Parting Gifts

By Kate Carroll

We are gearing up for our annual SCBWI Writers’ Conference here in northern Ohio, and there’s hope and anticipation in the air. Aside from the dream of a book contract (!),  the weekend fills me with knowledge, inspiration, and camaraderie with my fellow authors. 

Attending a conference or a workshop revs my creative engine, but halfway through, I feel like I’m on “info overload”.  I look forward to unpacking all the knowledge and letting it sink into my brain, but not right away. I need to separate from the excitement and truly inhale all of the information in long, lingered, intentional moments.

Reviewing my notes and handouts may be the first thing I want to do once I leave a conference, but I rarely do - because, let’s face it - LIFE happens. I often have to delay that gratification to attend to other things. So, down the road a bit,  after the conference adrenaline wears off, and I’m needing a little motivation or direction, I reach for those lovely parting gifts.  I pull out my workshop notes, my handouts, my whatevers, and jump into the treasure trove of learning materials again. This time, I linger and listen ever so intently to the sage advice that will enhance my writing and lead me to publication.  

             Here are some of my favorite pearls of wisdom from the “pros” at past writing events:

“Every word matters.”  
Kate DiCamillo 

“Anticipate your readers’ reactions.”  
Jodelle Sadler

“There’s a kid out there who needs your book.” 
 Danielle Smith

“Take the emotion of a frozen moment in your life and insert it into a character and/or the setting of your story.”  
Dandi Daley Mackall

“Put yourself into the mindset of a 6 year old.”   
Nikki Garcia

“Make me laugh. Make me think. Make me want to turn the page.”   
Michelle Poploff

“Be careful not to take my illustrator’s job away from me with your words.”  
Eric Rohmann

“Writing takes talent, tenacity, timing and luck.” 
 Laurie Knowlton

“If a character makes a decision, pause and ask, what would happen if he went another way?   Tina Wexler

“Start out with an article. It’s a great way to get your feet wet and gain a writing credit.”  
Mary Ryan

“Red herrings are very good in a mystery novel, but bad in a picture book.” 
Lisa Wheeler

“You must have the seed of an idea before you can grow a story.”   
Nancy Roe Pimm

If you are going to a conference or workshop soon,  I hope you are breathless with excitement and anticipation - both coming and going!

Books and Beat Sheets

By Gloria Reichert

Several months ago, I attended a Highlights Foundation Workshop where the presenters recommended that we participants read Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat. Snyder, one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, shares his secrets of success in a funny, informative manner. This book contains much sage advice that can be applied to writing a book as well as to writing a screenplay. 

Snyder states that after coming up with a wonderful idea and determining the main character and the audience, writing is all about structure, structure, structure. In his quest for success, Snyder developed his own template, which he calls The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. This is how it looks. The numbers in parentheses are page numbers where the beats should occur in a screenplay. A brief explanation follows each beat. 

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet


1.  Opening Image (1): A first impression of the tone, type, and mood; shows starting point of the   hero

2.  Theme Stated (5): The thematic premise; (Can’t be didactic in picture books)

3.  Set-up (1-10): Sets up the hero, the stakes, and the goal of the story and hooks the audience
4.  Catalyst (12): The first moment when something happens to set the main character on his/her journey; is often bad news that eventually lead to happiness

5.  Debate (12-25): last chance for the hero to back out before the journey begins

6.  Break into Two (25): Moment the hero decides to leave the old world and proceeds into a new world which is upside down

7.  B Story (30): Carries the story’s theme and smooths over the A story break; often a love story of some sort, new character introduced

8.  Fun and Games (30-55): The promise of the premise; the heart of the story

9.  Midpoint (55): The threshold between the two halves of the movie; could be either a peak or a valley

10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75): The bad guys regroup and come back stronger; internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy beset the hero’s team; there’s nowhere the hero can go for help.

11. All Is Lost (75): No hope; looks like total defeat, but it is false.

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85): The darkness right before the dawn when the hero finds the way to solve his problem

13. Break into Three (85): The solution

14. Finale (85-110): The wrap up

15. Final Image (110): The opposite of the opening image; shows the changes that have occurred.

Instead of thinking about three acts, Snyder thinks in terms of thesis (the first ten pages and the rest of Act One), antithesis (Break into Two), and synthesis (Break into Three).
He also explains how to put a sentence or two about each beat onto an index card and arrange and rearrange them till the story is right.

