Storyline versus Plotline

I often read or listen to people use the word plot and storyline interchangeably. Are they really describing the same thing? I checked the online Webster’s Dictionary, and it uses each term to describe the other. Interesting. But as I grow as a writer, I think there is a difference.

My first efforts at story writing started with the scenes in my head. I’d replay them over and over until I had a full movie. This method caused many apologies to the lady at the grocery store (Excuse me, I didn’t mean to run over your foot), the dog staring and I’m sure thinking, What? No walk this morning or tonight?, and the neighbor telling me about some escape convict on the loose in our neighborhood (Sorry, what did you say?). This story writing business is not for multitasking.

So that brings me back to plot and story. There’s an idea for an MG novel that has been swimming around my head for some time. It’s rather involved and despite attempts at making it work in my head, I wasn’t getting very far. There were too many elements to consider. I needed a list of events that would pull me from beginning to end.  Point A to point B etc. This to me is the storyline. A road map for the journey that lies ahead.

After putting those events on paper, I was satisfied with the rough outline, but there still was no plot. To move ahead I need to know how I will tell the story. That means defining characters and deciding on tense and narrative choices. Most important, how will the events in my story tie together for the reader? That to me is the heart of having a plot.

I’ll get there eventually with this one, although I may have to move away from the Halloween candy bowl. It’s already getting rather skimpy looking. I hope everyone has a happy Halloween!



Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 6 Comments

WRITTEN IN STONE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I won a signed copy of this historical tale from none other the than the Middle Grade Mafioso himself, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin. You can find him dishing out middle grade wonders on his personal blog or group blog Project Mayhem. Both will be worth your time as the Mafioso not only protects you, but he makes sure you hear about the best in MG.

He’s found a good one with WRITTEN IN STONE. Told from the perspective of Pearl, it begins with her as a great-grandmother,9780375869716 but soon flashes back to 1923 when she was 13 years-old. It’s a tough life as a member of the whale hunting Pacific Northwest’s Makah tribe. This was not something I was not familiar with and the words Rosanne Parry wrote brought this world vividly into my mind.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe. But now that can never be. Pearl’s father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl’s people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.


  1. Although the first half of the book is world building about a time and people most will not know, it’s when Pearl makes a hasty decision that ramps up the tension meter ten fold. A real page turner.
  2. A rich discussion could take place with the topic of how women were often limited in the roles they could take for a career or in a family. Quite a jolt to see how it was and sad to see it hasn’t changed in parts of the world today.
  3. I enjoyed learning about ‘drumming’ and how it served so many purposes.
  4. The author as a former teacher wrote this for her students who asked “Why is the story never about us?” She lists their names in the dedication. It took some time, but now they have their story.
  5. For me the novel was a beautiful reflection, a snapshot of life in the Makah tribe and how people tried to exploit it. The author’s notes and glossary are filled with insights. It might even be a good idea to read this first.


Grandma lifted my chin. “When you write a word down, you own that word forever,” she said.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments


Tells all? Well, at least the questions I asked. Annie is the author of ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN. Here’s what to expect from this new MG novel:

Adventure on Nemesis MountainEmilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy.

Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.


Sounds fantastic. Annie was also gracious enough to be interviewed. I hope readers will enjoy her answers to my questions as much as I did. First though, here’s a bit of background on Author Annie McMahon…

Annie McMahon is originally from Canada but now lives in New Jersey. She has a degree in computer programming, but her life took an unexpected turn and she ended up writing stories and articles instead of computer programs. Now she uses every spare minute to write children’s novels and to help other writers succeed.

Her three children have been the inspiration behind many of her short stories, over forty in total. Her flash fiction story, Paradoxical Neighbor, has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders, Nelson Literacy 10.

Gazebo Landscape

Annie has a certificate in copyediting, moderates a critique group for children’s writers, and is the editor at UK Children’s Publishing.

Annie is ready made for this type of work! Join me in welcoming Annie to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE today.

1. You’ve written over 40 short stories which is a huge achievement in itself. Was the writing process any different for your MG novel, ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN? (By the way, I love that title)

Thank you, Greg! Actually, my novel started as a short story (2000 words), which I later expanded into a chapter book (7000 words) then to a full-length novel (21,000 words). The process was a lot longer than for writing short stories, which can be done in one sitting. It took me five years to write, expand, revise, and finalize my novel.

