Tuesday 7 April 2020

Prizes 2020 #ChaBooCha

Image by by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

For the prizes that were not awarded on the 31st, I promised to do a drawing for them on the 7th, so here it is:

For a copy of Teapot Tales: A Collection of Unusual Fairy Tales , the winner is: rimna 

 For a signed copy of Melissa Stoller's chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION - RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, the winner is: Shanah Salter 

For a critique from Melissa Stoller on the first three chapters of a chapter book manuscript, the winner is: Yangmama 

Congratulations to those who won prizes! Please contact me through my e-mail.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

An Ending and New Beginnings #ChaBooCha

Today is the last day of the Chapter Book Challenge. We have reached the end of ChaBooCha 2020. But it might be the end, but it doesn't mean we don't have a lot of things still to do and new things to begin. Those of you who did not complete your novel can still continue your writing. Those of you who completed your novels need to begin editing and revising in order to advance on your path to publication. Some of you are already at the stage of beginning your next novels.

Wherever you are on this writing journey, I want to tell you that you have done well!

And now I get to announce the winners of this month's prizes. As usual, I am excessively slow at getting prizes out to people, and that will only be exacerbated by the fact that my country is currently in "lock-down" due to the pandemic. But I will do my best to get these prizes out to you before the next Chapter Book Challenge. (There were a few less prizes this time in order to make it easier for me to try and get them out in a more timely manner.)


The winner of Books and Bone by Victoria Corva is: saputnam

The winner of "Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly" by Gail Carson Levine is: elisa 

The winner of the metal charm bookmark made by me is: Kelly Vavala and Manju Howard 

The winner of a copy of Teapot Tales: A Collection of Unique Fairy Tales is: BetW 

Sadly, no one entered the give-aways for these four prizes listed below, possibly because they were posts that were later in the month. If anyone wants to comment on the posts that offered these prizes within the next week (to give some more time for comments), I can do another drawing for the below prizes on April 7th. I will then announce the winners in a blog post, but it will not be e-mailed out as the e-mails only go out during the month of March.

*a signed copy of Melissa Stoller's chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION - RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND

*a critique from Melissa Stoller on the first three chapters of a chapter book manuscript

Sunday 29 March 2020

Top Five Reasons Why Chapter Books Are the Best by Marcie Colleen #ChaBooCha

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
I set out on this crazy journey to be a kids author thinking I would be all about picture books and only picture books. But when a super fun chapter book series literally fell into my lap (The Super Happy Party Bears) I couldn’t help but fall in love with the form.

For many reasons, I have come to realize that chapter books are where it’s at. Let me explain.

Here are my Top Five Reasons Why Chapter Books are the Best (to read and write!)

1. Chapter books are like cartoon series, but in book form. That’s right! I learned a lot of what I know about writing a chapter book series by studying cartoons—and I love cartoons! To read more about that, check out my ChaBooCha post from 2019, Three Things Cartoons Taught Me About Writing Chapter Books.

2. Chapter books create lifelong readers. When kids are young they are read to. Often with or without making the choice themselves. But when a kid becomes of age to read chapter books, you as an author have the ability to create a lifelong reader. Statistics show that people who read have increased focus, are more reflective, have incredible writing and speaking skills, and increased memory. If you can get a child to fall in love with your books, and hence reading for pleasure, you have taken part in creating a lifelong reader.

3. Chapter books create a sense of accomplishment for the reader. I remember the first time I read a book that required a bookmark and multiple sittings to finish it. I would close the book at times just to look at how many pages I had read and how many were still left to go. I felt like such a grownup reading a grownup book. And then, because most chapter books are series, I would gaze upon the books on the shelf all lined up like little reading trophies. I did that. I read all of those words by myself.

4. Chapter books empower their readers. Want to hear something cool about chapter books? They are a low price point for a reason. Not only do they empower readers through independent reading, but often with their allowance or a little extra cash from a birthday they can afford to buy the book themselves! Therefore it is super important that the production costs of chapter books stay low enough to keep the retail price low.
5. Chapter book readers are enthusiastic super fans. I love doing school visits to second, third, and fourth grade classes for The Super Happy Party Bears series. The kids get so excited and even share ideas for future Party Bear books. They ask questions about the world and specific plot points. They quote the books. They create fan art and send fan mail. They create Halloween costumes based on my characters. They dedicate their birthday party theme to the books. Having super fans is the best!

