Saturday, 23 March 2019

A Mishmash of Writing Tips by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha

A Mishmash of Writing Tips

Thank you, Becky, for inviting me back to Chapter Book Challenge this year.

I had so many writing tips that I wanted to share when I considered writing this guest post that I had a hard time deciding exactly what to share. So, I began by brainstorming the common issues I often see when considering the chapter book and middle grade manuscripts we receive at Blue Whale Press. My intention was to come up with a comprehensive list of, let’s say, ten mistakes that writers make. But, I quickly discovered that I wanted to share more than one little blog post could handle. As such, I went with the flow and wrote whatever popped into my head. The result? A mishmash of writing tips.

The following is the result of my brainstorming session.

Agents and editors are readers.

My number one tip for anyone who is planning to submit their manuscript is to remember that agents and editors are readers. So, think of them as readers before anything else. If you don’t capture them as a reader, what will make them think that your story will capture any reader? If they don’t think your story will hook readers, what will make them say “yes” to your manuscript?

A weak beginning can kill a story before it ever begins.

A slow beginning, or starting the story in the in the wrong place, can cause your reader to lose interest before the story even truly begins. Be careful that you don’t submit your writer’s warm-up as the beginning chapter(s) of your book. What I mean by “writer’s warm-up” is that it often takes a writer time to get to know their story and characters. It takes time to develop voice and mood. And it is common for the first pages or chapters of a book to be the result of that “getting to know you” writing. Once the writer gets into the swing of things, the true story begins. That is why stories often start in the wrong place. Submitting your writer’s warm-up and getting-to-know-you sessions as the beginning of your story will usually result in boredom for the reader and a pass from an editor or agent. Editors and agents have to read hundreds of manuscripts (sometimes thousands by the end of the year). They don’t have a lot of time to make decisions about the manuscripts they read. The only way to cause them to stop and really consider your story is to hook them from the very start. If you don’t grab them (or hook them) on your story right from the opening lines, your chances of success with that submission decrease. If they aren’t hooked by the end of the first chapter, your chances go way down. By the end of a third chapter that has not captured the agent or editor, a rejection will probably follow. This could vary from person to person, but I think it is a good way to explain what will likely happen if your beginning isn’t strong.

Scenes, chapters, or books where nothing is really happening are boring.

Yes, it truly is possible to write a scene, a chapter, or even an entire book where nothing significant is happening. In a book that is filled with pages where nothing is happening, the reader might gain a lot of information, but at some point, that information will not be enough to pull the reader forward, and the book (manuscript) will be abandoned.

As mentioned above, many writers include their warm-up in the first chapter(s). What are some indications of a warm-up or nothing happening?

Telling, or sometimes even showing, in detail the protagonist going through ordinary life via long stretches of narrative and dialogue.

We sometimes need a glimpse of the protagonist’s ordinary life before s/he steps over the inciting-incident threshold that moves her/him into the world of the story. But if the details are really the writer’s attempts to “get to know” their characters or the writer’s warm-up in disguise, that is a problem. Make sure that everything happening in your sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and story have a reason to be there. A GOOD reason to be there. How do they inform the reader in a way that will make the reader want to know more? How do they inform the reader in a way that is connected to the big story problem, the chapter problem, the scene that came before, and the scene that will come after? Closely related to details of an ordinary day is step-by-step description of the character’s every move. Make sure that all action is important action. If readers can figure out for themselves that a character opened the door, turned on the shower, or poured a cup of coffee, trust their ability to figure it out. Don’t bore them with such details.

Too much backstory and info dumping usually does not pull your reader forward, hence the word backstory. Try to eliminate backstory, or at least minimize it in the first chapter. Be careful not to interrupt action with a long history of something that happened way back when. Make sure that all information provided in backstory is absolutely necessary for the reader to know. Then make sure that information is absolutely necessary for your reader to know it at the time you are presenting it. Is it something that can be told later? Is it something that can be slipped into a sentence or two through brief dialogue? Is it something that can be gracefully weaved into the story here and there in short sentences?

Following is a link to a good article exploring the question, “How much is too much backstory?”

Backstory is also a form of info dumping, but there are other forms as well.  

For anyone who might not know what an info dump is, it is drawn-out telling (versus showing). It is a large chunk of information that the writer dumps all at once. And that dump goes right to the reader. There is a strong danger of losing your reader’s interest because of backstory and info dumps. Info dumps are usually told through narration and sometimes dialogue.

