Children’s-YA Writing Craft

Austin authors gather around Cynthia Leitich Smith’s dining room table to write.

Why Backstory is the Bomb from Denise Jaden. PEEK: “Just because we don’t want that backstory up front, doesn’t mean we don’t need it at all. It doesn’t mean that we can vaguely imagine a few scenarios of what could have been the history of our characters. We have to know. And for that, in most cases, we have to write it.”


A Case for Villains by Danyelle from Blog. PEEK: “No villain=no conflict=no plot=no point.”

A Character’s Controlling Belief by Mary Atkinson from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “A character’s goal is different. Goal answers the question, what does a character want? Controlling belief answers, why does she want it?”

CREATING CHARACTER EMOTIONS: WRITING COMPELLING, FRESH APPROACHES THAT EXPRESS YOUR CHARACTERS’ FEELINGS by Ann Hood (Writer’s Digest, 1998). PEEK: “In 36 ‘mini-lessons,’ Hood sheds new light on love, hate, fear, grief, guilt, hope, jealousy and other major emotions. Each lesson offers instruction on rendering that particular sentiment; “good” and “bad” examples illustrating how writers have succeeded and where others have gone wrong; and imaginative exercises for putting the feeling into words.”

Exploiting a Character’s First Scene by Marianna Baer from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “From the moment a new character enters a book, the reader consciously and subconsciously picks up on clues about his nature and quickly forms an opinion. If details are not thoughtfully chosen, a character’s first scene can be a missed opportunity or, more negatively, disruptively misleading.”

Author Becca Puglisi

Where Do Character Strengths Come From? by Becca Puglisi from Cynsations. PEEK: “Fully-realized characters, like real people, aren’t formed out of the air. They’re a result of many different elements that come together to make the character who he is in the current story.”

Writing Body Language: Moving Beyond Basics by Angela Ackerman from Cynsations. PEEK: “Act out the feeling and move around. Do you hold your arms close to the body? Is your posture slumped? Are your eyes closed, or open? Keep mining until you find a movement that is fresh and unique.”

Writing Well-Rounded Secondary Characters by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “…for each cast member, an individual narrative was hinted at through beats and brushstrokes. A whisper of an internal and external journey. The implication that they were living real lives on- and off-stage.”


The First Question to Ask After Realizing You Want to Write a Book by Chris Barton from Cynsations. PEEK: “When someone tells me that they want to write a book and asks me for my advice, the best answer I have for them is, “What is your objective for the book?” There are many possible answers, and each can call for a different path forward.”

Where Ideas Really Come From by Tim Wynne-Jones. PEEK: “Over the years I’ve found all kinds of ways of answering this important question. Mostly, I lie. I say things like, Ideas come from the Idea Store. A kid once told me he had been to the Idea Store. Another liar, I suspected. Except that he could describe it in detail.”


How to Be a Good Critique Partner by Anica Mrose Rissi from The Writer. PEEK: “Before you dive metaphor-first into a critique of a friend or acquaintance’s draft, pause and ask that other writer – and yourself – a few basic questions, and take note of these strategies and approaches that will improve how the feedback is delivered and received.”


Writing to Deadline by Liz Garton Scanlon. PEEK: “Yes, I capture phrases out of dreams and pound out plots while I walk and generally try to stay in a muse-induced state as frequently as a mother of two with a marriage and a mortgage can. But I still produce most effectively when someone’s expecting something from me.”

Equity and Inclusion

(SEE ALSO Equity & Inclusion Overview & Specific Identity Elements)

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

100 Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “…the question of whether to craft a protagonist, especially in the first-person point of view, from outside our own perspective is a personal one. It’s a matter of craft, character, and conscience. The writer who’s not able to do so in their debut novel may succeed in their fifth.”

Avoid Cultural Appropriation: Tips to Consider When Writing Different Cultures by Ixty Quintanilla from Everyday Feminism. PEEK: “Often, writers take on the ‘salad bar’ approach. This means they find an ‘interesting’ aspect of a culture, whether it be tattoos or a spiritual ceremony, and pluck it out of the entire community without any cultural context. This then creates a shallow, inaccurate, and insensitive representation of a community.”

Being Indian Is Not a Superpower by Stephen Graham Jones from Electric Lit. PEEK: “I submit that a character being Indian doesn’t need justification….”