Fortunately for me, when I finished reading the book, I watched Heather Preusser’s webinar on 12x12 entitled “How Strategies from Save the Cat Can Strengthen Your Manuscript.” Heather demonstrated how to apply Snyder’s Beat Sheet to her picture book, A Symphony of Cowbells, and things became clear. Heather did not use the beat sheet when she wrote this story, but she now uses the template, especially when she gets stuck. If you go to her website,, and look under “For Writers,” she provides beat sheets for several other model texts.

The pages numbers given for Snyder’s Beat Sheet were for a 110-page screenplay, but if you go to, you can enter the number of pages in your manuscript and see the suggested page numbers for each beat. For a picture book, enter 32 pages. If you write MG or YA, enter the projected number of pages in your manuscript to see when each beat should occur.

Sounds like a great tool for plotting and pacing. I can’t wait to try it with my manuscripts!  

Book Birthday: Applesauce Day!

By Lisa J. Amstutz

Today I'm happy to announce the release of my newest picture book, Applesauce Day!

The story is based on my family's applesauce-making tradition, which goes back generations. It was amazing to watch it come to life with Talitha Shipman's exuberant, colorful art. I'm so pleased with the way it turned out, and hope you will enjoy it as well!

From the publisher: Maria and her family visit an apple orchard and pick apples. Then it's time to turn the apples into applesauce! Every year they use the special pot that has been in the family for generations to make applesauce. First they wash the apples. Then Grandma cuts them into quarters. Follow each step in the process as everyone helps to make delicious applesauce!

Freedom to Read

By Kate Carroll

 Having just celebrated America’s Independence Day, I pondered all the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Many of the obvious come to mind, but  in particular, I’m thankful for the volumes of books that were available to me throughout my childhood - in school libraries, public libraries, home libraries and bookstores. I have glorious memories of laying on a lounge chair, reading stacks of books in the warm breezes of CT summers.

 But I know, first hand, that not all children have the freedom of reading or owning books. Our daughter, Hope, came to us three years ago from Rwanda as a high school senior and had never read a book for fun. She attended excellent schools, by Rwandan standards, but rarely had a textbook!

In a country like Rwanda, children don’t have the luxury of reading books, visiting libraries, or owning books. The literacy rate is climbing there, but the amount of available reading material is minimal. Rwanda’s adult literacy rate is around 70%, but that is not reflective of the situation in more rural areas of the country. Education is highly valued, but there is little access. Other African countries have alarmingly low statistics. For example, the  countries of Mali and Niger have literacy rates of 33% and 19% respectively, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Most developing countries face the challenges of expanding education but not having the tools to advance the cause.

Initiatives addressing the lack of literacy through grants and charitable organizations is on the rise. The USAID organization suggests, “Literacy is considered a linchpin in Rwanda's ascendance as a major player in communications and technology on the African continent.”  In Rwanda, pilot programs exist to increase the use of books in primary grades. They even teach teachers how to read stories aloud to increase interest among students. Through a local publishing company, actual picture books created by local authors exist in some elementary schools, giving kids stories that pique their interest. Reading is a key to unlocking amazing opportunities in countries like Rwanda.

Many African countries endeavor to join in the technology age. The emergence of e-books appeals to these impoverished nations and provides easier access to the written word than a physical paper book. It may be that digital reading in some places in Africa will jump over conventional book reading and the paper book will barely exist in their learning culture. Without the tradition of curling up with Mommy or Daddy and reading one’s favorite stories, it’s very possible that populations and cultures will never have that chance.

I believe that the sky’s the limit for joining in the race to advance reading ability in Africa. Check out the foundations below to see how you might help. Or see how your local school districts may take on an initiative to share a book with African students.

On a personal note, Hope caught the reading bug last summer. Here’s a “shout out” to Nicola Yoon for her captivating debut YA novel, Everything, Everything.  Her work marked the beginning of a love relationship with reading for a girl from Africa.  
Friends of Rwandan Education (FRE) is a new non-profit whose goal is to assist Rwanda in achieving their educational goals through cultural collaborations, advocacy and fundraising.The current goal is to build a new secondary school for 800 students.

10 Tips for Self-Editing Your Manuscript

By Gloria G. Adams

Editing a manuscript is part of the writing process. But isn’t that the job of an editor or agent? Absolutely. But first you have to sell your manuscript to one of them. Give yourself a better chance by taking the time to do some editing yourself before you send that manuscript out.

