Child Development

As a writer of children’s stories, I think it’s important to understand how a child develops. Yes, we’ve all been through it but can you remember how you thought when you were five? I can’t.

A writing friend, Scarborough, gave me these two links:

General Developmental Sequence – This site shows the typical activities and achievements for a child aged between two and five.

Erik Erikson’s Personality Theories – This is an in-depth look at personalities of children and culture. About a third of the way down the page is a table that was interesting.

I don’t intend to look into this side of my writing in any great length, but to achieve realism I believe we have to have a five year old doing what a five year old would do. Yes, there are exceptions but we need to know what we are doing in order to be accepted.

If you lose credibility, you lose the reader forever.

Links to Children’s Writers Communities and Websites

Australian Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators – I’m not sure how useful this site will be but as it concentrates on the Australian sector of children’s writers I have to include it here.

Children’s Book Council of Australia – This looks like an informative site with links to publishers etc and basic information about getting published.

YAWrite – This is a critique group. I’m told this is a group for adults (over 18) who write for children and they take all age groups from picture books right through to young adult.

Children love Characters

When writing for children it is important to remember that children love characters. With this in mind, it is equally important to create realistic characters that will reach out and grab the reader and take them on an adventure of a life time.

The good children in your stories must be likeable. They must have personalities that children can relate too. They must become the readers best friend.

However, don’t forget the bad children in the story too. It’s just as important to have an antagonist that the children can hate. It’s even better if that antagonist reminds them of a horrible boy or girl at school. That way they can pretend to be the protagonist and can get sweet revenge. By the time they finish reading the story, the child will feel satisfied and happy with the ending.

Once you have the connection between reader and character, the child will want to revisit your world and go on more adventures with their best friend. This will open the door for more books, books that the publishers will be eager to get printed and on the book shelves because to them it’s more money in their pocket. To you, it’s another book sold.

Chapter Book Fantasy Stories

A writer must always be prepared to do research. No matter what the genre. Because if your reader discovers errors in your facts, you will lose their respect and their readership. An author cannot afford to have this happen.

If you’ve followed my progress over the years, you would have seen that I’ve researched all sorts of things – martial arts, poisonous plants, medieval times, weaponry, medical terms, feudal system, scientific facts and heaps more. All these things had some level of importance in a story I was writing at the time and I doubt my research will ever be over.

At the moment I’ve turned my attention to writing children’s chapter books. This has sparked an interest in me that had previously disappeared completely. Yes, this is a good thing. 🙂

I found myself thinking about how popular Chapter Book Fantasy Stories are. As you can see from the list, it seems quite popular. Children want to believe in magic (hey, I want to believe in magic) so why wouldn’t they be drawn to stories filled with wonderous things. The prospect of lighting up a child’s eyes with a story that fills their imagination inspires me. I love the thought of that.

Right now, at this very moment, the decision to write a chapter book feels right. Maybe the writing I’ve done up till now has all been in preparation for the journey I’m about to embark on.

More on Writing for Children

Knowing what a publisher is looking for is important to me. There’s no point spending months writing a manuscript only to have every publisher reject it because you didn’t follow the rules.

So with this in mind, I wanted to find out what publishers of children’s books want. Yesterday, I visited the Write4Kids website and asked Laura Backes the following (I’ve removed the pleasantries):

Can you please define the difference between age groups 4 to 8 and 8 to 12? In particular, I would like to know the minimum and maximum word count for each group and what an editor might consider taboo subjects.

This was her reply:

The age group 4-8 falls into the picture book category. These books are generally 32 pages long, with illustrations on every page, and average 1000 words of text. The pictures are just as important to the story as the words. Picture books are written to be read out loud to children, so you don’t have to worry about vocabulary as long as the words are understandable within the context of the story.

Middle grade (ages 8-12) are actual novels or nonfiction books with chapters. The text can be 20,000-35,000 words (nonfiction tends to have less text than fiction) and may or may not be illustrated (fiction usually has no illustrations, nonfiction can be illustrated with drawings or photos). These are read by the children themselves, once they’re accomplished readers.

There are two categories between picture books and middle grade: easy readers (ages 5-8, short books meant to be read by emerging readers, so the sentences are short and grammatically uncomplicated) and chapter books (ages 7-10, short novels of about 9000-12,000 words broken into chapters about four pages long).

As for taboo subjects, there’s almost nothing taboo in children’s books. As long as you deal with a topic in an age-appropriate way, you can write about it. For example, a picture book might deal with the death of a grandparent or a pet. A young adult novel (ages 12 and up) might be about the main character’s best friend committing suicide. If your main characters are within the age range of your readers, then their problems and the way they handle them will be appropriate to the readership.

I’m interested in writing a chapter book for 8 to 12 year olds. So from the information I’ve already gathered, it seems that 12 chapters of approximately 10 pages will give me around 30,000 words. Perfect! I already have a story in mind, four characters and a hazy setting. The theme jumped out and bit me during the night and the motivation behind the main character fits the theme perfectly.

I do believe I want to write. What a wonderful feeling!

Writing for Middle Grade Children

Well, this has to be a good start. I’m actually interested enough to do some research on writing for middle grade children (that’s the 8 to 12 age group).

The following information was taken from Ask Laura at Write4Kids and was written by Laura Backes:

1. Middle grade novels contain about 12-15 chapters, with about six to eight book pages per chapter. This translates to up to 10 manuscript pages. This is just a general guideline; your story might require more chapters, but will probably fall within this range.

2. The traditional middle grade audience is ages 8-12. There is also now an upper middle grade age bracket of 10-14. The main thing that differentiates a middle grade novel from a young adult book is that the protagonist is 10-14 years old (most are around 12) and so are dealing with problems and concerns of a preteen, as opposed to a high school student. Middle grade characters are wrapped up in themselves, their friends and family. Young adult characters also think about these things, but in the context of how they fit into the larger world. Young adult characters are stepping across the threshold to adulthood, whereas middle grade characters are learning how to be adolescents.

3. Subplots are a hallmark of middle grade novels, and are what set them apart from simpler chapter books for ages 7-10.

4. Most publishers accept a query letter along with one or two chapters. Send for publishers’ guidelines to be sure.

And this was a comment made about talking animals, which I’m not sure if I’ll have or not but it’s worth knowing:

Talking animals aren’t completely taboo, it’s just that most writers don’t do them very well. What’s important is that your animals have completely developed, unique personalities and characteristics. You need to develop these characters just as carefully as if you were creating human characters. Too many writers use their animal characters as stereotypes, thinking kids will be immediately drawn to them just because they’re animals.

Everything your animals say and do should be a logical extension of their individual personalities. And give your readers some surprises. For example, a rabbit might not be cute and cuddly; he may be absentminded, selfish, or cunning. I suggest you read some previously published “talking animal” books to get a sense of what I’m talking about. William Steig and Kevin Henkes are two good picture book writers. Also, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (a middle grade novel) is an excellent course on how to create unique animals characters.