Feb 21

10 Rules for Writing Children’s Stories

Tips and tricks to children's writingI write for young children and I’ve also written marketing and health articles. Writing in multiple genres, I can tell you that writing for children can be much more challenging.

When writing for children, there are guidelines to keep in mind to help your story avoid the editor’s trash pile.

Here is a list of 10 rules to refer to when writing for young children (these rules pertain to traditional publishing and self-publishing):

1. This is probably the most important item: be sure that your story does not suggest dangerous or inappropriate behavior.

Example: The protagonist (main character) sneaks out of the house while his parents are sleeping.

This is a no-no!

2. Make sure your story has age appropriate words, dialogue, and action.

3. The protagonist should have an age appropriate problem or dilemma to solve at the beginning of the story, in the first paragraph if possible. Let the action/conflict rise. Then have the protagonist, through thought process and problem solving skills, solve it on his/her own. If an adult is involved, keep the input and help at a bare minimal.

Kid’s love action and problem solving!

4. The story should have a single point of view (POV). To write with a single point of view means that if your protagonist can’t see, hear, touch or feel it, it doesn’t exist.

Example: “Mary crossed her eyes behind Joe’s back.” If Joe is the protagonist this can’t happen because Joe wouldn’t be able to see it.

5. Sentence structure: Keep sentences short and as with all writing, keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. And, watch your punctuation and grammar.

6. Write your story by showing through action and dialogue rather than telling.

If you can’t seem to get the right words to show a scene, try using dialogue instead; it’s an easy alternative.

7. You also need to keep your writing tight. This means don’t say something with 10 words if you can do it with 5. Get rid of unnecessary words.

8. Watch the time frame for the story. Try to keep it within several hours or one day for very young children. For the older crowd (7-8) keep it short also, but the time frame can extend a week, a month, and depending on the storyline, you can probably get away with a school year. Just follow the current traditional publishing guidelines.

9. Along with the protagonist’s solution to the conflict, he/she should grow in some way as a result.

10. Use a thesaurus and book of similes. Finding just the right word or simile can make the difference between a good story and a great story.

Using these techniques will help you create effective children’s stories. Another important tool to use in your writing tool belt is joining a children’s writing critique group. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always use another set of eyes.

It you’re a beginning writer and unpublished, you should join a group that has published and unpublished members. Having published and experienced writers in the group will help you hone your craft.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting, ghostwriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape 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.

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Feb 14

Know Your Reader – Writing for Children

CharlesS experiment-38-frontGuest post by Charles Suddeth

I am primarily a children’s writer. I belong to SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). The rule of thumb is that children like to read books with the main character their age or slightly older. Recommended ages for readers and main characters vary from publisher to publisher, so these are general guidelines:

Picture Books: Ages 3 to 7, with main character’s ages 5 to 9 (Board Books for younger readers and Easy Readers for slightly older readers extends this range in both directions)
Middle Grade (Middle Reader’s): Ages 8 to 13, with main character’s ages 10 to 14 (slightly younger readers may read Chapter Books—early middle reader’s books with a limited number of illustrations; slightly older readers may read Tween fiction involving dating)

Young Adult: Ages 14 to 18; high school readers. Main character’s ages high school freshmen to seniors. (New Adult, Young Adult fiction geared toward college-age readers, is becoming popular)

Here are the issues the main characters usually deal with for each category:

Picture Books: Searching for Security. Children this age, even while playing and having fun, need to know their parents are there for them with love, protection, and life’s necessities. The Llama Llama series of books by author/illustrator Anna Dewdney is about a baby llama enduring various adventures and challenges, but above all, Mamma remains nearby. Middle Grade: Searching for Identity. Children in this age are not certain who they are or what their abilities are. They often do things in groups to obtain peer approval, because they lack self-confidence and self-identity. J K Rowling’s early Harry Potter books are an example. Harry didn’t know he was a wizard with powers or that he would have a quest. And he didn’t know who his allies (his group) would be, but he gradually learned.

