Feb 20

Writing Conflict in Children’s Stories – Two Basic Types

Conflict in kid's stories
There are a number of elements to writing a good fiction story, but one of the most essential ones is conflict.

Conflict is what gives the main character (MC) a run for his money. It’s a road block stopping the MC from reaching his goal. And that goal can be anything from getting a new bike to starting a new relationship to staying safe from a tsunami. 

It’s the conflict that keeps the reader engaged. It keeps her involved, connected to the MC, and turning the pages. 

Conflict drives the plot forward.
So, what are the two basic types of conflict in children’s writing, and what are some secondary conflicts?

To start, think of conflict as having two camps: internal and external.
INTERNAL CONFLICT
According to an article at Bryn Donovan, “Internal conflict has to do with psychological barriers to a decision or a goal. If a struggle takes place in the character’s mind…or heart…then by definition, that’s an internal conflict.”
Internal conflict includes:

-Coping with a move to a new school 
-Coping with a divorce
-Coping with an illness 
-Wanting friends
-Battling fear and anxiety
-Fighting peer pressure
-Struggling with a moral dilemma
-Wanting something (a pet, a bike, joining a team)
EXTERNAL CONFLICT
An external conflict comes from an outside force or forces that are beyond the MC’s control. She struggles to overcome the conflict.

You might think of Superman and Lex Luther (his nemesis). I know I’m dating myself, but there’s also Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Or the movie “Cast Away,” where the MC is stranded on an island. You could also think of the movie “Jaws.”

There are three fundamental types of external conflict: nature, antagonist, and society.

These three types can include:
-Natural disasters (earthquake, hurricane, tidal wave, tornado, a pandemic)
-A bully or enemy (antagonist)
-A school or team that lacks inclusion (societal)
Is Your Main Character Limited to Only One Type of Conflict?
While most conflicts will start the story as an internal or external conflict, they often end up having both internal and external conflicts.

-Say Christian wants a new bike (internal). He figures out how to get it – the plan is to earn the money doing lawn work. The problem is another boy works the territory and makes it difficult for Christian to make money (external).

-Or, maybe Lucas just moved to a new neighborhood and new school. He copes with the move (internal), but a bully makes his life miserable (external). 

Along with this, the fundamental conflict can cross over to other conflicts.

Say there’s a hurricane and Anthony finds a safe place to wait it out only for it to be taken over by someone bigger and stronger. Now you have nature (external) and an antagonist (external) as conflicts.
According to Industrial Scripts, “External conflict feeds into and creates internal conflict within the characters who have to deal with it. Internal and external conflict need each other to survive and it’s in this relationship that drama thrives.”

Life is messy, with possible multiple internal and external conflicts in any given scenario. It’s the same with your story’s main character.
Writing Help
Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. 

Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347---834---6700.

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you'd rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S FICTION BOOK.
  
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Dec 12

What’s Your Takeaway?

The children's writing takeaway.
Most of my clients know what they want the takeaway of their book to be. 

It may be to demonstrate kindness, overcoming fear, being a good friend, learning responsibility, learning about conservation, becoming self-confident, learning coping strategies, realizing the importance of family…

Now and then, though, I still get clients who think a list of events constitutes a good story. And they have a tough time understanding the elements that need to go into making a story work, such as character arc, story arc, and plot. They also don’t understand that a children’s book should have a takeaway.

What is a book’s takeaway?

According to Merriam Webster, a takeaway is “a main point or key message to be learned or understood from something experienced or observed.”

With this in mind, the takeaway is what’s valuable in the book – the message it conveys. It’s what the reader will find memorable or worthy of remembering. 

This is important when writing for children because you want the reader to leave the book learning something, even if subconsciously. 

Examples.

Using my middle-grade fantasy, “Walking Through Walls,” the protagonist, Wang, begins as a selfish and lazy kid. His journey to become a Master Eternal, in order to become powerful and wealthy, changes him for the better.

Along with Wang becoming more than he was or better than he was, the reader can see how it came about and the value in those changes.

By the way, "Walking Through Walls" is a cross between a chapter book and a middle-grade and is a great book for the reluctant reader.

Another example is “Stephanie’s Ponytail” by Robert Munsch. 

The kids in Stephanie’s class copy every hairdo she creates. Finally, she outwits them and they never copy her hairdo again. 

As well as being a fun read, the takeaway in this book is teaching children about creativity, independence, self-confidence, imagination, and being daring. It could very well inspire them to the same actions.