So c’mon all you cool kids! Do you have anything to add about why writing and reading chapter books is the absolute best? Share in the comments below—and then go write. There are lots of super fans waiting to fall in love with your books!


Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned children’s book author. She’s the author of THE SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS chapter book series (Macmillan/Imprint), as well as several picture books. Marcie is a frequent presenter at conferences for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Additionally, she’s a faculty member for San Diego Writer’s Ink and the University of California San Diego Extension. She also teaches online classes on “Crafting the Chapter Book” for The Writing Barn and will be teaching the first 4-day Chapter Book Intensive on location at The Writing in Austin, Texas in November, 2020 with fellow chapter book author, Hannah Barnaby (Monster and Boy Holt). Go to thewritingbarn.com for further information about registration.

Marcie lives in San Diego, California. You can find her at www.thisismarciecolleen.com @MarcieColleen1 on Twitter.



Today's giveaway is a copy of Teapot Tales: Pirates, Mermaids and Monsters of the Sea. In order to be entered into the drawing for this prize, you must be a signed-up member of the challenge and comment on this blog post. Your comment will be assigned a number and the winner will be chosen by a random number generator at noon on March 31st, 2020 and announced later that day.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Writing Your Chapter Book by Melissa Stoller #ChaBooCha

For those of you getting a late start to your ChaBooCha story or needing to start from scratch, or even those who need some new, fresh ideas to keep their story going, we have this great post from Melissa Stoller to share with you today.

Image by Willgard Krause on Pixabay

by Melissa Stoller 

If it’s March – it must be Chapter Book Challenge 2020! I have written several posts for the Chapter Book Challenge, including Working Your Way Through Chapter Book Challenge 2017, How to Start Writing Your Chapter Book, How to Write a Chapter Book Series, and Brainstorming Ideas.  

In this post, I will offer some strategies for brainstorming, researching, and drafting your chapter book this month. Ready, set, CHABOOCHA! 

Determine the Book’s World – Brainstorm some specifics about the setting of your story’s world. Is it fiction? Are there non-fiction or historical elements? What are the rules in this world? How does it all work? Writing reference points for your story setting will enable you to remain true to your story’s world, and offer enriching details in your chapter book. 

Draft a Character Study – Know as much as possible about your characters before you write. What are their likes, dislikes, and goals? What are their favorite foods, games, books, movies, and friends? What are their quirks, fears, and embarrassments? How do they speak and relate to each other? Before I start writing, I do a character sketch and interview each main character. As I write, I refer back to these notes to ensure that my characters are interesting, relatable, and consistent throughout my books. 


For example, in my chapter book series THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION, Simon loves games, especially cards, food, and adventure. His twin sister Emma loves solving puzzles, chatting with people, and taking chances. They both love Molly, their grandmother’s dog. I use these characteristics and more as I draft scenes and dialogue. 

Plot Your Plot – Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. What obstacles will your characters face? How will they overcome those obstacles? What growth will take place during the story, both in the characters’ external journeys and also their internal journeys? Also, what themes are your including in your story? Think about how your plot and themes will resonate with young readers. 


Research – While my chapter book series is fiction, the stories also include historical elements. If possible, I visit the locations where the books take place. For example, when working on the first book in the series, RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, I visited Coney Island and the famous Cyclone roller coaster (but didn’t ride!). I also visited the Liberty Bell while writing THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, the second book in the series (releasing soon!). Recently, I travelled to Washington, D.C. to research at the Library of Congress while working on the third book in the series which is set there. 

If you can’t research in person, you can also research online. Book Two of my series also takes place in San Francisco, which I didn’t visit, but I did extensive research online using Google Maps, Newspapers.com, the U.S. National Archives online, and other sources. 

Outline Your Story – I start each book in my series with an outline of ten chapters, assuming each chapter will be roughly 500 words each. Even of you don’t normally outline, it might be helpful. As long as I have a detailed outline (which I often revise as I go along), I know that I’m headed in the right direction. 

Sit Down and Write – I usually start writing chapter one first, but when I move toward the middle of the story, I find that sometimes it’s easier to write the chapters out of order. Make sure you have page-turning transitions between chapters so the reader will keep reading, and enough action to move the story forward. I often put my chapter book project away between chapters so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. As I move along, I always think about setting, characters, plot, and themes, and I use my research and my outline to write. 

