Emma Walton Hamilton

Emma Walton Hamilton

What do you get when you mix a shiny new year, the beginning of another round of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, and an amazingly talented and generous NYT-bestselling author kicking us off with the first featured author post?

You get phenomenal writing tips to start your year AND unprecedented opportunities to get even more help to improve your writing.

Because Emma Walton Hamilton is not ONLY an author. She is also a gifted freelance editor (I know because I’ve hired her!) who can work magic on both manuscripts and query letters. So much so with query letters that I’ve dubbed her “the query whisperer.”

Several opportunities will be coming to 12 x 12 members as a result of Emma’s generosity. First, this month’s winner will receive access to Emma’s online, self-paced, 8-week picture book writing course — Just Write for Kids. I, along with other 12 x 12 alumni, have taken this course and trust me when I say it will change your picture book writing life! This course costs $297, but one lucky 12 x 12 winner will get it for FREE.

Secondly, Emma has once again agreed to critique query letters from Little GOLDen Book members who pay the one-time fee to join 12 x 12. This year the event will be bigger and better, however, because Emma and I are going to create a webinar where we record her giving verbal critiques (names will be removed from queries to keep them anonymous). GOLD members will then receive a copy of the recording to keep for reference. A single query critique from Emma normally costs $150. But one-time fee paying GOLD members will get the critique free AND have the benefit of watching Emma work her magic on many other queries.*

One 12 x 12 member, Marcie Colleen, had this to say about the query critique she received last year: “(Emma) made (my query) SING! And that is the query letter I sent out and landed my agent. What an amazing opportunity that was to have Emma’s expertise work on my little letter.”

But there IS a catch. In order to participate in the query event, youh must sign up for 12 x 12 by the end of the day January 17th at the Little GOLDen Book level AND pay the one-time (vs. quarterly) fee. Hurry so you don’t miss out!

Now, let’s move on to Emma’s fabulous advice – perfect to get us going on a great new year of picture book writing! Welcome Emma!

So, it’s the first month of a New Year, and twelve new picture book challenges stretch out ahead of us.

Maybe you participated in PiBoIdMo in November, and have a stack (or even a handful) of ideas waiting to be developed into picture books over the course of 12 x 12 in 2014. Now what?

How do we take the seed of an idea and develop into a story? One way to begin is to write down everything you know so far about your idea. Free associate – what do you know about any of your characters, the subject matter, the setting, the takeaway you’d like to leave your readers with? What words, images, smells, tastes or sounds come to mind when you think of this idea?

Then, organize these thoughts into categories or relationships to one another. You can use index cards, Post-its, or a mindmapping tool like Freemind (freemind.sourceforge.net) to assist you. Once you have jotted down everything you know, you can begin to think about the central dramatic question of your idea.

A central dramatic question is at the core of every successful children’s book. It is the question the story raises, or what the book is really about. It can usually best be stated as:

“Will (the hero/protagonist) find, get, solve or achieve ______?”

For example, the central dramatic question at the heart of Whistle for Willie is: “Will Peter ever learn how to whistle?”

knuffle bunnyThe central dramatic question at the heart of Knuffle Bunny is: “Will Trixie ever get Knuffle Bunny back?” (or, more specifically, “Will Trixie be able to communicate to her parents that Knuffle Bunny is lost – and thus, get her back?”)

If you don’t yet have enough information about your idea, or it isn’t fleshed out sufficiently to determine the central dramatic question, you can prompt yourself with other leading questions. For instance, if you have an idea for a character but don’t know what their story is, ask yourself:

  • What does s/he want?
  • What is his or her problem that must be solved, or difficulty that must be overcome? (Another way of thinking about this is, what is standing in the way of their getting what they want? What are the obstacles?)
  • How does s/he solve or overcome the problem?
  • What does s/he learn in the resolving of their problem, or how might s/he change or grow by the end?

If you have an idea for a theme or subject (such as adoption, bullying, feeling different) but don’t yet know who the characters are, or what the story is, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to say about your subject? What point or message do you want to give kids, or leave them thinking about?
  • Who might be the main character – someone kids can relate to and connect with – that can help you tell your story, or make that point?
  • What problem might they have to overcome?
  • What would they need to learn or achieve over the course of the story in order to illustrate the point you intend to make?

Can you see a central dramatic question emerging now? Identifying your central dramatic question helps you focus your story, and ensures there will be a compelling plot with a built-in conflict or problem for your character to overcome.  It is also a helpful pre-cursor to being able to summarize your story in a concise sentence – a powerful exercise when it comes to focusing an idea, but even more valuable later, when the time comes for pitching, selling and marketing the book.

