Monday, February 17, 2014
Writing For Children: The Basics
Today is the first day of the Scribblers' Conference. Anne-girl has posted a tag you can answer HERE and her first character interview is up on HER BLOG.
I promised to post about the subject of writing for children. Let me just say that I'm not going to give you a set of rules to follow in writing for children. First of all, there ARE no hard and fast rules in writing. Writing is a matter of finding out what methods work for each individual writer and then using them. Secondly, I'm not a good enough writer to be able to tell anyone else how to write. So, I'm simply going to tell you what I've learned over the years, in hopes that some of it may help one of you.
How does writing for children differ from writing for teens or adults? (For this blog post series, I'm defining children as 10 or under.) Well, obviously, there a few major differences. Children can't handle hugely, epic dark and sinister political villains or complicated plots with a million sub-plots. But, neither are they stupid. They understand a lot more than many adults realize. I think the biggest difference is in style. You can tell the same story to a child that you would to an adult, but you are going to tell it two different ways so it makes sense to the two different audiences.
Two and a half years ago, I read an essay by C.S. Lewis entitled, On Three Ways of Writing For Children. It is a brilliant essay and made some excellent points. It made a deep impression on me, but I did not realize how deep at the time. I read it and filed the book away on the shelf. Last week I sat down to read it again, and was surprised to learn just how much it has impacted my writing in the time since I first read it. Looking back over what I wrote on my Quara story the last year and a half, I can see so many times where the points Lewis made unconciously influenced my writing style. You can read the entire essay HERE. (And, for those who don't read Narnia, fantasy or anything with magic, let me assure you there is NOTHING in this about magic. Yes, Lewis mentions fairy tales and fantastical writing, but it is in a discussion of the genre.)
#1: What is your motivation for writing a children's story?
Write a children's story because a children's story is the best art form for the story you have to tell. ~ C. S. Lewis
The first question I always ask myself is "Why am I writing this story for children? What is it about this story that demands I write it for children and not older people?" While writing a child's story comes fairly easily to me, my comfort zone is still writing for teens and adults. For me, it is easier than writing for children because I don't have to worry as much about whether a child can handle the issues I am tackling.
Now, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with deciding you are going to write a children's story and then doing it, but Lewis' point in the quote above was that you need to examine your motivation for writing a children's story before you just decide you are going to write one.
#2 Perspective in children's stories.
Our own childhood, as lived was immeasurably different from what our elders saw. ~ C. S. Lewis
The two biggest influences on my own writing have been my family, particularly my six youngest siblings age 10 and under, and the memory of my own childhood.
Think about when you were a child. You saw the world very differently from what you do now. When children pick up a book, they don't want to read an adult's perspective of their world. They want to empathize with the characters, to read a book they completely understand because it shows them the world the way they see it, the way they think.
So, the second lesson I learned in writing for children was to write using a child's perspective. Think the way a child thinks. Ask myself, "Would I have liked reading this when I was younger? Would my siblings have enjoyed a book like this? My friends?" I put myself in the mind of the child I was and see the world through those eyes. I use the understanding and the knowledge I've gained since leaving childhood to enhance that perspective, not change it.
Lesson #3: A healthy imagination is vital.
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. ~ Albert Einstein
It is pretty much a given that if you write fiction, you have a working imagination. If you write for children though, that imagination is even more important. Because you need it to see the world through a child's eyes. I learned I had to let my imagination drift back to those long-ago days when I sat and daydreamed by the hour. I had to give my imagination a fuller and freer rein than I ever did even when writing for teens. I had to let it go out to the edges of the known universe and beyond.
#4: Focus on telling a good story, no matter who you are writing for.
A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is a bad children's story. ~ C. S. Lewis
If we tell a good story, children and adults alike should enjoy it, no matter what the target age of the story is. One of the best examples of this I know of is Kendra Ardnek's Bookania Chronicles. Everyone in my family from the adults down to the children enjoy these stories. They are good stories and people of all ages take something away from them.
Tomorrow I will go into some of the things I learned NOT to do when writing for children.
Miss Melody Muffin