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Coaching KidLit Podcast-Episode 13: Mentor Texts with Book Coach Sara Gentry

Episode 13 – Mentor Texts with Book Coach Sara Gentry

In this episode Christy and Sharon are joined by fellow Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach Sara Gentry. Sara, Sharon, and Christy talk about using the Author Accelerator Inside Outline as a tool for studying published books as mentor texts.


Books Mentioned

Book Covers: The Next Great Jane by K.L. Going Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca May B. by Caroline Starr Rose After the Fall by Dan Santat A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

The Next Great Jane by K.L. Going Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca May B. by Caroline Starr Rose After the Fall by Dan Santat A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

Sara’s Action Item

Well, to no one’s surprise, I am going to suggest for the actionable item that you create an Inside Outline of a book that has already been published.

I would say preferably in the last five years. and I will give you a bonus Gold star for doing it, on a book that would be like a comp title for you of something that you’re writing or something that you wish to write. But for those who maybe are not quite as nerdy as myself and are a little bit leery about spending so much time with a novel, try it on a picture book.


Sharon’s Action Item

So, my action item is for anyone who struggles with the idea of what are these tent pole scenes or trying to figure out how to pull them out, is to go to your favorite plotting tool first before you do Sara’s Inside Outline challenge. and that can be the Pixar rule number four, once upon a time, because of this, because of this, component or could be Save the Cat or any, the Three Act Structure, any of the plotting tools that you’re most familiar with.

And use that first to pluck those tent pole scenes out of the book that you are deconstructing, and then put them into the Inside Outline and do the rest of it, because sometimes, especially with a new tool, we’re not as familiar.


Coaching KidLit Transcript

[00:00:00] Sharon Skinner: Hey Christy.

[00:00:01] Christy Yaros: Hey Sharon. How are you doing?

[00:00:03] Sharon Skinner: I’m good. We have a guest this month.

[00:00:08] Christy Yaros: We do. We do. Our favorite math PhD nerd turned book coach Sara Gentry.

[00:00:16] Sharon Skinner: Hi Sara.

[00:00:18] Sara Gentry: Well, hello ladies. That’s quite the introduction. Thank you.

[00:00:23] Christy Yaros: Well, you are. I love your math nerdiness and the fact that you love spreadsheets as much as I do.

[00:00:28] Sara Gentry: And I love that you love that.

[00:00:30] Sharon Skinner: Okay, so now you both loving each other and I’ll just sit over here and say, so Sara, what are we gonna talk about today? Because I’m excited for this. I really am. we’re so happy to have you here as a guest and I’m really excited to hear what you have to say.

[00:00:47] Sara Gentry: Yeah, we’re gonna talk about the Inside Outline, which is a tool that we use, through Author Accelerator.

And, we’re gonna talk about how I am super nerdy and like to tear apart books and put them into Inside Outlines to better understand structure and how story works. And, we’re gonna take a look at some KidLit books of course. yeah, I’m pumped.

[00:01:11] Sharon Skinner: I’m always up for a good deconstruction.

Christy Yaros: Reverse engineering. I love it. And we love using the Inside Outline. So this is a fantastic way, I think, to, to apply it. Can you tell us the process that you use? Is there a typical process that you use in general or is it different for every book that you analyze?

[00:01:30] Sara Gentry: Yeah, so when I’m looking at, let’s start with just a novel that would be like a single narrative single p o v type of story.

it kind of depends. Sometimes I will make like a literal scene by scene outline and include everything right away, just sort of a, tally of what’s happening in the book. And then I’ll go through and pick out like the tent pole scenes as we sometimes call them, the major shifting points within the story points that are, the most important for the story’s progression.

[00:02:04] Sara Gentry: And so because the story is already completed and you have a complete book, I do tend to start with everything, which is not typically how we advise people to use an Inside Outline when they’re writing it. so that’s a little bit different than, the process between seeing something finished versus something that’s being worked on.

but yeah, then I go through and I try to find, the key scenes and then I put them into the two page Inside Outline where, for those not familiar with the Inside Outline, we start with the scene, what’s happening within the scene. And, you can think of this as how a video camera might see what’s happening.

[00:02:44] Sara Gentry: If the book we’re playing out in front of you, and then we have the point, which is how the main character is being affected by what is happening in this scene, how they’re feeling as a result of it. And then we have our favorite phrase because of that, to drive us into the next scene.

