Hen&inkblots: A Literary Blog

What is your Intent? Writing from the heart and emotional core in children’s books…and the next Open Coop First Friday

July 7, 2016 by Erzsi Deak

In May I had the good fortune to meet writers and illustrators at two different barns: The Barn at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania for the SCBWI E. PA retreat and The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas.

At these events, I spoke about and we workshopped character-driven stories and writing from the heart — mining the emotional core.

Marketing loves a hook to latch onto and characters and their problems often provide that hook. Editors love a hook they can share with marketing and a story with heart and an action-packed through-line that speaks to the emotional core. We want to feel when we read a manuscript. We want action. We love a belly laugh. We love a good cry. Some of us like shivers. We want to care about the characters. Writing from the heart with intent is a good way to push the plot through your book. If you are writing to trends or “what you think you should be writing,” we can probably tell. If you are writing from your heart and the characters hearts with intent, it will feel authentic and we’ll know it.

So, consider asking yourself what is your intent when you set down to create a story? What is your character’s intent? (This may surprise you.) I can say that my intent in writing this note today is for CLARITY: To be clear about what makes us happy at Hen&ink when a submission comes in.

I hope you take these points TO HEART when you send out your most polished, character-driven and heartfelt work.


Here’s to intent and writing from the heart,



Happy-Dance Points to consider when submitting to Hen&ink:

  • Whether your character is a fox, or a mongoose, or a kid in braces, readers are going to identify with the main character.
  • Use concrete images, metaphor, and simile to enrich the language in your book.
  • Picture book authors: Please (please) don’t send me rhyme.
  • Picture book authors: Leave room for the illustrator’s vision (avoid illustration notes, if at all possible).
  • Illustrators & Writers: Think about page turns and keeping your character on every page of the book! Seriously. Even if it’s just a toe.
  • Don’t overwrite. Picture books — keep it under 500 words.
  • Older fiction: avoid info dumps; make the information intrinsic and flow naturally. Dribble it throughout the text.
  • Writing from your character’s heart work toward the inevitable unexpected ending (turn things on their heads, but make it satisfying).
  • The character solves its problem. Ideally the character evolves (grows).
  • YA — We probably can’t handle another dead girl. Dead boyfriend. Almost-dead brother. Questionably dead sister. Dead father. And we won’t even go into the dead mother scenario. Etc.
  • Humor — For all ages, we are HUGELY appreciative of SMART HUMOR. Not so much the scatological kind. And we are full-up on bum jokes.

This last Open Coop First Friday (July 2016) we received some wonderful work and are now responding to everyone (from earlier Open Coop days, SCBWI E PA and The Writing Barn, and any referrals) and reading the requested full submissions. You should be hearing from us before the next Open Coop First Friday, which is, please note: 2 September 2016 for Voicey and Character-driven middle-grade fiction for ages 9+. I’m still looking for a book as good as The Penderwicks, Three Times Lucky, or A Snicker of Magic. Or The Extincts, The Book of Three, Wee Free Men, When You Reach Me…

I invite anyone submitting to go to our submissions page and check-out our ever-growing list of favorite books (“Books that Feather Our Nest”) and if you haven’t read them, please do! If you have not heard it by now, it’s safe to say that it usually takes reading at least 1000 books of the genre you want to write in to write a good book in that genre.

1 July 2016
August: Closed for Summer Holiday
2 September 2016: Voicey and Character-driven middle-grade fiction for ages 9+ (no illustrations at this time)
October: Closed for the Frankfurt Book Fair
4 November 2016
December and January: Closed for Winter Holidays

When submitting to Open Coop First Friday, please make sure you are writing/creating what we are seeking and then, please submit only:

Writers –

5 manuscript pages (ie 12 pt type double-spaced)

+ log line (elevator pitch)

+ brief 100-word max synopsis


Illustrators –


+ Portfolio links