Earlier this week, I read a post on the Nelson Literary Agency site about making your women’s fiction glow. Whether you write women’s fiction, mysteries, or picture books, the post held lessons for us all. It was about making your story unique.
In the post, Angie Hodapp writes about going beyond your typical PTA meeting. This means that your PTA can’t be simply the mean girls vs the geeks. They can’t be dealing with ho hum ordinary issues like fund raising for new playground equipment. They need to be and do something new.
How does this apply to the rest of us?
Think about middle grade stories about school. You have books about school project. There’s making the sports team. There’s moving to a new school. There’s going to the school dance. And they’ve all been done and done again. If you are going to write about a typical middle school experience, you are going to have to make it unique.
The same goes for picture books. Typical topics include bed time, first day of kindergarten, spending the night away from home, and holidays. To sell, your work has to be unique and that can mean either the characters, the situation or both.
How can you find a way to take your story to the next level?
Characters and Setting
One way to do this is to make your characters or setting unique. In Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe, the narrator is Harold, the family dog. He’s sure that there’s something off about the families new pet rabbit and the evidence starts to add up that this bunny is a vampire.
Stories about kids suspecting their new neighbor of being a vampire or whatever had already been done. The Howe’s dealt with this by telling the story from a different perspective with comical results.
Rowland took her typical middle school story and added magic. Sure, there was a British boarding school but is was a haunted castle and a school for wizards.
Study the Competition
Hodapp recommends looking at best sellers. What tropes are these books using? Can you apply them to your own stories?
Look at the award winners in children’s books. Look at the books that have been selling for years. What is the BIG element that they bring to the story.
Frindle by Andrew Clements is about a class clown and trouble maker who takes on a dictionary mad teacher by getting a new word entered into her beloved dictionary. In your school story, how can the students turn the rules on a teacher?
Don’t Forget the Stakes
To make a splash, the stakes in your story have to be big. It can’t be that your character will be sad or disappointed. This has to be huge. In Clements story, the whole school gets involved.
You can also have big stakes in a picture book. Think about Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman. Dot isn’t just jealous of her new baby brother. He’s adopted and he’s a wolf! When you’re a family of bunnies this raises the stakes in a big, big way.
Make your story stand out from the competition by making it unique. You can do this by creating one-of-a-kind characters, setting the story someplace unique, raising the stakes, and more. Study what has worked in the past and then come up with a new take that is uniquely you. Make your solution your own to make your story sing.