[00:03:03] Sharon Skinner: So Sara, I’m really interested in knowing when you decided that you were gonna start taking and deconstructing novels and books with the Inside Outline to see how it applied and to kind of see what the structures look like and how other successful authors have managed to tell their stories. What did you start with?

Did you start with novels? Did you start, how did you come to do this process?

[00:03:35] Sara Gentry: Yeah, I started with novels because that’s, mostly what I was working with from a coaching context. but because I also write picture books, I quickly applied it, to see if it would work in a picture book format. and then I of wanted to stretch and see how far I could take it.

So I started looking at other formats, like graphic novels and, novels and verse. So I’ve kind of used it across the gamut, but it did start with novels.

[00:04:01] Christy Yaros: Can you give us an example of one, of a novel where you felt it worked well and what you were able to glean

[00:04:07] Sara Gentry: from it? Yeah, so I love the novel, The Next Great Jane by KL Going, and I even have it right here The Next Great Jane. And that’s a middle grade novel and it’s contemporary fiction. And I think that one works really well, because there’s a very clear, narrative drive throughout the story. And, so Jane is a young writer who is very excited to see her favorite author, who happens to be an adult romance author who is coming to visit this, tiny town in Maine where Jane lives.

And it just so happens to be on the night of a hurricane type of storm that’s coming close. So people aren’t sure if the event is going to happen. And Jane is very eager to go, though. So she goes with her, friend and soon finds out that the event is closed. It is closed to children because they will be serving alcohol

And so this is kind of the, where we start to see a scene in a point. so Jane can’t get in to see this author that she has long wanted to see. She’s been waiting and waiting, waiting for it, and she cannot. And so the point of how Jane is feeling, she is crushed, devastated, and, because of that , she’s going to make a decision to, try to sneak in in different ways to still hear this author talk.

And that sort of sets this tumble of events, that follow then and are sustained throughout the rest of the book. So I think that story, has a pretty, pretty tight story, which is why I liked using it for an example, for the Inside Outline.

Christy Yaros: Since you had already read it and it was already a book you enjoyed by applying the Inside Outline to it, did you see anything that you hadn’t noticed

[00:05:59] Sara Gentry: Oh, that’s a good question.

[00:06:00] Christy Yaros: Like a craft aspect?

[00:06:02] Sara Gentry: Yeah. So one thing that story did help with, especially when we’re coaching writers, who are first trying to flesh out an idea and we’re trying to keep the Inside Outline kind of sparse, sometimes I think people can get a little confused by that because, there might be a lot of scenes that sort of happen that really are very tightly related and within the Inside Outline itself.

You don’t need to have five different bullet points of events happening while in the book you might still have. Sort of like these five mini events that are happening, that are still driving through. It’s not that any of them, are extra or should be taken out or anything like that, but they are kind of serving a similar function.

And so if I go to The Next Great Jane, again, the story starts with her at home. They’re talking with the dad and the woman who helps take care of her and they’re deciding who’s gonna do what and who’s gonna take Jane where and all of this. And then we’re going to the library and then we’re finding out that she can’t go in and then she’s doing these.

And those can all be condensed on the Inside Outline into this one. Jane wants to see the famous author. She can’t, and so you, you do find that there are some scenes that are serving similar purposes, even if they’re not exactly the same. But I think condensing them down that way sort of helps you get a better understanding of the bigger arc of the story itself.

[00:07:28] Sharon Skinner: And I think that’s where, when we call those the tent pole scenes, that really you’re, you are looking at the key moment, right? Whether there are scenes related to it that drive up to that moment or, or not, that, that’s the tent pole moment, right? It’s, we say scene, the tent pole scene. But I think it’s really that key tent pole moment in the book, right?

[00:07:54] Sara Gentry: Yep. And you’re kind of looking for big changes in not only what is happening, but also the character’s emotional state. So the whole time through the beginning, even though it covers maybe two or three chapters, there might be a handful of scenes happening through those chapters. the desire is still the same.

She’s still trying to go see the famous author. She’s still trying, to get into that event and she’s. Super disappointed when it doesn’t happen. But you don’t need to necessarily at the beginning stages. Like I try to, we don’t know that she used the Inside Outline to write this book, of course, but if she had, she might have started with a kernel of an idea.