I hope this is a helpful framework in which to approach your chapter book project during the Chapter Book Challenge this month. 

Cheers to creativity! 



The first book in Melissa Stoller's chapter book series, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island was published by Clear Fork Publishing in 2017, and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride releases soon! Her picture books, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, Ready, Set and GOrilla! were published by Clear Fork in 2018. In other chapters of her life, she has worked as a lawyer, legal research and writing instructor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a volunteer with SCBWI/Metro NY, a blogger and Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for the Chapter Book Challenge, and a Moderator for the Debut Picture Book Study Group. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and their puppy Molly, who is a character in her chapter book series! http://www.melissastoller.com 

Connect with Melissa: 



Melissa has offered, as today's two separate prizes,a signed copy of her chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION - RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, plus a critique of the first three chapters of a chapter book manuscript. You must be a signed-up member of the challenge and comment on this post in order to be added to the drawing. The winners will be chosen by a random number generator at noon on March 31st, 2020 and announced later that day.

Friday 27 March 2020

What Laurie Did Right: Middle Grade Magic (And a mini-lesson in The Hero's Journey): Part 2 by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay
(And a mini-lesson in The Hero’s Journey)
by Alayne Kay Christian

PART TWO OF TWO: Acts Two and Three of The Hero’s Journey

Click on image to enlarge
In part one of What Laurie Did Right, we analyzed act one of Laurie Smollett Kutscra's middle grade book Misadventure's of a Magician's Son using The Heros' Journey plot structure as a guide. In part two, we will explore the remainder of the book. This post covers the middle and the ending the the story and part one covers the beginning. If you study The Hero's Journey diagram above, you will see that act two takes up about 50% of the story, The ending and the beginning take up about 25% each. But they all flow smoothly into each other.

 The purpose of the information I’m sharing is to give you some guidelines. I offer this structure to give you direction and a sense of pacing and to make sure that your story has purpose and cohesiveness with a strong beginning, middle, and end. Please don’t let this structure limit you and your creativity. In addition, I want to remind you that chapter books can also follow most of what I’m sharing. However, for the younger audience, the plot and sentence structures are much simpler and backstory should be avoided, or at the very least, limited.

What Laurie did Right—ACT TWO (midpoint and rising action) 

In my mind, with Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, the crisis at the midpoint is almost like another inciting incident or a call to action. About midpoint in the story, without losing any continuity with the first half of the story, the tension grows and the true adventure begins. Alex’s cards end up in the hands of thugs who mistreat them. Alex must figure out who took the cards and once he does, he is challenged with how to get them back. Act two is filled with danger, adventure, action, humor, friendship, self-discovery, and more! There’s even a great chase scene.

The second half of the story builds tension and entertains throughout—always pulling the reader forward. In addition, while Alex is making his way through obstacles, challenges, and adventures, Laurie seamlessly weaves in a very entertaining adventure for Joker and his little adopted dog Ferdinand. 

Next, I will explain more about what typically happens using The Hero’s Journey. It is a lot of information, so I will only slip in a little bit about what Laurie did right. However, if you read the book, you will be able to use these notes to complete the analysis.

Act Two, the Midpoint (Rising Action)

Act two of The Hero’s Journey is developed via rising action. This section is where the protagonist’s story starts to take form and tension is at its highest. Here, the reader gets to know the rest of the characters much better. It is clear who the allies and enemies are. And the obstacles and challenges keep coming. But all of this is leading to the biggest challenge of all. In the process, the protagonist begins to learn more about what lies ahead. He makes choices and decisions and then takes action. But do his plans always work? No. And this causes him to become more reactionary than proactive, which helps build tension.

At the Midpoint, something major happens—a crisis occurs—an event where things go horribly wrong. The stakes have never been higher. If the protagonist cannot resolve the problem that has occurred, he stands to lose everything.

In the case of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, the midpoint crisis is the disappearance of Alex’s precious cards. At this point, they have become like family to him. And they are his strongest connection to his father. If he can’t find the cards and get them back, he will not only be devastated and worse off than he was when he first moved to town (the point where the story began), he will also feel as though he has betrayed his father and perhaps even as though he has lost his father all over again. 

