Category Archives: Anita says…

Resolve the problem

In any story there will be a problem the character has to face and those problems have to be resolved by the end of the story. Often readers will be anticipating the ending they hope to see. They will have recognised the strengths and weaknesses in the characters and they will want them to overcome their problems and solve them in a satisfying way through their own resolve and intelligence.

problem solving2

A common mistake for many new writers, writing their first children’s novel is to have an adult whether it is a parent/carer or in some cases a total new character who is actually a stranger to the reader, storm in a save the day. This is not a satisfactory ending and in a lot of cases it feels as if the author has cheated, in the same way as waking up and finding it was all a dream. I know as a reader I want the resolution to be because of the actions of the hero of the story.

This resolution should be built up in a series of stages throughout your plot so it does not come out of the blue. It needs to make sense to the reader. Satisfying story endings use elements from the story’s beginning and middle. Here is one idea for a step by step approach, which I use in my own writing:

steps to solve the problem

Step One

Clearly describe what the problem is so it is clear to the reader and state why this is an issue for your protagonist. Make it clear to the reader why it is your hero’s problem not anyone else’s and why they are the only one able to solve it.

Step Two

Initially the problem is going to cause some anxiety or fear. Ensure you make it clear in your writing how your character feels about the problem. They may be frustrated or angry or need to employ techniques to help them calm down and think clearly. It should be clear to the reader why they feel upset, annoyed, scared, etc.

Step Three

Show your hero’s thought process as they work through the problem. As a writer, it is helpful to brainstorm as many different solutions to the character’s problem as possible. In your brainstorm write why each idea will or why it will not work. Remember effective story resolutions come from the protagonist’s actions. Not every solution will work and not every story has a happy ending but they do have to make sense.

problem solving

Step Four

Write short scenarios to describe what would happen if your character undertook each of the solutions you came up with. Think:

  • Was the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will be hurt or upset.
  • Was the solution fair? How do the other characters in your story feel about each idea for the solution.
  • Did the antagonist get his comeuppance? In children’s books especially the reader wants good to overcome evil and friendship to prevail.

Step Five

Have the problem escalate as the story progresses. Each time they attempt to solve the problem it either becomes worse, or they are confronted by another obstacle. They may think they have solved the problem then realise the effect it has had on others and need to fix this. A solution may create a totally new and larger problem.

Step Six

Finally your protagonist is able to resolve the problem by learning from their mistakes and through their own determination and intelligence. Your character should have grown in some way and the other characters should be satisfied with the way the problem was resolved and any loose ends are tied just like when knitting a jumper.

The ultimate aim is to have a happy reader.

happy reader

You want them to keep reading to find out if your protagonist solves the problem and most importantly your reader should feel something at the end of the story. I hope this helps.he problem.

Creating suspense

Over the years of my writing career I have been on many courses and workshops for different aspects of writing by a wide variety of well known published writers not only those who write for children. Some of my favourite writing talks are crime ‘noir’ conferences where I have discovered a wide range of writing tips and techniques.

writing suspense

One of the main things I have realised is that suspense, tension and conflict are all finely linked. You create one by ramping up the other and have to balance these factors with the final resolution. Here are a few of the things I have learnt and have found useful, which may help you to achieve this.

  1. Make achieving their goal a race against time. There is nothing like a deadline for keeping the adrenaline pumping around the body. The greater the need to achieve the goal and the less time available to achieve this the higher the stakes, the tension and the suspense.
  2. Lull the reader into a false sense of security by using longer sentence just before you reveal the shock of the unexpected.
  3. In contrast, short, sharp sentences mimic the disjointed thought patterns of fear and urgency.
  4. Make your readers root for your characters safety by ramping up the danger.
  5. Using the present tense at the highest points of tension will make the narrative more immediate.
  6. Make the source of the fear a surprise to the reader.
  7. To make your readers care and worry about the main character make your protagonist vulnerable in some way.
  8. Use foreshadowing to rank up the danger by letting your readers know of these vulnerable attributes such as allergies or phobias early on in the story and then make it inevitable they have to face these situations later in the story.
  9. In a similar way, give your character a desire, wound or internal struggle your readers can identify with and then use your reader’s empathy and concern for the impending danger to escalate the tension.
  10. View the world though the protagonists eyes so the reader can identify with your main character and experience what they are feeling.
  11. Use all the senses to get your readers to hear, touch, smell and taste the action.
  12. Initially the less people who believe the protagonist and who do not understand their fear of the antagonist and the seriousness of the threat, the more suspense is created.
  13. As you progress through the story more people should become worried, afraid, sad or curious. This will increase the tension.
  14. Strip the protagonist of something essential to their safety.
  15. Use the power of three. Have small alarming things happen three times to reinforce the conflict, so the concern is mentioned, then it is reinforced and then people begin to realise there is a problem.
  16. Use familiar things, people and situations in different contexts to make your readers feel uneasy.
  17. Let the reader know more than your characters do. So they can see the villain metaphorically creeping up behind your main character before the main character is aware.
  18. Use superstitions even if your character is not superstitious to rank up the suspense and tension, such as making the meeting at number thirteen, accidentally walking under a ladder or a black cat crossing their path.
  19. Delay what is really happening by having a small worrying event which your character ponders and tries to fix this when something bigger happens they need to solve and then have a final climax at the end of the chapter. This will help keep the readers turning the pages to find out what happens next.
  20. Think carefully about your word choices. You can create a dark, spooky atmosphere by using gloomy and macabre words rather than happy, sunny words.

