At the end of the month, I'll be releasing a new writing
guide, You Can Write for Children: How to
Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle,
or in Large
Print paperback. Here's an excerpt from chapter 4, on developing an idea into a story.
Once you have your idea, it’s time to develop it into an
article, short story, or longer project. Of course, you can simply start writing
and see what happens. Sometimes that’s the best way to explore an idea and see
which you want to say about it. But you might save time – and frustration – by
thinking about the story in advance. You don’t have to develop a formal,
detailed outline, but a few ideas about what you want to say, and where you
want the story to go, can help give you direction.
You can look at story structure in several ways. Here’s one
example of the parts of a story or article:
catchy title. The best titles hint
at the genre or subject matter.
dramatic beginning, with a hook. A
– grabs the reader’s attention with action, dialogue, or a
hint of drama to come
– sets the scene
– indicates the genre and tone (in fiction) or the article
type (in nonfiction)
– has an appealing style
solid middle, which moves the story
forward or fulfills the goal of the article.
Fiction should focus on a plot that builds to a climax, with
character development. Ideally the character changes by learning the lesson of the
An article should focus on information directly related to
the main topic. It should be organized in a logical way, with transitions
between subtopics. The tone should be friendly and lively, not lecturing.
Unfamiliar words should be defined within the text, or in a sidebar.
satisfying ending that wraps up the
story or closes the article. Endings may circle back to the beginning,
repeating an idea or scene, but showing change. The message should be clear
here, but not preachy. What did the character learn?
· Bonus material: An article, short
story, or picture book may use sidebars, crafts, recipes, photos, etc. to
provide more value. For nonfiction, include a bibliography with several
reliable sources. Novels do not typically have these things, but they may
contain an author’s note, a glossary of unfamiliar words, maps, or whatever
makes the material more accessible and appealing. Classroom resources can be
made available separately. For example, teachers can download lesson plans for use
with The Eyes of
Pharaoh and The Well of Sacrifice,
on my website.
If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere
with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story
should have three parts: beginning, middle, and end (plus title and possibly
bonus material). This can be a bit confusing though. Doesn’t every story have a
beginning, middle, and end? It has to start somewhere and end at some point,
and other stuff is in the middle. Beginning, middle, and end!
Technically, yes, but certain things should happen at those
The beginning introduces a character with a problem or
During the middle of the story, that character tries to
solve the problem or reach the goal. He probably fails a few times and has to
try something else. Or he may make progress through several steps along the
way. He should not solve the problem on the first try, however.
At the end, the main character solves the problem
himself or reaches his goal through his own efforts.
You may find exceptions to these standard story rules, but
it’s best to stick with the basics until you know and understand them. They are
standard because they work!
|Conflict is important!|
of Messalina, Francesco Solimena
Getty open content program
Teachers working with beginning writers often see stories with no conflict – no problem or goal. The story is more of a “slice of life.” Things may happen, possibly even sweet or funny things, but the story does not seem to have a clear beginning, middle, and end; it lacks structure. Without conflict, the story is not that interesting.
You can have two basic types of conflict. An external conflict is something in the
physical world. It could be a problem with another person, such as a bully at
school, an annoying sibling, a criminal, or a fantastical being such as a troll
or demon. External conflict would also include problems such as needing to
travel a long distance in bad weather.
The other type of conflict is internal. This could be anything from fear of the dark to
selfishness. It’s a problem within the main character that she has to overcome
or come to terms with.
|Show conflict inside and out|
Greek vase with Swan:
Getty open content program
An internal conflict is often expressed in an external way.
If a child is afraid of the dark, we need to see that fear in action. If she’s
selfish, we need to see how selfishness is causing her problems. Note that the
problems need to affect the child, not simply the adults around her. If a
parent is annoyed or frustrated by a child’s behavior, that’s the parent’s
problem, not the child’s. The child’s goal may be the opposite of the parent’s;
the child may want to stay the same, while the parent wants the child to
For stories with internal conflict, the main character may
or may not solve the external problem. The child who is afraid of the dark
might get over that fear, or she might learn to live with it by keeping a
flashlight by her bed. The child who is selfish and doesn’t want to share his
toys might fail to achieve that goal. Instead, he might learn the benefits of
However the problem is resolved, remember that the child
main character should drive the solution. No adults stepping in to solve the
problem! In the case where a child and a parent have different goals, it won’t
be satisfying to young readers if the parent “wins” by punishing the child. The
child must see the benefit of changing and make a decision to do so.
You Can Write for
Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and
Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for
children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach
that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing
rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or
In this book, you will learn:
- How to explore the wide variety of age ranges, genres, and
styles in writing stories, articles and books for young people.
- How to find ideas.
- How to develop an idea into a story, article, or book.
- The basics of character development, plot, setting, and
- How to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts.
- How to edit your work and get critiques.
- Where to learn more on various subjects.