Three Hundred Pages Blog

Tricks to Plotting a Novel

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Something I was not aware of until after I wrote my first draft is that there are ways of plotting a novel before you begin writing that makes the entire process of writing/revising a novel SO MUCH EASIER afterwards.  One of the easiest ways of plotting a novel is credited to Michael Crichton.  It’s super simple, and it uses 3x5 index cards.  Every time you think of an idea for your novel, whether it’s lines of dialogue, a plot point, an interesting fact about a character, you simply write it on an index card and throw it in a shoe box.  After you have several cards in the box, you can then go through and arrange them until they’re in the order you want.

Once you have the basic outline, it’s easy to go in and make new cards to fill in spaces, or add depth to the story.  When you can’t think of anything else to add, it’s time to start writing.  What makes this easy is that every time you sit down to write, you can grab a card and know exactly what you need to accomplish that day.  Simple and easy.  I wish someone had told me about this years ago!  It almost makes me want to go back and start all over from the beginning.  Almost.

Has anyone tried this?  How does it work?

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Writing a Book

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As some of you may or may not know, I am writing a book.   It's very hard work.  Before I began this process, I thought the hardest part would be writing the story.  You know - figuring out what was going to happen and writing it down. 

As it turns out, that is the easy part.  It's fun making up characters and deciding what's going to happen to them.  It's fun making them say funny things, and serious things, and angry things, and happy things.  It's fun making them do brave things, and stupid things, and fall in and out of love, and make new friends, and lose friends, and experience new things.  What's hard is after the story is written - reading it and realizing that it needs A LOT OF WORK.  It needs structure, and conflict, and all kinds of stuff that you never even thought about when you were writing it.  Passages need to be rearranged and reworded.  Sometimes whole chapters and characters need to be cut from the story.  It's hard, tedious work.  And. it. takes. forever.

The hardest part, I've found, it finding time to do it.  When I was writing my first draft, I was great at making the time.  I couldn't wait to write.  As soon as I shut my son's bedroom door at night after putting him to bed, I'd race off to my laptop and would spend hours writing.  I'd often stay up until 1 am or later without even realizing how late it had gotten.  But housework cannot be ignored forever.  Friends, either.  Most will be patient with you for a few months while you're writing a first draft, but when it's finished, you're expected to be a good friend again.  You'll need to eat, also, and sleep, and at some point, you will run out of clean underwear.  And that's when you realize that you have to find some sort of a balance. 

Revising has definitely been the hardest part for me.  I've lost count, but I think I'm on my 14th set of revisions.  That means going through and re-writing and editing the whole book 14 times!!!!  Sometimes I think I'm getting somewhere; sometimes I think I should just delete the whole thing and start over.  At some point, (hopefully), I'll be okay enough with it to say I'm done.  But it's going to be awhile yet.

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CCBC Top Picks - Books to Help Young Children Learn about Good Behavior

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With our director at the CCBC workshop today (stands for Cooperative Children’s Book Center), it seemed like a good time to write about some of the CCBC's top picks.  Something that has always been tremendously popular with our patrons is books that teach children a moral lesson while entertaining them at the same time.  Here are the CCBC selections for books in this category:

Bad Moods and Bad Days:

Alter, Anna. Francine's Day. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2003. 28 pages. Ages 3 - 6

Francine the cat does not want to go to school, but she has a good day anyway. (From Infosoup)

Kroll, Steven. That Makes Me Mad!. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. SeaStar Books, 2002. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 8

A little girl gets mad at a lot of things in her daily life but is comforted that her mother understands her anger. (From Infosoup)

Steig, William. Spinky Sulks. Michael di Capua Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. 28 pages. Ages 3 - 7

Convinced that the world is against him and that his family does not love him, Spinky spends his days sulking and nothing his family does to cheer him up seems to help. (From Infosoup)

Bending Rules, Testing Limits

Cummings, Pat. Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!. Bradbury Press, 1991. 32 pages. Ages 3 - 6

Harvey tackles a big job: cleaning his room. (From Infosoup)

Hartman, Bob. The Wolf Who Cried Boy. Illustrated by Tim Raglin. Putnam, 2002. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 8

