What’s Different About Writing for Children Than for Adults?

A man reads to his twin 14-month-old daughters in 2010 in Berlin.

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Answer by Shannon Messenger, author, Keeper of the Lost Cities series:

First, don’t ever think you need to dumb the story down to make it understandable to kids. Kids deserve way more credit than adults often give them.

Other things to keep in mind:

Let the kids be the hero. It’s a story for kids, so it should be about the kids. And the ultimate solution should not be that they run to an adult, and the adult fixes everything. Does that mean you sometimes have to work extra hard to sell why the kid is the only one who can save the day? Yep. But no one said this job was easy.

Think in terms of kid voice, not kid vocabulary. Don’t worry about if a word too complex. I’ve never had to simplify a single word in any of my books. But kids do have their own unique worldview, and that should be reflected in your word choice. For instance, when kids look at the color brown, are they more likely to think coffee-colored or chocolate-colored? If they describe their dad getting dressed for work, are they going to say, “He put on his most expensive business suit,” or “He put on his favorite suit”? Those kind of choices add an authenticity to the voice of the story.

Remember how much bigger everything feels when you’re younger. For example, as an adult, if you’re given a yearlong assignment you hate, it’s a drag. But you also know it’s only a year of your life and then it’ll be over. But to a 10-year-old, if he has a teacher he doesn’t like for a whole year, that is one-tenth of his life, and it feels more like one-fifth of his life, since he doesn’t remember that much about the first few years. It’s endless.

And of course, if you write for younger children, you’ll have to keep in mind that there are gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians, etc) so things like swearing, sex, violence, and whatnot might have to be scaled back or left out all together.

What should be kept in mind when writing a children’s book as opposed to writing adult fiction? originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora: