What Children’s Books Can Teach Adult Fiction Authors

The AWP held their annual conference earlier this month. Among their other great offerings was a panel focused on children’s publishing.
One author stated that characters are paramount in children’s and YA stories. The plot comes from the characters. Who each person is in the story creates the story. Each is presented with challenges or obstacles they must overcome. From that comes the different plot points and thus the entire story.
Another point was that there are no pointless characters. If one shows up but never plays an important role, that character should be struck.
A different author noted that “rumination” is part of the story. That is, the characters have to have backstories, histories that detail where they come from and why they’re motivated to act certain ways.
Finally, in response to a question about how to write for the market, one author said to write what inspires you. From there, you can determine how best to pitch and place the work in the existing market.
All of these points apply equally to adult fiction. Characters do create the plot and impact the story. They should have backstories. No character should ever be pointless, and the author should always write what interests them rather than what they think will sell.
The only difference is that in children’s and YA publishing, the author utilizes different language, changes sentence layouts, uses less complex storytelling structures, and of course mostly will write shorter manuscripts.
Everything else is just quality fiction.

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2 thoughts on “What Children’s Books Can Teach Adult Fiction Authors

  1. AnnaJPalm

    More and more often I hear from my literary buddies and my professors that there shouldn’t even be a young adult genre. They find the idea that fiction being categorized by age is repulsive. I’m still keeping an open mind about that, because I see how some themes may be beyond a teenager’s interest. However, I think that sometimes we older readers miss out on great stories just because we don’t want to go near the YA section, out of arrogance, fear of ridicule and what-not. That YA genre can also hold younger readers back (“can” as in maybe, because I’ve always leaned towards classics and off-mainstream books) since the YA genre seems to tell them that this group of books is the only material they’re allowed to read.

    Just thought I’d throw that monkey branch in there. But I agree that there’s something universal about how stories function. That’s important to remember, because YA books shouldn’t be undervalued because of their age… so to speak.

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  2. Laine Cunningham Post author

    Very thoughtful comment! I agree that there’s something strange about targeting fiction to different categories. It’s actually a marketing move but it’s become so inflexible, it’s actually keeping readers (and writers) out of the game. I don’t agree with anything that narrows choices for readers or authors. The only thing we can do is continue reading and writing what moves us most…no matter what the label says!

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