Confessions of a Sensitivity Reader by Marjorie Ingall from Tablet. PEEK: “Trying to make children’s books more authentic and less stereotype ridden isn’t censorship.”

Conscious Style Guide: “the latest observations, opinions and community style guides–all in one place.”

Cultural Appropriation Is In Fact Indefensible by K. Tempest Bradford from NPR. PEEK: “The issue here is that Niedzviecki conflated cultural appropriation and the practice of writing characters with very different identities from yourself — and they’re not the same thing. Writing inclusive fiction might involve appropriation if it’s done badly, but that’s not a given.” SEE ALSO Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Writing from the Australian Arts Council.

Dear Fellow White Christian Writers from Shannon Hale. PEEK: “Imagine that there are Christian writers, but they can’t sell their books. Non-Christian writers are seen as being more marketable, more universal, so more and more atheists write stories about what it means to be Christian, and Christian writers are overlooked.”

Gender-Neutral Pronouns: All Your Questions Answered by  and  from Teen Vogue. PEEK: “From grammar to what to do if you mess it up.” SEE ALSO Everyone Uses Singular “They” Whether They Realize It Or Not by Geoff Nunberg from NPR.

Glossary of Ableist Phrases from Austistic Hoya. Peek: “Its primary purpose is to serve as a reference for anyone interested in learning about linguistic microaggressions and everyday, casual ableism.”

Agent Jessica Regel and Author I.W. Gregorio

How to Prepare to Write a Diverse Book by I.W. Gregorio from The NaNoWriMo Blog. PEEK: “Knowing how people of a certain culture speak—the cadence of their voices, their subtle nuances of syntax—can make the difference between a clunky characterization and one that sings.”

Is My Character Black Enough? by Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. PEEK: “When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probably differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different.” SEE ALSO Cautions on Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Multicultural Dialogue: Please Pass the Patate by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. PEEK: “Members of my own immigrant family speak with heavy accents and often intersperse Italian words, or Anglicized Italian, with English. If I tried to reproduce such speech in my novel, readers would have a difficult time deciphering it.”

Native American YA Literature Panel, moderated by Elizabeth Bird, at The New York Public Library from The Narrative Breakdown. PEEK: “… authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac and their editors, Cheryl Klein and Stacy Whitman, discuss the particular pleasures and challenges of writing, editing, and publishing Native American young adult literature.” SEE ALSO Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians from School Library Journal. PEEK: “At a conference held at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in the early 1990s, James Ransome was asked why he had not illustrated any books with American Indian characters. His response, in short, was something to the effect of, ‘I haven’t held their babies.’”

On Sensitivity Readers, Weakness, and Staying Alive by Joanne Harris. PEEK: “…when writing about the lives and experiences of others, we sometimes use readers with different specialities. That’s because, however great our imagination… however many books we have read, there will always be gaps in our knowledge of the way other people live, or feel, or experience the world.”

What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like by Lisa Shapiro from Vulture. PEEK: “…to improve the literary quality of a book by steering the author away from one-dimensional portraits or cliches.” SEE ALSO The Role of Cultural Experts and Sensitivity Readers by Stacy Whitman from The Open Book at Lee & Low. SEE ALSO Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Sensitivity Reader Directory from Salt & Sage Books. PEEK: “…built on the idea that you should have a wide range of editors and readers at your fingertips. You’ll find editors and readers here who are as committed to your work and your success as you are. We’re talented, easy to work with, and we promise to be kind to you and your manuscript.”

Sensitivity Readers Can Make Publishing More Accountable, if We Allow Them To by Rebecca Wei Hsieh from We Need Diverse Books. PEEK: “They’re usually from one or more marginalized communities and read material that is potentially triggering or traumatizing. Deep diving into manuscripts that may duplicate injustices means self-care is a must, and taking breaks—both during and between projects—is high on the list.”

Skin Color: People of Color and Food Descriptions by Mod Collette from Writing with Color. SEE ALSO Words for Skin Tone.

Some Thoughts on a Big Word: “Myth” by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Speak with Us, Not for Us by Grace Lin from The Horn Book. PEEK: “What diversity needs is not white authors to write heroes of a minority race, but rather for them to redefine the white hero. We need authors to create white characters who are (or are learning to become) socially aware and who fight alongside people of color, without being saviors, and we need authors who know how to do the same.”

