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.