Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. Today’s author is someone I met back in 2013 and have cheered on her successes ever since. You can find Lori Crusin Degman at her website (www.Loridegman.com) or on Twitter at @loridegman.
A Genre By Any Other Name
By Lori Crusin Degman
In doing research for this post, I discovered the categories I had always thought of as “Genres”, were really “Formats”. I figured, there must be a lot of other writers who thought the same thing. So, I would like to share with you the different formats and genres and help you determine which are best suited for your style of writing.
First, you need to determine in which format you prefer to write and then, within that format, which genre appeals to you (many genres cross formats). Here is a list of the different formats in children’s literature:
Format: Picture Book
less than 700 words
4 – 8 years old
Text and illustrations used equally; main character is a child who solves his/her own problem; concepts or events common to children
Format: Early Reader
48 – 64 pages;
2 – 3 page chapters;
up to 1,500 words
6 – 9 years old
Illustrations on every page but more “grownup” looking; events to which children can relate
Format: Chapter Book
2 – 4 sentence paragraphs;
3 – 4 page chapters;
up to 10,000 words
7 – 10 years old
lots of action and humor; events to which children can relate
Format: Middle Grade
80 – 190 pages;
20,000 – 40,000 words
9 – 12 years old
conflict driven; main character pursues goals and faces obstacles
Format: Young Adult
40,000 – 60,000 words
12 + years old
teenaged main characters; coming of age; multi-themed; authentic voice
Format: Graphic Novel
48 – 64 pages
comic book format with more pictures than words
Format: Novel in Verse
10,000 – 20,000 words
12+ years old
similar to young adult novels but written in free-style verse; each poem should stand alone and capture a moment or scene
Once you’ve decided which format you prefer, you need to determine which genre in children’s literature best fits what you enjoy writing. To help you do that, I’ve developed this short test.
Which phrase would you most likely choose to complete this sentence:
Yesterday, my friend and I . . .
A. climbed on our zongos and rode to the edge of floxium.
B. ate a steak and kidney pie.
C. helped Paul Bunyon find his ox.
D. spoke on the telephone for the first time,” Thomas Edison announced.
E. landed on the planet Neptune.
F. began this personal journal.
G. signed up to fight against the Yankees.
H. pulled out our iphones to take pics of the cutest boy in school.
I. looked for clues at the murder scene.
J. climbed off our horses and mosied over to the saloon.
K. realized we have been madly in love for years!
Match your choice above to the genres below:
E. Science Fiction
G. Historical Fiction
H. Contemporary Fiction
No matter in which format or genre you write, there are basic rules that apply to writing for children – though rules are made to be broken so don’t feel compelled to follow them to the letter:
Your story needs an arc – a clear beginning that sets up a problem for the main character, a middle in which the main character makes attempts to solve the problem (usually three attempts), and a satisfying ending in which the main character finally solves the problem.
Create genuine characters to whom your readers can relate and feel some kind of emotional connection – love, hate, fear, admiration . . .
Read as many books as you can in your genre – not to imitate, but to learn what types of things work well and what things you should avoid doing – based on your reactions to the books you’ve read.
Be ready to rewrite, reword, revise!
Lori Degman is a teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing students by day and a writer of picture books by night, weekend and school holidays. She lives in a northern suburb of Chicago with her husband and two dogs. Her picture book, 1 Zany Zoo was the winner of the Cheerios New Author Contest and a mini version was distributed inside 2.2 million boxes of Cheerios. The hardcover was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. Lori’s latest book, Norbert’s Big Dream, was published in 2016.