BEHIND THE BOOK: How to write for a children’s or teen book series – Part V (sample chapters cont’d)

Yesterday, we talked about how to study writing style.  The next thing you’re going to do is examine what happens in the first few chapters of other books in the series so you know what you should cover in your own sample chapters.  How?

Read the first few chapters (or roughly 25 pages of books in the series).  If you want, write a simple paragraph about each chapter you read.  Then consider the following questionss? How are the books in the series similar or different?  Looking at similarities and differences will help you figure out what shouldn’t change and what you have leeway on.

Characters

  • What does the author establish in the first few pages about the main character(s)?
  • What does the author establish in the first few pages about minor characters?
  • Which characters are described and to what extent?
  • How many characters are introduced (major and minor) in the first few chapters?
  • How often is internal dialogue (character thoughts) used?  How much can you see of each character’s internal thoughts? What is the point of view?  Third person limited? Omniscient POV.  First person?  Does the point of view change between chapters? Or does it stay the same?
  • How snappy is the characters’ dialogue? How much slang is used?
  • If there is an outside narrator,  what can you tell about the narrator based on his or her voice?

Plot

  • How much time has passed between Chapter One and Chapter Two, Chapter Two and Chapter Three?  How are the books similar or different?
  • Are flashbacks used and for what reason?
  • How major are the events that occur? Are the opening chapters highly action-driven, or character-driven?
  • How is foreshadowing used to hint at events? What kind of events are being foreshadowed?
  • What does the author do to create suspense?
  • How predictable or unpredictable is the plotting?

Setting

  • How often does the scenery change?
  • What is the nature of the setting? Are the characters often outside? Inside? Interesting places? Commonplace locations?
  • How is setting described? How much effort is spent on establishing setting?

Style/Tone

  • To what extent is humor used in dialogue, thought and action?
  • How dramatic are scenes (dialogue, actions, events?)?
  • To what extent is narrative used versus live dialogue and action?
  • How does the author transition from one scene to the next?
  • How descriptive is the language?
  • How stylized is the language?

Theme

  • Is it obvious what the theme of the book is from the first few chapters?
  • What subject matter is used to give readers hint of the overall theme of the book?

While I didn’t sit down and fill out a questionnaire when I studied the S.A.S.S. series for THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA, I did go back to other books in the series often, examining each one of these questions closely.  Whenever possible, I emulated the techniques other authors in the series used to communicate plot, character, setting, theme, and style/tone.

So by now you have figured out that writing for a series is not a simple matter of writing what you want.  It’ s not about showing them that you can do something really different and new. (Save that for your original work.)

You need to to create sample chapters that will make an editor think, this would be a great addition to the series because this is what our readers expect when they read our books!

And that concludes this series of articles on writing for a children’s or teen book series.  To download this series to your Kindle, click here.

Happy chapter-studying,

Cynthea (and Snoop!)

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