One Writer’s Journey

July 10, 2020

How to Develop Your Picture Book Character

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:51 am
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Yesterday I posted about discovering just how badly I needed to develop one of the characters in my new picture book manuscript.  I knew  I needed to do it but I’d been waffling over how to do it.  I’m not a huge fan of mind maps but decided to give it a try when I saw the technique written up for the third time in a week.

Normally a mind map looks something like a flower.  A central idea is in the center.  Then you brainstorm and add idea “petals.”  In using a mind map to brainstorm about my character, I put his name in the middle.  “Freddie.”  Then, around that, I wrote five defining character traits.  I came up with “Dad,” “Grandad,” “Farmer,” “Engineer,” and “Introvert.”

Doesn’t sound much like a picture book character, does he?  He is a secondary character.  He is actually the only adult who has a part to play over multiple spreads.

Once I had the various roles he plays, I needed to write down what this means at the level of a picture book.  That’s when I came up with the personality traits like “watchful” and “earthy.”

If I hadn’t made myself sit down to do this brainstorming technique, I would not have considered the roles that Freddie plays other than “Grandad.”  I was only thinking of him in terms of my younger characters.  But really he needs to be a whole lot more than that to be a three-dimensional part of my story.

From the roles I came up with traits that will impact how he interacts with my young characters.  These traits will also shape how he expresses himself, from dialogue to gestures.

Take a look at your work-in-progress.  Find a character you need to flesh out and try using a mind map.  The results might surprise you.


July 9, 2020

Why Writers Should Attend Illustration Workshops

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:31 am
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What shape represents each of your characters?

Earlier this week, I watched the archive of an SCBWI digital workshop with illustrator/author Vashti Harrison.  I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the event and almost clicked it off but I was rowing and didn’t want to slow down or stop so I let it play.

Am I ever glad that I did!

Harrison discussed the things that she considers before working up a character.  Then she encouraged listeners, even authors, to make simple sketches of their characters.  Can’t draw?  No worry.  She recommended just sketching a shape.

Since I was rowing, I didn’t take the time to sketch then but I ran through what shape would represent each character in my latest picture book manuscript.  One character is a jagged lightning bolt – fast, bold and brazen, tall and thin.  Another character is a rectangle, almost as wide as it is tall – solid, dependable, sturdy, and stocky.  The third character is s spiral – always moving but also changing direction, light and perhaps a bit flighty.

But what about character #4?  This character is a secondary character but I also realized that I have absolutely no clue what shape would represent this character.  I just don’t know enough about him.  He’s an adult character but he is also the only adult character who features in multiple spreads.  He needs to have a bit more personality.  I think he may be more of a rectangle than a lightning bolt but I need to put some thought into it.  I don’t want to settle instead of taking the time to really consider this particular character.

Even if you don’t plan to illustrate your work, take the time to watch an illustrator’s workshop every now and then.  They will encourage you to think differently about the stories you create.  In the process, they may help you spot a problem or two you need to solve such as the need to make a character multidimensional and complex.


July 8, 2020

Writer Wanted: Three Things I Learned Reading a PW Job Ad

Publisher’s Weekly is looking for a writer-at-large go cover “diversity, equity, and inclusion in the book business in addition to general trade news for both print and digital.”  The person will have to write 4-6 pieces a month at a rate of $0.50/word.  To find out how to apply, check out their full ad.

I have to admit that when I saw the ad, I got really excited.  I e-mailed myself the link.  And then I kept going on the treadmill.  By the time I was done I had learned the first of three lessons.

Not for Me

It hit me that I didn’t want to write these pieces so much as I wanted to read them.  I e-mail myself a wide variety of job ads and writing opportunities.  Many of them languish in my in-box and I’ve come to realize that the same problem is probably behind all of these “ignored” opportunities.  This interests me as a reader, not as a writer.

