Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
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.  

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

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