Now, here’s a down and dirty template for converting your central dramatic question into a plot and character driven sentence: (Name of hero/main character) wants/needs to (need/goal), but s/he can’t because (problem/obstacle) so s/he (actions/resolution) and ultimately realizes that (message/takeaway).

Happy writing!

EMMA WALTON HAMILTON is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and arts educator.  With her mother, Emma and Julieactress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over twenty children’s books, seven of which have been on the NY Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series (#1 Bestseller), Julie Andrews Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Simeon’s Gift, The Great American Mousical, and Thanks to You – Wisdom from Mother and Child.

Emma’s own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon.com in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal.

Emma is a faculty member of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, where she also serves as Director of the Children’s Literature Fellows programand Executive Director of the Young Artists and Writers Project (YAWP), an inter-disciplinary writing program for middle and high school students.  A former actress and theatre director, Emma was a co-founder of Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, and served as co-Artistic Director and Director of Education and Programming for Young Audiences there for 17 years.

Emma also works as a freelance children’s book editor, and hosts Just Write for Kids! – an online home-study course in writing for children as well as the Children’s Book Hub – a center of resources and support for aspiring children’s book authors.

*Emma will critique as many queries as she can in a two-hour period. Julie Hedlund will critique any queries Emma is unable to get to in that time period.


Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Giveaway, Goals, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Emma is the best person to get us off on the right foot for 12×12 in 2014. I, too, have benefited (often) from her insightful manuscript evaluations and query critiques, and I can’t recommend her highly enough. I have also taken her course, Just Write for Kids, and the benefits of it go on and on, throughout all my writing.

    Because I’ve taken JWFK, I won’t be entering the draw for this month’s prize, but I wanted to comment in order to say what a gem Emma is, and what a wonderful opportunity taking this course will be for the lucky winner.

    Thanks, Emma, for your succinct and inspiring words to get us crafting our 12×12 drafts well from the get-go.

  2. What a wonderful way to start off the new year! Great advice, Emma. I will definitely be using your template!

  3. Love the different prompts to get us to focus on the heart of the story. Will be incorporating this. 🙂
    Happy writing!

  4. Smashing and solid start! Thanks, Emma!

  5. Great advice, Emma. One thing I am struggling with is writing good query letters.

  6. Great advice! Now to get writing!

  7. Love this – such great advice! Here’s to a Happy 2014 of writing for all of us!

  8. The recent freeze has turned some of my plants to mush, but others are still alive under the freeze-kill. Kind of like my PiBoIdMo ideas. You’ve given me a way to determine which ideas can be resuscitated and which to give up on. Thank you, Emma!

  9. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on developing an idea into a story. Many times I struggle with getting started, and this advice is just what I needed! Just a side note: My mother named me after Julie Andrews, and I named my daughter Emma! 🙂

  10. I think the query letter is the hardest part! Can’t wait for the query clinic (maybe one of the new ideas I’m going to work on from this post will see the light of day?)

  11. This post was packed with helpful information to get started on a story. What an exciting way to start off 12×12 in 2014! Thanks, Emma and Julie.

  12. Wow, this advice is spot on. I agree with everyone here. Thank you Emma. I loved Julie Campbell’s comment. 🙂

  13. This is great. What a fantastic prize too!

  14. Great read. Thank you, very much! I’ll take all of that advice and then some!!

  15. Wonderful post, Emma! Created a simple down and dirty template that I will use for every story. Thank you for your kind generosity in offering a terrific prize and query letter clinic. I’ll be there with bells on! :0)

  16. Thank you Emma and Julie for the wonderful and helpful post

  17. Emma, your advise is the best way to make sure the manuscript “goes down in a most delightful way!” Thank you for your time and getting all 12 x 12ers off to an upbeat start!

  18. Thank you so much, Emma…the story question template will be SO helpful for me! You are a generous soul – I know we all appreciated your input and feedback on the 12×12 queries last year…this year will be even better! At your normal fee of $150 for a single query critique, Golden Book members will have a chance to recoup their entire annual 12×12 membership value back with that one January query critique…and then they will have available to them the recording, for future reference, of all the critiques that were done. Maybe looking at it that way will help some who aren’t sure yet what level to pick. 🙂

  19. authorshannonanderson

    Love this post by Emma. Got a page of notes. Seems so obvious to have a central dramatic question, but not all of my stories at this point do. Thanks for the help focusing on this. I can’t wait to hear the critique session. I will be all ears! Thank you!

  20. Thanks for the great advice, Emma!!!

  21. What a terrific way to start off 12×12 in 2014! Thank you for the wonderful advice, Emma. I also struggle with writing good query letters and am looking forward to the critique session

  22. I began writing for children by taking Emma’s excellent picture book course, Just Write for Kids, so I won’t need to go in the draw. But I just wanted to whoop a little at the great kick-off post to this year’s 12×12.

