7 POINT PLAN: Tips for Structuring a Chapter Book for Under Tens.
There are many ways to create a good story for the under tens, just as there are many types of stories. I don’t think there’s any one correct way to reach your objective, but as I was asked this question twice recently, I thought it would be a good topic to air.
Simplified, the question was: How do you structure your funny chapter book stories for kids?
I took the word ‘structure’ at face value, and assume this refers to pacing and story structure. Okay, here we go. Be warned, though, this advice comes from what I know and do from experience, as opposed to what we might find in a craft book.
Also, I write primarily, but not exclusively, humorous, eventful stories – so there’s another warning: that this might not suit what you write. I must also add here that I didn’t even realize I used a structure until I stopped and analysed some of my books and recognised a pattern. Who knew?!
However, for the purpose of seeing if this also works for other types of books, I’m going to use two types of story to explain this particular structure. First I’ll use one of my own titles, ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’, Pearson © 2010, and pit it alongside perennial favourite, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, to describe the process. The second text is fraught with danger and tension, and the first by contrast, is the same format but in a humorous vein. Hopefully this way we can see that the structure works despite the tone.
(And can I just Say here at this point that LRRH is one of the best examples of STRANGER DANGER in textual form for young readers that I’ve ever encountered.)
So, to my 7 Point Plan – Basic 3 Act Structure
Act One: Beginning:
- Introduce the character and set up/event.
- Introduce problem.
Act Two: Middle:
- Problem escalates
- Reaches High Point/Crescendo.
- All seems hopeless
- Bad guys caught/problem identified/problem solved – whatever fits with story.
Act Three: Ending:
- Conclusion- end on a high point.
Let’s analyse this in terms of real stories.
- Introduce character and set up or event.
Most stories begin with an event that is the catalyst for the problem. WhenLittle Red Riding Hood (LRRH), is asked to take goodies to Grandma, this isn’t the problem. This is the event that lead to the problem. Event can also be called the ‘set up’.
In my book It’s A Dog’s Life (IADL), when Angus comes home with braces and can’t eat the same food as everyone else, he has a problem – but it’s not the STORY problem. It’s the event that lead to the discovery of the problem
2. Introduce the Problem
In LRRH, the problem is introduced when we meet the wolf. Without more happening, the young reader is on alert. Tension has started to rise.
In my own book , IADL, there’s no dangerous tension at the same level because it’s a comedic romp, but we feel Angus’s stress and confusion when his family all begin acting like dogs. Grandma scratching her ear – with her foot! Dad carrying the lead in his mouth and demanding ‘walkies’. The problem has arrived. What in the heck is going on?
3. Problem escalates.
In LRRH, the problem and tension escalate when (in the wolf’s viewpoint) we see that the wolf has entered grandma’s house and locked her up.
IADL? Angus’s problem (and confusion) escalates when after confronting his now seemingly normal family (next day), he’s accused of being rude and threatened with punishment.
4. Reaches High Point/Crescendo
In LRRD this is the point where LRRD enters Grandma’s house and it seems has delivered herself into the clutches of the wolf.
In IDAL Angus returns home again and finds the family once more in doggy mode. Only this time it’s way more serious. Grandpa’s tracking flies – with his tongue. And he doesn’t even want to contemplate which one of them chewed Grandma’s pongy slipper. Now he’s really, really worried.
5. All seems hopeless.
The wolf reveals himself and is about to consume LRRH. She’ll never get away now. Tension at its highest point.
IADL? For poor Angus, all seems lost. He’s the only one who can save/help/his family, but how can he do that? Who can he turn to? The one person who would have a clue is clueless. Is his entire family all doomed to be doggy people?
6. Bad guys caught/problem identified/problem solved
Enter the woodchopper! LRRH is saved at the last minute! Hearts still racing but at least we can start to wind down.
IADL: Reader is perplexed! Until Angus, in a lightbulb moment and seeing clues that were under his nose all the time, sorts out the problem! Relief…
7. Conclusion- end on a high point.
In LRRH, the conclusion is an emotional high point. Grandma released safely and woodchopper is there to protect them until Mum arrives.
In IADL, the high point is the twist ending. Just when Angus though it was safe, that all the doggy deeds were behind them, the family plays a trick…
To conclude here, let me again reiterate that there is no correct way, this is just one structure that has worked very well for me, and the types of stories I write for that age group.
Good luck with your own work and I’m leaving you with two questions that I’d love to hear answers to:
- Do you have a structure?
- Were/are you aware of it?