A few weeks back, my friend and office colleague, Mary Ann, invited me to a seminar about children’s story writing. Since I was excited to learn about this genre — the genre that I wish to be known for — I immediately said yes to her invitation. I even filed a leave in the office to set aside time to attend the seminar.
The children’s writing seminar was held at my alma mater, De La Salle University – Manila. The guest speaker was Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, who is currently a faculty member of the same university. He is a prominent writer of the children’s story genre, most notable for winning the Carlos Palanca Awards for Ang Lumang Aparador ni Lola and CANVAS – Romeo Forbes Story-writing Competition for Ang Dyip ni Mang Tomas.
The seminar was very informative, and I liked that it targeted the Filipino audience. Since I learned a lot from the talk, I’d like to share my notes here:
Sources of Inspiration:
- Childhood experiences like favorite places, toys, or superpowers
- Unforgettable experiences like a first time doing something
Why childhood experiences? Prof. Gojo Cruz explained that these experiences are relatable. Although we should not be totally faithful to the experience – since children may feel alienated by it – we could add a bit of creativity and imagination to mold it into something universally enjoyable.
In case of writer’s block, Prof. Gojo Cruz also recommended three good activities:
- Write a chart of topics
Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 (and so on) First time doing… My favorite… My idol…
- Ask what if questions
- Get inspiration from what you see, hear, or watch
While the discussion was primarily in Filipino, Prof. Gojo Cruz mentioned that a writer should always write in whatever language he or she is comfortable with. By doing that, he or she can minimize the risk of misusing words. In addition, the story should always be in the past tense. Generally, though, the words and sentences should be simple. He also mentioned that we should listen to how children speak to ensure that we can sound genuine.
In terms of characterization, he recommends – aside from the usual children, animals, and other fantastic creatures – that the characters are really human. What did he mean by that? It’s just making sure that the characters are not perfect; they would need positive and negative traits like a kid that’s smart but always late at school. To keep the characters consistent, he also recommends creating a profile for the character. Basically, it’s a reminder of the age, attitudes, and other traits that define the characters. In terms of character count, he mentioned that three would be a good number to keep since they’re more manageable compared to keeping tabs of several personalities.
In terms of settings, a story could be placed in regular or fantastic places. For example, it could happen in a house, the school, or the play ground. On the other hand, it could happen in a fantasy world or a remote location like under the sea. All of these are either relatable or interesting to children.
When choosing conflicts and resolutions, he mentions that they should also be easy to relate to, specifically to kids. Usually, the resolutions are fun and happy to keep the children interested and to avoid bringing up problematic ideas like death.
The plots should also be simple. Start with a dialogue or a situation to catch children’s attention. Then, proceed to a straight and uncomplicated storyline, and he even used a metaphor for it. It’s like the “Happy Birthday” song; it’s clear when the song starts, peaks, and ends. However, we could incorporate something interesting, intriguing, or surprising to spice up the story.
Once the elements are in, of course, there’s a need to revise. He even recommends that we test the stories on kids to see if it’s interesting enough. I agree at what he said: kids are honest critics, so if they laugh or sit still, it could be a good sign. On the other hand, if they grimace or ask a lot of questions, those are signs of where the story could be revised.
Never in the talk did he emphasize theme as part of the process. He says that if we look into that before writing, we’ll never ever finish the story, so it’s best left to the readers. Let them make the theme up based on the story elements that are available.
- Popular Folktales by Dean Fansler
- Unang Baboy sa Langit by Rene O. Villanueva
- Papel de Liha by Ompong Remigio (a good example for musicality)
- Chenelyn Chenelyn by Raymund Magno Garlitos (a good example for a sense of wonderment)
- Sandosenang Sapatos by Luis Gatmaitan (a good example of a heart-warming tale)
- Sandosenang Kuya by Russell Molina (a good example for the element of surprise)
Hopefully, my notes gave you some good ideas on how to write chidlren’s stories. If you find anything hard to understand, I’d gladly explain if you leave your questions on the comments section. Thanks!