I love the world of children’s literature. Over the years I have written picture books, activity books, middle grade, YA, biographies, and nonfiction. My favourite genre is scary short stories for middle grade and YA. Picture book author, Mem Fox, once said, “Writing for children is like writing War and Peace in haiku.” I think that’s hilarious but true. A short story obliges the writer to develop characters and plot concisely, while still telling a tale that is fun to read.
When writing a scary story I’m careful to choose a theme that young readers can relate to, and to frame it from a child’s point of view. I usually begin by sketching out the plot beginning to end. Rules can always be bent, but in general, a short story has the typical structure of any work of fiction including the opening, conflict, rising action, climax and resolution, all in about 2500 words or less. The first step is to get everything on paper. The next step is to craft it.
Author Kurt Vonnegut suggested that a short story should begin as close to the end as possible. That’s good advice. A long, drawn out opening won’t hook a reader. The first line should immediately invite the child to enter the world in which the story takes place. Because economy of words is a plus, my goal is to use the most effective language to create the tone and mood quickly. In most scary tales the setting is a character in itself, but I try to find ways to show it without lengthy description.
Each sentence should move the action forward or reveal something about the characters. Still, short doesn’t mean simplistic. It’s essential to give the character a good reason to go into the creepy basement or sneak out to the amusement park at night! If his or her behaviour isn’t believable then the story won’t ring true. For young readers, the main character should succeed or not based on their own choices and decisions. No fair having someone or something else rescue them at the last moment.
Finally, good writing is rewriting so the last stage of crafting a short story is editing. This is the time to be certain that every sentence serves a purpose and every word is as precise as possible to deliver the spooky thrills and chills the reader is anticipating!
About the Author: Q.L. Pearce is the author of over 150 books for children, including YA and Middle Grade fiction and non-fiction. She specialises in scary stories, which is evident in her hit series Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Carter G. Woodson gold medal and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. Her multi-award winning book, Red Bird Sings received praise from Publisher’s Weekly, the School Library Journal, and the Library Media Connection.
Find out more about Q.L. on her