2. Once that first draft was finished, how did you approach revisions?

After finishing my chapter book draft, I joined an online critique group. I received many detailed, chapter-by-chapter reviews and used that feedback in my revision, one chapter at a time. My critique partners helped me tremendously in identifying the parts I could expand and showing me what worked and didn’t work in my novel. Without them, I would still be far from my goal of being a published author. I revised countless times, until I was satisfied with the story.

3. Your main characters in ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN sound perfect to keep your story moving forward. How did you come up with the idea to create these two different personalities?

I was practicing my beginnings, writing a few paragraphs per story, whatever characters and settings came to mind. I had no particular ideas, just letting the pen lead the way and seeing where I end up. This one story got me writing way past a few paragraphs. I pictured Hans and Emilio, two boys totally different from each other, and how they interacted together. What could possibly happen to make them cooperate despite their dislike of each other? A story was born.

4. I always pick a favorite line to share when I’m reviewing novels here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. Do you have one from ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN?

Emilio narrowed his eyes and looked into the distance. “You act like a tough guy around your friends, but when faced with a stupid snake, your true nature shows through. You’re just a wimp.” He studied Hans. The smirk was gone.

5. What question would you like someone to ask you about this novel? You’ll finally have the chance to answer it!

Ooh, that’s a tough one! Since you mentioned you love my title, the question could be, “How did you come up with the title?” The novel was originally called MEREDITH MOUNTAIN MIRACLE. I liked the way it sounded, but some people commented that it was too feminine for a boy book. So I changed it to ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN, which gives a hint of what the story is about and sounds more “boyish.”

6. What are you working on now? Maybe a sequel?

I have three novels in progress, all very different from each other: a children’s novel about girls, this time, an interactive story for younger children, and a fantasy novel somewhere between MG and YA. I’m not sure yet which one I will finalize first. I might start by assembling all my short stories into an e-book, after revising them. I wrote them so long ago, and I’ve learned so much over the past five years, a revision is in order! And maybe write a few new ones. It would be easier to start with short stories since I haven’t written anything new in a while. I took a year off from writing to complete my copyediting certificate, then I got busy finalizing my novel for publication and now promoting it. I’m planning to start writing again before the end of the year. Looking forward to it, actually. I’m itching to write again!

Thanks for your time, Annie. You can find Annie through any of the links below. There’s also a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Twitter: @anniemcmahon20


Goodreads: Annie McMahon

Author page on Amazon: Annie’s author page

Novel on Amazon: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain


Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

SMASHER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I enjoy reading and writing books with a contemporary, realistic feel. That doesn’t mean I can’t go outside my comfort zone every few months and delve into other genres. This time science fiction was my chosen destination and SMASHER the perfect choice.  It provided excitement along with time travel, kind of a sub-genre that gets a different focus in this one.smasher-small

The story is another boy saves the world adventure but with a twist. Twelve-year-old Charlie is from the 1500s and he travels to 2042. Awaiting him there is the evil Gramercy Foxx who plans to take control of every living mind. Many of the 70 chapters are short in length and the third person narrative bounces back and forth from Charlie to his nemesis. I’d have preferred a first person focus staying with Charlie the entire time, but that’s just me wanting to understand more about how Charlie’s mind works. What we are told did not go deep enough.

The only other concern I had was Charlie took to being transferred 500 years in the future all too easily. His acceptance of the new world around him seemed like a stretch. I’d be awestruck by computers, elevators, helicopters, and skyscrapers. Charlie took it all in stride like he’d just gotten off a plane and was visiting this new place.

Anyway, tech loving kids should gravitate to this one. It’s an exciting ride from the startling opening to the fantastic finish.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

In thirty days, a cold-hearted corporate tycoon will unleash a deadly biological computer virus on the entire world. As the public eagerly awaits his invention that promises ultimate relaxation, harmony, and community, the evil big-business sorcerer plans to put an end to freedom.