  23. What a wonderful post – full of excellent writing guidance. Thanks so much Emma.

  24. Wow…this is fabulous. I figured out the central dramatic question to the PiBoIdMo idea that I want to turn into my January manuscript. Woo-Hoo! Can’t wait to get writing now.

  25. I can’t wait for the query clinic either! This is an area that can always use development and growth. I really am excited! And thanks… you’ve given me some great ideas on how to get some story ideas together and thinking through what to do this month. Thank you!

  26. This was really great, thank you! I can’t WAIT for the query clinic either… this is just another area where I’m always glad for feedback. You’ve given me some great direction for what I need to do this month and how to get my story moving. Thank you!

  27. Emma, thank you. I just pasted your Central Quetion [“Will (the hero/protagonist) find, get, solve or achieve ______?”] into the top of every story I’m working on. It’s something I know I need to focus on to keep my stories from wandering off into the neverland of picturebook storyland.

  28. Thanks Emma for sharing your wisdom and Julie for kicking off 12 x 12 the perfect kick!

  29. Perfect post to begin the year of my third 12×12! thank you!

  30. Brilliant, succinct way of getting to the heart of the story, thanks.

  31. A great way to get me moving! I think queries are the most difficult part!

  32. What a fabulous start to 12×12. I am pee pants excited. Oops, I hope I can say that. Just chalk it up to the Aussie in the house. Looking forward to Emma’s query wisdom.

  33. Thanks for that plot template, Emma!

  34. What a great first post to start 12×12 off! My brain’s been in the dormant mode since the start of the year but this revved me up! Printed out and ready to crank up the juices. Looking forward to the query whispering and a year of better writing. Thanks Emma and Julie!

  35. Ooh, I love this! I think I need to take out every one of my PiBoIdMo ideas and run them through their paces with these questions. Thanks, Emma!

  36. This is great advice, Emma, even for people like me who write nonfiction. Your fill-in-the-blank is really helping me shape my story.

  37. Fantastic start, thanks Emma for this focusing post to get us started. My characters in this month’s draft were waiting on the sideline of my mind for my answers to your great questions. I’d better get busy and let them know what they’re wanting… – Damon Dean

  38. Thanks, Emma for the template to help us down the road to creating strong storylines!

  39. I learned how to really write a query letter last year, in large part thanks to you. Thanks for a great kick off into the new year!

  40. Thanks so much for sharing these great tips! I would love to take your course Just Write for Kids!

  41. I am printing out this excellent reminder of why it is important to find the heart of a story for it to work.

  42. Thank you Emma, I have a long way to go yet but I am taking the right first steps on the journey to publication and your post tells me I am heading in the right direction.

  43. Great tips! Thank you for sharing your insights with us. What an awesome way to start off the writing year!

  44. Emma, thanks so much for the, ‘first steps’ tips. I’d started to draft and then floundered on every PiBoldMo idea on my list – they seemed silly or empty. Well, duh! of course . . . because I’d missed the free-mind association piece. I want to say a huge thank you for that as I’ve ‘got it!’ and am back in the saddle (so to speak)

  45. Great information, Emma! Thank you! Looking forward to the critique sessions!

  46. Thank you for the great start to 12×12 2014 Emma!

  47. I often have a character whose story I don’t know yet, so your advice on working with that is great! Thanks for a wonderful post!

  48. Has the date already been set for the query critique event? Or is that still TBA?

  49. Excellent key point re: “central dramatic question” and leading questions when we aren’t sure where our story is headed in that regard. I plan to keep that question front and center as I take my new draft the next steps. Thanks, Emma, for the insights.

  50. Fantastic post, Emma. Thank you so much for the splendid suggestions. I will definitely use your pointers when fleshing out my PIBOIDMO Ideas. Here’s to another fabulous year! T.

  51. Yeah! 😀 Woo! Great post! 🙂

  52. What a great way to start of 2014! I’ll be using your down and dirty template on a few of my PiBoIdMo ideas and see which one is screaming the loudest to be written first! Thanks Emma.

  53. I took a couple notes…and then couple more. Looks like I’m gonna need more paper this year. 😉

  54. Thanks. Looking forward to the query critiques.

  55. This was such wonderful wisdom. Now I’m wishing I had signed up for the gold instead of silver. Though I have several manuscripts written, several PB and 2 middle grade, I’m not sure about getting enough of them to submission stage before the end of the year. How many do you recommend to have before submitting to an agent? That PB class sounds really tempting…

  56. So good! I think this post alone was worth my bronze membership fee! Will be referring back to this many times. Thanks so much!!!

