7 steps to writing great adventure stories for children

I’m currently looking for a new writing project and I’m intrigued by teen fiction. Nothing as elaborate as Harry Potter and nothing as intense as The Hunger Games trilogy. I love adventure in writing and I love to write dialogue and action.

As most writing tutors would say ‘write about what you know and what you love’.

So I’m thinking of a fantasy adventure possibly set in outer space, possibly set in a Dragon-infested realm. I have no problem with using cliches as they are popular amongst young readers for a reason. Better still, it’s the kind of thing I like to read myself.

As most writing tutors would say ‘write about what you know and what you love’. And there’s a lot to be said for that. Write about what you know, you love and you feel should be written.

So here I present my own 7 stages to crafting an adventure story for children. I like to have each of these covered before I begin writing.

1 The Predicament

Before I think of any characters, protagonists, bad guys I always think of a predicament. A situation that seems pretty much impossible to overcome.

For example – a comet is on a collision course with Earth. There’s just two days before impact and the result is almost certainly destruction of the planet.

Pretty extreme isn’t it? But how cool that something so intense is looming. What on Earth (excuse the pun) is going to be able to reverse the effects of such a cataclysmic event?

I love this. The impossible task. That one thing that is surely out of reach to a mere mortal.

2 The Hero

It’s at this point that I consider the protagonist. That one character who we will view the story through. Everything that they see, we see. In order to make that as interesting as possible to the reader what must I do to define this character?

This is where I start to play with juxtapositions.

Taking the armageddon scenario I used in my example, what sort of a character would be most unlikely to reverse or overcome the predicament.

Well that’s a pretty cool question to ask. I know exactly the sort of character that would be most likely to overcome that situation; a super hero. A Superman character that could probably just fly the circumference of the Earth a few times and reverse time or even kick the comet back to where it came from. Boring.

What a predicament like this really needs is a completely unlikely hero – a nerdish kid with a fear of pretty much everything.

The beauty of this is that we are thrown into this character right from the outset. The moment we learn of Earth’s impending doom we’re instantly looking over the shoulder of this scrawny, potentially useless kid.

As a reader we’re thinking why the hell am I sat with this geeky kid when the world is about to end?

This, for me, creates a second layer of interest for the reader. 1 – the world is about to end and 2 – it seems that the geek is about to solve all of that.

3 The Challenge

I know what you’re thinking. It’s pretty obvious what the challenge is, right? Well, yes. It’s certainly the challenge to end all challenges – saving the world from disaster. But if the story played out as just one kid preventing the end of the world it’d be pretty dull, as cool as that challenge might sound.

The real challenge here is for our nerdish hero to convince everybody that he has a good idea.

At this point I like to inject a few problems into the mix.

A good place to start is in the hero him (or her) self. What might such a character have to overcome within themselves to achieve their broader goals?

Perhaps my hero is extremely shy. Perhaps he is extremely clever and has found something that the world’s finest scientists have missed. Perhaps he is trapped in his home by an evil aunt! Perhaps he is disabled in some way that prevents him from getting about.

A neat trick here is to think about the most unlikely turn of events that could solve the predicament.

In the case of the comet colliding with Earth it could be that something so simple, so trivial could save mankind. Something like switching all the power off on the light side of the planet! Ridiculous yes but in terms of fiction you could make a case for it having enough of an effect to divert a stray comet!

The real challenge here is for our nerdish hero to convince everybody that he has a good idea.

Layering your challenges is a cool way to develop a character. Fundamentally my hero is a scientific kid who is less than popular and probably sneered at by his contemporaries. Maybe even the teachers think he’s useless. But then, by applying himself to something he astonishes his science teacher and those in his class. Using that as his foundation he then convinces his teacher that his ‘lights out’ idea might just have some credence.

This leads me neatly into the next step…

4 The Mentor

I love to give my lead characters a mentor. An older, father figure type character that helps the hero along by offering advice and steering them through the minefield to achieving their goals.

Think Obi Wan or Mr Miyagi. That wonderful sage-like character that we’d all love to have as Grandad.

In my scenario I’d probably place the kid’s science teacher in this role. Somebody that sees the potential in the hero’s crazy idea. He himself may know that they have an uphill struggle in convincing the powers that be in its effectiveness, but he’s willing to put his own reputation on the line to achieve it.

So now the battle is being fought by two people.
We the reader can see that those two characters are serious. We can also see that there’s probably something in it as not only does the hero believe in it but he’s managed to convince somebody that we trust.

We now want the hero to succeed. We want him to achieve his goal whereas previously we probably thought he was nuts to even entertain the idea.

Everything’s going swimmingly which leads me neatly into the next step…

5 The Setback

Oh yes, make no mistake that not everything will continue to go to plan. In order for things to be really and truly rewarding to us we must first drop our hero off a cliff.

Not literally, although in some cases that may work! No, by dropping them from a cliff edge I simply mean putting them back a LONG way. A setback so big that they’d need superhuman will and determination to continue.

How many times have we seen this in cinema? That one moment when it looks as though all is lost, only for the protagonist to muster up something out of nothing to get across the line.

This is a fantastic thing to use in an action / adventure story. It keeps the pace up as we are now at the convergence of all of the previous points.

The predicament is looming, the hero is beaten, the challenges have the better of him, the mentor can offer no solutions. Surely a setback like this cannot be overcome. Surely our hero is beaten?

6 The Showdown

This is it. This is the bit we’ve been waiting for.

With the world waiting with baited breath, the nerdy kid’s incredible yet balmy idea is thrust into action…

Our hero is up against it. His setback has beaten him yet somehow, somehow he has the strength for one last battle.

Planet Earth is poised on the brink of disaster. After billions of years and countless wars and natural disasters it is a comet the size of London that is about to end it all.

Our hero’s solution is the only solution that mankind has. The only thing standing in the way of disaster is our hero’s half-baked idea.

Everyone is sweating. The mentor is on the verge of a meltdown. He believes in his young apprentice but is terrified. Not about his reputation, that won’t matter one jot if the plan fails, but about just that – failure.

With the world waiting with baited breath, the nerdy kid’s incredible yet balmy idea is thrust into action…

7 The Payoff

It works. Of course it works. Our hero is the world’s hero. His mentor is a very relieved and proud man. His parents who laughed him out of town are proud. His contemporaries, even those that bullied him mercilessly, owe him a debt of gratitude. In fact, everyone owes him that debt.

This kid is incredible. He’s overcome absolutely everything, even The Setback to achieve his goal. He believed in it, believed in himself and pulled out all of the stops to make it happen.

Payoffs work best when there is enough mystery, anticipation and surprise to play with.

I love to create all three of these things. A good story, certainly a story that I like to read, has dollops of mystery right up to the final whistle. I love to be surprised as late as possible in a story.

A good surprise, or a good twist is a fantastic way of cementing a story in our memory.

And that’s pretty much it.

Of course not every story will revolve around such an intense theme as the end of the world. The predicament in the story may be something more ‘normal’ such as winning at sports or climbing a mountain.

Above all I set out to have huge amounts of fun with every stage of the writing. I enjoy crafting characters and scenarios that are as fun to write as they are to read.