Tips for Kids


and Teachers

How to Create Great Characters ...

For more writing tips, check out SPILLING INK: A Young Writer's Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

For more writing tips, check out SPILLING INK: A Young Writer's Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

  1. Decide what your character wants more than anything in the world. It can be a thing, like a racing bike; it can be a friend; it can be to accomplish something. It can be anything at all. Just makes sure it's something your character wants very badly.
  2. Make it extremely hard for your character to get the thing they really, really want. That's how you create movement in your story. Your character has to fight through obstacles to get the thing they want.
  3. When you get stuck while writing your story, go back and ask your character, "OK, what do you want right now?" It happens to all writers . . . there are times when you just have no idea what to write next. It feels like your characters are frozen. One way to thaw them out is to ask them what they want right now. We are all driven by "wants" every second of the day. So are your characters. See what small desires your character might have. Maybe they just want a snack. Have them get up and go to the fridge. Maybe there's nothing they want in the fridge, so now they have to ask their mom if they can go to the store and pick up some pretzels. Mom says "Sure" and your character heads out the door. Ok, now they're on the move. Anything can happen on the way to the store. Congratulations! Your character is out of the deep freeze!

More cool writing links for young people:


Frodo's Notebook
For kids ages 13-19

Skipping Stones

Teen Ink

Merlyn's Pen


I love SKYPE classroom visits! Don't you? You get to see my messy desk, and I can see your smiling faces! If you are a teacher or librarian interested in booking, please let me know. Book soon as spots are filling up quickly.

When time permits, I also enjoy visiting schools to give presentations and writing workshops. For information about availability and fees, just ask.

Interviews with Ellen Potter

Testimonials from Teachers

"As if being a talented , engaging, children’s book author is not enough, Ellen is outstanding as a presenter. As Program Director for Island Readers & Writers, I have the honor and challenge in matching authors with schools and particular needs of students. Over the years that we’ve worked together, Ellen has been engaging, has made reading and writing FUN for all the students with whom she visits, and most gratefully - is extremely patient, calm and gets them excited and feeling good about their own work and ideas. She tends to take the fear out of what can be scary for some kids; coming up with ideas, sharing their thoughts about her books, and developing their own creative stories. Perhaps most important is that Ellen is very authentic with students (and teachers) and shares herself and her accomplishments & challenges in a very approachable manner. 

Typically at school visits, our authors do a whole school presentation and then grade level workshops. Ellen does both fantastically, as well as being very flexible about other spontaneous requests.(Drop in to the PreK gorup to say hello, stay a bit later to connect with the writing club etc…)

From a logistical point of view, Ellen is a self contained unit who shows up with her “tool kit” of ideas and imaginative writer tools. While seemingly trite, this makes a HUGE difference when one is traveling from school to school; no technology needed, no internet, no special author needs (she even brings her own water and snacks!). She travels light, always prepared, and has a good sense of time and timing. IRW provides a signed copy of the book to each child with whom we work so Ellen also has to balance her presentations with book signing at the end of every workshop - which she does with grace and punctuality.

Ellen is a pleasure to work with and if smiles, applause and gratitude is any indication - kids LOVE her too!"

Ruth Feldman, Program Director  

Island Readers and Writers