Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 26, 2009

Time and Structure

In a master class at last June’s NJ SCBWI Conference the esteemed children’s book author Richard Peck talked about the need to shape one’s story around a particular time span. For example, one week every August for ten years, or, a kid at a new school from the day after Labor Day to Christmas. He asserted, “The young want shape.”

I will assert, the writer wants shape too. The writer needs shape. But shape is something you must create, and that’s not easy. Anchoring your book to the element of time can help.

As those who have been reading this blog know, I’m working on the outline of a middle grade novel. I wrote the whole book once several years ago and I’ve been fiddling with it on and off since then. Mainly, I’ve stabbed away at new drafts to no avail; all I ever accomplished was different versions of “not quite right.” But now I’m forcing myself to do a detailed outline and boy, is that making a difference. All kinds of missteps keep popping into focus. New ones blink on to light my path. The most recent was the gut knowledge that the shape wasn’t serving the character’s journey or the theme. What to do? I was at a loss. Then I thought of Richard Peck. Bingo. My story is now confined to twenty-four hours in the life of the protagonist. Not only does this help the energy of the story — a crisis that the boy is determined to resolve — but it makes the turning point work. That’s what factoring in time did for me.

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