Jun 21

Supporting Characters and Your Story

Every story has a least one supporting character.

According to Cynthia Lord, author of “Rules,” a Newberry Honor Book, “A secondary character has two jobs: to show us another side of the main character and to create tension and problems that will move the plot ahead.” (1)

To understand this, think of any story. Now imagine that story with just the main character.

Who would he talk to?

Yes, he could talk to himself, but that would get old fast.

How would we learn more about the character other than what he would tell us himself?

We wouldn’t.

Supporting characters are necessary to every story.

Using Supporting Characters to Learn More About the Protagonist

A movie I loved is Cast Away, the 2001 movie with Tom Hanks.

Hanks played Chuck Noland, a FedEx worker who gets stranded on a remote desert island. He’s stranded on this island for four years.

No other people are around.

So, the clever writer, William Broyles, Jr., created a supporting character for Chuck. A volleyball that washes up on shore.

Yes, a volleyball.

As time goes on, Chuck names the volleyball Wilson.

If not for Wilson, the viewer would know very little about Chuck and there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Chuck talks to Wilson, confides in Wilson, argues with Wilson, and even cares about Wilson.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s an amazing movie. One that proves even an inanimate object can be a powerful supporting character.

While Wilson showed us a lot about Chuck’s character, an inanimate object as a supporting character doesn’t really do much to move a story forward. And, it doesn’t have much ability to add tension or problems into the story.

In this movie, the elements and Chuck’s emotional state were the antagonists causing conflict.

Using Supporting Characters to Provide Conflict

Supporting characters can actually provide the conflict for the main character and drive the story forward.

I’m writing a sequel to my middle grade fantasy, Walking Through Walls, and it’s the supporting character who is adding a big serving of problems for the main character.

In the first book, the story was solely about the main character, Wang. It was about his struggle to get what he wanted. While the supporting character Chen was introduced, he didn’t have a significant role.

In Book Two, Chen is the source of the conflict and struggles the two friends go through to reach their goal.

In this new story, which I haven’t given a title yet, Chen is the one with a problem. His sister was abducted by evil warriors and he asks Wang’s help to get her back.

As the main character, Wang is learning his skills as an Eternal student while helping Chen. This all allows the reader to see more of Wang’s character and to connect with him.

The story is a fantasy action adventure, so along the way the two friends will encounter a number of obstacles on their journey to save Chen’s sister.

Using Supporting Characters to Provide Subplots

Sometimes, a story from Point A to Point B, may be a little boring or may just need a little something to spice it up.

According to New York Book Editors, “subplots add dimension to your story. They have the power to transform flat black-and-white stories into a living, breathing, prismatic experience.” (2)

Subplots can also help pace your story.

I’m using this strategy in a middle grade story I’m ghostwriting.

The main storyline is strong, but to carry its weight through 50,000 words, it may lose steam.

The solution is to have the supporting characters have their own little stories going on. While the main character is privy to everything that’s going on, these little diversions create reader engagement and help move the story forward.

Another benefit of subplots with supporting characters is that they can be in the forefront for a short while to liven things up, then lie low until needed again.

These subplots help the reader get better acquainted with the characters.

It’s important to remember, though, that when you create a subplot in a story, you need to have an arc for each subplot you create. You need to tie up any loose ends it creates. Think of it as a mini-story within the main story.

So, if you’re writing your first book, think about your supporting characters. How will they help liven your story up and engage the reader? How will they help move your story forward?


(1) https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/great-characters-wilson-cast-away-5a6ff322139d

(2) https://nybookeditors.com/2017/11/the-importance-of-subplots/

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. 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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May 19

Hiring a Children’s Fiction Editor

Tips on hiring a children's editorI’m a children’s ghostwriter and rewriter (editor).

I’ve seen a lot of drafts and manuscripts over the years and the one thing that really irks me is when authors hire an editor who doesn’t know what s/he’s doing.

The real problem though is that this pattern never ends. I just recently had another client who hired an editor from a service (I won’t mention the name) who edited a couple of things in the manuscript, but left a lot of basic errors.

But, how do you tell if an editor knows what s/he’s doing?

– One way to find this out is to ask for a sample paragraph.

The only problem with this is it may not give you an accurate look at the editor’s capability.

When I first looked at my client’s edited story, the very beginning seemed okay. But after that it went downhill. Some of the errors in that edit will be listed below.

– The other way is to have an idea of what you’re looking for.

So, what should you look out for?

The example paragraph below has a couple of elements to watch for:

Fred grabbed for the napkins. “Excuse me.”

“You almost knocked over my ice tea,” said Jenny. “Be careful.”

#1 Each speaker needs his own paragraph.

Aside from naturally breaking your story into paragraphs and chapters (if warranted), each time a different character is speaking, you need to create a new paragraph.

#2 Dialog tags.

Notice that when a character speaks (dialog), it’s in quotation marks.

#3 The first line of each paragraph should be indented.

Some writers, while in draft mode, may not indent until they have the final draft. So, this may not be an indicator of her qualifications.

#4 If you’ve set up who the speaker is, like I did with Fred, you don’t need a dialog tag: Fred said.

Next up is internal dialog.

This is when the main character is thinking rather than talking.

