Writing Children’s Books, Part 2: Finding a story, and filling it with characters

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my first post about writing for children! How is everyone getting along with their own projects?

This month we’re talking about…

 

Finding a Story

Writing Childrens Stories - Inky Collective Blog

 

Cosmo the bear was born of lessons and inspirations that I have picked up here and there as part of my experience with life coaching, and in general day-to-day life. These lessons made my life flow that little bit more smoothly and peacefully, and I caught myself thinking that it would have been great to have known these things earlier! Surely these thoughts and ways of seeing life would help kids from a young age too?

When I write, I try to focus on the end goal: what am I trying to demonstrate? What do I want the reader to think about, to feel like? Do I want them to be shocked, moved, touched, scared? This helps because it gives me a point to get back to when I get lost or stall. A bit like a literary lifeline!

I then start to create the storyline, and the characters and their adventures all begin to appear to fulfil the plot that I have set for that story.

The morals of the stories are summarised in the final line each time, and Cosmo The Bear has to go on an adventure to learn each of them. It is actually a lot of fun having to turn something as straight-forward as “sometimes in life, it’s all a question of perspective” into a story, and then having to wind it all back up to end with this saying (or similar) as a final sentence.

Since I am writing a series of adventures, ideally my little readers will get to know Cosmo and will come to expect him to have learned something new each time. There is something quite sweet about this little ending ritual in my view.

So, I decided which storylines I would use to bring those lessons to life, I then had to choose a central character that hopefully children would relate to. I thought a bear would provide the warmth and clumsiness kids might be looking for in an imaginary friend.

Bears are not all tough and scary, they were once little bears just trying to get through life, like Cosmo!

 

Populating the Great Green Forest

Writing Childrens Stories - Inky Collective Blog

 

My characters are all created to bring the storyline to life. I have started documenting in a spreadsheet who they are, their names, personality and who their relations are, etc. That way I can keep track of who is who, how they interact and also make sure I spend some time actually thinking about what makes them appealing to kids. I have also tried my hands at doodling a couple of them, but more about this in another post!

To me, writing kids’ books means creating characters that they will relate to, and it starts with being able to picture them, with or without drawings. The characters need to have some kind of edge in order to be interesting.

I like the idea of using words to paint the colours of the animals in my stories. It is my way of putting a face to a name. I imagine the stories being read at bedtime, in the low light, when pictures can’t be seen and words are really important. A lot of writers won’t have illustrations to start off with either so it’s good writing practice to read your work aloud to a friendly audience and ask them what they end up picturing. Is it miles from what you had in your head?

If you do plan on having illustrations, I still think it is good writing practice when a story can stand alone, without visual cues. I also like the idea of words playing back what the image shows us. I refer to Cosmo’s white ears and Mollie’s red glasses for instance – something for the children to hear and then look for in the illustrations. I want to give my young readers enough detail to picture Cosmo and his friends by themselves, so they can drift away listening to the words and sparking their imagination.

 

To summarise, when creating your story and characters…

  • Don’t lose sight of the end goal – what are you trying to demonstrate?
  • What do you want the reader to think about, to feel like? Do you want them to be shocked, moved, touched, scared?
  • Choose a central character that children can relate to. For me, I hope a bear will provide the warmth and clumsiness kids might be looking for!
  • Keep track of your characters, and how they interact. I use a spreadsheet for this.
  • Spend time thinking about what will make those characters appealing to kids.
  • Read your work aloud to a friendly audience and ask them what they end up picturing. Is it miles from what you had in your head?

 

Are you a writer/illustrator with a story in mind? Or are you having to create your characters just with words too?

I’d love to hear about your progress and any of your own tips!

Lucile Knight

Lucile Knight

Artist, consultant, first time mum, and first time blogger! I blog about writing my first stories for children.
Lucile Knight

So, what do you think?