More to Avoid 

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that early readers probably fall under this heading as well.  As much as I love Mr. Putter and Tabby and Henry and Mudge, I’ve puttered but not seriously attempted early readers.  This type of writing always feels a bit tedious and while I can eventually pull a piece off every now and then, I’m fairly certain that my lack of enthusiasm shows.

Experimentation a Must

My sweet spot is writing for teens and tweens.  Writing for an 8th grade reading level iis natural to me and I’ve got a snarky, irreverant take on things that teens seem to appreciate.

That said, I get bored if I do the same thing all the time.  That means that I need to experiment and I may well find something else that is a good fit for my skills.

Many things fascinate me.  Fortunately I’m not obligated to do them all.


July 7, 2020

3 Ways to Get Back into a Project

One of the mysteries I listened to.

About a month ago, I tried to get back into my cozy.  I want to finish a draft this year but other obligations meant that I hadn’t touched it in months.  When I tried to sit down and write, I immediately hit a wall.  I looked at my last manuscript page.  I looked at my beat sheet.  But it was like I was looking at someone else’s story.  I had no clue what to write next.  It was going to take some effort to get back into the project.  Here are five things you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Read what you’ve written.

This one took a bit of time because I had 188 manuscript pages between my outline and my manuscript.  As I started to read, I pulled my keyboard toward myself to rework something . . . whoa!  What I needed to do was read and reintroduce myself to the story.  No fixing.  No reworking.  So I e-mailed it to myself to read while on the treadmill.  I have a wireless keyboard but HATE keying while walking because I am catastrophically clutzy.  No really.  I am Legend.

Read your genre.

I also requested a couple of cozy myteries from the library.  That way I could sit and listen while knitting, keeping my hands busy but sliding back into the genre.  Although I love historic mysteries, I stuck with contemporary cozies since that is what I’m writing.

Return to what inspired you.

Part of my inspiration was choir.  In fact, that was a huge part of my inspiration.  But we haven’t sung together since February.  I’ve been seeking out Youtube videos of hymns, gospel music, and contemporary Christian songs.  If your inspiration was a particular painting, a type of food, or a movie, experience it again.

This was enough to get me going again.  I’ve added 1,874 words to my manuscript.  Another 23,200 words and I should have a full draft.  Wish me luck!



July 6, 2020

3 Things to Remember When Rebooting a Classic

Every now and again, as you read a book you realize the author has reimagined a classic story.  In this case, I just finished A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney.  In McKinney’s novel, Alice enters Wonderland to fight Nightmares.  By eliminating them in the dreamland she keeps them from entering the human world where they can and do wreak havoc.

There is definitely a right way to reboot a classic and McKinney has done it right.  If this is something you are considering, here are three things to remember.

Start with the Best

The more well known the original story, the better.  You want your readers get it and that means they have to actually remember the original.  The more well known this story is, the greater the chance this will happen.  That means that you should go with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Jabberwocky before you select What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.  Why?  Because it won’t matter how strong your parallels are if no one knows the original work.  You want them to realize what you have done.

Find the Heart of the Story

If you are going to remake a classic, you are going to have to make serious changes.   Before you start deciding what you want to change, find the heart of the story. In addition to Alice’s adventures and all the nonsense, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is loss of innocence, change, and death.  All of these themes come into play in A Blade so Black as do some of the characters and symbols and the nonsense word play.  But it works instead of seeming redundant because McKinney made this story 100% original.

Make It Your Own

Sure there are similarities to Alice in Wonderland but McKinney didn’t just reimagine this story with a black Alice.  Alice is more Buffy than she is Alice as imagined by Lewis Carroll.  She is also into cosplay, music and oh so many things that make this story truly contemporary.  McKinney may have borrowed framework from Carroll but she completely renovated and reshaped this story.

This is definitely what you want to do if you decide to rework a classic.


July 3, 2020

4th of July: Recharging and Regrouping

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:30 am
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Normally the 4th is a time to be spent with family.  But social distancing has put a kink in that.  The good news is that the verteran’s home where Dad lives is reopening to visits (outdoors/social distancing) on Monday.  Maybe that’s why I’m feeling ready to tackle my writing.

