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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog


Thanks to everyone who downloaded WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS on Amazon’s Kindle during the free week Aug. 7-11.

One author, Karen, contacted me and found mistakes in the copy. I apologize. I could give half-a-dozen excuses, but they would be just that—excuses. The buck stops with me, as Teddy Roosevelt said. I felt awful, as if I understood what it meant for the first time to be caught with egg on my face in public. The author was kind enough to mail me editing notes she made while going through my writing book. I made the corrections immediately. Anyone who downloaded WORDS ALIVE! at any time, please e-mail me at and I will send you a corrected Edition 2.

When I uploaded WORDS ALIVE! Edition 2 was to lower the cost from $7.99 down to $5.99. At the higher cost I made on average $5 a sale, and now I will probably only make about $2 a sale. The reason I did this free promotion was because after 10 years sales had slowed down. So, I decided to let Amazon try to generate more interest.

My goal was to get 50 reviews. I know that’s something out of my control and shouldn’t even be on a goal list. However—ta-da!—exactly 50 people downloaded WORDS ALIVE! during the free week.

In lending library, 184 people read WORDS ALIVE! However, the stats read zero income. A note showed that my book was possibly not enrolled in KDP. But if it isn't, then it shouldn't have been available in the lending library program. I only agreed (checked box) to the lending library because when I signed up for the free week & fluctuating prices, the fine print said I would get a percentage of the lending library fees. As a result, I am totally baffled and not sure how to go in and change anything in the agreement. It's for 90 days, and then I'm supposed to re-visit it. (Can you tell this is my one and only self-published book? The experience does not make me want to ever self-published, except writing books.)

My other goal was to improve my ranking on Amazon. Here’s the best stats it got to:
#5,000+ overall ranking
#13 education & reference
#22 religion & spirituality
#22 teacher resources

A side benefit I hadn’t anticipated was that viewers of my blog doubled the highest readership I’d ever had, a June 2018 article I wrote about “Confession Literature”.

So far I’ve gotten one new review. However, several people contacted me and said they plan to write one. I’m confident that from the 50 downloads, I will get more reviews. But possibly not enough to give WORDS ALIVE! more visibility in promotion. I’ve read where Amazon’s two benchmark numbers are 25 and 50 to give more weighted promotion.

Here is the wonderful review WORDS ALIVE! received from Chris in NM:

Prompts are short ideas or triggers that help a writer get started. But this book does so much more. Each prompt is related to a skill, from poetic concepts, to important writing skills such as character and plot development, to research and interviewing for nonfiction. There's a prompt for each week, which also encourages discipline and regular practice, very important writerly skills! This is a great book for beginners who want to get started but aren't sure how, or intermediate writers who want to expand their repertoire, or people who've taken a break from writing who want a way to get back to it.

Thanks to Chris and Karen and for everyone who has helped me with this project! I feel so blessed to be part of a supportive writing community! Please e-mail if you downloaded a copy of WORDS ALIVE! I would feel so much better knowing you have the up-dated Edition 2.
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by Christine Kohler

WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS is free August 7 – 11, 2018, on Amazon’s Kindle. Please download, write a review, and spread the word.

This writing book is ideal for homeschool and Christian school supplemental curriculum. And ideal for adult writers specializing in biblical writing. (Biblical writing is any genre of inspirational writing that is based on the Bible.) It also builds discipline since there are 52 lessons, one for each week of the year.

Click on “Look Inside” and you can see how this curriculum is designed with lessons in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. In fiction, it teaches all the elements of a story. Each lesson gives a skill, prompt, topic and scripture, and example.

At my core, I am a teacher. My first degree is in secondary education with an English emphasis. (My second degree is in journalism with an English minor.) I have taught at three schools in South Florida and San Antonio, Texas. When I left my copy editor’s job at the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst daily, I taught writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) for nearly a decade. In anticipation of resigning from ICL in 2013, I started this blog, READ LIKE A WRITER, August 21, 2012, to have a platform to continue teaching.

As a former teacher, I wrote WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS to fill vacuums in Christian curriculum programs, and because a number of ICL students requested to write biblically-based materials. (I am published by Zondervan, Biblevision, Concordia, plus a multitude of different Christian publications in fiction, nonfiction, poetry in books, magazines, journals, devotionals, and Sunday School leaflets.)

