Katherine Rundell, author of the award-winning novel Rooftoppers, gave the following writing tips to participants of a recent competition. I’m not even going to try to add to them: plain, beautiful, old-fashioned, straightforward common sense!
Writing for Children
1. Remember what you were like as a child, and what you loved. Newspapers give a skewed and thin vision of children and teenagers: begin by remembering what you were. Roald Dahl had a fantastic list: ‘They love suspense. They love action. They love the finding of treasure. They love chocolate and toys and money….New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long.’
2. Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘Start as close to the end as possible.’ There are great exceptions to that rule, but, certainly, start with something important. Don’t begin with incidental detail. Never begin with weather: even Shakespeare didn’t really pull it off.
3. Description is never just description – description is the expression of an opinion about the thing you are describing. If you don’t have an opinion about the thing, don’t describe it.
4. Never be afraid to write badly. It is so much better to write badly than to write nothing. You can bend bad writing into great writing: blank pages are immoveable.
5. Get to the end in order to begin. Only at the end will it be clear what it is that you’ve been writing. (For that reason, it might be best not to spend too long on the first draft.)
6. Write every day. I write in bed as soon as I wake up, to make the ‘commute’ as short as possible. I write 1000 words a day. Train yourself to write in snatched and stolen time. Words written at speed might not be perfect words, but theycan be the beginning of something.
7. Be obsessive. Think about your story in the shower, in shops and crowds and on dance floors.
8. Great writing doesn’t deal in tricks, but some might be worth knowing. For instance, a way to make a character loveable is to make another character love them. Children love fights of all kinds. A sense of change adds grit and depth before you’ve earned it: ‘The Elves are leaving Rivendell’ is a sentence with more kick to it than is rational.
9. Write what you would like to read. It sounds so simple, but it’s so easy to forget. Don’t copy what’s been successful. Past successes can’t tell you what people love: only what they have loved so far. You can’t please all your unknown readers, but you can write something that will make you laugh.
10. If you had a chance to tell a story to your past self, what would it be? What is the thing you would want the children you love to know? The thing you actually believe, not one of the convenient half-truths we tell children? Write that.
11. Keep going, always.