The Foundation of Every Children’s Story


 While every story starts with a good idea, that’s not enough to make a good story.

Your idea, while possibly the cornerstone of the creation, is only part of the foundation. There are other elements needed to make a fully developed story.

To give you an example of this, a protagonist wants to take guitar lessons. He does and becomes a good guitar player. Your message is to show children they can do the same.

Why would someone want to read about a character taking lessons to learn to learn to play the guitar or any other instrument?

But suppose something stops the protagonist or gets in the way of the him learning to play.

This gives the story idea substance. It gives it conflict.

Below are the basic elements that create a story foundation.

1. The idea.

As a children’s ghostwriter, clients come to me with a number of ideas. But, they’re just ideas. They’re not stories.

An idea could be a child wants to become an astronaut.

Again, this isn’t a story. But it is a key part of the foundation of a good story.

2. The problem, the conflict.

Every children’s fiction story must have a problem or obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome.

The conflict drives the story.

According to Now Novel, “conflict is at the heart of all stories.” (1)

Going back to the guitar scenario, suppose the protagonist has started and stopped a number of hobbies or sporting activities. Now his parents refuse to invest in a guitar and lessons.

This creates a problem for the protagonist – how is he going to get a guitar and afford to pay for lessons. Or, if he’s a younger protagonist, how will he convince his parents that this activity will be different. He’ll follow through with it.

3. The struggle.

There needs to be a struggle - the protagonist needs to attempt and fail at reaching his goal.

In children’s writing, three is the general rule for attempts. On the third try at achieving his goal, the protagonist finally gets it. He’s triumphant.

If the protagonist gets what he wants in one try, it doesn’t drive the stakes up. It’s too easy.

A reader turns the pages to follow along with the struggles. It’s the struggles that strengthens the connection between the protagonist and the reader. This makes the reader feel like the final victory is his too.

4. Growth.

The story has to be about more than just the initial idea. It has to be about more than just incidents in a story.

Writing coach Suzanne Lieurance notes that, "an incident is simply a series of actions and occurrences in a character's life. But these things don't change the character."

By the end of the story, the protagonist needs to have developed or grown in some way.

- Maybe he becomes wiser.
- Maybe he learns to stand on his own two feet and overcomes what he must to accomplish what he wants.
- Maybe he learns it’s okay to be different.
- Maybe he learns there’s more to him than he thought.
- Maybe he figures out there are things more important than riches and power.
- Maybe he learns the importance of friendship.
- Maybe he learns the importance of being honest.

This list could go on and on.

Character growth is essential to a good story.

5. Be subtle.

Your story should be written so that the reader will see for herself the message you want to convey.

I’ve seen many story endings where the reader is hit over the head with the message.

Let the message be subtly weaved throughout the story. And, know that the reader is savvy enough to get it.

These five steps are the foundation to your children’s story.

Keep them in mind when writing yours.



Karen Cioffi
is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can connect with Karen at:


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lastpg said...

Karen, this post is an excellent start for anyone wanting to write a book. I enjoyed it as a reminder, and plan to save it to refer to as I dive deeper into writing more children's books. Thank you for sharing your expertise. It's helpful to all of us struggling to get our words on the page. I have shared your post.

Terry Whalin said...


This article reminds us that ideas are all over the place--and the questions to ask how to develop that idea into a story which will work for the marketplace--the foundation of every book. It's loaded full of insights for every writer--whether you write children's books or not. Thank you,

author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

deborah lyn said...

Thank you for this article,Karen. These 5 points make the whole path of writing a story touchable and doable.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I love it when you talk children's lit, Karen. I recommend you to my clients as my top resource for children's writing of all kinds--including ghostwriting!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Jams and Books said...

Very helpful! Thank you. Shared on Fb, Twitter, and Facebook.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, I'm so glad the tips mentioned are good reminders as to the basics of writing a story.

Thank you, Terry. I think a lot of the tips for writing for children can be applied to all writing too. I'm so glad you found it insightful!

Deborah, glad the article is suitable to help writers with the basics of writing for children.

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn HJ. I can't thank you enough for using me as a children's writing resource! Thank you!

Carolyn W. I'm so glad you found the article helpful!

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