“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”
– Maxim Gorky
All very well for you to say, Maxim, but it’s difficult!
The Wizard’s Conscript might be described as somewhat old-fashioned as books for 10-14 year olds go, but it’s the sort of book many of us who grew up on Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome and the like, really enjoyed. Note, many of the authors were British, though sometimes an Australian or a US title or three crept on to the book pile. What they had in common was adventure!
Nowadays many Middle Grades books seem to deal with family complications, identity problems and angst in general. All power to the authors who tackle these sometimes difficult subjects, but there’s room for escapism, too. Not necessarily escapism via television or movies, but through reading good old fashioned books! There are many writers of adventure, especially fantasy adventure, and I urge parents to seek them out, if they’ve a child that needs encouragement to read. If they’re hooked on fantasy movies, that just might be the answer.
It does no harm to take children out of the sometimes grim reality of modern life, and drop them into a book where the characters and setting are weird and fantastic. Sometimes we might set our story in a parallel universe—in my case, the setting is vaguely European and medieval—but once we’ve set up the basics, our imaginations take wing. We must, though, write our characters—however fantastic—with basic human characteristics, otherwise they tend to alienate readers, who can find no way to connect.
Another way to alienate (and I’m speaking as someone who has thrown several fantasy books at the wall in frustration) is to introduce too many characters (especially with weird names) into a story’s first few pages. Along with dealing with an author’s world-building, it can be overwhelming. In The Wizard’s Conscript, I deliberately didn’t do this. I wanted to have the reader get to know Caeri, the heroine, without too much distraction. Nevertheless, I inserted a list of my cast of characters before the story’s start, a handy reference as Caeri’s journey becomes more and more involved and fantastical and she meets friends and encounters enemies along the way.
My editor suggested a glossary also be included. I’ve used some made up words for ships, herbs, fabrics and the like, and thought when I wrote the story that they’d be self explanatory within the text, but I could see his point about clarity. In the glossary there are also explanations for ye olde worlde words, which I find endlessly fascinating and which I can’t resist using.
And there’s a map. One that was agonised over for quite some time. I happen to believe I drove the artist and the publishing co-ordinator round the bend, but the results I think were worth it. I don’t know about you, but I love a good map. With the map of my All the Corners of the World, we can track the journeys of Caeri and her friends, probably better than they could! And for Book 2, currently being written, that map can again be included, painlessly this time.
Is there a message in my story? Yes, there certainly is. I didn’t want to bludgeon the reader with it, but it’s clear that Caeri is game for adventure and isn’t going to hang around waiting for members of the male species to save the day, all on their own. Given the current state of female freedoms seemingly going backwards, that’s an important message to impart!
So I have to agree with Maxim. Of course he’s right. Writing for children requires an awareness that they’re not quite adults, don’t have the same extensive vocabularies, and perhaps their attention spans are not quite the same as an adult’s. Therefore, the author has to keep the momentum going with lots of action, and include humour if the story warrants it.
I hope I’ve succeeded in engaging and entertaining Middle Grades readers with The Wizard’s Conscript. Book 2 is proving just as difficult to write as Book 1. I’ll be very happy when the book’s finished and I can write “The End”. Then I’ll be able to commence my next Historical Romance (for adults) with a sigh of relief. It will be so much easier than writing for children.
Well, I can dream, can’t I?