Dreams & Beans

The dream I chase is known as BeAnAD [bean-add]. And no, I’m not counting beans. BeAnAD stands for “Being an Author Dude,” and this pursuit has consumed way too many hours of my life to keep track of.



More reading.

More writing.

A quick break for writer’s cramp.

Then still more writing. And reading.

City of Ember As the years zip by like a Crisco-coated monkey on a Slip-and-Slide,   I perpetually catch myself “reading like a writer.” I’ll stop to admire an   original simile such as this one from Jeanne Duprau’s The City of Ember:

She pressed a finger against the side of Granny’s throat to feel for her pulse, as the doctor had shown her. It was fluttery, like a moth that has hurt itself and is flapping in crooked circles.


Or I’ll pluck that tidbit of setting that effectively paints the mood of a scene such as this excerpt from Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars:

I walked home under gray clouds whose undersides had been shredded. They hung in tatters, and a cold mist leaked out of them.

And lately, I’ve given myself some official homework as I study the craft of other writers. I’ve been reading through a variety of children’s books, recording three things for each chapter:

1)      The word-for-word START of the chapter.

2)      A few sentence SUMMARY of the chapter.

3)      The word-for-word END of the chapter.

The Wednesday Wars

For example, I’m currently going through this start-summary-end process with Ivy and Bean, a chapter book by Annie Barrows. My notes look like this:

 Ivy and Bean Chapter One: No Thanks

START: “Before Bean met Ivy, she didn’t like her.”

SUMMARY: Bean’s mom encourages Bean to go play with Ivy, the new girl across the street. Bean doesn’t want to because she’s convinced Ivy is boring.

END: “So for weeks and weeks, Bean didn’t play with Ivy. But one day something happened that changed her mind.”

Chapter Two: Bean Hatches a Plan

START: “It all began because Bean was playing a trick on her older sister.”

. . .

This start-summary-end look at each chapter helps me create a basic outline for the flow of a story and consider how my own writing might be improved. How does the start of a chapter draw me in and make me want to read on? What sort of conflict and/or action (either major or minor) moves the chapter forward? How does the author use the chapter ending to propel me into the next?

So . . . are you looking for a way to give your writing a boost? Read a children’s book with a pad of paper and a pencil in hand, recording a start-summary-end outline as you go. When you’re done, study it. Consider it. Then create a chapter-by-chapter, start-summary-end outline for your own manuscript, looking for opportunities to strengthen your creation.

My BeAnAD dream may not be worth a hill of beans at this point. But hopefully, that will change one day. And when it does, I may have to stop and thank Ivy and Bean for their help along the way.

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T. P. Jagger
Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade classrooms. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.
  1. What a great idea! I love seeing a capsulized chapter, with its strong beginning and strong ending emphasized. I’m definitely going to try this!

  2. Excellent idea! Penelope Crumb, her I come.

  3. I love your suggestion. I tried something similiar recently, but ended up taking way to many notes on plot and characters then I anticipated. I did however think the process helped when going to writing the review. I’m gonna stick to your idea instead though.

  4. Excellent suggestions, T.P. ! Now, I only have to find the time to do them… Great post!

  5. My goodness, thank you so much for sharing your new process. What great advice! Do you have a “special” notebook to track these things?
    I am kinda, sorta (really) unorganized and tend to write everything in one book (lists, personal journalling, ideas, freewriting) but that’s not very effective. I’d like to have a separate organization system I think for “quotes” , “chapter summaries” (as per your insighgt above), “journalling”, “personal “to dos”, “story ideas”….but then I’d have a STACK of notebooks ….and probably be confused 🙂
    I need a professional life organizer 🙂

    Anyway, got completely off track, so thanks for the fantastic post. Loved loved loved The Wednsday Wars by the way. Haven’t read the other two…loooks like I need to get back to your very true statement to read and write , read and write again.

    • Jill,
      Like you, my writer’s notebook tends to be quite a hodgepodge of miscellaneous story ideas, free writing, and so on. However, for my first start-summary-end outline, I just grabbed an empty notebook and went at it. Then (because I DO tend to be organized) I ended up writing my next start-summary-end outline on my computer, which made it easy to tuck into a “Start-Summary-End” file.

      BONUS NOTE: Since you loved The Wednesday Wars, I also recommend Gary D. Schmidt’s companion novel, Okay for Now–it has become one of my all-time favorites, being the only book I can ever remember that has made me laugh out loud AND want to cry, all on the same page.

      -T. P.

      • @T. P. Jagger, Oh I agree. I read “Okay for now” first and LOVED it.

  6. What a great idea! Thank you. I’m needing to write an early chapter book and I think I will use this exercise to help. Very smart!

    • I’m glad you like the idea, Joyce. Best of luck as you work on your chapter book! 🙂

      -T. P.