Part 2 of a Series on Writing Good Children’s Books-
Children want to be entertained. Simple and pure. Just like adults, they enjoy an exciting story and you must carefully consider the order of events for each age group. Depending on the age of your reader, the narrative may or may not follow the events in chronological order.
Have you ever noticed that books or shows for young children present a simple sequence of events? Time perception is a skill that is developed as children mature. When a child is about 3 or 4, he only understands ‘before, now, and after.’ A toddler may state that something happened “yesterday”, but that can be any time before today. “Tomorrow” is sometime in the future – maybe the next day, maybe next week. He is very comfortable with the order of events for today and will get lost in a story that is not presented in a simple chronological order or occurs over several days.
Books for Pre-K children should focus around daily concepts they can relate to and interject one surprise. If you want to talk about winter cold, a toddler may find someone having their hat stuck on their head hilarious, so a simple episode about getting un-stuck is good.
You can tell the same story for a 5 or 6 yr old by adding more details and events. Perhaps the main character gets her coat and hat on by herself, but after playing in the snow on the way to school, finds herself stuck in her coat, and dances around until help arrives. Notice the simple timeline here.
Once your reader is around 3rd grade they have enough sequential understanding to start introducing some time shifts. Sticking with our winter story, as our main character walks to school, he can reflect about slipping on the ice the previous winter. You might create a subplot about his best friend’s antics and use alternate sections that move slightly back and forth in time.
Interjecting temporal shifts in the form of flash-backs or flash-forwards interrupts the story narrative but creates a more dynamic story that captivates the reader and keeps him looking for more. As your reader ages, make sure you create dynamic episodes that entrance. Most of us have read books that included dreams of the past initially presented as a current event, projections to the future, or even began with the end event and tracked backwards. Just be sure there is some indication of the timeline or you will confuse and lose the reader.
Be sure to come back and read Part 3: All about Point of View.