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Posts Tagged ‘Episodic storytelling’

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we believe it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. When we last left off with the Wisdom series, we talked all about writing outstanding first lines and beginnings (part1, part 2, part 3). Now it’s time to tackle middles. I struggled with words to describe a good middle and my favorite words were “captivating” “compelling” and “engaging.” They all have similar meanings. If your middle doesn’t compel readers to keep turning pages, it probably needs some tweaking or a rewrite. The same goes for engage or captivate. What will make your readers want to keep reading? With my many years as a professional critique writer and the former acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, I can tell you that you can have the best beginning and ending, but if the middle doesn’t keep the story train on the track, the story will never survive.

This month, I’m excited to share our wise authors’ many fabulous tips and examples for writing strong middles. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ middles, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Today’s post will focus on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. Ellen Leventhal and I were on the same wavelength, so we both wrote about cause and effect. Probably no surprise, but my portion is quite long, so I’ll start with Ellen’s wonderful thoughts and examples and then finish with my mini-lesson for writing middles. Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Beth Anderson’s fantastic book TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President House (illustrated by S.D. Shindler) is coming into the world on October 5!

Congratulations, Beth.

TAD LINCOLNS RESTLESS WRIGGLE FC

My friend and fellow Word Birds 2021 member Nancy Churnin has two new babies being born!

DEAR MR. DICKENS (illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe) with a birth date of October 1 and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg) with a birth date of October 5.

Congratulations, Nancy!

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

Congratulations!

My longtime critique partner and friend Hannah Holt’s fun, funny, and educational picture book A HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: With Professor Chicken (illustrated by Korwin Briggs) is now available for preorder.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Final Cover Underwear_Medium

Now for some words of writing wisdom. . . .

Words of WisdomTHE MIDDLE SHOWS US HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER GOT TO THE END

by Ellen Leventhal

Somewhere between the excitement of those glorious first lines and the relief of coming up with a satisfying ending, something has to happen. With picture books, we don’t have much time or space to bridge those two, but the middle IS the story. It’s the journey, and that’s true whether you are utilizing a traditional arc or something a little different. We still need to see the character move forward toward that end. When I teach writing to kids, I talk a lot about cause and effect. For example, in my book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, I first jotted down the following. Because there was a flood (cause) Charlotte lost her possessions, and her home was ruined.(effect) Because her home was ruined, (cause) she had to go to a shelter (effect). I did that for each scene until the cause and effect got us to the ending. It would be so much easier to say something like, “Charlotte’s house flooded, but she learned that doing kindness for others would help her heal, so she gave a boy her teddy bear.” Easy, but not a story. The middle is where we learn all about Charlotte, her emotions, obstacles, and growth. It tells us HOW she got to the end.

I don’t always approach middles that way, but when I do, I come up with different cause and effect scenarios. I think about all the different ways my character could reach the ending. How do I want my character to achieve the goal? Or not achieve her original goal? Once I choose a path, I begin to write. I work on flow and transition, always asking myself questions such as, does this work with the beginning? Does it lead to the outcome? Do I want to change the outcome? Is it child-friendly?

This is just one trick in the toolbox of writing middles, and to be honest, it doesn’t always seamlessly lead to a satisfying ending. But that’s ok because, as we all know, writing is revising.

The middle has the power to bring our character to life and truly bring us on the journey with her. It’s where we see her emotions and obstacles. It’s where the reader hopefully connects with the character. Writing the middle is not easy, but when that messy middle flawlessly brings us to our satisfying ending, it’s magic.

WK_FloodOfKindness_Cover_2 (002) Official

SOLID MIDDLES VS FRACTURED MIDDLES

by Alayne Kay Christian

I went through the Art of Arc course to see if I could choose just a couple top tips, but there is so much that goes into writing compelling middles that it was difficult to choose. However, the fact that I dedicate two full lessons to the topics of cause and effect and episodic stories convinced me to share some already existing blog posts on these very important topics. You will find the links below. These two posts don’t only have a wealth of information, they offer worksheets and ways to test if your story is episodic. These are old posts, so any deals or giveaways are no longer valid.

EPISODIC STORIES AND CAUSE AND EFFECT

FRACTURED MIDDLES

What would a Dachshund look like without a middle? A school bus? The Eiffel Tower? Imagine just about anything without a middle, and what do you get? What if the Dachshund, school bus, or the Eiffel Tower look like if they had a weak middle? What if the middles of the Dachshund, school bus, or Eiffel Tower were disconnected from the beginning and ending of your story? In the following video, I have a little fun demonstrating solid middles vs fractured middles using crude and wacky drawings.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

CAUSE AND EFFECT RUFFLE

In the following video I do a clumsy ruffle demonstration explaining how a solid cause and effect thread vs a broken one can impact your story’s middle.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE (a little something extra)

EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER v3

I love picture books that offer an emotional roller coaster ride. Since, I already have an example that I did for a few recent manuscript critiques using the book THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, I share the PDF via the following link Middles Those Shoes. This example highlights the many wonderful ups and downs this story ride offers. In addition, it points out the links in the cause and effect chain. This analysis is a good example of one way to use published books as mentor texts.