And that’s a good thing because two of my goals for the year have been languishing.  I want to finish the first draft of my mystery but when I tried to work on it a few weeks ago, I realized that I just didn’t remember enough.  I needed to reread all 180 pages that I’d written so far.

I just finished that yesterday and I am definitely ready to write.

I also set a goal to query agents.  A few weeks ago, I noticed a pattern.  I am very, very skilled at putting off querying.  Either I need to find one more agent so that I can query 3/4/5 at once, or somehow this agent is less than perfect and so I just don’t query.

Recognizing this pattern was half the battle.  I found an agent that interested me, so I queried.

It feels odd to be goal setting and ramping up to write in July.  Isn’t this a January activity?

But now feels right.

The boy is training for a new job.  When he gets off work, we’re going to do a nice dinner.  In reality, we are doing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We may not get to spend the whole day together, but we will enjoy the evenings that are available to us.

I don’t know what your holiday weekend holds but I hope you find in it what you need!


July 2, 2020

3 Thing You Must Do to Get Published

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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I am assuming that in spite of all that 2020 has thrown as us, there are two or three people out there who want to publish.  Here are the three things you need to do to see that happen.


I get it.  It is hard to write in 2020.  But if you want to publish you need to write.  If you don’t write, you won’t have anything to publish.

Like me, you may be half way through a manuscript that feels untethered.  My story is set in a present that no longer exists.  My friend Margo Dill was putting the finishing touches on her book on school visits when her market evaporated.

When what you were working on before feels pointless, change gears and writing something new.  I’m going to finish drafting my manuscript but I’m also going to work on some things to give away on my site.



I’ve had one or two pieces come together with very little rewriting, but 90% of the time rewriting is vital.  I need to build up tension, cut extraneous details, and otherwise polish my writing.

But. . . but . . .

Nope.  That’s the way of it.  Sometimes you end up having to make big changes.  I once had an editor suggest during a conference critique that two characters shouldn’t just be siblings.  They should be twins.  But that’s not what I was doing!  And yet, I could immediately see the possibilities that would come into play with this enormous change.

Keep yourself and your story open to possibilities.


Get Your Work Out There

You cannot publish if you don’t get your work out there.  Even if people aren’t buying, make your work available.  Last week, I watched an interview (see below) with graphic novelist Svetlana Chmakova.  Before getting the contract for her graphic novels, she wrote a web comic.

An editor saw her work, liked it, and invited her to submit a proposal.

Writing isn’t enough.  Rewriting isn’t enough.  You have to find a way to get your work out there were people can see it.


July 1, 2020

Three Things I Learned about Setting Goals from Octavia Butler

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:36 am
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Recently I told a friend that’s I just learned about the writing of Octavia Butler.  No, it isn’t because she is black and I read no black authors growing up.  It is because I didn’t read any fantasy until I was in middle school.


And then I met a group of kids who introduced me to fantasy.  So I read the same books that they did, the ones on their parents shelves.  Tolkien and Heinlein and McCaffrey.  I still adore McCaffrey.  And then someone on the Gutsy Great Novelist boards said that she wanted to write like Octavia Butler.  And the next week someone on Twitter mentioned an inspirational story by Octavia Butler.  Then this week I saw an Open Culture post about a motivational note that Octavia Butler wrote to herself.  Me?  I think I’m meant to learn something from her since I’ve heard about her so often lately.

So I read through her motivational note and here are three things I learned about setting goals.

Be Specific

She didn’t write I want to be a world-class writer.  What would be considered world class?  No, she was specific.  “I shall be a bestselling writer. After Imago, each of my books will be on the bestseller lists of LAT, NYT, PW, WP, etc.”  Her goal was to be a bestselling author with her books on these specific lists.

