Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Nautical Course - How to Navigate the Children's Writing Seas

Becky Hillman
Children’s stories may be simple to read, but can be complicated to write. Here are a few tips we learned in Terri Kelly’s class to help navigate the children’s writing seas.

Flotation Devices: How to Write
In order to write a good children’s story, you must learn to read
like a writer. Count your words. Use strong verbs. What’s true about other writing remains true in children’s stories: show don’t tell, and write tight.

There are a number of techniques that can be used when writing for children. For instance, structure your story around the days of the week, months of the year, the alphabet or numbers. Children like seeing something familiar and parents and teachers like strengthening particular skills. Another technique that is both effective and popular is using repetitive phrases. This one can be tricky, so be careful not to overdo it. One technique that gets children thinking is question and answer. This gets them engaged in the story and makes them excited to turn the page.

Deciding which style best suits you can be overwhelming. One way to figure this out is to pick up your favorite children’s book. Study it and ask yourself the following questions:

Why am I drawn to this book?
What kind of text is used?
Is this the style of writing I want to use?

Knots and Life Jackets: Essential Tips
First of all, write, write, write! Ann Whitford Paul said, “Don’t be a nervous swimmer; test your story waters with your toe. Dive right in.” Here are some things to remember as you take the plunge. You don’t have much time to keep a reader’s attention, so start with a strong opening. Use strong verbs and have an active voice. Check your characters. Kids relate to kids, so for the most part you have to lose the adults.

Once you’ve gotten something on paper, read it out loud. Read it to yourself, read it to your family, and any kids that will let you. Also let other adults read it, those who either have children or work with children. They can offer treasured feedback. Another valuable resource is a critique group. Individuals in these groups can provide not only feedback but advice as well. In a good group, they will allow you to learn from their mistakes. Sharing tips is a good way to help each other navigate these sometimes treacherous waters.

The Crew: Who to Write for in the Children’s Market
There are many publications to choose from. A must have in any writer’s world is the 2012 Christian Writer’s Market Guide, formerly written by Sally Stuart, now owned by Jerry Jenkins. Once you’ve chosen a publication, study them before you write for them. Knowing what they want will save you time later. Then go back to picking up your favorite children’s book and study the style the author used. If it’s a style you might want to use, study the market guides, target a publisher and write a manuscript for them.

Have a plan. Decide how long it will take you to finish your manuscript and set a target date. Then tell someone your target date. Ideally you could tell those in your critique group. If you are not a part of one yet, find one and join it. If you can’t find one, start one. There must be plenty of people you know who write. This is where social networking comes in handy. But be careful to include only those you know well and trust. Starting your own group can be risky in many ways.

Captain’s Advice: What the experts say
Use verbs. Let the kids fill in the adjectives...” Our expert here is Dr. Seuss.
The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Our expert here is Mark Twain.

Tips From Our Shipmates
1. Familiarize yourself with good children’s literature.

2. Hang out with children. Know your audience.

3. Love child’s play.

4. Teach without them knowing they’re being taught.

5. Become again who you want to entertain and teach. You can be child-like without being childish. Enjoy being young.

6. See with child’s point of view.

7. Write with words children understand, but do not talk down to them.

8. Get on your knees or sit on the ground and view life from the child’s world.

9. See it. Hear it. Say it...from your own childhood!

10. Get ideas from your kids and let them help you.

11. Keep a journal of things your kids say and do, then use it for your stories.

Bon Voyage!
As you consider all of the wonderful information Terri provided us with, decide what your next voyage will be. Find something or somewhere you can land to educate yourself as a writer. Perhaps it will be a book like Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, or a CD recommended by a writing buddy. Conferences can be invaluable to writers of all stages. A trustworthy conference such as the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference has a number of classes and individuals that can set the scene for your next landing place. Thanks, Terri Kelly for a lighthouse of a class!

Don't forget to send devotions for our kids. Sorry, I had the wrong submission address! Please send them to terri@devokids.com.