So! You’re ready to become the next Rick Riordan or Beatrix Potter. Perhaps you’ve already got an idea for a children’s series that you’ve just been waiting to develop, or maybe you’re brand-new to the idea and looking for some tips on how to get started.
In this article, we’ll take you through the process involved with writing children’s book series. We’ll show you how to develop your story, how to get it drafted, and finally, how to go about revising!
How to Write a Children’s Book Series
There are many ways to write a children’s book. Some are just more effective at producing a better book, faster. Here are our recommended steps to write a high quality children’s book right from the start.
The first step in any major writing project is brainstorming. You’ll need ideas, after all, and brainstorming is where all that creative magic happens!
Once you’ve got some spark of an idea, whether that’s a single character or just one line of dialogue, your next step should be to start brainstorming.
When we brainstorm, we prepare the mass of ideas that we’ll carry with us into our outline and first draft. This is my personal favorite stage, because it comes without all the concern regarding plot, pacing, prose–you’re just feeling out your story, getting all your ideas down, and getting excited about what you’re about to create!
Here’s a few tips for how to brainstorm effectively.
Do Some Research
You’ll want to do a little research when you start brainstorming. For any book you’re writing, you’ll want to be up to date with the genre–what’s being written, what’s been overdone, and what direction is the scene taking.
You don’t need to let this information decide which projects you’ll work on, necessarily. Writing to market can often go badly in a slow business like publishing–it’s best to go with the project and idea you’re most passionate about, regardless of what else is out there.
But doing this research will inform your own process. Maybe you’ll find ideas you want to incorporate into your stories, or you’ll see how someone else did something you’ve been stuck on.
You’ll also want to figure out your target demographic. For children’s books, this means figuring out whether you’re writing newborn to age 3, early leveled readers, first chapter readers, middle-grade books, or YA books.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What category does your idea best suit?
- Would your idea be best delivered as a picture book, or a middle-grade novel?
- What themes will you be introducing and at what age are those best understood and received?
Having an idea of who you’re writing for will give you enormous insight into the rest of the process. If you’re writing a picture book, you’ll need to have illustrations top of mind. If you’re writing YA, you’ll have more room for complex, nuanced, and darker subject matter within your work.
When you know what your age group is, check out some books and see what sorts of subjects are handled in those groups. Also take note of how those issues are handled.
Create Your Children’s Book Characters
All readers get attached to characters, but this is especially true for children. You’ll want a stellar cast for your young readers to fall in love with, and this is a great time to think about them without the burden of plot.
When you know what sort of world you’re working with, imagine the characters in it. Who’s carrying out your plot? Think of some fun, interesting characters and write down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes, great children’s book ideas come from just an interesting character idea!
Remember that characters in children’s books don’t need to be flat or uninteresting. Kids are people, and they’re pretty smart, and they know when someone’s talking down to them! Your children’s book characters should be just as interesting and three-dimensional as if you were writing for adults.
For some people (myself included), it’s enough to just type out all your thoughts in the Notes app and call it a day. But it can be really hard to get all of the thoughts detangled from one’s head to paper. Thankfully, there’s a few easy methods that can help you get those creative gears turning!
This is simple: you get a piece of blank paper and write down a core idea at the center. It could be ‘a rat with red shoes,’ or a single line of dialogue. Anything in the world works. From there, draw a line and add the next thing that comes to mind. ‘A rat with red shoes’ might connect to ‘he loses his shoes in a bet,’ or ‘crocodile with sunglasses.’
Once you’ve got enough that you feel you can make a story, you’re done!
Stream of Consciousness
Set a timer, start typing, and don’t stop until the timer’s out. You don’t have to worry about grammar–it could be a list of different ideas, if that’s what suits you. The idea is just to keep typing until all of your ideas are out of your head and onto the page!
2. Outline Your Children’s Book
Sometimes, people condense the outlining and brainstorming stage–sometimes a stream of consciousness brainstorm turns into a fully fledged outline before too long. But if you’ve got something like a mind map, or if you’re still a little unsure whether to start, an outline is your next step.
It’s especially important to outline when you’re planning a book series. You want to know where your story is going, not only in each individual book, but across the entire collection. Each book should contain its own rising action, climax, and resolution, and the series as a whole should also follow a similar structure.
It’s a lot to keep track of, and an outline will be the best way to make sure you get all the way through your series!
3. Plot the Children’s Book Series
There are a few different ways you can go about writing a children’s book series. You might have a series where the reader needs to read them in chronological order in order for it to make sense–if you pick up the fourth book in Heroes of Olympus, you might not totally understand what’s going on if you haven’t read the first three in the series.
