Nancy's Books

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 3

           To develop a memorable character, get to know him/her/it before writing. In picture books, the

writer needs to know the character’s motivation and how the character reacts to situations.

A compelling character needs a problem to make his/her life interesting enough to carry the reader’s interest throughout the story. The problem should be large enough to create consequences that can ripple from beginning to end. As the character attempts to control the situation, allow the reader to “see” his/her feelings. Emotions give life to a character and affect actions and reactions. Maybe anger compels him to act in a way he normally would not. Strong emotions can force characters to react to circumstances even when they don’t want to.

When I wrote GONE CUCKOO, I wanted to portray the birth parents (cuckoos) as warm, caring birds, and do the same for the warblers (adoptive parents). The main character is a young cuckoo bird that doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of the warblers, and when he attends Warbler Academy, he fails miserably. Naturally, his frustration and embarrassment levels are high and he feels as if he is a failure.

            Even though the characters are birds, their emotions and behaviors mirror that of children who are placed in a similar, unfamiliar situations in which they are ill-suited. As a result, the characters become relatable.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers

Sarah Mook Poetry Prize for Students. Restrictions: Students in grades K-12. Genre: Poetry. Prize: $100. 

Deadline: March 31, 2017.

Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers

Positively Happy! Chicken Soup for the Soul. 101 Stories about Positive Thinking and Living a Happy Life
Deadline: May 31, 2017

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 2

To become memorable, the main character needs not only to do something, but do something unexpected. Surprise the reader and keep the reader wondering what will happen next. The wonderment builds interest in the character. Figure out what motivates the character to behave this way so you can keep the action going. In FORTY WINKS the main character was unwilling to share a book that both he and the monster, who lived in the closet, wanted to read, separately. Refusing to share led to a chain of actions and reactions that created the conflict.

Portray what your character is thinking and feeling. Emotions are powerful and can also motivate actions and reactions. Anger can lead to protectiveness or laughter or combat. Get in touch with the character’s emotions to lead the character into action. 

Allow your character to wander off the path of reaching the goal. Introduce complications that force him to make mistakes while he’s trying to find his way back, but allow him to learn from the mistakes.  

Next week, I’ll discuss more ways of creating memorable characters. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Teen Ink is a US-based teen magazine, book series and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos, and forums. Since being first established in 1989, Teen Ink has published more than 55,000 young writers, with the magazine distributed across the country in schools and libraries. To be eligible to submit you must be aged between 13 and 19. Be aware that submissions may be edited and published without the writers’ prior approval.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

FrostFire Worlds publishes original science fiction and fantasy short stories, poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews. Preferred are adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera [like space opera, but fantasy]. Also preferred are stories that take place on other worlds. Stories must have the following: characters the reader cares about, plots and subplots, and settings that draw the reader into them. Must have.

Remember, FrostFire Worlds is intended for younger readers, from ages 8-17 and up. Therefore, the magazine will not publish work that has bad language or adult themes in it. Period.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 1

Unfortunately, there is no secret formula to creating likable, memorable characters to which we can discover and unveil for all to use. Fortunately, we can create fresh, new characters that will appeal to readers.

The child must closely identify with the way a character thinks, acts, and feels. A young child does not have reasoning ability, so a gator seems as logical a pet as a dog or cat. The opposite is true for picture books for older readers where logic and reasoning can be vital to the story. Either way, children like to see themselves represented in a book and in a way in which their world view is evident. Keep the story child-focused and consider the age of the audience.

Judge your characters by what they do. Sure, witty dialog is great and adds to the appeal of the story, but if all the characters do is spit witty dialog, they will soon become B-O-R-I-N-G. The character needs to do something: interact with others and move the story forward. 

Call for submissions for Young Writers and Adult Writers:

Prize Categories:

Young Poets: 2 Categories

Middle School Students: now know as Dave Drake Literary Prize

Middle schoolers must provide contact email of parent or guardian

High School Students: Students of high school age.

Adult Poets: now known as Spring Robinson/Mahogany Red Lit Prize

Poets between the age of 20 and 60 years old: this category includes college aged students

Senior Poets:  Poets 61years and older

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

To Outline or Not, part 4

More reasons why I outline a manuscript before writing:

Avoid Writer’s Block. An outline helps me break down the story into manageable parts and to see the story from beginning to end. Little by little, I know I can complete the manuscript without feeling so overwhelmed that I completely give up. 

