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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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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