tug of war.jpg


Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Six years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week we learn about building tension between our characters from my friend, Nicole Zoltack…




Building Tension
by Nicole Zoltack


Tension is such an important part of writing. The greater the tension, the higher the stakes, the faster a reader will turn pages and the greater the chance that a reader will be so gripped and caught up in your story, they’ll read it all in one sitting!

So how do you build tension in your story?


Pacing and Action –


Pacing and tension go hand in hand. Pacing revs up during a conflict and then slows down after it’s resolved until the next conflict point. As the story continues on, the slowing down period shortens as tension ramps up as the climax nears. During action, high-paced scenes, use shorter sentences and sparingly use adjectives and adverbs. Shorter sentences heighten paces and increases tension. Choose heavy duty action verbs. Moving the story along at a faster pace with action helps to build tension.

A ticking clock –


A deadline, a race against the clock, is a strong way to heighten tension. Any time a goal has to be reached by a set amount of time, the tension is automatically raised. Drama, suspense, tension—all results from a ticking clock. If a serial killer is taunting the police, leaving them clues as to who they are going to kill next, promising they will kill again and again, the police officers are going to be scrambling to locate the murderer before he can kill again. Talk about tension! Especially if the clues point to a family member of a police officer, or even a police officer himself.

Stakes –


Increasing the stakes build tension. If your character’s sister is kidnapped, there is plenty of conflict. If the ransom call comes in and demands more money than they could ever afford, the stakes are raised. If they rob a bank to get the money and are caught, the stakes are even higher because now they have to elude the police and still find a way to get the money. And if their brother is then kidnapped… Stakes can be built upon to build tension throughout the story.

Obstacles –


Make it as hard as possible for the main character to reach their goal. Block them at every turn. If the reader fears the character will not succeed, the tension will be sky high. The bleaker the outlook for the character, the more the tension. Going back to the ransom story, if the main character is the next one to be kidnapped, but by different people than the ones who have his siblings, that is a huge obstacle for the main character to overcome.

All stories need different levels of tension. A suspenseful mystery will need a ton of tension. A romantic comedy, not quite as much. Determine the level of tension that is correct for your story and then add that amount of tension through pacing action, timing, stakes, and obstacles. Tension is a wonderful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Do not overlook it.




Nicole been writing since she first learned how to write. Her mom used to sit her sister and her down at the kitchen table with paper and pencils, and they would created their first stories.

Nicole’s first stories were short and terrible! She started her first novel in the sixth grade – literally writing it during class. It took her ten years working on and off to finish that story. It’s currently collecting cyber dust.

During college, she learned about NanoWrimo. During one time, Nicole wrote WOMAN OF HONOR. Originally intended to be a historical romance novel, it morphed and grew and became medieval fantasy romance and a trilogy to boot.

WOMAN OF HONOR is currently not available for sale as the publisher closed its doors, but Nicole plans to reedit the story. She’s grown a lot as a writer since the story was first published!

Since then, Nicole has written and published paranormal romances (superheroes and vampires and witches), historicals (mostly regencies), time travels, and epic and urban fantasies. She will never stop writing!

You can find out more about Nicole at her website, www.nicolezoltack.com.






Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week we learn  about writing multicultural literature from my friend, Miranda Paul…




On Writing “Multicultural” Literature
By Miranda Paul


For those of you who don’t already know, I’ll put it out there: I’m white.

It probably shouldn’t matter, and at the same time, it should and does. Here’s why:

Not every story is mine to tell.

I know that, and I respect that.

That doesn’t mean I only write stories that originate my Midwest hometown, about characters who look like me, grew up like me, talk like me, etc. In fact, those of you who know what I write is far more diverse. But what I write is also based upon experience, research, passion, and personal connection.

Let’s consider this current kidlit dilemma:

Even though people have been advocating for more “multicultural” literature for decades, we still need more stories about all kinds of people who come from all sorts of backgrounds and live and talk in diverse ways.

Oh, and they need these stories written by authors who are just as diverse.

Back in 1970, award-winning poet Lucille Clifton published two children’s books—The Black BC’s and Some of the Days of Everett Anderson. This certainly wasn’t the beginning of multicultural kidlit, of course. But I begin with Lucille because she was my first professor of children’s literature, and because she championed the idea that children needed both “mirrors and windows. Mirrors in which they can see themselves, windows in which they can see the world.”

