I recently read a post by agent Scott Eagan on the differences between Conflict and Complications. The problem is that many of the manuscripts Eagan recieves are full of complications for the characters but not true conflict. Yes, hitting traffic or having to change clothes before you leave the house can be a hastle but they are complications. Your character can get around these things fairly easily. You reader isn’t on the edge of her seat wondering “Is this it?”
This got me to thinking. Things don’t work quite like this in children’s books. Complications vs true conflict depend completely on the age of the reader and, thus, the character.
What do I mean? Having your main character take a wrong turn on the way home from school is no big whoop-de-doo for a highschooler. All the reader’s going to think is “get your head together and turn around, dumby.”
But if your character and reader are picture book aged, its a completely different situation. In Kevin Henkes picture book Sheila Rae, The Brave, Sheila Rae gets lost. Her little sister comes to her rescue and the two become closer for it. That wouldn’t work if your character was a typical high schooler, but it works quite well for a preschooler who has never walked home alone.
In children’s books, your conflict has to be age appropriate. Make it to old for the character and reader and you may find your five year-old character trying to save the world from an evil wizard who is killing those who won’t join his cause (hello, Harry Potter).
Whoa! That’s way too much for this audience. But a highschooler who is overwhelmed by her new backpack, purse or boots is going to make a pretty boring story even if Kevin Henkes made this also fly in picture book form.
Conflict vs. Complication. To make it work, you have to make it age appropriate.