I want to welcome a kidlit friend, author, and critique partner to the Grog Blog today--Alayne Kay Christian! Her new chapter book Sienna, The Cowgirl Fairy, debuted this summer, and so I invited her to share her expertise in writing chapter books. And Alayne has an awesome prize at the end! Take it away, Alayne!
So you have a chapter book idea. Now what?
A great place to start is by getting to know your protagonist better.
Some writers do a character inventory or character profile. You can find an excellent starting point with the following links that offer a variety of checklists. However, I agree with the note on the epiguide.com character chart that states, “Note that all fields are optional and should be used simply as a guide; character charts should inspire you to think about your character in new ways, rather than constrain your writing.”
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, which is a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. She also has many good books and workbooks on writing. I’ve decided to let some of Janice’s Fiction University posts along with a couple SCBWI posts help me provide you with good information on developing chapter book characters and stories.
If you find character profiles and charts to be a bit too much, check out the links below where Janice Hardy offers some interesting ways to develop your characters.
Of course, there are other characters to consider besides the protagonist. The links below lead to some more good guidelines from Hardy.
The following writers.net link offers some pros and cons of getting too carried away with a character inventory http://www.writers.net/forum/showthread.php?116160-character-inventory
I’m a pantster at heart, so the idea of a character inventory doesn’t appeal to me. But I’ve found that playing around with methods of exploring characters can make one think beyond the surface. It is also a good way to get unstuck if you are struggling to get going on your chapter book. But, don’t let digging into your characters give you an excuse to procrastinate. In my experience, characters often reveal themselves as the story builds. Only you know what works best for you.
The approach you take with your chapter book may be different depending on where your idea starts. Does it start with a character or does it start with a plot? The answer to those questions may influence your approach to character and plot development. Check out this SCBWI post for help with forming connections between character and plot. https://easternpennpoints.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/character-primer-which-hatched-first-the-character-or-the-plot-by-kristen-c-strocchia/
I’ve created a list of questions (below) that may help you brainstorm and develop your idea deeper and begin finding the plot that will fill your chapters. There is much more to writing chapter books than these questions, but it is a start. My goal for this post is to help writers who have a chapter book idea to dig deeper and get to know their protagonist’s journey a little better. Once you get rolling, you might find that your character will help lead you from chapter to chapter.
- · Who is the protagonist that will drive this story idea?
- · What is the question you want to set in your reader’s mind at the beginning of the story? There may be more than one question, but they will likely start with words like “Will s/he?” “Can s/he?” “How will s/he?” “How can s/he?” From here on, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the protagonist as she and her.
- · What is the inciting incident? This is the event that pushes your protagonist out of her ordinary world and into the world of the story that you want to write. The world where the protagonist’s journey takes place.
- · What is the protagonist’s goal or problem that will fuel her actions and decisions throughout the story?
- · How does the big story problem escalate throughout the story?
- · How does the protagonist resolve the big story problem in the end?
- · How do the protagonist’s actions and realizations inform the reader? How do her actions and realizations inform her?
- · What does she learn by the end of the story? Has she changed in some way?
- · What is the point of the story?
- · What will make the reader care about the protagonist’s journey?
- · What stands in the way of the protagonist achieving her goal or solving her problem?
- · What are the stakes? What does the protagonist stand to lose if she doesn’t solve her problem or achieve her goal?
- · What do you want the reader to think about long after the story is over?
- · What kind of challenges does the protagonist meet as the chapters develop?
- · How can the big story goal or problem lead to smaller chapter problems? Perhaps there are obstacles to achieving the big story goal. How might these obstacles create tension and escalate as the chapters develop?
- · What is the first problem that stems from the big story problem? How does it escalate with action and tension? How is that first problem resolved?
- · What are three obstacles or challenges to achieving the goal that your protagonist might have to overcome that make her journey all the harder?
- · What kind of decisions might your protagonist be forced to make as she meets twists, turns, surprises, and more setbacks? What might those twists, turns, surprises, and setbacks be?
- · What is the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist? What is the moment that makes her, and the reader, feel that all is lost or there is no hope – as though she will never achieve her goal or solve her problem?
- · What is the event or aha moment that causes the protagonist to climb out of that all is lost place? What kind of realization might she have? What kind of thinking outside the box choice might she make to do something different? What is that one thing that drives her into the action that leads to resolution?
- · What is the resolution? Having a clear vision of the ending or resolution when you start your book will make it much easier to develop your story because you will know where your protagonist needs to end up. All you have to do is figure out how to get her there in a compelling way. Simple right ;-)
- · Is there a surprise twist that will grab your reader one final time?
As I said earlier, there is much more to writing a chapter book. Here is a link to a SCBWI post to help start you thinking about individual chapters, emotional core and tension, and additional characters. https://easternpennpoints.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/chapter-prewriting-guide-essential-character-inventory-by-kristen-c-strocchia/
The following link leads to an excellent post on inner struggle or inner conflict.
The following link leads to another Hardy post. This one is about turning your idea into a story.
Janice Hardy does a great job of laying out a way to start forming your idea into a story. Clarifying an idea.
This next link leads to a post about testing an idea. This is similar to my list of questions above. But Janice has a different approach that may spark something new for you.
Also closely related to my list of questions, Hardy walks her readers through character arc development.
A BIG thank you to Tina Cho and the GROG team for inviting me to be a guest on their wonderful, informative blog.
Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author and a certified life coach. Her picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa (Blue Whale Press, LLC) received the Mom’s Choice Awards gold medal and an IPPY Awards silver medal. Alayne’s Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series first book, Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores near you. The next book in the series, Aunt Rose’s Flower Girl, and Alayne’s next two picture books Mischievous Maverick and Magic Mabel are all scheduled for 2018 release. Alayne is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Write and Analyze Picture Book Manuscripts.
Alayne is giving away a chapter book critique (first 3 chapters) to a Grog Blog reader. If you'd like to be entered in the drawing, please let us know in the comments. The drawing will be held on October 6th.
Links to books: https://www.amazon.com/Sienna-Cowgirl-Fairy-Trying-Make/dp/1946101052/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505228454&sr=8-1&keywords=sienna+the+cowgirl+fairy