Tag Archives: character

Books for Children: a writing challenge, with very specific rules

Would you like to write a children’s book? Most writers have their own favorite genre, and that reveals in their stories. Yet, sometimes, you want to do something different.

Writing for adults and children are two distinct things and demand different skills.

When you think about children’s books, you probably picture beautiful drawings, full of color and sweet characters. It may scare you right away, but you need to remember that you’re the writer, not the illustrator.

Planning a children’s book

Now that we are clear about the pictures let’s talk about the actual writing. You might think that it is hard, that you have a lot of competition, which is true. There are thousands of people writing cute little stories and trying their luck with the publishers. So, how can your work stand out from the others? Knowing the structure and avoiding the most usual mistakes.

Make it short

When writing a children’s book, like in any other genre, you need to be aware of its structure and respect it. In this case, there is a very specific one – a very short story (around 550 words, never more than 1000), 32 pages, 24 to 28 of the actual story, with a couple of sentences per page.

Sounds easy now? Not quite. You still need to be very careful with some points. Let’s begin with the story itself. Your small readers are very demanding and specific in what they like (and the publishers know that). Your story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Characters

The characters are very important too. Don’t think that children are easier to content.

They spot all the inconsistencies and don’t let it go. To be good, a character has to be strong and, to some point, realistic. Do you want to write about a flying tiger? Think about how the fact that the tiger can fly would impact other parts of his life. The kids will do it.

Illustrations

As I mentioned before, you need to focus on writing. Write a good short story, with good characters.

The publisher will probably want to hire the illustrator. So, unless you’re a very talented artist, avoid sending the illustrations with the story. Best case scenario, you’ll talk about that later. Yet, while writing, keep in mind that each page will have an illustration. The text should be easy to illustrate.

Look around

Writing a beautiful story for children can seem easy, as soon as you know all the rules, but that’s not quite true.

If you want to be a children’s author, you must follow the market development. Have you read one of these books lately? I’m sure they are very different from the ones from your own childhood. Children’s books changed a lot in the last few decades, and you need to be aware of these changes to be an author.

Face your challenge professionally. Research and find the market rules and tendencies. Children are a very difficult audience, and publishers know that. You need to stand out.

No conflict, no story

The conflict is the center of any story. You have a conflict, and subsequently a story but NEVER, ever, the other way around.

When you’re thinking of writing a story, the first thing to think about is the conflict and your plot is to be built around it. If there is none if it seems not to be ideal for whatever you were imagining, then think again. You might not have a story there.

Usually, you have this sort of structure: you have a main character that has a goal, but there is something keeping him from reaching it, a problem to solve, then your character will take action to solve the aforementioned problem, usually other issues and difficulties will be showcased along the way (most provoked by his actions to solve the first one, the big one), then he solves the main problem and the story ends. Simple.

The “problem” might be something as simple as an argument, unrequited love or someone just trying to sabotage your character. It doesn’t need to be (but could very well be) a world-changing problem.

So, how to do it?

It’s actually quite simple and you don’t need to have a tremendous epiphany to start. Usually, when you’re thinking about a story, you have a character in mind. Now, think about a goal for that character. Something that makes them move, tick, or something they otherwise want very much.

Now, the problem. What will actively try or passively keeping him from reaching that goal? Or who? How? What is going to happen?

Now that you have the main part, you just need to think, about what your character is going to do to solve the problem or get rid of their obstacle. These actions will most likely raise new problems and new actions need to be taken to solve them.

And, with this, the hardest part of your job is done! Next, you develop your scenes, starting from this last point onwards to the main goal.

Dialogue: bringing characters to fruition in 5 tips

The dialogue between characters is one of the most important parts of a novel or short-story and it’s important to get it feeling just right.

When someone is reading a story, the ways in which characters express themselves and what they’re saying is very important for the reader to feel like they’re getting to know them and to build some empathy with the characters. When writing, you should always remember how you’d feel as a reader as well.

Feeling natural

For the dialogue to feel natural, it can’t just be comprised of a couple sentences that someone said. You must create a sort of movie in readers head, helping them understand the character and feel what they might be facing. However, you should be very careful not to use language that might be too polished or poetic, as those tend not to feel natural at all.

Voice

Each character should have a different voice and it must show through what they say. Different people use different kinds of sentences and vocabulary, and so should the characters.

It’s important to give them a unique voice, but it’s also important to remember that a conversation might have a lot of repetition and that it could prove boring to read, so you can add some summary into your dialogue, shortening the parts of it that your readers might not need to read in a tremendous level of detail. The reality is that most people would not go to such depths while elaborating or explaining themselves, at least not at first glance. This will also make the character appear more realistic and grounded.

Importance

As I said before, some parts of the conversation might become boring to read. You must decide what’s really important for the story and things that are just normal, boring chatter. If your character is a mechanic, it might be important for the story to know what’s going on with the car he is fixing, but you probably wouldn’t place him describing meticulously what he is doing with all the steps, for each of his tools, right? Good dialogue works vaguely in the same way.

What you say and what you think

In real life, you don’t always say everything you’re thinking (as many times, that wouldn’t be correct, or polite, at all). Your character shouldn’t neither.

To feel natural, your dialogue must contain hints of what your character is really thinking or what he or she would like to say, but sadly can’t or somehow struggles to. Give your readers something to think about.

Silence

What can you say about silence? Well, it can say as much as words, for starters, right? So, in order to enrich your scene, interrupt the dialogue sometimes, describe a character’s body language and you’ll have a richer picture and a greater scene to present your audience with. This might actually paint a fuller picture than some additional lines of dialogue ever would.

Show, don’t tell!

“Show, don’t tell.” This is a particularly common advice from any writing teacher, but what does it mean exactly?

Showing something, like a feeling or a trait of the character’s personality through an action, instead of just describing them, is much more interesting and vivid for the reader, who will more easily feel as he or she is inside the story, watching what’s happening or taking place, instead of merely reading about it. That said, it is usually preferable to say that the character’s heart is exploding rather than just say that he’s afraid of something.

For your readers, this will provides them the possibility of imagining every single thing, as if it was standing, or happening, right there in front of them, creating empathy with your characters and making your reader feel all sort of things while reading your story.

However, it’s important that your choices make sense and are understandable for the readers. Extremely erratic behavior, for instance, must make sense in the story, otherwise, the readers will feel confused and easily grow tired.

So, we should never tell?

Not exactly. When you’re writing something, you always have a goal. The importance of a scene, what you want the readers to feel, imagine, or know… these are all things you need to keep in mind and take into consideration.

Sometimes, you just want to give a quick bit of detail about the character, for example, his profession. If this isn’t the most relevant, or if it is but you don’t want the reader to realize that just yet, then just merely tell. There’s no need to be very descriptive or imagine a huge or insanely intricate scene regarding such minor, passing, information.

Showing is however very important and you should choose it when your goal is making the readers feel something. Also, it’s a good way to get their attention or catch them off guard. If you’re doing it right, it will get them to focus on the details you specifically want them to pay attention to.