WRITING CREATIVE NON-FICTION FOR KIDS: TIPS AND TRICKS
It seems one of the buzz words around the kid-lit hive these days is “Creative Non-Fiction”. Creative non-fiction provides a great opportunity to get the most “bang for your buck” in producing a book! It’s a chance to both entertain AND educate.
And if you struggle coming up with unique concepts and interesting plot lines in your writing, GOOD NEWS: You can often find stories greater and more interesting in non-fiction than ones you’d typically make up in fiction!
So, if you want to give a go at creating creative non-fiction, here are some steps to follow to simplify the process (and how to avoid mistakes that l learned the hard way):
STEP 1: Spend time making a list of things that YOU find interesting. Think back to when you were a child and the things that fascinated you. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this subject matter, so make sure it is something you will genuinely enjoy researching. It also helps to check out what is being covered in classrooms, so that you can create a story that coincides with lesson plans to appeal to teachers. I used fireflies for my first story because I spent so many summers as a child chasing fireflies, and they are a great model for complete metamorphosis (there also happens to be SO many gross/fun/interesting facts about how they grow up!)
STEP 2: Do a quick google search on each subject matter just to see if anything catches your attention that you maybe never knew, or you think you could write a story around. Jot some notes down for each item on your list.
STEP 3: Pick the one that sounds most interesting to you. Then start to research more in depth. Check out books from the library. Read research papers online. Keep track of all the fun things you find.
*TIP: You will probably find a LOT of exciting facts! Keep note of all of them, most importantly keeping track of the sources where you found them. This will be important later.
STEP 4: Get creative! Start brainstorming ways to you can put all the information you gather together that will appeal to kids. You can do this by thinking how or why would a child be interested in your subject matter, or how they could relate to what is happening. A great example of this is the WHAT TO EXPECT series from Bridget Heos, or the DIARY series (of a Worm, of a Spider, of a Fly) from Doreen Cronin. Each of these appeals to kids in a fun and humorous way, different from straight non-fiction. For my HOW TO SURVIVE series, I used these books as inspiration. What started for me as a “Survival Guide” format morphed into a day in the life of school for fireflies and sharks. Because kids obviously have their own experiences in school, that is a direct entry point of interest for them.
STEP 5: The most important step: fully research your facts. Even though you are being
creative with the delivery of your subject, your information MUST be correct. Much of the information out there has not been properly vetted. Utilize the internet, universities and research facilities to find at least a couple experts or scientists to refer to. It can be helpful to find websites dedicated to your subject matter and then reach out to the admin, who is typically someone really involved in that research. Explain to them that you are writing for kids and would like their help making sure you have your facts straight. They are usually more than happy to share their knowledge, mostly because of the mis-information out there! This is where it is important to go back to your notes and sources to make sure they are indeed factual. It was interesting to me that even “facts” I found in books already published sometimes turned out to be wrong. Often disappointing, because you might find an amazing tidbit of info, and a great way to incorporate it into a story, only to find out that it isn’t technically correct. I had to cut several fun parts of my stories upon finding out that the information I was using wasn’t factual.
*TIP: These experts are generally busy people with a lot going on, so realize you may not get responses as quickly as you would like. Be prepared to ask them specific questions so you don’t waste both of your times. That way once you have a full manuscript ready for them to read, most of the information should already be correct.
Other things to be aware of:
*Identify your age group early on. Make sure what you are writing isn’t above the heads of that age group. Much of my FIREFLY story had to be changed (especially parts relating to mating) to make sure it applied to grades K-3.
*Create detailed notes for your future illustrator. To make sure your story is truly based in non-fiction, you will need to make sure that the scenes and characters in your book are true to form, even if they are illustrated into fictional characters. For example, the illustrator for my HOW TO SURVIVE AS A SHARK book first created the cover with the great white shark characters hanging out on a coral reef. It was so cute! But, because great white sharks typically aren’t found on coral reefs, I had to request for her to change the whole background. I should have notified her before she began of the types of scenery to be included in illustrations!
By following these steps, you should be more than ready to compose your creative non-fiction manuscript! Have fun and be ready to entertain your audience. And the best part is that you just might learn a thing or two on the way, too!
About the Author:
Kristen Foote is the author of How to Survive as a Firefly and How to Survive as a Shark. With a degree in biology, she is a firm believer that learning about science can be fun (and funny!). She's a Colorado transplant who, when not writing, is enjoying everything the Rocky Mountains have to offer with her husband and two kids. How to Survive as a Firefly is her first book.