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How to Write Short Stories for Children

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Course Description


Do you long to write but feel like you're too busy? Writing for children can be the answer. Children's stories are generally far shorter and simpler than stories for adults. You can draft an 800 word children's story during a couple of lunch hours or during your child's nap times. Many noted children's authors started writing in short bursts when their own young children were sleeping or playing nearby.

Writing for children is by no means easy, however. Children's book and magazine editors expect well developed characters, engaging plots, and vivid description, all in a very small package. Good children's writers learn to make every word count. Communicating effectively with kids means using language they can understand but not talking down to them, and this is easier said than done. In this course, we will look at the elements that go into an effective children's story, from initial idea to finished manuscript. If you've always wanted to write but don't know where to start, we'll cover that too. And once you have a few good stories under your belt, you'll want to find publishing outlets for them. We'll go over the basics of submitting to publishers and even of publishing books yourself.

Writing stories for children can be a fascinating hobby or a challenging career. You can write for your own kids, or publish stories and books that will reach thousands of eager readers. Either way, you will gain the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of children who hear or read your words.

Course Requirements

At least a high school reading and writing educational level is required.

Course Outline


Section I: Getting Started

                        Introduction: There’s always room for more good Children’s stories.

                        Lesson 1: Let’s go!

A.   Finding time

a.    Everybody’s busy

b.    Strategies for making time

c.    The secret: Often lack of time is a cover story for fear of failure

B.   Silencing your inner critic

a.    Self-doubt as misguided survival instinct

b.    “Sing like you don’t need the money”

c.    Don’t worry. Be writing

C.   Finding ideas

a.    Read, read, read!

b.    Think on paper

c.    Carrying an inspiration notebook

d.    Know your audience: Interacting with children

e.    Developing “writer’s ear”

f.     Ask “what if”

                        Lesson 2: Just do it

A.   Exercising your writing muscles

a.    Character sketches

b.    Scene sketches

c.    Journaling your own childhood

d.    Write letters

B.   Commit yourself

a.    “A professional is an amateur who didn’t quit”

b.    It takes a million words

Section II: Story Craft

                        Introduction:  What makes a story great?

                                                      --Lying to tell a truth

                                                      --Taking readers where they would like to go

                                                      --Helping us learn about ourselves


Lesson 3: Creating characters kids will love

                                   A. Age

                                                   a. Character slightly older than average reader
                                                    b. Which issues are important to this age 
                                                            group? Which are taboo?

                                 B. Likeability

                                                     a. Characters kids can admire

                                                      b. Characters kids would hang with

                                 C. identification

a. Does the character face a problem the reader would face?

b. Are the stakes high enough to make the reader care?

                                                D. emotion

                                                            a. Thought as dramatic action

                                                            b. Showing characters’ feelings

                                                E. Point of View

                                                            a. First person vs. Third

                                                            b. Third person variations

                                                            c. Consistency is the key


Lesson 4: And then What Happened? Plot and the Children’s story

                                                A. conflict

                                                            a. Character + problem = dramatic idea

                                                            b. Child-appropriate problems

                                                            c. Adventure

                                                B. action

                                                            a. “Show, don’t tell”

a. Have your character attack the problem

                                                            b. Don’t make things too easy

                                                C. dialog: A valuable plot tool

                                                D. resolution

                                                            a. Who wins?

b. Let your main character learn something about himself/herself

                                                E. Other narrative tools

                                                            a. Past or present tense

                                                            b. Foreshadowing – often worked in on


                        Lesson 5: Setting and the art of description

                                                A. Appeal to all the senses

                                                B. Always be specific

                                                C. Looking through a child’s eyes

                                                C. When less is more


                        Lesson: 6. He said, she said. Dialog in the Children’s story

A.   Developing your ear

a.    Listen to children you know

b.    Listen to children you don’t know

B.   Um, ah, y’know? The differences between conversation and dialog

Section III: Process: Getting from blank page to story

                        Lesson 7: Modeling

A.   “Typeovers” – Running good stories through your fingers

B.   Imitation

a.    “riffing:” Taking an existing story and throwing some variations at it

C.   Avoiding plagiarism

a.    When in doubt, throw it out

b.    Let others help you judge


                        Lesson 8:  The first draft

A.   To outline or not to outline

a.    Try different approaches

b.    Keep varying your routine to keep things fresh

B.   Silence that critic!

a.    Give yourself permission to stumble

b.    The only failure is a blank page

c.    The awesome power of commitment

                                                                                  i.    Commit to sitting at your writing space even if no words will come

C.   Finish what you start

a.    Complete the draft, even if you never take it further

b.    To abandon work in progress is to let the critic win

Lesson 9: Writing is rewriting

A.   Let it sit

B.   Techniques

a.    Cutting

                                                                                  i.    “Second draft = first draft minus 10%”

                                                                                ii.    Be mindful of word counts in the submission guidelines of your target publication

b.    Adding detail – find opportunities to be more specific

                                                                                  i.    What kind of tree was it?

