Monday, August 13, 2012

Writing for Children

by Carol Mitchell

Writers of children’s books have the best job. Perhaps I am biased; my foray into writing has been through the Caribbean Adventure Series, a series of books aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. However, I think that we definitely have more fun!

In the first place, we are writing for an audience that finds it easy to suspend disbelief. Fiction authors must often write in a way that makes their readers let go of their preconceptions and believe the unbelievable. This comes naturally for children who are not yet bogged down by knowledge of the constraints of physics, biology, mathematics, geography and politics. They are willing to accept it all. Talking animals? Flying elephants? Why not?

I’ll give you an example. In the Caribbean Adventure Series, the main protagonist is a monkey. In the second book, he stows away on an airplane. Most adult readers asked me “How could he get through security?” The children accepted this without question – the monkey travels through time, airport security is a piece of cake!

Another advantage that children’s writers have is the ability to write with imaginative abandon. When I was in school, I was taught that you needed to have a story planned completely before you started writing. However, when I began the Caribbean Adventure Series, I never knew how the books would end until they ended. I thought that this method of writing was unorthodox, until I read that Enid Blyton, an English writer of great acclaim, had the same technique. Now, I am in the process of writing my first novel and I find that to write about adult’s life, I need to be more structured in my thinking and develop the book fully before really beginning to write the meat of the story.

Children’s writers do face challenges that their counterparts with a more mature audience do not. Since our books are usually about children in the same age group as our readers, they do not have a long history that can be woven into the story to develop their character. We are forced to use the way that they interact with other characters to reveal information about them. In the Caribbean Adventure Series, for example, I ended up using two children to enable the reader to fully understand my main human character.

Finally, to quote Spiderman (I am a writer of children’s books, who else would I quote?) “With great power comes great responsibility.” We address a very impressionable audience and I believe that writers of children’s books need to use this medium to send very positive messages to our future generation about responsibility, morality and the triumph of good over evil.

Carol Mitchell


Charles Gramlich said...

I strongly disagree, at least for me, in having a story or book all planned out before you begin. It just doesn't work for me. I need the fun of discovery in that first draft myself or I can't go on.

William Doonan said...


You're very brave! The scary part, for me, about trying to write for children is hitting that zone where you're neither talking down nor being too complex. I think we often underestimate children's intelligence. This has always been a hard one for me.

Liane Spicer said...

William, the post is Carol's, not mine. I posted it for her as she was unable to. I leave children's fiction severely alone.

I usually draft an outline and modify it as I go along, but I have one WIP for which I'm breaking all my rules. I wrote one third with no outline, then did a rough outline, I'm skipping back and forth in time, and I have only a faint notion of what the finished story will look like. I have to admit it's exciting.

John Brantingham said...

The way that we write is individual as our learning styles. We outline or not based on what sparks that thing inside ourselves that loves writing!

I like her take on children's writing though. Children and surrealists are the best audiences.

G. B. Miller said...

I find it difficult to go from one medium (adult fiction) to another (children's/YA). Most of my writing life (6 years) has been spent writing adult fiction of varying degrees of explicitness, and only once did I write a G-rated short story (challenged myself one year, wrote it in one week and got it published two years later).

For whatever reason, I simply can't retool my writing down to an age level that is less than my son's age (19).

Which right now presents a terrifying delimma for me. While my 11 year old daughter is very proud of her dad having a book published later this year, she has been gently pestering me to write something geared towards her age bracket.

I'm guessing its so that she can show something off to her classmates.

But for me, it's making me grind to a halt as I'm torn between telling my daughter, "Okay, let me see what I can do" and "I don't think so sweetie."


Jewel Amethyst said...

G. B., let her write it with you. I did that with my 8 (now 9) year old daughter. wonderful exercise. Jury is still out on the publishing part.