Author Mitali Perkins

Ten Tips On Writing Race in Novels by Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape.

There’s No Secret to Writing About People Who Do Not Look Like You by Brandon Taylor from Literary Hub.

White Fragility by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White.

Writing About Slavery/Teaching About Slavery by P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. PEEK: “This document helps us in our grappling to describe and analyze the intricacies and occurrences of domination, coercion, resistance, and survival under slavery. It complicates the assumptions embedded in language that have been passed down and normalized.”

Writing Across Identity Elements: Why Kayla, not Eartha and Other Stuff I Think About by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The FERAL series’ question is: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ My answer isn’t: ‘Let’s check in with the all-white heroes to find out.’ (Although white co-protagonists are certainly included in the mix.)”

Writing Multicultural Children’s Books by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon.

Writing the Other: “Learn to write characters very different from you sensitively and convincingly.”

Writing, Tonto and the Wise-Cracking Sidekick Who’s First to Die by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Authorial sensibility is crucial. It’s also tricky, sinking deep into our subconscious. We can only be so aware of it. But we can develop a more inclusive, more socially aware sensibility with nurturing.”


THE ELEMENTS OF STORYTELLING: HOW TO WRITE COMPELLING FICTION by Peter Rubie (John Wiley, 1995). A concise, conversational overview of the basics.

FICTION FIRST AID: INSTANT REMEDIES FOR NOVELS, STORIES, AND SCRIPTS by Raymond Obstfeld (Writer’s Digest, 2002). Excellent resource for revision; highly recommended to novelists at all stages. Great for both global rewrites and spot fixing.

GET THAT NOVEL WRITTEN!: FROM INITIAL IDEA TO FINAL EDIT by Donna Levin (Writer’s Digest, 1996). A discussion of craft, character, plot, point of view, language usage, style, and inspiration.

IMMEDIATE FICTION by Jerry Cleaver (St. Martin’s Press, 2002). An entertaining, straightforward, faith-filled book for novelists. Holds up to rereading. Craft oriented and tremendously helpful.

MAKE YOUR WORDS WORK by Gary Provost (Writer’s Digest, 1990). Read and occasionally reread, if only to keep fresh what we often think we know until we start writing.

THE NOVELIST’S NOTEBOOK by Laurie Henry (Story Press, 1999). “An inspiring journal to help you complete your novel. Filled with imaginative exercises and advice from well-known writers.” Written in a conversational, upbeat style, THE NOVELIST’S NOTEBOOK is a mentor in book form. Includes: planning; beginning to write; necessities; possibilities; when you’re stuck; and double-checking and revising.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO WRITING FICTION by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion, 1992). An excellent overview of the craft of writing, including story plans, selecting an idea, character, focus, plot, point of view, beginnings, dialogue, story tension, endings, revising, and polishing as well as fiction writing as a career. Marion’s clear, conversational style makes for a read as enjoyable as it is enlightening. Though marketed to young writers, it’s also highly recommended to adult writers. Marion dedicates this title to her editor James Cross Giblin. Ages 12-up. SEE ALSO An Interview with Marion Dane Bauer from Cynsations.

WRITING IN COLOR: FOURTEEN WRITERS ON THE LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED, edited by Nafiza Azad and Melody Simpson (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2023). “So, you’re thinking of writing a book. Or, maybe you’ve written one, and are wondering what to do with it. What does it take to publish a novel, or even a short story? If you’re a writer of color, these questions might multiply; after all, there’s a lot of writing advice out there, and it can be hard to know how much of it really applies to your own experiences. If any of this sounds like you, you’re in the right place: this collection of essays, written exclusively by authors of color, is here to encourage and empower writers of all ages and backgrounds to find their voice as they put pen to page. Perhaps you’re just getting started. Here you’ll find a whole toolkit of advice from bestselling and award-winning authors for focusing on an idea, landing on a point of view, and learning which rules were meant to be broken. Or perhaps you have questions about everything beyond the first draft: what is it really like being a published author? These writers demystify the process, sharing personal stories as they forged their own path to publication, and specifically from their perspectives as author of color.”