A girl wants to see an author, but she can’t, and then she might have teased that out to ask why, and what events might have happened within that. But by just knowing that this key idea is going to happen in the book, she can keep moving throughout, drafting the rest of the story.

[00:08:53] Sharon Skinner: Well, and I think to your point, that the idea of The Inside Outline and using it in this way will really help a writer to understand within their own work, what those tent pole scenes are and what those key moments are that really need to be reflected. I think as coaches, we often with new writers find that they want to put everything in the Inside Outline. They want to put every little scene in there, and they don’t really quite know, especially when you’re first planning out a book, it’s hard to know which are the tent pole scenes, especially early on as a writer.

And so I think this exercise be super valuable for writers to engage in and then go back to their own work because they’ll have a better understanding of, okay, where are the turning points? What are the major things that happen?

[00:09:48] Sara Gentry: Yeah. It also is helpful along those lines to help you get a better understanding of how far into the book something is happening. one thing that I find really fascinating, in KidLit books, some of those inciting incidents happen like right at the beginning of the book. Whereas, if we’re reading adult books, it’s not uncommon for them to happen, you know, substantially later, maybe like five to 15% into the book.

But some kid books, it’s like you need that opening scene to really, that’s where all the action is starting. Deconstructing it in that way because, also with the KidLit books, I feel like they don’t have as long of a resolution section, either. Sometimes it’s just resolved and then that’s it.

Whereas in adult books, you might still have another couple of chapters that are winding things down. So doing that, especially for people who maybe haven’t read a lot of KidLit in recent years, it does help give you an idea of what the marketplace expectation is for pacing and for like where the key events are going to happen in the book.

And then you can check yours against it. If you’re like, oh, my inciting incident didn’t happen until 20% into my outline. Okay, well we probably need to address that.

[00:11:07] Christy Yaros: Yeah, I could definitely see how it would be helpful for pacing and to see exactly how, and every book is different obviously, but the way, if you have a similar kind of book, if you have a mystery then this is kind of the way that the things are paced and you know, with a contemporary versus a fantasy versus a historical fiction.

And like what better way is there to learn than by something that’s already done masterfully, you know, that’s how you learn how to draw and paint right? By studying the masters.

Sara Gentry: Yeah, a hundred percent. I also think it’s a really great thing to do for, for people who are planning to write either in a different genre than they’re used to writing or in a different age category.

[00:11:47] Sara Gentry: So if you’ve always written young adult and now you want to try write a middle grade, then it’s probably helpful to try this exercise for a book that’s different than what you’ve written so far. So I had done this, myself because I had an idea for a book that would be a novel in verse, but I was like, I have no idea how one would structure a novel in verse.

And so , I used this tool that I was already familiar with just to see how that would look. And, you know, story is story. We say that often. and it does translate across the different formats, which is really interesting.

[00:12:21] Christy Yaros: It is. So did you learn anything from, I know you had done it with, Red, White, and Whole, right?

[00:12:28] Sara Gentry: Yes.

Yep. I did it for Red, White, and Whole, and that was super interesting because, okay, so I’m gonna preface by saying I just love that book. what’s interesting about it is that is a story that gets away with a much longer preamble than we would be used to because she’s providing a lot of, cultural components about what it’s like to be Indian in America with her family coming from India, but her always, living in America.

And so there are a lot of poems that are either about, her Indian culture or her family culture, or what she feels like being the only Indian girl within her school and things like that, that you might not do in a different format. I feel like novel in verse can get away with it because it’s so self-reflective.

And you almost expect that in, in a poetry format. but like when I was looking at the outline, I was like, oh, my word, the first quarter of this is very much backstory. And, so that was just an interesting finding and yet it works.

[00:13:33] Sharon Skinner: And for our listeners, that is Red, White, and Whole. It’s a novel in verse, it’s written by Rajani LaRocca.

So I’m curious, so was that the only novel in verse that you applied this technique to, so far?

[00:13:47] Sara Gentry: No. I also tried it for, a novel in verse called May B., and that’s by Caroline Starr Rose. And that one is a bit of an older novel, I wanna say within the last 10 years. So not super old, but That is also an interesting exercise to compare because that one is much more, that one has much more of a typical story arc.

All the poems are very much happening in sequential order. Every once in a while she throws in a little bit of a backstory poem, but for the most part it’s moving the story forward of a girl who’s left to her own devices, on the prairie in the mid-1800. So it’s historical fiction and that one was super interesting ’cause you could literally chunk the scenes, the poems together to form what we would consider a novel scene.

