7 Things to Beware of when Writing Stories for Children

Over the last few months I have been reviewing books for a charity that puts Christian titles into libraries and other public places. So I have had the joy of having to read. 🙂 How about that for an excuse to read – sorry, can’t do that, I absolutely have to finish these books….!


You know I’m always saying, if you want to be a writer, you have to read? Well, it’s true! Some of the novels I was given to read were really well written, engaging and fun. But I also noticed a few things I thought I would pass on to you to beware of:

  1. Being old-fashioned. Sausages, beans and chips with trifle for afters… really? In the 70s maybe. You must spend time with your target readers, and catch up with how life is for them now, or you risk being irrelevant (unless your book is set in the 70s, of course!).
  2. Drifting along. You need a clear story arc, or it can all get really tedious. If your readers get to the end of the book and wonder what it was all about, they’re not going to buy the sequel or recommend the book to friends. You really do need a clear beginning, middle and end to your story, with lots of conflict in the middle. (Watch this space for a new course coming up. :-))
  3. Stereotypes. Ginger-haired people are not fiery-tempered (well, they might be, but if they are, it won’t be anything to do with their hair colour). Not all doctors are men. Not all nurses are women. Not all baddies are ugly. And so on. Be bold. Give your readers something to think about.
  4. Nice stories. Noooooooooooo! Forget NICE. Your story needs to be gripping, gritty; it needs some tension, with bad things happening. It needs some emotion. Please! As Christians, we can be terribly pleasant, but in our books, we need to be wild and real. Well, OK, always real, and sometimes wild. Hehe. And suitable for the age of your readers, of course.
  5. Adverbs. (I used to use adverbs all the time, so I say this a bit sheepishly.) Learn to show not tell instead. I think there’s a writing tip somewhere here on the blog about showing not telling – yup, here’s the link. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to follow this one up. 🙂
  6. The cover has to reflect the story. If the house in the story is on an estate in Manchester, don’t have a Mediterranean country villa on the cover. It might look fabulous, but it will leave readers feeling bewildered. Or tricked. If you are self-publishing, be warned.
  7. Do not have your character (child) going off with a stranger. I don’t care what adventures they are going to be whizzed away to, or by whom. And you can’t get round it by your characters justifying it – I just knew it would be fine, She seemed such a genuine person… Just, NO. It’s not OK. Google ‘missing girl’ ‘missing boy’ or ‘missing teenager’ if you’re in any doubt. We are responsible for the message we are giving out. Simply find another way to take your characters to, well, wherever you want to take them. You can do it – you’re a writer. 🙂

Have you seen any of these? Or maybe notice that you do them yourself (eeek!)? Let us know in the comments below!

Until next week,

Janet Wilson


P.S. Keep reading – you can learn so much from books…

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2 thoughts on “7 Things to Beware of when Writing Stories for Children

  1. Karen Caswell

    Your point about not being old-fashioned is one I’ve thought of. Do you have any tips for bringing old stories into this century? I have sentimental favorites from my (long ago) childhood that I would love to see preserved and shared. But you are right. The setting and/or characters need an update for kids to be able to relate.

    • Janet Post author

      Hi Karen, thanks for taking the time to comment, and that’s an interesting thought. Such a lovely idea! So many of our old classic favo(u!)rites would indeed need to be updated to make them relevant for a new generation of readers. Anyone who attempted this rather daunting task would need: 1. excellent editing skills, and 2. to spend a lot of time with young people, so they have a good grasp of the current youth culture. Wouldn’t it be great to be reading our old ‘special’ stories with our grandchildren? Or maybe they would lose their charm… I don’t watch the new Sherlock Holmes… 🙂

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