Bethany Roberts' Writing for Children Workshop: Writing Tips on Writing for Children
Writing for Children
point of view
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- TITLES:|
Keep your titles short and snappy. I have learned this one the hard way! People seem to have great difficulty remembering my longer titles, but no problem remembering the shorter ones. A good general rule is to keep your titles from one to three words, no more than five.
Catchy sounds- In creating your titles, try playing with poetic devises like alliteration and rhyme. Of my own book titles, I think my favorite is MONSTER MANNERS because the alliteration makes it fun to say.
Use verbs- Another way to make a title lively is to use an active verb in it. I did that with FOLLOW ME!
Reflect the theme- a good title, however short and catchy, gives us a hint of what the story is about.
Hook your reader- The title is your first chance to grab the attention of a reader- or of an editor.
Has your title been used? Check with Books in Print (at your library), or do a search on www.Amazon.com
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- WORD CHOICE|
Be specific. Choose colorful, detailed words that paint pictures. Instead of using a general word like "flower", be specific. Which type of flower? A rose? A daffodil? A petunia?
For example, which sentence do you like better? "Some rabbits lived with their relative under a tree," or "Once upon a time there were four little rabbits and their names were- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They lived with their mother underneath a very big fir-tree."*
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- DESCRIPTION|
In writing for younger children, keep description to a minimum. Leave most visual description to the illustrator. Do use the five senses. Avoid wordiness. Keep paragraphs short. And keep your writing active by using lots of verbs.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- BEGINNINGS- The Hook|
Jump right in- You need to grab your reader's attention from the very beginning, or he/she may not keep reading. So jump right into the action as soon as possible. Introduce your main character, a setting, and a problem, and then keep your story moving. In a novel, introduce the problem by the first chapter. In a shorter book, introduce it in the first few pages. In my GRAMPS AND THE FIRE DRAGON, a picture book, the main character and the problem are introduced in the first two sentences. "It's bedtime," said Jesse. "But I'm not sleepy."
Setting the stage-Beginnings, typically, are like setting a stage. First the stage is set with scenery to give us a time and place, then the main characters come on the scene, and then the action begins. For variety, try starting with dialogue or with action. These are good attention-grabbers. My holiday mice skip, hop, and tiptoe from the very first page.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- CHARACTERS|
Active characters- Strong characters are doers. They don't sit back and let someone else solve their problems; they get right out there and do something about them!
Likable characters- Good main characters are likable but not perfect.
Use tags- Build up a character by using tags. Show your character's personality by repeating gestures and mannerisms or speech or dress.
Character names- Pick character names with care. When Margaret Mitchell first wrote GONE WITH THE WIND, Scarlett O'Hara was named Pansy. (Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?!)
A reader can tell a lot about a character just by his name. Nicknames are especially good.
Avoid character names that are too similar in spelling or sound, to help your readers keep your characters straight. (For example, Carl and Carey.)
Some good sources for names: baby books, phone books for last names. Keep a file of interesting names.
Show don't tell- Don't tell the reader what your character's personality is: show them through your character's speech and actions. As Mark Twain once put it, "Don't say the old lady screamed- bring her on and let her scream."
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- DIALOGUE|
Young readers like lots of dialogue, so get your characters talking. However, keep their speeches short. Don't let one character talk for more than a few lines at a time.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- PLOTTING PLOTS|
To outline or not to outline, that is the question- Some writers outline their stories before they begin. Other writers start writing with no idea how it will end until they get to the ending. There is no "right" way here. There seem to be just as many writers in one camp as in the other. I have successfully written stories both ways.
Strong plots sell books- Editors- and readers- look for stories with strong plots. The more tension there is in a story, the stronger the story. Give your character a problem right from the start, add some complications along the way, get him to solve the problem, and you have a plot.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- ENDINGS|
Endings need to tie everything up in a neat little bow, with no loose ends. Endings should leave the reader feeling satisfied. A good way to learn what makes an ending work is to take a big stack of books and read only the endings. Just read the last lines or the last paragraphs. After awhile you will get a feel for how a story should end.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- SINGLE POINT OF VIEW |
This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally younger children's books are written with a single point of view. This means that the story is told through the eyes and thoughts of the main character. Don't tell the reader the thoughts or feelings of any other character except through their speech and actions.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- THIRD PERSON|
Most books for young readers are written in the third person (he said, she said.) A few are written in the first person. (I said.) This can be a very effective technique. However, since the main character is a child, it can be tricky to get a child's voice to sound authentic. If you have written a story in first person and it doesn't seem to be working, try switching it to third person.
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- REVISION|
Some revision can be done right away. But when you have done all that you can, put your story away for a week or so. When you come back to it you will have fresh eyes and be able to see it more objectively.
Here are some things to ask yourself while you are revising:
Have you chosen each word carefully?
Is your title catchy?
Does your beginning hook the reader?
Is there a problem or goal in the beginning of your story?
Are your characters well-developed?
Is there plenty of dialogue?
Does your main character solve the problem?
Is the solution believable?
Is the ending satisfying?
|WRITING FOR CHILDREN- WEEDY WORDS|
Some words are empty words with no life to them. Some of these unnecessary words are: but, well, then, very, and, so, that, just, really, and now. If you find lots of these words cropping up in your stories, see how many you can weed from your writing. Here's an example of a "weedy" sentence: "He saw that there was a very big dragon in the cave." This could be simplified to "He saw a big dragon in the cave," or, even better, "A big dragon was in the cave!"
Other weedy words: was, were, and had. That dragon in the cave could snooze, snarl, or sneeze for more vibrant writing! "A big dragon snoozed in the cave."
Adjectives and adverbs are often weedy words. "What fun!" the dragon said happily, could be written more simply as "What fun!" said the dragon.
*from THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT by Beatrix Potter
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