I was blessed to be initiated into the craft of writing for children by such a kind, strong, and gifted woman. Her books offered positive, contemporary portraits of African Americans without racial stereotyping. Her books are wrapped in authenticity, humanity, and universal truth.

Lucille’s example of consciously giving children access to “windows and mirrors” stuck with me as I headed off to teach in West Africa later that year. There, my students had a significant lack of books that accurately depicted individual, contemporary African settings and characters, and I’ve been working over the last few years to build libraries with relevant books. I also married interracially and when we had children, this idea became very personal. Most picture books were “window stories” for my children. Far fewer were “mirrors”, with characters who looked like or had families like our own. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for great “multicultural” books (although sometimes, the separation and separate-shelving of that label irks me) that depict biracial families, children with grandparents living abroad, immigrant parents, a second language in the home, West African and Caribbean cultures, etc.

Let me now get back to an earlier point, about not every story being mine to tell.

Although I’ve written several stories that are classified as “multicultural”, they’ve mostly been stories I have a personal connection to and resulted from experience, research, and collaboration with people within the culture.

There are a lot of underrepresented cultures or lifestyles that interest me, and I see a need for stories about them in the publishing market. But ultimately, at the end of the day, each story should be about a character, in a specific place, at a specific time. That means DETAILS. I am not always the best person for writing those details, especially if the culture is one I’ve not experienced firsthand.

The thing is, not only do children deserve stories that contain “mirrors,” but the author bio or photo needs to reflect diversity as well. Growing up, I never got the chance to actually meet anyone who wrote for a living, and the lack of a model seriously affected my confidence that writing for a career was even possible.

So when I got invited to a school with other authors, I noticed immediately all four of us were white women with blond hair and blue eyes. I had to question what unintentional message this was sending to the kids. Perhaps our lack of diversity meant nothing on a conscious level. Maybe the kids didn’t notice. But what if there was some sort of subconscious message at work? Don’t they deserve to see authors who look like them, in order to ignite a sense of possibility that they, too, can be authors?

I think it’s extremely important for authors who are not of color to remain encouraging and supportive of the organizations who are consciously making an effort to address the call for diversity in children’s books. I am thrilled that publishers such as Lee and Low are hosting a New Voices contest for authors of color. The Coretta Scott King award (http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards) and Pura Belpre multicultural children’s book awards (http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/belpremedal) are critical in realizing visions where all children can find both windows and mirrors in books.

Whatever your race or ethnicity, don’t feel as though multicultural literature means only writing about your own heritage, or about making the culture more important than the story or character. At the same time, don’t feel as though a marketing need or lack of books on a subject qualifies you to write that particular book. If you feel like an outsider, your narration will seem distanced and inauthentic, and your reader won’t have access to a true window or mirror.

Writing multicultural literature is a daunting task, but there are individuals and organizations out there to help you. A few agents at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (http://www.andreabrownlit.com) and Full Circle Literary (http://www.fullcircleliterary.com) mention a desire to see multicultural submissions on their websites. The Highlights Foundation can help you find out which stories might be yours to tell, and how to present authentic and diverse characters and settings. 

Remember, if you have the passion to write a multicultural story, and if you honestly address your bias or fear of writing across boundaries, keep in mind the child who deserves that window to another world or a mirror of her own. Then go immerse yourself in that world.




Miranda Paul is a teacher, world traveler, and mother of two. As she raises an international family, her writing goals include depicting diverse characters (and animals!) with positive and sometimes ridiculously funny stories for children. Miranda Paul has served as a volunteer teacher in Gambia, West Africa and also has family scattered around the Caribbean — so she occasionally escapes her Wisconsin homeland for tastes of the tropical life.

Two of Miranda’s picture book manuscripts won her the 2012 SCBWI-WI Mentorship award and her debut picture book, ONE PLASTIC BAG, was published from Lerner Publishing (Millbrook Press). Her second book, WATER IS WATER, illustrated by Jason Chin, was published from Neal Porter Books (Roaring Brook / Macmillan) in 2015.

Miranda also works for-hire writing and editing children’s stories for digital and print markets, and has published pieces in national magazines such as POCKETS and TURTLE. Find out all the latest news about Miranda on her website, www.mirandapaul.com.






Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week we learn about the “humanistic” personality traits in things other than people…



By Judy Cox


Grumpy bears, curious mice, lost toasters—the world of children’s literature abounds with animals and objects that act like people. Giving “people” traits to things or animals is human nature—just eavesdrop on a child playing with a favorite toy, or a doting pet owner speaking for her pet. People love to pretend that non-humans think and talk and feel just like we do.

