NaPiBoWriWee 2011 Day Three – Good Morning!

National Picture Book Writing Week

Good morning, my wonderful NaPiBoWriWee writers! I’m trying to think of a nickname for us. I remember calling us “PiBo’s” last year. I was thinking of “NaPiBoWriWee-ers” but that’s a mouthful! Can anyone think of a fun nickname? “NaPi’s?” LOL! 🙂

Anyway, nickname or not, welcome to Day Three of the 2011 National Picture Book Writing Week! By now, you should feel like a PRO at this! 🙂

I often teach a class called WRITING FOR CHILDREN at UCLA EXTENSION’s WRITERS PROGRAM. I have loved every single class in this program, where I too got my start. I highly recommend checking out there classes. All my students ROCKED. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. I am so proud of my students and I learned a lot from them, too!

If you are interested in UCLA’s Writers’ Program, go here:

So I’ve noticed a pattern in my blogging already. I’m giving writing craft advice based on what I’ve learned in my own writing classes, both as a student and teacher. I know most of you already know this stuff, but I figured a refresher course can’t hurt, right? 🙂 Plus, there are a lot of newbie aspiring writers who are joining us at NaPiBoWriWee for the first time, so I figured they would be interested in these craft issues as well.

So on Day One, I talked about “vomit drafts” and used a lot of quotes from Ann Lamott’s famous BIRD BY BIRD book. Yesterday, I talked about PLOT. Today… we’re gonna talk about THEME.

(Keep reading after the jump for more on THEME…)


One of my favorite books to use when teaching Writing For Children at UCLA EXTENSION’s Writers Program is  The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb (Writers Digest Books ’01). I HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s chock full of the nuts and bolts that make up writing craft issues for children and teens.

Here’s what Lamb has to say about PREMISE and THEME…


P. 176: “The premise is what your book is about. Premise is not the plot. It is the underlying idea that supports the plot. Ideally, you should establish the premise of your story before you even begin writing. If you can do this, you will save yourself untold creative angst.”

(Paula’s note: Although Lamb makes a good point, I have to interject and say that I sometimes you need that “untold creative angst” to figure out your premise! LOL! 🙂 )

“Think of premise as the foundation of your plot, the essential truth you want to convey. Premise is the truth that gives shape to your story and meaning to the lives of your characters. Premise has a beginning – an idea – but it also has an ending – a conclusion. For example:

“Premise: A life of petty crime leads to a life in prison.

“Premise: Where there’s a will there’s a way.

“Premise: The first love you have is the last love you remember.

“Premise: When you betray a friend, you lose a friend.”


P. 177: “The theme of your book is the narrative concept behind your story, the idea explored within the context of what your book is about. The theme is not the premise. Nor is it the message or the moral. Lots of books have more than one theme. In Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson tells the tale of an unlikely bond forged between fourth grader Jess Aarons and his friend Leslie Burke. They form a deep and abiding friendship that binds them together forever. Although the friendship ends in tragedy, Jess is left with a new understanding of the depth of love and the importance of beauty and dreams.

“The premise of this book is when we honor imagination, we honor life.

“In contrast to the premise, the themes of this book are the transcendent might of friendship, the transforming power of love, the untapped courage to do what is right and the heroic struggle to reconcile the awful reality of death with the persistent demands of life. These themes are represented in the behavior of the characters and the elements of the plot.”


So as you work on Picture Book No. 3 today (or if you are still struggling with Picture Book No. 1, that’s okay! Keep going! Don’t give up! :))… think about your book’s PREMISE and/or THEME. As you figure out who your characters are and what will happen to them in the plot, think about the bigger picture. What’s your book REALLY about? Sometimes thinking about the overall theme can help when you’re stumped on a plot point problem or are unsure of how your character should develop emotionally throughout the story.


Our NaPiBoWriWee Day Three schedule:

9 AM (PST): Good Morning Blog posted. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I look forward to your comments!

12 PM (PST): Guest Author Blog will be posted. Today’s guest? Picture book author/illustrator KATIE DAVIS! So come back here at the end of your work day to hang out with the awesome Katie!

