Wednesday, January 15, 2020

#STORYSTORM The Parts of a Story or Article for Children

Jan. 1-31 is #STORYSTORM with Tara Lazar. Formerly known as #PiBoIdMo, the challenge is to come up with one new story idea each day of the month. To meet this challenge, it might help to think about what makes a story.

The following is excerpt from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers

A Story in Four Parts

If “beginning, middle, and end” doesn’t really help you, here’s another way to think of story structure. A story has four main parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You need all of them to make your story work. (This is really the same as beginning, middle, and end, with the end broken into two parts.)

The situation should involve an interesting main character with a challenging problem or goal. Even this takes development. Maybe you have a great challenge, but aren’t sure why a character would have that goal. Or maybe your situation is interesting, but doesn’t actually involve a problem.

For example, I wanted to write about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. The girl can see ghosts, but the boy can’t. That gave me the characters and situation, but no problem or goal. Goals come from need or desire. What did they want that could sustain a series?

Tania feels sorry for the ghosts and wants to help them, while keeping her gift a secret from everyone but her brother. Jon wants to help and protect his sister, but sometimes feels overwhelmed by the responsibility. Now we have characters with problems and goals. The story is off to a good start. (This became the four-book Haunted series.)

·   Make sure your idea is specific and narrow. Focus on an individual person and situation, not a universal concept. For example, don’t try to write about “racism.” Instead, write about one character facing racism in a particular situation.
·   Ask why the goal is important to the character. The longer the story, the higher the stakes needed to sustain it. A short story character might want to win a contest; a novel character might need to save the world.
·   Ask why this goal is difficult. If reaching the goal is too easy, there is little tension and the story is too short. The goal should be possible, but just barely. It might even seem impossible. The reader should believe that the main character could fail. (I go into more detail on this in a chapter on Characters in the book.)
Is your character just sitting there?

·   Even if your main problem is external, give the character an internal flaw that contributes to the difficulty. This adds complications and also makes your character seem more real. For some internal flaws, see the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

·   Test the idea. Change the character’s age, gender, or looks. Change the point of view, setting, external conflict, or internal conflict. Choose the combination that has the most dramatic potential.

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 something else.

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 theme.
How to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts.
How to edit your work and get critiques.
Where to learn more on various subjects.

Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Friday, January 10, 2020

YA Medieval Historical Fiction for #teachers or #homeschool @MvonHassell

This book came to my attention recently and it might be useful for homeschooling students or teachers looking for supplemental fiction about medieval Europe. And the Kindle version is only $.99, if you want to check it out! 

The Falconer's Apprentice

by Malve von Hassell

Andreas, an adventuresome 15-year old orphan, embarks on a precipitous flight across Europe to rescue the falcon Adela. A crotchety falconer, a secretive trader and his feisty daughter, a mysterious hermit, a young king in prison, an aging emperor, and an irascible Arab physician are among the principal characters in this action/adventure novel, set in the 13th century. 

Written for readers age twelve and above, this coming-of-age story conveys life in medieval Europe, with bedbugs next to silver chalices, food ranging from the moldy to the sublime, and intellectual sophistication side by side with rank superstitions. 

Original poetry by King Enzio, imprisoned in Bologna, and writings about falconry by Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen are incorporated into the novel. The eight parts of the novel reflect the eight octagonal towers of the Castel del Monte, a critical turning point in the protagonist’s life.

Quote from a review:

"As I read, I was reminded of the old classic children's novels such as The Trumpeter of Krakow and The Door in the Wall. The lush historical details, the medieval time period, the characters who are good, brave young people trying to do the right thing during difficult times: these are books to be savored, not devoured. The Falconer's Apprentice fits right in with these Newbery Award winners. It's a fantastic book, one that parents can read to their entire family or that one person can enjoy at her leisure.

"I can see this being a terrific supplement for children/young adult studies of medieval European history."

Learn more at the author's website or Amazon.

You might read this book with Jennifer Bohnhoff's On Fledgling Wings, another coming-of-age story set in medieval Europe.

