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How to Build a Story . . . Or, the Big What If

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From bestselling author Frances O’Roark Dowell comes a fresh and accessible guide to storytelling that breaks down the sometimes-daunting writing process into straightforward, doable steps, just right for budding writers!

If you’ve written anything, ever, you’re already a writer—so, congratulations! As many aspiring authors know, though, telling an actual, complete story is, well, a different story.

As unfinished drafts pile up and writers’ block strikes, it may start to feel like there’s a special formula to finishing a project that you’re just not getting. But crafting a story isn’t magic, if you have a little know-how! And here it is—know-how! In her witty, clever way, critically acclaimed author Frances O’Roark Dowell explains the storytelling process with simple, easy-to-understand steps. Follow along as she shares sample stories and identifies building blocks and obstacles to conquer—all hilariously illustrated, in a way that’ll have you typing all the way to the end of your own story.

In addition to writing many books including Shooting the Moon and Dovey Coe, Frances O’Roark Dowell has over a decade’s experience teaching writing workshops for kids. Ready, set, write!

128 pages, Hardcover

Published July 14, 2020

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About the author

Frances O'Roark Dowell

36 books386 followers
While Frances O'Roark Dowell (Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water) is best known for her award-winning novels, she also hosts the popular "Off-Kilter Quilt" podcast, where she talks about her latest quilt projects with friends and fellow quilters around the globe. Her own little corner of the globe is Durham, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and a dog named Travis. Connect with her online at FrancesDowell.com.

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5 stars
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9 (24%)
3 stars
8 (21%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Panda Incognito.
2,891 reviews53 followers
November 5, 2020
This great book for kids focuses on how to plot a story, instead of just covering mechanical and stylistic elements of writing. I wish that it had existed when I was younger, but still enjoyed reading it as an adult. The author does a great job of illustrating her points through concrete examples, and does so through hypothetical stories instead of spoiling her own or others published works. This book could have used tighter editing, since some mistakes slipped through (e.g., Wilbur from Charlotte's Web being both Wilbur and Wilber in the same paragraph), but this is a very good nonfiction guide, and has lots of great advice for kids.
Profile Image for Lorie Barber.
557 reviews36 followers
November 14, 2020
So. Yeah. This’ll be how I teach narrative writing from here until I die.
Profile Image for Toryn.
226 reviews8 followers
July 21, 2022
Possibly the best tip from the whole book:

Most importantly, you are forbidden to end a story by saying, “Then she woke up and realized it was all a dream.” Absolutely forbidden. (Page 85)
Profile Image for Thompson McLeod.
155 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2020
If you know a young person who wants to be a writer, this book is a MUST HAVE! If I were still teaching creative writing, I would make each student own a copy of this amazing, informative and FUN book about writing. While geared for grades 4-8, anyone who wants to be a writer or learn about writing will love this book. Unlike adult writing books, Dowell's book breaks the art of writing down to where it's understandable and fun. Her captivating sense of humor is echoed in the illustrations by Ebert.

Every writer wanna-be needs to realize that rough drafts are just that: rough and EDITING is a must. Rewrites and re-do will happen again and again. It's part of the process. Writing takes time, effort and PRACTICE!

Every story needs a character, the character needs a problem (if there's no problem, you have no story), there has to be some sort of resolution, whether it's good or bad. Also, your story needs the have some background but start with ACTION. Your protagonist needs to have something happen right away. There will be sticks and stones in the protagonist's way, but if there's a MONSTER (you'll have to read the book, to figure out what this means, wink), it makes your story much more interesting and the stakes are heightened.

There are brainstorming activities, "the big take home," and "let's write" for students, teachers, writers, everyone! I've read many craft books, but How To Build a Story...Or, the Big What If is by far the most fun. It's adorable!

So highly recommended, YOU NEED THIS BOOK NOW! Teachers of writing, YOU NEED THIS BOOK NOW! Writers, YOU NEED THIS BOOK NOW!

Read all my reviews at Young Adult Books What We're Reading Now
Profile Image for Carolina Colleene.
1,355 reviews40 followers
October 22, 2021
Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G
Have you ever had a great idea for a story, started writing it, and then had to stop because you didn’t know what came next? Dowell breaks down how to build a story so that you don’t just start stories but finish them, too!
I appreciate that Dowell refers to the process as building rather than writing a story. I mean, it is all about writing and includes exercises to try after each chapter, but Dowell’s process builds on what young (or not-so-young) writers are doing and teaches them how to keep going. After following all the steps, writers have accomplished something substantial and are encouraged to start again.
Reviewed for https://kissthebook.blogspot.com/
50 reviews
February 10, 2021
Ok, so I gave a pretty scathing review of one of Dowell's books. Probably unfairly so (it was a rough week) but as much as I may have been a bit over-the-top, my criticisms aren't without merit. That said, I was a little skeptical about this book about writing, since I had issues with one of her books.

But this is a great guide for young aspiring writers, I think. It lays out an easy-to-follow guide with examples that is written in a very youth-centered way. She pulls not only from books most students are likely to have read, but also provides her own examples of what she's talking about.

Highly recommended for young aspiring writers.
Profile Image for Katie Reilley.
775 reviews27 followers
October 28, 2020
Thank you to the author for sharing a copy with #bookexpedition.

This lovely guide is perfect for middle grade readers and writers ~ a “how to” text breaking down the (sometimes) overwhelming task of writing a story! The writing process is outlined in straightforward, actionable steps that will guide its readers through the stages of writing with specific suggestions and reflective questions. Add in some fun illustrations, and this is the perfect book for the middle grade writers in your life!
Profile Image for Jessica Zannini.
88 reviews2 followers
November 18, 2020
I loved this book. As a former upper elementary school teacher, this would be a fabulous read aloud as students are guided through writer's workshop. I am a librarian now and can see this as a great book for an Author's Club in our elementary school. So many amazing ideas and tips to inspire the writer in all of us!
39 reviews
January 16, 2021
If you have a pre teen or older who is interested in learning or improving their writing this is the book for them. I have given this book ( in lieu of a card) to all my young friend. I also donated two copies to the middle school library. Even the kids who were not interested initially came back and told me they enjoyed the book and found it helpful.
Profile Image for Savannah Byers.
38 reviews2 followers
September 17, 2022
I used this book to guide my middle school creative writing kiddos through the writing process. They responded really well to the concepts presented in this book, and the author undoubtedly understands the middle school audience and expertly writes for them. I highly recommend this book for teachers!
Profile Image for Steph.
4,394 reviews45 followers
October 17, 2020
What a cool book for young writers looking for tips and encouragement to get writing!
Profile Image for Noah.
23 reviews
April 10, 2021
A cute, amazing, helpful, and motivational book about how to write
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews

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