Writing for children is certainly multi-faceted. There’s probably almost as much to remember not to do as there is to do! Today we’ll look at some of the top things you need to remember whenever you write for children. On my next post, I’ll tackle 5 things you should never do when writing for children.
First, the must-dos:
1. Clearly identify the market and age you are writing for. There are board books, picture books, activities books, chapter books, young adult novels, graphic novels, and more. It’s critical to keep a clear focus of what exactly you are writing, and therefore, the age you are targeting. Learn the typical word count or page count for what you want to write once you select your market.
2. Read everything you can for the age and market you have selected. Find out what current children’s authors are writing. Learn the style, tone, wording, and topics of what publishers are looking for. Additionally, ask children what they are reading. What works for them and what doesn’t. I guarantee they will not be shy in telling you! Reading what you want to write will help you enormously in the long run.
3. Carefully choose the ages of your characters. It’s best to have your main characters a couple years older than the age of your reader. Children like to read about other kids a little older than they are. Of course, your main characters can have younger siblings, and it’s OK if your main characters are sometimes the same age of your readers. But, never make your main characters younger than your readers. They will lose interest in a hurry!
4. Let your child characters solve their own problems. It’s tempting to have adult characters come to the rescue when your children get into a dilemma in your story, but resist that urge. Kids want to feel empowered when they read your book–whether it’s a picture book or a graphic novel. They don’t want to feel like an adult always needs to save them. Allow your child characters to be the heroes.
5. Field test your work on appropriately-aged children. Aside from having your writers’ critique group review your work (and you always should; see my blog post on critique groups to learn why), it’s equally as important to have children the same age as your target market read your work. They will find things in your story, characters, and dialogue that you would probably never see. Even if you’re writing a board book or picture book, sit down with a few children at different times and read your story to them. Note their reactions to different parts (Did they laugh when they were supposed to? Did they laugh when they weren’t supposed to? Did a certain part maybe scare them too much?), then ask what they liked and didn’t like. This is the best way to see if you are on track with your writing.
By the way, if picture books is an area of writing for children that you are either currently pursuing or would like to learn more about, I would highly recommend checking out Nancy I. Sanders website. She is an award-winning children’s author who has many picture books under her belt. She’s great at walking authors through the publishing process.
Remember, next post we’ll discuss what you definitely do NOT want to do when writing for children. Some things may surprise you!