There are some writers who put thoughts in quotation marks, but it can be confusing, especially for young readers.

Quotation marks should be used for dialogue only.

For internal thoughts, there are two ways to handle it:

1. Use italics.

Here are two examples:

Geez, thought Sara, I volunteered for this project. I can’t complain now.

Jason’s stood at the base of the monstrous mountain as his eyes traveled up and up and up. How on earth am I going to climb that?

2. Let the narrator handle it if writing fiction in third person.

Here are two examples:

Sara reminded herself that she volunteered for the project. She couldn’t complain.

Jason stood at the base of the monstrous mountain. He wondered how he’d ever be able to climb it as his eyes traveled higher and higher.

A note here, you wouldn’t use “he thought ‘to himself’” or “wondered ‘to himself’”. The reader will know that he’s thinking to himself.

I prefer italics for internal dialog for young readers. It’s easy to spot that the main character is talking to herself. And, it helps create a deeper connection between the reader and the main character.

3. Show it, don’t tell it.

There is so much information on show, don’t tell, yet I see it happen over and over.

Here’s an example of telling:

He was super excited when he found out he had enough money to buy a toy.

He could not believe his eyes. All the toys were gone. He was very sad.

“I should have got the toys before I went to the story,” he thought to himself.

He started to cry.

So how can you write this to ‘show’ how the boy felt?

“Oh boy,” yelled Jason. “I have enough money to get a toy!”

He raced to the store … but he was too late. It was closed. “Noooo,” he moaned as tears began to stream down his cheeks.

Can you see the difference?

Also, note that for the examples in this article I didn’t indent the first line of the paragraphs.

While these are just a few of the very basics of what to keep a look out for when you’re having your children’s story edited, it will hopefully give you an idea.

Children's ghostwriter

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

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (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 shape today!

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Sep 09

Creating Story Characters? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Guest Post by Linda Wilson

Many characters inhabited the early drafts of my WIP: a MG mystery. Like many of my characters’ counterparts—kids—I assigned each character a “friend,” following the example I’d seen so often of kids going around in “packs.”

What fun I had! The snappy dialogue! The endless opportunities to showcase what was on everybody’s mind! And oh, the ballooning plot–sensational! Until along came an editor who, with utmost gentleness and understanding, gave me a reality check.

Each Set of Friends Morphed into One Character

Whoa! Cut! My editor suggested I settle on one character for each set rather than have two: one sidekick for the main character, not two. One antagonist, not two. One little brother, not a little brother and his friend. I edited out the “doubles,” the “extras”, and though it was painful eliminating the “friend” appeal I had created, it did clean up the story—a lot. But there was still work to be done.

Each Character Must have a Role

In narrowing down the number of characters in my story, a few things happened.

– Though my MC’s sidekick lacked other girlfriends, their relationship became stronger.
– There were fewer distractions; that held true for the antagonist and the little brother, too.
– And then . . . I was told that the little brother would have to go. She knew this would be difficult for me. I loved this character dearly. I had rounded him out so well and he was funny. But that wasn’t enough.
– So, I gave him a role. In the beginning he plays a prank on the main character. For the rest of the story, he faded back into the background. Still not enough, she said.

Each Character Must have Follow-Through

Now it’s your turn to make sure your characters have roles throughout your entire story. You do that by creating a story arc not only for your main character, but for each one of your characters.

To use the bigger role I assigned to my little brother character as an example:
– When he first appears, he brings up the mystery.
– Early in the book, he plays a prank on the main character, which is directly related to the plot.
– A little later, he teases her about the prank.
– Still later, he takes part in one of the main character’s adventures.

And two things were added to top it off near the end:
– He possesses a secret of his own that he brags about to the main character and her sidekick, which is eventually revealed, and . . .
– He receives a surprise of his own.

Writing instructors describe the creation of characters’ story arcs in different ways. The one that has stuck with me is to view your characters’ story arcs as strings of pearls that run throughout your story.

One way you can accomplish this is to highlight your characters’ actions with different color highlighters to make sure they are not forgotten in any section of your book. While creating the story arcs for my characters, I found the dog in my story had disappeared for about thirty-five pages. I went through that section and added him in where he fit, and when he was gone from the story, showed an explanation for his whereabouts. This must be done for each character. And, for recurring items such as a key, a flashlight or a locked door, items I had to check and re-check to make sure mention of them was accurate.

A Word about Multiple Points of View

Editors say that new writers should shy away from attempting multiple points of view. They say it takes experience and skill to pull this off. A good example applies to an adult novel from Audible I recently listened to, which was told in two sisters’ alternating POV’s. There were problems. First, their names were similar, perhaps because they were sisters. I had difficulty jumping from one to other and felt confused about who was who.

The other problem was that unfortunately, I didn’t care about the sisters. The author hadn’t, in my opinion, spent enough time allowing me to get to know each of them. I almost didn’t finish the book because it became tedious rather than enjoyable.

One of my writing instructors dislikes multiple points of view because of this problem. She believes in having one main character that you as the reader can get to know, love and “get into her head” so that you experience what she experiences throughout the book.

