Recently I received an email from a student in West Vancouver. He posed the following questions about the creative writing process, and I thought I’d share my answers. Pictured above: It’s June 2015. I’ve just disembarked from a train in my hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland—having overheard some VERY interesting snippets of strangers’ conversations.
What do you think are the most important things to know when you write a children’s/young-adult book?
I’d say the most important things to know are:
- What your setting is, that is, the place where your story occurs, so you can make that place vivid both to yourself as a writer and to your reader.
- What your main character is like: what they are interested in, such as singing or cooking or baseball or running, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
- What the problem in your story is going to be that the main character will have to resolve. You must set that problem out for the reader right away so they want to keep reading!
What kind of experience is an advantage when you write a book?
I think the best experiences you can have as a writer are:
- To be interested in the people around you, both the people close to you as friends and family and those you meet as acquaintances, at school or the community centre or even people you see on the bus or pass on the sidewalk. The great English mystery writer Agatha Christie got a lot of her ideas from riding buses and trains. She would overhear snippets of strangers’ conversations and use them in her stories.
- To read many, many books. The more you read, the better you write and the easier you find it to write!
When you write a story, what kind of steps do you follow?
Here are the steps I follow in creating a story:
- Like I said, know first of all the problem you are going to create for your protagonist to solve. Maybe there’s been a robbery, and your main character is framed for the crime! Or, the protagonist sees something that might tip them off to who committed the crime. A story is like a quest, a journey, a search the main character has to go on.
- As I also said above, also have a specific setting for your story. Maybe it’s your own neighbourhood. After all, you know your neighbourhood well, and therefore can describe it vividly. And know your protagonist! Make sure your main character has both strengths—kindness, concern for others—but also weaknesses, such as maybe a bad temper or a tendency to speak sarcastically and hurt others’ feelings without meaning to.
Remember to have fun with your writing! That’s most important of all.
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