Image found at http://45childrensfilm11.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/childrens-film-research-what-is.html
Something funny that I’ve noticed about writers, not all but some, is this weird and wonderful misconception that it is easy to write a book for children. Let me tell you this; writers of successful childrens books have some level of voodoo, magic, mad skills mixed with creativity that cannot be fathomed. Writing a book for children is difficult in so many ways, and this is because (I reckon) they often require you to do things that are not necessarily against the rules of novel writing, but which would be considered strange or unappealing in adult books.
Trust me when I say this, please, because even though I’ve tackled ghost-writing projects set in cultures, times, and events that I had no prior knowledge of, even though I once wrote over 100,000 words in five days… I would rather do all that all over again that dive head first into a childrens book.
Nonetheless, as someone who reads a lot of books to my niece and nephews I have picked up what makes a good, or at least decent, children’s book.
- Decide on your audience and do your research; this, at least, is exactly the same as for any novel. The worst thing you can do is be vague on the age group you’re writing for. The childrens books that make it to the shelf are the ones which offer the right kind of conflict and tension for the age group they are intended for. Pick a demographic and read books which fall into this group, and, if you can, ask children you know who fit into that age group what they find interesting and funny. Ask them what they worry about, and what they hope for.
- Don’t fall back on cliche’s; Neil Gaimans Coraline is one of the most successful childrens books of recent years, and yet many people thought it was too sinister or scary! Often the cliches of princesses, unicorns, and transforming machinery fall flat, not because the ideas lacks any appeal, but because they don’t feel sincere. Look at the research you’ve done, and go with the ideas that this inspires. Even if it seems out there it could really strike a note with the children who read it.
- Don’t talk/write down to them; kids are smart, much smarter than we often give them credit for. While you have to keep your language and story-lines appropriate and simplistic enough for a child you shouldn’t dumb things down, necessarily. The best stories for children encourage curiosity and thought.
- Minimise parental involvement; unlike novels and stories for adults where the focus is on making a world that seems to go on around and regardless of your main characters, with childrens books realism is less key. The focus should be on the main character (the child) and a select few of their companions. Parental and authority figures can provide moral support or create the boundaries, but the focus should be on the thoughts, feeling, and actions of the child even if this seems less than plausible. Consider books like The Magic Faraway Tree . The lack of parental questioning and involvement in the adventures of these children is less than believable, but then it is a fantasy book, and though it is dated now this title has endured so it is key that any aspiring childrens author learn from its strengths.
- Create age-appropriate conflict in the story; whether Susie is worrying about whether or not her mum will figure out that she got in trouble at school, or its a “Home Alone” scenario don’t forget to put some conflict into your stories as this is what they thrive on.
Finally, though it might be scary, the best thing you can do when writing a childrens book is let actual children of the target age read the draft. Their opinion is paramount so you have to put your authorial pride to the side; if the kids say it’s out, then it’s out.
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