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Archive for the ‘Story Arc’ Category

Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

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HOLIDAY GIFTAWAYS (1)

What’s in Lottie’s Wagon?

With the holidays coming, I’m offering contests with prizes and random giftaways to kid lit writers and illustrators  as a thank you for always supporting me, Blue Whale Press, and our authors and illustrators. Last week, our giftaway offered four ARCs for No Bears Allowed by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Tara J. Hannon. The first place winner will also win a 15-minute “first impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone or Skype. There is still time to get in on the fun! The deadline for the photo caption contest is December 4. The first week, we offered four ARCs for Randall and Randall by Nadine Poper and illustrated by Polina Gortman. And this week, we are offering even more!

This week, we are giving away, for first prize, a hardcover pre-release proof for Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book, Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a 15-minute “first-impressions” picture book critique from me (Alayne) via phone of Skype. For second through fourth places, we will be giving away a softcover Who Will? Will You? ARC to three winners. If you aren’t familiar with Who Will? Will You? you can view the fun book trailer below.

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“A fun, unexpected conclusion teaches kids not only about shore life, but about what makes a welcoming home for a stray. Kids who love beaches and parents who love thought-provoking messages will find “Who Will? Will You?” engrossing and fun.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

My goal is to have weekly contests until we run out of prizes. So watch for more Holiday Giftaways–books, critiques, bundles of ARCs, and some other great things.

The beauty of writing contests is it gives you a possible start for your next picture book. So, it is never a waste of time.

Following is the picture book trailer.

Following is a short peek at the Who Will? Will You? activity book for teachers, parents, and librarians

The Contest—WHAT’S IN LOTTIE’S WAGON?

  1. Write a 100-word story about what’s in Lottie’s wagon. The story must include the words pup, beach, help, and of course wagon and Lottie. Any form of the words is acceptable—for example: puppy, puppies, beachfront, beach ball, helpful, helping and so on. The title is not included in the 100 words. You can go under, but not over.
  2. It should be appropriate for children ages twelve and under.
  3. Your story can be serious, funny, sweet, or anything in between. It can be written in poetry or prose, but it must include those 3 words.
  4. NO ILLUSTRATION NOTES PLEASE! Keep reading beyond the following image, there are more steps you must take.

 

  1. Post the above photo with your story on your blog, along with a blurb about the contest and a link to this blog.
  2. IMPORTANT! Along with the story you paste into comments, add your name and your blog post-specific link (post-specific link not your blog’s main url because if you put up a new post on your blog after your entry during the dates of the contest, the judges will find the wrong post!)
  3. Post between now and Saturday, December 14 by 11:59 PM EDT
  4. If you don’t have a blog, just leave your name and paste your story in a comment, explaining you don’t have a blog. But please share the a blurb about the contest and the link in social media.
  5. If you have difficulty posting in the comments, which unfortunately sometimes happens, you may email your entry using the contact form on my blog or at alaynecritiques at gmail dot com, and I’ll post it for you. Please place your entry in the body of the email including your title and byline at the top – NO ATTACHMENTS!
  6. Please submit your entry only ONCE.
  7. By entering this contest, you agree that if you win, and you like the book, you will post an Amazon review.

The Judging

Judging criteria will be as follows:

  • Kid appeal—something the twelve and under reading audience will enjoy and relate to.
  • Originality and creativity.
  • Humor, heart tugging, or thought provoking.
  • Wow factor—something that makes the story stand out from all the others.
  • Following the directions thoroughly. Very important. Not following directions may result is disqualification.
  • Winners will be announced on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter on Sunday, December 8.

The Prizes

First place:

A pre-release proof (hardcover) of Who Will? Will You? along with a picture book critique from the author of the book Sarah Hoppe, PLUS a fifteen-minute “first impressions” critique from me (Alayne) via Skype or telephone. Learn more about Sarah here and more about Alayne here.

If outside of the U.S., the prize will be an e-ARC and Alayne’s critique will have to be Skype or written.

Second Through Fourth Place:

A softcover ARC of Who Will? Will You?

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experiment

THE EXPERIMENT IS OVER. For an explanation, see my next blog post here.

Last week I offered a new webinar with a mini course in plot and arc as well as a very informative discussion on ten reasons for manuscript rejection, which also teaches about writing kid lit. I know that I’m offering valuable information, and I thought that I was offering it at a reasonable price. However, I got very little response. Also last week, I was following a thread about someone wanting to start a new course, and a couple people asked, “Can you make it affordable?” I tried to engage those people in a discussion on what affordable means to them, with no luck. But it got me thinking . . . affordable probably means something different to everyone.

I thought about doing a poll. Then I decided to try an experiment. What if I offered the webinar for anyone to watch with a request that they contribute what they would consider affordable? I know this means it will be free to some, $5.00 to others, and maybe $25.00 or more to others.

My goal has always been to offer services, courses, and webinars that may be affordable to those who cannot afford the more pricey services, courses, and webinars. I would love to offer everything I do for free, but my time and knowledge are valuable to me, and I want to respect that to some degree. So, for now, with these Writing for Children Webinars, I want to try an experiment and offer this first webinar on a donation basis. So, you will find the link to the video below. You can get a bigger screen in YouTube by putting it in theater mode. Once you watch the webinar, if you have found value in it, please donate whatever works for you at https://paypal.me/BlueWhalePress. Also, please note with your payment that it is for the EXPERIMENT.

THE VIDEO LINK HAS BEEN REMOVED.  If you would still like to watch the webinar, see my next blog post here.

 

If you found this webinar valuable, please DONATE HERE and note that it is for the EXPERIMENT.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. And boy do I have some good reasons for that.

Reason #1

In 2016, my husband and I sold our home, bought a motor home, and began a two-year journey across America. It was the experience of a lifetime! I saw places and things I never thought I’d see, and I saw places and things that I didn’t even know existed.

bus new

Our home for two years. We lived everywhere!

Reason #2

Just as we were winding down and planning on settling back into a traditional home, we decided to resurrect Blue Whale Press—a publishing company my husband had started many years ago.

sold

New journey on the way!

Reason #3

I’ve been busy as the content and developmental editor and creative director for Blue Whale Press. We have spent the last nine months or so, taking submissions, acquiring books, editing, and designing books. We have moved into our new home in Texas, and we are super excited about the Blue Whale Books that will be released this year. You will be seeing more posts about Blue Whale Press and our books in the near future. For now, if you would like to learn more, visit the Blue Whale Press website. Be sure to visit the “about” page.

 

blue-whale-press-logo-web2

 

ANNOUNCEMENT!

Through Blue Whale Press, I am also launching Writing for Children Webinars and Courses: The place to learn about children’s book writing and publishing.

 

writing for children webinars and courses

 

Our first webinar is Top Ten Reasons for Rejection (and what you can do about it.) It includes a mini course on writing with a classic arc. See the short video below to learn more. Payment instructions below the video.

 

 

BEFORE CLICKING TO PAY, READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS BELOW. If you would like to view the webinar, click here to pay. Once payment is received, you will be sent a link for the webinar. If you would like the webinar link sent to a different email than the one used for PayPal, please put it in the notes section at time of payment.

If you have questions or need help with the payment, you can contact me by clicking on the “contact” tab at the top of this page, message me on Facebook or Twitter. Or message me here.

Follow Writing for Children’s Webinars and Courses on Facebook to stay informed about new webinars and courses and specials.

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