I hope these ideas help you and if you have any more ways of creating suspense, you would like to share, please leave a comment.

Keep it simple

Writers need to interest and entertain their readers. To do this, they have to make sure every word is understandable by using plain, simple language and concrete words. Obscure technical terms, foreign phrases, long unpronounceable names and jargon may make sense to those in the know but not to the majority. It puts up an unnecessary barriers that will deter your readers.

barrier brickwall

Inspiring some children to read is difficult enough as it is, so why make it more difficult for them? My advice is don’t hesitate to break the rules if the alternative is to write something that looks and sounds contrived or ugly. To avoid badly constructed sentences that grate on the ear read what you have written aloud. Record it if you have to and listen back.


Your aim should be to get the meaning across directly without using artificial and over literary sentences. This will help your stories understand the turn of events and keep your readers turning the pages. To achieve this try to put yourself in the shoes of the readers. 

boy reading cartoon

Before putting your pen to paper ask yourself:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What images will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh and original enough to have an effect?

Choose precise words and invent your own images to make your meaning clearer. We have been told by countless people that the use of hackneyed similes, metaphors and other phrases is pure lazy writing. So when editing your work check if you are using original descriptions.

child editing

Metaphors like: ‘you win some, you lose some’, ‘a fish in troubled waters’, ‘hard as nails’ and ‘snow-white’ are over-used and dull. It is better to invent your own metaphors and similes to add colour and imagination to your writing.

Avoid using long words where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out then cut it. You can often find words that can be cut without losing meaning. The word ‘that’ is the ideal example. Cutting adverbs and adjectives can also strengthen your writing.

The diversity of writing for children

The great thing about writing for children is that the jobs are always varied and interesting. You never know what varied work you will be asked to write. The idea is to keep your options open make yourself available, even if it means tight scheduling on your side to get it done. All the examples below are ideas for opportunities which you could also pursue to add that extra arrow to your quiver.

Over the years, I have written school text books and homework books, picture books, activity books, text for sticker books, graphic novels, photocopiable worksheets, science investigations, maths puzzles, a children’s booklet for a local wildlife park, book reviews, encyclopaedias, non-fiction books, comprehension and model non-fiction texts for online teacher resources, early readers for reading schemes, high-low readers and my poetry has been featured in teacher resource packs and poetry books.

poetry anthology

A couple of years ago, I was commissioned to write 27 differentiated play scripts that can be used for guided reading or for performance on stage. They cover the themes of childhood experiences, traditional stories and stories from other cultures. Each play is accompanied by detailed teachers’ notes that provide suggestions for making costumes and props as well as performance ideas.

PUP 9-10

I have also been commissioned to write audio book texts, including six discs of classic fairy tales where I adapted twenty much-loved stories by Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm and Carlo Collodi for young listeners.


These stories are read by Tamsin Greig (Green Wing, Episodes, Friday Night Dinner) and Stephen Mangan (Green Wing, Episodes, Dirk Gently).

Other writing jobs include writing story adventure books and online resources for toy companies.

A really fun and exciting project to work on was the Adventure Passport series designed to inspire ages 5+ with a love of our culturally diverse world. Each of the four mini suitcases represents a different continent and contains six letters from six different countries the main characters have visited, a passport, six stickers sheets (one for each country), twelve photos, two finger puppets, a regional map and six fun activity sheets for your children to complete. 

