Petite ReviMo November with Carrie Finison and a Giveaway!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Welcome revisers!! The amazing Carrie Finison is our guest blogger for today with a post full of writing truth! Carrie has kindly offered to do a giveaway, so comment on this post (before midnight Monday Nov 16th) and you'll be entered to win a picture book critique (rhyming or prose, under 1000 words). Welcome Carrie!

The Seven Stages of Revision
by Carrie Finison 


I did something scary recently. (Writer scary, that is.) After a great critique with an editor I met at a conference, I cracked open a manuscript I haven’t worked on in two years.

Happily, she didn’t say it was terrible, or awful. It’s a good story. But could it be better? I decided it could. Mind you, it took me a while to come around to that decision. Getting a tough critique can spark something in me that is akin to grief. It’s grief for the loss of that dream version of the story – the one where it’s perfect just as it is, and the editor raves about it and offers me a contract on the spot. Letting go of that rosy vision and facing the tough reality is difficult.

Like grief, revision is something that must be worked through, and each stage comes with its own characteristics.


Stage 1: Shock or Disbelief

What? My story doesn’t hang together? My characters aren’t appealing? My prose isn’t perfect? My plot lacks surprise? That can’t be right!

Stage 2: Denial
Clearly, Ms. Fancy-Pants New York editor has no idea what she’s talking about. She must not have read my story carefully. She probably doesn’t work in this genre. What does she know?

Stage 3: Anger
I’m not going to do it! I’m not going to make any changes. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it, period, the end! Someone else will probably love it just the way it is.

Stage 4: Bargaining
Maybe if I just change this one little thing, the whole story will work much better and I’ll be done revising.
Stage 5: Depression
She’s right. This story stinks. All my stories stink, and I won’t be able to sell any of them ever. Might as well give up this writing thing.

Stage 6: Reconstruction

She might have a point.

OK, I can see that this character’s choices aren’t making much sense. I’ll try one of the things she suggested and see how it works….

Hey, that actually does make more sense. And that gives me a great idea for an even better ending.

Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope
This revision stuff is hard work, but it’s actually kind of fun. My story is much stronger now. I can’t wait to send this to my critique group and see what they think!

Does this seem familiar?

For me, getting out of Stage 5 and into Stage 6 is the hardest part. I find that it works best to sidle up to a major revision, rather than trying to take it head on. For days, or weeks, I will collect ideas that I think might contribute to a stronger story. These might be suggestions from critique partners, new plot points to consider, words or phrases I’d like to include, or some way to twist one of the story elements into something else. When I finally do sit down to revise, I’m not starting from scratch. I also make sure I have coffee or tea and some baked goods on hand. There’s not much that can’t be made better by a cup of tea and a nice scone.

It takes a lot of mental energy to produce a good revision, one that goes deep and makes the story stronger, tighter, and better than ever before. But when you come through to the other side…it’s worth it!
So very true. Thank you Carrie!


Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. Some of her more recent work has appeared in Babybug, Ladybug, Highlights and High Five magazines, and in 2014 she won the SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant for picture book writing. In addition, she writes and develops content for educational publishers. Find her at

Petite ReviMo June with Deb Lund plus a Giveaway!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Good morning revisers!! :D We've got a fabulous guest AND a giveaway! Comment on Deb's post today and you'll be entered to win a deck of Fiction Magic Cards!

Revision Quest

by Deb Lund

What’s the difference between people who dread revision and those who love it? Is it experience, or strategy, or (yikes) personality?

Characters head out on quests, and revision is a quest of its own.

When I talk about revision in school visits, I tell them how I can always tell the difference between little-kid writers and those who are a little more mature (obviously I don’t say this to the youngest audiences). Then I ask what little kids say when their teacher wants them to write more, and someone always answers correctly. “But I’m done!”

Writing is rewriting. You have to mine through lots of rock to get to the gems, and it’s in revision that you arrange those gems, polish them, and show them off in a setting you’ve designed. You might string them together like a necklace, revising the placement of each stone until it’s the perfect combination.

