How to Write for Kids: It’s NOT Easier Than Writing for Adults!

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles

When I first decided to write a book, I didn’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 don’t know the rules of writing. They don’t care about character development. They don’t need a lot of words. And they certainly don’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 didn’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 kids’ books that will get published…and get read.

1.  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.  Well-developed characters are necessary to obtain and maintain the short attention span of kids. Children are discriminating readers who expect interesting, compelling characters…and you have to present them quickly. A page or two is a lot of material for kids to read, so you’ll need interesting characters they can care about and form a relationship with, from the beginning.

3.  It’s harder to write with a few words than it is to write with a lot. You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Write tight.” That’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, kids’ novels are generally less than half the length of adults’.

4.  Children can spot a fake voice as soon as you open your characters’ mouths. The vernacular of today’s children changes quickly. Words that were cool last year are now so…well…last year! Let’s face it, about the time we adults adopt a term, it’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.  Just like adults, young readers want a sense of place, setting, and mood. That doesn’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.  Don’t talk down to your readers. I read a lot of children’s material, and I see a repeated pattern in many first-time writers—talking down to the kids. As I said earlier, kids are smart and discerning readers. They don’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 they’ll get it. In other words, don’t say what you just said.

7.  Include a simple plot for picture books and well-developed plots and subplots for chapter books and novels. This is where show-don’t-tell comes into play. You’ll never gain committed followers if your book is simply a list of “This happened, then this happened, then this happened.” 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 story—especially for older kids—and they’ll love you for it.

So there you have it, seven truths you need to know in order to write publishable children’s material. Anything less, and you won’t get the attention of editors…or kids.

And if you’d like help learning how to write for kids, don’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 you’ll have to hurry—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 God’s blessing as we celebrate the Gift and the Giver!

Vonda

(Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles)

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  • Thanks for stopping by, Marti, Eddie, and Tim.

    Marti, I’ve heard that same mindset, and it’s a mindset that will assure those manuscripts will not be published. Kids hate fake!

    Eddie, your kids will love for you to write for them! Glad the post can help.

    Tim, I’ve heard that same statement–and it’s so true. That’s why I hate writing synopses!

    Merry Christmas, y’all!

  • I agree with everything you said, Vonda. And it applies to writing for teens/YA as well. I still tell the story of someone who heard I was writing for SUSIE Magazine (Christian teen girls) and asked if I couldn’t just “throw in a lot of BFFs and LOLs.”

    Young people can spot a fake faster than anyone. That’s why authenticity matters in writing and in life. Thanks for your helpful insights!

  • Very helpful information. I’ve been thinking about doing some children writing for my own kids. Thanks for this post.

  • Tim Knopp

    “Write tight” is right. I won’t pretend to know a thing about writing for kids, but it’s a reminder that good writing, regardless your audience, is purposeful. It reminds me of the quote “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” Often less is more. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I post a comment. 🙂 Thanks for the words of wisdom.