In my last post, I talked about five things that are definite to-dos when writing for children. As promised, this time we’ll learn five things that you should never do.
1. Don’t spell out the lesson to be learned. A good children’s story should include some sort of moral or lesson. The trick is not to spell it out but let your reader figure it out for himself. The point you want to get across needs to be woven through the fabric of your story, so your reader can experience it throughout. Don’t just tack a one-liner onto the end, telling the children what they were supposed to have learned.
2. Don’t be preachy. Along those same lines, don’t preach to your child reader or dictate your message to him. Often, writers like to use their story’s authority figures to “lay down the rules” and tell the children in the story what’s expected of them. Instead, allow your message to come through during the normal course of your story’s events, and force your reader to “read between the lines” to discover that message for themselves. They’ll be much more receptive to whatever point you’re trying to make if they stumble upon it instead of being told about it.
3. Don’t underestimate your child reader. Kids are smart! Don’t worry about using terminology that may be a bit challenging or concepts that might be outside their area of current discovery. Just be careful not to go overboard with it. There’s a fine balance between challenge and frustration. Allow children to connect their own dots as they read, and don’t feel you have to hand over all the information to them. Let them dig a little and use their brains!
4. Don’t write the same for girls and boys. Generally speaking, your girl reader will gravitate toward different material than your boy reader. Girls are typically more interested in relationships, dialogue, and emotions, where boys need to have action, intrigue, and facts. This is not to say that you can’t write about similar topics for girls and boys, but you should approach your story quite differently depending on your target audience.
So, if you’re writing about an alien invasion for boys, sprinkle in lots of scientific facts about the aliens and their planet, include plenty of chase scenes, and keep dialogue to a minimum (maybe just grunting sounds). If you’re doing the same story for girls, have the aliens befriend some humans so you can have dialogue and emotion. If you need to capture the attention of both genders, be sure to include enough elements from each side of the spectrum to keep everyone happy!
5. Don’t give pat answers. A good children’s story, whether for a preschooler or a teen, will include a strong conflict and resolution. Be sure your resolution isn’t cliche or something trite just to get you out of the story. Even a three-year-old will see through that. The problems kids face today are complex, seldom with easy answers. Help them think through solutions, and to even be okay with problems that may not have a definite answer. You’ll be doing them a great service in the long run if you do.
If you have a desire to write for children but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend the correspondence course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. It is very thorough with individualized instruction provided by exceptional children’s authors and editors.