Saturday, 25 March 2017

How Writing a Chapter Book is Like Writing a Picture Book by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha


Becky initially asked me to write a post about “How I got my chapter book contract.” Her request came around the same time that I published a similar story on my blog. You can read that post here. Instead of repeating myself, I’ve decided to share some chapter book knowledge that I picked up in the process of turning my picture book into a chapter book.

A small survey in the Chapter BookChallenge Facebook group proved to me that many members write both picture books and chapter books. This post will focus on the question, how is writing a chapter book a little like writing a picture book? It may not be helpful to those who have been writing chapter books for a long time, but it should be helpful to those who are just getting into chapter book writing.

As with picture books, there is no perfect formula for writing chapter books. However, there are great guidelines. So, what I offer is meant to give you a sense of direction and order when writing. It is not intended to say this is the ONLY way to go. This post only touches on some basic elements of chapter book writing.


In chapter books (and usually in picture books) action is important for keeping the young reader engaged. Like picture books, chapter books don’t have a lot of description. Unlike picture books, illustrations do not help tell part of the story. So, it is important to show and not tell. Show your characters in action. Show your characters reacting to their situation. And of course show their environment. But don’t get carried away with long descriptive passages. If you do, your young reader will lose interest.

Just to be clear. . . .

There are some illustrations (usually line art) in chapter books, which help the young reader to visualize better. There are a variety of chapter books for beginning chapter book readers that have many illustrations – often colored. Some examples are Marcie Colleen’s Super Happy Party Bears series, Kate DiCamillo’s Bink and Gollie, and Mercy Watson also by Kate DiCamillo. This post focuses on longer chapter books for younger readers. Also, I want to be clear that middle grade books have more description than chapter books.


I see writing chapter books as being similar to writing a number of individual picture books related to one big story goal.

So, each chapter has its own beginning, middle, and end that are all centered around that specific chapter’s goal. However, the chapter goal needs to relate to the big goal in some way. Everything that happens in the story should have a strong thread running between the problem or goal established in the beginning and the resolution presented in the end.

Like picture book beginnings, the individual chapter beginning usually establishes the problem or goal for that chapter. It might establish the setting, if it has changed from the last chapter. It most likely establishes the obstacle to achieving the chapter goal. The beginning of a chapter will sometimes subtly reconnect the reader to what happened in the previous chapter.

Just like the middle of a picture book, the middle of the individual chapter shows the protagonist’s attempts to overcome his obstacles. And as with a picture book plot, the chapter story tension escalates and sometimes falls. It may or may not fall, depending on where the author has chosen to leave the reader hanging. 

Unlike picture book endings, individual chapter endings are not usually satisfying endings because you want to entice your reader to look forward to the next chapter. However, you do want to give your reader a sense of satisfaction with each chapter while still keeping her in suspense.  The ending of the chapter often comes in the middle of a scene. Doing this creates questions in the reader’s mind that she will want to see answered. Just as picture books often end with a twist, individual chapters might end with a twist. This engages the reader further.


The combined chapters work to form the story or character arc related to the big story problem or goal.


Like the first page(s) in a picture book, the first chapter hooks the reader by presenting the inciting incident. This is the event that pushes your protagonist out of his ordinary world into the challenging world that the story builds. It also provides the setting, time period, and the voice and tone of the story. Naturally, it introduces the protagonist and maybe some other characters. Backstory is avoided or limited in chapter books for young readers.


The next chapters set the hook by deepening the reader’s understanding of the character’s situation.  They also introduce more characters.


Like the middle scenes of a picture book, the middle chapters show the protagonist’s attempts to solve his problem or achieve his goal. They offer unexpected turns, surprise setbacks, and changes that often require the protagonist to make a decision or choice. With each challenge and decision, the reader becomes more emotionally connected to the protagonist and the story and therefore become more hooked.


With each new chapter the tension rises and the stakes get higher until the protagonist reaches his DARKEST MOMENT. This is where he and the reader experience a period of defeat. This makes the reader want to keep reading while hoping for the best.


The darkest moment is followed by the INNER CLIMAX. The protagonist has some sort of lightbulb moment that causes him to think outside the box. There is usually a perceived or real risk in making the choice that raises the tension. This new thinking, or choice, or decision moves the story forward to the outer climax where the protagonist takes action on his new way of thinking. All the while, the reader is taking this emotional rollercoaster ride with the protagonist.


