Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Once Upon a Time - Guest Post by Karen King

Once Upon a Time

That’s traditionally how children’s stories started. Things have changed since then.  Now they start in lots of different ways, with dialogue, a moving scene, action, someone zooming off into space, etc. Children’s literature has changed since my childhood, and probably, yours, so whilst your fond memories of the books you enjoyed reading may have inspired you to try your hand at writing a children’s book, make sure that you make your story relevant to children today.

A lot of new writers try to write the sort of book they loved to read as a child so often make the characters or dialogue too old-fashioned. Rather than trying to recreate your childhood, think about how you felt as a child.  Thing about the scary shadows you saw in the dark, how you really believed your toys came to life, how anxious you were when you first started school, how excited you were waiting to open your presents Christmas morning... The world and children’s lives have changed but the feelings of childhood haven’t. So remember to draw in on your inner child when you write your story to help you remember how children feel and act.

Another thing you need to think about is the age group you’re writing for. This will affect the type of story you write, the vocabulary you use and the length of the story.  Obviously, the younger the child the shorter the book and the simpler the vocabulary. Generally speaking, books for under fives are under 1,000 words in length and heavily illustrated (picture books are often under 500 words), the word length increases then from anything between 4,000 -10,000 words for 6-9’s, over nines are usually 25,000 words or more. 

Writing for children comes with responsibilities. Children are very impressionable, so you have to choose your topics carefully, especially when writing for very young children. The general rule is not so show a child under nine doing anything that wouldn’t be considered safe for that child to do in real life. So no Enid Blyton style adventures with children talking to strangers and going off alone all day! This is one of the reasons fantasy stories are so popular, whisk the characters off to another world and they can have whatever adventures you like as long as the characters are credible and the plot realistic.

It’s also important to get the tone and voice of a children’s story right. New writers often make the mistake of ‘talking down to children like a patronising ‘adult, or are too preachy and try to teach a moral or lesson with their story. Children like to read for fun, just as we do. So just write a story, don’t try and teach them anything. Weave your story web , hook them in and let them enjoy the ride! 

Karen King has been writing children’s books since the mid-eighties. She’s written for many children's magazines too including Sindy, Barbie, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine. Some of her short stories were featured on Playdays BBC and some of her poems on the BBC One Potato, Two Potato website. She writes for all ages and in all genres. Story books, picture books, plays, joke books, she’s written them all!

She tutors for the Writer’s Bureau and runs writing workshops in schools.

Her picture stories books, Magical Horses, will be published next month and her children’s fantasy adventure, Firstborn, is now available at Amazon Kindle

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