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#FirstDraftFriday with Sylvia Chen

The lovely Sylvia Chen is here for today's #FirstDraftFriday to chat about her fun, STEAM-powered debut picture book, TRICKY CHOPSTICKS. Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today.


TRICKY CHOPSTICKS, written by Sylvia Chen and illustrated by Fanny Liem, is out now from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.  


To order your own copy or learn more about Sylvia, visit: sylviaichen.com. 


Sylvia is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.


Welcome, Sylvia! Can you tell us a little about TRICKY CHOPSTICKS and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?! 


Thanks for welcoming me to First Draft Friday! I’m excited to share how I first drafted TRICKY CHOPSTICKS. I’m a late night owl, and as I was getting ready to go to sleep around 2 a.m., I started brainstorming what sort of story I could write that could tie in my cultural background and give me the flexibility to write it in a fun way with a possible STEAM angle too. All of a sudden, the title TRICKY CHOPSTICKS popped into my head! I searched right away to see if anyone had used that title before and got so excited when I didn’t find anything.


Did you dive right in at 2 a.m. and start drafting or did you let it stew for a while? Is this how you typically work?


I started drafting right away based on the title. I usually try to start drafting when a strong idea comes to mind. But sometimes, there are stories that have more of a marination process, especially if I thought of them during Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm.


Do you remember what you thought of your first draft of TRICKY CHOPSTICKS when it was done? Did you think it was a winner or were you not even sure you’d keep working on it? 


It was so fun to write that very first draft! I could tell it had great promise, especially for querying purposes, so I knew I should keep pursuing it.


Can you share an excerpt of your original manuscript that changed significantly and how it appears in the final book? How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?


For the overall writing style, the manuscript didn’t change too drastically. The biggest change to this manuscript was actually for the arc itself. Originally, the party was her great-grandpa’s 100th birthday banquet. But my agent suggested trying out a different character since another one of my stories had a grandma in it, and it would help for the two stories to not “compete” with each other as much, and to show a broader range story-wise for my writing. I really appreciated this strategic advice! Here’s an image that has that original storyline:

If you look at the final printed version, you’ll see how I was able to still keep some of the wording and initial “feel” of these lines, and also made Jenny’s Māma more encouraging.


“Keep trying, Jenny,” said Māma.


“Maybe you can use chopsticks at Victor’s party on Friday!”


and


“Jenny gulped.” (stronger with wordplay and a bit pithier than “Jenny’s eyes bulged.”)


and


“She still couldn’t shake her shame from the last Chopsticks Chow-llenge with…

oodles of noodles,

dozens of dumplings, and

even burgers and fries!”


Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut that you’d like to share here. Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.


Besides the darling great-grandpa Lǎo Yéyé (I had based him off my kids’ Lǎo Yéyé), the ending I had for the story when it went on submission had Jenny grinning “when everybody gathered for Victor’s big birthday picture,” and posing “all kinds of tricks with her cousins.” I just loved imagining the fun visuals. But my editor asked if there was a way to create a stronger closing line. That took a good while to get down just right: “And with that, Jenny flexed her fingers, ready for any tricky challenge ahead!” But what’s neat is the illustrator included some fun picture poses in the final spread, so that idea still made it in!


What is the hardest part of writing a first draft for you? And how do you deal with that?


Not knowing what will happen next in the story since I am a complete pantser! Luckily I love brainstorming, so it’s fun to figure out the ultimate actions and outcomes in each story.


What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?


Coffee, a cozy place to type, and enjoying the thrill of creating a cool, new story. Also, I like to read my latest draft before I go do something rote like picking the kids up from school or getting ready for bed. Then, as I’m doing that routine task, my brain starts working on possibilities for an issue I’m trying to figure out. A lot of times, I’ve thought of some good solutions this way. Even for wordsmithing or crafting stronger phrases!


OK, who's got their coffee and cozy place to write? I hope it's you, Reader, because today is #FirstDraftFriday! Time to enjoy the thrill of creating a cool, new story.


To enter for a chance at a free picture book critique* from Sylvia, do the following by 10 pm ET today (July 5, 2024):

  1. Follow me and Sylvia on Twitter (if you are on it): @HollieWolverton and @SylviaiChen (or find her with the same handle on Instagram, Threads, or Bluesky)

  2. Complete a full picture book draft

  3. Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle or full name. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).

You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 10 pm ET tonight. *Sylvia is open to critiquing any type of non-rhyming PB <1000 words. If you look at her #PBStudyBuddy features on social media or at pbstudybuddy.com, you can see the types of stories she tends to enjoy if you’re having trouble deciding which story to share.


Happy writing!

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26 Comments


I completed my draft, messy but present 😊 . Wonderful and inspiring interview!

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Loved your interview. Inspired I completed a draft. Love the cultural theme in the development of Sylvia's idea. And the revision process making it unique. Night owl here too.

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Draft completed. Sylvia, I love your book! Having been to China several times, I know what a challenge chopsticks can be. Your book is so fun. Thank you, Hollie, for this wonderful opportunity each month to keep writing.

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DONE! I am not normally a panser but after reading the interview I figured why not? Came out with something kind of funny and sweet. An unexpected solid first draft. Interesting...

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Well, this draft is drafted, but it ended up NOT being a picture book draft I think. I'm not sure what it is. LOL, but in researching this one, I actually uncovered another really fun idea for a picture book, so this draft may be an anomaly, but maybe this next idea will be the bomb! :-). Thanks for the motivation to write a draft today, Hollie and Sylvia!

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