WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS TIP #9: STRUCTURE
Ever thought of the story structure of most of the books you’ve read? Or the structure of the book you’re reading or writing right now? In other words, how is the story laid out for the reader?
There are many types/structures of books but in this post, we will discuss the 3 most common types, and my personal favorites.
1. Traditional. This is the easiest and most popular story structure utilized by most kidslit authors. It is usually laid out as follows; main character has a problem, he/she tries to solve the problem, faces an obstacle and fails. He/she tries again, faces another obstacle and fails. Then just when they are convinced that they will never solve the problem and the worst is about to happen, eureka, they figure out how to solve it. The main character experiences some form of emotional growth and the story ends. Think of some of your favorite books: picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, even adult, most of them are structured in this manner.
2. Parallel: This is my absolute favorite. How does it work: the author tells multiple stories with multiple plots at the same time. However, these stories are usually connected/intertwined and sometimes, finding the connection between the stories enables this structure create indescribable suspense. The best examples for this structure are Holes by Louis Sachar (middle grade) and Meanwhile Back at the Ranch by Trinka Hakes Noble (for picture books).If you want to learn more about this structure, read my essay here.
3. Hero’s Journey: Here, the main character starts the story in Point A, goes to Points B, C, D and or E and returns to Point A at the end. Most stories which utilize this structure are adventure stories featuring a hero/heroine who leaves their home, goes on a journey to achieve a goal (usually to save someone/something or the world and returns to their home having experienced some form of emotional growth. Think Harry Porter, Percy Jackson, etc. See also Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (picture book), and Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore (Middle Grade).
Cumulative: The classical form of the cumulative structure is peculiar to shorter works, especially picture books. It features a story with a plot that builds upon itself using repetition and sometimes, rhyme. It is particularly loved by writers of poetry or lyrical picture books. Some prime examples are most Room on the Broom and other picture books by Julia Donaldson, The House that Jack Built and The 12 Days of Christmas poems. For Igbo kiddos who grew up in the 1990s, think of the folksong Nwanyi Iga.
Note that for picture books, the list of story structures is even longer; Question and Answer, Alphabet, Timeline, Counting, Circular, etc.
1. Action: Read some of the books listed above to get a feel of the types of story structure.
2. Read (Like a Writer) and then Write!
Determine the type of structure you would like to try and read as many books as you can written with that structure. Then try writing one. You can start with a short story and then try longer works. Good luck!
Want to write a story for children, don’t know where to start? Tell me all about it and we can figure out the theme and some mentor texts for you!
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