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Plot Development (and free signed copies of CJJ3)

Story is hard.

Plotting is probably my least favorite part of writing. And that’s saying a lot, because I’m not one of these “I love writing” writers. I’m more of an “I would rather do anything else than write” writer. But the worst part is definitely coming up with the story. Everything out there’s been done already. Cliches lurk around every corner. (The phrase “lurk around every corner?” Cliche.)

But you have to do it. At least, I have to do it. I found that out the hard way – by coming up with an idea, sitting down to write, finding out after a little while that I had no idea where the story was going to go next, and then deciding to go watch TV instead.

So now, before I start a book, I plot out the whole story in a synopsis. The first thing I try to figure out is what happens in the beginning, what happens in the middle, and what happens at the end. The basic journey. Then I start to fill in the story details along the way, but this isn’t as big a deal, because I know a lot is going to change along the way.

Here’s my synopsis for CJJ2. How much changed between this and the final book? You tell me. The first three people to tell me three things that changed, get a signed galley of  CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO SUMMER VACATION!


Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit

How I ended up trying out for the school play is actually a pretty funny story. Because if you know anything about me at all, you know I’m not exactly a ‘school play’ kind of guy…

Thus begins CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT, the second book of the Charlie Joe Jackson middle-grade series.

Our story begins with the scariest of all middle-school moments: Report card day. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t go so well for Charlie Joe. His parents aren’t happy. (It doesn’t help that Megan is a stellar student of course.) They’re at their wits’ end about how to motivate Charlie Joe.

They decide to have a meeting with Ms. Ferrell and Charlie Joe. At the meeting, the teacher gives them a brochure for Camp Rituhbukkee (pronounced read-a-bookie), a summer academic boot camp. She says it has an excellent track record. The parents are intrigued. Charlie Joe gags. Summers are for sleeping, not reading.

They fight about it and finally strike a deal. There’s one quarter left in the school year. If Charlie Joe is able to get straight A’s – with the exception of one free B — he won’t have to go to the boot camp.

Charlie celebrates! Then panics. He’s never had straight A’s in his life. It’s just not his style. But there has to be a way. He always gets A’s in social studies, for some reason he’s just very good at it; his friends Jake and Katie can help with math and science; English and Ms. Ferrell can be had if he just buckles down; and Spanish can be his free B.

That leaves three impossible A’s: gym, music and art.

Yes, the average person might say that these are the three easiest A’s in the world. But not to Charlie Joe, who had a knack of trying so little in these three classes that the teachers are all too happy to give him B’s, and even the occasional C.

After consulting his sister and his friends, he realizes that there’s only way to get his grades up in those classes.

Extra credit.

He starts with Mr. Radonksi, the gym teacher. Mr. R asks him to join the school government. This goes against the grain of everything Charlie Joe stands for, but he does it. The only plus side is that Katie is on it. There he meets Nareem, the president of the council. The both quickly realize that Mr. Radonski is a power-hungry nutjob, and everyone is scared to go against him, even the other teacher on the board. When Mr. Radonski finally goes to far by trying to institute a policy of every child being forced to write with their bad hand for a month to teach ambidexterity, Charlie Joe finally convinces Nareem to take a stand against him. Together they win over everyone else in the government, and eventually Mr. Radonski finds out that if he had succeeded in implementing his policy, he may well have been fired. He ends up thanking Charlie Joe for saving his job. Gym: A

One down, two to go.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mildred Crush, the ancient art teacher, asks Charlie to pose for a painting. Sounds easy enough, right? The catch is he has to stay still for three straight hours every day after school for a week, outside in the courtyard, while all the other kids are practicing sports and making fun of him. On the second day, an extra catch is added when he is joined in the posing by Mrs. Crush’s gorgeous granddaughter, Tiffany. (Tiffany Crush? Yowsa.) But everything’s going okay, in fact Charlie Joe and Tiffany strike up a friendship, but unfortunately everything goes terribly wrong when Tiffany sees Pete Milano laughing at Charlie Joe, and she realizes he’s the kid that pushed her down the slide into a huge mud puddle in nursery school. She runs over and beats Pete up in front of the whole school, which shocks and delights everyone, but in vengeance Pete pours red paint on Mrs. Crush’s painting. Charlie Joe saves the day by convincing Mrs. Crush to make it an abstract painting and getting his parents to buy it for 25 dollars. Art: A

So far, Charlie Joe has dodged two bullets, and it looks like he just might make it.

And finally, the toughest nut to crack: Mr. Fricker, the music and drama teacher. He hates Charlie Joe. There’s only one way to satisfy him. Charlie Joe has to go out for the school play. Not only that, he has to get his friends to do it too. And the worst part? It’s a terrible show that Mr. Fricker, who thinks of himself as the school’s Arthur Miller, has written himself: a musical adaptation of the life of Arthur Scott, the inventor of the paper towel.

And guess who gets cast as Arthur?

On the night of the big show, Charlie Joe finds out that Mr. Fricker had given Charlie Joe the part under the assumption that he would be too lazy to learn it, and Mr. Fricker himself would have to step in and play the part himself. Charlie Joe realizes he should make Mr. Fricker happy, and even though he actually knows the part perfectly, pretends to get sick backstage. Mr. Fricker expresses terrible concern for Charlie Joe, and delightedly takes the part. The plan seems to be working perfectly…

But when Mr. Fricker goes on for his big moment, he freezes. Total stage fright. He can’t say a word and after several excruciating minutes, he runs off the stage.

Charlie Joe ends up coming back out, reclaiming the part and saving the day. He’s a hero!

Only, not to Mr. Fricker. Crushed and mortified, he ends up taking it out on Charlie Joe, and gives him a C+ for pretending to be sick and “putting me on the spot like that.”

No straight A’s.

A deal is a deal.

Charlie Joe is heading to academic boot camp for the summer.

But before he goes, his Dad’s friend, who’s an art collector, discovers Mrs. Crush’s painting in their house and buys it for $5,000. His parents give Mrs. Crush $4,500, while promising Charlie Joe the other $500.

If he gets straight A’s at Camp Rituhbukkee.


  1. January 19th, 2013

    Megan Orme-Whitlock

    Just finished reading CJJ2. Another great book. Is CJJ 14? He is VERY much like my 14 year old – down to being a really great kid without particularly meaning to be.

    Three differences in plot from the outline:

    * Science becomes Charlie Joe Jacksons B
    * Mrs Massey (art teacher) and her grandaughter, Zoe, paint indoors. Pete didn’t mean to completely ruin the painting but the red paint tube was faulty, and CJJ didn’t convince his parents to buy it, his completely great Mom instinctively knew to buy it (PS I love how much CJJ loves his Mom)
    * School play/musical storyline completely different – CJJ does the part but gets stagefright. C plus is because of an afterparty incident. Changed to a B minus after reasonable discussion with the teacher.

    Looking forward to the next in the series…

  2. January 23rd, 2013


    -CJJ gets B for science
    -Mrs Massey and her grandaughter, Zoe paint indoors. Pete didn’t mean to ruin the painting but the red paint tube was faulty. CJJ didn’t convince his parents to buy the painting
    -School play- CJJ does the part but gets stagefright. C plus (after party incident) then B minus (after reasonable discussion with the teacher)

  3. February 4th, 2013

    Chan Young Ji (Brian)

    The Three differences are
    1) The painting was not messed up on purpose and the red paint was an accident.
    2) For the play, Charlie Joe Jackson didn’t need to force his friends to join the play too.
    3) Charlie Joe Jackson didn’t need to go to camp because he made a lot of improvements and made his parents happy. But he went because he felt sorry about hating reading so much.

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