Writing for Children and Young Adults: Pre-Writing

A House for Dwarves
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Your invisible playmates? The ones who whisper to you in the forest or as you daydream in your garden or play in the sand or stare up at the stars… Tell them I said “hi.”

Ask them if they wouldn’t mind your sharing some of their stories with young readers.

Treat them nicely. Sometimes they’ll confide in you you; sometimes they won’t. Trust them to be on your side. You’ll work things out eventually, so much so that, suddenly, other people will be able to know them. To care about them. To think of them as real-life.

I used to just sit down and start writing a story without any idea of who the characters were.

No, that’s not true. I knew who I thought the characters were. I just didn’t know who they thought they were. What they think is more important. It can be frustrating to have a character not act or feel the way you expect, but it’s also a sign that you’re getting closer to crafting a fictional person who’s three-dimensional, fully realized.

I do a lot of pre-writing. Sometimes I interview my characters. Sometimes I ask them to write letters to me. I ask them to write letters to each other. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your protagonist from his best friend or his worst enemy.

Sometimes, I’ve gone even further—attending open houses in neighborhoods where my characters live. Picking out clothes and accessories for them. Flipping through magazines or Pinterest boards to find photos of people who reflect their physical appearances. For years, I would walk the sidewalks of Austin or Chicago, camera in hand.

You never know when you’ll catch a real-life, illuminating glimpse that brings to life a once imaginary friend.