By: Trista Baughman
So, you want to write a children’s book? Easy-peasy, right?
It can be easy, but it isn’t always. A lot of work goes into writing even a short book. I don’t say this to discourage you. The hard work is worth it. I have written fun rhyming books in a few minutes and picture books that took a few months. I am working on a chapter book I started years ago. Life happens.
Approaches to Writing
Before starting on a project, let’s learn a little about the different approaches to writing.
Pantser, Plotter or Plantser: You can take the pantser approach (butt in your chair and write as your muse guides you with little to no planning) or the plotter approach (make outlines, character sketches, etc., for your story, then connect the dots). Or my favorite, the planster approach (a combination of the other two.) Sometimes an idea springs to mind and I write the story all at once. Sometimes I make a brief outline before letting my creative juices flow. Other times, I plan out every detail before writing the first word. It just depends on my mood.
Tidbits to Keep in Mind
Here are some helpful tidbits to keep in mind, whichever approach you choose.
Start with an idea.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How will I begin my story? (You want to reel the reader in.)
- What will happen in the middle? (This is the climactic part that keeps the reader going.)
- How will it end? (This is the resolution, a satisfying ending that solves (most of) the problems. No cliffhangers, please.)
- What will the theme be?
You don’t have to answer in great detail; flesh these out later.
You may already have an idea. If you don’t, it’s no biggie. Book idea generators are a thing. (Who knew?)
If that doesn’t work, think about books from your childhood that you liked or disliked. How could you use those?
You can browse the public domain to take and tweak (Public Domain Books – List of Public Domain Books (libgen.onl)).
Tidbits Specific to Children’s Books
Rhyme and repetition. Will your story be told in poetry or prose? Rhyme can help children to experience rhythm in language and teach them essential skills in reading. Repetition can help make a book more memorable.
Do a bit of research. Visit your local library or bookstore and browse through your competition. Google and Good Reads can help you discover some of the best sellers in your genre, check out some of the lesser-known books and authors, too. You don’t want to copy these (that would be plagiarism). 😉 But it’s important to know your market.
Think like a child. You are writing books for kids, so you need to think like one. Consider problems kids face, things they find humorous, comforting, or scary. What personal experiences could you draw from?
Know your audience. Your audience is kids. But what age group? Knowing will help you choose your vocabulary and content for your book. It will determine the word count and type of book (e.g. picture book, early reader, chapter book, middle-grade book, young adult novel).
Know your purpose. Why are you writing this particular children’s book? Are you writing to entertain or to convey an important message? Knowing can keep you going and help determine if your book has the effect you desire once you’ve completed your first draft.
Choose a voice. This is where you will think about your narrator and POV. Who is telling your story? Which point of view will work best? Make sure you stick to whichever POV you choose. Will you tell your story in the past or present tense?
Know your characters. You want your characters to go through a bit of change in your story, but your character will have their distinct behaviors and dialect that set them apart. Your readers will notice if your character does or says something uncharacteristic.
The Writing Part
Begin your story “in medias res”. Start where the action is; grab your readers’ attention. Younger kids won’t care for genealogy or ten-paragraph description of the setting or character appearance.
Motivate your characters– your MC (main character) needs a clear goal. Give them a goal they want more than anything else in the world.
Conflict– No conflict = no story. Conflict keeps MC from their goal. Have two or three minor additional conflicts for your character to overcome.
Setting– Start with places that are familiar to children. These areas won’t need as much detail, allowing more focus on plot.
Plot– Your plot consists of the significant events in your story with important consequences. It’s what your characters do, think, feel, or say that affects what comes next.
Dialogue– You want your dialogue to sound natural and help progress the story. Your characters will speak differently depending on their personalities and geographical origin. Remember to identify your speakers, especially when more than two converse.
Show, Don’t tell. You’ve heard this your whole writing life. Show action rather than stating something has happened. Scenes should advance the plot and establish your characters. Keep passive voice to a minimum.
Denouement– the closing scenes of your story. They will tie up most loose ends and fulfill your promises to your readers. If you plan to have a sequel or series, leave a few ends untied so your readers can wonder what’s next.
Ready, Set, WRITE!
Revise. Rewrite. Edit. Repeat. Congratulations on finishing your book! Now the work begins. You will want to read several times, looking for different things each time.
- Read through your story for content. Look for plot holes, inconsistencies, typos, that sort of thing. Is your plot and manuscript length appropriate for the age group? Has your main character grown throughout the story? Are your characters and setting consistent?
- Next, omit unnecessary words. Concise, clear sentences are the way to go.
- Now, focus on punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Bring out your thesaurus, dictionary, and style manual.
- Utilize beta readers to give you feedback. Read your story to a kid. They are your audience; take notes of their reactions.
- Do a final read-through to see if you’ve missed anything. At this point, you’re likely sick to death of reading your own story. Hang in there.
- When your story is complete, you’ll want to find an illustrator or illustrate it yourself.
Publish Your Book
If you choose to self-publish, Amazon and Barnes & Noble Press are both worth your research. Keep in mind along with self-publishing usually comes self-formatting and self-marketing.
If you choose traditional publishing, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market has you covered with lists of Children’s book agents, illustrators, publishers, and more. Also, check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a great resource and networking system for children’s writers, etc.
Keep all this in mind and you’ll be off to a great start on getting your children’s book out there. I’ve attempted to give some insight into the process of writing a children’s book as well as some helpful tips, but I couldn’t fit everything into a single blog post. Luckily, there are tons of great books and courses on the subject, which I encourage you to pursue. I’ll include a short list of helpful books that I’ve used throughout the process. Happy writing!
- The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books
- Writing Children’s Books for Dummies
- By Cunning and Craft
- Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 33rd Edition
- Self-Publishing with Amazon Ads: The Author’s Guide to Lower Costs, Higher Royalties, and Greater Peace of Mind
- Social Media Marketing for Dummies
Trista Herring Baughman is a proud military wife and a homeschool mama. She isthe author of The Magic Telescope. Her second book, Zombiesaurs, will be available soon at Barnes & Noble Press. You can find out more about her books on her website, or catch up to Trista on Facebook.