It’s Spooky Season!

When I was a kid, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. But it wasn’t a big deal. Stores didn’t stock massive numbers of spooky decorations; we had to make our own costumes; pumpkins were carved but also eaten. When we went trick-or-treating we stayed in our own neighborhood, walked with friends (parents in tow), and generally laughed our way through the experience of surprising someone with a good costume rather than caring about the treats.

Today Halloween decorations come out in August (and to my horror – seriously – I’ve already seen Christmas décor for sale). Consumption seems to rule, whether it’s candy or decorations. We Americans are really into Spooky Season. So much so that the town of Salem, MA, home of the famous Salem witch trials is inundated with tourists (100,000 a day at last count) who don’t realize that it’s an actual town, not a theme park.

What Is It About Spooky?

I’ve written two middle grade spooky stories, and I’m a member of Spooky Middle Grade, a collective of authors who write these kinds of books, which range from real horror to mildly ghostly. Why do I write spooky? Honestly, it’s just plain fun.

Yes, and reading spooky stories can be an experience. I remember reading the original DRACULA by Bram Stoker, one winter night alone, sitting in a high-backed chair before the fireplace, and feeling like I didn’t want to leave that chair because it gave me protection from whatever might be behind me. Yet I kept reading, feeling the chills, savoring the masterful building of suspense.

When I listen to my fellow authors during our school visits, I nod in agreement with this: scary tales are useful. By reading about things that scare us, we can face down those fears. After all, we can put the book down and walk away; but we can also learn how to master fear, how to cope with “monsters”, how to even laugh at the things that seemed so terrible before we read about them.

I do believe in limits to spookiness for middle grade readers. I would never write true terror (I don’t read it, either), or bloody scenes, or violence. I happen to think the best horror, the scariest stuff, comes from inside and is psychological, and that, too, needs boundaries for middle grade.

Want To Write Spooky?

If you want to write spooky books for middle grade, here are a bunch of great books to read. Spooky is definitely having a day – kids love it, teachers and librarians are searching for it, and well-written spooky books last a long time on the bookshelves. Scare the kid inside of you silly and you’ll find your way into a fun book to read and write.

And Last Chance for This Spooky Giveaway!

My ARTIFACT HUNTERS companion booklet, SECRETS OF THE SAIU, will disappear at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. Don’t wait to get yours today!

Send me those secrets before it’s too late!

A Tool You Can Use

What’s your process for writing a novel?

That’s a question I get all the time. And the answer is…every time is different. I’ve written novels completely on the fly, I’ve written them using templates, I’ve written them through 35 revisions and through 5.

Years ago when it was first invented I discovered Scrivener, and because it was developed for Mac users mainly and that’s me, I adopted it early and learned to love it. I confess I’ve only scratched the surface of its cleverness (check out all the YouTube videos for instructions). But I do love the ability to write a book in a manner that then lets me move things around – chapters, scenes, etc. – and keep track of my world and characters.

Of course I have to transfer everything into Word at some point, because that’s how editors use track changes, but I like that step in the process, too. I use it as a revision/rewriting moment.

A New Scrivener Tool

Not long ago I discovered a Scrivener add-on that I love. Writer and blogger Jen Terpstra has created a Scrivener template that incorporates the Save The Cat beat sheet. (Here’s a post I wrote a while back about Save The Cat.) Normally I don’t do things like plot or plan or outline because I find them too constraining. But I do love STC, which is a loose template of touchstone moments in a plot.

Here’s a plot compilation I made that includes STC, so you can see how all plots really have similar or identical turning points (more on those in an upcoming post).

plot diagram

Plot Paradigm with Save The Cat

Jen’s add-on gave me the ability to think through two novels recently, one of which I’m actively writing.

And after recommending it to a couple of my clients, they have fallen in love with it as well.

The best news? It’s really inexpensive. (I’m not getting any kickbacks for this promo – I just love the tool!)

How To Use the Tool

Jen gives clear instructions on uploading and using the template in Scrivener and she also provides support if you have issues. Note that I am a Mac user, which may help; those of you using Windows may need to jump through a few more hoops.

In my case, as someone who likes to write organically, I started with a five-page summary of the story I’m working on, trying to bring as much detail into the idea as possible and clearly outlining my main characters and theme, and listing comparable titles. When I was happy with that, I moved to the template.

I created a file for the novel and then for each beat in the template – really amounting to each scene – I wrote only a one-sentence description based on that summary. I found that as I added more scenes I ended up adding more details and fun twists, but I didn’t try to go deep with the outline.

