Now that Week 3 has come to a close, it’s time to review what you learned and take a 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, Laurie J. Edwards reminded us that…

  1. Backstory is anything that happened before the book begins.
  2. Loading the first chapters with backstory slows the plot.
  3. A good reason to use backstory is when a character is doing something totally out of character, and it’s vital for readers to understand why.
  4. All of the above.

On Tuesday, Maryrose Wood talked about making sure that …

  1. Your hero should make the big choices, risks, discoveries and sacrifices that drive the story forward.
  2. Your hero is uniquely qualified to address the central problem of your tale.
  3. You have a rich cast of unforgettable secondary characters, but that’s no substitute for making your protagonist the most interesting, compelling and indispensable character in your tale.
  4. All of the above.

On Wednesday, Lee Harper suggested for us to…

  1. Imagine the outline of your story is the blurb on the jacket sleeve (flap) of your book.
  2. Be okay that there is always a LOT of going back and forth in the process of plotting a picture book.
  3. Know that the beauty of the Post-it technique is that you can easily get rid of what doesn’t work without investing a great deal of time in your writing/drawing.
  4. All of the above.

On Thursday, Jennifer Latham taught us that in order to build a good MG/YA mystery, you need to …

  1. Set up the basic mystery and decide on what you think it’s resolution will be.
  2. Establish 3-4 major pieces of information your detective will need to learn.
  3. Allow some clues and plot elements to emerge as you write.
  4. All of the above.

On Friday, Marcie Collen showed us how to throw rocks at our character and …

  1. Get back to the basics.
  2. Brew up a storm and make lemonade (or in this case, stone soup!)
  3. When all else fails, step away and start a list of possibilities.
  4. All of the above.

On Saturday, Charlotte Bennardo helped us learn that …

  1. You don’t have to stick with your outline, because it’s meant to be a guide, not a prison.
  2. If you can stop writing at the end of a chapter, that when you pick up again, you can read the last few sentences, look at the notes for the next chapter, and it will all click.
  3. If you need to make a major revision, update your Post-its first so that you can see at a glance if the changes will work.

On Sunday, Heidi Schulz recapped …

  1. The work of plotting is not finished once you have created your first draft.
  2. To consider places to expand or trim your work in order to keep the plot even-paced.
  3. To be sure to give low-action scenes after high-action scenes in order to give readers a change to catch their breath.
  4. All of the above

How did you do? A++ right? 7 out of 7? If you’re not sure or think you missed something, that’s easy, simply go back and check out the posts from Week Three. This is an open blog test. You don’t even have to turn it in. Grade yourself and then pat yourself on the back!

Lee Harper: Plotting with Post-its and GIVEAWAY

I love to write, but writing scares me. I never feel like I really know what I’m doing. I’m a big fraud.

Since breaking into the business in 2008, I’ve published eight picture books, all of which I illustrated. Three of them I wrote and illustrated. I’ve sold a lot of books. I’ve won some awards. I’ve gotten some good reviews. It’s been an exciting ride.

Luckily, they haven’t found me out yet, I guess.

During this time I’ve met a lot of other authors and illustrators. It’s been comforting to learn that most of us share the same insecurities. You’d be surprised how many of us think we’re one bad sentence, or one bad drawing away from being exposed as the frauds we really are. We’re an odd bunch.

I haven’t always been very good at plotting. In fact, I’ve wasted a lot of time on plotless messes. I’ve learned the hard way the importance plotting. I’ve also learned from getting to know so many authors and illustrators that we each have our different ways of doing things. One thing I’ve noticed most of the successful ones have in common is that they plot their stories with words or drawings and sometimes both.


Although I’m no authority on the subject, I have somehow managed to find an idiosyncratic technique of plotting a picture book that works for me. You might want to try it yourself. All you need is your imagination and access to Post-its.

Begin with a three or four sentence summary of your story. Imagine it’s the blurb on the jacket sleeve of your book.

