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Spot the Difference: The Quiet Forest

Updated: May 5

Guest post by Charlotte Offsay


You can order THE QUIET FOREST here.


Each of my books has had its own unique journey from draft to publication. Some of these roads are much longer and bumpier than others but my process for each always starts out the same way - I write the “why” or the “heart” of my story at the top of my manuscript. I then use this story statement as I revise. I refer back to it in order to remember my reason for writing this story in the first place, to see how it might be changing as my story evolves and to identify when more layers and hooks are needed. I update this statement as I go, editing it as I edit my story and use it as a way to keep myself on track and not get off course by any feedback I may be getting along the way – something I found particularly difficult to do in my first few years of writing. 


Take for example my most recently published book, The Quiet Forest, illustrated by Abi Cushman and published on 3/12/24 by Paula Wiseman Books/Simonkids. I first sat down on 9/21/2020 (according to my computer files) to begin writing my story. I save my work as a new file every time I work on it, so that first file is called TheGrumpyForest9.21.20 and here is what I wrote:


You know the book the napping house, where the structure builds on itself? I want to do that but a house or a forest where everyone in it is grumpy. And everyone is grumpy for all the reasons that usually make people grumpy, like being hungry or tired or lonely etc. but then I want one human or animal to break the cycle and undo everyone’s grumpiness. like a moment where the cycle is stopped by someone who decides not to continue the pattern and instead breaks it which then positively affects everyone else.


I want to write a cumulative story where everyone is grumpy and it illustrates all the different things that makes us grumpy but then one animal breaks the pattern and turns the day around for everyone.


THE GRUMPY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay 


There is a forest, 

a grumpy forest, 

where nobody is happy. 


And in that forest

there is a tree

a thorny tree

in a grumpy forest, 

where nobody is happy. 


And on that tree

there is a monkey,

a restless monkey,

on a thorny tree,

in a grumpy forest,

where nobody is happy.


As you can see this is a very rough and incomplete draft. The statement at the top is more of a note to myself than a pitch at this point but I used it to continue working on my story. Over the next couple of weeks, I worked to create a complete draft and eventually my revision (pitch and opening lines) on 11/1/2020 read:


Pitch: Deep in THE CRANKY FOREST all the animals are, well… cranky. They are impatient, bored, worried, anxious, uncomfortable and tired. Until… one small act of kindness sets a series of events into motion. The Napping House meets Grumpy Monkey. 


THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay 


[Global art note suggestion: the illustrations start zoomed in on the ant and zoom out to show more and more animals as the grumpiness builds]


There is a forest, 

a gloomy forest,

where everyone is cranky. 


And in that forest

there is an ant,

an are-we-done-yet?! ant,

in a gloomy forest, where everyone is cranky. 

[Art: An ant is finding building their anthill hard work and wants to be done yet] 


And beside that ant,

there is a mouse,

an I’m-boooored! mouse,

scurrying away from an are-we-done-yet?! ant,

in a gloomy forest, where everyone is cranky.  

[Art: Mouse is searching for friends and tramples ant’s anthill causing the ants to run after him]


As you can see, by this draft, I had shifted to having the animals grow in size as each one is introduced, and had the idea that I wanted the illustrations to zoom out to include more and more animals as the story went on. I also began playing with the language and adding in characters like the “are-we-done-yet?! ant,” to increase the playfulness of the story. 


By December 2020, I had removed the idea of each animal having a different reason for being cranky and decided to lean into the cause and effect aspect of the cumulative structure. I also decided that my drafts should include onomatopoeia in order to increase the read aloud fun:


Pitch: Deep in THE CRANKY FOREST all the animals are growing crankier and crankier. Until, one small act of kindness turns the tide. 


Audrey Wood’s The Napping House meets Suzanne Lang’s Grumpy Monkey and Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Kind


THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay 


[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the crankiness builds and animals increase in size.]


In a forest—


There is a mouse,

squeak, bounce 

squeak, bounce


sigh

[Art: passing the time tossing something against a tree.]


a “nothing to do” mouse, 

in a forest.


And nearby that mouse…


…there is a rabbit,

kurplunk, crumble

kurplunk, crumble


thump

[Art: Mouse misses tree and hits rabbit’s burrow, causing the wall to collapse, and the rabbit to thump angrily]


a “watch out!” rabbit, 

and a “nothing to do” mouse,

in a cranky forest. 


By March 2021, I decided to add in alliteration and shifted to pull the thread of kindness more distinctly throughout my pitch and manuscript. I did this by updating my pitch but also by creating an author’s note further detailing my personal connection to the story. I often include these author’s notes on the bottom of my manuscripts when my agent subs to editors:


Pitch: Deep in the forest, crankiness is spreading, until one creature decides to reverse the tide. 


THE CRANKY FOREST is a cumulative story which shows that crankiness can spread but a little kindness, a little joy, a little positivity – those can spread too.


