Every time I conduct a writing workshop, I have participants who do not believe they can write stories anyone will want to read. This is not because of any language barriers. It’s because they don’t believe they have anything interesting to say. I’m not trying to show off (maybe a little) but I always prove them wrong.
In my last workshop, there was a participant who refused to put down any words on paper. “It’s just not something I can do,” she said. Yet, she showed up to the workshop. I asked her to try the exercises I was suggesting without the pressure of writing a full story and what she wrote was pretty spectacular.
If we dig deep, we all have stories worth telling. To help you tell yours, I’ll break down my writing process into 3 simple steps:
Step #1: Brainstorming
Back when I was in university, I came across a book that was all about how brainstorming unleashes the right (creative) side of our brains. This is the side of our brain that lets us wonder, daydream, and play, which is all part of being creative.
I so badly wish I remembered the name of that valuable book. Instead, I’ll provide you with a summary: When we brainstorm, we are able to get in touch with the creative powers of our minds and let go of the rules and criticisms of our left brain. To brainstorm, you write a prompt in the middle of your page, circle it, and then keep connecting other related words to the prompt. Here are some fun prompts you can use to get started:
- The Enchanted Painting
- The Incredible Flute
- The Curious Train
- The Imaginary Cottage
- The Perfect Tree
- The Flying Castle
- The Crooked Man
- The Secret Doll
- The Whispering Fox
- The Haunted Fireplace
For more prompts, try out this website.
Make sure to not pause and think, because that will let your left brain in. Instead, keep writing until you have an ‘aha!’ moment, a moment in which you have an idea of what you want to write about.
Your mind might run dry before this happens. In this case, you might want to take a break from brainstorming to search for more ideas. Instead of removing your pencil from your paper, just doodle for a bit until some new words pop up. As you let the writing take over, your mind will give you ideas for a new story. Once this happens, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Speed Writing
Unlike other methods of writing, speed writing is useful because it continues to keep your left brain on pause, allowing you to unleash ideas without criticizing them. It is a continuation of brainstorming. But instead of words and phrases, you are now writing full sentences. Pay attention to the ‘speed’ part of speed writing. Just like with brainstorming, you don’t want to stop to think. Just let the writing take over.
It might not make any sense, but let your right brain do its thing. When you can’t think of certain words, just add an ellipsis… and keep going. If you can’t think of the next sentence, doodle for a moment until the next thought comes. Let it all out.
Step 3: Editing
To create a good story, we need to learn how to use both sides of our brains. Now that our right brain has provided us with all the juicy nonsensical writing, we can let our left brain in. This step is the longest and most complicated, but it is crucial to writing a story that will keep our readers’ interest. In this step, I will be covering several important topics. These include:
A. Story Patterns
B. Structural Elements
C. Story Checks
F. Beta Readers
G. Finding Professionals
A. Story Patterns
There are 5 story patterns in children’s books, which create a map for your story. While most writers start by determining the pattern for their story before writing it, I prefer going through my brainstorming exercises and then deciding which pattern my story best fits into.
Once I have identified the pattern, I start editing the story so that it follows the key rules of that pattern. Writing in a pattern does not make your story boring. Rather, it gives you a structure to work within and makes your story stronger. I learned about these patterns through an amazing course: Writing for Children by Gale Courses. If you’re in Toronto, your library card will allow you to access it for free.
These are the 5 story patterns:
- The Incident Story is the simplest pattern. It is only found in board books and has one character who experiences something. Example: A child discovers a bird’s nest with eggs that eventually hatch chicks. That’s the entire plot and it’s only about the character’s delight at the discovery.
- The Purpose-Achieved Story revolves around a character who wants to achieve something. The purpose should be very important to the character. It should be achieved towards the end to create suspense. There must be a possibility that the purpose might not be achieved. And it must be the protagonist who achieves the purpose, not anyone else.
