Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing children's books from the inside out

So. You want to write children's books. Do you have to know any current, modern day children?


You really don't need to know children to write children's books. In fact, I even think it can be a hindrance for some people.

The problem with writing children's books from the outside in, as in, writing with some particular children in mind, is that it's hard not to view them with an adult lens. Their actions can seem super irrational from an adult point of view, and that lens inevitably creeps into how writers portray their characters' inner lives.

This is how you end up with YA novels where the kids are completely petulant and angsty all the time. Sure, this is how teenagers often appear outwardly to adults, even when we look back at ourselves from a distance. But the writers are forgetting that the petulance is contextual, and a child may act completely differently in front of their peers. And even when a teenager is being petulant, that's not how they're experiencing it in the moment.

For me, the best toolkit for writing for young readers is a writer's own memory. It's writing inside out.

The reason I can write books for twelve-year-olds isn't because I know any twelve-year-olds, it's because I can vividly summon the memories of what it was like to be twelve. I remember what I cared about, what scared me, what I found funny, what I found mortifying, what I found impressive, what it was like to have crushes, what it was like to have enemies, what it was like to imagine a hazy future where anything and nothing felt possible at the same time.

Sure, the technology, slang, clothing, and tons of other things have changed since I was a kid. If I wanted to write something that felt totally modern or if I wanted to step far outside my own personal experiences, I would need to consult with some actual children in order to make sure I got it right.

But growing up is growing up. Your memory of it is likely a great starting place for your story.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Distant Thoughts by Fritz Zuber-Buhler


JOHN T. SHEA said...

AMEN! I've been channeling my inner teenager for years, and not just in my writing.

Now we can all reread Jacob Wonderbar's adventures in a new light and wonder if C. S. Jennings used childhood photos of you as inspiration! Superfans can search the fields of Colusa for lost spaceships.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

The Colusa Substitute Teachers Survivors Group will read this with great interest...

Caleb G said...

Even when I was a child, I thought like an adult. I remember distinctly how as a child I felt surrounded by immature idiots. Even some adults seemed a bit petulant to me. This is why I don't write YA. :o)

JOHN T. SHEA said...

I can relate to that, Caleb G. Yet that encouraged me to write YA, from the POV of a teenager mostly surrounded by adults who often act immaturely, at least in my protagonist's opinion. In fact, the whole society in which my protagonist lives is a kind of adolescent version of 1930s New York City, where comic books are almost sacred texts, for example!

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