Writing for young children is much harder than many writers realize—that is until they try it! As a children's author and freelance editor, I reveiw children's stories that writers hope to publish. I often see the same mistakes being made by different writers, so in today's blog, I will address those common mistakes in order to help writers avoid them.
Ten Tips on Writing
for Young Children
1. Less is more – Say
as much as you can with as few words as possible and avoid the over-use of adverbs. Rather than: She walked quietly past the baby's room, use: She tip-toed past the baby's room.
2. Use active verbs –
Avoid the use of boring verbs. Rather than: Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain, use: Abraham and Isaac climbed the mountain. (Drop the word up)
3. Use dialogue – Dialogue
makes the people and stories come alive. Rather than: Mother told Bobby to wear his jacket because it was
cold outside, use: ”Wear your jacket,
Bobby,” said Mother. “It’s cold outside.”
4. He said/she said tag lines – Tag lines (dialogue
attribution) tell the reader who is speaking. In novels they are sometimes
omitted when it’s obvious who is speaking, but children need to know who is
speaking at all times. Do not get
creative with the word said when
writing for children. Words like replied, exclaimed, remarked, are too adult
(many writers do not even use them in adult stories). The focus needs to be on the
dialogue and not on the tag line. For a statement, use said:
“Let’s be friends,” said Jamie. For a question, use asked:
“Where are the swings?” asked Lily.
Also, you cannot “laugh” or “sigh” words. Incorrect: “My shoes are on the wrong feet!” laughed Sarah. Correct: Sarah laughed. “My shoes are
on the wrong feet!” she said.
5. Punctuation – Always
use proper punctuation. Do not get
cutesy and creative with extra punctuation marks!?!?!!!
6. Use concrete nouns
– Children do not understand abstract words or words that are concepts. Use
concrete nouns you can visualize like tree,
car, flower, baby, and apple. Abstract nouns are hard to visualize like peace, hope, and faith. If you need to use an abstract noun, then follow it with an
explanation. For example: Abraham
had faith. He believed everything that God told him. He knew God’s words were always
7. Use specific and
descriptive language. For example: On
the fifth day, God said, “Let the waters be filled with living things.” Sharks and whales and jelly fish were soon
swimming in the seas. Then God said, “Let the birds fly in the air above the
earth.” And just like that, eagles were soaring through the sky and robins were
building their nests in maple trees.
8. Avoid metaphors – Young
children are literal and do not have
an understanding of metaphors. If you said:
When it was my turn to sing, I had
butterflies in my stomach, a young child would imagine that the person had
real butterflies in his or her stomach! However, if you said: When it was my turn to sing, my stomach felt all tingly inside, a child
would understand that.
vocabulary – Writers often use words that are too advanced or too adult for
young children. The challenge is to use fun and creative words that are simple
enough for young children to understand. Rather than: We noticed that the eggs had
mysteriously disappeared from the robin’s nest. Use: We looked in the robin’s nest and
the eggs were gone! Where did they go?
10. A great resource! – The Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijander Mogilner and Tyopa Mogilner is something every children’s writer
needs. It lists specific words that are introduced
at seven key reading levels (kindergarten through sixth grade). It gives advice
and tips on word usage and vocabulary development. It also offers a thesaurus
so that when you look up a word, it will not only tell you the grade level of
that word, but also gives synonyms at different levels. For
example, the word hum is a first
grade word and its synonyms with grade levels are: buzz (5th),
murmur (4th), sing (1st), vibrate (5th). This book is
especially helpful if you are writing for beginning readers.
Here's to happy writing experiences!