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The thought process leading to writing a children's book?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Aug 15, 2019.

  1. For a long time I have wanted, usually pretty vaguely, to write the sort of thing I would have liked to read when I was a kid. I often read and enjoy middle grade novels, and I have a few ideas that i think would work well as children's books/series.

    The problem is, when I try to sit down and actually work on those ideas, I find them boring. I feel weirdly limited/stymied by the "children's book" framework and I don't know why. Partially I think it's that I don't see a way to explore the themes and problems that interest me right now in a children's book. I feel like I don't really even want to.

    I guess the painfully obvious answer to this is "then don't write one" but I guess I want to know what makes people decide to write children's books, generally. Is it just that their idea seems to work best as a children's book (mine does) or that they feel they want to reach that audience (I...guess I do? I haven't given audience much thought in a long time, honestly?) or is it something else? This is the first time i've really felt this limitation. I'm not writing for any particular real person.

    Basically I'm trying to figure out whether I'm imposing artificial constraints on myself for no reason.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I wonder if SteerpikeSteerpike will have some thoughts on this...
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Thanks, DevorDevor

    I like to write for children, and also write for adults. It isn't so much the ideas being best (or only) suited for children. A lot of the stories I write for children could have been worked into adult stories. Some of the stories I write for children may not even be suited for children according to some people. For me, it's just that I want to reach that audience and I enjoy the process of writing stories for children.

    As for ideas and themes--what age of children are we talking about. If you're in the teen/YA category, there aren't really many limited on themes or ideas you can explore. If you're looking at middle grade, then you are a bit more limited--if not to the actual idea or theme then to the approach to it.

    I think writing for children has a lot of possibility. I wouldn't force a story down that path if you're not truly feeling it, though.
  4. It would be...ideal, I guess, if I could work it into YA, but YA is just so damn specific in what it is/includes now. A lot of books written 10-20ish years ago that used to be considered YA don’t fit the category at all now because YA has a really, really, really narrow niche in terms of plot, writing style, and so on. My vision for the story doesn’t fit YA like, at all.

    In YA you’re not limited by not being able to have things like romance including sexual feelings, sexual references, inclusion of social issues, it’s that you’re all but required to have them. YA is about teenagers and the things teenagers confront and deal with specifically. I would love to be able to write something that both teenagers and younger kids could enjoy, but MG and YA seem more and more different with every passing year whereas at one time they could be considered synonymous.

    I’m reading Sabriel right now and that’s a good example of “older” YA that I prefer extremely to the newer stuff. Tamora Pierce’s novels, Inkheart, Brandon Mull’s books...they’re other examples of books that were written before this chasm opened up (apparently?) and that don’t have all the qualities of either but fit both in one way or another. And of course there’s Harry Potter. Written as a “children’s book,” later grows into a YA type of story but has the ability to appeal to adults. I dont think such a thing could happen nowadays.

    Most middle grade novels I’ve read that were written recently are pretty banal. The category seems to have gotten tamer while YA gets more mature. This idea is probably too complex to fit MG super well but is so unlike most YA in the tropes that it uses, and the tone...I’m not trying to appeal to teenagers anyway, but like, I feel like the “children’s” category has gotten more and more diluted of any scary/thought provoking/complex books.

    Basically I want to write something that would have been called a “children’s book” 20 years ago and probably would be lumped in with YA now despite being totally unlike any YA being published now.
  5. This above is why you SHOULD write it. The genre conventions change and evolve/devolve over the years as does the audience which is always changing too as young ones grow into them. Meanwhile it is US who just gets older. :)

    YA publishers, understandably so, follow the money. . . hence the glut of topical/now conventions. Yet there is still a market for the originality of an idea and those books are out there too.

    I think, if I may say so, you're putting the cart ahead of the horse. Write the story as YOU see fit. Then, if you're marketing it to the publishing world and a publisher likes the main gist of it they may ask you to change certain parts or add something in between characters. In my understanding, that's common. Then it would be up to you as to whether or not you change it or walk away. I am assuming this sort of publishing is your goal because if you are thinking of self-publishing then it wouldn't matter where your story falls. You'd write it, publish it and hope that it does find the right audience.

    I hear published authors of MG say they know they've succeeded when parents hate the darkest or grossest parts of their book because the kids usually love those parts all the more.

    And YA? Well, I read a ton of it and I only finish reading about half of the books I start. Most of those i don't finish devolve into those conventions you mentioned. I agree about the narrowing of the expectations as to what must be included but no story that anyone writes has to include those. And the teens I get to interact with tell me what they like about the stories they read is the escape far more than the romance or the relevance of teen topics. So yes, for some that escape might be romance. Might be adventure. Might be bullies getting what they deserve. But they all love being taken away from their everyday world. That's a good place to start.

    Sometimes I think the children's category has changed more and then I remember how much Maurice Sendak had to bear with his books. They seem so tame to me and I loved them as a kid, but he was constantly fighting for those books when parents were freaking out about them. Parents are the very worst of critics and yet they buy the books so it's a fine line I suppose. . .

    Still, it seems to me that is what you'd want to do. Disturbing the status quo never hurts.

    I only say all of this because it seems to me you really DO want to write this story. The idea keeps coming back to you and you struggle with it and it's "place" in the world of categories and genre conventions and definition.

    I'd say, trust the story. Trust yourself. Start writing it. See where it takes you. It may be the story that changes everything. :)
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    YA is extremely broad--there's a lot of great stuff going on there apart from the biggest and most popular. Sabriel was mentioned--the most recent book in that series was just published two or three years ago, I think. Have you read Code Name Verity? In any event, I disagree that YA is required to have any given plot elements.
  7. Kalessin

    Kalessin Dreamer

    Edit: I think I misunderstood something about your concept of the limitations, but my points wrt to that are still important in answering the question of the thread. Weirdly enough, even though most of my brainstorming and daydreaming seems to be about concepts and stories that aren't suited to children's fantasy, it feels like I'm personally "working up" in my career as a writer (not that I have a solid career to point to yet) to writing YA and/or "children's" fantasy.

    Whenever I try to think about my favorite books, yeah you got your Lolita's and your Mockingbirds and your ASOIAF's and your et ceteras, but the list always "devolves" into stuff like: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, The City of Ember and sequels, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, things like that. My favorite television shows are, in order, The Last Airbender, The Wire, Breaking Bad.

    I wanna write the kinda books that people unnecessarily debate about being "for kids." The kinda books you were sucked into as a kid but didn't appreciate until you got older. I've been writing privately about this lately and might publicly expand on it, but the crux of things here is that in an abstract sense I believe a child's mind and an adult's mind have a lot to "offer" one another, but that a child's mind has a bit more. Again, speaking abstractly. An adult's mind "offering" something to a child's mind comes in the form of growing up, and the reverse comes in the form of untangling and pruning the damage that life and ego do to the mind.

    There's nothing about YA and children's fantasy as a genre that feels constraining to me. Tropes in this context can be seen as training wheels, not pigeonholes you have to look out for if you want to be a real contributor to that genre. For me the limitation only comes in the form of whether the reader can understand the story to a particular degree and to what degree the content of the story is collectively acceptable to show to kids.

    In the end, it's only a kind of abstract thing that I feel I'm "working up to" writing children's fantasy. What I actually imagine happening is being both an adult writer and a children's writer, with tons of overlap between my audiences. There will be some stories that I'll hope precocious kids find before it's "too late," as well as a few that even I hope they don't find until they are "ready." As for the adults, there probably won't be a single story I will write that has nothing to offer them, whether it's YA, children's, or just jam packed beyond capacity with subjects ripe for student essays.

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