C. S. Lewis
What I've learned about writing heroes in children's stories:
Make them heroes!
Heroes really worth looking up to. Heroes who are true role models. Who consistently choose the right path. Who stand up for truth, for honor, for right. Heroes who will be shining stars in a child's firmament and who will inspire them to stand for everything good and right in the world.
But, I don't think this means you should make them perfect. Don't make them gods. They are human, they will make mistakes and sometimes people will suffer because of their mistakes. Make them realistic mistakes, like not listening to a mentor and thus finding himself on a hilltop fighting off half a dozen wolves. Make sure the mistakes make sense within the story though. Don't have them make stupid, random mistakes, just to make them human. And don't load them down with mistakes. Just a few to keep them real people.
Don't shy away from writing evil just because you are writing for children.
Most children are exposed to the fact that there is evil in the world at an early age. From a few years old, they understand that there are choices in life and that some choices are good and others are bad. They understand evil. And your heroes can't be heroes unless there is something or someone for them to fight. So give them villains, whether it is evil emperors trying to take over the world or flaming dragons terrorizing the countryside.
However, I've learned to be careful how I portray the evil and the villains. Don't go overboard with the darkness or intensity levels. As a child, I loved being on the edge of my seat with suspense, but it doesn't take very much to frighten a child. When I'm writing adventure stories for children, I'm trying to give them an exciting story, not scar them for life. I need to give them enough good versus evil that it is suspenseful without making them put the book down because they are scared.
Make the villains BAD.
When writing books for children, I learned that it is best to draw clear lines between black and white and keep it that way. Make the villains black and have them stay that way. Don't give children many gray characters. It's best if you keep the morally and ethically ambiguous villains for other stories aimed at older readers. Children aren't stupid, but neither are many of them capable of wrestling through heavy ethics or morals.
This does not mean you can't have a villain repent! Just keep it simple and straightforward.
Give children heroes they can really look up to and want to emulate. Give the heroes something to fight. But draw clear lines between right and wrong, between black and white, between dark and light. Save the gray areas for older people.
Tomorrow will be my last post in this little series. I'll be going into detail about how my younger siblings have helped my writing.
Miss Melody Muffin