Sunday, October 15, 2023

                                                                                                                                                         Photo Lulia Mihailov


Do your stories have takeaway?  Should they have takeaway?  What is takeaway anyhow?  

Story takeaway can be defined as a main point or key message to be learned or understood. 

So, how important is takeaway in children's literature and how does one create takeaway in a story for children?  

Editorial expert Mary Kole says, "Picture books, more than any other category of kidlit, are about character change, a moral, or a lesson.  A strong takeaway is expected because we want our young readers to be eating a little bit of medicine (the moral) with their syrup (the story).  Like those cookbooks for moms who want to sneak veggies into brownies.  But how do we do this effectively, without turning readers (and agents and publishers) off with too much lecturing?  It’s all about character!"

I agree with Mary that takeaway comes with character and how that character changes.  I would add takeaway leans on a story's theme and conflict.

For instance, let's say you have a story about a child who catches a king spreading a lie.  The conflict is: how can (or should) a child confront the deceitful king?  The theme of the story centers on bravery and the takeaway highlights the importance of being truthful.     

And as simple as that may seem to get this point across, a writer has to delicately handle the moral takeaway.  The lesson cannot be didactic.  In fact, Mary cites moralizing as one of the main reasons agents pass on a picture book project.  "One of the biggest challenges I encounter in my editorial practice is picture books that show character change in a clumsy or overbearing way."  

So how do we write picture books that show character change without explicitly stating the lesson?  Mary says, "It’s a rather simple answer:  let the character have some realizations and then act upon them.  At the same time, do not explain what the character is learning."  

In other words, writers must allow a character to discover something special about himself (or herself/themselves) so the dilemma can be solved in a personal way. 

Going back to the story of the boy and the king, though the child wrestles with a powerful authoritative figure, he eventually realizes that just because he's young doesn't mean he can't speak out and be heard.  Once the young boy understands this, he changes.  He discovers a way to speak the truth.  

"Transformation happens with little choices and in small steps, as that honors the real life process of behavioral change," says Mary.  "Your character CAN learn something in your story, but the best picture books that show character change are subtle and character-driven, instead of moralizing."

If a writer carefully crafts takeaway, children will subtly absorb the lesson.  Through stories, they may soak up how to believe in themselves, how to be adventurous, how to be a good friend, or how to be generous and kind and brave.  When you express the morale gently, children will learn a valuable lesson that never feels like a lesson at all.  

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