How I Think About Writing for Children

Tuesday 30 May 2017

By Martine Murray

Thanks to the launch of the MWF Schools’ Program, the spotlight is on children’s and YA literature this month. This week, we turned to How to Make a Bird author Martine Murray, who currently teaches a writing for children course at Melbourne’s Faber Writing Academy, for some thoughts on writing for the little ones.

As far as the “art of writing for children” or youth goes, there is a lot to say about it and almost nothing as well.

The nothing side of this equation is that writing for children is no different from writing for grown-ups, in so far as the same tried-and-true and oft-quoted dictates apply: i.e. write something that is full of sparkling prose and interesting characters and try to tell a good story at the same time.

As for how to do this, there would be so much more to say than can be said here. The terrible thing about writing for children is that a lot of people believe that children have to be spoken down to with simple words (which in my mind impoverishes the prose) and that stories must unravel in a prescribed moral universe. For the US version of an illustration in Henrietta the Great Go Getter, I had to draw undies on a Henrietta who had just hopped out of the bath!

The wonderful thing about writing for children is that children do not hold these views and they are not dull or prudish or straightforward and their imaginations are still very much alive and boundless and if you tell them, as I did in Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars, that a mother just turned into a tree, they will wholeheartedly believe it.

So images can be potent and profound and engaging. Worlds are full of possibilities. Situations can be complex, funny, sad or daunting. There can be encounters with loneliness, loss, envy or uncertainty, as long as they are balanced by uplifting resolutions. And this last note is perhaps the one way I think writing for children differs – after finishing a book, I hope a child will feel comforted and hopeful and excited about the adventure that life is.

Martine Murray teaches Faber Writing Academy’s Writing for Children course in Melbourne. Her books include The Slightly True Story of Cedar B HarleyHow to Make a Bird, The Henrietta series, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars and, soon to be released, Marsh and Me.

Image credit: Martine Murray


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