Kate Coombs

How to Become a Children's Book Writer

Tips for Kids | Q&A for Adults | Books and Links for Writers | A Note About Poetry

Tips For Kids

  1. Read, read, read! Books are the best writing teachers you'll ever meet.

  2. Write, write, write! Try writing different things, like poems, stories, plays, and TV or movie scripts, also mysteries, comedies, fantasies, sports stories, animal stories—stories about all of the things that interest you.

  3. Show, don't tell. Showing is when you get your reader to picture something using the five senses. Telling is when there's nothing much to picture and you're being kind of bossy as a writer, telling your readers what to think without giving them any evidence. Here are some examples:

    Telling:That dog was really loud. It scared Sheila.
    Showing:Sheila was passing by Mr. Morris's yard when the dog barked right next to her and she jumped six feet straight up in the air. Its bark sounded like a cross between a jackhammer and a pack of wolves, and when she came down, Sheila hit the ground running like a cartoon character, her feet nothing but a blurry wheel.
    Telling:Something sure smelled good. We knew Mom must be baking cookies.
    Showing:We opened the door and our noses were hit by this warm wave of butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Jim yelled it before I could: "Snickerdoodles!" But I made a quick basketball move to get past him into the kitchen, and I got the first cookie.
    Telling:The girl was sad.
    Showing:Gina's shoulders hunched over. Jon couldn't tell if she was crying, but she went into her bedroom kind of fast and shut the door.
    Telling:The place was really creepy.
    Showing:In the horror movies, they always play scary music. But the creepiest sound of all is silence. As I walked down the hall, wishing with all my heart I'd brought a flashlight, I could hear way too much nothing.

    Exercise: Practice showing by writing a brief description for each of the 5 senses.

  4. Your teachers might be fond of extra adjectives for school assignments requiring description, but I'm here to tell you: when you're really writing, please don't get carried away with adjectives or adverbs. The trick is to concentrate on using strong nouns and verbs instead. When you do find you need an adjective, pick one good one instead of two or three mediocre ones. Keep in mind that fancy words aren't always better; specific words are best, even if they're short. Also, be sure you leave out any adjectives that are clearly conveyed by the noun or adverbs clearly conveyed by the verb. (Can you see why I took out the words "loudly," "cold," and "cool" in the examples below?)

    Okay:The big, tall man in iron shoes walked loudly across the rough, ugly stone floor.
    Better:The giant in iron shoes boomed across the pitted stones.
    Okay:The cold strawberry ice cream was my favorite. It had a sweet, cool, summery flavor.
    Better:I chose my favorite, strawberry ice cream. It tasted like summer.

  5. Talk on paper. Use your own voice when you write, not some fakey teacher-sounding voice.

  6. Pick the best details. Cinderella wouldn't be that good of a story without the pumpkin and the glass slippers! You can collect details the way some people collect postage stamps or seashells. Look at the world. Notice big things like the sweep of the sky and the serrated silhouette of a mountain range. Notice small things like the way two different leaves in fall change color differently or the expression on your little sister's face after she takes a bite of creamed spinach. Learn to see, gathering great details and storing them away for use in your writing someday. Make lists of details in case you forget!

  7. Throw complications at your characters and let them struggle to solve the problems, whether in a serious way or a funny way.

  8. Give your main character at least one friend and at least one enemy.

  9. Experiment with different endings, beginnings, and middles, not necessarily in order. Don't think your first idea for anything will be your best idea and stop there. Instead, play around with the possibilities.

  10. Try entering writing contests for children, but don't feel too bad if you don't win. It's good practice for when you're older and trying to sell your stories—I've been sent dozens of rejection letters for every acceptance. You have to be a little tough and just try again.

  11. Have fun writing. Tell yourself stories!

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