Writing for Kids: How to read like a writer

Writing for Kids: How to read like a writer

One of the best things that children can do to help develop their creative writing skills is to read – and read widely. By ‘read widely’, I mean reading beyond their usual favourite kinds of stories and into other areas on the bookshelf, including non-fiction. For instance, some of my best story ideas have been sparked through reading non-fiction books about history.

Beyond reading widely, though, I suggest to kids in my creative writing course that they teach themselves to read ‘like a writer’. Reading like a writer means going beyond simply enjoying the amazing story that an author has created and digging down into how the writer did it.

When I mention this to young students, I can see some of them roll their eyes, thinking that I’m about to start breaking down sentences and getting into an English lesson.

But I’m not.


What does ‘reading like a writer’ mean?


Mostly, reading like a writer is about looking for how writers handle information in their stories.

How do they impart it to readers – and when?

Where do they begin the story, and why does that matter?

What kinds of vocabulary are they using – and where do they choose to use it?

Usually I’m having this conversation after reading a piece of writing stuffed full of interesting ways to say ‘said’. Characters are interjecting, squeaking, crying, whimpering, whispering and all manner of other multi-syllable alternative to poor old under-appreciated ‘said’.

One of the best tools a young writer can develop is a wide and impressive vocabulary.

The next best tool they can develop is a strong appreciation of when to wield that vocabulary and when to stay their hand.

Reading their favourite authors with a critical eye is a good place to begin to understand the concept.


Three tips to help you learn to read like a writer


Tip #1: Start with a favourite book, one that you know really well so that you won’t get distracted by what’s happening.


Tip #2: Focus on the first chapter. Read it through a couple of times.

The first time, take note of the first page and how the writer uses it to draw you into the story.

The second time, look for the information – what information does the writer give you about the character, the setting and the problem in those first few pages. How is it given? Is it in dialogue, through action (looking in a mirror, what the character is doing).

The third time, look at the vocabulary – how often does the writer use a word other than ‘said’ with the dialogue? How often do they use big, unusual words?


Tip #3: Compare what you’ve learned with your own writing. What can you take away from what you’ve read to apply to your own stories? 


Be warned though! Once you learn to do this well you’ll never be able to stop doing it!


You can hear Megan Daley and I discuss this aspect of writing for kids on episode 24 of Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Find it here or where you get your podcasts. 


A L Tait The Fire StarAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, internationally published bestselling author of middle-grade fiction. You can find out more about me here

Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.

Encouraging kids to love writing: 5 mistakes (and how to fix them)

Encouraging kids to love writing: 5 mistakes (and how to fix them)

“My child hates writing – what can I do?”

“How do I get my kid to love writing?”

Getting kids to write – and to love writing – can be a battle for parents. We know this because these questions (and many more just like them) are posed to authors over and over again.

So much so, that Lucinda Gifford, Australian author and illustrator of picture books and junior fiction books, including the recently published (and very charming) novel The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall has created this post about her experiences in encouraging a love of writing in her own children.

Including the mistakes she’s made – and how she fixed them.

Take it away Lucinda!


Author Lucinda Gifford on encouraging kids to love writing

It’s a joyful moment when you see your child put pen to paper of their own accord. They’re being creative; they’re building worlds; they’re going to soar academically!

So what can you do to inspire and encourage your budding author, without overwhelming them? It’s a tricky balance, especially if you love books and writing yourself.

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made (and I know I’m not the only one) – and what I’ve learned through them.


5 mistakes I made with my kids and writing – and how I made up for them

Mistake 1 – Correcting small errors

“I look over my child’s shoulder to peek at their work. Oh no! The first sentence goes on for two paragraphs. The spelling is all over the place. They’ve written the letter ‘a’ backwards.”

How I fixed it


I’ve learned not to point out small errors, especially at the beginning. It takes away the fun. And writing should be fun for as long as possible, so that kids keep writing.Now I focus on complementing what does work – illustrations, fun details, interesting words, character names… and ideas.

If a child feels confident in their ideas, then they’ll happily come up with more ideas. This means more creativity, more writing, more skill-building, more fun!


Mistake 2 – Forcing the narrative

“So what’s it actually about, darling? Did you know that proper stories have a beginning, a middle and an end?”

How I fixed it

I realised quickly that rules like these are stifling early on – and that our kids will probably be told about story structure hundreds of times at school.

These days, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy my children’s originality. I let their writing take me back to my own childhood thinking, before I became a grown-up immersed in Western narrative structures.

Maybe a child has written a tale which starts off with a dragon called Alannah in a volcano and ends up with Pete the ice-cream being eaten by a llama. Great! I’m happy to enjoy the journey (and any ice-cream that might be available).


