If you are writing for children, the possibility of topics and styles with which to write are endless. However there are 3 elements every children’s story should have.
You Need A Hook
Don’t you just hate it when you pick up a novel, get a hundred pages into it and think, ‘Wow, when is this story going to start getting good? Then you have to sit there and argue with yourself about how maybe you just need to give the author a few more chapters to really get into it, and how you have already invested several hours reading so you feel obligated to finish the book, and how you spent 7.99 to buy it and it would be a waste of money if you did not finish it – so you continue reading.
Maybe the book does finally get good. Or maybe it doesn’t. But you finish it anyways.
Children are not nearly as concerned with things such as time, money or potential of a book to “get good.”
When writing for children it is important to keep in mind that you have about 2 and a half seconds to capture their interest enough that they will be willing to invest the next ten minutes to see how the story turns out.
But, how do you do that? It is simple! All you need to do is create a hook. As you are probably already aware, the hook is what grabs your reader’s attention and compels them to keep reading. Without a hook it will be very difficult to hold the interest of a child (or editor!) but with a strong hook you will be sure to craft a story that children won’t want to put down once the reading begins!
You Need Conflict
All children face challenges, solve problems, work through fears, overcome barriers and make tough decisions, and the characters in their stories need to do these things as well. Just as all great stories contain strong characters, they also contain some type of conflict that those characters must resolve.
It is in between the presentation of the conflict and the resolution of it that children fall in love with the characters in stories. Internally they cry with them, root for them, think of their own possible solutions to the problem presented and in the end are overcome with joy for the character as the conflict is resolved. Without conflict children have no reason to become emotionally invested in a story. And without emotional investment, it is unlikely that the story will leave a lasting impression or make any real impact on the child’s life. And if we are honest, as writers for children, one of our greatest hopes for our stories is that they will become a child’s favorite, next to the bed, with a tattered cover as the child begs the parent to read it “one more time.”
You Need a Message
Great stories for children contain strong messages for that inspire them, uplift them, motivate them and delight them. Other times messages may be more somber and correct children, convict them, or help them identify with a problem they are facing in their own lives such as parents divorcing or a grandparent dying.
The list of possible messages writers can impart to children are endless, as is the ways to get the message across. Also, it is important to note that the message of a story is different from a story containing a specific lesson or moral that was written for the sole purpose of teaching that lesson or moral to the child. Now, there is a time and place for such stories and they are usually reserved for Sunday school or as a consequence to bad behavior. Just as we adults like to relax and read for entertainment and enjoyment, so do children!
If all the books we wrote only had one mission, to instruct children, teach them, convict them and lecture them, how often would children want to read? If you said not that often, you’re close. If you said “Never” you’re correct! However, if we as writers craft entertaining and exciting tales full of wonderful characters and present conflicts that are meaningful to the age group of children we are intending the stories for a message is sure to emerge.
If you have a finished, or near finished manuscript, go back through it and check of these 3 elements as you come across them in your story. If any of the elements are missing be sure to find a way to weave it in.
If you do not have a manuscript but are planning on writing a children’s story, it may be a good idea to read through several children’s stories and identify these elements within each story. Doing this, you can see how other writers have utilized these elements to create strong stories children will love.
What are your thoughts? Comments are always welcome below!