How to Write a Story for Children in 14 Steps
Where do I even start? That’s the overwhelming thought that comes across most aspiring children’s writers when they want to write their own book. It doesn’t matter if you want to write a picture book and a novel – the problem is always the same. The goal of this article is to teach beginners on how to write a story for kids, from having a simple idea to publishing your complete story. Let’s get started on writing your first children’s story.
Brainstorm your ideas
Inspiration is everywhere, you just need to know how to find it. Sometimes it takes a short walk or a moment to yourself to find inspiration. Other times you could be talking to your friends or just watching TV when inspiration strikes.
Wherever you find inspiration it is important to keep a note of this moment. We really recommend getting into the habit of carrying a notebook and pen with you wherever you go. This way you won’t forget all those amazing ideas that pop up into your head. You can even call it your ideas book! There is no right or wrong way of structuring your ideas book, but if you need help you could try the following:
Another great idea could be to carry a camera with you when you’re out on a walk or on a day trip and take snaps of anything interesting. Photo or image prompts are brilliant for inspiring the imagination and reminding you of past memories. We recommend you read this post on how to use image prompts to see how you can use your old photos as a source of inspiration.
Develop your ideas
We all know that every story has a beginning, middle and end. In fact, the most basic structure you might notice in stories is that you have a hero who sets off on an adventure. They face a couple of challenges on the way, overcome them and live happily ever after (of course it’s not always a happy ending for some). Knowing this basic structure we can develop our ideas further using the story jigsaw method:
In the above example, Jimmy the fox is the who. His want is to “enter the spelling bee“ and the why not is that he does not have enough money to pay for books. Our simple puzzle of 3 pieces has created a plot for a possible story. However, to make an even more interesting story, you may add several other pieces, such as another who, want and why not. This is explained in more detail in our free story writing pack.
The advanced writer might be interested in adding plot twists to their story to surprise the reader. This could be a surprise ending or a new character entering your story mid-way through and so on.
Develop your characters
Hopefully, by now you should have a clear story idea to work on. The next part is to think carefully about the characters you want to include in your story. Characters are one of the most important elements of a story.
Don’t over-complicate this step by including too many characters. We suggest choosing one or two main characters to focus on in your story. When developing your character/s, you might want to think about the following in detail:
But why would anyone want to know all these little details about your character? Well… they don’t. You just need to make your characters relatable to your readers. And what makes a character relatable, you ask?
Relatable characters have traits (or features) that an everyday person can understand and believe in. Even if you’re writing a fantasy story about witches and wizards. Your characters may have magical powers, but they could also be kind, come from a poor family, have a bad experience with bullies and so on. These extra pieces of information about a character’s backstory makes your character interesting to your readers.
Oh and there’s one more very important thing you need to know about main characters in stories. And that is…they always change in some way. Your character can start off as someone who is weak and scared of everything. Then by the end, they would overcome their greatest fear and become someone who is brave. This is what makes your story really interesting!
Get the setting right
The setting of your story is very important, as this is where everything in your story will happen. You can choose to stick to one setting or move between various settings. Depending on what your story is about, you can choose to set the whole story in someone’s house or even just the school canteen. Or you can go all out on selecting various settings for your story, especially if its a story about time-travelling or just normal travelling.
Writing Your Story
Now it’s time to start writing the first draft of your story. We call it the first draft because it is highly likely that you will have to write your story a number of times before it is ready to be published.
Write the opening
The opening sentence is one of the most essential parts of any story. It hooks the reader and encourages them to read on if they like the opening. Let’s all face it, there’s nothing really exciting about a story that starts off like, “One day I went to the park…”.
So what makes a good opening? A good opening should set the scene and get the reader excited about what will happen next. It should give enough information to the reader, so they are faced with a series of questions in their head, such as why did this happen? Some of the information you might include in your opening may be details of a setting, a character description or a significant memory in their life. For example. Danny The Champion Of The World by Roald Dahl starts off by describing the main character’s backstory:
Your opening should also set the mood for the entire story. For example, if you are writing a horror story, you might want to set a dark tone at the beginning. But bear in mind just because you are writing a horror story, you can still include humour or change tones slightly throughout the story. You just need to remember the overall mood of your story.
Use effective dialogue
Dialogue is speech between two or more characters. This can be expressed internally through thoughts or externally through conversations. Effective dialogue sets the scene, adds drama and develops your character’s personality. Dialogue also breaks up big chunks of descriptive text to add more life to your story and characters.
While using dialogue in your story may seem like a great idea, it can get boring if used wrong. A mistake some writers make is including long dialogue between characters talking about minor or unnecessary things that have very little relation to the main conflict. While dialogue may seem like an easy way to clarify parts of your story, don’t use it as the only way to describe your story’s plot. Keep your dialogue short and simple, with important and interesting information.
Another common mistake in writing dialogue is not including the character’s emotions or personality in the dialogue. You might use straightforward direct words, but we all know that conversations in real life aren’t always that direct and simple. Try inventing your own words and don’t be afraid of including informal or slang words in your dialogue, as this could add to your character’s personality.