For more great historical fiction, visit the Mad about Middle Grade History blog (now defunct, but past posts are still useful).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Quick and Easy Steps to Finding Story and Article Ideas for #STORYSTORM

Jan is #STORYSTORM with Tara Lazar. Formerly known as #PiBoIdMo, the challenge is to come up with one new story idea each day of the month. How are you doing?

Some writers have no trouble finding ideas, and only need to find enough time to tackle them all. But a couple members of my critique group have wondered what to write next. Sometimes the wellspring of ideas seems empty.

To brainstorm new ideas, sit down with a few sheets of paper and:

•    Make a list of writing genres that you enjoy or would like to try — mysteries, fantasy, nonfiction articles, etc.

•    On a new page, start jotting down your life experiences — jobs you’ve held, hobbies, sports, special interests, places you’ve lived or traveled — from childhood to the present. For example, the summer I spent traveling through Mexico and Central America inspired my Mayan historical drama, The Well of Sacrifice.

•    Add other subjects based on your family and friends’ experiences, anything interesting where you have an "in" for research. Do your kids play soccer? Is your husband a volunteer firefighter? Is one of your friends a graduate student studying lightning? Put it on the list.

•    Now add subjects you would like to explore. If you’ve been meaning to take a Latin dance class or learn about Buddhism, add it to the list.

•    Go back to the list and highlight any subjects that seem especially compelling. For example, my list would include working backstage in high school theater, and working as a glacier guide for a helicopter tour company. Those seem like natural settings for a story, even if I can’t think of a plot yet.

•    Review the list of genres that interest you. Now go back over your highlighted subject list and consider each topic as it could relate to each genre. For example, I could write a fantasy set in the theater, or an action novel about a helicopter guide. Write each of these ideas on a new piece of paper, so you have room for notes.

•    For each of your shortlist ideas, go back through your long list and see if you could add in another topic. Sometimes a single subject isn’t enough for a story or book, but mixing two or more subjects or ideas gives you a more fully fleshed concept. I got this from the late, brilliant children's book author Sid Fleischman. He once read that people born at midnight are supposed to be able to see ghosts. Later, had an idea about pirates who lost their treasure. He put these ideas together into his book The Ghost in the Noonday Sun. So consider moving your interesting subject to a new setting, or making your volunteer firefighter or lightning researcher into the main character.

•    Keep adding to your list. Pay attention to the daily intrigues and surprises, and note them down. One night in Washington state, a friend and I went for a nighttime walk when dozens of little frogs were croaking and hopping along the road. I later sold a story to Highlights magazine about a father and child who explore a rainy night when the frogs were out.

•    Pay attention to news and "human interest" stories as well. I saw an article about a helicopter crash, where everyone survived. I might use that as part of my action novel about the helicopter guide.

•    Don’t neglect nonfiction either. Would any of your subjects make for a lively article? If your kids play soccer, you could write a story about a soccer team. You could also write an article about the history of soccer, a how-to piece about a specific soccer techniques, a profile of a young star, a health article about preventing soccer injuries, or a parenting article about the pros and cons of competition in youth sports.

You might end this exercise with one or more ideas that have you fired up and ready to go. But in some cases, you’ll need more time to develop the concept before you start writing. Next week, I’ll discuss Turning an Idea into a Story. In the meantime, here are two more exercises to get the creative juices flowing:

  • Think about the most exciting, funny or scary thing that has happened to you. Make it into a story, changing the details to make it more dramatic.
  • Ask a friend to tell you something exciting or scary or funny that has happened to him/her. Make it into a story, changing the details to make it more dramatic.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen.

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs

Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at or her Amazon page

Get more advice on finding ideas, developing those ideas, and polishing your manuscripts in You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses. Learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more.

This really is helping me a lot. It’s written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!

I just read and—dissected—your well written  book: Advanced Plotting. It’s now highlighted in bright orange and littered with many of those little 3M sticky labels.  GOOD JOB. There are too many just-for-beginners books out there. Yours was a delight.