So you're working on a chapter book this month with ChaBooCha. It may be your first attempt at a chapter book or it may be the fifth in a series.
Here are a few tips to help you work your way through the challenge:
HARNESS YOUR IDEAS
There are many posts about how to brainstorm ideas, and even a challenge dedicated to this topic called StoryStorm by Tara Lazar (https://taralazar.com/storystorm/). Grab a notebook and start thinking about ideas that you could use to kick-start this challenge!
Or maybe you have a picture book that sounds like a chapter book because the ideas are too mature for a younger reader. Perhaps you are writing a middle grade novel but your main character is too young or the situations would be more suitable for the younger audience of a chapter book. Try working one of those ideas into this challenge.
Pick one idea and get started. Write the idea on your computer or on paper, or dictate the idea into your phone. The main point is to harness the ideas from your mind and actually see them in writing. It’s much easier to edit a draft that exists than to stare at a blank page or screen.
OUTLINE YOUR CHAPTER BOOK
I realize that not everyone likes the idea of outlining, but I found this process very helpful for chapter book writing:
- Try breaking the story into 10 chapters (the classic number of chapters for a chapter book). This will resonate if you are a planner like me. Outline each of your 10 chapters very loosely in your actual document. Develop your plot and see how each chapter unfolds.
-Each time you go back to write your chapter book, work on one of the chapters. I worked in a linear fashion, so I started from the beginning and kept going. But, somewhere in the middle around chapter 5, I realized that I didn’t have a clear sense of what would happen in the middle. So I moved on to the ending chapters, and skipped over chapters 5, 6 and 7. I worked on the three remaining chapters and then went back to the middle. For this particular book, this method worked for me. I had a clear vision of the beginning, and a somewhat clear vision of the end, but the middle was totally murky. Instead of getting bogged down and stuck in the middle, I worked around it.
-Don’t worry if your first draft isn’t great. Just keep writing. Getting your ideas on paper will really motivate you to continue writing and moving forward.
WORK ON YOUR CRAFT
Read, read, read! – Read chapter books. Try to read several chapter books each week of this challenge and beyond. Get to know the genre. What makes a chapter book different from a picture book or from a middle grade novel? Does your idea work for the age group of the targeted audience? Some chapter books I have been reading include: The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne; The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka; Super Happy Party Bears by Marcie Colleen; The Fantastic Frame by Lin Oliver; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker; Dragon Slayers Academy by Kate McMullan; The Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly; Mermaid Tales by Debbie Dadey; A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy; Sparkle Spa by Jill Santopolo; and The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler. There are many more – your local library or bookstore are good places to see what’s popular with young readers and what’s selling.
First few sentences – Make sure the beginning of the story grabs the reader right from the start. Here are a few examples from the chapter books listed above: “Welcome to the Grumpy Woods! Just Kidding. No one is welcome here. Turn around and go back.” (Super Happy Party Bears); “Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Wait!” yelled Sam. (The Time Warp Trio); “I can’t believe it!” Echo said. “It’s finally happening.” (Mermaid Tales); “I saw a giant orange pig on our swing set this morning,” said my little sister, Maggie. (The Fantastic Frame); “The school bell rang, and Aly raced out the door, holding on tight to her backpack straps.” (Sparkle Spa). These openers will keep me reading!
First chapter – What is the hook that will draw in your reader? Make sure that even after the reader is initially hooked, she will want to stick around and read the entire chapter and the rest of the book.
Chapter transitions – These last sentences in each chapter will pull the reader along seamlessly to the next chapter, all the way through to the end of the book. For example: “Then with a loud slurp, the quicksand swallowed up the wizard, this time hat and all.” (Dragon Slayers’ Academy); “The door blew closed behind them, and Kaz was trapped in this little room. Trapped with a solid girl who could see him.” (The Haunted Library); “They dashed around the corner – just in time to see the cat disappear through a hole in the pyramid” (The Magic Tree House); “What are we going to do?” I asked. “I mean for real?” (Clementine). Don’t you want to read more!
The ending – Endings are so hard to get right! You want the reader to say Wow! Or sigh and smile! Or laugh! Or display another strong emotion. And if you are planning to write a chapter book series, you want to reader to come back for more. In my case, the last page of my first book features a snow globe from another location that is calling out to the main characters. Hopefully readers will be excited about the time-travel concept and ready to follow the characters to another adventure.
World building – do readers want to inhabit your book? What makes your book special? Does everything work consistently in your world? For example, if writing about kids living in outer space and attending a school at a space station, would the school need some type of oxygen filtration system? Would the kids be able to venture out without special suits and masks? What would gravity be like in this world? What kind of food and water would be available? You can design the rules for your world but it becomes believable when those rules work consistently and reliably.
Research – If you are writing about another time, are the little details correct? For example, if writing about medieval times, are the details about clothing worn and food eaten accurate for that timeframe? The first book in my ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION SERIES, RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, takes place in 1928 Coney Island. I researched the clothing of the time, as well as details about the amusement park, the Cyclone roller coaster, trolleys from 1928, whether Nathan’s hot dog stand was opened yet (it was!), and whether the game skee-ball was invented yet (yes!). I also researched the exact day and date that the story was taking place to make sure that was consistent.
The real work starts in the revision process! Revise for big picture and small picture points such as:
-Does your plot have a clear arc with a strong beginning, a middle that keeps the audience reading, and a satisfying ending? Is the plot believable and consistent? Is the world that the characters inhabit plausible? If necessary, is your research about your world complete?
-Are your characters relatable? Will the reader care about them? Do they have well-defined personalities and perhaps some quirks and/or flaws that make them lovable? Is there heart and/or humor in the book?
-Is there a well-defined conflict? Are the stakes high enough? Will the reader care whether the main characters solve the conflict?
-Look at dialogue . . . does it flow naturally? Do the characters have strong voices? Are their styles of speaking consistent?
-Does the pacing work? Does the story flow smoothly through all the chapters to the end? Are there compelling transitions between chapters? Does each scene in the book move the story forward in some way?
-Review for finer points like proper grammar, sentence structure, and lyrical language.
LISTEN TO THE PROS
Aside from the amazing Chapter Book Challenge, I have participated in these excellent courses and other resources and each has helped tremendously with my chapter book writing:
The Chapter Book Blueprint – taught by Alice Kuipers through the Children’s Book Insider with Jon Bard and Laura Backes (http://writingblueprints.com/p/chapter-book-blueprint-vip-power-bundle).
The Chapter Book Alchemist -- Co-taught by Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie through the Children’s Book Academy (http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/the-chapter-book-alchemist.html).
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (www.SCBWI.org). Join and interact with the large organization and with your local chapter.
Attend conferences and participate in online challenges such as Storystorm (https://taralazar.com/storystorm/).
Interact with your writing community on Facebook and Twitter.
JOIN OR START YOUR OWN CHAPTER BOOK CRITIQUE GROUP
Find a group of like-minded writers from this challenge, or from another challenge, group, or class you may be involved with. Work with them to start a critique group to comment on each other’s work as you write your chapter books.
You can also look for critique partners in the KidLit411 and Sub It Club manuscript exchanges through Facebook. I found my chapter book critique group through a class we were all taking through the Children’s Book Academy and we all participated in The Chapter Book Alchemist Class together (see above for details). We each posted a synopsis of our work in progress, and swapped chapters of our manuscripts as we went along. Thanks for all the helpful insights, ladies, you know who you are!
You will only know if you enjoy writing chapter books if you keep going! Don’t give up. You may not finish the challenge with a perfectly crafted chapter book (chances are you won’t!) but hopefully by the end of the month you will have harnessed a great idea and you will have made good progress on your writing. Set a goal to continue and finish!
I really look forward to seeing many chapter books that are generated from CHABOOCHA 2017 in libraries and bookstores very soon!
Melissa Stoller is thrilled to be a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge! She is also an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group. Melissa is the author of the chapter book THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND (Clear Fork Publishing, April, 2017), and the debut picture book OLIVE’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork, March, 2018). She is also the co-author of THE PARENT-CHILD BOOK CLUB: CONNECTING WITH YOUR KIDS THROUGH READING (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009, www.ParentChildBookClub.com). Melissa writes parenting articles, and has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters and one puppy. When not writing or reading, Melissa can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, travelling, walking on the beach, and finding treasures to add to her collections. Find her online at www.MelissaStoller.com, MelissaBerger Stoller (Facebook), @Melissa Stoller (Twitter), and Melissa_Stoller (Instagram).
Melissa has offered a truly amazing couple of prizes, so there will be two give-aways with this post. Melissa is offering a critique of the first two chapters of one person's chapter book manuscript as well as a copy of her soon-to-be released chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION -- BOOK ONE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND. All you need to do to enter in the prize drawing is be a signed-up ChaBooCha member and comment on this post. The winners will be drawn by a random number generator and announced on March 30th.