06 April 2018

How not to write a children’s book

Chris and Greg
by Chris Smith Guest Blog, Writing Tips

Greg James and Chris Smith are the creative minds behind the best-selling Kid Normal children’s books. The duo are represented by Curtis Brown’s very own Stephanie Thwaites

With the second Kid Normal book, Kid Normal and the Rogue Heroes new out (March 2018), Chris Smith is here to offer some advice on how NOT to write a children’s book:

Lots of people can give you helpful advice on how to write for children. So, to mix things up a bit, here are five things we found helpful NOT to do when we were writing the Kid Normal books.

We share these rules in a spirit of friendly and whimsical collaboration. It may well be that you find them useless, ridiculous and frivolous – in which case please feel free to print them out, fold them into a hat, put it on and run around shouting ‘TOSH’ at the top of your voice. But, for better or worse, here are the five things we didn’t do.

1. Don’t write for children

OK – sounds a bit counter intuitive. But, when we sat down for our Kid Normal writing sessions, we didn’t write for kids – we wrote about kids, and we wrote for ourselves. If you’re constantly trying to second-guess your readers you’ll never get anywhere. Imagine what would have happened if Philip Pullman had stopped and thought ‘hang on, will my young readers really be able to grapple with Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics?’

Write from the heart – don’t tailor your plots, grammar or vocabulary to suit imagined readers. If your story is good, they’ll work it out.

2. Don’t tie yourself down

Countless people have visited Great Missenden and sat in Roald Dahl’s special writing chair. And we’ve all heard about JK sitting in her favourite cafe dreaming up Hogwarts – but most of us aren’t lucky enough to have a special place or lovely garden room to write in. It doesn’t set the best example to aspiring young writers if they think that real writers are people with big gardens and posh sheds. Kid Normal was written on planes, trains, in pubs, in our kitchens and wherever we could snatch an hour. Try to get yourself in that writing head-space in lots of different places.

3. Don’t be afraid of starting again

Greg and I spent ages working on a book called Treehouse TV, but got stuck. Then, when the idea and the title Kid Normal came along, we realised we had something special. Treehouse TV stopped and Kid Normal began. Some plots and character names trickled into the new story – but generally it was freeing to go back to square one with what we’d learned so far.

If you have a ‘back to the drawing board’ moment – embrace it. You’re reversing out of a muddy patch, making a quick three-point turn and roaring off down a road that will lead somewhere brilliant.

4. Don’t worry if you don’t know the end

Ignore your inner critic – the one that says: ‘you don’t even know what happens, there’s no point writing. It’ll be rubbish anyway.’ Try and develop a serene air of confidence even if you don’t feel it all the time. If you don’t know what happens at the end of your story, or even at the end of a particular scene, try writing it anyway. Just spend time with your characters, write them into a situation and see what they do. Imagine you’re settling down to watch a film and enjoy finding out what happens.

5. Don’t moan about edits

If you’re lucky enough to get published, the lovely manuscript that you slaved over will come back littered with amendments, crossings-out, questions and suggestions. Jokes that you laughed at until a bit of wee came out will be returned with a comment saying ‘not sure if this gag quite lands – rethink?’ Lucky, lucky, lucky you. Out of squillions of aspiring authors, a publishing house has believed in you so much that they’ve given you a professional editor – one of the very best in the business – to help make your story better. Yes, edits are hard work. Make a cup of tea, sit down, murmur a grateful prayer to the literary deity of your choosing, and edit the heck out of it.

You can buy Kid Normal and the Rogue Heroes here.

If you’re writing a book for children or teenagers, take a look at our online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course with tutor Catherine Johnson. The deadline for applications is midnight, Sunday 22 April.

We also offer three online novel-writing courses for all-comers, to take you right the way through from planning your novel to pitching the finished version to agents. Find out more about the writing courses we are offering at the moment visit our courses page.

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