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Writing a children's story requires a vivid imagination, enthusiastic creativity and the ability to put yourself in the mind of a child. For many writers, writing children's books successfully will require some effort to step back into the shoes of the very young and to see the world from a very fresh and curious perspective. For those who are always young-at-heart, writing children's stories can be a very satisfying craft. And if you are a child author reading this article, (and many child authors have published stories), then these characteristics will be second nature to you but you will still benefit from the steps on how to write a children's story well.
- Brainstorm story ideas.The story is perhaps the most important aspect of a good book. Consult some of your favorite books (children's or not) for examples, but try to be original. Choose a story that fits your interests and talents, such as action, fantasy, or mystery. Smaller children enjoy stories with a play on words or a repeated phrase like, "No, no fat cat. Scat! Scat! Scat!"
- Develop your characters. In order to have a good story, you need some interesting characters. Who is the main character of the story? Is there more than one? Are the characters human, animal or fantasy, or do they include elements of all three? Before you begin, it is best to make an outline of the characters and how they fit into the story.
- Make a story outline. Use note cards, draw it in picture form, or write a standard outline. The important thing is to have a general understanding of the beginning, middle and end of the story, and of how the characters will interact and evolve. A good story usually has some sort of conflict or obstacle that the main character has to resolve, after which everyone lives "happily ever after". Here's the breakdown:
- Introduce your characters with descriptions of physical and personality traits, their surroundings, and those with whom they come in contact.
- Create a problem/conflict. This could be between two people, an internal conflict, or one in which the main character overcomes an obstacle in the outside world.
- Write the climax of the story, which will include the main character(s) coming face to face with the conflict.
- Show how your character(s) resolves the problem, and what happens next.
- Add some pictures. Everyone loves pictures. They can add to the interest level of the story and make it easier to follow. You may like to include a few funny cartoons or pictures in your story. Make sure that you use bright happy colors or sad dark colors depending on the mood of a story.
- Keep it simple. Depending on the age group you are trying to engage, you don't want to make your story too complex and difficult to follow, because younger kids will quickly lose interest.
- Use some humour. We all have it. Focus on the 'silly' things that will have both the child and the adult reader laughing together. Use made-up words and rhyme: Dr Seuss knows, it's much easier and more fun to read aloud.
- Whenever possible, show the character's personality through speech and actions, not bland statements like "Sally is selfish". Try to differentiate between different characters by having them react differently to the same situation, for a start.
- Make sure your diction (level of word usage) and storyline are audience-appropriate:
Age 3-5 years: Slightly larger storyline. More complex sentences explaining the motivation behind actions shown on the page. Adventures. Getting lost and finding your way home. Fighting. Being brave in spite of fear. Telling the truth. Thinking of others before yourself. Explaining how you feel. Learning to spell. Learning to add. Telling parents if someone hurts you or makes you feel bad. How to resolve arguments (though they still need a lot of help at this age, they can be introduced to healthy argument resolution, especially the idea of sharing and thinking how others feel). Disappointment.
Age 5-7 years: overcoming challenges. Learning new skills. Understanding good reasons to do something and bad reasons to do something. Magic. Confusion. Books long enough to read over two or three nights. Use bigger words but be careful to explain them, so as not to frustrate new readers.
- Avoid using slang words or inappropriate language/situations for younger readers. The writing should be of the best quality, to encourage young readers to love their language and to want to read more.
- Try not to give the characters long names, or name them similar or even starting with the same letter. This may confuse the child and make the story harder to follow.
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