Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

What If?



I wanted to write something about plots. This is one of my weaker points. Googling “plotting,” knowing full-well it’s an ambiguous term, my computer shows hilarious results. “How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You” was my favorite. Something about trying to seize control of Ukraine. Plotting functions on a graph – near and dear to my heart – not kidding. So, on to “plotting a novel.”

I get really great ideas. I do. I get all excited about getting them on paper. I even know where I want the story to end in most cases. But, somewhere in the middle, I get stuck. How do I make this unhappy, mean person see the light of day? Where is the turning point? The funny thing is, I can predict the next step in nearly every book I read and every television show or movie I see. (Just ask my poor, suffering husband.) Quite often, I know the next line of dialogue without having read or seen the story before.

Plotting must be a common problem, since the Google search revealed a lot of information. Plus, it’s a really common topic at writer workshops. Everybody has a method. In five steps. In eight steps. With index cards. Etc. Maybe I should try them all. Each method has its merits and should be a help in a logjam.  But, the real point is, each writer is different and must find her own method. Drat!

Here are just a few methods I found:

  1. Your basic Roman-numeraled outline – Somehow, trying to make a picture book this logical just doesn’t cut it for me.
  2. Start with a synopsis – This has a lot of appeal for me. I tend to write very short, then the story grows outward. Sort of like a fungus. Closely related to Start with the Ending and work your way back.
  3. Sit down and write – This is the basic idea behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I think. Write whatever comes to mind and clean it up later. Or don’t. Some have a separate Stream of Consciousness method.
  4. Start with the beats – The events that must occur in each scene. I admit I’ve used this with some success. It helps prevent my assumption the reader knows what I mean. Also prevents reversing cause and effect. So-and-so says something bad. The main character reacts. Etc. Can be condensed to the Keystone Events for the entire story.
  5. Write it on index cards – This one I like very much. I have fond memories of writing research papers in high school entirely on index cards. Rearrange at will.
  6. Storyboarding – Like a movie in 2-D. Recommended for combining with index cards.
  7. Chapter by chapter – best for longer novels. Write each chapter like a short story.
  8. Take your characters out into the world – Go to Starbucks or the mall and think about how each character would act in this scene. This is dangerously close to a character topic, though. Also dangerous if you forget to go back to work.
  9. Beginning, middle, end – Which is fine, when I don’t get stuck in the middle.

There are a lot more methods, but most of them relate in some way to the nine above.

A post about plot wouldn’t be complete without mentioning all the graphs that show the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. (Had to say that just so I could use that last word.) Let’s just say a graph couldn’t hurt.

In the end, I just hope I’ve helped my own plot by reminding myself of all this. Happy plotting!

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Further Adventures in Conferencing

Okay, I’ve been conspicuously absent for a few weeks. Please forgive my scattered brain. I never did quite learn what my mother tried to drill into me: “You can’t do everything.” I do try to say no and cut things from my life, but it never seems to work. And so I end up doing a few things not as well as I’d like. Something always suffers and it was Childish Nonsense in this case.

Sitting down at the Spring 2014 conference

Sitting next to Giuseppe Castellano at the Spring 2014 conference

Lest it appear that all I do is attend conferences, let me assure you that is not quite true. I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about conferences, but this is because, with my partner Sue Peters, I organize our regional conferences. But, face it, conferences are some of the best things about SCBWI. They are inspiring and educational, a great opportunity to meet the powers of the industry, and a really good way to get out of the house.

March 29 was the spring conference for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region of the SCBWI. It’s the first one I remember being so well-attended.

The international organization changed their website ( in October 2013. Our region now has a website ( as part of that project, and one of the features is event registration. In the long run, this is going to be a blessing. In the short run, the roll out has been plagued by bugs and a steep learning curve for the users. I apologize to anyone who had problems registering. We did our best to help, though we couldn’t always work the problems through. I promise it will be better for September. Fact is, I’ve literally used computers since the beginning of the pc age (we once had a Commodore 64, which we hooked up to the television) and have always kept trying different things until I found something that works. I sometimes forget others don’t work the same way, so please bear with me.

So, with our fantastic speakers and the fact that generated a sell-out crowd, I ended up talking to my laptop and to the inimitable Josh Smith at headquarters quite a bit. And pulling my hair out. Not bald yet.

To top it off, our efforts at providing quality audio-visual presentations were less than successful. I apologize for this also.

Our speakers: Lesléa Newman, author, spoke about her book October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. She had me in tears talking about this young man’s tragic death. Giuseppe Castellano, art director at Penguin, was well-received with his inside look for artists. Alex Arnold, editorial assistant at Katherine Tegen Books, conducted a workshop on plotting. Tara Lazar, author of Monstore, talked about the journey from concept to picture book. (Who, what, where, when, but WHY?!) Debra Hess form Highlights was great talking about nonfiction. Christa Heschke, agent at McIntosh and Otis, spoke about the query process. Social media was the first topic for Sara D’Emic, associate agent at Talcott Notch, and her client Rori Shay, author of Elected. Alyson Heller, associate editor at Aladdin, spoke about the importance of first chapters. Other afternoon sessions included one on query letters, one on characters, and one on websites.

It was a fantastic conference, but I was really exhausted afterward. Whew!

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