While it's summer, I thought I'd take time to change the pace a little and respond to those of you who've asked for some tips on writing for children. And how to get published. So here's the first of this
What Will You Write?
First, and most important is to know the market and your strengths. Spend time reading Publishers Weekly, especially PW Children's Bookshelf. You wouldn't start cooking without learning how to use a stove. It's just as smart to know the marketplace you're trying to write for before you commit the huge amount of time and effort needed to write a marketable book.
Second, decide what age group you want to write for. In other word--who is your target audience. A book for a preschooler is clearly VERY different from a book for an 8 to 12 year old.
Once you choose your target audience, spend some time with children that age. Volunteer to read to children at the library or a local school. Listen to their vocabulary and sentence structure. Notice their attention span. And pay attention to what they choose to read. Think about what captures their interest.
As an example of the difference in writing vocabulary and style for different age groups, check out my book How Many Baby Pandas? (Walker, 2011)
In each two-page spread, the lefthand side is for preschoolers.
The righthand side is for older children. Notice that even the size of the text is different. The amount and kind of information shared is very different.
Next, it's time to decide what you're going to write. Before you choose a particular topic, you need to decide whether you'll write fiction, nonfiction, or faction. Faction is that wonderful blend--a fictional story based on fact. An example is my recent book Snow School (Charlesbridgem 2013).
Everything about snow leopards is true and based on a lot of research, including working with an expert who has spent more than two decades studying these animals in their remote, natural habitat. However, the particular snow leopard family I describe and what happens to them is my creative imagination at work, sharing that information in a docudrama-style story.
Writing FictionLet's take a closer look at writing fiction for children. Your story clearly needs an interesting plot and characters kids can care about. In today's world, writing a story--whether for children or adults--isn't that much different than writing a movie screenplay. The plot structure is basically the same--the three Act structure. Here's a quick graphic view of that illustrates the structure.
Also check out this three part series by Brad Johnson on the sequence of action--how what happens in the story needs to unfold for it to be successful.
To carry the action, you need characters you, the writer, as well as your readers can care about. You need to know them well, including their motivation. You especially need to know how your main character will change/grow/transform as a result of living through the three acts of your story.
In my book Soaring Like Eagles, that's certainly true for 12-year old Kate. She goes from being an orphan unsure of herself or her future to being confident of her ability to survive against all odds and the love of her grandfather.
Which brings me to the last point for Part 1. When writing fiction for today's audience--and today's publishers--you need to be able to squeeze the essence of your story and its main character(s) out in one sentence. What's called the logline.
When-----IDENTIFY YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AND ANY KEY IDENTIFYING TRAIT--does--TELL WHAT ACTION/EVENT THAT MAIN CHARACTER WILL FACE--then--TELL WHAT CHANGE WILL HAPPEN TO THE CHARACTER OR THE THEIR WORLD.
When a 12-year old orphan girl discovers a grandfather she didn't know she had, she also finds a new, earth-oriented way of life and the courage--even against great odds--to defend it.
This logline becomes the driving force for plotting and character development. It also becomes a key tool for introducing your finished book to an agent or editor.
Part 2: Writing Nonfiction--NEXT