Huge thanks go out to literary agents Lucy Juckes from Jenny Brown Associates, and Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross in Edinburgh who organized “Writing for Children Under 12 – The Inside Story” here in Edinburgh this January.
Having discovered what a great resource the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is, I would urge any aspiring children’s fiction writer to seek out standalone events like the Edinburgh seminar, or organized associations like the Society to provide practical guidance that will lift your writing above the struggling stage to something approaching publication.
What makes a story feel satisfying for the reader?
For me, the most useful part of the Edinburgh seminar was the advice provided by experienced editor Catherine Coe. She gave a two-hour presentation on everything from thinking about your target market (and considering what’s already on the shelf that your book will be competing with) to crafting a satisfying narrative arc for your story.
What stood out most about Catherine’s presentation was her repeated use of the word “satisfying” — it really helped me focus my mind on the fact that 1) my function is to enthrall the reader and 2) the mechanism for doing that is not a black art, but a known craft that can be learned, honed and perfected. For example, Catherine explains that your story would not be satisfying if:
Coincidence resolves your main character’s conflict
The reader cannot make a close connection with any one person in the story, which may happen if you alternate between different characters’ points of view. (Ouch! This is something my current manuscript, SPACE KIDS AND THE SPY FROM PLANET 12, is suffering from).
The main character is moving unhindered towards resolution of the central conflict. There should not only be obstacles, but it must appear certain that your main character is going to fail.
You tell rather than show. Don’t tell me the street was beautiful, describe its wet cobblestones and trees shimmering in the afternoon sun.
You include too much exposition. Especially at the beginning, you need to restrain yourself from delivering an info dump and strive to allow the reader to discover the key facts – allow these to be revealed gradually through the details, actions and reactions of your main character.
You fail to include an emotional as well as an action storyline. It is most satisfying for the reader, Catherine says, for your story to have both. (The action storyline is what happens…the emotional storyline is how your main character is affected by what happens).
If you would like further information about Writing for Children events planned in Edinburgh, keep an eye on the Jenny Brown Associates website; regular events for children’s writers occurring throughout the UK are listed on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group, which is open even to non-members of the Society.