Here are a few of the reasons why children love books with anthropomorphic characters:

Anthropomorphic characters are gender, age, and ethnicity neutral, allowing a child to project their own image on them.

Anthropomorphic characters can be stand-ins for adults, allowing children to engage in grown up activities like living by themselves, driving, cooking, or throwing parties.
Anthropomorphic characters can be stand-ins for children—behaving in exaggerated ways that real children could not.

Children’s literature reflects our love of anthropomorphic characters, whether they are animals, toys, or objects. Animals make particularly appealing characters, and I have used many in my books, both picture books and those for mid-grade readers. Anthropomorphic animals fall into three groups:



Franklin by Paulette Bourgeois, Arthur by Marc Brown, Frances by Russell Hoban, Olivia by Ian Falconer, Kevin Henkes’ mice, One is a Feast for Mouse by Judy Cox




Babar by Jean de Brunhoff, A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker, Go to Sleep, Groundhog! By Judy Cox, Redwall by Brian Jacques, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham



Watership Down by Richard Adams, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, The Case of the Purloined Professor by Judy Cox.




Of course, animals aren’t the only anthropomorphic characters in children’s books. Here are some other examples:

TOYS — Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, Corduroy by Don Freeman

OBJECTS—The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas Disch, The Spoon by Amy Rosenthal, The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger

MACHINES—Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton, The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. W. Awdry



First, decide how human to make your character. There is a spectrum of behavior to consider—will your characters be completely human? George and Martha in James Marshall’s series never behave like real hippos.

Maybe you’ll want your characters to act more like animals, like the duck family in Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Mrs. And Mrs. Mallard have human feelings, but they always behave like ducks.

Perhaps your characters will be somewhere in between, like Frederick and Ishbu, brother rats, in my Tails of Frederick and Ishbu series. My rats climb, jump, swim, and gnaw—like real rats–and I use these attributes, as well as animal behaviors like brushing whiskers, scratching, and marking territory, in all of their adventures. Unlike real animals, however, Frederick and Ishbu also talk to each other (although not to humans), and Frederick can read.

Sometimes, the choice is up to the illustrator, not the author. Initially, I imagined Mouse (One is a Feast for Mouse) as a real mouse. The illustrator chose to dress him in a striped T-shirt and glasses—a brilliant move, by the way!




Whether you choose to clothe your character or keep them au naturel, balance animal characteristics with people characteristics so you don’t end up with the dreaded “people in animal clothes” syndrome in which the animals do nothing animal-ish. Keep characters true to their animal nature—fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly! Besides curious mice, cuddly bunnies, and grumpy bears you can also play against type—a shy lion or an owl who isn’t as wise as he thinks.

Your anthropomorphic characters must be as three dimensional as human characters. They need charm and personality, as well as a goal and a conflict.



Avoid overdoing the cute factor. Too much sugar becomes cloying.
Avoid alliterative names. They’ve been so overdone that they are clichéd.
Avoid strange or unappealing beasts that children find repulsive.
Avoid following the above guidelines too closely!

Be thoughtful about inanimate objects. When I first started writing, I was given the advice to never use non-toy objects as main characters. The reasoning was that inanimate objects are not as innately appealing as animals or toys. That said, there have recently been a number of successful children’s books that feature objects—leaves, tableware, machines–as main characters, proving (once again) that rules are made to be broken!

Whether toy, animal, or object, the only unbreakable rule is that your characters must appeal to readers, both children and adults. A main character must be someone the reader can identify with, someone the reader can root for through trial and tribulation. In the end, it’s the quality of the story and the writing that are important—traits that are true for any good children’s book.




Judy Cox is the author of twenty-six award winning children’s books, including many with animal characters. In 2009, the first book in the Mouse series (Holiday House), One is a Feast for Mouse, won an Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award. Her latest book is Sheep Won’t Sleep was released in 2018. For more about Judy and her books, check out her website at www.judycox.net.

WRITERLY WISDOM: Marsha Diane Arnold




Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers.  When I was rereading Marsha’s post today, I considered leaving out the first couple of paragraphs because it referred to an event from five years ago, but I decided to leave it in because it helped tie everything together into a very lovely post…




by Marsha Diane Arnold

Last week, Donna emailed me a sweet reminder that my promised blog post on character-driven picture books was close to overdue. To my horror, my reminder had fallen off my calendar! Things do fall off calendars you know, even if the calendar is an Apple iCal, maybe especially if it’s an Apple iCal. Donna kindly rearranged things to give me more time, but I felt very ditzy, a little like Lucille Ball. Most folks don’t see me as a Lucille Ball type; only my husband knows the truth.

