Beginner Basic Training: The How of Writing Kidlit
Y’all, this six week series has taken nine weeks thanks to the schedule of the last two months. Between end-of-school activities, traveling to NYC for BEA, preparing to travel to Chicago for Write-to-Publish, AND finalizing the galleys for our DEBUT CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK (we’re not excited or anything! HA!), we’ve been in the thick of it.
So, let’s get caught up, shall we?!
The previous post in this Beginner Basic Training series was Week #5 and focused on the Why of Writing KidLit. And, previous to that we looked at the Who, What, When, and Where questions that can be answered as we write for children. Each of the questions in this series are basic, but thought-provoking, and as writers of children’s literature we must be sure that we are creating depth as well as delight for our readers…who, let’s remember, are not merely the kiddos, but also the parents, guardians, and teachers who are reading along with the kiddos.
The last question in our series is the HOW question. When HOW questions are taught in reading and writing lessons, they are taught with the general purpose of finding out the way something is done. The answers to the HOW questions are usually suggested rather than directly expressed and fulfill the job of collecting important and key information about characters, plots, subplots, themes, etc.
Here are some sample HOW questions that might need answers as you develop your story:
- How did it happen?
- How does A lead to B?
- How did they arrive at this conclusion?
- How does this technology work?
- How do I give examples of this action?
- How did this setting develop?
- How hurt/happy is he or she?
- How does this group function?
- How much does this cost?
- How does he/she/it accomplish that?
- How do you find that place?
- How did it come into being?
- How are those involved affected?
- How much attention does this need?
- How was their trip/dinner/ day?
- How should we address that person/villain/child?
Although a HOW question is interrogative, it can feel abstract. I think a good way to assist with creating more concrete uses for HOW questions and answers is to visualize a stone path, like you might find in a garden. Each time you answer a HOW question you’re adding the grout between the stones on the path because you’re adding more information that connects the reader to the Who, What, When, Where, and Why answers. HOW questions inform the connections made for readers by showing the methods, describing the conditions, quantifying the price or degree, identifying new issues, adding onto research, etc. within the answers, or in our case, the details used within your story. The best example of a HOW question in juvenile fiction is the development of an alternative universe as seen in science fiction or fantasy. When you bring to life a new world for your reader, being able to answer HOW questions becomes very relative to ensuring your reader connects with the places your characters move within.
Writing children’s fiction, or “kidlit”, is not as simple as many wish it was, but neither is it the most difficult. Intertwining the visual and the verbal as we answer the 5 Ws and H questions allows us to truly give birth to our characters, to fully develop our settings, to enhance the plots, and to give our readers the types of stories we long to create and be known for amongst our peers. Sometimes only one or two of these questions will feel important, but they all have place in your research and your writing regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a “pantser” or a “plotter”. Use these questions as a springboard for your writing, and I believe your stories will be more fully composed and ready to find a home with a publisher.