  57. I have plenty of ideas from PiBoIdMo, but had not worked through which one to start with for 12 X 12 manuscript #1. Emma’s tips for thinking through the central dramatic question is just what I need to help me sort through these ideas and determine how to advance them (and identify which one is begging to be first!).

  58. Awesome post! Very inspiring! Off to work on turning my ideas into manuscripts!

  59. Having Emma critique my query letter last winter was so, so helpful! And I love your advice on free-associating about the book. Gonna try that with some of my PiBoIdMo ideas.

  60. Like Joanna and Beth I also have taken the JWFK. The best thing since sliced bread! Great post and the best person to start the 12×12 year off. Thanks Emma and Julie.

  61. I enjoyed reading this post and can see already that I have a lot of work to do using the template that Emma has presented to see if my stories are working. I’m looking forward to a great year of writing.

  62. Excellent advice! Thank you so much Emma. Now I know how to turn my disjointed characters, problems, and topics into viable picture books. I’m so excited!

  63. I LOVE this user-friend post! I often find myself sitting with a list of ideas and saying to myself, now what? And to be honest, it can lead me down a road where I find myself using the excuse that I’m “stuck”

    Excuses be gone!!

    I am copying and pasting that exercise into a word document so I can refer to it the next time I feel an excuse coming on!!

  64. Great start to the year Emma, thank you for sharing with us. Your advice with query letters last year was so, so helpful, I am looking forward to watching the video you and Julie are creating and learning so much more 🙂 I will also be asking my characters some serious questions.

  65. Great post! Thank you very much for your advice.

  66. Great suggestions! Thanks so much, Emma!

  67. This is fantastic. I’m printing those questions to hang above my computer.

  68. And we’re off to the races!

    Emma also generously donated to my KidLit for the Philippines fundraiser last November that benefited typhoon Haiyan survivors. Thank you again, Emma!

  69. This is wonderful information! Thank you so much! I’m so excited for 12×12!

  70. Appreciate the insight into building a story with a character who grows and changes…many thanks!

  71. Great advice for me, Emma. Sometimes my stories come to be through a character and sometimes because of a theme that appeals to me. I love that you have given suggestions for working out both.
    I can’t wait to view the queries you go over. Thanks Julie and Emma for doing this.

  72. Thank you, Emma! I just applied your central dramatic question to three of my current manuscripts and found that two were easy to fill in but one was not. That helped me realize that I need to focus in on a clearer conflict for the third manuscript. Thanks for the wonderful questions that we can ask ourselves with each story!

  73. Absolutely powerful writing advice! Thanks so much, Emma. Thanks too to Julie for bringing this to all of us!

  74. Thanks for the great and useful information. I have a lot of ideas and characters now I should be able to put them together!

  75. Meredith Pinkstone

    Wonderful, concise advice — thank you, Emma!!

  76. Thanks for all the great advice!

  77. Great advice, Emma. Thanks!

  78. CDQ, CDQ – central dramatic question – is the chant that has been playing on a continuous loop in my brain since reading this post the first time! It’s a keeper. Thanks Emma!

  79. This is the perfect way to start 12 x 12 for me… a newbie to 12 x 12 but now a veteran PB author (and fledgling illustrator)!

  80. Thanks for the idea about free associating. I tend to want things to come out organized and probably lose some of my ideas that way. I’m going to check out freemind.sourceforge.net also. Thanks!

  81. I’m definitely going to use the template from now on! Thanks Emma!

  82. Thanks, Emma! As much as the CDQ advice, I think your idea of starting out with free association is a great one!!

  83. This is fantastic – it really makes you stop and think about the complexity that goes into the simplicity of Picture Books

  84. Great advice. I’ll be using your template, Emma!

  85. I pinned this post to the top of my browser! What a simplistic way of looking at the big picture – I, all too often, barrel ahead with a story without identifying what’s important. This will help me to think before I write! Loved it. Thanks, Emma

  86. Thanks for all the great thinking prompt to get the juices flowing for a new idea.

  87. I’m getting a similar message at many junctures- planning doesn’t ‘t fence in my efforts…it makes my playground a bit cleaner to navigate!

  88. Thank you for your valuable and usable advice, Emma. I took notes as to not forget it. Happy writing!

  89. Thank you, Emma, for your super advice–it’s like I took a mini-PB writing course all in one blog post! I will be sure to focus my manuscripts with the central dramatic question! And thanks to Julie for the chance to have 12 x 12 in my life for year two–I’m learning a lot. Ann Magee

  90. What great advice, Emma! Thanks!

  91. I still remember Emma’s advice last year about the ‘mucky middle,’ and this is another great post. I like the specific advice about how to brainstorm ideas to tell a complete story when you have only part of the picture (character or theme/issue).

