Hello, writers! Happy 2021! I’m writing this blog post from the same house I’ve quarantined in for the majority of 2020, in the same home-office, in the same chair . . . yet something feels different.
Despite it being below freezing, I’ve got the windows cracked open. The air drifting in is cold. But it’s also crisp, cathartic, and new. It’s full of possibilities.
That’s what a new year promises . . . possibility. A blank page to be filled with anything.
Personally, I’m hoping to flesh out a new middle grade idea that I’ve collected bits and pieces for in 2020. Through the darkest days of the year (and there were many, unfortunately), I found myself needing to write. I had so much to let out, and my notebook was the safest place to release these raw and honest feelings.
In these dark moments, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Not much made sense. Not much tied together. But I wrote and wrote my way back to joy, however fleeting it was.
And I captured the joy of each day. I wrote down those moments, too, to remind myself to focus on the light. To let the light guide me.
And it did.
One of these cathartic writings morphed into a picture book manuscript that will be published by Dial/Penguin in 2023 (stay tuned for more soon!).
So when I look back to 2020, despite the many tragedies of the year, and in some ways, because of some of them, there was much joy, some magic, and so much love. That’s what I’m hoping to capture in this next middle grade project, now that I’m in the proper headspace to start writing it . . . joy, and magic, and love.
As I begin to draft this new novel, I’ve pulled out a checklist that I made for myself, something I’ve named CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECK. It’s a checklist I’ve made after studying many of my favorite middle grade novels, including THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo and HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly. When I “study” a novel, I re-read the book as a writer…looking for those literary devices that make the writing wonderful.
To do this, I’ll type out the first chapter or two of the book (or the scene I’m studying). Then, I’ll make notes on my typed version of the text (because I can’t bear to mark up the beautiful book!). Finally, I’ll re-read the notes I marked, write out the revelations I made, and turn it into a checklist question to use when I revise my own writing.
A revelation I had after studying the first paragraph in THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo was that “we get a sense of who the main character is, we’re intrigued, and it’s hooking us!” all within the first few sentences.
And a note I wrote down after studying chapter one of HELLO, UNIVERSE by Erin Entrada Kelly was that “by paragraph one, we know who, where, a sense of why, and we’re intrigued to know the details.”
If you haven’t studied books in the genre you’re writing, I’d highly recommend it. I do this frequently and with a wide range of books within the genres I write in--
picture books, chapter books, and middle grade.
It’s the best way I’ve learned what works. And reading and studying widely, and taking notes on my notes, allows me enough space from the mentor text to then apply what I need specifically for my own writing.
So, without further ado, here’s my CHAPTER 1 & 2 Checklist. I hope it’s helpful to you! (If you're looking for my picture book revision checklist, it's here!)
Of course, nothing will be more powerful than studying mentor books yourself, and making your own checklist. But here’s mine to supplement yours:
CHAPTER 1 & 2 CHECKLIST:
By Katrina Moore
I have an “Every Chapter Checklist” that I’ve compiled as well. I’ll share that in a later post (make sure you’re subscribed to the blog so you don’t miss it!).
As we begin this new year, I wish you endless possibility and a notebook full of magic. A blank page to be filled with anything.
What will you fill yours with?
Happy Writing & Revising!
Katrina Moore writes in New Jersey. She holds a M.A. in Teaching and has been an elementary teacher for eleven years. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. She is the author of the picture books, ONE HUG, illustrated by Julia Woolf (HarperCollins/Tegen Books, Dec. 2019), GRANDPA GRUMPS, illustrated by Xindi Yan (Little Bee Books, April 2020), and the forthcoming SOMETIMES LOVE, a powerful and poetic exploration of love---from giving, to growing, to sometimes letting go, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz (Penguin/Dial, Summer 2022). Her humorous chapter books series, TEENY HOUDINI, illustrated by Zoe Si, star the magical, mischievous, mayhem-maker Bessie Lee. Books 1 and 2 will publish Winter 2022 (HarperCollins/Tegen Books).
When she is not writing or teaching, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pups, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
By Katrina Moore
Before I’m ready to send a manuscript to my agent, and even to critique partners, I go through rounds of self-revision. Over time, I’ve found myself asking the same questions over and over again (and asking the same questions to my critique partners when giving them feedback on their work), so I’ve compiled the questions into a revision checklist for myself.
I’m sharing it with you!
Because I keep learning. And growing. And nothing helps me to learn more or grow faster than sharing what I’ve learned along the way.
In this post, you’ll find essential questions to ask yourself as you revise your manuscript to make it the best that it can be. I’ve also included an example for each checkpoint using recently released (within the past 3 years), stellar picture books.
