Skip to main content

6 Tips on Writing for Children

How can you make sure that your children's or middle-grade novel hits the mark? Novelist Katy Towell shares her top 6 tips for doing just that.

I hadn’t read a children’s novel in an embarrassingly long time when I landed my first deal to write exactly that. Naturally, I went into it with all kinds of notions as to what writing for children entailed. Things like: don’t be too scary, use simpler language, write about whatever it is kids like these days. Fortunately, I soon learned that those rookie notions were totally wrong.

(6 Golden Rules of Writing Middle Grade)

Here are six lessons I’ve learned about writing for children that could save you a few headaches.

6 Tips on Writing for Children

1. Write for yourself.

Let’s say robot athletes are all the rage with kids right now. But maybe you don’t like sports, and maybe you don’t care about robots. You never did. So, why would you write about robot athletes now? As much as you may want to delight your young readers, your heart won’t be in it, and they’ll see right through you. That’s if you’re even able to complete the manuscript. Writing has enough challenges already. Writing a book you wouldn’t want to read is unfair to yourself and doubly unfair to the reader. Besides, your assumptions are probably wrong. Write what you love—what you love now and what you would’ve loved as a child. You’ll find readers who love it just as much.

Charlieandthegradnmothers

Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

IndieBound | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

2. Don’t baby your audience.

Children are actually pretty tough, and they’re a lot smarter than adults often expect them to be. There are certain limits, but don’t assume you can’t write about death or tragedy or other tough subjects just because your readers are twelve and under. Consider the works of Roald Dahl: they’re full of grief and bizarre deaths and morally reprehensible adults. Yet his books and stories are still kids’ favorites. As for vocabulary: write naturally. Don’t overthink it. Some of your terms might be new to your readers, but they can usually pick up the meaning through context. Or if they can’t, they generally have quick access to a dictionary. It’s how you learned, after all.

3. Nix the pop culture references.

Unless that popular social media site or teen singing sensation is crucial to your story, don’t bother writing them in. It’s a rare author who can do so without sounding desperate for relevance among young readers. In fact, the more reference dropping you do, the more out of touch you sound. The effect will be that much worse years later after all those references are outdated. This doesn’t mean you can’t write about anything old, either. There’s a difference between history and “Howdy, kids! I, too, know what The Facebook is!”

6 Tips on Writing for Children

4. Give your readers a feeling of power.

Children live in a world limited by their size, their knowledge, and rules made by adults. Let them live vicariously through characters who can break some of these bonds. Encyclopedia Brown solved crimes. Harry Potter and friends rescued the wizarding world. Coraline Jones fought a horrible witch. They all lived through some measure of peril that nobody ever really wants to experience, but these characters triumphed, and they did so without relying solely on grownups. And that’s ultimately what kids want—that feeling that they could do something epic if they had a mind to. Show them they’re right by giving them characters who win against the odds. Which brings me to my next tip...

5.Relatable characters are key.

No character should be without flaw. If saving the day always comes without effort to the protagonist, if he never doubts himself, if she never makes a mistake she’ll have to fix, then you have a boring hero on your hands. Kids expect to be inspired, and what is there to look forward to if your reader can’t identify with your main character? If they can’t say to themselves, “I’ve felt like that too! I’m not so dumb after all!” then your hero is impossible to believe, and you’ll lose your audience’s attention.

(7 Tips for Developing a Compelling Middle-Grade Fiction Premise)

6. Read children’s books.

Since my journey in writing began, I’ve become well and happily reacquainted with middle-grade fiction. There really is no better writing coach than a well-written book, after all. You might worry that exploring the works of well-loved authors will make your own writing less original, but nothing could be further from the truth. Read those other books. Read lots of them and then ask yourself what you liked about them. You might learn a thing or two. I certainly did.

Writing the Middle Grade Book

Any middle-grade book author will tell you that writing an effective book is more challenging than reading one! Take this online workshop and learn the essential elements of writing for kids and how to break into children’s publishing. Throughout this 8-week course, you can expect to read lectures and complete weekly writing assignments.

Click to continue.

Stephen J. West: On Art and Masculinity

Stephen J. West: On Art and Masculinity

Writer Stephen J. West discusses the decade-long process of writing his new nonfiction novel, Soft-Boiled.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 616

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a deep thoughts poem.

Writing a Debut Novel as a Woman of a Certain Age

Writing a Debut Novel as a Woman of a Certain Age

Debut novelist Barbara Graham discusses the experience of publishing her debut novel in her 70s and how life experience made her story more powerful.

In a Dream

In a Dream

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, set your story inside a dream.

Writer's Digest Best General Resources Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best General Resources Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top general resource websites as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

From Our Readers

What Book Ended in a Way That You Didn’t Expect but Was Perfect Anyway?: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers question: What book ended in a way that you didn’t expect but was perfect anyway? Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

From Script

A Deep Emotional Drive To Tell Stories (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, read interviews with filmmakers Wendey Stanzler and Maria Judice. Plus a one-on-one interview with Austin Film Festival’s executive director Barbara Morgan.

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Paul Tremblay: On Starting With the Summary

Award-winning author Paul Tremblay discusses how a school-wide assembly inspired his new horror novel, The Pallbearers Club.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: An Interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU courses, and more!