Mistake 3 – ‘Being the teacher’

“Maybe this is a good time to point out the difference between a verb and a noun. So they’ll be ahead in class later.”

How I fixed it
It is not a good time. Children meet lots of teachers in their life. School curricula cover adverbs, verbs, nouns, synonyms, homonyms, similes, metaphors…

Instead, I think about things I can do to bring their ideas to life – things that a teacher can’t do in a busy classroom.

For example: acting out a child’s story with favourite toys chatting about characters and ideas in relaxed down-time, reading younger children’s stories aloud in funny voices if permitted, and (our household favourite) discussing who would play the characters in a movie.


Mistake 4 – Oversharing

“Oooh! You’re writing about a dragon! Has you read Dragon Rider? Here it is! Oh look – here’s a picture of a dragon on Pinterest! We could get ‘Dragonology’ from the Op Shop? Oh there used to be a show about dragons when I was a kid. Let me look it up… Hello? Hello!”

How I fixed it
This is the mistake I make the most often. I get overexcited and can’t wait to share my knowledge, swamping my children with references. Much better to imply one has fascinating information, and then wait to be asked.

Step back and be subtle. (ps. If anyone has tips on subtlety, please get in touch.)


Mistake 5 – Expecting a finished piece of work

“But you started off so well – aren’t you going to finish it?”

How I fixed it
My child had a grand vision. They designed a fabulous, multicoloured dragon cover for their story and wrote a short but promising blurb for the back. Now, half a page in, they’re staring out the window.

I’ve learned to accept this might be it. In time they’ll need to develop their perseverance and learn organisational skills. But for now, writing is fun!

Pushing a child to keep working on an idea they’ve moved on from is not the same as encouragement. I mutter a favourite phase of my school art teacher “Process not product”, and leave it for a while.

And if my child doesn’t go back to this particular story idea, I put the fabulous dragon cover on the wall. Maybe I’ll write my own story about a dragon.

After all – writing is fun!


Lucinda Gifford is the author/illustrator of The Wolves Of Greycoat Hall (Walker Books) and the Whitney and Britney picture books (Scholastic), along with a host of others, as well as being the illustrator of a slew of titles ranging from picture books to middle-grade novels.

Find out more about Lucinda and her work here






Would you love more writing advice for kids? Check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.

My top posts for writers 2020

My top posts for writers 2020

Each year I create a round-up of my most popular writing posts, and it’s always fascinating to see what’s resonated with readers of this blog.

My top writing posts 2020 (stay tuned for a readers’ post later this week) features a couple of evergreen favourites that show up each year (How to get the words written, anyone?) but also a real shift in the direction of writing tips for kids, which I find immensely pleasing.

I’m also thrilled to see guest posts by authors Sue Whiting, Adrian Beck, Helen Scheuerer, Tim Harris, and Louise Allan, written over the past few years, featuring so prominently on this list.

I love sharing my blog with other writers and it’s brilliant to see those posts continuing to gain momentum. The right guest post in the right place can be a gift that keeps on giving for authors (see this post about how to guest post effectively for tips about this).

But you’re here for the writing posts, and here they are, a countdown to the most popular.

Top posts for writers 2020 on allisontait.com


Writing Tips For Kids: 5 top tips for creating a page-turning story


How to get the words written: 10 tips for writers


The 6Cs of writing a novel


10 things I’ve learnt from writing my debut novel


5 questions to ask yourself before writing a series


How to tell when your writing is good enough


10 writing tips you can start using today


Writing Tips For Kids: How to create remarkable characters


12 writing books for teen writers


Writing Tips For Kids: How to write funny stories


so you want to be a writerAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to So You Want To Be A Writer podcast for more amazing writing advice.

Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.

How to spark your kid’s writing fire

How to spark your kid’s writing fire

As the NSW school term begins, and we look down the barrel of potentially weeks and weeks of trying to keep kids engaged with and on top of their school work, I know that many parents are tearing their hair out.

With two high school-aged boys, I’m lucky that the school has pivoted very quickly to online learning and they get their lessons served up to them in regular timetable order. Mostly, they get on with it. But I know that many parents, particularly those with kids in primary school, are needing to be much more hands on. Then, outside of lessons, there are a lot of other hours to fill and parents are wracking their brains for ways to keep kids off screens.

So when the wonderful Australian children’s book author Zanni Louise approached me with this guest post idea, I couldn’t get her to write it fast enough. Because, of course, we both believe that creative writing, in all its many forms, is definitely one of the BEST ways for kids to deal with boredom. In fact, boredom is ALMOST ESSENTIAL to drive the kind of creativity that inspires the best stories. (See this post to find out why.)

