NAPIBOWRIWEE 2015 – DAY FOUR: Character & Plot

napibowriweelogo3-300x284-200x200Welcome to DAY FOUR of my seventh annual National Picture Book Writing Week (“NAPIBOWRIWEE”) 2015!

This is when the burnout happens. Day 4 is always the toughest for our NAPIBOWRIWEE writers because it’s the halfway point. Plus it’s MONDAY. All that weekend writing wore everyone out! And if you have a day job, you lose a whole day of writing because you’re back in the office! So this is where I stop being nice and get tough…. KEEP WRITING! DON’T GIVE UP! YOU CAN DO IT! ON YOUR FEET, WRITING SOLDIER! 🙂

There. I hope I didn’t scare you. 🙂

Speaking of scaring you, don’t be scared by this rather lengthy blog! We not only have more fabulous advice from our week-long guest-editor-in-residence, AMY CHERRIX, but we have extra writing advice from published picture book author/illustrator ERIN EITTER KONO!

MY DAY THREE EXPERIENCE: Well, I got Book 3 done! I forced myself to do another Nite Owl Writing Session because Sunday was busier than I had anticipated. I was invited by my friend, the wonderful published picture book author & illustrator ERIN EITTER KONO to see a music recital. As a violinist myself, I love going to classical music recitals. It inspires me to keep practicing! We saw the amazing concert violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn perform some of my favorite pieces – Vitali’s “Chaconne in g moll‘ and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 (the “Kreutzer”). Elizabeth plays on the famous 1720 Stradivarius known as the “Red Mendelssohn” which inspired the movie The Red Violin. It was a beautiful performance!

Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn performs Vitali and Beethoven at a recital in Rolling Hills, CA.
Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn performs Vitali and Beethoven at a recital in Rolling Hills, CA.

What does all this music have to do with NAPIBOWRIWEE? Well, it inspired me to stay up late and work on a violin-inspired picture book poem! Again, like all first drafts, it was very rough but I enjoyed writing it. I can’t wait to go back and revise this one.

And… drum roll… as a special surprise… I have an extra prize for this year’s contest! This year’s contest includes souvenirs from our NAPIBOWRIWEE STORE as well as signed books from yours truly. But I also have a bonus prize… a signed copy of ERIN EITTER KONO’s latest book, CATERINA AND THE BEST BEACH DAY, coming out from Dial Books this May 19, 2015!

Erin Eitter Kono and I pose in a self-indulgent selfie with her latest book, CATERINA AND THE BEST BEACH DAY, coming out May 19, 2015 from Dial Books!
Erin Eitter Kono and I pose in a self-indulgent selfie with her latest book, CATERINA AND THE BEST BEACH DAY, coming out May 19, 2015 from Dial Books!

Erin gracious donated a copy that she signed personally for a future NAPIBOWRIWEE winner.

EXTRA NAPIBOWRIWEE WRITING TIP: After the violin recital, Erin and I talked about what it’s like for an illustrator to be assigned to illustrate a picture book writer’s text. She brought up some great points about the importance of emotional writing. Beginning picture book writers tend to over-describe the visual aspects of their story, when that’s really the illustrator’s job. The illustrations should enhance and develop beyond what the text says. Even if you have to describe something with words, make the description more visceral than visual so the artist has more to play with. Here’s what Erin had to say…


“I think what’s important for new picture book authors to understand is that in the best examples of picture books the words move the story along or convey emotion on a different layer than the illustrations do. The text doesn’t need to describe what is going on in the illustrations and the illustrations should add more to the story than merely repeating what is in the text.  As the writer it’s important to leave enough space for the illustrator to collaborate.”

For more info on the amazing ERIN EITTER KONO, you can visit her website here: She’s also been a guest blogger for NAPIBOWRIWEE events in past years. If you want to check out those archives, here are the links: and

Please post your progress for Day 4 in today’s comments!

