Have you noticed how your attention span has gotten shorter? Personally, I rarely have the patience to sit through a movie in which the plot slowly unfolds. With a few notable exceptions, the plot has to move at a brisk pace. If we, as adults, now demand a fast-paced storyline, imagine the pace that kids must want.
Does this have an impact on children’s stories? Probably. So, how can you write a child story that grabs and holds children’s attention? Here are 6 points to consider.
1. Plot and pace
Plot and pace have always been important. Now perhaps they’re even more important. Your plot has to unfold fairly quickly. Keep the pace fairly high with a lot of action rather than lengthy narrative descriptions or musings.
2. Special effects / spectacular events
You can use the written equivalent of special effects to hold onto their eyeballs. Concisely describing animals that morph into strange creatures, loud explosions or vivid smells are good ways to get attention and keep it.
3. Sound, Smell and Touch
If you want to really be concise, just use onomatopoeia to describe the special effects. Remember the comic books we read as kids? They’ve spawned a whole genre of films. Moreover, comic books are still very popular in countries like Japan (manga) and Belgium (in some case, even amongst adults). Try studying comic books to see how they make sounds come alive.
4. Character is king
Developing believable characters is still probably one of the best ways to hold onto the reader’s or listener’s attention. The Harry Potter books are as much about rich characters as they are about action. Even the films depend upon the character development as much as they do upon action.
Including lots of dialogue has several advantages. It tends to keep the pace fairly brisk, it breaks up your text into bite-sized pieces and it reveals things about the characters rather than telling them through narrative. As Mary Anderson mentions in the “Writer’s and Illustrator’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishers and Agents", perhaps it also appeals to our “voyeuristic nature". I’m not sure about that, but it definitely makes us feel like we’re there with the characters in the moment.
A word of warning: if your story is set in contemporary times, make sure that the dialogue is contemporary. Slang is constantly changing and the slang used by 40 year olds or even 25 year olds is liable to be different from the slang used by 16 year olds or 8 year olds.
When you’re writing a story, try to visualize what it would look like on the big screen. Not to be crass, but it wouldn’t necessarily be harmful for your story to unfold like a Hollywood film. Certainly, visualizing your story as you plot it and write it will help you when it comes time to think of how you want it illustrated. In any case, visualizing will help you keep it more interesting and fast-paced.
Are computer games, movies and the general pace of modern life changing the way you should write a child story? I don’t know. The classics will probably always be loved and the basics such as character development are still important. Moreover, perhaps we can even use well-written children’s stories to slow down the pace a bit. Nonetheless, I suspect that we may need to tweak our stories here and there to make them suitable for a 21st century audience.
Copyright 2006 Paul Arinaga
Paul Arinaga is founder of the Child Stories Bank http://www.child-stories-bank.com The Child Stories Bank provides FREE original children’s stories as well as resources to help writers create and get their stories published, and a directory of child storybook illustrators.