Now I’m working through the beats/scenes and fleshing them out, and this way of working has made my writing much faster. Those of you going for NaNoWriMo may truly benefit from using this template.

A Spooky Reminder

I know you must want the Secrets of the SAIU! If you’ve read or will purchase The Artifact Hunters, click the button below to download this super fun booklet that features magical gifts and magical artifacts. This download vanishes into the ghostly mist at midnight on Halloween!

Yes! I’ve got The Artifact Hunters and now need the Secrets!


Show It! (Show, Don’t Tell, Explained)

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

What do we mean when we say, “show, don’t tell”? Lately I’ve had to help writers with this concept, so I thought I’d share here. I’ll attempt to give you some clear pointers, definitions, and concrete examples. Let’s start with definitions.

Scene and Summary

The building blocks of plot in a story are scenes and summaries.

Scene: A scene is any continuous moment, in the same setting and through a single point in time (lasting anywhere from seconds to minutes), in which characters act and interact. Internal emotions of the main character are clear but expressed in metaphor or with physical details. Internal emotions of the secondary character(s) are also clear but as seen through the main character. Scenes in modern fiction are much longer than summaries.

Example of scene:

Jim thrust the flowers at Carol.

“Daisies!” she said, stuffing her nose into the bunch. “How did you know?”

Jim shuffled. Now that his hands were empty, he didn’t know what to do with them. “Um, how’d I know what?”

“That they’re my favorites, silly.” Carol smiled.

“I didn’t. That is,” and he stuffed his fists into his pockets, “I mean, you look like a daisy. Or, er, they remind me of you.” Heat crept across his neck. Any minute now he’d burst into flames.

Summary: A summary is a short passage that summarizes thoughts and actions of a single character.

Example of summary:

Jim wished he could tell her how he felt. He wished he had more confidence. He wished, oh, for pity’s sake, he didn’t know really what he wished for, except to be with her. As he paid for the flowers, he gripped the bunch tight. Somehow, he knew that daisies were just the ticket.

In each scene, action is essential whether through dialogue or physical gesture. The reader feels fully present when reading a scene. In each summary, the character may think and feel and act but the moment is summarized, and the reader will often skim.

Showing, rather than telling, is active and engages the reader more deeply in your story and showing in scene is critical to writing good modern literature.

To create a plot, you will create a series of scenes, with perhaps a few summaries sprinkled in. Each scene should stand alone, and be visually separated either as its own chapter, or by an internal chapter break to cue the reader that the scene has ended and a new one is beginning.

cover of Steering the Craft

Concrete Ways to Show

  1. Get rid of basic sensory words.

Words/phrases like “I saw”, “I felt”, “I heard”, etc. filter the action and tell the reader what is happening rather than show the reader. Replace these filter words with strong verbs and nouns.


Telling: “I felt scared in the dark room as I heard the wind.”

Showing: “Branches scratched the glass as the wind moaned. Shadows crept from the corners, and I shivered in the icy air.”

2. Don’t explain emotions

Using words like “happy”, “sad”, “excited” is a weak way to express your character’s inner life. Show your character’s feelings by understanding how the human mind and body react to situations. In particular, seek out physical manifestations of emotion.


Telling: “I was elated.”

Showing: “As I danced around the room I burst out in giggles. I thought I would sprout wings. He loved me!”

3. Do enlist verbs and nouns that evoke emotions

From this example “Shadows crept from the corners, and I shivered in the icy air” you can see that the verbs “crept” and “shivered” evoke the emotion of fear, as does the word “shadows” Replace all weak verbs and nouns in your sentences with strong nouns and active verbs.

4. Don’t use passive voice

Passive voice is distancing and tends to lean toward telling rather than showing. In addition to passive, try to avoid using the helping verb “was” with a past participle (any verb plus “-ing”).

Example: “The dog was chasing the ball” is passive, telling, and distant. “The dog leapt at the ball” is active and showing.