Personally, I find novels told in multiple POV’s refreshing. I’ve enjoyed sinking myself into more than one character. But I agree with my instructor: it has to be done right. And as a beginner, I don’t plan to venture there until I have a lot more experience under my belt. But I do plan on highlighting my characters’ arcs and making sure they have ongoing roles tied to the plot.

Author Linda WilsonLinda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at http://lindawilsonauthor.com.

This article was first published at:

Be a children's writerBeing a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

Check out my 170+ page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of FICTION WRITING FOR CHILDREN. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.

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Writing a Publishable Children’s Story: 12 Power-Tips

Jun 03

Writing a Publishable Children’s Story: 12 Power-Tips

Tips on writing a pubishable children's book

I’m a children’s author and a children’s ghostwriter, and I’m always honing my craft. I read lots of books and articles on writing and writing for children in addition to reading lots of books in the genres I write. I also attend workshops and webinars by expert children’s writers and editors.

If you want to write for children, you need to do the work. You need to learn what’s involved.

Below are some of the most important tips for writing a ‘good’ children’s story.

1. Show the way.

Use showing rather than telling. I’m sure you’ve heard this over and over. But this is saying it one more time.

While description and a bit of telling have their place, today’s publishers want you to show the story. The technique for ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ is to use your character’s five senses, along with dialogue.

The days of, “See Jane walk down the lane,” are far gone.
Showing allows the reader to connect with the protagonist. The reader is able to feel the protagonist’s pain, joy, fear, or excitement. This motivates the reader to continue reading.

If you’re stuck, and can’t seem to be able to ‘show’ a particular scene, try acting it out. You can also draw on your own experiences, TV, or the movies. Study scenes that convey the ‘showing’ you need to convey.


Telling: Peter felt tired. His book bag felt like it weighed 50 pounds. He had a rough day at school.

Showing: He tugged his book bag back on his shoulder as he dragged himself down the block. I can’t wait to get home. Mr. Preston kept picking on me all day.

2. Use age appropriate words.

Each age group will have its own appropriate words to use. You want to write specifically for the intended age group.

Take a word like “depression”. That will work for 6th graders, but you’d want to use words like:

Sadness for 1st graders
Gloom for 3rd graders
Sorrow for 4th graders
Grief for 5th graders

The boy performed amazing magic. Was it an illusion or real magic?

Illusion will work for the 6th grader, but say you’re writing for a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grader, then you’ll need to change that word.

According to “Children’s Writer’s Word Book,” You would need to change it to a word such as trick or fake to make it age appropriate for a 3rd grader.

3. Make your characters believable.

Your characters, especially your protagonist, need to create a bond or connection with the reader.

This means the characters need realistic traits. Even the choices your protagonist makes will help define him and create a deeper bond with the reader.

– Does he take the high road to reach his goals, or does he sneak in under the wire?
– Does he create options to choose from, or is he sweep along by the current of the story, grabbing at lifelines for survival? Are his choices a struggle?
– Is he warm and friendly, or is he standoffish?
– Is he ready and willing to help others, or does he prefer not getting involved?
– Is he funny, or is he serious?

You can keep track of your characters’ quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features by noting them on a Character Sheet as they become unveiled.

4. You’ got to have conflict in the story.

A story’s conflict is an obstacle in the road going from point A to point B. The protagonist must figure out a way over, around, under, or through it.

Conflict will drive your story forward and give the reader a reason to stay involved.

Conflict is basically an obstacle between your protagonist and what she wants or needs. It may be a crisis, a desire, a relationship, a move, or other. It can be caused by internal or external factors.

Does overcoming one obstacle/conflict lead to another? Does she have help or is everyone else hindering her efforts?

5. The action needs to be age appropriate.

The rule of thumb for young children’s writing is never prompt or encourage children to do dangerous or inappropriate things.

An example of this would be a child sneaking out of her house while her parents are asleep.

Another example would be creating a scene where the children are playing in the street or playing with matches.

Avoid putting inappropriate ideas into a child’s head.

6. If it’s a picture book, they’ll be illustrations (write appropriately).

Writers sometimes have a hard time writing tight. But with a picture book, this goes into another realm. Illustrations fill in ALL the blanks.

For example, you don’t have to use words to say that Jimmy has light brown hair and blue eyes, or Tommy has black hair and black eyes.

Another example is an old shoe box. The new author may want to say it’s covered with stars and rainbows. This isn’t necessary because the illustrator will SHOW it.

Picture books are a marriage between content and illustrations, kind of a 50/50 deal. Watch for text that an illustration can handle. You don’t have to describe every detail.

7. Watch for head hopping.

Head hopping is changing the point-of-view within the story.

You need to be careful of this when writing for young children since the stories should be told from the main character’s point of view or perspective.

If Joe is my POV character and he looks sad, it wouldn’t be advisable to say:
Noticing his sad face Fran immediately knew Joe was distraught.

This is bringing Fran’s POV into the picture.

You might say: Joe knew Fran would quickly notice his sadness; they were friends for so long.

Or, better yet, you can just use dialogue: “Joe, what’s wrong? You look down.”

The POV must remain with the protagonist when writing for the younger child. (for picture books and chapter books)

8. Find those unneeded and weak words.

Most word processors have the FIND function. Use it to check for weak verbs, “ly” words, “ing” words, and the overuse of words like “was”.