Agents and publishers in both Christian and secular markets said they loved how WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS fulfilled a number of purposes—writing craft lessons, skill examples, and prompts. However, no surprise, it is geared toward small niche markets. At a Christian Writers Conference in Mt. Hermon, CA, agents urged me to self-publish my writing book. In February 2007, my girlfriend Marianne Dyson, science author extraordinaire, formatted WORDS ALIVE! for me and posted it on Kindle. (Marianne and I have known each other since high school!)

I love helping writers improve their craft and achieve their dreams of getting published. I’ve worked with many writers behind the scenes, guiding a number of writers toward getting contracts that launched their careers. If you follow me on twitter at @christinekohle1 you know that I promote other people’s book news through retweets. This is the first time in the 11 years that my writing book has been published that I have done a promotion.

I hope you will help me spread the word about WORDS ALIVE! CHRISTIAN WRITERS SKILLS & PROMPTS. My goal is to get 50 reviews and move this up in Amazon’s algorithms for writing books. Up until now I have been lax in promoting this book. By offering it free for this limited time period, it also gives me opportunity to give you a gift to thank you for following and supporting me. Thank you!  Read More 

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St. Augustine was one of the earliest to write autobiographical confessions in a journal. This cover is by Penguin Books.

by Christine Kohler

I have a lot of confessions to make in writing this article about “Confession Literature in YA novels.”


I never use nor recommend using Wikipedia for a source. However, there are different definitions for Confession and Confessional Literature, and the Wikipedia entry works best for what I plan to open a discussion on in this article. The following is a condensed version of a fluid (as opposed to concrete) definition of Confession, or Confessional, literature, according to Wikipedia:


In literature, confessional writing is a first-person style that is often presented as an ongoing diary or letters, distinguished by revelations of a person's deeper or darker motivations.
Originally, the term derived from confession. The writer is not only autobiographically recounting his life but confessing to his sins.

Fictionally, the confessional story is a story written, in the first person, about emotionally fraught and morally charged situations in which a fictional character is caught.
With the advent of the magazine True Story in 1919, the confessional (and later Romance) magazine was created, containing such stories. The formula has been characterized as "sin-suffer-repent": The heroine violates standards of behavior, suffers as a consequence, learns her lesson, and resolves to live in light of it, not embittered by her pain.


I found examples in YA lit where someone close to the first-person protagonist was caught instead. Also, in the adult market stories the confessor didn’t always repent. And in the YA novels the resolutions were to reveal the mystery of who the real culprit (sinner) was who committed the crime, usually murder or theft. The one thing all of these stories seemed to have in common besides the first-person confession, dark subjects, and deep emotional self-analysis, was a surprise twist at the end.


This year I have been reading novels in the adult market, mostly mysteries. Recently I read short stories in a collections of Edgar winners, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I noticed some of the stories were told in a confession style, but it was writer Samantha Allen whose story “Some Kind of Lonely” in EQMM that moved me the most. Allen’s essay about Confession Literature clarified for me this specific style. Check out her thoughtful essay “Weight of the Words”.
This is what led me to think about what YA novels are written in Confession style.


I have read all the YA novels I’m going to cite as possible examples of Confession Literature. However, it has been years ago since I read them. I also have no idea if the authors themselves would classify their stories as a Confession style. So, if you don’t agree, please speak up and tell me why any of these books don’t fit the Confession criteria. Or is you know of a YA novel that you feel does fit the Confession criteria, please add the title and author in comments. Here are four novels with links and summaries from Goodreads so you can look them up and judge for yourself if you haven’t read them:

[Note: The Monster summary is from one by reviewer Medeia Sharif and part of the Harpercollins book summary on Goodreads because the original summary is very long and I wanted to mostly highlight the mixed media methods author Walter Dean Meyers—oral confession, jury trial with witnesses, film, journal. (Note: Check out my earlier blog article on using mixed media in novels.)]

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein (Egmont, 2012)

1943 -- When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

[My note: I remember this story as a mystery being told from Verity’s point of view inside an interrogation room where German SS officers are trying to get a confession from her.]

DOVEY COE by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Atheneum, 2001)

My name is Dovey Coe and I reckon it don't matter if you like me or not. I'm here to lay the record straight, to let you know them folks saying I done a terrible thing are liars. I aim to prove it, too. I hated Parnell Caraway as much as the next person, but I didn't kill him.

[My note: This story is told from a courtroom with Dovey on trial for murder.]

