Beyond Writing Prompts

By Gloria G. Adams

Most of us have used writing prompts for different reasons: to break writer’s block, at gatherings of writers, at conferences and workshops, to generate new story ideas. But most of the prompts you may have used are only that: prompts. Whether it’s a photo, a string of words, a first line, or a scenario, that’s all it is.

What if you could take those prompts further? What if you had a step-by-step guide to show you how to take a prompt and turn it into a story or a book with a strong plot, engaging characters, and believable settings?

That’s what my new book, Photo Plots: How to Write Great Photo-inspired Books and Stories, is all about. In it, you’ll find some basics on plot, character development, and settings/world building, a template with questions for building your stories, four sample stories, and over 60 images to spark your imagination.

Here’s an excerpt:

PHOTO PLOT: A story plot inspired by a photo.

PHOTO PLOTTING: The act of creating a story plot inspired by a photo.

PHOTO PLOTTER: One who photo plots.

There are times in the writing life when ideas dry up, when inspiration won’t come. Your brain has come up with what you consider to be a fabulous idea, but no words seem to convey the vision you have for it. Maybe you’re part way through your manuscript and nothing is working right in chapter eight. Or seven. Your mind is blank and so is that white page in front of you. Some call it “writer’s block.” No matter what you call it, it can be a source of great frustration.

One way to push through writer’s block is to just start writing. And sometimes you need a prompt to get you going. I’m a big fan of word prompts, but sometimes they just aren’t enough.

I find that photos work much better, possibly because they tap into the emotions through a visual experience. You can actually see the character, envision the scenery, smell the scent of those flowers. From there, hopefully, a story idea will germinate.

But, let’s take it one step further. The picture is there, the ideas begin to flow, but where do you start and how do you actually make it work?

Try Photo Plots.

With Photo Plots, you can choose a picture, brainstorm some ideas, then fill in a special plot template, answering questions about characters, plot, and world building as you go.

You’ll get some basics, step-by-step guides, a sample story built with the template, and three stories written by three different authors using the same photograph. Plus, many wonderful photos to inspire you.

Whatever your experience with photo prompts has been, Photo Plots will take you a step further by providing the tools you need to build the stories only you can create. Ready? Let’s get Photo Plotting!

Find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble:

Interview with Author Lindsay Bonilla

By Lisa Amstutz

Today I'm happy to welcome my friend Lindsay Bonilla to the blog to share about her new picture book, POLAR BEAR ISLAND, which will be released in October. Lindsay, thanks for stopping by!


Polar Bear Island is about Parker, the mayor of a peaceful and predictable island that is just for polar bears. Parker is determined to keep others off his island. Then Kirby, an adventurous penguin arrives. Kirby is tired after her long journey so Parker agrees to let her stay on the island for one night; but once the other bears meet Kirby and learn about her unique invention, they don't want her to leave.

It was actually something that happened to my husband that inspired the story. My husband, Estith, is originally from Colombia, but we met in Spain. After we got engaged he moved here, but he didn't speak English. Still, as soon as his work permit came through, he started working as an electrician. He pushed himself to learn the language and because of his incredible skill was quickly promoted to running jobs.

One day he and a crew of electricians went to do a job at an industrial plant. When they arrived, Estith began to explain to the supervisor what they were going to do. After hearing my husband's accent, the supervisor ignored him and addressed the other members of the crew instead.

My husband felt disrespected and hurt. This wasn't the first time that someone had not wanted to engage in a conversation with him because of his accent. When he told me what happened, I was sad and angry. While I could appreciate the fact that it can be hard to understand someone with an accent; I also felt like all too often, some people aren't even willing to try.

My husband's experience got me thinking about all the forms of discrimination that he and our immigrant friends had experienced as well as the negative bias that so often surrounds immigrants in general. I wanted to tell a story that painted a positive picture of immigration and that was the seed for POLAR BEAR ISLAND. To this day I have no idea how penguins and polar bears became the vehicle for telling this story.


I hope readers of POLAR BEAR ISLAND will be left thinking about the fact that we can learn a lot from those who are different than ourselves. People from different places or different backgrounds have a lot to teach us and can enrich our lives. Many times our fear or dislike of others is grounded in stereotypes that simply aren't true. I hope POLAR BEAR ISLAND will encourage people to look past stereotypes and biases and get to know people who are different on a personal level.

I also want readers to think about how they treat people who are different. Are they welcoming? Are they open to new ways of doing things? Open to learning from someone else? Or do they have the mindset that “my/our way is best” without ever experiencing another way of life? My mind has been opened considerably by traveling, living abroad and being married to someone from another country/culture. All of these experiences have taught me that oftentimes instead of there being right/wrong ways of doing things, there are simply different ways of doing things.I hope the book will cause readers to put themselves in the shoes, or in this case, the Flipper Slippers of another and ask, “How would I want to be treated if I were in that situation?”

