I can suggest some components of a good story. The ones I would highlight are characters who have feelings and problems that the reader can understand and care deeply about, a subject that the author knows well and expresses with passion, and a setting and events that are described in such rich detail that the reader has an experience that goes beyond the simple words on the page.
Perhaps a discussion of some of my favorite “reads” would be fun. A recent book I found compelling was The Help by Kathryn Stockett which recounted the lives of characters with whom I could deeply engage. I grew up in the South of the 1950s and 1960s. The book spoke to me not only by evoking memories but by giving me a chance to reflect on that time from an adult perspective.
A genre I enjoy tremendously is the mystery. I especially find a series intriguing and usually find one that has both highly developed characters and elaborate and intricate plots. I have read all of the mystery novels written by Elizabeth George that feature duo Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers. They remind me to some extent of the work of Agatha Christie. George’s passion for English culture is contagious. I also discovered the work of Michael Connelly this year and am in the midst of the Detective Harry Bosch cases. I find Connelly’s psychological analysis of the protagonist, Bosch, quite accurate. He is clearly passionate about the legal profession.
A lifelong favorite of mine is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Along with a host of truly unique individual characters embroiled in a highly compelling plot, Tolkien creates an amazing world of humans, hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, ents as well as their cultures, languages and histories. This experience is so powerful for me that I have read it many times.
These three examples illustrate some things that contribute to a great story, but they are all books for adults. I am wondering what I might say about any of the things I have identified with regard to writing a compelling story for young readers. I have tried in the Quincy the Horse Books to incorporate engaging characters, a subject I am passionate about and a world that children can enter.
An important issue for me in writing for children was finding the right balance in exploring Quincy’s experience of life’s ups and downs. Something I read recently on the nature of plot can be summarized as saying the main character either goes from good fortune to bad or from bad fortune to good. Of course life is a little more complicated than that. A theme for horses and children is that they often find themselves in situations that they have not created and yet with which they have to cope. I saw Quincy trying to learn new things as a way of coping.
Many children’s books today draw on an exploration of the trauma and danger that are sadly omnipresent in the modern world. The Quincy Books draw on the depth of character development in Quincy’s feelings and his efforts to problem solve. His characteristic doubts and initial distress when he is faced with change he has not chosen give way to his amazement at the new things he is learning. He is able to find answers and succeed without being overwhelmed.
Barn and horse life are carefully detailed in the Quincy the Horse Books both through my writing and the authentic illustrations of the illustrator. Children who have had direct contact with horses and all the things they do and need find a familiar world. Children who may not have had any contact with horses hopefully find themselves becoming “horse people”. Perhaps both will read Quincy’s adventures over and over.