Adventure Passport project

These suitcase would be an entertaining way to keep KS1 aged children happy and amused during long rainy days at home or during the lock down.

You can find out more about the books and writing I have done on my website: 

Using subtext

Subtext is the gaps between what they people thinking and what they actually say. Ernest Hemingway called this the ‘Iceberg Theory’ as there is deeper meaning below the surface of the text, in the same way as the bulk of an iceberg floats beneath the surface of the water.


For example, when using dialogue to develop action, the real significance is not what is said but what is meant. People hold back information all the time – they keep secrets, they avoid embarrassment, they twist the truth for good and for bad reasons. US playwright and film director said:

“People may or may not say what they mean, but they always say something designed to get what they want.” (David Mamet)

The subtext reveals more to the reader about your characters than the actual text as you are conveying the motivation behind the character because when subtext conflicts with what a character says or does, it creates tension.


Our challenge as writers is to use this omission and implication to create subtext that the reader will understand. Sometimes your characters may not even know what they truly feel or what they mean and sometimes other characters may totally misinterpret what they mean.


You can create subtext by providing just enough information for the reader to allow them to connect the dots and reach a conclusion. To do this you need to reveal information about the plot or characters without stating it outright. In this way you are foreshadowing what’s to come.

Self-confidence could be pure bluster, evasive replies could be resistance and a seemingly harmless piece of gossip could ignite the fuse that smoulders into a dramatic explosion. A small crisis could carry the seeds that grow into high drama. Knowing what your characters really want and their motivations will strengthen your characterisation and intensify drama in your writing.


I find acting out the story can help with this as it provides the opportunity to explore the character’s thoughts and situations and the different way s tension could be implied to allow the reader to make personal connections.

Life… but not as we know it

Now more than ever we need to stay positive, which is easier said then done.


As a freelance writer, you would have thought I was use to staying home all day and working and that is true but at the moment with a full house it is extremely difficult to work. Everyone is pulling on my time.

I have my husband, three children and three-year-old grandson at home and I was not prepared for how much they all eat. My first problem was that even though I had sorted evening meals for at least two weeks, I had not even thought about lunch. I had to do a special trip to the supermarket just to sort out lunches for six people each day. These will be coming to an end at the end of this week.

My second problem is that my daughter seems to think I am now her child minder. My time is monopolised by my grandson who is potty training, which leaves me very little time to work on my writing. Don’t get me wrong I love being with my grandson but I am slowly running out of ways and role play ideas to entertain him. Any ideas please post and let me know.


The third problem is snacks. I never thought about snacks. In fact my family snack a whole lot more than me. I am avidly doing Weight Watchers and have over the last few months weened myself off of snacking but I did not account for how many more snacks I’ve had to buy and have in the house. this makes it so difficult for me. The temptation to eat is now constantly here in the house.  I hope other people who are also trying to diet via WW or any other way can empathise how difficult this is. Any ways you can suggest to keep me on track is much appreciated.

Puffer fish

Another thing making it extremely difficult for me to stay positive is the very sad fact all events for my new books have had to be cancelled and now the publication of the other two books in the series, Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery, which were due out this September have now been postponed to next year, 2021 and I suspect this is September 2021 as they are seasonal books. 😦 So I am currently seeking ideas and advice on how to stay positive and publicise the two books that have been released in the A Year in Nature series. 

Also, my columns in Writers’ Forum have also been reduced as the magazine is printing the next issue and then there will be a five month gap during the lock down. This is because high street retailers, like W H Smiths, are obviously shut and the system for stocking magazines is being suspended in supermarkets. This will obviously effect sales. Disappointing but inevitable at this difficult time. I have let me authors know yesterday but very sad for everyone involved. 

So unfortunately, this has turned into a doom and gloom blog. I am in obvious need of cheering up. Positive comments welcome.

Planning a picture book

Last week in my ‘Anita says…‘ writing tips regular blog I talked about Planning a novel. This week I thought I would talk about planning a picture book. As you know I had two new books out on the 17th of this month but how do I actually go about planning ALL the picture books I have had published?

Spring and Summer books2

A good picture book is not just written it is constructed. Every word counts. When I plot a picture book I think carefully about the beginning, middle and end. My first task is to jot down a brief sentence or two of what I want to happen in each of these three sections. These are my key points. It is important to me to know how the story is going to end before I start writing so I know exactly where the story is going.

My next task is to think carefully about the structure of the book. There are 32 pages in a picture book:

Picture book page breakdown

As you can see this is briefly broken down as:

Page 1 – Front cover

Page 2 and 3 – End papers. These are the pages that appear immediately after you turn over the front cover. Sometimes they include themed illustrations.

