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.

Week 2 Pop Quiz

KLSS 2015 BadgeNow that Week 2 is over, it’s time to review what you learned and take a Pop Quiz. We know you’re all going to ace it and make your teachers proud! So go ahead, take this quiz to see if you learned the basics during the second week of Kidlit Summer School.

 

On Monday, John Claude Bemis reminded us that…

  1. Your story should have both an internal plotline and an external plotline.
  2. Your external plotline should be resolved by actions and choices your protagonist makes.
  3. Your internal plotline should follow an emotional transformation your protagonist makes.
  4. All of the above

On Tuesday, Leeza Hernandez suggested…

  1. Keeping your plotting on track from picture books to chapter books using at-a-glance diagrams.
  2. Working with a 32-page storyboard first and listing keywords to map out where certain plot points need to happen.
  3. Using a spidergram as a visual breakdown and guide for your plotline to help you see where you’re going as you write … One. Step. At. A. Time.
  4. All of the above

On Wednesday, Yvonne Ventresca encouraged us to…

  1. Get your main character up a tree, and then throw rocks at them.
  2. Choose situations to put your character in that escalate in terms of importance, but that also relate to your theme.
  3. Create a table with columns and rows as an easy visual that enables you to focus on certain elements of the story.
  4. All of the above

On Thursday, in balancing the fear factor, Tracey Baptiste reminded us that…

  1. Plotting a horror novel for kids means tying all of the action pieces to an emotional reaction.
  2. Horror elements need to be cut with other things: humor, frustration, longing, success.
  3. Horror novels should not end on an emotional fear factor of zero. There should be something left over, that keeps the readers on their toes.
  4. All of the above.

On Friday, Robin Newman’s trail of crumbs revealed that…

  1. As a mystery writer, your goal is to guide your junior investigators onto a path that will help them crack the case.
  2. When that big moment is about to happen, you want to slow down the text. Don’t give the big moment away too quickly.
  3. Leaving something extra, like a twist at the end or touch of humor, will spice up the last scene in the book.
  4. All of the above

On Saturday, Lisa Lewis Tyre’s road trip reminded us that…

  1. If your protagonist doesn’t have something at stake, it’s not a story
  2. If you know your characters well, they can lead you to plot turns instead of you leading them.
  3. A variety of plotting methods can help you move forward and enjoy the process.
  4. All of the above

On Sunday, Courtney Pippin-Mathur encouraged us to…

  1. Think of all the ideas you can at first. (even the mundane)
  2. Separate them into components: Character, Setting, Conflict, Theme, Resolution
  3. List all of the outrageous ways you can change each of those to make the story more interesting including trying to flip an element or two of your story.
  4. All of the above

Yay, you got an A right? 100% correct? If you’re unsure, go back and check out the posts from Week Two. This is an open blog test. (And you don’t even have to turn it in. Grade yourself and then pat yourself on the back!)

Courtney Pippin-Mathur: Flipping the Plot and GIVEAWAY

Maya_BookcoverA few years ago my sister in law asked me how my books were coming and I replied (in typical angsty artist mode) that things were terrible. I had hit a wall and could not think of another idea to save my life.

She smiled and suggested, “What don’t you write a book based on your life?” A story about a princess whose life is invaded by dragons? “

This was brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought about it? My 5 year old daughter had been a good sport about her life being invaded by twin brothers but it had pretty much taken all of the pink and purple and replaced it with diapers and crying.

Dragon-Rules_sketchThe story flowed. My agent liked it, we made revisions. and more revisions and a few more. Then I created a book dummy filled with drawings. Revised those. Created two finals paintings that went through a few revisions as well.

Finally, it was ready to go out to editors. I made a list of whom it was going to and daydreamed about the publishing houses I would work with in the future. We even used the book as inspiration for our family Halloween costume that year.

We got a few passes, then a few more and finally we realized that the book was a no go. Something was missing.