We want our readers to be informed, but we need to be aware and pick and choose how we inform them. We want to make sure the story is balanced and always moving forward. We want to avoid awkward and out-of-place telling. The goal is to weave information skillfully into your story so smoothly that it goes unnoticed.

Why do we want to avoid info dumps and unnecessary or lengthy backstory?

Because it interrupts the reader. You have likely done some really nice work of putting your reader into the story through action, and all of a sudden BAM! HALT! Let me take you down this rabbit hole for a while. At this point, you have stopped providing information from the story’s characters. Instead, you, the author is interrupting/communicating with the reader by telling instead of showing.

Following are some links that will tell you all about info dumping.

How to Avoid Info Dumping by Ellen Brock

Tracy Culleton talks about info dumping at

How to Avoid Info Dumping

Although I suggest providing backstory in brief dialogue, it is important not to use dialogue to dump info. Here are some tips how to avoid info dumping in dialogue.

All about weaving information into your story.

Your beginning may be writer’s warm-up in disguise if the dialogue is nothing more than banal chitchat. Every word of dialogue must have a purpose. It is tempting to offer idle chitchat because that is often part of our normal communication in real life, but in books, it is important to think of the reader. Always remember, why will the reader care?

The ever-familiar show-don’t-tell is another clue that first pages have been born out of writer’s warm-up. Of course, we need description so the reader understands setting, time, place, and so on. But too much of a good thing becomes a problem. I can almost promise you that if the story has long stretches of description, there is nothing really happening in the story. And when there is nothing happening in a story, it will not pull the reader forward.

A character that makes long speeches, or thinks to herself or speaks her thoughts aloud to herself (because there is no one else around) will get old and lose your reader’s interest as well.

Not enough action. Too much description—especially too much flowery description—and talking heads are boring. They will not pull readers forward. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. Show your characters in action. Don’t tell what is happening or how they feel.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White says, 
“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjective and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally they surprise us with their power, as in Up the airy mountain,Down the rushy glen,We daren’t go a-huntingFor fear of little men . . . The nouns mountain and glen are accurate enough, but had the mountains not become airy, the glen rushy, William Allingham might never have got off the ground with his poem. In general however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”

If you don’t own The Elements of Style, it is one tiny reference book that every writer should read. 
Following is a link that offers some strong verbs to spice up your writing. 
Below is a link to an article on action verbs versus linking verbs. In my opinion, linking verbs generally lead to passive sentences, which indicate telling. Action verbs generally lead to action, which indicates showing. So another way to look at the discussion in the article is showing verbs versus telling verbs.
Here is a link to an article that says the same thing as the above-mentioned article but from a little different perspective—one that I like. Ten Verbs that MAKE You Tell.

All of the above tips are mistakes to be aware of throughout your story. However, if any of them happen in the beginning of your story, it could send your great idea and hard work into the agent’s or editor’s “no” pile.

I can’t stop without offering one final tip. . . .

Weak or nonexistent emotional core will not earn a “yes” from an agent or editor.

You must give the reader a reason to care about the protagonist and the story problem or goal. The protagonist’s motivation must be clear and the consequences for failing to reach the story goal or solve the problem must be clear. If the reader can’t answer the question, “Why should I care?” they won’t be able to answer the question, “Why should I invest my time reading this story (manuscript)?” It is important to give the reader something or someone to root for. What will make the reader relate to this character? What will make the reader cheer the protagonist on and worry about the protagonist? These are the things that create tension and pull the story forward, and in pulling the story forward, you pull the reader forward through the book. We want our readers to feel emotions, become curious, want to know more, turn pages - turn pages - turn pages. And that’s what we want agents and editors to do, too.

Following is an excellent article about finding the emotional core in your story.

Janice Hardy discusses character emotional core here

Hannah Heath offers seven tips for writing emotion into your story.

As hard as it is for me to stop here, this post is already running way too long. I do hope that it has provided you some food for thought and maybe even given you a few ways to improve your writing. Just as a little bonus, I will paste some links to other posts I have written about chapter book writing.


Sienna the Cowgirl Fairy
Alayne Kay Christian is the content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc. She shares more or her knowledge and tips for writers through her Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a professional picture book and chapter book critique writer since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Alayne is an SCBWI member and a graduate of the Institute for Children’s Literature. In addition, she has spent the last eleven years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature.




