Wednesday 2 October 2013

Story Seeds/Writing Tips #21 - No more books about cats!!

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. 

The Seed:  The book Gentle Ben, about a grizzly bear in Alaska, had totally enthralled my son.  It reminded me how much kids love animal stories.  I couldn't write a story about a grizzly bear...but there was another type of animal that I had all kinds of information about.
The Story:  TJ and the Cats  Orca Publishers, 2002 

The Writing Tip:  Sometimes a great subject is right under your nose. We'd always had cats.  I had lots of great cat stories. Friends and family had cats. I knew lots about cats. It was perfect!
       Except it wasn't perfect.  Cats (unlike grizzly bears) are such common pets that lots of writers have written about them. A quick "google" of cat books gave me 80,000 results!  I'd even been told by my own publisher "No more books about cats."
     Did I give up?  Of course not.  But I was careful to find ways to help my book stand out.
     Most cat books are for/about people who like cats. I did the opposite.  My character announces in the very first paragraph "Cat's give me the creeps."
     I didn't write about just one cat either.  I wrote about four, all of them different.  I also researched hard to find unique and intriguing "cat facts" to weave into the story as well some truthful but pretty far out adventures cats have had.
     The final ingredient I added to the mix was a large dollop of humour. Of course that wasn't unique; lots of cat books have funny parts. But it still gave the story a bit of extra zip.
       Do I recommend writing a story about a subject that's been done 80,000 times before?  NO!!! But if you do find that you just can't resist - and if you truly feel it is a subject kids will enjoy - remember to think hard about ways, both large and small, to make your book truly have a life of its own.


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