How to write for children and get published – three simple questions

I’m currently reading the book that shares this post’s title. It’s a good read and contains many useful bits of information for the budding children’s writer.

Though I’ve written and published six books to date, they are all self-published. It is, of course, my dream to have a story published in the mainstream and available in bookstores the world over.

Of particular interest to me is the section in the book dedicated to plot and structure. I’ve read books before that are, I think, a little too concerned with formula. I tend to get a tad bored by reading somebody’s views on how all prose can be boiled down to some kind of a boiler plate from which we can all write fantastic fiction.

Louise Jordan dispenses with this notion in the main but does offer a number of exceptions worth noting. One interesting section discusses the power of the three word – three step overview.

For example:

  1. Boy meets girl
  2. Boy loses girl
  3. Boy gets girl

What I see there are essentially three acts.

  1. Boy meets girl: ACT I – SETUP
  2. Boy loses girl: ACT II – CONFLICT
  3. Boy gets girl: ACT III – RESOLUTION

An example from popular fiction is this from The Pied Piper.

  1. Man lures rats
  2. Town won’t pay
  3. Man takes children

It’s a neat way to look at your story from a great height.

Essentially:

  • What’s it about?
  • What’s the problem?
  • What happens?

This is very much in keeping with a previous article that I’d written about The Golden Thread that pulls the reader through a story. As the story evolves and we get to know the characters, we shift through each of the three questions.

I had a play with the most popular of all children’s books Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

  1. What’s it about? A boy who doesn’t realise he is destined to be a wizard
  2. What’s the problem? Plenty of people don’t want that to happen
  3. What happens? The boy becomes a wizard

Is that a fair appraisal? Of course en route to becoming the wizard the young boy first confronts numerous challenges and hundreds of pages of text! But certainly if you were to stand before a Hollywood studio and read those three lines you’d leave the exec in no doubt that you’re referring to Harry Potter. I’m sure that the same could be said for a commissioning editor.

For me this simple three step approach is very attractive. I can daydream all day long about the what’s it aboutquestion.

Here’s an example from my own notebook.

Invisible 

  • A shy child who just wants to be seen (accepted) and have friends
  • He’s ‘different’ to the other kids (disabled)
  • The boy has a remarkable talent and wins the support of the good guys

There’s threads to this story that involve bullying and his parent’s constant struggle to get the best for their child. The disaster occurs during the conflict of Act II when his parents separate and his mother abandons her son.

It’s only when the boy appears on national TV with his rare talent that the family tries again. This is of course a personal statement as to the superficial, fickle nature of people in today’s media obsessed world.

I recommend Louise Jordan’s book which has been revised from its 1998 initial release to include information about self publishing.