As my new deadline approached, I realized this week is my busiest in a long time. A dark blogging despair came over me. But as I hurry-scurried, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel…because characters are all around us.

Take that faint resemblance between my sometimes zany self and Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball was one of the funniest comediennes of all time as well as a pin-up model and a studio executive, when that just didn’t happen for women. A truly unique character. Check out some I Love Lucy clips and you might get ideas for funny characters and situations. At the least they’ll put you in a good mood for more writing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQVH_MVN8mI

I didn’t get to my blog on Thursday either. From 9 AM to 8 PM I was in the neighboring county, keeping appointments and doing errands. I stopped by my husband’s retail store to talk to him about a few matters, only for 10 or 15 minutes. What did I find? Characters surrounding me!

There was Marilyn, owner of the bicycle shop next door. She’s founder and director of a group that recycles old bicycles (pun intended) and organizes mountain bike outings for disadvantaged kids…https://www.tripsforkids.org/our-story/

There was Liz, whose father had been a customer of my husband’s for over 15 years. My husband shared that Liz’s father was a gentleman, in the old sense of the word – a man who gives respect to others and so receives it back. He’d smile a big smile every time anyone entered the room. My husband says you may not remember what people say to you, but you will always remember how they make you feel. Liz’s father made everyone feel special.

And most memorable of all was Mr. Kaufman, 96 years old, standing tall with a head of white hair and sharp as a whip. Mr. Kaufman had worked for ABC as an on-air personality and producer for many years. He assisted in getting Nat King Cole his first record deal. And he was a glider pilot in WW II.

All these folks came into my life and left again in under 15 minutes!

But I might not have heard any of their stories if it wasn’t for my husband. Whenever anyone comes into his store, he asks them about themselves. He wants to know their story. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have met these fine folks. Indeed, this was 96-year-old Mr. Kaufman’s first visit to my husband’s store. We had a lovely conversation, because my husband started it.

Editors praise writers whose characters are relatable to kids. But remember that if your character is interesting, if he/she makes you curious, then you’re touching one of man’s deepest and strongest traits: curiosity and interest about another person. After all, what you really want is for your reader to be curious about your character.

Yes, there were stories waiting in my husband’s store. Character-driven stories. Stories to make a child curious. A story about a kid who takes a trip into the mountains on a bicycle. A story of a character who respects you and makes you feel special. A story of a hang glider pilot from WW II. A story of a man who always asks, “What’s your story?”



Marsha Diane Arnold is a multi-award winning children’s author. She’s originally from Kansas and so like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz that you wouldn’t believe it. Her book The Bravest of Us All, which centers around a storm cellar, tells only part of the story. She now lives in the California countryside with her husband, two cats, deer, fox, owls, wild turkeys, and many more fabulous creatures, including the ones in her imagination.

The media has called Marsha a “born storyteller.” After writing an award-winning column for 10 years, her first book, the multi-award winning Heart of a Tiger was published in 1995. You can learn about all her picture books, her ebook, her Prancing Dancing Lily app. and more at www.marshadianearnold.com. Her other books include The Bravest of Us All, The Chicken Salad Club, The Pumpkin Runner, and Roar of a Snore.

You can find her Writing Character-Driven Picture Book course at http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.html




Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week’s post is about writing dialogue in such a way that readers are drawn into the story…


Talk To Me!
by Monica Kulling


“I write description in longhand because that’s hardest for me and you’re closer to the paper when you work by hand, but I use the typewriter for dialogue because people speak like a typewriter works.”
— Ernest Hemingway

Writing story dialogue sounds like it ought to be easy, right? After all, conversation surrounds us, all day long. We might think we know everything there is to know about putting words into a character’s mouth, but it’s helpful to keep in mind a few tips in order to add that extra sparkle.

Story dialogue needs to be doing many things at once, which can sometimes be a challenge to pull off. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind. Conveniently, these all happen to begin with the letter “D.”

Distinguish characters:


Each of your characters must have a distinct way of speaking not only so that the reader can tell each one apart, but also so that the character’s personality can be revealed as the narrative unfolds. Each character has something that is most important to him or her and this is revealed in well-crafted dialogue.

