Written by A Guest Author

Making the Jump: Transitioning to Writing for Children

By Rumbidzai Whena

They say no matter how grown up we are, we will always be kids inside. So when I was offered a book contract for writing children’s books, it seemed easy; all I had to do was reach inside and think like my inner kid, right? Wrong.

Staring at a blank screen made me realize if you want to transition to writing for kids, you might need more than ‘reaching deep inside.’ Take note though that I myself am still on a learning journey, so to say I have successfully made the jump would be presumptuous  (considering my book is yet to be published, albeit, soon). However, I can say that doing the following was an immense help in finishing my first children’s book.

To begin, one of the most confusing things for me was humor. Am I allowed to use dark humor? Is sarcasm considered appropriate for a 10-year-old mind? Will kids think I’m funny? Now this is very serious. Children have a different wavelength of humor, something I learned when my 11-year-old niece stared at me stonily as I laughed at one of my jokes I found hilarious.

If you are like me and are the type of person who doesn’t understand talking bananas in pajamas, or even juvenile humor, then you should probably stay clear of humor altogether as you write a children’s book. You don’t want it to feel forced and uncomfortable. However, if you are one of the lucky few and are in sync with your inner child, then go for the humor. The kids will love it, and so might the parent!

Another thing I learned along the way is to develop a main character that resonates with children’s minds. Whether human or animal, this has to be a character that the kids all wish to be or to befriend as they read your story. The character has to be relatable in a way. At first I made the mistake of making my main character this perfect little girl, until I realized that I was writing a fairy tale when I wanted something realistic. I wanted someone who my readers would go “Hey, I do that!” when they go through my book. So I gave the character flaws. You can make the character hasty in decision-making, impatient, or even a bully. You can also make them friendly and brave during hard times. The key is to create a main character that captures the minds of children, and makes them wish they were part of the adventure you wrote for them.

When I think of writing a book, I think of pages upon pages of story-telling. When children think of stories, depending on their age, they think a couple of pages filled with colorful drawings and a happy ending, or a few pages of a fast-paced story. What I’m getting at is unlike adult books, children’s books are incredibly short. Now there is a common range that is used according to what age you are catering for, but the maximum smiled-upon number of words for children’s books (for the age of 7 to 10 years) is 30, 000 words. My first book which I self-published had 104,000 words. That’s more than three times the length of my current children’s book.

Children, unlike adults, have short attention spans. They don’t want a winding plot, they want a short story where the main character faces a challenge, tries to solve it, fails, tries again, and maybe fails again before getting a magical boost and winning the day. Life may be a rollercoaster of twists and turns and sometimes as an adult author you may feel the need to portray it that way but if it is a children’s book, then there’s no need.

Lastly, another thing I’ve learned (and which I consider to be most important) is to have fun with the story. Nothing loosens an author’s writing muscles quite like writing for children. You are forced to use a new perspective which is more adventurous, to the point, and has a happy ending, which both you and your readers will love.

Bio: Rumbidzai Whena is a Zimbabwean introvert who holds a Bachelor’s in Geography and Environmental Studies and whose love for the environment is on a par with that of writing. She enjoys all forms of writing, creative writing most of all and aims to be an established (and rich!) author one day.  FacebookLinkedInUpwork



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