More comprehensive coverage of a topic. When I write biographies, I add every major event to the outline so I won’t overlook or eliminate an important issue. In my dual biography, HAPPY BIRTHDAY: THE STORY OF THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR SONG, I wanted to relate how the two Hill sisters’ parents influenced their work. I also wanted to showcase the impact of the song on national and international levels. Just a line or two on my outline allowed me to quickly determine that I included these elements. 

Writer motivation. Earlier, I discussed how an outline helps develop character motivation. It also offers emotional advantages. When the outline is staring back at me, I am more motivated to write, since I don’t have to sweat bullets in trying to figure out what the character will do next or what obstacle pops us to hinder his/her efforts. This is already thought out and all I have to do is write the scene. For me, the outline makes my work so much easier and simpler. Easy and simple win. I know what to write next, and all I have to do is figure out how to write it.  

Call for submissions for Young Writers:

"It's All Write!" Teen Short Story Contest. Restrictions: Open to Grades 6-12. Genre: Short story, and flash fiction, unpublished. Prize: 1st Place $250, 2nd Place $150, 3rd Place $100. 

Deadline: February 24
Submission guidelines at
Call for submissions for Adult Writers:
PER DIEM PRESS will publish a single chapbook of poetry in early 2017, eight 4” X 5”pages, saddle-stitched, with a cardstock cover. The poet will receive $1,000 and copies. Poets of every stripe are encouraged to submit eightish pages of previously unpublished poetry in English to Per Diem Press, 912 Cole Street #331, San Francisco California 94117. Submissions need to be received by February 28, 2017. All rights, of course, will be retained by the poet.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

To Outline or Not, part 3

Outlining is the key to an organized manuscript.

Logical sequence is a must in a story. An outline helps me visualize the character’s motivation, followed by the continuity of the action, all before I start writing. I figure out the obstacles confronting the protagonist and how s/he reacts. My mind roams free as I outline with the goal of developing more ideas than will be needed so I have a choice or if one idea fails to work, I can select another. Life experiences or bits and pieces of stories I’ve read or heard inspire me to craft a story that is a reflection of my literary style.

As I researched and outlined the manuscript for BARRELING OVER NIAGARA FALLS, I needed to show the motivation for Annie Edson Taylor, a sixty-three-year-old woman who was not into sports or fitness, to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls. No one had ever performed this stunt, which offered strong potential for a violent and/or deadly outcome. Annie seemed to be an extremely unlikely candidate. As I learned more about her meager savings, lack of potential for long-term employment, and knack for detailed planning, I included this into the outline, clearly defining WHY she performed the stunt.

Next came the HOW of the story. How did Annie prepare for the stunt? Pacing is vital to a picture book. Each page must provide action, something in which the character does or is done to the character. Illustrators rely on specific action. Pacing refers to how quickly, or slowly, the action happens. An outline allows me to see where the action is taking place. As Annie prepared, through a trial-and-error approach, the pacing slowed. When she rode the barrel over the Falls, the pacing picked up speed. Even though the pacing increased with the barrel ride, I didn’t want the scene to play out too quickly in order to keep the tension high and keep the reader wondering if she would live or die. Pacing in a story is much like the ever changing ebb and flow of Niagara River and the Falls—it slows down and speeds up according to the elements involved and is different with every story.

Next week, I’ll list more reasons why a simple, easy outline helps me be more productive.
Call for submissions for Young Writers:

Hello Giggles is a lifestyle website founded in 2011 by writer Molly McAleer, producer Sophia Rossi and actress Zooey Deschanel. The site is currently seeking young contributors for its newly launched teen section. The editors are looking for personal essays, cultural criticism, articles with original reporting, short fiction, and illustrations. Contributors must be at least 14 years of age. Hello Giggles attracts over 12 million readers per month

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

Parents & Kids Magazine. In addition to the topics below, we also accept seasonal submissions. So we are always interested in a Valentine's story for our February issue. Submit seasonal things well in advance.  I really don’t mind looking at your Christmas ideas in May.  Really.


Know & Go Guide 


Heart Health & Women’s Fitness 


Ultimate Summer Fun Guide

Summer Camp Guide 


Summer Travel




Metro School Guide 


Birthday Parties 


Maternity and Pediatric Health Guide 



After-School Activities 


Sports & Play

Family Fitness 


Halloween & Fall Fun Guide 





Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To Outline or Not, Part 2

Outlines are not meant to hold a writer to preset ideas or slot ideas into a particular paragraph, and they are certainly not created to drain creativity from the tale. Most of all, they aren’t there to practice Roman numerals—I, II, III and the alphabet—a, b, c… In fact, I never use a Roman numeral in an outline. Never. My idea of an outline is to figure out the basic plot of the story. Simple, easy, and productive. That’s pretty much my goal for everyday existence, too, and I often have an outline for that, called my to-do list.

