Guest Post: The Long Short Long and the Short Long Short

One of My Manuscripts

One of My Manuscripts

How do you write a book? How do you take the burning, raging tenderness of your story and fit it into sensible words with steady pacing, coherent characters, and foreshadowed plot twists? One of the great and terrible truths of writing is that it is an art form that requires hard core right brain and left brain skills. So how do you get both sides of your soul talking to each other and writing a book that actually, you know, makes sense?

First off, friends, I have some good news: you don’t have to get it all done in the first draft. First drafts of books are awful ninety-nine percent of the time. And if you are that other kind of unicorn that writes lovely first drafts? Then stop reading writerly blogs and get down with your own brilliance.

For the rest of us, I’d like to talk about the long-short-long and the short-long-short method of writing a book, which was written about in much greater detail in “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop” by Stephen Koch. Go buy that book and read the chapter on Working and Reworking. It’s great.

But, well . . . since the internet’s main function is to turn all information into blips of data that feeds our ever shortening attention spans, I’ll summarize with my own spin on it.

If you write really fast for your first draft, if you let yourself flow and fly and breathe into it, great. But then the next time through you should agonizingly analyze all aspects of it and work out all the big and small logics of a novel. When you are done with that long draft, dust off your fairy wings and approach it one more time with swagger, throwing in all kinds of flourishes now that the bones are right. That’s the short-long-short method.

Or, conversely with the same-ish end result, if you spend months, years, or decades working on your first draft, be a damn hippy, stay up all night pounding away at the keyboard, and don’t look back as you zoom through it, inserting life, inappropriate jokes and weird metaphors into your manuscript. And then, you guessed it, read it again with your bifocals on and your cup of Earl Grey, sighing over your excesses as you tame this novel beast one last time in the long-short-long revision.

Good luck!

Headshot KatieKatherine Sparrow lives, loves, and writes in Seattle where every gray day is a beautiful one. She’s a Nebula Award nominated author with over twenty short fiction stories to her name. When she’s not writing blog entries for her agent, she’s writing picture books about devilish kids, middle grade books about monstrous tweens, and young adult books about scruddy punker teens who think they can fight the gods and win. Come say hi at


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Guest Post: Plotting Your Story

There are many ways to plot or plan out your story.

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

There are those who loathe the mere mention of the word “plan.” These writers saddle up their yak, swig down a healthy dose of goat rum and head out on the trail, determined to see where the road takes them.

Some enlist NASA to construct elaborate charts and complex calculus equations to create their entire story structure. No surprises, no room for miscalculation.

And, of course, there are a zillion in-betweens. What I’m offering, is a flexible method of looking at where your story has been and where it is going. This is not my invention, nor is it mine alone. I’m just sharing. And I call it….wait for it…..wait. for. it….


Get yourself a bunch of index cards, majority of one color with 10 of one other color. For example, I use white cards because they are easier to write on/read, and 10 blue cards.

In order to give yourself a destination, and some roadside way stations, you are going to break the story up into quartiles. Otherwise, there’s a darn good chance that you are going to steer your yak into a ditch and lose your story in a goat-rum induced delirium.

This is where you use the colored index cards. Lay them out thusly…(and what’s great with index cards is that you can lay them out on the floor, the dining room table, the deck of your yacht, your wall, your neighbor’s wall…)

Quartile 1:

  • Inciting Incident – Kicks the story off
  • First Plot Point  – The Point of No Return – Big jolt, creates the narrative journey. This is where the core of your story is.

Quartile 2:

  • Reaction to First Plot Point
  • Pinch Point – Concrete reminder of antagonistic forces at work
  • Second Plot Point – Midpoint of story; major twist

Quartile 3:

  • Reaction to Second Plot Point – Protag becomes proactive vs. reactive
  • Pinch Point
  • Third Plot Point – Twist; set up the climax

Quartile 4:

  • Climax
  • Resolution

Now…don’t panic. It is ok to NOT have these answers yet, or any idea of what that scene is going to entail. I’ll save scene dissection and understanding for another post (and I lectured on understanding the quintessence of your scene, and building your story scene by scene, for my graduate lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, in July). For now, just write on the card what its purpose is (so you know where it goes in the overall arc). If you have sketchy ideas, put them on the card. These are your mile markers.

Then, using your main stack of index cards, you begin to layout scenes. Each scene is a card. Whatever gets you from one “blue” card to the next, allowing cause and effect to move the story. If this, then this…Don’t feel like you have to know them all right now. Just place those scenes you do know and as you begin to write, as you begin to look at how the story is progressing, you can add or delete as needed.

That is the beauty of the index cards. You can move them around. It gives you a flexible visual layout and allows you to play with the progression.

I like to think of them as lily pads, floating on the pond that is your story.

Each scene allows your reader to walk across the surface of your story and reach the far bank. Give your readers a purposeful path.

Headshot JoeJoe McGee is a children’s book author from southern New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master’s Writing Program and The Vermont College of Fine Arts Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, the father of three young boys, and a writing instructor at Rowan University. His debut picture book, PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS is forthcoming from Abrams (2015). He is currently working on a middle-grade novel and several picture book revisions.




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Guest Post: Query Theory

Don Draper (JoAnn)Querying can be a lot of fun. At least that’s my theory when it comes to querying picture book stories. How to do it? Accept the premise that when you query, you’re advertising yourself. So channel your inner “Mad Men”–1960s cocktails optional–and let’s begin…

1. Individualized opening

Many posts suggest you match your story to an editor/agent tastes; to follow-up on contacts that you’ve made at conferences or workshops. Good advice, follow it. Begin with where you may have met. Then, if through prior research, you’ve learned of mutual acquaintances, or of an award for one of their books etc., mention it. BRIEFLY.

2. Synopsis

TITLE – (all caps)

Then use the following elements in any order:

QUOTE – I think it’s a good idea to quote the first couple of lines of your manuscript. You’ve worked hard to make those opening lines page turners, use them now to give immediate exposure to your voice.

Then craft 2 to 5 lines to cover the

PREMISE and/or QUESTION – that hints at the plot; and

INVITATION – to find out more

Here’s a synopsis for one of my own stories as an example:


It was a very boring day, nothing to do; nothing to play until…

”Grandpa, there’s a rhino in the den!”

But what can one small boy do as more and more rhinos appear and run wild in his Grandpa’s once neat and orderly living room? Find out in this rollicking counting book that’s totally preposterous and full of surprises!

3. Individualized goodbye

A bit of humor here, if that’s your style, and it relates to your story and the agent/editors guidelines.

A thank you for their time and consideration.


  1. Yada-Yada

Now, if you were Don Draper, you would do something morally questionable to celebrate. But, the best thing for you to do? Send out another query. And another. Then forget about them and start writing a new story…

When you do get some interest, contact the others you queried and let them know, because once one individual is interested, others follow suit.

It’s, like, “Far-out, man,” But true!

Good luck.

Headshot (JoAnn)J. M. DiVerdi has loved reading, writing and a clever turn of phrase her entire life. She’s written about cookies and for children, a perfect combo if there ever was one. She is thrilled to be a client of Linda P. Epstein’s at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, indisputable proof, by the way, that her Query Theory works!



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