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Friday 12 April 2013
Kids are People too... Even when it comes to writing for them
I’ve got a theory.
I’m not talking about YA. I blood hate YA... Sorry, that’s wrong. I don’t hate YA fiction, or those who write it. I only despise the label. I think if a book is good and well-written with a plot and characters, and all the stuff required to spin a fabulous yarn, then it ought to transcend labelling. I also think that labels narrow the reader’s eye view. They don’t expand it. If someone decides they like YA/Gothic/Fantasy, and you offer them a label that tells them that’s what they’re reading, there’s a good chance they won’t ever pick up YA/Gothic/Steampunk or YA/Steampunk/Fantasy, because they honestly think it’s not quite going to hit the spot for them. It is Pish and it is Tosh, and I won’t have it.
Gosh, I am full of feist this morning!
Here is my theory about children, and about telling them stories:
Kids are people too!
I know... It’s radical, isn’t it?
I’ve always been a great believer that the best stories... Really, the only stories are about sex and death, and gods and monsters, and if you can write about at least a couple of those elements in any given story, you stand a chance of piquing the interest of an audience. Of course, as with most things, the more the merrier.
I don’t see why that rule shouldn’t apply to telling stories for kids.
My other thing with kids is that there is absolutely no point condescending to them. I am not the sort of woman who pulls faces at babies, or makes cooing noises. I leave that to other people. I mostly call those people... Well, I won’t tell you what I call them, because it’s not a good written-down word.
Some of you might be feeling sorry for my kids around about now, but, let me tell you, when there are babies around, there is never a shortage of people willing to put their gurning faces up close to them and make babbling noises, so my kids did just fine on that score.
Here’s the fun part of the equation, though...
... Here’s the challenge:
I think it is really, very important to write very clean, very accurate, very grammatically correct prose when writing for children.
I don’t care how they speak, and I don’t care what the modern vernacular suggests, and I really don’t care that they won’t notice. I want the English professor dad to notice! I want the critics to notice, and I want the kids to absorb enough of what’s good to begin to recognise what isn’t.
Yeah, I know it’s a big ask. I suspect it’s a really big ask, but I also think it ought to be doable, and it ought to be a pleasure.
There’s another thing, too. I don’t think it’s a good idea to dumb down on language. I don’t think writers for children should throw out half of their vocabulary just because these kids haven’t learned certain long words yet. They're going to have to learn them some time, and there’s a way around that, right? Whatever happened to context? Whatever happened to giving a kid enough other information to make the meaning of a new word apparent on the page. Give him enough other stuff so that he can guess, right? Right!
Give him long words, too, but give him words that he knows and hears all the time. They can be long, but so long as they’re spelled phonetically, he can work them out, right? Of course he can.
I don’t know any writers of children’s fiction, except the husband, and I know he thinks about this stuff... I know he does, because we’ve had some long, fascinating conversations about it all... I promise you we have, because I've made sure of it.