Page 4 – Prelims and dedication. It includes information about the publisher, the printer, the ISBN number, copyright notices and sometimes the author or illustrator’s dedication.

Page 5 – Title page. This features the title, series, author, illustrator and publisher’s logo.

Pages 6 – 29 – The story. 12 double-page spreads. Pick up a picture book and count them.

Pages 30 – 31 – End papers

Page 32 – Back cover. The blurb, price, ISBN number and bar code.

The part you have to write is twelve double-page spreads. Sometimes they can be slightly different formats but usually they are 12 double-page spreads. Most songs, nursery rhymes and fairy tales are built upon the rhythm of this magical number three. Take a look at how a familiar fairy-tale such as, Goldilocks and the Three Bears,  fits to this picture book structure.

Picture book page breakdown with Goldilocks example

Notice how there are three bears, three scenes – porridge, chairs and going to sleep on the bed. The Power of three is an important tool when writing children’s books, especially picture books. In the case of picture books THREE really is the magic number that young children can identify with. Think about it… the rhythm of the day has three parts – morning, noon and night – there are three main meals in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rhythm of growing has three stages: baby, child and teen.

When I plan a picture book I always try to think of the plot, which goes into the middle section of the book, in three parts too. I also try to keep in mind Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure and the story arc. I outlined both of these ideas in my blog post on The Art of Plotting.

Just as for a novel the stakes have to get higher and higher. I keep these in mind and think carefully what I would like on each of the twelve spreads. I use this planning sheet to help me as part of the rough sketch phase of my planning. Again I just jot down a few words for each section.

My picture book plannerWhen the plan is in place and I am happy with it, I start to write the picture book. My recommendation to you if you are just starting out is to try and use this format. I hope you find it helpful. Of course if you use other methods of planning I would really be interested to find out more. Please let me know.

Planning a novel

Planning and plotting are not the same things. to find out my views and writing tips for plotting take a look at:

Yes it is true that a plan will ultimately show you the possibilities , potential and pitfalls in your story but in contrast to plotting, planning helps to clarify direction and method. Having a plan helps you focus and in the long run saves a lot of time and effort. Good planning means you have done some of the work before you actually start writing.

There are lots of different ways you can go about planning your novel.

1. Rough Sketch

This includes anything from rough sketches on a napkin or the back of an envelope to a causal list of how you imagine the story to go. This is planning at its most basic and can open up the thinking process to lead to so much more.

planning - rough sketch

2. Synopsis

A synopsis is a more orderly story line ‘telling’ the story in brief to help you on your path. this is also useful when approaching agents and editors when it is complete with characters and the ending. I have written other posts about writing a synopsis here:

planning - path

3. Chapter breakdown

This is a more detailed progression of your story showing the progression chapter by chapter. in this way you can ensure each chapter has its own beginning, middle and end. It also helps to keep track of the main plot and any sub plots.

Plot and sub plot Plan

4. Key Points

Using key points you can outline the bursts of action and tension that form the backbone of the plot. This offers a useful framework that you can use as you are writing to fill in the gaps.

planning - backbone

5. Timeline

A diary is like a diary of the novel, showing the chronological events in the correct order. this helps to keep things in a logical sequence and help avoid any major pitfalls. I have written about the pitfalls of writing in my blog post: Writing Pitfalls.

planning - diary

A timeline is particularly useful when timing and events are crucial to the story arc. It will help if the story takes place over several weeks, months or years to keep track of what has happened and also if the story is taking place over a very short period of time where every minute and second counts.

6. Character biographies

I have written about character biographies before. Take a look at my previous blog post on Characterisation. A character biography can include anything from a couple of lines of description to a full biography. I like writing biographies of my characters. it really helps me to get in to their head. I include: age, appearance, background, dreams, education, family, fears, joys, likes and dislikes, positive traits and negative traits as well as reactions in particular situations relevant to the story.

character biography

I find it a great way of not only ensuring I keep their physical descriptions correct throughout the novel but also to ensure they act true to their character so when they learn and grow it is more evident.

7. Elevator pitch

Describing your book in one sentence is always a great thing to tr. not only does it help when pitching your novel but it can help clarify your mind and keep you on track.

plnning - elevator

This is also a way of identifying the theme of your novel. I have talked about theme in my blog post on Think About Theme.