Can he be stopped? The world’s only hope is if Charlie, a math genius with otherworldly skills, and Geneva, a robotic girl from the future, can team up to track down some very dark secrets. With a method that uses atomic particles, Geneva and Charlie use “Smasher” to break through the walls of time. They travel to find an unlikely solution. But will it work?


  1. SMASHER. What a great title for a book with a cover to match.
  2.  Geneva is Charlie’s robotic helper from the future. The story of her past was just as intriguing as Charlies. I’d welcome a book with her as the main protagonist.
  3. I always enjoy a story where you know what is going to happen next, and then something totally different takes you by surprise. There were quite a few moments like this and all were page turning.
  4. The spider robots. I’m not a big fan of spiders but these were electric.
  5. The author works in the tech industry and his knowledge of it showed. Don’t expect to understand it anymore but just accept that it’s happening. Technology drives the story but doesn’t overwhelm it to the point you wouldn’t understand the plot.


He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t because of the frog in his mouth.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 18 Comments

CYBILS Public Nominations Announced

Cybils-Logo-2014-Nominated Thanks to Karen Yingling for the nudge to participate in the nominations that closed yesterday. Karen’s the chair of the MG Fiction category and her blog is a place I visit several times a week. MS. YINGLING READS is where it’s at. She post wonderful insights from a librarian’s perspective. Many of her reactions to story lines are very amusing.

I immediately headed over to the Cybils nomination page to toss in my choice. You only get one, so you have to be sure its worthy. Carefully reviewing my favorite books released since October 16, 2013, I chose five:



SORRY YOU’RE LOST by Matt Balckstone

THE PET WAR by Allan Woodrow

NICKEL BAY NICK by Dean Pitchford

I was a bit slow joining the party so most of my choices had already been nominated. I chose the fantastic NICKEL BAY NICK in the MG Fiction category.Jacket+Nickel+Bay+Nick

Now you can head on over to see all the nominees. It’s like MG literary heaven looking through the selections and my TBR list is now officially out of control. Can’t wait to hear who the winner is, but I’ll have to wait until Valentine’s Day 2015. Gives me plenty of time to read a large number of nominees. Below are the links to all three MG categories.




Categories: Book Lists | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments


This is a charming, heartwarming tale of discovery for a biracial girl who lives with her white family but is very curious 817ummDbaaLabout the other side of her roots. It is a quiet story (Translation: Not many boys will be flocking to this one), but it does present an issue not often explored in MG books.

Yes, Violet is wanting more than anything to get a connection to her African-American side. That’s the meaning of the title. My reason for choosing this story was in wanting to learn about Violet’s feelings. I know several bi-racial boys and girls who never express any interest in their heritage. For her it seemed right to have this quest, but for many other bi-racial youngsters at this age, they’re just busy being kids while growing up in a loving family.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds. Her mom is white, and her dad, who died before she was born, was black. She attends a mostly white school where she sometimes feels like a brown leaf on a pile of snow. She’s tired of people asking if she’s adopted. Now that Violet’s eleven, she decides it’s time to learn about her African American heritage. And despite getting off to a rocky start trying to reclaim her dad’s side of the family, she can feel her confidence growing as the puzzle pieces of her life finally start coming together. Readers will cheer for Violet, sharing her joy as she discovers her roots.


  1. Violet. She narrates the story so if you didn’t connect with her nothing else would matter. She excels on all counts with her constantly questioning mind. Violet also keeps a list of words she’s never heard before so she can learn what they mean and use them herself.  I love when kids do something like this.
  2. The realities of being a mixed race child. The white world thinks of you as black while the black world thinks of you as white. That alone would make a great discussion starter on ethnicity.
  3. Violet’s best friend is Greek and her sister speaks French. Nice to see these other cultures tossed in as Violet is learning about her African-American side.
  4. The biggest change comes perhaps not from Violet but from her ‘new’ Grandmother, Bibi. It’s the heart of the story as change often takes the support of several individuals. The relationship between these two made me smile.
  5. How could you not love that cover? The sparkle in Violet’s eyes and the light shining above her head says a lot about how this story turns out.


The next thing he almost whispered. “So what’d you come down here for … tryin’ to learn to be black?”


