Friday, February 29, 2008

Ten Nitty-Gritty Facts for Children's Writers

1. Writing for children is not a starting place for a writer to work on their craft nor for the faint of heart. A lot of children’s stories consist of approximately 800 words or a 16-200 page book. Within this framework you've got to have realistic characters, an enthusiastic storyline, a believable plot and dialogue. Also, the child protagonist has to be the one who solves the problem---not the adult.

2. Never talk down to a child reader. Don't assume they can't understand above their level. Children need and want challenge to learn and grow in their reading. Give them real problems that can captivate them.

3. Understand a child’s needs. Children need to be loved, to have friends, to feel secure, to learn and grow, to find entertainment just as adults do.

4. Always show them a good time and you will have a reader for life.

5. The characters of your story will grow as they experience their adventure, and your readers may grow as well. Children can learn that life is not always fair but there are ways to survive and have hope. They can understand that it is normal to be jealous, afraid, angry or lonely. Through your words children can see how an attitude can change their life. However, don't fall into the trap of "preaching" to them. If you let them see a young thief grow and change they will have learned a lesson in a non-threatening way.

6. Understand the market. The children's market is tight and the competition is fierce. Read good and bad books that are being read by kids. Have a talk with your local librarian. She or he will be able to point you to the most popular books children are reading. Join the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators (

7. Nonfiction does not need to be boring. Remember how you despised those dry history and science books? A creative children’s writer can spice up the dullest history books with a little action thrown in and a well-written story line will enthrall the kids to the point they will not realize they are even learning.

8. Unless you or your cousin are a clone of Steven Kellogg, let the editor choose an illustrator for your picture book. Editors have the final say so on artwork and may not like it if you push a packaged deal.

9. What if you are not around children every day? No problem. Spend some time at a playground with a notepad then eavesdrop and observe. You can also go to a restaurant popular with kids. Volunteer some time in a classroom. Watch how the kids react with each other. Study body language and listen to conversation.

10. Read, read, and read lots of magazine stories and nonfiction for kids. You will get a feel for genres, story lengths and what is popular. Get to know your reader and they will want to know you.

This post was inspired by children's author Kathryn Lay.
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