The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride are usually created by tension that results from obstacles/conflict/struggles. As I was going through Art of Arc’s lessons about writing middles, the following blurb jumped out at me. I thought it worth sharing as I end my portion of this post and start preparing my next blog post with more great words of wisdom from our blog team.

Straightforward and struggle-free stories, with no apparent consequences or sense of what might happen if the main character doesn’t succeed, will generally lose a reader’s attention. But when obstacles (conflict) create struggles and force the main character to make choices and decisions, the story is taken in new and exciting directions. This engages the reader.”

I can’t wait to share more good news and the treasure trove of wisdom about middles from our other wise authors. Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Kirsti Call, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, Rob Sanders, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

REMINDER SEASON OF KINDNESS

Before I move on to the video, I want to remind everyone that your opportunity to win fabulous prizes for you, your children, or your classroom will end on October 1. The Season of Kindness guidelines can be found here. I hope you’ve been working on creating kindness, and I will be pleasantly surprised in the coming days when you share your acts of kindness in comments.

CHECK OUT THESE FABULOUS PRIZES

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity, humor, fun, kind acts, bonus book photos, and following the guidelines accurately. The top eight winners’ names will be drawn from a hat randomly, and prizes will be offered in an elimination process. So, the first name drawn from the hat will have the first pick of the 8 prizes. The next person will choose from the remaining seven prizes, and the third will pick from the remaining six prizes, and on and on.

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12X12 NINJAOne of the many benefits of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 group is the Manuscript Makeover section in the 12 x 12 forum. Members post their picture book manuscripts in the forum and critique ninjas pop in and offer critiques. Last month, I had the pleasure of being a critique ninja. I’ll be returning in September for another month as ninja. There are many talented writers in 12 x 12, and I read lots of stories – some fun, some funny, some touching – all creative. I found a pattern in many of the stories I read. They had elements of episodic storytelling.

 

Following, I provide a brief overview of episodic storytelling in an abbreviated lesson from my online picture book manuscript writing and analyzing course Art of Arc.

 

Rising Chaos

 

A while back, in response to a critique I had done for a chapter book, the author responded, in part, with the following:

 

“For me, rising action means adding story problems! Rising chaos!”

 

That’s one way I would describe an episodic story. While the story might be entertaining dogand move forward, it meanders. An episodic story reminds me a bit of the expression, “The tail wagging the dog.” For a while, the story is taken over by some fun and entertaining scene(s), but eventually it has to get back to the story as a whole – the one with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. The entertainment is the tail – the dog is the main character who is being wagged by the tail – and as a result, your reader is also being wagged by the tail.

 

The story takes the reader down a meandering path that is disconnected from the other parts of the story. Perhaps the path is loosely connected because the protagonist is involved and there is some sort of loose connection to the character’s problem. But the question to consider is, how connected is each scene to the scene that came before and the scene that follows?

 

The goal in a picture book with a classic arc is to have scenes flow seamlessly, building off each other until they are so blended you don’t even notice the changes that lead up to the end.

 

In an episodic story, the scenes often feel disconnected.

 

The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.

Whackamole

In the picture book manuscripts I critique, I often find main characters taking action, going from one place (or one thing) to another with no real reason. It’s a little bit like the main character is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. To the reader, it feels like the main character is spending all his time reacting to any obstacle that pops up. He has no real plan or reason for his actions – no real direction. Episodic stories lack focus and direction. Many times circumstances or other characters drive the direction the story takes, and the main character seems to go along for the ride. We see no change or growth in the scenes or in the story. One way that change and growth are revealed is through decisions.

 


SOME WAYS TO TEST YOUR PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT FOR EPISODIC ELEMENTS

 

DOES IT MATTER WHERE EACH SCENE APPEARS IN THE STORY?

 

With storylines built via cause and effect, scenes rely on each other to tell the story and to build tension. What if you moved your scenes around? Would the plot change? If it doesn’t matter where a particular scene happens in the story, it is likely episodic.

 

ARE SCENE GOALS RELATED TO THE STORY GOAL (larger plotline)?