I would like to say I handled this in stride but the truth is that chocolate and a lot of whining saw me through those days of despair. I loved that book! Why didn’t anyone else? Then, life intervened in the form of three children. I put the book in the special waiting cabinet in the back of my mind (it’s red with wooden handles) and went about my motherly duties.

This was in the Fall so along with colorful leaves, cool weather and school , the germs arrived. Stomach flu germs to be exact. After a hellish week where I was the last to succumb, I laid in my bed, too weak to do anything but close my eyes and try to drift off to sleep, when it hit me.

Flip the Plot.

Dragon-Rules_painting Instead of a princess whose land is invaded by dragons, how about a land of dragons that is invaded by a princess or two?

At this point, I would love to tell you that I sent the story to my agent, revised and sold it a few months later. Unfortunately it took about a year and a half later with much life stuff happening in between.

BUT, it did sell. To the first editor who saw it.

“Dragons Rule” (Little Simon, 2017) is the title and the story, drawings, characters and yes, especially the plot is so much better than my original idea.

The point I learned through this? Sometimes, we have the brilliant ideas that pop in our heads and sometimes it takes blood sweat, tears and years to get it right.

And, sometimes you can speed things up by trying to flip an element or two of your story to make a much more interesting book.

PippinMathur_hedshot_72dpi

Courtney Pippin-Mathur grew up in small towns across East Texas where the days stretched long and hot. She would alternate playing outside with hanging out under the air conditioner reading books, creepy gossip magazines and watching cartoons. She discovered she could draw when she impressed her little sister with a drawing of the Genie from Aladdin. She discovered she could draw for a career when she took an extra curricular class in Art History and immediately transferred from Government to Studio Art at the University of Texas at Austin. After that, she got married, had a baby, moved to the east coast, had two more babies, and drew and painted and wrote in her spare time. (She still misses Tex Mex)Her first book, Maya was Grumpy was published in 2013, by Flashlight Press.Her second written & illustrated picture book, Dragons Rule will be released in 2017 from Little Simon, Simon & Schuster. You can learn more about Courtney at  http://www.pippinmathur.com/

Courtney  is giving away a signed sketch from her upcoming book, Dragons Rule (Little Simon, 2017) . If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win her sketch, 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 Courtney’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.

 

Lisa Lewis Tyre: At The Intersection of Plotting and Pantsing and GIVEAWAY

Tyre3My first attempts at plotting did not go well. I would get out all of my instructional books, grab a notebook and sit, and think, and hope that inspiration would strike, give up and not plot, not write, and not make any progress on my novel. It wasn’t pretty.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anywhere. It was just too overwhelming. It was like planning a trip across the U.S. and trying to choose every exit, every hotel, and every bathroom break before getting started. It would be an efficient trip, but not a very joyous one!

Still, I was determined that this time I would plot out the various aspects of my novel before beginning. Why? Because as a natural born Pantser, I often found myself running into dead ends.

Then one day I realized something. When I’m traveling, I use my GPS. It allows me to input where I’m going, and corrects me only when I’m off course. What if plotting my novel could work the same way?

Coordinates Received. Let’s Get Started

tyre1I began my novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, (Penguin, 9/15) by using a plotting method known as the Bare Basics. This method asks only that you write down a few basic points:

Story goal/consequences if the goal isn’t met –Characters, voice, and setting are all important, but if your protagonist doesn’t have something at stake, it’s not a story. In Rebels, Lou must find something significant in her family history or lose her antebellum home. What does your protagonist want and how important is it to them? The more important it is for your character, the more important it will be to us!

Setting – My story takes place in a small Tennessee town, so I listed everything I could think of regarding the layout. Could the kids walk to the town square, or did they need to ride bikes, etc. Because the story happens over the course of a summer, I needed a place where the kids could meet, so I added a church to the map. The more you know about your setting, the easier plotting will be.

Characters –I created profiles on each character, complete with photos I’d found online. One of my secondary characters, Franklin, sounded like a grown-up. This led me to an idea where Franklin was able to call an adult and keep him on the phone while Lou ransacked his hotel room. If you know your characters well, they can lead you to plot turns instead of you leading them.

