Here’s a lesser-known fact about me – I LOVE writing for children. Don’t get me wrong, I equally enjoy penning books for adults, but there’s something hugely satisfying about writing for kids. Perhaps it’s because they’re such a brutally honest audience. If they like your book, you know you’ve done something right, as they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms if they don’t!
Things to think about when writing for children
Writing books for children requires an entirely different approach to adult fiction. Here are just a few things to think about:
- Accessibility. Children read at a variety of levels. Some kids are capable of understanding sophisticated vocabulary, while others might struggle. Your book needs to be written for a particular age-range / ability range.
- Themes. Some children can cope with darker material. Indeed, books are a great way of helping kids explore tough themes in a safe way, such as bullying, grief and bigotry. However, be warned that some themes just won’t be appropriate for kids of a certain age. You don’t want to scar them for life!
- Word count. Generally speaking, children’s books (especially for younger or middle-grade readers) are far shorter than adult books. There are exceptions to this, such as the giant book-stops that are the latter Harry Potter tomes. For some children, shorter books are less intimidating, and there’s a sense of achievement when they finish them.
- Originality. Children like to read something fresh and exciting (just like adults). By all means do a story about a princess or a footballer, or a monster, or a hapless boy who keeps getting into scrapes. But please, please do something original with it. Make the footballer a shy little girl who’s ace at scoring goals. Make the monster the weediest, spindliest, non-scary creature possible. Give it a new twist!
How to improve your children’s books
I’ve been on a mission over the last few years, quietly writing children’s books with a view to improving my approach. Practice, as you know, is everything – and it takes a while to get it right (especially if you’re used to writing adult books, like me).
Here are a few things I’ve done to make sure my children’s books are as good as they can be:
- Talk to children. This is by far the most important one. BY FAR. I can’t emphasise it enough, in fact. I’ve got two kids of my own, and they’re great at providing feedback and telling me about what they like to read. But this isn’t really enough – it’s far better to get the bigger picture.
I volunteer at the school library once a week, and while there are altruistic reasons for me doing it, I also benefit massively. It’s a chance to chat to kids about what they’re reading, and listen to them talk about what they love, and what they really hate.
- Read children’s books. If you’ve got children of your own, you probably do this already. I regularly read books with my two, and it provides great insight into things like average chapter length, average sentence length, flow, subject matter and so forth.
- Work out what sort of books you want to write. I very swiftly realised that I loved writing funny books for children. With my adult books, I always felt I had to restrain my silly humour slightly, to suit a mature audience. When writing for children, I don’t hold back. One of my latest books features time-travelling haddocks and slugs in dinner suits, just to give you some idea.
However, you might want to write something more serious, or a fantasy series, for example. Play around with different styles, and see which one you feel most comfortable with.