RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 18
Today’s guest blogger is an award-winning author of over 70 books, several of which sit on my bookshelves in my “near-and-dear” section! Her books have great humor and amazing stories with satisfying and unexpected endings. What more do you want from a picture book?
I too have an engineer husband who likes to bake (how lucky are we!) so we will have to exchange recipes. I’m so happy she’s here to share how to avoid writing bland picture books. As she will tell you, the key ingredient to perfect picture books is a well-structured story arc.
I am pleased
Full of Beans
My husband recently tried a new brownie recipe made almost entirely of beans. I know–beans! What’s up with that? But when my engineering husband inherited a bunch of dried beans from a friend, he was determined to find new ways to use them. In the end, there were so many beans in the brownies, the whole thing tasted boringly bland. (That doesn’t mean I didn’t eat a few–they were the only brownies in the house–lol!)
Picture books can be bland too. Even though your manuscript may contain some important story elements such as a catchy title, fun opening hook, and an appealing main character with a problem, it’s all for naught without a strong story arc.
As a writing instructor for the past nine years, I’ve seen the lack of one a million times. A character starts out okay, then the action flat lines into random scenes that don’t add up no matter how much “imagination” the author has packed in.
So what is a story arc? Story arc is the rise in action that pulls the reader towards the climatic peak of the story problem. Will the main character succeed . . . or fail? Once this is resolved, the story quickly comes to its satisfying conclusion. The story arc goes up, up, up, reaches the peak, then arcs over the top and stops.
If you read picture books with this arc in mind, you’ll see this winning story structure over and over. My latest releases are good examples of this. In my rhyming picture book, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, for example, Cowpoke Clyde sets out to catch his dirty dog for a bath. This is the beginning of the story arc. As Clyde tries and fails to catch his dog, the story arc rises and tension builds. Finally, after getting kicked in a ditch by his mule, the story reaches its climatic moment in the story arc. Will Cowpoke Clyde ever catch his ol’ dirty dawg? It was fun to write the fun and unexpected resolution. (That’s another important story element for another blog.) In the end, Clyde and Dawg both end up in the tub, but not the way Clyde (or the reader) imagined.
In my rhyming picture book Cindy Moo, a cow on the Diddle Farm vows to jump over the moon just like the cow she’d heard about in a nursery rhyme. Like Clyde, the story arc rises as Cindy Moo tries one thing, then another. Finally, when it seems as if she’s doomed to fail, the story reaches its climatic moment in the story arc. Was she ever going to jump over the moon? In the next page-turning moment, Cindy Moo resolves her problem in a fun and unexpected way, bringing the story to its satisfying conclusion.
If you’re scratching your head over one of your manuscripts, maybe it’s full of beans just like my hubby’s brownies. The solution? Ditch the boring beans and pack it with an irresistible story arc that goes up, up, up (and keep readers turning pages) until it peaks at the top and ends with a fun, yet unexpected conclusion. (Oh, yeah–ditch the beans in brownies too.)
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, (Clarion, 2013) one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013, Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault (Random House, 2010), a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, 2010, and In the Trees Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009) a 2010 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Book K-12 Winner. When she’s not removing her cat from her keyboard, she follows her literary nose wherever it leads and works on all sorts of projects that delight her writing soul. Lori lives in Northern California with her family.
For more information, visit her website at http://www.lorimortensen.com.
Buy Here Buy Here
Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, Clarion, 2013
“Plumb funny fer sure.”—Starred Kirkus Review
Cindy Moo, HarperCollins, 2012
“Mo(ooo)ve aside your other cow tales, because this lovable bovine really does take off.”—Booklist
Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault, Random House, 2010
“Readers will marvel at the genius of this little-known scientific wizard.”—John Peters, School Library Journal
In the Trees, Honey Bees! Dawn Publications, 2009
“Children may never view honey bees in the same way again.”—The Children’s Hour.
Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, Clarion, Spring 2016
Chicken Lily, Henry Holt, Winter 2016
Mousequerade Ball, Bloomsbury, 2016
Away With Words – The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, Peachtree, 2017
RhyPiBoMo 2015 Optional Writing Prompt: 18
This is NOT part of the pledge. It is an option for a writing exercise for those interested. You will not publically share this as part of RhyPiBoMo but may keep a journal of your writing this month for your own review.
Today’s writing prompt is to write an outline for one of your works-in-progress that gives it a great title, a grabbing hook, several increasingly tension stirring moments that lead to one big problem that is ultimately solved by the child protagonist. Make sure it has an unexpected, satisfying ending that keeps them coming back for more!
For example: Story Arc
Tense Moment #1
Tense Moment #2
Tense Moment #3
Peak Moment of Tension
Child Character Solves the Problem
Unexpected, Satisfying Ending
Golden Quill Poetry Contest
The Golden Quill Poetry Contest is open for submissions.
The deadline is this Saturday, April 25th midnight Central Time.
And…did I mention the prizes?
1st place – A Manuscript Critique by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
2nd place – A Scholarship for Non-Fiction Archeology by Kristen Fulton
3rd place – A Scholarship for Pacing Picture Books to WOW! Class by Agent Jodell Sadler
PLEASE make sure you read the contest rules and follow them exactly. Unfortunately, due to the number of poems we will receive, a poem will be disqualified if it does not follow the guidelines exactly. This is only fair to those who did follow the rules and is good practice for us as writers because editors expect those guidelines to be followed to the letter.
First and Last name included in the body of the email at the top left
Email address included in the body of the email at the top left
Phone number – top left
Space down 5 spaces
The Theme is: Freedom
Title of poem – centered with no by line or name here
8 line limit
Must be a rhyming poem
You will be judged on clever title, rhyme scheme, rhythm, scansion, perfect rhyming words, internal rhyme, alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia, and clever ending.
Email poems to Angiekarcherrpbm@gmail.com
by April 25th midnight central time
Do you enjoy writing rhyming picture books?
Do you find rhyme challenging?
Do you want to pep up your prose with poetic techniques?
Then this is the class for you!
Writing in Rhyme to WOW! is a 4 week course,
M-F with daily lessons, writing prompts, rhyme journaling, creating tools you will use, group poetry readings, webinars and critique groups, and a one-on-one webinar critique with Angie.
Each class begins on the first Monday of the month and the weekly group webinars are on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, (Chicago Time) or at a time that best suits the group due to time zones of those involved.
I am beginning to sign people up for June and July!
If you register now for June or July, I will give you the $99.00 price!
Contact Angie with questions.
Sign up now before the classes are full!
Click here for more information!
Need a Rhyming Picture Book Critique?
rhyming picture book and poetry manuscript critiques.
A One Time critique is ($25.00) or a Twice Look critique is ($35.00)
See the tab above or click here for more information.
RhyPiBoMo Gift Shop is Open!
Please stop by and see what’s available this year. There are notebooks, mugs, buttons and more. All proceeds will go to WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS!
Thank you Tanja Bauerle for these gorgeous images!!!
130 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 18 Lori Mortensen”
Oooooooh, I love story arc posts!! Thank you for this little reminder.
Karen Nordseth Roos
You’re welcome, Karen! 🙂
Thank you for spilling the beans and encouraging us to get hopping to liven up our thin, spiceless story lines.
Think I’ll stick with chocolate brownies! Maria Marshall
You’re welcome, Maria. And I’m with on the brownies–chocolate all the way!
I’ve made bean brownies too and they are rather bland. Same goes for my writing some days, so thanks for a great reminder on the importance of story arcs!
You’re welcome, Rebecca. Good luck with your writing.
Lori, May just have to start today’s process with a brownie, or seven. Thank you for the inspiration. – Judy Rubin
You’re welcome, Judy. Yes, a brownie sounds real good right now. 🙂
What an amazing inspiration Lori is to us all!
Thanks, Heather. Good luck with your writing. 🙂
LOL. I’ve seen those recipes and wondered if the brownies were any good.