Next write a quick first draft of this story. Try to visualize the scenes as you write. Listen for the voices of the characters. For visual variety try to place the story in different settings. Don’t describe with words what you can show with pictures. Make illustration notes as you write. (They’ll come in handy during the next phase) Most important is to get it all down in one fell swoop.

Next go through your manuscript and make notes about which images will appear on which page. This is the rough pagination. Most picture books are thirty-two pages. Some forty. (Leave blank about six pages for the endpapers, the copyright page and title pages.) As you’re deciding which image will go on which page, try to imagine the turning of the page. The page turn is crucial.

In the pagination stage it’ll become obvious right away if the story needs to be lengthened or shortened. Go back and lengthen or shorten the story and repeat the pagination process before proceeding to next stage. With each step, distil your story down to the bare essentials. Get rid of any words that aren’t necessary. Imagine reading it aloud to a kindergartener. Imagine the kindergartener trying to read it. Always remember your reader.

There is always a LOT of going back and forth in the process of plotting a picture book. It’s like putting together a puzzle. Try this piece here, if it doesn’t fit, try it another way…

Now we bring in the Post-its that I mentioned earlier. This is where the visual plotting begins in earnest. On a large drafting table — or on the wall—lay out your Post-its like this:




Similar to our quick approach when we began writing our story, we’ll quickly go through and place very rough stick figure drawings on each Post-it. Also jot down where the text will fit on each page. As the visual story begins to emerge more clearly you’ll find things that work and other things that don’t work. New ideas will be triggered by the drawings. Play! The beauty of the Post-it technique is that you can easily get rid of what doesn’t work without investing a great deal of time in each drawing. But save the drawings that don’t work. Tomorrow when you view it with a fresh eye you may change your mind!



Back and forth we go with our drawings through the story. Add a new drawing. Take away a drawing. Put back a drawing you took away the day before. When stuck, lie down, close your eyes and imagine you are a hummingbird flying around, looking at the scene from many different angles. Don’t get discouraged in the beginning of this stage. This is when the big creative storm is brewing, building energy.




Keep chugging along. You are approaching one of the most exciting peaks in this up and down process I often equate with being on a roller-coaster ride. Once rounding the peak, things will happen fast. It will be an exhilarating blur as your book picks up momentum. Get up early. Stay up late. Drink coffee. Light a candle. Listen to Norma. Lock the studio door. Get carried away with your work. Be temperamental when interrupted. Don’t listen to those little voices in your head telling you you are a fraud. You are NOT a fraud! You are a genius! You are now on the verge of creating the next great picture book!

When you emerge back into the real world with a bunch of little doodles that seem like they could be the blueprints for a book, scan them all, insert the text, and make a PDF file out of them. If you want, make a little mock book. If you are an author/illustrator a sample can help. Send your masterpiece to an editor or agent. Buckle up and prepare for the roller-coaster ride all over again.

Chances are you may receive rejections. This is normal. (Even after you’ve gotten your foot in the door) This is the low point of the ride. This is when most rational people get off, say thank you very much. I tried, but I think I’ll go back to being a claims adjuster now. There’s absolutely no shame in that.

If the spark continues to burn inside you, I recommend staying on. Not everyone makes it to the peaks, but I don’t think anyone with that burning spark has ever regretted shooting for their dreams. Stay the course, and with a lot of hard work and a little luck, the next thing you could be plotting is your successful picture book career.




Lee’s Books: Turkey Trick or Treat, by Wendi Silvano (August 11, 2015); Turkey Claus, by Wendi Silvano; Turkey Trouble, by Wendi Silvano; The Emperor’s Cool Clothes, by Lee Harper; Snow! Snow! Snow! By Lee Harper; Woolbur, by Leslie Helakoski; Coyote, by Lee Harper; Looking For The Easy Life by Walter Dean Myers. Find Lee online at LeeHarperart.com

Lee is giving away a signed advance copy of TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT written by Wendi Silvano and a copy of THE EMPEROR’S COOL CLOTHES that he wrote and illustrated himself. 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 Lee’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.