  • Scenes should occupy 80% of your narrative; summaries no more than 20%. Print out 10 to 20 pages of your manuscript and use highlighters or colored markers to outline scenes in one color, summaries in another. If the balance is off, revise, and make note going forward.
  • Using the “find/replace” feature in Word, search for filter words like “feels/felt”, “hears/heard”, “sees/saw”, etc. Replace them with more active verbs and/or rephrase.
  • Using the same feature, search for “There is/was” and rephrase the sentence.
  • Reread your manuscript out loud, looking for the clear images that your mind creates when you enter a scene. If the image is vague, you may be summarizing/telling. Revise.
  • As you revise, act out scenes as if you are on stage. Literally get up out of your chair and move around in space, gesturing as if you are the character. Use those gestures in your writing.
  • When you write an emotional scene, sit back and imagine yourself in that scene. What are you feeling? Is your skin prickling? Is your mouth dry? Heart pounding? Breath short? Fists clenched? There are a million ways to physically react to an emotion. Show those in your scenes.
  • On each page of your manuscript, run a check to see how many specific sensory details you have mentioned. Smell is often overlooked yet is an important if subtle thing we experience every day. Check for things seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted.


The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglsi

Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, by Ursula K. Le Guin

And Don’t Forget

The giveaway! Get your free book “Secrets of the SAIU” by buying THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS (or if you have already, that’s good, too). Click the button to receive:

Yes! Send me “Secrets of the SAIU!”

Facing Your Fears

If you are struggling with your writing career – whether you have imposter syndrome, or are getting tons of rejections, or have the feeling that you’ll never write anything as good as the last book you read – you are surely fighting fears. I know these fears so well.

In the “before times”, our local SCBWI chapter hosted Dan Gemeinhart as a speaker. At the time he had four books for young readers out and another on the way. He’s a sweet guy, a former teacher and librarian in a small school, and gave a series of short lectures on his process. But what I remember most clearly was his publishing journey.

Dan’s Journey

Dan confessed that he had been writing for years and submitting to agents (in his website he says that this journey was 10 years long), and received 99 (yes! 99!) rejections before he landed his agent and then a publishing deal. That’s a lot of rejection, a lot of fear-facing, a huge heap of persistence.

Now, Dan writes wonderful books, popular, with starred reviews and well-received, but his most recent – just out – has hit the lists in a big way. It’s number one on the New York Times Bestseller List in Children’s. When I read his Tweet I thought back to that 100th submission over 10 years.image of a tweet

What if he’d caved into his fears and stopped submitting?

Keep Calm and Carry On

How do we fight those fears and keep writing and submitting when it feels hopeless? Here are my strategies for carrying on:

  • Analyze the rejection. If an agent or publisher says “it’s not right for me”, don’t take that as good feedback on your work. That’s a personal (or really impersonal) response. But if an agent or publisher has actual feedback, listen. It might not be spot on, but it may be flagging something that isn’t working, something that you can fix.
  • Be patient. The post-Covid publishing world is in turmoil. Between supply chain issues, remote work, publishing house consolidations, and many folks leaving the industry, response times are longer than ever.
  • Target your submission. Be sure you know what the agent or house is looking for by following QueryTracker or checking in with Children’s Writers Market guides.
  • Attend conferences and book critiques at those conferences. I met both of my agents at SCBWI conferences, and landed my first one after receiving a critique with her at a conference. I have always found inspiration and made friends at conferences. A connection with another writer may springboard you to success.
  • Write from your heart. The best stories are those that mean the most to you. Always write from deep in your heart. Write from a place of love.

Face Your Fears With Joy

Me at the top!

In the past few weeks I was on a demanding journey, a hiking tour of Scotland. I walked way more than I thought I could, averaging 5 to 7 miles a day. But the biggest moment for me was ascending a high peak, and standing as close as I could to the edge because I have crippling vertigo. It was a moment of triumph – a moment of joy.

Don’t cave into your fears, but face them. Keep going. Dan says this on his website: “I don’t believe in giving up and don’t think that you should, either.”

PS – A cool giveaway for you!

If you have read THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, or would like to and you buy it now, I have a gift for you! It’s an awesome guide to magical artifacts and magical gifts, and I had a ton of fun writing it. Click the link to download it now!

This giveaway ends on Halloween at midnight!

Yes! I would love the “magical” booklet!

Time For Author Reboot and Reader Gifts!

Vacation Time

I’ll be away most of the month of September, but before I go I wanted to share a super fun giveaway with you!

THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, sequel to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, came out the summer of the pandemic, which meant…sob…no school visits or bookstore events or conferences………….


As you writers know, that was a tough time to launch a book, even though people were reading a lot. Because, discoverability. That happens when you walk into your favorite bookseller and see something you didn’t know you wanted, and you walk away with a copy.

So I’m giving THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS a small push. I’ve made a really amazing giveaway book, and I’d like you to have it.

What Is It?

