I get excited about researching background information for stories and articles I am writing. I just finished a Picture Book Blueprint Course developed by Children’s Book Insider, and I am diving into the character of the protagonist in my new series of princess stories. The story came out of one of my writings in my cozy Inspiring Writing Group, where everyone loved the princess in the story. I continued the story of the princess, with a story I told to my 5-year old granddaughter one evening. It seemed like a good idea to put the two stories together to make a children’s book.
Like many authors who want to write a children’s story, it seemed pretty simple. The stories are short and geared toward a young audience. I was sure that with fun illustrations, I had a story. The next step was to share the story with children in the target age group. I happen to have a 16-year old niece who was willing to read the story to her siblings, two of which were in the target age group. To my surprise, they thought the story was confusing. My older niece liked the story well enough to suggest some changes; one being to make it into two stories. It’s amazing that I made the same mistake I worked with a former client on––too many ideas in one story.
So, I dug into the Blueprint class. Ugh! There are so many worksheets to define my main character and get to know her. But as I answered the questions on the worksheets, I realized there was more I wanted to know about current princesses; where they live and what they do. Originally, I was picturing a princess in the time of Queen Elizabeth’s children. From the Netflix show, “The Crown,” I pictured preschool through kindergarten children in the nursery with their nanny. They would occasionally appear before the king and queen.
As my story of the princess evolved, she was wearing clothes a princess from the current decade might wear. (This is where the worksheets were helpful). If I had determined what the princess typically wears before I wrote the whole story, I would have realized I was flipping back and forth in my mind from “The Crown” to my 6-year old granddaughter. That is why, even though I enjoyed the princess story, it was difficult to read it over and over. I sensed something was wrong. When you get the feeling parts of your story aren’t working together, it’s time to stop and investigate the problem.
I do love to investigate and research a problem. I was very curious about modern day princesses. What do they do? Where do they live? I saw pictures from Women’s Weekly, of handsome princes and adorable princesses; like Prince George and Princess Charlotte going to school. With some real pictures in my mind, it was time to put an age and face on my princess. I began making her real rather than a figure flitting around in my imagination. Not too real, and not a replica of Princess Charlotte, but a more consistent and modern princess. Outlining what the princess in the story might be wearing, where she might be going, and what she might have in her room, helped me to see inconsistencies in my story.
As I read the story over again, I realized I was mixing an idealistic realistic princess with fantasy and magic in the narrative. I liked the praying mantis sprinkling magic dust to make the little dog talk, since the insect is said to have magic powers (ok, too much research). I also liked the talking dog, but it didn’t fit the story. I had to ask myself, “How real do I want to make the story?” Is it realistic, fantasy, or both? I like fantasy and imagination, so the princess hears her little stuffed dog talking and imagines her stuffies coming to life. They don’t really. The fantasy is in her mind; therefore, she has the power, not the magic. It’s important to decide who in the story has the power, who resolves the problem, and how many other necessary characters to include.
For a picture book, illustrations tell half the story. After I rework my story––again––I will work with illustrator, Janet Hignight, to bring the princess in my story to life with pictures. Now, it is fun again, to write a children’s story.
by author, Nancy J. Miller
Vegetable Kids in the Garden (hardcover, softcover, and ebook)
by author Nancy J. Miller & Illustrator Janet C. HIgnight
The Vegetable Kids Cafeteria Club (color your own book optional)