leeza is giving away a signed copy of Cat Napped! with cat doodle, plus a DIY spidergram starter kit. Five runners up will each receive a mini spidergram starter kit too! 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 Leeza’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

Week 2 #KidlitSummerSchool Schedule, Updates, and Things You Need to Know

KLSS 2015 BadgeHello, Summer Schoolers! Week 1 has drawn to a close, and we are about to embark upon Week 2 of Kidlit Summer School 2015. Are you excited? Are you  inspired? We certainly hope so.

Just like last week, we want to start you off on good footing and give you a preview of what is to come, not just in terms of guest bloggers, but other great Summer School Events like out #30mdares and upcoming Webinars. Let’s get started!

Pop Quiz: Look for a Pop Quiz on the blog at the end of the day. (We know pop quizzes aren’t supposed to be announced… we’re just trying to be extra nice.)

The Facebook Group

A quick reminder: some of you are still trying to get into the Facebook group (and why wouldn’t you? We’re having so much fun there!). If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School, have asked to be added to the FB group, and did not get added within a day, it may be because your FB name did not match up with your registration name. If this is the case, one of us will have sent you a message via FB. Sometimes these messages end up in the OTHER folder. Please check this folder to see if you have heard from one of us and answer any messages there. This will help us sort things out.

Class Schedule for Week 2:

Great posts heading your way. Check out this awesome author line-up!Presentation2


Our next Webinar  will be on July 27 at 8pm EST. Registration for this event closed at 6am this morning. If you registered for this webinar with agents Sean MccCarthy and Marie Lamba and cannot attend it live, there will be a recording made available to you. We have several more great webinars lined up, so look for details on the blog and in your emails! For more information about the Webinars, please refer to the FAQ page in the navigation bar above.


If you are having email issues, please visit the FAQ page before contacting us with a question. We have found that almost all glitches thus far are user or server error. If you have tried everything else and still cannot get your email to work, contact a member of the Kidlit Summer School Board. We are working hard on this and other aspects of Summer School, so please know that it may be up to five business days before you hear back from us. Look for your next email tonight or tomorrow morning.

Drawing Contest!

Nerdy Chick

Art by Mike Ciccotello

Inspired by this nerdy chick that artist Mike Ciccotello drew on a coffee cup and tweeted to Kami and Sudipta, we’ve decided to run an art contest this year as part of Kidlit Summer School! 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. The rules:

1. Draw a Nerdy Chick.

2. Tweet the image to @leezaworks with the hashtag #NerdyChicksDraw AND/OR share on our Facebook Group page with the same hashtag.

3. Do this before the final day of Kidlit Summer School!

How easy is that? We look forward to seeing the chicks all over social media! (Psssst – Mike, you’re already one of the winners!)


Late Registration is Now Open

Even though pre-registration and regular registration have both closed, you can still take part in Kidlit Summer School. Late registration is now open, so you can still sign up and get access to our password-protected writing exercises, to our Summer School webinars and recordings, and to the Facebook group, and you are still eligible to win any of the comment-related book giveaways on the daily blog posts. So you can still fully participate! You will not be eligible for prizes specified for Pre-Registration and Regular Registration.If you still need to register, please click HERE. Late Registration ends a week from today on Sunday, August 2. *Note that you passwords are sent out periodically, not the moment of registration, so you may need to wait until the next bulk email to receive one. Don’t worry, the exercises and all will still be there. 🙂

#30mdare –

There is great information about the #30mdare writing challenge on our FAQ page.  Please click HERE to find out more about them… and join us.
Thank you for joining us for the first week of Summer School.  Thanks to our awesome bloggers, it was a fantastic week!
The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education


#KidlitSummerSchool Orientation. Class Starts Tomorrow!

Welcome to Kidlit Summer School Orientation!

Today we’re here to tell you what to expect so that you can feel comfortable and confident going forward. Looks like you’re sitting up straight and reading your assignment. Fantastic! You get a star!


For the most successful school experience, make sure you don’t cut class! Classes are offered Monday through Saturday right here on the blog through our fabulous faculty guest bloggers. All you have to do is virtually show up here! If you subscribe to this blog, you can have the school come to you instead. We recommend this, so head to the right sidebar and subscribe if you haven’t already! You want to learn how to craft a riveting plot, don’t you? We’ll be covering all manner of strategies for crafting great plots over the next few weeks.

