Writing children’s fiction

Literacy, or English, is a subject that dominates the timetable in school (with good reason). Both girls love writing and particularly enjoy fiction so a lesson with an author was an exciting prospect, particularly a successful, award-winning kids author.

Joe Craig, author of the kids spy book series Jimmy Coates, was the outstanding teacher today and provided the girls with an in-depth lesson on the process involved in writing a novel. With a stack of paper in front of him, he began by drawing a visual representation of the traditional teaching model taught in schools: a beginning, middle and end, represented by a wave, the peak or climax being in the middle. He explained that this was flawed method since the first third of a story was dedicated to describing the build up, the climax (most interesting part) was the middle and the latter third petered out.

Joe then dedicated time to explaining his theory and method for writing stories that enthrall and entertain audiences world-wide.

Lessons learned about creating a good story 

  • spend time on planning the story. Putting the effort into planning the story means that the writing process will be much easier. Joe Craig spends about two months planning in detail.
  • when planning a story, characters should face conflicts that they need to overcome. To illustrate this Joe Craig drew a character with three circles surrounding it. The outer circle represented the “impending doom” or the external influences in outside world. The second circle referred to personal relationships and the third, inner circle was named “inner demons” and focused on the psychological influences on a character. The main character (and other characters) should have some or all of these conflicts, and for the story to be successful they should link. The ending should resolve one or all of the conflicts, although others can be addressed earlier in the plot. Some conflicts might remain unanswered and continued in another story.
  • a story should have a dramatic ending that brings many of the conflicts to a resolution and leaves the reader satisfied but also curious.
  • rather than organising a story into a beginning, middle and end, split the story into acts. Each acts ends in a climax. Joe represented these at peaks on a graph and usually has three acts. These are not equally weighted; the first act is usually the longest while the later acts are much shorter.
  • plan the main story plot based on the events around the main character. Consider subplots involving other characters and how these might (or might not) link with the main plot.
  • once the main plot is planned, jot down key events and think about the order in which they will appear. Consider moving key events to different parts of the story to see the effect they might have. Joe Craig does this using a pin board, on which he can pin plot events in note form, in order. This allows him to physically shuffle cards around and see the visual representation of his whole plot in front of him.
  • after planning the plot, begin writing a first draft and assume that the first draft will be rubbish! It will NOT be the final draft and you should expect to re-visit it many times. Joe Craig writes the whole story as a first draft from beginning to end before beginning the re-drafting process.
  • after a first draft, go back and read through what you have written with fresh eyes. Does it make sense? Highlight any necessary changes as you are reading before writing another draft.
  • read through a draft focussing on one issue at a time. Joe might focus just on dialogue or the use of adjectives within sentences.
  • when writing a story, initially the focus is on the events but in the later stages, the quality of the writing becomes the priority. Each sentence should be scrutinised. In schools children are often taught to use as many techniques as possible in their writing but Joe was keen to unpick this. He talked about the unnecessary use of adjectives. Adjectives are used for description and serve two purposes: to inform and describe. The former is often needed but the latter can more adequately be replaced by better verb use. This also applies to adverbs; rather than add an adverb attached to a verb into a sentence, a powerful verb can serve a better job.

Listening to Joe Craig explain the process that he goes through certainly made the girls appreciative of the effort and time that goes into creating a book. The time he dedicated to explaining his approach to writing books was invaluable.