The Power of “3”

by Pam Zollman

When you write a short story or picture book, think in terms of “3.”  This makes planning and writing your story so much easier. Your story will be divided into three parts: beginning, middle and end. Your hero will need three obstacles to overcome. Your story will be approximately three pages long double-spaced, which equals about 750 words, just right for most children’s magazines and picture books.

Page one is the beginning. This is where you introduce the main character, set the scene, state the goal, and set up the conflict.

Page two (or more, depending on story length) is the middle. Your main character is presented with three obstacles he must overcome to reach his goal.

Page three (or so depending on story length) is the end. The climax of the story makes the hero choose a resolution, which may be hard and self-sacrificing, but will ultimately be the best one. The hero reaches his goal and all loose ends are tied up.

Be creative with how your character solves his problem. Make it something that will cause the reader to think, something that the reader might be able to apply to his own life. No obvious morals or lessons are allowed. Fiction is read for pleasure; all lessons should be implied. The reader can figure it out. The happy ending can also be implied, that if things stay on course all will work out okay.

This is a very simplified way of writing a fiction story for a magazine. Use it as a guide, a suggestion only, not as a rule. It’s not the only way to write a story, but it’s one that has worked for me.

Pam Zollman has published over 40 books for children, as well as numerous magazine stories. She has also been an editor and contest judge for Highlights for Children magazine.

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