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Kim Tomsic

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Top 10 Tricks to Revise your Writing and Make Your Manuscript Sing

Top Ten Tricks to Revise your Writing and Make your Manuscript Sing©
By Kim Tomsic

I recently met with a group of children’s book writers for a brain-storming session on revision techniques. Here’s what we came up with:

1.      Choose strong verbs to make your sentences active NOT passive.

2.      Use consonants to nail humor. Comedy writers say consonants are funnier than vowels, so revise word choice where needed. For example, corndog is funnier than ice cream, upchuck is funnier than vomit.

3.      Watch out for using “STARTS”. Avoid having your character “start” or “begin” something. Don’t have him start walking down the street or begin making dinner. Think like Nike™—just do it!  The exception: “Started” works when the character begins to do something, but then stops, i.e. “I started to close the door, but the stranger caught it with his foot.”


Showing makes us feel closer to the protagonist. Duh! As writers, we’ve heard this a gazillion times—show don’t tell. And sure, there are moments to tell, but if you want your reader walking shoulder-to-

shoulder with your protagonist, showing is a smart way to put the reader in the protagonist's shoes. We all know that, yet we still make the mistake of too much telling. Not to worry, that’s what revisions are for! When editing your manuscript, weigh every sentence in your story. Does it show or does it tell? I have an amazing example borrowed from Matt de la Pe
ña’s book, We Were Here. In the book, the main character is smack in the middle of a first kiss. Instead of giving the reader a “tell” line like, “I was nervous” or “I felt awkward” the author shows how the character felt by writing:


On the outside I tried to make like everything was super smooth and calm and my palms were dry as hell, but inside my mind was thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts like: How long do I keep my mouth open? And when do I turn my face? And how much tongue do I use? And where do I put my hands? And how are we supposed to breathe?(255).


5.      Listen to the voice. Ask yourself if each line meets the voice you intend to convey. Read it aloud and think of your audience. If you get bored with the sound of your prose, your audience will grow bored, too. Next, have somebody else read your story aloud and listen to the words with fresh ears (especially picture book writers). You may hear the reader emphasize words you did not intend to highlight, or you may hear the story exactly as you anticipated.

6.      DO THE EXTRA WORK. If you know your writing weaknesses, search your manuscript for those problem areas. Read books in your genre. Use tools—author John McPhee advises writers to skip the thesaurus and use the dictionary when looking for better words. He says the dictionary gives the subtle nuances around the meaning of words and can inspire better choices. I say use both! 

7.      Keep a rules book, especially if your story has magic. And let your readers in on the rules, so they

understand the stakes. Also make a timeline for your story to keep things in sync. I remember one author saying his copy editor found he had eight weeks in his October!

8.      Make a check list to see if your story contains satisfying plot elements.

¨   Does your character have a want (and does reader want to root for MC)?
¨  Do you have a flawed protagonist? I hope so! Nobody wants to root for a perfect character.
¨   Is there an inciting incident?
¨   Does your story have real stakes and tension?
¨   Does your main character (m.c.) make things happen, instead of having a bunch of things happen to him?
¨   Do you have a compelling antagonist vs. a gratuitous antagonist?
¨   Do you have interesting subplots?
¨   Does your protagonist make a big decisions that propels them through a couple of “doorways” ? A doorway, in my eyes, is a point of no return—imagine toothpaste squeezing out of a tube, once you squeeze it out, you can’t put it back in. Some giant examples include: killing someone, announcing a classmate's secret over the school’s loudspeakers, burning down a building…those are all things you can’t undo…you can’t unkill (in most books), you can’t untell, you can’t unburn. **Please note—the doorways are the most compelling when your main character makes a decision, NOT when something happens to them. However, sometimes a protagonist is thrust into Act II. But from that point forward, make sure they drive the plot movement.
¨ Do you have "But" or "Therefore" action between story beats (you should!) rather than "and then this happens...and then this happens." Want to know more? Check out this video at NYU with the makers of South Park.
¨  Do you have a second doorway that leads into Act III? I hope so!
¨   Do you have a black moment when your main character almost gives up or feels at his low?
¨   Do you have a showdown moment and/or a climax?
¨   Does your main character change by the end of the story?
¨   Did you tie up loose ends?

