Showing posts with label Writing for Children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing for Children. Show all posts

Making Scenes Work


Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Freelance Writer

One of the best descriptions I’ve read on what a scene is comes from James Scott Bell’s blog, Kill Zone. In an article on strengthening scenes, Bell explains that “scenes are the bricks that build the fiction house. The better the bricks, the better the house.” (1)

This gives a visual of how scenes work. Building one on top of the other to create a strong story.

Masterclass describes a scene as “a section of a story that has its own unique combination of setting, character, dialogue, and sphere of activity.” (2)

This description gives more details, but I like Bell’s visual better.

The Masterclass article also explains that scenes are one of the “most valuable writing skills an author can possess.”

This makes scenes even clearer. They’re essential to a ‘good’ book. Going back to the brick house, the better (stronger) the brick, the stronger the house.

A scene has a beginning, middle, and end, just like the story.

When the location changes, another character enters the scene, or something else significant changes within the scene, that’s usually an indication that it’s the end of that scene and the beginning of the next.

An example of this is from my middle grade book, Walking Through Walls.

The protagonist, Wang is trying to walk through a wall but just can’t do it. He’s fearful of getting hurt. It takes him ten tries.

Finally, he passes through it. That’s the end of that scene.

The next scene has Wang ecstatic. He’s thrilled. He can’t contain himself.

So, how do you make scenes work?

1. The first thing a scene needs to do is achieve something.

Think of the brick. It’s solid. It’s its own entity.

Each scene has a story to tell.

The scene may be a chase scene, a fight scene, the inciting incident, a romantic scene, or a scene establishing the setting.

Using Walking Through Walls again, at the beginning of the story, Wang is seen sweating and complaining while working in the wheat fields. This scene establishes the type of work Wang is doing and also establishes his attitude toward it.

2. A scene should be the foundation for the next scene.

Scenes are like building blocks. They provide information the reader should know to move forward in the story.

Going back to Wang and his attitude toward hard work, it allows the reader to understand why he desperately wants a way out of his life.

The scene can also provide more information, such as backstory, or a look into the character’s family life, friendships, strengths, weaknesses, and so on.

It can be anything of value that helps move the story and characters forward.

3. Every scene should have a point of view.

As a children’s ghostwriter, most of the stories I write have one point of view.

But I also work on upper middle-grade where there can be two points of view and young adult where there can be multiple points of view.

When working with more than one point of view, each scene should be specific to only one; otherwise, it can get confusing and weaken the strength of that brick.

4. Each scene should contribute to the world you’re creating.

The period of Walking Through Walls is 16th century China. This meant a lot of research.

I incorporated tools of the time period, clothing, and even food within the scenes to build the world the characters lived in.

I also used dialogue to build the world. I eliminated contractions and flavored the dialogue and actions with respect, especially toward elders.

5. As your story should be shown and not told, so should your scenes.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new writer of an experienced writer, it’s easy to fall into the ‘telling’ mode when writing.

Showing a scene means using dialogue, action, sensory details, and internal thoughts.

Using showing enables the reader to be absorbed in the story. It connects the reader to the character and brings the reader into the story.

Telling keeps the reader at arms-length. The reader won’t be able to make as strong a connection to the character or the story.  

Hope these five tips on writing a good scene help you strengthen your story’s scenes.





Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, visit Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

Karen also offers authors:

A guided self-study course and mentoring program.

A DIY book to help you write your own children’s book.

Self-publishing help for children’s authors.

Middle Grade and Young Adult Differences


By Karen Cioffi

Lately, I've notice that a number of clients don't understand the difference between a middle grade (MG) book and a young adult (YA) book.

So, let's go over a few of the basic differences.

Also, keep in mind that there is simple MG and upper MG as well as simple YA and upper YA.


MG books focus on readers in the 9-12 age range. According to editor Mary Kole, "That's really the sweet spot." (1)

Along with this, there is an upper middle grade group that caters to the 12-13-year-old reader. They're not quite ready for YAs, but they're more advanced than a 9 or 10-year-old.

There is also a lower middle grade group that caters to the 8-10 range.

Another factor to consider is the age of the protagonist.

Generally, the protagonist is between 11 and 12 years old as kids want to read up. They want the protagonist to be as old or older than they are.