  92. Oh, I love having lists like this. It’s a great way to figure out why something’s not working in a story.

  93. Becky Scharnhorst

    As a new writer, this was one of the most helpful posts I’ve read on getting started. Thanks for the great advice!

  94. Emma never fails to deliver! I am currently working on writing this one sentence summary for all of my PBs to be sure I have it solid, and I realize that some of the characters I thought had a clear problem don’t! So thank you, Emma, for showing us more examples of how to do this all important exercise.

  95. Thank you for this advice. Great reminder of what stories need.

  96. Love this advice! And I’m so excited for the query critique session! Thank you so much for doing this, Emma!

  97. Thanks, Emma, so much, for that remarkable test sentence. It is such an important key to analyzing our own writing. I printed your comment so I can refer to it often!

  98. Emma,
    Thank you for your generosity and expertise! Love the template and dramatic question tips!

  99. I could have sworn I commented on this already. Oh my gosh…I’m losing my mind and it’s only January. It’s going to be a crazy year. 😛

    Thanks for starting off 12×12 with a terrific post, Emma and Julie!

  100. I just wrote a note about the central dramatic question inside the cover of my writing notebook, so I’ll have it with me at all times. Thanks, Emma!

  101. What great tips. I will write them down and think of them as I write my next manuscript!

  102. Emma, thank you for this wonderful post and a way to flesh things out when I might just have a tiny bit of a story. I will definitely use this as I go forward with some of my PiBoIdMo ideas!

  103. Wise words and a great template. Thanks for sharing!

  104. Thank you so much for all of the great advice, Emma. What a perfect post to start off the year!

  105. Thank you, Emma, for this lesson in narrowing down the focus of our stories. And thank you for offering such a generous prize. Julie, I’m sorry about the rough month, and I’m so glad things are looking up.

  106. This is a wonderful post! It’s so helpful. I just had a new idea for a picture book and I’m going to refer to this post as I work to develop it. Thank you so much, Emma! Thank you, Julie! I’m so glad Rocky is doing better.

  107. Thank you for the tips and the fill-in-the-blank! I was on vacation when I first read this and am so glad to be reminded. 🙂

  108. Emma,what a way to start the juices flowing! Getting to the dramatic question is sometimes the very element I’m missing & it’s the glue/heart! Will start here w/stories that seem to lack punch. I am a big fan of free association! Thanks to you & Julie! Still holding Rocky in my heart, Julie!

  109. This is the perfect post to help me confirm I’m heading in the right direction with the draft I’m currently working on and to help me bring it to a higher level. Thanks, Emma & Julie. I’m saving this post to refer back to for each draft I write until it comes naturally.

  110. This is my first year in the 12×12. I did complete a draft in January and will now review that based on Emma’s patterns to see that I covered everything. I love working with patterns to help me focus on ideas. I liked the comments about getting all ideas down and then pulling story together from there.

  111. Thanks for the insights! Your step-by-step advice for clarifying the central dramatic question helped me with a manuscript I’ve been having trouble with for months. Much appreciated!

  112. Thanks for the wonderful advice and tips to guide me along this exciting journey or learning how to write PBs.

  113. Great information. I really liked the idea of writing everything you know about your idea, and then organizing with note cards. Thanks for all the information.

  114. Thanks for the advice Emma! I have a character in mind for my next ms but I’m not sure what he wants yet or what problem will be solved. The questions you posed will help figure that out.

  115. Thank you, Emma! This is just the advice I needed. Now it seems obvious that a successful PB would need a central dramatic question, and yet I hadn’t adequately identified mine.

  116. Margaret Greanias

    Great advice! I do have a character idea and just need to figure out what his story is. This post will help. Thank you!

  117. Thank you Julie and Emma! This is my second year as a 12x 12 member. Last year, I missed the deadline to submit a query to Emma but this year I’m in!

  118. I feel like I am on the receiving end of gifts! I now have another set of building blocks to create a path to success. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  119. Great information! I have already saved your post and will keep it close at hand. It’s just what I needed at this time. Thank you so much!

  120. Great post. Thank you for sharing.

  121. Your mom is Julie Andrews? You are like the luckiest kid ever. What was it like having a mom like her? Did you sing together? Thank you for all of your posts about writing query letters. I am almost over my fear of putting mine together and will give it a try. I think it’s much easier to write a picture book than a query letter…

  122. Fabulous post! Thanks!!

  123. Looking forward to the query critique. When is it happening?

  124. Very helpful! I was reading the questions to be asked while you are writing, and they are very helpful. I started wondering in my mind if I had done all these things with my character. Thank you for pointing out helpful information. It gets me a step closer to finishing a book!