[00:14:41] Sara Gentry: So there might be seven poems that all had to do with this moment that may realize as she’s running out of food, for instance. And so you would consider that all to be a scene, even though. Handful of poems to go with it. So that was completely different in structure and yet it still works to use the process to find it.

[00:14:59] Sharon Skinner: So you also tried to apply this to some other formats. You said that earlier. I’m curious what worked and what didn’t work.

[00:15:09] Sara Gentry: Yes. Okay. So I would say that if I had to put like a general rule of thumb, I think that the Inside Outline is best suited for stories in which there is a strong character arc. Now, generally speaking, we do want to write stories with a strong character arc.

So it works for most stories. In the KidLit space though, as opposed to maybe the adult space, we sometimes get books that are, concept books, for instance, or silly books that are trying to make kids laugh while learning to read. And there’s nothing wrong with these books. I have many of them in my house, for my children.

But if there’s not a strong emotional arc component, then I don’t know if the Inside Outline would be as helpful. I still think that they can have a, because of that kind of cause and effect trajectory, it just might not always be, tightly connected with your characters’ feelings and emotions. So for instance, I don’t know that something like Mercy Watson, Would work as well.

We don’t know the internal thoughts of the pig, for instance. But still those stories definitely have a very logical flow to them. so you just might not have that point, part of the Inside Outline, playing as big of a role. But you know, even, picture books, as long as it’s a character arc of a picture book, I think it works.

We all love After the Fall by Dan Santat and that one is perfect. So if you are looking to do an Inside Outline for a picture book, I highly recommend using that one. super strong character arc. Very clear tent pole scenes covers the picture book. It’s lovely.

[00:16:53] Sharon Skinner: and I’m afraid that at some point people are gonna think we’re stalking Dan a little bit because we bring that book up a lot.

We bring up. Number of his picture books a lot, but particularly that one because we all love that book. It is just that good.

[00:17:10] Christy Yaros: We’re not stalking you Dan Santat. We promise.

[00:17:11] Sharon Skinner: We’re just fan girls. what other books did you find that you did this with, that you found like something really, was there any book that really stood out in any other way that surprised you when you did this?

Sara Gentry: So one thing that I think. Can also, looking back, I don’t know that I would consider it to be surprising because it makes sense. Like I feel like well, duh, that totally makes sense. But I don’t know if I would’ve known it before starting the exercise. But it’s very clear, especially in the KidLit spectrum, we get more perspective maybe than people do for making a story more complex.

[00:17:55] Sara Gentry: So we are used to seeing what books look like at their most simple components. like a picture book is a very, it’s a single thread happening. Middle-grade we start to add some more of those layers and then YA, you’re practically writing for adults at this point and there’s a lot of, complexity.

And so that was another thing that was kind of surprising in the sense that when you do this exercise, it’s harder to do it for the most complex books and you feel like, yeah, duh, it should be harder. But it’s also incredibly rewarding ’cause you can see where, subplots, sometimes we talk about using an Inside Outline for one subplot and an Inside Outline for another subplot to make sure that those things are lining up properly with a strong trajectory to them.

And so, doing this also really, really forces you to ask the question of like, what’s the primary plot? What’s the secondary plot? And those seem like very basic questions, but they’re not always the most clear until you’ve actually really gotten your hands dirty and done the work.

[00:19:02] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, I agree. And I think that the more complex the structure, the more complex the Inside Outline process can be. I coached a client who was doing, two timelines that were, basically a present day timeline that was meeting up with a past timeline and they connected at the end really nicely. She did a beautiful job, but we had to start with her doing two separate Inside Outlines, two separate “Because of thats,” and then finding a way to blend them together into the story and the structure that she wanted for her book.

And I think that also happens, I’ve seen that also with clients who have, multiple viewpoint characters who both need to have a character arc because they’re key characters in the book, although you’ll have the one that’s primary, it’s very difficult to keep track of the other in the same Inside Outline when you’re doing it initially.

[00:19:58] Sharon Skinner: So a lot of times what we’ll do is we’ll pull those apart and then meld them back together after we’ve done the, because of that, for each one of them for their own, journey. So I think, yeah, I think with kids’ books especially, chapter books and middle grade, you’ll see a little less of that probably, because usually when you have viewpoint characters that go back and forth, especially in middle-grade and sometimes in YA it’s the same story and you’re just pushing on it from a different viewpoint and you’re getting it, pieces of it from a different viewpoint.