During Alex’s midpoint journey, first Alex achieves his highest, most rewarding, happiest moment in the book. And then the crisis happens. And for a time, he is totally lost. But this is what moves him from somewhat of a victim to a hero. Now he must be proactive and take control of the situation because if he doesn’t, who will? 

A great way to strengthen the reader’s emotional connection to your hero is to build an emotional rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs throughout the story. A strong emotional core is a perfect way to keep readers engaged. And Laurie does a fabulous job of that.

In Act Two of the Hero’s Journey, the hero is tested and confronted with obstacles in numerous ways, and he has a turning point. There are four steps in this part of the journey:

1) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
2) Approach to the Inmost Cave
3) The Ordeal 4) Reward (Seizing the Sword)

1. Tests, allies and enemies. Circumstances, other characters, obstacles, and the events encountered by the hero all create challenges that force changes and choices along his path. Once the hero is faced with his crisis, he works to solve it. But he tries and fails several times, and the failures create new problems. Here, the hero earns allies and meets enemies who will play a role in preparing him for the challenges yet to come. This is where his skills are tested. Each obstacle he faces helps readers gain deeper insight into his character, and over time, identify with him even more.

At this point in Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex isn’t only faced with the loss of his cards, he must face scary bad guys. He must rely on a new friend (Lindsay), Joker, and eventually the cards to help him. He must believe in his ability to do magic beyond anything he has ever done before. And with each step, he meets obstacles and even danger. 

2. Approach to the inmost cave. The hero prepares for his biggest challenge yet. There is something he must do, somewhere he must go, someone he must meet in order to reach a resolution. The hero often finds himself at another threshold where doubts and fears resurface. In my mind, this is another call to action—one that is even bigger than the one at the beginning of the story. It is bigger because the stakes are higher and the hero has much more to lose. At this time, in order to muster the strength, courage, and confidence to step over this threshold and onto the treacherous path ahead, the hero may take some time to reflect on his journey. During the time of the inmost cave, readers are also given a moment to take a little break and consider what has occurred and what might occur next. And the tension builds. The reader’s emotional connection to the hero grows.

Laurie does a beautiful job of giving Alex his inmost cave events. During this time Alex reflects on what has happened and what is about to happen, he practices magic, and he gets encouragement and support from Joker. But the best of the inmost cave moment is when Alex’s father comes to him in an amazing dream. 

3. The Ordeal. A crisis erupts, also known as the dark night of the soul, or the darkest moment. Some people see it as the rock-bottom moment. The hero is confronted by his worst fear - whether literal or symbolic. He believes all is lost. Here, the hero must draw on all the knowledge, skills, experiences, and even his allies that he has gathered throughout his journey to the inmost cave. These are the things that will help him meet and overcome his most difficult challenge. If he fails, all truly is lost from his perspective. His life will never be the same again.

This is the time that the protagonist prepares for the showdown or battle. The protagonist becomes more and more aware of the antagonist’s strength. And there is some doubt in the reader’s mind, too. The reader wonders if the main character will be okay and if he will ever succeed.

In Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex and friends prepare for the showdown. At this point, I believe Alex’s biggest fear is that he will never get his cards back. He has worried about this all along, but his fear grows when the possibilities of his plan to rescue his cards are threatened when the cards are locked in a safe. But even worse, he overhears one of the bad guys threatening to destroy Alex’s precious cards. 

4. Reward (Seizing the Sword). And then the battle begins. This is where the hero takes action on the choices and decisions that he has made via the inner climax that was driven by his darkest moment.

Regardless of Alex’s fears, he steps into battle. 

I’m going to be careful here and the rest of the way through by avoiding giving away too much of the ending and spoiling the story for readers.

After seemingly defeating the enemy and overcoming his challenges, Alex is now a stronger person, and he walks away rewarded on many levels. But his struggle isn’t over yet.

Wowza!!! I know that was a lot, but there is a lot that goes on in a hero’s journey, both internally and externally.

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, What Laurie did Right—ACT THREE (the road back and resolution)

Act three of The Hero’s Journey consists of three steps.

1) The Road Back
2) Resurrection
3) Return with the Elixir (Denouement)

Act Three, the Road Back/Resolution

As I’ve said before, Misadventures of a Magician’s Son doesn’t follow the The Hero’s Journey perfectly but it comes close.

