Jul 15 2009

How to Write for Kids

Published by at 12:00 pm under The Author-Audience Connection,Writing Articles

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.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “How to Write for Kids”

  1. Holliequon 15 Jul 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Oh god, never mind the kids, that Torchwood series scared me! It was also really, really depressing. Humans are bad people and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for being heartless evil beings! *sob*

    I have to admit, though, that it was a very creative way to write an anti-drugs message.

  2. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 16 Jul 2009 at 3:41 am

    I remember, when I was about eleven, a movie was on TV. It was an old black and white one, and there was a kid in a graveyard with a scary looking guy in a set of prison chains. It scared the crap out of me and I scrambled to find the remote so I could turn it off.

    I read the book Great Expectations a year later, and realised that the movie was adapted from the book. I facepalmed for turning the TV off, because I would have kept watching if I had read the book beforehand. Haha. It was pretty creepy though, even if the prison guy was a loveable convict with a heart of gold.

    I can’t to see the last few episodes of Torchwood. I love that show so much, but when my cousins visited once and I was watching it, they screamed because it was the end of the first episode where (spoiler) Suzie shoots Jack, he comes back to life, heals the hole and then Suzie commits suicide (end spoiler)

    Kids really are scared easily. But then again, the events of Torchwood’s pilot episode surprised me.

  3. Lighting Manon 17 Jul 2009 at 8:37 am

    Children really do find odd things and simple things quite scary.

    My younger sister had a habit of finding certain musical elements terrifying, some logical, some not. My father had a particular love for a song by Alice Cooper called The Black Widow, featuring an introduction by horror actor Vincent Price, such as it were, she found this song terrifying, but she could often be found watching the music video for Thriller, which features, in my opinion, the far more terrifying elements of Vincent Price rapping and Michael Jackson.

    On the less logical side, given what Price was known for, she also found Cake – Going The Distance to be a horribly scary song, the most terrifying element of which is the possibility that the video may have given Cake a furry element to their fan base.

    (Link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__PU5CVSegg)

  4. Blonde Emoon 15 Jan 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Anyone see the Care Bears movie? The one with the evil spirit living inside a book that sucked the souls out of innocent children?

    Yeah. No, it’s not a parody.

  5. B. Macon 15 Jan 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Hmm, sounds creepy.

    As a child, I was really bothered by the green ghost in Ghostbusters and (!) the ending of Beauty and the Beast but handled Alien and Jurassic Park pretty well.

  6. ronald hodgeson 02 Aug 2016 at 8:37 am

    I agree I noticed that children are mostly afraid of these things that are not intended to be scary my little bro(I’m forty and he’s seven) is not terrified of chucky, Micheal ,Freddy, or even Jason or even Leather face for that matter he request to watch them even at midnight hours. I put on the film Rango and he was terrified of Rattle snake Jake go figure and had bad dreams of him .so what intended to be scary isn’t and what isn’t is..does that make any since

  7. B. McKenzieon 02 Aug 2016 at 5:11 pm

    “My little brother (I’m 40 and he’s 7)…” Any interesting story there?

  8. Andrewon 05 Aug 2016 at 2:42 am

    When I was a kid, I (like many other kids who watched it) was terrified of the Lion and the Bear scene from Teletubbies, I also got scared by the opening scene of the Thomas and Friends episode ‘Ghost Train’ and I got scared of Darth Vader the first ever time I saw him. But I never really got scared much as I got older

  9. (o_n')on 05 Aug 2016 at 3:24 am

    I was terrified by the nightmare Winnie had in the first Disney version movie(orginally was it made as tv-show) of the novels. Weirdly eneough it was a thing I watching over and over again. I wasn’t scared of the lion & Bear in Teletubbies, but the sun is really scary. Like a floating baby face. Also I got nightmare of playing the sims(my sims was seriously morons and couldn’t figure out to call firefighters).

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