While every story starts with a good idea, that’s not enough to make a good story.
Your idea, while possibly the cornerstone of the creation, is only part of the foundation. There are other elements needed to make a fully developed story.
To give you an example of this, a protagonist wants to take guitar lessons. He does and becomes a good guitar player. Your message is to show children they can do the same.
According to writing coach and author, Suzanne Lieurance, “this is an event, not a story.”
Why would someone want to read about a character taking lessons to learn to learn to play the guitar or any other instrument?
But suppose something stops the protagonist or gets in the way of the him learning to play.
This gives the story idea substance.
Below are the basic elements that create a story foundation.
1. The idea
As a children’s ghostwriter, clients come to me with a number of ideas. But, they’re just ideas. They’re not stories.
An idea could be a child wants to become an astronaut.
Again, this isn’t a story. But it is a key part of the foundation of a good story.
2. The problem, the conflict.
Every children’s fiction story must have a problem or obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome.
The conflict drives the story.
According to Now Novel, “conflict is at the heart of all stories.”
Going back to the guitar scenario, suppose the protagonist has started and stopped a number of hobbies or sporting activities. Now his parents refuse to invest in a guitar and lessons.
This creates a problem for the protagonist – how is he going to get a guitar and afford to pay for lessons. Or, if he’s a younger protagonist, how will he convince his parents that this activity will be different. He’ll follow through with it.
3. The struggle.
There needs to be a struggle – the protagonist needs to attempt and fail at reaching his goal.
In children’s writing, three is the general rule for attempts. On the third try at achieving his goal, the protagonist finally gets it. He’s triumphant.
If the protagonist gets what he wants in one try, it doesn’t drive the stakes up. It’s too easy.
A reader turns the pages to follow along with the struggles. It’s the struggles that strengthens the connection between the protagonist and the reader. This makes the reader feel like the final victory is his too.
The story has to be about more than just the initial idea. It has to be about more than just incidents in a story.
Suzanne Lieurance notes that, “An incident is simply a series of actions and occurrences in a character’s life. But these things don’t change the character.”
By the end of the story, the protagonist needs to have developed or grown in some way.
- Maybe he becomes wiser.
- Maybe he learns to stand on his own two feet and overcomes what he must to accomplish what he wants.
- Maybe he learns it’s okay to be different.
- Maybe he learns there’s more to him than he thought.
- Maybe he figures out there are things more important than riches and power.
- Maybe he learns the importance of friendship.
- Maybe he learns the importance of being honest.
This list could go on and on.
Character growth is essential to a good story.
5. Be subtle.
Your story should be written so that the reader will see for herself the message you want to convey.
I’ve seen many story endings where the reader is hit over the head with the message.
Let the message be subtly weaved throughout the story. And, know that the reader is savvy enough to get it.
These five steps are the foundation to your children’s story.
Keep them in mind when writing yours.
Being a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.
Check out my 170+ page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of FICTION WRITING FOR CHILDREN. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.