Determine emotion:


Write your dialogue so that the reader knows exactly what your characters are feeling and what’s important to them. Good story dialogue pays attention to the flow and of the words. Dialogue that expresses the sadness felt by a character is markedly different from dialogue that expresses exuberance.

Drive the story forward:


Dialogue should be purposeful. It should set the scene, give insight into characterization, advance action, and foreshadow events around the corner. Do not use dialogue simply to convey information. It must move the narrative forward. Writers listen with hearts and minds to their characters’ interactions, and this becomes the backbone of any story we are writing.



Your dialogue ought to sound like an actual conversation, but with the boring bits removed!



Write dialogue that not only accomplishes all the above but is also full of life and fun to read. This is possible by giving each character his or her own particular way of expression—his or her own dialogue notes, if you will. Like the color of a character’s hair, the way each character speaks, the idioms he or she uses, reveals something about your characters that description alone can’t cover.

I am by no means an expert on this subject but I have always enjoyed listening to and reading good dialogue. To get a better feel for this element of writing, go to the theatre and see lots of plays. A beautifully written play uses dialogue efficiently, majestically, and impressively. The ring of the words can be heard in your head long after the curtain falls.




Monica Kulling is the author of numerous books for children. Her most recent books are Mary Anning’s Curiosity, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon, and Alexander Hamilton: From Orphan to Founding Father, illustrated by Valerio Fabbretti. She is also the author of On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights, illustrated by Felicita Sala. Monica’s books have been nominated for many awards, including the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children’s nonfiction. Other picture books include the popular Great Ideas series; Happy Birthday, Alice Babette; Grant and Tillie Go Walking; and The Tweedles Go Electric. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto.

WRITERLY WISDOM: Sarah Frances Hardy




by Sarah Frances Hardy

Because I’m an illustrator, I think visually and my characters usually start out as a doodle or drawing. The main character for my debut picture book started out like this:




After I drew this little girl, I immediately wanted to know her story. Why the black dress? Why the pointy shoes? Why the sass? So I started asking questions. Lots and lots of questions … I asked things like:

-Where does she go when she’s sad?
-What is on the nightstand next to her bed?
-Does she have a sister?
-What does she love most in the world? Hate?
-Does she have a pet?
-What does her lunchbox look like?
-Has she ever had stitches?
– …….??????

The more questions I asked about my character, the more I started getting to know her. And the more I started to get to know her, the easier it was to create a story around her because I knew exactly how to push her buttons.

And that is what you have to do as a picture book writer: you have to create an adorable, interesting character and then you have to mess up her world. And if you know what she loves the most and hates the most, then you know exactly how to create conflict for your character. So spending lots of time brainstorming and fine-tuning exactly who this person is is an important first step.

Now if you’re not an illustrator, no worries! You can still use a visual cue as a jumping off point to create a character. Simply flip through children’s catalogs, hang out in the park, drive your child’s carpool and tune in.

Notice things like the little girl in the perfect white sundress and white sandals who refuses to climb on the jungle gym. Is she worried about getting dirty? Why? Did her grandmother make her dress? Is her grandmother sick? Wouldn’t it be terrible if someone splashed her with mud? If she tore her dress? Maybe she got hurt the last time she was on the jungle gym? Or maybe someone teased her because they saw her panties?




Ask! Ask! Ask!!

Stare at the picture you drew or selected from a magazine, and dig deep. Imagine the characters’ lives and their motivations. Ask real live children questions like “Why did you decide to wear a cape today?” “Does anything live under your bed?” “Do you often keep a family of lizards in your back pack?”

And don’t be afraid to ask tons of questions because the more questions you ask, the weirder they get, and the more interesting your character will be.

And interesting characters make for interesting stories!




With a juris doctorate cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law, a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Davidson College, and subsequent studies at Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris, Sarah Frances Hardy (www.sfhardy.com) took an early retirement from practicing law to paint and write full time.

Sarah Frances’s paintings are characterized by vivid colors and expressive brushstrokes. She has exhibited her work in galleries throughout the Southeast as well as at a gallery in Soho. Her corporate clients include Steve Wynn who purchased several of Sarah Frances’s paintings for the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Most recently, Sarah Frances has redirected her creative juices towards writing and illustrating books for children–picture books as well as middle grade and young adult novels.

Her first book PUZZLED BY PINK which she both wrote and illustrated was published in April of 2012 by Viking Children’s Books. It’s a story of two sisters who couldn’t be more different.