Example: the 50 lb. iron weight sank quickly to the bottom of the pool.
(Of course it would sink quickly – that makes it redundant.)

9. Keep it lean (write tight)

Today’s children’s publishing world is looking for tight writing. Choose your words for their ability to convey strong and distinct actions, create imagery, and move the story forward.

The publishing costs for picture books over 32 pages is beyond what most publishers are willing to spend, so word counts should be under 800 words. This means every word needs to count. Keep in mind that the illustrations will add another layer to the story and fill in the blanks.

When writing fiction for young children, the younger the children, the leaner the writing. This means if you’re writing for toddlers or preschoolers, you should limit your word count to a range of 100 to 250 words.

10. Watch for story consistency, clarity, and flow (and accuracy).

Checking for consistency, clarity, and flow is another must for all writers of fiction. If you’re a children’s writer it’s even more important.

Children need a structured story that’s consistent and easy to understand. And, the story should flow smoothly while moving forward. Each paragraph or chapter should flow into the next.

As for accuracy, this pertains more to historical fiction, children’s therapeutic fiction books, and nonfiction. Check your facts and use them accordingly within your story.

I wrote a historical fiction piece about Rachel Carson for an online learning center. I mentioned that there were bull dozers when she was a child. It turns out the bull dozer wasn’t manufactured until years later.

You’ve got to be careful.

11. Write for the young reader, not for you.

As a new author, you may want to tell the reader everything. You may want to make sure the reader understands exactly what you’re trying to convey.

This is especially tempting if you’re writing a fiction story that conveys information on some kind of disorder – a therapeutic fiction story.

Don’t do it.

Your main goal should be to write an engaging, page turning story that will hopefully enlighten the reader.

You can bring to light whatever obstacle or problem the story deals with and provide some information, but you SHOULDN’T give the young reader information dump.

If you want to give all the symptoms and therapies for a particular disorder, write a nonfiction book, not a fiction one.

I ghost children’s stories for therapists and most of them get it. Although they’re not writers, they understand that a topic needs to be subtly conveyed. You don’t have to hit the young reader over the head to get a message across.

But, there are other authors who decide to champion an issue for children and bulldoze the topic across the pages.

Again, don’t do it.

If you feel strongly about providing more information on a topic, you can always add a “More About XXX” page at the end of the story.

12. Start your story where it should be started.

All too often beginning writers think they must set the scene for their story with extensive details, when all they really need to do is grab the reader’s attention with the first line or paragraph.

Or, the writer may start the story with backstory thinking she needs to bring the reader up to speed before getting into the conflict.

Avoid these mistakes. Start your story by ‘grabbing’ the reader.

One of my favorite opening paragraphs is from “The Talented Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker:

“I have noticed that teachers get exciting confused with boring a lot. But, when my teacher said, ‘Class, we have an exciting project to talk about,’ I listened anyway.”

What grammar school kid isn’t going to relate to this and want to read more?

You want to ‘grab’ the reader.

While there is much, much more to writing for children, these tips are some of the must-know tips.

Children's ghostwriterWhether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. 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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Apr 15

Grab the Reader’s Attention

Write a grabbing beginning

Contributed by Team Member Suzanne Lieurance

You can be a best-selling author!

Is that true?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’ll bet I got your attention with that statement.

And that’s exactly what you want to do if you hope to write novels and short stories (even nonfiction articles) that sell – grab your reader’s attention in the very first sentence.

Yet all too often beginning writers think they must set the scene for their story with extensive details, when all they really need to do is grab the reader’s attention.

Do you recognize any of these opening lines:

Call me Ishmael. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

I am an invisible man. ~ Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

They shoot the white girl first. ~ Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
~ George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

Notice how each of these openings pulls you in.

You don’t know who or what the author is talking about, but you can’t wait to find out.

Try this kind of thing in your own stories.

Here’s how:

1. Introduce a main character right away.

Something about this character needs to be intriguing, even if it’s only his name (as in “Call me Ishmael”).

But if you have an invisible man or a giant woman or a talking cow, let this character open your story and readers will be hooked and want to find out more.

2. Drop readers “into the middle of things” rather than give a lot of background narrative to set the scene.

If you read, “They shoot the white girl first”, you have no idea what’s going, or who the white girl is, but you can’t wait to find out.

This simple line implies so much!

3. Start with something that’s just a bit off the mark.

As in “the clocks were striking thirteen.”

What does that mean?

Does the author mean 1:00?

If so, why does he say thirteen?

Is this a military term?

Again, you’ve been pulled right into the story.

You know something about the setting of this tale is a bit out of the ordinary.

4. Compare and contrast something and do it in a pleasing and rhythmic way.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” makes the reader wonder how it can be both the best and worst at once.

Plus, the rhythm of the sentence is pleasing to the ear and pulls in the reader.

These are just a few techniques that famous authors have used successfully.

These techniques will work for you, too.

And if you manage to grab the reader’s attention with the first sentence of your own novels and short stories, you just might become a best-selling author after all.

Try it!

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, the author of 30 published books and the Working Writer’s Coach. For daily writing tips and helpful resources, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge at www.morningnudge.com.

