So You Want To / Write a Kid-Friendly Series
Writing for children is different from writing for adults. Here's some advice on how to make it work.
While a series written for teens can get into sex, swearing, and violence, a series written for kids needs to avoid that stuff like the plague. Or, at the very least, use the utmost caution, and always ask yourself whether you really need
to include that element. Or even, "Am I writing for the correct demographic?" Maybe you're not.
But assuming you want to stick with the "kid-friendly" label, then:
- No sexuality
- No gore
- No more than mild or cartoon violence
- No more than moderate scariness
- No more than extremely mild swearing (mostly euphemisms, like "dang"; possibly "hell" but more likely "heck")
Depending on the specific demographic you're writing for, the requirements might be even more stringent (e.g., some Christian publishers (thought not all of them) might be troubled over a kiss between people not married). So, research! Find out what you can and can't do before you get too far into the plot.
Because these guidelines will reduce your options. For example, you can't make a really scary villain (though he might end up being unintentionally scary, or scary in hindsight
). And you can't rely on misinterpreted swear words as a plot point.
You may be able to get away with naughty stuff
ocasionally, just try not to overdo it.
Kids are smarter than you probably give them credit for! And in today's world, what with television, the internet, and the playground, they're exposed to a lot more at an early age. While you shouldn't assume
they're capable of reading into things the way adults can, neither should you talk down to them.
And don't shy from topics like sorrow and death. Treated right, these can still make excellent material for young readers. You can even get into grays
a bit... if you're careful.
Kids get that it's not a black-and-white world probably earlier than you'd expect. On the other hand, they don't want to see Karma Houdini
characters any more than adults do. Make sure the baddies get what's coming to them.
Don't default to vapid, flat characters and rely on flashy action scenes or cute design for appeal. Engaging, deep characters
that undergo development over time are just as important in kids' shows as they are anywhere else. This mirrors the point above - they're not going to understand complex webs of intrigue and deception, and you should be wary of anything that verges on innocence-destroying
, but at the same time, they'll appreciate a well-rounded character more and for longer than a cardboard cutout
. A good question to ask is, if you fast forward ten or twenty years, are your viewers going to remember your show fondly or regrettably? A good children's series can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. This isn't about Getting Crap Past the Radar
or even Parental Bonuses
- amidst the tooth-rotting cute
, kinetic fight scenes
or quirky, zany antics
, is there, honestly, a good story in there? All too often, kid's series forget the story part of the story.
Keep in mind that kids probably won't be buying your story. Their parents will be buying it for them. Most parents do not know their kids very well and believe them to be incredibly fragile. For this reason, tread carefully with dark and mature subject matter. Don't avoid it completely, but try not to make your book only known for being challenged. Best advice would be to make the overall tone lighthearted.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
- Heard somewhere that while adults tend to favor mercy, children cry out for justice. You thought the Brothers Grimm were cruel? Apparently children enjoy seeing the baddies get what's coming to them, without pulling punches. It assures them that someone's keeping track of things like that.
- While children's fiction isn't the place for extreme horror, a lot of the children's fiction that sticks with people throughout their lives has horror elements in just the right amount - challenging, but not traumatising. Since individual children have different tolerance levels, it's important to allow the child the ability to self-regulate by keeping the horror ambiguous and mysterious, which allows children to use their imaginations to whatever extent they are comfortable with. You can go heavy on the horror if you blend it skilfully with light elements. If the children trust wholeheartedly that the hero can and will eventually beat the monster, you can make it very frightening indeed; if the world is wonderful and beautiful and the heroes find fun in it, the setting can be surprisingly brutal. Creepy Good characters, be they gentle, comic relief, tragic The Grotesque figures, or otherworldly, are common in children's fiction because they allow a safe way for children to explore feelings of fear.
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