In November 2020, my new educational book on narrative structure will be published by Brookes Publishing - Story Frames - Using Narratives to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, and Executive Function Skills for Struggling Learners. In Chapter eleven, I analyze the plots of several narrative non-fiction picture books including A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland written by Caroline Starr Rose and illustrated by Alexandra Bye (2019, Albert Whitman & Company). In Chapter thirteen, I analyze the plots of several novels with historical connections including the verse novel, May B. (2014, Yearling), also by Caroline Starr Rose.
Although I examine books through the lens of narrative structure, many of the authors I discuss do not think of themselves as Plotters. Others have a plotting process very different from mine. Over the next several months, I will be interviewing many of them and talking to them about their writing process. The first author is Caroline Starr Rose, but before we get started with Caroline, let's clarify the difference between Plotters and Pantsers.
A Note about Plotters and Pantsers
Some authors think of themselves as Plotters, some as Pantsers, and others as something in between. Plotters spend a lot of time setting up a story before they ever start writing. They may organize scenes using index cards, create elaborate outlines, and have key beats or turning points in mind that they use to organize the events of a narrative. Pantsers tends to jump into a story and fly by the seat of their pants. They may come back later to refine the plot or not. Even authors who spend a lot of time researching a non-fiction topic may vary widely in the way they plot (or don't plot) their stories. Now let's find out about Caroline and her writing process.
1. Do you consider yourself a Plotter, a Pantser, or something else?
Caroline: I consider myself as a plotster, a combination of the two. While I can recognize story structure in other’s work, it’s often hard for me to find the same patterns in my own for a very long time. My aim when I’m beginning is to get familiar with my main character, the setting, and major turning points. The story grows (with some dead ends and wrong turns) from there.
2. What has been your most interesting research experience so far?
Caroline: I loved learning about the real-life race featured in A RACE AROUND THE WORLD. The history gave me a built-in structure to shape the story around. I ended up creating a huge day-by-day chart of the race so I could have a sense of the event in its entirety. My editor referenced it when we worked on the manuscript, so did the art director and illustrator!
3. What is your favorite children’s book?
Caroline: I adore THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. I’ve probably read it thirty times over the years, first as a student, then to my students, and finally to my own boys. It’s a great book to use in mapping out the twelve story elements, from Crossing into the New World, called The Lands Beyond, to the Climax / Final Test, which includes climbing the Mountains of Ignorance to the highest physical point (and climatic point) in the story, the Castle in the Air.
4. Do you have any advice for young writers?
Caroline: Read, read, read, read, read. Read everything. It will be your greatest writing teacher. Let writing be fun! Sometimes the word “write” carries some negative connotations, even for me, and this is my job. Instead of writing, I often tell myself I’m about to explore, create, experiment, tinker, or play. There’s no wrong way to do those things, is there? This is a freeing way to approach my work! I hope it helps you, too.
To read more about the plotting structure outlined in Story Frames, visit my page for The Secret Language of Stories. To read more about Caroline and her other amazing books, visit carolinestarrrose.com
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