Writing for Children (Part 18)

We can meet young readers’ real needs by meeting their felt needs. We can help our young readers to identify with our characters to solve their own problems. We can’t tell them though, we must show them. They will read and see for themselves. Please keep this in mind. It is so easy to preach at them, and then you have lost them.

Our young readers need to affirm their own experiences. They need to know that others have survived the everyday problems they are struggling with. Some need to learn not to take themselves so seriously. Others need to learn to be more accountable. Our main purpose in writing is to minister to young people.

Through our writing, we can show them there is hope and love. We can show them good biblical principles. Perhaps their faith can be strengthened, but like I said before, it is their decision, not ours. They must learn to own their own faith.

Perhaps, when you get to heaven, a child or teen will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Because of you, I am here.”

 

 

Writing for Children (Part 17)

How are we going to write for these special young people? Remember that they expect to be entertained. Our electronic world of TV, video games, movies, electronic devices, and endless vicarious entertainment has required nothing of them in return.

How can we grab their attention? How can we pass on a knowledge of the Bible and tell them about sin and its consequences? Many of them feel something is wrong only if it hurts or if they get caught. Haven’t you heard them say, “If it feels good, do it?”

How can we teach them not to abuse their own bodies? That God loves them and so do we?  How can we teach them to “own their own faith?” How can we help them deal with that biology teacher who is telling them information alien to their Christian beliefs? We can take them to church, write for them, and set good examples in our own lives, but they must make the decision to accept Christ into their hearts. We cannot make that decision for them. Therefore, we need to write materials for them that they will want to read—books and stories that will teach them to question, to analyze, and to think for themselves—materials that will bring them closer to Christ.

We do this by writing stories. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you must use fictional techniques to capture young readers. And fiction is the best way. These young people are not threatened by a pretend story. They feel books are an escape from the problems around them into a world of fantasy.

Writing for Children (Part 16)

The Differences            

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each. Taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking. Here is the juvenile novel version:

A Junior Novel

“That’s enough work for one night,” said Dad. He put his saw down and closed his tool box. “Be careful not to step in that hole in the floor.”            

I looked at the hole in my bedroom floor and wondered about the people who had lived here before us. How in the world had they made a hole in the floor? And why?

Did the father say, “Let’s have some fun tonight, kids? We’re going to have a contest to see who can make a hole in the floor first”?     

Every time I got up in the night, I had to be careful where I stepped.

“Come on, Scooter,” Dad said. “Let’s play some ball.”  I always enjoyed playing ball with Dad. Some of the guys in my sixth grade class would die before they’d play with their fathers, but I didn’t mind. Dad was a very good athlete for his age.   

I jumped in the car and landed on top of my sister Jake. “Oh, no!” I said. “I didn’t think you were coming!”     

“You don’t want me along because I always beat you,” she said.   

Unfortunately she was right. It’s incredibly embarrassing to have your thirteen year old sister wipe you up at the plate. “Isn’t it about time you started calling yourself Jacqueline and acting like a girl instead of a tomboy?” I asked not unkindly.  

I think she took special pleasure in beating me that night. We were ready to leave when I heard a strange noise coming from the tall grass that rimmed the ball field.

“Hear that, Jake?”

She cocked her head and listened. “What is it?”

Imagine our surprise when two of the fattest, fluffiest kittens you’ve ever seen came tumbling out of the grass. The miniature gray lion ran right up to Jake and sat on her feet. I picked up the white one with a black patch covering his eye. I don’t know how the cats felt, but for Jake and me, it was love at first sight.                

Notice how we get into the mind of our viewpoint character to a much greater degree. We know what he thinks and what he feels as well as what he does and what he says.

Writing for Children (Part 15)

The Differences

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each (taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking). Last week we presented a picture book. Here is a first chapter book scenario.

A First Chapter Book                                      Chapter 1

“That’s enough work for one night,” said Dad. He put his saw down and closed his tool box. “Don’t step in that hole in the floor, kids.”                      

The people who lived in our house before us had messed up the floor in my room, and Dad was fixing it.   

“Come on, Scooter,” said Dad to me. “Come on, Jake. Let’s go play ball.”      

“Coming!” I grabbed my jacket and my baseball glove. I jumped into the car and landed on top of my sister Jake and her bony knees. Umph!             

“Get off me, Scooter,” she yelled.               

“Get out from under me,” I yelled back. “This is my side of the car!” 

I stared at Jake and she stared at me. Then she climbed over to her side. “Thank you, Jake,” I said politely.  She made a face at me.      

Jake’s real name is Jacqueline Anne. I always kid her that she goes by Jake because she can’t learn how to spell Jacqueline. Jake’s one year older than me. She’s nine and in third grade. I’m eight and in second grade. Most of the time, Jake is a great sister.  Most of the time.      

Dad pitched to me first, and I swung as hard as I could. I missed.      

“That’s the way to hit the air,” Jake yelled.      

I made believe I couldn’t hear her. I knew I’d hit the next one out to her. Or the next one. Or the next one. And I did. I even hit one over her head. I cheered as she chased it.      

“Okay,” called Dad. “You kids switch places.”       

Jake and I were running past each other when I heard something. I stopped and so did she.       

“What’s wrong?” she asked.      

“Did you hear that?” I said. I pointed to the tall grass at the edge of the field. “Listen.” 

She tilted her head. “I don’t hear anything.”      