I’m glad I’ve spared you the dreaded task of finding out! (Probably a little would be okay–but replace all the flour with beans as my husband did–nope!)
It’s all about story!
– Al Lane
Who knew? So true! 🙂
Elaine Hillson -.excellent advice and I love looking at story arcs too.
Mona Pease Hi there, Lori. Story arc, yes! Thanks for trying to keep us on track!
Hi Mona. Fun to see you here. Here’s to story arcs–and beyond! 🙂
Appreciations to Angie Karcher & LORI MORTENSEN (dang that cat on my lap, with you on that Lori!). Clever & memorable story in this article today & clever, fun titles I’m going to want to read to K & 1st grade thru my volunteer work with BookPALS.
Brownies from beans… Lori could you find a p.b. plot device in that wrecked recipe? Maybe a character was beaned by a brownie…a brownie that was all beans, served to a girl named Beanie…
Thanks Bookseedstudio! I’m sure there’s a bean-brained story in there somewhere. All we have to do is find it, then get ready for the Beananza!
Appreciations above are from Jan Annino.
Thanks, Jan aka bookseedstudio.
Wow, what fun and fast-paced examples of rip- roarin’ picture books. And great advice; not always easy to incorporate, but definitely the way to go to hook a reader! Thanks, gals.
Oh my, I forgot to put my name. Too late? Sherri Jones Rivers
Thanks, Sherri! Good luck with your own rip-roaring writing projects.
Lori, thank you for sharing the importance of story arc. Like many writers, I wrote stories in which scene followed scene until the end. By learning Pixars story formula, story arcs became clear.
You’re welcome, ManjuBeth. I’m sure Pixar’s story formula is fantastic.
Great advice to remember that a plot is more than action, it’s rising action that climaxes to a high point. Thanks, Lori. Val McCammon
You’re welcome, Val. Good luck with your writing projects.
Caroline Twomey-great avice, I’m going to put all of my WIP stories through that test!
Great idea, Caroline. Good luck with your writing!
Good reminder, Lori! Read both Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, and Cindy Moo – loved them!
Thanks, Pat. I’m plum tickled you love Cowpoke Clyde and Cindy Moo.
Ann Kelley – Oh yeah…story arc. Got so involved with other story elements while writing my draft. Thanks for the reminder…need to go back and focus more on that.
You’re welcome, Ann. Good luck with your writing projects.
Linda Schueler: Hmmmmm, bean brownies. I’ll check my manuscripts to make sure they are not full of beans.
Yes, beans are much better in chili than brownies or manuscripts. 🙂
LOL! I’m afraid my Ms is full of boring beans. Time to start again from scratch. Thanks Lori!
You’re welcome Diana. Good luck with your writing.
Thanks for the all important lesson on story arc, Lori 🙂 Happy writing! Rene` Aube
You’re welcome, Rene. Happy writing to you too.
Ha! Love the picture book full of beans analogy–that’s so funny! You are oh, so right about story arc. It’s hard to empathize with the MC, or feel something from the story when it lacks conflict and tension.
I look forward to reading your books, Lori, especially Cindy Moo–LOVE cows! Thanks! 🙂
Thanks, Maria. Wishing you an udderly moo-velous time reading Cindy Moo. .
This information is not full of beans. Thank you. I just added a few more titiles to my library list.
You’re welcome, Kathy. Thanks for making some of my books part of your library list.
Thanks for the post and reminder. You’ve written a lot of books, I guess we should listen closely and take the reminder to heart!
You’re welcome, Natalee. Yes, listen closely. (That’s what I keep telling my kids, but I haven’t convinced them yet–lol!)
Sandy Powell—Thanks for the reminder about having a strong story arc. When revising my manuscripts I will keep this post in mind.
You’re welcome Sandy. Good luck with your writing.
Ok so I’m ditching the bland and building an arc – thanks for the advice. Your writing is admirable.
You’re welcome Jennifer. Good luck with your writing projects. 🙂
This is great advice, Lori. These days I spend a lot of time thinking through the arc before I write. For me, it’s helped keep the random events out of my story. Congratulations on your upcoming books!
