Showing posts with label kidlit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kidlit. Show all posts

Does Your Story Go Up and Down, And All Around?



By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

I’ve noticed that people who want to write a story, but are new to the arena, don’t understand what’s involved in writing a good story.

I’ve seen lots of drafts that are cute, but they have no story arc or character arc. They’re a series of related events or incidents … they’re not a full story.

Another thing, sometimes along with these story ideas that don’t have a story arc, a lot of new authors don’t want to make their characters real, especially the protagonist.

A story and its characters should have ups and downs, ins and outs. It shouldn't be a steady ride or read. It should be like the horse on a carousel that doesn't move aside from going round and round.

First let’s touch on what makes a full story arc.

The very first thing is your protagonist needs a big problem. Something that needs to be overcome.

Here are a couple of examples of a problem that needs to be overcome:

•    Maybe Rafael is being bullied at school.
•    Maybe Sophia just got a new bike and was told not to leave it alone anywhere. She leaves it unattended at the park and it’s stolen.
•    Maybe Rick is the kid who no one chooses for their team and he’s getting very upset about it.
•    Maybe Lisa moved to a new neighborhood and has to start a new school. She’s anxious over all the changes.

After the problem has been established, the main character (MC) needs to try to figure out how to overcome the problem.

But as life isn’t smooth, the MC can’t overcome the problem in one attempt.

The protagonist needs to struggle to reach the goal. He needs to try a couple of things and fail and become deflated before he finally comes up with a plan that leads to success.
Along with the MC succeeding, there must be some kind of growth.

•    Maybe, he learns he’s not the person he thought he was, like with Wang in Walking Through Walls.
•    Maybe she learns compassion.
•    Maybe he learns that winning isn’t everything.
•    Maybe she learns how to make friends.

The story arc and character arc both have a beginning, middle and end. In children’s writing, the story arc, in a way, relies on the character arc. They go hand-in-hand.

When thinking of a story arc, think of a triangle.
1.    The exposition. At the bottom of the left side is the introduction. The MC and setting is introduced.

2.    The trigger. The problem appears (the inciting incident). It may be internal or external, but it needs to be addressed.

3.    The quest. The MC struggles to overcome the problem. The action is rising as is the conflict. The MC finds obstacles that must be overcome on her quest to find a solution.

4.    The climax. The MC has made a critical choice and is engaging in his final attempt. He’s chosen his path and it’s the beginning of his change. The action declines as everything unfolds.

5.    The resolution. The MC has overcome the problem. He’s successful. And he’s grown in some way as a result of the journey.

For #4, the climax, think of a kid who’s about to steal for the first time. Will his conscience kick in and stop him or will he go through with it?

So, you can see that having a series of related incidents does not lend itself to a true story, to a full story arc

Next up, you’ve got to write real characters, ones that are believable.

I hear it all the time, my clients, who are usually new authors, want a fun story, but they don’t want their MCs to have any bad traits.

In a children’s story, this means the young MC can’t yell. He can’t do anything bad. He doesn’t think bad thoughts.

What kid will be able to relate to a perfect MC.

Your characters need to be realistic, believable. Kids yell, kids can be mean, they can be selfish, they can be liars, and so on. They have good days and bad days.

If your MC isn’t believable, the reader won’t connect with him.

Characters need to have ups and downs, just like the story arc. 

This article was first published at:





Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, editor, and coach with clients worldwide. If you need help with your children’s story, please visit: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.
In addition, she offers self-publishing help for children’s authors. To learn more, you can visit WRITERS ON THE MOVE PRESS.
Karen also offers HOW TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN, a self-guided ecourse and mentoring program.

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'

Character Sheets - Building a Character

 Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Ghostwriter

Connecting with a reader entails a couple of things, one of which is to have a fully developed protagonist.

A crucial aspect of creating a real character is his interactions with the other characters in the story, and his reactions to external influences.

These reactions to external surroundings or occurrences add layers to your protagonist.

To be able to write with this type of clarity and dimension for your protagonist, you need to know every detail of your protagonist's character.

Even if you learn tidbits here and there as the story progresses, those new bits and pieces of the characters traits will need to be remembered and possibly used again. An excellent way to keep track of your protagonist’s characteristics is to create a character sheet.

Using Character Sheets

In addition to the basic information, like physical characteristics, abilities, faults, family, and likes and dislikes, you need actions and reactions.

Make note on your character sheet of every reaction and interaction your character has with another character. As with actual life, we interact differently with different people in our lives.

A boy will not react to a friend the same way he does a brother. He will not react the same to a sister as he does a brother. The same holds true for all other relationships. All these different interactions help create a fully dimensional protagonist.

As you're creating your story's characters' dynamics, keep in mind that all characters play a part in creating a realistic story, even in fantasy and sci-fi.

This means that your protagonist needs a responsive partner or team member (character) when interacting, otherwise the interaction will feel one-sided and flat.

Create Character Continuity

In order to create a continuity of character traits for all characters, each character needs a character sheet.

While for some this may seem tedious, it is well worth the effort. You may be three quarters through the book and can't remember how character A interacted with character D.