Young Adult: Searching for Independence. Teenagers are famous for their rebellion against their parents, sometimes called “attitude.” Psychologists have described this as subconscious psychological efforts to separate themselves from their families, so they can become adults. Most people think of the Hunger Games as pure survival. Katniss lost her mother, but she is seeking independence from the oppressive, totalitarian society that replaced her parents.

New Adult is often described older teens and/or undergraduate college students exploring their new-found independence. My 4RV Publishing thriller, Experiment 38, will be New Adult. The main character has just graduated from high school. She quickly learns that independence from her parents has its dangers.

Another peculiarity of writing for children is that boys prefer to read books where the main character is a boy, but girls will read books where the main character is a boy or girl.

My favorite rule for writing is: Take your reader where they are not expecting to go. This also applies to children. Once you know your audience you can take them to destinations unknown and even undreamed of.

CharlesS feb2015Charles Suddeth was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, grew up in suburban Detroit, Michigan, and has spent his adult life in Louisville, Kentucky. He graduated from Michigan State University. He belongs to Green River Writers (Contest Director), the Midsouth SCBWI (Louisville Schmooze host), International Thriller Writers, and the Kentucky State Poetry Society. He also leads two critique groups for children’s writers.He has had numerous poems, short stories, and books published, including a poem in Spider magazine.

