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Myths and Truths of Writing for Children
by Kathryn Lay
I write for children because I admire and love
childrens books. I can be honest and interesting and fun. Its hard work,
creating stories and books that children will enjoy and read over again, but
its never boring or less challenging than writing for adults. There is great
joy and satisfaction in writing a story or book that children will
There are a lot of myths about writing for
children, the worst being "save your best writing for adults."
If we dont write those amazing stories and
books for children, how will they even become great adult readers?
Do you long to write for children? Here are a
few myths and truths to consider:
I need to find an illustrator before I can send
in my story or picture book.
My friend/spouse/sister/me can draw the
pictures. A publisher needs to know exactly how the pictures should look and if
I prefer rabbits over kids.
Truth Unless you or your friend is a
professional artist, you will most likely be rejected as a package deal. When
your story sells, the publisher will choose the illustrator. They often pair a
new writer with an established illustrator to help sales.
You have to write what you know. If you arent
an expert, you cant teach a child something new or make your fiction realistic.
Truth -- Yes and no. Its great to write about
what you know; your own childhood fears and interests and experiences. But also
write about what you can learn through research, interviews, and a new life
experience. Dont be afraid to step into the unknown, just make sure your newly
learned knowledge is accurate and real.
Begin by writing a rhyming ABC picture book
about talking animals because they are short and easy to do.
Truth - Author Mem Fox said, "Writing a picture
book is like writing War & Peace in Haiku." Most picture books that
come across an editors desk are in rhyme. Many are ABC books. And a huge amount
are about talking animals. All these things can work, but not all the time and
not by everyone. Dont write what everyone else is writing, find your own story
My kids, grandkids, students, neighborhood kids
love this story, so an editor will too.
Truth - Never tell an editor or agent this in
your cover or query letter. It doesnt hurt to get a childs opinion or see
their reaction, but children love to be read aloud to and may not give you the
best feedback. Editors have many reasons for accepting or rejecting a story
timing, trends, or their current needs.
Since its kids stuff, if I print my submission
on cute paper and put in stickers and confetti, editors will notice it.
Truth Yes, theyll notice it and more than
likely toss it from the pile. Whether writing for adults or children, be
professional in your marketing. Always.
It doesnt matter if my grammars off a bit or
there are a few typos or the writing isnt perfect. If an editor loves the idea,
theyll work with me.
Truth - There was a time when this might be a
partial reality, but no longer. Editors are swamped and they want a story that
is in as good a shape as possible. Your first impression is your biggest
impression. Your story must leap off the page, both in the storytelling and
structure and in the way it is written.
Real writers write books and writing for
magazines is just a stepping-stone to getting a book published.
Truth - If you enjoy writing short stories and
magazine articles and puzzles and rebus and crafts for kids, it doesnt make
you any less a writer by not writing books. Your book might sell 5,000 copies
and be read by 10,000 kids. But one story in Highlights or Boys
Life will reach a million kids or more. Writing short will hone your
skills. Magazine competition is big as well and to sell to a magazine is a great
Kids need to be told and retold the moral of
Truth -- Nope. Not every story has a "moral,"
but every story will teach something, however small or large. But dont beat
kids over the head. Dont preach at them. Give them a great story with great
characters and a well-told plot.
A parent can come in and save the day for your
Truth -- NO! Your character must solve his own
problem. Mom and dad can be in the story if need be, but the less meddling that
adults do (unless they are the antagonist) the better. Dont cheat your reader
by letting an adult rescue the main character.
Im too old to remember being a kid. I dont
know how to write for modern kids.
Truth -- We all have a child in us who is dying
to tell a story. We can tell the story of both the child we once was as well as
the child we could have been. The one who finally stands up to the bully we
never could. The child who overcomes a fear of heights or dark places. As
childrens writers, we can slay that monster under the bed, or make friends with
The truth is, there are lots of myths about
writing for children. But the real truth is the thrill you receive from the
smile on a childs face who reads or hears your story.
© Copyright 2004, 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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