Wednesday, January 8, 2020

How to Practice Intentional Writing

Have you ever seen the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes in New York City? We have had the pleasure of watching it several times over the last decade. One thing that amazes me is that every time we have seen the Rockettes perform, each number is spot on. Each performer is right where she should be. They dance or sing in time with the music. I've never seen a mistake ... and, believe me, at this point I look for one.

As a former dancer, I appreciate and stand in awe of the amount of practice the Rockettes dedicate themselves to in order to pull off such an outstanding performance multiple times a day for two months. And, while dancing might come naturally to these performers, just like any athlete, certain moves or numbers may present challenges. Dance, like any sport, requires intentional practice.

Just like a dancer, writers can also be intentional with their craft. But, what does that mean, and why is it important?

Devise a plan to help you succeed

It's easy to just plop into your chair for 15 minutes and write something. It's not always easy to discipline yourself to do it regularly. It's also not likely you will go from writing sporadically to writing regularly as quick as snapping your fingers. Figure out a plan that works for your schedule to encourage you to write regularly. For example, the first week you could write with a prompt for two days. The second week you could write with a prompt for three days. The following week you could complete a short story over four days, and so on, until you create that regular habit of sitting down to write on a consistent basis.

Hone your craft

Just like a dancer practices over and again until she is satisfied with her performance, writers can be intentional about honing their craft. Choose a skill you wish to improve. You'll find plenty of online resources to help. You can also read a book on the subject or take a class. Then put what you learned to work by writing. A beta reader or an editor can help you gauge your progress.

Eliminate distractions

You can be intentional about eliminating distractions, too. How stellar of a performance would you expect from a dancer who stops in the middle of practice each time her cellphone rings? Trust me, it won't be pretty.

I'll be honest, this area is my largest struggle. Social media, household chores, and a litany of other things drag me away from writing all the time. Identify what distracts you and reduce or eliminate those distractions. Some days, I simply have to pick up my laptop and drive to a place without Wi-Fi so I can focus on writing.

When you sit down to list your 2020 writing goals, consider what you want your writing career to look like by the end of December. Approaching the new year with well thought out intentions will help you succeed.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of four children’s books including, A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Monday, January 6, 2020

Plot and Your Story - Four Formats

By Karen Cioffi

Plot. As writers we’ve all hear of this literary term. But, what does it mean?

Well, plot is what gives the story a reason to be. It’s the ‘why’ as to the reason the story exists. Plot is what the story is about. And, if the plot is good, it will entertain and engage the reader. It can even change the reader’s life.

In children’s writing, these stories are usually based on external conflict and action.

Think of Superman fighting his nemesis Lex Luther. Or, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.

And, the conflict doesn’t have to come in the form a person. It can be battling a flood or a volcanic eruption, climbing Mount Everest, or training a crazy, peeing-all-over-the-place dog.

In his book, “Aspects of a Novel,” F.M. Forster said, “A plot demands intelligence and memory also.”

Examples of plot driven stories include:

- Madame Bovary – through the plot, Emma is driven toward a tragic end.
- Lolita – the plot holds the reader fascinated as Humbert delves helplessly into depravity.
- Great Expectations – through the plot, the reader watches Pip live his life in pursuit of having Estella love him.

These stories hold the reader captive. They drive the reader to turn the pages, to find out what will happen to the characters.

According to Children’s, there are four types of plot structure (1):

1. Dramatic or Progress – think of this format as a pyramid.

a. The protagonist starts out okay or is in the beginning of a dilemma – it may be physical or emotional. This is the setup.
b. The obstacles or conflict rise. As each obstacle is met and overcome, another one arises of increasing severity. This goes on to the climax – the top of the pyramid.
c. The climax is the final conflict and has the protagonist giving his all to achieve his goal. It’s win or lose time.
d. Then comes the closing or wrap up of the story. The story descends the other side of the pyramid to a satisfying conclusion.

This is your typical young children’s story structure.

Keep in mind that the scenarios don’t have to be heart stopping action or doom. They can be as simple as a moral dilemma, of doing right or wrong.

2. Episodic – think of this format as a long obstacle course of usually lower impact ups and downs in chronological order. Usually each chapter or section depicts related incidents and has its own conflict climax. The story is connected through the characters and/or the theme.

According to Story Mastery, episodic formats “work best when the writer wishes to explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of an era.” (2)

3. Parallel – with this format, there are two or more plots. They can be linked by the characters and/or a common theme.

In a recent upper middle-grade book I ghosted, there were three plots connected through characters and the overall plot.

This format can be used for upper middle-grade and young adult stories.

4. Flashbacks – this format provides the reader with flashbacks throughout the story. It allows the writer to begin with an action scene and fill in the ‘why, what, and how’ in flashbacks.

While plot-driven stories are engaging, it’s the stories that combine a good plot with believable characters that the readers can connect to and ‘feel for’ that become memorable. It’s these stories that have the potential to be great.



This post was originally published at: 

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her middle-grade book, WALKING THROUGH WALLS.

You can connect with Karen at:


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Christmas Titles from 4RV Publishing

After the war, factories began to make toys again, and Ellouise discovers a marvelous surprise when her parents take her to the city to see Santa Claus, a baby doll that opens and closes its eyes.

She tells everyone that she wants that baby doll from Santy Claus.

Then, she worries about Santa Claus being able to find her at her grandparents'. Will Ellouise get her baby doll from Santy Claus?

Pre-order here!

Merry Tilda discovers a small evergreen growing by her house. As years pass, the tree become larger and more important to her, her family, and her neighbors. She, with the help of grandchildfen and their friends, decorates the tree each winter with goodies for the birds and animals. The tree becomes a winter fairy tale.

Christmas, a time of magic and gifts, comes to a halt when stolen presents and electrical problems hit the North Pole. What can Santa or his elves do? What can two girls do? Joy and Mary are the only ones who can save Christmas.

Joseph and his wife, Mary, expect a baby. With all that is happening, including the government requiring a census, Joseph feels a little overwhelmed and a bit left out of the preparations for the baby. Is there something he can do?

Eight-year-old Robert is eager to share his wish list with Santa at the mall on Christmas Eve. When he meets Glenn, who only has one request for Santa, Robert is confused about what he should do. Can he cast aside what he wants and ask Santa to bring his new friend a special gift?

A blind, little calico cat, orphaned and kicked out of the only home she ever knew, witnesses The First Miracle.

Christmas is the time for miracles, but sometimes, a child must make her own miracle, and one for her siblings.

The narrator wonders, "Hundreds of tents are pitched in that field nearby. Why would anyone go camping on a winter day such as this?" So begins a night she and her stable mates would never forget. The words created by Jim Laughter and the illustrations that bring his words to life will be a book readers will not easily forget.

To purchase these and other 4RV titles, visit us online at

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Time for Thanksgiving

So many days pass where I forget how truly blessed I am. That's why it's important to take a step back this week and consider the daily blessings that can easily be taken for granted.

  1. My faith grounds me during those days of struggle. I can't say I smile through the storm, but knowing God's grace and love carry me through even the worst of days comforts me.
  2. My family offers me love, acceptance, and strength when I have convinced myself I can't continue on the path I've chosen.
  3. My career as a real estate professional allows me to help dozens of people. Most have become great friends.
  4. My career as a writer creates the opportunity to reach young people across the globe. 
  5. The support of friends and colleagues helps to quell doubt. 

No matter where tomorrow finds you, I hope Thanksgiving is filled with a multitude of blessings. Please share something you are grateful for this year. We would love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tips to Bust through Holiday Stress and Keep Writing

Look around you. The holiday season is already in full swing. There are gifts to buy, a house to decorate, guests to entertain, and a family to make memories with. Oh, and you still have to find time to dedicate to your writing career. Impossible? Not if you plan it right. Here are tips from time management experts.

Plan Ahead

Dr. Donald Wetmore, President of the Productivity Institute, says we know the holidays add more to our plate than just the regular routines. Plan ahead and schedule tasks and events with greater care. Then things get accomplished sooner, rather than later, and at a pace you can handle.


With the holidays, it’s easy to try and do too much yourself. Wetmore suggests you decide which is more important to you, “do it” or “it gets done.” Even without a writing career to nurture, there isn’t enough time do everything. Admit you need help and seek out a few of Santa’s elves — also known as your spouse and/or children — to help with the cleaning, shopping, and decorating.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s tempting to wake up before the kids each morning and then put in a few hours after they’ve gone to bed each night, but when you burn the candles at both ends you are less productive and become more irritable. It's important to get the sleep you need. Just think of how much more creative you’ll be with a full night’s rest.

Keep it Simple

This isn’t the last holiday season you and your family will experience, so don’t feel like you have to do it all. Here are a few tips that Susie Michelle Cortright, Founder and Publisher of Momscape, and freelance writer Marlene Biondo had to offer their readers:

  • Narrow down your Christmas card list
  • Take advantage of free gift wrapping services
  • Choose one gift theme for everyone on your list
  • Limit parties or consider having a pre-holiday or post-holiday get together

What is one of my favorite tips? Make suppertime less complicated around the holidays by preparing casseroles or slow cooker meals. Leftovers help to make the next day's lunch easier, too. Less time in the kitchen can also mean more writing time.

The holidays should be a joyful and fun-filled time spent with family and friends. With careful planning, you can experience all the peace of the season and keep writing, too.

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of four children’s books including, A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at

Monday, November 11, 2019

Preparing to Write

Preparing to Write


         Both Jodi Thomas and Jerry Jenkins, best selling authors in different genres, say the first step in writing is to have a special place to write. Jodi called it a writing nest. Jerry stated, "establish your writing space." We may use a couch and coffee table in one corner of our living room or a small building in the back yard. We use what we have at the time, but we need to have a spot where we can write.

         Of course, the more comfortable and private the nest or space, the better. But, real writers can write almost anywhere, especially once they have trained themselves to write.

         As with any career or hobby, a writer needs writing tools. So, we need to collect our tools. Some of us handwrite our first draft and need piles of tablets and multiple pens and/or pencils. Not having supplies where we can find them is a disaster. Everyone then types the manuscript on a computer. For some of us, we use the computer from the first draft onward. A few pay someone else to do the typing.

         Jerry Jenkins states the publishing world runs on Microsoft Word, and it does. Therefore, writers need to have a MS Word program on their computers, whether a Mac or a PC. Some other processing programs claim to have interchangeable ability between its program and MS Word, which isn't always true. I know I have run into difficulties editing documents created in a different program, strange formatting and symbols rather than letters appear when changed to Word.

          One point to remember, even if someone else does the typing after the manuscript is handwritten, an author still needs a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, and publishers. A writer needs the best computer he/she can afford, with the most capacity and speed.

         Writers need to have everything that might be needed in addition to a desk or table: a stapler, paper clips, a ruler, a pencil holder, a sharpener, notepads, printing paper, paperweights, a tape dispenser, cork or bulletin board, clock, bookends, reference works, a space heater, a fan, a lamp, a beverage mug, napkins, tissues -- anything and everything that might interrupt working on the manuscript.

         One piece of advice Jerry gives and with which I totally agree is not to try to finish a whole book in one sitting. He says, "Break the project into small pieces." Although we know our project will be at least 80,000 words, for example, we shouldn't think we must write all 80,000 words in one day.

         Jodi advises setting a time limit each day for writing. She suggests beginning with twenty minutes, using a timer, each day, even if most writers will probably pass that time limit often. However, setting that limit gives writers an opportunity to take a small bite out of the large project every day.

         Prepare and organize the main points and ideas for your book. I could write a whole book about this part of writing, but authors need to research, organize, and use some form of compiling information.

         Finally, authors should set a goal, perhaps a deadline or number of words per day or number of pages in a week. I am using NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as my goal to finish at least 50,000 words on my current book. I will write at least 2,000 - 5,,000 words each day to meet my goal. I used that to motivate myself to finish Burnt Offering, and the idea worked.

         Jerry B. Jenkins
          Jodi Thomas, keynote speech, Ozark Creative Writers Conference, (October 12, 2019)