Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 14, 2020

How to Find Your Story by Mira Reisberg


Hello, Creatives! Want to focus elsewhere for a little–how about exploring the way to find and craft your kidlit stories? Humans are wired for narrative. We see evidence of this in cave paintings–even before we had written words, we wanted to tell stories.

However, storytelling doesn’t always come naturally to everyone (and luckily these days we have much more to talk about than the thrill of the hunt). Here are some thoughts we had about finding inspiration and motivation to get the proverbial ball rolling on finding and telling your story. Bear in mind also, that these suggestions aren’t in order. Maybe you’ll find some are more helpful than others. Just take what works for you and use it when it works, ditch the rest and get to storytelling!

  • Believe You Have A Story To Tell

Maybe part of your story is that you think your ideas are unoriginal or mundane. In psychology it’s called a “limiting belief” – that feeling that you’re not good enough to deserve attention. So just get that idea out of the way. Don’t judge your stories. Give your memories and ideas a chance to live a little before you label them insignificant.

  • Create a List or Story Map To Generate New Story Ideas and Details

Be ready to capture stories or scenes. Carry a small notebook. Take notes in an app on your phone. Capture story inspiration in photographs, video, or with a voice recorder. This way, the raw material for your stories will be ready, available, and within reach when you are.

  • Tap Your Time Machine

All it takes is a song, a smell, the sound of someone’s voice, a photograph, and we’re transported back to another time and place. Dig through a drawer, a box, or a photo  album. Listen to an old playlist. Flip through some old lesson plans, a yearbook, or older social media posts. Or… chat with old friends and see what long forgotten stories come up naturally.

  • Find Your Stories in the Everyday and in the Turning Points

Look for stories in the turning points of life appropriate for your reading audience, first experiences, or big, life-changing moments: birth, death, divorce, starting school, first job, moving, getting a pet. Depending on your age range, these firsts can be incredibly momentous. These common experiences resonate because they allow your audience to think they’re not alone, which is sometimes huge for kids. We call these universal themes. Another way to think about it is that sometimes an extraordinary experience makes life interesting. Other times, it’s an extraordinary reaction to an ordinary experience.

  • Don’t Be Afraid of Difficult Stories

By the same token, you may be wanting to tackle slightly darker material that revolve around social justice issues. Push past the discomfort of difficult conversations, especially those around race, implicit bias, and equity, not only for the benefit of our kids but for our own benefit as well. Is it a story of survival and overcoming obstacles or a sad story? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. These stories can be messy and difficult to tell. Stay positive and solutions focused. Remember, the journey your audience takes should be completely different from your original experience. It should be masterfully crafted to be uplifting. Here’s a great saying: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story (unless it’s nonfiction of course).

  • Write For (Get to Know) Your Readers

This one may come into play before you get your idea or after you start writing. Try to get a firm grasp of your audience’s age and comprehension ability and keep them in mind when you write. A first boyfriend or girlfriend might be appropriate for YA or even middle school readers, but not younger ones.

  • Know Your Why/Make Your Message Matter

Once you’ve accepted that you really do have a story to tell (the “what”), it’s time to figure out the “why.”

We tell stories to connect through our shared experiences, beliefs, and purpose. Readers appreciate facts and logic — even wit; but we feel story, especially as kids. Carefully select stories that illustrate an intentional and deliberate point. A story is meant to illustrate your point and bring it to life. But it should also make sense to your audience if you want your story to have an impact, to influence behavior, and to inspire action. If your stories are either misplaced or all over the place, your subtle but important message will be lost.


  • Avoid Common Storytelling Traps

Any stories that follow plot by rote will feel dry and dull to a kid. Stay away from “and this happened, and then this happened.” Recognize that your story is not always confined by conventional rules of space and time, although with picture books a linear timeline is generally best. Organize your story so it makes the most sense to your audience.

  • Re-create Incidents as “Scenes.”

Any writing manual or writing teacher will tell you, “Show. Don’t just tell.” Unless you’ve taken a creative writing class, you’ve probably never learned how to “show.” You may be used to summarizing experiences, maybe writing such things as a client report or book critique. That’s telling. When you show, you re-create incidents in such a way that readers feel like they’re experiencing them with you. So thinking back to that college play you auditioned for, let’s show your readers what it was like with actions doing the talking rather than words.

  • Include Plenty of Details So You Show Rather Than Tell Your Story

The benefit of writing kids’ books is that they have visual elements, so you’re not relying on words alone to set your scenes or establish your characters, or demonstrate action. Help your readers visualize that experience. Where were you? Describe the setting with a few details or illustration notes if it’s important to understanding the story. Were there any sounds in the background? Music playing? Identify it. What were you and he/she wearing? Just a few details.  What was said? Briefly re-create the conversation as you recall it. What were you thinking and feeling? Excitement? Tension? Fear? How did your body react to those feelings? Perspiration? Dry mouth? Stuttering? See how you can incorporate these details into your story.

Think about these essentials of writing a plot-driven fiction book:

Begin with a memorable flawed character on a quest or with a goal or problem to solve, attain, or overcome. Make it really hard for them so that we invest in their journey and keep reading. Create suspenseful page turns to keep your reader hooked. Finally they solve their problem and something meaningful has changed for them before wrapping up with a wonderful ending that leaves the reader satisfied or laughing.

These are all the things we teach you how to do in our nearly sold-out Craft & Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books starting January 11th! From complete beginners to seasoned writers and illustrators, this course has something for everyone. Find out why our students say this course is “like attending twenty conferences or a prestigious MFA program in one course.”

If you want to:

  • Write a fresh children’s picture book story from start to finish or jump in with one of our suggestions
  • Polish an existing children’s book manuscript for publication
  • Revise your work to make it easy for an editor to say yes
  • Radically improve your chances of publication or getting an agent
  • Write a story that you can later illustrate to increase your chances for publication
  • Create a targeted cover letter ready to send to your ideal editor or agent
  • Participate in weekly critiques and our super interactive private Facebook group
  • Join a critique group
  • Submit to an exclusive panel of editors and agents who are looking to acquire from this course
  • Have lots of fun​

…then this course is for you!

Dr. Mira Reisberg, AKA the Picture Book Whisperer, is the founder of the Children’s Book Academy, a fabulous international, online children’s book writing and illustrating school that she created in 2012 after leaving academia. Mira is also an acquiring editor and art director at Clearfork/Spork. Her students have published over 550 books so far. She is incredibly excited to be co-teaching The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books course with acquiring BookEnds assoc. agent James McGowan and acquiring Penguin/Random House/Dial asst. Editor Rosie Ahmed. To find out more click here:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Such great advice -thanks for sharing and thanks for EVERYTHING you do for the Kidlit community, Mira (and Kathy)! xoxo


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