Children's ghostwriterWhether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. 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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Nov 26

Making a Fiction Story Work – 5 Key Elements

Writing Fiction

Think about the last time you read a story that stayed with you. A story that made you feel. A story that took you on an adventure or had you sitting on the edge of your seat. A story that made you cry or laugh . . . or think.

These types of stories have it. They have the key to making a story work.

So, how do you go about creating a stirring story?

Here are 5 top tips to writing a fiction story that works:

1. It’s got to have conflict.

All writers have heard this and the reason is because it’s true.

Your protagonist MUST be striving for something, and it should be something significant. She needs to have obstacles in her way that she has to overcome in order for the reader to be engaged enough to turn the page.

The reader has to be pulled into the story wondering if, and more so hoping that, the protagonist reaches her goal.

You wouldn’t have much of a story following a couple in an amusement park going from ride to ride, waiting on line for food, and so on. There’s nothing for the reader to get involved with. There’s no emotional element.

Or, what if a great writer puts two children in a story that takes place at the Bronx Zoo. The narrator describes in detail all the exhibits they visit and does it wonderfully. But, what does the reader have to sink her teeth into. Nothing.

One of my all-time favorite movies was Thelma and Louise. The conflict was never-ending. And, it was the conflict that keep you on the edge of your seat.

How would they get out of the mess they were in?!

That’s how you want your readers to feel. There needs to be conflict in order to make the reader feel. It doesn’t have to be ‘seat of your pants’ drama, but it needs to be significant. It can be external or internal, but it has to be something the reader can grab and hang on to. It has to make the reader get involved with the story and care about it.

2. The readers need to be invested in the story.

A good story brings the reader into the protagonist’s shoes. This is what will motivate the reader to like and root for the protagonist.

It’s all about making the reader ‘feel.’ The story has to evoke emotion on the reader’s part. The story has to have substance.

Going back to Thelma and Louise, one wrong decision spiraled out of control into what seemed to them as a live or die situation.

Circumstances and choices took them bounding out-of-control, as if caught up in a tornado. This kind of story creates investment.

It evoked emotion in just about everyone who saw the movie. Everyone was rooting for the protagonists.

In an article, “Make Readers Deeply Connect to Your Characters,” the author calls this key factor, “transportation.” You’re bringing the reader out of their reality and into your story world. You’re transporting them.

Like Alice when she steps into the rabbit hole. Down, down, down she went into another world.

3. The characters have to act ‘real’ and be likeable.

Your characters need to be multifaceted. They need to behave like real people. This means they’ll have good traits, but they’ll also have some bad traits or weaknesses. It may be they’re indecisive. Or, at the beginning of the story they may be frightened of everything.

Your characters should make great decisions, but they should also make poor ones.

Along with this, your protagonist needs to be likeable. He needs to have traits that the reader will admire and connect to. It’s important that the reader likes the protagonist.

Maybe your protagonist will be honest, heroic, responsible, generous, or loyal.

You get the idea. These are characteristics that most people admire in others. They’re characteristics that will draw the reader in.

I forgot what movie it was and I forgot the exact details, but basically the protagonist was sitting in a diner across from her date. Another woman, elegantly dressed, walked passed with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. The toilet paper woman was heading to a table where a man was waiting for her.

The protagonist excused herself for a moment. She got up and removed the paper from the woman’s foot by walking behind her and stepping on the paper. Then she sat back down and returned to her conversation.

The woman that passed by never knew the kindness the protagonist showed her. And, the protagonist didn’t mention what she did to her date.

This one simple act of kindness spoke volumes about the character of the protagonist. She’s the type of person you’d admire and like to be friends with.

4. The protagonist needs to have some heroic qualities.

At some point in the story, the protagonist needs to step up. This can be in several small incidents that she overcomes throughout the story. Or, it can be in one climatic incident that wraps the story up.

In general, and especially in children’s stories, the protagonist needs to take action and reach her goal.

It may be after one or two or three failures, but ultimately, the protagonist must step up. Whether it’s physical or emotional, whether internal or external, she needs to fight through all obstacles that stand in her way.

Readers want a purposeful story. They want and even expect the protagonist to be victorious. Don’t let your readers down.

5. Tie-up all loose ends.

When you’re getting to the end of your story, make sure all loose ends are tied up. Any tidbits of information you put out there must be resolved.

You want the reader to go away satisfied. You don’t want her wondering why something was mentioned somewhere in the story and not resolved.

One example is mentioning that the protagonist’s close friend lost his dog. Then there’s no mention of it. Was the dog found?


Another example is in a middle-grade manuscript I just read. The author had the friend of the protagonist saying he couldn’t go to the protagonist’s special event because he had something URGENT to do that day.

Afterward there was no mention of the urgent matter.

This is a NO-NO. What was so urgent? Why was it mentioned, if it wasn’t followed up with?

As I read the manuscript I knew that part would either have to be addressed (tied-up) or eliminated.

These loose-ends are things that will gnaw at the reader. They will leave the end feeling like something is missing. Again, this is a NO-NO.

So, there you have it.

While there is more involved in writing good fiction, these five are at the top of the ‘good fiction story’ list.

