The tertiary institution where I lecture in Writing for Children & YA has asked me to compile my lecture notes and study guides as a writing book that can be used in classes. My students have asked for a part memoir, part ‘how to’ with personal anecdotes. I’ll post snippets and thoughts about the process in this online writing journal. Here’s one about that first page. Many times I am asked how I ‘do’ it: how I write a children’s book. Children are more particular. ‘How do you get all those words on the page?’ a Year 2 boy once asked me. There is little difference in the process of writing children’s novels from writing adult novels, other than the age of the protagonists, voice, content and length. The most important things about writing are the same: creating great characters, an engaging story, using interesting words, showing love, hope, beauty, and truth about life. The big question to ask ourselves is not if we’re a good enough writer to write an adult or ‘real’ book, but whether our writing is good enough for children.
Would your writing pass a child inspection test? Try out the first page of your story on some children – expect honest answers and you may receive them. Here are a few:
‘Nothing happens, they’re still eating breakfast at the end of the page.’
‘There’s no problem yet. (Kids know these things).
‘Who is the story about? I can’t tell.’
‘It’s boring because there’s no dialogue.’
‘Nice descriptive sea words, Nanna, but it’s a bit slow. You need a shark in there.’ Eeek! (I did manage to include a shark in the land-locked novel Kerenza for Amelia: it appears as a metaphor on p 21).
Your young readers should never be in doubt about who your main character is, how the character speaks, what’s bothering him/her, and what he/she is doing about it. Your readers should never, ever be bored on the first page.