A friend of mine writes the Eager Little Bookworm blog and when I went to visit her – along with the little bookworms – this week, I very much enjoyed exploring their library, including old favourites like “Where’s Spot?” and new (to me) treasures such as “Winnie the Witch”. But it got me to thinking, so this week I’ve decided to set myself – and anyone who feels like joining in – a challenge: to write a children’s story. Not for publication or because I think we should all because children’s authors, but as an exercise to make us write outside our usual pattern and to focus on other aspects of writing, such as:
1. Plot: The plot has to be simple, but also interesting. You don’t need much by way of twists and turns, but you do need a clear and fun story. Spot is hiding, Sally (his Mum) wants him to come for tea, so she looks for him and finds lots of other animals along the way. That’s a plot.
2. Length: A children’s story can easily be longer, like the Narnia books, but a book for children to read themselves, or have read to them in the first few years, will often be one which can be completed in just a few minutes – for example as a bedtime story. As such, it might only be 100 words long, or even less.
3. Language: The language needs to be simple enough for children to understand the story without having to investigate the meaning of every (or even almost every) word. Many focus on a particular word sound, word or grammar principle, repeated throughout the book or on a particular page. And dealing with any of those aspects would be good discipline for any writer to focus on in an exercise like this.
4. Characters: Lots of children’s books end up being series and lots of children’s characters end up being hugely popular outside book form (just think of all the Mr Men toys, lunchboxes, dvds etc you can buy). So there are definitely bonus points for creating a loveable character or set of characters.
5. Theme: Many children’s books deal with a particular theme. They are educational and deal with colours, or numbers, or vehicles, or whatever. Or they are educational in other ways, for example dealing with important subjects like potty training or adoption or getting a little sibling.
6. Illustrations: Don’t panic, I’m not suggesting you illustrate your story (unless you want to). In fact, this is a bit of a false point, because although children’s books are invariably brightened and brought alive by the illustrations, these will usually have been added long after the story was written, by an illustrator selected by the publisher without the author’s input, and that’s only going to happen if the story is good enough in itself. Nevertheless, it’s worth thinking about vivid images (although probably not describing them in words), colourful characters and vibrant scenes … everything that makes a good book for any age really!
Are there other aspects you think make a children’s book special or challenging? Let me know in a comment below, or have a go at writing a children’s story bearing some of these points in mind and let us know how you get on!