Saturday, May 9, 2015

GUEST POST: "From Adult Thrillers to Kid Thrillers: 10 Steps to Writing Scary for Kids" by Donna Galanti

Do you love to be scared? I do, as long as I know it’s in a safe environment. Haunted houses. Hayrides. Rollercoasters. Adventure rides.

I got so scared once in a haunted house that I whacked the “ghosts” with the teddy bear from my costume. The management turned on all the lights and asked me to leave! Just last Halloween my friend dared me to do Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary. Here we are getting our scare on (and it was scary!). I was very proud that I didn’t whack anyone this time. 

But I still get scared of real places in my old age. Of the dark garage. Of the creepy cellar. Of nighttime when taking the trash cans out. My heart pip-pops waiting for that creature or boogeyman to grab me. I know he could be! My imagination tells me so.

So it’s no wonder that I love to write stories that scare. I started out writing thrillers for grownups with my Element Trilogy and along the way fell in love with writing for kids. But could I transition writing dark thrillers for older folks to writing thrillers for tweens?

Lots of authors do it. John Grisham moved into the children’s market by writing thrillers for kids – so have James Patterson, James Rollins, and David Baldacci. One of my favorite magical thrillers for kids is The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. Some of my favorite new kid thrillers are The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen and The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan.

And as my son became an avid and selective reader, I discovered that kids love to be scared not just in movies but in books too. I started reading some of the books my son had on his bookshelf like Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon, and Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. In doing this I began to see patterns in these kid adventure tales – and I began applying what I learned to create my own stories.

My 10-step guide for writing scary thrillers for kids:

  1. Put the kids in charge. Kids don’t want to read about grownups having adventures.
  2. Which leads into…have the kids figure out how to take the bad guys down – not grownups. Kids want to see themselves as the hero, not Mom or Dad or their teacher.
  3. Whatever scary situations they find themselves in – they must navigate their way out.
  4. Don’t dwell on the dark stuff. Make it happen fast without gory detail – kids can use their imagination.
  5. Give them friends in their travels. Life is hard without friends! And a kid needs friends to help him along his scary adventure.
  6. Through story events have the kids discover their own strength and courage to overcome bad things happening to them.
  7. Make all seem lost! End the chapters on cliffhangers to encourage kids to want to keep turning the pages and find out what happens next.
  8. Have it work out in the end, or at least partially, even if all seems doomed for a while.
  9. Add humor! Interjecting a dollop of funny can alleviate the tension in the scariest of scenes and lighten the moment.
  10. Make it a series! Have a final resolution to the story but leave it open for more stories down the road for the characters. Kids love to follow their beloved characters into new adventures.

Check out my book trailer. Do you think it promises the elements of a kid’s thriller?

Writing thrillers for adults or thrillers for kids employs many of the same elements, but writing for kids is just more fun!

About Donna:
Donna Galanti attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle. Donna is the author of the Joshua and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books) and blogs at Project Mayhem. Visit her at or on Amazon.

Praise for Joshua and The Lightning Road:
 "Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series

Joshua and the Lightning Road is available for pre-order now from these book sellers:
Barnes & Noble:
Check out Donna’s pre-order iPad Mini giveaway


  1. Rob, thanks so much for having me on and chatting about kid thrillers! Kids love to be thrilled and it's so fun to write for them with this in mind. It's also great I get to bounce my writing off my tween son who tells me what works...and what doesn't. He is the KING of rollercoaster thrills and loves that adrenalin feeling he gets on a ride - and from his books too apparently! I'm just not sure I'll ever get over being scared to go down in our creepy cellar.....


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