Self-Editing Tips from Two-4-One Kid Critiques

By Jean Daigneau and Gloria G. Adams

We started Two-4-One in the fall of 2016 and have been busy ever since doing critique edits for writers. Our service is unique in that we offer two separate critiques, one from each of us, plus a collaborative summation.     

We see a number of issues regularly, particularly in picture and chapter book manuscripts. Here are a few things to watch out for or to add to your own stories to make your writing stronger. 

~Jean and Gloria

1.    Telling not Showing. This is probably the granddaddy of them all. When you tell your reader what is happening or what a character is feeling, you give reader information, rather than allowing him or her to experience it.

Use actions to show emotions. Instead of “Jeff was nervous,” say “Jeff squirmed in his seat, tapped his pencil on the desk, kept blinking his eyes and clearing his throat.”
Check out The Six Pens’ blog post on this subject by Gloria Reichert, March, 2019.

2.    Double Tags. Tags tell you who is speaking, so you don’t need to double up on them. If you show your character acting or reacting to something along with dialogue, you can reduce word count and make your writing stronger by omitting the tag altogether.

Double Tag example: Joey slid into the driver’s seat. “You coming or not?” he asked. We already know who is speaking (Joey) so “he asked” is not necessary.      Here’s a good article on the many ways to use tags effectively:

3.    Not Enough Story. Editors or agents sometimes use this phrase when the story lacks the basic components to give the reader satisfaction. Your ideas might be good, but if you don’t have enough story, your writing isn’t strong enough to engage your reader to the end. Often increasing the obstacles your main character needs to overcome or adding tension will go a long way to resolving this issue.

Basic plots should begin with an incident that causes a change in the status quo, creating a problem for the main character, followed by steps he/she takes to resolve the problem. Tension should increase until the story reaches a climax or turning point, followed by a resolution and end. This could be very simple or incredibly complex but should still follow a basic pattern that creates a “story arc” with a satisfying ending.

4.    No Character Growth. Your main character must show some change by the end of the story. If your character is exactly the same at the beginning of the story as he or she is at the end, your character lacks growth or development.

Write down your character’s traits, both physical and emotional, at the beginning, then decide what change you want to see at the end. How will he/she learn a lesson or change somehow (be stronger, braver, wiser, etc.?)

5.    Info Dump. Info dump occurs when you give your readers everything you want them to know in your story instead of everything they need to know. Readers only need to read what they need to read. You, however, need to know everything about your story and then learn what to leave out.

Instead of telling your readers the entire back story in the first chapter, drip the information gradually into the story, using dialogue as well as descriptions to move the story along.

6.    Rule of 3. Three is the smallest pattern a person’s brain can recognize, so it works well in a number of scenarios You can use the rule of 3 to show plot points, to introduce characters and/or their names, to add rhythm to your story (or title,) or to provide obstacles for your main character to overcome.

Examples: Itsy, Bitsy, Spider; Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, etc.
Do a quick review of your latest story and see how revising with these ideas in mind can
 improve your writing.

You can learn all about us and our services at

Interview with author Peggy Thomas

By Lisa Amstutz

This week, we're excited to welcome Peggy Thomas to the Six Pens blog to share about her newest book. Peggy loves true stories, and is the author of more than 25 award-winning nonfiction books for children. Her most recent title is Full of Beans, Henry Ford Grows a Car. Peggy co-authored Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writing guide for children’s NF, and speaks at educational conferences, writer’s workshops, and schools. She is a proud member of SCBWI, the Nonfiction Ninjas, Nonfiction Chicks, iNK Think Tank, and a contributor to the Nonfiction Minute. When not writing, Peggy is a happy empty-nester, garden-dweller, dog-scritcher, cat-cuddler, and grateful traveler.

What inspired you to write this book? What do you want readers to take away from it?

I wrote Full of Beans, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity. When I heard Ford built a soybean car, I had to find out how and why. Other than enjoying the story, I hope it makes kids think about the innovative ways we can use sustainable, recyclable agricultural products in industry.

Tell us a little about your research process for this book.

I learned early on that much of the soybean research had disappeared many years ago, but what remained was housed at the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan. I spent several days there going through the archives. I found a note from the tailor who made the soybean suit, and menus from Ford’s all soybean dinner parties. On my last day there I found a reel to reel interview with the designer of the car, Lowell Overly. There was no transcript, so, I extended my stay and spent the next day with headphones on and taking notes as fast as I could. It was such a treasure.

