Sunday, March 29, 2020

How to Turn Your Idea into a Story: More Conflict! #amwriting #writing

Here are a few more tips on setting up conflict, following the lesson from last time:

• What does your main character want? What does he need? Make these things different, and you'll add tension to the story. It can be as simple as our soccer player who wants to practice soccer, but needs to study. Or it could be more subtle, like someone who wants to be protected but needs to learn independence. 

In the Haunted books, Jon wants to be a regular kid, and fit in, but needs to protect his sister – who gets him into trouble and embarrassing situations. This increases the tension and gives the reader sympathy for my main character. 

For a more detailed explanation of character want versus need, exploring the movie ET as an example, see my brother Doug Eboch’s Let's Schmooze blog on Screenwriting, E.T. Analysis Part 11.


• Even if your main problem is external (man versus man or man versus nature), consider giving the character an internal flaw(man versus himself) that contributes to the difficulty. 

For a few examples of internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. 


Perhaps your character has a temper, or is lazy, or refuses to ever admit she’s wrong. This helps set up your complications, and as a bonus makes your character seem more real. 


• Before you start, test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view. Change the setting. Change the external conflict. Change the internal conflict. 


What happens? Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential. 


For example, one work in progress started with two female cousins visiting. I changed one into a boy, and added a girl friend next door, which made for nice boy/girl tension behind the main plot.


Take a Step toward Publication – get a critique from Chris

Novels: $2 per page (standard manuscript format/​double-spaced) for general editorial comments (plot/​character/​flow/​language notes). This provides a 4 to 6 page editorial letter, plus notes written on the manuscript. Minimum $100.
Picture Books up to 1200 words: $50

Email me through the contact page on my website. A sample critique letter and recommendations are available on request.

Do you need help analyzing a plot? Download The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting in a form you can edit and reuse! (For more about Advanced Plotting, scroll down.)
Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

How to Turn Your Idea into a Story: Setting up Plot Conflict #amwriting #writing

To develop your story, you'll need conflict. But conflict doesn't just come from dramatic things happening. It comes from the character – what he or she needs and wants, and why he or she can't get it easily.

Start with a premise: a kid has a math test on Monday. Exciting? Not really. But ask two simple questions, and you can add conflict.



• Why is it important to the character? The stakes should be high. The longer the story or novel, the higher stakes you need to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

• Why is it difficult for the character? Difficulties can be divided into three general categories, traditionally called man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself. You can even have a combination of these. For example, someone may be trying to spy on some bank robbers (man versus man) during a dangerous storm (man versus nature) when he is afraid of lightning (man versus himself).



Back to the kid with the math test. Let’s say, if he doesn’t pass, maybe he will fail the class, have to go to summer school, and not get to go to soccer camp, when soccer is what he loves most, and all his friends will be going. That’s why it’s important. Assuming we create a character readers will like, they'll care about the outcome of this test, and root for him to succeed.

Our soccer lover could have lots of challenges—he forgot his study book, he’s expected to baby-sit his distracting little sister, a storm knocked out the power, he has ADHD, or he suffers test anxiety. But ideally we would relate the difficulty to the reason it's important. So let's say he has a big soccer game Sunday afternoon, and is getting pressure from his coach and teammates to practice rather than study for his test. Plus, of course, he'd rather play soccer anyway.


We now have a situation full of potential tension. Let the character struggle enough before he succeeds (or fails and learns a lesson), and you’ll have a story. And if these two questions can pump up a dull premise, just think what they can do with an exciting one!


Come back next time for more tips on linking your conflict to your character.


Take a Step toward Publication – get a critique from Chris

Novels: $2 per page (standard manuscript format/​double-spaced) for general editorial comments (plot/​character/​flow/​language notes). This provides a 4 to 6 page editorial letter, plus notes written on the manuscript. Minimum $100.
Picture Books up to 1200 words: $50
Email me through the contact page on my website. A sample critique letter and recommendations are available on request.

Do you need help analyzing a plot? Download The Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting in a form you can edit and reuse! (For more about Advanced Plotting, scroll down.)

Thinking of self-publishing? Get the Indie_Publishing_Worksheet to see if you’re on track.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Monday, March 23, 2020

“What do I do with my idea?” Turning Inspiration into Story: #amwriting #writing

People often ask writers, “Where do you find your ideas?” But for a writer, the more important question is, “What do I do with my idea?”

If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work.

The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but doesn’t actually involve a problem.

For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?

Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start.

•           Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.

•           Ask why the goal is important to the character. The longer the story, the higher stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.

•           Ask why this goal is difficult. Difficulties fall into categories traditionally called man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself. You can even combine these. Your character may hunt bank robbers (person versus person) during a dangerous storm (person versus nature) when he is afraid of lightning (person versus himself).

•           Even if your main problem is external, give the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

•           Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.

Next time: Building the middle of your story.


Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more or read excerpts at www.chriseboch.com or visit her page on Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Stuck at home? Going crazy? Keep writing! #amwriting #amediting

Get Advanced Plotting from Amazon in print or ebook.
We're in a crazy time. We may have more time to write while isolating at home ... but it’s hard to get any writing done when everyone is home, and anxiety is high. 

If you need help shaping your novel, or identifying problems, consider getting a professional critique. You can find my rates and recommendations here (short version: developmental/content editing at $2 per page for a novel, $50 for a picture book).

Books on writing can give you advice on every aspect of writing.



Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.

This book can help.

Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.

"This really is helping me a lot. It’s written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!"

If you write for kids or teens, check out You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or my Amazon or Amazon UK. (For other countries click here.)

Here are some other writing craft books I like. The links are to the authors’ websites or blogs. If you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.


My brother, scriptwriter Douglas Eboch, is co-author of The Hollywood Pitching Bible. While it’s targeted at scriptwriters wanting to sell screenplays, a lot of the material is helpful and interesting to novelists as well, especially if you are trying to find your book’s “hook” or write a query/synopsis.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King is one of my favorite writing craft books. Each chapter covers a specific tip for improving your style, and exercises at the end (with answers in the back) help you see if you are really “getting it.”

There’s a good book by Nancy Sanders called Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, which points out that we typically write for three reasons – the emotional satisfaction of getting published, to make money, and for the love of writing. She suggests separating those three goals, so you don’t put pressure on yourself to sell what you are writing for love, and you find more practical ways of approaching the other two goals. She then addresses how to target each goal.


The Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishing, by Harold Underdown, is an excellent overview of the business. It explains the different genres, the difference between a magazine story and a picture book manuscript, how to find a publisher, etc.

I’m a big fan of using close/deep point of view. Jill Elizabeth Nelson has a book called Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV.

And if you need help with grammar (or know someone who does), these have been recommended by writing teachers I know:

Things That Make Us (Sic)by Martha Brockenbrough
Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott
Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman


Please share your other favorite books in the comments. 


Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Connecting Kids to History #historyteaching Get #lessonplans 4 #teachers or #homeschool



Stuck at home with kids to educate and entertain? Trying to teach kids history long distance?

Historical fiction is a great way to bring history to life. It’s especially valuable for young people, who may not find textbook history interesting.

I’ve been impressed with the many wonderful ways teachers come up with to use historical fiction in the classroom. Consider this teacher’s review for my novel The Well of Sacrifice:

“My class (fourth/fifth graders) read this book for our theme: The Maya. The book gave authentic facts about the Mayan culture and a plausible explanation for the demise of their culture. We used the book as the backbone of several language arts exercises such as: written and oral reports about the Maya, literary criticism of characters, plot, and sequence, persuasive essays on human sacrifice vs. murder and Mayan culture vs. our own culture; and art projects from wood burning to mapping. We studied geography and the rainforest. The students’ enthusiasm for this book pushed our curriculum into other disciplines including math.”

Get her lesson plans here. I also provide free Lesson Plans aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Historical fiction can connect to other curriculum areas as well. Some teachers like to have students write their own versions of what happened after my book ends. Their answers can range from marriage and happily ever after, to massive death and destruction. This type of exercise another way to get young people engaged with history.

History Lessons That Resonate


Using historical fiction in the classroom or at home can help kids understand history better. It can also help them understand and identify with people of the past. If they can do that, they should be better able to understand and identify with different people today.

My Egyptian mystery The Eyes of Pharaoh also works as supplemental fiction. The Eyes of Pharaoh is ideal for use in elementary and middle school classrooms.

“Using this historical fiction is a window into Ancient Egypt—its people, culture, and beliefs. My class enjoyed doing research on Egyptian gods and goddesses, and hieroglyphs. Projects extended their knowledge of this fascinating time and place. I also highly recommend it for its fast-paced plot, interesting and ‘real’ characters, and excellent writing.” – teacher of gifted fourth and fifth graders

There are loads of projects classes can do, from art to discussion groups to persuasive letters. In addition, my book explores themes of national pride and attitudes about foreigners and immigration. The book can be used as a discussion starter.

But often it’s the simple things that help kids connect. For example, the ancient Egyptians may seem wildly exotic in their religion and architecture. Yet their food sounds tasty, and you don’t find too many things that sound yucky-weird – instead it’s “platters piled with joints of meat, bread baked into animal shapes, cheese, nuts, and fresh fruit.” I did a school visit and one of the students brought in “honey cakes” her mother had made from a recipe she found online. They were similar to cornbread served with honey, simple and tasty.

Historical fiction shows our differences, but also our similarities.

Teachers who would like lesson plans associated with the book can find them at my website, or the publisher’s website links to these and lesson plans for other novels.

Find the books: 


at Kobo
at iBooks


If you buy a classroom or school set of 6 or more copies, contact me via my website for a free Skype visit.