 

Although scenes stand alone, they also need to be steps in the story plot. How does each scene advance the story (related to the plot as a whole)? Does the resolution or discovery made at the end of one scene set things up for the next? Or stated differently, does the next scene start with something that stemmed from the prior scene – an event, a decision, an action – and then move on to something new that leads to the next scene?

 

IS THE RISING ACTION, RISING CHAOS?

 

Are the main character’s challenges independent problems that create a meaningless (as related to the big story problem) obstacle course for the main character?  How can the challenges all be connected to the common thread of the story? Resist causing unnecessary trouble for the main character. Even when the trouble is entertaining, fun, and exciting, if it doesn’t have “whole story” purpose, it is probably episodic.

 

Each of the main character’s challenges should involve the following:

 

  • Overcoming the obstacle for that portion of the story.
  • Have significance to the bigger story. Remember, the main character has a big story goal and then smaller goals as the story builds. The smaller goals should not be too far removed from the big goal.

 

IS THERE A GOAL DRIVING THE SCENE?

 

Why is the main character in this scene? Why is he taking action? Is he taking intentional action or is he just reacting with no goal in mind?

 

DO THE SCENES INFORM THE READER?

 

  • What will the reader learn about the story (as a whole)?
  • What will the reader learn about the main character?
  • Do these events and actions move the plot forward in a way that makes the reader care about the main character, become curious, want to know more?
  • What is the purpose of the scene?

 

At the end of this post you will find a couple of links that will lead to excellent posts on episodic writing. Although they are not about picture book writing, they still help clarify what an episodic story is and why it can be problematic. Although some people write episodic stories intentionally, I believe there is no room for episodic storytelling in picture books. Young children do not have the attention span to follow the chaos that is created in such a story.

 

Let me be clear about the above statement. I am talking about classic stories. There are picture books that may seem episodic, and at times that’s okay. Concept picture books are a good example. The reason these books can be episodic is because they are built around a theme or concept. Take a look at THE BELLY BOOK by Fran Manushkin or EVERYBODY SLEEPS (BUT NOT FRED) by Josh Schneider. Many of the events in these books could have happened at any point within the book (or story). But these books are not built around a classic arc. Every story you write will NOT need to be analyzed for episodic elements. However, if the story you are writing is built around a classic arc with rising action and cause and effect, watch for episodic elements.

 

In the Art of Arc Course, I list some books in the cause and effect section that have somewhat episodic segments, but they are still built around cause and effect. NO DAVID, by David Shannon and WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, by Ellen Javernick are a couple. Although many of the segments could appear anywhere in the book, these segments each have their own cause and effect.

 

In NO DAVID, David’s actions lead to a reaction from his mother. But eventually the sum of the events lead to a reaction from David and that event leads to the final reaction from his mother.

 

In WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, each time that question is asked the reader sees the effect.

 

In BECAUSE I STUBBED MY TOE, by Shawn Byous you will find a perfect example of how important the order of events can be. Everything that happens in this story is a result of the boy stubbing his toe, but it is also the result of the event that came before it. This is a true cause and effect book.

Copyright Alayne Kay Christian 2016

LINKS TO ARTICLES ON EPISODIC WRITING

 

Plotting Problems – Episodic Writing

By Marg McAlister

http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/plottingproblems.html

 

From Moody Writing

Episodic Storytelling is a problem

http://moodywriting.blogspot.com/2012/11/episodic-storytelling-is-problem.html

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT, EPISODIC STORIES, art of arc extraOR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS contact me and ask about the new TRY IT plan where you can try the first five Art of Arc lessons for $35.00 – purchased with no obligation to buy the remainder of the course. You may contact me using the “contact” tab at the top of this page, or via my Art of Arc webpage.

 

An outline of the first five lessons follows:

 

WELCOME SECTION

 

The welcome section includes a nine-page supplement demonstrating sixteen different picture book structures with diagrams, descriptions, and book titles.

 

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What drives your protagonist?
  • Beginnings and hooks.
  • Who, what, where, when, why?
  • Story promise, reader’s expectations, and story questions.
  • Page-turners.
  • How the whole story connects to the ending.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginnings and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

 

  • Setting the hook.
  • Creating a connection with the reader.
  • Inciting incident.
  • Ways to keep the reader reading.
  • More on page-turners.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginning and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

 

  • Story arc (plot development)
  • Character arc (character development)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Small, scene goals
  • Tension
  • Feelings
  • Character turning points

 

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

 

  • What is cause and effect and why is it important
  • Diagrams
  • Writing exercises
  • Worksheets
  • Examples
  • Bonus supplement with links to additional info

 

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

 

  • What is an episodic story?
  • What causes a story to be episodic?
  • Worksheets and tips for testing your story for episodic elements
  • Links to additional info

 

 

 

 

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