1.The Road Back. At this part of the journey, just as the hero stepped over the threshold into the special world in the beginning, he will now step through that same door to return home to his ordinary world. But he returns home with the rewards and treasures that he earned along the path of his journey. However, as I said earlier, the struggle isn’t over yet. The hero (and the story) meet one last obstacle standing between him and his ordinary world. This is where the hero may have to make one last choice, and the choice is typically a point where he must choose between his own personal goal and another cause.

In the case of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Jack makes a request of Alex. And although Alex would prefer to go home and get on with his life, he can’t refuse Jack. So, he steps back into the special world one more time. And this is where that exciting chase scene comes in.

2. Resurrection. Some would say, when the resurrection occurs, this is the true climax. This battle goes beyond the hero’s personal world.

In Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex is purely concerned about the wellbeing of others when he risks going back into the special world. Of course, it is because he cares about Jack that he takes action, but the prize will be Jack’s and some others some other characters’, not Alex’s. If he fails, Jack and others will suffer. Laurie does a fabulous job of bringing readers into Alex’s fears, struggles, and hopes. If Alex succeeds, he will rise from this battle a new person. He will be reborn, so to speak.

3. Return with the Elixir (Denouement). In the final step of The Hero’s Journey, all the tension built through the last push back into the ordinary world is released. All loose ends of the plot are tied together. Any promises made to the reader have been fulfilled. Lessons are learned, and although the resolution may not be what was anticipated initially, the resolution is usually clear. Having learned many things and growing as a person, the hero returns home to his ordinary world a changed person with a new perspective. This is his final reward. The reader has a sense of satisfaction from observing the hero’s self-realization, or the end of his struggling. The resolution and return to the ordinary world represents three things to the hero and the reader:

1) Change
2) Success
3) And proof of the hero’s journey.

And as I’ve stated before, the hero will return to where he started, but things will never be the same as they were before he stepped onto the path of his journey.

I won’t share the final stage of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, but I will tell you that Laurie wraps this story up in a beautiful and perfect bow. Alex and some of the supporting characters (especially Jack and Joker) definitely experience growth and change. And Alex’s ordinary world will never be the same again. This is his new normal. 

During this post, I’ve mostly presented what happens on the surface (or externally) via action, adventure, and humor. But I think it is really important to emphasize the personal growth we see in Alex. He overcomes his internal struggles as well as his external. And he will never be the boy he was when he first arrived in that foggy harbor town again. He has changed, in a good way, forever.

These are some things that Laurie Smollett Kutscera did right. And how about that beautiful art?

Thank you again for inviting me to be a guest blogger, Becky. And thank you for offering children’s novel writers the motivation to get their books written.


Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions 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. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars, at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Alayne has spent the last thirteen years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature. Her latest picture book, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, is scheduled for release in May. It will be open for pre-orders soon. Her next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed, will be released later this summer. Alayne is also the author of the award-winning Sienna the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series. The next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble will be coming soon.


Thursday 26 March 2020

What Laurie Did Right: Middle Grade Magic (And a mini-lesson in The Hero's Journey) by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha

Image by by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay 
(And a mini-lesson in The Hero’s Journey)
by Alayne Kay Christian

PART ONE OF TWO: Act One of The Hero’s Journey

Thank you, Becky, for having me back again as a guest blogger for this very
important event—the Chapter Book Challenge. I usually offer my thoughts in a
“what NOT to do” type message. As I was thinking about what I wanted to share
for this year’s Chapter Book Challenge, Blue Whale Press’s latest middle grade
book, Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, came to mind. I thought of it for two

1) Because we recently released it for pre-orders, so it’s on my mind. It will be
released April 1!
2) It’s a great story.

Once that book came to mind, my thought was, Why not focus on what to do right?
And with that a blog post was about to be born. But I have a “little” quirk, which is
that I can easily get carried away when I’m analyzing stories and discussing writing
processes. And that’s exactly what I did here. I got so carried away, that Becky and
I decided to break my post into two parts. This post covers the beginning of
Misadventures of a Magician’s Son and the next one will cover the middle and

If you study The Hero’s Journey diagram below, you will see that act one only takes
up about 25% of the story.

So, what did Laurie Smollett Kutscera do right? I have a bit of a challenge here
because she did so many things right. Let’s see if I can put some of her middle
grade magic writing tricks in a logical order. 