THE SILENCE OF MURDER by Dandi Mackall (Knopf, 2011)

Seventeen-year-old Hope Long's life revolves around her brother Jeremy. So when Jeremy is accused of killing the town's beloved baseball coach, Hope's world begins to unravel. Everyone is convinced Jeremy did it, and since he hasn't spoken a word in 9 years, he's unable to defend himself. Their lawyer instructs Hope to convince the jury that Jeremy is insane, but all her life Hope has known that Jeremy's just different than other people—better, even. As she works to prove his innocence—joined by her best friend T.J. and the sheriff's son, Chase—Hope uncovers secrets about the murder, the townspeople, her family, and herself. She knows her brother isn't the murderer. But as she comes closer to the truth, she's terrified to find out who is.

[My note: This story is told during a trial, some scenes in the courtroom, and some elsewhere in flashbacks and outside the courthouse where Hope tries to solve the murder mystery to clear her brother. SILENCE OF MURDER is an example of the protagonist not being the accused. But her mute brother’s life is so entwined with hers that she speaks for him.]

MONSTER by Walter Dean Meyers

Steve Harmon is a teenager on trial for allegedly being an accomplice in the murder of a drugstore owner. The author makes use of not only the courtroom, but also Steve’s journal and a movie that Steve’s film club is making of the crime. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. – summary partially by reviewer Medeia Sharif & Harpercollins; see Goodreads for Sarif’s full review


I am convinced that most of the readers of this blog are introverts. Not that I mind, but I would love for you to discuss this topic in the comment section so we can have a dialogue. Confession Literature is something I have not written in fiction, only in poetry and my own journals. It’s not a genre or style I’m experienced with. And I was surprised how I fumbled at coming up with YA novels that could be considered Confession Literature. So, please comment, your opinion counts.  Read More 

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READ LIKE A WRITER Blogletter Info

by Christine Kohler

I know you are getting bombarded to re-register for website blogs because of changes in privacy laws. My website, READ LIKE A WRITER blog, and blogletter are through the Authors Guild. So far they haven’t required that I ask people to take any action. However, I want to take this time to reassure you that I have never sold my list and never will. I also don’t run ads.

I also promised my readers that I’d try to keep the blog articles down to about once a month so as not to clog your inbox. I’ve kept that promise pretty well.

If you are not familiar with READ LIKE A WRITER and trying to decide what blogs to invest your time in reading each month, my blog focuses on the writing craft. I’ve had a 35-year career published in children’s books--fiction and NF, articles in adult market magazines & newspapers, and poetry in two languages. I’ve also taught writing. I’m a big believer in the concept of using well-written stories as examples for improving your writing craft.

Thanks to all of my faithful readers.

If you want to check out my blog article archives, look on the blogletter tab and left-hand column where the articles are listed by topic titles. (Under the blog tab the Authors Guild lists them by dates, that’s why I recommend using the blogletter for archives.)

If you aren’t on my blog list, and would like to be, you can sign up on the blogletter page on the left-hand column.

Best wishes on a successful writing career. And READ LIKE A WRITER!

Christine Kohler
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by Henry Turner

When people think of thrillers – even seasoned writers – they often think of set pieces: cool scary episodes, physical scenes, action and excitement. But this has nothing to do with writing a thriller, or better – putting intense suspense into any story. All the action scenes--scares, jump scares, you name it, will go slack and become tiresome if the character is not there. Everything revolves around the growth of the character.


Character actually builds scenes, generates material, and is fascinating in and of itself. Once you’ve gotten to know your character, you can put her or him into any circumstances. I’m so familiar with my characters from ASK THE DARK and HIDING that I could put them anywhere—on road trips, dealing with retail clerks, falling in love—events running the gamut from the most serious to the totally mundane. I know just what they’d say and do.


In HIDING (Clarion, 2018), the central situation is intense – a teen has snuck into his ex-girlfriend’s house and is never clear about his reasons for being there. He’s ingratiating—but he also has darker moments talking about unresolved aspects of his life that deeply disturb him. So, we wonder—what’s he going to do? Because the story is told first-person, he himself has to tell us—but he beats around the bush, avoids the issue, yet all the while he’s getting closer to her room, and finding things that make the situation increasingly uncertain and intense.


