May 16

Common Children’s Author Mistakes, Big and Small

I watched a webinar through Children’s Book Insider (CBI) with traditionally published children’s authors Jean Daigneau and Gloria Adams. They had some very helpful tips.

One section I found interesting was:

BIG common mistakes that authors make with children’s books.

  1. The number ONE most common big mistake is a weak plot.

So, what does a weak plot mean?

No conflict, or very little.


The main character needs to have a problem. It can be internal or external, but it needs to be something that has consequences attached to it.

The conflict doesn’t need to be life or death; it may be that he figures out a way to stop a bully. Or, she figures out a way to get the bike she’s been wanting. It could even be that he was lonely and finds a friend.

It does need to be something that will get the young reader engaged.

It’s the conflict that will make the reader become invested in the main character’s journey. It’s the conflict that will motivate the reader to read to the end.

  1. The number two most common mistake is the lack of a story arc.

A story needs a full story arc. A beginning, a middle, and an end, and within that structure there needs to conflict that rises.

There also needs to be a satisfying resolution to that conflict.

This is commonly known as Freytag’s Pyramid.

The story starts on the left side of the pyramid. The action and conflict climbs up to the peak (the climax). Then it’s down the right side with falling action and the resolution.

  1. Another big mistake is the lack of a character arc.

The character needs to grow in some way.

He needs to change in some way as a result of his journey to overcome the obstacle blocking him from reaching his goal.

Maybe the character becomes kinder, happier, more confident, smarter, physically stronger, emotionally stronger, more creative, less fearsome. You get the gist.

He shouldn’t be the same person as he was at the beginning of the journey.

When you look at the character at the beginning of the story and then at the end, he needs to be different. There needs to be some kind of growth.

Some of the SMALLER mistakes or problems authors make are:

  1. Double tags.

Here’s an example:

Pete threw his fist in the air. “If he does that again, I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said.

This is a double tag.

It’s already established that Pete is the one talking because he’s noted throwing his fist in the air. The “he said” shouldn’t be included.

If you know the reader will understand who’s talking, you don’t add a dialogue tag.

  1. Picture books and illustrations.

If you’re writing a picture book, take the illustrations into account.

Write with them in mind. Leave enough room for the illustrator to be creative and bring the story to another level.

  1. Illustrator notes.

It may be tempting to try to direct the illustrator with a lot of illustrator notes, but don’t do it.

Unless it’s something that the illustrator wouldn’t know, but needs to know, don’t mention it.

An example of this:

Maybe your protagonist has a dog and you want it to be a specific breed of dog and a specific color. This is something you can note as the illustrator certainly wouldn’t know about it.

  1. Candy-coating the story.

A number of my clients don’t want anything bad to happen to the characters in the story. This is especially true of picture books.

But it’s tough to have conflict if nothing bad can happen to the characters.

The best stories, even if fantasy, have realism in them.

  1. Unsatisfying ending.

The ending of your story is important to get right.

All loose ends must be tied up. And, especially in picture books and writing for young children, the ending must be satisfying.

The reader should go away feeling good about the story.

Another important aspect of the ending is to NOT tell the reader what the message of the story is.

The take-away value of the story should be subtly conveyed through the story itself. Don’t hit the reader over the head with it

Winding this up…

A good story needs it all. It needs conflict with rising action and resolution. It needs character growth with a subtle message.

The best way to incorporate all this into your story is to read a lot of traditionally published books in the genre you’re writing. Pay attention to what makes those books work.

Children's ghostwriter

Let me take a look at your notes, outline, or draft. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. I can turn your story into a book that you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: (please put Children’s Ghostwriter in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Let’s get your story in publishable and marketable shape today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

Mar 07

Story, Plot, and Arcs

Lately, I’ve received a few picture book manuscripts from potential clients who wanted quotes on editing.

Once I read over the stories, I quickly knew they weren’t editing projects because there were no actual stories. They were a list of events or scenes.

It seems to be a common problem with new authors who don’t take the time to learn the very basics of writing a story.

So, what exactly is a story and plot?

An article at The Write Practice uses a quote from E. M. Forster to explain the difference between story and plot: “The king died and then the queen died,” is a series of events and can be considered a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” is a plot.

The story is the basic storyline. It’s the overall description of the story.

In my middle-grade book, Walking Through Walls, the storyline is the protagonist wants to become rich and powerful, no matter what it takes.

The plot is in the details.

The plot of Walking Through Walls would be the protagonist wants to become rich and powerful, no matter what it takes, and he believes learning magic will get him there.

Another good example of story and plot is The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.

The story: Within one hour, the protagonist thinks her husband died in a train crash. Having missed the train, he comes home and the protagonist drops dead.

The plot: The protagonist thinks her husband died in a train crash. Having missed the train, he comes home and the protagonist drops dead but it’s not from the shock of overwhelming joy.

Paints quite a different story, doesn’t it?

Now, if you have a series of events: Pickles the dog plays with a cat, then plays with a frog, then plays with a goat, then plays with a pig, you don’t have a story arc or character development. Again, this is a series of events.

I’ll have clients ask why something like the above isn’t a story. The dog is having lots of fun with different animals.

Well, if it was a concept book, teaching about animals, then it could work.

But if it’s to be a fiction story, it doesn’t work. The reason is it’s lacking a story arc and a character arc.

The story arc is the path the overall story takes. Every character in the story goes on this journey.

It’s also called the narrative arc.

According to a MasterClass article, the narrative arc “provides a backbone by providing a clear beginning, middle, and end of the story.”

The character arc on the other hand is the path the protagonist takes.

Just like the story, this arc takes the protagonist on a journey along with the reader.

The character arc is all about the protagonist. It’s him confronting a conflict or challenge, his attempts to overcome it, and his ultimate success. Through this character journey, the protagonist grows in some way. She may gain knowledge, become confident, rise up to challenges, become mature, or grow in some other way. But it’s essential there is growth, especially when writing for children.

So, going back to Pickles the dog, he, as the protagonist, has no conflict or challenge to overcome. He doesn’t grow in any way.

And as for the Pickles story, it’s flat. There’s no arc.

Readers won’t become invested in a series of events. They want to connect to the protagonist and root for him to overcome his obstacles. They want a full story arc and character arc.


Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.


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