Thursday 5 September 2013

Story Seeds / Writing Tips #18 - The Nostalgia Trap and How to Avoid It

Continuing on my current blog theme of  1) a tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished story. 

(c) Ruth Ohi, 2013
The Seed: My dad was a hard working farmer who was always in a race against the ever changing weather.  But he still managed to stop his giant tractor and move a duck's nest to safety. 

The Book:  One Duck  (Annick Press, 1999. Picture book ages 4 - 7. Illustrations by Ruth Ohi)

The Writing Tip: My dad had been so delighted the day he'd told us about saving the nest.  But many years later, when I tried to turn that memory into a story, words of caution were triggered in my writer's brain -- NOSTALGIA WARNING.  Nostalgia will kill a story faster than anything I know.  
     It takes more than fond memories to build a story. When you write for kids, especially, all the best story elements need to be present.  Kids want to be engaged. They want to care about and identify with the characters. They want action and suspense and drama!
     It took me many attempts over several months to change this childhood memory into a strong picture-book manuscript. Here are my best three suggestions for avoiding nostalgia and letting the story shine through.

1.  Keep the adult perspective to an absolute minimum. In One Duck, it's not the farmer (or even a farm kid) who is the main character.  The duck is the hero.'s an adult duck.  But kids identify and care about animals of all ages!   

2. Don't let information bury the narrative.  Information overload is an easy trap in cases like this.  "But I want kids to know what things were like!"beginning writers often protest when I try to get them to cut back on the details.
          But one MUST stay focused on the story.  There should be just enough detail to make the story clear and real.  But there shouldn't be more than that, especially in a picture book.
      And what to do with all that other information that doesn't fit?  Write another story of course!

3. Make sure the carefully chosen information that you DO include is ACCURATE.

     The things you remember from when you were a child, might not be as true as you think.  One has to be especially careful when nature is involved.  Besides reference books and the magic of the internet, ALWAYS try to find a real live expert.  In this case, my cousin Tom fit the bill perfectly. He double checked my duck facts, provided extra information and suggestions (including the raiding crow which heightened the suspense) and even caught mistakes in my description of farm equipment. Thanks Tom.

Here's hoping the above three tips help you turn at least one great memory into a great story! 

(c) All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.

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