“Is it true?”

When a child asks Katherine Paterson, “Is your story true?” she answers, “I hope so. I meant for it to be true. I tried hard to make it so.”

Some people think that because fiction is “made up,” it can’t be true. So storytellers are suspect. How can something which never actually happened, about people who never really existed, be true?

It’s a strange thing. But fiction can actually show us the truth  about people, about ourselves, about the world we live in. It isn’t the Truth, but it’s a signpost, directing us to what we might not find or see otherwise. As we read good fiction by the great writers, we recognize the truth, often with a shock of surprise, taken unawares. Things ring true.

There is another side to this. For the writer, serving the truth can be uncomfortable. It means seeing things as they are, not as we would like them to be. We cannot be sentimental about children or childhood. Children are not living in Paradise. We know they are not always at the center of a loving family. We know that they experience abuse, want, hunger, and many, many fears. How are we going to deal with that in our stories?

“The problem with these Sunday-school books,” a friend’s daughter remarked, “is that they are not very much like life.” Children are perceptive. They see through characters who are “too good to be true.” We have to be honest with them. You can’t set fears to rest by denying them.

The writer’s task is to help children face fear, face evil. We want to lighten the heavy burdens many children carry. We can’t do that if we have an unrealistic, idealistic view of childhood. We can’t serve up simple, packaged answers.

The encouraging thing, as Margaret Clark points out, is that writers for children (like writers for adults) cannot hide what their values are. The story will communicate them. If you are a writer your values will be revealed in everything you write.

To quote Katherine Paterson again: “The work reveals the creator—and as our universe in its vastness, its orderliness, its exquisite detail, tells us something of the One who made it, so a work of fiction, for better or worse, will reveal the writer.”

How did your favorite children’s book effectively convey values to you? Tell us here. 

This article was excerpted from MAI’s booklet, Effective Story Writing for Children, by Pat Alexander and Larry Brook. The booklet offers several practical tips for mastering the important craft of children’s writing. Check out resources on writing and publishing on MAI’s website.

Photo above courtesy freedigitalphotos.net




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