For the Beginning Children’s Writer
by Teraisa J. Goldman
There is something magical about writing fiction stories for children. When you write, you are transformed into a child again, and you hear your own words as if for the first time — as a child would.
The first time I tried to write a child’s story, I sat at my computer desk waiting. I waited. Waited for something to hit me. How hard could it be, after all? It’s just a child’s story. When the story never came on its own, I forced one. It took about ten minutes. I hurried it out to the mail, just in time for the carrier to whisk it away… to rejection. I don’t think
I ever received a faster reply to any of my writing!
I wasn’t given a specific reason for the rejection; they weren’t interested.
Why not? “Writer’s Digest” had them listed as one of the top fifty markets to place fiction. I had a history of published articles, so why wouldn’t they want this story? I consulted with the experts.
My three kids were tucked into bed.
“How ’bout a story?” I asked.
“Yes!” they shouted.
“Once upon a time…” I read the entire story.
“What?” Again, in unison.
“Mommy wrote that story.”
“Oh,” said the oldest, “That’s great.”
“Would you like me to tell you another one?”
“No, thanks, mom.” The middle child answered for them.
I didn’t force the issue. They rolled over to sleep, maybe to dream of better dreams than I could write.
The following night, determined to find out what makes a good story, I asked my kids what they really love in the stories we read to them.
Princesses!” cried the middle child.
“I like the stories that are fantasy-like,” the oldest offered.
“Are dreams okay?” I ask.
“Yes, but not the obvious kind. Just slip into it.” Wise for her years, do you think?
The baby said nothing; we know she enjoys pure nonsense. Anything silly makes her squeal with delight.
They allowed me one more chance at storytelling. I promised to read them not one, but two books, if they didn’t like the new story.
Adhering to their advice, I came up with this story:
“When I Can’t Sleep”
Sometimes at night, when I can’t sleep…
And I’ve tried counting sheep,
I close my eyes and become very still
And with all my will
As I lay in my bed
I suddenly see strange things in my head.
What if I, adorned all in white, littered in jewels
Was a queen or a king – delivering rules
And when broken, the punishment would
Be to sing
To me, the queen or the king?
And isn’t it odd that I am in a bath
Flowing with bubbles, making myself
Because I am soaked from my head
To my toes
As well as my clothes
Surrounded by singing fish in the tub –
And a whale
Isn’t that swell?
Next thing I know, I am singing on stage
Accompanied by a bird in a cage
One that did not “coo” but actually
He could sing, too.
Then, all at once, we stopped all the singing
And looked at the light shining
Have to quickly close and rub my eyes
Until I dare open them up
I am in my bed
The night is gone, it is morning instead.
This may not be the story you had in mind for a book or a magazine. That’s the point! It wasn’t in my mind either, but it is what the children seem to enjoy. We can’t talk down to them, we can’t talk above their heads; we have to talk with them. We have to be as they are, see what they see, and dream what they dream.
For instance, have you ever taken a child that has waken from a bad dream, talked to them, and discover their sense of scariness is borderline hysterical, or that you wish when you had a bad dream, it was like theirs?
Kids are different than adults. They think differently, and each age or stage of development seems to be totally different from another.
Next time you decide to tackle a child’s story, get down on the floor and watch, listen, hear, and play with them. You’ll be glad you did, as you open your acceptance letter.