Lori Degman - 12 x 12 Featured Author - www.juliehedlund.comIn a huge nod to the old adage, “Better Late than Never,” I am so pleased to introduce our October 12 x 12 Featured Author Lori Degman. Especially when part of the reason why the post is late is because her son got married the last weekend of September! So first, congratulations Lori!

Lori is also not only a 12 x 12 featured author, but a two-time participant in 12 x 12. Who better to advise participants on writing than someone who is a participant herself? I’ve had the good fortune to meet Lori twice at the past two LA-SCBWI conferences, and her energy, enthusiasm and vivaciousness is absolutely contagious. So it did not surprise me one bit to find all of those traits in her book ONE ZANY ZOO, which oozes fun and humor. I’m anxiously awaiting her next book, COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! But while we are waiting and trying to be patient about it, I give you ONE ZANY AUTHOR talking about plotting picture books. Please welcome Lori!

Oh, and one lucky 12 x 12 participant will win a PB critique from Lori this month. So set those pens to paper or fingers to keyboard!

Got Plot?

When I asked Julie for some topic ideas for this post, she suggested I discuss Plot, because it is one of the areas I cover in my critiques. I am not a “Plot Whisperer” – by any means – but I think it could be helpful to tell you the elements I feel are essential to a good story.

When critiquing plot for others or when editing my own picture book manuscripts, I ask myself these questions:

1. Does the story have a strong beginning that introduces the setting, characters or problem in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading? Does it start at a point of action or change? This will draw the reader into the story. In my original manuscript for 1 Zany zoo, the story took place during show & tell at school, where the main character is talking about his zany adventures at the zoo. My editor suggested we start the story at the zoo, in present time, to jump right into the action. Great idea!

2. Does every sentence add to the story or move it along? Go through your manuscript and make sure every sentence is essential and moves the story forward. Also, look for words or phrases that could be replaced by more interesting, colorful or active words. With editors wanting lower word counts, it’s even more important to choose your words carefully.

3. Does the main character(s) make failed attempts (typically three) to solve the problem? By making multiple attempts, you’re building tension, which will keep the reader invested in the story and make the solution more satisfying. Also, make sure your main character solves his/her own problem. There’s nothing worse than having an adult ride to the rescue and save the day!

4. Is the ending satisfying? I don’t’ mean, “Did the character learn a lesson” – in fact, you should be careful not to make any lesson too obvious or preachy. I mean, did the ending make you laugh or cry or wonder? Was it memorable? Each of my stories has a twist ending that catches the reader by surprise and makes them laugh (hopefully). I also write endings that go full circle and bring the story back to the beginning.

5. Is the story age appropriate and entertaining? Ask yourself if the topic is something your target audience will relate to or want to read about. Picture books are meant to be read over and over again and, if your story’s not entertaining for both the child and adult, then it will sit on the shelf – if it makes it out of the editors slush pile.

6. For all you fellow rhymers – ask yourself: Is this story best told through rhyme or would it be better told in prose? Are the rhyme and meter limiting the story or taking it in the wrong direction? If you’re not sure, write it both ways and see what happens.

As I said earlier, I am not a “plot expert” – this is just how I approach writing and editing stories. I hope it will be helpful to you and I’m pretty sure if you keep these things in mind, you’ll have a better story when you’re done!

Thanks so much for letting me guest post on your amazing blog, Julie! I LOVE 12×12 – even though, these days, I’m more like a 3×12.

Don’t worry Lori! I’m more like a 3 x 12 too! Thank you so much for being here!

Lori Degman is a teacher of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students by day and a writer of picture books by night, weekend and school holiday. Her debut picture book, 1 Zany Zoo, illustrated by Colin Jack, was the winner of the Cheerios New Author Contest and was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. 1 Zany Zoo received the Mom’s Choice Award for Picture Book Humor and is included on the inaugural “Illinois Reads” book list, sponsored by the Illinois Reading Council. Her second picture book, Cock-a-Doodle Oops!, illustrated by Deborah Zemke, will be released by Creston Books in May, 2014. She is represented by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. You can learn more about her on her website, LoriDegman.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Thanks for these tips, Lori. I love stories that come full circle – but it’s HARD to write. I admire that. It’s been nice getting to know you through 12×12. 🙂 And congratulations on your son’s wedding!

