Writing for kids

As I watch my young nieces and nephews start to develop an appreciation of books and reading, I find myself wanting to write stories for them. Not picture book stories, but novel-length works of the type I would have adored at age 10 or 11. At that age, I had so much time for reading, and there simply weren’t enough books to satisfy me. These days there seem to be so many more options for kids of that age, and fantasy is a hugely popular genre among ‘tweens’.

Last Friday I spontaneously attended a ‘writing for children’ workshop as part of the Glen Eira storytelling festival. The three-hour session provided a good overview of the different types of books and stories, depending on age. Most importantly, I learnt the difference between ‘chapter books’ and middlegrade novels, which was something that had been stumping me.

What I found particularly useful was learning some of the ‘rules’/guidelines to use when writing for children — such as how many subplots, setbacks, characters, words should be contained within each type of book. This is now how I differentiate between chapter books (3000-10,000 words, one minor subplot, approx one setback) and middlegrade (20,000-40,000 words, multiple subplots, LOTS of setbacks, can start introducing inner conflict).

Okay, I daresay it’s not as cut-and-dried as this, but it’s a really useful starting point!

I’ve decided I’m most interested in attempting to write a middlegrade story, and so have decided to do some experiential research. I’m currently reading the first book in the best-selling Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan to get a feel for story/writing complexity and tone. That’s proving quite educational. It’s classic fantasy with a clever, scalable premise that has ensured a series of eleven books and counting! Who wouldn’t want to read about Will’s adventures as apprentice to Ranger Halt? He gets to be an expert archer, knife thrower and spy, plus has a cool pony called Tug. And he gets caught up in all this big politicking and war stuff. I can definitely see why it’s been so popular, and is ideal for both boys and girls. (God, I would have LOVED it as a kid!)

I have no idea what I’m going to write about in my middlegrade endeavours. I’m still in research mode, trying to get a feel for the age-group requirements. But I’m really looking forward to producing something the ‘next generation’ can read — even if it’s straight from my word processor to their e-reader. Anyway, I’ve still got a few years up my sleeve.


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