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Do you fancy writing for kids – your catchy story printed in large font, showcasing elaborate illustrations? Yes, it’s going to be a reality, provided you are prepared for it.
One random day you visit a neighbourhood bookstore and without giving a second thought, head towards the kids section. You randomly pick up a book, then another and another.
What does it look like? An ordinary story (somewhat senseless), with lots of illustrations, colours and simple font?
Your eyes shine bright, face glows with a grin and you think…
“This is so very simple. No big deal! I am all set to write for kids.”
Hold on there! This might be the greatest mistake you are about to commit. Writing a book for children might appear a cakewalk but unfortunately, it is not. The job requires focus, undying dedicated efforts and above all, patience – in the same amount (or sometimes even more) as needed when writing for adults. Roald Dahl once said, “Children’s books are harder to write. It’s tougher to keep a child interested because a child doesn’t have the concentration of an adult. The child knows the television is in the next room. It’s tough to hold a child, but it’s a lovely thing to try to do.”
Certainly, it’s a lovely thing to try to do. Give it a shot! This quick guide on writing for kids would give you an edge over several other aspiring authors writing for little geniuses.
Before jumping on to the do’s and don’ts of writing, it is very important that you first become clear as to why you want to write and more importantly why write for children? It is possible that you want to write for one or more of these reasons:
Now, except that you fit in at least the fourth category stated above, for all other aspiring writers, here is a suggestion for you – my friend, you strictly need to spend some more time with yourself.
Writing for young minds is more of a responsible job than mere fun. Every word, theme, story and message given to them is constantly moulding their personalities. When your purpose for writing becomes clear, you could analyze your work and its impact in a far better manner.
Many writers, knowingly or unknowingly reminisce about their childhood days to select a particular theme or subject. While this does work well, however this might not necessarily give you the flavour in your writing which today’s generation relishes. Therefore, it is very important that the writer meets and interacts with her readers.
Children today are very different in their thoughts, behaviour and aspirations. When a child is born in this technology-driven world; there are fair chances that she might find those conventional fairy tales and moral stories quite unrealistic. This doesn’t mean that fairy tales and fables don’t work. However, they should include elements which make the writing relatable for the reader.
Maintaining a dialogue with the readers would, therefore, generate lots of practical ideas. Go! Have informal and fun conversations with those little power bombs in the neighbourhood. Watch children’s talk shows and other TV programmes often and attend events and conferences organized for kids. In short, observe them – interact with parents, peers and strangers. Believe you me, this is going to work wonders.
This one is as challenging as hitting the bull’s eye. The theme of the book decides whether your book is going to generate huge demands or whether it will be ruthlessly ignored and shelved. It’s the theme that catches the eye of your reader. It is therefore necessary for a writer to know what age-group of children he/she is working for. Children, unlike adults, have strikingly different characteristics, likes and dislikes at different ages; which possibly occurs due to their rapid development (physical, cognitive and emotional). While every child is unique, the following categories would help understanding children’s needs at different stages –
1-3 years: This is the age where children learn to speak and express their feelings. Vibrant colours, attractive objects and large-size pictures capture their attention. Board books are therefore in huge demand for this category. Short rhymes, lullabies and attractive illustrations are what parents generally look for their kids. This is also the stage when sensory and motor skills develop at a fast rate. Therefore, writers could also consider including different textures and related activities (such as colouring) in their books.
4-7 years: This is a stage when most children start learning to combine words and read simple and short sentences. Books written for this category should, therefore, have simple text (4-10 lines per page) along with interesting colourful illustrations. Stories/rhymes can have simple takeaways. The important point is that the illustrations should clearly express the adjectives mentioned in the text such as LONG nose, ROUND belly, GREEN tree, etc. A child should be able to make out what the adjective stands for by looking at the picture.
This is also a perfect age to encourage children to break stereotypes and social biases. For examples, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli, New Age Fairy Tales by Ariana Gupta or Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks and Quinton Winter have been extremely powerful in shattering social stigmas.
Pre-teens: Write stories with a plot that is solid but strictly not complex. Children in this group can relate well with the moral of the story and therefore some heroic tales and some mythological stories can be narrated to them. Biographies, if done, must be written in very simple language. Guardians also prefer that their children learn about their rich culture and traditions.
Also, this is a very active group and therefore ‘action’ plays a crucial role in keeping the readers glued to the book. The story must be thrilling and generate excitement. However, it is also very important that in an attempt to create thrill, the writer refrains from weaving elements of horror or crime in their stories (you are a responsible writer after all). Now you know why Harry Potter mesmerized so many of the young readers (ahem…and adults too). Too much of elaboration, however, can make the child lose interest in the story. Stories with multiple characters work fine, but to keep in mind, the lead character should be distinct and easily identified.
Try ending the story on a positive note. Avoid choosing tragic endings and never make them look dark or negative.
Teenagers: Teenagers also referred to as young adults, undergo a very sensitive ‘transition phase’ of their lives. Therefore the selection of plot, language, illustrations, etc. must be done very carefully. Teenagers experience a number of changes like identity crisis, fantasizing seeking adventure, exploring new things and search for a role model. The experiences during this tender age lead the development of their value system which has a deep impact throughout their lives.
Stories written for the teenagers should reflect their thought processes – real heroic tales, leaders’ biographies, travelogues and simple love stories will generally work for this group. Stories can be built over complex plots and moderate elaboration of a scene, background and feelings will also improve the appearance of writing. The writer must, however, smartly judge the elaboration so that it doesn’t become boring.
I think we all know what children like to read. What did you like to read when a child? Every child likes simple and short sentences with minimal use of grammatical jargon. This doesn’t mean that difficult and new words should not be included in the text but go slow. The motive is not to prepare them for scrabble but to inculcate reading habits that enhance their creativity and more importantly prepare them for re-creation. Here again, you need to revisit the categories of readers and then decide how much you want them explore a whole new gamut of words. The rule is – don’t overdo it but don’t underdo it either. I love this tip from C. S. Lewis – “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” Here are some more tips from the famous writer.
Make sure you insert a fairly uncommon word in the story only after you have strongly developed the context and feel that it is sufficient to create appropriate interest in readers’ mind.
Hurrah! You have finally managed doing it and have the manuscript ready in your hands. Now, the biggest challenge is – to get it published. Getting the publishers’ details is not at all difficult. It’s only a search engine away. The most important thing to remember is what your publisher is looking for.
In this extremely competitive world where every publisher is buried under innumerable manuscripts; you need to cautiously present your work that is easily noticed. For this, do your homework well. Don’t send your precious work to every other publisher who comes your way, instead, understand what they need. From the readers’ age group to the theme, everything counts. Read the guidelines carefully, assess your work accordingly and if it matches the publisher’s requirement, go ahead. Rejections are part and parcel of writing business, especially for the newbies. However, careful selection of your publisher reduces your chance of facing futile disappointments.
Remember, loose formatting and grammatical errors are something you can’t afford. In this business, you will not get additional points for maintaining that, but if you make such mistakes, the losses could be huge. Do not irritate your publisher and send your manuscript as per guidelines with a covering letter.
One cannot underestimate the power of networking. Keep a tab of those literary events in your city. After all, this is an interesting way to engage in exciting conversations and make yourself visible to the right people.
Self-publishing is another option, but do a thorough study of its pros and cons.
Yes, you might have read and heard this a million times but this remains the ultimate key to maintain your sanity in the world of writing – never take those rejection letters to your heart. If it’s a general rejection letter trash it and if it is personalized, take that feedback seriously. If required, don’t hesitate to work on your manuscript but ONLY if you genuinely feel it needs a change.
Come on now, get started! Do what you always wanted to – nurture your creativity, express your thoughts. Still feeling uneasy? Go to the nearby bookstore, grab a copy of that best seller and start reading. This will make way for some inspiration.
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