    • Thanks, Carrie – it’s very exciting to have a daughter-in-law (especially since I have two sons)! I think the hardest part of the story to write is the middle – I usually know my beginning and ending and I just have to figure out how to get from point A to point B, in under 500 words!

  2. Yay, Lori, hi! I am printing this whole thing out. So good to have a checklist. Though I am totally in awe that you are able to create compelling plot while rhyming so brilliantly.

    All right. I’ve got to get back to my cage (writing cage).

  3. Glad to hear from you Lori – better late than never! Thanks for the plot run-down/check-list – very useful! I’m a rhymer too, so glad to hear of your success!

  4. Thanks for your plot tips, Lori. I’ve got them printed out ready to use as a guide with the new story that I’ve started today. :0)

  5. Hi Lori – Thanks for the insight and advice – very helpful. I have a question: Do stories present themselves to you in rhyme or do you make a deliberate choice to write a story in rhyme? I ask because stories always come to me in rhyme and converting them to prose seems, most times, nearly impossible. Wondering if others face the same challenge?

    • Most of my rhyming stories have started as a sentence with a good rhythm. For example, for 1 Zany Zoo, the sentence, “You’ll never believe what I saw at the zoo” popped into my head and I thought “That would be a great first line for a PB.” I’ve written several stories in prose and those have started as ideas, not sentences. It’s not a conscious thing but it seems to work for me.

  6. These are great tips for writing a unique and compelling PB. I look forward to reading your new book too. Even just the title: Cockle Doodle Oops! is intriguing!

  7. Thanks for the tips Lori! I’m another one who will be printing these out. . .

  8. This is a great checklist for us to use when writing and critiquing stories. Thanks Lori!

  9. Hi, Lori!
    So happy to see your name pop up in my Inbox as featured 12 x 12 author for October! I haven’t been lucky enough to meet you in person like Julie, but your energy, enthusiasm, and vivaciousness have come across loud and clear as we have communicated over the Internet for the last couple of years. I would love to meet you in person! Your approach to writing and editing is really helpful. Thanks for sharing :•)

  10. Great tips, Lori! I especially like your first one about starting your PB at a point of action or change to draw the reader in.

  11. Thank you, Lori, for the great reminders! Diving into the action is one that needs constant reinforcement!

  12. Thanks, Julie. Great tips, Lori. I like looking at the ending for something that makes the reader laugh or cry or wonder. That’s a good concrete goal.

    • Thanks, Genevieve! I’ve always loved endings that surprise me so I try to write them too! Someone once told me (can’t remember who) that the ending should make the reader want to read the story again right away. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing my endings.

    • To me, the ending is one of the most important parts of a picture book – don’t you hate when you love a book and the ending let’s you down? I don’t want to do that to kids!

  13. When I read that first sentence, Julie, I thought you were calling me old 🙂 Thanks so much for the great intro (though one person’s “energy, enthusiasm and vivaciousness” is another person’s “hyper, big-mouthed and obnoxious) and for having me write a guest post! You know I LOVE 12X12!!

  14. Hi Lori, Great checklist. I love chicken stories, can’t wait to read yours.

  15. Lori! You definitely belong as Rocktober’s 12×12 author! Fits you! Xoxo

  16. Great post, Lori! All excellent points beautifully summed up! Thanks 🙂

  17. Thank you so much for your tips Lori. Like Penny, I was thinking as I read this post, how neat it would be to meet up – one day! Such sparkle in our 12×12!

