How to Get Started Writing a Children's Book.

writing for children Feb 25, 2018


Conflict is the essential ingredient to a children's story.

Start by locating the source of evil in your world. The real evil in Narnia, Wonderland, and Neverland is time.

Kronos (or Cronus) was the King of the Titans and the god of time for the Greeks, a destructive, all-devouring force. He ruled the cosmos during the Golden Age after castrating and deposing his father, Uranus (Sky). In fear of a prophecy that he would in turn be overthrown by his own son, Kronos swallowed each of his children as they were born. 

Time is the old grandfather clock who gets tick-tocked off in fantasy fiction, particularly children's classics. 

Got five minutes?

 "Well, sir, if things are real, they're there all the time."

"Are they?" said the Professor; and Peter didn't know quite what to say.

"But there was no time," said Susan. "Lucy had no time to have gone anywhere, even if there was such a place. She came running after us the very moment we were out of the room. It was less than minute, and she pretended to have been away for hours."

"That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true," said the Professor.'

(C.S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

C.S. Lewis promotes an 'Eternalist' position in the Chronicles of Narnia. If there is one single thing that makes his work outstanding, it is this concept. It is not the prose, it is not the pleasing pastiches of folklore, religion and mythology, it is his very knowing skullduggery with time and space.

According to 'Presentism', time is an ordering of various realities. At a certain time some things exist and others do not. This is the only reality we can deal with and we cannot, for example, say that Homer exists because at the present time he does not. An 'Eternalist', on the other hand, holds that time is a dimension of reality on a par with the three spatial dimensions, and hence that all things - past, present, and future -can be said to be just as real as things in the present.

It is not surprising this interplay should be a factor in the work of C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) given the presence of Einstein (1879 –1955) in the intellectual world during his lifetime and also the works of the Cambridge Idealist,  J.M.E McTaggart (1866 -1925).

'I believe that time is unreal.'

J.M.E McTaggart

One of the most famous arguments about the nature of time in modern philosophy is presented in 'The Unreality of Time' by J. M. E. McTaggart. It argues that time is an illusion. (You can read more about it in depth in the Classic course, here I'm working at speed for Sunday readers in The Age Of Impatience.)

Albert Einstein found that space and time were interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another. As he worked out the equations for his general theory of relativity, Einstein realised that massive objects caused a distortion in space-time. Imagine setting a large body in the centre of a trampoline. The spin of a heavy object, such as Earth, should twist and distort the space-time around it.

As a result, Einstein worked out that there is no fixed frame of reference in the universe. Everything is moving relative to everything else. Hence the theory of relativity.

In Einstein's mathematics, space has three dimensions and the fourth dimension is time. 

'Imagination is more important than knowledge.'

Albert Einstein

I love that Einstein's thinking began, according to him in the 'chamber of his mind' with 'a positively fanatic orgy of free thinking'

Many philosophers have argued that relativity implies 'Eternalism'.

Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time, which takes the view that all existence in time is equally real, as opposed to presentism or the growing block universe theory of time, in which at least the future is not the same as any other time. Some forms of Eternalism give time a similar ontology to that of space, as a dimension, with different times being as real as different places, and future events are 'already there' in the same sense other places are already there, and that there is no objective flow of time. 

We can see these ideas considered in the children's classics of fiction before they were articulated by scientists and the interplay between creativity and science at work.

'No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.' 

Albert Einstein.

So now I'm telling you that C.S. Lewis, the academic and author, the great Christian apologist, ought to be hailed above all else for the use of science in his children's books? Yes, you've got it.

This is how big ideas disseminate with power and majesty, they cascade down through the great imaginative words which feed the minds of our next generation.

Adult fiction tends to represent time as linear, and the imagined ending of the story and of life—is imminent (about to happen) rather than immanent (existing or operating within; inherent, permanently pervading and sustaining the universe) although immanence is still there in the shadows. Conversely, a 'classic' written under the auspices of the classical mythologies and metaphysics, tends to represent time as circular, and the imagined ending—of the story and of life—is immanent rather than imminent, although imminence is still there in the shadows.

So, if you disrupt this to remove the 'sense of an ending' (to quote the title of the book by critic Frank Kermode) you disrupt where we are, when we are and as I show in the Classic Course - who you are both as reader and player in the tale.

Let's give that codfish a run for its money and wreak havoc in our writing, my bullies, as Captain Hook would say. 

'He sat down on a large mushroom, and now there was a quiver in his voice. “Smee,” he said huskily, “that crocodile would have had me before this, but by a lucky chance it swallowed a clock which goes tick tick inside it, and so before it can reach me I hear the tick and bolt.” He laughed, but in a hollow way.

“Some day,” said Smee, “the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you.”

Hook wetted his dry lips. “Ay,” he said, “that’s the fear that haunts me.”

(J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan and Wendy)

 To discover more of the essential ingredients and get started writing your children's book, hit the yellow brick road with our children's book course.

'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.'

(William Shakespeare; Macbeth.)

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