10:00 PM (PST): Bedtime Blog will be posted. Stay tuned and please post your progress report in the Bedtime Blog comments section. I look forward to hearing about your Day 3 adventures!

Okay, that’s it from me. Until the next blog posting… Happy Writing! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂


  1. Good morning to those still enjoying morning!
    I’m heading into dinner time so my Day 3 PB is done (for now). I didn’t have an idea so I dug into my trusty notebook from PiBoIdMo and found something in there that appealed to me today. Had fun writing it. Maybe I’ll go back in and identify my premise and theme. I really hope it has at least one of each 😉
    And I hope you all have a great writing day!

    • Yay! Glad to hear Tara’s PiBoIdMo is helping out. She’s a future Guest Author blog, so stay tuned for that! 🙂

  2. Day 2 was tough: computer malfunction and sinus infection and American Top Model marathon. Day 3: Keep writing!!!

    • That’s the right attitude! I’m proud of you! 🙂 Especially cuz you were sick, poor thing. Both you and your computer got under the weather. 🙁 And Top Model? I LOOOVE that show! 🙂

  3. Hi Paula and friends- Thanks so much Paula for sharing your daily writing life and struggles. We have so much in common, I am writing two other books, too. One a self-help the other a middle grade novel. Your write I need to write everyday. Thanks for starting this support group, it helps to be in a struggle with others. Yesterday, I enjoyed writing and reading and keeping focused. Today is going slow, but I will push those keys down and keep my day free from distractions to write.

    • Thanks again Riverwoods Pen for your kind comment. Your other books sound great too – I like the variety. One thing I’ve learned as a working writer is that in order to have a full time writing career you need to be able to write in different genres sometimes, so you’re on the right path. Good luck today!

  4. Another great post. Thanks for the craft advice and for the motivation. Days 1 and 2 were good, but haven’t buckled down for Day 3 yet. Too much going on. I think this will have to be a book written once the kids are in bed.

    Good luck to all.


    • Tnx for the comment Cheryl. Yes some days are tougher than others. Me – I will write tonight when I get home. Free evening thankfully! 🙂 Good luck today!

  5. PiBo’s.!

    No Such Thing as too much of the basics. Thank you for the lessons.
    If we really had them mastered, our results would be different- “knowlege plus 10,000 times”- and we wouldn’t be here-
    we’d be on grand retreat resorts, or too busy with deals, or maybe honored with the weight of many awards, very old, tired of people, and maybe dead.
    Ever learning sounds good. Still on book 2.

    • Thanks Ether, I’m glad you’re getting a lot out of the blogs. I agree, yeah, we are always “ever learning.” Bravo. Good luck today! 🙂

  6. I was about to junk my story for today, because I couldn’t find my premise. Then I read your note, Paula. I think this story has great promise, I just have to feel a bit of torment until I figure out what the premise is. I guess it all boils down to the fact that this story might take a different shape in subsequent drafts. After I discover the premise. It’ll still be the same story, but with a great foundation? 🙂

    • Oooooh cool Robyn, glad the Premise/theme blog worked out for you timing wise. Yes, keep writing and now your subconscious will figure out what that premise is… 🙂

  7. This is definitely harder than it looks. Day 1 went ok. Day 2 was weak, but written down. Day 3 consists of two paragraphs, but there is a beginning, middle and end. Illustrations will fill in the rest, right?

    I think I need to plan ahead better.

    • Laurie, yes, NaPiBoWriWee gets harder each day. Or at least more exhausting. Think of it as a marathon in terms of pacing. If this helps, keep it SIMPLE. Check out my Bedtime Blog tonight (will post around 11 PM PST) with some hints/tips on how to keep going, including some cool writing exercises. 🙂 Hang in there! 🙂

  8. Cheryl, I’m totally with you! Happily, the kids are in bed now, so I’m writing. I have two stories written and two planned. I’m hoping to have time to write the two tonight before anybody wakes up. 😉


  9. Thanks so much for the great motivation, Paula. I’ve written three picture book drafts so far, and can’t wait to figure out what I’ll write tomorrow! It will be wonderful to have 7 new manuscripts to whip into shape!

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