Great storytelling is vital for content marketing. Children’s books bring feelings and tell original stories. Is there a better way to win your customers’ hearts?
I’m not the one who makes up bedtime stories in my family. My partner has created a whole series about five ducklings with a plot and a moral for each. But as a content writer, I wanted to improve my narrative skills. Writing fiction for kids seemed the easiest (I was clueless).
In the end, I made it and now I’m waiting for the illustrations and formatting. Here are the benefits I reaped along the way:
Decide on the age you write for
As you can see in the table, the younger the age, the fewer words, and the more illustrations:
|2 – 5||200 – 400||32||Every page|
|Trade picture |
|4 – 8||400 – 800||32+||Every page|
|Picture story |
|6 – 10||1,000 – 3,000||32+||Almost every |
|Chapter book||6 – 10||3,000 – 10,000||32+||Almost every |
|Middle grade |
|8 – 12||15,000 – 40,000||82||12+ pictures|
Master the damn storytelling
In Once Upon a Digital Time digital analyst Brian Solis explains the importance of telling stories in marketing and the process of content creation.
The real story is a tale: something happens, and it usually changes the protagonist. So, apart from characters, a plot and a resolution are also necessary. The narrative should be clear and short. It should also pull the reader’s emotions.
Children’s books insist on a few more things:
Show, don’t tell
You must wrap up the whole story in a few thousand words. Try to talk about life in 1000. I couldn’t. My first draft was almost 9,500 words long and I managed to get the book down to 4160, not less.
Use every precious word either for a dialog, an internal monolog, or an action.
Avoid Tolstoyan descriptions
Don’t do big descriptions of nature and appearance – the only purpose of the description is to depict the characters better.
Don’t put too many characters
The story is short, save the words and develop the moral better.
Plenty of action
Dramatic events in the book make the readers flip pages. I must admit, I broke that rule – I thought the lesson was so important it could be better presented with less action.
Its purpose is to show how the characters feel, how they interact, and what is happening in the book. So, there is little place for:
“Oh, hello. I didn’t see you coming.”
“How are you?”
“Well, I don’t know what to think of…”
Add the characters’ body language to show how they feel about what’s going on:
“He was fidgeting / looking into the ceiling / tapping his foot…”
Give the book a strong title
Your book has to grab kids’ attention or their parents’ (usually – moms’) as they surf through the Internet. Try with something funny or unusual. I broke that rule – I had a clear idea what to write about even before I started and couldn’t find any other more adequate title.
Writing a children’s book is not easy. The niche is very profitable, so every year about 10,000 children’s books are published in the UK only. You really have to know what you are selling.
Before you even start writing, do good research on two levels:
Research the market
Magic, superpowers, fairies, and action are popular among children. Still, I couldn’t see myself writing a book about Sarah’s magical shoelaces that got her to the moon.
I did the opposite – I wrote what I thought was important for preteens and teens with a great risk of failure. So far, the readers’ feedback is good.
Research details about your characters
I am a city girl who wrote about a farm and wildlife. I didn’t know what blackbirds eat, the size of a large black hog, or what farmers do in April. I spent hours on forums reading about pigs and birds. But this is the time well spent. In the end, I discreetly sprinkled realistic details throughout the book to make it more believable. Also, the details helped me choose the direction of the plot – after getting them the second draft sounded more convincing and the story went smoothly.
Sometimes hours spent in research can get into one sentence. I watched a 10-minute YouTube clip about morning rain in England just to write:
“Thunder rolled in the distance. The April sky was white with clouds.”
I deleted the whole paragraph from the first draft, but I still remember the sound of the rain and thunder from the video every time I start reading my book.
Improve your knowledge in psychology and teach a lesson
Your story should either entertain the young audience or help them realize something. Decide what point to present or what life lesson to teach. For example, a moral can be:
“Our object of fear is always different than we can imagine.”
“Looking for a partner is not the only thing that matters in life”, etc.
