Well, I attempted to fix that story. At least now I know where I want to go with it. Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones, anyone? I need to find the reason my main character is living inside his imagination.
This revelation was also sparked by reading the obit for Maurice Sendak. Sendak was the king of the “flight of fancy” picture book – Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen.… the list goes on and on. May he rest in peace and may his work continue evergreen for children in every era.
Finally, I was privileged to hear Nora Raleigh Baskin speak at a local event for NY-SCBWI about “Turning Fact into Fiction.” Not a talk about creating narrative nonfiction, she spoke for over an hour about utilizing your life and memories to create memorable fiction for children. Heartfelt and helpful, Ms. Baskin was generous with her advice and ruthless with her rules. Below is my summary of her rules:
1. Write a single sentence. Sum up your book’s theme in ONE sentence. When you’re writing, if it doesn’t support that sentence, cut it.
2. Story does NOT equal Truth. Your life is the inspiration, not the story itself. “An interesting life doesn’t always make for a good book.” Let go of the facts and make them serve the story you are telling. “Emotional truth is more important than literal truth.”
3. No one likes a pity party. Your protagonist shouldn’t feel sorry for themselves. Make sure you have enough distance from your story to do it justice.
4. How, who, where, and when are the building blocks of a good story. You need to know all of these things before starting to write. Ms. Baskin said she doesn’t plan out her stores to the nth degree. Rather, she writes in between the business of life – snatching time when she can and never letting a thought go – to the point where she would demand her son sitting in the backseat take out a notebook and write things down for her while she was driving carpool. But she always knows the basics and sticks to her single sentence as a guide.
5. Take a risk. Be brave, be open, be honest. She claimed that if you’re not afraid to have someone read your story, then you didn’t write well enough. (This one really hit home for me!)
Finally, #6: “The artist asks the question, and the work of art is the answer.” This dovetails with everything I have learned so far from my critique groups, at Chautauqua, writing classes, you name it. A good story starts with the question, “What does the main character want?”
And it’s full speed ahead, straight downhill, watch out for that bus from there. . .