- Don’t underestimate them: Kids are small, but they‘re smart. Don’t think you have to dumb things down for them. The rules of fiction still apply. They have just been distilled. The reduced word count forces you to understand your story and to convey it in the simplest way possible. "You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better." ~Maxim Gorky
- Don’t make ‘em wait: Kids don’t have patience. As an adult, I’ve read books that were slow to start and I’ve waited them out until they picked up. Kids don’t do that. Grab them with the first word, the first sentence, on the first page.
- Don’t preach: Kids are told what to do all the time. Do this, don’t do that. But we should remember that they read for the same reason we do: Entertainment. Often we think a child's book needs a lesson or a moral, but that should be secondary. Entertain them first; they’ll learn better that way. Sneak in a lesson. Show, don’t tell works well with this.
- Don’t write for the mommy, but do write for the mommy: Remember that it’s a book for the child, but Mom or Dad buys it and reads it (repeatedly). Kids think burps and farts are funny. Most moms don’t. It’s a fine line. You should make sure it serves your story. The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey is one of the most challenged children’s book series. You can read this article to see what Dav has to say about it. It is more challenged than Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.
- Don’t neglect the images: One of the ways to reduce your word count is to make your images work harder. You get to skip the physical descriptions and the setting descriptions for example, because you use the pictures instead. And now you’re thinking, but I’m not an illustrator. (Unless you are, then yay for you!) But we mere writers have to make do with our sad stick figures. Draw as best you can or make notes of what you see on the page. These notes will help you to write. Remember, they are for your eyes only.
- Don’t hold back on the scary stuff: Often we are worried about scaring our little readers, but I want you to watch a few Disney movies and read the fairy tales (the real ones). They have real villains. Scary villains. Remember the better your villain, the better your story. Keep in mind villains don’t have to be axe-wielding serial killers. They are simply in opposition to your hero.
- Don’t forget about the age category: Go look at the children’s section at your local bookstore. It is divided by age. Most of your decisions will be based on these categories. Your word count, the type of story, and the number of pictures in your book are all influenced by the age of your reader. Babies have board books with pictures and maybe a word on the page. Picture books for three- to five-year-olds have large images with 500 – 600 words (give or take). Early chapter books for seven- to ten-year-olds have about 10 000 words with a few pictures often at the beginning of the chapter. It varies.
Writing for children is amazing and challenging and after all those don’ts, you need a do. So do join us on 21 August for Kids etc.
by Mia Botha
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