Children's Stories

by Ash

Hi Glen! I was wondering how you would go about writing a children's story. Does it have a simple beginning, middle, and happy ending or is it more complex than that? Do you have any tips on language or avoiding heavy-handed themes?

Thank you for your help and have a great day!

Answer: All good stories, regardless of the age of the readership, follow the same four-part structure...

setup --> complication --> crisis --> resolution

With children's stories, you have to know what age group you are writing for. There are big differences between picture books, chapter books, and middle-grade/juvenile fiction. Obviously, the younger the readers, the shorter the word count and the simpler the vocabulary.

Remember that you're not just writing to appeal to the children, but to appeal to parents, teachers, and librarians (who actually make the decision to purchase). Adults want children's books that express good values and encourage literacy (so grammar matters more than with adult books).

Kids, on the other hand, want stories that reflect feelings and experiences they can relate to. They also like stories that involve things adults would disapprove of -- such as imagination, adventure, rule-breaking, and risk-taking -- things the readers wish they could do. They like stories where the kids make their own decisions and solve their own problems rather than their parents deciding everything. For this reason, middle-grade readers like books about characters slightly older than them who can do things they are looking forward to doing when they get older.

Of course you have to match vocabulary to age, but remember too that children learn new words by reading. Teachers like books that help kids expand their vocabulary.

Not all children's books have purely happy endings. Sadness is part of life at any age. It's a matter of treating the subject with sensitivity. (E.g. Charlotte's Web, Bridge to Terabithia, Love You Forever, Old Yeller, The Hobbit.)

Dramatica argues that a complete story has four throughlines or perspectives (those of the overall story, main character, impact character, and their relationship). Picture books usually have only enough words to cover one or two throughlines (overall and main character). But some books focus on the impact character rather than the main character (e.g. The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax.

Middle-grade books can be more sophisticated and develop all four throughlines, making them much more like adult novels.

However, what distinguishes almost all children's books is that the main character is someone the reader can relate to. They are either a child or have a child-like perspective on the world.

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