In ASK THE DARK (Clarion, 2015), my previous novel, the juvenile delinquent main character Billy Zeets finds dead bodies and thinks he knows who the killer is—but he feels he needs real proof. because his reputation is so bad, he thinks no one will believe him. Meanwhile, the killer is on to him, and starts to track him down. As I wrote the story, the events and episodes came very naturally to me, inspired, so to speak, by Billy’s personality. As in HIDING, the events are not exciting merely in themselves, but serve a greater purpose of bringing the characters’ personalities into greater focus.


Suspense techniques are key: withholding pieces of information, suggesting and hinting before clarifying—but the real power behind thrillers or any story is character—CHARACTER—with a plot whose events excite always in relation to how they affect and grow the character.

Henry Turner
is an award-winning independent filmmaker and author. His first novel for teens, Ask the Dark, was a Kids’ Indie Next List pick and was nominated for a Mystery Writes of America’s Edgar Award, as well as the World Mystery Convention’s Anthony Award. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Henry now lives with his wife and son in Southern California.
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photo by ThoughtCatalog Pixabay

by Christine Kohler

This year I challenged myself to write one poem a week. Since this is Poetry Month I checked my progress. I’ve written 11 poems so far, four shy of 16 weeks. (No excuses, no matter how valid. Also, some poems took me two weeks to write. Other weeks I wrote two poems.)

I asked authors’ advice when contemplating this commitment. Nikki Grimes, an author famous in poetry and novels in verse, and several other poets suggested I stick to a theme so that at the end of the year I would have something to submit for publication. I had already decided on a broad theme “A Gaijin in Japan”. It’s been 30 years since I left Japan and I regret not having written about our experiences there. I had written one narrative poem about the experience years ago and have never been able to place it for publication. (Got a rejection for “Oriental Gold” today, seconds before I began writing this article.)

However, as disciplined as I can be, poetry is also an emotional outlet for me. So, I’ve veered off theme. Of the 11 poems, only four are about Japan, and a fifth is a haiku about “American Cherries”. (Japanese cherry trees don’t produce like American trees do.)

My advice to others considering doing this is to just write. Pour your thoughts and emotions down in poetic form. Forget about rhyming in free verse. Use prompts if you get stuck for ideas. Photographs make great visual memory-joggers. Driving from Ohio after attending two family funerals I wrote “Ode to a Pine Cone” because it’s what I saw from the car window that inspired me. (I’ve also written about cotton fields, wind turbines, and Snoutnose Butterflies—sold to Hearst Corp.—inspired by Texas landscapes.)

I urge you to try different forms. I was blessed with a senior high school English teacher, Mr. Charles Mauer, who also taught at a university and took an interest in my writing. He challenged me to copy the masters. Mr. Mauer promised that once I did then I could break the rules and write free verse. He was right, by the time I did, I had meters pounded into my inner core. I only wish someone had taught me even more meters and poetic forms, which I didn’t study until graduate school. I would have probably made a career in poetry if it weren’t for the difficulty of making a living wage from it. I am published in two languages—English and French—in adult markets. The markets have shrunk incredibly, and I haven’t seen pitiful payments rise. I have great admiration for career professional poets.

Patti Kurtz, a writing professor at Minot State University, recommends THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING FOR A POEM by Wendy Bishop. On my shelf is THE MAKING OF A POEM by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland and WRITING METRICAL POETRY by William Baer.

What is your advice to people who desire to challenge themselves with writing poetry?

I want to end this article by giving you, my faithful blog readers, a free verse poem I wrote for writers, “Uncensored”. (I’m hoping it doesn’t lose formatting, which is cooler in layout.)
By Christine Kohler

In youth, words
in gushes
roaring onto
the page
No dam
No gatekeeper
could stop
the words

School brought rules—
Spelling, punctuation, grammar—
at first.
Proper Lady etiquette struck naughty
words from girls’ vocabularies.

Next came assignments,
required word count,
five-point paragraphs
led to term papers.

All graded with red slashes,
Criticism and blood sheets.
Diaries found,
locks broken,
pages tossed in the
burn barrel.
living Logos screaming
in eternal flames.

Proper Lady writers
to self-censor.

Youth Words

Damn dammed words!

Rage against the censors,
critics, and sticklers.
Smash the dam and
Defy the rules.
Ban the naysayers.
In torrents,
streaming to rivers,
lakes, and oceans,
of words—
Your Words—
Immortal words,
Worthy words flowing out
from an endless crystal spring
within your writer core.

