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Jumpstart Your Writing Career

** Jumpstart Your Career by Asking "Why?" ** by Laura Backes,

Publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for
Children's Writers

When developing a story or article, writers learn to incorporate
the "who," "when," "where," and "how." But what often gets
overlooked is the "why." Without examining why a story takes
place, or why an article would be of interest to the reader, the
entire writing experience can be a fruitless exercise.

Why this character?

At a writing conference I once critiqued a manuscript featuring a
character in a situation where you wouldn't normally expect to
find him. When I wondered why he was there, the author answered,
"He just is." "But how did he get there?" I asked. "One of the
other characters put him there," the author stated. "Why?" I
pushed. The author didn't have an answer.

If you arbitrarily think it would be cute to have a monkey, a
doll, or a policeman as your story's protagonist, the reader's
not going to care unless it makes sense to have that character
inhabit your particular plot. And if a monkey shows up where he
shouldn't be--at school, for instance--why he's there has to be
an integral part of the story. But more than that, the reader has
to know why this monkey is suddenly sitting in a first grade
classroom. What's unique about the character that makes him the
only monkey who could possibly appear in this book?

Why this story?

Just as important as knowing why your character inhabits your
book is understanding why this character experiences the conflict
or problem that fuels the plot. Your readers have to believe this
protagonist would encounter these obstacles, and not be able to
resolve the problem in a few lines of text. Not every child is
afraid of the dark, so if your character hides under the covers
when the lights are out, plant something in her personality that
causes this behavior.

How the plot conflict is resolved also harks back to "why." Why
does your character take these particular steps, instead of an
easier or more obvious route, to reach his goal? What fears,
hang-ups or quirks does the character have to overcome to get
what he wants? Would a child understand and care about these
traits? Have you laid the groundwork in the beginning of the
story so the reader believes the character could not possibly act
any other way, thus never forcing the reader to question you in
the first place?

Why this article?

Virtually any nonfiction topic can hold a child's interest if
it's presented in the right way. But first ask yourself why
you're writing this article or book. Does it have a direct
application to the experiences of your readers? Can it tie in
with what they're learning in school? Will it enrich their lives
in some way? If your motivations are clear, then take a hard look
at your audience. Why would kids this age be interested in this
topic? How can you present the material in a way that's
entertaining as well as informative? If you find you're working
hard to shape the information to fit a specific audience or
format, perhaps you need to rethink your approach. Maybe you're
trying to write too young, and the subject really requires an
older reader. Or perhaps you assume middle graders will be
fascinated with an animal alphabet book, but after researching
other ABC books on the market, you learn they're really targeted
to much younger children.

About the Author

Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the
Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about
writing children's books, including free articles, market tips,
insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's
home on the web at


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