As a children's book author in the past decade, there were a lot of knowledge acquired throughout my career that I'd like to share with you. Here are some secrets I think you should know if you ever want to write for children.
Children’s literature has addressed the simplest and at the same time the deepest issues of human existence. When you write a children’s story you should know that kids are an open audience eager to discover new worlds; they are free from prejudices and preconceptions of reality or fantasy. Therefore, you have the freedom to imagine extraordinary places, and create unforgettable adventures. Always keep in mind that writing and reading are like games, and children love to play.
Know the purpose of your story
The pleasure of adventure is perhaps the goal that many writers set when starting to write for children. Imagine what it feels like to be a child lost in the forest, a pirate in the middle of a storm in the sea, or warriors who must face monsters. There are no recipes and the best thing you can do is play with the characters until you discover their motivations and fears. When you write, ask yourself why you want to tell that story to a child. Your story can educate, entertain, cause joy or fear, or whatever goal you set out to accomplish as long as you are able to catch children’s attention.
Never underestimate children’s abilities
Depending on the topic you choose, the writing of your story should be one way or another. Children’s books cannot evade current affairs considered part of the adult world. In this way, it is convenient not to underestimate the power of questioning of children, as many of them are increasingly able to speak about bullying, sexuality or violence. The essential thing is that you find literary strategies to tell your stories, as well as an appropriate language and tone to present them in an attractive way. Do not forget to mention curiosities in your stories, since children are passionate about learning new things, and knowing stuff like how tall a giraffe can be or knowing why the sky is blue, make them feel that they are owners of the best kept secret in the world.
Tell stories that can be watched like a movie
Given the primacy of the visual in children’s minds, it’s important to fill your story with gestures, pauses, frowns, and smiles. As a writer, you will not always be able to tell and perform your stories in front of an audience; so, when children read your book, it is necessary that in the prose there is music, drawing, movement and a lot of action. To achieve this, it is necessary that you exercise not only your writing, but the way you read. By reading aloud, you will be able to realize how with the tone of voice, the pauses and the exclamations the story will come to life and will have movement. In this way, a cold and impersonal text can become a real adventure if you choose the right words; by having texts full of life, children’s imaginations will do the rest of the work and produce unique images for each child, as if they had a cinema projector in their minds.
Beware of tales with morals
The morals are a good thing; in fact, most children’s stories are meant to teach something. Lies and evil are always punished and truth and virtue are rewarded, for example. However, this can be counterproductive if children discover that the story hides a behavior lesson and feel it as a trap set by adults, thus losing the magic and the natural charm of good stories. When bringing the story to life, the best thing you can do is make the narrative flow naturally and avoid presenting your material as learning content. Today’s child readers look to literature for a playmate rather than someone who is teaching them all the time.
Captivate children’s attention from start to finish
For children, the main thing is that the subject of the story interests them and causes them intrigue from the first moment; they don’t usually give a book a second chance. In this sense, the dialogues are a very important part because they help to exemplify the conflicts between the characters and to move the story forward; however, they are often difficult to write as they must be short and concise. You should avoid making the dialogues very long, because you can bore the children and make them lose the narrative thread or get confused. During the development of the text, don’t forget to present actions with a certain frequency. Psychologically, actions are linked to feelings and these help to keep children’s interest awake. The great stories for children form a curious mixture of melancholy, humor, tragedy, poetry, fantasy and reality, all combined with precious images, unique characters and narrative richness.
Become a child again
As a writer, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your readers and establish empathy with children. We know that it is not easy to think like a child, but it is possible to approach them, study what their interests are and spend time learning about what they consume and what they like. At the end of the day it is about giving life to what you are narrating. Writing for kids is about astonishing, exciting and delighting a mind that is being formed and that is learning from what it reads or listens, and filling it with light, color and movement; and what better way than to write for children than to think about what you would have liked to read when you were also one of them.
Please email me if you'd like to see more instruction messages like this one. I'm working on a storytelling eBook that I'll be launching soon. Send me any questions you'd like to know more about around writing stories in general or specifically for children. See you at the next post.