Alayne has offered an incredible prize for today's post. She'offering a golden ticket to Blue Whale Press submissions to one person, which gives the winner a pass to submit outside of the submission window, priority consideration (top of pile), and guaranteed response. All you have to do to be entered for this prize is be a signed-up member of the challenge and comment on this post. Winner will be chosen at noon on March 31st, 2019.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Week 3 of the Chapter Book Challenge + Deadlines and how they help you reach your goals #ChaBooCha

We are now in our third week of the Chapter Book Challenge. I hope you are getting some writing done on your story, and I hope you are not feeling at all stuck right now. I thought I'd re-post a bit of a blog post I did for the Blog Your Book in 30 Days challenge a while ago about deadlines and how they help us, since this challenge is all about giving ourselves a deadline.

Deadlines and how they help you reach your goals

I have always been an expert at procrastination. If I have a task set out in front of me, I will find other things to do instead and put the task off indefinitely, or I will put it off until it can no longer be put off. That is where deadlines come in for me. Deadlines give me that point where things can no longer be put off. For example, if I wait too long to write a draft for a story that is due for an anthology, then I won't be able to write a compelling story before the deadline arrives.

I thought it might be helpful to list some of the ways that deadlines are useful to writers, so I have made a list below.

1 - Deadlines give you a set time to achieve your writing, without which you might put that writing off indefinitely. If you have a deadline at the end of the week, then you know that you will need to start writing and researching at some time prior to that deadline in order to give yourself time to complete your writing project.

2 - Deadlines give you a sense of satisfaction to your activities. Knowing that you are working towards a deadline can give you a feeling of accomplishment as you take steps towards reaching that deadline on time. Each chapter written in the story you have a deadline for, each page or each higher word count you achieve, helps you feel you are getting somewhere with your writing.

3 - Deadlines can give you structure towards reaching your writing goals. Not sure which story , article or post to start working on first? Look at your deadlines and start working on the one with the closest deadline. Need three days to get to the point in your outlining and research where you can do the actual writing? Start your research earlier to make sure it is complete in time for you to start writing.

4 - Deadlines can help you prioritise your writing when life tries to intrude. We all have lives outside of our writing. Some of us have families. Some of us have jobs not related to our writing. Some of us have pets. Some of us have a regular work-out schedule or have classes to go to. The list can go on when it comes to what kinds of things can interrupt and interfere with our writing time. Deadlines can help you say "no" to interruptions, because you know that you only have a set amount of time to complete a project. Yes, we all have to spend time with family, and we can't say "no" to our jobs when it is those jobs that pay the bills, but if a writing deadline is looming, it helps you to weed out the things that interfere with your writing time which can wait or be set aside or can be out-sourced to someone else temporarily. (I'd love to be able to outsource some of the housecleaning! Instead, I let my house get a bit cluttered and messy whenever I'm aiming for a writing deadline.)

5 - Meeting deadlines can improve your confidence in yourself and your ability to meet future writing goals. Every time you meet a writing deadline, you have attained a writing goal. With each goal achieved, you improve your confidence. Also, meeting deadlines can help others to take you more seriously as a writer. They see you working towards your goals and respect that effort.

The usefulness of deadlines is why I run writing challenges such as the Chapter Book Challenge (ChaBooCha) and the Blog your Book in 30 Days challenge. It's also why I join in with other writing challenges such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the 12 X 12 Picture Books Writing challenge. These give me deadlines even when I don't have an employer setting one for me.

So tell me, have deadlines helped you achieve your writing goals?

Monday, 18 March 2019

Picture Book Writing vs. MG Novel Writing + Adding in Diversity, Oh My! by Tina Cho #ChaBooCha

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Picture Book Writing vs. MG Novel Writing + Adding in Diversity, Oh My!

I’m in the middle of a predicament with my WIP. I’m mostly a picture book writer (with four picture books sold to publishers), one chapter book work-for-hire published, and I’m wrestling with my MG novel manuscript.

I’ve taken many picture book writing classes and am in three online picture book critique groups. Picture book writing and reading has been my forte. However, I also love reading middle grade novels and chapter books. I took one online middle grade novel class a few years ago. In picture book writing, we have to keep our word count down, usually below 500 words for a fiction story. Adding in too much description is a big no-no, let alone too much dialog! See the irony?

