Saturday, February 4

It's Not Easy to Write for Children

There is a common misconception that it is easier to write for children than adults. Many people think "grown-up" means complex and "juvenile" means simplistic. It is one thing to think as much but when you've taken the first step to writing for children,* you'll learn so much more about the difficulties and satisfaction in writing for a younger audience.

Picture Books (0-8)

The foundation of reading, picture books are designed to be read to children. They teach young'ns to read with the aid of illustrations, rhythm and sometimes rhyme. It baffles me that so many people understand the complexities of poetry but see children's picture books as simple. Writing a picture book is easy enough. It's less than 500 words, with half the pages (about 32 in total) being pictures. Writing a good picture book, however, is not.

I'm currently writing a picture book. I've finished the first draft and it's already overshot the maximum number of words by sixty. The sentences don't flow when I read them aloud and the rhythmic scheme is scattered. It holds all the disaster and promise of a first venture into a new medium.

Only, I've written a picture book before.

I was ten years old. It wasn't a fancy of mine but a project for school. We had to write and illustrate a picture book...and then read it to a group of five and six year old kids. It was horrifying. Imagine the worst thing you have ever written and then having to read it in front of a select few critics at their basest form.

It got worse.

My teacher picked a select few students to read their picture books to a class of eight year old kids. For some reason, she picked me. I don't mean to demonise her but this was the worst thing she had done to me since she told me to stop writing fancy fs and made me write them the pleb way.

My cousin was in that class. The entire population of children of the age of eight were in that class. Anyone who ever tries to tell me that writing picture books is easy can kiss my fancy f.

Children's Books (8-12)

Some children's books suck. I'm not going to sugar coat it, the writing is atrocious. Of course, the same can be said for all fiction. A writer of children's literature needs to captivate their audience straight away and keep their attention fixed. They need to have a story that is always moving and make sure that they don't write down to children. In theory, every good children's book should be able to be enjoyed by an adult. That isn't always the case, since all readers - regardless of age - have different preferences, but it is a fanciable aim.

When children reach this age, they are either delving into independent reading or still transitioning into it. So, if you write something that is tedious for adults, you're stuffed. If you write something that is stuffy, no children will want to read it. You need to have a compelling cast of characters, with plenty of conflict, curiosity and plot development.

I do not have the best attention span when it comes to reading and I am twenty one. It doesn't matter if it is a picture book, a children's book, a young adult novel or a grown-up piece of work. My eyes will glaze over if I am not entertained from the start. If I am able to find a great children's book - or better yet, series - I will devour it. The reason is, I find children's novels can hold tension and obstacles, required to empathise with characters and produce an exciting story, without relying on the petty dramas that come from books targeted at an older audience.

Romance, jealousy, betrayal. There just seems to be less of it in children's literature, without there being a subtraction from the theatrics of story telling. There are so many teen and adult novels that revolve around "I love you so much" and "poor me" that I just need a break from that without having to settle for a cruddy story.

A writer who can develop a novel or series that captivates children and older audiences, while maintaining brilliant storytelling, and without having to fall back on petty or cliché dramas, is amazing. Anyone who disagrees can talk to the hedgepiggy because I rest my case.

Young Adult (12-18)

These novels come the closest to adult literature, which makes them more appealing to an adult audience, but they are still technically targeted at children. More mature children. "Young Adult" is not a genre, as some people seem to believe, but a target audience. Thus, almost any genre can be written for this age group: science fiction, romance, mystery, tragedy... There is something to appeal to all teenagers looking for something to read.

There is one difference between writing for adults and writing for young adults. You are writing for teenagers and statistically you probably aren't one anymore. Regardless of what genre you are targeting, an important part of all young adult novels is that time in a character's life when they are transitioning from a child to an adult. Whether your character is twelve or eighteen, they are going through significant emotional and physical changes. Capturing those feelings and events, without coming across as preachy or implausible, is no simple task.

Young adult fiction has boomed in recent years. You can equate that to certain popular series or trends, but it really comes down to good writing. Of course, you can argue that you may not esteem the quality of writing in certain young adult novels, but you have to acknowledge that if a writer is able to entrance such a large population of readers with their characters and stories, they have succeeded.

The reason that young adult literature is doing so well is that there is an exceeding amount of talented people writing for that target audience. They don't do well because writing young adult novels is easier. They do well because they enjoy and understand how to write a good story targeted at young people, but also plenty of readers above the age of eighteen who can relate to that period in their life and revel in the storytelling.

Do you write for children? What are some of the difficulties you face?

*The first step to writing (whether for children or adults) is to write. Stop thinking and talking about it. Just do it.

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