Figurative Language

Deepening Your Novel with Imagery, Symbolism, and Figurative Language by Martina from Adventures in Children’s Publishing. PEEK: “For me, it’s a combination of the above, but it’s also that indefinable magic that suddenly makes symbols and images appear in the writing without my knowledge, the overarching, structural metaphors and symbols that bring disparate elements together and illuminate what the story is about.”

Metaphor from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: “…let’s back up a little and talk about metaphor’s mom and dad and her somewhat complicated family tree, beginning with the literary term figure of speech.”

The Metaphoric Matrix (Case Study: Kate DiCamillo) by Elizabeth White from Cynsations. PEEK: “The story is always smarter than I am.”

First Drafts

First Drafts by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “Michelangelo was very eloquent about his approach to sculpting. He said, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.’ Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Very pretty. Lucky bunch, those sculptors.”

Genre Fiction

Adapting Mythology for Today’s Young Readers by P.J. Hoover from Cynsations. PEEK: “We have a starting point. We have a twist. We are now ready to write our story.”

Fantasy Writing by Joseph Bruchac from Cynsations. PEEK: ” I did an immense amount of research. That research was not just into the entire werewolf mythos–in folklore, film and print–but also into such esoteric fields as firearms, spy lore, Russian rock and roll and contemporary Russian teenage slang.”

Fantasy Writing by Janet Lee Carey from Cynsations. PEEK: “I create a “cuts” file and keep notes on the cuts. Sometimes I use snippets from cuts, finding those little gems and placing them just so in a new scene during the final revision.”

Fantasy Writing from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: “It is not my intent to hold up all the Potter books, based on literary merit, as the kind of work to which all of us should necessarily aspire, but I do think the first book at least showed a true genius for story and that is the one I’m discussing today. For the purposes of this paper I turn away from worship of literary art at its pinnacle and bow humbly before the first billionaire author ever.”

Horror Writing: Monsters and Metaphors by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “After deciding to include werewolves in my world, I began researching shape-shifters in the body of literature and stories from around the world. What I found was that it was often the predator who most challenged humans with regard to food and territory that was cast in the role of the monster and, consequently, hunted to (near) extinction. Consider the wolf in Europe, the big cats of Asia.”

Mystery Writing from Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: Making The Impossible Possible by Marnie Brooks.

Writing (Sort Of) Timeless Contemporary Fiction by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “An early manuscript reader of both commented that, despite the 17 years between publication dates, there was no jarring evidence of the time jump on the page. I’m hopeful that she’s right and interested in reflecting on how that happened.”

Graphic Format Literature

DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES: A DEFINITIVE COURSE FROM CONCEPT TO COMIC IN 15 LESSONS by Jessica Abel and Mark Madden (First Second, 2008). PEEK: “a course on comic creation – for college classes or for independent study – that centers on storytelling and concludes with making a finished comic. With chapters on lettering, story structure, and panel layout, the fifteen lessons offered – each complete with homework, extra credit activities and supplementary reading suggestions – provide a solid introduction for people interested in making their own comics.”

Children’s and Young Adult Graphic Literature from Cynthia Leitich Smith. Links to reader resources and more.

MAKING COMICS: STORYTELLING SECRETS OF COMICS, MANGA AND GRAPHIC NOVELS by Scott McCloud (William Morrow, 2006). PEEK: “Scott McCloud tore down the wall between high and low culture in 1993 with UNDERSTANDING COMICS, a massive comic book about comics, linking the medium to such diverse fields as media theory, movie criticism, and web design. In REINVENTING COMICS, McCloud took this to the next level, charting twelve different revolutions in how comics are generated, read, and perceived today. Now, in MAKING COMICS, McCloud focuses his analysis on the art form itself, exploring the creation of comics, from the broadest principles to the sharpest details (like how to accentuate a character’s facial muscles in order to form the emotion of disgust rather than the emotion of surprise.) And he does all of it in his inimitable voice and through his cartoon stand–in narrator, mixing dry humor and legitimate instruction. McCloud shows his reader how to master the human condition through word and image in a brilliantly minimalistic way. Both comic book devotees and the uninitiated will marvel at this journey into a once–underappreciated art form.”

UNDERSTANDING COMICS: THE INVISIBLE ART by Scott McCloud (William Morrow, 1994). PEEK: “Praised throughout the cartoon industry by such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening, and Will Eisner, Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS is a seminal examination of comics art: its rich history, surprising technical components, and major cultural significance. Explore the secret world between the panels, through the lines, and within the hidden symbols of a powerful but misunderstood art form.”