Just as each of the penguins in the story has something to offer, I also want children to know that everyone has a unique gift to offer to the world.


I started writing this story in 2015. I took it to my critique partner and also had a paid critique with Pam Calvert. Pam thought the book was very close to being ready for submission but that I needed to make some of the penguin's hobbies more kid-friendly. She was exactly right. I took her suggestions and revised accordingly. Then for some reason, I put the manuscript aside. I honestly don't know why. Then in 2016 I heard about the SCBWI Michigan Roundtable Retreat to be held in October. You had to submit a manuscript to be considered. I submitted a different manuscript and was notified I'd been accepted. But when it came time to decide what I wanted to actually work on at the conference during my roundtable session with editor Brett Duquette, for some reason, POLAR BEAR ISLAND, came back to my mind. I pulled it back out and took it to my critique group and my online critique partners to polish it up some more.

During my session with Brett, he gave me some amazing feedback that really seemed to unlock parts of the story. After the conference, I made another round of edits and sent it off to Brett a few weeks later. Brett called soon after to say he was taking it to his editorial team at Sterling. By Christmas it had passed both acquisitions and sales, and I had an offer.

To this day, I am beyond grateful for the SCBWI Michigan Roundtable Retreat. The funny thing is I initially debated whether or not I should go as it was an 8 hour drive, I was 4 months pregnant and had a toddler at home! But it turns out it was one of the best decisions I ever made!



Write because you love it, not just because you want to get published. During my first week as a theatre major at Northwestern University, the theatre faculty called all of us bright-eyed creative artists into a room and said, “If you can see yourself doing anything else, don't do this. Walk out this door right now.”

Certainly that was the last thing any of us were expecting to hear, and it was shocking and maybe even a bit disheartening. But as I've forged a career in the creative arts over the last 16 years or so, I've realized it was actually great advice that applies to writing too. Neither acting nor writing are easy paths -- so if you're not doing it because you LOVE it, because you can't imagine NOT doing it, you might not fair well with all of the ups and downs that are part of process.

If you LOVE it, you will want to stick with it. You will enjoy the growth, both personal and professional, that comes along with each draft you write – even if that manuscript never gets published. 

Lindsay Bonilla is an author and professional storyteller. Visit her online at

Writing a Series: Picture Books

By Gloria G. Adams

If you have ever thought of writing a picture book series, here are some thoughts on building one.

1.       Have a theme that will tie them all together. 

2.       Have a purpose. If teaching something through non-fiction, is there enough material for multiple books? Do you offer kid-friendly activities in the back matter? If it’s fiction, what is the reason you think kids will benefit from getting to know your characters? 

3.       Setting: Is this a place to which kids will want to return in every book? 

4.       If it’s fiction, is your character the right age for your story and target audience? Do you have enough (very short) stories to make a whole series? Does your character learn things over the course of each book to which your readers can relate? 

5.       Will you self-publish or pitch to traditional publishers? There are pros and cons to both. Learn all you can about them before you decide. 

6.       Research the market; is there a similar series out there that’s been recently-published?* 

7.       Whatever you decide, make sure you read as much as you can so that you know your market and your competition.

The two picture book series I wrote this year are Boost My Reading Skills and Backyard Biomes.
Boost My Reading Skills is a color concept series with back matter that teaches how to use these books to help kids boost their pre-reading skills. It also includes a page of resources for parents about reading.

Backyard Biomes is about…biomes! It includes colorful pictures of plants, animals and geology for Forests, Oceans, and Deserts. Back matter includes information on the specific biome and a page with directions for children on how they can make a book about their own backyard ecology.

Both series are in rhyme and were vetted by a reading teacher. They are targeted at grades K and 1 but will also work well as library story hour books for 3 and 4-year-olds. They are published through Slanted Ink,, and are for sale on Amazon.

*I researched Backyard Biomes two years ago but failed to double check again; after my books were published, I discovered that a series with the same title had been published in 2017. Make sure to keep checking the market, especially if you are not publishing traditionally.

Photo Prompts for Writer’s Block

By Gloria G. Adams

I used to tell people I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I have too many ideas, more than I will ever be able to write about. But, writer’s block isn’t always about finding new ideas; it can manifest in struggling to make your story work, your characters become stronger and more relatable, your world-building more exciting and different. All of it can be really frustrating. 

But if you are struggling with finding a great inspiration for a story, images might be a good place to start. 

How can pictures inspire you? Think about going to an art museum or looking at paintings or photography in books. Images evoke feelings inside us that a short string of words (a word prompt) just can’t manage.

So, here are a few images to spark your imagination and hopefully inspire some new stories. As you look at each one, ask yourself questions. What has happened to this person and what will be the consequences for him/her? What kind of world is this and what different, scary, funny, etc. events could happen here? How can I describe this person, world, event? What sensory details can I bring to this picture?

Ready? Set? Get inspired!