We asked author Nancy Antle to share her advice on writing children's literature.
Nancy Antle is the author of numerous books for children and young people, including Playing Solitaire, Lost in the War, Sam's Wild West Christmas, Sam's Wild West Show, Staying Cool, Ordinary Albert, Beautiful Land, andThe Good Bad Cat.
Q: Could you suggest some dos and don’ts for writing picture books?
A: Picture book writers should always create a dummy even if the author isn’t also an artist. A dummy is a simple way for a writer to see how his/her text is going to look in book form. A picture book is a very special kind of book and the page turns in the story create a rhythm – and sometimes suspense – that a writer won’t truly be able to appreciate until he/she tests it. Making a dummy will also help a writer to see superfluous words in the text. It’s kind of magical that way.
The other thing a dummy can help a writer to visualize is whether or not enough happens for a new illustration on each page – or at least every double page spread. Writing out descriptions of what should be shown on each page is a great exercise. If the illustrations don’t change much over the course of the book (say for instance the main character never leaves the living room couch) then perhaps the author needs to revisit the text and do a revision.
The biggest thing I would advise against in picture books (or any writing for kids) is don’t preach – don’t set out to give kids an important message. Tell a good story and if there is a message in there too – great – but that shouldn’t be the main purpose of any book or story. Very few publishers will be interested in that kind of writing – never mind very few kids!
Q: What are some differences in how you approach the writing of a middle grade novel versus a novel for young adults?
A: Most of the stories I write come to me with a voice and cadence that fits somewhere on the age-spectrum of kids books. I don’t start by saying “OK – now I will write a picture book or Now I will write a YA.” I start with a story, an idea, the main characters – and usually the opening lines that suggest to me what kind of book I will write. My short middle-grade novel, Beautiful Land, about the Oklahoma Land Run came to me as a picture book but an editor suggested I make it into a novel instead. It took a lot of time and thought for me to see it in that format but eventually I managed it. Most authors will probably find a similar kind of serendipity with their own stories and they will know what kind of story it is from the get go. That said, it is possible for an author to change his mind along the way and say “Hey wait a minute – this is middle grade novel – not a picture book.” Anything can happen in the creative process!
Q: Any other words of advice for beginning writers of juvenile fiction?
A: The most important things to keep in mind if you want to be a writer are: write, don’t be afraid to revise, listen to what your trusted critiquers have to say and don’t take offense, and never ever give up. Elizabeth George says you will be published if you have talent, passion, and discipline. She says you will probably be published if you have talent and discipline or if you have passion and discipline. The key is discipline – which to me means, write as often as you can, revise without mercy and keep trying by sending your work out into the world.
Get more ideas for writing children's literature on our story ideas page.