When writing for children, you have to strike a balance between being entertaining but not confusing; engaging but never patronising, and never making things unnecessarily complex.
How to write for children
First, and most importantly:
1. Read, Read, READ!
This is true for all writing, but it’s truer for YA and children’s fiction.
These are the age groups that are most flexible and ever-changing. It’s good to read what others are writing for your chosen age group(s). It helps to see how other authors tackle tone and complexity.
Adults tend to write in the style of books they grew up reading, which can be much-loved brilliant classics, but this doesn’t mean children of today will find them engaging. If the dialogue is dated, children will notice and feel alienated.
Write for the generation of today, not what you would’ve wanted to read when you were a child.Write for the generation of today, not what you would’ve wanted to read when you were a child. Click To Tweet
Children today DO have phones, tablets, access to the internet and to a whole array of technology. Keep this in mind when writing for them. So read, read, READ as many books as you can. Listen to children talk and interact (preferably children that are related to you– I don’t recommend hanging out at parks).
2. Be VERY aware of what age you’re aiming for
This will affect how you approach your writing.
Children’s fiction is comprised of various age groups, leading up to YA. After YA you have Adult Fiction, with the upcoming New Adult Fiction bridging the gap between them.
There’s a reason the children’s fiction shelves are split up according to age group. What interests an eight-year-old won’t hold an eleven-year-old’s attention.
Younger children tend to prefer happy ‘safer’ endings, where order is re-established, whilst older kids like a bit more danger in the narrative—that’s not to say they don’t like their happy ‘safe’ endings too, just that the road to them can be slightly rockier. Explore the shelves at your local bookstore or library, have a look at the blurbs, and take note of what each age range prefers.Younger children tend to prefer happy ‘safer’ endings, where order is re-established... Click To Tweet
3. Know that kids are honest readers
And by this I mean brutally honest.
If your book bores them, they will likely be vocal about it—they might complain to their parents who bought it for them, or the teacher who assigned it as reading material. This will make them less likely to buy or recommend your books in the future.
Children will put the book down and never come back to it. They don’t have the attention span or patience adults have where they think, ‘Oh, maybe the narrative will pick up in a few pages.’ No. This does not work at early ages (and to be honest, you shouldn’t be doing this in other fiction either).
Keep things immediate—every chapter needs to move the story along—and yes, this does go for ALL writing but is way more unforgivable in children’s fiction.
4. Trust children as readers
Don’t talk (or write) down to them—they can tell when you are.
Children are far more perceptive than some adults give them credit for.
Don’t dumb plots down for the sake of fitting into an age range. Instead, spend some time adding a few explanations and allow them to piece it together for themselves without getting too complex.Don’t dumb plots down for the sake of fitting into an age range. Click To Tweet
Stories for children must be clear and easy to follow. Kids won’t spend the time puzzling out an overly-complicated plot.
This doesn’t mean to say that you must spell everything out for them, just keep it simple—no unnecessarily complex sentences or ideas that go around in circles. I’ll reiterate my earlier point: it’s all about striking a balance.
5. Remember adult and children’s senses of humour are very different things
Children and adults don’t find the same things funny. This seems quite an obvious statement, but when writing for children and you’re ‘in the zone’ things can slip onto the paper that you yourself as an adult will find amusing, but will not go down as well with children.
If you’ve ever watched a children’s film with kids, you’ll notice you will laugh or chuckle at different parts. Make note of what makes them laugh and use that knowledge within your writing.
6. Keep it visual
Don’t overcomplicate set-ups. If things are hard to picture, you could lose a child’s interest. This includes the physicality of scenes such as who’s standing where during a playground face-off. These can be important things children will pick up on.
Characters in children’s books must immediately jump off the page and grab your attention. There’s no time to delve into long backstories. That’s not to say you can’t add some background in, just that a lot rides on first impressions of characters. A boring main character that you can’t get a grasp on and find it hard to identify with can damage your story in any kind of writing.A boring main character that readers find it hard to identify with can damage your story. Click To Tweet
And finally, just in case I haven’t said it enough:
Read, Read, READ!
Over to You
What tips do you have for writing for children? What’s your favourite/least favourite thing about writing for them? Let us know in the comments below!
Last updated: 29/01/17