Experiment 38 (young adult thriller, 4RV Publishing, paperback): Eighteen-year-old Emily, small for her age, lives alone with her scientist-father and learns too late that he holds a terrible secret, one that might destroy her life.As she and her boyfriend, Nate, try to unraveel the mystery behind her father’s secret, they face danger and uncertainty .ISBN: 78-1-940310-02-2

~~~~~
Charles, thank you for being a guest here! I hadn’t heard of “new adult.” Interesting new genre. Best wishes for a successful book launch.

Karen

 

Jan 22

Learning to Write for Children – It’s More Than Just A,B,C

Writing for ChildrenI have been writing since childhood: poems, short stories, even songs. I never thought of publishing my work or making it a career until around 2006.

Not knowing any better, I thought it would be easy.

I felt comfortable writing and always seemed to be able to think of something to write about.

Then I started the process of actually writing children’s books with the intent of having them published. This opened another world, one filled with road blocks and rejection letters and a lot of hard work.

While I did minor in English Literature in college it had been many years prior and it was not the background specifically needed in writing for children.

To write for children you need to know techniques such as the Core of Threes and having the protagonist solve the problem, not the parent or grandparent. You have to know showing is a must, but telling must be limited. You need to have the right sentence structure along with good grammar and punctuation. Your dialogue must be age appropriate and you must watch out for blind spots in your writing. You need to understand and utilize words such as tighten, good voice, focus, point of view, hook…it goes on and on and on.

And, you need to know what children’s editors are looking for.

So, how do you learn all the information needed to write for children, especially if you don’t want to get a degree in children’s literature or are unable to enroll in a school specifically geared toward this subject?

The answer is the internet. Sounds easy, right?

Well, think again.

I’ve taken several college courses long distance and I can tell you that learning a subject in a classroom is much easier.

And learning on your own, using the internet is even more difficult and very time consuming.

First, there are thousands of sites and blogs that have information you need. Just use common sense and be a little careful as you want to make sure the information you’re reading is valid. The time spent searching this needed information is so great it can very easily keep you from actually writing.

So, what can you do to ease into writing for children?

1. Your first order of business is to join a writer’s group where there are new and seasoned people in the business of writing who are willing and able to help. This is also a good place to network.

2. You also need to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – you can get great tips and advice there.

3. Next, you should join a children’s writing critique group.

4. If you are able, you should make it a priority to attend a children’s writing conference – online and/or offline.

5. There are also a number of sites that offer free videos, webinars, teleseminars, and teleconferences,  take advantage of as many as you can.

6. Also, check out online courses from Gotham Writers Workshop and/or the Institute of Children’s Literature.

7. Another source is editors, publishers and agents’ blogs. Often, you will get great tips and information.

8. Don’t forget about children’s writers’ blogs, like this one. They have tons of valuable tips to writing for children.

9. Read, read, read. Read about children’s writing and read children’s books. Well, don’t just read them, study them, learn from them. Try to figure out what makes them work.

10. Persevere. It’s not always the best writers who succeed, it’s the writers who persevere.

There are also a couple of helpful books such as “The Little, Brown Essential Handbook,” and “The Children’s Writer’s Word Book.”

The world of children’s writing can feel overwhelming, but it can also be very rewarding.

Remember to pace yourself. Create a time management plan and prioritize. With hard work and perseverance you’ll be writing stories soon enough.

Be a children's writerBeing a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

Check out my 250-page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent, and marketing your books.

Jan 21

Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory

By Karen Cioffi

It’s always interesting how writers find ideas when writing a fiction story. Some may simply come up with an idea, others may see something that triggers a story, and sometimes a story is handed to a writer.

I had never thought of rewriting a folktale until being given a rough outline of an ancient Chinese tale, Taoist Master of the Lao Mountain. This was the inception of middle-grade, fantasy adventure Walking Through Walls.

It was June of 2008, and I belonged to a writing critique group along with a Chinese nonfiction writer who had a basic outline of an ancient Chinese tale that he wanted to pass along to a fiction writer. Since writing a fiction story wasn’t his cup of tea, he gave me the outline.

After reading the outline, I loved the lessons it could bring to children. Folktales come from all over the world and usually provide morale messages geared toward doing right, rather than wrong. These tales are a wonderful way to teach children through an engaging and entertaining story.

Since the tale, as with many ancient tales, involved an adult as the protagonist the first step needed was to rewrite it for today’s children’s market, meaning it needed a child protagonist. Wanting to stay as close to the original tale, I used some of its flavor, descriptions, and names. That’s how the main character’s name, Wang, was chosen.

Along with keeping the story’s flavor, I wanted it to be engaging for today’s child, so I came up with new characters, the dragon, enhanced storyline and plot, and so on.

Having an outline to guide me was a great help; it offered a general direction, like an arrow pointing North. So, as I began to rewrite the tale it was able to take on a life of its own, while still heading North. And, to ensure the story kept its flavor, I made sure to include bits of the original story to keep it as close to the tale’s outline as possible.

Working on the story, I knew it needed to take place in ancient China, so decided to use the 16th century as the backdrop for the story. To add an element of realism to the story, I researched ancient China, including foods, flowers, dwellings, and clothing. I also contacted the Chinese writer who gave me the outline for some additional cultural information.

I worked on the story for well over a year, revising it, having it critiqued numerous times, revising it some more, and even had it professionally edited before beginning to send it out for submissions. Fortunately for me, the timing coincided with the 2009 Muse Online Writers Conference and I signed up to have a pitch with 4RV Publishing. As nervous as I was, the pitch went well and the manuscript was accepted.

For the next year, it was more revisions, tweaking, additional elements to the story, and editing to make the middle-grade, fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls, better than before.

