Tag Archives: children

Guidelines for Writing Children’s Books

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Many new writers are unaware there are guidelines and rules for numbers of pages or words per type of literature as well as specific ages each category applies to. Listed below is a compilation of some of these guidelines.

PICTURE BOOKS for  ages 3-6, fiction/nonfiction: standard is 32 pages with up to about 600 words. This includes text and illustrations.

PICTURE BOOKS for ages 4-8, fiction/nonfiction: average of 32 pages (can go up to 40 pages for older readers) or up to about 1000 words including text and illustrations. No controlled vocabulary since meant to be read aloud to children.

EASY READERS for ages 5-9, fiction/nonfiction: generally run from 32-64 pages with text running from 100 words to about 2000 words. Geared for children beginning to read independently these books usually include illustrations. Stories should include dialogue and action. Can include a few words per page up to chapters.

FICTION PICTURE BOOKS for ages 6-10: can be up to 1400 words with about 40 pages. Geared for third through fifth grade classrooms. Intended for teachers to use as tie-in with school subjects.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS for ages 8-12: with 48 pages and up to 2000 words, these books are aimed at the middle grade reader. Illustrated with photographs or drawings, maps, etc. they often include sidebar information.

CHAPTER BOOKS for ages 6-10: these average 6,000-15,000 words with 64-96 pages. Most have black & white illustrations. They are short novels divided into about four chapters and should utilize dialogue and action. Characters are usually the same age as the reader.

MIDDLE GRADES for ages 8-12, fiction/nonfiction: usually run 84-150 pages long with about 20,000-35,000 words. Fiction has no illustrations; Nonfiction includes black & white drawings or color photos. Characters should be 10-13 years old.

UPPER MIDDLE GRADES for ages 10-14, fiction/nonfiction: these run slightly longer to about 40,000 words. Characters are typically ages 12-15 with more intense conflict than MG books.

YOUNG ADULT for ages 12+, fiction/nonfiction: most average 150-200 pages with about 40,000-60,000 words. Characters are generally in high school and conflicts reflect situations/problems typical to that age group. Nonfiction explores subject aimed at 8th grade and above.

YOUNG ADULT for ages 14+, fiction/nonfiction: these average 150-300 pages with up to 90,000 words. While characters are generally in high school, some may be older, like in college. Conflicts should still reflect situations/problems the reader expects to have to deal with eventually. Nonfiction is the same as above.

POETRY: Poetry can be targeted for any age reader from PICTURE BOOK to ADULT. Many PICTURE BOOKS tend to rhyme anyway and should revolve around an image or action specific to the young reader. YOUNG ADULT poetry tends to be anthologies or collections and can be more open-ended and abstract.

Things I Learned About Writing in 2009

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2009 was the first full year of my life I spent predominantly writing.  My family had to learn to be more self-sufficient (especially the 15-year-old male who kept saying, “Whatcha gonna fix for me to eat?” and walked away disappointed when I said, “You can do it yourself.”)

It was also a year of personal growth unlike any other I’ve had. Even as a new mom or new teacher (many years ago), I felt I learned more about life this year as I observed others and wrote about them or created new characters using those observations.

Things I learned about Writing for Children and in General in 2009:

This is a biggie. I attended a Picture Book Writing Conference because it was close to home (none are EVER held in North Florida) and came away with enough knowledge to write four really nice picture books which are being considered by a publisher as we speak. YAY! I’d never considered writing picture books because I think so grandly, but it was an interesting challenge to refocus my thinking. I might even do some more.

I also took a very blah Middle Grades novel and rewrote it from stem to stern for a YA audience with romance and new twists and turns. I played around with a MG version as well, but have decided to move on to the second book in the series instead.

So what did I learn?

KISS-keep it simple stupid. I started with a huge premise that was overwhelming and even I couldn’t keep track of it. After losing a lot of that (destined for future books in the series) the actual story became clear and writable.

Know your Characters . The first characters I designed were flat and dull; one dimensional and too goody-goody. So I threw them out, renamed them even, and gave them flaws and quirks and attitudes. That’s when the love triangle appeared and really worked! See my posts about designing characters. How to Create a Compelling Character Part I  & II (https://rebeccaryalsrussell.wordpress.com)

Outline the basic book before writing. This provides several aspects that you won’t have to go back and try to insert later.

Arc-Every story needs an arc, a curve, a bell curve from start to finish. Without a basic outline you can’t see where it is or even if there’s one present. A story without an arc is flat and uninteresting. Each chapter should have one as well.

Inciting Incident-What happened to cause a story to begin?

Plot Points-There should be three definitive times when your main character and/or plot change direction or learn something.

Climaxes-Yes, I said plural. That’s because the climax should be broken into three parts. If you don’t outline, this could come too early or too late in the story. It shouldn’t occur before 50 pages from the end of the story, according to several blogs I read over the course of the year.

Climax A– Lighting the fuse

Climax B– Watch it burn

Climax C– Kaboom!

Denouement– Wrap up.

While editing is critical, you can over-edit as well. I’m bad for that. Every time I look at my MS I want to change things around, add something or remove something. After a while it’s not the same MS I sent off. There comes a point when you have to say, “Good enough” and move on to the next book. BUT, you also MUST edit. No one writes the perfect MS first, third or even the fifth time. It takes time to write a good book.

There is so much more I learned but can’t list it all here. Start your own list for 2010 and you’ll have a finished blog for January 2011. That’s what I’m going to do.

Things I learned about Blogging in 2009:

  • Do it often. Every week to ten days you should post something. (Although I don’t find the time to do this myself.)
  • Choose an audience and keep your posts relative.
  • Keep a file of Blogging Ideas from the news, other blogs, your own thoughts…
  • Shorter posts are easier to read. Break long posts into Parts.
  • Keep blog pages organized and clutter-free.
  • Keep pictures to a minimum as it takes them too long to load and some might lose interest.
  • Proofread posts before posting. Editors, publishers, etc, will see them.

Hopefully some of these ideas will help stimulate you to write or begin a blog or look into improving your writing by reading others’ blogs, etc. It’s how I’ve learned. There’s a wealth of good info out there waiting to be found.  I might even do a blog on that…