A cumulative story structure similar to Audrey Wood’s The Napping House, meets cranky animal characters similar to Suzanne Lang’s Grumpy Monkey and an overarching theme of spreading positivity similar to Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Kind



Author’s note: Throughout Covid I have been fortunate to be able to close myself up at home with my husband and two small children. Being home together 24/7, though, has highlighted for me how our reactions to the tiny moments can determine the path of our day as a household. I learned this from my six-year-old daughter, who, when faced with moments that can either snowball her (and the rest of our) day, continually chooses to react with patience and kindness instead of spreading crankiness, which inevitably turns things around for all of us. Her inborn nature in these moments didn’t come from me, and it is only through witnessing the impact of her choices on our household that I have resolved to be more like her -- and found so much more joy in my days because of it. The deep breaths, choosing patience in the face of frustration or irritation can fully shift not only my own day but my entire family’s day for the better. I wrote The Cranky Forest as a metaphor for this time together, and out of my determination to be more like my daughter and the cub in this story. I firmly believe that there are numerous tiny moments throughout our day where we can choose to snowball misery or decide to reverse the flow instead. 



THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay 


[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the crankiness builds and animals increase in size.]


Deep in the woods,

a mouse sighs.

A miserable mouse, in a nothing-to-do forest.

Until… 


…that mouse spies a rabbit!

[Art: Mischievous tossing something playfully at rabbit/rabbit’s burrow making the rabbit angry]


A rattled rabbit, 

and a mischievous mouse,

in a suddenly-not-so-boring forest. 


And all their commotion… 


…startles a beaver!

[Art: Beaver drops wood/ruins their own dam - logs splash into water]


For the rest of 2021 I continued to play with the puzzle of the cumulative story structure. I worked to make all of the elements of my story come together and build in the way I wanted them to. By this point the puzzle pieces included:

  • Making sure that each animal built in size as the story structure built. 

  • That each animal could exist in nature together. 

  • That each sound word from one animal caused the sound from the next animal. 

  • That the alliteration worked in both the buildup of mayhem in the forest and in the build down where calm and kindness spreads through to the end of the book. 


Eventually after many drafts here is the pitch, opening lines and author’s note that was subbed in Oct 2021:


Pitch: Deep in a nothing-to-do forest, one mischievous mouse triggers a wave of crankiness. But just as grouchiness begins to build out of control, one small act of kindness manages to turn the tide. THE QUIET FOREST is a cumulative story, similar to The House That Jack Built. It blends the cranky characters of Suzanne Lang’s GRUMPY MONKEY with the theme of spreading kindness of Pat Zietlow Miller’s BE KIND. 


[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the actions of each animal impact the subsequent animal. Each animal also increases in size from the one prior.]


Deep in the woods—

a mouse wanders alone.

A mischievous mouse, in a quiet, nothing-to-do forest.

[Art: Mouse is bored, perhaps being mischievous by trying to hit something (sign/windchime etc.) above an animal’s burrow]

Until… 


…the mouse spies a rabbit. 

Splat. Thump.

Splat. Thump.

[Art: The thing mouse is throwing accidentally causes something to splat onto rabbit (splat) & rabbit thumping angrily (thump)]


A mischievous mouse,

and a rattled rabbit,

in a suddenly-not-so-quiet forest. 

And all of the Rabbit’s thumping…


Author’s Note: Throughout the pandemic I have been fortunate to be able to close myself up at home with my husband and two small children. Being home together 24/7 has highlighted for me how our individual reactions to the in-between moments can determine the path of our day as a household. In these moments, my six-year-old daughter continually chooses to react with patience and kindness instead of spreading crankiness. By witnessing the impact of her choices on our household, I have resolved to be more like her -- and have found so much more joy in my days because of it. Breathing deeply and choosing patience in the face of frustration or irritation can help me shift not only my own day but also my entire family’s day for the better. I wrote The Cranky Forest as a metaphor for this time together, and out of my determination to be more like my daughter and the cub in this story. I firmly believe that there are numerous moments throughout our day where we can allow misery to build or we can choose to spread kindness instead. 


The Quiet Forest was acquired at the end of 2021. After working with the incredible team at Paula Wiseman books, here is the book description and opening spreads that were published on 3/12/24:


Description: A mischievous mouse wanders alone in a quiet, nothing-to-do forest. Until one small mishap snowballs into a chain of outrageous events, causing the whole forest full of animals to have a very loud day indeed. Can they find a way to bring calm and quiet back to their home?





As you can see my process is messy and changes drastically from first draft to publication. The monkey from my first draft didn’t make it into the final draft. The final book includes onomatopoeia and alliteration and the animals increase in size throughout the story – none of which existed in that first draft. The core heart of my story though remained the same from beginning to end – a cumulative story where everyone is grumpy until “one animal breaks the pattern and turns the day around for everyone.” 


Take-aways/advice for other authors:

  • Write your “why” or the “heart” of your story at the top of your page. Edit it and refer back to it as you move from draft to draft.

