Jul 15 2009
Writing for children isn’t as easy as it sounds. Children get bored very easily and keeping their attention can be quite a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you get kids into your work. (Note: when I say kids, I mean around 8-13 years old. Readers younger than that are a whole different game.)
1. Keep it simple. Not to be mean or anything, but kids are generally not quite as good at keeping track of complicated plots and obscure words. (Although all of that has worked very well for kids in the past ) If you make things complicated, then you should probably compensate. Which leads me to…
2. Slapstick is the best form of comedy… For kids anyway. People falling over and getting hit can always be played for laughs; use that to your advantage. Also, anything to do with gross stuff is comedy gold for kids. It’s worth noting, however, that if you want any form of adult audience then you’ll want to keep it to a minimum.
3. Exaggerate all of your characters. Kids love exaggerated character traits and understand exaggerated characters more easily. Many successful characters aimed at kids have a single exaggerated trait. For example, the Kids Next Door have a leader, the smart guy, the kook (her name is actually Kuki), the tough guy and the cool one. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a leader, a smart guy, a fun guy and a tough guy. Exaggerating a trait can also make the character more stylish and memorable. A character that’s vaguely unlucky is probably pretty bland. But if he’s the the butt of some kind of universal joke and gets stuck in holes, gets hit by things and fails at everything then he might be really funny.
4. Write for adults too. If you don’t put in anything for the adults, then you’ve effectively alienated about half of your audience. Parents read books with kids all of the time. Arguably the most successful series of books of the past decade is Harry Potter. Why? Because anyone could read them: kids, adults, boys, girls, etc. It was simple and imaginative enough to excite kids and sophisticated enough to interest adults. Make sure that adults can enjoy the books too, and don’t be afraid to put in jokes that might fly by a kid. For example, in the first Shrek movie, Shrek looks at Farquad’s massive castle and quips “think he’s compensating for something?” Kids would probably assume he was talking about Farquad’s height, but adults and teens knew he was talking about length.
5. Don’t scare the kids. Children are much easier to scare than adults. Anything you put in there that may give the kids nightmares will not be appreciated by the parents. For example, a story about an alien that wants 10% of the child population of the Earth to use for drugs, and can make all of them speak in unison to declare ‘we are coming’ is probably not suitable for kids. On that note, it’s worth mentioning the obvious, no profanity. If you absolutely must swear, use a lighter swear word or a replacement swear word.