Strict Structuring for Children’s Writing
When it comes to the actual mechanics of putting pen to paper many people start to become unsure of themselves. They may have plenty of ideas, they may have worked out a watertight and brilliantly original plot and they may have a collection of interesting and exciting characters ready and lined up to make their appearances.
What they lack is the technical knowledge necessary to give their writing some structure. This is an important aspect of writing for children, the general rules of which should be firmly established before you begin to write.
Writing for adults is a more free activity where the author can indulge in their own idiosyncratic sentence structures, use as wide a vocabulary as they think necessary for their subject matter and really has no linguistically restrictive parameters within which they have to be restrained.
This, of course, presupposes that the reader has attained a high level of reading fluency, which is why the same rules do not apply to children’s material.
They are very much involved in the learning process, and are still developing their reading ability, so to write for them with any degree of clarity means that your work must be very carefully structured in order that they will be able to understand exactly what you mean.
Let us start with a very basic concept. Suppose you intend writing a novel of about forty to fifty thousand words, aimed at teenage children. What do you think would happen if you wrote the book as a piece of continuous prose without any chapters?
The answer, as you well know, is that no child of that age would read it. No matter how good the actual content was, they would not consider reading it because it would be so obviously lacking in the basic structure demanded from a piece of work of this kind.
A novel of that sort could be broken up into anything between ten and twenty chapters, with two to five thousand words each. This is not a rigid arrangement, as many authors have their own individual ways of structuring their novels, all of which serve to allow them to be broken down into more easily noticeable units with which the child can more readily come to terms.
He is shown where a natural break occurs in the story where he can put the book down and go to sleep for the night without the concern that, had he read another two pages, he might have been able to solve the mystery, or found the hero in dire peril. In short, it structures the story for him.
From the writer’s point of view, it also provides suitable reference points by which the action can be heightened and a ‘cliffhanger’ situation created at the end of a chapter to stimulate the reader’s interest in the best Dickensian tradition so that he will feel compelled to read on.
Similarly, sensible paragraphing of work is also of primary importance. Children hate to see page after page of continuous writing without any break. Once again they have no reference points by which they can assess their progress through the work.
For younger children, who are in the early stages of learning to read, the work needs to be broken down into small, easily identifiable units, which will not discourage them from attempting the reading.
They need to be able to see that they can read a paragraph through without having to turn page after page – they can get to the end of it without floundering half –way, losing their place and with it their interest.
Dialogue, as discussed in module five within the Write Storybooks for Children course, plays a major part in this, because it enables the solid printed word to be reduced considerably, and broken down into manageable sections which the child can quite easily handle.
Breaking down the structure even more, we can see that appropriate sentence construction is equally important. Children in the relatively early stages of linguistic development tend to write as they think their thoughts coming quickly in short bursts, tumbling out one on top of the other. Their writing tends, without correction, to follow the same sort of pattern.
By the same token, their thought processes cannot cope with sentences that are too great in length, or rather more importantly, containing too many different ideas.
For younger children therefore, the sentences have obviously to be kept to a reasonable length, and sentences as short as two, three or four words are not only acceptable but even desirable at this stage of reading development.
Finally, you should write using words that you are sure your reader will understand and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of structuring your work.
As adults, we have a wide vocabulary and it is a far from easy task to write using a restricted vocabulary suitable for a particular age group of children. To achieve this, it is not so much the length of the words of which you should be aware, even some very lengthy words can be understood by young children; it is more the meaning of words in context which you should consider.
The complexities of the English Language being what they are, it is all too easy to use a word in a context, which you readily understand but would leave the child reader absolutely baffled.
So, when you pick up your pen make sure you have a strict structure in place for your writing and age group, this will save you time while doing those dreaded rewrites.
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