Writing at any stage of life can be difficult. Some stages present especially complex challenges, like raising children. Your time, resources, and even your body (if you’re nurturing an infant) are no longer your own. How do you craft characters and plots when you’re stepping on Duplos while cooking dinner and your toddler asks so many ponderous questions that you can’t concentrate? To all the parents whose coffee has gone cold, you’re not alone.
Writers are a brutal sect. We spend our free time inventing new methods of torturing characters, all while cackling like gremlins over the tears of heartbroken readers. “I’m off to kill someone” is a phrase tossed around like a tennis ball in writing communities. To the outside observer, our dark humor may seem psychotic. What normal person beats their brainchildren into a pulp only to quip about it later? Although the jokes are often in poor taste, suffering draws in writers, and readers, for better reasons than mental instability.
So, you dream of writing a children’s book. And not only do you believe you have a premise that will entertain, bring laughter and joy, or make an impact on developing minds, you have a passion for reaching kids. What better mission to embark on? I say go for it! But before you send off your manuscript to an acquisitions editor, be aware that the genre has its own set of nuances that make it distinct from higher reading levels.
If you write contemporary fiction, you’ve probably run into the problem of choosing a setting. A story’s setting is as influential to the plot as the characters who populate it. A book set in Paris will be vastly different from one set in a small Midwestern town. But what if you’ve never been to the locations in your story? How important is accuracy? The short answer: Authentic details bring settings to life.
Have you ever set down a book, startled that the author turned your outlook upside down with tiny black marks on paper? Do you want to write stories that have the same effect on others?
As I stared at the blank page beneath the title of this article, my mind revisited all the stories that have given me a transformative experience. I love when my heart skips a beat and I pause to process the exhilarating symphony that the words are orchestrating in my imagination. Or when I come to an ending so satisfying that I’m amazed.
We’ve all had heart-pounding experiences alongside fictional characters. We held our breath when Ethan Hunt made a last-ditch attempt to stop an explosion in Mission Impossible, pored over Pride and Prejudice for hours to discover one family’s future, and perched on the edges of our seats when Thanos, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man faced off in Avengers: Endgame. But why do these scenes capture us, and how can we replicate the effect in our own stories?
“Write what you know!” the experts insist—except in the case of, well, everything, because fiction is inherently composed of lives you’ve never lived. Restricting yourself to personal experiences is impossible, because that will prevent you from showcasing the diversity of humanity. Yet, what if you offend a reader for misunderstanding the challenges she faces?
Many writers, myself included, tend to devalue short stories because of their brevity. “Real” writers are supposed to craft novels. Some of the most famous authors of the twentieth century, however, were masters of the short story. Think William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, Oscar Wilde, Flannery O’Connor, and O. Henry. At only 5 or 10 percent the length of a novel, a short story may seem far less intimidating, if not downright easy, to write. But short stories come with their own set of challenges that can help hone your skills for larger projects.
If you grew up in the early 2000s, you probably mutilated a daisy at least once to help you guess whether your crush shared your feelings. You’d pluck off the petals one by one, reciting “he loves me” or “he loves me not.” At age nine, I didn’t have a true love, but pretending was fun, and handfuls of daisies met unfortunate ends thanks to my mock indecision. This floral game of roulette is what the enemies-to-lovers trope looks like from afar.