Five Things: Writing for 8-12 year olds

Photo: Alamy.com
Category: Writing

Last week, we held a seminar on Writing for 8-12 year olds at the CCA in Glasgow.  Our panel included a Literary Agent, Commissioning Editor and a Bookseller. We learned some fantastic tips from all corners of the industry about writing for this age group. Here are the top five things we learned from the event.

1.    It’s a really exciting audience to write for

Reading is the number one leisure activity for children under 10. This age category is where real readers are made -- children are learning new words and making sense of the world through stories and their extraordinary imaginative capacity. It also marks the beginning of independence and self-sufficiency. Books which children read at this age will often stay with them for life, so it’s a really important and exciting stage of their development for writers to be involved with.

2.    Children value a good plot

Children like the momentum of a series and therefore picking out standalone novels can be trickier. Children like to ‘fall in’ with characters they already know and love, but that doesn’t mean you have to stretch out your story across several books if it doesn’t fit. Children need to be the main actors in the story, not the adults. Make sure your language is modern and understandable, but don’t patronise your readers. Children are drawn to a good story which has humour and plenty of action, so keep your chapters short, use cliffhangers and keep the pace relevant to the action.

This age category is where real readers are made

3.    It's important to get to the heart of your story

Let yourself to be creative with the first draft, then create a mind map for subsequent drafts. Use your mind map to see what’s driving the blood around your story and connect everything to that central theme to bring focus to your story. Write down the beginning, middle and end, including chapter breakdowns and the high points of drama. Write them on post-it notes so you can move the action around. Often, writers only understand what’s really happening when they get to the end of a first draft. It may be difficult to distil your work into a single line, but having a single line pitch or hook is also a key way to sell your novel.

4.    There’s a fight for space in bookshops

The average shop stocks 5,000 children’s titles, a large portion of which is designated to bestselling classics such as Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. For booksellers, anything which breaks the mould will encourage them to go the extra mile, but realistically a book sometimes has to look a certain way in order to sell. Encouragingly, they will try to champion a debut over the latest installment in a successful series or classic as they know these will still sell well regardless. Booksellers also want something which parents will think is great and children will love to read. Go into your local bookshop and browse the shelves to familiarise yourself with what’s already out there.

5.    Authenticity is key

It’s crucial to slip into the mindset of your character. Identify a childhood memory of your own in order to connect with how it feels to be the age of your protagonist. A lot of writers are writing about children rather than fully identifying with them.

Ultimately, it’s important to write the book that you want to write. Forget trends and write from the heart; if your story is focussed and exciting it will find its way.