  125. Thanks Emma and Julie for a great kick-off post :).

  126. Stephanie Skiba Fitzpatrick

    Thanks for this great advice! I am going to take that template and paste it at the top of every manuscript I have written and each one I plan to work on. I’m sure it will be a huge help in clarifying my thoughts and making sure that I am on the right track!

  127. Great way to start the year. A lot of wonderful information!

  128. Great tips! Will keep them close by when I do my revisions. Thanks 🙂

  129. Thanks for getting us focused with the central dramatic question! Reading teachers know it as the famous SWBS (Someone Wanted But So), so are teaching the young readers to look for that. It’s nice to have that as a thread that connects author to reader/learner.

  130. Thanks for the tip. This helps bouncing ideas around in our minds before writing.

  131. Such a great post to start us on our way! Thank you, Emma!

  132. What an inspiring and useful post! It’s like a writers’ conference session on a page. Great for reference and for sharing. Thanks for this terrific resource.

  133. Thanks for the wonderful advice and tips!

  134. I Love the simplicity of asking yourself a question….so helpful. THanks

  135. Bookmarking this for future revision sessions! Thank you.

  136. Thanks, Emma! Queries are hard . . . but you make it easier.

  137. Thanks Emma for the advice. I appreciate it!

  138. Great advice! Thank you!!

  139. I did read this at the beginning of the month. I know I did because I printed it out, and I only do that with advice I find invaluable. But I guess I never commented, so…. thank you for this wonderful post that focuses so clearly on the process of developing a story! Having just reread this post with a completed ms in hand, it was so helpful in narrowing down my central dramatic question and thinking about how I might eventually pitch the story to an agent or editor.

  140. Great suggestions! No doubt we’re off to a great year of writing. Thank you!

  141. Thanks for a wonderful first post. If they’re all this good, we’ve got a fabulous year ahead of us!

  142. Thanks for the great advice! I’m so inspired! Gotta go — ideas are brewing!

  143. Thanks for the great advice!

  144. Thanks for giving us much food for thought and for posting the down and dirty template. It seems like I’d seen it before, but reminders help us focus and evaluate our manuscripts.

  145. Emma, thanks for giving me a strategy!

  146. Inspiration.

  147. I have printed out this post and highlighted the details – it now hangs on the bulletin board by my computer to remind me (each time I write) to follow Emma’s words of wisdom! Thank you.

  148. Love your post Emma! Excellent advice. 🙂

  149. Fun post!

  150. Great advice, Emma. I am NOT a planner in my writing or in my life. I am eager to give your planning technique a try. I think it will save me a lot of revising to start with the central dramatic question, instead of starting with a random first line that pops into my head on the highway.

  151. Thanks, Emma. I like the different questions you suggested, depending upon whether you had a story, character or theme.

  152. At some time, I knew all that, but the cobwebs needed dusting off. Thanks, Emma!

  153. Thank you for the advice. I like mindmapping and applying sensory perceptions when writing.

  154. I read this weeks ago, but I’m glad I forgot to comment, as it gave me a chance to remind myself of this advice! Thanks for taking your time to participate in 12 by 12 for all of us in need of your insight!

  155. Thank you for the helpful post.

  156. Julie Segal Walters

    You make it sound so accessible! Thank you for sharing such a straight forward process and frame. Now, to make it work!

  157. Thank you for being our featured author Emma!

  158. Great template, thanks!

  159. Thank you, thank you! Can’t wait for the query critiques!

  160. Love your comments and information. I copied the blog entry, highlighted it, and then read it more than once. I hope that I remember to do all that you suggested. Thank you.
    Sandee Abern

  161. Thank you for the great advice!

  162. These are great and inspiring suggestions. Many thanks.

  163. Fantastic January post. shame i had tp pay in quarterly.

  164. I loved the sweet and simple wisdom. Very helpful!

  165. Thank you for the great post. I will work on my PiBoIdMo ideas using the different tips you shared with us today 🙂

  166. This is such a simple way to really hone in on what you what to write about and what you want to say. Sometimes we try to make things so difficult and really all we need to do is take it way back and simplify. Thanks Emma!

  167. Thank you ,Emma. My ‘story seed’ is already germinating!

  168. Karen Mae Zoccoli

    Thanks for a great post and all of the great tips and advice!

  169. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom! I am so excited to be participating in 12×12, and I can’t wait to put all of your advice to good use 🙂

  170. I was sure I had already commented on this timely post. I guess I did in my head…:) This was a fantastic motivator for me as I have several ideas that are in different stages of stuck. These questions will serve me well!

  171. Emma, I LOVE those questions! This post is getting book marked so I can refer to it when I feel stuck/lost/etc…I think I’ll write out the questions too and keep them at my desk!!

