Sunday, June 8, 2014

Writing For Children: Believable Dialogue and Likable Characters

A few simple rules, can bring characters of children's literature into the lives of astute child readers through the author's door, believably.

In this day and age, children are bombarded with almost a constant media flow of information. The internet, television, moving advertising screens, billboards, magazine ads, and just about every type of app and web ad a parent could imagine (and those they don’t want to think about). Therefore, the rules of writing dialogue for children’s books have changed.

The first rule was once: Don’t talk down to children in a children’s book. These days it’s a bit more

like: Remember how smart (and worldly) children are. If acceptance of this ‘rule’ is missed, kids might be lost altogether uninterested. In other words, consider the knowledge base kids have to draw from, especially on the topic of the children’s book in progress. If the book has a witch, what do kids already know about witches. Know at least this much, or pretend to by creating new and different information that can be ‘traced’ back to ‘evidence’ in the book so that it is believable. The same goes for vampires, dragons, and mysterious killers. The character is believable when the set of ‘facts’ (pretend or not) have been established somewhere in the book.

Keep the Action Going is Another Good Rule of Thumb

A number to strive for is seven active things for a reader to think about per page. Sounds like a stodgy, old English teacher’s rule, but this actually comes from a close source in publishing – the publisher of The Harry Potter series, in fact. Reading the masterworks of J.K. Rowling, it is possible, to dissect pages into numbers of ‘actions’ per page. These actions can be ‘traced’ back to ‘fact’ (although made up) somewhere within the book, and books, of the series. These actions are believable, the ‘facts’ are traceable, and so the characters are life-like and real to the reader, making the series very enjoyable – as much loved as the C.S. Lewis Narnia series and other children’s classic books.

Think About the Age Group of Characters Before Writing Dialogue

Each character will not have the same ‘tone’, and since the book is for children, it is a good idea to let the dialogue reveal to the reader that the author ‘knows’ that the reader ‘knows’ what’s going on – and children do. As mentioned before, its possible they might know more than the author. In fact, an adult might have to read a Harry Potter book several times to get or retain as much information from it as a child does by reading the same book only once. This is because the child ‘knows what’s up’ with this book. The adult, as a reader, is let in on the secret, but the child reader was in on it all along. This becomes more apparent to a writer after finishing a children’s novel and hearing a child review it.

The child is not who the book was written for, per se, but because of, since in childhood there exists a child's world.  In other words, children's literature is a part of the children’s world, whereas the author has written a book in it for children to read. This rule can not really be followed, as it only comes into being after the novel is finished. It is more like a realization than a rule.

Read Some Children’s Literature, Too

It is very important to have a good, solid love of children’s literature in order to want to write it and to do a good job at writing it. If it seems only tolerable and a way to earn money, don’t write a children's book - the book won’t be any good.

Know a Few ‘Heroes’ in Children’s Lit.

Love, learn, and try to emulate their style. It won’t be copying, because it won’t be lived up to when it is simply that it is read, and read again. Then when each author begins their own pages, in their own head and their own hand - wherever the ‘pen’ may be, which leads to the last ‘rule’ of this article - the author's own voice comes through, only hoping - like any Olympian - for that gold medal, someday.

The Last Rule - or Second to the Last

An author’s 'pen' may have ink, pixels, voice recordings, youtube video, watercolor washes, or pizza stained paper napkins as a tablet but the copyright stays with the author no matter the ‘transfer’ of information through airwaves, vocal recordings, notebooks carried in satchels, or plastic bags with grocery store names on them.

Copyright goes to the author and is the author’s no matter the ‘rat’ (and this comes from children’s literature – a loving rat named Templeton who scurried words to a heroine named Charlotte – don’t now that and this might be the wrong business) who has ‘read’ it – too soon or too late. IBSN numbers (10s and 13s), copyrights written and sent for, EIN numbers, Federal Tax ID numbers and freaking drivers license numbers are all just secondary and tertiary to the never waning fact that the Author – the weilder of the pen (whether having once learned to weld or not) – is the sole copyright holder and this fact is still nine-tenths of the law regarding copywritten material. So swish a ‘copy’ out to sea and let Swimmey read it, author writes is author owns.

Have fun is sometimes a rule in children’s literature, but every Lemony Snickett fan would rather be weary, slightly skeptical, and right down-to-business about the business of writing for children. So, here, it isn’t a call to ‘have fun’, but a call to save lives, undo wrongs, and let the children in on the secret that at least one author heard their secret – go or don’t – the alley is full of lurkers to be defined and talked about in whispers and in shouts.

Step lightly, but step ahead, and have a good go doing it!

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