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What You NEED to Know to Write for Children
by Kathryn Lay

Children's books and stories have always been my passion. As a child and as an adult. They're generally well-done, exciting, fun, and learning experiences. Many writers consider entering the children's market. Not all are called, but if you are, it's a wonderful place to be.

Are you afraid you don't know how to get and keep a child's attention? Are you wondering if you'll have ideas for stories they'll want to read and read again?

As you contemplate writing for children, consider these 'need to know' facts.

1. Writing for children isn't as easy as it looks. It's not a 'beginning place' for a writer to work on their craft. In an 800 word story (give or take a few hundred words) or 16-200 page book, you've got to have realistic characters, an exciting storyline, a plot that works, believable dialogue, a child who grows without preaching, a child who solves their problem without an adult doing it for them, and so on. It isn't easy, but it's rewarding.

2. Never talk down to a child reader. Write at their level, but don't assum they can't understand above their level. Challenge them to learn more, to grow in their reading. Give them real problems that can captivate them.

3. Understand their needs. Like adults, children have their own needs. They need to be loved, to have friends, to feel secure, to learn and grow, to find entertainment.

4. Show them a good time and they'll come back for more.

5. If your characters grow as they experience their adventure, your readers may grow as well. They can see that bullies can be overcome in many ways, life isn't always fair but there are ways to survive and have hope. They can know that it's normal to be jealous, afraid, lonely, angry, embarrassed, and so on. They can see how a change of attitude can change a life. But does the writer preach this? A didactic story is a bore. Tell a kid not to steal in a self-righteous, finger-pointing way, and they may rebel. But let them see a young thief grow and change and they've learned a lesson in a non-threatening way.

6. Understand the market. The children's market is tight. Many publishers are being bought and sold, eatten by one another. The competition is fierce. Read the books being read by kids, both the good and the bad. Find out WHY they love a character so much (such as the Junie B. Jones kindergarten character that my 4th grader still adores). Join the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org).

7. Just because it's nonfiction, it should never be boring. Remember how you despised those dry history and science books? Kids are moving faster than ever today. Nonfiction should be interesting, creative, and well-written.

8. Unless your cousin is Steven Kellogg, let the editor choose an illustrator for your picture book. Teaming up with an illustrator presents problems best avoided. The editor may like your story but hate the art. If they think it's a packaged deal, you may have missed an opportunity.

9. Eavesdropping is good. If you aren't around children a lot, spend some time with a notepad at a playground, popular kid's restaurant, or school cafeteria. Watch how kids act and react with one another. Imagine something they may be afraid of and how they could overcome it. Study body language and listen to conversation.

10. Read lots of magazine stories and nonfiction for kids. Get a feel for lengths, for the beat of a story, or the setup of an article. Know your reader and they will want to know your writing.

Do you still want to write for children? If so, you're heading into an amazing adventure. Have fun. After all, you're only a kid in a grown-up costume.

© Copyright 2001, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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