EVENTS Mastering Young Series Fiction

Braving the cold and snow on St Patrick's Day, over 20 SCBWI members from as far as Scotland attended Paula Harrison's masterclass Writing Young Series Fiction: Plotting, Planning and What Publishers Want, reports Stephanie Ward.

Paula has published three chapter book series and five middle grade novels, most notably the Princess Rescue Series of twelve – soon to be fifteen – chapter books for young readers. The comprehensive half-day seminar looked at creating fiction for ages 5 to 9, including plotting and planning your idea, what publishers are looking for and how to pitch your brilliant series when it's ready.

Paula Harrison and some of her many, many books. 

With a review of market-leading young fiction series such as Horrid Henry and Tiara Friends, Paula emphasised the importance of a simple concept for this genre. Being able to sum up the hook and even the entire series in two sentences is crucial – and a lot harder to do than it sounds.

If that exercise proves difficult, perhaps the story concept is too complex for these emerging readers. We soon moved on to plotting and planning a series. Typically, the young fiction category is broken into two age groups: 5 to 7 or 7 to 9 year-olds.

Word count and point of view often change between the two. For younger readers, books aren't usually more than 8,000 words, often averaging closer to 6,000. While older readers can handle longer books up to about 15,000 words with a broader vocabulary. Interestingly, the point of view changes from third to first as readers mature.

Everyone is entranced by Paula's presentation.

Now that we understood the rules, we looked at how to create a step-by-step plan for each chapter within a typical three-act structure. Keeping in mind that we need to be developing both action and emotional plots, it is absolutely essential that the story engages young readers from the very first lines. If they don't feel emotions toward the central character, they won't care what happens next. Each short chapter has to move the story forward and up the stakes.

The group launched into a plotting exercise which seemed daunting (especially for us self-proclaimed pantsers), but somehow I filled a page with ideas for seven chapters within the allotted 15 minutes. Next, Paula shared with us her brilliant process of mind-mapping and we let our creative ideas flow in a semi-structured way. With the challenge of how to extend a series, we explored what could change in a young fiction concept to create new story ideas. Think about the setting, characters and interesting challenges.

Now that we understood the rules, we looked at how to create a step-by-step plan for each chapter within a typical three-act structure

Finally, we learned how to present young fiction to a publisher. Writing a really good story is key, of course, but with young fiction we're now talking about more than one book. Most publishers offer four-book contracts, so having follow-up story ideas (plus the aforementioned Really Good Story  no.1) is ideal. But, as Paula advised, 'You only need to write the first book.'

Have a solid idea of the other three and be able to give a brief synopsis if asked, but don't waste time writing all the books in your series until your concept is accepted. Paula also shared some top secret insights into the children's publishing industry and how they think about selling young fiction.

Unfortunately, we were all sworn to secrecy, but come to Paula's next masterclass and you might just get an insider view of this puzzling industry for yourself. That, together with the thoughtful Q&A with the audience of fabulous SCBWI children's writers, is well-worth the cost of admission.

*Picture credits: Stephanie Ward

Stephanie Ward is a children's author and tireless traveller with two picture books due for publication in 2019. After living on three continents and visiting all seven, she still hasn't settled down but currently lives in London with her husband and son. @StephMWard 


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures. She writes middle grade fantasy and picture books. If you have a SCBWI event you would like to promote or report on, please contact her at 
Twitter: @FranGPrice

1 comment:

  1. I love Paulas workshops! so packed with information advice and great sound to earth help x


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