Zanni is the author of picture books (Archie and The Bear, Errol, Too Busy Sleeping) and children’s fiction series (The Stardust School Of Dance, Tiggy and The Magic Paintbrush). This month, she released the first two titles in a new picture book series about values, called Human Kind. Here, Zanni Louise gives her top tips for getting your kid writing!

5 ideas to help spark your kid’s love of writing

I’ll be honest, I felt like I was in a pickle for the first few weeks of lockdown, between schooling kids and keeping my writing career alight. But as the weeks pass, our family finds its feet more and more, and isolation is becoming easier. One thing I wanted to really indulge during this time, was not just my own writing life, but my kids’ immersion in writing as well. I know they do some creative writing at school, but at school, writing tasks are often stifled by rules. Back in the day, when I used to talk to kids IRL during school visits, kids would tell me the most important things to remember when writing were capital letters and full stops. Some mentioned sizzling starts, which was impressive! While those things ARE important, what’s really important is your writing confidence. So I thought I’d share a few ideas about ways I try and spark that writing fire.

1. Journalling

Admittedly, I was one of those kids that kept reams of journals under my bed. Also admittedly, I will never ever return to them for fear of what I might find. But one thing I will say about journalling is that it’s a wonderful place to indulge your writing. NO ONE ELSE READS IT! So your writing is for you alone. When we write without an audience, our natural writing voice emerges. Before my kids embark on the good old home-schooling schedule, we set the timer and the kids journal for 15 minutes. I join in. We write about anything and everything, and I am continually amazed at how much my 7 year-old and my 10 year-old both delight in this part of our daily schedule. If your kids feel daunted by this, give them a theme or topic, like ‘How are you feeling?’ Or ‘Aviation History in the 20th Century’ … I don’t know. Anything! And invite them to draw, because some reluctant writers find their way in through doodles and illustration.

2. Take them outside

Since you now have 100 per cent control of your kids during the school day (um …) you may as well take this writing lesson outside. In schools, my students come outside with me, and sit in teepees and on rugs and they love it. It’s a change of atmosphere, for one, and something about being outside really sparks creativity. Sit under a tree, or in a hammock – in a treehouse if you have one! I personally am looking for any opportunity to get my kids away from screens during their learning hours, so this is a good one. You could even try a nature safari! Get kids to collect five things from the garden, lay them out, and write a story about what they find.

3. Create characters together

We tried a really fun exercise at the dining room table the other day. The writer was blindfolded, and told the illustrator as many details as they could about their character. The details were wacky and insane, and both kids took delight seeing what the illustrator had created from their description. Once we had a pile of characters on the table, we made mini books and each kid created their own story about one or more of the characters. Heaps of fun.

4. Do an online course!

There is SO much out there right now, with authors clawing back some of the income they’ve lost this semester and next, by not being able to get to schools. Talk with your teachers about what’s available. Booking agents like Children’s Bookshop (NSW), Speakers Ink (Queensland) and Booked Out (Victoria) have a list of amazing Australian authors available for Skype or Zoom visits. Many authors are offering free activities right now as well. Check out Lunch Doodles with Mo for starters.

5. Read with your kids

Well, this is an obvious one. But with so much home time on our hands, there is nothing like huddling around the proverbial fire, reading aloud to each other. I will never forget the author Kate Beasley talking about how she, her mum and sister read Harry Potter and other series aloud to each other all through her childhood and teenage years. No wonder she became such an accomplished author! Now, go forth, spark fires, and maybe even write yourself. After all, we might as well make the best of this!

Zanni Louise is the author of 16 books for kids, from picture books to junior fiction series. Her new books HUMAN KIND help kids talk about values and what’s important to them. Find out more about them here.        Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. If you’d love more writing advice for kids, check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Series

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Series

For some authors, writing a series is a lifelong-held dream. For others, like me, it’s something they stumble into and then flail about wildly hoping it will work out.

In an effort to help you avoid the flailing, I’ve invited Helen Scheuerer to visit.

Helen is a YA fantasy author, whose debut novel Heart of Mist was the bestselling first instalment in her trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.

I first met Helen as the founding editor of Writer’s Edit, which is a deep resource for emerging writers, but she is now a fulltime author and a new prequel story collection to the trilogy, Dawn Of Mist, is out now!

Below, Helen Scheuerer shares five questions to ask yourself before embarking on the epic adventure of writing a series.

And Helen also kindly offers five bonus tips to help you through the process.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Series

As someone who’s written a complete trilogy and has just started drafting a quartet, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about what makes a great series. What I’ve learnt over the years is there’s a lot of groundwork that occurs before you even write the first sentence…

For me, it always starts with asking myself a number of questions. Questions that prompt me to consider whether or not my story is ready to be written, and indeed, if I’m actually ready to write it.

