Children want three basic elements in a story: suspense, characters who are believable, and characters who act to solve problems. We find our themes in the problems.
Superficially speaking, children like stories that include adventure, mystery, excitement, discovery, daring, novelty, and humour.
I want to repeat a quotation from my first post in this series on writing for children: William Nicholson had C.S Lewis say in Shadowlands: ‘We read to know we are not alone.’
Children want to know that there are ways to cope with dilemmas. Writers must offer ideas and strategies that show children they are not alone.
I have included a list of themes that deal with issues that are important to this youthful audience. They cover the anxieties, fears, and desires that children experience. There are many plots you can choose as vehicles for these stories, but all of them need the protagonist to find a way to address a problem.
What Is A Theme?
A theme can be found by answering one, or both, of these questions:
- What does the protagonist learn about him or herself in the story?
- What does the protagonist learn to cope with in the story?
[Recommended reading: 3 Steps That Will Help You Find Your Story’s Theme]
10 Recurring Themes In Children’s Stories
- Growing Up
Examples from popular fiction:
- In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur survives because of the love and friendship of Fern and Charlotte.
- The Harry Potter series includes all these themes, but the most prominent theme is finding the courage to face evil so that good can prevail. You can read more about the other themes in the books in this post.
- The main themes in The Hunger Games series are suffering in an unequal society, loss, and courage. Katniss has to find the courage to survive physically, to fight an unjust system, and to deal with loss and grief.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, Greg has to deal with the reality of growing up.
- In Where the Wild Things Are, Max is sent to his room without dinner for disrespecting his mother. The author deals with Max’s anger by taking him on a trip to the magical land of the wild things.
Remember that the complexity and depth of the theme changes depending on the age level for which you are writing.
Children want to have fun
Remember that writing with a theme in mind does not mean that you have to preach. In fact, you should avoid it. You have to show and tell in these stories and reveal the theme through the development of the protagonist.
If you want to to show a theme rather than preach, you may want to bear these in mind:
(The younger the child, the more true these will be.)
- Be honest. Children are direct in their thoughts and actions.
- Write to amuse. Children of all age groups respond to humour.
- Look at the world through their eyes. Children like stories that poke fun at authorities.
- Write in the moment. Everything is new to children and they live in the present.
In my next post, I will write about creating characters for children’s stories.
If you want to learn how to write for children, join our kids etc. course in Johannesburg.
If you enjoyed this article, read:
- Writing For Children – 12 Practical Tips To Get You Started
- 13 Questions To Ask Before You Turn Your Idea Into A Crime Novel
- Character Interview – A Worksheet For Beginners
- Writing for Young Adults – A Cheat Sheet
- Writing Children’s Books – A Cheat Sheet