April 12, 2014

Conflict and Backstory

Conflict.  Every story needs it.  When you write for young children, that conflict must be delivered early on, in the first or second paragraph of a 500-word story. This hooks the audience. Waiting until the middle of a story to add conflict can be a mistake. The midpoint is where the climax should take place. 

Some writers delay the conflict by presenting too much backstory.  Long drawn out descriptions or explanations have a tendency to prevent the story from moving forward. 

For example, I received a story for Kid’s Imagination Train in which a lonely female bear wanted to have a baby cub.  Many years later she did and it became the love of her life. The bear's longing for a cub filled the first paragraph.  The next paragraph detailed the adventures of mama and baby bear. In the third paragraph, conflict was introduced—the cub had no friends. But placing conflict at this point arrives too late. By now, readers have lost patience with the story. Too much backstory bogs this piece down.  

If you write for young children, you have little time to keep them interested in a story. Children have short attention spans.  So, you have got to deliver the conflict as soon as possible.

If you must use backstory, keep it to one to two sentences.  Use backstory to describe characters and the setting or to set a compelling stage.  Then bam!  On to the conflict and the rising action.  Conflict engages an audience.  They will begin to care about the main character and will want to learn how this character deals with the conflict—a conflict that has been crafted well and presented early on.