Please help me welcome Donna Galanti to the blog today to share a few tips about writing children's books. Though honestly, a lot of these can be applied to any novel and any age, so it's good stuff even if you don't write for children.
Donna Galanti is an International Thriller Writers Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She evaluates manuscript submissions as a first-reader for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, and writes middle grade and young adult. Her middle grade adventure fantasy is currently out on submission. Connect with her through her website: www.donnagalanti.com. Donna has worked on several creative projects with developmental editor Kathryn Craft of Writing-Partner to find the power in her stories.
Take it away Donna...
Writing. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s a solitary game. We spend so much time writing alone, but to get published it benefits us to become part of a winning team made up of peers, mentors, and professionals.
A professional developmental editor can help you see the power in your story as well as improve your own self-editing. Here are some techniques that my editor has taught me about writing children’s fiction.
1. Voice and OpeningWatch for “breaking the fourth wall” like in Malcolm in the Middle and Modern Family where the characters speak directly to the camera.
For example: “If you’re a kid reading this who thinks lightning is awesome, think again. Lightning can get you, and the story I’m about to tell you will change your world.”
In fiction writing this is called breaking the frame of the novel, and it gained popularity in children’s books from these types of television shows. In fiction, this style of oral storytelling can reveal an author feeling around for the voice in his story.
Tip: Rewrite this “breaking the fourth wall” section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told.
For example: “The creek raced along from the rain like a roaring monster. I wanted to go outside in the storm, but that would never happen if my grandfather had a say. He would never even let me near a window when there was lightning.”
2. Let it ResonatePut the word conveying your most important concept at the end of the sentence or paragraph. The space after the period lets this word resonate for a deeper impact on the reader.
Compare: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland out back.
To: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but the storm had turned the yard into a muddy wasteland.
Oooh. “Muddy wasteland.” It resonates, doesn’t it?
Tip: Look for paragraphs or sentences where the important concept or heightened emotion is hidden in the middle then rearrange your sentences and/or words for the most powerful effect.
3. Choosing Your Point-of-ViewFirst person: Choosing which point of view to write in changes the entire flavor of a book. Writing in the first person can be challenging as it requires you to carry one voice across the scope of a novel, but there are benefits to writing children’s books in the first person. You can create internal exposition allowing the reader to see the main character’s thoughts and keep us close to the character. It can also be a useful tool to hide things from the reader and increase suspense.This is often popular in young adult novels by authors like A.S. King and John Green.
Third person:Writing in third person can be limiting. It doesn’t present the opportunity to give us all of the main character’s thoughts, but it allows for an arena of secrets. The story can unfold from different angles adding heightened suspense because the characters aren’t aware of things the reader knows. This is more popular in middle grade such as the Harry Potter series.
Tip: Incorporating dialogue and body language subtext can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.
4. Check “Kid” LanguageThis is especially important if writing in the first person as we see the world through the main character’s eyes. Question the use of poetic language versus what a child would say.
If your novel is written in the first person and your 10-year old protagonist watches a storm and notes “lightning seared the sky” then question using the word “sear”. Would a child that age use it? Probably not. Uncertain if you’re using the right vocabulary and language for your audience? I recommend the Children's Writer's Word Book by Alijandra Mogliner as a guide.
Tips: Watch for the use of trendy kid language. For example: “That’s fat. Cool. Rad. Dweeb. Chicks.” It could make your novel outdated in the future.
Also, question the use of adding technology, movies, books or other current trends that could date your work later. Think you need to add technology in a book for teens? Not so, unless it’s crucial to the plot. Read popular books in your genre and you may be surprised. Many seem timeless and for a reason. One of my favorite young adult authors, Joan Bauer, writes timelessly in her novels Rules of the Road and Hope Was Here, a Newbery Honor Book.
5. Choosing ImageryPick an image system and build on it while watching for overuse of multiple modifiers. Select which images are important to the scene, character development, and plot.
Compare: Artemio’s cloak hung down to his cracked, black leather boots.
To: Artemio’s cloak hung down to his cracked, leather boots.
If Artemio is a well-worn traveler then“cracked”and “leather”might feel important, but what does “black” add? Not much. It’s the author’s job to spotlight what’s important so the reader isn’t distracted with too many visuals that can remove him from the story.
Tip: Watch for repetitive imagery and build on it rather than using the same descriptive words over and over, keeping in mind that every image should relate to the plot.
For example, if a grove of trees looks like a graveyard of tombstones to a character then build on the “dead” and “stone” imagery of the trees throughout the story. Don’t use different images and have your character see the trees as comical wizards later on as it conflicts with the image theme.
6. Know Your GenreWriting in the style of multiple genres across your book can demonstrate a prose ADD. Know the elements of your genre–whether picture book, middle grade, or young adult–and exhibit them in the opening pages. Read bestsellers and award-winning books (Michael L. Printz, Caldecott, Newbery medal winners) in your genre to reinforce its elements.
For example, if writing middle grade leave out the romance and aim for less reflective thought. Young adult readers wonder more about the world around them and their place in it, versus middle grade readers who tend to live life more in the moment. Whatever the age level you write for in children’s books, the main character should be solving the conflict and making decisions–not an adult.
Tips: Revive memories of being the age of your characters. Draw a picture of the neighborhood you grew up in, pin pointing details. Remember what you saw, what you felt, and how you reacted to events there and write them down.
Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Go back and read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.
Eavesdrop on kids at the mall or park and take notes on their conversation.
Have a kid in your target audience read your manuscript and point out language and actions that don’t ring true to them.
About A Human Element
One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.
Praise for A Human Element:
“Be afraid. Be very afraid. And be utterly absorbed by this riveting debut that had me reading till the wee hours of the night. A thriller star is born. Don’t miss A Human Element.” – M.J. Rose, international bestselling author
“A Human Element is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author
“Lyrical and creepy, Donna Galanti’s A Human Element tugs on our heartstrings and plucks the gut-strings of horror. This debut thriller author is a true storyteller, highly reminiscent of Dean Koontz.” -Dakota Banks, award-winning author
Purchase A Human Element here:
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