If it's an upper MG, the protagonist is usually 12-13.

It is important that the protagonist isn't in high school, thus the 13-year-old limit for upper middle grade.

Young adult books focus on readers in the 13-18 age range.

This genre is also divided into lower (younger) YA and upper (older) YA.

For the younger YA readers, the protagonist is usually aged 14-15.

For older readers, the protagonist is usually 16-18 years old, but he shouldn't be in college.

I'm currently ghostwriting a YA where it starts with the protagonist at 14 and will go with him through high school to 18-years-old.


With middle grade, especially younger middle grade, the story should still be simple and it'd be a good idea to keep it to a single point-of-view.

For upper MG, you can use two points-of -view, but my preference is still only one.

While the subject matter can be more mature than chapter books, it should be age appropriate. Keep in mind that the MG age group is still young. They're not experienced or mature enough to handle complex or mature topics.

Things like fitting in, simple crushes, and all the other things that go into the middle school years are fine.

If you're writing for upper middle grade, things can get a bit more advanced. Kids are experiencing the world. They know what they're seeing on TV and other media. You still though want to avoid dark or explicit subject matter. And, profanity should be avoided.

With young adult, kids are becoming savvy. They're experiencing everything from terrorism, violence, pandemics, and so on.

YA stories can go into the darker and grimier side of life.

While you still want to tone it down a bit for the younger YA group, for the older group you can pretty much go into everything. Although, explicit sexual content should still be limited. This is not the place for adult content.

You can though, add two or more points-of-view.



The word count for middle grade is 15,000 to 65,000. Although, my fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls, is about 12,000 and is great for the reluctant MG reader.

The general parameters are:

- Young MG is usually 15,000 to 25,000
- MG is usually 25,000 to 45,000
- Upper MG is usually 45,000 to 65,000

There is also the fantasy or sci-fi MG which can have a higher word count. But, it's not advisable not to go beyond 85,000 words.


The word count for young adult is 50,000 to 75,000.

For the younger YA, keep it on the lower end of the word count.

While these are just the basics of the differences between MG and YA, it gives you a general idea of where your story should fit.

According to an article at Writers Digest, "a book that doesn’t fit within the parameters of either age category is a book you won’t be able to sell." (2)

An example of this:

With the story I mentioned earlier that I'm ghosting, it started as a MG. But, as the client wanted older subject matter and wanted the protagonist to go through high school, I had to change it to a YA.

The client actually wanted the protagonist to go through college also, but I had to pull in the reins.

You need to stay within the genre limits.

I hope this clears up the major differences between middle-grade and young adult stories.

This was first published at:




Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. You can check out Karen's books at:

You can connect with Karen at:


Basics and Strong Writing

'Show' in Your Stories, but Sometimes it's Okay to 'Tell'

An Interview with Children's Author Nancy I. Sanders

 by Suzanne Lieurance

Nancy I. Sanders is a prolific children’s book author. She has also written hundreds of articles for magazines, newpapers, and blogs. Other writers can learn a lot from Nancy, so I asked her a few questions about her writing career and how she works.

                                                        Nancy I. Sanders

Suzanne Lieurance: Nancy, please tell us a little bit about yourself as an author. How did you get started writing for children? What is your most recent published book? How did it come about?

Nancy Sanders: I started writing when my kids were born, nearly 40 years ago. I fell in love reading baby books to them and wanted to write my own. My most recent books are a set of baby board books! My dream has come true! Bedtime with Mommy came out last year and my newest release is its companion, Bedtime with Daddy. You can purchase them if you order them in at your local bookstore, order online at your favorite online store, buy them at the airport (they’re on sale across the nation!) or support the publisher by ordering at their website at


SL: Do you have an agent? If so, what do you think are the advantages of having an agent?  Are there any reasons not to have an agent?


NS: Yes, I have an agent. If you want to get books published with houses that only accept agented submissions, you have to have an agent. However, most of my books have been with the educational market or with publishers who do not require an agent and I didn’t use an agent for those.


One of the biggest reasons NOT to have an agent is if you work with a small publisher. An agent in the loop might be too difficult. There are plenty of small publishers out there and they’re delightful to work with. Plus they usually keep your book in print for years where the big publishers don’t. And they usually don’t require an agent.