I’ve decided that a good way to create some sort of order is to do a brief analysis
using “The Hero’s Journey” plot structure. I have no doubt this will show, in part,
what Laurie did right. But it’s not just the structure that makes Laurie’s creation
so appealing. As the book trailer says, this book has it all. It has surprises and
twists, setbacks and decisions/choices, and lots of growth on Alex’s part. It’s got
bad guys and good guys and funny guys. And an adorable dog. In addition to
magic, action, adventure, humor, great characters, and heart, Laurie has created
a unique world with unique characters. And that is what made her manuscript
standout from all the others that Blue Whale Press receives. Misadventures of a
Magician’s Son doesn’t fully follow The Hero’s Journey. But it comes close. The
purpose of plot structure formulas is to give writers guidelines, but you will find
that there are many books that don’t follow any of the formulas fully. The Hero’s
Journey is just one way to think about a story, so don’t let this structure limit you
and your creativity. I offer this structure to give you direction and a sense of
pacing and to make sure that your story has purpose and cohesiveness with a
strong beginning, middle, and end.

Before I move on, I want to say that chapter books can also follow most of
what I’m about to talk about. However, for the younger audience, the plot
and sentence structures are much simpler and backstory should be avoided, or
at the very least, limited. 

A recent review of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, written by Diane
Donavan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review, points out some of what Laurie
did right. She says, in part, the following: 
“. . .  Laurie Smollett Kutscera weaves a strong story of personal struggle and achievement into a tale that takes some unusual twists and turns as Alex continues to learn about the magic of human emotion, recovery, and resiliency from his unusual mentors: "Isn’t it possible everyone would appreciate you for who you are?” What could have been a singular story of a boy's special talents thus evolves into an unusual exploration of the roots of magic, ability, and support systems that come into play when loss changes one's familiar life patterns. . . .Readers who choose the book anticipating a dose of magical encounters will not be disappointed, while those who like interpersonal relationships, intrigue, and growth as subplots in their stories will find Misadventures of a Magician's Son holds an action-packed touch of all three to keep readers guessing about Alex's future and incredible adventure, right up to the end.”
Click on image to enlarge
Act One, Set up (Exposition and Inciting Incident)

Act one of any plot structure usually starts with setup. The setup is
accomplished via exposition, which introduces background information about
events, settings, characters, or other elements of a story to readers. The
purpose of this exposition is to assure that the story (and the story world)
makes sense to the reader. It’s all about setting the stage. Through exposition,
readers should get an idea of who the protagonist is, what everyday life is like,
and what’s important to the protagonist. It also gives readers a sense of the
challenges the main character is facing or is about to face. 

In The Hero’s Journey, the first step in act one is The Ordinary World. Here,
readers are introduced to the hero (protagonist) and his ordinary world. It
demonstrates what life was like before change began to happen.

In Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, the ordinary world is presented mostly
via Laurie’s skillful weaving of backstory into Alex’s current-day story. 

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, What Laurie did Right—STRONG
BEGINNING and hook.

This story starts right off with answering the question, “Who?” because the
very first words are “Alexander Finn.” Readers also get a sense that he is a
middle grader. We also get a sense of “Where?” because we know he has
moved from somewhere to Maine, and we start getting an idea of the setting
while we envision cobblestone streets, clapboard houses, and fog from the
harbor. We even get a sense of “What?” We know that Alex is moving into a
new home and that something is up with his father when a bittersweet
memory is revealed. All of this happens on the first page. All of this
information is offered in around eighty words! Laurie has informed readers
enough and created enough curiosity to make them want to turn the page
and enter the story.

On the next pages, Laurie sets the hook by filling in Alex’s story more and
by creating tension. We learn more about the “where”—600 miles from his
previous home. We learn that he has moved there with his mother. We get a
sense of Alex’s attitude toward this life change. We sense tension between
him and his mother. And, already on pages 2 and 3, we start building an
emotional connection to Alex. 

I won’t share what happens (you’ll have to read the book for that ;-) but on
pages 4 and 5 and into the rest of the first chapter, Laurie keeps tension
going, continues to inform the reader, and creates some mystery that pulls
curious readers forward. They are eager to turn pages and learn more. 

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, What Laurie did Right—THE CALL

Next in act one, comes the Inciting Incident. In The Hero’s Journey, this is
called The Call to Adventure.

