There’s no feedback like the honest feedback of trying to hold the attention of a squirmy kid. This week I want you to try (or imagine) reading a story you’ve written to a kid under the age of 8. They are too young to worry about your feelings and they WILL let you know if the story is dragging! It’s great practice for holding the attention of former-kids too!
Write A Children’s Story
- Remember that children love wonder. Feed them fantastic characters and outrageous landscapes. Allow your story to be heightened, exaggerated, colorful.
- In amongst all that exaggeration, however, must lie a nugget of truth. I loved Roald Dahl’s writing because they were clever and they felt honest. Few of his characters were good. Many were all bad, and they usually got their comeuppance, and that was a very comforting idea, as a kid. [1. My favourite Roald Dahl book was one of the less-talked-about ones: Danny The Champion of the World. Danny’s dad is a criminal, for mixed reasons. He inducts Danny into the ways of crime (in this case poaching) and together they concoct one massive ‘stick it to the authorities’ scam. But Danny’s dad is absolutely devoted to Danny, and that is the part I remember the most. At the time I was caught up in the wonder of living in a decorated ‘gypsy’ caravan, of making and releasing a fire-lantern into the night, and the intricacies of the scam that Danny and his father put together.]
- Children’s stories don’t have to shy away from life’s darker topics. In fact, kids are better equipped to hear these stories, in many ways, than adults, because they lack the perspective to worry about how Red Riding Hood’s mother is going to feel about Granny being eaten by a wolf!
- Neil Gaiman says, in his children’s story Coraline (which, incidentally features a mother who tries to sew buttons onto a little girl’s eyes), “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
- But you can shy away from serious topics if you want. Just inject wonder, maybe a little humor, and keep things fast paced (Don’t believe me? Try reading your story to a child!)
- Use plenty of dialogue but make sure your kids sound like kids.
- Avoid slang because, trust me, what you think is ‘the new hotness’ is probably a thousand years out of date, according to your audience. In the words of the average teenager: “Please. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
- Pick an age range you know well and stick to it. If you don’t know any kids that well, think back to picture books or board books that you remember and copy their format. Tell a story in 16 sentences. Use repetition (“I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. They sent me a lion. “Too Scary!” I sent it back. I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. They sent me a…”)
- Keep it short.
(But not for too long!)
Read your story to a kid of the right age, over the upcoming holiday season. Watch for the points at which they start to squirm. Edit on the fly. Learn from it. Write another story!
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “[The Bremen town musicians]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 21, 2018.