ThornyEnglishRose's Workshop: Children's Prose

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Update 26th June

This workshop is now CLOSED. ThornyEnglishRose will be reviewing these entries on Sunday. Please could you all take the time to read and critique these entries. There are only two after all.

:bulletred: The Liar by batousaijin

:bulletred: This is Teddy Bear by neurotype-on-discord


:new: I, BeccaJS would like to apologise personally to all our members, to lovetodeviate and ThornyEnglishRose for messing up the dates on this workshop.

There is still time to submit workshop pieces into this workshop, as the deadline is not until Wednesday 25th June, at midnight GMT. The results shall be out on the following Sunday, 29th.

I apologise for any confusion caused and hope you will submit some work!



ThornyEnglishRose has been a member of the dA literature community for just over two years now, and her reading and writing interests are many and varied. Only at the end of last year did she start bringing to the fore her particular passion for children's literature, when she began to study the subject both critically and creatively at MA level. She became children's feature editor for WordCount at the end of 2007, and recently hosted Tots and Teens: The Children's Literature Contest, all because she is eager to expose and generate children's literature on deviantArt.

Check out her Workshop on Children’s Prose:


Writing Prose for Children

In simple terms, your task is to write a piece of prose for children. You can write for any age below thirteen, depending on how much you want to challenge yourself. I suggest that the younger your target audience, the harder it is two write for them. You are of course entitled to disagree, but first do read my two reasons for thinking this:

:bulletblue: The younger the age, the further you are from it, and therefore it will be harder to remember what you were into back then.

:bulletblue: As a general rule, attention spans grow with age. How hard would it be to write something that would hold the attention of a two year old for six or eight pages?

One of the secrets to writing successfully for children is finding the balance between not boring them, and not patronising them. This is particularly challenging if you choose to write non-fiction, which I hope some of you will. Children's non-fiction is something that has never come up in any discussions of children's literature I have ever had, either on dA or in the real world. That may sound melodramatic, but it's true, and therefore I would be very interested to see some non-fiction children's prose coming out of this workshop.

If you decide to go down that road, you must remember your target audience as much as if you were writing fiction. What kind of information would interest them, and how can you present it in a way that the child reader will understand? If you are writing non-fiction for children under five, your piece is likely to consist of very simple sentences of not more than four or five words. That may sound easy, but try making it simple and interesting! For older children, you can of course go into much more detail. The best non-fiction for nine to twelve year olds that I can recommend is the Horrible Histories series, written by Terry Deary and (usually) illustrated by Martin Brown. The language is accessible and appealing - it's hilarious, in fact - without compromising on the information or patronising the reader.

Now, since I've mentioned it, let us consider the importance of illustration. Don't worry - I won't insist on illustrated pieces! But if you are going to write for children - especially young children - it's important to consider their significance. I mentioned Martin Brown. His illustrations don't add to the reader's knowledge; the books would make perfect sense and be complete without the little cartoons therein. But they definitely add something; they double the humour, and do a great deal to sustain my interest at least, so I imagine the same is true for children. This is essentially the role of illustrations in any book aimed at children who are reading fluently - and that, I realise, is a generalisation, but let's just say it's more or less true and move on to the next point.

When children are learning to read, illustrations will often match the text exactly and can help them to decipher the words. When they are still being read to, illustrations are something they can look at which makes sense to them, while the adult somehow makes sense of the mysterious black markings on the page. In a picture book, the illustrations and the text are co-dependent. Using the example of non-fiction, one page may say, 'This is the farmer.' Clearly, that sentence has to be illustrated to make any sense at all. With fiction, there may be words missing, and the child will be able to decode part of the story by looking at the picture accompanying the words. For example, the text may say (off the top of my head!), 'Gran could not find her glasses anywhere!' The picture may then show Gran frantically searching for her glasses when all the time they are on her head (yes, it's a cliché, but you might do well to remember that young children will almost certainly not care about that, or even realise).

I've said you don't have to illustrate, because that would be just asking for no responses. If you want to accompany your piece with drawings, that would be really great - but if not, and if you are writing for very young children, I want you to consider the role that illustrations will play. When you've written your piece, go through it and see if you've stated anything or described anything that would work better in an illustration. In a picture book, you will never read a description of a character. If you want to describe how you envisage the illustrations, or give some indication of what you didn't include, then that's fine by me, but you don't have to by any means.

So, I've focused on picture books for small children and non-fiction. Either of those things would great for this workshop, and I think they'd be extra challenging for you, because according to the galleries the writers of dA seem to be most comfortable writing prose fiction for children between about nine and twelve years of age. But if you want to write fiction for older children, then that's fine too; as I say, your task is to write any prose for any children under thirteen. With fiction for older readers, the same basic rules apply: consider the understanding and attention span of your audience, don't underestimate them and try not to patronise. Also remember that hidden meaning, and themes like puberty and sexual awakening are common in pre-adolescent fiction, so don't be afraid to go there!

There is no word limit, as the length of the piece is all part of the challenge. I'll leave it up to you to judge the point at which you're in danger of losing your audience.

A note from Writers-Workshop Please note that this is a PROSE workshop, meaning that we will accept prose entries only. Proofread your work before you send it in so that grammatical and spelling errors are minimal. And most of all have fun with it!

:postit: How to submit

Submit your entry as a new deviation or scrap and send us a link to it in a note. The subject line of the note should be "CHILD". Entries must come in on or before midnight (GMT/UTC), June 18. :devthonryenglishrose: will respond to the entries on June 22.

:postit: How to accept critique

:bulletblue: Always thank the critic. This gratitude must be as sincere as possible, even if you did not like the critique given, because the critic has taken time to offer his/her opinion of the piece.
:bulletblue: If you do not like the critique, it is not necessary to mention so. Simply thank the critic and move on. You can always ignore their suggestions, while not making a scene of it.
:bulletblue: If you are unsure of what the critique means, feel free to ask the critic what s/he meant. Building rapport with your critic is one of the best ways to survive in a workshop and to learn. If you want examples, ask. Similarly, if you like the suggestions given, mention it. Critic's have feelings too. :)
:bulletblue: In the unlikely case that a critic offers rude/sexist/racist/etc comments, feel free to contact Writers-Workshop in a note and we will try to help you. A decision regarding the rudeness of the critique will be taken, and if we're not sure ourselves, we will consult with one of the GDs or anyone else high up on deviantART.

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dreamscape-painter's avatar
Perhaps next contest. Things have been crazy.

I've never been that great at relating to children to children with my writing, anyway.

I'm lying to make myself feel better.