Monday, November 22, 2010

Infusing Your Story With Emotion

Last week, Katherine Jacobs from Roaring Brook Press showed us her brilliant ways to manipulate pacing within a story’s structure. Today, I want to share what Andrea Welch from Beach Lane Books had to say about putting emotion into your story.

Andrea focuses more on picture books, but I still found many nuggets of information even though I write novels. So I’ll share those nuggets with you.

She started out talking about what she looks for in a story, and needs it to capture her on the first page and evoke an emotional response. For picture books, this is essential because the book is so short. For novels, this is idea, but not always possible. But I would say that the reader would need to make an emotional connection by the end of the first chapter. The earlier, the better.

Next, she referred to a handout she’d given us, which was a list of questions she asked herself each time she assesses a story. I can’t reproduce it here, but I can summarize the highlights.

She said a story needs to have a clear audience, a compelling narrative arc, strong pacing (with fun page turns for picture books), and memorable and relatable characters. That’s really good, basic advice that we should all follow, but then she said this: the story needs to meet a developmental or emotional need.

That’s genius! We all have milestones to reach both developmentally and emotionally, no matter how old we are. They vary as we grow older, so some kids may experience what others don’t. But if your story meets one of those needs, then your readers will connect on a deeply emotional level and will come away loving your work. They may re-read it, and will likely recommend it to their friends. Most importantly, though, they will seek out your other books.

On that note, a picture book is designed to be read over and over again. So that’s the way it needs to be written. For novels, this sort of applies. Sure, there are some subjects that can have such a strong impact that the reader can only read it once, but it’ll never be forgotten. But others should be written such that the reader will get excited about reading it over and over again.

Another thing she said that are picture book specific is that the text needs to leave room for detailed artwork that also tells part of the story. Therefore, you should cut your description to the bare minimum. She also had some recommended reading (all picture books, of course):
Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus
Officer Buckle and Gloria
Winter Is The Warmest Season
Who Said Coo?
Fold Me A Poem

Even though they’re not novels, I plan to read all of these because I can still learn from them. A picture book has a compact narrative arc, and every single word is there for a purpose. And I’m going to figure out what that is.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. Personally I love DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and so does my three-year-old daughter. We've read it more times than I could count.

Anonymous said...

DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS is such a fun story! It lends its self to the emotional milestone aspect Andrea spoke about: really wanting something, not getting it, learning to cope.

Great post!

p.s. I followed your link from YALitChat. :-)

Jessie Harrell said...

I'm also from YALitChat & have to say that Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is one of our favorites in our house. Particularly when the pigeon loses it!! Thanks for the post.

J.Tuttle said...

Thanks for the great post. It was interesting to think about how universal themes are also present in a more concise format like picture books. I'll try to read Andrea's suggestions as well!