But when it gets to where you have all those additional characters and their own journeys and especially if there’s intrigue and all of that going on and people are not who they say they are or they’re,

Sara Gentry: That’s a plug to, to try this exercise for a very simple book.

Try to see if you can do it for a picture book that has a strong character arc because it will be, the easiest way to understand all the elements that we’re talking about. So identifying the scene, identifying the point, identifying a because of that and, identifying the pacing of all of that.

[00:21:09] Sara Gentry: And then try it for something slightly more complex and then keep working your way up. Sometimes people who aren’t in the KidLit world, they look down on these more simple stories, but they still have all the same elements of a 500-page novel. So they’re just at their stripped away elements, which it actually makes it harder.

So yeah, I would encourage people to give that a try.

[00:21:35] Sharon Skinner: Yeah, I, again, this is the idea of using a tool like this to deconstruct. It’s not about figuring out, oh, what did that book look like so much as how does this tool work so that you can internalize that and take it from theory to actual implementation and put it into practice for your own work.

Christy Yaros: Now, Sara, you did try it with, a dual point of view book.

Sara Gentry: Yes.

Christy Yaros: Did you learn anything about that, about how that deconstructed differently?

[00:22:06] Sara Gentry: yeah. So I did that for A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. And, for those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is based on the story of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, but within a KidLit setting.

And, it’s got like Asian fantasy elements to it. It’s lovely. And, what was interesting about that one, for instance, you start from one character’s point of view. He would be like the Jean Val Jean character, a little boy who’s living in a prison for mothers who had been, taken in and he was born while she was incarcerated, but he has to live in the jail, as well.

And then, the flip side of that is the warden’s daughter, who is like the Javert character and very early on. There’s this event that involves both of them, but we get to see it from their different points of view. And the way that they alternate the points of view is, really interesting to see, to pay attention where that camera shifted and why it might have shifted, but it did not lose the, the trajectory of events.

Like we still are working within a continuum. And, and then what’s interesting about that is the little boy ends up escaping from his jail. And then there’s a good part of the book that follows where it’s just him. We’re just following him. And we don’t come back to the other character until later.

So I know a lot of times when we’re dealing with multiple POV characters, we don’t necessarily want. You kind of want them to have some equal footing, but here’s a case that shows, no, it works perfectly well to serve the story, to be following this little boy for a while and forgetting about the other.

And when they come back together, though, we have context because they’ve already been together, we’ve already seen both their points of view and the story thread between them has already been established. So that’s another interesting exercise for people who are looking for the multi pov. I think that’s a great book to try if you want to do the Inside Outline for that.

[00:24:13] Christy Yaros: So when you were actually pulling out the Inside Outline, did you just, with the dual POVs, did you first just go straight through the story and just do each scene, maybe marking who the narrator was at that point, and then analyze it further by seeing how each point of view worked separately.

[00:24:31] Sara Gentry: I think you could do that.

I personally with the books that have already been done, I like to see everything. I like to literally have every last little scene that may or may not be a tent pole scene. I like to see them all and then I like to pick them out afterwards. But that’s just the way my brain works. You totally could do it per character.

[00:24:54] Sharon Skinner: So basically what you like to do is go through the whole book and get the scenes first listed and then pull out the tent pole scenes, put those into the Inside Outline, and then do the point of each one.

Sara Gentry: Yes.

Sharon Skinner: Is what you’re saying.

[00:25:09] Sara Gentry: Yes. So I think this is a little bit, since you brought up my math nerdiness, I think this is a little bit where the math brain comes in because in, in math, especially higher level math, you are often.

Trying to prove something and you know what you’re trying to prove. It’s just a matter of how you’re going to get there. So you always know the end, so to speak. So I like to have these end results and be like, and how did we get there? and of work backwards. and then I like to try and think, okay, so if I was the person writing this story, what might it have looked like when I started?

If with just an idea, how might I have taken just my idea to be this, like really loose outline? Because then I can see how the loose outline became the full thing.

[00:26:03] Sharon Skinner: So my English major brain just went, oh, that’s why they say show your work, huh?

[00:26:10] Sara Gentry: Yes. The best part. So this is funny too because it also helps you show where things go wrong, right?

