Children's Short Story Dos and Don'ts (Part 1)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Many writers who want to pen short stories for children dream of getting published in a popular kids' magazine like Highlights for Children or Cricket. Those are great goals, but writing for children is not as easy as it looks. As a matter of fact, many children's writers will tell you it is more difficult. Here are some Dos and Don'ts to make the journey a little easier:

**Do tackle difficult issues that kids are curious about such as drug abuse, lying, sibling rivalry, jealousy, peer pressure, and so on. Do feel like you can also write about simple topics such as picnics, recess, or a day at the river.

**Don’t make your story preachy. The last thing children want to read is a story where a lesson is being preached at them. You can have a lesson in your story, but it needs to be subtle!

**As a rule, do make your characters a little older than your target audience. For example, if you are writing for a magazine with a target audience of 9 to 12, make your main characters 12 or 13 if possible. Children enjoy reading stories about older children more than younger children.

**Don’t follow the age rule if it messes up your story. Don’t feel like you have to tell in the first few paragraphs how old the main character is. If you can work the age into the story naturally, fine. If not, then the reader should just get a feeling that the main character is around the age of the reader.

**Do allow children to solve their own problems and be the main characters in the story.

**Don’t allow adults to come in and save the day. In most children’s stories (and of course, there are always exceptions), adults should play a background or minor character role.

**Do follow guidelines exactly. If the magazine says the story must be between 300 and 500 words, then make it no shorter than 300 and no longer than 500 words. Titles do not count in the word count.

I have some more Dos and Don'ts, but I will save them for my next post on writing for children--part deux as they say. Do you have any others you've learned that you can add to the list?

Happy writing!
Margo Dill
"Read These Books and Use Them"
photo from


Ashley Howland said...

Some good advice for writers here, love the age factor - it is really possible to leave the age out of your characters, if they act and talk like your readers then they will presume age to be appropriate. Also agree, adults are a side issue in kids stories. Well done, look forward to some more tips.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for reading, Ashley!
Margo :)

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