When we started our Beginner Basic Training series we said that we would spend the next six weeks breaking down the Five Ws and an H questions so that we can better plan and produce literature for kids that takes important writing elements and builds on them. Last week, we focused on the first of the six questions, the WHO of Writing Kidlit.
Today, we are continuing to lay our foundation by focusing on the second question, the WHAT of Writing Kidlit. Each question on the list seems quite simple, but there is more depth to each one, especially when it comes to the WHAT question.
When we ask WHAT questions, we are lead to gathering a variety of information ranging from description details to location directions to thematic explanations. WHAT is a strong, list-making question for writers of all levels, but when writing for young readers, you want to be able to answer all your WHAT questions because your readers are curious kiddos who are going to want to know all the answers.
Since the WHAT question(s) can help you find clarity and determine a variety of important details for your story, and because usually one question will lead to the next and to the next and so on, let’s break them into two specific categories.
I. What do you NEED to know as the writer?
As a children’s author you want to make sure you ask yourself specific WHAT questions and can answer them. You need to be able to make decisions about your goals for your manuscript before and during your writing, so that you have the answers to the second set of questions about your characters, setting, plot, conflict, and so forth. Questions that you need to be able to answer as the author include, but are not limited to the following:
- What’s your theme in one sentence?
- What is your goal for writing this book?
- What lesson are your readers learning or experiencing?
- What challenges must the character(s) overcome?
- What does your story focus on?
- What age group are you writing for?
- What makes your story different from others in bookstores?
- What view point are you writing from?
- What is your reader going to find in the beginning, middle and end?
- What can you do within your story to “Show not Tell”?
One way to get clarity on these WHAT questions is to create a either vision board or a storyboard. According to Writer’sRelief.com, a vision board is defined as a type of collage filled with your dreams and the dreams you wish to fulfill in your life. As an author, you can create a vision board made up of pictures, illustrations, and phrases that depict what you hope to accomplish for you as an author as well as for your book. A storyboard, according to Wikipedia.org, is a graphic organizer that includes illustrations or images displayed in a sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your plot or storyline. Many authors do this on a blank poster board or white board for major scenes while others choose to use a digital format like Pinterest to create albums of images that help visualize a main character or a setting. These are tangible ways that you can develop the answers to your WHAT questions.
II. What does the reader WANT to know?
When a reader, a child or an adult, picks up your book, not only do they have WHAT questions pertaining to the book itself, they are also going to have WHAT questions about the story inside and their list of questions will be long.
- What is this book about?
- What happens in this story?
- What is the main character trying to accomplish?
- What genre is the book in?
- What are the characters doing?
- What is this story similar to?
- What can I imagine with my five senses?
- What are you telling me about this location/setting?
- What’s in it for me?
Obviously, as you are writing there are many, many more WHAT questions that you will find answers to as you write, questions that are more specific to identifying your main character, your plot, your setting, etc. The main goal of answering these two categories of WHAT questions is that you are laying the foundation for you as an author and for your picture book or chapter book.