Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 10, 2013

Nine Essential Questions to Guide Your Writing

Write it rightLast night I started reading Writing It Right: How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories written by Sandy Asher. I have to say if you are looking to improve your writing and get the most out of your manuscript, you should pick up this book, read it slowly, and add it to your bookshelf for future reference.

You know how I am always pointing out how we can all learn from what an editor or agent has to say when they critique a first page? Well, this book gives you a look at first drafts, how the author originally started the book, what the editor or agent had to say and how the draft changed from the beginning through midway to published version in the revision process. The questions that were asked and the authors thoughts as she or he was revising.

It doesn’t just deal with novels, it takes a look at picture books and short stories, besides middle grade novels and young adult novels. There is something for everyone. It is a book you will want to read little by little in order to let the knowledge presented seep into your skin, brain, and finally to your typing fingers.

Here is a list of essential questions every writer should ask to guide them through the revision process from the book:

1. Whose story is it?

Who stands to gain or lose the most by what transpires? Who has the most to learn? Does the story have an attractive main character with a consistent, inviting point of view?

2. What does the main character want?

Is the main character’s need or goal obvious? Is it revealed soon enough? Is the goal important enough to be worthy of the character’s effort and the readers time? Is it important enough to be a real challenge, an object of the character’s passion?

3. What’s standing in the character’s way?

Are the obstacles multi-leveled? Possibilities include:

External obstacles (involving life changes such as a move, a birth, and illness, a death, and /or natural forces, such as a storm, a flood, a mountain to climb, a river to ford);

Interpersonal obstacles (disagreements between the character’s own feelings of doubt/indecision concerning what must be done about the  external and interpersonal obstacles).

4. Does the main character drive the story forward?

Are events determined by his/her choices and actions? Does the main character solve his/her own problems? Adults may help, but they may not take over. Do the character’s choices and actions arise naturally out of his/her personality?

5. What’s important to this character at this moment?

Are events determined by his/her choices and actions? Do we witness action, dialog, and sensory images – sight, sound, taste touch, smell – right along with the character? Does the narration distract us with description when the main character’s attention is really elsewhere?

6. Do the scenes build smoothly to a strong climax?

Are these the most effective scenes to bring these characters and this story to life in the reader’s imagination? Are scenes arranged in the most effective order, building on one another to increase tension and interest? Is the climax well-placed, well-paced, and fully developed, delivering all that’s been promised? Does the narrative linger too long after the climax, “preaching” the theme, rehashing the plot, or telling us more than we need to know?

7. Is each character unique?

Does each serve a distinct, believable, and undeniable purpose in this story – either supporting or opposing the main character? Are any redundant or stereotypical?

8. Does the main character change and grow?

Is the theme of the story revealed in the course of what the main character experiences and comes to realize about his/her choices and actions and their ramifications? Is the theme shown in subtle ways? Or is it too blatantly announced? Theme is sometimes referred to as a “takeaway,” meaning that well written stories offer their readers a truth or insight to take away into their own lives, Note the gentle word “offer.” No force, no lecture, no sermonizing implied.

9. Is this the best choice?

When all of the above question are answered to the writer’s satisfaction, there’s still the possibility of making a good story even better. Is this the best choice of title, main character, point of view, narrative style, supporting and opposing characters, and/or obstacles? Are there still ways to fine-tune exchanges of dialog, descriptive passages, chapter breaks, scene order, and/or individual scenes at the beginning, middle, and end of the story? Is each and every word the best possible choice?

sandy asherIMG_1487Sandy Asher is the author of more than two dozen books, almost all for young readers, including Too Many Frogs!, winner of the North Dakota Library Association’s Flicker Tale Award and a Florida Library Association Honor Book, and its companions What a Party! and Here Comes Gosling! She’s also the editor of six anthologies, among them With All My Heart, With All My Mind: 13 Stories about Growing Up Jewish, winner of the National Jewish Book Award in children’s literature; Writing It Right: How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories, and Dude: Stories and Stuff for Boys, co-edited with David L. Harrison. A new picture book, Chicken Story Time, is due out in 2014 from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Too Many Frogs! and What a Party! were both Scholastic Book Club selections. Too Many Frogs! and Here Comes Gosling! have been adapted for the stage and continue to be produced across the country, along with Everything Is Not Enough, adapted from Sandy’s YA novel. The famed Tarradiddle Plays of the Children’s Theatre of Charleston will tour Too Many Frogs in southeastern states throughout the 2013-2014 school year.

Sandy’s books have been on the nomination lists of many state awards. Earlier YA novels Just Like Jenny, Things Are Seldom What They Seem, and Everything Is Not Enough were all Junior Library Guild selections.

As Sandra Fenichel Asher, Sandy has published dozens of plays for young and adult audiences that have been produced nationally and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and, most recently, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and South Korea. Her work has been honored with three Distinguished Play Awards from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, for A Woman Called Truth, In the Garden of the Selfish Giant, and Jesse and Grace: A Best Friends Story. In addition, she is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant, the American Association for Theater and Education’s Charlotte Chorpenning Award for a distinguished body of work in children’s theater, and an Aurand Harris fellowship grant from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Six of her plays appear in Tell Your Story: The Plays and Playwriting of Sandra Fenichel Asher, edited by Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, Ph.D. and John Dilworth Newman, Ph.D.

Sandy has been a guest presenter at schools, writing conferences, and teachers’ and librarians’ conventions from Anchorage, Alaska to St. Petersburg, Florida. She is a frequent writing workshop leader at SCBWI and Highlights Founders events.

Visit Sandy at on-line at , , and

Here is the Amazon link

Talk tomorrow,



  1. You know, I am ALways astonished when, after all these years, I’m not aware of such an accomplished author, yet it happens often! Kathy, thank you so much for making me aware of Sandy, her work and WRITING IT RIGHT. I noticed she’s co-authored with David L. Harrison, too 🙂 I’m looking forward to becoming familiar with her work. Barnes and the library, here I come! 😀

    P.S. Sandy, I just checked your website. Great info! I was thinking you might want to get Kathy to give it a makeover someday 😉


  2. Thank you so much, Kathy, for the blog post and kind words. And thank you, too, Donna Marie. The America Writes for Kids website represents 14 years of volunteer work and, with a mixture of regret and relief, was officially “frozen” at the end of last year. When it gets overly dated, I’ll have it taken down. So, yes, I really ought to be chatting with Kathy about a new site . . .


    • Wow, Sandy, 14 years! I just read further and it’s really an impressive effort! I’ve bookmarked it 🙂


      • Yup, lots of dial-up connections in those days, so we kept it simple. And then . . . we kept it simple! So glad you’re finding it useful, Donna Marie.


  3. Great post. First one for my new writing class. Thanks!


  4. You’re very welcome, Carol. I’m so glad Kathy brought my work and your class together!


  5. I received A complimentary copy of SANDY’s book at Chautauqua a few years ago. I knew right away it was a keeper. I then sat in on a workshop she offered there. She was amazing…organized and chock-full of ideas I could put to work that day! My hope is to find my way back to Kent Brown’s Highlights Foundation workshop series, and perhaps immerse myself in Sandy’s mentor ship there!


    • Wow, Gael! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm! I miss Chautauqua, but do hope to return to Boyds Mills in October for a “More Room to Create” retreat co-led by Linda Oatman High. Would love to see you there!


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