Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Guest blog from Jeanette Taylor Ford: The difference between writing for children and adults.

Jeanette Taylor Ford has just released her first children's book, Robin's Ring, and I was intrigued if there is a difference between writing for children and writing for adults.  After chatting with her for a while, I asked her if she would please write a short guest blog about her findings on the subject. Whilst Jeanette and I both realise that other authors may have different thoughts, this seems to me to be a very good starting place with some sound advice and wise thoughts!!

When Diana asked me to write this guest blog on the difference between writing for adults or children, I became worried, for when I started to think about it seriously, I realised there are quite a few things that both adults and children like in a book.

1.      Action

2.      Engaging Storyline

3.      Characters they can identify with/have feelings for

4.      Happy Endings

5.      Humour and other emotions

6.      Familiarity

7.      Twists in the story


Those of us of a ‘certain age’ spent our childhood with Enid Blyton. She has been much maligned in the intervening years but there is no doubt that she had great influence on the children of my era and since; she invited children to go on adventures with The Famous Five and The Secret Seven that we could only dream about. She did something very important – she inspired imagination.


If we look at other successful authors, such as Roald Dahl, they have done the same thing; they have caught children at a relatively young age and invited them to use their imagination. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit a wonderful factory full of sweets and chocolates that they could help themselves to wherever they walked? (My visit to Cadbury World was interesting but nowhere near matched Willie Wonka’s place.) Who hasn’t wished they could do something nasty to a hated teacher or made things happen at will? My children enjoyed the thrill of the Enormous Crocodile being thwarted by child-loving other jungle animals and never tired of hearing me read ‘doing the voices’. J.K.Rowling has every child – and every adult with a child within – wish they had been to Hogwarts and could do magic.


Writing ‘Robin’s Ring’ was my first venture into writing for children and then I adapted someone else’s true-life story about a dragon for very young children, with the person’s permission. When that same person read ‘Robin’s Ring’, he announced it was a novella. I said, no, it was a book. We argued about it; I said that it was shortish and simple-ish for children of that age. He said that we shouldn’t underestimate children’s abilities. The difference was that my work was with children and I understood that not every child is as able as his grandchildren were. I understood that many children struggle to read, do not like reading, aren’t encouraged to read by their parents and teachers seriously lack the time to give individual attention to the children in their class who find reading hard.


Now, we all know that children vary, their abilities vary, parents vary. (I apologise to certain authors who won’t like my repetitive word there!) As a general rule, small children start with books that are mostly pictures with few words. They progress on to books that have a few more words with the pictures but they have repetitive phrases that four/five year olds can remember and love to sing out when sharing a book with an adult. They also love tactile books; children love to handle books, put their fingers through holes, lift up tabs. Then they go on to slightly more ‘wordy’ books, still with pictures. (Don’t we all know about ‘Biff and Chip’ – stupid names for children, in my opinion but kids don’t seem to think that way at all.) The Biff and Chip stories start simple and get a bit harder with progressive ability; they are great stories, especially when they start using the magic key.


So, what is different about writing children’s books?


1.      Children get put off by large descriptive passages (as do many adults). I found that descriptions of people and places had to be kept as brief as possible. By the same token, children don’t like long paragraphs so divide them up as much as possible.

2.      Speech has to be such as a child of that age would speak; they use shortened versions of names of their mates and they actually don’t waste words, unless they happened to be like one of my grandsons who can tell a brief tale in a very long way! However, said grandson would not like to read his own way of telling something in a book. We had a discussion on The Review recently about ‘he said, she said’. When we write for adults we try to cut that sort of thing to a minimum; in children’s books it has to be clear who said what, so ‘he said or she said’ is used much more. This is an art I haven’t quite got right yet but I’m working on it.

3.      Language used in a children’s book has to be much simpler, less complex in sentence construction. We have to put ourselves in the place of the children who are likely to read the book and ask ourselves ‘would they understand that word if they were able read it in the first place?’  Many children who have English as a second language can actually read the words but, when questioned, don’t have a clue what they’ve read about. It’s easy to get the wrong idea about these children’s abilities when they read out loud perfectly. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with using a word hard to read but actually would be understood once the child has figured it out. Children use and understand more words when speaking and listening so don’t be afraid to use them in a book; they do have to learn what those words look like in print.

4.      Children who don’t read so well are put off by large books with loads of pages. They are much more inclined to go for something thinner and more likely achievable. We know that children love the Harry Potter films but there are not many children of ages 8 to 10 who would tackle reading the books and there is no doubt that some of the later books are more suited to teenagers rather than children.

5.      With point 4 in mind, then, the story has to be told with no ‘airy-persiflage’, no long-winded speech or ‘getting around to it’, no filling pages with irrelevant stuff, just to make it look longer. Children want action; they want things to keep moving and they have to want to begin the next chapter. (No different to adults there really.)

6.      Pictures are still important, even if they only occur now and then throughout the book. Children will examine pictures thoroughly. ‘They’ say a picture paints a thousand words and this is so true and necessary for children’s books. A child can be put off reading a book that has no pictures.

7.      Children love humorous things, silly names, red pants with spots, long noses and snot! A book that is full of such things is bound to be a hit, especially with younger children.


Having said all of that, there are children who will read Harry Potter or Treasure Island at nine or ten and not care about pictures at all. No teacher is going to say ‘you can’t read that’, the choice is always that of the child, just as it is for adults. I have to honestly say that, when I’ve been hearing a child read at school, I’ve often thought, ‘this is boring, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole’ but the child reading it is engaged and likes it, so who am I to judge?


So, as I said earlier, writing for children in many ways is similar to writing for adults but some of the ‘rules’ that we try to follow when writing adult books have to be put to one side in order to make sure the child reader understands and doesn’t get bored. Much simpler language, fast action, believable speech of the modern day; painting a picture film with as few words as possible and creating a setting whether real or imaginary that children will immediately get into. They are not going to wait until page ten for something to start happening. The golden rule is: ‘Know Your Audience’.


When I originally wrote ‘Robin’s Ring’, I wrote it with the idea of getting children local to my area interested in the surroundings that they take for granted and see every day. The children at ‘my’ school loved it and it really fired their imagination. To my surprise, children who didn’t live here also liked it so then I started to think about publishing. It’s taken me four years to come to this point. I hope many more children will come to be interested in Robin and his magic ring.

About Robin's Ring:

Who will help The Adventurer recover his Items of Power, thrown back by magic into time? When Robin finds a ring in his garden, he has no idea that his dreams of adventure are about to come true. With his cousin Oliver, the ten year old boys are carried away on their quests, guided by the clues that appear before their eyes on Robin’s computer screen. This is the first of Robin and Oliver’s adventures with Edric and The Items of Power.

Available from Amazon.

© Jeanette Taylor Ford May 2017



  1. Well done, Jeanette, you've nailed the differences perfectly! Wishing you lots and lots of published books; whether you write them for children or for adults, they will always be a joy to read!

  2. Thank you Wilma. I will always appreciate your encouragement and guidance when I was starting out on my writing adventures. I think often of Tom Desire!!

  3. Thank you Wilma. I will always appreciate your encouragement and guidance when I was starting out on my writing adventures. I think often of Tom Desire!!