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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Social media sharing

Jun 24

Writing a Successful Children’s Series – 3 Key Elements

This is Part2 of writing a children’s series. And, if you’re a children’s writer of chapter books, middle grade, or young adult you can write one.

To write a series, you need three things:

1. Strong characters

In a ‘live’ workshop, Scholastic senior editor Matt Ringler noted that the most important element of a series is a strong character.

According to Ringler, the Goosebumps series is a perfect example of characters that people care about. This makes them want to read the next book in the series, and the one after that, and so on.

This is what makes a series successful.

2. Strong plot

Plot is also important, of course you need a good story. But Ringler finds strong characters trump plot.

3. The hook

Your story as always needs to grab the reader. It needs to hold his attention.

I can see you shaking your heads. Of course, you need these elements.

But, with the series it needs to have them consistently to keep the momentum moving forward.

So, how do you write a successful story?

According to Ringler, the most important aspect to writing a successful story is to do your research.

– Look in libraries and book stores. See what’s getting published and study those books.

– Look at similar titles in the genre your write and in the age range.

– Paying attention to comparative titles are crucial. Who published them? Who edited them?

– Know the format for the genres. This includes the word counts, age group, word levels, and so on.

– Read in the genre you write. Read at least 40 books in this genre. If you find this boring or you hate doing the research then you shouldn’t write in that genre. The research should be the fun part.

– Know what the editor edits. Know the genre he works in. If he edits chapter and middle grade books, don’t send him your picture book.

– Check out the editor’s website and try to find him on social media. You can also check Publisher’s Market Place and Book Shelf. The information you get from this research will give you a better idea of what he’s looking for and possibly how to approach him.

Next is to write and keep writing.

– Join a critique group to get other viewpoints (eyes) on your story.

– Revise, edit, slash, cut, and even start over if need be.

– When you’re finished with a project, start on the next one.

Ringler emphasized that the more books you have out there, the more potential you have for visibility and sales. If a child likes a book, she’ll want more of that book in the form of a series.

How do you know if you’re a successful series writer?

Most series have four books, some have six. This is usually the max of a successful series.

Then there is the phenomenon. These books skyrocket way beyond expectation.

Think “Harry Potter,” “Goosebumps,” “Twilight,” “Puppy Place.”

“Goosebumps” has been around over 20 years and the original author, R. L. Steiner, is still writing them. As a standalone series, it may be one of the reasons for its phenomenon success.

“Puppy Place” is on its 54th book.

And, “Harry Potter.” Enough said.

But, again, these are the exception to the rule.

How do you measure success?

Personal Success:

– Making extra money to supplement your income
– Support yourself with your writing
– Living comfortably
– Making the BIG bucks (this is exceedingly rare)

You’ll need to decide which of these meet your criteria for success.

Critical success:

– Positive reviews
– Starred reviews
– Grants and award

If you’re just starting out, don’t let bad reviews hinder you. “Goosebumps was originally slammed by reviewers. So was “Star Wars.”

Longevity success:

– A long lasting career. The ability to continue publishing.
– Consistent desire for more books from readers, libraries, editors, etc.

Promotional success:

– Public recognition (not usual)
– Direct outreach to kids to help promote reading
– A bigger platform for more visibility

Book sales success:

How many books do you need to sell to be considered successful?

Ringler gave an example of a new author, Author1, who had a 10,000-book print run. He ended up selling 20,000 books. The book was considered a BIG success.

In a second example, a new author, Author2, had a 100,000-book print run. The publishing house expected his book to be a hit. But, he only sold 20,000 books. This book was NOT a success. The publishing house lost money on this author.

In example two, if Author2 wants to pitch another book to that publishing house, they’ll think twice about giving him a contract.

So, success can be relative. Both authors sold 20,000 books, but one was considered a success, the other wasn’t.

I love the example Ringler gave. It something I hadn’t thought of and certainly puts sales success in perspective.

Summing it up:

If you write chapter books, or middle grade, or even young adult, consider turning your story into a series.

To read the first part of this two-parter article on writing a series, go to:
Writing a Children’s Book Series – Different Types

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your 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 book in publishable shape today!

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Jun 26

The Writing Elements Mix – Is There a Right Balance?

Elements in writing.Writing can be thought of as a recipe, a handful of plot, a quarter cup of setting, a half cup of dialogue, and a half cup of action and forward movement. Then you also need to add just the right amount of theme, character, setting, and style. Stir it all together and bake for several months (might be longer, depending on your oven), and that’s it.

Ah, if it were only that simple.

Today, there are a number of rules to writing that didn’t plague writers years ago when the world was slower and people actually had time to sit and read at a leisurely pace. Writers had the luxury of setting scenes in detail and didn’t have to worry about ‘telling’ too much.

Now, publishers want your story to begin with a BAM. Grab the reader right away or you’ll lose her. And, it’s important that setting and telling are limited. In addition, don’t forget to magically weave backstory for your characters seamlessly into the mix.

So, what is the right balance of writing elements that will create a successful story?

Well, there really isn’t a pat formula. Each story will call for its own particular amounts of elements, and each publisher will have her own set of rules that the author must adhere to. But there are certain basics that all stories must contain.

The five basic elements of a story are:

Plot: The arrangement of circumstances and/or events in the story, including conflicts and resolution.

Character: Without the main character and supporting characters the plot is useless. It is the character’s struggle to overcome the conflicts or obstacles in his path that gives the plot life.

Setting: This element includes the physical backdrop of the story, the time period and location.

Atmosphere or Tone: The mood, including the setting, characters and their clothing, weather, and other elements within the story, determines the tone of the story.

Style: The author’s way of expressing herself is the style. Sentence structure, diction, choice of words, point of view, imagery, and symbols are all means of conveying a story that is unique to the author.

In regard to the amounts or balance of each element, the objective is to create a story that continually moves forward toward a satisfying conclusion while holding the reader’s attention. You can have a plot driven story or a character driven story. You can also have a story with a lot of dialogue, but you need to be sure the story is focused, coherent, and engaging.

Often, as you self-edit your own work, you won’t be able to see if the elements are just right; you should have it critiqued and have an editor take a look at it to see if you’re on the mark. And, then after all that, it will be up to the publisher’s acquisition editor to give the final say on whether you have just the right balance of writing elements for a successful story.


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