Humorous Elements and Comedy

Dawn Quigley on Humor, Chapter Books & Decolonizing Grading by Kim Rogers from Cynsations. PEEK: “Sometimes thinking of jokes and funny situations was a challenge, but I’m a big believer in: If something makes me laugh, maybe others will too!”

Eight Tips for Writing Comedy by Anna Staniszewski. PEEK: “If one character says, ‘The world is ending!’ and another character says, “No it isn’t,” the scene doesn’t leave you many places to go. Chances are it’s going to wind up being an argument, which can get boring really fast. But if the second character’s response is, ‘I knew the chicken people would finally come!’ — well, that gives you more to work with, doesn’t it?”

Writing Humor for Kids by Ron Bates from Cynsations. PEEK: “Make a character likable and funny and the reader will laugh because they expect to laugh. More importantly, they want to laugh.”

Writing Humor: When Words Collide by Lisa Doan from Cynsations. PEEK: “As humor writers, we can imagine what (person I know) was thinking – we built the internal world that led to the thinking. And because of that, we can construct future (bizarre thing) did/saids that will be consistent with the character’s internal world, while at the same time inconsistent with societal norms.”


How Do We Know The Truth – For Sure? by Susan Kuklin from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. PEEK: “Writing both narratives and giving them equal weight turned out to have an unexpected benefit. The readers now had opposing material for debates. And they did. In the classroom and privately. With passion and conviction.”

How Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep by Melissa Stewart from Cynsations. PEEK: “We have to get in touch with our passions and our vulnerabilities and use them to fuel our work. Each book has a piece of the author at its heart, and that personal connection is what drives us to keep working, despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.”

The Nonfiction Author-Illustrator Relationship by Sneed B. Collard III at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.

The Nonfiction Family Tree, Book Lists by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. PEEK: “Because as students try to make sense of the wide world of nonfiction, it helps to have general categories that are easy to understand. Then, as children become more sophisticated readers and thinkers, they can explore the exceptions.”

Picture Books

Creating Picture Books: How-to Guides, Free Templates and Resources by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Page Turns in Picture Books by Tracy Marchini from Cynsations. PEEK: “I’ve been thinking a lot about page turns in picture books recently, and all of the amazing things they can do, including showing the passage of time, creating humor and dictating pacing.

Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish: One Writer’s Method from Dori Chaconas.

PICTURE WRITING: A NEW APPROACH TO WRITING FOR KIDS AND TEENS by Anastasia Suen (Writer’s Digest, 2003). Both wide and deep, this is a helpful overview and get-you-thinking look at various types of children’s books. Especially recommended to picture book writers and children’s poets.

Writing Picture Books for Children by Patrice Sherman. Includes basics, types, formatting, critiques, agents, exercises, and more.


Novel in Verse from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: ” Trust that if you write your novel in verse form, arranging the words prettily on the page, all your protests will not stop people from judging it as they would poetry. On the other hand! I know exactly what this writer meant when she said, ‘I didn’t mean for my book to be poetry.’ Because it isn’t… quite.”

Writing Verse Novels by Caroline Starr Rose from Cynsations. PEEK: ” I kept a quilt in mind, treating each poem like its own square of fabric. Each patch had to be able to function separately while at the same time contribute to the whole.”


Alyson Gerber on Struggles & Strength in Writing by Rebecca Kirshenbaum from Cynsations. PEEK: “I spend a lot of time thinking about what my main character wants and why this person needs what they need and why we should care… Then, I rewrite the first 50 pages over and over and over (so many times) until I figure out the book I’m trying to write. That gives me time to learn my characters and put them in place, like a game of chess.”

Writing Stories “Loosely Inspired By” Real Life by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The only remnant of real-life dialogue that survived my experience was a couple of incredibly awkward, babbly, and inappropriate lines uttered by me and even those have been wholly revised.”


Hands-on Research and Getting Out of Your Character’s Way by E.M. Kokie from Cynsations. PEEK: “I left with all these sensory details, insights into how shooting could be fun and cause a sense of competition or accomplishment, and bruises in several places.”

