Ten Tips for Children's Writers

A sketch for an upcoming story
about a boy whose gravity stopped
working one morning.
Courtesy Sharon Burford Cartoons.
Don't assume that writing for kids is easier than for adults. It's a tough market, with some brilliant authors.

On that thought, Don't skimp on proof reading and editing. Max was reading a book recently that contained so many little errors in grammar and sentence structure that even he was annoyed. He didn't finish the book. I wanted to go through the text with a red pen. Max said, "You know, this would make a great film. It's got all the right stuff, dragons, battles, a brave princess." Except for good writing.

Read a LOT. Read aloud, to yourself, to children of all ages; read fiction, non-fiction, browse children's magazines and the kids' and teens' sections at the library.

When you're not reading, write! Write every day. Who was it that said you need 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of your craft? I believe it!

Use illustrations and sketches, even if you think you may not need them for the final product. They can help you to understand where you are going. Mind maps are useful too.

Use short sentences. If you read the best-loved works of writers like Roald Dahl and pay attention to the sentence structure, you will be amazed by just how short their sentences are, and how effective:

'Sophie couldn't sleep.
A brilliant moonbeam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right on to her pillow.' - from The BFG by Roald Dahl.

Don't preach or talk down to them in your writing style. I learned this lesson really well, lecturing at-risk teenagers in Trinidad. Their eyes glaze over the minute you tell them what to do. But use humour, suggestion, ask questions, assume they are intelligent... and you can keep their interest long enough to get your point across.

Use a few long words. You might be surprised by how many kids will understand them. If in doubt, phone up an eight year old. Ask them what the word means. If they don't know, make sure the meaning is conveyed in the writing. But you may be surprised! And they will love that you respect them enough to challenge them.

Rhyming, rhythm and alliteration are fun, even in non-fiction. Explore!

And lastly: In all good children's fiction, the bad guy comes to a sticky end, and little kids are never sorry for him.


Keep up with Nan Sheppard's latest on Facebook.

Nan is a regular contributor to Aquila Magazine, and has read and told countless bedtime stories, some of the best of which were made up on the spot.

Nan absolutely loves talking about herself in the third person, and it is possibly the largest contributing factor to her desire to become an author.


Anonymous said…
Such good points--especially about the SOUND of a sentence in a picture book that will be read out loud. I'm always "editing" picture books to sound better when I read out loud to my sons.
Nan Sheppard said…
Yes, so important to read your MS aloud... I do the same on-the-spot editing, and I'm sure that as they follow along, the kids pick up grammatical what-not-to-do tips!
Unknown said…
It's also very important, I think, to avoid using Adjectives.....

"A huge cockroach.." is not nearly as effective as "a cockroach the size of Nebraska".

And you should know !

Nan Sheppard said…
Haha, thank you Pappi, excellent advice as usual!

Did you know you are logged in as Max? I'm sure Max won't mind, but it is slightly confusing for some of us :)

Love you! (And love you Max! Missing you now!)
I went through a long stretch of time just reading young adult novels and loved them. Now I pepper my reading with them. There are some impressive authors. I liked your tips, Nan.
I got all the classics like Bertrix Potter, Kipling, Wind and the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, etc from the Folio Society. For when Kate is older as I always remember enjoying them so much when I was a kid! I guess they are classics for a reason!

At the moment Kate loves all the stories that have sounds. Like "the wolf HOWLED in the distance".

Roger Hargreaves was always good at using long words.

And lastly never underestimate the value of good illustration. Good pictures help to tell the story and also help encourage communication in children. Even now I am more attracted to the pictures than the words. It's the pictures (or the front cover) that make me go for a book and read the words.

We have recently discovered the stories by David Melling. Kate (if she could talk) would recogmend them highly. Amazing pictures! Brilliant story telling!
I find it helps if you can also make them laugh.
I try to give my animal characters traits that children can identify with. When asking a group of children which characters they liked best, one little boy said he liked egg-eating snake because he kept getting blamed for things he didn't do. This was quite an eye-opener and I've always remembered it.
Nan Sheppard said…
Laughter is one of the most effective education tools, too! Kids remember a knock-knock joke for ever. They will even remember the Periodic Table from beginning to end if it's got a quirky tune :)