9.       JOIN A CRITIQUING GROUP. Get involved in a critiquing group and listen to at least some of the advice. Be a good receiver and a good reviewer. We get so close to our work, it's hard to hear it clearly after a while. The more you critique somebody's work, the more you're able to see the flaws that need fixing in your own manuscript.

10.  10. Add tools (craft books) to your toolbox: 

WORKING WITH ME: I'd love to speak at your workshop, conference, or schoolContact me here.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The 20 Best Questions to Ask Your Character When Writing a Novel


Action and plot are great, but without compelling characters, you’ve got zippo. 

You can transform your characters beyond ideas or paper dolls to living/breathing beings by giving them hopes, dreams, flaws, friends, foils, motives, stakes, passions, and more! How? Create a character bible! 

Many authors lean into character bibles rather than outlines to help them suss out their story. You can, too! 

By asking your protagonist a series of questions, you can uncover what your character wants, why they want it, what lengths they’ll go to get it, and what secrets they’re keeping. As you continue to get to know your character, you’ll discover what lies your protagonist believe about themselves, what they’re hiding in their sock drawer, and what decision they’ll make when given an impossible choice. 

I once attended a lecture on character lead by Marie Lu (author of NYT Bestselling series, Legend), and she said she spends two or three months creating a character bible before she starts writing a new story. By the way, in this episode of 88 Cups of Tea, she shares how music helped her create her villain’s voice. 

Invite me to speak at your school or conference! I lead a character bible workshop. First, I dissect the five benefits for crafting a character bible. Next, I walk participants through the process of unlocking your character’s motives, so they can create believable plots, rich stakes, and compelling stories.  Lastly, I provide worksheets so participants can continue building their characters at home. I look forward to an invitation to your conference or workshop! Contact me here.

In the meantime, here are some questions you can use to get started interviewing your characters:

1.        Write a paragraph describing R.O.A.R.S. (race, orientation, abilities and disabilities, religion, sex). How do they identify? What are their feelings/attitiude about their personal ROARS? 

2.       What are the top five things your character notices about their home, and who else lives there? How do they feel when they bring others inside their home? What sounds do they notice in their bedroom?

3.       What is your protagonist's flaw?

4.       What’s their most precious item in their room and why does it hold value to your protagonist? What are they hiding in their bedroom, where are they hiding it, and who are they hiding it from?

5.       Who's their best friend and what’s that origin story? How does their best friend support them and how do they disappoint them? What is the one thing that could change their relationship?

6.       Who is your protagonist's nemesis and why? 

7.       What’s the one thing your protagonist's doesn’t want the antagonist to know and what might it mean if it is found out?

8.       What's your protagonist's favorite smell and why (does it evoke a memory)? What is a particular smell that brings up bad memories and/or good memories?

9.       What is their source of comfort? What does your protagonist value the most? 

10.    What is the mystery, lore, or the gossip in their town?

11.     Where is their "safe place" and what would happen if that safe place was removed, disappeared, burned down, or was taken away?

12.    What’s the one thing they don’t want their best friend to know and why? What’s the one thing they don’t want their parents to know and whyt?

13.    Who is the foil character, and how does this character make the protagonist shine?

14.    What’s your potagonist’s proudest moment and why?

15.    What's their most embarrassing moment and why?

16.    What’s something that they can freely laugh about regarding their personality or quirks? 

17.    What’s something that really bothers them when others laugh about it? 

18.    What are the TOCs in their home (Traditions, Observations, Celebrations) and how does your protagonist feel about these events? – they can be real or made up.

19.    What do they carry in their pocket? What's their favorite thing to wear and why?

20.   What does your character want more than anything else, and what is at stake if they don't get it? 

Put the goods to work and think like Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, Story Genius, and other books on writing. She says to make sure every scene includes what your character wants, even if it's just a cup of water + ever scene has stakes. The reader should know what your character thinks will happen, what they hope will happen, and what is at stake.  

Friday, May 12, 2023

How to Write Dialogue Tags Like a King


"Let's chat about dialogue tags," she said.

