Why Does My Story Matter? Interview with Hajera Khaja
Today we are joined by Hajera Khaja editor for Ruqaya’s Bookshelf with us. She is also a teacher at the Sarah Selecky Writing School and mother of two boys. She writes short stories and is published in many literary magazines. She is currently working on a short story collection.
We asked Hajera to describe some of the most common issues she has noticed while reading incoming manuscripts at Ruqaya's Bookshelf. Here's what she had to say!
The biggest issue I see with incoming manuscripts is that there is no central, important story. It’s just a series of events. There’s nothing beyond those events happening. There is nothing at stake for the character and there is no sense of urgency to the story.
Most of these stories need to be developed further. The writer needs to think more deeply about what they’re trying to say. And I don’t mean this in terms of "what’s the moral of the story?" Rather, think about what themes and issues you’re addressing, what the characters are going through emotionally, and how they change or develop by the time the story is done.
Ultimately this is about why the reader should care about this character and about this story.
For example, what’s really at stake if Amina has lost her pet cat, or if Asiya can’t have her favourite bike? These situations are common and relatable, but what’s special about your story? What unique take does your story offer that other stories don’t?
In order to dig deeper and figure out what’s at stake, ask yourself what is actually happening underneath the events of the story. If Asiya doesn’t get her favourite bike, so what? What does the bike represent? Does it represent social standing, or perhaps self-worth?
Continue asking, “So what?” until you reach an answer that feels compelling and satisfying, like you’ve solved the puzzle of your story.
Remember that for a picture book to be memorable, it must be about more than just a single incident or a series of events in the life of a character. You should be able to answer the questions ‘Why does my story matter?’ and ‘Why should the reader care about my character(s)?’
Writing is a craft, and like any other craft, it needs to be learned and practiced before you become skilled at it. Learning writing doesn’t have to mean getting a degree in English literature or an MFA. There are plenty of writing courses that you can take and books about writing that you can read to develop your skills further.
And most importantly, read a lot! Study picture books that you love and take them apart to understand how the writer wrote the story.
Ruqaya’s Bookshelf is offering a 4 week mini-course on writing picture books that I’ll be teaching along with Asmaa Hussein, starting November 12th. If you want to learn more about what it takes to write a successful picture book, we’d love to have you! Click here to join.