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

The Who, How, and Why of a Children's Ghostwriter



Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

A while ago, I had a conversation with a fellow attendee at a children’s picture book workshop. When I mentioned I’m a children’s ghostwriter, she was curious how I got started in the field.

I couldn’t answer her. I couldn’t remember how it actually came about.

Thinking back, though, I did start out editing for authors. Many of the manuscripts I received were in such poor condition that I ended up rewriting the stories, some almost to the point of ghostwriting.

It just seemed to evolve from there.

In case you’re wondering, a ghostwriter is a writer who will take your idea, notes, outline, or other information and write a story for you. And they write in every genre you can think of: fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, screenplays, video, TV scripts, technical, medical, speeches, music, and so on.

The ghostwriter offers a nondisclosure agreement if the potential client wants one. Most of my clients never ask for one. The ghostwriter also provides a freelance agreement. And she usually doesn’t get any recognition for her work. However, there are instances where the ghostwriter and client agree to other terms.

Two other terms that may arise between a ghostwriter and a client:

1. The ghostwriter has her name on the book as co-author for a reduced fee.

2. The ghostwriter gets a percentage of the sales, again for a reduced fee.

In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to accept either of these terms unless you absolutely know the book will be successful or the author is famous.

WHO hires a children’s ghostwriter?

The answer to this question always amazes me.

There are people from around the world who want to be the author of a children’s book but don’t have the skills, time, or inclination to do it themselves.

I’ve worked with well over 350 clients from lots of different countries, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Norway, Saipan, Jordon, Dubai, and all over the United States, even Hawaii.

It seems that most often, it’s parents or grandparents who develop a desire to be authors of children’s books. They usually want to have a story created about their children or grandchildren or impart some wisdom to children.

I’ve also worked with child therapists and child psychologists who use children’s books as a tool to broaden their ability to help children.

And then there are the business people who see a children’s book as part of a marketing strategy for their industry or as an addition to a product they already have.

In addition to this, I’ve worked with clients who wanted a series of children’s books to use as the foundation of a new business.

I’ve even ghostwritten for a dentist.

WHAT skills does a children’s ghostwriter need?

1. Being a skilled writer.

While a number of authors who self-publish have the “I want it now” syndrome and ‘wing’ their books into publication, you can’t do this when someone is paying you to write a professional story.

Aside from knowing how to write, it’s essential to understand the specific rules of writing for children. The ghostwriter needs to know what the current industry guidelines are.

2. Knowing how to listen.

Listening carefully to the client is a must. The ghostwriter needs to take simple things like an idea given over the phone or in an email, notes, or a basic outline and create an engaging and publishable book.

Along with this, the writer needs to ensure the book reflects the client’s voice and vision. Listening is an essential factor in doing this.

3. Being patient.

It may seem unusual, but a ghostwriter needs to be patient.

I’ve had a couple of clients who approved a final story, then came back in a week or two and decided they wanted revisions.

I had a middle-grade client who kept putting multiple POVs within one chapter. I’d edit it, and he’d change it again.

I had another client who kept ignoring my advice as I rewrote his young adult novel.

It’s important to be patient and tactful while explaining over and over why something doesn’t work. The reason to keep after the client is that it’s the ghostwriter’s job to make sure the final product is professional.

4. Being organized and focused.

I usually handle more than one project at a time. I’m currently juggling ten clients; it’s an all-time high number of simultaneous clients for me.

If you’re dealing with multiple clients, you need to be able to switch stories and sometimes genres without losing a beat. This takes focus… and flexibility while handling all the emails from clients.

For organization, I use a Word and Excel file for each client. I keep track of every email and every phone call.

When you’re dealing with writing clients, you must things moving smoothly and keep your clients satisfied and in the loop throughout each project.

5. Having the ability to follow through and be on time.

As with any writing project, you’ve got to complete it and come in on time.

In the terms of the agreement, there is a time period for the project to be complete. The ghostwriter must meet the deadline.

WHAT'S the motivation?

I can’t speak for all children’s ghostwriters, but for me, I love writing for children. It’s satisfying to teach children, engage them, amaze them, take them on adventures, and stretch their imaginations.

