If you’re writing for children, it’s good to know that younger readers most enjoy stories where they identify with the anxieties, fears and desires that fictional characters experience. All of these problems need to be confronted by the hero in the story. Children want to know that there are solutions to dilemmas.
William Nicholson had C.S Lewis say in Shadowlands: ‘We read to know we are not alone.’
Over the next few weeks I will post more about creating characters and plotting for children. Today, I’ve put together 12 practical tips to get you started on your journey:
- Read what you want to write. Do you really love children’s books? Do you read them? If you don’t read the books you want to write, think again. If you do love them, immerse yourself in them.
- Decide on your age level and your genre. Young readers like to read about characters who are one or two years older than they are. They also like to know what the story is about and what they can expect, so make sure you are writing in one genre. Publishers publish in age categories. If you’re writing for children, be clear who your target audience is. Some novels never find a home because they do not resonate with any particular age group.
- Do some practical research. Read children’s books. Watch popular films and television programmes for children. Ask librarians about the books for different age levels.
- Decide on the length of your book. Word limits are not arbitrary. Children tend to have shorter attention spans, and editors and publishers know what their audiences want.
- Spend time with children. Writing for children means you need to listen to them, find out what’s important to them, observe how they think, and how they express themselves. Absorb contemporary culture and literature, but don’t copy anyone else simply because you think it’s a gateway to fame and fortune. You still have to write stories you love.
- What do children think about your writing? Read your stories to children and get their reactions. Ask children to write for you and read their writing. You may be surprised by what they say.
- Plot for your audience. Work out a structure for your story that suits the genre and age group you’re targeting. Know the ending. An outline could help you to ensure that your story will not peter out. It can also help you pitch your work to a publisher.
- Who will tell your story? Decide who is telling your story and be consistent in telling it from that character’s perspective. Read your book out loud. Does the viewpoint character sound consistent? Does he or she sound like a child or a young adult? Read the dialogue aloud. Do the characters sound like children?
- Decide on a viewpoint. Will you tell your story in first person or third person? What form will it take? Will it be a straightforward narrative, or do you want to write the book as a journal? Pick a format that matches your story, your genre, and the age group you’re targeting.
- Begin with something interesting. Start your story strongly so that you grab the reader’s attention from the beginning. Children will not wait for something to happen. Start with a dramatic moment, or a moment of change or discovery.
- Children aren’t made of glass. If you are thinking about writing for children, ask yourself: What made you laugh as a child? What made you cry? What made your heart beat faster? You may be older, and you may even be wiser, but you will probably still want to write about the things that had this effect on you. There would be no heroes without villains, and no happy endings without the trials that led up to them. [Read What My Six-Year-Old Taught Me About Storytelling]
- Write! Every writer has a unique voice. Your voice may or may not work for children’s books. It takes time, persistence, trial and error to discover if the genre is right for you.
‘When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.’ –C.S. Lewis
Look out for the full series:
- Writing For Children – 12 Practical Tips To Get You Started (today’s post)
- 10 Powerful Recurring Themes In Children’s Stories
- Everything You Need To Know About Creating Characters For Children’s Books
- Begin. Pause. Play. – How To Structure Your Children’s Story
If you want to learn how to write for children, join our kids etc. course in Johannesburg.
If you enjoyed this article, read:
- Character Interview – A Worksheet For Beginners
- 5 Simple Ways To Improve Your Business Writing
- 28 Dos And Don’ts: A Must-Have Checklist To Improve Your Writing
- Writing for Young Adults – A Cheat Sheet
- Writing Children’s Books – A Cheat Sheet