It seems there are still new children’s authors or wannabe authors who don’t take the time to learn about how to write for children… at least to learn the basics.
The absolute must-nots when writing for children:
The Picture Book Cliffhanger
A recent client of mine was for a picture book rewrite project with the ending missing, so there was a bit of ghosting involved. The intended age group was four to eight.
I rewrote the story and added a ‘satisfying’ ending with a takeaway only to learn the client wanted it to be a cliffhanger and didn’t want a takeaway.
Well, kind of a cliffhanger. The client wanted the ending missing.
No loose ends tied up. No satisfying ending. No full character arc. No full story arc.
This was a first for me.
Not wanting a takeaway is one thing, but not wanting a satisfying ending for a young children’s book doesn’t make sense.
The story was to leave the reader to guess what the author had in mind for the ending or create their own.
The author’s intent was to create a series of cliffhangers motivating the reader to purchase the next picture book.
I’m not sure if the author intended to abruptly end the next book in the series, but I think so.
I tried my best to help the client understand that a young children’s book needs all the elements of a ‘good’ story, especially when seeking a traditional publishing contract.
I get that in self-publishing a lot of new authors do whatever they want (even though they should produce a quality book), but it’s a different ball game when going the traditional route.
The Perfect Story World
I don’t get too many of this type of author, but it came up in another recent project.
This scenario is when the author doesn’t want any significant conflict in the story. No real stakes involved.
-No swarm of bees to block a path the protagonist must get through.
-No ferocious fire breathing dragon blocking the entrance to a cave the protagonist must get into.
-No dangling from a cliff before being rescued.
The author also doesn’t want the characters, even the villain, to have any bad traits.
-No evil Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes nemesis).
-No evil Joker or the Penguin (Batman’s nemesis).
-No evil Lex Luthor (Superman’s nemesis).
This type of story is sugar-coated.
Instead of a roller coaster that goes up and down, where the rider has to hold on tight, this type of story is the stationary horse on the carousel, no holding on needed, no real movement involved.
You always want your story to be the one that the reader is motivated to hold onto, motivated to turn the pages. You want your story to go up and down.
Hitting the Reader Over the Head
Most of my clients have a specific goal for their story. They want to send a message to a child. They know exactly what they want the takeaway to be.
A number of stories have the bullying theme, but interestingly that’s eased off. Now I get more requests for the inclusion theme, the standing up for yourself theme, and the being kind theme.
Some new authors think they have to hit the reader over the head with their message. They blatantly want to tell the reader how the main character grew because he was kind, or stood up for himself, or included someone different into her group.
Hitting the reader over the head with the story’s message is frowned upon. The story should convey the message subtly. The reader will pick up on it.
I hope these three absolute must-nots in kid’s writing help you on your children’s writing journey.
Whether you need help with ghostwriting, rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: email@example.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347---834---6700.
Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable and marketable story today!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.