And I love helping others fulfill their desire to see their children’s story ideas come to life.


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

A 250+ page book that cover everything to help you write your children's book.

And for those children’s authors who are self-publishing, you might check out WRITERS ON THE MOVE PRESS.

Green Eggs and Ham and a Bet


Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Ghostwriter, Rewriter

This is a short post, but I found it fascinating and wanted to share.

Who would think that a random bet and constraints could lead to a book that sold 8 million copies as of 2019, and would become the best-selling book of the Dr. Seuss series?

When most people think of the word ‘constraint,’ it invokes a negative feeling or idea.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of constraint is “something that controls what you do by keeping you within particular limits.”

This is where the negative idea comes from.

It makes sense that something that limits you, controls you, isn’t a good thing.

Well, according to James Clear, constraints are our friend. Constraints foster creativity and motivate us to work within those limits to accomplish what we need to.

What I found exceptionally interesting is that “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss came about through a bet and constraints.

In 1960, Bennett Cerf, the founder of Random House, bet Theo Geisel that he couldn’t write a children’s book with only 50 words or less.

The bet was for $50.

Imagine if Dr. Seuss balked at the idea of writing a story of only 50 words for a bet of a measly $50.

I’m sure you’ll find the rest of Clear’s article as interesting as I did:
The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest Work


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

Self-publishing help for children’s authors.

Is It Sci-Fi or Fantasy?


Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

 I’ve always loved fantasy, so it’s a natural fit that I like writing it for children.

But what exactly is fantasy, and how does it differ from science fiction?


The simplest way to explain fantasy is that it doesn’t exist in the real world. Your imagination is the only limit when writing fantasy. This may be why I gravitate toward it.

If a story has supernatural or magical elements, it’s fantasy.

Fantasy allows you to delve into all sorts of topics, even difficult ones, and it comes across in a more digestible way than realistic fiction.

For example, in my chapter book,, Walking Through Walls, the main character, Wang, joins the Mystical Eternals and learns how to walk through walls.

In the sequel (still in progress), Wang has the choice to morph into a dragon at will or get another incredible ability.

Another example of fantasy is talking animals. This type of fantasy can have the protagonist going off on a journey alone or with friends. A children’s writer couldn’t have a child do this in realistic fiction as it could give the child dangerous ideas. There are lots of topics that can be introduced using talking animals.

In my picture book series, The Adventures of Planetman, the protagonist has supernatural vision and can fly. One of his friends has super speed, and the other is super strong.

These scenarios couldn’t possibly exist within the natural laws of our universe as they involve supernatural elements.

With fantasy, the writer can create new worlds and new beings. It can rain meatballs. There can be magical fairies and wizards. Science and realism are not factors.  

Think of Superman, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.


Science fiction is also out of the ordinary but is based on scientific principles. The elements of the story can exist within the natural laws of our universe. The scientific basis helps explain the extraordinary things that go on in the story.

These stories usually involve future scientific elements, such as space travel, aliens, time travel, and environmental catastrophes.  
An example of science fiction is Batman. All his abilities are from gadgets that are based on science. While some of them may be a bit far-fetched, they are in the realm of possibility.

Just think of all the gadgets and inventions created that are based on movies, books, and even articles. It’s astounding.

Driverless cars.
Holographic images.
The submarine.
The rocket.
The cellphone.
The taser.
The smartwatch.

Science fiction movies include:

World of Worlds
Altered States
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Matrix

Sci-fi books:

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Contact by Carl Sagan
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Children of Men by PD James


A mix of fantasy and science fiction is just that, a mix.

In these stories, there are elements of sci-fi and fantasy. An example of this genre is Star Wars.

While Star Wars easily falls within the sci-fi genre, it also has elements of fantasy, such as a force field. Although, in 2015, Boeing patented the first-ever force field to protect against shockwaves.

But even with the force field coming into existence, Star Wars also has lightning bolts from fingertips and levitations. These elements are pure fantasy.

So, if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy for children, are you sure which it is? 

