Hello from Crystal Bowman! This blog post is for those who want to write fiction for children, and even for those who don’t because the more you know, the more you grow. Most of my books are for the children’s devotional or Bible storybook market. However, I have written several fiction picture books as well as few dozen I Can Read! books, so I want to share something I learned many years ago in my novice years of writing. The mistake many writers make (and I used to be one of them) is to write an explanatory introduction to “set up” the story.
Imagine my shock and horror when an editor deleted the first two pages of a middle grade reader I was creating in my very early days of writing! TWO PAGES of my precious words were simply erased by an editor’s index finger on the delete tab. Poof—just like that!
It happened again a few years later when I was writing a children’s picture book for the Holland, Michigan Tulip Festival. I began the story like this: On the eastern shores of Lake Michigan lies the quaint town of Holland, Michigan, blah, blah, blah. Then about three paragraphs later I wrote: Something magical happens every year in the month of May in the city of Holland, Michigan. The editor highlighted that line and said, “This is where the story starts.”
So here’s the deal. When writing fiction for kids, you need to jump in mid-stream—no explanations or intros needed. Let’s look at a familiar classic as an example.
Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak was first published in 1963. If a novice were writing the story he or she might begin like this: Max was a four-year-old boy who liked to dress up and pretend. Sometimes he would dress up as a cowboy and pretend to ride his big, black horse. Sometimes he would dress up like a fire fighter and drive the big red fired truck. Oo–wee, oo–wee went the siren. And other times, Max would dress up like a silly clown. He’d color his nose red and put on big floppy shoes and do silly tricks. But his favorite thing was to put on his wolf suit and pretend he was the big, bad wolf.
But that is not how this Caldecott Medal-winning book begins. Here is the first line: The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him “WILD THING!” and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything.
That’s it! No intro. No explanation. It just starts where the story begins—One night.
So when writing your fiction children’s story, remember that you don’t need to introduce your characters or give background information because the readers will get to know them through the story. Just jump in and have fun!