Extract from Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 009 (Oct 2010) – writing for children

The ninth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast was released on 18th October 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first eight episodes (see earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories and novels. This episode talked about writing for children and young adults.

  • Publishers usually categorise their books into picture book then ages of 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+ (or Teenage/YA – Young Adult). Bear this in mind when you’re writing your story. What age are you aiming at? Ideally read some books in your targeted age range (if you don’t have any the library, bookshops, charity shops, and the internet are great sources) but bear in mind that children like to read about a character a couple of years or so older than them so they can aspire to being like them. With any writing, you need to know your market.
  • Don’t limit your vocabulary. If your story is gripping, your reader will be hooked, and can either look up the words later (although the context of the rest of passage should be enough to make sense) or for younger children, their parents could explain. It’s good to have a challenge once in a while but don’t go overboard – it’s frustrating, even for an adult, to have to refer to the dictionary too many times!
  • Children love stories told through the eyes of an animal whereas most magazine guidelines say not to relay the story with an animal as first person unless writing a children’s story and for an adult certainly don’t make the twist where we find out at the end that the character isn’t human after all. Joyce Stranger is one of the most prolific animal storywriters and her stories work because they’re targeted at readers of that style of story, popular by the likes of People’s Friend for instance.
  • Don’t underestimate your reader – writer Joan Aitken likened children’s fiction to thriller writing. Certainly the skill of being able to keep the reader in delicious suspense and wanting to know what happens next is critical in children’s books. You can get away with more though with children as, in theory, adults have read more and are harder to please!
  • Do confront complex issues and create worlds that are not necessarily safe and cosy. Remember, some of the most brilliant children’s fiction deals with children who are powerless, isolated and afraid.
  • Don’t write for children because you see it as easier than writing for adults. It isn’t! There may be fewer words in a children’s novel but there should be the same amount of passion and commitment.
  • Always make sure the 5W/1H questions are answered…Who (characters), What (story), Where (location setting), When (time of day, year etc), Why (reason for conflict) and How (resolution).
  • Whilst there can be conflict, and certainly should be for older readers, children’s books for younger readers usually end happily. You can get away with a sad ending for older children or young adults but you don’t want a bawling toddler on your hands whose hero has died!
  • An excerpt from Basil Blackwell’s ‘Guide for Authors’ reads “The process of publishing fiction and non-fiction for older children does not differ in any significant way from that relating to the adult equivalents. Writing for younger children is a more specialist activity, and particular attention needs to be paid, for example, to vocabulary. Nearly all books for younger children are illustrated, sometimes by the author, more usually by a professional illustrator. Most publishers of children’s books will have a team of freelance artists and will try to assign to your book an artist appropriate to your style. You should certainly ask to see examples of the artist’s work; most publishers will show them to you automatically. If you are already teamed up with an artist, send examples of his or her work when asked to do so, taking care to pack them carefully and to send them to registered post. Even better, make an appointment and carry them to the publisher’s office yourself.” Nice and specific.

Educational periodicals are a good source of information if you are thinking of writing non-fiction. The Times produces their weekly ‘TES’ (Times Educational Supplement) not to be confused with their ‘TLS’ (Times Literary Supplement) which is available in most newsagents or by subscription. The TLS website (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls) includes a ‘poem of the week’, ‘then & now’, blog and pay-to-access archive.

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