Well, if you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that the kids of Rookskill Academy have formed a school: the SAIU, or “Special Alternative Intelligence Unit” of MI 6, the British Intelligence. These kids are honing their superpowers in order to collect and guard potentially dangerous artifacts.

And I’ve made a small book about these kids and the artifacts, called

“Secrets of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit: Magical Superpowers and Magical Artifacts”

Here’s a snapshot:


If you would like one of these booklets, all you need to do is to buy, or have bought, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS in any format, from anywhere, and then, click this button:

Yes! Send me that awesome ARTIFACT HUNTERS booklet!

This offer goes away on November 1 (yes, it runs through Halloween!)

I hope you enjoy both of my Rookskill Castle books, and this new booklet, too!

Happy September!


Here we are, on this magical, mysterious day to celebrate the launch of…(drumroll)…DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND by Fleur Bradley! Look at all these guests! And all this glitter! Golly!

I’m making my way now to the talented Fleur for an interview. Fleur, oh, Fleur! Hi there! I hope you’ll let me ask you a few questions, starting with this one…book cover

This party venue is perfect! Tell us why you chose it. 

You know, there’s nothing like an abandoned prison and a flock of ravens to set the mood… Also, there are always plenty of ghosts—er, guests to make for a hoppin’ party without having to send out invitations. They just show up.

You look fantastic. Who are you wearing?

Thanks! I decided to wear my best cargo pants, so I have plenty of room for flashlights, skeleton keys to mysterious locked doors, and my phone of course.

Spectacular, and I love the feathers sticking out from the pockets! I see all the yummy goodies over there. What kinds of treats are you serving?

It’s been a challenge to get good food to Raven Island, but I made the best of it. There’s some canned soup and day-old bread for dinner, and I think there might be a random energy bar floating around. Of course I did bring cupcakes. It’s no party until there’s cake…

Now, of course, every party must have a theme. How would you describe yours?

I would say it’s Alfred Hitchcock meets the Twilight Zone… Watch out! The ravens come swooping down sometimes, especially when you’re trying to eat a cupcake. There’s a raven leader named Poe; watch out for her.

Ooo, Poe. The master of Ravenhood. Now for party favors! What are you giving away?

There’s a whole ring of old skeleton keys—Tori, Marvin and Noah tell me they unlock the secret to Raven Island. You can take one, if you think you can survive the night on Raven Island. There’s also an old diary that holds a lot of secrets to a prison break long ago, but I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.

And games! Let’s play!

Tori is all about playing soccer, but there’s no soccer ball to be found. She’s a little cranky about that. We’re playing ‘run from the ghosts,’ ‘duck from the ravens,’ and ‘what does that key unlock?’

Seriously, now, give us the skinny on your book. All the bells and whistles.

All kidding aside (that was pretty fun, though), here’s the book jacket description of Daybreak on Raven Island. It’s out on August 23rd, and I hope you’ll consider reading it!

The Deets

From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.

Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.

But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.giveaway goodies

Sounds cool, right? If you go to the Wandering Jellyfish Bookstore or Second Star to Right Bookstore to order, I can even personalize the book before it gets shipped to you. And there some very cool preorder giveaways, like a Raven Island map….

About Fleur Bradley

Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, including Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award and the Colorado Book Award.

A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many rescue animals. Find out more about Fleur at and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.

Paperbacks & Prizes!

Today CARRY ME HOME is out in paperback! If you have bought a copy, here’s your last chance to grab a selection of goodies about the book. There are fun things for kiddos and teachers, so get them now!


Send me those CARRY ME HOME goodies before they are gone!


And I’m thrilled to announce that CARRY ME HOME has been named a Willa Literary Award Finalist from Women Writing the West.


And speaking of prizes…………….coming soon, I have something really fun to give to you from the spooky hallways of Rookskill Castle! Stay tuned!!


From Dyslexic to Published Author

By the time our son was in middle school a lot of people had written him off.

He was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in second grade, plus he was ADD. He took tests poorly, he had terrible grammar issues, and he couldn’t tell you the months of the year correctly in order. (Still struggles with it.)

Today that boy, now a man, released his first novel. And (and I’m not just being a mom here, because that wouldn’t be fair to him – or you) that novel is fantastic.

I know it’s grammatically correct because I copy-edited it. Willingly, because it’s such a great story, I read it start to finish four times. And I cried each time.

I have two motives for telling this story.

Motive Number One

If your kid, or a kid in your classroom, or a kid you know is struggling, please don’t write him or her or them off.