Two of my editors have told me I was their best reviser. I didn’t always fit that title. As writers (or creators of any art), we have these quirky voices in our heads that tell us we can’t do it, or it’s going to take too long, or it’s just too overwhelming to begin. And then those same voices have the audacity to tell us that we’re the only ones who struggle with revision. We look at the completed work of others and know it’s beyond us. We have a vision, but it doesn’t come out of our heads the way we see it before it lands on paper.

Guess what? That’s true for everyone! Nothing creative ever takes shape exactly the way it’s planned. We’re so busy judging others from the outside, not realizing that they may have the same insecurities as we do on the inside. We believe we’re doomed to fail the revision quest. Revision is where the line is drawn for some of us. We hand over our power, quaking, tiring as we near the finish line. We’re scared. We think this is where we find out if we are worthy or not. So we put it off until it becomes a big monster, a worse adversary than any villain we could create. It’s time to transform that monster.

Do you like jigsaw puzzles? Exploring new hiking trails? Are you a collector? Do you hit thrift stores looking for finds? When you read your favorite books, are you willing to go to the ends of the earth with those characters just to find out what happens? You need to kindle that same kind of passion when revising your own writing.

Revision doesn’t have to be the dirty work. Turn it into play! Host a revision party, dress up as your character, act out scenes, or dream up a handful of “What If…” questions for each scene that doesn’t trigger an emotion for you. Use your Fiction Magic card deck! Replace your judgment about revision with curiosity toward it. Tell yourself a new story about revision.

But yes, it’s true. People who like revision are neurotic. I know. I get downright obsessive with revision. And I love it—partly because of experience, maybe because of a few strategies I’ve learned, and (yikes) my quirky personality. But you can develop a love for revision, too. It just takes energy. A boost in passion. A willingness to let go of misbeliefs. And then you’re unstoppable.

The experience will come. There are strategies galore on this blog. Oh, and that personality thing? I lied. Personality has nothing to do with it. It’s something even quirkier than that. But it’s something you can change.

It’s attitude.

You’re a writer, and as I always say (and you can quote me on this), “Sometimes the stories writers most need to revise are not the ones they write, but the ones they tell themselves about their writing.”

Change your story = change your attitude = change your outcome.

Best wishes on your quest…

Deb Lund is the creator of Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers, a popular tool for revision, now 50% off. She just finished a wilderness quest to (among other things) help her revise her writing life. She knows her brain needs a little play and get-away time, and she knows yours does, too. That’s why she’s using her gifts as a teacher, author, and creativity coach to facilitate a Kidlit Creativity Camp at a New York state park where play will be your work as you transform your current stories—the ones you write, and the ones you tell yourself—and create new ones. Learn more from Deb at

Link for “Fiction Magic…”:

Link for “Kidlit Creativity Camp”:

Petite ReviMo May - Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Picture Book Refrains
By Marcie Flinchum Atkins

What is it that gives a picture book that rereadability or allows for reader participation? What gives a picture book that remembering quality, like it's our favorite song?

Refrains can often give a picture book those qualities. Should every picture book have a refrain? Definitely not. But as you are revising, it is something you can try to see if it works for your particular manuscript.

A refrain in a picture book is a word or set of words that's repeated at various times throughout the text.

I looked at different examples of books with refrains and found a few common categories in the set of books.

Reader Participation

Sometimes the refrain makes the readers want to chant and participate in reading the book.

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli
By Barbara Jean Hicks, illustrated by Sue Hendra
Knopf, 2009

In Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli, the refrain is:

"Fum, foe, fie, fee, monsters don't eat broccoli!"

It is spoken by characters in the book who are actually children pretending to be monsters.

Big Plans
By Bob Shea and Lane Smith
Hyperion, 2008

In Big Plans, the refrain varies throughout the book, but it is also chant-like.

"I got big plans, BIG PLANS, I say."

Each variation includes the words BIG PLANS in some form.