Ending – You may not know every detail, but list what you do know. Even a vague, she gets the guy, he saves the world, they live happily ever after, will give you a destination to work toward.

I didn’t have my entire story fleshed out, but I knew the basics, and it was enough to get me started. A lot of the really important plot points, like a subplot involving racism, happened organically as I wrote. The Bare Basics method gives Pantsers a framework, but allows enough freedom for the unexpected to happen.

Make a U-Turn

tyre2After Pantsing halfway through the novel, I got stuck. I knew where I was going, but there were a lot of different ways to get there. I turned to a second plotting device, the Reverse Outline, which suggests you start with the ending and work your way backwards.

I estimated that I would have twenty-four chapters when the book was complete, so I drew a 6×4 grid in my notebook. I filled in the grid with what I’d already written, then moved to the last spot and starting backwards. For Lou to get to THIS ending, then THAT would have to happen first. Before THAT can happen, Benzer must do THIS, etc.

This method works for other parts of the novel, too. Pick a known plot point anywhere, and work in reverse. Before long, all of the blank spots will be full and you’ll be up and running again.

The Basic Method got me started, and the Reverse Outline helped me reach the finish line.

Recalculating

Of course, when it comes to writing there is no finish line. My first draft needed revision, so I used a third plotting tool, The Hero’s Journey.

I bought a white poster board and divided it accordingly – Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal, etc. I wrote my scenes on sticky notes and put them under the correct headings. It was a great way to visualize what I had, and what I was missing. It also allowed me to see all of the scenes that didn’t move the story forward and I was able to cut several thousand words, which helped with pacing.

Beginning with The Hero’s Journey would have been overwhelming to me, but using it while revising worked well.

You Have Reached Your Destination

Writing strictly as a Pantser, I wasted a lot of time on dead ends. When I tried to go against my natural inclination and be solely a Plotter, I became frustrated. By using a variety of plotting methods, as I needed them, I was able to move forward and enjoy the process. See what works best for you. As long as you’re moving ahead, you’ll eventually get to your destination. Bon Voyage!

lisa_tyrehead (1)Lisa Lewis Tyre is the author of the upcoming middle-grade novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, (Penguin, Sept. ’15). She is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, and a founding member of www.MiddleGradeMafia.com, a website to promote and encourage authors of middle grade books. Visit Lisa on her website www.lisalewistyre.com

Lisa  is giving away an ARC of Last in a Long Line of Rebels. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this ARC, 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 Lisa’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.

 

 

Robin Newman: Plotting a Mystery for Young Children: Leave a Crumb Trail of Clues and GIVEAWAY

You’ve tuned into Dragnet. The opening music begins, da da dum dum, and the narrator sets the stage with the introduction:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the story you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”[1]

After the introduction, Sgt. Joe Friday jumps right into the scene with that wonderful deadpan monologue.

“This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here. I’m a cop. It was Tuesday, April 7th. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of accident investigation division, hit and run felony unit. My partner is Frank Smith . . .”[2]

newman1Television, more than any other medium, has created expectations for viewers and readers of mysteries. Dragnet viewers know exactly what’s going to happen next because the structure of the story and how it unfolds never change. Writing a mystery for young children isn’t very different when it boils down to plot. A children’s mystery is generally going to follow the tried and true formula used in adult mysteries.

Plot is the roadmap of your story. It’s the events that take place and the order in which they occur. As a mystery writer, your goal is to guide your junior investigators onto a path that will help them crack the case. To do so, you need to plan out your story from beginning to end. Often, in adult mystery novels, a classic 12-chapter approach is used. If you’re writing a transitional reader or early chapter book, this needs to be condensed into six to eight short chapters.

[1] Dragnet 1951 (posted on YouTube by Mill Creek Entertainment).

[2] Id.

Introduction and Chapter 1

Open up a Case File

At the outset, introduce your investigators and establish the crime. Who are your investigators? Are they hardboiled mouse detectives? Or, are they more like Nate the Great or Jack and Annie from The Magic Tree House? What’s their relationship? As you delve into the story, you’ll develop your investigators’ roles and characters.