Her next book PAINT ME! about a girl who begins the day painting a portrait of her dog and ends up painting everything she comes across . . . was published by Sky Pony Press in May of 2014.

Her newest release DRESS ME! was published in May of 2015 by Sky Pony Press. It is about a little girl who dresses up in lots of different costumes trying out lots of different careers. In the end, she decides to just be herself.


WRITERLY WISDOM: Corey Rosen Schwartz




Rhyme and Meter, GOLDI ROCKS Style!
By Corey Rosen Schwartz


There are a lot of resources on the internet for people who want to write in rhyme. But… I’ve never seen a post that steers you toward one type over another. In my opinion, not all meters are created equal. Some are definitely better for picture books than others.

Let’s compare a few.




Mama Bear’s Stanzas

I said, “Sit down,

It’s time to eat.

Please come and try

your cream of wheat.

But Baby said,

We’d better not.

We’ll burn out tongues.

It’s way too hot!”


too short

The problem with this meter is…. The distance between rhyming words is too SHORT.
i SAID sit DOWN. (2)

it’s TIME to EAT (2)

please COME and TRY (2)

your CREAM of WHEAT (2)

There are two stressed beats per line, which means four stressed beats (or 8 syllables) between rhymes

When this goes on for a while, it starts to feel very sing-songy. Also, since you only have eight syllables between rhymes, it tends to lead to forced rhymes. The rhymes are coming too often, which makes it difficult to tell the story you want to tell. The rhymes end up driving the story.

I see this in a LOT of manuscripts.


Papa Bear’s Stanza


Mama Bear made porridge and she called out “Time to eat.”

I yawned and rubbed my eyes and then I got up off the couch

It smelled so good. My favorite kind- delicious cream of wheat

But it was hot. I burned my tongue. I jumped and hollered, “Ouch!”



too long

The problem here is… the distance between the rhymes is too LONG.

MAma BEAR made PORridge AND she CALLED out, “TIME to EAT” (7)

i YAWNED and RUBBED my EYES and THEN i GOT up OFF the COUCH (7)

it SMELLED so GOOD. my FAV’rite KIND- deLICious CREAM of WHEAT (7)

but IT was HOT. i BURNED my TONGUE. i JUMPED and HOLLered, “OUCH!” (7)

There are seven stressed beats per line which means 14 stressed beats (or 28 syllables) between rhymes. The rhymes are so far apart, the reader can completely lose the thread. It kind of defeats the point of writing in rhyme, which is to help kids predict what is coming.



Baby Bear’s Stanza

Mama Bear made cream of wheat

But I am not a fool

I saw the pot was scorching hot

And warned them, “Let it cool!”

Baby Bear’s stanza is just right. It’s neither too short nor too long.

MAma BEAR made CREAM of WHEAT (4)

but I am NOT a FOOL.(3)

i SAW the POT was SCORCHing HOT (4)

and WARNED them, “LET it COOL!” (3)


just right


It also has another feature that I really recommend. It does NOT have the same number of stressed beats in every line! When the meter has the same number of stressed beats in every line, it can start to feel monotonous (Think GREEN EGGS AND HAM)

Remember, when you are writing in rhyme, you want to make the rhyme scheme and meter work FOR you, not AGAINST you. Don’t choose a crazy ABAB rhyme scheme like Papa Bear did. It’s much too difficult and all the extra work it requires doesn’t really provide any pay off to the reader. Did anyone even notice that the first and third lines in Papa’s stanza rhymed? For me, getting in an internal rhyme has a much greater pay off.

Work with a meter like Baby Bear’s and you will have seven stressed beats (or 14 syllables) between rhymes. This gives you ample opportunity to tell your story without being constrained by the rhymes. It will allow your picture book to turn out “Just right!”




After publication of her first picture book, Hop! Plop!, Corey longed to write a fractured fairy tale. But coming up with a clever twist wasn’t easy.

Then one day, when her son was three, someone asked him if he spoke Spanish. His answer was, “No, but I speak a little karate.”

Instantly, the idea hit her…the three little pigs could go to ninja school! KIYA!

Corey has no true Ninja training, but she can sure kick but in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, New Jersey. 

Corey is the author of HOP! PLOP! (Walker, 2006), THE THREE NINJA PIGS (Putnam, 2012) GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS (Putnam, 2014) and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD (Putnam, 2014) are just some of her books.  You can learn more about Corey and her books at www.coreyrosenschwartz.com