Take a look at this Venn Diagram I made for my personal blog in 2015 when I wrote the first draft of my MG novel. Yep, it’s been that many years!
(click on the image to view it full-sized)
As a picture book writer, it is extremely difficult for me to write a whole descriptive paragraph. As a reader of MG, I tend to skim through the description part anyway and get to the main story. Yet, my agent continually tells me to add more description. Have you noticed how much description is in Newbery Medal winning books? I’ve used some of them as mentor texts. It seems like judges like description.

Another part of my problem is that my story is set in places I’ve never been to. How can I describe in juicy details, when I haven’t experienced it myself?

So, I employ some hacks. If I can’t go there, I go there in photos. I use YouTube and watch other people’s vacation videos and read their vacation blog posts. I can find many sensory details from those two places. I also talk to people. I have friends in many places around the globe. So, if I have a question about something like what they eat, I shoot my friends a question on Facebook Messenger.

Another recent problem of my MG manuscript is the lack of conflict between characters. In picture book writing, we have a main character and maybe a sidekick or two, especially limiting the presence of parents. One major story problem is enough for a picture book story. But in MG, we have to write a main plot plus subplots which can entail a major conflict plus minor conflicts with minor characters. This sounds so mind-boggling. And each chapter has a conflict of its own. So when I first drafted my story, I did outline and sketch out the major plots and some minor plots. But I’m still missing a minor conflict between my two main characters, which I have to work on.   

Editors are looking for books that reflect our diverse population of children. I think that is wonderful. My WIP is about North Korean children. So my challenge is thinking like a North Korean. Again, this is extremely hard. How can I imagine their thoughts and conversations when I haven’t experienced their gruesome life? My current hack for this one is reading their interviews, journals, and trying to meet them while living in South Korea.

You might be adding in a diverse character. Try those tactics. Even better would be to visit the culture or place they are from.

I recently sold a diverse picture book to Penguin Random House’s new imprint Kokila which will publish marginalized voices. My story is about the haenyeo, granny divers off South Korea’s Jeju Island. First, I tried to write the story from just online articles and YouTube video research. But the story was bleh. I needed to experience the setting and sensory details. So, last spring break (I’m a teacher) my family flew there. It’s less than an hour flight from Seoul. I dragged my family to every spot along the ocean where the haenyeo were diving as well as the haenyeo museum. I took photos. I made my husband do mini interviews and translate when we could with them. Being there allowed me to get those juicy missing tidbits from my earlier drafts. Adding those in made the story come alive and become more real. That draft sold and will come out summer 2020, I’m told. 

And during the next couple months I hope to make it as far north as I can to North Korea’s border, the DMZ (demilitarized zone) for a tour. I’m not sure if that will add anything to my WIP, but you never know what will inspire new stories and find those nuggets needed for your current story. I did find a couple of North Koreans who speak some English. So I’ve asked them questions, but I don’t want to overdo it.

Picture book writers CAN write chapter books and middle grade. You just need to put on a different mindset. You CAN add in a diverse character. Just do your research in all sorts of places. Get out and meet people, and if you have the resources, go there. Your story will be all the better for it.   


Tina Cho is the author of four picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle August 2019), Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Mermaid Haenyeo Story (forthcoming from Kokila summer 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.

Today's prize has been offered by Dani Duck. She is running a Writing Challenge event in May. The Writing Challenge is a free writing event to help people be creative and have fun with their writing! This event is for all genres and age groups. Find out more here. She's offering two prizes - two fully printed booklets/calendars for writers (you can get the booklet as a free pdf download during her event, if you don't win the printed version here). Sorry, but this give-away is limited to the US and Canada. All you have to do to be entered in the give-away, if you are already a signed-up member of the challenge, is to comment on this blog post.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Half-way through the Chapter Book Challenge #ChaBooCha

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Half-way through the Chapter Book Challenge

Today is the 15th of March. This means we have already reached the half-way point in the challenge. I feel as though this month is racing past too fast, but as long as we are still putting some thought and some effort into our works-in-progress, then we will manage to end this month ahead of where we started the month.

How are you doing so far? Let me know in the comments. I hope that, wherever you are in the process of writing your book, you are ahead of where you were when this month began.