So when people do show their work, like on something in a math problem, for instance, you can say, “This is where it started to go sideways, but they were following a good process.” Whereas another kid, if you’re grading their homework, they might have, never have had a good process, but maybe their answer was actually closer to the finish, and you’re like, no, that’s not good either. So by working backwards, you can think about what’s the next thing I need to get to the next right answer. Like sometimes it’s fun to know the answer and ask how did they get it? How did they get this answer? And, that opens up a whole can of worms as well.

[00:26:56] Christy Yaros: That is, from my educational publishing background of writing math, the bane of the existence of writers who have to write multiple choice questions because that is exactly how you come up with the distractors is what other way, what other answers could this student have gotten, had they done something wrong, logically wrong, in the process?

And like you said, yes. there’s steps to follow and if you had, say, a computational error in step three, but you still followed the process, you can see that, had you not made that one little mistake, you still would’ve, you would’ve gotten to the correct answer, which is different than if you’re just all over the place.

But being able to see that, you can say, okay, like just with our books, right? Like overall you did this right, but because this little part is a little off, if we fix this, then everything else that you tried to do would work.

[00:27:45] Sharon Skinner: Okay. I feel like I’m being sucked into the matrix right now. So…

[00:27:51] Christy Yaros: Process is personal, Sharon!

[00:27:53] Sara Gentry: We just made all the writers disappear with talk of math.

[00:27:57] Christy Yaros: You know what, there’s a lot of nerds out there.

[00:27:58] Sharon Skinner: I think that’s fascinating because I never knew that about how you write the math problems, right? I never knew that. So I’ve learned something new today about that and…

[00:28:08] Christy Yaros: Useless information, but yes.

[00:28:10] Sharon Skinner: I don’t know that it’s useless. I, but I wanna go back to circling back to again, this is why we use the tools that we do to deconstruct things. This is why we tell people to go to our mentor texts or to their mentor texts and look at how, other writers have been successful at accomplishing various things.

And in this case, it’s the whole story arc. It’s the plot and the inside character arc that we’re talking about with the Inside Outline. And I love, love the way that you have explained using the Inside Outline to deconstruct these books. And I and my brain keeps thinking, “No disassemble Johnny-five” here, but we really do wanna do that.

[00:28:58] Sara Gentry: Right? And there’s nothing wrong. So I’ve just used this example of A Wish In the Dark. It won a Newbery Honor. It’s a highly acclaimed book, and it’s gorgeous. And nobody knocks on the fact that it is the story of Les Miserables. In fact, they applaud that. And so essentially, she’s taking a structure of a well-known story and making it her own.

And there’s nothing to stop writers from doing the same, especially if you’ve never written a story. I see no problem. In fact, I would encourage people to take a structure of something that you know well and just make your own story out of it. Where are the major plot points going to happen? How is it going to be within your own story’s world and your own protagonist and things like that.

I mean, make it your own, but you know, the main events that have to happen when they have to happen and you have kind of like a map to show you how to get from the beginning to the end.

Sharon Skinner: That’s glorious.

Christy Yaros: Since all of our brains work differently in the way that we look at these things and those of us who are maybe more analytical math minded, we could you know, do that same process and get something completely different out of it based on what it is that we need to learn about what we’re trying to do with our own writing.


[00:30:14] Sharon Skinner: Okay, Sara, so have you done this with a graphic novel?

[00:30:20] Sara Gentry: Yeah. so stories like, again, make sure it’s got a strong character arc. I also think for something like the Inside Outline, especially if you’ve never used this tool before, to dissect a story, I would just encourage you to try with a story that has a very clear protagonist.

I know sometimes some of the graphic novels might have more of a cast of characters, kind of more like a comic world. But, if you can find, there’s tons of great graphic novels. I love graphic novels. If you can find one with a very strong character arc. So one of my favorites is Roller Girl.

Such a strong emotional core to that story of a girl, trying to figure out what it means to, take stock in her own interests and to become who she wants to be while also navigating these friendships. friends who maybe don’t like the same things she likes anymore. just a perfect story for the middle grade audience.

But again, the process is the same. Even though we’ve got all these, comic panels, you’re still trying to find out like the key takeaways, the key moments that are happening in the book, the key pivotal moments. and then I guess as a graphic novelist, I’m not an illustrator myself, but as they’re gonna construct that book, they’re gonna think just like a picture book artist would, they’re gonna think about how the layout then is going to impact that as well.

