Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

What’s It All About, Maurice?

Questions2At the core of every successful children’s book is the “central dramatic question.” This is the question raised by, and in, the story. Will Max’s mother forgive him and give him dinner after all? Will Peter learn to whistle? Will the prince ever find a real princess? Will the pigs conquer the wolf?

The central dramatic question can usually be summed up as: “Will ______ find, get, solve, achieve _____?”

When somebody asks what your story is about, the answer is not: “It’s about a little boy who misbehaves, and whose mother sends him to bed without supper, so he goes on a fantastic journey and meets monsters.” That’s the plot. What your story is about is the dramatic question it raises, which can be summed up in a single sentence: “My story is about whether a little boy will be forgiven – and will forgive himself – for his temper tantrum.”

A variation on this idea ends up at the beginning of every book ever published, in the form of the “CIP,” otherwise known as the Library of Congress’s Cataloging and Publication Information. This is the sentence that describes your book and accompanies all your copyright info, acknowledgments etc. on the first (or last) page… and which ultimately assists librarians when it comes time to catalog your book in libraries. But it’s invaluable to sum up our stories in that one sentence long before the Library of Congress does. It’s not only a great exercise in terms of sharpening the focus of a manucript, it also serves as a powerful sales and marketing tool. You’ll use it in your sales pitch to agents and publishers, you’ll use it on the jacket copy, and you’ll use it in press releases and interviews once the book is published. It will serve you in every step of your journey, from publication through promotion.

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