Calling all parents/teachers/rea
ders/authors - Is there really no place for 'quieter' children's books?
Hoping all you wise and lovely Mumsnetters can help a struggling children's writer! I’m a regular on here and have just finished a Creative Writing MA (ended up with a distinction and some promising feedback on novel-in-progress). Now reaching the end of a first draft of a fantasy adventure story for 9-12 year olds, and until recently things seemed to be coming along pretty well.
However, I’ve also joined a critique group with some writing friends, one of whom is also a successful children’s editor, and their latest critique of my novel has really knocked my confidence. Their basic feedback was that, although it's well-written, atmospheric, has appealing characters and authentic relationships between them - my story's fatal flaw is that it's too 'quiet'. Apparently there's too much world-building at the expense of thrills, and the historical setting (sort of Princess Bride-style cod-medieval) is too complex for modern children. General consensus is that today's readers have incredibly short attention spans, will tolerate very little description and need constant thrills and spills, the gorier the better, to sustain interest.
So I was wondering - is this true of the children you know? Is there really no place in the current market for quieter, more reflective, more optimistic children's books? Thinking of my own childhood reading, the books that have stayed with me the most (things like The Owl Service; Tom's Midnight Garden; I Capture the Castle and more recently Journey to the River Sea and Rooftoppers) were stories where the setting, atmosphere and characters were just as important as the action. Now I'm torn between persevering with the story I really want to write, and 'sexing up' the current version with some gruesome deaths and underage sex in order to appeal to (publishers' perception of?) the current market.
I'm a primary school teacher, so do have some current experience of children's reading tastes, but I don't have DC of my own yet, and would very much welcome others' opinions on this
before I go mad and press delete on the entire manuscript!
TIA for your sage advice
I tended to prefer quieter books as a child - I think many publishers are making the mistake that EVERY child/teen reader must be after shocks and fast, plot-based books - over the years (I'm 42) I have noticed the covers of books getting more and more 'pink or black' - romance or horror, more and more 'shouty'! Most publishers are going for best sellers - repeats of the (gruesome to me!) Twilight Series and Hunger Games (adult best sellers have included Dan Brown And 50 shades, so in some ways it's no better there!) But there's no way introvert kids have vanished completely! Journey To The River Sea was published, so some publishers are out there... it's a matter of finding them, though... very difficult in today's market. I ended up self publishing (with the help of some redundancy money and the fact I got another job soon enough to be able to use it!)
Do NOT I repeat do NOT go against your soul! Seriously, it will ruin your writing and you'll hate it - you have to be really 'into' horror and gore to write it well - you'll be constantly 'snagging' yourself when you write. Don't kill your baby! Can you find anyone who also likes quiet books who can give it a read through? Proof reading by somebody else is a must! Also, fashions change, it may take a few years, then quiet books will make a comeback... books have a long shelf life! Keep it, really! I wish you the best of luck, don't lose heart and keep writing!
Hmm. Well I don't think quiet stories have gone. Dd2 prefers the quiet stories. I tended to as a child too. There's plenty around still.
However it depends on how much atmospheric description you mean. Because there was definitely a point at which I lost interest in hearing how the third tree from the left was slightly taller, but stragglier looking, and the sixth tree had bent over from the weight of the fruit... When it had no relation to the plot.
You need to show not tell... So the third tree catches its straggly branches in your hair and you choose to pick a fruit from the 6th tree because the weight has bent it low enough to reach easily.
Long descriptions often, for me, spoil the flow, and also sometimes destroy the image I have in my head.
Have you seen the Princess Academy books? They seem to fit exactly the description that you have given and they are popular.
And most of the classics are what I would call quiet too (The secret garden and a little princess, the little house book, etc.)
I was going to mention the Little House books and The Secret Garden! Also E Nesbit and Joan Aitken. I think David Walliams has a lot to answer for - both my DC are getting a bit sick of that sort books and turning go more to the above (aged 7 and 9). Also Narnia
Some writers do tackle this perfectly though - JK Rowling has that mix of quiet reflective pages as well as the incredible action. My view on this is that once they've hit a reasonable readings age they can cope with - and enjoy - the quieter books
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