Times have changed. The books children read, the clothes they wear, the games they play and even the way they speak are different to what I remember, and I’m sure you find the same. So how do you, as a writer of children’s stories put yourself in their world? Here are some of the tips I’ve found useful:
1) Get down on your knees. If you are writing a story for children under eight then try getting down on your knees and seeing what the world looks like when you’re child-size. See how tall grown-ups look, how high the door handle is, how big the table seems. Many people have gone back to their primary schools and been amazed how small everything seems but to a young child everything looks big. They can struggle to open doors, to see out of windows, to reach cupboards and shelves. The world is a huge, fascinating and often frightening place to them.
2) Look beyond the obvious. Children see the world in different eyes to ours. The overgrown lawn might seem a mess to you but to a child it’s a magical world of amazing creatures where they can build dens, play hide and seek and pretend to be animals running through a meadow. The hole in the tree trunk is the home of a woodland fairy, the shadow the lamp throws on the bedroom wall when they’re about to go to sleep is a monster, the branch tapping against the bedroom window is an owl come to take them for a moonlight ride.
3) Imagine that anything is possible. Young children have limited experience and knowledge of the world so they are open-minded, ready to believe in tooth fairies, the bogey man, Father Christmas and the monster who sleeps under their bed. Many a successful children’s story has been written by tapping into this sense of wonder and belief.
4) Notice children. Really notice them. Listen to them talk, watch how they move, the games they play, the questions they ask. This will give you a good insight into what goes through their minds.
Finally, remember that despite the differences in children today, basically their needs, hopes and fears haven’t changed. They still like to be entertained, to read stories that make them laugh aloud, bring a lump to their throat, make them glance over their shoulder. They still worry about going to school, falling out with friends, not being loved, failing, being left out…things that you and I worried about when we were a child. We all have our own memories and experiences of childhood so my last tip is write for the child you were, but bring that child into the 21st Century.
You’ll find more tips on writing for children in my book, Get Writing: Children’s Fiction.
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