As a teacher I saw so many kids struggle with reading or math or social skills or “sit-still” skills or whatever and how our educational system really loves to reward the typical. The kid who does well and toes the line. The kid who doesn’t struggle, because who likes difficult?

book cover

But sometimes those kids are hiding something incredibly special. They think outside the box. They may not be able to read, but, like my son, parrot the exact words of a movie they heard when they watched it once – and parrot them years later. They may be gifted in tactile ways but not in auditory. Or in visual ways but not in tactile. They are not average, but they are certainly not below average.

Motive Number Two

I always believed that my son had gifts because – as the person who spent the most time with him IN THE WORLD until he was of age – I saw them. I knew he had auditory gifts. I knew he could think and reason with skill. He had a hard time reading and writing and sitting still, yes, and still struggles with grammar, but I can’t tell you how good his book is.

He understands character. He understands conflict. He totally understands story, as you will see when you read his amazing novel, BALLAD OF BROKEN GLASS.

And by the way, his entire universe is awesome and there is so much more to come.

I couldn’t be more proud.

Final Thought

Recently when I heard Jason Reynolds, he mentioned the support his mother had given him over years of doubters. Teacher doubters, friend doubters, relative doubters. She stuck with him and, well. There he is, best-selling author and National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. Stick with your kiddos, whoever they are to you. They may have rough beginnings but the endings?

They can be spectacular.

Deb Gonzales & The Power of Pinterest

I’ve known my sweet friend Debbie Gonzales my entire career. Not only did we both live in Texas at the time, but she has made every one of my excellent teacher guides, and I’ve worked with her on my Pinterest platform.

Now she’s doing something bold, fresh, and remarkably innovative. She’s building Pin Lit, a boutique Pinterest marketing agency for authors, illustrators, publishers, indie publishers, and their agents. With her daughter Taylor, a talented entrepreneur in her own right, at her side, Deb’s bringing the robust power of Pinterest to our industry.Deb's headshot

On the new Pin Lit website, Deb states, “Pinterest management is more than simply posting pretty images to your account. It’s a consistent and steady system of helping your books, content, and promotions get seen by your target audience. Through strategy and SEO, we drive traffic to your website and bring visibility to your online presence.”

I’m intrigued, aren’t you? Let’s find out more.

Tell Us About Pinterest!

Q: How does Pinterest differ from other forms of social media?

A: Pinterest is a visual search engine, on which marketers can strategically establish a platform showcasing books, programs, projects, downloads, and anything they desire to promote through a variety of formats – SEO optimized boards, static pins, video pins, music, audio, stories, and more. Unlike short-lived posts on Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest pins are evergreen. They never go away. This means that the efforts an author, illustrator, publisher, agent, and/or book store owner makes in building a sturdy Pinterest platform can be considered to be an investment in showcasing their creative work. Pinners can predict trends, establish effective pre-launch campaigns, and develop downloadables to enhance lasting relationship-building opportunities with their audience. 

Q: How did you get started with Pinterest? What is your Pinterest story?

A: I started using Pinterest in 2015 to showcase Guides by Deb projects. I had taken an online course that guided me through low-level practices of crafting graphics and linking pins to my website. Despite lacking a true understanding of platform optimization or the ability to translate analytic results, I began to see how Pinterest could serve the Kidlit industry. If Pinterest was boosting my teacher guide content so successfully, I wondered what it could do for the rest of us. I suppose this is when my obsession for digital marketing originated.Guides logo

Later, I relied on Pinterest as a big part of my pre-launch strategy for my nonfiction picture book GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS. Because  I believed so strongly in the visibility potential of the platform, I hired a Pinterest marketing specialist to manage my account. I am ever so glad that I did. The presale numbers for the book were quite impressive. I believe that the visibility Pinterest gave to our campaign played a big role in making those numbers come to pass. After working with the specialist for a year as my account manager, I hired her for a second year as my mentor. 

Then, the pandemic hit and Pinterest exploded. The isolation people experienced at that time coupled with a growing disenchantment for Facebook and Twitter brought people flocking to the platform worldwide.  I wanted my Kidlit community to be part of the action. That’s when I began working with authors to establish their presence on Pinterest. Now, three years later, I’m establishing Pin Lit: A Pinterest marketing agency for book creators and book sellers. Pretty exciting stuff, right?

Benefits For Authors

Q: You say that quality content enhances visibility. How does that work on Pinterest? 