You won't want to have to search through the story to find this little tidbit of information.

Also, keep in mind that each character will have his/her own motivation for actions and reactions. This is part of their character traits and should be listed on their character sheet.

Remember, every action, reaction and interaction created in your story will not only develop the protagonist, but also the other characters in the story.


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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By Karen Cioffi

Before I get into this article, for those who don’t know the difference between science fiction and fantasy, here it is:

Science fiction is based on scientific possibilities, even if loosely based on those possibilities or far-fetched. Fantasy stories are based on magic or supernatural occurrences.

I’d say about half of my clients want fantasy stories. And, that’s fine with me because I love writing in this genre.

Writing fantasy stories gives you free reign. Your imagination is literally your only limit.

Keep in mind that you do need to adhere to traditional publishing guidelines when writing for children no matter what genre you’re dealing with, even if you’re self-publishing.

This means keeping the storyline and words age appropriate. It also means creating a quality story that will engage the young reader.

And as a fantasy writer, while you have free reign, you must create the rules and boundaries for the world you’re creating. Although fantasy, the world needs to make sense to the reader.

But, what’s involved in actually writing fantasy?

Writing fantasy boils down to one basic question:

How do you create a fantasy world?

This is a tough question.

I think it depends in part on the kind of fantasy world you need or want to create.


With some types of fantasy stories, you’re not really creating an entirely new world, you’re stretching the existing one. An example of this is Superman. Earth is as it is, Superman simply has supernatural abilities

In these stories, the earth and society are normal. You’re adding other elements that are beyond reality or scientific possibility that turn the story into fantasy. At least this is how I view it.

These fantasies start with realistic fiction and an element of fantasy or a super-natural element is thrown in the mix.

It might be the protagonist finds ‘something’ or experiences something and it creates a ‘fantasy’ situation.

- Maybe the protagonist can read minds.
- Maybe he becomes super-strong.
- Maybe she becomes super-smart.
- Maybe he can fly.
- Maybe she becomes invisible.
- Maybe the protagonist can turn into an animal.

This list can go on and on. The scenarios are almost limitless.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” begins with realistic fiction. An ordinary family with Charlie as the protagonist. He wins a contest and enters a world of fantasy.

Middle-grade “Walking Through Walls” begins with historical, but realistic, fiction. It starts with a boy and his family in 16th century China. Then the boy, 12-year old Wang, finds the Eternal Temple. This sets off the fantasy.

There’s also “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” among lots of others. These stories also begin with realistic fiction.

For these stories, there’s an incident or catalyst that turns realistic fiction into fantasy.

If you’re writing this type of story, you need to decide on the incident or catalyst that immerses the reader into the world of fantasy.

Then you need to decide on what magical or super-natural element will be created due to the catalyst.


Some stories bring you right into the fantasy world. You’re immediately immersed into it. There is no element of realistic fiction. No catalyst or incident is required.

Think of “The Hobbit” and “Watership Down.”

The first chapter, first paragraph of “The Hobbit” reads:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

The reader is immediately immersed in a fantasy world and she knows it.

Even while the setting of “Watership Down” is based on a real area between Berkshire and Hampshire in England, and author Richard Adam is very explicit when describing the land he knew very well, you know it’s fantasy because of the talking animals.

In his book though, while Adams is very descriptive in regard to the area, it’s not until the third paragraph that the rabbits (the characters) are mentioned. And, it’s not until the fifth paragraph that the rabbits talk.

But “Watership Down” is a LONG book. I have the illustrated (by Aldo Gallo) hardcover and it’s 474 pages. It was originally copyrighted in 1972. I don’t know if this type of lavishly descriptive children’s book would get a traditional contract today.

But aside from that, think of all the other talking animal books, like the Winnie-the-Pooh series, the Berenstain Bears series, “Stuart Little,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The young reader is off and running in a fantasy world from the get-go.

For stories that start out in a fantasy world, you need to decide on the element of the story that will be magical or supernatural.

- Will it be talking animals?
- Will it be a supernatural or magical world – trees that talk, land that can transform itself into different landscapes, deep earth caverns filled with prehistoric creatures?
- Will it be a world of unworldly creatures?

Obviously, this list can go on and on, but it gives you a basic idea. The reader knows from the get-go that it’s a fantasy world.


No matter what form of fantasy you’ll be writing, get the basis for the story in place first before beginning.

Will it be a realistic world with magical or supernatural elements?

Or, will it be a fantasy world?

And, it doesn’t matter if you’re an outliner or a pantser. It would be difficult to fly by the seat-of-your-pants if you don’t have the fundamentals in place.

As an example, when I was creating the fantasy “Walking Through Walls,” while I didn’t know all the specifics, I knew it would be set in 16th century China. I knew that the setting for that time period and locale needed to be realistic. This meant I had to do a lot of research.

So, even though I flew by the seat-of-my-pants for most of the story, I had the foundation down. It would be set in a realistic world.

For even more details on writing fantasy, check out the references listed below.

This article was originally published at: 


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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