You might be writing something more like Nancy Drew, however. In these types of stories, we’re watching the same characters get into new shenanigans. The characters might develop in small ways over the course of the series, but the main appeal isn’t the overarching story, it’s seeing which new adventure they’ll be embarking upon. These stories are self-contained, so each book is a complete story–you don’t have to have read the previous book to understand.
Know which one you’re working with. If it’s more like a self-contained episodic situation, then you may just need a few ideas to make sure you’ve got a few different books lined up. If you want a series where there’s one overarching conflict and resolution, you’ll want to make sure you outline that conflict.
Keep an Open Mind
Your outline is there to help you, not to restrict you. At the bare minimum, you want to know your starting point, your climax, and your resolution. Where do your characters start, and where do they end up?
In a series, you’ll want to have these points settled in each individual book, as well as for the series as a whole.
However, it’s important when you’re writing a series to keep an open mind. Your outline is there for you to fall back on in case you get lost, but if you find there’s been a development (maybe your characters interact differently with the environment than you thought they would, or the plot contrivance you engineered feels a little too loose), that’s okay! Just make a note, make sure it’s consistent in the rest of the series, and keep on.
Try Different Methods
Just like there’s different methods for brainstorming, there’s different methods for outlining, and there’s no one way that’s better than the others. Here’s just a few different ways to try it.
Bullet Point Outline
This is maybe the simplest method. You can do it on paper, or on a Word doc! Simply make a bullet-point list of the things that will happen. You’ll want to do this for the series on the whole first, then see how your first book will factor into that.
This is a method commonly used for film, but there’s no reason why it can’t help for novels! You’ll need index cards and something to stick them to–a wall, a bulletin board, a whiteboard, a fridge, whatever. Write your scenes or plot points on the index cards and stick ‘em on the wall.
This is helpful for visual learners. Being able to actually pick the scenes up and move them around can be super helpful in seeing how your story plays out, and it can help you see plot holes and empty space.
4. Draft Your Series
You’ve got an outline, which means you’re ready to draft! If you’re working with a picture book, you’ll want to know which types of illustrations you’ll need during the outlinine phase, and the drafting phase is where you’ll bring them to life.
The most important rule for a first draft, in my opinion, is to not stop, children’s book or otherwise. Once you get the ball rolling, you want to keep that momentum. Stopping to revise or worry over an outline change can ruin that momentum, and it can be hard to get going again.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make deviations from your outline or changes as you go. While you’re drafting, make notes of the changes you’ve made, and refer back to them while you’re revising to make sure these changes stay consistent throughout the series.
Refer To Your Outline
If you get lost or stuck, refer to your outline! It can be difficult, sometimes, if you’ve gone off the outline tracks and find yourself stranded. And maybe the next point on your outline no longer works with this new direction you’ve taken.
You can do a few things from here. You can pause and rework your outline to match up with where you’ve headed, or you can just carry on to the next plot point as if those changes never happened. Either way, you’ll have to revise anyway, and that’s when we can worry about internal consistency.
Once you’ve finished that first draft, you might be feeling a mix of emotions. First things first, congratulations are in order–you have written a book! It might be a bit of a mess right now, but that’s completely normal.
Revisions are where we take the lump of coal you created during the draft and turn it into a diamond. So, how do we make sure we revise correctly?
Get Beta Readers
Children’s books often rely heavily on relaying a moral message to the reader. They commonly teach kids a lesson about the way the world works or teach them how to deal with a common human issue.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your message is getting across in the way you want it to.
This means you need some beta readers! Beta readers are readers who read your work before the professional edit. Have your friend’s kid read it, or your cousin–if you can find someone in your target demographic to look it over and tell you what you think, great! If you can’t, even just having your other adult friends look at it can be helpful.
You might also have a librarian or teacher look at your book–these people work with children, so they know what to look for in children’s books.
Children’s Book Series Examples
This is a list of children’s book series examples you can learn from. Most often, we pick up on things just by reading and experiencing them, and we even gain inspiration from well-done stories. Just remember not to copy. It’s perfectly okay to have inspiration from them, but don’t make your stories the exact same.
These are great children’s book series examples to take a look at:
- The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
- The Alex Rider Series by Anthony Horowitz
- Maximum Ride by James Patterson
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
- Junie B Jones by Barbara Park
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
- Goosebumps by R. L. Stine
At the end of the day, your children’s book series will be best if you plot it all at once, and plan in advance. That way, you can whip out the stories and publish them in quick succession, which is what we’ve found to work the best with the authors in our Children’s Book School and Fundamentals of Fiction programs.