Dream Big

So often we are told to set “managable goals” or goals that we have control over.  Don’t say I am going to publish a bestseller.  Instead say I am going to write 500 words a day.  Those serving-sized goals weren’t enough for Octavia Butler and maybe they shouldn’t be enough for us either.

Cheer Yourself On

There are going to be days when you may be your only advocate.  Be prepared to cheer yourself on.  In the words of Octavia Butler, “So be it! See to it!”



June 30, 2020

4 Cognitive Functions: Use All to Strengthen Your Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:56 am
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Last week, I saw an interesting piece by K.M. Weiland about using all 4 cognitive functions to strengthen your writing.  First things first, I had to find out what they are.  Here is a bit on each and how to build them up.


As explained by Weiland, intution is an abstract quality.  Think instinct or hunch.  For me, it is all about making logical leaps and connections.

Develop intuition by learning by noodling over your work and looking for patterns.  Play off your hunches and pay attention when you have the feeling that something just is not working.


Sensing goes with intuition but stands in contrast to it.  Intuition is abstract.  Sensing is about the concrete.  What do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel?

Develop this by practicing using your senses in a variety of situations.  It is tempting to rely on sight when we describe something so make a point of working the other senses into your story or description.


In spite of the term “thinking,” this isn’t all about thoughts.  It is about weighing, evaluating, and organizing information.

Develop this by writing.  Plot out that novel.  Learn to judge whether or not you’ve made logical leaps in your writing or if your claims are balanced and precise.


Feeling is often seen as “only” emotion.  Ironically, as Weiland points out, during times like we are experiencing in 2020, many people shy away from their feelings as simply too raw and weighty.  But we need a certain amount of emotion in our writing because it is something that readers connect with.

Develop feeling in your writing by looking for the emotional truth.  This doesn’t mean that you have to go for big, overdrawn emotion but readers can identify with a character that is unlike themselves in many ways through common emotion.

Do you rely on all four cognitive functions in your writing?  Most of us favor some at the expense of others.  Figure out which are your strengths so you know which ones you need to develop.


June 29, 2020

Writing Challenge: In One Word Poem

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:05 am
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I only recently read April Halprin Wayland’s post about writing an “In One Word” poem.  If you write poetry, please don’t be offended when I refer to this as a fun challenge.  I’m not belittling poetry!   But since I don’t write it for sale, it is fun writing.  It is something I do for the pleasure of creation.  There’s no pressure to sell.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way on to the “In One Word” poem.  And I have to admit that I initially misunderstood the challenge.  I thought you had to write a poem based on a single word with the word at the end of each line meaning the same thing as your word.  While you could do that, it would be something else.

In this challenge, first you pick a word.  It can be something that irritates you, inspires you or that you are curious about.  The longer the word is the better.  Once you have chosen your word, for example MISUNDERSTOOD, you write out all the words that can be made from those letters.  So for misunderstood, I would include:

  • under
  • stood
  • mist
  • mud
  • mood
  • stun
  • sun
  • son
  • rod
  • rode
  • room

I was fairly impressed with this list until I looked up “misunderstood” on Word Maker.  Apparently you can make 1701 words from the letters found in “misunderstood.”  Obviously, I missed “undestood” which I might want to use.  But I also missed “urine.”  I really don’t see myself needing that one.

You can write your poem line by line.

Or you can do what Wayland suggests and write it in a single paragraph as a prose poem and then add your line breaks.

Here is my first attempt at an “In One Word Poem.”

He stood before the crowd hoping to stun.  His words flowed the sounds rising and falling until he stopped. The mood had grown sour.  How could they have misunderstood?

Formatting it with the line breaks, it woudl be:


He stood
before the crowd hoping to stun.
His words flowed, the sounds
rising and falling until he stopped. The mood
had grown sour.
How could they have misunderstood?

I’m not going to claim brilliance but someone is shooting off enormous fireworks.  Not the bright sparkly kind.  Just boom, Boom, BOOM.

Hmm.  Maybe I should do one with the word “fireworks.”  After all, I’d have 170 words to work with.



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