@copyright 2018 Christine Kohler
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photo by succo on Pixabay

by Christine Kohler

One of the things my grandson, Erik, and I love about BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE (Candlewick) by Kate DiCamillo is the cuss words.

“What in the name of corn on the cob!” is our favorite curse phrase. Erik and I have even made up our own curses. “What in the name of pea pods!” “Oh sugar shack!” “Oh paddy whack!” Try it; it’s funny. Kids will laugh, too.

Recently I was researching strikes, so I read an adult novel about Boston police strikes after WWI. The author peppered conversation with the For Use of Carnal Knowledge acronym. It took me out of the time period because I couldn’t imagine Irishmen, even cops, using that word the early 1900s. Also, all the male characters used the f-word, which seemed lazy on the part of the author.

An example of an author who uses language appropriately to his time setting is M.T. Anderson . The f-word in futuristic FEED is justifiable because denigration of language could be a theme. However, Anderson uses formal language, and omits the f-word, in his Revolutionary War period OCTAVIAN NOTHING novels.

It’s my belief that original substitutes for swear words can pack more powerful images than resorting to using swear words. In the adult novel PURPLE CANE ROAD (Doubleday), set in Louisiana, author James Burke does an excellent job of this technique. In one passage, the sheriff narrator tells what type of men are in lock-up. He ends with, “the type of men who Satan wouldn’t let scrub his toilet with their toothbrushes.” (Burke does a fabulous job with original jarring dialogue, too.) Listen to how he builds in this paragraph, startling the reader with a twist at the end of the paragraph, and gets his point across without using one expletive:

I looked at her eyes, the sun-bleached tips of her wet hair, the healthy glow of her skin. There was no dark aura surrounding the head, no tuberous growth wrapping its tentacles around the spirit, no guilty attempt to avoid the indictment in my stare. She was one of those who could rise early and rested in the morning, fix tea and buttered toast, and light the ovens in Dachau.

I also believe when it comes to cuss words, less is best. When increasing tension, build from frustration to anger until one burst of physical action and, if necessary, a curse word packs a bigger punch then if the character has been swearing—especially swearing constantly--well before his anger explodes. I used this technique in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER at the point Kiko was frantically trying to get his tatan (grandfather) to not behead the WWII Japanese soldier.

What is your stance on cuss words in YA literature? Do you use them? If not, how do you make it authentic without curses?  Read More 

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by Suzanne Kamata

A couple of weeks ago, I entered a writing contest. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me; I enter contests all the time. Some may think that it’s not worth the time or the cost of the entrance fees. After all, many contests get hundreds of submissions, and judging is often somewhat subjective – every reader has different likes and dislikes.

I have lost more contests than I have won, but sometimes I get lucky. Thanks to winning or placing in writing competitions, I have received plane tickets to Paris, Sydney, and Columbia, South Carolina (from my home in Japan). I’ve also been awarded cash, medals, trophies, and plaques and shiny prize stickers for my books, not to mention bragging rights and prestige. A contest win can also be an excuse for a burst of publicity – Twitter tweets, Facebook posts, mentions in newsletters, and interviews with your hometown press. Contests may lead to recognition, getting an agent or publisher, and book sales.

So how do you decide which contests to enter? How do you win? Here are a few things to consider:

*Previous winners – Who won the prize/contest in the past? Is it someone whose writing you respect? Would you be honored to have your work mentioned alongside theirs? The entry fee for the Nautilus Book Awards was a whopping $185 ($135 for books for children and young adults), however when my publisher suggested I enter my short story collection, THE BEAUTIFUL ONE HAS COME , I did because winning or placing would put my book in the same company as many writers that I admired, such as Barbara Kingsolver, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Gayle Brandeis. the book cover.

*The narrower the category, the better -- Some contests attract a broad range of submissions, and are therefore more competitive. Those with a narrower focus obviously attract fewer entrants. My YA novel GADGET GIRL: THE ART OF BEING INVISIBLE, features a biracial (Japanese/Caucasian) girl with cerebral palsy and is set partly in Paris. Instead of entering the book solely into heavily competitive contests for YA fiction, I entered it into contests for books concerning Asian-American characters, and those with a disability or Paris connection. Happily, it was awarded the Asian Pacific American YA Honor Award and the Paris Book Festival Grand Prize.

* New contests offer new opportunities -- Typically, your chances of winning a brand new, or newish contest are greater than an older, established one simply because fewer people know about it. When I entered the second annual Jeremy Mogford Prize for Food Writing, my entry was a finalist. Although I didn’t win the 10,000 pound prize, I was thrilled to have been a contender. At the time, there were “nearly 400” entrants, however over 1,000 stories were entered in last year’s competition, the fifth, making it more difficult to win. Similarly, when my novel THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN was named a finalist for the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize sponsored by Elephant Rock Books, my manuscript was competing against nearly 70 other submissions. This year’s contest drew over 100 entries. As winners of this contest have gone on to be named a finalist for the Printz Award and a Junior Library Guild Selection, the prize is rapidly gaining in prestige, and in the number of contestants.

*Follow the rules – This should go without saying, but make sure you take a good look at the guidelines. As a contest judge faced with a mountain of submissions, I have been quick to disqualify those who have obviously not paid any attention to the rules. If a contest asks for up to fifteen pages, don’t send a PDF of your entire book. If manuscripts are judged blindly, make sure your name doesn’t appear in the header.

*If you don’t succeed, try again -- I was awarded a work-in-progress grant from SCBWI the second or third time that I applied, and a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation on my second try. The winner of the 2017 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest was a semi-finalist two years before.

*Submit your best work – Give it your best shot. Often unusual, quirky, or unclassifiable works stand out above the crowd. Choose your most unique, most special work for contest entry, and hone it till it shines.

*Winning isn’t everything – Some contests, especially those sponsored by literary journals, send every entrant a copy of the issue containing the winning story. Others promise a critique to every entrant. At the very least, your entry fee may be helping to keep small press publishing alive. In some cases, books entered in competitions are donated to libraries and other places where readers gather. Judges often take note of strong entries, even when they are not chosen for first prize., for example, Leapfrog Press has published several of the finalists of its annual fiction contest in addition to the winners. Even if you don’t win, if your entry places, take that as encouragement. Keep writing, and keep revising.

Good luck!

• Editor’s note to blog readers: What contests have you entered with what results?  Read More 

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By Victoria J. Coe

Writing a synopsis is a lot like eating a Reese's peanut butter cup. In fact, the only difference I can see is there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's.

Maybe nibbling along the outside works for you, or perhaps you're more comfortable diving right into the middle. Some ways just feel right. But if your favorite method has begun to lose its flavor, why not spice it up by trying something new?

Before digging in, I'd like to squash a bit of misinformation. You may have heard that a synopsis is a tantalizing morsel designed to leave the reader salivating for the rest of your story. Not so! Your synopsis is where you tear off the wrapper and highlight your main ingredients, right down to the last tasty crumb.

When editors or agents read your synopsis, they want to get a sense for who your main character is and where you're going with the premise. Your synopsis, along with your query letter and sample chapters, will help them determine whether your story might be a good fit for them. You don't need to include a lot of detail, just what is necessary to understand the protagonist's motivation and the plot.

The first thing I do when writing a synopsis is sum up the whole story in one paragraph.

• Begin by telling the entire plot in one sentence.

• Next, explain the main character's motivation in one or two sentences.

• Then summarize the "middle" of the story and climax in one or two sentences.

• Finally, tell how the main character grows or what he learns as a result of his experiences.

Of course, if you can combine any of these points, by all means do!


Charlie wants to visit Mr. Willy Wonka's top secret candy factory. After he and four other lucky children win a tour of the factory, misfortune befalls the selfish, misbehaving four, while amiable Charlie earns Mr. Wonka's trust and inherits the factory.

This short paragraph not only tells the premise and plot, but also shines a light on the theme. Like the unmistakable aroma of chocolate, this story's theme, "good guys finish first," wafts through the page and stimulates the senses, but doesn't overwhelm the reader. Try this with your own summary. If the theme isn't clear, revise or tweak until it is.

If there is a subplot, next is the place to spell it out. One or two sentences should do it. For example, "Throughout the story, there is a subplot in which _______."

Skip a line, and dive right in to the plot outline. Think of your story in three major sections:

• Beginning - Main character's motivation is established and basic plot is set up

• Middle - Main character faces obstacles, which build to a climax

• End - Climax is resolved.

The beginning, climax and ending will take up most of the synopsis, with less weight given to the middle:

Reveal your beginning in two or three paragraphs, leaving off with your plot clearly set.

For the middle, lead with an introductory sentence, then encapsulate your major plot points as bullets, leading up to the climax. Take two or three paragraphs to describe the climax and twists.

