Children’s fiction (including teens’) has always been a minefield of rules. Most of these rules are pretty obvious, but others are not. In the next few of blogs I want to touch upon aspects of children’s writing, including how to present a picture book layout for submission to an agent or publisher, and the significance of word count when writing for children and teenagers.
As a writer looking for representation, or publication it helps to know the ‘established’ rules, and follow them as much as possible. Its better to get a foothold in the world of children’s fiction before suggestion work you’ve written that goes against certain set ‘standard’ expectations. Any exceptions are rare.
A few tips to keep in mind while writing for children and teens;
- Reconsider the present tense: Although popular in YA, it’s really old-fashioned, and should never be used if you are writing a picture book, first chapter books or middle grade story
- In picture books use the third person, and keep the words to a minimum. It’s the pictures that tell the story; the words are mainly dialogue and/or simple statements that move the story along in ways the pictures cannot
- Keep your writing immediate. Tell your story with as little backstory as possible; backstory is a real killer of pace, tension and action. If you must have some backstory find a way of telling without it becoming exposition
- Use dialogue and action to move the story forward; this applies to books written for girls and boys: Specifically first chapter books, and middle grade books
- Use the senses to show the characters’ responses; don’t let your characters internal thoughts drive the story: constant reflection will slow your story down and kill any interest
- Avoid adjectives relating to dialogue, he said, she said is good enough
Simple short descriptive passages, short sentences and dialogue create excellent pace within children’s and teen fiction
- Don’t use slang, colloquiums, or catchphrases. Don’t refer to bands or tv shows either. Both have a tendency to date your work super quick
- Refrain from stereotypical characters or archetypes. Both are symptomatic of lazy and unimaginative writing
- Be aware of what age group you’re actually writing for, many agents say this is the biggest problems they face with submissions; middle grade books touching on themes and issues more suited to YA
- Read books written for children within the past ten years. This is an absolute must; Don’t rely on knowledge of your childhood favourites, too much has changed. Also, if you want to write for one specific gender, you need to be reading those books in particular
Have a happy Halloween! 👻