If it’s a first-person narrative there is unlikely to be a problem. You probably had a clear vision of this character narrating when you first had the idea for the book. With a third-person narrative you have more options open to you. We rarely use the God-like overview of Victorian novelists now. The viewpoint usually narrows down to one specific character, with only a partial view of what is going on. Should it be the chief protagonist? A lesser character who can bear witness to these events, like Lockwood in Wuthering Heights? Although The Writers’ Workshop rightly steers novelists towards a single viewpoint, it is common in children’s books to alternate between two protagonists, often one boy, one girl. This can allow us to know more of the plot than would otherwise be the case.
If you’ve ever attended a workshop or class on how to make your fiction manuscript more marketable, chances are you’ve heard the presenter stress the importance of a first page that grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let go. I would take this a step further and say that the very first line of the story must be something really special, something that is uniquely yours. This is especially true when one is submitting work to a potential literary agent or editor. Like most aspects of crafting excellent fiction, it’s far easier said than done. What does it mean to say an opening is ‘strong’? What sets a good beginning apart from a mediocre one?
A picture book has large full-colour spreads in which to show your story happening through image after image as we turn the pages, revealing surprises, playing with pace, and enjoying games between text and pictures.
The trouble is that there’s also a good chance that your synopsis will also be the last thing a literary agent or editor will read. The things easy to get wrong. It’s hard to know what to write – and hard to know how to write it.
I’ve never been one for categorising, and what you will find is that as many adult adults read Young Adult books as young adults; but you still need to bear in mind a few things if what you are setting out to write is going to be (effectively) a children’s book.
It looks like a typing malfunction, that title, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. After almost a decade teaching screenwriting courses, script editing and telling people how to approach film agents, I’ve pretty much fielded every ‘how to’ question that you could imagine. A lot of my work involves reading first screenplays by first-time writers and they’re often accompanied by questions – ‘How do I improve it?’ ‘How do I finish it?’ ‘How do I sell it?’ (guess which question gets asked the most there…)
To start with, an admission. When we run writing events, we always make sure that writers get the chance to have one-to-one feedback on their work from a professional book doctor. And after these events, we’re exhausted. I won’t name names, but at least two of my team got up well after 1.00 pm on the Sunday following our most recent event. And one member of our team – no names – spent her day eating M&S ready meals and watching Mutant Ninja Turtles on the telly, because it seemed like too much work to flip the channel.
Most events for writers (including the ones we run) have at their heart a set of Book Doctor sessions. Those sessions, if you don’t already know, work something like this. You send in 5,000 words of your book, including covering letter and synopsis. The book doctor reads your work in advance and then, in the course of a fifteen minute face-to-face meeting, goes through their thoughts and comments on your book, including a set of written feedback.
I spent time recently with a couple of different production companies – one of them a large company affiliated with a major broadcaster, the other a small London-based indie with a strong slate of up-coming productions and some very good collaborations. It was an interesting afternoon in many ways, not least because it gave me real insight into how a screenwriter needs to navigate their way to success.
You know how it is. You’ve spent ages thinking about what you’re going to write, anticipating it, feeling frustrated because other things are getting in the way of it. Finally, you clear a couple of hours from your busy schedule, switch on your computer or get out your pen and paper and… nothing. The words won’t come, or they seem laughably trite or cliched or flaccid. You’re gripped by the urgent need to wash the kitchen floor, track down a sock that’s been missing for the past five years or surf a favourite website. Hey, maybe you could call that research.