My Top Ten Tips

With over 100 children’s books published by a wide range of traditional publishers, I thought I might share with you today my top ten tips for becoming a children’s book writer:

My top ten tips

Join Writers’ groups

These can be local or online writers’ groups. By joining writers’ groups you will be able to network, learn about the publishing world, obtain feedback on your work and make friends with similar interests. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have a large network of online and local critique groups.

Read a lot of recent children’s books

Take notice of what you like and what seems to work. Study the writing. You’re reading for research first, pleasure second. Actively look for recent releases. Ask your librarian. Send for publisher’s catalogues or pick them up from book fairs. It is important to keep up with the market and what’s being published. If a book with a similar story line has been published in the last few years, your story is unlikely to be published, no matter how good it is.

Know the different types of children’s books

Take into consideration the various age groups when writing your own books. Think about the word lengths, language, style, etc.

Write the type of children’s books you enjoy the most.

If you enjoy the books you are more likely going to write something someone else enjoys too.

Write every day if possible

Practice makes you a better writer.

Take courses on writing for children

There are lots of writing courses specifically aimed at writing for children out there. Take a look at the SCBWI masterclasses or those offered by NAWG. 

Enter competitions specifically for writing for children

There are a lot of competitions for aspiring children’s book writers. Check the rules and the closing dates. Some of the competitions specifically for children’s writers I am aware of are:

Extend your CV

Seek ways of filling your writer’s CV with publishing credits, such as writing articles and short stories. Contact your local newspaper about writing a column or regular slot or write fillers for magazines.

Send your manuscript out to publishers and agents.

Get a copy of the latest Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook and find out who takes unsolicited manuscripts for the age-range you are writing for. Check if they take emails submissions or prefer them to be posted. Usually they want the first three chapters, one page synopsis and a covering letter. It is very important the book is finished.

Have FUN!



The Art of Plotting

Here are a few pointers about plotting I have come across over my time of writing for children.

climb a mountain

  • Every scene must serve more than one purpose. This could be developing your characters, giving brief background information, creating atmosphere, world building or clarifying motivation. If it does not move the plot forward then cut it.
  • Always consider the motivation of your protagonist. Think about their actions and why they are doing them. They should not be doing things just because your plot demands it. if this is the case you need to have a serious rethink.
  • The protagonist’s motivation should change and deepen over the course of the plot they discover new facts and truths that change the way they view and interact with their world.
  • By the end of the novel the character should be changed by their experiences. this might be for he better but it can also be for the worse. Make sure it is a realistic emotional journey. The protagonist should learn and grow during the process. This growth usually conveys the theme of the story.
  • Ensure all the scenes progress logical with no giant leaps. it is amazing how easy it is for logic to become muddled to suit the plot. You can see it in many TV series all the time. It is frustrating to the reader. Always think in terms of what is happening, why has it happened, what are the results of this either directly or indirectly and how will this effect what happens next.

The basic sequence of plot stages is: arrival of conflict, initial success of the main character, reversals, final victory, and outcome. The success-reversal sequence may repeat. I find Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure useful when writing fiction – this includes novels and picture books.

Michael Hauge's plot structure

The plot is built around a conflict involving the main character—for instance, with another character, or with circumstances, or within themselves. Conflict often takes the form of a problem the main character must resolve. The character should succeed or fail at least in part through their own efforts.

In my opinion a story for children should open with conflict. Aristotle said the most important thing in any story is the sequence of events. Each event has a cause and effect, and each is connected in the plot. According to Aristotle there are six stages of plot development:

  • The opening
  • The arrival of conflict
  • The early achievement
  • The twist and the change
  • The denouement
  • The final outcome

The conflict should result in increasing dramatic tension, which peaks or ‘climaxes’ towards the end, then resolves. A novel may have several conflicts, but a short story or picture book should have only one. Think about the story arc.

Story Arc

In this way, a story can be broken down into six elements:

  • Balance – all is well at home, nothing interesting is going on
  • Disharmony – the mood changes for good or bad
  • Inciting incident – just when things were looking better a change of mood provokes a change to something ‘other’
  • Problem – there is now an even more serious dilemma that needs solving
  • Resolution – the story can be brought to a conclusion
  • Outcome – the purpose of the story unfolds

Move the plot forward with events and action, rather than with internal musings and I know I’ve said it before but show, don’t tell. It may be a rocky climb to the top of your story arc but when you get there the view’s are worth it.

top of mountain

You can see some of my other posts on plot here:

Re-evaluate your plot


The Art of Story