Reminder: I am posting daily blogs from May 1-7, 2015 at 6 AM PST (9 AM EST) here at Our contest drawing results will be posted on May 8, 2015 featuring fun prizes from our NAPIBOWRIWEE STORE (link:, autographed copies of my books, other surprise prizes as well as ONE free picture book manuscript critique from professional editor/author AMY CHERRIX, who is also our guest-in-residence for this year’s event! (You can follow Amy on Twitter @acherrix and her website is here:

Meet Amy Cherrix of
Meet Amy Cherrix of
Visit Amy Cherrix's website:
Visit Amy Cherrix’s website:

The theme for this year is EDITORIAL NUTS & BOLTS as Amy answers our questions about writing and the publishing industry. For today’s blog on “Character & Plot,” I asked Amy for her advice on creating characters and storylines. Here’s what she had to say:

QUESTION: What makes for an effective picture book plot? What types of characters work for you in picture book?

AMY CHERRIX SAYS: “Picture book plots, like their narratives work best when they are uncluttered. Consider Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. It’s a book about two kids digging a hole, but the art and text make it about so much more. Keep plots simple and leave room in the narrative for the artist to contribute, too. When it comes to character, the mantra is: show don’t tell. It’s the hardest part of writing picture books, but it’s what separates the mediocre from the memorable. What does your main character feel? Don’t tell me “she is sad.” Instead, drop her into a scene and show my what made her sad. It makes her authentic and relatable, two things that matter to kids. They are brilliant phony-detectors.”

Thanks again, Amy, for your editorial advice on Character and Plot in picture books. Everyone, let’s make sure we don’t get caught by what Amy calls “the brilliant phony-detectors.” 🙂

As for me, I also believe character EQUALS plot. You can’t have one without the other. Whenever I am brainstorming story ideas, I have a checklist:

1. Is this storyline really exciting and cool and original? If yes, then…

2. Is this storyline inspired by something my character would do because my character is also equally exciting and cool and original? If yes, then…

3. Does this storyline cause the reader to experience a super exciting and cool and original EMOTIONAL REACTION because they care about the fate of my exciting and cool and original character who is in the middle of an exciting and cool and original storyline? If yes, then…

My story is working. 🙂 You’ll notice that you cannot have a cool and exciting and original storyline if your character is not equally cool and exciting and original. Because the character’s CHOICES and EMOTIONAL REACTIONS and DESIRES all take him/her on their adventure.

If you would like to study more about how to write compelling storylines and create engaging characters, I highly recommend these writing books:




Well, time to leave the Blogging Batcave and head back into the Writing Batcave. Remember to follow me on Twitter @paulayoo for updates. I will post tomorrow’s Day 5 Blog on May 5, 2015 at 6 AM PST/9 AM EST here with thoughts from our guest AMY CHERRIX about her OWN experience going from book editor to book author with her upcoming non-fiction book, LANDFALL: THE HURRICANE SCIENTISTS, as part of the award-winning Scientists in the Field seriescoming out this Spring 2017 from Houghton Mifflin.

Until then, remember… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂



  1. Well. Cannot believe it’s Day 4 already! I think I may have had my creative burst as today is like pulling teeth trying to get my characters to let me in on their story!!! Not much time before the littles get home from school, so back to the story. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reminder to hold the reins on descriptions, and leave them for the illustrator. I’m about to pick yet another idea from my PiBoIdMo list and get writing!

    • You’re welcome! Good luck with your idea today! Yes, for picture book description – always think VISCERAL instead of just VISUAL. 🙂

  3. Last night when I was making dinner and describing the day’s draft, my third grader asked “Ok but so what’s the PROBLEM?” And when I told her she said “Well that’s not very interesting.”
    Which pretty effectively summed up the day’s work: a story that worked, narratively, but was boring. (Apropos of today’s post: dull main character and dull plot line too.)
    Oh well — I got to fiddle with the idea that inspired it. And NOW I have to move on!
    I love that NaPiBoWriWee will keep me from wasting time trying to massage this thing that, honestly, probably just needs to be left where it lies. Just hoping I can apply some take-aways from that flop to today’s effort…

    • Anna – WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? That is fantastic. A great mantra for writers to ask when writing. Your third grader is wise beyond their years. 🙂

  4. Paula, thanks for the glimpses into your world and writing process. To have the opportunity to drop everything and listen a moving recital is amazing. Plus giving us Illustrator Erin’s advice and a sneak peek of her new PB.
    As Amy shared, I am trying to make stronger emotional connections between my characters and readers. It’s tough.
    This morning I found myself drawn back into the voice of my MC in PB draft #3. I’m clearly more invested in that story. We’ll try to focus on PB#4 this afternoon.

    • Thanks for your kind words. I think sometimes good writing happens when you STOP writing and live life a little. It’s a balance. Good luck with #4 today!

  5. Thanks for the great advice. “Show don’t tell” is my daily mantra. I recite it every morning, afternoon, evening and sometimes even in my sleep. I am ready to write rough draft number 4! 🙂

  6. I wrote my second PB draft today, but I certainly need to strengthen it by showing, not telling, my character happy versus sad.

    • Good job, I’m glad you are steadily writing! Now you have two books! And in revising, yes, you can figure out how to show the emotion more too! 🙂

  7. #4 is done – I work on Sundays so Monday is catch up, grocery shop and write! (And nap!) Today I wrote Just Bugs about Lady Bug, Spider and Butterfly who are judged in a Best Bug contest…by a willing Frog.

  8. I had a busy weekend, but I’m back at it today and I’m almost done with draft #2. I appreciate Erin’s advice to make sure the words “move the story along or convey emotion on a different layer than the illustrations do.” I need to work on that!

    • Fantastic! That’s great you are still writing away and almost done with #2! Yes, Erin is so wise. 🙂

  9. I’ve reached brain burnout on draft four. I’ve written up to the climax, but I can’t figure out how to resolve the story. I think I’ll come back to it later and try again.

  10. Today brought possibly the crappiest draft I have ever written. If nothing else, it may have proved that this idea won’t work. However, I will put it to bed and let it rest. You never know when a new thought might come along and change the idea into something better. I’m doing great with 4/4 drafts complete so far. Thanks again for the kick in the pants to write, write, write. 🙂

    • I’m late leaving replies because Monday was so busy! Congrats! But yeah, sometimes this event helps us discover what ideas do NOT work and there’s nothing wrong with that because it means we have more time to work on our OTHER ideas. 🙂

  11. OMG! Today was so hard! I couldn’t develop the idea I thought I had; struggled trying to come up with something else then just wrote. It’s a weird little story but could shape up into something with revision. Lacks a clear conflict at the moment but there’s room for it. I just had to finish– it’s after 9pm here! I almost gave up but I’m glad I didn’t!

  12. Dug through the depths of the 2014 PiBoIdMo list for today’s draft inspiration. Meh. But tomorrow is another day! Feels good just to generate lots of writing without worrying about the tweaking, plot twisting, editing, polishing and sparkling yet…

  13. Number four done. Monday and writing hump day combined took two cups of coffee. The prewriting prep is extremely helpful on mornings like today. What can I say….I am not a Monday morning gal! Have a smooth Monday.


  14. I am ahead of the game with 5 rough drafts written, so today I have been researching and planning for later this evening and tomorrow. I’d like to finish with at least 10 manuscripts by the end of NaPiBoWriWee

  15. Good for you. How fun! Violin music ALWAYS inspires me. Thanks for the advice, not just today, but1-3. Writing last night was AGONIZING! I finished a stinky draft of a mediocre idea with a weak ending. Instead of beating my head against that wall, I redrafted a historical nf pb from a different POV. It doesn’t count for Day 3, but I am so glad it got done. I never would have pushed through if this wasn’t for this event, so a big thank-you! And thanks, Erin! I love your work. (Fingers crossed)

    • Hugs, sorry yesterday was tough, but I am SO PROUD that you did not give up and tried a POV exercise for a previous draft. Hopefully that will inspire you today! 😉

  16. Finally completed work on #3 – just struggled with it. BUt then pulled out my folder and notebook from last year’s PiBoIdMo and actually found a couple of gems to work on the next few days. Great post! Thank you.