Without further ado...here's the checklist:
PICTURE BOOK REVISION CHECKLIST:
1) WHAT’S YOUR BOOK REALLY ABOUT?
Write out the pitch.
-What’s at the heart of this story?
-What do I want this story to do? (Use this as a guide for revision)
2) IS YOUR CHARACTER FULLY DEVELOPED?
-Is this someone a kid can relate to?
-Is there depth?
-Why are we rooting for the main character?
Interview your character and ask all sorts of questions. This is to inform YOU even though most of it won’t make it into the text. The better you know your character the better you’ll write your character, the more your character will feel real and we’ll care about your character.
Example: Check out the first spread of JULIÁN IS A MERMAID by Jessica Love. In very few words, we know so much about Julián and we care about him. We’re immediately connected to his relationship with his abuela. Think about how much is not written in this text, but was necessary for the author to know in order to create such a powerful opening and introduction to the characters.
3) IS YOUR STORY TIGHT?
Go through the story sentence by sentence, word by word.
-Is this word/sentence serving the story?
-Is it driving the plot?
-Is it adding to character development?
If the answer is no—cut!
Example: Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli’s DRAGON WAS TERRIBLE opens with:
“Dragon was terrible. Naturally, dragons have a bit of terrible in them because they’re dragons after all. But THIS dragon here? Super terrible.”
The first sentence here introduces us to the character and sets up the plot. Every word following this first sentence carries weight in establishing the narrative voice of the book, and also drives the plot by creating more tension. It engages what we already “know”—dragons are terrible. But this character is going to be even more terrible than those dragons we already know? Oh boy. As a reader, I’m eager to find out how bad this character is and what shenanigans he causes. How can he be that terrible?! See how she hooks us in with exactly the right words?
4) IS THIS PACED FOR A PICTURE BOOK?
Paginate it (12 or 15 spreads).
-Where do you envision the page turns?
-Does it end at a surprising moment?
-Are we holding our breath?
-Is there tension and build up?
Here’s what it looks like when I lay out a picture book:
Example: Check out this spread from Ame Dyckman and Scott Magoon’s MISUNDERSTOOD SHARK:
What is Shark’s excuse? I’m curious to find out. I am holding my breath. And I’m wondering, Will I believe him? I have to turn the page to find out. Since there is a literal pause that takes place when a picture book is being read aloud and the page turns, it’s beneficial to maximize the effect of those page turns.
5) DOES THE STORY FEEL RESOLVED?
-Was it logical but surprising?
-Are we satisfied?
Example: In BOATS WITH PAPA by Jessixa Bagley, Buckley carves beautiful boats and sends them out to sea in hopes that they reach his papa, who he misses very much.
I won’t give away the ending, because it’s so beautiful and you have to check it out for yourself. It feels inevitable—you know it’s coming, and yet, there's still a twist that's so heartwarming it brings me to tears everytime I read it (which at this point, is close to 100 times, if not more).
6) IS IT MARKETABLE?
-What are the recent comparable titles?
-How is yours fresh from these?
-Why would a kid love this book?
-What are the universal truths/emotions/themes that readers will connect with?
(these should be in and match the pitch)
Example: Check out BACK TO SCHOOL WITH BIGFOOT by Samantha Berger and Martha Brockenbrough, Illustrated by Dave Pressler.
It takes a familiar theme, starting school jitters, and makes it fresh (and funny) by making it about Bigfoot, which is a high interest, intriguing subject for kids (and adults). How does Bigfoot feel about starting school? What would he worry about? There’s tons of kid appeal here!
(*More on the marketability of your picture book in this post.)
Now it’s your turn! Does your picture book check the list?
Happy writing and revising! ✨
Katrina Moore writes and teaches in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia. Earning her M.A. in elementary education, she has been a teacher for almost a decade in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. Her mission is to create books that children will hug for ages. Her debut picture book, ONE HUG, illustrated by the talented Julia Woolf, is a lyrical celebration of the different ways that hugs bring people together, forthcoming from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books in 2019. The book follows an Asian-American boy as he and his family prepare to welcome their immigrant relatives.When she is not teaching elementary kids or writing, she is cooking without a recipe, painting outside the lines, or snuggling up with her two kids, husband, pomapoo pup, and of course, a cozy book. Connect with her on twitter @kmoorebooks or at www.katrinamoorebooks.com.
Katrina Moore writes for all, teaches many, and raises two young children. She holds an M.A. in elementary education. She's the author of ONE HUG, GRANDPA GRUMPS, SOMETIMES LOVE (Penguin/Dial, '22), and the forthcoming chapter book series, TEENY HOUDINI (HarperCollins/Tegen, '22), and more. Connect with her on twitter!