Writing Books/YA story conclusions?
QUESTION: Hi Jamie,
So, I'm writing a series of books for young children (about 1-3). It's the "Wild Clyde" series. It's going very well so far...except for one little problem.
Clyde is a young fox who has all kinds of kooky adventures after wandering off from Mom or Dad (he IS wild, after all). My problem is, after getting in and out of these zany fixes, Clyde doesn't end up a "hero"; he doesn't "save the day". In your view, does Clyde have to "save the day" in order for these stories to work, or are the adventures enough?
I remember reading Curious George. In those stories, George always redeems himself by helping out and looking like a hero. He saves the day each time.
Should I stick with just giving Clyde crazy fun adventures and not worry about making him "save the day"? I'm concerned about Clyde not saving the day and getting off scot-free, without "redeeming" himself somehow. Do you think this will be a problem when trying to sell this series? Or should I stay true to my original vision, and simply let "Wild Clyde" be a series of kooky adventure stories?
First of all, I want to point out that your book is not classified as YA. If it is intended for children in grades 1-3, it would be considered MG (middle grade). It is important to remember this when marketing it to agents and publishers.
That being said, publishers are going to look for whether or not this story teaches the readers some sort of lesson. That doesn't mean that your MC has to be the "hero" of every story. In fact, he never has to be a hero. Just so long as he learns something from his misadventures. Even is the book has great plot, it may very well be overlooked if it lacks purpose - and learning lessons is a huge part of MG literature.
I hope the makes sense.
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QUESTION: Thanks Jamie. I hope you don't mind this follow-up.
MG, not YA. Got it. That could have been disastrous, haha.
By "purpose", do you mean the story should have a "moral", like "Stealing is wrong", "Share with your friends", etc? A moral like fables have?
In one of them, Clyde's adventure concludes when he ends up in the ocean and sees a boy struggling against the undertow. Being a strong swimmer, Clyde rescues the boy. The lifeguard, Clyde's dad, and the boy's parents are waiting on the shore; the boy's parents invite Clyde and his dad to their barbecue on the beach. Here, there's no real "moral"--Clyde simply redeems himself by saving the kid from drowning. It ends like all the Clyde books end: "So they did, and Clyde was very happy."
Should I plainly state the story's "purpose" at the conclusion? Should Clyde's dad come right out and say, "I hope you learned <blank> today, Clyde!", or should it be subtle? This is mainly what I'm struggling with.
I appreciate your taking the time to answer this follow-up. I'm a noob who's just getting started in the MG writing world. Thanks again.
No, you don't have to say straight out what the "moral" is. Just make sure that the young readers will be gaining something by reading your book. Even if not told straight out, children will be able to make the connections on their own based on the actions and the consequences. Someone does something, the consequences are negative, therefore the act was wrong. Someone does something, the consequences are positive, there for the act was right.
If Clyde is "redeeming" himself by saving the drowning boy, from what is he redeeming himself? Think about that, and you may be able to find the lesson. Sometimes not all lessons and themes are clear to the writer at first; it's your job to make them clear by first discovering what it is you want to teach. Find the theme by making a generalization about humans and human behavior, then attach some kind of lesson to that theme. No, it doesn't have to be preachy like a fable's moral, it just needs to teach the young readers something valuable - even if it's entirely academic based, rather than moral based.
Good luck, and feel free to ask as many questions as you feel needed to complete your story.
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QUESTION: Jamie, this advice is pure gold. I've already learned so much from you.
I just need a little clarification, if you please. When you say "lesson", I think something like:
- The boy picks on Clyde at the beach.
- Later, Clyde saves the same boy from drowning. The lesson: be kind to others, even if they aren't kind to you first. Does this seem fair?
However, doesn't this removes Clyde as the "agent of action"? It seems like the BOY is learning the lesson here, not Clyde...and kids want to read about what CLYDE learns, right?
On the other hand, Clyde could offend the boy and feel bad about it, then redeem himself by saving the kid from drowning. But I don't really want to make Clyde a villain...aren't we supposed to like Clyde?
- Clyde hurts the boy's feelings on the beach.
- Clyde saves the kid from drowning later.
What's the lesson here? Clyde hurts the kid's feelings, and makes it up to him by saving his life? These two events don't seem to "match up". I'm a bit confused about which direction to take here...this is the #1 biggest problem I'm having with this series.
Please understand, I'm not asking you to write this book for me, heh. I'm just uncertain about whether Clyde should be a good little boy who gets into trouble by accident and learns by accident...or whether he's NOT such a good boy, and ends up learning lessons after behaving badly. I'm just unsure which approach is more marketable, approachable, and believable. It's blocking my progress.
Thanks so much for your time. You're such a great help. I'm sure I'll get all this figured out soon...I just REALLY want to make these stories great.
These are very good questions and things you should definitely be taking into consideration. In the second example, you're absolutely correct: there isn't any real lesson learned. Saving someone's life is completely unrelated to hurting their feelings and is not what we want children to consider a form of apology.
In this instance, it is difficult to think of something that can leave Clyde as the one learning the lesson. If the boy were to make fun of Clyde for not being as skilled at swimming, only later to have the accident and have Clyde come to his rescue, the readers will still learn a lesson, but it will be through the boy, rather than Clyde. I suggest trying out different scenarios and figuring out what lesson you want convey. There are many possibilities - you just have to look for them.