Monday, December 8, 2008

Writing and Illustrating - Not for the Faint-of-Heart

My objective for choosing to write for children is to instill a love for reading and writing and to make a difference in children’s lives. During my search for quality content I came across this article by Alan Jordan.

Below is a summary of four major lessons Alan Jordan has learned.
(photo courtesy of Flickr)

Lessons Learned Number 1 to 4 - Writing and Publishing an Interactive Book & CD For Children

Be warned: Writing, illustrating and recording a children's picture book and audio-book CD is not for the faint-of-heart. One 850-word book took me over three years to go from concept-to-completion. To put that into perspective, I have written six 50,000+ word books that were targeted to business people. These took an average of six months. Here, in a summary fashion, are four of major lessons that I have learned. Future articles will provide additional insights. To illustrate these lessons, let's focus on a suggested sentence for a non-existent book: "Billy struggled to climb on top of the red fire truck."

1. Use as few words as possible - Would "Billy climbed up the fire truck," be better? It might or might not. It's definitely shorter, and gives the artist more freedom. On the other hand you might be eliminating some crucial concepts. Read on.

2. Understand that every word you write has the potential to restrict the artist. As an example, "climbed," means that the artist must show Billy going upward, ascending, using his hands and feet. This might make sense if it is important for Billy to climb up the truck, but what if the artist could add humor by having Billy swing on a vine to reach the top of the fire truck. Either way, Billy could struggle to reach the top of the fire truck, but, is struggling important? If it's not, imagine the fun that Billy could have jumping onto the top of the dire truck from a tree.

You may not see Billy jumping onto the fire truck in your mind's eye, but an artist might--if you don't restrict him or her with your words. Perhaps it will help to compare writing a children's book to writing a play. In the children's book, your words give you veto power over the artist. In a play the stage directions you provide give you veto power over the Stage Director and actors. I once wrote a play where the main characters were a man with two alter egos. Imagine my surprise when an avant-garde production of the play cast the alter egos of the man as female. It worked, and it was a valid interpretation because I did not specify that the alter egos had to be male.

3. Consider children equals when you're writing. Talking down to children, explaining what's happening to them is silly. They know what's happening. Also, don't be afraid to use a few challenging words. Children will figure them out, or look them up. Want proof? Read the Harry Potter books. Children understand them.

4. Read the story to several children as you write it. Be open to unexpressed criticism. Do not expect praise. You won't get it. Watch, instead, for involvement with the characters. Listen for excitement as they talk about your plots. If you don't find these things, you've failed. Go back to the drawing board.

Writing for children doesn't pay much, unless you happen to have a blockbuster best seller, but it’s fun. Mix a children's book in with your other writing. If you do your job right, you're liable to make a difference in the lives of many children. That's a big deal because today's children are the people who will influence tomorrow's world.

Alan Jordan's latest children's books are featured on a web site designed to foster creativity in children and adults. Visit the site and become a member (free) then you can download the latest version of The Monster on Top of the Bed as a streaming video. A free download for an iPod is also available.

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