What is your writing routine?

When I’m in writing mode I start around 10 in the morning and go until 4 in the afternoon. But many days I am researching, which could be online, on the phone, traveling, or reading.

What kind of books do you like to read?

Almost everything. Mostly nonfiction. The one thing I don’t read much of is fantasy. I love reading history, natural history, as well as fiction and NF based in other cultures.

What book has influenced you the most?

My favorite writing book is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, it has been revised many times, and I have every edition.

What was your most unusual or funny experience as a writer?

It is a toss up between cooking larvae for an article about eating insects, and taking an elephant’s temperature. Research is a great excuse to do amazing things.

What book do you wish you had written? Why?

I see books all the time that I wish I had written, but Dianna Hutts Aston’s An Egg is Quiet is lovely for its brevity, clarity, and elegance.  I tend to be too wordy. I admire anyone who can write nonfiction under 500 words.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to writers?

Don’t worry about what everyone else is writing. Tell your stories. Comparing yourself to others wastes time and silences creativity. 

Short and Sweet: 

Pantser or Plotter?  Pantser

Guilty Food Pleasure?  Popcorn

Favorite Hobby? Gardening

Dog or Cat person?  Both – I have 2 dogs and 5 cats. Weight-wise it evens out.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? My Mom and Dad. I miss them.

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Morning

You can find Peggy online at:

Instagram: peggy.thomas.writes
Twitter: @pegtwrite

Book Launch Celebration!

By Jean Daigneau
Published by Chicago Review Press, October 1, 2019, Grade Level: 4-7

Jean Daigneau’s work has appeared in a number of publications, including Highlights for Children, My Friend magazine, The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and The Guide to Literary Agents. She has sold educational testing material, poetry, greeting card text, and crafts. She currently writes a quarterly column for Children’sBook Insider called Genre Spotlight and serves on the Northern Ohio SCBWI board. She and business partner Gloria G. Adams own a critique editing company, Two-4-One Kid Critiques, LLC, that offers two critique edits for the price of one. Jean is represented by Vicki Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency.

What was your reason for wanting to write Code Cracking for Kids?
Honestly? I wanted to sell a book! But really, Six Pens author Lisa Amstutz and I were talking about her recent projects. She mentioned Chicago Review Press as a place to send a non-fiction query. I know a couple of other CRP authors, who have written specifically for CRP’s For Kids series, so I did some homework. I’m a bit of a math geek and love just about any kind of puzzle, including jigsaws and math and word puzzles. And, I had started an early reader book that used historical secret codes as the premise to time travel, so codes and ciphers seemed like a good fit.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
This is the first non-fiction book I’ve done. Although I love research, I didn’t have a clue about formatting that involves subheadings, photo placement, and photo captions. Then, too, I was responsible for getting all of the photos. I had to speak to the editor by phone to understand what specs were needed to find high resolution photos that were the right size. The entire project involved a huge learning curve.

What was it like to write for Chicago Review Press?
 Horrible. Just kidding! I only said that so everyone doesn’t query them! They were great. The editors answered questions patiently and in a timely manner. But while there was not a lot of major rewriting, it was interesting to see how much back and forth there was, especially after I was moved from the senior editor to the development editor at that phase of the project. And, like other non-fiction writing, sometimes the response time for me to get back to the editor was pretty short.

What was one fascinating secret code or spy story you learned from researching this book?
Actually, for me, it wasn’t always a code or cipher that piqued my interest, but other fascinating stories. I happened upon information about Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, who disguised military fortification information in drawings of butterflies. Then too, imagine being a Roman slave and having a message tattooed on your shaved head. Pity the poor guy who had to take back a response!

What tips do you have for authors who are interested in writing nonfiction books for kids? Document, document, document! Obviously, keeping track of research and where you find information is crucial, as well as using reliable sources. If a fact needs to be double-checked, it can save tons of time to be able to get your hands on an article quickly. Then, too, things happen in the best of circumstances. At one point, my entire project and photo permissions got lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, I had backed it up.  In the case of two photos I was purchasing to use from Siberia, I never did hear back from my contact to actually make payment. I was so glad I had a signed CRP form that gave me permission to use the photos, because they were two images I really wanted to include.