All good fiction contains basic elements around which the
plot revolves. Though each story is different, there are certain
"checkpoints" found in all novels. Paying close
attention to these areas will help you pace the action of your
story and keep the plot moving.
The beginning. Your story should start at the point
in your character's life where his or her everyday world changes.
Don't waste the first chapter describing your character or the
setting of the book; most of that information won't be necessary
to the story, and if it is it can be worked in later. Begin the
book with action or dialogue.
The first chapter. By the end of the first chapter,
your readers should know something about your main character and
what problem, or conflict, that character will be facing in the
book. In middle grade and young adult novels the conflict
sometimes changes during the course of the story, but the first
conflict (that pulls the character out of his everyday world)
should be evident early on. Your readers must know enough at this
point to believe the conflict is valid and to care about the
Chapter endings. If chapters end in the middle of a
scene, your reader will want to turn the page and see what
happens next. This is especially true with chapter books for
readers ages 7-10. Ending a chapter with action or dialogue helps
to keep the momentum of the story going.
The story's climax. The climax of the book, when
your main character comes face-to-face with the conflict, should
be a natural outcome of everything that's happened up to this
point. Too many beginning writers draw out the climax, diluting
its impact. Ideally, the climax is contained within a scene, or a
chapter at the most. The height of the climax, like the peak of a
roller coaster, occurs at the end of a chapter.
The story's resolution. The resolution must be brought
about by the main character. It occurs directly after the plot's
climax, and is also contained within a chapter. The resolution
must be believable and, ideally, a surprise to the reader.
The ending. The story ends soon after the resolution
has been reached. Often the resolution occurs in the last
chapter, with only a few paragraphs that follow showing how life
returned to normal for your character. Padding the ending is a
common mistake with beginning writers; the resolution itself
should be a satisfying conclusion to the book, and anything extra
will simply take away from all that's gone before.
Other points to consider. Is the point of view
consistent throughout the book? Does one character emerge as the
focus of the story? Too often, two or three characters are vying
for the reader's attention, especially in chapter books. And
finally, is the conflict important or intriguing enough for your
readers to want to see how the story turns out? When in doubt,
make the conflict bigger rather than smaller. Remember, you're
asking your readers to invest time and energy in your book. Give
them a problem they'll care about, and they'll gladly oblige.
Laura Backes is the publisher of Childrens
Book Insider - the newsletter for childrens writers -
and the founder of The CBI Collection,
the first-ever catalog just for childrens writers. The CBI
Collection includes exclusive books, disks and writers tools for
every level of childrens writing, from complete beginners
to experienced pros. Theres even a complete beginning
childrens writing course available for under $20. For a
free copy of The CBI Collection, write to Childrens Book
Insider, 901 Columbia Road, Fort Collins, CO 80525, call
1-970-495-0056 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, visit the Childrens Writing Resource Center on the
World Wide Web -- http://www.write4kids.com
© 1996, Childrens Book Insider