I have never understood the various “_____________ like you mean it” slogans. I have always thought that regardless of whether you are dancing, singing, or walking vigorously you probably meant to be doing it. Granted sometimes when I’m trying to regain my balance after slipping on a particularly slippery piece of concrete, my antics might be construed as dancing. But since it was an accident, I certainly would not have meant it.

However, when it comes to writing, you do have to mean it, or at least have meaning. I’m not implying that all writing should be imbued with didactic undertones. It doesn’t have to have a message or lesson or moral at the end. What it does need to have, especially in children’s fiction, is a point. The story should be going somewhere. It needs a beginning, middle, and a satisfying ending. This can’t happen without character development or plot development — and I think you’ll find, writing development. For as you write, your own style develops. Now in later drafts, you’ll fix the beginning so that your writing is as focused and tight as it has become in the end. But for that first draft, enjoy seeing the story unfold; learn all the quirks about your characters. And then read back through it to make sure you’ve given them some meaning, some reason for being in the story, or for even having the story to begin with. Without that development in the characters and the plot, without the meaning so to speak, you don’t have a story. You have an anecdote or a scene or just a collection of words. You have the heart without the soul.

Now I haven’t said anything new about writing tonight. In fact, I think I’ve discussed these topics nearly every week since my blog started. But it all bears repeating. I see too many stories, especially picture book manuscripts, that seem to have forgotten the meaning. Just because you only have 500-1500 words to do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

If you’re one of those people who like motivational messages, I hope you’ll remember this time-honored cliche. And even if you’re not one of those people, remember the substance of my message, if not the actual wording. Next time:

Write Like You Mean It.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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