"Okay!" I said. "I'm game."

I know, I know. Riveting conversation above.🤣

What is a dialogue tag? It's what you put after you close the quotes and designate the speaker.

Some tags you might have written or seen include:

...," he said.

...," she whispered.

...," they bellowed.

...," Kaia exclaimed.

...," Sharma whimpered.

And the list goes on. 

Firstly, no! Please try to stick with "said" and use the other examples sparingly. More on why below.

Secondly, formatting: Notice that there is a comma inside the quotation marks. The sentence ends after the tag. For example, "We are talking about dialogue tags," they said. If the statement ended in an exclamation point or a question mark, it would replace the comma. For example, "What are you talking about?" she asked. But look - "she" remains lower case. 

Thirdly, why dedicate a blog post to dialogue tags? 

There tends to be a lot of opinions on this topic. But remember, opinions are not rules. Here are my thoughts (and I'm not alone on this, so please feel the peer pressure😼): Using the tag "said" keeps the characters talking and the author out of the scene. What does that mean? It means when tags are used to add pomp and flourish to the prose, they demand attention and the dialogue takes second place to the tags. This happens when an author feels unsure that their words are doing the work, so they plant tags to carry the weight. 

Not always. Never always. But too many flourishy tags in a row can stifle flow. Uh-oh, there goes the suspension of disbelief. 

Links to an external site.

Style books and editors often prefer he said or she said or they said  or Stephen King said or Kim said, because such a tag is invisible. It's invisible because the reader can rush past the word "said" and stick with the moment and characters. With a rhythm of simple "saids", the tags fall away and the story remains front and center. 

On the other hand, if an author injects themselves on the page and shows off with a lot of effusive tags, the rhythm is interrupted, the reading slows down, and the reader is reminded that there is a clever author in the background. They are reminded that they are reading. Alas, they are robbed of the experience of being immersed in the magic and the moment with the characters.  

Brian Shawver in his book,  The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Style Book, says, “Part of writing smoothly about a character involves moving the reader from the external events to the interior world of the character with elegance.”

This is not to say you'll never add extra flare to a tag. Simply consider choosing other tags sparingly as a way to allow the dialogue the chance to flow smoothly. Make strong word choices and verb choices so your tags don't need the bonus lift. 

Furthermore, sometimes you can leave a tag out altogether. Trust your readers. If they know who is talking, don't tag. For example, if there are only two characters on scene, there will be many sentences where the tag is unneeded.

Here's a blog from Mastercraft covering Five Tips for Writing Dialogue Tags

 If you’d like to read more on this topic, Master Class has an interesting article Links to an external site.. Mary Kole has an even better article on dialogue tags on the KidLit.com blogsite called How to Write Excellent Dialogue Tags 

Monday, May 8, 2023

The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship


Winner of the Keystone to Reading Award!

Winner of the Norman A. Sugarman Honor!

Nominated for the2023-2024  California Young Readers Award!

Nominated for the 2024 Beehive Award!

Nominated for the 2024 Nutmeg Award!

The Elephants Come Home (ISBN: 978-1452127835) is the amazing true story of a herd of elephants, the man who saved them, and the miracle of love that brought them home.

DO YOU DO SCHOOL VISITSAbsolutely! I'd love to your speak to your students in person live or via ZoomContact me here. We can customize a visit, or you can check out my menu of school visit options here.

One day in 1999, Lawrence Anthony and Françoise Malby Anthony receive word that a herd of wild African elephants need a new home. They welcome the elephants to their wildlife sanctuary—Thula Thula—with open arms. But the elephants are much less sure they want to stay. How will Lawrence prove to them that they are safe and loved? What follows is a gorgeously illustrated real-life story of friendship . . . and the story of the miraculous way that love given freely will return—greater and more wonderful than it began.