  18. Great tips, Lori! Thanks! And congratulations on your writing successes. Can’t wait to read the newest book!

  19. I definitely needed to reminded of tip #2 to help me make the most of my revisions–thanks!

  20. Loved the post! Thanks for spotlighting Lori, Julie!
    Lori…I snagged a little copy of ‘One Zany Zoo’ at a library sale…I feel fortunate to have found it. I appreciate that you shared these tips…I love writing in rhyme and need to follow your wise council to write it in prose as well. It IS hard to keep from letting the rhyme drive the story. 🙂

  21. Great list of questions, Lori! Thanks so much. Congrats on your 2nd forthcoming book!

  22. Love how you broke down plot into simple steps with thought-provoking questions. Excellent tips, Lori! Congrats on your upcoming book!

  23. Kathy Cornell Berman

    I love this post. Very happy for your success. Your tips are so helpful. I plan to print them too. Congratulations on your son’s wedding!

  24. Such valuable advice. Thanks Lori for the info on plot. Am so looking forward to reading your new book. Catchy title for sure.

  25. Enjoyed your thoughts about plot. Look forward to your new book. I love Zanny Zoo. When I met you at the LA SCBWI in 2011, you were working on a wonderful manuscript. Have you placed that?. I remember really enjoying the humor in the story. I still remember the working title. You are so fortunate to be working with Karen. Wishing you the best.

  26. Love your questions and plotting advice. So very inspiring. We cannot wait to read your newest story!! I must say, we all loved One Zany Zoo in this house. Great tips that I saved in a folder for future reference. Thanks for having Lori, Julie.

  27. Great advice/questions! And congrats on the wedding! And the new book! 😀

  28. Starting with the action–that’s such a great tip. That’s one of the things I’ll definitely double-check when revising. Thanks for joining us and much joy to you and your expanded family!

  29. Lori congrats on your next book!! Thanks for the wonderful plot advice

  30. Great plot advise! I’m adding this to the front of my revision notebook! Thanks!

  31. I love this Got Plot? post, thank you so much! I am struggling a bit with my first PB and appreciate your explanations and the emphasis on what counts. And congrats on the book and the family!

  32. Lori, fantastic concise guidance for Plot! Thanks for sharing. As a wordy-leaning writer, these reminders are right on target.

  33. Thanks so much for these points, Lori. . .we can’t have enough advice when it comes to plotting. It’s a real weakness of mine!

  34. Thanks for a great post, Lori. Very helpful information and good reminder to check our stories.

  35. And, I’m very late in reading, but thank you for the tips.

  36. Margaret Greanias

    Congratulations on your new book! Thanks for the great points on plot. I’m going to use it to evaluate all my existing stories.

  37. Congrats on all the new excitement in your life! Thank you for this very timely post. I’m going to make some revisions today and I want to start right with a part of #1 and make it so the story begins at that point of action or change. I think you might be a plot whisperer after all!
    Beth Thaler

  38. Fun post, Lori! Congrats on all of your success. Funny, recently it occurred to me that I’d better stick with writing stories I’d be wanting to pull off the shelf myself, if I were still reading to my not-so-little ones. Fun to see that echoed here, and by you!

  39. Thanks, Jen! I loved your facebook post about the 22 rules of storytelling – awesome ideas!! Here’s a link where people can read more about it.


  40. Excellent tips to keep in mind. Thanks!

  41. Great tips, Lori. I usually have a vague idea of the story plot when I sit down, and the story usually ends up taking me somewhere else by the time I’m finished with the first draft. 🙂

  42. Great tips, Lori. I usually sit down to write with a vague idea in my head of the story plot, and then the writing usually takes me somewhere else with the story completely! 🙂

  43. Great post! Thanks

  44. Thanks for the great tips. Such a good review.

  45. Thank you Lori! I love having something tangible to review my stories with – will print them out as well. Congratulations on your son’s wedding!

  46. Thanks for the plot tips Lori! We love your book 1 Zany Zoo! 🙂

  47. Thank you for these great questions on plot, Lori! I can tell from the titles of your books that you have a great sense of humor which I LOVE. Congratulations on your book, and your son’s wedding!

  48. Thanks, Lori! You are so right that we need to ask ourselves if our rhyming story would be better in prose. That can be a tough one for those of us who love to rhyme!