[00:31:39] Sara Gentry: Which I guess we should also mention with picture books. The Inside Outline becomes really great for thinking also about page turns,

[00:31:47] Sharon Skinner: Which is an absolute key element in that format that early writers do not quite grasp often. So I think that’s fabulous.

[00:31:58] Sara Gentry: Yeah. It works across the board for anything character driven, with a character arc.

Christy Yaros: And then once you have that, that Inside Outline and you’re looking at how these scenes work, it doesn’t matter anymore what the finished format of the book, whether it is a novel in verse or a graphic novel or a picture book. You’re seeing how the story works, how story structure works, the elements that are the same, no matter what kind of story you’re telling and how to then, how do I then take that and apply that to what I’m doing?

[00:32:32] Christy Yaros: Because

[00:32:32] Sara Gentry: That brings up a really good point because I think a lot of times writers aren’t really sure what they have. They just know they have a story. And it might not be until they’ve talked with critique partners or a coach that maybe they thought that this middle grade novel in verse that they’re writing is actually going to be a YA fantasy trilogy or something completely different.

But, but by knowing like what the story is, I think you’re totally right. You could try and write that story, that would be super interesting. I might have to try that now. You’ve given me a nerdy exercise, to take a basic outline and be like, what would it look like if this story was a mystery?

What would it look like if this story was a contemporary fiction or historical fiction? That would be super interesting.

Sharon Skinner: Even, I’m. Into this right now. you totally sucked me into this one.

[00:33:25] Christy Yaros: wasn’t, I guess I just gave my action item without even trying .

[00:33:31] Sharon Skinner: Ooh, look at you. And speaking of action items, I, is there anything else, that we should talk about or can, are we ready to wrap this up?

I could sit here and talk to Sara about this all day, but I know our listeners have other things to do and we’ve been going on for a bit.

[00:33:47] Sara Gentry: I guess the only thing that I think we could impart to people, and I think we’ve touched on it, but people need not worry about being derivative or being, like a copycat.

I mean, sure if you push it too far, maybe you’ve got a copycat issue. But at its core, so many stories copy structure off of other stories, and I don’t think people need to worry about that as much as they do, especially when they’re first starting out. Everybody is so concerned about being super original, but if you were super original, we wouldn’t know what to do with that because our brain would not know how to process this super original story that you’re trying to tell us in a super original structure with super original scenes and bombastic events happening all over the place.

We do have some expectations just because of the way that we have developed as a society and I think people need not be so scared of studying other people’s work in order to better write their own.

[00:34:50] Sharon Skinner: I so love that because I hear a lot of times people say, I don’t read. Because I don’t wanna be influenced by another writer.

And there’s a, and I get that sometimes people feel like they’re going to take the writer’s voice in or turn and internalize it and then, maybe transfer that into their own work. But really, I believe, I’m a firm believer that you need to read in order to write well, and you need to, and I recommend reading broadly and widely and deeply in order to do that and not, and if you’re worried about being influenced, don’t just read one writer, read 20 writers, read five different genres, that are, that should, that might be even outside and away from what you are writing, but read because craft is craft and it’s important to see how people do things. Even if you’re writing fantasy, you might read a thriller and say, oh, the transition here was so good. Or you might be reading, a memoir and think, oh, the backstory segue was so beautiful here.

I can use that process. I can use that type of methodology. I can apply that to what I’m doing. And it’s not, as you say, derivative, it’s brush strokes. It’s looking how the brush strokes are on the page and interpreting that into your own work. So thank you for that because that just feeds my heart.

Christy Yaros: And this exercise is such a great example of using that too because as you said, you know, you did, A Wish in the Dark and you could see how two protagonists, they’re a different way of telling a dual POV story.

No matter what kind of story I’m writing, if mine has two protagonists, learning how that was done successfully in another book, how was that handled? How often did they transition? How did they handle these tent pole scenes? That applies no matter what I’m writing, looking at the pacing in a story, whether it’s a novel in verse or whether it’s not, so there’s, every book brings something to us and every writer has, is masterful at, one or more things, but something that you can look at it and say, I love the way that they did that.

