riting Tips Some tips on writing for children
is for ADJECTIVES & ADVERBS:
Don't use too many of them. If you find yourself using a string of adjectives to describe a noun, try for one, stronger adjective. You only need adverbs to modify verbs of speech if what is said is against the sense.
is for BEGINNINGS:
Try to grab your reader by the lapels and make him listen. A dull opening can kill a story: the reader will put the book back on the shelf and will never know how good the rest of it is.
is for CONVERSATION:
Use lots! A children's story should be almost 50% dialogue. Remember Alice in Wonderland: "What is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations?"
is for CONFLICT:
Constant conflict is what propels the story forward and keeps the readers reading. It doesn't have to be a full-blown quarrel, anything that disturbs the smooth running of life counts as conflict.
is for CHARACTERS:
The better you know your characters before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the more likely they are to seem real to the reader. Make a dossier of their likes and dislikes, their friends and relations as well as their physical characteristics.
is for DESCRIPTIONS:
Keep them short and colourful. Too much description makes the young reader skip. Set the scene then bring in descriptions in small helpings. Ask yourself what can my characters SEE, HEAR, SMELL TASTE, TOUCH?
is for DETAILS:
Children like things to be specific. Don't say, 'They went to a funfair and had a good time.' Say, "At the funfair they shied at coconuts, rode on the Big Dipper and bought candy floss."
is for EVERY-DAY LIFE:
Editors want stories about children leading ordinary lives at home and at school but with an added ingredient to make it interesting/exciting.
is for EMOTION:
Stories without emotion are dull and lifeless. Love, hate, jealousy and fear should be fully expressed in children's stories.
is for FAIRY TALES & FANTASY:
These are essential to educate a child's imagination. Fantasy for the Young Adult market is currently very popular.
is for GHOSTS:
Very popular with children, both the sort that 'makes yer flesh creep' and funny ghosts. R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series is one of the most successful writers of the last decade.
is for HAPPINESS & HOPE:
Either happiness or hope should be at the resolution of your story. If a happy ending is artistically wrong, at least make the ending upbeat.
is for IMAGINATION & INVENTION:
Use your imagination by taking a simple concept and asking "what if ..." Invention is needed for the details once imagination has supplied the broad outline.
is for JOKES:
These are much loved by children. Too many of their books are solemn. If you can tickle their funny bones, your work will be loved and read and reread.
is for KITTENS:
Don't write a kitten or puppy's autobiography. Do bring pets into your story as an adjunct to a human character. A child can confide in an animal, share feelings with it or the pet can be used to create humorous situations.
is for LANGUAGE (BAD):
Editors don't want swearing in children's books although we know children do use bad language. Find a substitute or get round it by simply saying - 'he swore comprehensively!' If in doubt, cut it out.
is for MAGIC:
Children love stories with magic in them, but it must have its own logic, it must be so well prepared for that it is easily acceptable to the reader.
is for NAMES:
Go to some trouble when preparing your cast list, make sure the name you choose suits your character, is right for the time of the story (there is fashion in names) and don't have two main characters with names that are similar or start with the same letter. For instance, Lottie and Letty could muddle the reader.
is for NOTEBOOKS:
You should never be without a notebook in your pocket or handbag in which to note down:
- story ideas as they occur
- colourful metaphors and similes
- interesting nuggets of information
- titles of books for your library list.
It is a good idea to keep a notebook at your bedside - ideas often strike just as you are waking or going to sleep.
is for OUTSIDERS:
Characters who are in conflict with authority make good heroes for children's books - rebels, outlaws, younger sons or daughters, small people, inferior people, people with disabilities. Children can identify with all of these.
is for PRESENTATION:
Never send out a manuscript that isn't fresh and clean. Make sure it is typed on A4 paper in double spacing with wide margins and indented paragraphs. Always have a cover sheet with an approximate word count at the top, the title and author in the centre of the page and the author's name, address and telephone number near the bottom. Number pages consecutively throughout. A header with the title in caps and your name in upper and lower looks professional and helps editors.
is for PERSEVERANCE:
Getting published isn't easy. You must keep on sending out your work in spite of rejection, and you must keep on improving your writing.
is for QUALITY:
Never think, 'Oh, it's only a children's story, that will do.' Nothing but the best that you can do is good enough for children.
is for READING & RESEARCH:
For a children's writer, the reading of children's books should never stop. Reading is research. You need to see what sort of books are currently being published, what lengths publishers prefer for series. You should read other writers analytically to see how they achieve effects you admire, and read things you don't admire as a dire warning of what not to do.
is for REVISION:
When a story or book is finished it still needs work.
- Read it out loud to hear infelicities and repetitions
- Cut out all unnecessary words that are not earning their keep
- Make sure your characters are consistent and alive
- Check for clarity: remember, write to EXPRESS not to IMPRESS.
- Is this the kind of the story the publisher you have chosen usually takes?
- Is the language you have used modern enough for today's children?
- Is your idea original enough? Is the story too predictable?
is for SLANG:
Children's slang is constantly changing and nothing dates a book as much as out-dated slang. For this reason don't use too much of it but where you must, make sure it is up to date. The same rule as that for bad language applies: when in doubt, cut it out.
is for TITLES:
A good title helps to sell a story, first to the editor next to the reader. Try for a title that sums up the story without giving the plot away and that is easy to say and to remember.
is for THINKING TIME:
This is as important as writing time. While performing mechanical tasks such as ironing, washing-up, weeding or cleaning the car, think about your story. Plan what you will write next time you get to your desk so that writing time is not wasted.
is for UNICORNS:
It is useful for a children's writer to have a good knowledge of myths and legends and imaginary beasts to feed his imagination.
is for VOCABULARY:
Because you are writing for children who know fewer words than you do, it does not mean that you cannot occasionally use a long word if it is the only suitable word. BUT, try to use short words wherever possible - e.g. don't say 'proceed' if 'go' would do as well.
is for VERY:
Declare war on 'very': rather than say "he was *very* tired" find a stronger word - he was exhausted."
is for WITCHES & WIZARDS:
Much beloved of children. For young children, witches and wizards who get their spells wrong and cause comic confusion are a delight. For older children they can be used to create strong situations in stories about good versus evil.
is for XEROX:
Never send out a story or book of which you don't have a copy. Manuscripts can get lost in the post or mislaid in someone's office. Don't think because it is on disc that is enough: have a hard copy too. Discs can corrupt.
is for YOUNG ADULTS:
This is the publishers' category of books for teenagers. These can be on almost any subject, even ones that a few years ago would have been taboo, as long as the material is tastefully handled. Check publishers' requirements as to length, it varies more in this category than almost any other.
is for ZEST & ZIP:
This is what you must put into your stories to make them memorable and bring them alive. If you have no zest and zip in your writing, no amount of zeal will make it saleable.