The OUTER CLIMAX follows the inner climax. This is where the protagonist takes action based on the inner climax decision or choice. Sometimes the inner climax is not apparent or nearly undetectable. But there is always a climax. This is the turning point that leads the protagonist to the resolution of the story.


The RESOLUTION/CONCLUSION of the story presents a new perspective for the protagonist. The reader becomes aware of some sort of change or personal growth in the protagonist. All loose ends are tied up here. The reader should be left thinking about the story and maybe about how he relates, but he should not be wondering about missing elements that should have been resolved in the end. Often there is a surprise twist. Sometimes, the protagonist does not get what he set out to get, but he still learns and grows in some way.


A while back, I wrote a blog post on episodic stories. You can read it here. I wrote it for picture books, but it applies to chapter books as well. When you read the word “scene” in the post, think in terms of scenes within each chapter, but also consider each chapter as a scene. What I want you to see is that all scenes and all chapters need to be connected. I can’t really get into cause and effect in this post, but if you aren’t clear regarding what that is, do some searches and read up on it.

Before I teach an entire course on chapter book writing, I will end this . . . well, sort of. I want to offer a PDF with a basic analysis that I did on THE TALENTED CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker. It breaks the story down as related to the tips I’ve shared in this post. I think it gives a very clear idea of how each chapter tells a story of its own, which is why I see them as being similar to picture books. It also gives a clear picture of how everything that happens in the story is connected to the problem established in the beginning and the resolution presented in the end.

Happy chapter book writing!


Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author and a certified life coach. Her picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa (Blue Whale Press, LLC) received the Mom’s Choice Awards gold medal and an IPPY Awards silver medal. Alayne’s Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series launches in April 2017 with the first book, Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain (Clear Fork Publishing).  Her picture book Mischievous Maverick is scheduled to be released by Clear Fork Publishing in early 2018. Alayne is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Writeand Analyze Picture Book Manuscripts. In 2016, Alayne and her husband sold their home in the Dallas, Texas area and became nomads as full-time RVers and part-time sailors.



Alayne has generously offered the prize for today's give-away. She is offering one person a critique on the first five chapters of their chapter book. Only signed-up members of the challenge qualify for the drawing. In order to be entered into the drawing, leave a comment on this post. A winner will be drawn by a random number generator on May 31st. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Inspiration for ChaBooCha Week 3 #ChaBooCha

So far in the Chapter Book Challenge, we are three weeks down and have a little over one week to go. How are you doing so far?

Weeks two and three can be tricky. The first rush of excitement and starting a new idea has passed and you have to work out how to get from where you are to the end of your story without losing your previous momentum. You might even be feeing a bit of writer's block at this point in your journey. For some of you, this is the most difficult part of your month of writing, but for others, this is a favourite part. Everybody goes about this writing business differently.

For those of you who are letting other things get in the way of your writing, I looked up some inspirational quotes to help you out.

1 - Fear can sometimes get in the way of our writing - fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of failure, and, in some, even a fear of success.

If fear is getting in the way of your writing:

Image found on Pinterest

2 - Procrastination is also a large culprit when it comes to preventing you from writing. I know I struggle mightily with a strong tendency to procrastinate. You need to remind yourself of the reasons you want to write your story and why you don't want to put it off any longer.

If procrastination is getting in the way of your writing:

Image found on Pinterest 
Image found on Pinterest
3 - Sometimes, it's your muse who is causing the problem. Either your muse is giving you new ideas that make you want to start working on something different or your muse has just decided to clam up and leave you bereft of ideas. This can be overcome, either through time, a change of scenery, or just by writing anyway - even when it feels like what you're writing is so bad you'll just have to re-do it later.

If it feels as though your muse is absent:

Image found on Pinterest

4 - Sometimes, as your story grows, you feel as though you've lost your passion for it. You need to remember what excited you about your story in the beginning, what drew you to write this particular story. If you never felt a true passion for your story, then maybe it's not the right story for you after all.

