Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Writing for children seems like it would be easy, right? WRONG! Kids are smart readers, and you’d best not waste a single word when writing a children’s book. There are a lot of ways to screw up when writing your first book for children. Here are the five most common errors:
- Not reading children’s books. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many writers don’t read the sorts of books they’re writing. If you want to write for kids, you’ve got to read their books. Preferably, the copies owned by actual kids. You can check them out from the library in a pinch, but you’ll have better results if you steal them from kids’ backpacks or just grab one out of a kid’s hands and run away at a fast, adult pace. Only by examining which pages are smudged and dog-eared can you tell which parts get read and reread the most; only by gauging the volume of a child’s sobs can you evaluate how good the book is in the first place.
- A heavy-handed moral. Nobody likes lectures, especially children. If you want kids to eat their vegetables, you’ve got to add a spoonful of sugar. Basically, to get kids to swallow a story on the values of sharing, balance it out by showing the protagonist stealing a stop sign from the corner of Dakota and First Avenue.
- Being too prescriptive with illustrations. Illustrators are just as important to a children’s book as the author, and they have their own artistic vision; by spelling out every little detail for them, you’re just getting in their way. The best way to proceed is to simply illustrate the thing yourself. Remember the writing maxim, “Never trust to a flaky artist what can be done by a flaky author like yourself.”
- Lack of conflict. It’s natural to want to protect children from the cruelties of the world. But being overprotective deprives the story of conflict, which means there is no story. Let your characters shine by showing them navigating conflict and overcoming whatever the big, bad world can dish out. Show your protagonist dealing with the realities of getting a divorce, or losing all their assets on one turn of pitch-and-toss, or overcoming their addiction to prescription painkillers.
- Over-reliance on cute anthropomorphic characters. It is a well-known fact that animals do not talk or act or dress like people. This is what literary scholars and theologians alike refer to as an “abomination.” Our clothing is the main thing that separates us from the animals, and if children believe it’s okay for animals to wear people-clothes, it’s only a matter of time before Fido and Mittens try to file as head of household on their tax returns.
There you have it! If you avoid these mistakes, you’ll be on your way to publishing your first children’s book. And if the stars align just right, you can achieve the dream of every children’s writer–to have teachers assign your book in class, meaning kids will HAVE to read it.
What mistakes have you made when writing a children’s book? Share your wisdom in the comments section!