Wolfie the Bunny
By Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah O'Hara
Little Brown, 2015

Varying the refrain makes it even stronger. While the reader anticipates what the refrain will be, changing it just slightly makes the story still surprising. Ame Dyckman doesn't this brilliantly in Wolfie the Bunny.

Dot, the child bunny, is afraid a new adopted wolf baby will eat them and repeats the refrain, "HE'S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!"

At one point, Dot realizes she's not being heard and says, "HE'S GOING TO…oh, skip it!"

When Wolfie gets captured by a bear, Dot steps in and says,

"Let him go!" Dot demanded. "Or…I'LL EAT YOU ALL UP!"

Here we have a twist on her refrain and we see a character change.

Some commonalities I noticed among these texts:
The refrain is spoken in dialogue.
The refrain reveals character. Because it is a character that's speaking, we learn about the character's personality through their words. And in all three cases mentioned, the characters mirror larger-than-life preschoolers and their emotions.
The refrain interjects humor. I can't help read these refrains without smiling or giggling.
They make excellent read alouds. One of the hallmarks of a good picture book is rereadability. Can it stand up to repeated reads? Young listeners want to read these books and they get into the book, even picking up on the refrain and participating.

Lyrical Refrains

I'm a big fan of lyrical picture books where the words are so beautiful you just want to melt into the page. But sometimes, these books need a little bit of oomph to pull the reader through the story.

Winter is Coming
By Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2014

As nature prepares for winter, it has its own rhythm. In Winter is Coming, Johnston uses the refrain "winter is coming" to help pull the reader to the anticipated event: winter's arrival. The refrain leads to the climax. Once we have reached the anticipated event, the refrain changes to: "Winter is here." 

You Nest Here With Me
By Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Boyds Mill Press, 2015

You Nest Here With Me is a soothing bedtime story that rhymes. It follows different birds as they nest, but it is bookended with a mother and child. The refrain "You nest here with me" is at the end of each stanza.  It does change slightly at the end to: "You'll nest right here in our house with me." The refrain mirrors the love of parents throughout and it contributes to the peacefulness of this bedtime book.

Nonfiction Refrains

I originally began my refrain study in nonfiction because I noticed several picture book biographies that I really loved had refrains. In three of the four nonfiction books that I looked at, the refrain focused on the person and what made them stand out.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise
By Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell
Houghton Mifflin, 2013

The refrain in this book calls attention to what makes Annie Moore notable. When she is a child, the refrain says, "Annie thought otherwise." As she grows into adulthood, the refrain changes to, "Miss Moore thought otherwise."

The Tree Lady
By H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Beach Lane, 2013

This picture book biography has a varying refrain.

"But Kate did."
"But not Kate."
"But she did."
"But thanks to Kate, it did."
"Katherine Olivia Sessions did."

All of these variations on the same refrain help pull the thread of the story through to the end. We follow Kate Sessions and her love for trees and how her actions impacted San Diego.

Just as in Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, the refrain points to a determination and "going against the grain" in these ladies' lives.

George Did It
By Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day
Dutton, 2006

George Did It talks about the difficulties George Washington faced as a leader. The refrain in the story is, "George Did It." Unlike the two previously mentioned picture book biographies, it doesn't have the refrain throughout the book. It is used in the beginning a few times and again the end. But it does share a similar purpose: to show a determined person who made a difference.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
By Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Millbrook Press, 2015

One of my favorite refrains is the one Miranda Paul uses in this book. Her refrain changes each time, but it shows the progression of the story and shows how a village was changed over time.

"One fruit tumbles.
Then two.
Then ten."

Later in the story…

"Holding her breath,
she plucks one plastic bag from the pile.
Then two.
    Then ten.
        Then a hundred."

There are seven different variations on the refrain. They each use numbers, but each time, it shows how the village is changing a little bit at a time.

One thing is for sure, refrains give cadence to a story. If the tone of your story is funny, then the refrain can romp and rollick through the book. If the tone is soft and lyrical, then the refrain can rock you gently as you read.

Here are some more books with refrains that I love. Read these too!

Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
Banjo Granny by Sarah Martin Busse and Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Barry Root

Go explore some refrains! As you revise, ask yourself, does my story long for a refrain? Not every story needs one. But it's worth a try to do a revision with a refrain and see what happens.

If you have a favorite book that has a refrain, please leave the title in the comments.

Marcie Flinchum Atkins teaches fourth grade by day and writes in the wee hours of the morning. Her book-nerdiness shows through because she is a certified school librarian and also holds an MA and MFA in children's literature from Hollins University. She blogs about making time to write and how to use books as mentor texts at: Her book, "Mentor Texts for Writers, Book 1" is available at:

Petite ReviMo March Day 2 - H. Joseph Hopkins Pt 2

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A big thanks to Joe for all his great revision information and inspiration! Can't wait to read more of your books, Joe!


One purpose for revising is to spot and eliminate typos, missing or excessive commas, missing periods, etc.

“Father” not “fat her”
“Farther” not “fart her”
“Friends” not “fiends” …but around Halloween you may want “fiends” not “friends.”
Typos and grammar errors distract the reader from the ideas. Words should convey images, not draw attention to themselves.

As second problem with typos is that the editor has to correct them before loading your text into his/her document. If you include typos you make the editor’s work more difficult.

Don’t make the editors’ life difficult.


Active voice helps picture the scene – it is easier for reader to see him/herself doing something.
Descriptive verbs help you stay in active voice
Active voice shortens your document, thus saving paper, time, effort, and money
Active voice is easier for children to comprehend

The basic form for active voice is: subject+verb. For example:

  • The girl remembered…
  • The children raced…
  • The meat sauce bubbled…
The Passive form
Often indicated by helping verbs combined w/ another verb, for example:

  • is,
  • am
  • are,
  • were,
  • was,
  • been
The word "by" is another clue to identifying passive voice.
"The house is being built by a family
"That call was not made by me.
"Our mail carrier was bit by the dog.
"My computer has been fixed twice already

Sometimes passive is helpful. Consider my sentence “You may have to ask old uncle Jiggs what “percolate” means.” Here is a passive form of that sentence: “You may have to ask old uncle Jiggs what is meant by the word “percolate?” This passive sentence has the advantage of putting the key word “percolate” at the end of the sentence. Used sparingly, passive voice can be helpful.

Passive voice is commonly used in scientific and academic writing. Active voice is preferred in newspaper, magazine, media, and popular writing


These words do double duty: they label action and describe the context in which the action occurred. Thus, they help you stay in active voice.

For example,
“In the morning the children raced to the Christmas tree.”

Or, two young adult sisters whisper to each other on Easter morning:
“Let’s catch up while the children search for eggs.”

Or, describing a bright child’s response to school:
“She remembered the poems and stories she read.”

In The Tree Lady, trees are said to have “reached” toward the sky; branches said to be “stretched wide” to “catch” the light; and Balboa Park is described as a place “where people grazed cattle and dumped garbage.”


Note that in the sentences above from The Tree Lady I gave three examples of strong descriptive verbs. Writers, painters, and other artists have learned that the human mind seems to prefer groups of three. So, it is helpful if you name items in threes, for example,

During the Christmas season I enjoy the lights, the music, and the smiles.”

Of course there are times when you must ignore the rule of three. For example,

“Grandpa has lost his sight but he still enjoys holiday food with their delicious smells and tastes.”


So helpful! Thank you thank you Joe!

H. Joseph "Joe" Hopkins lived for many years on a houseboat on the Columbia River in Portland OR. Joe came to writing through a series of happy accidents after retiring from life as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). Joe's picture book, The Tree Lady, illustrated by Meg McElmurry, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2013 and has won numerous awards from librarians and groups interested in biography, sustainability, environmental science, and the lives of independent women. The Tree Lady is a picture book biography of Kate Sessions, an independently minded woman who spent her life bringing plant color to San Diego and Balboa Park in Southern California. Reactions by reviewers children and parents have been uniformly positive and passionate. Sales have been brisk and The Tree Lady has reprinted three times.  Contact Joe at

Petite ReviMo March Day 1 - H. Joseph Hopkins Pt 1.

