Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A Tin Of Sharply Pointed Teeth

The other day I woke up from a dream remembering only that I had just asked my wife to hand me a tin of sharply-pointed teeth. I don’t know what I intended to use them for but I can think of plenty of good uses in the real world.

One use I’m tempted to put them to is to snarl at aspiring children’s authors who ask me to give them my opinion on their manuscripts and then get extremely abusive when I venture to suggest that some things might need changing. But I realise that snarling back never does any good. So I’ll leave the tin unopened for now.

Instead, I thought I would use my blog to mention a few things that those trying to write for young people might like to bear in mind. So, for what it’s worth, here is a little wisdom distilled from years spent trying - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - to help other people get published.

Firstly, there is a fundamental difference between writing for children and writing about children. So make sure the protagonist is the child, the point of view from which the story is told is the child’s, the emotional journey is the child’s and the dénouement is the child’s. Write from inside the protagonist. Don’t look at him or her; look out at the world from his or her eyes.

Secondly, never talk down to the reader. This sounds obvious yet so many first-time writers instinctively adopt a didactic tone, filling the reader in on background information that he or she could easily work out for themselves, or telling the reader what to think of the characters.

Finally – and this goes for writing for adults just as much as writing for children - don’t start your novel unless you’re absolutely certain about the premise. I say this because bad writing with a good premise is fixable. It may be painful but it’s probably going to be worth the journey. Good writing with a bad premise, however, is irredeemable: it’s like wallpapering a cave.


Gary Baker said...

It's extraordinary how many experienced writers confuse premise with plot or story summary. Coincidentally, I've just read one person's advice to writers where he says his premise for a new story is, "A man travels to Egypt in 1850 to avenge a friends death and retrieve an ancient treasure." This from a "professional" giving advice!
Aaanyway ...
More important for me is that when you pick your premise, whatever it is, stick with it.
If, for example, the premise is, "nothing worth having is easy to get", then all events in the story have to lead to that conclusion. Otherwise the story loses direction and starts to feel amateurish. The reader may not agree with your premise, but your story will be consistent and cohesive.
Then again ... I could be wrong ...

Paul said...

A man once gave me a small plastic box with sharply pointed teeth. They were sharks' teeth from prehistory. It was an exchange for some interesting rocks I had given him.

If you ever want some interesting rocks, just let me know.

Brian Keaney said...

Gary, there seems to be huge confusion about any terms used to describe anything to do with writing. I always think that writing a detailed outline gives you a chance to road-test your premise so if you get to the end of the outline and it all looks a little shaky, that's the time to bail out.

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks, Paul. I'll bear it in mind.