Saturday, February 16, 2008


Writing for Kids—Challenging and Rewarding

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

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