To kids everything is an adventure. Even the little things are exciting. To keep that feeling, your story needs something new. Do you need a chase scene? A treasure hunt? An epic quest? No. No, you do not. But that doesn’t mean you can get away without any adventure. See, No, you don’t need to set it somewhere extravagant to make it something your readers have never experienced before. New things are everywhere. It just has to be new to your characters, and we have to *feel* it. Moving to a new town is an adventure. Who will you meet? What will your new house look like? What if no one likes you? It’s scary and exciting and fun!
Even light hearted, quiet books need to have a sense of excitement. Big, small—doesn’t matter. Just make it count.
You need things that kids can relate to. Even if you set your story on a space ship, there should still be things that everyday kids can understand and sympathize with. Homework is a good example. Adding in those bits of normality makes your readers able to understand and relate to your characters, no matter how different they may be. Your readers need to care about your characters, and to care they need to “get” them. Even the little things like comic books, movies, cereal for breakfast, chores, annoying siblings, family expectations (sports, grades etc), punishments—those kinds of things will make the reader feel like this story could be happening to them. The character in the book is just like them!
Relationships are important to every human being, not just kids. It makes you feel important, like you matter. It’s also something I’ve personally noticed makes a book a gazillion time better. It’s really hard to make a story fun and exciting without someone in the story to share in the adventure. Being all alone on an adventure can be pretty boring, honestly. Throw in a plucky side kick and BOOM, things just got that much more fun. Relationships of all kinds (friends, mentors, family) are important to any story, so make it a priority. Often new friends are the best, because they bring in a new sense of excitement. 1. The reader gets to meet this character themselves, instead of having to catch up to what the main character already knows and likes about them. It makes them feel like they’re their friends not just the main character’s friend. 2. Because this character is new, we don’t know what they might do. There is a sense of mystery to characters your main character hasn’t known for very long.
Truth: I’ve never met someone that doesn’t have any sense of humor at all. Even serious people laugh. Sometimes overly serious people are the funniest because it’s totally unexpected (or maybe they don’t even know they’re being funny). So, in the same way, even sad/serious stories need a light hearted side, a change of pace. Do you need a snarky character or fart jokes? No, of course not. No one expects you to be a standup comedian. Simply insert something to make your readers crack a smile, even giggle a little. It can be silly, or snarky or sarcastic, or even completely bitter. And it doesn’t have to be on every page, just make sure your character has a sense of humor because not only does that make them a real person but it also a great way to reach into the heart of your readers and keep them coming back for more.
It probably seems like common sense, of course books need emotion. But it’s pretty easy to forget in big adventure stories. More quiet stories are probably based on emotion, but a quest story isn’t. So make sure your quest is about something— means something. What happens if the character fails? There should be physical stakes AND emotional stake. This often pulls back to relationships because that’s one of the most important aspects of life and really, the thing that matters the most. Example of emotional stakes: finding a cure to mother’s illness, getting enough money to save the house because if you don’t your family will be split up, finding out who really stole the necklace or your best friend will always believe you did it and never trust you again. Emotions are what makes us care and will make your plot feel full and lively and deep and memorable.
Look through the list and make sure your story has all of these. If it’s missing something, how can you add it? How about the story in your head? If you think about how to insert these things into your story before you start writing, it will feel more rich even before you put pen to paper (or you know, fingers to keyboard).