All of our featured 12 x 12 in 2012 authors are special, but November’s — Linda Arms White — is even more so because she has been a mentor to me, in every sense of the word, throughout my children’s book writing career.

Linda is a fellow Coloradan and a member of our regional SCBWI chapter, where I first met her. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the mentorship program, where Linda worked with me for six whole months. During that time, I put the finishing touches on one manuscript, completed a major revision on another and outlined and wrote the first draft of yet another. She taught me about the Three Act Structure, Rule of Threes and “sprinkling the magic.” There’s never been a time since then when I’ve had a question or needed help that she hasn’t responded right away.

Besides being a wonderful mentor, Linda, as an award-winning author, is a phenomenal writer. Since most of you have probably not had the benefit of Linda sprinkling her pb-writing dust on your manuscripts, I’ve brought her to you in this post, where she shares her thoughts on writing timeless books. PLUS, one lucky participant will win a critique from Linda. Trust me when I say they are incredible! Now, please welcome Linda!


I’ve often been told my picture books have a timeless quality to them. I love hearing that. It’s not something I’ve planned and only recently have I stopped to evaluate what can give a book that timeless quality. Books that become classics certainly have it.   In them, the depth and richness of every story element gets to the core of the story and leaves an emotional connection and lasting appeal that pulls individual readers back time and again and draws new readers years after publication.

How do you achieve timelessness? That is dependent on several elements working together.

Theme is the subject of the story. It might be love, fear, sibling rivalry, life and death, growing up, honesty, parents aren’t perfect, etc. Whatever the subject, timeless stories leave the reader with strong feelings and thoughts.  The writer has reached the heart of the subject and therefore of the reader. Lasting themes are universal ones. They affect us all, always have, always will. Books about bullying and gay marriage are certainly needed and being published today, but they showcase today’s themes.  It would be unlikely for one of those to become a timeless classic. A timeless theme speaks the truth to the ages, not just today.

Plot is the series of events that carry out the action of the theme. Each of the plot points that move the story ahead must resonate with the reader. The writer carefully chooses each for the way they make the character act and react, add story tension, for the power they add to the whole, and especially the way they move the reader. Those great plot points combined into a story result in a whole that evokes strong emotion from the reader. I know I’m on the right track when I can’t read the ending of my story without breaking down myself. The ending must be unexpected, never predictable, and have emotional impact without being sappy. While crafting a series of rich plot points takes intense planning, once finished the plot flows seamlessly and looks like a simple, straightforward work. If people only knew.

Out of the Character’s fears, likes, dislikes, problems, embarrassments, living conditions, etc. comes the plot. A satisfying character is unique with an intriguing voice, personality, and/or way of thinking. He must be like the person you meet who stays on your mind for days because of some sadness, freshness, quirkiness, or way of expressing themselves. That indelibly memorable character, no matter when they live or are read about, will leave us with new thoughts about the human condition.

Setting – A timeless story can happen in any time and any place as long as the details – cobblestone streets, dialect, panning for gold are handled like seasoning rather than main dishes. The picturesque, filthy, tattered or splendid setting plays a big role in the story. It roots the reader and gives the memorable character a visual and authentic world to live in. It takes only a few words sprinkled there and there to make the reader sure she can see it, smell it, touch it, and hear the grass blow in the wind.

Writing Style is what pulls at the rest of the elements together. It’s the way the author links her words. Choose the precise verbs that give layers to the sentence and depth to the story, creating the correct tone for each particular story. It’s as much about leaving out the right words as leaving them in. Delete most of the slang of the time as that will eventually date the story. Same with technology. Use only what truly relates to the essence of the story. Using a few representative elements in the proper place can define both time and region. There’s no doubt when a story takes place if a character says, “It’s the bee’s knees.”

A timeless story weaves these well done elements together seamlessly and, above all, tells the author’s unguarded truth so well that the reader never doubts the story really happened and just as it was told. That’s the book that will be on the shelves for generations.

Christopher Award winning author, LINDA ARMS WHITE has published both fiction and nonfiction for children and adults, including TOO MANY PUMPKINS, COMES A WIND, I COULD DO THAT: ESTHER MORRIS GETS WOMEN THE VOTE, and TOO MANY TURKEYS. Her books have been recognized with such awards as the prestigious Christopher Award, ABA Pick of the List Book, Children’s Choice Book,’s 10 most recommended Halloween Books, New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Children’s book, Children’s Literature Choice featured book, Oppenhiem Toy Foundation Gold Book Award,  Booklinks Lasting Connections Book,  Booklist Notable Book, American Library Association Junior Library Guild selection and Amelia Bloomer Project book, CCBC choice book (University of Wisconsin), and Storytelling World Awards Honor.