  172. Thank you, Emma, for smashing the metaphorical bottle of champers on our maiden voyage of the 12 x 12 writing challenge. I am relatively new to writing the PB format and so have a lot to learn. But it is comforting to know that the core elements of story and character remain the same, no matter what genre, style, medium, or age group you’re working in. Your post really reminded me of that.

  173. Great advice and a great opportunity…thanks

  174. I do happen to have a stack of ideas, but they usually emerge from dinnertime conversation with my husband and son. We all love playing with words and making up crazy characters and stories. Thanks for giving me a framework on which to “build out” those ideas!

  175. Thanks for the great advice! What a wonderful start to a new year of writing.

  176. Emma’s great advice and succinct style make it all look so easy. Her writing is also a great example of her own advice. I’m off to have a deep conversation with my character all about his central question? Thanks, Emma for the advice and the opportunity.

  177. Terrific info. It’s like interviewing yourself about your book. Wonderful to have these reminders. Thank you Emma.

  178. I had read this earlier, but am so glad that I was directed back here so I could be reminded of this good advice. Thanks.

  179. I love it when I read advice that makes me clunk the heel of my hand against my forehead — of course free associating is helpful, a single dramatic question — of course I need one of those and on and on. Why didn’t i think of this? The best part is it all feels doable! Yippie! Thanks for the great info.

  180. Great post, Emma! Can’t wait to see the suggestions you made on my query critique.

  181. Great advice! Thank you!

  182. Great advice. Thanks for working with 12 x 12.

  183. This is a great post with so much insight. I will be using this as a reference in the future, thanks.

  184. Sound, practical advice. Thank you Emma!

  185. Thank you Emma for offering this query information at the beginning of our 12 x 12 journey.

  186. Thank you Emma for giving us the steps for getting the ideas swimming in our heads make sense on paper. Until I read this, everything was just a jumble of words this time. Now I have a system to use when this happens. Fantastic!

  187. This is so helpful! Thanks for sharing this!

  188. Wonderful way to lay it out!! Sometimes that’s all I need is someone to put it into simple terms! Thank you!!

  189. I love being asked what the essence of my story is. It really pulls me into line and gets me to think about themes and universality. Thanks, Emma.

  190. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. I like the idea of free associating or mindmapping…especially the mindmapping. I’m uber-visual, and yet I’ve never tried that. I will now!

  191. Emma, Thanks for your helpful post. During critiques in a recent workshop I took, one of the other writers often asked us to identify our story question (especially if it wasn’t clear that there was one!) and it helped all of us to make our stories stronger, even the ones that were concept ideas or cumulative stories. Your template is a helpful way of answering that story question! Thank you.

  192. Melanie Moschella

    Emma – what great advice to get me started! Thank you!

  193. I have followed your suggestion of starting with a question. I type it first so that it’s there to remind me of my story’s direction. I find it helps keep me focus and not drift off on another tangent.
    Thank you Emma.

  194. Thanks for putting my mind right back into the picture book framework that I adore so much! You are the 2014 compass rose, Emma!

  195. Thanks for the wonderful advice. It really helped me structure the initial draft of my first 12×12 manuscript 🙂

  196. Thank you for this post and all you do for the writing community!

  197. Great advice to kick off the new year. Looking forward to applying these tips in the months ahead.

  198. Just tried your template on my story and realized something’s missing…Thanks so much for the clear explanation and examples.

  199. Thank you for the kick-off advice! I am so hopeful that the year ahead will get me back on writing track (I’ve found it hard with 2 tiny children the last few years!)

  200. Thanks so much. I am learning so much. Evie

  201. I really enjoyed your easy to follow template on how to centralize the ideas/themes in a book you are trying to create. I look forward to joining your course when my schedule becomes more open. Thank you.

  202. Thank you Emma for breaking it dow into simple terms.

  203. Darlene Frybarger

    Thank you, Emma. This really helps narrow the focus for my stories. I will be using your template – it is so helpful!

  204. What a great way to kick off the year! Thank you Julie and Emma. I was so thankful for the critique on my query letter last year and I’m excited to see the crits this year too. You have the golden touch. One of us will be very lucky indeed to win your Just Write For Kids Course. Thank you for your generosity.
    Beth Thaler

  205. The advice especially resonates with me as I look to rework some old ideas. Thanks!

  206. Great Article! Love the advice. I didn’t get to read all the comments, because the tick of the clock was getting close to midnight and so…thanks for your generosity!

  207. Love this post. I will go forward and use some of these techniques to help focus my ideas. Thank you.

  208. Wow I learnt so much just from reading the blog, imagine what I would learn from doing the whole course. Definitely want to print it out again and get started. And having Julie Andrews as a mum how cool is that!!

