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5 terrible, horrible, no good, very bad children’s book mistakes

Working on a book for young readers? Here’s what not to do.

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Mistake #4 POV confusion

Misconception: “Point of view? What does that have to do with kid’s books?”

I’m constantly surprised by how many of my students don’t understand the concept of point of view as it applies to fiction. The fact is, when writing for kids, understanding how the various POV choices work is crucial. When you are able to put yourself inside your middle grade or YA character, in either a first-person or third-person limited point of view, when you really allow your readers to see the world through your character’s eyes, mind and heart, you will have gone a long way toward capturing and holding your readers’ attention.

In the past, most kids’ books, indeed, most books in general, used an omniscient point of view in which the story is told by a voice that is separate from the characters, remains outside the story and knows everything about the characters and the events of the story. While picture books are still often told in an omniscient voice, books for older kids and YAs usually use either a first-person or a third-person limited point of view.

When you write in the first person, you are telling the story in the voice of one of your characters, usually, but not always, the main character. If, for example, I am telling the story of 13-year-old Tom in the first person from Tom’s viewpoint, I might write, “When I left school that afternoon, I had no clue what was waiting for me at home.” If I decided instead to tell Tom’s story in the third-person limited, I would write, “When Tom left school that afternoon, he had no idea what was waiting for him at home.” In both cases, we are seeing the world from the perspective of the main character, and we feel an immediate connection to that character.

An advantage of the first person and third-person limited is that they create a sense of connection to the narrator and hence a direct and intimate connection between reader and writer. Readers, especially older kids and YA readers, are then able to identify strongly with the main character and to care deeply about what will happen to him or her.

Many authors choose to tell a story from more than one character’s first-person or third-person limited POV, but it’s important to make sure the transitions between viewpoint characters are clearly delineated, usually by alternating chapters or larger parts of a story.

This avoids abrupt shifts in viewpoint, or head-hopping, which is jarring and confusing to readers.

Some contemporary authors do use an omniscient POV, but usually they have created a strong omniscient voice that acts almost as a character in itself, as the narrator in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

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