When I first decided to write a book, I didnâ€™t have a lot of time to invest, so I looked for the quick and easy route to writing success. Of course, that meant I would write for kids.
After all, kids donâ€™t know the rules of writing. They donâ€™t care about character development. They donâ€™t need a lot of words. And they certainly donâ€™t expect big words, lots of description, or a complex plot. I was on a fast track to success!
Seven years and 50-something rejections later I still didnâ€™t have a published book.
The truth is, writing for children is NOT easier than writing for adults. Here are seven things you need to know if you want to write kidsâ€™ books that will get publishedâ€¦and get read.
1.Â Good writing is good writing, regardless of the target age group. A poorly-written manuscript will never get past the first reader. If you want to see your book in print, you need to learn the rules of writing.
2.Â Well-developed characters are necessary to obtain and maintain the short attention span of kids. Children are discriminating readers who expect interesting, compelling charactersâ€¦and you have to present them quickly. A page or two is a lot of material for kids to read, so youâ€™ll need interesting characters they can care about and form a relationship with, from the beginning.
3.Â Itâ€™s harder to write with a few words than it is to write with a lot. Youâ€™ve most likely heard the saying, â€śWrite tight.â€ť Thatâ€™s never truer than with writing for kids. Picture books are usually only 500-1000. Have you ever tried to tell a well-developed story with good characters in 500 words? Now that takes skill! And even though word counts go up as the readers age, kidsâ€™ novels are generally less than half the length of adultsâ€™.
4. Â Children can spot a fake voice as soon as you open your charactersâ€™ mouths. The vernacular of todayâ€™s children changes quickly. Words that were cool last year are now soâ€¦wellâ€¦last year! Letâ€™s face it, about the time we adults adopt a term, itâ€™s old stuff. So I have a group of kids who help me translate my language into theirs before I send it off to the publisher. I recommend you grab a group, too.
5.Â Just like adults, young readers want a sense of place, setting, and mood. That doesnâ€™t mean you have the time and space to write pages of eloquent description, but choose your words wisely and your readers will enthusiastically join you on your fictional journey.
6.Â Donâ€™t talk down to your readers. I read a lot of childrenâ€™s material, and I see a repeated pattern in many first-time writersâ€”talking down to the kids. As I said earlier, kids are smart and discerning readers. They donâ€™t need us to explain what just happened in a scene. Give them enough information through the action, the nuance of the voice, and the physical expression, and theyâ€™ll get it. In other words, donâ€™t say what you just said.
7.Â Include a simple plot for picture books and well-developed plots and subplots for chapter books and novels. This is where show-donâ€™t-tell comes into play. Youâ€™ll never gain committed followers if your book is simply a list of â€śThis happened, then this happened, then this happened.â€ť Even young kids want to know the reason, the motivation, the reward. They want to cheer for the good guy and watch the bad guy get his due. And yes, they want things to end up fair at the end of the book. Include more than the surface storyâ€”especially for older kidsâ€”and theyâ€™ll love you for it.
So there you have it, seven truths you need to know in order to write publishable childrenâ€™s material. Anything less, and you wonâ€™t get the attention of editorsâ€¦or kids.
And if youâ€™d like help learning how to write for kids, donâ€™t miss the BOGO sale in my store, including these Downloadable Writing Workshops: Write a Novel Children Will Love, Teaching Children Biblical Truth Through Secular Fiction, How to Have Magazine Editors Calling YOU! and Opportunities for Christian Writers. But youâ€™ll have to hurryâ€”the sale ends December 31, 2011. (While you’re there, I hope you’ll also check out my books for boys and girls, The Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries. They’re BOGO, too!)
I pray Godâ€™s blessing as we celebrate the Gift and the Giver!
(Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles)