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Writing From The Heart… Your Kids Heart
by Kathryn Lay

Whether you want to write FOR kids or about them, sometimes the most difficult part of it all is getting into their head and getting it down realistically on paper. Dialogue, scene, situation, plot, interest… kids can give up on a short story or book before you can say ‘zit.’ And all these elements that make a good adult story good are the same ones kids need, except with a much smaller word count.

Do you want to write for the juvenile market? Do you wonder what is popular, ‘with it,’ or cool?

You don’t have to go far to find out. Your kids have all the answers. My daughter often tells me that she should be getting my writing checks, since she inspires me so much of the time.

It isn’t difficult to begin learning about kids for your stories.

Begin a notebook of questions and find the answers.

1. What do your kids say? How do they say it? Capture their dialogue, their body language, and their banter back and forth. Watch out for slang though, it is easily outdated. Listen for unusual slang that isn’t ‘in’, but perhaps your child’s own idea. It may be a good character tag.

2. What do they do? What are your children’s interests and hobbies? Make a list of theirs and their friends. Ask them if they have any friends who do anything unusual. Do they know a kid in school who is the youngest magician champion? Or someone who volunteers at the zoo and cares for baby birds? Plots and subplots can come from hobbies and activities.

3. Where do they go? Do they enjoy the park, the pool, the corner pizza place? Are they in the Scouts and go on exciting backpacking trips? What are some of the vacations you’ve had as a family? Ask your kids to tell you places that are memorable, odd, exciting, or creepy. Write down what their feelings are about the places, what are the senses they remember, and do they think other kids would enjoy it.

4. What do they like or hate? What are they afraid of? What makes them squeamish? Kid’s fears can be put into a story and given a solution that helps the reader who has the same fear. You can take a fear and solve it in a new and creative way, such as my story coming out in Spider about a boy afraid of the dark and finds a creative way to survive a hike through a cave.

5. What hurts their feelings? Being called names or teased about something? Being ignored by friends? Left out of activities or chosen last for a sports team? You’re not trying to ‘use’ your children’s pain. But as you are reminded what children’s problems, you can write stories that will help those going through them to see they aren’t alone, and hopefully for the ones causing the problems to see the other side.

6. What do they watch on television? Do they prefer cartoons or more realistic shows? Do they like humor, fantasy, action, or animal shows. Take a poll of them and their friends to get an idea of what’s popular. For novels, changes can outdate your book. But a short story that will be published in a few months can include a kid watching a popular show.

7. What about music?

8. What makes girls squeal and boys laugh? A toad hidden in someone’s burger? What about the things that make girls excited and boys groan? Makeup, cute boy bands, etc.

9. What do they call their pets? Make a list of fun pet names. Ask them what their friends have named their pets. Ask them what the most unusual pet someone they know has? What do they wish they could own? Let it be fantastical. It could make for a great story.

10. How do they treat and react to their siblings? You may be used to the friendships and fights, but really pay attention and watch how they interact. What irritates them about their siblings? What have they done that is extremely kind and loving? Not only might you have ideas for kids stories, but think of the essay possibilities for Chicken Soup and other such books.

Once you’ve really gotten into your own children’s world, find ways to watch children in groups. Spend an afternoon visiting your child’s classroom or doing story time at a library or bookstore. Go where kids hang out and study them. Branch out. Watch the paper for kids doing amazing things.

Then, you can find the child you once were. Look through old diaries or journals if you have them. Some problems are universal and timeless. Remember your own joys and fears, friendships found and lost, hopes and silly times.

Before long, you’ll have more ideas than you can write. And, your writing will be realistic and believable to your audience.

© Copyright 2005, 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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