Include sensory elements
Sensory elements is another word for including the five senses throughout your story. When drafting out your story, try to find opportunities to include all the senses (not just sight). For example, if you’re introducing a new character, talk about how they smell, what their voice sounds like as well as any features that stand out. The same goes for when you are describing different settings or scenes in your story (see our section on settings above). Sensory elements make the reader feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves.
Typically taste is the least used sense in any story because it is hard to think about how something tastes unless your character is actually eating something. But a very good way to use the taste sense could be to describe how your character is feeling in a certain moment. For example, if your character is walking through a scary corridor, you can say their mouth felt dry and tasted like dry cement. This gives the reader a feeling of how scared or nervous that character felt in that moment.
Write the Ending
We already touched on the ending above so won’t go into too much detail here. The key to a good ending is to make sure your readers don’t feel disappointed after finishing your book. Make sure you don’t rush the ending by missing out key details to why this is the ending. For example, if you are ending on a happy note, don’t forget to tell your readers how and why your character/s are happy now compared to the beginning of the story.
The ending is a good place to close any gaps or things you forgot to mention earlier on, such as side characters which may have disappeared or a minor conflict that was never resolved. Your ending should also feature your main character otherwise the ending would be pointless to the reader.
Finally, no matter how you are ending your story, make sure the main conflict is resolved in some way. Whether this is a good solution or a solution with terrible consequences, you should clearly show the end of the conflict. As a bonus, a good ending almost always has a memorable last line. So when you are writing your ending, you might what to write down several last lines and pick the best one that summarises your story the best.
Everything I Know About How to Write a Story
Since I started The Write Practice over a decade ago, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how to write a good story. I’ve read books and blog posts on writing, taken creative writing courses, asked dozens of other story writers, and, of course, written stories myself.
The following ten steps are a distillation of everything I’ve learned about writing a good story. I hope it makes writing your story a little easier, but more than that, I hope it challenges you to step deeper into your own exploration of how to write a story.
1. Write In One Sitting
Your first draft is a discovery process. You are like an archeologist digging an ancient city out of the clay. You might have a few clues about where your city is buried beforehand, but you don’t know what it will look like until it’s unearthed.
2. Develop Your Protagonist
The essential ingredient for every protagonist is that they must make decisions. As Victor Frankl said, “A human being is a deciding being.” Your protagonist must make a decision to get themselves into whatever mess they get into in your story, and likewise, their character arc must come to a crisis point and they must decide to get themselves out of the mess.
It’s a good idea to develop a character profile for every single character. This will help you make more believable characters and keep you from getting character details wrong. Some kind of character sheet is essential for your POV character at the very least.
Note: Character development isn’t just for fictional characters! You need to have a well-rounded character if you’re writing memoir/personal narratives (you’re the perspective character) or certain types of nonfiction as well. Readers fall in love with characters.
3. Create Suspense and Conflict
Conflict is essential to every type of story. Conflict is what drives your characters and what keeps your readers reading. If there is no conflict, your reader will be bored, and there is no story.
There are two basic types of conflict. External conflict is the action of your story, the thing everyone sees on the surface. But don’t forget about internal conflict! This is the process of your POV character warring with themselves and is what sets up the crisis point of the story and the character arc.
To create suspense, set up a dramatic question. A dramatic question is something like, “Is he going to make it?” or, “Is she going to get the man of her dreams?” By putting your protagonist’s fate in doubt, you make the reader ask, what happens next?
4. Show, Don’t Tell
When something interesting happens in your story that changes the fate of your character, don’t tell us about it. Show the scene! Your readers have a right to see the best parts of the story play out in front of them. Show the interesting parts of your story and tell the rest.
5. Write Good Dialogue
Each character must have a unique voice, and to make sure your characters all sound different, read each character’s dialogue and ask yourself, “Does this sound like my character?” If your answer is no, then you have some rewriting to do. (Want more character development tips? Click here.)
Also, with your speaker tags, try not to use anything but “he said” and “she said.” Speaker tags like “he exclaimed,” “she announced,” and “he spoke vehemently” are distracting and unnecessary. The occasional “he asked” is fine, though.
6. Write About Death
7. Edit Like a Pro
Most professional writers have an established writing process that often involves writing three drafts or more. The first draft is often called the “vomit draft” or the “shitty first draft.” Don’t share it with anyone! Your first draft is your chance to explore your story and figure out what it’s about.
Editing is often the part of the writing process that causes the most anxiety, but it’s necessary. Your second draft isn’t for polishing, although many new writers will try to polish as soon as they can to clean up their embarrassing first draft.
Instead, the second draft is meant for major structural changes (make sure it’s a complete story!), for cleaning up any plot holes, or for clarifying the key ideas if you’re writing a non-fiction book. This is where you make sure your story is complete, has believable characters (they should have character names now!), and that everything makes sense.
The third draft is for deep polishing. Now is when everything starts to gel. This is the fun part! But until you write the first two drafts, polishing is probably a waste of your time.
8. Know the Rules, Then Break Them
9. Defeat Writer’s Block
10. Share Your Work
You write better when you know someone will soon be reading what you’ve written. If you write in the dark, no one will know if you aren’t giving your writing everything you have. But when you share your writing, you face the possibility of failure. This will force you to write the best story you possibly can and to amp up your creative writing skills with each story you write.