My month has been full of non-writing things, which means that I am a bit behind on my story-writing. I've had one child get sick with tonsillitis, one became sick with the stomach flu, I had surgery that removed one of my ovaries, tubes and a cyst that was on them, and I went to London for an appointment with a gastroenterologist who is going to have me back to London at another date for some tests and then, possibly, in for another surgery - this time on my throat. The child with tonsillitis finished his round of antibiotics and then had to go back to the doctor as he was still sick. And then other random appointments are coming up, for my kids and for me, to deal with various health issues. And none of this is how I wanted to spend my month.

I'm going to catch up on my writing this weekend though. If you are behind, I hope you can do the same this weekend.

When you get to the half-way point in writing your story, the writing can sometimes become more difficult. Sometimes, once you get through that first rush of putting a new idea down on paper, the inspiration starts to feel like it's drying up and, while getting from Point A in your story to Point B may have come easily, you might begin to struggle when you are trying to get from Point B to Point C.

The best advice I can give you at this point is to keep writing. Yes, it might be a struggle right now, but if you keep getting words down, eventually, your inspiration will return. Your muse might have been right beside you for the beginning, and now if feels like your muse is taking a little nap, but your muse will wake up and start whispering in your ear again only if you keep writing.

So keep writing.

And, as always,
Happy writing!

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Kickstarting for Broke Writers by Victoria Corva #ChaBooCha

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay/altered
I recently ran a small, successful Kickstarter campaign to publish my debut novel, BOOKS & BONE (you can view the Kickstarter here).

For me, the cost of publishing was extremely prohibitive. Editing, proofreading, cover art etc all combined to make a sum too large for my wallet. So I turned to Kickstarter in the hopes that, if my novel was good enough, people would help me publish it.

I don’t feel amazingly qualified to talk about how to run a Kickstarter campaign, but if you’d like the perspective of a first-time author and Kickstarter, then I’m happy to share what I learned.

Image from the Books & Bone Kickstarter
A Campaign and Marketing Budget of Zero 

I decided to Kickstart my novel because I didn’t have the money to publish it on my own -- and by extension, that meant I didn’t have the money for an expensive campaign page or any kind of marketing budget. Everything I did for my campaign page was free -- made of free resources, using only my own time.

For me, this meant:
  • A textual video with voice-over using stock video footage 
  • Borrowed resources - the small clip of video was using a borrowed camera, but if I’d had a half-decent phone camera I’d have used that instead 
  • No cover art for marketing - I couldn’t spend the money on the cover until I knew the book would be published. Instead, I got permission to share some of the images from the artist’s gallery as examples of the art quality.
This also meant that my rewards were not physical. I had no idea whether the campaign would fund or not, or if it did, how many rewards of each tier people would want. It made it hard to price up how much things like paperback copies or bookmarks, etc would ultimately cost, and I made the decision not to include them so that, no matter what, I would be able to afford reward fulfillment.

Focusing My Campaign Efforts

Kickstarter recommends that you share your campaign on social media at least once a day. AT LEAST. To me, someone who tries not to take up too much space, that seemed a horrifying prospect. 

As well as a couple different pitches for my project (instead of saying ‘come check out my kickstarter’ talk about what your book is like!), I found that not all audiences are equal. It seems obvious, but the platforms where you usually get the most engagement are the platforms where you will get the most support and backers.

What this means is that if you post about your breakfast on Facebook and everyone shares and likes it and leaves comments to chat with you about it, that’s probably a good platform for you to share your Kickstarter on. But if when you do the same thing on Instagram, you get crickets, you’re probably not going to get much traction with your Kickstarter.

It’s not about follower count, but about follower quality.

For me, I tried my different platforms and then focused on the one where I had the closest friends and most active support network. For me, that was Mastodon, but for you it could be Facebook or Twitter or really anything.

Choosing My Rewards

Your rewards will be a huge part of the success of your campaign. People are more likely to shell out for more expensive and physical rewards, like paperbacks, hardcovers, and limited edition art. But those rewards will also cost YOU more, and covering their cost will inflate the cost of your campaign, leading to a higher goal you’ll need to reach.

I chose to provide digital-only rewards that wouldn’t cost me anything so that I knew I could afford to fulfill them and so that I could keep my funding target low. But I think it’s very possible that if I’d taken a more risky reward strategy with a higher goal, that I would have funded MORE than I did with the safer strategy. It’s really up to you where you decide to draw the line, but remember to figure in the cost of reward fulfillment into both your overall goal and your reward tiers.