Research is for the Background by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Revision & Polishing

Analyzing Feedback by Karen Kane from Cynsations. PEEK: “Once I started thinking in terms of ‘mastery-oriented mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed-mindset,’ I began to feel empowered. I saw that other people don’t have the ‘right’ way—just their own way. And I, too, could figure out my own way, in my life and in my stories.”

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE 4th edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Paper, Allyn & Bacon, 2000). Yes, of course, you need this book. I can’t believe you’re wondering.

That Last Revision: Ruthless Bites by Kelly Bennett from Cynsations. PEEK: “If you think it will be tough to bite into your 50,000 word novel manuscript this way, imagine applying Hillerman’s ‘Ruthless Bites’ polishing method to a 700 word picture book manuscript!”

Missed Opportunities by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. PEEK: “The good thing about fiction is a missed opportunity isn’t really missed. We get do-overs all the time. We get the gift of revision.”

Revising a Rough Draft by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “The beginning chapter or chapters I might go over fifteen or twenty times. It’s ridiculous. I know it is, but I can’t help myself. I need to do that to get them to be the best I can make them.”

Revision Strategies – A Chapter Worksheet by Dee Garretson from Project Mayhem: From the Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. PEEK: “Once I have a draft I’m fairly happy about, I go back and revise by chapters, trying to ensure each chapter holds together as a unit itself and adds to the story as a whole.”

Revision Techniques by J. Albert Mann from 88 Cups of Tea. Peek: “I use lists. Lots and lots of lists. Self-Revision: Before anyone sees your work, you need to see your work….Revising To Feedback: (Critique Partners and Critique Groups). You won’t agree with all feedback, but you will list all feedback….Revising To Editorial Notes:…[S]tart with the big issues.”

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers

SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: HOW TO EDIT YOURSELF INTO PRINT by Renni Browne and Dave King with illustrations by George Booth (HarperCollins, 1994). Engaging text and helpful exercises. I require my MFA students to read and do the exercises.

Stages of Revision by Natalie Whipple at Between Fact and Fiction. PEEK: “The plot is your base—your story relies on this as a firm foundation. If you have weak areas, you risk readers putting down your book. Because of that, my first revisions always revolve around tightening the plot.”

The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Urban Setting Thesaurus, The Rural Setting Thesaurus
The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Urban Setting Thesaurus, The Rural Setting Thesaurus

Writers Helping Writers: “filled with innovative tools, resources and writing help that will help you write more productively while helping you to elevate your storytelling.” CYN NOTE: Check out the “thesaurus” series for writers (see image).

Romance Genre and Romantic Elements

Let’s Get It On: Sex Scenes in Young Adult Novels by Marianna Baer from Crowe’s Nest. PEEK: “Once I stepped back and looked at YA novels I think handle sex beautifully, I realized I needed to come back to that – the craft. Because, in the end, good craft will set us free.”

Tips for Non-corny Romance Scenes by Deborah Halverson from PEEK: “Because teens lack the words and experience to express themselves well in romantic situations, they try to read each other’s body language and become hyper-conscious of their own bodies. Mine that!”

Writing Teen Love, Romance, Passion! by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Which of course means talking about awkwardness, three-dimensionality, and emotional resonance.”


Sequels: Rules for Writing Second Installments by Brent Hartinger from The Writer’s Digest. PEEK: “Resolving lingering plotlines and character arcs from the first project is the least important part of a sequel. What you want are new plotlines and new character arcs.”

How To Create A Series Bible from Heart Breathings with Sarra Cannon. PEEK: “A writer could get lost in the process of creating the series bible! So much so that you might never actually write your series. Track what you need to track in order to create a valuable reference document when working on subsequent books in the series. No more, no less.”

Author Kimberley Griffiths Little

Deepening Character with Setting by Kimberley Griffiths Little from Cynsations. PEEK: “In a book that takes you to a place you’ve never been before…. When the author brings that place–that location–alive, setting often become its own character. You can practically feel the setting, taste it, touch it, hear it, and smell it. When a book does that, the reader is truly transported to a new world and is able to get inside the main character in a whole new way and on many different levels.”

Time Period Settings by Mary Kole from PEEK: “The event or period really has to be central to the events of your own novel. In other words, there has to be a dang good reason for you to be setting your book in another time.”


Creating Compelling Consequences for Characters by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. PEEK: “We can all sit around and agree that trouble and tension are the fuel of the story engine. You can’t get very far without them. But when it comes to actually executing them and letting your character suffer? Many writers are simply too nice.”