                                                                                ii.    What did the kitchen smell like?

                                                                               iii.    Stop short of sounding like a commercial: “He picked up a stick of Parkay Margerine.”

c.    Break it up

                                                                                  i.    No one element – narration, dialog, action, should dominate a story. Strive for balanced variation of elements

d.    Work the lead

                                                                                  i.    Hooking your reader with the opening

1.    intrigue

2.    suspense

3.    curiosity

4.    lead with action

5.    foreshadowing

e.    Increasing drama

                                                                                  i.    What is at stake for your character?

                                                                                ii.    Can you up the ante?

f.     Read your work out loud

                                                                                  i.    Important to remember that children’s stories are often read to children, not by them

C.   Don’t despair, share!

a.    Showing your work to others

                                                                                  i.    Finding a “first reader”

b.    Writer’s workshops, and other slippery slopes

                                                                                  i.    Critiques: Valuable advice or confidence killer?

                                                                                ii.    Connecting with other writers

c.    Showing work to friends and family

                                                                                  i.    Reading to kids (yours and someone else’s)

d.    The value of moving on

                                                                                  i.    Don’t spend your life perfecting one story

1.    Let your best story always be the next one you will write

2.    When you’re sick of something, start something new


Section IV: To Market to Market

                        Lesson 10: Target Practice. Studying the markets

A.   Short Stories: Read as many stories in your target market as you can

a.    Subject matter

b.    Word count

c.    Style

B. Children’s books

d.    How many pages?

e.    Words per page

f.     Picture books – thinking visually

g.    Chapter books

                                                                                  i.    How many characters?

                                                                                ii.    How many chapters?

Locating and studying submission guidelines

C. Manuscript preparation

h.    Word counts

i.      Reading level

j.      Standard format

D. Submitting

k.    E-mail or snail?

l.      Cover letters

m. What’s a SASE?

n.    Keeping track of submissions

o.    The waiting game

Lesson 11: Don’t Give up

A.   Rejection is a fact of life

a.    Reasons editors reject

b.    “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

                                                                                  i.    The art of the thank you note

c.    The rejection-proof writer

                                                                                  i.    Seek safety in numbers: the more you submit, the better your chances

                                                                                ii.    You are not your writing

B.   Be a pro (even if you aren’t)

a.    Working with editors

                                                                                  i.    Be open-minded

                                                                                ii.    Show respect

                                                                               iii.    Pick your battles

                                                                               iv.    Rights and other hang-ups

b.    Answering “The Question:” What to say when people ask “Have you been published?”

c.    Shameless self-promotion

                                                                                  i.    Setting up a website

                                                                                ii.    Become a storyteller at your local school or library

                                                                               iii.    Become known in your community

1.    offer your stories through your church or school newsletter

C.   Do it for the love

a.    When you enjoy your work, you have already succeeded


Course Materials

All course materials will be online and no outside purchases will be required.

Grading Policy

The course consists of twelve lessons. At the end of each lesson will be  one writing  assignment and a lesson review quiz based on the lesson material. A percentage grade will be given based on point accumulation.

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Describe creating characters kids will love.
  • Define plot in the children's story.
  • Describe setting and the art of description.
  • Describe dialog in the children's story.
  • Define modeling.
  • Create a first draft.
  • Describe the revision process and what to look for.
  • Describe ways to handle rejection and learn from criticism, and
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

Assessment Guide

Assessment Points
An Introduction1
Lesson 1 Assignment: Creating Your Writing Schedule25
Lesson 1 Exam: Let's Go!110
Lesson 2 Assignment: A Writing Exercise25
Lesson 2 Exam: Just Do It125
Lesson 3 Assignment: Create Your Own Characters25
Lesson 3 Exam: Creating Characters Kids Will Love105
Lesson 4 Assignment: Creating Conflict25
Lesson 4 Exam: And Then What Happened? Plot and the Children's Story125
Lesson 5 Assignment: Creating Descriptions25
Lesson 5 Exam: Setting and the Art of Description115
Lesson 6 Assignment: Writing Dialog25
Lesson 6 Exam: He Said, She said. Dialog in the Children's Story120
Lesson 7 Assignment: Modeling Applications25
Lesson 7 Exam: Modeling120
Lesson 8 Assignment: Taking the First Step25
Lesson 8 Exam: The First Draft125
Lesson 9 Assignment: Revising Your Work25
Lesson 9 Exam: Writing is Rewriting115
Lesson 10 Assignment: Find a Support Group25
Lesson 10 Exam: Don't Despair, Share!125
Lesson 11 Assignment: Finding the Right Market25
Lesson 11 Exam: Target Practice: Studying the Markets115
Lesson 12 Assignment: Submission Log25
Lesson 12 Exam: Don’t Give Up125
The Final Exam290
Total Points:2016

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