“The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo: A Discussion Guide for Writers


Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

In Elizabeth Acevedo’s young adult novel in verse, The Poet X, Xiomara is struggling to find her voice in her home, in school, and in a community that offers up shame, guilt, and punishment in heavy doses.

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By studying Acevedo’s novel, writers can recognize that a main character’s name, physical description, and siblings can serve as key components in a story. Acevedo’s novel can be used to explore how the shape and phrasing of words can allow for breath and pause in a story that can convey emotion and tension. Acevedo’s work is also an excellent mentor text on how to use a supporting cast of characters to guide a main character to a solution without allowing the supporting characters to become the solution.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate The Poet X.As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Acevedo’s methods.

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“Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eagar: A Discussion Guide for Writers

Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey


Lindsay Eagar’s middle grade novel Hour of the Bees follows the summer adventure of twelve-year-old Carol as she travels with her family to a desert ranch in Mexico to move her estranged grandfather into a nursing home. The arid landscape is punctuated by rattlesnakes, family discord, and stories from Carol’s grandfather, Serge, who has dementia. He talks about a magical tree, the power of bees, and Carol’s heritage. By studying Eagar’s novel, writers can explore first-person point of view, the importance of supporting characters, the genre of magical realism, the use of mystery to create readability, and how flashbacks can become a tool to bridge generations and provide backstory. Continue reading

“Amal Unbound” by Aisha Saeed: A Discussion Guide for Writers

Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

Amal.pngIn Aisha Saeed’s middle grade novel Amal Unbound, readers are introduced to Amal, a young Pakistani girl whose life is changed when she is forced into indentured servitude. Saeed’s novel gently introduces Pakistani cultural by allowing readers to nibble on common threads of friendship and family while still exploring the struggle girls and women face to be valued, educated, and respected in a patriarchal society. By studying Saeed’s novel, writers can examine how to present a culture without allowing the characters that populate that society to be in awe of their own surrounding and circumstances, how to use setting, plot and pacing to add emotion and readability to a story, how to use secondary characters to present differing views, and how to use sentence and paragraph structure to amplify voice. Continue reading

These Songs Tell A Story!

by Dave Pasquantonio

Writing flash fiction is a fun challenge. How do you tell a complete story in a few hundred words while layering in theme, emotion, and memorable characters?

If you need some inspiration, then break out your old vinyl records!

Classic rock from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s is full of narrative songs—tracks with sharp characters, raw emotion, and unforgettable storylines. In this post, I examine one such song to see what we can learn from the lyrics. Continue reading

Common Writing Missteps (And How To Overcome Them)

by Dave Pasquantonio

Authors (and Loft board members) Erin Dionne and Anna Staniszewski know a lot about writing. They’re published authors—and they’re creative writing teachers. In their recent Loft craft chat, “What We’ve Learned from Teaching Writing,” Erin and Anna talked about how their writing has strengthened their teaching careers, and how their careers have strengthened their writing.

They also talked craft. They’ve seen a lot of good writing from their students—and they’ve also seen the same issues crop up time and again.

Here are some common writing missteps that Erin and Anna discussed during their presentation, along with some strategies for overcoming them. Continue reading

Nailing Your First Five Pages: How to Hook Your Readers

by Julie Reich

“Send a one-page query letter, a synopsis, and the first five pages of your manuscript.”

If this statement rings a bell, you’ve encountered the submission guidelines for many agents and editors. A lot is riding on the beginning of your novel. Done well, your first five pages could invite requests for more. But if you don’t hook your readers, they’re unlikely to give your book a chance. Continue reading

“Hello, Universe” by Erin Entrada Kelly: A Discussion Guide For Writers

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Discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

In Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel Hello, Universe, three characters come together and find friendship and confidence. By studying Kelly’s novel, writers can examine the use of multiple points of view, the placement of adults in a story, the smart and sensitive hand required when writing about characters with disabilities, and the courage required to let a story start and end quietly.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Hello, Universe. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Kelly’s methods. Continue reading

Meet A Lofter: Audrey Day-Williams

by Sandra Budiansky

It’s the return of our Meet a Lofter series, where we go deep into the lives of our fellow writers. This time we’re talking to the very funny picture book author Audrey Day-Williams. You will find Audrey at many Writers’ Loft workshops and classes.If you happen to see Audrey around the Loft, make sure you say hi! Continue reading

“Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein” by Lita Judge: A Discussion Guide For Writers

Discussion questions prepared by Amanda SmithPicture1.png

Lita Judge’s biography of Mary Shelley, Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, is the haunting story of events and circumstances that led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. It is a biography told in free-verse, with illustrations, and reads like a YA novel.  By studying Judge’s novel, writers can examine tight purposeful story construction, word choice and symbolism.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Mary’s Monster. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Judge’s methods.

These discussion questions were inspired by the KidLit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting! Continue reading

World-Building: A Minimalist Approach

By Angela Dell’Isola


By a virtual show of hands: when I say “world-building,” how many of you immediately think of Tolkien? Or George R.R. Martin? J.K. Rowling?

The term tends to be heavily linked to fantasy and science fiction, because it often implies building something from scratch: producing maps; coining new words, phrases, or languages (back to you, Tolkien!); and constructing full-fledged structures for the governments, economies, and social frameworks of their alternate realities.

This is one approach to world-building, and it’s yielded some pretty fantastic (see what I did there?) results. But is it the only approach? I don’t think so, and it’s not exclusive to fantasy and science fiction. World-building can be an important tool across all shelves, and it doesn’t need to be a 20,000-league dive. Cue “minimalist world-building.” It sounds like a total oxymoron, I know. Continue reading