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments


After posting my last thoughts on Joey Pigza, little did I know another ADHD main character was to follow with this bonuseliza-bing-jkt review. A friend with twin 8-year-olds was looking for recommendations for a first MG book after they had exhausted the chapter book selections. I thought of many Beverly Cleary titles to get them started, but soon after found ELIZA BING…  and I promptly read it over a four day period.

Eliza is on meds for her ADHD, but it’s a much calmer and sweeter story than what you’d find in Joey Pigza’s world. There aren’t really chapters but section headings as Eliza narrates the story in the same way she thinks. Issues of friendship, sticking to a task, and preparing for middle school would give a new MG reader an nice introduction to this contemporary genre. Older MG readers may pass on this one, but girls diagnosed as ADHD might benefit from checking this one out. You get a clear understanding that ADHD doesn’t have to control everything you do in life.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  In this uplifting novel about determination and the rewards of hard work, a preteen girl struggling with ADHD must stick with a summer taekwondo class to prove that she s dedicated enough to pursue her true passion: cake decorating.


  1. It’s fast paced with Eliza stating an initial thought for each scene, then taking us through what got her to thinking that way. Some are a few lines while other last several pages.  An interesting approach to get us into the mind of Eliza.
  2. Yes, an actual two parent family. Lately, I’ve been wondering if that doesn’t happen in MG books. Here it is portrayed with an honest look at a Mom who is working while the Dad is changing careers. They both love Eliza with their own unique relationship.
  3. Eliza has an older brother. She’s 11 and he’s 15. Many families share this dynamic. You see the realistic balance of disdain and friendship these two siblings go through. Yes, they often aren’t the others favorite person, but when needed they are there to rescue each other.
  4. You’ll understand the range of subtle to striking differences that come with an ADHD child. Eliza learns to persevere and find other ways of succeeding.
  5. With taekwondo featured throughout the story, you learn not only about the discipline it takes to learn, but also many Korean words. There’s a nice glossary in the back covering all of their meanings


Heads up: I’m switching channels. I do that sometimes.



Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

In 1998 I came across a new book with an odd title, JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY. I read it out loud to my 9780374300838classroom of 11-13 year olds. The story of a wired boy labeled as ADHD with a tough family life grabbed the attention of a few Joey’s I had sitting in front of me that year. With head shakes and laughter, they truly connected with this character. Sixteen years later Joey is back for the fifth and final book in the series, THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA.

Joey is still the wired and funny kid I got to know, but perhaps this is the darkest of the stories. It might be a bit much for the 10 and under crowd. If you haven’t read the others and begin with this one, you’ll get snippets of what happened in the other volumes: an emotionally abusing grandmother, a mentally unstable mother, Joey’s first kiss with Olivia who is blind, a home schooling disaster, and a dad who is in and out of the home and just as wired as Joey.

Nothing lasts very long in the Pigza family, but what author Jack Gantos does to end the story made me smile: There’s hope for the Joey’s of the world. I bet there is a tinge of sadness for the author as he closes the file on a unique boy, Joey Pigza. It’s been a fun and interesting ride.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  The fifth and final book in the groundbreaking Joey Pigza series brings the beloved chronicle of this wired, wacky, and wonderful boy to a crescendo of chaos and craziness, as everything goes topsy-turvy for Joey just as he starts to get his feet on the ground. With his dad MIA in the wake of appearance-altering plastic surgery, Joey must give up school to look after his new baby brother and fill in for his mom, who hospitalizes herself to deal with a bad case of postpartum blues. As his challenges mount, Joey discovers a key that could unlock the secrets to his father’s whereabouts, a mystery that must be solved before Joey can even hope that his broken family might somehow come back together—if only it doesn’t pull him apart first.


  1. The voice. That’s what I remember the most. It’s a first person emotional roller coaster ride through the thoughts and feelings of this boy on and off meds.
  2. It can be hilarious and sad all on the same page. Only a gifted writer can pull this off and Jack Gantos is at the top of his form.
  3. The way Joey transforms into a boy who is more mature in his handling of life’s big bumps in the road than the adults in his life. Joey wants to be the man of the household and he is.
  4. Food is woven into the storyline and it makes for a nice sidelight to the issues facing Joey.
  5. The unique chapter headings tell much about what’s ahead and the turmoil going on in Joey’s head.