Here are 10 tips from Gloria G. Adams and Jean Daigneau of Two4One Kid Critiques, a critique editing company.

1.  Cross-examine your main character. What does he/she want in your story? How bad does he/she want it? What is his/her motivation? Have you conveyed your main character’s feelings strongly enough to make the reader want what he/she wants? Is his/her voice consistent? Is he or she too perfect? What is he/she afraid of? What things make him/her angry? frustrated? happy? sad?

2.  Amp up your language. Are you using too many passive verbs? Read through your whole manuscript, searching for weak or passive verbs. Replace as many as you can with stronger ones. Get rid of any overused clich├ęs. Look for “-ly” adverbs (She whispered quietly, he yelled loudly.) Ditch as many as you can. Re-examine your descriptions; can you make them better?

3.  Polish your plot. Have you forgotten any plot elements? Is there a problem to solve? A goal to reach? What do your characters do to solve that problem? When they solve it, what has changed? Does your story have a satisfying ending? Does the conclusion happen too abruptly? Does it make sense?

4.  Don’t rely on Spellcheck. While Spellcheck can be useful, it is not always helpful. Check spelling yourself, as well as grammar. Have someone else look it over for you for spelling or grammar mistakes.

5.  Keep that back story sparse. Do you really need the reader to know every single detail about that flower that is growing beneath the window where your main character lives? Does it have anything to do with your story? If not, you really don’t need it. If it’s crucial to your story, leave it in. Apply this test to everything in your back story. If it’s necessary, find a way to let your readers know, but don’t make your back story so long and detail-filled that you lose them.

6.  Dialogue. Examine every scene. Does the reader always know who is speaking? Have you used dialogue to show what your characters look like, what their personalities are, what action they have taken or are going to take? Can you use it to describe the scene? Check for double tags; eliminate them. (Example of a double tag: Mary turned the crock pot on High, slipped her apron off, and stretched out on the couch. “I’m exhausted,” she said. We don’t need the words “she said” because we already know Mary is the one who is talking.)

7.  Check for sensory details. Read through your entire manuscript and see how many of the senses you have used. They can help your reader relate to your characters and add more depth and interest to your story. Almost everyone uses sight, but what about sounds and taste? Look for ways to use them to draw your reader deeper into the book.

8.  Be specific. Specific details give a much clearer picture of the world you have created. Don’t just say the child carried a balloon. Say the little girl’s sticky fingers clutched the smooth, white string of a cherry-red balloon. Paint a picture with your words.

9.  Be consistent. Make sure you have not changed from past tense to present tense or vice-versa. It can be very easy to do, and to miss, unless you comb carefully through your manuscript. Search for any inconsistencies in your character’s actions. If you’ve told us she’s allergic to peanuts, don’t have her munching on peanut butter sandwiches later on in the story with no consequences. If you’ve created a fantasy or sci-fi world, make sure what you’ve said in one part doesn’t contradict what you say in another.

10. Get critiques from your trusted writer friends. If you don’t already belong to a critique group, join one if possible. Others can spot things you might have missed, or can make suggestions to improve your story.

Two4One Kid Critiques offers a unique service. They offer two critiques instead of one for each client’s manuscript, along with a collaborative summation. Workshops are also available. Check them out at

Ode to a Piano

by Lana Wayne Koehler

While I don’t consider myself a poet, every now and then I feel the urge to write something that doesn’t have to be vetted and critiqued by impatient peers and editors alike. To that end, I indulge in poetry.

No one would accuse me of being devoid of ideas, but following Michelle Barnes on her blog, “Today’s Little Ditty”, she invites authors and others to give parameters with which to focus my attentions. And, occasionally, if the poetic muses visit, she likes what I write and makes it a focus of the day.

Her recent challenge by Helen Frost, When My Sister Started Kissing, was to find an object that had no sentimental value but could be described using each of the five senses, one for each line. And, in the end, ask a question, answer a question, or both.

This was my offering for March, 2017. If you want to see it on her blog, here’s the post


It was love at first sight: Watching fingers tickle the ivories as
the sound tickles my ears;
Tasting joy,
While the fragrance of the music
Lingers, waiting to embrace

© Lana Wayne Koehler. All rights reserved.

One of my poems was selected for her end-of-the-year book, “The Best of Today’s Little Ditty Volume I”, but you’ll have to buy it to find out which one it is!  

If you have a little bit of the crazy and want to join me on my poetic diversions, check out, “Today’s Little Ditty”,

May the odds be ever in your favor!