So You Want to Write for Children
Watch out for these 7 common mistakes
The idea has been floating around in your mind for years. You want to write a children’s book. Wonderful! Now is the perfect time to get started. But before you begin, take a moment to read over these 7 common mistakes made by beginning writers.
Once you’ve read over the mistakes to avoid, pull out your notebook, laptop or other device, make yourself comfortable and get started.
Common Mistake 1: Writing that “talks down” to children
Children, even very young children from beginning or emergent readers and up, are very astute. They can tell when a story is condescending, or to put it in their own words, “is a baby book.”
Trust me, when a young reader or listener is choosing a book to read, and says that a particular book is a “baby book,” it does not bode well for the book. It means that they they are not interested in the book at all. The author has already lost that reader.
A child will label a book baby-ish, when the writer uses overly simplified language and situations that are out of synch with the age of the reader.
Common Mistake 2: Writing a story that is too didactic
The writer has written a story that is “teachy” or “preachy.” The lesson or message of the story is too obvious.
Instead of letting the young reader or listener learn the lesson through the events of the story as they unfold , the writer tells them what to think, feel or learn.
Making this mistake leaves nothing for the child to delight in discovering and ends up sounding more like a lecture.
Common Mistake 3: Not understanding their ideal reader or listener
Children represent a wide and diverse range of audiences. Books written for babies differ from those written for preschoolers. An early chapter book is different from one written for a middle grade reader, and so on.
Each audience is different in terms of reading and comprehension levels. Hence, the vocabulary, length of sentences, sentence structure, number of pages, complexity of the story and the approach taken will vary depending on the audience.
When a writer has not determined the ideal audience for their book, then the story is going to be either too complex or too simple for readers and the question arises, “Who is this book for?”
Common Mistake 4: Unrealistic dialogue and situations
This mistake is closely related to Mistake 3. Not knowing who the ideal audience is will affect the conversations of the characters and the situations they face.
When children interact, play and talk with each other, there is a vast difference in how the various age groups express themselves verbally and physically, as well as how they relate to each other within the context of the everyday events going on in their “world.”
Common Mistake 5: Using dry passive text
When this mistake occurs, the text sounds like one description followed by another and another. In other words, the story sounds more like a summary of events and lacks a sense of excitement and engagement. Using the active voice will draw readers and listeners into the story.
Common Mistake 6: Taking too long to get into the story
The writer spends too much time setting up the story and adding background details. The result is that the reader will begin to lose all interest before the story even begins.
Provide just enough information in the beginning and then get right into the story. This is called the hook. The key is to grab the reader’s attention right away.
Common Mistake 7: Failing to understand that young readers need a happy or hopeful ending
This is the case for books written for toddlers to middle graders. At this time in their lives the books they read should end on a positive note. Yes, there can be challenges and ups and downs throughout the story, and sometimes everything does not end perfectly, but for children at these ages, the ending has to be hopeful, if not happy.
So of the 7 common mistakes to avoid, I’d say the one to tackle first would be Mistake 3.
If you identify your reading or listening audience before you start writing, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.
It will be much easier to write your story when you understand everything you need to know about the reading and comprehension level, as well as the life experience of your ideal listener or reader. This is the single best way to connect with and make an indelible impact on the person you are writing for.