Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Irresistible Kidlit

I like checking out how-to books on writing, and Writing Irresistible Kidlit is by (former) literary agent Mary Kole. Although I don’t write MG or YA, I felt sure there would be ideas and techniques that would apply to adult fiction as well.

Well, there are, but I’d definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to write for children or teenagers. It’s a great resource. One chapter is devoted to understanding the mindset of these readers. What level of complexity are they looking for when they read? What themes would be too heavy to introduce directly into MG, and what to do under those circumstances? Male or female protagonist?

The book describes the “big ideas” behind some of the most popular YA fiction, cliché openings, grabby openings, characters and plots, along with input from other agents and editors giving examples of what didn’t work for them. Kole even makes a good stab at analyzing the elusive “voice” – how the words used, the emotion in them (or lack thereof), dialect and even repetition of certain words contributes to a highly individualistic result.

Voice for kidlit readers needs to be fresh, electric and immediate, in order to reflect their lives. Never let passive construction (“The party was being attended by teenagers”) sneak into your work.

What I enjoyed most, though, were the quotes from novels. I don’t read a lot of YA and MG, but with this book I got an intriguing cross-section of the best of them (nothing with vampires or werewolves, too, which was a plus for me). This book made me curious about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and that’s one novel well worth reading. I’m also going to check out Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, although I usually don’t read books about cancer. This one just sounds too intriguing.

So if you’re thinking about writing for children or teenagers, check this book out. It’s a great starting-point.

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