Likewise, from the get-go you need to find out what happened at the crime scene. “Get the facts and just the facts . . . . ” For example:

“Wilcox, here. Headquarters.”

“Hello, this is Miss Rabbit.”

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“My cake is gone.”

“What cake?” I asked.

“The cake I baked for my party tomorrow!”

“Stay calm, ma’am. We’ll be right there,” I said, “Captain, we’ve got a Code 12—a missing cake!”[3]

[3] The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery, Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books, 2015), Ch. 1, at 2.

Chapter 2

The Crime Scene

Your investigators arrive pronto at the scene of the crime.

“Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold, MFIs” I said, flashing my badge, “Can you please tell us what happened?

While questioning the victim and examining the crime scene, your detectives will start figuring out the who, what, where, when, and how. At the top of their to-do list is identifying potential suspects. In an early chapter book, you only need three or four suspects at the most. You don’t want to overcomplicate the plot, but at the same time, the story needs to be challenging enough to make your readers want to read more.

newman2In The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, I have three prime suspects: Fowler, Porcini, and Hot Dog. Each suspect accuses someone else of being the culprit. By setting up the plot this way, it makes it easy for the detectives to go from one suspect to the next, and move the story forward. But the same technique can be used by having each suspect highlight a clue for the detectives to focus on as the story progresses.

At this time, the detectives also begin the task of collecting physical evidence. They tape off the crime scene area, dust for prints, and take photos. As a writer, you need to leave a crumb trail of easy clues, as well as some red herrings to keep your savvy investigators on their toes.

Chapters 3 and 4

Suspects and Clues

This is the meat of the story. This is where your detectives learn who had the motive, means, and opportunity to carry out the crime. They talk to witnesses, interrogate suspects, gather more evidence, and follow up on clues that will lead them straight to a brick wall and back to square 1. But when all hope seems lost, this is a major opportunity for your detectives and readers to reexamine the evidence. It’s a chance for your junior detectives to take note of facts that they may have missed earlier on in the investigation. Not to mention, an opportunity for them to re-strategize and develop Plan B.

One way to slow down the reader to take note of an important fact or to emphasize a clue is by having one character repeat or slightly modify what another character has said. For instance:

“And then she took a walk in her pajamas.”

“In her pajamas?” I asked. “That’s odd. Where did she go?”[4]

or

“But she sure was acting like a funny bunny.”

“Funny ha ha or funny odd?” I asked.

“She didn’t say a word—not even a peep when I asked if she wanted a nice hot cup of slop! And she was still wearing her pajamas. . . .”[5]

or

Even a comment by an investigator can slow down the reader to take note of an important fact.

“Where were you when the cake was taken?”

“I was taking a quick catnap.”

Hmm. . . a catnap. Such an odd thing for a bunny to do.[6]

Repetition is a pacing device that can help slow down the plot. In comedy writing, this is a technique that’s frequently used. But you should always think of plot in terms of elements that will move your story forward. The one exception would be red herrings, which are intentional story diversions.

[4] Id. Ch. 3, at 13.

[5] Id. Ch. 3, at 16.

[6] Id. Ch. 2, at 9.

Chapter 5

Plan B and the Big Reveal

newman6The investigation’s taken a new direction. Using what new information your detectives have found, they rush to catch the culprit before he or she strikes again. And when that big moment is about to happen, you want to slow down the text. Don’t give the big moment away too quickly. You want your characters, not to mention your readers, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to find out whodunit.

In The Case of The Missing Carrot Cake, Detectives Wilcox and Captain Griswold try to catch their cake thief red handed, or frosting handed as the case may be, with a good old-fashioned stakeout and video surveillance. When it’s finally time to view the two videotapes, the first tape doesn’t work. But when they show the second video tape . . . .

The room was silent.

“There’s nothing on this tape,” cried Miss Rabbit.

“Patience. It’s still rolling,” I said, when the tape picked up the presence of a shadow.