SL: Do you have any kind of process you use regularly to come up with ideas for stories and books?


NS:  I take a very focused strategy with I brainstorm ideas for new books.


STEP ONE: I read through publishers’ online catalogs to see if there are any holes in the market or a big demand in the market for specific types of books. For example, when I was looking for a new baby book idea, I looked at a lot of catalogs and saw that many publishers have books for mommies with their babies. I could see these are a hot topic.


STEP TWO: I got as many baby books as I could from our local library about mommies and their babies. I had stacks and stacks of books that I read through! Over 50-100!


STEP THREE: I read through those books and brainstorm ideas that haven’t yet been done. I had just self-published a set of reproducible books for teachers called 42 HABITAT MINIBOOKS. So as I read through my stash of books, I realized nobody had done a baby book of animal mommies putting their babies to bed in habitats around the world! 


That’s where the idea for my books was born.


SL: Nancy, I know you have written over 100 published books for kids. Do you usually work on more than one book at a time? If so, do you have any tips for juggling multiple projects at once?


NS: Right now, I’m working on 2 major writing projects. I have one project’s research books spread out on the dining room table. The other project’s research books and journals are stacked on a side table in my living room. I keep them in separate places to help me keep them apart. And I keep them OUT. Keeping them out helps me connect with them on more constant level.


I tend to work on my one research project in the morning and the other book project in the afternoon/evening.


I also use separate pocket folders for each project to keep my files and research notes organized.


Sometimes I get tired working on one project, so I’ll pick up the other one and work on it for a while.


However, both have tight deadlines as I create new content, so I can’t let one lay idle for too long!


SL: What do you think are your greatest strengths as a writer?


NS: I’ve realized that I’m really good at taking something already written and putting it into my own words. 


This is good for retelling Bible stories. 


It’s good for researching facts and putting them in an interesting style for kids to read. 


It’s also a good strength to have if you want to write for a series because you have to take a voice that’s already published and fit into it with your own story.


I also like to share my insider’s secrets that I’ve learned over the years to be a successful children’s writer. 


I’ve self-published two how-to books for KidLit writers: Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career and Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books.


SL: When you are going to write a book, how much planning do you do ahead of time? For example, do you make a complete outline of the book? For longer books, do you interview your characters or create character profiles to get to know them better?


NS: Absolutely! For example, the two projects I’m working on right now required outlines of the whole project before I even wrote the content. And when I’m writing fiction or biographies, I always sit down and get to know my characters before I start writing about them. But the fun is that you learn more about your characters as you travel on the journey through writing about them. So it’s always a work in progress and nothing is written in stone.


Some of my favorite experiences as an author have been when I’ve handed in an outline for a book to a publisher. Then three months into the research, I discover an amazing new fact about this character and my whole project takes a U-turn!


SL: Voice is very important in children’s books. Do you have any tips for creating strong character voices?


NS: One of the most fun ways to develop your character’s voices is to sit down with them before you write the next scene or the next page. Imagine them each sitting in a different chair around your kitchen table. Then ask them questions about the upcoming scene. How do they feel about what is going to happen? What memory does that upcoming scene trigger for them? What do they want to say or do about the issue that will be confronted?


Then listen for how each one responds. Let them each tell you their answers in their own voice.


If you have trouble doing this exercise, assign each one of your characters a common animal. The stubborn character could be an ox. The flighty character could be a silly goose. The villain could be a crafty fox. Repeat this exercise and see how they respond!


SL: I know you’ve done some WFH (work for hire) in the past. Do you continue to do WFH projects? Any tips for other writers who want to find WFH projects?


NS: I love doing WFH projects! You get cash. Cold cash that doesn’t have to wait for sales and royalties. You don’t have to say a word to get the news out about your book. You don’t have to spend one single minute on social media plugging your book. Although I have a writer friend who wrote a children’s book as a WFH project. She said her publisher offered her, I think $1000, if she wanted to help promote her book on her social media sites. She did it. Now that’s the kind of WFH that’s really had a fun perk to go with it!


SL: What are you working on right now?


NS: I’m actually working on a WFH project right now!


I’m working on 2 projects: one is a curriculum project, and one is content for a new Bible.


