Y – Young Readers


April 29, 2013 by KWills

One of the ways I’ve been encouraging myself to write is by identifying myself publicly as a writer, both online and in RL.  I’ve had mostly positive reactions, but this weekend I had my first of “those” conversations.  I met someone who always thought that they would like to write a book, and then went on to tell me their terrific idea.  Not wanting to cause offence, I put on a smile and was as polite and sincere as possible, while resisting the urge to roll the eyes and grimace.  Then came the kicker.  I mentioned the need, as a full-time writer, to strictly manage my time.  My interlocutor, whom I won’t name to spare embarrassment on all sides, came out with this gem:

“You could always write children’s stories.”

I, being dense, missed the point at first.  “I am writing for children,” I replied.  “Children and teenagers.”

“Yes, because it takes less time to write them, doesn’t it?”

I didn’t have an answer.  At least, not one I could deliver on the spot, and without making my scorn obvious.  And, in hindsight, it wasn’t a completely stupid observation.  Books for children tend to be shorter, and easy to read, so they must be quick and easy to write, right?


Children generally have smaller vocabularies than adults, and fewer life experiences.  They may have shorter attention spans, and prefer stories with well-defined plots and characters.  They often have a different perspective on things, and will probably identify best with stories that share that perspective.  The one thing they are not, however, is stupid.  And they won’t let you get away with sloppy storytelling.

The story must be seamless – any holes in the plot will be spotted in an instant and picked apart by incessant questions.  The characters can be larger than life, but they have to be believable.  The problems and solutions need to really work, and every loose end needs to be tied up by the end of the book.  Anyone holding the idiot ball will be called on it, so you’d better make sure it’s not your hero.  Children won’t say, “The characters were rather one-dimensional, and the plot was weak in places, but on the whole it was an enjoyable piece of whimsy.”  Children will say, “What a stupid story,” and move on to another book.

Young readers can be loyal fans, and vociferous critics, but they are never an easy audience.


5 thoughts on “Y – Young Readers

  1. Great self control, I’d a blown my top then regretted it.
    I’ve tried a few book for young adults and there’s some fine work out there, dislike the snobs that dismiss such books, they are missing some treats. Rick Yancey and G.P. taylor to name a couple, excellent writers who have written great books. I’m damn sure their books were just as hard to write as any other. Keep trying to get my son into reading, but he just won’t settle to it, such a pity, but I’ll keep trying. Us readers need you writers to keep writing:) thanks.
    maggie at expat brazil

  2. stephscottil says:

    You can always laugh it off, or say, “I’m sure you mean well, but that’s not the reality of writing for any age.” People say things out of ignorance. I’m sure this person would be equally offended if you assumed whatever he/she does takes little effort, but I imagine you are a class act and would not go there based on how you were already trying to be sensitive. It certainly depends on who you speak to, but I tend to correct people if they make dumb claims like kids books are shorter = easier to write. I probably won’t go on at length, but how will they know if no one suggests otherwise?

    Like with children’s books, sometimes grown-ups need an anaology for it to make sense. Maybe compare what they think is easy to something they do all day and see if it hits home.

    • K. Willsen says:

      Maybe I should keep a prepared (polite) explanation for the next time this happens. As you say, how will people learn if we don’t tell them?

      I’m no good at coming up with this stuff on the fly. That’s one of the reasons I love being a writer – I can take days to compose the perfect comeback if I need to. I like your idea about using an analogy – thanks.

  3. Liz Brownlee says:

    Oh – yes. I always start off with, actually, the opposite is true, you need to take so many more things into account, and a children’s book is read many times more than an adult book – and has to stand up to that, with many layers. Then I kick them.

    Not really! But isn’t it irritating? ~ Liz http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com

    And because you write for children – http://www.poetlizbrownlee.co.uk

  4. […] has a different “those people”.  Only a couple of days ago, I was having a moan about “those people” who say stupid stuff to writers.  We all have “those […]

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