Top Ten List of Advice for Kid's Writers
10. Read it aloud a couple hundred times
Remember that if your book is successful, parents will be reading it to their children over and over. Make your text perfect, make it leap off the tongue. Don't rely on rote repetition or plodding rhyme schemes. Ask yourself if you would want to jump out a window after the 500th reading.
9. Child Protagonist
Kid’s books should be about kids. We look at pictures with ourselves much longer than pictures of other people. The kids in your books should be recognizable to your audience. Neither perfect nor overly precocious, the best protagonist is not cardboard cut-out, but rather a character that lives and breathes in your head. They are not written in to accomplish the narrative of the story, they are the natural leaders of their own storyline.
8. Childhood is brutal
Think back to your childhood -- was it simply a long series of valuable lessons and warm hugs? Childhood can be uniquely brutal, and it’s the fears, the longing, and the contradictions that shape us. Don’t sugar coat or simplify problems. Remember the reality of your terrors.
7. Walk the line of real
When you are an adult, there is a very definite line separating reality and delusion. The line between these two states is less clear in childhood. Did you have an imaginary friend? A favorite stuffed animal? Try to recall how that stuffed animal was both real and unreal. Respect and marvel at a child’s ability to blend imagination and reality. Strive to find that place again. Remember that there doesn’t always have to be an explanation. We live most of our lives without adequate explanations.
6. Build a narrative
Just about everyone enjoys a clear storyline with an inciting incident and a clear conflict. Don’t be afraid to think of structure first. Every book, from a picture book to a novel, needs to have solid narrative arc in order to keep readers engaged.
5. See the world as a child -- with intense detail
Go for a walk with a three year old and rediscover the world. Pay attention to every ant, every bit of litter, every sidewalk crack, and especially everything from your knees down. Listen with renewed attention to the sound of water dripping from an icicle, and pay attention to how long it takes for snow to melt in your mouth. Walk with a stick and take pleasure in shoes that click against the sidewalk. Remember the taste of mittens.
4. Respect your audience
Kids are a smart and savvy audience. They know when they are being talked down to. Write knowing that your audience can read subtext and has an incredible ability to grasp metaphor. What you really need to remember, though, is that as with all writing, you are not really writing for your audience. Write for yourself. Write the story that tugs at your sleeve, the story that needs discovering. What you think will sell doesn’t matter. The story that will succeed is the story that is driven by your artistic need for expression and discovery.
3. Don't write a lesson
Never begin a story because you want to teach something. Write a story to tell a story. The best lessons come naturally, we learn them from the emotional resonance of the writing.
2. Language as music
Pay attention to your words. Each individual word, each pairing, and each sentence. Know your literary tools (alliteration, image, rhyme, off-rhyme, metaphor etc). Make sure that you’re using the right tool for the job. The problem with rhyming picture books is that the rhyme becomes a hammer, and as we all know, if all you have is hammer everything starts looking like a nail.
1. Think of a picture book as a poem
Great picture books are poetry. It is a short form, highly metaphorical, and it relies on image, sound, musicality, density, and an incredible attention to language. Edit your picture book as you would edit a poem. Every word needs to be irreplaceable.
Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books), which won the Gerald Lampert Award. She is also the author of four children’s books, including A Flock of Shoes, and The Stone Hatchlings, with Annick Press. She is the editor of the new anthology Desperately Seeking Susans, as well as the forthcoming anthology Tag: Canadian Poets at Play (Oolichan Books). Sarah’s work has been published and translated internationally, as well as named to the OLA Best Bets for Children 2010, Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011, and a Blue Spruce nominee.