Thank you for joining us again Joe!! I still wanna hear more about living on a boat! :)


Use sensory words to describe the pictures in your head: words that trigger memories of

tastes, and smells.

We know our world through our senses: what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Use sensory images to help the reader picture in his/her head what you have pictured in your head.

Sight: use words that tell what the reader might see in the scene. For example, imagine a night in which the electrical power gone out and the main character is enveloped in blackness. Describe how he/she keeps lighting matches to search for candles. Does he/she keep glancing out the window hoping to see lights from neighboring houses?
Sound: what is the soundscape in the scene? Is there an unexpected silence because the TV and stereo no longer play and the refrigerator no longer hums? There is no whirring sound from the electric washer.

Touch: what might one feel in the scene? One summer morning I awoke on a sailboat. I felt dewy wetness on my sleeping bag. My fingers came away wet from the cabin wall. Water dripped the shrouds that hold the mast in place and pooled on the deck. The wet anchor line glistened in the morning sunlight. Dew covered every surface. What a pleasure to finally grip a steaming cup of coffee.

Taste: As a college student drives back to campus after Thanksgiving weekend, what does she remember: the thick creamy mashed potatoes smothered with too much butter? The combination of savory ham and sweet turkey swimming in brown gravy? The pudding creaminess of pumpkin pie and whipped cream?

Smell: As the homicide detective steps into the empty apartment, what assaults his nose? Unattended dog or cat droppings? The repulsive scent of stale beer and cigarettes? The burning sensation in the nose that goes with smelling blood?

Useful Resource:

Children’s Writer’s Word Book, by Alijandra Mogilner & Tayopa Mogilner, published by Writer’s Digest Books. Cincinnati, Ohio. Now in it's second edition. You can locate the Word Book at [Or link above].

Next to my MacBook computer, the Word Book is the tool I use most when writing for children. It is studded with useful information and it is easily gripped in the hand and used.

The Word Book contains:
Word lists grouped by grade, Kindergarten through grade 6 and middle school (more than 50 pages)
Thesaurus of listed words, plus synonyms (232 pages)
Reading levels for synonyms
Alphabetical list of words (50 pages)
Plus extensive advice & tips on word usage

For example: In your story of Mrs. Readighrin’s kindergarten class field trip to the desert museum on the hottest day of the year, one of the coolers slips out of place and it’s lid falls open. Glancing inside Mrs. Mrs. Readighrin discovers that the ice cream treats are beginning to melt.

Time for a change of plan. Perhaps the ice cream should be eaten immediately and the sandwiches saved for later

But you want to picture Mrs. Readighrin as a teacher who wants her class to discuss ideas and agree on a course of action. She will not make such a decision without consulting the children.

Your next sentence is “Mrs. Readighrin wonders, ‘will the kids agree to eat the ice cream first?’ ”

But is the word “agree” one that kindergarteners would understand and read?

You snatch up your Word Book and look at the alphabetical word list in the back at. Oops, “agree” is listed as a second grade word. Too high for even Mrs. Readighrin’s precocious kinders.

Next you find “agree” in the thesaurus and discover that “like” and “love” are kindergarten level synonyms for “agree.” You also look up “same” and find that it is also a kindergarten level word.

So now you could revise your sentence using either “like,” “love,” or “same,” to indicate that the children agreed to eat the ice cream first.

You might write, “The kids would like eating the ice cream first.

You could even write, “The kids would love eating the ice cream first,” because “love” is also a kindergarten word.

Thank you Joe, you're a fount of great revision information/inspiration!

H. Joseph "Joe" Hopkins lived for many years on a houseboat on the Columbia River in Portland OR. Joe came to writing through a series of happy accidents after retiring from life as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). Joe's picture book, The Tree Lady, illustrated by Meg McElmurry, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2013 and has won numerous awards from librarians and groups interested in biography, sustainability, environmental science, and the lives of independent women. The Tree Lady is a picture book biography of Kate Sessions, an independently minded woman who spent her life bringing plant color to San Diego and Balboa Park in Southern California. Reactions by reviewers children and parents have been uniformly positive and passionate. Sales have been brisk and The Tree Lady has reprinted three times.  Contact Joe at

And the winner is . . .

