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.


7 Steps to Writing Success Through Positive Thinking

Writing Elements – Is One More Important Than Another?

Submitting Your Ghostwritten Book to a Children’s Publisher

Social media sharing

Oct 20

Your Story Should Be Like a Roller Coaster

Writing and a Roller Coaster

I’ve noticed that people who want to write a story, but are new to the arena, don’t understand what makes a good story.

I’ve seen lots of drafts that are cute, but they have no story arc. They’re a series of related events or incidents … they’re not a full story.

Another thing, sometimes along with these story ideas that don’t have a story arc, a lot of new authors don’t want to make their characters real, especially the protagonist.

A story and its characters should be like a roller coaster, not a carousel.

First let’s touch on what makes a full story arc.

The very first thing is your protagonist needs a big problem. Something he needs to overcome.

Here are a couple of examples of a problem that needs to be overcome:

  • Maybe Rafael is being bullied at school.
  • Maybe Sophia just got a new bike and was told not to leave it alone anywhere. She leaves it unattended at the park and it’s stolen.
  • Maybe Rick is the kid who no one chooses for their team and he’s getting very upset about it.

After the problem has been established, the main character (MC) needs to try to figure out how to overcome the problem.

But the problem can’t be overcome in one attempt. The protagonist needs to struggle to reach the goal. He needs to try a couple of things before he finally comes up with a plan that leads to success.

Along with the MC succeeding, there must be some kind of growth.

  • Maybe, he learns he’s not the person he thought he was, like with Wang in Walking Through Walls.
  • Maybe she learns compassion.
  • Maybe he learns that winning isn’t everything.

When thinking of a story arc, think of a triangle.

The story pyramid
  1. At the bottom of the left side is the introduction. The reader learns about the MC.
  2. The trigger. The problem appears. It may be internal or external, but it needs to be addressed.
  3. The quest. The MC struggles to overcome the problem. The action is rising as is the conflict. The MC finds obstacles that must be overcome on her quest to find a solution.
  4. The climax. The MC has made a critical choice and is engaging in his final attempt. He’s chosen his path.

Think of a kid who’s about to steal for the first time. Will his conscience kick in and stop him or will he go through with it?

  1. The reversal. The MC plays out his choice. This is the beginning of change in the MC. The action declines as everything unfolds.
  2. The resolution. This is the reward or consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – in particular your protagonist.

So, you can see that having a series of related incidents does not lend itself to a true story, to a full story arc.

Next up, you’ve got to create real characters, ones that are believable.

I hear it all the time, my clients, new authors, want a fun, engaging story but doesn’t want their MC to have any bad traits.

In a children’s story, this means the young MC can’t yell. He can’t do anything bad. He doesn’t think bad thoughts.

What kid will be able to relate to a perfect MC.

Your characters need to be realistic, believable. Kids yell, kids can be mean, they can be selfish, they can be liars, and so on. They have good days and bad days.

If your MC isn’t believable, the reader won’t connect with him.

Characters need to have ups and downs, just like the story arc and just like a roller coaster.


Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need editing, rewriting, or ghostwriting, 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!

Writing for children tips

Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory

Take That Shot

Traditional Publishing – 4 Advantages to Consider

How to Write Better Endings for Your Stories

Like this post? Please share it!

And, let’s connect: