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: