Character Blog

10 Tips for Writing for Children

1) Don’t talk down to children. Always write from a child’s perspective, but not baby talk either. Keep the language simple but to suit the age range. Words can challenge, but try to keep difficult words in context so they can be understood by the phrasing.

2) Don’t bestow words and phrases on child characters that only an adult would use.

3) When writing dialogue think, “Would a child really say this in that way?”

4) Use contractions in dialogue. “Don’t” not “do not” or “you’re” not “you are”, people speak in contractions. Needless to say, this doesn’t apply if you’re writing an historical novel or your character is quirky such as in a fantasy novel.

5) Try to get into the adventure a quickly as possible. Children lose interest very quickly. Most novels start far too late in the story. You don’t need a life history or long lead up. Tell the odd event sparingly in flash back if required or release the information gradually.

6) Don’t deliberately try to send a contrived message or to educate. In other words, don’t preach!

7) If in doubt as to what children like to read these days, visit the local bookshop or library. Visit the section with books that cover the age range you are interested in writing for and then read as many as possible. Do ensure your main characters are a similar age to the age group aimed at. It’s not use having the main character of age 16 if aimed at 9-12, nor 5 for that matter.

8) Don’t hold back on the story and make it too safe. Place the characters in danger. Let the children solve the problem if there is one, not an adult.

9) Your characters shouldn’t be perfect models of good behaviour; they also need to have faults, which gradually become apparent as the story progresses.  Each character should have their own voice (to distinguish them from each other).

10) Show Don’t Tell

Surprisingly, writers often still make this mistake.

This is tell:

One of the little men turned around to Tara and Jared, grew into a giant and hit Jared who rolled down the hill.

This is show:

One of the little men whipped around, snarling and hissing. A long thin tongue shot out of his mouth and his forehead began to grow to enormous proportions. Tara froze to the spot at once fascinated and terrified as his arms and legs stretched like thick elastic, his stomach swelled out of his trousers, bare and hairy, his fingernails growing hooked like eagle talons. In a few seconds, he was high above them towering like a giant. He glared menacingly down at them and with one swipe of his enormous sledgehammer hand, sent Jared rolling down the hill.

The difference is the first piece of text we are told a little man grew into a giant. In the second piece of text, the giant is brought to life. We are shown him. He has a long thin tongue, a large forehead, his fingernails are like eagle talons and he has sledgehammer hands. The whole scene is active rather than passive. We are there experiencing what the characters are experiencing.

Good luck!

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