“I can’t watch!” screamed Porcini.

“Me, neither!” cried Hot Dog.

“Who?!” hooted Fowler.

“Quiet!” I shouted.

The captain shot everyone his “or else” look.

 And then the blurry image of a figure appeared.

“Is it over?” screamed Porcini.

 “I’m scared!” cried Hot Dog. “Who?!” hooted Fowler.

“Shush!” I shouted.

The captain glared his “be quiet” look.

The figure slowly came into focus.[7]

A mishap or two right before the big reveal adds tension to the scene and makes the big aha moment really stand out.

[7] Id. Ch. 5, at 30.

Chapter 6

Case Closed

At long last, the case is solved. It was a piece of cake after all. It’s an opportunity for the detectives to recap, clarify, and explain how they figured out how the crime was committed. But just as in writing a picture book, you want to leave something extra that will spice up the last scene in the book. A twist at the end or touch of humor is a great way to do this. In The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, Hot Dog saves the day. He made an extra cake for Miss Rabbit’s party, but once everyone takes a bite, they realize the cake is crunchy. Nobody’s ever had crunchy carrot cake. That’s because it’s Hot Dog’s secret ingredient: dog biscuits. And sure enough, everyone loses their appetite and the only ones eating are Porcini and Hot Dog. They finish every last crumb, and that’s how you make a cake disappear.

****

If you follow the tried and true formula of plotting a mystery, you’re bound to come up with a winner of a transitional reader or early chapter book. Remember to also pay attention to the age of your reader, vocabulary, word counts, the complexity of your story, and last but never least, have fun!

HIGH RES. 20140513_robin_newman_0051Raised in New York and Paris, Robin Newman is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the City University of New York School of Law. She’s been a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and English Cocker Spaniel, who happens to have been born on the Fourth of July. Stop by her website www.robinnewmanbooks.com, visit her blog, or follow @robinnewmanbook on Twitter. You can also find her on FACEBOOK.

Robin is giving away three copies of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win her book, 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 Robin’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.

 

 

 

Tracey Baptiste: Plotting the Horror Novel

jumbiesPlotting a horror novel for kids means tying all of the action pieces to an emotional reaction. It needs to be scary, but not too scary. Horror elements need to be cut with other things: humor, frustration, longing, success.

I’ll use the plot points from my own novel, The Jumbies, to illustrate how to chart the emotional reaction from the reader and make sure you’re striking a balance. All emotional factors will be numbered 0-10, with 1 being only a moderate feeling, to a strong feeling at 10. Please note, these numbers are SUPER SCIENTIFIC.

Baptiste1

Baptiste2

The action in chapter one is set up to prime readers for the scary bits throughout the story, but it doesn’t do so at top speed. It eases the reader in, gets stronger, and ends on just a slightly scarier note than where it started.

In chapter two, there is nothing scary at all. I needed to set up Corinne’s relationship with her father, and frankly, the readers need a break. But chapter three, which is purposefully short, is a steady hum of scariness that describes the main jumbie and introduces her motives. Chapter four again, has almost nothing scary in it until the very last line, but the next chapter amps up the scare factor again.

Baptiste3

The plot points that illicit love/friendship/humor follow each other, but go in the opposite direction of the plot points that illicit feelings of fear. This is the balancing act. Chapter by chapter, the plot allows for a very varied emotional response. It is a very purposeful emotional roller coaster that keeps kids turning the page, not knowing what will happen next.

Rules of thumb:
In opening chapters, you want to see more variation in the fear factor. The chart should be all over the place.
In middle chapters, the fear factor should be amped up, but so should other emotions.
Short chapters without much variation are OK, but should be preceded and followed by chapters that are quite different, emotionally.
In the final chapters, the fear factor should be at their highest levels, with other emotions only added in to increase the reader’s feelings of fear/worry for the main character.
Like all horror novels, it should not end on an emotional fear factor of zero. There should be something left over, that keeps the readers on their toes.