If a hardback of your book will cost you £20 to produce and ship to yourself ready to send out, then it needs to be in a £30 or £40 tier so that you’re actually making the money you need to publish your book.

Doing My Research

Check out other campaigns for books of similar genre and category. Find out how much people are willing to pay and for what rewards. It’s a lot easier to make a campaign that people will want to back when you understand how they are likely to make their decisions.

In my case, in addition to paying close attention to other campaigns, I also did a quick survey on crowdfunding books, which informed my decisions. It’s a bit rough but you can find the results here.

Choosing A Realistic Goal

It’s very important to choose a realistic goal. For me, I don’t have a huge network of friends and my family, while supportive, are not rich so I couldn’t ask them to fund the campaign for me.

Kickstarter is all or nothing. If you don’t hit your chosen goal, you don’t get any money. So I chose a low goal - the bare minimum I needed to publish my novel. Then, when I hit that, I kept pushing for stretch goals.

It’s hard to know how successful your campaign will be, so my advice is to choose a small goal that will be enough and then, if you hit it, keep going!

Not Losing Hope

The beginning of a kickstarter campaign is hugely exciting and those first few days are when you will get the bulk of your backers. It gets really disheartening when, a week in, your backers slow to a trickle, or plateau for days on end.

This is NORMAL for a kickstarter campaign, however, and all the advice shows that the important thing is not to give up! Keep posting, keep running special events (I did video game livestreams and microfiction games) to promote it, keep talking about it every day.

If you keep talking about it, backers will trickle in. If you stop talking about it, you’ll get nothing. So keep going! Even backers at low tiers really add up! This was absolutely my experience. There were days where I thought: ‘Nothing is really happening with this anymore. Surely I have reached everyone I could possibly reach’. 

I thought that at £500. I thought that at £800. And by the end of the campaign I had over £1000. 

Okay! So that’s what I’ve learned from my first Kickstarter campaign. I hope you find it useful. It’s a daunting prospect at first, but it’s a truly incredible experience to have so many people behind you, supporting your book, supporting you in your writing. I really couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career as a published author, and I’m very excited to start the publishing process. 


Victoria Corva writes about creepy things with hope and humour. She’s a professional audiobook narrator, an outspoken cat lover, and a known SFF obsessive. Her debut novel BOOKS & BONE will be published April 2019. You can find out more about her and her work at



Today's prize is a copy if Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine. If you are a signed-up member of the challenge, all you have to do to enter into the drawing for this prize is to comment on this blog post. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 31st and announced on the same day.

Monday, 11 March 2019

How to get a Chapter Book Idea and Have Fun Doing It by Debbie Dadey #ChaBooCha

For those of you still struggling with ideas for your chapter book, here is another post on generating chapter book ideas. This one is by Debbie Dadey.

Image by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

How to get a Chapter Book Idea and Have Fun Doing It

Sometimes ideas for stories come unbidden to me when I’m living my life, reading another book, or visiting a school. Sometimes, getting an idea takes more work. If ideas are difficult for you (or developing your current idea is tricky), you might like to consider some of these options:

·        Listing: Pick a random word and write down everything you can think of about that word in a list. This is an easy strategy, but it’s important to do it fast and have fun. Try for a list of at least fifty. If you write quickly, you don’t give your inner critic (yes, we all have one) a chance to say “don’t write that!” If you need something to get you going try one of these: what kids care about, brave things kids do, or things worth praying about. Once you’ve finished your list, look for clusters of words that seem to go together. Do they interest you? If so, you may have the start of an outline for a story!

·        Forced Relationships: If you know anything about me, it’s probably that my first book, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots, turned into a series of over 51 books, with two spin off series. All of that came from taking two unrelated things and squishing (technical term) them together in a story. The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series is filled with juxtapositions like Santa Claus and mopping floors; Dracula and rock music; leprechauns and basketball. One fun way to get started with forced relationships is to take a book or a dictionary and open it to a random page. Slam your finger down on a word. Then do the same thing again. See if you can come up with an idea from those two words!

·        Pictures: Take a random photograph (online or even an ancestor) and wonder about the person or persons in it. What problems were they facing on the day that photo was taken? Why were they frowning? What were they going to do immediately after the photograph was taken? Let your mind wonder until you come upon a problem (because every story must have one) that won’t let you forget about it. That’s your story idea!