This article was first published at:
(Sources are listed there.)


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, editor, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, click HERE.

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.

Developing Outlines and Character Details When Writing Middle Grade


 Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

The majority of my clients ask for picture books, but currently, I’m working on two middle grades.

While a middle-grade book can be significantly shorter than a novel, it still has a big chunk of words at around 20-50,000. Quite a difference from the under-800-word picture book.

When I write a picture book story, I use the seat-of-the-pants method. I find it works well with around 600-800 words.

This is not the case with a middle-grade story. Writing a middle-grade story is similar to writing a novel, so the same practices should be used. Because of this, I use an outline.


With an outline, you can make it as detailed as you like.

Being impatient, I used to write as bare an outline as possible. I've found, though, that writing a more detailed outline is a huge help when getting down to writing the story.

This became particularly apparent to me when a client from five years ago recently called me.

I had written one middle grade for him and started a second one. For some reason or other, the client stopped the project after a month into it.

He now wants to resume the project … after five years.

Fortunately, I keep good records and files. I make sure I have them backed up. In fact, I use Dropbox and Carbonite. I also have an external drive that I back my files up to.


Maybe, but I've had the experience of losing a client's project – the entire manuscript - due to a computer mishap, so I take extra precautions.

Because I save everything, I have the information from the first book and what I had done on the second book.

Going over my notes, I was THRILLED to see that I had written a detailed outline of Book 2.

Granted, this is an unusual situation as it’s the first time I’ve had a client stop a project, and especially stop one for such a very, very long time, but it helps emphasize the importance of an outline.

Having that detailed outline is going to save me time and effort.


Along with creating an outline, it's important to develop character details.

Writing coach and author Suzanne Lieurance says that if you know your characters before writing your story, you'll write a better novel.


Well, if you take the time to create your characters, especially the main characters, you can open up other details or subplots within the story that you might not have thought of before.

This also helps you to create unique characters. Characters with their own personalities and quirks that make them easily distinguishable from the other characters.

You'll know that Jeff has a temper, Russell is timid, and they're best friends despite their differences.

You'll know that Marisa has a crush on Matteo, who has a crush on Abby, who likes Jeff.

All this is going on behind the scenes in subplots as the main character struggles to reach his goal.

Knowing all this will allow you to understand how a character will react in certain situations. It'll also help you write particular scenes with ease.

I hope these tips help you write an outstanding middle-grade story.


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

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.

Your Children's Story and the Message

 By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

I get a lot of clients who want to tell children something through a book.

These people want to send a message in hopes of teaching the reader something … something the author thinks is important.

People who want to write children’s stories usually want to teach and enlighten children, whether it's about bullying, being yourself, being kind, or something else.

This is a noble endeavor - the problem, though, is children don’t want to be told what they should or shouldn’t do. They want a story that they can get involved in, one they want to turn the pages to find out what happens next, and one they can connect with the main character.

The ‘icing on the cake’ is what the reader takes away from the book, the takeaway value.

So as an author, how do you get your message across without hitting kids over the head?

To start, the story should be about something kids will want to read about. And it should not overtly be about the message.

I recently read a client’s manuscript that flooded the story with the author’s message. Nothing was subtle.

So how do you tone down your message to weave it seamlessly and subtly into your story?

One way, if you’re writing a story because of a message you have, is to think of a scenario where your message could play out.

Your message or moral takeaway may be about doing the right thing, even if tempted.

Suppose the story is about Sammy, a kid who’s basically honest.

Sammy and his friends find a bag of money on a shelf in the garage of an elderly neighbor they’re cleaning the garage for.

It’s a lot of money, and Josh wants to split the money between himself, Sammy, and another friend.

After thinking about it for a minute, Sammy tells Josh to put the money back.

A few seconds later, the elderly neighbor walks into the garage.

Sammy was tempted. He probably thought all sorts of things before finally realizing it was wrong.

Nowhere in the story should it say, ‘Crime doesn’t pay.’ 

Let the reader come up with their own conclusions.

If the story is written right, the reader will get the takeaway value without realizing they are … without the author hitting them over the head with it.