Finally, tell how the story is resolved in one or two paragraphs.

Here's an example of the rest of the synopsis of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. At 450 words, this synopsis will take up only 2-3 pages. Yet the plot, theme and essence of the main character all come through like the unbeatable combination of peanut butter and chocolate wrapped up neatly in a bright orange wrapper.

Sweet Charlie Bucket loves chocolate. But his family is so poor that he gets it only once a year, on his birthday. Walking past Wonka's Chocolate Factory each day is torture.

Charlie's grandfather tells him that Mr. Willy Wonka is so concerned about guarding his secrets that he has closed off the factory. No one has been seen going in or out for years.

An announcement appears in the newspaper: Five lucky children who find golden tickets inside Wonka bars will win a personal tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Charlie is very excited -- his birthday is next week.

After the first two tickets are discovered, Charlie opens his birthday chocolate with great anticipation, but his hopes fall when there is no golden ticket inside.

Soon the third and fourth tickets are found. Then Charlie's Grandpa Joe shows him a Wonka bar he has kept hidden. The two open it gleefully, but inside is chocolate, nothing more.

One day Charlie finds a dollar in the snow and buys two chocolate bars. He is shocked to find the last golden ticket!

The next day, Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the other winners arrive at the factory, where they are delighted and amazed to meet the wildly eccentric Willy Wonka.

While Charlie and his grandfather marvel at the wonders of Wonka's factory, one by one the other children meet with misfortune when they fail to heed their host's admonitions:

Gluttonous Augustus Gloop drinks from the chocolate river and falls in

Gum-chewing Violet Beauregard chews an experimental stick of gum and turns into a gigantic blueberry

Spoiled Veruca Salt grabs a squirrel and ends up in a chute for bad nuts

Television-obsessed Mike Teavee is shrunk when he tries to become the first human to travel over television waves

After each mishap, Mr. Wonka tells the dwindling group that the others will all come out in the wash.

When at last only Charlie is left, Mr. Wonka tells him that he's giving him the whole factory. Wonka explains that he's been looking for his successor -- a good, sensible, loving child to entrust with his precious candy-making secrets. Thrilled, Charlie and Grandpa Joe burst through the roof of the factory with Mr. Wonka in the great, glass elevator. They fly to the Buckets' cottage and collect the rest of the family before returning to live at the Wonka Factory.

Sounds easy? It is! Now roll up your sleeves, grab a napkin and dig in!


A synopsis is a content-driven summary of a story's plot. Most often a synopsis, along with a query letter and sample chapters, is part of a fiction book proposal.

Usually part of a non-fiction book proposal, an outline is structure-driven. As most non-fiction books are not actually written until after the proposal has been accepted, the outline describes the type of material to be covered chapter by chapter. Therefore, the outline is generally not a summary of already-written chapters, but a plan for what the author intends to include.

Sometimes, a publisher's guidelines for fiction request a chapter by chapter outline. This type of outline is really a blend of a synopsis and an outline. A writer might think of an outline of fiction as an expanded synopsis, including each and every chapter in summary.


• Tell, don't show!

• Use Omniscient POV

• Write in present tense

• Keep it short and sweet


• Shape your synopsis into a fitting format

• Single space your name and contact information in the upper left hand corner of the first page

• Center your title, all in capital letters

• Skip a line, then center the word "synopsis," in bold, capital letters

• Skip two lines, then double space your synopsis.

• Insert a header on subsequent pages, listing "your last name/Manuscript Title, Synopsis" on the top left and listing the page number on the top right.

• The fewer pages, the better.


Victoria J. Coe is the author of the 2017 Global Read Aloud & One School One Book selection FENWAY AND HATTIE, the first title in a middle grade series from Penguin Young Readers. She teaches creative writing in Cambridge, MA.

© by Victoria J. Coe  Read More 
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A Kairos moment
by Christine Kohler

Think back to carefree childhood activities before your parents sent you to school. You lost yourself in imaginative play, exploration, and creativity. No one set a clock and said, “You have 15 minutes to make a mud pie.” Or, “Shimmy up that tree, pretend you are Rocky the flying squirrel, then vamoose down again in 20 minutes.” (If adults did put time restraints on your imaginative play, shame on them.)

Observe a newborn and toddler amazed at the newness and wonderment of things we take for granted. Notice how they move at their own pace, without concern for adult schedules. This is true with human and four-legged young ones.