White addresses conferences, workshops, schools and libraries.  As co-owner of Children’s Authors’ Bootcamp, Linda travels the country helping writers of books for children improve their skills.

She and her husband are the parents of four grown children, grandparents of four, and live in a rustic lodge they designed and built in the Colorado mountains.

Participants – to enter to win a critique from Linda, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of November for one point. On November 30th, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in November, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point. I will draw a winner using and announce on December 2nd.


Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Autumn, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. What terrific advice, Linda. I like that it’s presented as a check-list, of sorts, so that the aspiring writer (aka, I) can check to make sure that the story hits all of the right elements.

    Thanks for inviting Linda to your blog, Julie. I can envision myself returning again and again as I progress through PiBoIdMo and beyond.

  2. Great points, Linda! You make it sound almost easy–but getting that timeless quality is quite a challenge!

  3. I’ll admit I never think about timelessness in terms of my manuscripts.Time to go back and look at some of them through the timelessness lens! -Julie Falatko

  4. Loved this post. Will be referencing it again and again and again. Julie – so awesome that she was your mentor.
    Darshana Khiani

  5. Bookmarked. I confess really focussing on timelessness is a new thought and one I needed to read about. Thank you.

    Joanna Marple

  6. Leaving a legacy is what I’ve hoped to do through writing and illustrating. Timeless is the word I needed to help structure these stories. Thank you, Linda. I understand what you mean when you say, ‘I know I’m on the right track when I can’t read the ending of my story without breaking down myself.’ This had not happened until my last two manuscripts. They just flowed and they moved me in a way that had not happened. I know I have 12 x 12 to thank for that – I have received a wonderful education from a world of new friends. Thank you, Julie, one more time. Laura Miller

  7. Linda~You gave so many great pointers in this post. And, by the way, the way that you wrote the post shows your writing talent. Talk about concise, and easy to read and understand….excellent! I love the way you worded this:
    “It’s as much about leaving out the right words as leaving them in.”
    Thanks so much for a post that I will refer to often!

  8. Thanks Julie and Linda for sharing the magic, though I think you let it pour instead of just a sprinkle. Great post-Great prize offering!!! Lucky us.
    Mona Pease

  9. Count me as another who will refer to this many times over. This was so inspiring, eye-opening, challenging and uplifting all at once. Julie, you are a fortunate person indeed to have this wise woman as your mentor. Thank you for sharing her with us!

  10. *waving to Linda* I took Linda’s writing for children class in Golden, Colorado as a gift to myself in 2001 (Julie, I lived in Colorado for many years before I knew you). I have an autographed copy of Too Many Pumpkins and shared it with my son’s 2nd grade class two weeks ago. They loved it! Linda’s class was my start in the world of kidlit and was a great experience. Thanks for the class, the book, the tips, and sharing in this post. BTW, Linda, my debut pb, Flap, comes out Nov 15 so again, thank you.

  11. This is my favorite line: It’s as much about leaving out the right words as leaving them in.

    But also can’t overlook the wisdom of this nugget: A timeless story…above all, tells the author’s unguarded truth…”

    Wonderful post for the oh-so-exciting November, celebration of all things picture book!

    Cathy Ballou Mealey

  12. I heard Linda talk in Paris at one of our SCBWI meets years ago. She really a wonderful speaker and a lovely person. I’m green with envy that you had her as a mentor!

  13. Thank you, Linda! I’m printing this one up to keep for future reference. You were pretty lucky to have her for a mentor, Julie. -Heather Newman

  14. Wonderful advice, Linda! I hope I can create a timeless ms! Thanks so much!
    ~Tina Cho

  15. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom Linda!

    Becky Hall

  16. What a great post! Thank you.

  17. Wow, I can tell Linda is a fabulous mentor. I can’t wait to check out her bootcamp. Kirsten Larson

  18. Love this. I have learned from Linda, even though she doesn’t know it. I’m a fightin’ bookworm. 🙂 Julie, might I say how BODACIOUSLY LUCKY YOU ARE?! To have her for a mentor. WOWZA! Great post. I saved it in a folder. I know I’ll read it again and again. *waving*

    Robyn Campbell

  19. What a splendid summary. Thanks, Linda. I particularly like your comments about timeless themes.

  20. Linda, you’ve sensitized me to the timelessness factors…I will review this post often. I especially love the seasoning comparison for setting, and will ‘salt as needed’ rather than assume any story recipe needs any certain amount. Thanks,
    Damon Dean

  21. What wonderful advice, and how articulately put! Very helpful! Thank you so much, Linda and Julie!
    Susanna Hill

  22. Thank you, Linda. May we all strive to write a timeless tale this month. Marcie Colleen

  23. It is a pleasure meeting you, Linda. “Timeless” will be my new years theme. Now if Only I can apply that to my aging body.

