The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children
By Nancy Lamb Published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2001
The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children has been one of the most influential books ON MY SHELF. My copy is thoroughly highlighted, and dotted with pink sticky notes from introduction to Reading List. I have poured over some portions of it dozens of times, I am sure.
I’ll quote a line or two from the beginning of the book “Praise for The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children.
“It’s all here—everything you need to know about writing for children, presented with insight and humor.” (Janet Zarem)
Lamb’s book covers everything from “Discovering Your Story” to a clear and specific overview of children’s books’ genre and formats.
It covers “Structural Design,” Beginnings, the importance of crises, and classic story structures.
The chapters on scenes, plots, characters, point of view and dialogue are thorough.
However, the section of The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children on “Interior Designs” has been the most influential on me. It consists of chapters that give clear explanations and useful examples related to some foundational stones for story telling:
- “Promise, Premise, Theme and Moral”
- “The Promise Continued: Voice and Tone”
- “Narrative Authority: Setting and Senses”
- “The Write Way” which covers Lamb’s Twenty-Six Steps to Good Writing and her Top Ten Rules of Verbal Combat (pet peeves of editors)
I’m a foundation digger. When I’m learning a new skill or taking on a new job or project I want to know the underpinnings of the task, job or organization. I like to know I’m on a solid foundation before I start throwing up walls, windows and doors.
For me the chapter “Promise, Premise, Theme and Moral” gave me a solid foundation on which to build my stories. When I write the beginning of my story I make some promises to my readers. I MUST keep those promises or I’m going to cheat my readers and lose a lot of them along the way.
I promise that it’s going to be a story about a certain character who needs or wants a certain thing, and has to battle her way to getting or doing it. That’s my premise; it provides the plot and structure for my story.
I also promise that it’s going to be a story about love or family or death or war, etc. That’s the theme of my story; it flows through my scenes and sequels, it carries my characters through events, and it dictates what sort of ending my tale will have.
I keep or break my promise by creating a mood, or even the genre or sub-genre of my story, through the voice I use to write it. My voice is established by the choices I make in words, syntax, structure, pace, punctuation and white space. My unique blend of style, characters and descriptions of people and settings comprise my voice. Blended together they express my voice in each manuscript.
And lastly I convey my promise to my readers by the tone or atmosphere I create. A funny story, a sad story, a serious story, a thrilling story, a moving story all come to life against the backdrop I create. Tone and voice can work hand-in-hand to enhance my story. Or, they can oppose each other creating strong contrast. Either way they unroll the canvas on which my story exists.
Learning that hasn’t been easy. But The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children introduced me to this foundational truth, and is always there to rescue me when I need to shore up a story that screams at me that it’s about to fall apart.
I LOVE this book!