TBaptiste_headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of The Jumbies (a Junior Library Guild Selection, 2015), and Angel’s Grace (one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing, 2005). She has also written several nonfiction books including biographies of some of her favorite authors. Tracey works as a freelance editor with various publishing houses and runs her own editorial company, Fairy Godauthor. You can find out more about Tracey’s books and editing services at her website www.traceybaptiste.com.  Tracey can also be found Twitter: @TraceyBaptiste, on  Facebook: http://bit.ly/9i5TxB, Tumblr:http://traceybaptiste.tumblr.com/ and on Instagram: TraceyBaptisteWrites.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Tracey’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.

 

Yvonne Ventresca: Plot Revision Table and GIVEAWAY

One way to think about plotting is to think about complications. What worries your main character? How can you make the situation worse, so that the character has the opportunity to change and grow? As Nabokov said, “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”

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When I was writing Pandemic, I made a list of things that could go wrong for my character, Lilianna – rocks I could throw. I wanted to choose situations that escalated in terms of importance, but that also related to my theme.

Once I had a decent draft written, I needed a simple way to analyze what I’d created at that point. One problem with a novel is that it’s sometimes hard to see the big picture of what you’ve written. A table with columns and rows provides an easy visual and enables you to focus on certain elements of the story. Here is a simple, messy version of the first “table” I did early on. I listed the chapter and the main events for that chapter. The bluish/purple notes are about the pandemic disease and its consequences. The green notes were some ideas for revision. (I whited out some spoilers.)

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In my next round of revisions, I realized my scribbled pages weren’t going to cut it. So I created a more formal table in Word, focusing on the various plot components in the story and how they added to the tension (or not). For example, because my story is about a deadly contagious disease, I was interested in tracking when the flu is mentioned in the news and how the disease progresses geographically and in terms of severity. I also wanted to analyze another source of fear for Lilianna, her interactions with Mr. B. In what chapters does he appear? How is their relationship revealed? Here is what the table looked like for the opening chapters of Pandemic:

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So how can this type of chart help?

Creating something that fits on a few pages helps to show the bigger picture and potential plot flaws. For example, I tend to “drop” subplots for multiple chapters in early drafts. Sometimes a subplot stalls, adding nothing to the tension of the story. This chart, which I filled in for the entire novel, helped me to identify these types of plot problems. (Fixing them is another matter!)

If your story takes place over a compressed period of time, this type of tool can also be used to track your timing. Instead of looking at events by chapter number, change the rows to the days of the week (or time of day to break it down further). This helps to ensure that Friday doesn’t happen twice in a row or that characters don’t go to school on Sundays. You can also use this format to analyze scenes within a chapter.

Ventresca4Helpful hint: make sure the rocks you choose are meaningful to your character and your overall theme. During a chapter in Pandemic, I needed “something bad” to happen. While brainstorming, one of my (least helpful) ideas was that a character’s house burns down. That was indeed “something bad,” but it didn’t tie very well to Lilianna’s fears and lack of trust. A better complication was that looters steal her much-needed supplies and make her fear for her personal safety, which was a running concern throughout the novel. So don’t use random rocks — choose them wisely!

Disclaimer: No characters were harmed by real rocks during the writing of Yvonne’s novel.

Yvonne Ventresca Author PhotoYvonne Ventresca is the author of Pandemic (Sky Pony Press, 2014), winner of the 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Atlantic region). Pandemic is a young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly bird flu outbreak. School Library Journal called Pandemic “an engrossing apocalyptic story” and Kirkus Reviews said “this realistic page-turner will keep most readers enthralled.” Yvonne’s other writing credits include a short story in the YA dystopian anthology Prep for Doom (2015), two nonfiction books for teens, Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field), and various articles for teens and adults. You can visit her online at YvonneVentresca.com where she blogs for writers and book lovers.

Yvonne is giving away a free copy of Pandemic. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win her book, 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 sample template of Yvonne’s table from 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.

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.

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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.

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WORKING BACKWARDS

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!)

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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

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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.

BRANCHING OUT

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.

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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.