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Four common mistakes new children’s writers make – and how you can avoid them

I’ve read a LOT of children’s book manuscripts during my career – I’m guessing the number would be at least in the high hundreds. Many of them were written by newer writers, and most of these have similar issues that I frequently comment on. The same things seem to crop up no matter the writer’s chosen genre. Here are some common mistakes I see all the time.


Being too preachy

So you’ve written a book because you have something important to say or teach to children. That’s marvellous! But here’s the thing – you shouldn’t say it directly to your readers. It’s a real turn-off for children. Stories that say things like, ‘So Rose realised she shouldn’t have stolen the money. She would never do it again’ will have kids rolling their eyes. Instead, describe how Rose feels after she has stolen the money and reflects on the consequences it has brought. Then your readers will put themselves in her situation and think, That’s awful. Maybe if I stole money, the same thing would happen to me. This is a much more effective way to impart a message.


Not creating enough peril

I see so many stories that begin with great characters and interesting openings. They make me lean forward in my seat. The plot begins … and then … well, a long way before the end of the story has come, I’ve leaned back again. Because nothing much has happened. Perhaps the character has got lost and then someone finds them without much effort or even a small hint of danger occurring. In picture books, I often see ‘slice of life’ type stories that merely describe events happening to the main character that they’ve had no part in influencing. Always make sure that you give your reader challenges to overcome, whether they’re physical or mental. It keeps readers turning pages and cheering on their heroes.


Being illogical

It’s so much fun being a writer – you get to sit on high and manipulate your plot and characters in any way you choose. But don’t let all the power go to your head, okay? If your main character receives a message that tells them to go to a dark alleyway to meet a convicted murderer in the middle of the night, it’s unlikely they would decide to go there without backup. Unless they’re Jack Reacher. Or they have a special set of skills. But if your character is an ordinary child with half a brain, they just wouldn’t do it. Would you? Don’t make your characters do nonsensical things just to suit your plot. You need to work harder.


Not understanding current trends

Most modern picture books have fewer than 500 words. Middle grade main characters are usually a couple of years older than your target audience. If you want to be published, these types of things are vital to know before you start writing or editing your work. It’s so important to do research before you start sending out manuscripts to an editor or to your dream publisher. It’s not hard to find this information either. Look online for publishers’ guidelines or author blogs. And read books in your genre that have been published within the last five years, taking plenty of notes.



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