Writing for Kids—Challenging and Rewarding

Saturday, February 16, 2008
I am lucky enough to have a middle grade novel coming out in the next year. For those of you who are not familiar with the children’s publishing world, middle grade is for kids between the ages of 9-12.

I am also currently teaching for a woman, who is on maternity leave, in a classroom full of nine and ten year olds, who love to read. With this job, I have been exposed to many, many, many great children’s books. I’ll mention a couple here by some fantastic women authors: Trouble Don’t Last and Shakespeare’s Secret. If you haven’t read these, you’ll want to check them out—even if you’re an adult.

But my point today is not how many terrific middle grade books I’ve read. It’s about what kids like or what writing teachers and authors say kids like. I think the following list is true and can make or break a great manuscript. Not only do these “rules” work for novels, but I think they also hold true for short stories. It’s not as easy to write a story for kids as some people assume it is. In fact, it may be harder. Kids are not gentle if they don’t like a book.

*The protagonist needs to be as old or older than your target audience. If your target audience is 9-12, then make your protagonist 12-13. Kids love to read about characters their own age or older doing spectacular things. They don’t want to read about someone their younger sibling’s age.

*The protagonist needs to solve his or her problem with minimal or no adult assistance. Parents are usually in the background in kids’ novels. They definitely don’t come to the rescue.

*Kids need to sound like kids—even if you have a genius as a main character. This genius is still 12 years old and doesn’t have the life experiences of an adult. The genius adolescent can have a grand vocabulary but still sound and think like a kid. If you want to write for kids and you aren’t around kids, then go where kids are and listen to them.

*Don’t underestimate your readers. They can handle complex plots and issues. Some of the students I am currently working with can write their own Web sites with html coding, so they can certainly figure out mysteries and follow subplots. Give them some meat in your stories.

I’m sure there are lists upon lists in cyber world of what makes good children’s stories. I followed these four points for my middle grade novel, and I’m trying to do these again in my current ya novel. If you write for kids and have any more to add, please do so in the comments. Writing for kids is not easy, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill


Anonymous said...

I believe this, that kids can be incredibly discerning readers, more than we sometimes give them credit for. Great points...maybe it's easier to write for adult? ;-)

Unknown said...

Hi Margo,

Thank you for the information. I have to agree, that kids are quite intelligent when it comes to story lines, etc. They have great insight on the subjects that revolve around them.

I am currently still working on a story for children. I am writing actually for the same age range as you are. :)

I must say, when I interviewed a bunch of the children that are around my own children, it was amazing the information, I could and did gather from them, they are an incredible source of information.

Happy Writing!

InkBridge said...

Congratulations on your novel, Margo! That's fantastic. =)

You're so right about kids. As a former classroom and library volunteer for years, I witnessed a lot of critical comments by kids. Even my kids will speak their minds without hesitation on a book. Plus, unfortunately, kids are extremely busy and active these days; if a book or novel doesn't "wow-'em," they won't bother finishing it (unless it's a requirement. LOL)

Anyway, CONGRATS. Make sure to let us know all the details when the novel comes out!

Dawn Wilson said...

Hi, Margo,

Congratulations on your book! That is wonderful! I am sure you put a lot of time and hard work into it and now you get to experience the joy and gratification of your book finally coming out. Yay!

I am revisiting the world of writing for children. I just started a MG series with 10-year-old characters. Of course, I have concerns that some issues my characters face are too "grown-up" for young readers (one character's father left him and his mother and his mother had an alcoholic boyfriend -- that part is not shown in the story but he remembers what the boyfriend was like and has some anger issues resulting from it), but I surmise that there are kids that same age going through these things, too, so not only can they relate to this character but maybe get some comfort from the hard lesson my character learns because of how he handles what happened. Anyway, despite bad things in life, I'm ensuring that it's not TOO bad or overdone for the young readers. And, I agree: It's important to make kids sound like kids. In addition to having babysat kids these age, I also spend LOTS of time at my daughter's elementary school, interacting with other children. Good luck with your book's release!

BTW, I've listed this blog post in my own blog: http://dawncolclasureblog.blogspot.com/

Cher'ley said...

Congrads on your novel. I'll be working on a novel for middle graders as soon as I get the loose ends tied up on my current novel. I have it outlined and started, so I'll just have to pick back up on it.

You're right Kids are really very advanced, but they are still kids.

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