  • Allow yourself that messy first draft, it doesn’t even have to be a complete draft!

  • Find ways to increase the fun and re-readability as you go. In The Quiet Forest I did this by leaning into the cumulative structure and adding in onomatopoeia and alliteration. 

  • See if there are ways to pull the heart of your manuscript more clearly throughout – asking readers to read your story and tell you what they take away from it can help to determine if you are doing this effectively.

  • Continually evaluate the hooks of your story and see if there are ways to add in additional ones. Put yourself in the mindset of someone walking into a bookstore to purchase a gift for a child - what are the things kids want in a book, what are the things parents want, what are the aspects of your book that make them want your book in particular. For The Quiet Forest, hooks include humor, a playful read aloud, forest animals, kindness theme, and alliteration and onomatopoeia for teachers looking for classroom writing tools. 


I hope sharing the draft to publication story of The Quiet Forest is helpful as you continue to work on your stories. Don’t get off the rollercoaster before you get your “yes”. I am rooting for you!


Side-by-side comparison:

Sept. 2020

Nov. 2020

Dec. 2020

March 2021

Oct 2021

THE GRUMPY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay

THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay

THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay

THE CRANKY FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay

THE QUIET FOREST

By Charlotte Offsay


[Global art note suggestion: the illustrations start zoomed in on the ant and zoom out to show more and more animals as the grumpiness builds]

[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the crankiness builds and animals increase in size.]

[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the crankiness builds and animals increase in size.]


[Art: Perhaps illustrations zoom further and further out to show more and more animals as the actions of each animal impact the subsequent animal. Each animal also increases in size from the one prior.]

There is a forest, 

a grumpy forest, 

where nobody is happy. 


And in that forest

there is a tree

a thorny tree

in a grumpy forest, 

where nobody is happy. 


And on that tree

there is a monkey,

a restless monkey,

on a thorny tree,

in a grumpy forest,

where nobody is happy.


 There is a forest, 

a gloomy forest,

where everyone is cranky. 


And in that forest

there is an ant,

an are-we-done-yet?! ant,

in a gloomy forest, where everyone is cranky. 

[Art: An ant is finding building their anthill hard work and wants to be done yet] 


And beside that ant,

there is a mouse,

an I’m-boooored! mouse,

scurrying away from an are-we-done-yet?! ant,

in a gloomy forest, where everyone is cranky.  

[Art: Mouse is searching for friends and tramples ant’s anthill causing the ants to run after him]

In a forest—


There is a mouse,

squeak, bounce 

squeak, bounce


sigh

[Art: passing the time tossing something against a tree.]


a “nothing to do” mouse, 

in a forest.


And nearby that mouse…


…there is a rabbit,

kurplunk, crumble

kurplunk, crumble


thump

[Art: Mouse misses tree and hits rabbit’s burrow, causing the wall to collapse, and the rabbit to thump angrily]


a “watch out!” rabbit, 

and a “nothing to do” mouse,

in a cranky forest.

 Deep in the woods,

a mouse sighs.

A miserable mouse, in a nothing-to-do forest.

Until… 


…that mouse spies a rabbit!

[Art: Mischievous tossing something playfully at rabbit/rabbit’s burrow making the rabbit angry]


A rattled rabbit, 

and a mischievous mouse,

in a suddenly-not-so-boring forest. 


And all their commotion… 


…startles a beaver!

[Art: Beaver drops wood/ruins their own dam - logs splash into water]

Deep in the woods—

a mouse wanders alone.

A mischievous mouse, in a quiet, nothing-to-do forest.

[Art: Mouse is bored, perhaps being mischievous by trying to hit something (sign/windchime etc.) above an animal’s burrow]

Until… 


…the mouse spies a rabbit. 

Splat. Thump.

Splat. Thump.

[Art: The thing mouse is throwing accidentally causes something to splat onto rabbit (splat) & rabbit thumping angrily (thump)]


A mischievous mouse,

and a rattled rabbit,

in a suddenly-not-so-quiet forest. 

And all of the Rabbit’s thumping…

________________________________________________________________________


Charlotte Offsay was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She is an active bookstagrammer, SCBWI, 12×12, and Inked Voices member.


Charlotte is the author of Eight Sweet Nights, A Festival of Lights, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2024), The Quiet Forest, illustrated by Abi Cushman (SSBFYR/Paula Wiseman Books, 2024), Challah Day, illustrated by Jason Kirschner (Holiday House, 2023), A Grandma’s Magic, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022), The Big Beach Cleanup, illustrated by Kate Rewse (Albert Whitman, 2021), and How to Return a Monster, illustrated by Rea Zhai (Beaming Books, 2021).

Learn more about Charlotte's work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter and Tiktok at @COffsay and on Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.


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2 comentarios


KatieLeeReinert
30 abr

So fun to see how this evolved, but how your initial idea still shines through in the end!

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Robin Currie
Robin Currie
29 abr

Fascinating and helpful to know how many revisions we go through - thank for saving your draft history.

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