In writing, there are thousands (if not millions) of different audience groups. The first story I read by Lori Z. Scott was from the science fiction anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God. After exchanging e-mails with Lori, however, I discovered that writing science fiction isn’t her first love. What is? Writing for children!
What are the similarities and differences between writing for “grown-ups” and writing for children?
All good stories share certain elements. No matter what the target audience age, stories must have a compelling (or at least entertaining) plot with believable characters. In addition, writing must be tight, well-crafted, and engaging. Dialogue has to move the story forward. And humor almost always sells.
Also, the takeaway value of a story is important. I have seen both adult and children’s stories tackle complex topics, such as death. Writers may use different words, images, or viewpoints, but both help their readers empathize or cope with the issue.
One difference between writing for children and writing for adults is the complexity of the story. Simply stated, an adult novel can tackle a major plot and several subplots whereas a story for young children works best with one central focus.
Another area of difference can be found in writing technique. Children’s authors often employ tricks not often found in adult writing, including writing in rhyme (like Chicken Soup with Rice), using alliteration (as in A my Name is Alice), writing in patterns (as in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) writing a circle story (as in If you Give a Mouse a Cookie) and grouping events in sets of three (as in Goldilocks and the Three Bears).
In some sense stories for children hold an edge over adult stories, for a well written children’s story transcends age. Many adults regularly read (and treasure) books geared for children. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is a prime example. In fact, I regularly choose to read YA novels over adult novels.
When you first started writing, were your first works targeted at children or adults?
My writing journey is somewhat atypical. I taught elementary school for nine years before retiring to raise my kids. It was during this hiatus from teaching that I got into writing. It started when I saw a flyer for an amateur science fiction/ fantasy writing contest. I entered and won second place. Encouraged by my success, I tried MOPS International story writing contest…and WON! After that, I tried most anything that caught my fancy—science fiction and fantasy, short story fiction contests, personal essays, poetry, and devotions…all geared for an adult audience. I never really zeroed in on one particular genre until I wrote my first children’s story for a contest. I think the things I learned about writing early on helped me be a stronger writer for children. Plus I discovered all my years of teaching gave me an edge in the children’s market. Many poems, puzzles, and short stories later, I penned my first full children’s chapter book, which eventually led me to a contract with Standard Publishing for the Meghan Rose series.
Where did Meghan Rose come from and how has her series impacted your writing?
LOL. This is a long story I have told many times.
I enjoyed the humor in those books, but didn’t like the name calling, grammar slips, and bad attitudes. Then Meghan started acting and talking like Junie B., and I started looking elsewhere. I thought there had to something better—a book that was just as funny, but had a better role model. I simply SCOURED the Christian bookstores and talked to MANY store managers begging to find THAT BOOK. They carried Bible stories, devotional books, and picture books for that age group, but no chapter books.
At the time I did all this searching, I had already started publishing children’s stories, poems, and puzzles for magazines. So when my daughter--Meghan Rose, BTW--finally got fed up with my hunting and said, "Mom, you're a writer. If you can't find what you want, then YOU write it for me!!!!!!!!!" I did. LOL. I wrote the book I couldn’t find—a book just for her. I put in everything she wanted—an interesting story filled with giggles and characters worth rooting for—and everything I wanted—good moral values (but with nothing preachy about the story at all). (I hate preachy, I love amusing.)
I was preparing a VBS program to pitch at a writing conference when my bookstore conversations came back to mind. Almost on a whim, I wrote up a proposal for a whole series based on the book I wrote for my daughter. After all, I knew there had to be an untapped market because I WAS part of that untapped market.
I see now that bringing that proposal along was God’s leading. All the writing I had done up until that point—the short stories, puzzles, poems, articles—prepared me for that moment when the contract came.
The ultimate impact was to give focus to my writing. While I still love science fiction, my passion is, and perhaps always was, for children.
What resources have you used over the years to help hone your writing skills? What resources do you use now?
The best move I made as a new writer was to join a local writing group. That group not only gave me support and encouragement, it pointed me to potential markets, helped me critique my work, and kept me motivated. I also took a free online writing course, which proved helpful, and joined an online writing group, The Writer’s View. (I was part of the original TWV group which later split into two groups, one for beginning writers and one for more advanced writers.)
Writing for magazines is great for honing skills. It forces you to write tight, meet deadlines, and (often) address a theme. I also enjoy short writing exercises. You can often find these challenges online for free. It’s a great way to wake up the muse...and fun! Sometimes these exercises will even lead to a publishable piece of writing.
What advice would you give novice writers, particularly those interested in writing for young audiences?
I wrote an article that addresses this very question! It’s online at http://www.spiritledwriter.com/apr07/shape.html.
So, science fiction…how did that happen?
I love reading science fiction and fantasy. Ever since my fifth grade teacher read The Hobbit to our class, I couldn’t get enough of it. Of all genres, it’s my favorite. That’s why, I think, I was originally drawn to it when I began my writing journey. But even though I started with sci-fi, I believe I am a better children’s writer. My years of experience as an elementary teacher has given me a deep understanding and appreciation of children so it’s easy for me to write in a way that connects with them.
On a sidebar, a few years back, I had the privilege of working at the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois. The center holds most of C. S. Lewis’s original works plus the wardrobe that supposedly inspired the story The Lion, the Witch , and the Wardrobe. The Wade Center also houses works of C. S. Lewis’s pals, including J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. I got to transcript recorded interviews of people who knew C. S. Lewis!
What’s one question you wished others asked about your writing? What’s the answer to that question?
Someone actually did ask me this question, but it’s not one I’m often asked and I think it’s a good one. She asked, “Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?”
Whether or not I have a real person in mind when I create a character—and I often do—there’s still a little bit of me in all of them. In the Meghan Rose Series for example, a lot of my personality is reflected in the teacher, Mrs. Arnold. Another character, Ryan, shows the jokester side of me, and Kayla reflects my goofy side. Lynette shows my stiffer rule-following, show-off side. Yeesh! The Meghan character herself is about 80 percent of the “real” Meghan, 10 percent of me and my creative musings, and 10 percent total fiction.