  24. What a wonderfully inspiring post! Loved the break down of the essentials and also the lovely introduction. So great to hear stories of mentorship. 🙂 Thank you so much ladies!

    Elizabeth Stevens Omlor

  25. WOW! You give great advice! I will keep this in mind! 🙂
    Erik Weibel

  26. Excellent post, Linda! I’ve bookmarked this one.

  27. This is brilliant, I am bookmarking it for sure and adding your books to my TBR pile. Thank you, Linda.

  28. Too Many Turkeys is one of my favorite picture books. Thank you for such an informative and inspirational postl

  29. what a post! This is a must have read. Not to mention, I must look up her books. Thankyou Julie for bringing Linda to us.

  30. Great tips. Thank you- Stacy S. Jensen

  31. Thank you Linda for a really useful and interesting article. There are so many useful points here that I can add to my own checklist. PiBoIdMo is proving to be a steep learning curve :o)
    Catherine Friess

  32. Bookmarked! Fabulous, fabulous… thank you sooo much!

  33. Thanks, Linda– for your timeless books (and this timeless post!).

  34. Julie Rowan-Zoch
    Wow. Just wow. So much to soak in. Can’t find the words to comment appropriately. Need to read it over….and over. Wow.

  35. Thanks, Linda for an informative post. I love Comes A Wind!

    Kim Murray

  36. Every element getting to the core. Thank you.
    Timothy McGlen

  37. Writing timeless things is all I have EVER wanted to do. Thanks for the tips. This should be simple….. Right?????

    Genevieve Petrillo

  38. Great post for the month!

    Jennifer Rumberger

  39. Nice post Linda. Thanks for your timeless and timely topic.

    Tim McCanna

  40. Thank you for such a thoughtful and inspiring post, Linda! I am going to print this out. 🙂

  41. Linda, there’s so much goodness in this post! Thanks so much for sharing it in such a clear and logical way. I’m so glad I searched for Julie’s November Featured Author post, which I missed when it was first posted. Thanks, Julie, for introducing us to Linda.

  42. Linda, these are words to remember. Thank you for sharing them with us! -Jan O’Neil

  43. What a wonderful and inspiring post! Thanks, Linda! Sure wish I had such a great mentor. 🙂

    ~Beth Gallagher

  44. Wonderful to see you here. Went to Bootcamp 10 years ago this month. A great teacher with great advice.
    Linda Campbell

  45. Wonderful post. Thank you!
    cynthia iannaccone

  46. Wonderful advice, Linda. I was thinking about some of my favorite PBs while reading it and checking off in my head the elements you brought up. It’s always so helpful to see these things, that we know intuitively, spelled out. Thanks!

  47. Thanks, Linda. It’s good to be reminded that our story should have a timeless appeal. Appreciate your tips!

    Jarm Del Boccio

  48. This is a great post. The advice to sprinkle details like seasoning and not a main dish was especially useful for me to read today. Thanks!

  49. Thanks for having Linda here. I’m going to flag this post and refer to it, as I reread my drafts. Again, thanks Julie, and Linda … thank you for your pearls of wisdom. 🙂

    Brenda A. Harris

  50. This post is the bee’s knees! Thank you, Heather Cyr

  51. Julie…thank you so much for spotlighting this amazing author!
    Linda…your post was like a mini-workshop in writing a timeless picture book…you certainly know what you are doing…what’s more important, you are generous in sharing your expertise. The information was presented in a clear and concise manner…igniting the desire to GO AND WRITE! It’s easy to see why you have been so successful. 🙂

  52. What a wealth of information and motivation here! Like others have mentioned, I’m grateful to have a checklist of sorts to measure the timelessness (or lack thereof, as may be the case) of my manuscripts.

    Thank you Julie for this incredible opportunity.

    And thank you Linda for your fantastic post. I am excited to meet you in person tomorrow at the Boulder Schmooze.

    Happy writing,
    Beth Thaler

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