Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

July 2020 Monthly Meeting: Author Jenny Elder Moke

At the July meeting, Jenny Elder Moke, author of YA novel HOOD (Disney/Hyperion, June 2020), spoke to a well-attended Zoom gathering about the three pillars necessary for a first draft.

HOOD is about the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marien. Look for Jenny’s second novel coming next summer: CURSE OF THE SPECTER QUEEN, about a teenage book-clubber who must save the world from an ancient Celtic curse.

As Jenny outlined the three pillars, which are not only necessary for a first draft, but critical for a complete story, she emphasized how the pillars connect to each other and how these connections inform the entire story you are trying to tell.

Three Pillars of Storytelling
I. Character
II. World
III. Plot


I. Character

Surface Need vs. Deep Need

1. Surface Need Is:

What your character THINKS they need—it is the obstacle to the Deep Need; there is often contention between the Surface Need and the Deep Need which creates tension for your character in those scenes; their pursuit of the Surface Need often denies the work they should be doing to solve their Deep Need

Usually an external goal or motivation (ie: the character thinks: if I could only find the magic sword/that job/that special person…then, all my problems would be solved!)

What drives the action of the first half of the story (up to the midpoint)

2. Deep Need Is:

What your character REALLY needs

Always internal (ie. it’s not the sword I need, but that I need to learn how to become a hero, it’s not the job I need, rather, I need to recognize my worth in the world; it’s not the special person I need, but that I need to learn to love myself first)

Ties into your THEME


3. Theme:

What is the lesson you want your main character to learn? (i.e. to love themselves, or that friendship is the most important thing, or that it is okay to be yourself)

What is this story ultimately about?

What story are you trying to tell?

Theme is the guiding light: the point to return to each time you, as the writer, get stuck (ie. the more you know your theme, the better off you’ll be as the author, making choices about what happens in the story)


II. World

1. Physical: Time, Place, Season/Circumstance (ie. 1880, London, Winter—once you know these, the reader can envision most of the world detail so you as the author can write the first draft)

2. Purpose: Why this world for this story? Why NOW in this world?

3. Worldbuilding is a PROCESS that will happen over multiple drafts/revisions



III. Plot

1. The Beginning:

Inciting Incident (the catalyst to pursuit of Surface Need)

What happens to start your story? (something your character cannot go back from: i.e. Katniss chose to join the Hunger Games to save her sister); usually happens externally

Driving point from beginning to the middle is the main character’s search to solve the Surface Need

2. The Middle:

Midpoint; Big plot twist that happens halfway through your story; All the action in the first half of the story is driving the characters to the midpoint

Often seen as a reflection of the endThe main character either gains or loses the Surface Need only to realize their problems are not solved (triggers the switch to start solving the Deep Need; ties into the Theme)

The driving point from here to the end is that search to solve the Deep Need

3. The End:

The Climax; The Big Showdown; everything comes together as the reader feels the tension of the Surface Need and the Deep Need explode

This is where your character solves their Deep Need and learns what they need to solve their problems (ie. the thing that the character needed to fix within themselves all along; or the lie they needed to realize was untrue about themselves all along)



Twitter: @jennyelder
Instagram: @jennyeldermoke22