So, as you’re writing your children’s story, think of the takeaway. What message do you want to instill in the reader?
Need help with your story?
Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347---834---6700.

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you'd rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S FICTION BOOK.
  
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Aug 01

A Story Revision Checklist

Contributed by Children’s Writer Linda Wilson

Once your first draft is written, you can begin revising. Looking at one piece of revision at a time can be helpful. After I finished the first draft of Book 2 in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, I let the manuscript rest while working on other projects. About three weeks later, I was amazed at how much revision was needed. Every single page of my 30,000-word manuscript has #2 pencil cross-outs, squiggly lines, and deletions—every one!

To be effective, it’s good to have a revision plan.

I stuck with a general revision the first time. That included condensing long-winded paragraphs, finding better word choices, making dialogue sound kid-friendly, and replacing “telling” with “showing” passages.

Again, I put the manuscript down. I wanted to begin again with fresh eyes. While the story rested, I shared my story outline and a few chapters with my critique group. They helped me think through flaws in the manuscript that I couldn’t see. Also, I lined up my beta readers, fellow authors and friends who love to read and have offered to give me their opinions. But before I showed it to them, it was time to move on to complete the revision process.

The next revision began a thorough analysis and can be accomplished in parts.

-My first question: What do I need to re-think? Does the title work? Are the plot points in place? Does the story have an arc? Does each character have an arc?

-Is the story structure solid?

-The first sentence, first paragraph, and first chapter are critical. For more tips, please refer to my article “Writers: First Paragraph Essentials”: https://www.writersonthemove.com/2017/10/writers-first-paragraph-essentials.html

-Does the story have enough conflict? Stakes?

-Are there any characters who don’t have an active role in the story? If so, they either need to be taken out or given an active role in the plot.

-Are there any scenes that don’t move the story forward? Any scenes that drag? You need to find ways to change the scenes that aren’t working.

-Is the story told mainly through dialogue and action? Description can be added, but sparingly. Condense to a minimum and spread out any description “dumps.”

-Is the main character’s flaw/need evident in the beginning, and satisfied/solved from what she’s learned by the end? Does she grow and change by the end?

-Are the facts accurate?

-Are the details specific? Check for anything vague or general.

-Do a drama check. Heighten the drama wherever you can.

-Is the story told from the main character’s viewpoint? For example, any description you introduce needs to be seen through her eyes.

-Make sure the main theme shines through throughout your story. Do the minor themes bolster the main theme?

Books that have helped me the most: Elaine Marie Alphin’s boom, Creating Characters Kids Will Love. Her example on page nine is especially helpful:

His sneakers were braced against the roof’s shingles. Slowly, Benjy took one hand off the sill and gripped a lower shingle instead. Then he took a deep breath, told himself very firmly not to be afraid, and let go of the sill with his other hand . . . Why couldn’t he have been a few inches taller? Benji cursed his height silently. Even just a couple of inches would have meant his toes might have been able to feel the bench beneath him. But wishing wouldn’t make him grow.

Also helpful are books by Chris Eboch: You Can Write for Children and Advanced Plotting.

Recently, I’ve been reading and enjoying the graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier. I bought Guts, and even though my book is a chapter book and not a graphic novel, it helps to read passages now and then to remind myself to “talk” like a kid.

While writing my first book, Secret in the Stars, I had to disengage from disappointment after finding many glaring errors, when I thought the book was done. This must be the armor people talk about that writers must grow and wear, and perhaps why people admire authors so much. For the fortitude and single-mindedness it takes to do the seat-time, on and on, until we are finally satisfied with the finished product. Whatever it takes.

While writing Secret, I thought the amount of revision it took was excessive. Now that I’ve written multiple books, I understand how much revision is required. Lots. A good way to look at it is: the hard work of getting the words on paper is done. It’s time to play! Revising allows you to play with what you’ve written, rethink better ways of showing what the characters are going through, and re-do anything that isn’t working. When you’re finished, after careful attention to every detail, you can take the guesswork out of the many aspects of your story, and feel sure of your work. You’ve earned the title of a professional author.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Children's author

Linda Wilson is a children’s author, and her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, is available at https://www.amazon.com/author/lindawilsonchildrensauthor. The next book in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, will be available soon. Follow Linda on https://www.lindawilsonauthor.com

Need Help With Your Story

Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Picture Books – Story or Illustrations, Which Comes First?

Writing – Showing vs. Telling

Writing Procrastination: IF and WHEN Were Planted and Nothing Grew