About writing for kids

Simon Haynes is the Australian author of the Hal Spacejock series, and the programmer behind yWriter. His latest work is Hal Junior: The Secret Signal, a middle-grade science fiction novel for readers aged 9+.

I did a guest blog recently about writing for kids, and I found it hard to stop adding more and more reasons why it’s so much fun.

First, there’s the shorter word count. My adult novels run to 80,000 words or more, whereas my junior novels are under 30k. I can read a draft in a single sitting, no sweat.

Next is complexity. My adult books feature at least two subplots in addition to the main plot, and I love to intertwine them so that characters come this close to running into each other. Over the course of a whole novel that can be finicky and exhausting, and a huge mental challenge. With my junior books? One plot, no subplots.

Point of view: I like 3rd person limited for novels, while most of my short fiction employs 1st person. I always get into the character’s head and live their experience as I write it, seeing and hearing what they do. (This is why I don’t write erotica or horror. Too intense.) In an adult book I hop from one character to the next, and my real life mood often changes depending on which one I’m writing. With the junior book I only have the one POV, and it’s the protagonist. Plus my wife says I have the sense of humor of a ten-year-old, so it’s not much of a stretch to write from that perspective.

Space Monster?

The other challenge is the language: sentence structure and word choices. I’ve done a lot of school visits and I never talk down to kids. It sets my teeth on edge when I hear adults talking loudly and slowly to, say, nine-year-olds. Kids are sharp at that age. They miss nothing. Sure, they all develop at different rates, and you can’t pick up a book and say ‘all nine year olds will love this’. You just have to pick a target and aim for it consistently, which means you don’t have baby talk one chapter and scientific theory in the next.

Okay, that’s the technical side. What about the benefits?

First, making kids laugh is very special. They love it when adults take time out from their busy (yet incredibly boring-seeming) lives to share a joke or draw a cartoon or tell a story. Hold their interest with your novel for a few hours, make them laugh, and you’re sure to gain a fan.

Second, in most households it’s not the parent(s) who wield(s) the power, it’s the kids. What you eat, where you go on holiday, who you ask round, which books they read … your children may give you a bit of leeway from time to time, maintaining the illusion, but mostly you’re tethered by an invisible leash. So, if you write a book which makes them laugh, parents will be suckered into buying everything you write, into queueing up at signings, into buying the stuffed toys and the DVD boxed set.

Buy buy buy ...

Finally, there are the long-suffering teachers and librarians. Would you rather have four hundred kids running around at recess with home-made weapons, or total silence as they sit in little groups reading and laughing to themselves? Absolutely. I tell you, if you write something that will keep kids quiet for a few hours you’re a demi-god to these overworked and underpaid professionals. They’ll buy truckloads of your books in return for some nice peace ‘n’ quiet.

I’m not suggesting you chuck your novel-writing career and start over by writing junior fiction. But if you have an empathy with kids, or maybe even remember some of your childhood, it might be worth a shot. Who knows, you might enjoy it more than writing long, complicated novels for adults ;-)

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal
Paperback (186pp, illus., $6.99) Amazon US, Barnes & Noble
Ebook ($4.99) Amazon Kindle (also UK/DE, Smashwords and epub/rtf/pdf

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal

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  1. 1. Elias McClellan

    I’m reminded of Harlan Ellison’s statement that “most people think science ficition is easy; you just make everything up.” Only when they, (those who attempt it) are knee deep do they realize just how difficut writing any genre is.

    Having taught 10, 13, and 16 year olds right out of college, I’m scared stuff-less of the very idea of trying to write children’s/YA books. Your post is a great primer for those brave enough to take the challenge. Thank you.

  2. 2. Simon Haynes

    Thanks Elias. I always tell myself it’s just practice until – hopefully – it turns into something more. 13-16 can be tough on teachers (and visiting authors!) and that age will usually be moving on to adult books anyway. Ages 8-12 are an entirely different group. Fun and fast-paced is the go here, I’d say. Shorter chapters, plenty of hooks plus illustrations.

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Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.

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