Thank you to the DarkSiders for having me here, today, even though I write mostly speculative and paranormal fiction for Younger readers, and very rarely hint at romance. I have written science fiction (Dear Tiger, Rocky to the Rescue), fantasy (Assassin, Not), contemporary ‘reality’ with a twist (Long Hair, Tag Man One, The Dog’s Way), science-fiction-fantasy blend (Spit), and contemporary reality with no twist (Legacy of Dreams, All Alone).
People ask me why I write for a younger audience, and what they need to do in order to write successfully for that age group. Over the years, I’ve come up with the following tips, or rules:
The first rule is DON’T WRITE DOWN: No one likes being talked down to, or having it all explained as if they are too stupid to work it out for themselves. Just write the story. Write to entertain. Youngers are *young*; they’re not morons, and they’re far from stupid. Don’t treat them as either.
Secondly: LEAVE OUT THE LECTURE: A story should never be a lecture. Sure, you might have some points you want to get across, but you’re a story teller first, and, for that, the story MUST come first. You’re not there to preach, or ram a few good points down anyone’s throat. You’re there to tell a story. The hardest hurdle to get over when I started in this genre was to get my head around this simple point. Editors wanted stories ‘with meaning’, stories that ‘had a moral’ or ‘a point’, or they wanted it to be wrapped in humour, or ‘e: all of the above’. Forget that. Write the story. If Youngers are your audience, then write a story they’ll enjoy, just the same as you would, if you were writing a story for an adult audience.
Third: FORGET THE MARKET: Think of the story you want to write and the audience you want to write it for. Some might think that a story that doesn’t ‘fit’ a market isn’t worth writing, or that the audience *is* the market, but this isn’t the case. What a publisher asks for isn’t necessarily what the audience wants to read. The story is king, and, as with every other genre, you can stifle it by trying to make it fit into a box (or set of guidelines) it was never made to go in. Worse, it can make it very difficult to write anything. Remember, you can independently publish. If a publisher doesn’t want to take a chance on your work because the content doesn’t match their perception of the market OR because your work simply doesn’t suit the style and flavour of the lines they have established, don’t try to jam your story into a shape it was never meant to be. Chances are it won’t be worth reading, or it will come across as forced.
Fourth: KEEP IT SIMPLE: And I don’t mean the story; I mean the sentence structure and words. Remember, Youngers don’t have the word experience of an adult (although a few would give the “grown-ups” a run for their money). In terms of writing for Youngers this means keeping the following in mind:
- The nuts and bolts of your work need to have a simple but clear structure.
- Shorter sentences work best, but varying the length of sentences is still important for a smooth flow.
- Use words that don’t require a PhD to understand (another good rule that applies to books for Olders).
· Use words Youngers are likely to encounter in everyday life, over words they’re going to need a dictionary or an Older for. Every time your reader has to stop and check something out, they are pulled out of your story. You don’t want this, no matter what age you write for.
Fifth: SUBJECT SUITABILITY: Yes, I know I said the story is king, but you are writing for Youngers. Some stories are best told to an older age group. If you wouldn’t talk about it to your own children, or you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading it out loud to a Younger audience with an adult (teacher, parent, person off the street) looking over your shoulder, then you might want to re-think who you are writing for: perhaps, that story is not a Younger tale, but something for the Olders. Having said all that, you can see that some of the subjects I write about touch on “issues” such as being in a wheelchair and losing your original hopes and dreams (Legacy of Dreams), being away from your parents and not fitting in (Dear Tiger), and some are mostly story with only a little bit of controversy, such as law enforcement and gun control in a semi-war setting (Spit), or facing down fear to save your family and move house (Rocky to the Rescue).
Sixth: RELINQUISH REALITY: Okay, not all of reality, just a little bit—just enough for your story to live and breathe. It’s like writing a story where the world isn’t quite what it seems, where the unlikely *can* reasonably happen. For instance, where you can use your hair as an effective weapon in karate (Long Hair), or a Younger can climb into the cockpit of the latest fighter jet and fly it away from a bunch of bad guys trying to steal it (Tag Man One). You’re telling a story. Always remember that.
Now get out there and write.
And all the best of luck
Bio: Carlie Simonsen has independently published eight chapter books for Youngers, with the ninth, The Dog’s Way, about to be released, and another three to follow that. She started writing in the genre in response to a number of publisher calls for submissions. Unfortunately, she soon learned she couldn’t write ‘funny’ to save herself, and took the hint from a few good-hearted editors that her work just wasn’t going to ‘fit’ an established market, although they encouraged her to keep trying. The result is a number of quirky stories that entertain while touching on issues such as children left alone after a supermarket bombing (All Alone), bullying in—and out of—the playground (The Dog’s Way and Yard Boss—both soon to be released), pursuing the most unlikely dreams through hard work and effort (Long Hair), and doing the right thing even when it means change (Assassin, Not).