How many times have you read through a simple chapter book and thought to yourself, "I could easily write a story like this"? I know I have each and every time I sat down with my kids and read a chapter book to them. Goodness, this does look easy. But, looks can be deceiving.
Series or Stand Alone
One of the first things you need to decide on is whether to make a series or a stand alone book. With children's chapter books, series work best, such as Time Warp Trio and Magic Tree House series. This is because children get attached to characters and writing styles and want to read more about them.
Stand alone books are great, but they are harder to sell.
The word count for chapter books for grades 1 through 3 is generally 1,500 to 10,000. That is roughly 48 to 80 pages in length. Of course, you can break the rules and go a bit bigger, say a 12,000 word chapter book, but don't go under 1,500 words.
Keep Chapters Short
Children read from chapter to chapter. You will often see them check ahead to see how many pages are in a chapter. If there are only a few pages, great. If the chapter is long, the child will feel defeated before she even begins to read the book. Keep your chapters short, from 350 words to 600 words per chapter.
Children check for illustrations. If you are self publishing, consider getting a few black and white illustrations made for each book.
3 Act Structure
When writing a children's chapter book, the plot is kept very simple. There is usually only one main problem to solve in each book.
Each book includes the set up of the situation, the confrontation of the problem (a rise in action), and the resolution. This is a very basic plot structure that is used time and again in children's books.
There are quite a few fiction writers who claim that an outline is stifling to their creativity. Baloney. An outline is simply a guide to help you write faster and keep you focused on your plot. FOr a children's chapter book, your outline can be as simple as a sentence telling what will happen for each chapter. You don't need to go any further than that with an outline for early reader chapter books.
As with writing fiction for adults, you should give each of your characters a distinct personality and background. This is especially true if you are writing a series. Make a character sheet for each character that describes what she looks like, personality type, and even a sentence or two dedicated to the character's background and family life. Doing this prevents you from creating one dimensional characters.