- The Wish Fulfillment Story is about a character whose wish is fulfilled, but there’s always a twist. The wish must be fulfilled through an act for which the protagonist is not expecting a reward. Disney uses this story pattern often. Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast are some examples.
- The Misunderstanding Story is very popular in romantic comedies and it’s based on a misconception the protagonist has. The important thing is that the misunderstanding must be resolved as a result of the protagonist changing. Usually, that means overcoming a flaw. These stories are a great way to teach a lesson but you must make sure not to sound preachy!
- The Decision Story is about anything involving personal change and making decisions. Some story ideas that would fit into this pattern would be about a character fitting in, growing up, or becoming independent.
B. Structural Elements
Once you have chosen which story pattern you want to work within, you can focus on your story’s structural elements. If there are any holes in the stories, understanding these elements will help me fill them in.
These are the 4 structural elements:
- Passion: What is your reason for writing. Are you writing to entertain, capture a thought, or convey a theme?
- Theme: What is the message you want to convey to your readers?
- Flaw: What is your character’s flaw? How can they be better?
- Premise: How has the protagonist changed throughout the book? What was their flaw? What was the problem? How did they overcome their flaw to solve the problem?
C. Story Checks
After answering the above questions, go over your story again. Ask yourself these 5 questions during the re-read to make sure that your story is doing all the things a good story should do.
- Is your story unique? For example, if it’s about spreading kindness, what makes it different than other books that are about kindness?
- Is your character memorable? Here is a great character questionnaire you can go through to develop a unique character who will be fun to write, illustrate and read about.
- Is your story exciting? You’re trying to hold a child’s attention usually in under 1000 words. Get to the main point of the story quickly and let the illustrations do the rest of the work.
- Is there a problem? Every good story should have a problem, a problem that is very important for the main character to solve. For it to be a really good story, this problem should be hard for our character to solve and there should be a series of obstacles they have to overcome before they get to the solution.
- Is it fun to illustrate? Think about your story from an illustrator’s point of view and make sure your characters and their environments will be fun to draw. If they’re not, your story will have dull illustrations which won’t hold a child’s interest.
If you want to learn more, check out this amazing article that goes more in-depth about writing for children.
It’s hard to be creative when you’re confined so don’t worry about the word count in the beginning. But once you have the story down, make sure it is the right word count for the age group you’re writing for. Here is an article outlining the word counts for children’s books.
Copy-paste the original story into another document and keep the original saved. Knowing the original is backed up will allow you to be ruthless about removing unnecessary words. The more you cut down, the more refined your story will become.
The brainstorming and speed writing will give you a starting point but all of this editing will make your story fabulous. Now, it’s time to brainstorm some titles.
Once you have a shortlist, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Is the title exciting? Using verbs in titles creates a lot more interest than using only nouns.
- Is the title intriguing? A reader is more likely to pick up the book if the title raises their curiosity.
- Is the title unique? It will be really hard to market a book if there’s another book with the same title.
F. Beta Readers
Once you have polished your story to the best of your ability, you can share it with beta readers. A beta reader is someone who will read your manuscript and provide you with feedback. These can be your friends and family, children you know, and/or your social media and newsletter followers. Get as much feedback as you can, keep an open mind, and then go back and revise your story. Editing is a long process!
G. Finding Professionals
If you’re planning to publish your story, I highly recommend hiring an editor. They are professionals who will help make your story much, much, much stronger. I have only used one editor. He was pricey but worth it and I will definitely hire him again for my next book. You can find out more about him here.
If you’re not an illustrator, I also highly recommend hiring a professional to illustrate your book. I illustrate my own stories so I don’t have much experience here, but here is a fantastic book by author Eevi Jones. It has a lot of information about hiring illustrators and more.
We all have stories to tell. I hope this breakdown will help you tell yours. Stay in touch by subscribing to my newsletter.
If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below. If you would like to check out my first children’s book, you can take a look at it here.
2 thoughts on “Unlock Your Creativity: A Simple 3-Step Guide to Writing Children’s Books”
Great advice. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for reading! 🙂