A: Everything boils down to understanding what your audience is looking for. Pinterest users, of which there are over 400 million daily, are in search of inspiration. They need something specific. Our job is to offer a solution with our content. For example, a teacher might be looking for creative activities to teach story structure.  All they have to do is drop the phrase “lessons about story structure” into the search bar and a screen-full of options will immediately appear before them – pins featuring books, lessons, and free printables galore. If they scroll down a little bit, they just might find this Guides by Deb  story structure activity for DOGGONE FEET posted back in 2017!  

This scenario illustrates two remarkable benefits of marketing on Pinterest – the unbranded search and evergreen content. Because that five-year-old pin for DOGGONE FEET has been optimized by pertinent subject matter, the Pinterest algorithm continues to prioritize the content by ranking it high in the search. Note that, instead of  a book title in the search bar, our teacher typed a literary term in the search bar. This is an example of an unbranded search. It’s been reported that 97% of Pinterest searches are unbranded. This means that, if you have something of quality to offer, pinners will find you! It’s anybody’s game. So cool, right?

Benefits For Publishers

Q: You mentioned that publishers and indie-bookstores would benefit from building a presence on Pinterest. How so?

A: Oh, gosh…Pinterest is going all out to become THE online shopping platform. Publishers and indie-bookstores can become what is known as a verified merchant, which permits them to feature their catalogs as online shops on the platform. These marketers can even feature video in their merchant catalogs. Can you say book trailers? Customers have the option to purchase directly through the marketer’s platform via the Shop Tab. There is a process required to make this happen, but the efforts are well worth it! pinlit logo

Q: What fuels your passion for Pinterest?

A: I love the collaboration and strategy required to establish substantive, creative campaigns.  The process we follow is similar to what I do with Guides by Deb projects. My goal with the teacher guides is to use the literary and academic principles offered in the story to build a creative, entertaining, and solidly educational playground with the book.  We’re doing the same thing with Pinterest platforms and having a ball doing so! 

More About Deb

Debbie Gonzales is an author, a career educator, a certified Pinterest Marketing Specialist and founder of Pin Lit: A Pinterest marketing agency for book sellers and book creators. She’s published six transitional readers a New Zealand publisher, the nonfiction picture book GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS, and the host of Guides by Deb, a website consisting of over 300 standards-aligned educator guides for all genres. A former SCBWI Regional Advisor, Deb currently serves as a member of the SCBWI-MI Leadership Team and the Michigan Reading Association board. She earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

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Character Motivation

I recently participated in a high-level writing workshop and something jumped out at me: I felt that many of the writers were not entirely clear on their character’s motivation.

Let’s discuss. (Note: a lot of these ideas are inspired by GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict, by Debra Dixon, a craft book I highly recommend.)

What Do I Mean by Motivation?

Every character enters your story in the middle of their life. Your story is focused on something happening in the character’s “now”, but that doesn’t mean that they are a blank slate up until that moment. They have a past, a history, a backstory.

Motivation is desire. It’s fueled by a longing or lack that the character may not even be able to fully articulate; she just knows something is missing in her life. She is then motivated to act in response to this longing, and motivation propels her through the story.

With your character’s story arc, she has an external problem to deal with, and an internal problem. One of my favorite examples to illustrate this is The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s external problem is dealing with the Wicked Witch/trying to get to the Wizard. Her internal problem is that she feels unloved by those around her after Miss Gulch takes Toto away with Auntie Em’s approval. Dorothy is searching for a happy place and thinks it’s “somewhere over the rainbow”.

girl in meadow

Dorothy, pondering. Photo by Mgm/Kobal/Shutterstock (5886294em)
Judy Garland

Notice that these external and internal problems provide conflict at both macro and micro scales.

External and Internal Motivation

Here’s Dorothy’s motivation related to her problems:

  • Dorothy’s external motivation: she’s motivated to battle the Witch by the threats against her friends in Oz.
  • Her internal motivation: she has to understand that running away is not the way to find your happy place; that she had a happy place all along and it’s inside her. And she realizes that with her loving family and friends, “there’s no place like home”.

Dorothy’s longing for a place over the rainbow, a safe and loving place, motivates her to run away, leading to her story of discovering who she really is and what she really has. The story satisfies her “lack” by bringing her to full awareness.

If you can clearly and simply define your protagonist’s internal and external motivations, you’ll have a much stronger story. Brainstorm your protagonist’s longing or lack through backstory (you can read more about that here) remembering that she may not be entirely aware of her longing herself.


I’m interested in learning more about motivation from Janet!