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rebecca Sheraton!!! 
Congratulations Rebecca, you've won a critique from Jennifer Swanson - Picture book critique - fiction (up to 800 words) or nonfiction (up to 1100 words.)

But as always, anyone who revised yesterday is a winner in my book! :D

The next Petite ReviMo will be Wednesday, March 18th, with guest blogger Deb Lund

Petite ReviMo February with Jennifer Swanson AND a Giveaway!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lights, Camera… ACTION!

How does your book idea first appear to you? Do you see an image which kicks off an idea? Do you read something that flashes across your brain?

For me, my fiction stories appear in my head as a slow motion movie. I see the characters move, interact, and speak. I can describe every bit of the background, setting, and dialogue. It’s as if I’m the director of my very own movie!

When the movie begins, I race to my computer and to get it down. I sit transfixed watching my story play across my brain.

Then I start typing furiously.
I am convinced that the words I’m writing are as vivid as the images I’m seeing.
Filled with excitement, I read them.
What happened? How can the images be so vivid and the words so flat?

Should I panic?
First drafts are supposed to be, well . . . UGH.

Now comes the fun part: Revising.

Wait? Revising is fun?

Believe it or not my favorite part about writing is revising. I know. That seems weird. Most people hate revising. Not me. It gives me a chance to watch the movie over and over in my head until I get it just right.

Where do you start?

I like to pretend that I am a brilliant cinematographer and I am out to create an Oscar-winning movie. (Yes. . . I know. But it is my dream, right?)

So as I pick up my pen, or in this case, hunker down in front of my keyboard, I focus on molding my writing to the image in my head.

I ask myself the following:

1. What is the mood of this piece?

--Will it be “shot” in black and white? Meaning does the story have drama, intrigue, mystery? Maybe a film noir like Casablanca?

--Is this story to be in color with vivid characters that leap off the page? Will it be chock full of excitement, action-adventure, and danger, like Indiana Jones?

2. How will my manuscript focus on the characters?

-- Will there be a close-up of just one character throughout – like first person or third person limited?

-- Will there be a narrator who is omniscient? Like Ralphie in The Christmas Story

-- Will the focus be on a group of people – second person or third person objective? Like the astronauts in The Right Stuff

3. How will the scenes flow?

-- Will they be fast and furious like an action movie?

-- Or slower and more descriptive like in a drama?

-- Will it take place all at once or be drawn out over time?

4. What is the sequence or flow of the manuscript?

--Will there be long introduction of characters?

-- Or will you just jump right into the action?

-- How long will the sequence be? Each sequence has a beginning, middle and end, so they are like subplots. They need to move the story along but not spend too much time with each one.

5. Will there be a sequel and how will you handle the overall plot line?

As I revise, I go over and over my copy, layering in each of the above items.

Yes. Over and over.

Revision takes time.

Sometimes lots of it.

The first couple of revisions may still not look at all like the movie in my head.

But eventually, the images become words on the page.

Finally, what I’m reading invokes the same dramatic images that are in my head.

And as they say in show business, That’s a wrap!


Thank you Jen!! 

Jen is giving away a picture book critique to one lucky ReviMo'er! Comment on this blog post for a chance to win. Happy revising everyone!

Jennifer is an award winning author of over 20 nonfiction and fiction books for children. Her books in the “How Things Work” series by The Child’s World were named to the 2012 Booklist’s Top 10 Books for Youth: Series Nonfiction. She has received awards from the Pennsylvania TriState Young Adult Review Committee, The Moms Choice Awards, and The Dove Foundation. Top reviews include a starred review in Booklist, and recommended reviews from School Librarians Workshop, Library Media Connection, and the National Science Teacher Association.