Words and Children’s Writing Pitfalls to Look Out For

Tips on writing for children

I wrote a fantasy story originally geared toward middle grade. Realizing the word count wasn’t enough for a middle grade story, I changed it to a chapter book.

Good idea, right?

Yes it was,  but if you do something like this, you need to remember to check the age appropriateness of the words you originally used.

You might ask why this necessary…well, it’s the difference between an editor giving your story a second glance, or not.

It’s so important that publishers will ask what grade level your book is geared toward. You had better make sure the vocabulary of your story and the intended audience are a match.

What exactly do I mean? Let’s use an example:

The boy performed an amazing illusion. Was it an illusion or real magic?

If you were writing this for a 6th grader, the word illusion would be fine, but say you are writing for a 2nd or 3rd…then you’ll need to change that word.

According to “Children’s Writer’s Word Book,” ‘illusion’ is in the 6th grader’s vocabulary. You would need to change it to a word such as trick or fake to make it age appropriate for a 3rd grader.

The use of words goes far beyond that of choosing age appropriate words, they can be revised to say the same thing in a different way.

Words are so amazing – just make sure yours are just right for the age group you’re writing for.

Taking this a little further, even if you’re writing a young adult novel, choose words carefully.

I’m working with a client who has words in his draft that not most teens, and even many adult readers won’t understand. You don’t want a reader to have to stop and look up a word while reading. This is never a good thing.

When writing for children, teens, and young adults, don’t use high-end words. Use words that everyone will be able to quickly recognize and understand.

To emphasize this, here are some quotes on the topic by famous authors:

“Use familiar words—words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.”
~James J. Kilpatrick

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
~Thomas Jefferson

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
~William Strunk and E.B. White

“Use the smallest word that does the job.”
~E.B. White

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” ~William Butler Yeats

“The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can’t understand them. ~Anatole France

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
~Mark Twain

The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.” ~George Eliot

“Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganisation can flourish.”
~Wilson Follett

“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.”
~C. S. Lewis

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Finding Children’s Story Ideas
Children’s Writing and Publishing Process – The Traditional Path
Children, the Environment, and Story Telling

NEED HELP WITH YOUR CHILDREN’S MANUSCRIPT / STORY?

Let me take a look at it. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. I can turn your story into a publishable book you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Writing Help in the Subject line)

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

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