Critical Praise:

“[A] moving true story. . . (Have tissues handy.) [The Elephants Come Homes] flawless, gentle pacing [and] pages with saturated, eye-catching teal, copper, and emerald hues. . . . heighten the story’s emotional impact. . .”The Horn Book Magazine

“In brief action-packed sentences, Tomsic informs readers of all the steps taken to bring [the elephants] back, with the text placed against Hooper’s beautifully realized illustrations of African animals and the vast, gorgeous landscape…with its focus on the elephants and the protagonists, this book is lovely, tender, and moving.”       Kirkus Reviews

 This touching true story portrays conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s relationship with a frightened, hunted herd that found a home at his reserve in South Africa, Thula Thula..The importance of conservation shines through the friendship story here, and both themes are beautifully complemented by Hooper’s detailed, atmospheric drawings of the elephants and their surroundings.”—Booklist

The illustrations are expansive with a limited color palette of warm oranges and cool greens and blues. The animal characters are dynamic, humorous, and emotive. . . . A sentimental but high-­interest story based on true events of the bond between wild animals and the humans who care for them, suitable for early elementary students.”         School Library Journal

Copies are available at Changing Hands Bookstore

• TOUCHING ANIMAL FRIENDSHIPS: Owen and Mzee, Tarra and Bella, Rescue and Jessica . . . touching true stories of the emotional bonds possible between species are charming, and speak to the limitlessness of love.
ELEPHANTS: Elephants are one of the most fascinating and charming wild animals in all of nature. This heartwarming true story will intrigue & inspire children, turning the most reluctant readers into elephant enthusiasts.
• CONSERVATION THEME: This book tells the true story of caring for one of the world's most beloved endangered animals: the African elephant. This book is a great, upbeat jumping-off point for discussions of the importance of preserving endangered species and their environments.
• ENGAGING NONFICTION: There's no better way to get readers hooked on factual books than to offer them real-life stories with heart and meaning.
• STRONG CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS: The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) emphasize learning about animal habitats/biomes in K–2 curriculums, while later grades address topics like conservation and endangered species. With a depth of research and an engaging, highly visual narrative, this book is an excellent resource for librarians and primary school educators.

Perfect for ages 4-9:
• Kindergarten and elementary school teachers           Lovers of animals, wildlife, and the natural world
• Parents and grandparents                                         Zoo and natural history museumgoers
• Librarians                                                                  Parents and Kids of all ages

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Creating a Critique Group: Part Three Clarifying Questions and the Reader's Gaze

Asking Your Critique Parnter Clarifying Questions:

When you work with your critique partners, you can mark simple errors in their manuscripts with easy notes, e.g., in paragraph one they were eating breakfast, but here you're calling it dinner - there's no need to tiptoe around those notes. 

However, when you wonder if an author made a stylistic choice (but you're unsure) it's important to ask. Maybe you suspect the writer's goal is to enhance poetic delivery, or nod at a secret, or reveal character in a clever way, or something else. Regardless the reason, the author needs to know you've paused reading. The choice unintentionally interrupted your reading process (your suspension of disbelief). This feels like a great spot for a clarifying question.

When you are early in the critique process, you are discovering the nuances of the story, so you might mark with a comment bubble (stylistic choice?). If it is, the author will move on, or the author will think - yes, stylistic, but did I go too far, or how can I finesse? When you ask clarifying questions, you provide the author with valuable information about the reader's gaze and where you were potentially pulled out of the story.  

Friday, April 14, 2023

Wordless Picture Books

 Whenever anyone talks about wordless picture books, Linda Ashman comes to my mind. She used to have a "how to" link on writing wordless pbs, so I wrote to her to ask for that link. Instead, she sent back a great example of her book Rain! Illustrated by Christian Robinson. These links are rich with material! 

Here's the link to Linda Ashman's page: LINDA ASHMAN
Here is what she submitted: Submission  
Here is her storyboard:  Storyboard  

Friday, March 31, 2023

Creating a Critiquing Group: Part Two

A healthy critiquing group establishes agreed upon guidelines.

