Advice on Writing for Children
New Writers Awards panel member Tom Pow shares some advice on writing for children.
One of the things that makes writing for children so challenging is that most of us come to it bearing the deepest reading imprints of our lives. Deep in terms of emotional attachment and deep in terms of time. It's therefore very important to question all your plot ideas to make sure they are not ones that are re-treads of what has gone before, no matter how much your early reading experiences moved you. It's also important to have a weather eye on what is out there. (And to give some evidence of that awareness in your submission.) If you find that the storyline won't let you go, give deep thought to how you can re-invigorate it.
We're told often that there are only seven plotlines, so you need to be nimble to make yours fresh. Be very careful about reaching into the “myth kitty” or about taking your character into the past without having very good reasons for doing so. In other words, make up your own stories! Then develop character and relationships through action. Get close to your characters, so that they are not counters you're moving around, but characters whose actions depend on the kind of people they are. Give them the license to surprise you.
It's tempting to reach for adjectives and adverbs, thinking they add colour to your writing, but often they just clutter it. And often the best writing is writing that is uncluttered; that knows its job is to carry the story. If the reader is engaged, the need for almost all adjectives and adverbs falls away. Sometimes this is a question of confidence: trusting the writing and trusting the reader. It's the same when it comes to voice. Children love humour, but a desperate seeking after what an adult thinks a child will find funny comes over as desperation. In the same way, a hyper-awareness of audience, say a narrator addressing a best friend with lots of in-jokes and mate-talk, can tend to get in the way of the story. Trust the story.
Remember too that the synopsis is part of your submission. It too must engage the reader (in the case of a publisher, the gate-keeper!). So don't make it read like a complex manual for a washing machine. Make sure that what you think are the key points of your story are highlighted. And, of course, a professional writer will proof read and proof read again.
Tom Pow is an Edinburgh born poet and the author of several young adult novels, picture books and radio plays. To find out more about Tom and his work, please visit his website.