Connect Characters
https://www.cs.indiana.edu/metastuff/wonder/ch1.html (Sorry, this link is no longer working)


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Jan 15

Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Is your character fully dimensional?It’s noted that you should let the reader see your protagonist’s characteristics within the first few pages. This enables the reader to quickly identify with him. This connection will determine whether the reader turns the next page.

Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, your protagonist will have ordinary strengths (possibly extraordinary, but within the realm of reality); he will also have weaknesses. These qualities need to be conveyed early on.

Here are 15 characteristics that may pertain to a protagonist or main character (MC):

1. Intelligent: Is your MC smart? If so how smart: is he a genius, did he finish college, does he gets all As in school?

2. Handy or Crafty: Maybe your MC isn’t great at academics, but is he handy, musically inclined, or crafty?

3. Arrogant: Does your character think he’s better or smarter than others?  Does he let others know it? If so, how?

4. Trustworthy: Is your MC the kind of individual that others feel they can trust?

5. Determined: Does your MC know what he wants and strives to obtain his goal?

6. Greedy: Is your MC the kind of person who wants everything he doesn’t have? Is he the type of person who wants much more than he actually needs? Does he make it obvious?

7. Dependable: Is your MC the kind of individual that others know they can count on?

8. Brave: Does your MC do what he has to even if he’s frightened? Is he known for his bravery?

9. Cowardly: Is your MC afraid of his own shadow? Does he try to avoid any kind of confrontation or adventure?

10. Caring: Does your MC demonstrate kind and caring qualities? Does his family and friends think of him as a caring individual?

11. Selfish: Does your MC think of only himself? Is he known for this unsavory quality?

12. Strong: Does your MC have great physical strength? Is he strong emotionally?

13. Weak: Is your MC weak either physically or emotionally or both?

14. Athletic: Is your character into sports? Does he excel at it?

15. Artistic or musical: Does he draw or paint? Does he play a musical instrument?

These are just some of the characteristics you can give to your protagonist. There are many others though, such as: shrewd, cheap, a liar, a thief, a go getter, beautiful, awkward, loyal, kind, lazy, introvert, extrovert, irresponsible, and cruel.

It’s up to you as the creator to give your protagonist a set of characteristics that will allow him to connect to the reader – whether the reader loves him or hates him there must be a connection. This connection is what will cause the reader to keep turning the pages.

Be cautious though, if you are giving your protagonist unsavory qualities at the beginning, be sure to include at least one redeeming quality otherwise your audience may not find that connection and decide not to read on.

And, remember, you can always have the protagonist change characteristics through the momentum of the story. He can start out as a coward and through various occurrences within the story he can evolve into a hero, or whatever you choose. That’s the amazing thing about being a writer – you create something from nothing. You give your character breath and dimension.


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How to Write a Story



Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn your story into a publishable and saleable book.

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

Mar 20

8 Top Fiction Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Fiction writing mistakes to avoid

There’s a great article in The Writer, April 2012 issue (1). If you’re able to get your hands on a copy or find it online, it’s worth the read.

Delving into this article, I did some additional research and came up with eight elements that are probably the most common fiction writing mistakes.

1. You start your story too soon.

The very first on the list of writing mistakes to avoid is beginning your story too soon.

To give you a rough idea of what this means, suppose you start the story with the protagonist waking up. She brushes her teeth then gets dressed. After that she makes herself breakfast (coffee and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almonds). Suppose again that this beginning scene takes a paragraph or two. Then she get a phone call. The coffee mug drops out of her hands. Her knees go weak.

Are bells and whistles going off here?

Do you think an acquisitions editor will bother reading to the good part where the protagonist gets that phone call that shakes her world?


Start the story at the phone call. Start your story where the action begins.

This goes for self-publishers as well. You may not have to get past the publishers’ gatekeepers, but you do want to be recognized as a good writer. You don’t want the reader to say, “What the heck do I care about her morning routine.”

For more on the gatekeeper, check out:
How Do You Make a Good Story Worthy of Getting Past the Gatekeeper?

2. The plot can’t be found. Where’s the plot? There’s got to be a plot.

Every story needs a plot. It’s the reason why the story is being told.

Literary Devices says, plot “describes the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence.” (2)

Think of the plot as the foundation of a pyramid. It’s the base of the story. It’s the basis for the other elements, such as the characters and settings to be.

There are five basic elements to a plot:

– At the bottom left point of the pyramid is the introduction, which is called the exposition. You can think of it as a landing.

– Going up the left side of the pyramid will be rising action and enhanced conflict.

– At the peak of the pyramid is the climax.

– Going down the right side is a decline or falling in the action.

– At the bottom right side is the resolution. At this point, the story, all the conflicts and loose ends, are all tied up. (Hopefully, the protagonist is triumphant!)

Keep in mind the resolution evolves from the falling action and could take a while. Or, it can be sudden, like when Thelma and Louise drove off the cliff.

3. The protagonist’s conflict isn’t strong enough.

Let’s go back to Thelma and Louise. Once Louise shot the man who attempted to rape Thelma, they chose to run rather than call the police and face the consequences. After that the stakes and rising action kept on coming. Events kept piling up to the point of ‘do or die.’ At least in their eyes.

Suppose they had called the police. They’d be arrested and go to trial. The story would be about them fighting a murder conviction.

