writing for children -v- writing for adults

Someone said an intriguing thing the other day and it set me thinking.

‘Why don’t you write for adults, Sheryl?’

‘I prefer to write for kids.’

‘Oh, well, I guess writing for children is much easier.’

Okay, so how would you respond in that situation if you were a writer of children’s books? For once, I held my tongue and didn’t bite back. It is an important question to a writer of the genre and it needs careful consideration – even if just to defend my choice of audience, in a coherent way.

First, let’s get rid of the myth that writing for children is easier. I suspect it is harder – not only do you face the rigorous ‘gate-keepers’ for quality books known as Australian children’s publishers, you also are up against the harshest, most ‘lackadaisical’ of critics – young readers.  Adult readers will give you the benefit of the doubt in your story. They will read a few chapters, or almost to the end, before giving up if it doesn’t grab their attention (I know, because I’m one of them).

But a child reader will read the first sentence, or paragraph, and if you’re lucky, the first page, before deciding whether to keep going. And fair enough, too. There are so many other media grabbing their attention span – that’s the way things are now.

There’s also the tricky adaptations you must make to write for different age groups and reading abilities – I have to write the story first, then, if it is for the younger, chapter-book readers, I take out more than I leave in, ensuring the story still rollicks along.

Why do I write for children?

  1. The characters that live in my stories are children (or animals) experiencing the rocky road of life. I’ve never thought of an adult as the main character. That does not mean I don’t write about adults too. I do – like Matron Maddock and Algernon Parris in my story, McAlpine & Macbeth. They are real in my head – evil, corrupt, but both pragmatic about what must be done to survive in an uncertain world.
  2. The stories spilling from my imagination owe homage to the stories I have loved reading over the years – heroes (always young) facing challenges and quests, or fighting the odds to follow their hopes and dreams, facing off (and eventually winning) against antagonists who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
  3. I thrive on challenges, and writing for the children’s book industry is one of them. I will never climb a cliff-face or venture out of my depth in the sea, but every time I send off another story or a play to publishers, the possibility of rejection is there like a stone in my shoe. Every author I know who submits a manuscript feels the same way.
  4. I love the way child readers respond to books – the way stories capture them, the way characters becomes alive in their minds. I love their enthusiasm and their excitement when their favourite authors visit a school library.
  5. I also love being part of a community of Australian children’s writers. Since being involved in the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS campaign last year, I connected up with authors and illustrators from across the nation. They write for all age levels and range from beginning, through to established, award-winning writers.  I have met publishers in the industry as well. All are incredibly enthusiastic people and generous with their support to fellow writers. Maybe it is because our focus is on children.
    I don’t get the impression there is that connected feeling in the world of writers for adults.

Do you write or illustrate children’s books? Tell us why do you do it? What spurs you on?

For another hilarious view on this topic, check out Katrina Germein’s blogging: 10 Things Not to Say to a Children’s Author

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14 thoughts on “writing for children -v- writing for adults

  1. I love the thought of being able to spark a child’s thoughts or senses. I think as I write I’m aware of that electricity – and I’m keen to share that with children. I don’t have that same feeling towards adults or adult writing, although I’ve done that as well. And reading your own work to children takes you to another plane of joy as well.

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  2. I get so annoyed when someone says this. I even had a receptionist at a Tafe College say ‘Oh well, after you learn to write for children you can go on to the hard task of writing for adults.’
    It’s impossible to explain to people who think this way, so I generally say, ‘It’s much harder to write for children. They are so fussy, but adults will read any rubbish.’
    I know this isn’t strictly true, but have you read any of those women’s mags lately?

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  3. You’d think that, after the success of J.K. Rowling, childrens’ authors would be seen in a new light. As an avid reader, who’s never put pen to paper, I think authors are a rare breed to be cherished – I applaud your creativity and courage. And I’m especially proud of the author in our family – good on you Sis’.

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  4. I write for teenagers, the most mercurial and unpredictable creatures on earth. I write for them because, so far, the stories that have formed in me have been stories for and about them.

    Out of novels for adults and picture books, I know which one I found most daunting and rigorous and tricky to write. (Hint: it’s not novels for adults.) Alos junior novels. Tricky tricky tricky, to capture an authentic, original voice, to find the right story and then convey it with clarity and brevity but still with a captivating aesthetic that’s right for the reader (and sometimes captivating aesthetic might be “gross-out” but if you think it’s easy to write a bum book you are sorely mistaken), to create (flawed) characters that are real and identifiable, but are also able to carry the story and action.

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  5. I get this a lot! For (well meaning) people to conclude that I write for children merely because it’s easier, is tantamount to suggesting that I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like a challenge; who always takes the easy way out. I usually reply by (politely!) explaining that I write for both children (novels, poetry) and adults (short stories, poetry) and neither is easier, they’re just different. After all, a psychologist working with kids works just as hard as a psychologist working with adults.

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  6. I agree, Sheryl, writing for children is an honour. To think that your book might be the first book that made someone see the world in a completely different way, recognise themselves in a character or hook them onto reading is wonderful. I teach Writing For Children to adults and always bring in a stack of old books to the first lessons and the reaction my students have when they recognise a book from their childhood is like watching them greet a dear old friend. Plus, you get to write really great stories! Children’s writing spans such a wide variety of ideas and themes all under the one umbrella – unlike adult writing where you can quickly become pigeon-holed as ‘fantasy’ or ‘literary’ or ‘crime’ etc.
    Lastly, children’s writers are SO much nicer… 😉

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