Thursday, August 25, 2016
Turning ideas into stories is harder than you think - A ReadItTorial
I've started to write once again, and as before my inspiration is Charlotte - who is becoming a mini version of her mum when it comes to critique.
Most of my story ideas are met with a mixture of a raised eyebrow or sometimes an even more withering criticism.
"That's rubbish, Daddy!" sayeth the expert and she should really know by now what constitutes a 'good' story as opposed to a rubbish old cliche-riddled pile of paper poop.
On those rare occasions when an idea is met with a pleasant wry little smile from Mum or Charlotte, I know that I am really on to something. Brutal honesty from your family is, really, what you've got to aim for when you're putting something together - whether it's a new piece of art or a new story.
The hard part for me is forming those ideas, those idle work-time daydreams, those plots into something that holds together, that at times comfortably ticks off all the 'rules' of writing children's stories and getting them to fit into the desired picture book format. I'm a writing machine. I can happily blast out blog posts, write technical documentation for work, write and write until my arm falls off but it's definitely tough trying to mould something into a story idea from vague notions, characters or a theme.
I've never really been a fan of rules, or sticking to a rigid formula so the idea of doing so by necessity is something I still struggle with. Sure enough though, if you pick out a handful of picture books and go through them, you will undoubtedly see how more talented folk stick to those rules fairly closely, and still come up with amazing ideas.
It seems to be a subtle combination of:
1) Know those rules inside and out and work with them, not against them. There are some great guidelines here, courtesy of ace author Tara Lazar: https://taralazar.com/2008/10/19/five-rules-for-picture-books/
2) Think about how your story will read - both in your head and aloud. It's important to consider the former because eventually children will read your book themselves, perhaps as they take their first faltering steps into 'proper' reading. Always consider the child but then also consider the latter point - how does your book read aloud? Does it flow or does it cause the reader to trip over their own tongue?
3) Never sit down to write the 'final' thing. Always flesh out your story ideas, create 'thumbnails' of the story as a series of very simple pages (you don't have to be a great artist to do this but it may help win over a potential publisher or agent if you have made an attempt to do some of the trickier aspects of fitting a format yourself).
4) Sign up some harsh critics (like I have). Really harsh I mean, the sort of folk who are going to give you the straight scoop. If you do get the opportunity, try your story out on children that aren't yours (I don't mean approaching strange kids in the street but if you work in a school or host a kid's party for your child's school friends, or have cousins around to stay, there are some golden opportunities there to road-test your stories on kids who won't bat an eyelid in telling you whether they suck or not).
5) Edit, edit and edit again. Put your piece away for a month, come back to it and read it again. Does it still read OK? If not, choose what to keep and what to enhance but most importantly what to cut and what to lose.
With all this, the part I find hardest is definitely 3. Piecing together a vague idea into a story that has a start, a middle, perhaps a bit of mild peril and then an end is VERY hard indeed. Sometimes you can get drawn into feeling a need to impart a message or a piece of wisdom that a potential reader may find useful. Moral tales are very common in children's stories but they can read dry, and kids can read between the lines pretty swiftly so again as Tara states, always be mindful of your ideal audience target age of between 2-6 years old.
So it's back to the blank notebook for me. Four ideas keep buzzing around at the back of my head like angry wasps so perhaps with a bit of luck, concentration, a lack of distractions and the wind in the right direction I might actually get these durned things down on paper SOME day!