I hope these quick writing tips helps you jumpstart your writing!
This series on Developing Ideas is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Grab the book if you want to see all the info at once.
Once you have your idea, it’s time to develop it into an article, short story, or longer project.
|A girl wins the Boy Scout soapbox derby? |
Interesting premise, but then what….
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. (See more posts on finding ideas.)
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 points.
Basic Story Structure
1. The beginning introduces a character with a problem or a goal.
2. 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.
3. 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!
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.
Developing Your Conflict
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.
In The Well of Sacrifice, set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala, the young heroine is trying to stop an evil high priest from taking over her city.
In the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, a brother and sister are trying to understand and help the ghosts.
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.
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 change.
In The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, a sheltered girl goes on a magical journey in hopes of finding the strength to determine her own fate. Her journey is both internal, as she learns about herself, and external as she travels great distances and faces many dangers.
Solid Story Endings
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 sharing.
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.
Stop back next week (or follow the blog) for more on story goals and a different way to think about “beginning, middle, and end.”
Get More Writing Advice
Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. 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.
Her 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. Learn more at https://chriseboch.com/ or her Amazon page.