Your story will back up the lesson you want to teach from the beginning to the very end of the book.
Think about how to present it according to the readers’ age. Death or sex cannot be explained the same way to a 4-year-old and a 13-year-old.
Think about what makes the characters act. Analyze how your main character(s) deals with the challenge first: does he/she withdraw from everyday life? Are they sad, angry, or jealous?
Challenge is a good opportunity to grow. Think about the phases the character(s) go through until they fully change. For example, if the story is about moving house, the boy can first be in denial or feel confused about the situation. Then the child can feel lonely until he gets frustrated. Then he does something which starts changing how he sees the new environment. You really have to empathize with the child – try to remember how you would feel when you were younger.
Set yourself even a bigger challenge: pick somebody completely different from you to be the main character – try to understand someone irritating or repulsive, and write from their perspective.
Watch other people or secretly listen to them to get ideas for conversation or even changes in behavior.
Create a storyline like a director
From Ancient Greece until nowadays, the traditional plot has 3 acts:
|Act I||Act II||Act III|
|25% of the book |
You introduce the characters and the setting
At 12% – Inciting Event
At 25% – First Plot Point
|50% of the book |
Something happens & the character reacts and
does something proactively
First Plot Point
Second Plot Point
|25% of the book |
The character ends up in a conflict and fights back
at 75% – Third Plot Point
at 88% – Climax
at 98% – Resolution
It introduces the characters and the setting (for example it is summer, and the children spend their days playing in the village
At the half of Act I (12% of the book), there is the Inciting Event – something happens which changes the character’s status quo. This is where the story starts rolling (a mysterious woman moves into an old house).
By the end of Act I, there is the First Plot Point and Act II starts with it.
The whole act can be divided into two parts: the character wants to fix the world around him but he faces obstacles. Then he learns how to be more constructive to achieve his intention. In other words, the whole Act II looks like this:
Part 1 – Reactive
The First Plot Point is an event which changes the world for the character.
The character reacts to the change (the children hear strange stories about the woman and decide to check if she is a witch).
Part 2 – Proactive
The Second Plot Point is in the middle of the book.
There is a big scene that changes things for the character. The character does not just react to the change but becomes proactive – he starts doing something about it (children get into the witch’s garden and into the house while the witch is away).
In this act, the character faces a conflict and there is a final resolution.
The Third Plot Point is at 75% of the book. Things begin to build up towards the climax (the children see a pot with a strange dark soup and a dead fox lying on the floor).
At 88% of the book there is the Climax – forces clash, the character fights back. The initial conflict gets to an irreversible resolution (the witch gets into her house and catches one boy as the others escape. He finds out the dead fox is actually a fur coat. The witch tells him she is an actress preparing for a new role)
Just before the end, there is the Resolution (at 98% of the book). Here the story wraps up. We see how the character is moving on with his life (the boy leaves the witch’s house and tells the other children they are all invited for the movie premiere).
Become a writer – just write your children’s book
Type at the keyboard as if you were playing the piano. Get into the flow, and let the story pour out. Don’t edit, don’t stop as long as you have something to say.
Read the next day what you have written the day before to continue the narrative seamlessly.
When you have written the whole first draft, leave the book for a few weeks. Be your own fresh pair of eyes when you return to read it.
Read and reread as you modify the plot
The plot can change as you write the second draft. See how your characters develop. Is there a more plausible action a character can take? Is there a better solution to certain parts of the book? I left out a couple of characters which in the beginning seemed vital for the storyline: a dangerous cat and a new bird.
Try to read as if the book was written by somebody else – is everything clear? Does it make you go on reading? Are some parts confusing or boring?
Put cliffhangers at the end of your chapters to make the readers continue their journey through the book.
Cut, cut, cut and change
Now try to read as if you were an editor. Are the sentences and paragraphs too long? Is the language according to the children’s age? Are there some redundant sentences and repetition of ideas? Did you say something too obvious?