If passion is keeping you from writing your story:

Image found on Pinterest
5 - Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. It can be your kids taking up your writing time, or your health or your job (if you have one other than writing), or any number of things. And being busy can really drain your energy, which makes it even more difficult to be creative and to imagine your stories. We all have times like this. It's important to make time for you, to do the things that you love (like writing), in order to nourish your soul. You also need to take time to rest in order to replenish your spirit.

If a lack of energy is getting in the way of your writing:
Image found on Pinterest
Image found on Pinterest

Image found on Pinterest


There is no specific give-away with this post, but if you comment on this post (and are a signed-up member), you will get an extra entry into the drawing for the Kindle Fire that will be done on the 30th. (All signed-up members of the Chapter Book Challenge automatically get one entry.)

Monday, 20 March 2017

Graphic novels and writing the comic script by Michael Norwitz #ChaBooCha

Because some ChaBooCha members are working on graphic novels, I thought it would be a good idea to have a friend of mine who has some experience in the area of comic writing give you some tips for writing comic panels, because the process is completely different from writing stories. Michael's post is below.

One of the hardest things to remember about writing a comic script, is that a lot of the skills you work on when writing prose have to be left by the wayside. The only person who will ever see the pretty metaphors and poetic imagery you come up with is the artist, and the artist doesn't care! In fact, it will get in her way when trying to figure out what you are trying to instruct her to draw.

Writing for comics is also different from writing a video or stage script, because every panel description has to be completely static. Pictures on a comic page don't move, so you can't show someone walking from one place to another in a still image, or performing multiple tasks. One of the mistakes I make all the time in my scripts is to have someone nodding their head or blinking their eyes, and even that sort of simple motion isn't something that can be depicted in a still image.

You also have to think about how many panels will fit on a page. As a general rule, I average 4-6 panels per page; 1-3 panels will make every event seem explosive and climactic, and 7 or more will tend to make actions seem cramped (and are best reserved for scenes of rapid-fire dialogue). 

You also don't want to crowd out you images with too much text.  Typically no more than two or three sentences per panel is recommended,

Remember that your artist probably has more experience with visual imagery than you do, and may need to make changes from what you have in your head. That doesn't mean if something is very important to you that you can't ask for a correction, but try not to be a "diva" writer and be prepared to have an open dialogue with her.

As an example of some basic formatting, here's a sample page from a script adapting a story my daughter wrote when she was eight:


TITLE: A Cat Tail


A girl with blonde, wavy hair of about nine years old, in school uniform, is sitting by herself on a bench off to the side of a schoolyard.  She has a slightly distressed expression. 


A woman in her early twenties approaches the girl.  She is dressed in 'work casual,' but she has a plastic belt and sash around her waist and torso, obviously some sort of designated school authority figure.  The girl has risen to her feet and is holding the tip of her tail in her hand to show the woman, although the tail seems like it wants to be waving with a will of its own.

YARD DUTY:    What's wrong, Molly?

MOLLY:            I am a cat.  Look!


The woman on yard duty looks astounded.  She is holding a small pad and pencil which she has slipped out of her pocket.  She has torn off the top sheet from the pad and handed it to the girl.

YARD DUTY:    Then go down to the office.  Here's a hallway pass slip.

MOLLY:            Thanks!


Molly has arrived at the office, and is showing the receptionist the hallway pass.  The receptionist is a slightly heavyset woman with long brown hair which she has tied into a bun in the back of her head.  Her face is pretty although a pointed nose prevents her from being a classic beauty.  Her expression is more friendly than concerned, as Molly doesn't seem to be grossly wounded, although she is clearly a bit upset.

MOLLY:            Here is my hallway pass; I am a cat just so you know.

RECEPTIONIST:  Sit on the bench; we will call your mom.


Molly is sitting in the office, twiddling her thumbs, obviously feeling awkward as she waits.


Molly's mother has entered the office, and is hugged tightly by her daughter.  Her mother strokes her hair affectionately.  She bears a strong family resemblance to Molly, although her hair is dark rather than blonde, longer, and streaked with grey. 

MOLLY:            Mom, what took you so long? I was waiting for a long time.

PARENT:          Well, let's get out of here.  I will find you a new school for cats.

MOLLY:            Thank you so so much, Mom. 

Michael's comic works have appeared in Octal, The Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel, MegabookRock Is Not Dead, and Irrational Comics' Pitch. Michael also has a Goodreads author page.



Today's give-away is a copy of the book The DC Comics Guide to Writing ComicsAll you need to do to enter in the prize drawing is be a signed-up ChaBooCha member and comment on this post. The winners will be drawn by a random number generator and announced on March 30th.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Working Your Way Through ChaBooCha 2017 by Melissa Stoller #ChaBooCha

So you're working on a chapter book this month with ChaBooCha. It may be your first attempt at a chapter book or it may be the fifth in a series.

Here are a few tips to help you work your way through the challenge:


There are many posts about how to brainstorm ideas, and even a challenge dedicated to this topic called StoryStorm by Tara Lazar ( Grab a notebook and start thinking about ideas that you could use to kick-start this challenge!

Or maybe you have a picture book that sounds like a chapter book because the ideas are too mature for a younger reader. Perhaps you are writing a middle grade novel but your main character is too young or the situations would be more suitable for the younger audience of a chapter book. Try working one of those ideas into this challenge.

Pick one idea and get started. Write the idea on your computer or on paper, or dictate the idea into your phone. The main point is to harness the ideas from your mind and actually see them in writing. It’s much easier to edit a draft that exists than to stare at a blank page or screen.


I realize that not everyone likes the idea of outlining, but I found this process very helpful for chapter book writing:

- Try breaking the story into 10 chapters (the classic number of chapters for a chapter book). This will resonate if you are a planner like me. Outline each of your 10 chapters very loosely in your actual document. Develop your plot and see how each chapter unfolds.
-Each time you go back to write your chapter book, work on one of the chapters. I worked in a linear fashion, so I started from the beginning and kept going. But, somewhere in the middle around chapter 5, I realized that I didn’t have a clear sense of what would happen in the middle. So I moved on to the ending chapters, and skipped over chapters 5, 6 and 7.  I worked on the three remaining chapters and then went back to the middle. For this particular book, this method worked for me. I had a clear vision of the beginning, and a somewhat clear vision of the end, but the middle was totally murky. Instead of getting bogged down and stuck in the middle, I worked around it.
-Don’t worry if your first draft isn’t great. Just keep writing. Getting your ideas on paper will really motivate you to continue writing and moving forward.


Read, read, read! – Read chapter books. Try to read several chapter books each week of this challenge and beyond. Get to know the genre. What makes a chapter book different from a picture book or from a middle grade novel? Does your idea work for the age group of the targeted audience? Some chapter books I have been reading include: The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne; The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka; Super Happy Party Bears by Marcie Colleen; The Fantastic Frame by Lin Oliver; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker; Dragon Slayers Academy by Kate McMullan; The Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly; Mermaid Tales by Debbie Dadey; A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy; Sparkle Spa by Jill Santopolo; and The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler. There are many more – your local library or bookstore are good places to see what’s popular with young readers and what’s selling.

First few sentences – Make sure the beginning of the story grabs the reader right from the start. Here are a few examples from the chapter books listed above: “Welcome to the Grumpy Woods! Just Kidding. No one is welcome here. Turn around and go back.” (Super Happy Party Bears); “Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Wait!” yelled Sam. (The Time Warp Trio); “I can’t believe it!” Echo said. “It’s finally happening.” (Mermaid Tales); “I saw a giant orange pig on our swing set this morning,” said my little sister, Maggie. (The Fantastic Frame); “The school bell rang, and Aly raced out the door, holding on tight to her backpack straps.” (Sparkle Spa). These openers will keep me reading!

First chapter – What is the hook that will draw in your reader? Make sure that even after the reader is initially hooked, she will want to stick around and read the entire chapter and the rest of the book.

Chapter transitions – These last sentences in each chapter will pull the reader along seamlessly to the next chapter, all the way through to the end of the book. For example: “Then with a loud slurp, the quicksand swallowed up the wizard, this time hat and all.” (Dragon Slayers’ Academy); “The door blew closed behind them, and Kaz was trapped in this little room.  Trapped with a solid girl who could see him.” (The Haunted Library); “They dashed around the corner – just in time to see the cat disappear through a hole in the pyramid” (The Magic Tree House); “What are we going to do?” I asked. “I mean for real?” (Clementine). Don’t you want to read more!

