Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Have Formula, Will Write

I’m back on track. SCBWI meetings always seem to get me there. Not that I wandered far. Tuesday night’s gathering of children’s book writers and illustrators was refreshing. I left ready to write.

But after the hour-long drive home (not to mention the two-hour drive to get there that also included meeting Mr. T at a half-way point and transferring T Junior from my minivan to Dada’s sedan, a stop at the KFC drive-thru for a box containing three lamp-warmed crispy chicken strips, and a run in, then out of Starbuck’s for a Grande Extra-hot Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte), I was ready for bed. And today, I’m too tired to think. Especially after that last sentence. Yikes.

During the meeting, though, my brain was spinning in the right direction with ideas about my children’s story. Picture book author Clare Hodgson Meeker (A Tale of Two Rice Birds) was talking about Narrative Structure when I flipped the page in my notebook and scribbled some thoughts about my own book. I appreciated her advice about using structure, even though she received some grief from one audience member.

In Narrative Structure, Clare explained, there are three problems that need to occur in order to move the story along. And there is action, background, development, climax and the end. Clare wrapped up her talk and called for questions.

A woman raised her hand and asked how to apply the structure to stories that seemingly have no problems in them. Tales that are just told to set a mood. She threw out a title that describes the relationship between a son and a grandfather, but I think Goodnight, Moon would have been a better example.

In this classic (and a favorite of mine, T Junior, and pretty much everyone else on the planet), there are no problems. No obstacles to overcome. The tale meanders through a bunny’s soothing pre-bedtime routine of him saying “goodnight” to everything in his room and out the window. T Junior likes to repeat the line, “Goodnight nobody.”

The “mood” question appeared to throw Clare off balance and the normally easy-going audience became uncomfortable because the asker seemed annoyed with Clare’s answer. First, our speaker instructed the audience member to go back and look at the book because maaaaybe there were some small problems that she just wasn’t seeing. The asker was sure there were no problems. Again, how does this apply to Narrative Structure? Then Clare implied the grandfather book might not be a very good story because it lacked conflict.

I tried to send a mind message to the audience member, who was sitting just two rows above me in the amphitheater-style college classroom: It’s obvious Carol’s here to talk about Narrative Structure. As she repeated throughout her speech, that’s what worked for her. We all know that there are different formulas out there. Let’s move on.

Throughout the night, though, different SCBWI members brought it up. One even announced he would be discussing that very non-structure structure topic in an upcoming class of his.

I, however, took a ton away from what Clare had to say. I like rules. I believe conflict makes better stories. Otherwise, why are you telling me about it? Not to take anything away from Margaret Wise Brown’s beautiful bedtime classic. She was a genius.

But I’m new to this whole picture book writing thing and having a formula to follow will be a huge help. Once I get the basic structure of my story down, then I can play! That’s the fun part, building upon the basics. Making a story real. Your own.

Okay; who’s ready to write?!


1 comment:

  1. The age of the audience matters too. Saying Goodnight to everyone and everything is for a much younger audience. And you're right, there is more than one way and the speakers way, which is successful for her, is to have conflict in her stories.


Write something. Anything.