  209. Thank you for sharing, Emma. Excellent advice.

  210. Emma, I really appreciate this basic advice being given in such a concise, straightforward manner.

  211. suzannepoulterharris

    Thanks for the great advice, Emma. I have used it to strengthen my “completed” manuscripts, and will apply it to every new story I write in 2014. What a super giveaway to start the new year!

  212. Thanks for all the useful info.

  213. Hello, Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to print out your “Down and dirty template”, tack it on my wall, and give it a try BEFORE I start my next story. Typically, when inspired, I’ll jump right in and write until I get stuck. Once stuck, that’s when I create an outline, which means lots of structural editing has to be done before I can get to the fun part of revising for character, action and rhythm. I’m hoping your template will get me to the fun part faster! 🙂

  214. Thank you for this. When teaching, we used to use Somebody Wanted But So statements to help students summarize stories, which then led to Somebody Wanted But So and Then statements. We used Something Happened and Then statements for non-fiction.

  215. Thanks Emma for starting us off right! This is the perfect breakdown of information. Excellent tips! These tools will really help me plan ahead in my writing.

  216. Kristen Schroeder

    I am impressed by Emma’s generosity to her fellow writers. What an inspiration. Great tips and info too, thank you!

  217. Thanks for reminding us to concentrate on the central dramatic question. A great tool to use when revisiting manuscripts in prep of a rewrite!

  218. Thank you for reminding us of tools like free association and brainstorming. Great post, Emma.

  219. Kristine Poptanich

    Love it – great advice!

  220. I’m going to go try Freemind. Thanks for the great ideas!

  221. Wow! Great advice and super help!

  222. I love the idea of having a central dramatic question the manuscript must answer. This is great way to maintain focus, keep the writing tight, and stay on course.

  223. What a very helpful blog post and wonderful advice. I’m so happy to be part of this writing community!

  224. Thanks Emma! As I get started this month, the brainstorming reminder is super helpful.

  225. Love the template! Wonder if it would make a good pitch?

  226. I so would love to take all three courses eventually. I followed Emma’s advice after what she learned when writing her novel about the hound, which I possess, signed, and reworked my main characters in my potential picture book so that they were not adults. I have tried to follow all other advice and tips before the competition but there is no more time to shorten the draft before the deadline!

  227. I’m so excited! Your post is filled with loads of information and resources to jumpstart this great opportunity. The opportunities to grow just keep coming. Participating in 12×12 has landed me in an elite world of many willing to help all of us be the best we can be. Thank you Emma for all you do to support writers. I look forward to following you this year and learning everything I can from you.

  228. Kathy Cornell Berman

    Thanks Emma! What a fantastic way to start off the year—–by focusing on the central dramatic question.

  229. Really fantastic post! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insight!

  230. Thanks Emma. Great advice – ask the right questions to fill in your story.

  231. Certainly didn’t start off with a lightweight! This is my first 12X12 and Emma’s post is a GREAT start. So much content. Will read, re-read and repeat. WOW.

  232. Thank you for this direction. I’ll use it as a measuring stick for my embryo stories!

  233. Emma, Thank you for sharing – great advice.

  234. Thank you Emma! Really helpful advice

  235. Revise, practice and follow all these wonderful tips from Emma! Thanks for the inspiration!

  236. Really helpful. Thanks Writing down everything I know about my subject really helped.

  237. This was very helpful. Thank you very much!

  238. Perfect advice for the kickoff of 12X12! Thanks so much!

  239. I could always use a little query help. Thank you so much for the fantastic information!

  240. Thanks Emma

  241. This is definitely one to cut out and keep. Maybe even laminate and stick to the fridge! Very useful to keep these points in mind, or your story will lose focus.

  242. So gracious of you to share your well-organized process. It’s a guideline I’ll keep. Thank you.

  243. Useful info! Thank you.

  244. wow what great information. this 12 x 12 year is going to be an awesome growth curve for me in terms of my writing and my immersion into the writing world. Thanks 🙂

  245. Thank you! This is such incredibly helpful information – already am using it to work on the draft I wrote last month.

  246. Very good editing tools and method to start writing your PB manuscript

  247. Thank you so much for such clear and consise ways to create and edit a PB manuscript. I plan to really put these tools into action.

  248. Thank you for a great article and for the query critique video. I just took notes on the first 15.

  249. So informative! Thank you!

  250. Thanks so much for all of this information! Very helpful!

  251. I got so much out of the post and looked into Just Write For Kids. I will refer back to this information when beginning and revising my picture books. Thanks so much,

  252. Revising is the most important part of writing. Thanks for the helpful information.

  253. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

  254. This is a great article! I have plenty of potential titles, but getting the real world to stop intruding on my precious “mind-space” is the main part of what’s hindering my writing. I will do my best to write something. Yikes! February’s almost over.

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