Thursday, November 11, 2010

Plot and children's books

Children's books have more emphasis on plot.

Duh or not duh? Is that true?

I don't know for sure, but the process of writing this book definitely has me more focused on plot. Is that because I have a comparatively good sense of my character already? Or is it because I am responding to an innate understanding that a child reader will require a faster pace?

In theory I don't really believe that. Instinctively I think that a child reader expects the same mix of character development and plot as any other reader. They know that some genre books with only plot are just a kind of brain candy, and they fall everlastingly in love with stories that successfully make character development an integral part of the plot complications and resolution.

Probably I'm thinking more about plot not because I'm writing a children's book but because I'm writing an adventure story. I'm working in a genre that promises the reader more than the usual amount of escalation and crisis.

Living up to that promise is probably my biggest challenge in this book so far. I've got a good concept, and I've done a good job of putting the characters in the jackpot a couple times, but I don't have a great sense of how to manage the build up and the exposition.

Let's take the Percy Jackson example again. (I always have books in mind as models that I can learn from, and for now that one resembles what I'm doing in some ways.) In that book, the reader at some point has to learn a lot of "rules of the game." A story can do anything, but it has to live within the rules it sets up. The "game" in Percy Jackson is that the immortal gods of ancient Greece are still among us and have offspring, including the hero of the story, who starts out thinking he is an average middle-school kid at the beginning. The story operates by rules that the reader has to learn -- how mortals react to the fantastic things happening around them, for example. Basically, we need explanations for all the ways the fantastic and the earthly realms collide in order to keep the illusion going.

That takes a lot of exposition, which can bog down the plot, so timing when and how to get it in is important. That's something I'm struggling with a lot in my story. Right now I have long passages where the rules are laid out without much elegance, so I'll have a lot of work to do in the next rewrite to fix that.

Then there's the pacing of the plot. How big and explosive do you start and how do you build up to the climax? I got myself started by writing the best scene I could think of, which risks leaving me with nowhere else to go, potentially. So I have to work on building up the drama from there in ways that are credible but also exciting.

Anyway, this is the stuff that's preoccupying me. Just the basics of what information has to get into the story and when.

Word count at about 50,000 now.

No comments: