Writing for Kids: A Three-Quarter Life’s Work

Author Gordon Korman has been in the children’s book industry since he was a teenager, and has over seventy novels and books under his belt! With such a long prolific career, he is an asset to all of us looking to break into this industry. The following notes were taken from his 2010 SCBWI LA Conference keynote speech.

“I’d like to dedicate this speech to Paula Danziger. She always cared about the new guy. She wanted every writer to enjoy the view she had.” – Korman

Korman’s Take on His Audience:

  • “Not bad, pretty good,” is the best compliment you can get from an 8th grader. Korman sees his audience like little New Yorkers. They’ve seen everything.
  • Kids are more subtle than you think they are. The stuff we adults think is important goes over their heads. But they notice other things.
  • Kids are not an exotic sub-species. You are just an older kid. You need to have a sense of what’s cool to a kid, and honestly it’s not that different. Rick Riordan has a great sense of what kids will think is cool.

It’s a Hard Life Writing Humor…

  • Humor doesn’t get a lot of respect in most careers/businesses (movies, TV, books).
  • Aristotle jinxed us 2000 years ago when he said “Comedy is Lower” (the lower form of storytelling).
  • But Korman doesn’t agree. What do you use more in your day to day life? Your sense of humor or your ability to use foreshadowing? What do we teach?

Funny Bits and Anecdotes:

  • No more dead dogs in stories! We’ve had enough! (Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, White Fang, etc.)
  • The title of my book Liar Liar Pants on Fire does not translate into French. In French it translates to “Teller of truths your trousers have combusted.”

How Korman Got His Start In Publishing:

  • Korman wrote his first book at age 12. He later sent it off to Scholastic using the info he found in the book fair brochure. Amazingly enough a fork lift operator found it and gave it to the “higher ups” and the rest is history.
  • Korman suggests we all find a fork lift operator with an eye for new talent and get our work out there!
  • We all have some story of luck that helped us to get published, but what’s more important than luck is the stubbornness and the persistence.

Writing Tips:

  • You will have to let go of some stories because they just don’t make sense.
  • Lighten up. Inject humor into tragic situations. Korman used his book Pop as an example.
  • Good relationships with editors will bring you to the right place at the right time.
  • Picture a bored, disaffected, 11-year-old saying “I don’t care about this,” to you when you are writing.  It will keep you on your toes. Remember, what will kids think is cool?

In The End…

  • It is not an easy ride for any of us. None of us have a seamless journey. We all try a lot of different things. Work like you are using spaghetti – throw it against the wall and see what will stick!

Gordan Korman is the author of seventy novels for kids and young adults, and most recently Pop,  Zoobreak, and The Emperor’s Code. His writing career began at the age of twelve when his seventh grade English assignment became his first published novel. Now, more than three decades later, he is a full-time writer and speaker, with over eighteen million copies of his novels in print in twenty three languages.

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3 thoughts on “Writing for Kids: A Three-Quarter Life’s Work

  1. What great information! Thanks so much, Ingrid. It’s alway good to remind writers about stubbornness and persistence. In the maze of endless revisions and the trenches of submissions, it’s easy to get a bit downhearted.

    Where’s my forklift operator??

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