My favorite teacher, Mrs. Maxy, had quit. Everyone said I did her in. One year of having me spin around in my seat all day while yelling out “Can I get back to you on that? Can I get back to you on that?” really tried her patience.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

The First Page

You may be 95% there – a compelling storyline, memorable characters, and an ending that makes a reader wanting more. But it’s the first 5% that counts the most. Unless those words on page one hook the reader, don’t expect them to stay long enough to find any of those gems on later pages. That’s the way it works.iStock_000024086772Large

Those first 250 words are a daunting task. It often takes me several (more like a dozen) drafts to get it right. I often envision myself standing in the aisle of a bookstore reading my first page and thinking Would I want to keep reading?

So… just where should you begin your opening scene? Let’s take a look at published works to find out how MG books initially engage their young readers. I kept a tally of what happens in those opening moments from the 50+ MG books I’ve read this year. Here are the percentages in rank order:

  1. MC at home in bedroom or kitchen or backyard upset at something 28%
  1. Involved in a task that becomes the focus of the story 20%
  1. Action scene (with MC often in a perilous situation) 19%
  1. Classroom scene 18%
  1. Nothing but telling and backstory 15%

The results support the theory that you must gain the attention of your audience from the get go. A middle grader is beginning to question many aspects of life (#1), doing more things on their own (#2), spends a good part of their time in a classroom or school setting (#4), and gravitates like most of us to something immediately happening in a story (#3).

When I first began writing, my first page was more like #5, but now I tend to stick with the top three.

Take a look at your first page and see if you fit in to what’s on the shelf.




Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 4 Comments

SHIPWRECK ISLAND for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I was strolling through the bookstore last month with gift card in hand. I’d already found one title and had enough left to grab one more. On the new releases shelf was SHIPWRECK ISLAND beckoning me. Looked intriguing. I read the inside51-k20Rj0LL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ book jacket and got pulled in more: A contemporary story about a newly formed blended family taking a vacation to get to know each other. I held on to it tightly and headed to checkout.

A week later after getting about 75% through the book, the light bulb appeared… there were too many story lines to be resolved in the remaining pages. I’d been tricked. There’s not one word in the book or book jacket that this the first in a series. I only found that out by going to the author’s website. I quickly read the remaining pages and sure enough, not a single plot point was resolved. It was all set-up. Should have done my research.

Okay, enough ranting. I did enjoy the adventure, but I’m not sure I would invest any more time by reading future volumes. The two main characters (12-year-old  Sarah and Marco) were not memorable enough to warrant more of my attention. But… you never know. I said the same thing about a similar ship wreck/island series from Gordon Korman back in 2001. Sometimes the pull to know the ending is enough to keep you reading through multiple volumes.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Sarah Robinson is deeply troubled in the wake of her dad’s second marriage. She now has to deal with a new stepmom and two stepbrothers, Marco, who is her age, and Nacho, who’s younger. Even though they’ve all moved from Texas to California to start life as a new, blended family, none of the kids seem remotely happy about it. Sarah’s dad and stepmom then decide to take the whole family on a special vacation in order to break the ice and have everyone get to know one another. They’ll fly to Tahiti, charter a boat, and go sailing for a few days. It’ll be an adventure, right?Wrong. Dead wrong.


  1. Nacho. Ten-year-old little brother. He’s a minor character who provides more insights and help to the dire situation than anyone else. I can see him taking a bigger role in future books.
  2. The third person POV alternated between Sarah and Marcos. It was good reading to listen to their different insights and what they thought of each other in their inner thoughts.
  3. If you want a guide about poor decision making by an adult, look no further than the dad. Some of his actions were laughable and far from being safe.
  4. The first part of the book while the family was on the ship is thrilling and I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter.
  5. If you loved SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON or more recently on the airwaves, LOST, then this one will be one to follow. You’ll just have to wait awhile before the whole story is available.


…Sarah found herself sitting on her floor beside her bed, wishing she could do something about the fact that she was about to embark on a trip with the new family she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with. And she was furious because she knew there was absolutely nothing she could do to keep it from happening.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 110 other followers

%d bloggers like this: