Children’s Books

“What is a story? It is a form of authority. If I tell you a story, you are almost certain to listen. A story is easier to follow, and therefore to remember, than a chain of disconnected facts, because it has causality, one event leads to another. It is like swimming with the current — whereas memorizing unrelated facts is like swimming upstream.

E. M. Forster damned the story (alas) in Aspects of the Novel; he made fun of Neanderthal Man, listening to the tribal storyteller, kept awake only by suspense.

What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him . . .

But what E.M.F. refers to so disparagingly as a story is, in fact, not a story at all, but a mere narrative. His definition of plot is what / would call a story: “The king died, and then the queen died of grief.”

The difference between life and a story is that life is flat and goes on and on, whereas a story has a shape, which resists alteration; take out one piece and it pulls the whole structure lopsided; it has a frame, a climax; you listen in confidence because you know that something is going to happen, it will all work out in the end. So the writer must ensure that something does happen.

Something must certainly happen in a children’s story, and it must happen in a causal, connected way; not in answer to the question what happened next, but in answer to the question, why?
– Joan Aiken