  17. Draft #4 is done and done. But it stinks. Phooey. But it is a story. I can work out all the wonderful possibilities later. Fantastic post, Amy. Uncluttered. YES. Thank you. Great pic, Paula. CATERINA AND THE BEST BEACH DAY sounds like a great picture book. Can’t wait to read it.

    • Yes, Caterina is a great book. I’m glad you go the “phooey” draft 4 done. LOL. It is filled with wonderful possibilities! 🙂

  18. I loved to read the different perspectives today! I will remember the “if yes, then’s”. So far, I have been super successful and have two other ideas that I will work on the next two days.. I think I can do this!

  19. “Team Show Don’t Tell” – love it. Got a great start on draft four this morning, then got perpetually interrupted, all day. Finally back to finish the final half of the draft. Four hours to go – I can do it! 😉 Looking forward to reading CATERINA AND THE BEST BEACH DAY.

  20. Happy to hear you were able to take the time to go to the concert, even if you did have to have a late night writing session.

    Got a draft done today, for a character I sketched years ago. Have been trying to find a story for her ever since, and I think I did today! YAY! Now the only problem is that I want to start making more sketches and a dummy instead of writing other books. Will have to see what happens tomorrow. 😉

    • Hi yes, it was a long day. I’m glad you got a story for this character you sketched awhile ago. How wonderful! If you can’t do another book, at least keep going forward with the dummy. As long as you write every day! 🙂

  21. Fueled by the words of my 6year old… I wrote a PB titled “don’t play with the dinosaurs”

    Stil one book down, but I can’t take anymore time with team owl…

    • How about Team Morning Early Bird? 🙂 Love your Don’t Play with the Dinosaurs quote from your kid. How wonderful! 🙂

  22. Day 4 sucked.I wrote a story that I didn’t feel like writing and that I thought was utter crap. I’m tired and I’m grumpy and I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.

    • Hugs! Are you less grumpy today? I admit I was stressed out Monday. It was a long day at work. Hang in there. Also – if you are still not happy, how about taking the rest of the week to revise whatever first book you wrote and make it shine? Sometimes it’s okay to have one or two polished books finished than 7 rough drafts. It depends on your writing process. Everyone has a different style. Just as long as you write every day, that’s ultimately what I’m promoting. Daily writing = good creative exercise. 🙂 xo P.

  23. I love the Caterina books! I also love the advice to convey emotion in a different way and not state what is happening visually. I need to bookmark this page. 🙂

  24. Hey Paula & folks, I’m still at it… but I fell a little behind (Sunday was super busy!). I had 2 PB’s to write today and squeezed in 1 pomodoro each in order to fast draft before midnight. Happy to say I met my goal–one is a conceptual piece and the other is creative nonfiction (historical fiction based on a famous figure). Both are very rough with supporting notes. BUT I’m pleased I got both of these down on paper. I can see and feel these characters already! It may be possible to put more “pomo time” during NaPiBoWriWee to finish one or both stories. The characters are waiting for me… ;)! Hope everyone is having fun writing their PB’s!

    • So glad you are doing the Pomodoro still. I like the conceptual idea, and how you are also mixing it up with creative non-fiction. Congrats! 🙂

  25. Howdy – checking in late because I had to keep myself off of the computer (I am easily distracted!)
    Great advice – Since I’m not an artist I tend to over describe.
    I hope my characters come across as exciting and cool.
    Can’t wait to see the new Caterina book!

  26. Aggg I think I got lost over the weekend and I am one behind on manuscripts 🙁 . Today I am writing a story that is more visual than wordy. Thank you for the comments on illustration!