I want to share those questions with you today, to hopefully help you on your own way to writing an epic series…

1. Does my story warrant a series? 

Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, there are a number of things you need to know about your story before launching into creating a series.

The most important of these factors is this: does your story warrant a series?

All too often, I see writers decide on writing a series before they’ve even considered the story. This is usually because series are often seen as more lucrative or popular…

However, as the author, your first and most important job is to do the story justice. There’s no point in stretching a narrative across multiple books if it doesn’t serve the story well.

Think about the books you loved that have been turned into three, even five film movie franchises… Weren’t you frustrated?

The same goes for books. If it doesn’t serve the story to have multiple novels, it’s your job to make that call.

2. Am I a reader of series?

In order to be an author of a series, you also have to be a dedicated reader of series. Familiarise yourself with the common and popular structures of the format, even if you’re only learning the rules to break them later.

I have learnt so much about how to structure and pace my novels by reading series by other authors. Structure and pacing are two of the core elements to any novel, but also to an overall epic series.

Without a firm grasp on these factors, you’ll find it very difficult to maintain any reader retention (having a reader commit to reading the second book after the first and so on).

Being an avid reader of the series format may also help you determine how many books your own series might warrant.

For some stories, a duology is more than enough, for other narratives, series can span upwards of ten books… Seeing numerous series in action can certainly help you to determine how many books your story might need to be told.

Another benefit to familiarising yourself with the format is having a greater understanding of what genres work well as series.

For example, fantasy books are generally expected to be a part of an ongoing series, whereas literary fiction books are more commonly standalone novels.

While writers don’t always need to conform to these conventions, it always helps to be aware of reader expectations.

3. Is my plot substantial enough for a series?

One of the main elements that ties a series together is the overarching plot that carries the characters (and reader) through multiple books. For example, in Harry Potter, the main plot is one of good vs evil: Harry’s ongoing battle to defeat Voldemort.

In each book, Harry battles with Voldemort in some form or another, but all seven books ultimately build up to the final war between good vs. evil.

This is certainly a massive theme to explore, however, in amongst that, are also numerous other subplots: Harry’s challenges on the Quidditch pitch, Harry’s budding feelings for Cho and Harry’s entry into the Triwizard Tournament… (and we’ve barely scratched the surface there).

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, when it comes to writing series, it helps to know where you’re going (if only roughly).

The best way to map this out is to determine what and where the climaxes are, both in each book and in the overall series. Even though a book may be part of a series, it should still have its own climax points and should still be a self-contained narrative, or you risk disappointing readers.

This all comes down to whether or not your plot and subplots are substantial enough. Plus, knowing the general outline of your books and your overarching series will help you avoid the dreaded second book syndrome.

4. Are my characters developed enough?

Alongside a riveting plot, the main reason readers commit to reading a series of novels is because of the characters.

Readers emotionally invest in the protagonists and the cast of characters they’ve come to love because not only has an author created a well-rounded, realistic character but also because they have also provided constant character development throughout the overarching story of their series.

Characters, both main and secondary, face challenges and undergo significant changes throughout the course of each book, as well as the overall series.

As an author, you need to ask yourself how developed your own characters are. Can their arcs sustain the course of several books? What journeys do they undergo? Is there enough potential to explore who they are, and who they might become? Are they being challenged enough?

Your characters need to be developed enough that you can reveal their backstories and secrets gradually, creating curiosity in the reader. The longer the developmental arc of your characters, the more intrigued readers will be.

One of the benefits of a series is that there’s also room to introduce new characters throughout. New characters can revitalise momentum and also create additional conflict with your main cast.

5. Am I ready to write a series?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you… Writing any book is hard, writing a series is perhaps even more challenging.

Brainstorming, outlining, drafting, rewriting, rounds of alpha/beta feedback and editing all have their own unique difficulties and you will need to do these for every book you write.

It’s important to know the challenges you’re going to face before committing to writing a whole series.

However, only you can know if you’re ready or not to start.

5 Bonus Tips for Writing a Series

•Keep a “series bible” – a document that keeps track of all the details about your world and characters. You’ll definitely need this as a reference point throughout the writing process.

•Keep a spreadsheet or document where you can jot down ideas for future books – not all your amazing ideas should be crammed into Book #1!

•Give each book its own main event to prevent a stagnant middle book in your series and make each book standalone (to a certain extent).

•Weave story threads and breadcrumbs throughout each book which you can gradually bring together as the series comes to a close.

• Create reveals within each book, ensuring the reader is rewarded each time they choose to continue reading

Helen Scheuerer is the bestselling author of The Oremere Chronicles. Dawn of Mist, a prequel story collection to the series, is out now. Visit Helen’s website or say hello to her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for more details.





Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.

 You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

Pin It on Pinterest