Tips on Writing for Children
By Gouri Banerji
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King
Indeed, they are. For me personally too, the enchanting world of stories has captured – and fuelled – my imagination since my childhood. Books like The Faraway Tree, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and gems by the likes of Enid Blyton, Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl, and JK Rowling have shaped my creativity greatly. In fact, it is children’s writing that perhaps sowed the seeds of passion for writing within me. And though my career as a writer and editor spans across genres such as business communications and travel writing, I’ve always found children’s writing the most rewarding.
Two years ago, I’d forgotten about this passion, having become accustomed to the pace and style of corporate communication. But then my paths crossed with Skoolbo, an e-learning media company with an amazing vision – to provide a platform to every child to learn to read. Working with Skoolbo has taken me back to what I love to do. But more importantly, it has taught me a lot about the craft itself.
It’s always a mixed bag, of course. And it’s often an instinctive art rather than a precise science. But there are techniques that help bring out the best when writing for an audience that poses the most difficult challenge – capturing and holding the reader’s attention! I’d like to think of myself as a children’s writer who’s still learning, but here are some tips that have helped me and continue to guide me:
Tip 1: Be your audience, bring out the child in you!
One of the easiest mistakes to make is to write for a child as an adult. Ask yourself, is this something a four-year-old would understand? Would they like it? Become a child in your mind and then write. That’s when you start having fun with the pen!
Tip 2: Don’t talk down to your reader: kids are smart!
Write from the mind of a child, but don’t make it childish. Kids can surpass any adult when it comes to imagination, intelligence, and curiosity! So go back to your writing and ask yourself, “If I were a kid, would I find that condescending?”
Tip 3: Be classic yet not clichéd, be original yet simple
Clichés in kids writing can do wonders, as certain ingredients always make for a delicious mix –magic, wizardry, make-believe creatures, and so on. But what you do with these ingredients is important. Be classic but also different, original, whacky, and imaginative.
Tip 4: Paint a picture with words
With children’s books in particular, painting an image is critical. You have to be visual with your story to bring it to life in the eyes of a child. attention. If you want to take them with you into the world you’ve created, show it to them.
Tip 5: Be persistent, the story will come to you.
More often than not, writing a book is a journey where you don’t really know where you’re going. And the journey can be long, so be patient. Let your thoughts flow even if they seem disjointed or you don’t have a perfect beginning, middle, and ending. As Dahl said, “When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up on to the top of a hill, and you see something else, then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process.”
Tip 6: Make your characters relatable, interesting and funny.
Try catching a kid’s attention with normal characters – chances are you’ll bore them. Books need great characters that stand out, characters that your reader can relate to, look up to, admire; characters who are exciting, brave, inspiring. Elements that add to originality are funny or unusual words and names – Dr Seuss was a genius with this skill, using rhyme and alliteration to make up nonsense words that were extremely infectious!
Tip 7: Take pride in your work, but don’t be proud.
Be self-critical and maintain humility: Going back to something Dahl believed, “The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble.” Nothing could be truer.
At the end of the day, there’s no formula to great writing. But keeping some of these aspects in mind certainly help. And finally, keep reading. Revisit books you may have read when you were a kid. Read across age groups. Read prose, poetry and rhyme. Read both nonfiction and fiction. Most importantly, let out the child in you, and write with free abandon – have fun!