How to write a successful Crocodile Prize children’s story

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, 30 January 2015


In 2015 the Award for Writing for Children in the Crocodile Prize was sponsored by the Paga Hill Development Company

WRITING for children is a much tougher assignment than writing for adults.

Simplicity of sentence structure and vocabulary are not so simple in creation. They require technical discipline – and an understanding of what children want.

In the Crocodile Prize, we’ve set an age of around 12 as the maximum you should be aiming for in your writing. Your story should not be longer than about 800 words and it needs to be on a subject that engages children of ages up to that.

And what do these children like? They like to laugh, they like to be excited, they like to see problems solved, they like to learn, they like to see embarrassment successfully resolved and they like to see heroes (protagonists) who are like themselves.

And these young readers want you, the writer, to be in touch with the world where they live. In other words, your stories will mostly have a Papua New Guinean theme and offer situations and experiences that your readers know first-hand.

This means that the Western ‘fairy tale’ approach is unlikely to be suitable unless it is cast strongly within a Melanesian context.

When you write for adults, you can select the best word from the many you know (or your Thesaurus has to offer). You can choose the sentence structure that is best, even if it is complex.

But when writing for children, your words must be accessible – your audience must be able to understand it and engage with vocabulary, structure, content and ideas.

That said, you should feel to introduce new and harder words and ideas so long as you provide contextual support. This means making sure meaning is able to be understood from surrounding text and content.

Here’s an important point. Your story should be fun to read aloud. And it follows that a useful way of testing the merit of what you’ve written is to read to a child.

The plot of the story should be straightforward so devices like time jumps, flashbacks, shifts in point of view will need to be explained within the story or avoided altogether. And, for the most part, your story should be linear – moving logically from beginning to end.

It should also move at a rapid pace, not dwell too much on detail or scene-building.

The plot needs to be strong, the characters memorable and there will be excitement (and a problem or two) and humour.

When young characters solve problems with clever solutions, they stand in for the young reader, who will enjoy their aptitude.

Next to last, learn to love revision and rewriting. At any level of creative writing this yields better results.

And finally, to reiterate, always remember you are writing for young Melanesians, so offer them a story that is meaningful to Papua New Guinea. So much of what they are offered in books is derived from other cultures. It’s a real thrill to read a story about themselves and where they live.

One reason we’re working so hard to make the Crocodile Prize a success is to provide Papua New Guineans with the joy of reading about themselves and their own culture and society.

So good luck with your writing.

Story tellers, please keep writing. Ples Singsing is one place you can share your work too and soon we’ll talk about plans for a short-story writing competition. Do share your thoughts too.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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