Love your books, Lori! Thank you for this great post on taking the beans out of the story stew 🙂 I wish I was a better cook. Thank you for sharing the recipe hints with fine examples from your writing!
Thanks, Charlotte, for loving my books and taking a moment to comment. Here’s to cookin’ up great books and recipes.
great opening + great character + great voice + great setting + no conflict = no story
– Marianne Gage
Rita Allmon– Lori, thanks for this great post… great reminder to think about the story arc when writing… (before, during, and after/rewrite).
You’re welcome, Rita. Good luck with your writing projects.
Jill Proctor – Thank you, Lori! I needed your great reminder – no beans! Plus a great story arc equals a winning book!
You’re welcome, Jill. Let’s keep the beans in the chili and out of the books. 🙂
It sounds so easy but story arc is very necessary but can be difficult. It can be very challenging for middle grade and young adult writers but with a manuscript of only 500 words plus find a way to rhyme as well; overwhelming. I am learning so much about rhyme this month from very talented authors. I really believe that it boils down to putting it on the page and working with it. Thanks for the great post and insightful information about story arcs.
Thanks, Deborah. Writing is challenging which is why it’s so exhilarating when one succeeds. I’m confident that persistence is an important key to success. Revise, revise, revise. It’s the only way to get it done.
Thanks for this post about story arcs – something I need to think about more!
You’re welcome, Lynn. Good luck with your writing projects.
Ginger Weddle – Story arcs are difficult for me. Thank you, Lori, for your advice and examples!
Melanie Ellsworth – Lori, it’s always helpful to get a reminder about story arc, and I look forward to reading your two new releases. They sound like lots of fun!
You’re welcome Melanie. (I’m looking forward to my releases too!–lol!)
Lori thank you for giving us a step by step approach with the story arc. Therese Nagi
You’re welcome, theresenagi. Good luck with your writing projects.
Definitely no beans in my brownies please. I think it’s the unexpected surprise endings I need to work on in my WIPs.
Good luck with your writing–and your brownies 🙂
Thank you for good advice.
You’re welcome, Rosemary.
Thanks for the great post. I’m definitely going to think about the story elements as I create and revise.
You’re welcome Kristi. Good luck with your writing. 🙂
Hey, Lori — so nice to see your here! Great post on Story Arc and of course, love the books! Lynne Marie Pisano
Thanks, Lynne. Great to see you here. 🙂
Thanks for the post on story arc. It is very important. Katie Gast
You’re welcome, Katie. Good luck with your writing.
Shirley Johnson – Great reminder! Thanks for sharing this post.
You’re welcome, Shirley. Good luck with your writing.
Thanks, Lori. Funny stuff about the bean brownies… is there a story here just waiting to become a book?
Thanks, Natasha. You never know when beans will creep into a story, just as they infiltrated our brownies.:-)
Great post, Lori! I looooove Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg! I read it right before it came out when I was attending TLA in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again! Best wishes with your upcoming releases and beyond. Carrie Charley Brown
Thanks, Carrie. I’m plum tickled you loved Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg and am looking forward to the release of its sequel, Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range. Yee-haw! 🙂 Good luck with all of your writing projects..
Thanks, Lori, for your interesting post. I look forward to reading your books!
You’re welcome, Ann. Good luck with your writing projects.
Ann Magee wrote that last post–sorry!
I love the premise of your 2 books, Lori. They sound like fun and very enjoyable reading!—Patricia Corcoran
Rebecca Trembula – What a great metaphor. There are stories out there that lack a proper story arc–I might even consume them now and again when there aren’t any other “brownies” in the house–but it’s not the same as the real deal. It also reminds me of the idea that “good” is the worst enemy of “great.”
Thanks, Rebecca. Well said. Good luck with your great writing projects. 🙂
Thanks Lori. That’s exactly what I’m struggling with right now and your brownie analogy was great.
You’re welcome, Clark. Good luck with your writing projects (and enjoy some brownies along the way too!)
This is a great post to keep me focused during revisions. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Mary. Good luck with your revisions.