A story that takes the protagonist on a journey should result in him growing in some way.

Using Sammy above as an example, maybe he wasn’t sure what to do under those circumstances. Maybe he thought about being dishonest in the past. Maybe he struggled with his honesty in little things.

He chose the right path and learned something about himself. He was an honest kid.

Again, your young reader wants a good story. They want to go on a journey – messaging should not be a part of that journey.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, editor, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, click HERE.

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.

Want to be a Children's Author? Find Out What's Stopping You!


 Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Ghostwriter, Editor, Coach

There are many people, men, woman, professionals, and those in business who  dream of being the author of a children’s book.

Usually, it’s to inspire a child or bring memories or stories they told their children to life. Or, it can be a business person who wants a children’s book as part of their product line.

From my experience, the majority of these people want to be author of a picture book.

I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of queries about starting a project that fell through.

Why does this happen?

Why do the majority of people who want to be children’s author never follow through on their dream?

While I don’t know for sure, I do think there are a few basic reasons.


Yep. If you are hiring a children’s ghostwriter, it will cost money.

This is a huge concern for most, and understandably.

What really surprised me during 2020 (COVID time) was the number of people who did use my services. It was my busiest year ever. It had to be that people had time on their hands and wanted to be kept busy.

Then there are the writing services on sites like Fiverr. These types of services, and many others, have writers who don’t know English very well or aren’t professionals.

Yes, it will be cheaper than a professional writer, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you don’t care about the quality of the book you’ll be author of, it’s an option.

Below is an example from a Fiverr project a client came to me to fix. This was for a picture book:

His feet were heavy with reluctance as he dragged them unwillingly one in front of the other. He looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and couldn’t help but notice his sad expression. His piercing dark blue eyes, once full of joy and excitement, now looked weary and defeated.

In another section "really" was used three times within four sentences.

The entire story’s formatting was horrible, such as the lack of new paragraphs for new speakers. There were grammatical errors and multiple points of view.  

So, again, you get what you pay for.

I can’t imagine someone wanting to have their name as author of a story like that.

Another cost factor with children’s books is illustrations.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to hire an illustrator for a picture book.

You’ll also need illustrations for chapter books and simple middle grade books.

I listened to a YouTube video with editor and former literary agent Mary Kole. (Check out her YouTube channel, Good Story Company.) She said if you want a high-quality professional illustrator for a picture book, you’re looking at $10,000 to $20,000. And, if you want an acclaimed illustrator, it’s much more than that. (1)

Obviously, most people can’t afford that. So, it’s understandable why some people drop the idea.

But don’t let that stop you dead in your tracks. I work with good illustrators who charge far, far, far less.


One perfect example of losing motivation is a client from 2019.

I wrote a young adult (YA) story for an attorney. It was almost done and he was gun-ho. He even wanted seven picture books written after the YA was finished.

He paid in full and we were working to finish it.

Then he slowed down. Family. Vacation. Work.

Then COVID-19 hit.

I contacted him and he said he’d get back into it, but he didn’t.

I tried contacting him again as he paid for a completed manuscript and there are still about five or so chapters to go, but no word.

So, as we all know, life happens. This can put a monkey wrench in any project.


There is a lot involved in having a book ghostwritten and illustrated.

And, it’s a lot of work if you’re writing the story yourself.

After that, it’s the business of getting the book formatted, the interior design, and uploading for publication and distribution.

It can seem daunting.

But it doesn’t have to be.

There are a number of services that will help you put your book together and get it published. I’ve even added this service to my site to make it easier for my clients.

There is plenty of help out there.

So, what to do?

If your dream is to have your name as author of a children’s book, take the first step.

Find out what’s involved and what the cost will be. This will give you a solid foundation on what you need to do and what you’ll need for a budget.

I'd be happy to discuss your children's writing project with you.

It may be that your imagination is getting carried away.

Don’t let your dream go unfulfilled.

Get started today!

Picture Book Author-Illustrator

This article was first published at:


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, editor, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. If you need help with your story, click HERE.

Karen also offers:

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.

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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