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Kids Stuff

For the past several months, I've been tackling a different kind of writing: stories for children.

Well, not so much "children" as a child -- my grandkid, who's halfway through elementary school. It's a means for us to stay connected because we live a long ways away from one another and don't get to visit very often.

For someone who writes for an adult audience, you might think, "Writing for kids? Lead-pipe cinch!"

To which I reply, "Nuh-uh."

First of all, the word "kids" covers a pretty wide demographic. And even if you limit it to elementary/middle school, that's still an awfully diverse group. Now, with kindergarteners, maybe you can get away with writing a cute, bare-bones narrative in which cute little kids and even cuter, anthropomorphic doggies or kitties or or bunnies or teddy bears have cute fun, with an absolute minimum of sturm und drang,

But for children of my grandkid's age, more is required. Some ambiguity, some complexity in the characters and the story is fine, even desirable. It also helps if there is A Quest that involves a significant degree of personal risk.

I did not fully grasp this when I first started out. My first attempt was a series of short stories centered around two allegedly comic figures, but these were too slapstick, too absurd and above all -- to quote a familiar recurring line from a certain British TV show -- too silly for my grandkid to appreciate. Really, I was writing more for myself, not my intended reader.

So, I leaned on good old Marketing 101: Find out what your audience likes and give it to them. I'm not going to share full details, but suffice it to say that this project involves a feisty young female squirrel (based on an actual one), a mysterious mission, and travel through multiple dimensions.

I've found this current attempt at storytelling to be a lot more enjoyable, and challenging. When you gotta provide exposition, you do -- but don't spend a lot of time and space on it. Keep the plot moving along, but don't be afraid to slow things down a bit for humorous or poignant interludes. Also, it's OK to not know yet how the story is going to end, even as you're writing it -- that could also be true for adult-oriented fiction, obviously, but seems particularly appropriate where writing for kids is concerned.

Does this augur a new direction in my writing career? Not necessarily. All I know is, it's fun, at least for me -- hopefully my audience of one will feel the same way.

* * *

On a sort-of-but-not-really related note: When I was planning out this blog entry, I wanted to accompany it with a 1950s-style illustration of two kids engrossed in reading -- you know, for snarky/ironic effect. I did a search but couldn't really find the image I was looking for, and then I had an idea: Why not have A.I. make it for me? So, I chose an A.I. image-generator site more or less at random, and put in my instructions: "1950s-style illustration of a 9-year-old boy and girl reading, both smiling."

This is what I got.

Perhaps it's an outtake from "Poor Things"?

Anyway, I resumed my search and did in fact find an image that served my needs. Thanks all the same, A.I. -- I know your conquest of human civilization is inevitable, but maybe there are some things you need to work out.

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Writing and Reading

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