Little Wolf is tired of eating lamburgers and sloppy does, but when he tricks his parents into thinking there is a boy in the woods, they could all miss a chance for a real feast. (From Infosoup)

Look, Lenore. Henry's First-Moon Birthday. Illustrated by Yumi Heo. An Anne Schwartz Book / Atheneum, 2001. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 7

A young girl helps her grandmother with preparations for the traditional Chinese celebration to welcome her new baby brother. (From Infosoup)

Shannon, David. No, David!. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, 1998. 32 pages. Ages 2 - 5

A young boy is depicted doing a variety of naughty things for which he is repeatedly admonished, but finally he gets a hug. (From Infosoup)

Waddell, Martin. Amy Said. Illustrated by Charlotte Voake. U.S. edition: Joy Street/Little, Brown, 1990. 24 pages. Ages 3 - 6

With full color illustrations by Charlotte Voake, a picture book in which Amy, along with her brother, gets up to all sorts of trouble when she goes to stay with Gran. (From Amazon)

Yolen, Jane. How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?. Illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, 2000. 32 pages. Ages 2 - 6

Mother and child ponder the different ways a dinosaur can say goodnight, from slamming his tail and pouting to giving a big hug and kiss. (From Infosoup)

Time Out!

Bang, Molly. When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry.... Blue Sky/Scholastic, 1999. 36 pages. Ages 2 - 7

A young girl is upset and doesn't know how to manage her anger but takes the time to cool off and regain her composure. (From Infosoup)

Falconer, Ian. Olivia. An Anne Schwartz Books/Atheneum, 2000. 32 pages. Ages 3 - 7

Whether at home getting ready for the day, enjoying the beach, or at bedtime, Olivia is a feisty pig who has too much energy for her own good. (From Infosoup)

Joose, Barbara M.. The Thinking Place. Illustrated by Kay Chorao. Knopf, 1982. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 6

Whenever she's been naughty, Elisabeth must spend time in the thinking place. (From Amazon)

Weeks, Sarah. If I Were a Lion. Illustrated by Heather M. Solomon. Atheneum, 2004. 32 pages. Ages 3 - 6

A young girl imagines how wild she could be if she were an animal. (From Infosoup)

Does Not Play Well with Others
(A Lighthearted Look at Bad Behavior)

Bottner, Barbara. Bootsie Barker Bites. Illustrated by Peggy Rathmann. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1992. 32 pages. Ages 3 - 6

Bootsie Barker only wants to play games in which she bites, until one day her friend comes up with a better game. (From Infosoup)

Henkes, Kevin. A Weekend with Wendell. Greenwillow, 1986. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 7

Sophie does not enjoy energetic, assertive Wendell's weekend visit until the very end, when she learns to assert herself and finds out Wendell can be fun to play with after all. (From Infosoup)

Rosoff, Meg. Meet Wild Boars. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Henry Holt, 2005. 32 pages. Ages 4 - 8

It is very hard to be friends with wild boars because they are dirty and smelly, bad-tempered, and rude. (From Infosoup)



Infosoup (

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Getting Back Into Reading

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Being a single mother means that by the time I get around to reading a book I really want to read, one of three things usually happens:

1.) I stay up way too late reading - to the the point that no amount of green tea will make me feel like a normal human being the next day; 2.) I listen to the audiobook version so that I can clean at the same time, and end up missing major plot points because the vaccuum or the running water was too loud, or 3.) I'm too tired to read and end up watching several minutes/hours of whichever TV series I'm currently obsessed with (right now it's Sons of Anarchy.  I'm on Season 2.)

I was thinking today, after one of our patrons mentioned that she didn't want the audiobook version of a book, because she's trying to "get back into reading," that maybe I should do that, too.  There's something about reading words on a page that creates a different kind of experience than is possible through any other format.  I never enjoy audiobooks the way I enjoy reading a book.  Audiobooks are awesome, especially for busy people, or people with long commutes, or people who, like me, feel guilty sitting around reading a book when there are things to be done.  But maybe we all could benefit from taking a few minutes (or hours) out of our day to sit down with an actual book.  What do you think?

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