Recently, I came across the Children’s Writer Kindergarten Story Contest 2013. “This one’s for me,” I thought. The fee to enter was $15.00 but that included an eight-month subscription to the Children’s Writer newsletter, a very good resource for those of us who write for children. I am basically a hobby writer but I would still love to see something of mine in print somewhere other than on my computer. In this competition the winning entry will be published in a Children’s Writer newsletter. An article about other top-ranked entries and their authors will also be published.
Other persuasive enticements to entering the contest were the parameters for the entries – a fiction piece for five to seven year old beginning readers with a 150 word limit that could be submitted on-line. Yep, this one I could handle. Although I whole-heartedly agree with Pam Zollen that, "Easy-to-read is hard to write," I have written more frequently for children than adults. As a teacher and then a curriculum developer, I often had to write articles and stories to support curricula. I began.
First, what could I write about that would fit the criteria of exploration? A while ago, my niece Laura suggested a story idea about a little girl who goes into a closet and tries on shoes, with each pair transporting her to a different location. Good, this worked and took care of the exploration component. Next, develop the characters – easy thanks to my niece’s idea. I based the story around one little girl, Lily Grace, who loves to go into her Auntie’s closet and try on shoes. Plot - she tries on different shoes and in her imagination travels to different places. Each location just isn’t going to be quite right. She ends up back in Auntie’s closet where everything is just right.
Writing the story gets a little trickier. For that age group, I needed a controlled vocabulary that was age appropriate. In addition, I needed to think about a couple of new words that could be introduced to the child. I researched vocabulary lists for the target age groups. I decided to name the ecosystem locations as new vocabulary words. I needed to connect the new vocabulary words to familiar vocabulary used for that section of the story to support the young reader in developing a conceptual understanding of the new word. For example, arctic would connect to ideas of snow and cold.
Once that was done, I began to write. One-hundred-fifty words was going to be the easy part because I never seem to be able to write “more.” I always do “less” and often struggle when I have to write a lengthier document. (I am always in awe of those of you who manage to write longer stories and novels.) I finished my first attempt. Going over my first draft, I scrutinized the clarity of the story line, made sure it was readable and logically connected, and checked for the appropriate vocabulary structure for the age group.
The second draft was completed and I was feeling quite smug and pleased with my story. I finished the final draft (so I thought) and got ready to send it off. While double-checking the contest requirements, it dawned on me that I had not done a word count. I was not concerned; I always write less. Up to the tools menu my cursor went, clicked on word count, and … 200 WORDS! “This just can’t be right,” my boggled mind said, “I always write less!”
Well, after two more checks, I conceded it was right. The journey to eliminate 50 words was difficult. When you have a young reader’s story, you have already constrained the storyline in order to maintain a child’s interest. The work that I had to do to pare down the number of words but still maintain the essence of the story became the most difficult part of the project. Writing, counting, rewriting, recounting, went on for a number of days. Finally, I rejoiced when the count came up 150. I entered the story and, for my own copy, went on to illustrate it using Adobe Illustrator as my media.
This experience has made me think about word count much more than I used to do in terms of editing my work. I was entering an adult story I wrote for another contest around the same time as Lily Grace (no subscription but no entry fee either). The story had 2,750 words; 2,500 words was the contest word limit. Once again I was faced with paring done a written work that I particularly liked. Initially, I thought the story would be negatively affected. It was not and, in truth, was much more readable when I finished.
Now when I write, even my short and children’s stories, I always ask myself, “Is less too much?”