Stories for Children: On the Hunt for Strong Characters and Contemporary Multicultural Voices

Stories For Children Magazine, an ezine for 3 to 12 year-olds, knows  how to make every word count. Each issue brims with a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction stories, ranging from beaches and goldfish to watermelons and zoos (check out the June/July issue to see the stories connected to these topics).

In the following interview, Fiction Assistant Editor Roxanne Werner, reviews what she’s looking for, reasons she would pass on a story, and SFC’s plans for the future. Roxanne also offers writing advice and insight through her blog and critique services.

And from personal experience, I can say that Roxanne is a pleasure to work with. My story,  Better Than A Zillion Zoos, appears in the June/July issue, and her thoughtful suggestions made the final version a tighter, better story.

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

Strong believable characters always draw me into a story. As a reader, I want someone I can root for. Then the writer has to give the characters trouble. Too often, I see stories without conflict or tension. They are flat because the characters have nothing to challenge them and nothing at stake.

I would love to see more contemporary multicultural stories. We live in a global world, but I do not see many stories reflecting the great variety of cultures. We also receive many more stories for our youngest readers–3-6 year olds. My wish list would include more submissions for our 10-12 year old category. I prefer to see ‘human’ characters. I see too many ‘talking animals’ representing children, especially for our youngest readers.

Why would you pass on a story?

A lesson thinly disguised as a story will be an automatic no for me. A good story may contain a take away message, but it must be a story first. Preachy, heavy-handed stories turn off editors and readers alike. I will also pass on stories with adult main characters, stories lacking a plot and conflict, episodic stories and descriptive vignettes.

What do you enjoy the most about editing?

I love when I find an original story with potential. It is exciting to work with the author to bring out the best in their work. At Stories For Children Magazine, we encourage new writers and it’s so much fun to watch a story evolve as we work on it together. My job is not to rewrite the author’s work, but to ask questions and make suggestions to help the author develop his or her own story. Even when I reject a story, I always try to give the writer a reason, so they can work on their story, grow as a writer and perhaps submit it elsewhere successfully.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

My all time favorite author is Tolkien. I read The Lord of the Rings in middle school and have not found a fantasy to match it since. I’m still in awe of what a complex world he created including languages, alphabets, calendars etc. For personal reading, I enjoy epic fantasy writers like Tolkien and David Eddings.

I read many non-adult stories to keep in touch with the market. One of my favorite middle grade writers is Andrew Clements. I love the humor and voice of his book Frindle. I also enjoyed Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick. Jordan can make you laugh and cry in the same scene. Laurie Halse Anderson is a terrific writer in the young adult genre. I met her at a writer’s conference where her presentation inspired everyone.

When I read a good story, the characters stay with me. It’s as though I’ve made a new friend. I often will go back and reread stories I love to enjoy the character’s company again. I can’t point to a particular story that changed my life. I think reading has changed my life. Books have opened me up to new ideas and made me think. And as a writer, reading is like breathing. You have to read before you can write.

Anything new coming to SFC this year?

SFC has continued to evolve every year, developing new ways to entertain our readers and provide services to our writers. This year we reached one of our goals by becoming a paying market for our contributors. SFC could not have accomplished all that we have without our wonderful writers and their stories. We also launched the World of Ink blog talk radio network in April and are working on a show that will be called Kids Speak Out World with Virginia and her son Seth as co-hosts. SFC remains dedicated to providing a family friendly environment where children can be entertained, informed and develop an appreciation for the magical world of ink.

Besides offering quality stories for our audience, SFC strives to nurture new writers and illustrators. We continue to expand the services we make available to them. Many of our editors offer critiquing, proofreading and editorial services. We will be offering online writing workshops for writers. We also have World of Ink Tours and book trailer services to help writers reach a larger audience with their published books.

2 thoughts on “Stories for Children: On the Hunt for Strong Characters and Contemporary Multicultural Voices

  1. Gayle June 15, 2011 / 9:47 pm

    What a wonderful interview. Thanks for all of your insights, Roxanne. It’s nice to know what makes an editor happy.

    Your critique service looks great. Very reasonable prices. 🙂


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