Cut the extra without sentiment even though it initially sounded good. The story isn’t about your wisdom and extensive vocabulary. Make the narrative as short as possible.
Read over and over again. I must have read my book at least 20 times from the first draft until I finished with it.
Each time I tried to edit the vocabulary, I focused on something else:
– Change every good, little, very, really, … with more meaningful words which don’t sound too banal.
– Change every “he said” into “he announced (in pride)”, “he shouted”, “he grumbled”, etc.
– Delete every qualifier (adverbial and adjective) if possible. Paraphrase the sentences by using nouns and verbs to make them sound more effective.
– Again, leave out every sentence and description similar to the one you’ve already read. And again, remember to show, not tell – delete excessive or incomplete descriptions.
Give it to different people to read. Since I wrote a children’s book for adults, my draft was read by a father, a few mothers, two school teachers, a friend with no kids, and 3 girls (aged 12, 8, and 7).
Some of the comments may not be useful. Some people will suggest changing what you believe are strong points of the plot. But then again, the first readers could also point at your weak parts. A few of them could tell you what you didn’t see. You may need to rewrite some bits again.
Prepare for the attack
Hire an editor – compromise on the text. I said yes to a lot of the changes she suggested. There was some repetition of ideas and a few sentences where I stated too obvious things. And punctuation, of course.
She paraphrased some sentences to be more age-appropriate for kids. She even suggested adding a paragraph depicting nature here and there to present the main character’s feelings and inner thoughts better.
She suggested leaving out parts where the action slows down. Still, I decided to keep several things unchanged because I believed that was important for the character’s growth. And I liked the bunny, so I kept him in the book but cut his scene to a half.
Bottom line – the editor is a very useful person.
Conceptualize or draw
People buy children’s books because they like the illustrations, not the narrative. This is why it is crucial to find someone good to make your characters come alive
There are three options available:
1) The best thing is that you draw everything yourself. You already have the idea of how the characters look. You can’t imagine how many details need to be told to an illustrator even though he/she read your book. There are even websites which offer you their illustrations such as Blurb.
2) Find a child to do it and pay for it properly. It can be so authentic and original. If I had been lucky, I would have picked this option.
3) Hire an illustrator.
- Still, a professional illustrator can cost you up to $5,000. If you are planning to self-publish, don’t expect the money to return. Only 250 self-published books are sold on average.
- Fiverr, Behance, Upwork… You’ll be surprised how many people charge $100-$500 for the whole book and draw much better than you.
Dear non-American world, bear in mind that the agreement over the platforms is according to US law, not your native country.
- Give a chance to an acquaintance.
Before you communicate with the illustrator, have a very clear idea of what you want. Go through children’s books on the internet and see what
is age-appropriate and suits your style. Also, see what color palette you like best. Send those links to the illustrator to see.
The first time the illustrator asked me what kind of illustrations I wanted, my reply was:
“Pretty, colorful, for kids”.
That was so wrong. Just type “children’s book illustrations” – there are so many options.
When I sent the books I liked to him, he was frustrated by so many different styles. He couldn’t find any connection, and I liked the colors or contours.
Give the illustrator a clear description for the concept drawing. If he/she passes the test, sign the agreement specifying the type and number of illustrations, as well as the payment.
Also, decide on the image sizing. There are several options:
- 5,5“ x 8.5“
- 6“ x 9“
- 6.14“ x 9.21“
- 7“ x 10“
- 8“ x 10“
- 8.5“ x 8.5“
- 8.5“ x 11“
I chose 8” x 10” because the illustrator suggested so (I’m clueless).
If you are writing a picture book, it is advisable to make a book dummy. Print the whole book, cut its pieces and glue them onto pages of an empty notebook. This way you will know what picture you need and how much text you can put on each double-page spread.
In the end, I chose a friend of my ESL student to draw for my book. I fell in love with the first illustration she sent me.
I am in the process of waiting for her pictures, so I can’t write about further steps for now. Feel free to subscribe to my weekly email and see what’s next I am doing.