What’s the difference between writing for adults and writing for children? This is a question that was put to me recently.
My first reaction would be to say there’s not that much difference in writing for these two audiences. You get into your character’s head, you listen to them and you tell the story like they’re experiencing it.
This is true, of course it is, it’s the very basis of good storytelling, but there’s more to it than just that. I’m used to writing for adults. I’ve written seven novels, four of which never made it to publication, all of them for adults except one.
|What to do with lobsters |
in a place like Klippiesfontein
(Cargo Publishing, 2015)
- I can write about any subject matter; difficult social issues, sex, characters who might be morally dubious but interesting all the same…
- My characters can speak any way they like. If they want to use a four-letter word, they can. If they are morally inclined towards blasphemy, that’s OK. They speak like they speak and I don’t stand in their way.
- I know my end reader is a fully formed adult with a mind of his or her own that won’t easily be corrupted by the words I write. I can experiment with form or style because I know my readers are well read, have been exposed to all manner of stories told in the widest possible variety of ways. They are, in most cases, sophisticated readers and often expect things to be a little difficult and are stimulated by a challenge.
And it’s precisely here that I often find myself stumbling. My biggest problem with adult fiction is plot. No matter how well I plan and structure my story at the start of a new project, my characters ignore my efforts and go off on tangents of their own. This inevitably leaves me with heaps and heaps of rewriting and restructuring in the end.
|Head over heart |
(Chicken House, 2014)
1.One leg is the beginning; What is this story about?
2. The next leg is the middle; What is the problem?
3. The last leg is the end; What happens?
Without all three its legs the stool will topple over.
I know, I know, this structure can just as easily be applied to an adult novel and that would solve all my plotting problems, wouldn’t it?
Well, no. By strictly adhering to this structure with my YA novel I was able to write a good book in a relatively short space of time. But applying this to my next book, an adult novel I just completed, did not lead to the same satisfying result and I was left wrestling with my plot just like all my previous adult novels.
But then in writing for young people (in my case, young people between the ages of eleven and fifteen) I had a whole list of other pitfalls I had to watch out for:
- Bad language and sexually explicit content are not acceptable.
- Sensitive social issues must be dealt with in a safe or politically correct way (even my politically incorrect character had to be toned down despite the fact that the whole reason I created him was to highlight a politically incorrect viewpoint and challenge it.)
- My scope for experimenting with style and form was more limited because my audience was younger. They are, by definition, less experienced readers who need to cultivate the sophistication that most adult readers have. My story had to be cleaner and more straight forward.
No matter how much I believed I was in touch with young people and their views, I had to remind myself I was an adult with no experience of being young in the world they’re living in today. I made sure I consulted them about sticky points along the way. I often sat down with these young girls (in my case, Muslim girls, because the book I was writing was about the hijab) and asked them how they saw the world. They were very generous with their time and flattered to be consulted by an adult.
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