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The Essential Guide to Writing for Children 2

Before You Write: What is My Story Going to be?

Suzy Jenvey

  1. However short your potential story is, you will still need to start with a clear idea of who it is aimed at, and how the characters and story will develop. Here are some basic rules that you should follow in the planning stage:
  2. However funny or fantastical your story idea is, it must still make sense on some level. Don't forget to show why your characters do what they do, and how the situation has come about.
  3. Children's books, at least for younger readers, must be told through one central child's point of view - i.e. everything that happens needs to be seen through the eyes of one child character. POV can be difficult to master - remember that if your character has left the room, you can't include what happens there - but this is an essential point.
  4. Make sure you are clear which age group you are aiming for. Each age group has different requirements for language, content, length and style. (see the first article in this series, Which age group should I write for?). If you aren't clear about this, editors won't have faith in your book.
  5. There are 7,000 different languages in the world, and each of these is a possible translation rights territory for your work. Don't assume that English will be your prime market: avoid obvious references and links to the UK, the US or your own country and try in general not to be too Eurocentric in outlook.
  6. Plan ahead for plot twists and surprises. Aim for the story to turn on itself in an unexpected way at least once; there's nothing more boring than a story that follows a formula.
  7. Most girls are happy to read books with boy characters. But sadly, research shows that boys are less keen on girl characters. Because of this phenomenon, many female children's writers writing for boys even use a pseudonym so that their readers are not put off.
  8. Be age aspirational when you are planning how old your characters are; children want to read about characters the same age, or two or three years older, than themselves.
  9. Even the shortest picture book text needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end.
  10. Make sure your story has a central problem, or threat - and that your child characters are the ones overcoming it. Adults should not step in and solve everything.
  11. Don't be tempted to ‘ambulance-chase' - i.e. to write a story similar to something that has just been hugely successful. Publishers are looking for genuine originals.

The Essential Guide to Writing for Children series

The Essential Guide to Writing for Children I: Which age group should I write for?

The Essential Guide to Writing for Children 3 - Starting to Write

The Essential Guide to Writing forChildren 4 - Submitting Your work to Agents and Editors


Suzy Jenvey started working in publishing in 1986 at Jonathan Cape/Bodley Head as a Publicity Manager. After roles as Marketing and Publicity Director for Chatto and Simon and Schuster, she spent 15 years at Faber and FaberClick for Faber and Faber Publishers References listing as Children's Editorial Director. She now edits, agents and writes reports as a freelancer, as well as giving historical talks about her beloved Greenwich, and volunteers for the charity Riding for the Disabled, working with horses and autistic children.

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