If the second scenario was used, the story wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting and ‘heart tugging.’ The reader wouldn’t have had the same emotional connection with the main characters.

Bottom line, make your protagonist squirm. Put the pressure on. Don’t play it safe.

4. The point-of-view (POV) isn’t clear.

Whose point of view is the story being told from? Is it omniscient? Is it third-person?

The POV helps the reader make a connection to the protagonist. Your story needs one POV. Choose the one you’re comfortable with and the one you think will resonate best with your readers and keep it focused.

If you mix up your POV, your reader will most likely become confused.

There are four basic points-of-view in writing: (1) first person, (2) second person, (3) third person, (4) omniscient.

To clarify these POVs, here are examples:

First person: I should go for a walk. (The protagonist is telling the story himself.)
Second person: You should go for a walk. (The narrator includes the reader in the story.)
Third person:  Joe should go for a walk. (The narrator tells the story.)
Omniscient: Joe decided to go to the gym. Mary also decided to go to the gym. They ran into each other at the gym. (This may be a bit crude, but you get the idea, the reader is privy to everyone’s thoughts and actions.)

According to an excerpt from “Elements of Fiction: Characters and Point of View” by Orson Scott Card, with omniscient “you can show the reader every character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and desires; you can let the reader see any moment of the past or future.”

In regard to which POV to choose, Robert J. Sawyer puts it best, “The rule is simple: pick one character, and follow the entire scene through his or her eyes only.” (3)

Remember, clarity rules in all writing, so choose the one that will allow the reader to easily know who’s telling the story.

5. Not all scenes are active.

What keeps a reader reading?

Action. Whether it’s physical (the protagonist is running from a barrage of bullets), mental (he’s figuring out a mathematical problem that will bring him closer to resolution), or emotional (the journey or obstacle is causing emotional upheaval), every scene needs to let the reader think the protagonist is trying to answer the current question or overcome the current problem.

6. You’re not taking the time needed to do it right.

While you may want to get your story finished. You need to take your time. When writing my middle-grade fantasy, Walking Through Walls, I took two years. And, I’m antsy – if it could be done yesterday that’d be great. But, some things take time.

First, if you’re an outliner, you need to create your outline.

Next up is your first draft, but this is just the beginning.

You need to read that draft for clarity, tightening (including dialogue), enhancing plot and characters. This will lead to another draft and probably another.

7. You still have loose ends.

This one has to do with subplots or even things you might have mentioned within your 80-100,000 word novel. All loose ends must be tied up.

I’ll use “Walking Through Walls” as example of this. When the protagonist, Wang, reached what he was looking for, a mystical temple, a black bird was circling above his head. The bird was again mentioned in two other scenes.

Why was the same bird in at least three scenes? Even if the bird had been specifically mentioned once, there should be a reason.

In another scene, the Master Eternal, who Wang was learning from, told him, “Today you begin a new life. Take an axe with a purple tip.”

Why did he have to take one with a purple tip? If it wasn’t significant why was it mentioned?

If it’s mentioned in the story, it must be relevant to the story, and any questions or loose ends pertaining to it must be answered / resolved.

8. There’s no take-away value. The theme can’t be found.

After you’re finished with the initial revisions and edits, you need to determine if your theme is clear. If you didn’t have one when you started, see what take-away there is in the story.

If you’re not familiar with ‘theme,’ it’s what gives your story meaning. It’s what the reader can relate to in his own life. According to an article at Writer’s Digest, “Theme is the relevance of your story to life.” (4)

For more on theme, you can check out:
Theme and Your Story


(1) The Writer, April 2012, “9 Writing Mistakes.”
(2) http://literarydevices.net/plot/
(3) http://www.sfwriter.com/ow07.htm
(4) http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/exploring-theme-a-key-component-to-successful-writing


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Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn your story into a publishable and saleable book.

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

Feb 21

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction – Similarities and Differences

Quotes and nonfiction writingWriting fiction and writing nonfiction have some distinct similarities and differences.

But, before we get into that, let’s find out the definitions of fiction and nonfiction:

Fiction: According to Merriam-Webster.com, fiction is “something invented by the imagination or feigned, specifically an invented story; the action of feigning or of creating with the imagination.”

Nonfiction: Merriam-Webster’s definition of nonfiction is “literature or cinema that is not fictional.” According to Allwords.com, nonfiction is “written works intended to give facts, or true accounts of real things and events.”

Now on to the similarities and differences.

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction Similarities:

1. You need to start with an idea.
2. You can write about almost anything.
3. You need ‘good’ writing skills (at least you should have good writing skills).
4. You need to have a beginning, middle, and end to the story.
5. You need to have an engaging, entertaining, informative, or interesting story.
6. You can work from an outline or you can seat-of-the-pants it.
7. You may need to do research.
8. You need to revise, proof, and edit your work.

Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction: Two Significant Differences

1. If you are writing nonfiction, you must stick to truths and facts, a nickel is a nickel, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, two plus two equals four, and 10 times 10 equals 100. While there may be some grey areas, such as perspective, circumstances, or circumstantial evidence leading up to a fact based story, the fact is always the fact.

