What a disaster!! I’ve been doing journalistic writing for most of my life and figured it was time to branch out and explore some other genres. Through my local writers’ guild I found a group of writers for children that met every other week to spend a couple of hours sharing their work and doing some writing together. I e-mailed their leader and she said they’d be happy to have me join them.
I wanted to bring a piece of writing to read at my first meeting so I got to work preparing. First I settled on my target audience. I chose the ages 5-10 crowd for my debut piece. Now what should I write about? I decided to follow the old adage write about what you know. I would use an incident from my children’s childhoods as the base for my first story writing venture. At one point my sons had turtles for pets and my story would be about their adventures.
I was a little nervous after everyone in the group had introduced themselves and I discovered some of my fellow writers were already published children’s authors. It seemed they had all taken children’s writing courses as well. The other readers had targeted a teen audience for their pieces. I read my contribution last and my little story seemed pretty simplistic compared to the complicated plot lines and dramatic teenage emotions in their pieces.
The other writers listened patiently and perceptively and were ooooooooooooh so kind as they gave me feedback. “I liked the names of the turtles”, they said. “Children could identify with the idea of having pets”, said one. Then came the advice couched in gentle diplomatic tones. I made some notes and probably can’t remember everything but these were just a few of their suggestions.
1. Keep it short.
2. You need to get to the problem or conflict early in the story.
3. Writing for young children should contain sensory references- touch, smell, sound, taste and not just visual images.
4. There should be a good balance between conversation and narration.
5. Having too many characters draws attention away from your main character.
6. The conversations between characters in a story always need a reality check.
7. Watch out for plot holes.
8. Sometimes a true story can sound unrealistic.
Although I knew my first attempt at writing children’s fiction had been something of a disaster, the feedback of these more experienced writers was exactly what I needed and I went home with lots of ideas for how I could improve my story.
Next week we meet again and I’ll see what they think of Draft #2.
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