If you’d like more approaches for generating ideas, I hope you’ll check out my free Facebook Live video series. My first one was about getting ideas! I’ll have more in the upcoming months on the seventh at 1:00. You can visit me at, or to let me know how the above stratagems worked for you.


Debbie Dadey is a multi-published author who co-authored the Bailey School Kids and many other series together with Marcia Thornton Jones. Their latest project had them delving into how to get ideas. Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide is now available on Amazon Kindle. Debbie's newest solo project is Fairy Chase, the eighteenth book in the Mermaid Tales series from Simon and Schuster. Visit her at,, or 



Today's prize is the Novel Under Construction Journal. If you are a signed-up member of the challenge, all you need to do to be entered to win this prize is comment on this blog post. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 31st and announced the same day.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Brainstorming Chapter Book Ideas by Melissa Stoller #ChaBooCha

Image by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay


It’s March and that means it’s time for the annual Chapter Book Challenge. I’m so glad to be posting again this year. You can read some of my previous posts for ChaBookCha and ChaBooChaLite here – including “Working Your Way Through ChapterBook Challenge 2017," “How to Start Writing Your Chapter Book,” and “How to Write a Chapter Book Series.” 

This year, I’m writing about generating ideas for a chapter book project.


1) Think about characters – Quite often, readers will gravitate toward a chapter book because they can relate in some way to the main character. When trying to harness chapter book ideas, ask yourself some questions about a potential MC. Perhaps jot down character traits and see where that leads you. For example, do you envision a lovable character? Someone with quirks and imperfections that children can identify with? Maybe a character who struggles, is funny, or silly, or who is trying to find his or her place in the world. In my chapter book series, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION (illustrated by Callie Metler-Smith, Clear Fork Publishing), the main characters are nine-year old adventurous twins who are interested in finding out more about their ancestors and making a difference. I chose boy and girl twins so that, hopefully, the story would have broad appeal. The main characters, Emma and Simon, have different personality traits, and I hope that readers will identify with them both.

2) Think about settings – Aside from memorable main characters, chapter books usually feature memorable backdrops. To help gather ideas, do some research and write down a list of potential settings. Some typical settings for the chapter book age range are: home, school, camp, a magical/fantastical location, a big city, a country locale, or a historical setting. Maybe the main character loves horses and the setting is a horse barn. Or maybe the MC is an animal living in a forest, in a setting with other forest animals. RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, the first book in my time-travel chapter book series, features an amusement park in Coney Island in 1928. My second book, THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, features the Liberty Bell and the World’s Fair, in 1915 Philadelphia and San Francisco. And my third book in the series features Washington, DC and the Library of Congress. When I was planning the book series, I researched cities and historical attractions, and mapped out the settings to help create an interesting adventure arc. I am planning on two more American cities, and then hopefully the twins will get out their passports for more far-flung adventures. And maybe I’ll go along too for research purposes!

3) Think about situations – You can generate ideas by asking “what if” questions about the situation the characters might be involved in. Is it the first day of school, and then the whole school year can be written about in various chapters? Is the protagonist starting summer camp, and then you have the summer to tell your tale? Is the main character a mermaid living in her own undersea world, with lots of adventures awaiting? Or maybe the MC is a penguin living in Antarctica, who has his family and friends and a whole story waiting for you to explore. The situation in which you place your MC can definitely jump-start your brainstorming.

4) Think about underlying themes – It may be helpful to list out the themes for your book in a pitch or “book mission statement” as that may provide some idea inspiration. My chapter books include themes of family connection with ancestors, understanding history, and using courage to both make things happen and make good choices. I hope that children and adults will enjoy these themes and that the books spark discussion and connection between generations. As you brainstorm about themes, maybe one will spark a potential plot.

5) Think about a story that has series potential – Not all chapter books turn into a series, but it doesn’t hurt to keep this in the back of your mind as you gather your ideas and plan out your book. If you hit on a great idea that has series potential, keep planning and organizing your chapters to capitalize on the possibility that your characters can move into different adventures in an expanding series.

Good luck gathering ideas for your chapter book! I look forward to reading your stories!


Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two:The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming releases include Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2019). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. 



Melissa Stoller has generously offered a signed copy of THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND and some book swag to one lucky person! All you need to do to be entered into the drawing for this prize if you are already a singed-up member of the challenge is to comment on this blog post. Winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 31st and announced at noon GMT the same day.