As an example: According to The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book (Year Published) by Hiroshi Nakagawa, “The speed of light is 300,000 km (186,000 miles) per second, meaning that light could circle the Earth seven and a half times in a single second. Even at this incredible speed it still takes light from the Sun eight minutes to reach the Earth. That means that when we see the Sun, what we actually see is the Sun from 8 minutes ago” (p. 13).

These are facts. If you’re writing a nonfiction story about astronomy, these facts can’t change. Your story is limited to truths and facts. This is not to say the story can’t be amazingly interesting and engaging. The children’s middle-grade nonfiction book “The World’s Easiest Astronomy Book” can certainly spark a child’s imagination and interest in astronomy.

On the other hand, if you’re writing fiction, your imagination is your only limit. You don’t have to stay within the confines of what is known, what is truth. This offers a certain freedom.

If you want the sun to be ‘blood red,’ then it’s blood red. If you want to be able to travel to the moon in the blink of the eye, then it’s so. If you say a character can ‘walk through walls’ or is invisible, then he can and is. You can create new worlds, new beings . . . again, your imagination is your only limit.

2. In writing nonfiction you will most likely need to provide reference sources and add quotes to your story. This is to establish the reliability and credibility of your story.

In this case, you will need to reference the source of the quote.

If you notice above, in regard to the facts about the speed of light, I included the name of the book and the author along with the page number. These references substantiate the facts within your article. This makes your nonfiction story credible.

This is not the case with writing fiction. With fiction, you will NOT need information references for credibility. Although, it’s important to realize that your fiction story will become its own truth and you will need to stay within the confines of the particular story you create.

The reason for this: every story needs structure and intent; it needs to move forward to a satisfying ending. If you move off in too many directions, you’ll lose your intent and most probably your reader. To ensure the structure and your intent remains intact, you’ll need to stay within the confines of the story you create.

While the similarities between writing fiction and writing nonfiction seem to outweigh the differences, the differences are significant enough for most writers to prefer one genre over the other.

Reference Note:
In the quote used above, the publisher of the book usually has a copyright date that would be included in the reference. This book does not have one.


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Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. I can turn your story into a publishable story you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put ‘Children’s Writing Help’ in the Subject line)

This article was originally published by Karen Cioffi at:

Oct 19

Plot and Your Story – Four Formats

Plot tips

Plot. As writers we’ve all heard of this literary term. But, what does it mean?

Well, plot is what gives the story a reason to be. It’s the ‘why’ as to the reason the story exists. Plot is what the story is about. And, if the plot is good, it will entertain and engage the reader. It can even change the reader’s life.

In children’s writing, these stories are usually based on external conflict and action. Think of Superman fighting his nemesis Lex Luther. Or, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. And, the conflict doesn’t have to come in the form a person. It can be battling a flood or a volcanic eruption, climbing Mount Everest, or training a crazy, peeing-all-over-the-place dog.

In his book, “Aspects of a Novel,” F.M. Forster said, “A plot demands intelligence and memory also.”

Examples of plot driven stories include:

Madame Bovary – though the plot, Emma is driven toward a tragic end.
Lolita – the plot holds the reader fascinated as Humbert delves helplessly into depravity.
Great Expectations – through the plot, the reader watches Pip live his life in pursuit of having Estella love him.

These stories hold the reader captive. They drive the reader to turn the pages, to find out what will happen to the characters.

According to Children’s Literature.com, there are four types of plot structure:

1. Dramatic or Progress – think of this format as a pyramid.

a. The protagonist starts out okay or is in the beginning of a dilemma – it may be physical or emotional. This is the setup.
b. The obstacles or conflict rise. As each obstacle is met and overcome, another one arises of increasing severity. This goes on to the climax – the top of the pyramid.
c. The climax is the final conflict and has the protagonist giving his all to achieve his goal. It’s win or lose time.
d. Then comes the closing or wrap up of the story. The story descends the other side of the pyramid to a satisfying conclusion.

This is your typical young children’s story structure.

Keep in mind that the scenarios don’t have to be heart stopping action or doom. They can be as simple as a moral dilemma, of doing right or wrong.

2. Episodic – think of this format as a long obstacle course of usually lower impact ups and downs in chronological order. Usually each chapter or section depicts related incidents and has its own conflict climax. The story is connected through the characters and/or the theme.

According to Story Mastery, episodic formats “work best when the writer wishes to explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of an era.”

3. Parallel – with this format, there are two or more plots. They can be linked by the characters and/or a common theme.

In a recent upper middle-grade book I ghosted, there were three plots connected through characters and the overall plot.

This format can be used for upper middle-grade and young adult stories.

4. Flashbacks – this format provides the reader with flashbacks throughout the story. It allows the writer to begin with an action scene and fill in the ‘why, what, and how’ in flashbacks.

While plot-driven stories are engaging, it’s the stories that combine a good plot with believable characters that the readers can connect to and ‘feel for’ that become memorable. It’s these stories that have the potential to be great.


(1) http://www2.nkfust.edu.tw/~emchen/CLit/study_elements.htm
(2) http://www.storymastery.com/story/screenplay-structure-five-key-turning-points-successful-scripts/


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Need Help With Your StoryLet me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. I can turn your story into a publishable book you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice @ gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line).

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700