Although Alex’s move to Maine is one of the incidents that removed Alex
from his ordinary life, chapter two reveals the thing that really sets Alex’s
story journey into motion. The magic deck of cards that his father left him
comes to life! Alex and readers first meet Joker, and we immediately get a
sense of who Joker is. Why? Because Laurie created a perfect voice for
Joker and she did a wonderful job of molding this funny and quirky
character (he’s actually my favorite character). But I digress. Alex and
readers meet the major-player card characters (The Queen and King of
Hearts and their son Jack) and then he meets the entire clan of animated
cards. From there, Alex learns that these cards know things about his
father that he doesn’t know. The chapter continues to inform the reader,
create curiosity, and strengthen readers’ emotional connection to Alex.

Using a cliffhanger, Laurie masterfully ends chapter two with a line that is
guaranteed to pull the reader into the next chapter. We are about to learn
what happened to Alex’s father.

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, What Laurie did Right—REFUSING

In the next chapter of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Laurie continues
to inform, and the more we learn, the more we want to keep reading. As the
readers’ emotional connection with Alex develops, and their understanding
about Alex’s father and the cards grows, readers want to know more. In this
chapter, Laurie didn’t even need to end it with a cliffhanger because the
whole chapter is a cliffhanger!

At the risk of wearing out the phrase, I would say the next six chapters have
it all: bullies, action, tension, magic, and even some humor. They carry
readers the slightest bit up Story Mountain and closer to the crisis point.
Here we learn more about Alex and the cards. We also learn more about
where Alex lives, and we experience his struggles with bullies, new
teachers, and performing in a magic show.

Laurie gets extra points for doing it right because five out of seven chapters
end with cliffhanger last lines. And in the two chapters that don’t have
cliffhanger endings, Laurie has masterfully created so many unanswered
questions and so much curiosity in readers’ minds that they will undoubtedly
be compelled to continue reading. 

I’m trying to avoid giving away too much because you would benefit so
much more from reading the book and studying it along with these notes.
But I thought I would take a minute to visit the steps in The Hero’s Journey,
and share a little bit how Laurie fit them into her story.

The next three steps in act one of The Hero’s Journey are:

1) Initial Refusal
2) Meeting with a Mentor
3) Crossing the Threshold

1. Initial Refusal means that the protagonist refuses to respond to the call to
adventure. This is usually due to things like fear, danger, and/or uncertainty.
So at this stage, the protagonist is a reluctant hero.

In addition to being fully resistant to embracing his new life, when one of
Alex’s teachers suggests that he participate in a talent show as a magician,
his first response is to refuse the challenge. 

2. Meeting the Mentor means that the story presents a source of wisdom
and guidance, and sometimes tools for the journey (it isn’t always literal—it
can be symbolic). At this crucial turning point where the hero desperately
needs guidance in order to begin his journey, he meets a mentor figure who
provides something he needs. Or maybe he is given an object of great
importance, or insight into the challenge he faces. Whatever the mentor
offers helps to chase away doubts and fears and give the protagonist the
strength and courage to take his step over the threshold into act two.

I would say Alex’s strongest mentor is the King Anton, the King of Hearts.
But Joker, Jack, and the Queen of Hearts all help him along the way.

3. Crossing the Threshold/Accepting the Call means that the protagonist
is ready to step into action. He steps over the threshold between his ordinary
world and, more or less, into the unknown (or special world). No matter
how the new world on the other side of that threshold is presented, this first
step symbolizes the hero’s commitment to his journey and his willingness to
face whatever the journey may bring his way.

So, in spite of his doubts and fears, with the help of his friends (mentors),
Alex finds himself on the talent show stage. I will let you read the book to
find out what happens next.


Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions 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. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Alayne has spent the last thirteen years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature. Her latest picture book, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, is scheduled for release in May. It will be open for pre-orders very soon! Her next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed, will be released later this summer. Alayne is also the author of the award-winning Sienna the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series. The next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy title, Cowboy Trouble, will be coming soon.


Today's prize is a copy of the first in our series of Teapot Tales anthologies, Teapot Tales: A Collection of Unusual Fairy Tales. To enter, you must be a signed-up member of the challenge and comment on this blog post. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator and announced after noon on March 31st, 2020.