Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Kid You Not—The Truth about Writing for Children

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

When new writers enter the world of publishing, the genre they lean toward is children. I’ve often wondered why until I realized it’s a mindset – and a wrong mindset at that.

I began to ask new writers the question, “Why this genre? Why children’s?” Eighty percent of the time, I got a deer in the headlights look; the remaining twenty percent responded they thought writing for children was easy and short.

There is some element of truth to that – children’s stories are short. The reminding mindset is just wrong. Writing for children is not as easy as it sounds. As writers, we assume children are so low on the learning scale that we can write anything and it will qualify.

Writing for children requires skill. 

Though the word count is less, never underestimate the intelligence of a child. They are sharp and very quick to be insulted when writers “dumb down” stories or articles. It’s important to understand there is a huge difference in dumbing down and writing on an elementary or pre-school level.  When you write on these levels, choose age appropriate language and words. Sentences are written in a simple form using clear and concise nouns and verbs. Nothing will bore a child faster than writing, for lack of better words, that insults their intelligence. Children are no different from adults when it comes to losing interest when explanations seem forced, condescending, or overdone.

The skill in writing for children comes when you master the elements necessary to build a successful story:
  • Have solid theme and let it build throughout the story. Stay away from rabbit trails. Focus on the point of the story and drive it ahead.
  • Keep it upbeat. No “Debby Downer” stories for little ones. Even when writing about the loss of a grandparent or a pet, the story must maintain a positive slant that allows a child to learn the steps of grieving.
  • The plot must have conflict (Sounds like a novel, heh? Somethings are true regardless of the age).
  • The main character must have a problem that he/she must resolve. It should have hardship, failure, help, and success. (Remember keep it simple– picture books can only have one conflict.)
  • Keep the story in chronological order. Just as in adult stories, begin with action to draw your reader into the fiction bubble. Children love action and they will often role play a story they love. Give them action.
  • Limit scenes and make them concise.
  • Choose your point of view – Third person is recommended so younger readers are not confused.
  • Flesh out your characters. Make them identifiable and easy to relate to for the reader. Now is not the time for overly complex characters. Choose a character trait and let that shine through on your characters. Children relate to mannerisms, unique phrases, or physical traits.
  • Choose an interesting setting and time. Little girls are probably not going to love cattle roping just like little boys will steer clear of tea parties.
  • Write simple and direct sentences (keep sentences, words, and paragraphs short).
  • Show don’t tell. Please SHOW don’t TELL. Avoid lots of unnecessary narration.
  • Dialogue is great. Kids relate to dialogue. Let your characters converse. Good conversation teaches children how to communicate as they grow older.
  • Finally, a reminder to be age appropriate. Don’t try to be overly sentimental. Make your stories fun and avoid heavy subject matter.

The challenge in writing for children comes in teaching children the love of reading. As writers, we cannot teach them the lessons of life unless they love to read. Your assignment, should you chose to accept it:  Write so they will develop a love for reading.

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Cindy Sproles is an author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of
www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live aLife of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into theWoman You Can Be. Cindy's debut fiction novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you Cindy. What a wealth of great information.

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  2. Cindy, I didn't know you had such a store of wisdom for children's books as well as all the other great help you've been to others, including me, in other genres and devotions, etc. Good job! I plan to forward this to some children's book writers in our chapter.
    Hugs, Elva Cobb Martin, Pres., ACFW-SC

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  3. I am about to finish writing a middle grade novel, and will look for these things during my editing. I'll especially keep my eye out for rabbit trails, seeing as I frequently end up off topic. Thanks for the tips!

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