First, I must say a big thank you to Ann Evans who ran the workshop for Nottingham Writers' Club on Saturday.
It was only a group of 10, but it did mean we could ask lots of questions as we went along.
Now I don't write for children, but sometimes I do need to have children in my stories- as Sarah, the heroine in my novella is having memory flashes and dreams/nightmares from when she was a child, I'd been finding it very difficult to convey the thoughts and language of a 10-12 year when she's experiencing these moments.
So I was hoping that elements of the workshop would help me get a grip on that.
We began with picture books and worked up...
I learnt that the pages are spreads, so if you open the book and have two pages in front of you, that is a spread.
I'd never really thought about how you would lay out a manuscript for a picture book, but it is nothing like a standard manuscript; it's broken up into stages, so the editor knows what the visual clues are (for the illustrator) and the text for each page...
The language use and sentence construction needed for the younger age range proved that it is as hard work as a longer length work.
There was discussion on the skills needed for producing stories suitable for older children who have a lower reading ability. The exciting stories required by their age, but the text not being as complex as you'd usually get. These are referred to as Hi-lo stories.
Writing for young adults did seem to be popular- and it is an expanding market...
There were exercises to do and it was the last set that gave me the breakthrough with Sarah.
We did bullet points about our character- character traits and so on. But we had to include their aim- either for the day or their life, and the thing they fear.
Now Sarah fears storms, so that was easy enough. But as I slowly began to tune into Sarah as a child, I recalled my own care-free childhood around the same age, and like most children wanted to grow-up to be like my mum.
In the past life wasn't as complex as today, so our parents were our role models, who we aspired to be like, so I'm sure Sarah would have felt the same...
As the exercise progressed I found there was a depth to Sarah I hadn't been aware of, and in doing so I discovered why she is so concerned about an aspect of her friends lives in the present.
I will certainly be doing this again, with one of my secondary characters who is a bit two-dimensional at the moment. I haven't quite found the key to him...
We had a variety of discussions, including age ranges and book lengths. Nothing seems hard and fast with lengths, as a publisher may have specific requirements for a particular country/market.
So generally: Ann suggested; picture books approximately 300 words.
4-5 year old- books with line drawings, 1,800-2,000 words or less. At this point parents will be reading the book to their child/children, and then the children will eventually be able to read the book themselves.
7-9 years old- 12,000-25,000 as an average.
9-12 years old- 25,000-60,000.
But clearly every child is different. Consider how many younger age range children were reading Harry Potter tomes- each book seemed to get thicker with a larger word count than the previous one...
While I may never write books for children, I'm not going to forget that the back story of each of my main characters includes their childhood influences and experiences.
After all our childhood is a part of who we become later...