Children's Stories - the Essentials
by Ann Harth
There is no specific formula for children's fiction. There are, however, some necessities. Whether you are writing a humorous picture book or a coming-of-age novel for young adults, you will need: a main character, a setting, a problem or goal and a satisfying ending.
Develop protagonists that your readers will care about. Create characters that are the same age or a little older than your target audience. Make them real and believable. Allow your characters to make mistakes and have embarrassing moments.
Children aren't perfect. They can't identify with a protagonist who is. Give Molly Squinch an obsession with worms or the inability to complete anything. Make Henry Steed stumble and turn red when a certain teacher comes near. Develop a character who is real enough to be living next door.
Your setting has to be clear, but incidental. This is where show, don't tell comes into play. Weave an awareness of the setting through action and dialogue. Don't allow description to put the brakes on your pace. Children's eyes tend to glaze over when faced with blocks of description. You may have written an award-winning paragraph about a mountain backdrop – save it. Most ten-year-olds will not be interested. Use it for your next adult novel.
Problem or goal
This is your plot. Give your character a problem, or a wish. Push him gently toward the solution to his problem or the fulfillment of his goal. Then toss in an obstacle. He must overcome it using his own ingenuity and/or skill. When he's succeeded, throw him another one and then maybe a third. You can make things really interesting by making each hurdle a little higher than the last. The most important thing here is to allow the protagonist to conquer his own problems or achieve his own goals. Try not to depend on coincidences and avoid allowing an adult or older brother to swoop in and save the day.
One aspect of a satisfying ending calls for a change in your main character. He must learn something, accept something or experience emotional growth. Your ending doesn't always have to be 'happily ever after' but it must be tight. The loose ends must be tied up and all characters accounted for and placed in reasonable situations. It is best to avoid lingering questions at the end of a children's book.
You don't want to hear: "So what happened to the guy with the yellow belt?" or "But that kid was in Africa, so how did he get there?"
You do want to hear: "Aaaaaaah. I get it."
Pick up any children's storybook or middle-grade novel in your library or bookstore. You will find that most of them contain the four basic ingredients. From a picturebook about a child's fear of the basement to a fifteen-year-old's struggle with drinking, the essentials will be included. Exercise your
imagination. Create a character you care about and give him a problem. Use a fascinating setting as a backdrop and allow your character to use his own ingenuity and skills to achieve his goal or get out of his predicament. With these essentials in mind, your children's story can become a success.
About the author:
Ann Harth is a freelance ghostwriter, manuscript assessor, copyeditor, and published author. Ann writes a regular column on running a home business for the Writing4SuccessClub website. Her columns can be viewed at http://www.writing4successclub.com Additional information on Ann Harth's published work and freelance services can be found on her website at http://www.annharth.com
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