Age-Appropriate Critics

Age-Appropriate Critics

When you decide for which age group you want to write, read as many books written for that group as you can. Analyze what makes the stories so compelling. How old are the characters? (Typically, they are about two years older than the oldest intended readers.) What are the themes? What are the problems of the characters? What do the characters care about? Where are the stories set? Keep notes on the books you read. Then ask children in your targeted age group what stories they like and why they like them?

While some writers read their stories to classes and take the response of the class as evidence of interest or no interest, I find that an unreliable test. I can detect when a class is not interested in a story or when description goes on too long for them, but I find their positive response is more due to me, that is to my enthusiasm and personality, than to my writing. I’m not sure I couldn’t make a recipe sound interesting and get a positive response from a class. So class response doesn’t necessarily critique the writing. I do give my completed manuscript to young readers before I send it to the publisher and ask them to write comments on it. They will mark unfamiliar words and unclear sentences as they read it, when they would probably forget those or ignore them if I read it to them.

Work out a system with your audience, your age-specific readers, that contributes to the excellence of your writing. Perhaps give them your manuscript and have three readers meet and discuss it as a group. Alternatively, each reader could return the manuscript to you with comments written on it. I find that older teen readers will write on the manuscript, but the younger 9- to 12-year-olds give me more comments if they can meet with me and a group of other readers.

Writing should push your limits to new ideas and new perspectives so that not only your reader, but you the writer are a different person at the end of the book. You want to be a better, more interesting, more capable, more exciting writer with each new manuscript.

From Writing for Children and Young Adults   Self-Counsel Press


Tying It Up In One Sentence

Try to describe your book in one sentence:

For example:

This story describes the journey of my grandfather from the Isle of Benbecula in theHebridesto his farm inSaskatchewanin 1873.


This story tells of the trouble 13-year-old Jessie Kayle has in trying to prove to her teacher and her friends that she is not a thief.

The story may change as you write it–in fact, it probably will–but most writers need some direction when they begin. They also need a one-sentence description of the book when it is finished.

Your story may come from an incident in your life, something you observed or wondered about. Writers who had unhappy childhoods may have a rich lode of experiences that are the basic drama of their books. Your writing may be autobiographical, but it’s more likely to be a composition of experience, observation, and imagination.

Your life is a tangled ball of ideas and remembered incidents and emotions that combine in unique ways to become the content of your work. When I started interviewing teenagers for my book Out of the Darkness (Arsenal Pulp Press) I was very angry at society–at all of us who allowed the circumstances of teenagers’ lives to be so unhappy. I focused my ideas on one question: why would a teen choose suicide?

You will use that one sentence description over and over as agents ask you for it, publishers ask you for it and interviewers ask you to summarize your book for the audience.  You will need it, so, difficult as it is we all need to create that one sentence summarizer.

From Writing for Children and Young Adults Self-Counsel Press