I walked to the tall grass and got real still. So did Jake. “There it goes again,” I said. “Did you hear it this time?”     

Jake listened hard. “Yes,” she said, excited. “I hear it! There’s something in the grass!”                 

Notice that there is much more detail in this story than in the picture book, but there still is virtually no thought or emotion developed. All is action and dialogue.

Writing for Children (Part 14)

The Differences            

Perhaps the easiest way to present the differences between a picture book, a first chapter book, and a junior novel is to show the same opening as it is appropriate for each. Taken from Gayle Roper’s Chapter 6 of The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking.

A Picture Book

        “Don’t step in that hole,” said Dad. “I’ll fix it tomorrow. Let’s go play ball.”            

          I hit the ball and Jake chased it. Then it was my turn in the outfield.  I heard something funny. “Listen, Jake. Do you hear that?” Two kittens tumbled out of the tall grass.   

      “Oh, Daddy,” said Jake, “Can we keep them?”     

       Andy, our collie, became the kittens’ mother.   

      One day the kittens were lost, and Jake and I couldn’t find them. Andy found them.   

     “Dad,” I said, “how do we get them out of the hole in the floor?”      

  

 All the missing details like where the hole was, what the kittens looked like, and where Andy found them would be obvious from the illustrations.

All the qualities that make good adult fiction make good juvenile fiction: conflict, suspense, pacing, focused plotting, complex characters, a strong beginning, a tense middle, and a satisfying ending.

Writing for Children (Part 13)

The hottest market in children’s writing currently is juvenile fiction for eight to twelve year-olds. These fourth through sixth grade books have the larger type. They normally contain about 20,000 words, and they don’t have pictures.

 These are fast-moving books with lots of exciting action. The dialogue must be believable and true to that age group. Normally they are geared to either girls or boys. They contain strong character development. These plots are more complex, involving sub-plots and secondary characters that are woven through the story. Kids get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of a series. Thus, a publishing house will want a series of these, so you need to think in multiple books if you want to write these. Occasionally, you might be able to fit your book into an already existing series.

All the qualities that make good adult fiction make good juvenile fiction: conflict, suspense, pacing, focused plotting, complex characters, a strong beginning, a tense middle, and a satisfying ending.   

Writing for Children (Part 12)

First Chapter Books          

Another type of children’s book is the first chapter book. The name “first chapter” may come from two places. One, these books are usually the first books kids read that actually have chapters. Two, the entire book is about the length of one chapter in an adult novel. First chapter books contain some pictures, often black and white.

Beginning readers are proud of the fact they can finally read, and first chapter books are the bridge for these new readers from picture books and easy readers to junior novels. First chapter books have eight to ten chapters and are 6,000 to 8,000 words long. The difficulty comes in developing well-defined characters and a complete story in such a short space. Dialogue is crucial to the success of a first chapter book, lots and lots of it.

Young readers enjoy humor and mystery thrown in with their action, and I recommend a single viewpoint character to prevent confusion and promote reader identification. First person works well for these books but is not necessary.

 

 

Writing for Children (Part 11)

Easy Readers

Another type of book you might consider writing for children is the easy or early reader. These have a simple vocabulary for children to read alone and are often the first books children will read by themselves. They must be concrete since young children do not think abstractly. Each sentence contains a subject, an object, and a verb. The words should flow in a rhythm with 6-9 lines on a page. These are usually 48 pages and contain 1,000-1,400 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue in grammatically simple sentences. Use only one idea per sentence. They contain line drawings, not in color, and not as much money is invested in the artwork as in picture books.

Children are at this stage of reading for such a short time that sadly few publishers publish these anymore. I published a series with Concordia some time back titled “The Parables in Action” series. I have received very favorable comments from my young readers. Many hold these books dear to their hearts since they were the first books they read by themselves.

 

Writing for Children (Part 10)

After you have written the first rough draft of your picture book and printed it out, a good way to divide it into spreads is to cut it into text pages. The important thing is you will move these around and change them before you are done. If you have too much text on one page, you can cut it in half. If not enough, you can add a sentence. Be sure each page of text forms a picture. Christine Tangvald, who has millions of picture books in print, rewrites her books 35 times before they are done.

 After many rewrites, read your book in front of the mirror. Does it make you laugh? Is it dull? Will it hold a four-year-old’s attention? Does it have a purpose, a “so what”?

 Picture books contain lots of color, humor, and a clear message. They need to make a point and to teach a lesson. The greatest benefit for the child is that Mom or Grandma gives her undivided attention while they read the book together.

Writing for Children (Part 9)

Picture books have a definite format, and you must know this format to write them. The concept of doing a picture book can be difficult to form a mental image in your head. Think of the entire book starting out as an enormous sheet of paper, cut up in multiples of 8. Board books are 16 pages, 14 pages of text. Picture books are 24 (20 pages of text) or 32 pages (26-28 pages of text). Over half of all picture books are 32-page format.

Text and pictures are laid out in spreads. A spread is two pages that spread across the book when it is open. Sometimes there is text on one side of the spread and a picture on the other. Sometimes there is text and pictures on both sides. And occasionally the text goes across the top of two pages. If page 1 is the copyright page and page 2 is the title page, then page 3 is where the text begins. Pages 4 and 5 would then make up the first full spread. Spreads have equal pieces of writing on them. If you have 26 pages of text, you will have 13 or 14 spreads.