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Writing for Children 1


Writing for Children by Linda Strachan

Since many writers who come to the site are interested in writing for the booming children's market, we are delighted to be featuring two extracts from Writing for Children, by Linda Strachan, by kind permission of the publisher, A & C BlackClick for A & C Black Publishers Publishers References listing (£9.99)

Different Ages, Different Markets

'A good children’s book is accessible and thought-provoking, and sometimes a good children’s book is just a lot of fun. I like writing children’s books because I like stories.' Catherine Johnson

One of the most exciting things about writing for children is the sheer diversity. You have different ages to choose from; you can write picture books, easy readers, short books for more confident readers, or novels – each quite different in length and often in content. When making your choice there are other considerations, too. Do you want to write for the educational market – books written for use in schools – or would you rather write poetry or plays, a series or a ‘stand alone’, or perhaps a picture book for the very young?

Many children’s authors write consistently for the same genre or age group, while others write across the board. Either is acceptable, and this is another reason why it’s an advantage to write for children. It’s always a challenge to try something different; you never know what skills you might have if you don’t try. However, you should always write about things that fascinate or excite you. If your subject matter doesn’t touch you, the writer, how can you expect it to appeal to others?


Whether it is adventure, crime, realism, humour, science fiction or fantasy, choose a genre that excites you as a writer. Don’t base your decision on what you have heard is the latest fad in publishing, the latest in a line of bestsellers or the ‘only’ thing children are reading: such considerations are pointless. By the time you have written your book and submitted it to a publisher, the fashion will probably have changed, the publishers will be looking for something else and the press will have latched on to another ‘phenomenon’.

The most important thing is to write well and to be true to the story. If you love fantasy then try and find a way to write fantasy that is different from all the rest. Make it your own and original, but don’t make it so obscure that no one can understand it, just because you are trying to be different.

If you prefer to write humorously, or to create exciting, spooky or perhaps serious or realistic stories, don’t let the latest fads either entice you or put you off. If your writing and your story are good enough, your work will be taken up despite the latest trend. You may even start a trend of your own!

Your choice of genre depends on your own taste, but whatever that may be, you must make your writing exciting and interesting; it should be full of action and page-turning events. Keep children at the heart of the story, don’t be tempted to cheat the reader with an easy or illogical ending, and you will have a success on your hands.

Political correctness or being ‘PC’

We live in a society that is becoming increasingly concerned with political correctness. Sometimes we are so careful not to offend anyone that this can be taken to ridiculous extremes. But it is also important to remember that there are good reasons for being inclusive. As writers, we should adopt and encourage a balanced approach, and at the very least recognise the variety of experiences and cultures that children have to understand and cope with.

'All children need to recognise themselves somewhere in the world around them.' Penny Dolan

If you want your work to be accepted for publication, you have to be aware that there are some things you cannot do. Different rules may apply according to such things as the age of your reader; whether your book will be used in schools as a textbook, and therefore is ‘required’ reading matter; or if it’s a question of the parent or the child choosing whether or not to buy your book. There are some things that publishers will not publish – often because they are making a commercial rather than a moral judgement. Why would they publish something that no one will buy? For the writer, then, a common sense approach is probably best. If something risks being contentious but you are very keen to write it, speak to an editor or agent first and ask whether the subject matter and/or the approach is likely to be acceptable or if it will cause a problem. If the answer is the latter, at that point you have to decide whether you feel it’s worth pursuing.

No one is going to want to publish a children’s book that glorifies or encourages dangerous behaviour, or anything that promotes bullying or other antisocial activity. That is not to say you can’t tackle these subjects within the context of a story; in fact, they may be welcomed as long as they are skilfully handled. The problem occurs if your characters are seen to be benefiting from crime or bad behaviour, or if your readers are thought likely to want to copy it because it is portrayed as aspirational.

If you do choose to address such issues, the way in which you end your story is especially important. Make sure there is some kind of resolution and consequence to antisocial, stupid or dangerous behaviour, so that the reader is left in no doubt that it is not without penalty. However, you need to avoid preaching or being dictatorial, so that you don’t alienate your reader.

In the field of educational publishing, there are certain subjects that publishers will not be keen on at all. To be safe, always check with them. If your book is to be published in other countries, publishers may have additional reasons to avoid certain subject matter: perhaps there are local sensitivities which may cause it to be rejected. You may be asked to change some passages for that reason; try not to take this personally or feel that the publisher is being unreasonable. Their reasons will usually be clear and almost universally to the benefit of sales, so complaining that they don’t see your point of view is irrelevant and pointless; you are unlikely to change their opinion.

Second extract: Writing for 5–7, 7–9, 8–12 Years

Linda Strachan is the author of more than 50 books, including many children's books.

To buy the book

© Linda Strachan 2008


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List price: £14.99
Publisher: A & C Black Publishers Ltd
Sales rank: 427,773