SL: What is your biggest tip for beginning writers who hope to get published and make a career of writing for children?


NS: Treat it like you would any other job and you’ll succeed. Schedule on your calendar to sit down and write new content every day. Join writer’s groups where you can network and land contracts. Attend writer’s conferences so you can improve your skills and learn what it means to be a better writer in today’s publishing industry.


I belong to two writer’s groups. You can join these online communities so you can grow as a writer, too. Follow us on social media. Offer to contribute as a blogger or help the group out on a social media platform that you engage with.


Write2Ignite hosts a virtual Master Class twice a year. Plus we feature tons of timely writing tips for KidLit writers on our blog. Follow our blog and sign up for our newsletter so you can be in the know!


Christian Children’s Authors posts a lot of book reviews of current published books in the Christian market, so it helps you stay on top of new publishing trends. Please follow our blog! 

SL: Wow! Thanks, Nancy, for taking the time to answer all my questions.

NS: My pleasure, and thank you, too.



I hope you’ve found this interview interesting and helpful. Find out more about Nancy Sanders and her books at Nancy’s website:


Follow her blog for children’s writers at:

Blogzone (for writers):   

Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, writing coach, speaker, and workshop presenter. She is a former classroom teacher and was an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature for over 8 years. She lives and writes by the sea on Florida’s beautiful Treasure Coast with her husband, Adrian.


Lieurance has written over 40 published books and her articles and stories have appeared in various magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. She sends a free e-mail called The Morning Nudge to subscribers every weekday, filled with tips and resources for writers. For those who need more than a nudge, she offers a monthly membership program called The Monday Morning Shove, live, via zoom, every week, which includes a private Facebook support group. 

Are You Overthinking Your Story?


 By Karen Cioffi

As a children’s ghostwriter I work and have worked with a lot of clients.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that some authors can’t stop overthinking their story.

So, what does ‘overthinking’ a story mean?

Well, it means a number of things from not being able to see a manuscript ready for publication to overthinking a sentence or the storyline.

Working with over 300 clients, it’s interesting that only a handful had trouble realizing when the story was complete.

They’d want to add this or add that, not realizing less with young readers is more.

Overall, though, the majority of my clients overthink at the sentence level.

For example, I have one client who questions every duplicate word within a paragraph.

Now, it’s true that choosing the right words is essential for writing, especially writing for children. But there are some words that will need to be repeated whether for emphasis or because the word is simply needed – there may not be a suitable synonym for it.

If you look at the paragraph above, there are words that are repeated: that, words, writing, and for.

Conjunctions, determiners, and so on are also factors to consider.

A conjunction is a word that’s used to connect words, phrases, and clauses.

Such words include: and, but, for, if, when, and because.

I’ll go to the store if it’s not raining out.
I’d go to the story, but it’s raining out.

Determiners are words that go before a noun to indicate quantity (e.g., two boys, a lot of dogs). These words are in two classes: an article (the, a/an) and a demonstrative (those, they, this, few, several, that).

An example (notice the determiner, that):
Can you pass me that book?

While often it is possible to rewrite your sentences to avoid repeating words, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

But I’m going astray.

Along with the sentences, clients also overthink the storyline and the characters.

The author may want to fit too much into a young children’s book. They may want to include two different topics within one story. Or they may have too many characters.

When writing for the four to eight-year-old group, simplicity and clarity rules.

The young reader needs one plot and one main character. There can be a couple of other characters, like friends, siblings, or cousins being involved, but you really don’t want more than that.

Again, for the young reader, it’s all about simplicity and clarity.

Trust your ghostwriter.

 Or if you’re writing the story yourself, read a lot of traditionally published books in the genre you’re writing.

This will give you a feel for what good writing is.

You might also actually write out or type out the stories of some of the books you read as practice. It helps train your brain to recognize good writing.

Another strategy you might use if you’re writing the story yourself is to read a number of books on writing skill, take a children’s writing course, or you can hire a children’s writing coach


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Karen’s children’s books include “Walking Through Walls” and “The Case of the Stranded Bear.” She also has a DIY book, “How to Write Children’s Fiction Books.” You can check them out at: If you need help with your children’s story, visit:  


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