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”
Lori, you.ve made the difficult story arc seem easy . . . or at least attainable. Thanks.
You’re welcome, Sue.( Now all we hae to do is write one!–lol!) Good luck with your writing projects. 🙂
Joanne Sher LOVES this primer for story arc – Lori – you make it totally understandable. Great post – thanks so much!!
You’re welcome, Joanne. I’m glad it was helpful. Good luck with your writing. 🙂
Thank you for the lesson in writing effective (bean-free) story arcs, Lori.
You’re welcome, Sarah. Here’s to bean-free stories! 🙂
Thank you Lori. I’m looking forward to reading your books!
You’e welcome, Brenda. 🙂 Good luck with your writing projects.
What a clever way to drive home the story arc lesson! Thanks!
You’re welcome, Kathy. Thanks for reading my blog. Good luck with your writing.
Appreciate the simplicity in explanation of STORY ARC.
You’re welcome, Lori. (Great name, btw)
The cat on my keyboard is very good at hitting “delete” and adding spice to any work in progress. Maybe I should listen to her more often. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Darlene. Yes, cats are always helpful–not! lol!
Fabulous post! I have definitely written my fair share of bland stories…I’m hoping I am getting a better handle on the art of the story arc. Thank you for this post! – Maria Oka
Thanks, Maria. Good luck with your writing. 🙂
Janet Smart. Enjoyed the post. Beans should not be in your story, unless you are writing about bean soup :o) thanks for the lesson.
Thanks, Janet. I agree–no beans except in soup, and chili is even better. 🙂
Thank you for your post! …As someone who likes trying things out in the kitchen, I thought your husband’s beans-in-brownies recipe was a brave experiment. If your husband were to try to mix beans with baking again, maybe the beans could be cooked down into a mash with some sugar and worked into the frosting for some cupcakes. I tried something like that once, and the cupcakes turned out quite nice.=)
Thanks, Cynthia. Mashing up the beans sounds like an interesting idea, especially for cupcakes. (However, we mustn’t encourage hubby any more in the kitchen. Last week he was melting plastic in my oven to create a vacuum form thing for some type of swimming pool monitor project. Alas, my oven was the only oven around–I guess I should be grateful for bean brownies after all–ha, ha!)
Thanks for writing out the important parts of a story arc.
You’re welcome, Zainab.
~what a great post on the story arc! Love your books Lori:)
Thanks, Aimee! You’re welcome.
I’m going to go through every MS that I have been struggling with and check out the strength of my story arc. So helpful…Thank you!
Good luck with your manuscripts, Susan!
Thank you, Lori. Your description of a story arc is outstanding and easy to commit to memory . . . Up, up, up until it peaks at the top and ends with a fun, yet unexpected conclusion.
You’re welcome, Suzy. Good luck with your stories! Up, up, and away!
Great post! Story arc can be so tricky to get right in a rhyming manuscript. — Annie Bailey
You’re welcome, Suzy. Good luck with your stories! Up, up, and away!
Sorry, Annie! Clicked on the wrong reply. I’m glad you liked my post. Good luck with your writing projects. 🙂