I hate stories about children. I don’t hate children. I just hate stories about children. Why? Because I just don’t care.
Most stories about children revolve around, well, children as the main characters. And the central component of any story is to take your main character and add relevant struggles.
So the important struggles for a child are childlike.
Are you following me?
It’s not that I don’t care about little Suzy skinning her knee. Or Tommy’s baseball glove being stolen by a bully.
It’s just: I don’t care.
Going back to the idea of resonance, it’s hard for me, as an adult, to have deep and impactful resonance with a child’s struggles. I’ve been a child. I survived childhood. I had a pretty difficult childhood and lived through far worse things than skinned knees and stolen baseball gloves.
So when these stories contrived arrive in my slush pile, they feel trite and contrived.
I. Don’t. Care.
Now, that’s not to say that a story written about a child can’t have resonance. In “Write Stories That Sell,” I discuss Neil Gaiman’s novel, Coraline. The main character is a young girl, but the narrative style and authorial voice are that of an adult. The story is about Coraline, but it’s told by an adult looking in, watching little Coraline go about her rather scary and other-worldly adventures. And the stakes are high. Life, death, and Coraline’s very soul are on the line.
Do you see the difference?
The essential question you have to ask yourself about every single story you sit down to write is this: Will anyone care?
If you’re not sure, then the stakes aren’t high enough.
The conflict isn’t deep enough. The danger isn’t immediate enough. The resonance doesn’t strike close to home. The main character isn’t relatable in any way.
I rarely, if ever, buy stories with non-human narrators. Stories told from a chair’s point of view, or a dog’s are incredibly tough sells.
I honestly don’t care that much about my kitchen chairs. Sure, I appreciate that they keep my bum off the floor while I eat my morning Pop-Tart, but if I were freezing to death, I’d merrily chop them into kindling for a bonfire and never think twice.
That isn’t a narrator I’m going to care about no matter how much trouble you put it in.
Your assignment is to list your top three favorite books and movies of all time. These are the stories that brought you to tears, shook you to your core, made you rethink the world.
List the book title, the main character, and a one-sentence summary of the main character’s essential struggle. Then tell me why you cared so much about that character in that situation.
Take a good, hard look at yourself. Doing so might be a bit personal for some of you. It might even be uncomfortable. That’s the point. You cannot be afraid of stories — the ones you tell or the ones you receive. You must embrace the power of story for what it is, a medium that changes lives and
Doing so might be a bit personal for some of you. It might even be uncomfortable. That’s the point. You can’t be afraid of stories – the ones you tell or the ones you receive. You must embrace the power of story for what it is, a medium that changes lives, you must be willing to write from those dark corners of your heart.