I always believed stories for young children were the most basic, easiest stories to write… until I was challenged to write one. Having never written something for someone who is younger than seven, I approached the writing no differently than I'd approach writing my middle-grade novels.
My first draft was filled with wordy conversations between all the different species of animals in the book. It was filled with metaphors and subtle humour and messages about tolerance and acceptance. It was wonderful (in my opinion), but as I quickly learned, not even close to suitable for the age group I had set out to write it for.
It took a friend of mine, who was once an elementary-school teacher, to put my writing (and me) in its (and my) place. She took the hardcopy of my first draft and she took a big red pen, and for half an hour she hacked away five thousand of the seven thousand words I had written. She also hacked off a big chunk of my ego. What remained was SCUTTLED. To my astonishment, it was all there the first time around, but it was hidden underneath all that literary fat I so often rely on in my more mature novels.
SCUTTLED is not the greatest thing I've ever written, but for something I pieced together in a couple weeks after being challenged to write it, I'm pretty happy with the outcome. More than that, what the challenge showed me is that sometimes it's okay to get rid of the fat and show the muscles stretching… the bones moving. It's okay not to have some kind of 'clever' in every sentence. Simple and straightforward can be a good thing.
I will take the knowledge I gained writing a story for a three year old and I will incorporate it into my future writing for children (and adults)… and I think my writing will be better because of it.