Illustrations for a Story – Vernon Fisher, 1996

Did I ever tell you I love teaching creative writing? I do! There is no greater joy than teaching what is hands-down the best job ever: writing and writing for children in particular. So when the Hawaiian chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators invited me to hop over to O’ahu to teach a hands-on intensive, I didn’t need much time to consider the proposal. In fact, I didn’t need any time at all. I jumped at the opportunity.

And why wouldn’t I? Hawaii features big time in my two latest books, the third and fourth books in the Boreas series. Not only would I get to retrace my steps–I spent time in Hawaii to research the two books–but I would get to spend time with one of the most talented people I know: Kirsten Carlson, author, illustrator, science illustrator and marine biologist extraordinair. Spending time with Kirsten always ALWAYS leads to inspiration, to new ideas, to deeper knowledge of the writing process. So yes, I jumped at the chance to go back to Hawaii and stay with Kirsten for a few days. 

Every morning, Kirsten and I started the day with a Mokulua sunrise walk on Lanikai Beach. I can promise you there is no better way to get the creative juices flowing than an early morning stroll on this beach, while watching the sky change color a thousand times as we orbit into the sun’s face again.

But I came to teach and that is what I did. My favorite topics: plot and revision, combined into Aristotle’s Cat! A Plot Revision Intensive. This intensive is a deep immersion into plot and plot structures and into what it entails to revise your story’s plot. I have built and perfected the intensive over the years, because teaching writing is just as organic a process as writing is and with every book I write and every workshop I teach, I gain more insight that I feel is worth sharing.

At the basis of my intensive are two plot structures that I combine: Aristotle’s Three-Act structure and Blake Snyder’s 15 Beats. Together we experiment with some well-known examples, novels and picture books, before I talk attendees through the “beat routine” I use to test and perfect my plots. The big take-away? Attendees bring their own projects  and work on those in the hands-on part of the intensive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a first draft, a tenth draft or even a partial where you got stuck or a mere story idea. Everyone walks away with a deepened insight in plot, plot holes and plot twists gone awry, with fresh ideas and renewed energy, but most of all everyone leaves with a set of tools that will allow them to perfect their stories. 

Finding Aristotle’s Three Acts in Picture Books