The Perfect Plot by Linda Joy Singleton from Cynsations. PEEK: “Characters and plot are a marriage; each plot-turn should be motivated by what your characters wants. Don’t only plot by listing an outline of events. Plot your characters’ inner journeys, too; give even minor characters motivation—something they want—to enhance plotting.”

Structure by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. PEEK: “In terms of structure, these localized desires need to feed into the larger themes. If they do, then the localized action will add to the larger action.”

Thoughts on Scene Structure from Lena Coakley. PEEK: “Now, I had been writing a long time—an embarrassingly long time—before I figured out that a scene needs structure in the same way that a complete novel does.”

THE WRITER’S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR STORYTELLERS AND SCREENWRITERS by Christopher Vogler (Paper, Michael Wiese, 1998). Essential to understanding some of the expectations of the mainstream market. Once you know it and understand it, you can adapt, play with, or reject it. CYN NOTE: Look for the latest edition.


If I Had a Hammer, I’d Hammer This Message Into You from Editorial Anonymous. PEEK: “People (of any age) do not appreciate the funnel-to-gullet method of learning a lesson.”

Writing to Answer Your Central Question by Barbara O’Neal from Writer Unboxed. PEEK: “What it took was not shirking away from taking another step into my central question, allowing the writing to carry me deeper.”

Casting Light in the Darkness, Writing for Young Readers on Difficult Topics by Catherine Stier from Cynsations. PEEK: “What part of their previous life can your child character hold on to? What good things stay the same?”


Voice from Martine Leavitt. PEEK: ” I am fascinated by the idea that before character, plot and setting I am inventing an implied author, who is part of the fiction and who stands between me and my work. I wonder about her. Is she nice? What does she think of me? Is she the one that refused to write the book that never came to be?”

Author Padma Venkatraman

Voice: Writing Lean, Spare or Lush, Rich by Padma Venkatraman from Cynsations. PEEK: “Write an important scene or two in another character’s voice. This will not only help you enhance your understanding of this character, it will also give you a greater appreciation for your main character’s voice.”

Writing for Children and Young Adults/Teens

THE GIBLIN GUIDE TO WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS by James Cross Giblin (Writer’s Institute Publications, 2005)(fourth edition—revised and updated). Highlights the various forms, including nonfiction, fiction, ages categories within fiction, types of fiction, picture books globally, and rhyme in picture books specifically. It also features information on “from submission to contract” and “from contract to publication.” Recommended as a companion to WHAT’S YOUR STORY? A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO WRITING FICTION by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion, 1992) and especially to children’s nonfiction writers.


THE MAGIC WORDS by Cheryl B. Klein (W.W. Norton, 2016). PEEK: “…draws on fifteen years of experience as an editor to guide writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded journey of their own. She provides a complete overview of the writing, editing, and publication processes, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to querying your dream agent. She also explains the differences in content and approach for middle-grade vs. young adult novels, and discusses vital contemporary topics in the field like self-publishing, world-building, and creating diverse characters. The book delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and style—while its original exercises, thought-provoking questions, and solid rules of thumb help writers apply its insights to their individual creative work.”

WRITING FOR CHILDREN & TEENAGERS by Lee Wyndham, revised by Arnold Madison (Writer’s Digest, 1989). In addition to the overview subjects (characters, conflict, etc.), this book also offers special chapters on interests such as: researching, writing mysteries, writing picture books, writing hi-lows and easy-to-read books, and writing nonfiction.

KidLit411: “One website, with all of your favorite sources in one place.”

Ramona Quimby and the Art of Writing From a Kid’s Mind by Annie Barrows from Literary Hub. PEEK: “The author sets up the furniture, props the door open, and then covers herself with an author-cozy and disappears, leaving the entertainment to be directed, acted, and understood by the kid-characters.”

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A HANDS-ON GUIDE FROM STORY CREATION TO PUBLICATION by Ann Whitford Paul: review by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon.YA Novels for Dummies

WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES by Deborah Halverson, forward by M.T. Anderson (For Dummies, 2011). Another DUMMIES book that’s a great pick for smart writers. CYN NOTE: articles include “On Paranormal: More than Monsters” by Cynthia Leitich Smith.