These unfettered childhood behaviors are done during a period known to the Greeks as Kairos, an appointed time, an opportune moment, or a due season.

Once children begin school, schedules are enforced. The alarm clock wakes you up, the bus arrives at a specific time, tardy bells clang. Your body is even supposed to regulate when it goes to the bathroom and what time it has to fall asleep at night. Adulthood and the work place demands more of the same.

This regimented system is Chronos, a measurable time, such as seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, calendar years.


Consider how this applies to writers. Unless you didn’t begin writing until college in a course such as technical writing, then chances are you started writing as a child because you enjoyed doing so, not for homework assignments only. I was aware by age 9, around fourth grade, that I was writing compulsively. I began writing my first novel while babysitting at about age 13. Yet, I don’t recall a teacher assigning me to write a story until my junior year in high school, at age 16. (I still have it. It’s titled “Kidnapped” and I got double As.)

So, if you were like me, and you wrote as a child out of compulsion, or for pleasure or praise, chances are that no one assigned the topics. No one gave you a deadline. No one expected you to do anything, least of all produce an entire poem, or short story, or article. Certainly not an entire novel. You wrote for the sheer joy of writing, to relay interesting information or tell a story. You wrote to express yourself. You wrote to vent, or out of loneliness, or because your imagination was overflowing with inventive ideas. (Notice I didn’t say “over-active imagination.” That term might have been made up by a curmudgeon who didn’t want to hear your fantasy stories.) For whatever reason, you wrote without being told to, without having time limits to produce a finished product. You took the opportunity to write in the perfect Kairos moment. You took a season to write your piece, if necessary, and wrote for a season until you reached an age where a teacher or boss imposed Chronos time on you.


Chronos time is imposed on writers by teachers and bosses, if you are required to write at work. I have often said that I don’t believe in writer’s block because, as a reporter, you either make your deadline or get fired. As a news reporter, I wrote three to five articles per day on deadline. And that was after spending all day outside the office gathering information and interviewing. The actual writing took place in about two hours of my workday. Educational writers also have brutal deadlines. Some novelists are expected to produce two to four full-length novels per year.

Chronos time can also be self-imposed. Those who commit to writing X-amount of words a day, or for X-amount of time per day, write on Chronos time. Those who do NaNoWriMo are writing on Chronos time. I don’t do NaNoWriMo. However, I confess that when I hack out a first draft of a novel, I usually do so in six to eight weeks, sometimes writing up to 10 hours a day. I do this self-imposed Chronos time for continuity, to get the first crappy draft down on paper (finish what I start), and because I can.


So, I am not condemning writing on Chronos time. It has its place. However, let’s not abandon seasons of Kairos. Too often I hear of writers flagellate themselves for being stuck, or taking a day, or (gasp!) a week off from writing. Instead, perhaps they should embrace the Kairos to step away the work and spend non-timed moments to meditate, contemplate on a deeper level. Or do whimsical play. Or inventive pursuits. Make mud pies out under a Bing cherry tree, if you must. Return to the unfettered activities of your youth before authoritarian figures imposed Chronos time on you.


Published authors often admonish other writers to “enjoy the journey” instead of obsessing about getting published. But what does that really mean? How does a writer really enjoy the journey when the hype is to keep their eyes on the publishing prize? Perhaps the key is in relishing the Kairos moments when we lose ourselves in our writing. When we forget about the discipline and writing rules and deadlines, and instead return inwardly to writing for the sheer joy of telling stories.


When my dad retired from Ford Motor Company, he took his watch off. He told me he no longer wanted to be dictated by a timepiece. Most writers never retire. But the body slows down. People enter a different season of life. Instead of bemoaning the limitations, embrace the Kairos moments. Write deeper, more meaningful, more playful, more fantastical. Focus on the quality instead of the quantity. Get lost in story. Create something worthy of your fullest potential.


One footnote to contemplate, if you decide to read further about the difference between Chronos and Kairos. The Greeks personified concepts. Chronos is depicted as Father Time, carrying a scythe and an hour glass. He resembles the Grim Reaper. Chronos is crazy--he eats his own son. In Christian theology, Chronos leads to death in hell. However, Kairos is the icon of everlasting life. Kairos is the concept of seasons Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes. It can be one small ripe, full, and perfect moment. Or it can last a season.


My New Year wish for you all is that you give yourself the gift of freedom to seize Kairos moments to take joy in the journey. May you create timeless art.



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