Sundays are a time to sit back and process what you’ve learned. We’ll have that covered here on the blog too! Along with some pop quizzes. Don’t worry about those. We have confidence you’ll pass with flying colors!

Now, take a look at your class schedule for the week. You’re going to learn a lot!


Since tomorrow is THE FIRST DAY, we’d like to get #KidlitSummerSchool trending. Please help us share the word by posting about it on Twitter, FB (including in groups of writers), Pinterest, and all other forms of social media. Please use the tag #KidlitSummerSchool wherever you post. If you want, you can copy the ready-made tweet below and paste it into your feed. Super-easy!

Join us for the 1st day of ! THE PLOT THICKENS with blog posts, webinars, exercises, and more!

Here are some ways you can get the most out of Kidlit Summer School:

  • Make sure you are on the email list! Do this by registering this year. If you are not getting emails, please click HERE to troubleshoot. Because there are so many of you, we ask that you read this carefully before contacting us about a problem. A regular weekly email will be sent out tonight or tomorrow morning. Look for it to make sure you get it!
  • Join our Facebook Group! If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School 2015, follow this link to ask to be added if you haven’t already. https://www.facebook.com/groups/264884010371441/  If you haven’t registered, please register HERE, even if you registered last year
  • Attend the Webinars. Times and login information will be emailed to registered participants. You must register for the webinars you want to attend or watch. The next webinar, with the Kidlit Summer School Board of Education is this Wednesday, July 22 at 8:00 pm. You can also mark your calendars for 8 pm July 27. Our webinar that night will feature agents Sean McCarthy and Marie Lamda! Details about both events will be delivered by email. Find out what Sean and Marie are interested in acquiring, and more about our Board of Education by consulting the FACULTY page. You can find out more about webinars in the under FAQs above.
  • Participate in our Twitter #30mdares: This year, Rebecca Petruck will post prompts on Twitter and Facebook twice a week so students have the freedom to arrange group dares that suit their schedules and time zones, or do them on their own. The only “rule” is to set a timer and go without stopping for 30 minutes. You can find her on Twitter at @RebeccaPetruck.   Prompts will be posted Tuesday at 9p ET and Saturday at 10a ET. To get prompts, check the Twitter hashtag #30mdare or visit the Facebook group.Publisher’s Weekly covered Rebecca’s first experience with the #30mdare. You can read about that HERE.
  • Fill out your orientation form: Now, what’s orientation without filling out a few forms? Your task is to fill out this form before school starts! Click on the link to get your form: Orientation Form 2015  Luckily, you don’t have to worry about immunizations to attend this school. Like all #KidlitSummerSchool activities, filling out the form is voluntary! It’s just to get you thinking about the road ahead.
  • FAQ page: Check out the pages for FAQs in the navigation bar for more information on webinars, email, and #30mdares.
  • Cafe Press: We are setting up a Cafe Press store. Soon you can have your own Kidlit Summer School uniform. 😉


  • Perfect Attendance: Remember the blue-star-thumbperfect attendance award? You can get one for attending Kidlit Summer School! We’ll hold a drawing at the end of Summer School for people who commented on every post here on the blog within the first 24 hours of it going up. When Summer School is over, there will be a post explaining how to be entered for the drawing for the Perfect Attendance grand prize.
  • Author Giveaways: Some of our amazing authors will be sponsoring giveaways with their posts. You must comment on their post to qualify for these. Details will be at the end of each post.
  • #30mdare Giveaway: Students who complete at least five of the seven dares will be entered to win a 20-page critique and follow-up phone call from Rebecca. 
  • Regular Registration Giveaways: We are giving away the following prizes to Summer Schoolers who register by July 26, when regular registration ends. Names will be drawn from registrants.
  • Brainstorming Session with Kami and Sudipta: a 30 minute BRAINSTORMING session with Sudipta and Kami together. In this session, the Nerdy Chicks will talk you through your idea — at whatever level of finished it is — and help you push it to the next level.
  • KLSS 2015 BadgeBling Pack: Our adorable Kidlit Summer School Sleuth designed by Joyce Wan on a notebook, totebag, and t-shirt from Cafe Press. 


We’re looking forward to a great few weeks! See you in class!

The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education.

Follow us on Twitter: @dawnmyoung @kamikinard @leezaworks @marciecolleen @sudiptabq