I have been writing stories since I was a child. Back then, I wrote simple stories because I was just starting and didn’t have as much experience with life as I do now and have been exposed to a lot of things. Back then 55 years ago I hadn’t read all that much and what I did read was simple stories. If you want to write for children, write age-appropriate stories. I’ll give some examples of age-appropriate stories. The first is for a child incapable of reading, so it will have to be read to the child. The child could be under three. It would be best if there were a lot of pictures to capture their attention.
Fluffy was a pretty kitty that looked like a little tiger. Tiffany’s mommy and daddy brought Fluffy home and their little girl fell in love with the pretty kitty. Fluffy licked Tiffany’s face and purred because she was happy to have a nice home to live in and explore. (If I were to draw the pictures I would show a picture with Tiffany’s mother holding the kitten in her hands and handing it to her little girl. The next picture would show the kitten in her hands licking her face. The next picture would show the kitten walking down a hallway.)
The story would be simple. It would be about the kitten exploring the house and the pictures would show the animal getting into things and Tiffany feeding her kitty and giving it water out of a cup into its bowl.
To add some drama, the kitten would be lost one day and Tiffany would be searching the house for the animal. So not to make the listener cry, the kitten would be hiding under a pillow on the couch and when it meows after Tiffany calls out its name, the little girl would find the kitten and give it a hug. The kitten would purr because it is happy to be safely in the hands of Tiffany. The story is short and has a happy ending which is what small children want.
For pre-school children that are learning how to read, the story can be a little more complicated and have a little more drama. Bigger words can be used as long as the children understand them. Here is an example of a story for a child between three and five:
Micky didn’t like to eat carrots. He thought they were yucky; especially when they were limp and slimey.
“Micky,” his mother said, “eat your carrots.”
“I don’t like them. Why did you serve them?”
“They have vitamins that help little boys grow up big and strong.”
“I still don’t like them.”
Micky’s mother got up from the table and walked to the refrigerator. She opened the door and removed a battle of pancake syrup. She returned to the table and poured a little syrup on the carrots.
“See how they taste now.”
Micky took a little bite, smiled, and finished his carrots.
“That tasted good.”
The story could be about Micky not wanting to eat more foods and his mother adding some ingredients like syrup for various vegetables and combining foods Micky likes with foods he doesn’t like. The story teaches lessons that both children and parents can learn from. Children are at the age that they want to learn things and be taught lessons they can remember for the rest of their lives. I remember reading a Dick and Jane book that had an older cousin visiting them. They wanted to go on a picnic. Their cousin wanted to bring healthy food while Dick and Jane wanted basically junk food. Their cousin gave in to teach them a lesson. They ate cake, cookies, and candy and ended up with tummy aches. It’s been nearly 55 years and I still remember the basic principles of the story. Eat what is healthy and good for you instead of only what tastes good.
The older the child readers become, the more complex the story can be. I started reading science fiction stories and books at the same time I began writing them. By the time I was seven my grandfather had died. I was too young to understand death. But since I was a Christian by then and my Grandpa Badman was one too, I knew he was in Heaven. Children can learn things like that by then.
I’m against using bad words because too many children hear bad words on TV and from their friends. But if you want to write stories that children can enjoy when they are older, use alternate words unless you want realistic dialog. But try to refrain from using bad words if you can. Replace them with more action and excitement. I try to do that in my stories.
I was reading short time travel plays in my fourth grade class that my friends liked. When I was 15, a friend of mine supposedly sent one of my stories to Universal to be produced for the program “Night Gallery.” I got a call from Burbank from someone who claimed to be a producer for the program who said Rod Serling had read my story “The Door” and liked it. I had to tell the man the person who had submitted the story wasn’t an agent. So it was never produced since the story was unsolicited. But if I was writing well enough nearly 50 years ago, think how much better I am as a writer today.
Back in college one of my stories was read on the radio. It didn’t have a happy ending. Writers of children stories and books can have unhappy endings as long as lessons are learned and the endings aren’t too depressing. An ending like Jimmy had lost the ball game. But he vowed to work harder the next time might work as opposed to Jimmy lost the game and vowed to never play ball again. The reader might want to burn the story or book because the ending is too depressing. If Jimmy had committed suicide, I would advise tearing it up and burning it.
The real world is depressing enough and will get worst in the future. But I try to have happy endings that are realistic. Readers need hope or at least a satisfying ending. If the main character dies in the end, the reader shouldn’t feel like dying too. Never write stories or books that are too depressing. And whatever you write, don’t write down to the readers. I’ve been reading books meant to be read by adults. I started out with Jules Verne and went from there.
Never write boring stories. Children don’t read books all that much today. If a writer can’t grab their attention before page one is half read, they will close the book and put it down unless they are forced to read the book for class. A book might be a classic written by an award-winning writer. But if it isn’t something a child on their own would pick up and read, either they should wait until they are older to read it or never read it. Also, don’t write text books when readers want to read adventure stories. I’d much rather read about Bill hopping onto his motorcycle and riding up Highway One in California along the coast and not Bill was a frustrated civil engineer with an IQ of 189 and he rode his BMW 1000 cc touring bike that had…..You get the point. Readers don’t want to read that the frustrated civil engineer went to Cal Tech and graduated at the top of his class and wanted to be a systems designer but had to become a civil engineer to pay the bills and the job just happen to be available in Santa Monica. Readers want to read about the character riding from point A to point B and everything that happened to him between those points instead of things they could care less about.
If you liked certain types of stories when you were a child, write those types of stories only better, if possible. I try to write about things no one else in the world writes about. They aren’t too weird. But I try to give enough details to make readers think the things I write about might become real in the future. If my stories or books appeal to young readers, great. I’m not a children’s writer. But if children find my stories interesting, great. I don’t want to write about Dick and Jane for children; maybe about their grandchildren and their not-at-all-like-their grandparents-when-they-were-that-age life. Remember, children should learn to be readers and your stories and books for them might make them readers for life. Don’t try to make them adults through your writing. They’ll have most of their lives ahead of them as adults. Try to make the journey to adulthood an adventure and not something that will make them wish they could be children forever. Also, don’t treat children in your stories and books like adults that do adult things. They should act like you expect children to act. We have too many adults abusing children that are made to live like adults when they are still children. Having too much sexual content and profanity is a form of child abuse.
Writing for children doesn’t mean you should write like a child. Readers should always know you are older than they are unless you really are a child. Then write what you like to read and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able grow up with your readers and transition successfully into adult writing. Just make sure the readers want to grow up with you and maybe read your age-appropriate material to their children and grandchildren.