  49. I thought I left a comment on this great post, but I can’t find it so forgive me if it turns out I left two! Plot tension is something I work at. Thanks for the tips, Lori.

  50. Thank you for the great post! I have it bookmarked for reference. Congrats on your upcoming book! You rock!

  51. Thanks, Lori. Great tips, especially the point about every sentence moving the story along.

  52. Excellent reminders re: plot and how important that arc is. Thanks, Lori.

  53. Great post, Lori. Worthy of printing out and posting on the wall.

  54. Thank you for your clear and concise advice! I agree with Carol that it is worth printing and posting on the wall, handy for when I’m working on my own stories and critiquing those of my writer’s group.:)

  55. Great tips Lori. I should probably print and post so always have them within reach!

  56. Great tips and reminders, Lori! Thank you! And, good look with your next book release! 🙂

  57. Lori,
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips! Think I’ll keep these posted somewhere I can see them while I’m writing and revising! Very helpful!!!

  58. Hi Lori,
    Sage advice! Thank you for sharing. Deb

  59. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    I’m printing this out so I can re-read, re-read. Congratulations on the publications of your books. Awesome.

  60. Some super advice here, Lori. I will keep them in mind as I revise, revise, revise. Thanks!

  61. Great advice for all writers. I even do this when editing my novel.

  62. Such a great post! I didn’t comment before so that I would come back and read this again! Congrats on the addition to your family 🙂

  63. Hi Lori. Thanks for the great advice and tips. Perfect timing as I rewrite some PB mss.

  64. congrats on getting your son off your hands.. and as always.. another great post!

  65. Great food for thought, Lori! I hear you on the middle.

  66. Thank you for sharing your ‘plot’ tips Lori – any extra tips are always appreciated to help write in the right direction! 🙂

  67. Great advice that you cannot hear too many times.

  68. Thanks for sharing your tips with us, Lori!!

  69. Thanks for the advice Lori. Your suggestions had me mentally checking my stories as I was reading – I should go and have a better look.

  70. Thank you, Lori, for a great post!

  71. thank you great advice! wonderful post 🙂

  72. I almost missed out on this post, oh no! Great plot tips, thank you.

  73. Checklists are so helpful! Thanks for this one!

  74. I somehow missed this post earlier, too. Thanks for the good advice. I really like the tip about making sure that every sentence moves the story forward. If every word in a PB is so important (and don’t we all know they are?), then each sentence definitely needs to do some work. A good reminder and a good place to start whenever I revise a story. Thanks again!

  75. Good point about the ending. Endings are so hard, because they are so important! And re: the first tip, I find that when I revise after a first draft I often end up cutting out the first sentence or two, in order to jump into the action quicker. It’s almost like I need those for me for the first draft, as the story starts taking shape, but then once the story is complete, I find they aren’t necessary anymore.

  76. Thanks Lori, I will print this off and keep it for a quick reference in future, so helpful!

  77. Thank you Lori for your very helpful ideas for thinking about plot. It will really help as I tackle this month’s revisions…and writing! =0)

  78. Thanks so much, what a great resource.

  79. melaniebellsworth3

    Lori – Thanks so much for gathering all of these great ideas into one post. Plot is an area that I know I need to work on, so these tips are a useful reminder. I look forward to reading your next book with my four year old this spring!

  80. Thanks for the list Lori. It will also help me when considering stories from my critique group!

  81. In the better late than never category – so glad that Julie posted a reminder to comment on your post, Lori, as your list is so helpful! Thank you! And congratulations on your son’s wedding!

  82. Love your clear, concise tips–I will use them for myself and with my students. Thanks, Lori!

  83. Thanks for the great tips. I try to especially use your second tip–once I finish my first draft (and all subsequent drafts) I check to see what words/phrases/sentences I can cut. Or I just turn it over to my husband. He’s amazing at what he can slash without harming the story (and he’s not in love with every word or phrase like I am, so it works well).

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