Write a Children's
Book in 14 Days
Once you've plotted out your book, developed
the characters and written the last word of text, the
real work begins. As busy editors are bombarded with
hundreds or even thousands of submissions a year, it's
more important than ever that authors
apply their own editing skills to their manuscripts
before putting them in the mail. Checking your basic
grammar and spelling are of course important, but authors
need to go beyond surface editing if their work has a
chance of catching an editor's eye.
Trim, tighten, hack away.
First, second and even third drafts of manuscripts are
almost always laden with extra words and scenes. Take a
break from your book and then read it through with
a fresh eye. Write down your theme in one sentence (what
the book is about, such as working through shyness on the
first day of school or showing how Thomas Edison's
childhood experiences influenced his adult life). The
plot (or progression of facts and events in nonfiction)
is your vehicle for conveying the theme to the reader.
Ask yourself if each character and scene advance the plot
toward communicating this theme. And decide at the
beginning that you will give up your precious words and
finely-crafted scenes for the betterment of the book.
Pithy dialogue may be fun to read, but if it pushes your
story off track, it's just a literary dead end. Take the
publishers' suggested word limits seriously: no, you
don't really need 3000 words to tell your picture book
story about Freddy the Frog's adventures in the Big Pond.
The elements of speech.
Well-crafted dialogue can be a writer's most important
tool. Dialogue is not just there to break up the
paragraphs or show that your characters know how to talk;
ideally, it adds to character development, moves the plot
along and replaces sections of narrative. Each character
should sound like himself, with speech patterns and
phrasing that are unique. This is especially true with
talking animal books. I see many of these manuscripts
where, if I took away the words that identify the
speakers, each character would sound exactly the same.
Don't have dialogue repeat the narrative and vice versa;
"Did you hear that? Someone's at the door!"
does not have to be preceded by "They heard a sound
at the door".
Show don't tell.
How many times have you heard this? It's still true. Comb
through your manuscript for sentences that tell the
reader how a character felt (Sara was sad) and replace
with sensory descriptions (Hot tears sprang to Sara's
eyes and rolled down her cheeks.) Avoid telling the
reader what to think about the story (Jason foolishly
decided to trust Mike one more time.) Instead, present
your character's actions and decisions to the reader, and
let the reader draw his or her own conclusions
(incidentally, this is how you "teach" without
Wipe out passive writing.
Search for verbs preceded by "would" (would go,
would sleep, would eat) replace with the past tense
(went, slept, ate). Also look for actions that seem to
happen out of thin air. "The door was opened"
is passive, because the sentence lacks a
"doer". Remember, the reader needs to visualize
what's happening in the story. "The wind blew the
door open" is better, because the action can be
attributed to something, and it puts the most important
element (strong wind) at the beginning of
the sentence. Simply rearranging the words ("The
door blew open from the wind") puts emphasis on a
door that won't stay closed, making that the subject of
One of the best ways to make your writing come alive for
the reader is to use exact nouns, verbs, adjectives and
adverbs. One well-chosen word is always better than three
vague ones. Adjectives like big, little, cold, hot,
beautiful, scary and silly; adverbs such as quickly,
slowly, loudly, and softly; and general verbs like walk,
went, stayed and ate don't draw a vivid picture for your
reader. Of course, sometimes these words are appropriate,
but try as a rule choosing words that describe
specifically what you want to communicate. Words that
sound and look interesting are also a plus. Tremendous,
tiny, frigid, scorching, plodded, sauntered and gulped
are more fun to read, and they each lend an emotional
overtone to the sentence (if your character gulps his
food, you don't have to tell the reader he's in a hurry).
And finally, make sure there's a logical cause and effect
relationship between the scenes of your book. Each event
should build upon the ones that came before. The plot
should spring intrinsically from your characters;
nonfiction should unfold because of the nature of your
subject and your slant on the material. It's when
everything comes seamlessly together that you have a
winning book. Make it look easy, but don't skimp on all
the hard work it takes to get there.
Copyright 2001, Children's Book Insider, LLC
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book
Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For
more information about writing children's books,
including free articles, market tips, insider
secrets and much more, visit Children's Book
Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com