Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 25, 2009

Tips From Sid Fleischman

Here are a few writing tips drawn from the pages of The Abracadabra Kid, A Writer’s Life by Sid Fleishman.


1. It’s the job of the hero or heroine to solve the story problem: don’t leave it to a second-banana character like Uncle Harry. You’d know something was wrong if Watson solved the crime instead of Sherlock Holmes. This clunky plotting sank many of my stories when I started out.


2. The main character should be changed by the events of the story. Remember your fairy tales? Change is built into the refrain at the end: “And they lived happily ever after.”


3. If there’s a hole in your story, point it out and the hole will disappear. For example, in McBroom’s Zoo I wanted to use the Hidebehind, a fabled frontier creature. No one knows what the Hidebehind looks like because every time you look, the animal hides behind you.


I saw the hole at once. All McBroom needed to do was to hold up a mirror and he’d see the Hidebehind’s mug. I plugged the hole by pointing to it. Works like magic. “I even tried walking around with a hand mirror.” McBroom declares. “But the Hidebehind was too eternal clever for tricks like that.”

4. Dramatize important scenes; narrate the trivialities.

I have seen a lot of this the other way around.

5. Give weather reports. It helps the reality of a scene if foghorns are blowing or kites are in the sky on a windy afternoon or the day’s so hot wallpaper is peeling off the walls.


6. The stronger the villain – or opposing force – the stronger the hero or heroine. A wimpy problem delivers a wimpy story.


7. When possible. give important characters an “entrance”. That’s why grand staircases were invented.


8. Write in scenes. It’s generally hard to find any pulse in straight narration. Color it gray. Show: don’t tell. Color it splashy.


9. Imagery is powerful shorthand. It says in four or five words what might otherwise take you sentences to describe – and not as vividly. It takes time to think out fresh similes and metaphors, and they must be apt and exact. Practice helps. After while you develop a knack for it. Clumsy imagery must be ripped up instantly.

Visit Sid’s website to read more


  1. These are great tips – thanks. It wasn’t `til I followed the link to his web site that I realized he is THE Sid Fleischman who wrote The Whipping Boy – the first chapter book I encountered when learning the different children’s book genres.


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