Then, the story was ready for a cover illustration. Aidana WillowRaven was assigned to my book and although the dragon in my original manuscript was described as “a shimmering golden dragon,” Aidana ‘felt’ the flavor of the story pointed to a more oriental type dragon. We went back and forth a bit about the dragon’s size and shape, but Aidana’s vision of what the dragon should look like was perfect.

Now, the description of the ‘golden dragon’ in the story needed to be corrected. So, I changed the text to read, “Suddenly a magnificent dragon with shimmering red and silver scales appeared.” Done. The description of the dragon and the cover matched; we were ready to move forward.

Next came the interior design formatting, which includes the text. After blocking the text it was determined another six pages was needed to make the spine wide enough. So, I had to come up with more content.

As the story was complete, to fill the page count I came up with an Author’s Note page, four pages of Reading Comprehension, an Activities Page, and after more research, eight pages of information on the Ming Dynasty time period and the Chinese dragon.

Finally, Walking Through Walls, a middle-grade fantasy adventure was published and won The Children’s Literary Classics 2012 Silver Award.

Writing a fiction story from its inception to publication can take many paths; this is the path Walking Through Walls took.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email to: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

You can also give me a call at: 347—834—6700.

Jul 21

Writing Children’s Books – Genre Differences

There are a number of genres within the children’s book arena. The target audience ranges from babies right on through to young adults.

This provides a unique situation for writers to pick and choose a genre that feels comfortable to write in, while still remaining within the children’s book market.

Each genre is geared toward a specific age group and has its own set of rules and tricks.

Children’s Books: An overview of the different genres and a description of each:

Bedtime stories: These stories are simple and soothing. They are written to help lull little ones off to sleep and are in the form of picture books. The age group can be from newborn to five or six years of age.

An example of a bedtime story is Day’s End Lullaby by Karen Cioffi. The classic Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is another example of a bedtime story.

Board Books: Board books are simple picture books geared toward babies and toddlers. They are designed to hold up to a toddlers prying and pulling fingers. Board books can be black and white or very colorful. These books usually teach simple concepts, such as numbers from one to ten, days of the week, colors, and simple words.

An example of a classic baby board book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is also a board book, a very well known.

Picture books for the 2 – 5 year old group: These books are meant to be read aloud the child. Rather than simply concept themes, simple story lines can be written with short sentences and words. These books are for children in the ‘pre-reading’ stage and the word count can range from 100 – 500 words.

An example of a very young child’s picture book is The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.

Picture books for the 4 – 8 year old: This genre makes up most of the picture book market. These books are also meant to be read aloud to children, but for the older child it can be read individually. The pictures will give a visual element for children learning to read, helping with the comprehension of the text. The wording and themes can be a bit more interesting, but still rather simple.

For the writer, in this genre you will need to use introduce ‘showing’ to create an engaging reading experience for the child. The average picture book is 32 pages and under 1000 words.

Two examples of picture books for this age group are Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Owen by Kevin Henkes.

Easy (early) readers are usually for the 5-8 year old group. Children in this group are transitioning from picture books and are developing their reading skills. The stories though should still be kept relatively simple and have only one POV. The font size gets smaller with these books and the word count is between 500 and 1,500 words. While these books are very short, they are divided into chapters. Illustrations are strewn here and there throughout the books. The easy readers usually come in series.

Examples of easy readers are LING AND TING: NOT EXACTLY THE SAME by Grace Lin and the Cam Jansen mystery series by David Adler.

Chapter books for the 6 – 9 or 7 – 10 year old group: Children in this group are learning to read. The vocabulary and storyline is expanding, but clarity is still a must. These books are designed to be read by the child and the word count is usually between 5,000 and 15,000. Interestingly, these books may be labeled as ‘early readers’ or ‘easy readers’ by educational publishers.

An example of a chapter book is Clarice Bean, that’s me by Lauren Child, another is Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

In regard to Because of Winn-Dixie, the protagonist is ten years old. Since children tend to read-up (the protagonist will be 2 – 3 years older than the reader), the target audience is around 7 – 8 years old, placing it within this genre and possibly the younger end of middle grade.

Middle grade books for the 8-12 year old group: The middle-grader will go for stories that he can associate with and characters he can form a bond with. The word count is usually a minimum of 20,000.

As the child is able to comprehend more and is maturing, so should the stories. Stories and conflict can be more involved and you can now introduce more than one protagonist or point of view. This age group can also be introduced to science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries.

There are simpler middle grade books with less complex story lines and range from 20,000 to 35,000 words. And, there are the upper middle grade books  that run from 40,000 to 55,000 words and are geared toward the 12 year old. This type of book might be considered a ‘tween’ book.

An example of a simpler middle grade book is Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi. The early Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling are also middle-graders.

Young adult books encompass the 12/13-16 and up age group. YAs can be edgy; plots and characters can be complex and serious issues addressed.

The word count for this genre can be between 55,000 and 80,000. The protagonist should be no older than 18.

An example of a young adult book is An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer is also in the YA genre.

A useful way to get a better idea of what the different genres consist of is to visit your local library and talk to the children’s section librarian. She’ll be able to show you books in each genre and give you tidbits of information on which are the most popular, which are classic, and much more.

MORE ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

Imagery and Your Story
Editing a Children’s Book – 10 Tips Checklist for Authors
Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory

Let's talk about your children's writing projectLet me take a look at your story. 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, give me a call at 347—-834—-6700

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