Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The ABC’s of Writing for Children - Part 2

In part one of this article, published in the December issue, I shared with you the types of children’s books and the age groups that they target. In this part we will concentrate on getting your story down on paper. Most of the following information will relate mainly to the more complex stories; Transition books (7 to 9 years of age), Chapter books (7 to 10 years of age), Middle Grade books (8 – 12 years of age) and Young Adult books are suitable for ages 12 and up.

When planning to write, there is a level of commitment that is required. First, consider your schedule and set aside some time each day to work on your story. Is it when the kids go down for a nap at 11:00 am, or can you squeeze in time before they get up for school and the house is still quiet? Figure out what schedule is right for you to allow uninterrupted time to work. Writing involves thinking and planning. It is not as easy as it may seem. Writing for children requires you to think from a child’s perspective, which can be challenging for you to remember how your thoughts flowed back then or what was important to you when you were a child. So, planning your story, scenes and chapters is a must. Pick a topic and a title. The title can be considered a working title until publication but it will give you direction and focus when you start.

Do your research on the setting and/or geographical area connected to what you are writing about. Make sure your title of choice has not already been used by another author. Check the Internet, visit libraries and bookstores as well. Always research your market before submitting a manuscript. Originality of concept is a key factor in selling your idea to a publisher.

Next, decide who is telling the story. This is considered the point of view (POV). Answer the question: “Which character has the most at stake in the story?” This will prompt you to decide on your POV. Here are the POV options:
• First Person: Intimate: Using first-person POV is usually the easiest way to get the reader emotionally involved in your story.

• Omniscient: Use this POV for writing a big book, especially a historical saga. This viewpoint works best if you have many characters and subplots.

• Limited Omniscient: As a hybrid of first-person and omniscient, this POV sees the world through one character's perspective, but contains god-like powers to describe the setting, action, etc.

There is plenty to know about POV. Read more about it in detail from the excellent books available on the subject of book structure, etc.

Another tip is to list the goals of the story and each of the scenes. Get to know your characters inside and out. What are their favorite colors, what dialect will they use, what foods do they like and dislike, what is their family situation, etc. Develop the geographical information for your characters and story line. This way you will know how they are likely to react while the story is unfolding.

Initially, I recommend you do a brain dump onto the pages. Don’t try to spend valuable time on editing while the story is flowing. Use this as your draft, then go back and do your re-writes. And there may be many re-writes to perfect the story, so don’t get discouraged.

When you are ready to write the scene in your manuscript (story), format it using these five essentials elements: Description, Narrative, Dialogue, Action, and Internal Thoughts. Show, don’t tell, is the key to children’s books especially if they cannot read yet. One major problem for first time writers is giving too much “back story” in the first chapter. The goal of every scene/chapter is to move the story forward to the climax, the high point or the most dramatic peak (darkest moment) in your story, which occurs toward the end of the story. If part of your story lacks progression, delete it.

When revising your manuscript, ask yourself these questions:
o Have your characters been consistent throughout the story?
o Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end?
o Were all plot and sub-plot points resolved?
o Did the major characters achieve their objective? Did they grow?
o Do you have a good mix of the five essential elements?
o Is your dialogue “real or unnatural”?
o How’s your pacing?
o Did you remain true to your premise?

Then check for:
1. Grammar / Spelling errors
2. Word length. Make sure your book does not exceed the guidelines for a particular category.
3. Correct manuscript format / margins. Margins should measure one inch all around, format double spaced lines and use a font similar to Times, Courier or Schoolbook. Print your story on white paper with no fancy formatting and no colored text.
4. Don’t forget to read your story out loud. Your sentences should be short, concise and read like you are speaking.

After your final set of revisions, take some time away from your story. Use this mental break to allow some credible associate, friend or family member (s) to read the story and give you feedback. Join children’s book writing groups to get additional tips and critiques.

When you’re ready to get back to the story, you will have a refreshed view and confidence that you are on your way to publication; which is another challenge in itself.