The ending – Endings are so hard to get right! You want the reader to say Wow! Or sigh and smile! Or laugh! Or display another strong emotion. And if you are planning to write a chapter book series, you want to reader to come back for more. In my case, the last page of my first book features a snow globe from another location that is calling out to the main characters. Hopefully readers will be excited about the time-travel concept and ready to follow the characters to another adventure.

World building – do readers want to inhabit your book? What makes your book special? Does everything work consistently in your world? For example, if writing about kids living in outer space and attending a school at a space station, would the school need some type of oxygen filtration system? Would the kids be able to venture out without special suits and masks? What would gravity be like in this world? What kind of food and water would be available? You can design the rules for your world but it becomes believable when those rules work consistently and reliably.

Research – If you are writing about another time, are the little details correct? For example, if writing about medieval times, are the details about clothing worn and food eaten accurate for that timeframe? The first book in my ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION SERIES, RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, takes place in 1928 Coney Island.  I researched the clothing of the time, as well as details about the amusement park, the Cyclone roller coaster, trolleys from 1928, whether Nathan’s hot dog stand was opened yet (it was!), and whether the game skee-ball was invented yet (yes!).  I also researched the exact day and date that the story was taking place to make sure that was consistent.


The real work starts in the revision process! Revise for big picture and small picture points such as:

-Does your plot have a clear arc with a strong beginning, a middle that keeps the audience reading, and a satisfying ending?  Is the plot believable and consistent? Is the world that the characters inhabit plausible? If necessary, is your research about your world complete?
-Are your characters relatable? Will the reader care about them? Do they have well-defined personalities and perhaps some quirks and/or flaws that make them lovable? Is there heart and/or humor in the book?
-Is there a well-defined conflict? Are the stakes high enough? Will the reader care whether the main characters solve the conflict?
-Look at dialogue . . . does it flow naturally? Do the characters have strong voices? Are their styles of speaking consistent?
-Does the pacing work? Does the story flow smoothly through all the chapters to the end? Are there compelling transitions between chapters? Does each scene in the book move the story forward in some way?
-Review for finer points like proper grammar, sentence structure, and lyrical language.


Aside from the amazing Chapter Book Challenge, I have participated in these excellent courses and other resources and each has helped tremendously with my chapter book writing:

The Chapter Book Blueprint – taught by Alice Kuipers through the Children’s Book Insider with Jon Bard and Laura Backes  (

The Chapter Book Alchemist -- Co-taught by Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie through the Children’s Book Academy (

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( Join and interact with the large organization and with your local chapter.

Attend conferences and participate in online challenges such as Storystorm (

Interact with your writing community on Facebook and Twitter.


Find a group of like-minded writers from this challenge, or from another challenge, group, or class you may be involved with. Work with them to start a critique group to comment on each other’s work as you write your chapter books.

You can also look for critique partners in the KidLit411 and Sub It Club manuscript exchanges through Facebook. I found my chapter book critique group through a class we were all taking through the Children’s Book Academy and we all participated in The Chapter Book Alchemist Class together (see above for details). We each posted a synopsis of our work in progress, and swapped chapters of our manuscripts as we went along. Thanks for all the helpful insights, ladies, you know who you are!


You will only know if you enjoy writing chapter books if you keep going! Don’t give up. You may not finish the challenge with a perfectly crafted chapter book (chances are you won’t!) but hopefully by the end of the month you will have harnessed a great idea and you will have made good progress on your writing. Set a goal to continue and finish!

I really look forward to seeing many chapter books that are generated from CHABOOCHA 2017 in libraries and bookstores very soon!


Melissa Stoller is thrilled to be a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge! She is also an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group. Melissa is the author of the chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, April, 2017), and the debut picture book OLIVE’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, March, 2018).  She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009, Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters and one puppy. When not writing or reading, Melissa can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, travelling, walking on the beach, and finding treasures to add to her collections. Find her online at, MelissaBerger Stoller (Facebook), @Melissa Stoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram). 



Melissa has offered a truly amazing couple of prizes, so there will be two give-aways with this post. Melissa is offering 
a critique of the first two chapters of one person's chapter book manuscript as well as a copy of her soon-to-be released chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION -- BOOK ONE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND. All you need to do to enter in the prize drawing is be a signed-up ChaBooCha member and comment on this post. The winners will be drawn by a random number generator and announced on March 30th.