Good writing – from a judge’s perspective

This week I want to further explore the idea of logic and magic and look at some of the comments made by judges of the SCWBI Undiscovered Voices anthology 2018. A great read for writers of children’s books.

Firstly, it occurs to me that the road (yellow brick?) from magic to logic goes through a ‘pretend’ phase, when children are not sure but are happy to go along with the pretence for a while longer. Why? Is this because it’s a good feeling to believe in magic? Does the belief in magic help to give life a special sparkle? Last night, the rotary club came round collecting for charity, along with Santa in his sleigh. My seven year old granddaughter was entranced as he talked with her. Her eyes did indeed sparkle like diamonds and her experience was a joy to watch. For that moment – I too enjoyed the magic of Santa. Why not? Let’s all preserve our beliefs in magic for as long as possible.

Onto the magic of writing children’s stories. As authors we too need our sense of wonder and magic. Here are some judges’ comments that should make us think about our own writing.

‘Great first line – the washing machine wishing Aisha, good morning.’ The judge goes on to say that it is engaging and fun. This story is about a girl with parents who are inventors – having invented a washing machine that talks. A weird concept, we may think – but, we are reminded – anything goes, especially when we are writing for children. This kind of magic (talking washing machine) is set in reality, given a logical basis, as her parents are inventors. They also disappear – hence the main problem. Will Aisha find them again? This judge also liked the conflict between the character’s embarrassment about her parents – and her love for them. Conflict makes stories.

‘The voice is incredibly strong,’ another judge comments, referring to the voices of the characters. ‘The characters really leap off the page and pull the reader in.’ Isn’t this what all writers of fiction seek to do? Invent and draw characters that become real? Yet, this too is not as easy as it seems. How powerful are our words?

A further positive comment from this judge, ‘I love how the author layers the information so that the reader learns about the world the characters inhabit as the action progresses.’ Let’s think about this for a moment. In stories we may be tempted to describe the time and setting in a separate paragraph – but, it occurs to me, we need to look at the story as if we are in a theatre. If the characters are sitting around ‘off-stage’ while the writer of the play stands there describing when and where the story is set – the audience soon gets bored. There is no action. So it is with novels. If the descriptions of settings and characters are over-long, or separated from what the characters are doing – readers too will switch off.

I have decided to focus on this aspect of good writing for my own stories. No info-dumping allowed! I need to layer the surroundings through the action and from the point of view of the character. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

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