On the Importance of Writing Scary Things

This is a beautiful post from Brainpickings on The Importance of Being Scared and what that means in children’s literature. To sum up: we cannot shelter children from frightening topics nor should we. As Wislawa Szymborska says [emphasis is mine]: Children like being frightened by fairy tales. They have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions […] Hans Christian Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays (as today’s moral tales insistently advertise, though it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way in real life), but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned. And that sums it up brilliantly. We cannot allow ourselves (or our children) to become intellectually and emotionally stunted by avoiding certain topics simply because they are frightening. We see this so often in kidlit where, under the guise of sheltering them, children are not allowed to explore themes that are (unfortunately) very relevant to them at a very young age (e.g. drugs, sex, abuse, guns, suicide, etc). Creating literature for children that addresses these topics with empathy, respect and sensitivity gives children a safe haven in which to explore these issues. It also gives them a language and vocabulary they can use to properly express their emotions and thoughts on these troubling issues. Perhaps most importantly, however, it enables them to become educated and education is the best form of empowerment in the face of most any challenge. Neil Gaiman puts it another, equally compelling, way: If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of,...

How to Develop your Character’s Voice

This is a great article from Fiction University that talks about how to use descriptions to enhance your storytelling. It’s written for novels but I think the principles apply quite well to developing voice in PBs. To sum up the three most helpful points (with some additional notes of my own): (1) determine who is looking: a Navy SEAL will look at things a lot differently than a frightened six year-old. Take the knowledge and attitude of your protagonist into account when you decide what they see. Think about how they would describe something, not how you would (note: what this really means is that we need to keep in mind that the narrator and the MC are not necessarily the same person. In PBs, we are often the narrator but the MC is the one living the story. When we develop voice, we need to make sure we are describing things as told from the MC’s POV – how they would see it, not how we see it for them). (2) determine why they are looking: sometimes you scan a room, sometimes you’re looking for something in particular, and sometimes you’re watching to escape with your life. Your reasons for looking impact what you see and how you feel about it. If your protagonist has no feelings at all about something, why is it in the scene? While not every detail has to matter at this level, using details to bring out an emotion or thought from your protagonist helps make the setting more memorable. It won’t just be details. (note: in PBs especially we need to be careful about...

11 Ways to Show vs. Tell

We are always told to SHOW vs. TELL but how exactly do you do that? Below are 11 of the best articles on this topic. Never name emotions Three tricks for Showing vs. Telling Prove it! Show don’t Tell When to show and when to tell Tips on showing vs. telling Showing vs. telling in internalization How to tell when you’re showing Writing with emotion Keep “intruder words” out of your writing Show with a strong voice Karla Valenti writes books about and for children. She also offers professional manuscript critique and editing services. You can find her on Facebook and on...

The Tragedy of Parenting

Wretched Words a Maiden Heard I command thine ears to lend themselves to me Forever more thy self to me shall heed Thine life will be a life of mis’ry Of sorrows suff’rd and of hearts that bleed. Upon mine acts thine youthful eyes shall cry And look upon my self with scorn and hate And thou will wish upon my soul to die To heed the hymn that leads to heaven’s gate. Desiring freedom from thy curs’d state In vain thou shall thy sweet self ill deceive And in the end thou curse’d thy wretch’d fate For from mine life thou shall not ever leave. These are the words thy wretched self shall hear Like poison’d daggers coursing through thine ear. Professions of Love Bespoken Fairest child of mine – I command thine ears to lend themselves to me. Let mine words shine bright on frank intentions so that they may bear memory of the abundance and beauty of my love for thee. In the cruelty of youth, thine ears shall shadow sentiments of true devotion and thy heart shall blacken to a mother’s tongue. I know only too well that woeful journey for I have travel’d it before. ‘Tis a road of treachery and tears but alas, it is thine due and I shall whether the tempest of thine sorrow until thy swift return. And when thou dost return, thine ears shall seek the comfort of true love and behold in my words the solace that thou seeketh despite the rift that thou dost try to breach. Forever more thy self to me shall heed for the reigns of love...

Stranger than Fiction

This is the continuation of Epilogue. Dearest reader (for dear to me you are) I must warn you, things have gone terribly awry. Beware… and I do mean to frighten you, this is no light matter. I know you are probably thinking this is a ploy to hook you into reading an otherwise boring story, that’s the problem – it isn’t. I need you to understand, it is crucial that you understand… Dammit! I have no idea how to do this. Ordinarily I would draw on some figment of my imagination as a mediator between you and me, it would be so much easier that way. Believe me, I know how hard it is to take a storyteller seriously, every word they utter is a construct, a part of a larger scheme hidden well in the fantasy of the writer. But please wait before you nod your head in agreement… just wait. I know where you are sitting, I’ve been a reader too.  Just give me a chance to tell you my story. Reader, you have the upper hand now – the only hand – and I need you… please. I don’t know how this happened. Things like this don’t even really happen, it goes against all rules of reality, it isn’t even possible! That’s what is so frightening. So there was this sign, THE END OF THE ROAD and we jumped. Remember? You were there. Then there was just me but not you. At first I looked around and saw nothing, just a blank space. But I didn’t panic, not then. It was when I saw his shadow approaching that...