I prefer to outline before writing because a simple outline helps me organize my thoughts. Here are more reasons:
Structure. Outlining a manuscript makes it easier to write and to develop a structure in which to tell the story. The purpose of the structure is to tie the characters into the beginning and move them forward in a plot and at a particular pace toward the middle and ending. An outline allows me to pinpoint what the character wants, why he wants it, the conflicts confronting him, and how/where he challenges the obstacles.

Brainstorming tool. I can try out ideas in an outline. If they don’t work, it’s much easier to correct at this early stage than when I reach the middle of the story I’m writing.

Keeps me on path. If I know where my story is headed (ending) when I begin the project, I’m less likely to veer off path. Veering off path leads to major rewrites. This doesn’t mean that I have to limit the story to the outline. However, an outline helps me easily figure out if the new idea works into the original plan of action.

Details. It enables me to be thorough, to include the vital details in the storyline.

Next week, I’ll list more reasons why a simple, easy outline helps me be more productive.

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Young Adult Review Network (YARN) is an award-winning literary journal that publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry and essays for young-adult readers. It seeks to discover new teen writers and publish them alongside established writers of the YA genre. Material should be appropriate for, and of particular interest to, young adult readers 14 years old and up. YARN is based in the United States and warmly welcomes international submissions.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Girls' Life accepts unsolicited manuscripts on a speculative basis only. First, send an e-mail or letter query with detailed story idea(s). No telephone solicitations, please. Please familiarize yourself with the voice and content of Girls' Life before submitting.

Submission guidelines at 

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Outline or Not

The thought of outlining a manuscript is so daunting to some writers they avoid it entirely. To others, this prewriting phase is a necessity. I fall into the second category for a number of reasons.  

The main reason, since I’m not a workaholic, is the simple fact that outlining makes writing easier. Working smarter, not harder gets my vote. Before I write the first word of a story, I need to have at least a vague idea of the ending. Now, all is need is the middle. The outline works like a roadmap to get me from the beginning to the ending in the straightest path.  

My outlining is simple and basic. If I’m writing a picture book, I write the general idea for the beginning; then add the plot points and on to the ending. By spending time thinking about the story as I outline, I become more familiar with the characters, their actions and reactions, and the order in which events should happen. Does this mean that I will strictly adhere to this order? Probably not, but it does provide direction.

An outline forces me to consider various ways the information can be revealed, which is the structure or skeleton of the story. In my Whose series, I used a question and answer structure, which worked well. With On the Banks of the Amazon, I used a fiction-nonfiction parallel structure. The first paragraphs on each page were nonfiction. A fiction paragraph followed.

When I decide on the structure, I outline the fiction or nonfiction story basics. In the Whose series, I outlined the animals I would use and in what order. Once I have the structure established, I can research and add meat to the form with specific details. Figuring out the structure prior to writing helps to organize the plot logically, so there is less time spent revising.

Next week, I’ll discuss more reasons why I outline.

Call for submissions for Young Writers:

Rookie. Call for submissions! Here’s what we’d love to see from you, Rookies! (And continue to check back, as we’ll keep adding to this list.) All of these must be sent to Please include your name and age, and use the subject line specified for each post.
1. Poetry Roundup. Each month, we publish a roundup of poetry written by you. If you’d like us to consider your work for January’s roundup, please email it to us by Friday, January 14, with the subject line: Poetry Roundup.
2. Advice questions. These can be sent in any time. Life ’n’ love go to, and beauty ’n’ style go to
3. Instagram. We want to see your artwork and photography! Post it on Instagram with the hashtag #lookrookie and we will take a peek and may regram it or spotlight it in our weekly newsletter!
Submission guidelines at 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

Chicken Soup for the Soul. Dreams, Premonitions and the Unexplainable. (Formerly titled Dreams & Synchronicities) Sometimes magic happens in your life. You have a dream that reveals a truth or a course of action to you. You have a premonition that changes your behavior and saves you or a loved one from disaster. You meet someone at just the right time and you can’t believe the coincidence. We’re collecting stories for a second book on this topic, following our bestseller Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions. Share your stories about the amazing things that have happened in your own life.

The deadline date for story and poem submissions was May 31, 2016 but it has been extended to JANUARY 31, 2017.

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.