[00:37:08] Christy Yaros: And when we analyze it and deconstruct it like this, it’s like, okay, I’m obviously not gonna do the same thing that they do, but. like you said, Sharon. I love the way that they handled this. What can I take from that and how can I learn to and does mine do that? And it, you could see even the problems in what you’re writing, you know where it’s wrong.

Oh, my pacing is completely off because look, all of these other things that I’m looking at, by this scene, this is happening and I’ve got 27 scenes and we haven’t even gotten to the inciting incident yet. So mentor texts in general, as you know, we love mentor texts. And I so love this exercise of taking a tool that we use to write and using it also to, to analyze something that’s already been written.

[00:37:50] Sharon Skinner: Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. So, Sara, this is, we’re getting to the end of our episode and this is where we do our action items and we also ask our guests to please provide an actionable item for our listeners. What have you got for us?

[00:38:07] Sara Gentry: Well, to no one’s surprise, I am going to suggest for the actionable item that you create an Inside Outline of a book that has already been published.

I would say preferably in the last five years. and I will give you a bonus Gold star for doing it, on a book that would be like a comp title for you of something that you’re writing or something that you wish to write. But for those who maybe are not quite as nerdy as myself and are a little bit leery about spending so much time with a novel, try it on a picture book.

[00:38:43] Sara Gentry: It will take you 30 to 60 minutes to really study that, write it down, see the cause and effect trajectory and how the point of the protagonist, how the feelings of the protagonist are driving the action, from one scene to the next. So that’s my actionable item. Try it on something that’s been published.

[00:39:05] Sharon Skinner: And Sara, where can people find you on the web and social media?

[00:39:12] Sara Gentry: Yes, thank you. I am on Instagram and Twitter with the handle @WriteWithSara. That is no h at the end.

Christy Yaros: And what is it that you focus on with your coaching?

[00:39:23] Sara Gentry: Yeah, with my coaching, I don’t necessarily focus on a specific type of genre.

Perhaps not surprisingly, after this conversation, I really love digging into story structure and helping people, organize their ideas into things that are more cohesive and, help create a stronger narrative drive. Great.

[00:39:43] Christy Yaros: Sharon. I already gave, I surprisingly gave an actionable item without even thinking about it, so…

[00:39:49] Sharon Skinner: So we’ll revisit that.

So, my action item is for anyone who struggles with the idea of what are these tent pole scenes or trying to figure out how to pull them out, is to go to your favorite plotting tool first before you do Sara’s Inside Outline challenge. and that can be the Pixar rule number four, once upon a time, because of this, because of this, component or could be Save the Cat or any, the Three Act Structure, any of the plotting tools that you’re most familiar with.

[00:40:24] Sharon Skinner: And use that first to pluck those tent pole scenes out of the book that you are deconstructing, and then put them into the Inside Outline and do the rest of it, because sometimes, especially with a new tool, we’re not as familiar. So that is my actionable item for those people who, I definitely think you should do Sara’s.

Absolutely. But to get there, you might need to take a second, another step first. Great. That’s

[00:40:52] Christy Yaros: a very good point. And Sara, when you do my actionable item, maybe you can come back and share your findings with us.

[00:41:01] Sharon Skinner: Do you wanna reiterate that, Christy, ’cause we’re at the end?

[00:41:04] Christy Yaros: Okay, so my actionable item to reiterate was taking an Inside Outline that you have done after you have done Sara’s challenge, in combination with or addition to Sharon’s challenge and using it as a skeleton structure to try and recreate, do something different with your own story. See if you can use that to emulate and see what you can come up with.

So check out the show notes for any of the books that we talked about today and, another explanation of the Inside Outline along with some links to where you can find out more about how to use that tool. And of course, how to find Sara or Sharon or myself.

If you’re like, “Hey, I need a coach, and one of them sounds awesome.” I mean, we all sound awesome, but if in particular one of us seems more awesome to you, then please reach out. And thank you so much for joining us today, and we will see you soon.

[00:41:57] Sharon Skinner: Thank you, and thank you, Sara for being here.

This has been fabulous. Thanks to all of our listeners, for hanging out with us and coming back again and again. We would do this anyway, but it wouldn’t be the same without you. Bye.

Sara Gentry: Thank you for having me, ladies. I always love talking with you. whether it’s on a podcast or just in a Zoom chat hangout, I love the podcast and, I hope others do as well. So thank you so much. This is a great joy to be here.

[00:42:27] Christy Yaros: Thank you. And we’re really gone now. Bye-bye.


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