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.