Workshop Guidelines:

Here are some guidelines you might consider: First, understand the author's goal(s). From there, your goal should be to provide useful, specific, and authentic feedback in a kind and respectful manner. During the critique session, I urge you to employ the sandwich method: 

  • discuss the specific positive aspects of a person’s work
  • discuss the specific questions you have for the author or the opportunities for clarity or improvement within that work
  • use craft language whenever possible
  • don't spend a lot of time polishing the turds (fixing commas, etc.), focus on the content
  • answer the questions the author might have included with their piece


On reading and implicit bias: 
In a workshop I attended in 2018 lead by executive editor Tiff Liao, she explained that most readers (including PB-YA) assume they are reading a white, straight, cisgender, able character, and she challenged that we need to de-center the norms in publishing. Think R.O.A.R.S., she said, which stands for race, orientation, ability, religion, sexual identity. 

According to Jennifer Eberhardt, MacArthur, psychology professor at Stanford University, “…you don’t have to have a moral failing to act on an implicit bias.”(Time Magazine, March 2019). Please pause and notice any implicit bias you might have when you read. According to AAWW’s interview with Virginia Poet Laureate, Luisa A. Igloria, she was “…someone who didn’t cut her teeth in the North American writing workshop model, [and] feels ‘liberated by the idea that I have seen other ways of doing things, other models from global literary traditions that we can draw from.”



  1. The writer will present the work with a brief description of their intent. What was the goal of the piece? What questions does the writer have about the piece?
  2. The readers will answer these questions about the piece:
    1. What do you think this piece is trying to do?
    2. What specific elements of the piece surprised you or excited you and what did the author do well?
    3. How did the writer deliver a scene or use a specific craft elements well?
    4. What questions do you have for this piece?
    5. Where specifically did you find opportunities to strengthen this piece and why?
    6. Provide responses to the writer's questions.
  3. During the critique, the writer can engage with feedback and ask questions or the writer can choose to be silent/invisible until the end. This can be the writer's choice.

I suggest you work in a paradox! That means that you work in an atmosphere where you don’t interrupt one another, but you also leave space for engagement.

Note to the receiver: The person receiving does not have to take anyone’s advice, nor do they have to agree. Let the feedback marinate and decide what to do with it when you are ready—you might toss out the ideas; you might incorporate some of the notes, none of the notes, or all of the notes. That is up to you! You might even use the ideas to unlock a door that neither you nor the critique members considered. Embrace the possibility of being surprised!


EXAMPLE of giving positive feedback

Unhelpful positive feedback might sound like, “Your story sounded nice. I really liked it.” You can absolutely tell someone that you liked their manuscript, but please follow up with something useful and specific. Please note that we authors often question ourselves, so it’s nice to know what specifically works, otherwise if nobody comments on it, we might second guess ourselves and delete it!

😊Effective/Helpful positive feedback includes something specific that identifies what the author did well in their craft, for example if I had been in Traci N. Todd’s critiquing group and had given her feedback on her beautiful book Nina, I would have told her that I enjoyed her various uses of poetry, like her use of consonance and alliteration in this line, “…it was deep in the woods and a world away.” Why? Because that line has a lovely read-aloud quality, it is delightfully lyrical, and it enhances the showing of how far the character walked.  I’d also use this moment to mention other places that her poetry made my heart soar.

EXAMPLE of discussing an opportunity for an author to improve their manuscript:

Discussing opportunities might feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to. Once you understand how to talk about craft, you remove the pressure of discussing work in a way that might feel like a personal insult. Discussing questions in terms of craft choices treats the author and their work with professionalism and respect.

 Unhelpful feedback regarding a writer’s work and an opportunity for improvement within their manuscript might sound like, “I don’t like this. Nothing happens.” If I heard that feedback, I wouldn’t know where to begin, and it comes across as mean. Providing quality feedback is hard work. It requires combining your knowledge and instinct—instinct for noticing that something sounds off and then knowledge of craft skills to understand why something doesn’t seem to work. This takes time, care, and effort. 

😊Effective/Helpful feedback is centered on an opportunity the author could consider. It might sound like, “Although battling the dragon and dueling with the pirate were both fun beats, they both felt like the same beat/same note. To me that means the plot didn’t move forward by repeating this beat. Is there a way to raise the tension in one beat or the other to differentiate the beats and elevate the pace and plot experience for the reader?” Please notice that this feedback is specific, it is not prescriptive, and it even poses a question that gives the author something to think about.


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